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Current Affairs - 08 December 2017

General Affairs 

Electricity Distributors May Be Fined For Blackouts, Says Power Minister
  • The government plans to fine electricity distributors from April 2019 for power cuts deemed avoidable and to make it mandatory for the companies to install prepaid or smart meters to prevent electricity theft, Power Minister Raj Kumar Singh said today.

    The initiative is the latest by the government to ensure more reliable power supplies in the country where a quarter of households have no electricity supply.

    The centre launched a $2.3 billion project in September to provide the whole population with power by the end of 2018.

    Mr Singh said distributors would be fined if they cut power to customers unless the shutdown was caused by factors such as the weather or a disaster that was beyond a company's control.

    The fines would be imposed in the financial year starting April 1, 2019, he said, without giving further details.

    Distribution firms sometimes cut power saying they do not have the cash to pay generating firms. The government says this could be solved by better bill collection and by reducing power theft by those using unauthorised and unmetered grid links.

    "Some states are not able to bill the consumers effectively," Mr Singh said, adding some states were failing to collect payments for about 50 per cent of power they supplied.

    "Where the consumers are billed properly, the recovery is around 95 per cent," the minister said.

    Mr Singh wants to curb power theft as part of an effort to fix the finances of debt-laden power distribution companies, known as discoms, in states that have struggled to buy and supply enough electricity to consumers.

    As part of its efforts to expand electricity supply, the government aims to distribute solar panels with battery packs to households in areas that are too remote for transmission lines.

    India wants renewable power sources excluding major hydropower plants to account for 40 per cent of installed capacity by 2030. It would also push other nations to deliver on commitments to supply power from clean sources, Mr Singh said.

    Wind, solar, biofuels and small hydropower projects account for about 18 per cent of installed capacity now, while about 66 per cent is generated from coal, diesel and gas. The remainder comes from nuclear and major hydropower plants.

Sharad Yadav To Challenge Rajya Sabha Disqualification In Court
  • Claiming that his opposition to JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar and the BJP resulted in the ouster, rebel JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav today said he will challenge his disqualification from the Rajya Sabha in court.

    He suggested that he was denied a fair play, noting that the case of embattled liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who "looted" public exchequer, was sent to the ethics committee of parliament but he was not allowed such an opportunity despite being a veteran parliamentarian who took up "people's causes" in his career.

    At a press conference, Mr Yadav disapproved of Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu's comments defending his decision but said the institution of the Rajya Sabha was too important to him to attack Mr Naidu.

    Even Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani terrorist hanged in India following his conviction in the Mumbai terror attack case, was allowed to exhaust all appeals available to him but in his case the "supreme court", an apparent reference to Mr Naidu, gave an order straightaway without referring the matter to a parliamentary committee, he said.

    Mr Yadav, who was elected to the Lok Sabha seven times and the Rajya Sabha four times, said in a lighter vein that his "new freedom" will give him more time in uniting opposition parties against the BJP.

    "I was not shocked that I have been disqualified... I was expecting the same outcome," he said, suggesting that it was decided in advance.

    Noting that he had resigned three times in past as an MP on moral ground, Mr Yadav said had he been interested in power, then he would have been part of the government now.

    The constitutional provisions invoked by the Rajya Sabha chairman to disqualify might not apply in his case, he said, noting that he would file an appeal against it in court.

    "My fight is for principles and democracy. I will fight it in all forums, including court," he said.

    Mr Yadav also accused the BJP of using religion to polarise voters in the Gujarat and claimed that the party will suffer defeat like it did in Bihar.

    The JD(U) had sought Mr Yadav's disqualification after he attended a RJD rally in Patna in August following his opposition to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to jettison his party's alliance with the RJD and the Congress and join hands with the BJP.

    The disqualification decision came within three months of the JD(U) moving a plea, inviting criticism from opposition leaders.

    Mr Naidu, however, said yesterday that justice delayed was justice denied; asserting that such matters should be decided quickly.

Rs. 100 Crore Meant For Midday Meal Scheme Transferred To Builder In Jharkhand
  • The CBI has registered a case in connection with the illegal transfer of Rs. 100 crore from a Jharkhand government account for the midday meal programme in State Bank of India to a private builder, officials said today.

    The agency carried out searches at the official premises of the accused and the company Bhanu Construction in Ranchi yesterday, officials said.

    The FIR was registered against the company, its partners Sanjay Kumar Tiwari and Suresh Kumar and Ajay Oraon, former deputy manager of the bank's Hatia branch who has now been suspended.

    The FIR, registered on the complaint of a State Bank of India officer, alleged that a deputy manager (Business Development Department) of the bank "dishonestly and by abusing his official position" transferred over Rs. 100 crore from the account of "Rajya Madhyan Bhojan Pradhikaran" to Bhanu Construction.

    "On August 05, 2017, State Bank of India, Hatia Branch received six debit advices from the...Government of Jharkhand for transfer of Rs. 120.31 crore from their Saving Bank Account to multiple accounts maintained with different banks including State Bank of India," it alleged.

    Rs. 20.29 crore was to be transferred to State Bank of India and Rs. 100.01 crore was to be transferred to other bank accounts, the FIR said.

    For bulk transfer through real time gross settlement and national electronic fund transfer (RTGS/NEFT), Rs. 100.01 crore was debited from the account of Jharkhand Rajya Madhyan Bhojan Pradhikaran and was temporarily parked in office/suspense account of the branch for processing of the transfer to various accounts.

    "Due to failure in uploading, the entire amount of Rs. 100.01 crore got returned to the office and suspense account of the Branch," it said.

    Instead of crediting back Rs. 100.01 crore to the account of Jharkhand Rajya Madhyan Bhojan Pradhikaran from office account, it alleged that then deputy manager Oraon transferred the amount to the current account of Bhanu Construction.

    Mr Tiwari and Mr Kumar dishonestly transferred the amount to their various accounts. It was utilised and misappropriated by keeping it as a liquid security or margin for the credit facility extended to them by Axis Bank Ltd, HDFC Bank, SREI Equipment Finance Ltd and Cholamandalam Investment and Finance Company Ltd, the FIR alleged.

    According to the FIR, the SBI managed to recover Rs. 76.29 crore on November 20, 2017 from various accounts with different banks but Rs. 23.28 crore could not recovered, "resulting in loss to the bank and corresponding gain for Bhanu Construction".

    The agency has booked the accused under charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Those Seeking Votes In Ambedkar's Name Tried Erasing His Contribution: PM Modi
  • Hitting out at the Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said parties seeking votes in BR Ambedkar's name tried to erase his contribution in nation building and did little to build the Ambedkar International Centre conceived 23 years ago.

    PM Modi, who inaugurated the centre in the heart of the national capital in Janpath, also took a jibe at Rahul Gandhi's comment on being a Shiva devotee and said some parties talked more of Baba Bhole (Lord Shiva) than Babasaheb.

    Such was the incredible strength of Babasaheb Ambedkar that his philosophy and contribution in nation building could not be erased despite the efforts of some people, the prime minister said in his address. "Such was his incredible strength that when years after his demise efforts were made by such people to crush his philosophy, when efforts were made to erase his contribution towards nation-building, his ideals could not be wiped out from people's memory," he said.

    He said he would not be wrong in saying that "more people are still influenced by his ideas than the family for which such efforts (to erase his contribution) were made".

    The prime minister said the idea to construct the centre was conceived in 1992, but nothing was done for decades. "Nothing happened for 23 years...when our government came, we not only laid its foundation (in April 2015), but are also dedicating it to the nation today."

    In a broadside against the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, who is poised to become party president, he said political parties who seek votes in the name of Babasaheb Ambedkar were perhaps not even aware that the project was pending.

    "It is a different matter that they are thinking more of Baba Bhole than Babasaheb... even that is okay," he said.

    The Congress president-designate recently evoked Lord Shiva in reply to the BJP's criticism that his temple visits in Gujarat are an election gimmick. "I am a devotee of Shiv. The BJP may say anything, but I will remain honest," he had said in Ahmedabad.

    The prime minister said in his address that there are forces trying to divide the country on caste lines. Caste divisions, he added, put brakes on the pace of development.

    PM Modi also said that Dr Ambedkar's dream of social democracy -- where all have a say -- is still unaccomplished. "But I see hope in today's generation... things are changing... the ills of society are being removed," he said.

    He said the centre will be an inspiration for the promotion of the Dalit icon's thoughts and teachings and an important place for research on social and economic issues.

    PM Modi added that the government had developed five places related to Babasaheb Ambedkar into pilgrimage spots. The five pilgrimage spots -- in Delhi, Mumbai, Nagpur, Mhow and London -- were like a homage from the present generation.

    "I think that this centre is for the youth... where they can see and understand the vision of Babasaheb Ambedkar," the prime minister said.

Indian Navy Extends Help To Singapore Vessel Stranded At Sea
  • The Indian Navy engaged in search and rescue operations in Cyclone Ockhi-hit seas off Kerala and Lakshadweep extended help by giving fuel to a foreign vessel stranded off Minicoy Island.

    INS Shardul helped tug 'Bes Power' of Singapore which was stranded due to the cyclone 35 nautical miles north-east of Minicoy Island late last night.

    On being asked, the tug crew requested 45 tonnes of fuel to continue passage to Maldives. "Fuel was transferred to the Tug in true naval ethos of being the first responder to all," a Defence spokesman said here today.

    Meanwhile, a Dornier aircraft and a ship of the Navy have left for rescuing a boat stranded with 15 persons near Lakshadweep islands after receiving a message through an aircraft flying near Kochi, the spokesman said.

Business Affairs

GST woes dominate pre-Budget consultations Arun Jaitley received from stakeholders
  • The Central government may not be able to tweak the newly introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST) rules on its own, but issues related to the pan-India indirect tax system remains a key talking point in all the pre-Budget recommendations that are reaching Finance Minister Arun Jaitley from stakeholders across industry and business segments.
    Apex industry bodies such as Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Federation of Indian Exports Organisation (FIEO), Federation of Indian Micro and Small & Medium Enterprises (FISME), and others have all flagged their GST concerns in the pre-Budget consultations Jaitley has had with them in the past few days.
    While CII and FICCI both called for rationalization of GST rates to make the regime smoother, exporters highlighted the issues related with the refund of taxes and extension of duty draw back system for GST for a year. GST levied on freight for carrying fruits and vegetables was another matter that got flagged.
    In addition to GST concerns, there was near consensus in the demand for board, tax rate cuts for businesses and individuals. Industry representatives stated that such a move will spur domestic investment and demand, and  retain India's overall competitive environment globally.
    While the government has been listening to the plea from the stakeholders, its priorities for the Union Budget 2018-19 is almost clear. Infrastructure, social sector programmes and agriculture will be the three focus areas, as the country will be facing general elections in 2019 and all three remain highly politically sensitive sectors.  
    On agriculture, the setting-up of a GST-Council-like Empowered Group of State Agricultural Ministers to implement Agricultural Reforms has been proposed.
    In fact, Jaitley has agreed to the demands of the social sectors stakeholder organizations demand that Administrative Ministries should release welfare scheme funds on priority to beneficiaries. Assuring his government's commitment to ensure cost effective fund utilization of the welfare schemes spanning the various social sector ministries, the Finance Minister is known to have welcomed the suggestions for greater allocation of funds for child protection schemes and nutrition security. Targeted benchmarks to improve quality of government schools, healthcare for the elderly and incentives to ensure better employment conditions for working mothers, streamlining the vocational training to boost employment, addressing labour issues in the informal sector are all under consideration.
    On infrastructure, Jaitley wanted more private investments to come in. The Finance Minister said that private investment along with public and foreign investment are the key to boost growth and create job opportunities. He also said that the government has taken various steps like the setting up of National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) to boost investment in infrastructure sector.
    The suggestions that came from business leaders and the representatives of different industry chambers included permitting the purchase of Banks' Recapitalization Bonds by the Institutes and the public at large, reducing Government stakes in Public Sector Banks(PSBs), allowing banks to securitize their loans and sell the same and setting-up of Land Bank Corporation for monetization of Government lands including the land belonging to Army, Railways and Public Authorities.
    The highlights of some of the suggestions are:
    1. There is a need to consider across the board, tax rate cuts for businesses and individuals in India to spur domestic investment and demand, and to retain India's overall competitive environment globally.
    2. GST has been a landmark reform. Going forward, there is a need for convergence of 3-4 rates and to include all excluded items till date. Efforts should also continue to simplify compliance related to GST. Benefit of filing quarterly return under GST be extended to all rather than limiting to those with a turnover of Rs 1.5 crore.
    3. Remove the applicability of GST on Intra-entity transfer of services within the same legal entity.
    4. There is a need for clarity on anti-profiteering provisions under GST, specifically related to its applicability at product or entity level, examination at State or Central level, applicability on products/stocks prior to GST, etc.
    5. There is a need to exempt levy of Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) on write back of notional income pursuant to approved plan of IBC.  
    6. To boost Research and Innovation, there is a need to improvise the Patent Box regime that was introduced in the previous Budget. Government should also restore weighted deduction on Scientific Research Expenditure. Alternatively, provision of Research Tax Credit may be introduced.
    7. Consider establishing 2-3 Regulation Free Zones, wherein all regulatory requirements can be relaxed, especially for new-age, high-technology and innovative industries.
    8. Government should consider further consolidation and even privatisation of some of the Public Sector Banks (PSBs), having at the most 5-6 large Public Sector Banks.
    9. Continue focus on Productive Expenditure (Infrastructure Capex) and if this requires relaxation of fiscal deficit target, it should be considered.

Just 24 days left, only '50 per cent bank accounts' linked with Aadhaar
  • Twenty four days are left before the official deadline to link your bank account with Aadhaar Card expires, and only 50 per cent of the bank accounts have been connected with Aadhaar so far. The government counsel, however, assured the Supreme Court on Thursday that the Centre was "not against extending deadline till March 31 for those who don't have Aadhaar Card". This will definitely address a major concern of many who don't have the Aadhaar identity. BloombergQuint quoted VG Kannan, chief executive officer of the Indian Bank' Association, saying while the linking process is moving along, a little less than half the accounts have been linked so far.
    In a big relief for people who still haven't linked their Aadhaar number with services such as bank accounts, insurance policies, PAN, mutual funds, PPF, etc., the Modi government on Thursday informed the Supreme Court that it was willing to extend the deadline of various 131 services and welfare schemes to March 31 next year. The Centre had earlier set December 31 as the last date to link Aadhaar, except the Aadhaar-Mobile SIM linking, which is February 6 next year.
    The Supreme Court will be setting up a five-judge Constitution Bench next week to hear pleas on making Aadhaar card mandatory for various social and welfare schemes. A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was informed by Attorney General KK Venugopal that the Centre was willing to extend the deadline of December 31 to March 31 next year. However, Venugopal said that February 6 next year would remain the deadline for linking Aadhaar for availing of uninterrupted mobile services as it had been mandated by the apex court. Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for those who are opposed to the Aadhaar scheme told the bench, also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, that the Centre should give an undertaking that no coercive steps would be taken against those who fail to link their Aadhaar with various services.
    Even as the Supreme Court considers setting up a Constitution Bench next week, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has clarified that the deadlines for verifying bank accounts, PAN cards and mobile SIM cards with the biometric ID stand 'valid and lawful', and there is no change in them. There is no stay from the Supreme Court on Aadhaar and its linking to various services, it said.
    UIDAI asked people not to get misled by an outdated video doing rounds in the social media and Whatsapp and said "people should instead verify their banks accounts, investment accounts, SIM cards, etc as per the current laws and deadlines as early as possible to avoid any inconvenience."

Bitcoin skyrockets $17,000 mark ahead of bitcoin futures launching by CBOE
  • Bitcoin rose to $19,000 on cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase before falling more than 12 per cent from that high to $17,000. Earlier, bitcoin jumped by $4,000 and scaled the $17,000 mark for the first time. Experts cite the December 10 launching of bitcoin futures by the CBOE, one of the world's biggest derivatives exchanges, a major reason behind the sharp jump. Bitcoin now has a market value of more than $280 billion.
    The virtual currency has soared more than 1,000 per cent since the start of the year. Last Wednesday, it was trading at $9,500. So what is fuelling this rapid rise of bitcoin? This is something that has puzzled many bankers and financial analysts. Business magnet Warren Buffett recently called it a 'real bubble'. He is not alone to caution the investors against the cryptocurrency. Garrick Hileman, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School, earlier said: "What's happening right now has nothing to do with bitcoin's functionality as a currency - this is pure mania that's taken hold." Despite these cautionary words from financial experts, bitcoin continues to rise.
    Now, another warning has come for the virtual currency investors - this time from the Reserve Bank of India. The Central Bank on Wednesday issued its third warning, reminding the investors of its earlier concerns. In its first warning issued on December 24, 2013, the RBI had said that the creation, trading or usage of virtual currencies or VCs as a medium for payment are not authorised by any central bank or monetary authority. "No regulatory approvals, registration or authorisation is stated to have been obtained by the entities concerned for carrying on such activities," it added.
    The RBI's next warning came this year on February 1. It reiterated that the Reserve Bank has not given any licence or authorisation to any entities to operate such schemes or deal with bitcoin or any virtual currency. The bank regulator categorically said that any investor or trader dealing with virtual currencies 'will be doing so at their own risk'. 

Cargo traffic at major ports up 3.2% in October 2017
  • The cargo traffic at India's major ports grew by 3.2 per cent year-on-year, in October 2017. The cargo traffic had declined 0.3 per cent, two month's back in August, however, it grew by 2.5 per cent in the following month.

    Major ports in the country handled 56.4 million tonnes of cargo traffic in October 2017, compared to 54.7 million tonnes in October 2016. On a cumulative basis, 382,863 million tonnes of cargo traffic was handled during April-Oct 2017, compared to 370,812 million tonnes between April-Oct 2016, registering a growth of 3.3 per cent.
    Import cargo traffic and export cargo traffic rose by 2.4 per cent and 4.7 per cent, respectively, during the month. The transshipment cargo traffic also increased. It grew by 5.5 per cent.
    Major commodities, which registered higher cargo traffic during the month, include petroleum, oil & lubricants (5.2 per cent), coal (5.6 per cent) and container cargo (4.4 per cent). On the contrary, cargo traffic of iron ore and other goods declined by nine per cent and 6.9 per cent, respectively.

    L&T stock closes 2.45% higher after subsidiary wins over Rs 1,600-crore order
    • The Larsen and Toubro stock  rose in early trade on Thursday after the engineering and construction major said its subsidiary L&T Hydrocarbon Engineering has won an order from HPCL Ltd's Visakhapatnam refinery.
      The order which is valued over Rs 1,600 crore involves engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning of 3.053 MMTA full conversion hydrocracker project.
      At 11:45 am, the stock was trading over 2 percent or 24.90 points higher at 1214.95 level on the BSE.
      The stock closed 2.45 percent or 29 points higher at 1219 level on the BSE.
      The stock is up 34 percent or 311 points since the beginning of this year.  On an yearly basis, the stock has gained 34.32 percent or 309 points.
      The stock opened at 1,182 level and hit an intra day high of 1228 level on the BSE.  Meanwhile, the Sensex closed 352 points higher at 32,949 and the Nifty ended 122 points higher at 10,166 level.

    General Awareness

    Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India. Uniform Civil Code

    • Context: Observing that the Uniform Civil Code cannot be violative of any provision of the constitution, the Law Commission has said that it is planning to recommend religion-wise “piece meal” amendments to family laws if it finds it difficult to come out with a composite uniform civil code. The commission is in the process of segregating the nearly 45,000 suggestions it has received on its questionnaire on the uniform civil code.

      Background:

      Amid a raging debate on uniform civil code, the law panel had in October last year sought public views on the subject to revise and reform family laws, saying the aim is to address social injustice rather than to do away with the plurality of laws. In an appeal issued then, the commission had said the objective behind the endeavor is to address discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonize various cultural practices.

      What is uniform civil code?

      Uniform civil Code is a proposal to have a generic set of governing laws for every citizen without taking into consideration the religion.

      What the constitution says?

      Article 44 of the Constitution says that there should be a Uniform Civil Code. According to this article, “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”. Since the Directive Principles are only guidelines, it is not mandatory to use them.

      India needs a Uniform Civil Code for the following reasons:

      A secular republic needs a common law for all citizens rather than differentiated rules based on religious practices.
      Another reason why a uniform civil code is needed is gender justice. The rights of women are usually limited under religious law, be it Hindu or Muslim. The practice of triple talaq is a classic example. Many practices governed by religious tradition are at odds with the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Indian Constitution.
      Courts have also often said in their judgements that the government should move towards a uniform civil code including the judgement in the Shah Bano case.

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