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Current Affairs - 24 December 2017

General Affairs 

Fodder scam case verdict: Lalu Prasad held guilty, sentencing on January 3
  • The special CBI court today held Lalu Prasad Yadav guilty in one of the fodder scam cases. Quantum of punishment will be pronounced on January 3.

    Soon after pronouncement of judgment, Lalu Prasad was taken into custody and taken to jail in Ranchi.

    Former Bihar Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra has been acquitted. Five other accused were also acquitted by the CBI court.

    Mishra and Lalu Prasad were among the 22 persons, who were named as accused by the CBI in over two-decade-old corruption case.

    It is a case pertaining to fraudulent withdrawal of more than 89 lakh from Deoghar treasury between 1991 and 1994. A total 15 accused were held guilty by the CBI court.

    Reacting to the judgment, RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha alleged that the BJP was responsible for conviction of Lalu Prasad. He said that the CBI acted in partisan manner under pressure from the BJP. He added that the RJD will fight the conviction of Lalu Prasad legally. The RJD spokesperson alleged that the legally admissible evidence provided by them was set aside.

    Meanwhile, Lalu's son Tejashwi Yadav spoke to media persons and accused Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and BJP of maligning the RJD supremo.

    Earlier, Lalu Prasad expressed confidence that he would be acquitted in the Deoghar fodder scam case.

    Speaking to India Today, Lalu Prasad had said yesterday, "I am not at all tensed over the judgment to come tomorrow. I have complete faith in the judicial system of the country."

    His conviction in the scam spells more trouble for Rashtriya Janta Dal chief, who has found himself on the receiving end from the action by the authorities.

    The Enforcement Directorate (ED)and other government agencies have been coming down on assets owned by Lalu and his family members, including his daughter Misa Bharti and former Bihar deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav.

    The ED has filed a charge-sheet against Misa Bharti and her husband in a money laundering case. 

    In all, there were 34 accused in the Deoghar fodder scam case. Eleven accused died during the course of trial while one turned CBI approver and admitted to the crime.

    Before the pronouncement of verdict, Lalu Prasad's son and former Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav expressed confidence that the verdict will be in their favour.

RK Nagar bypoll: How wins for AIADMK, DMK or TTV Dhinakaran on Jayalalithaa's home turf will impact TN politics
  • The day after Jayalalithaa was pronounced dead, the New York Times spoke of a "power vacuum in southern India." More than twelve months later, after two of her former ministers merged their factions into a united AIADMK and won the right to use its iconic election symbol, there is some semblance of political stability in Tamil Nadu. Now, Jayalalithaa's party hopes the result of the bypoll in Chennai's RK Nagar, where the five-time chief minister won her last two elections, won't go against the run of play.

    But it just might.  

    The last thing Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam want is an upset in their revered leader's home turf, a constituency of over two lakh voters located in northern Chennai. Finishing second, third, or worse, in an election contested by Jayalalithaa's greatest rival, M Karunanidhi's DMK, and TTV Dhinakaran - a man she once expelled from the AIADMK - would be tremendously humiliating. On the other hand, a win for presidium chairman Madhusudhanan would be both a numerical and moral triumph for the AIADMK. Let's break down what is at stake for trio of main contenders into three possible scenarios. 

    If AIADMK's Madhusudhanan wins... 

    Chief Minister Palaniswami will enjoy the support of 118 lawmakers, one more than the number he needs to cross the post in an assembly with 234 elected members. As many as 18 MLAs were recently disqualified - many of them are loyal to TTV Dhinakaran, the nephew of Jayalalithaa's longtime aide and friend, VK Sasikala. Victory in the RK Nagar bypoll would help the AIADMK consolidate its position.   

    If TTV Dhinakaran wins... 

    The term 'political earthquake' is thrown around a lot, but it can safely be said that it would apply to a win in RK Nagar for TTV Dhinakaran, who contested as an independent. Like the AIADMK, Dhinakaran, Sasikala, and their supporters claim to be Jayalalithaa's political heirs. As a leading news agency observed, Dhinakaran is already "touted as a formidable leader." Election to public office could make him even more influential, especially since he says he has 'sleeper cells' within the AIADMK. He even told India Today's Priyamvatha that he would think about a tie-up with the Congress.  

    If DMK's Marudhu Ganesh wins... 

    MK Stalin, the working president of the DMK, has promised to treat RK Nagar like his 'adopted child' (as opposed to his own constituency, Kolathur). The AIADMK hopes voters in the constituency aren't fans of the idea. RK Nagar is a party bastion which has backed a DMK candidate only once, in 1996. Besides, Karunanidhi was Jayalalithaa's great political nemesis. A DMK win in RK Nagar would be a sickening blow for her successors in government. What's more, it would add to the political momentum the opposition party has gained after the verdict in the 2G spectrum case. 

2G spectrum scam mystery that is still unsolved: Rs 2,645 crore or Rs 4.19 lakh crore?
  • The final loss figure incurred in the 2G scam would have been Rs 2,645 crore but only for the finance ministry.

    A more realistic cost of spectrum based on market rate is what the finance ministry was pushing for and which is what the CAG latched on to.

    In fact, the finance ministry had categorically rejected a suggestion of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that inflation as calculated by the government for all things routine, i.e. the State Bank Of India's prime lending rate, would not do in the case of telecom.

    WHY CAG CALCULATED A BIGGER LOSS

    The finance ministry's stand was that the telecom sector had grown by leaps since 2001, when the price was initially determined. It argued that the spectrum license price should reflect reality of the market.

    The Department of Telecom ignored the advice. The CAG later used the correspondence between the two in arriving at a different conclusion for the amount of loss incurred.

    "There were not more than 50,000 subscribers in 2000 but this increased to about 1 billion in 10 years. Spectrum prices too went up dramatically but there were no means of deciding what the price should have been when the audit was done," said RB Sinha, who was part of the team that did the 2G audit.

    Vinod Rai, in his book, "Not Just An Accountant" also points out, "There were strong interjections from the ministry of finance that clearly felt that applying a price determined in 2001, without indexation, was inappropriate. However, this was brushed aside...Thus, the action of the DoT to go with a price that was determined 2001, when the sector was still nascent, after a passage of seven years in spite of changes in market conditions, and in the face of contrary advice from the PMO and the ministries of finance and law, certainly does not pass any test of transparency..."

    THE ACTUAL LOSS?

    The price of Rs 1,651 crore was fixed in 2001 but that was the price of the licence that came with a start up spectrum of 4.4 mhz. Over and above this the operator had to pay a Spectrum Usage Charge and a Licence Fee.

    While this kept increasing, the Rs 1651 crore figure remained frozen. When field officers of the CAG started their audit, they chose to base their report on this figure and using the government rate of inflation, the figure arrived at didn't shock anybody.

    The report prepared by Late RP Singh was just one of the many figures that the CAG was looking at. In fact, the highest figure of loss that the CAG came up with was not Rs 1.76 lakh crore, but a whopping Rs 4.19 lakh crore. These were figures that were rejected at the draft stage and the CAG chose a more realistic figure.

Rajasthan: 33 dead, 15 injured after bus falls into Banas river in Sawai Madhopur's Dubi
  • At least 33 people dead and over 15 are reported to have suffered serious injuries after a passenger bus fell into Banas river today in Sawai Madhopur's Dubi.

    The Sawai Madhopur-Lalsot bus fell off a bridge into the river, reportedly after the driver lost control of the vehicle due to over-speeding. Four children, seven women and 22 men are among those killed today.

    The passengers travelling in the 40-seater bus hailed from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Most of them were en route to the Ramdevra Temple in Lalsot.

    All the injured have been rushed to a nearby hospital.

    In a condolence message, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, "My thoughts are with the families of the deceased. State Government is closely monitoring the situation, including rescue operations and providing all possible assistance to those affected."

Rahul Gandhi chairs his first Congress Working Committee meeting, aggressive campaign against Modi
  • As newly elected Congress president Rahul Gandhi chaired his first Congress Working Committee meeting on Friday, he set the tone for an aggressive campaign against the 'Modi model' that will be at the heart of the party's agenda in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

    Even as the meeting remained dominated by emotional farewell speeches for former party president Sonia Gandhi, the new party chief attempted to keep the focus on two issues - exposing the Modi model of development and strengthening internal democracy within the party.

    "I view you as the voice of the Congress party so I would like that we institutionalise a meeting of the Working Committee, maybe once every two months and we just close the date. And, every two months automatically, the working committee meets so that we can hear what you want to say and what the nation is feeling," he told the CWC members.

    Rahul said, "It (loss in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh) was disappointing" but "it was pleasing to see the Congress fight hatred and anger with respect, love and courage".

    "BJP's entire foundation is on lies. Be it 2G or Modi model, Rs 15 lakh in every bank account, right prices for farmers' produce, demonetisation, Gabbar Singh Tax. All lies, the truth of the 2G is out there now," he told reporters after the meeting.

Business Affairs

Infosys buys back over 11 crore equity shares under its Rs 13,000 crore buyback scheme
  • IT services major Infosys today said it has completed its Rs 13,000 crore buyback programme that saw participation from Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Rohan Murty and LIC among others.

    The buyback scheme - a first in the company's over three decade history - commenced on November 30 and closed on December 14.

    "(A total of) 11,30,43,478 equity shares were bought back under the Buyback at a price of Rs 1,150 per equity share. The total amount utilised in the Buyback is Rs 13,000 crore excluding transaction costs..." Infosys said in a regulatory filing.

    The programme saw participation from Life Insurance Corporation of India, Singapore government, Sudha Gopalakrishnan (wife of co-founder S Gopalakrishnan) and Rohan Murty (son of co-founder NR Narayana Murthy's son) among others.

    The filing showed that of all the equity shares tendered in the buyback, 5.41 per cent were by LIC and 2.18 per cent by Singapore government.

    Similarly, 15 lakh shares of Sudha Gopalakrishnan and 13.92 lakh shares held by Murty were accepted under the buyback.

    As of September this year, Sudha Gopalakrishnan held the largest share in individual capacity among promoters group members with 2.14 per cent shareholding.

    The founders and families classified as promoters group held 29.28 crore shares, or 12.75 per cent, in Infosys at the end of September 2017.

    After the buyback, the promoter group now holds 12.90 per cent share, as per the filing.

    The buyback had been a long-standing demand by some of the founders and high-profile former executives, who have been pushing Infosys to return surplus capital to shareholders.

    Share buybacks typically improve earnings per share and return surplus cash to shareholders, while supporting share price during period of sluggish market condition.

    Earlier this year, its larger rival Tata Consultancy Services completed a Rs 16,000-crore mega buyback offer. Other competitors like Cognizant, Wipro and Mindtree had also made similar announcements.

GST: Companies have till March to put new price stickers on unsold products
  • The government has allowed companies, till March 2018, to paste price stickers on unsold packaged products to reflect new MRP post GST, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said today.

    After Goods and Services Tax (GST) became effective from July 1, companies were asked to use stickers on unsold packaged commodities to display new maximum retail price (MRP) till September, which was later extended till December.

    When rates of about 200 items were cut in mid-November, the ministry permitted to paste additional stickers under the the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011.

    "In case of GST, we allowed companies to paste stickers on unsold packaged products till December. In last GST council meeting, GST rates have been reduced for about 200 items. So, we have decided to extend the December deadline to March 2018," Paswan told reporters here.

    Last month, the ministry had allowed to "affix an additional sticker or stamping or online printing for declaring the reduced MRP on the pre-packaged commodity".

    As many as 178 items of daily use have been shifted from the top tax bracket of 28 per cent to 18 per cent, while a uniform 5 per cent tax was prescribed for all restaurants, both air- conditioned and non-AC.

    To ensure GST cuts are passed on to consumers, Paswan had recently directed state legal metrology officers to check if companies are pasting the new MRP stickers.

Open to improvements in Aadhaar-based privacy framework, says Finance Minister Arun Jaitley
  • Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said the government will remain open to any suggestions for improving the privacy framework surrounding Aadhaar.

    Jaitley further said that the issue of 'right to privacy' was "hopefully" settled by the Supreme Court judgement.

    Speaking at a book launch event, the finance minister said, "I think if tomorrow you have a situation where either the court or somebody in public domain or Parliament suggests ways and means of strengthening that privacy as technologies evolve for further securing them..., this is something which is not adversarial at all."

    "And therefore no government of the day should ever look at it from an adversarial point of view," Jaitley said.

    The minister said that Aadhaar was an evolving idea and he is "quite certain" that the last word on Aadhaar hasn't been said as yet.

    The government would always remain open for any further improvements which strengthen Aadhar, he said.

    "Obviously you will have to make the adequate firewalls, but at the same time the larger public interest will always have to prevail over the individual's personal interest," Jaitley said.

    He added: "I am not going to say that what was done by this government was a step better than what was floated by the previous government."

    Jaitley pointed out that curb on linkages through Aadhaar has led to huge savings for the government.

    On savings through Aadhaar, he said, "There are estimations and its expanding, it'll continue to expand."

Ex-ISRO head G Madhavan Nair granted bail in Antrix-Devas deal case by Delhi court
  • Former ISRO chairperson G Madhavan Nair was on Saturday granted bail by a Delhi court in the sensational Antrix-Devas deal case in which a loss of INR 578 crore was caused to the exchequer.

    Special Judge Santosh Snehi Mann granted the relief to Nair on a personal bond of INR 50,000 and two sureties of the same amount.

    During the proceedings, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) informed the court that two accused could not be served summons as they had settled in the US, and the process was still on to execute the summons to them.

    The court, meanwhile, took a strict view over the non- appearance of accused Veena S Rao, a former additional secretary in the Department of Space (DoS), on the ground that she had a meeting with the Karnataka chief minister.

    "She (Rao) should be careful about her decisions... Since it is her first appearance after the summons, she is exempted," the judge said.

    The probe agency opposed the bail plea, saying they were high profile people and may flee if released on bail.

    However, except three accused, the court granted bail to the rest who appeared before it, including A Bhaskar Narayana Rao, the then director in ISRO and K R Sridhar Murthy, the then executive director of Antrix.

    The court had on September 16 summoned Nair and others as accused while taking cognisance of the CBI charge sheet which alleged that Nair and other officials of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Department of Space (DoS) wrongfully leased out S-Band, a restricted wavelength of the INSAT satellites, to Devas Multimedia by Antrix.

    The cognisance of the final probe report was taken after the CBI apprised the court that it had secured the requisite sanction from the authorities concerned to prosecute the former officials of premier space organisations.

    The FIR was filed on March 16, 2015 against Nair and others accusing them of facilitating "wrongful" gain of INR 578 crore to private multimedia company Devas by Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO.

    The probe agency had on August 11 last year filed a charge sheet against the accused, alleging they had caused a loss of INR 578 crore to the exchequer by abusing their official position to favour a private company.

    The case relates to leasing of S-Band, a restricted wavelength of the INSAT satellites to deliver video, multimedia and information services to mobile receivers in vehicles and mobile phones to Devas Multimedia by Antrix.

    Air Deccan resumes operations again with flight to Jalgaon
    • India's first low-cost carrier Air Deccan, which ceased operations after being acquired by erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines in 2008, took off wings again as a commuter airline with its maiden flight taking off for Jalgaon from here today.

      The flight, DN 1320, took off for Jalgaon, around 400 km from here in North Maharashtra, from the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) here this afternoon.

      "It's a sense of great beginning. A sense of being fortunate that Air Deccan is taking off again," Air Deccan chairman Capt G R Gopinath told PTI.

      There was a dream of taking flying to every possible corner of the country, which did not come to fruition because of Air Deccan's merger with the Kingfisher Airlines in 2008, he said.

      "Now I have the opportunity to relaunch operations across the country," said the pioneer of low-cost aviation in India.

      The flight was inaugurated by Maharashtra PWD Minister Chandrakant Patil along with Gopinath.

      However, the maiden flight was marred by delay. The aircraft took off at around 2.55 pm instead of the scheduled departure of 1.20 pm. It landed at the Jalgaon airport at 4 pm where it was given a traditional water cannon salute.

      Air Deccan's strategic partners Shaishav Shah of Ahmedabad-based GSEC Ltd and Himanshu Shah of Monarch Networth Capital as well as senior DGCA officials were on-board the inaugural flight.

      Air Deccan received the scheduled commuter operator (SCO) permit from regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) yesterday.

      In the first phase of operations, Air Deccan plans to provide connectivity to Jalgaon, Nashik and Kolhapur from Mumbai and Pune.

      Air Deccan had bagged 34 routes in the first phase of bidding for Udan scheme, which caps fares at Rs 2,500 for a flight under hour duration.

      For the Jalgaon flight, the airline has pegged fares at Rs 2,250 for 50 per cent of the seats, to be operated under the Regional Connectivity Scheme, while the ticket price for the remaining nine will be Rs 4,500 per seat, an official said.

      Air Deccan has deployed a 19-seater plane, Beachcraft B-1900D, (18 passengers and one crew member) on the Mumbai- Jalgaon route. The same aircraft will come back to Mumbai and then fly to Nashik this evening.

      Flight operators, awarded routes under the scheme, are entitled to a subsidy to keep fares low for the passengers. An airline has to set aside 50 per cent of its seating capacity at the discounted fares.

    General Awareness

    The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill of 2017

    • Context:

      The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill of 2017 has been introduced by the government in the Parliament.

      Highlights of the Bill:

      The Bill proposes to allow non-resident Indians (NRIs) to emerge as a decisive force in the country’s electoral politics on their own terms. The amendment paves the way to remove an “unreasonable restriction” posed by Section 20A of the Representation of the People Act, which requires overseas electors to be physically present in their electoral constituencies to cast their votes.

      What necessitated this move?

      Section 20A of the Act provides for registration and inclusion of overseas electors in the electoral rolls. The Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 provide for overseas electors to register themselves in the electoral rolls of their respective constituencies on the basis of self-attested copies of their passport and valid visa, and exercise their franchise in person on production of the original passport at the time of voting at the specified polling booth.

      Thus, the rules demand for the physical presence of overseas electors in their respective polling stations in India on the day of polling. This causes hardship to the overseas electors. This amendment proposes facilitating an external mode of voting, that is, voting by proxy, whereby such electors can exercise their franchise from their places of residence abroad.

      Significance of this move:

      If the Bill is passed, overseas voters can appoint a proxy to cast their votes on their behalf, subject to certain conditions to be laid down in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. This would considerably mitigate the difficulties presently faced by overseas electors in exercising their franchise.

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