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Current Affairs - 29 January 2018

General Affairs 

Time Has Not Come For Any Rethink On AFSPA: Army Chief
  • Time has not come for any rethink on AFSPA or making some of its provisions milder, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has said, asserting that the Army has been taking adequate precautions in protecting human rights while operating in disturb areas like Jammu and Kashmir.

    General Rawat's remarks assume significance as they come against the backdrop of reports that several rounds of high-level discussions have taken place between the defence and home ministries on the "need to remove or dilute at least some provisions" of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

    The act gives the security forces special rights and immunity in carrying out various operations in disturbed areas. There has been a long-standing demand from various quarters in J-K and the Northeast to withdraw it.

    "I do not think time has come to even rethink on AFSPA at the moment," General Rawat told PTI in a recent interview when asked about reports that government was re-examining the demand for a milder version of AFSPA in these states.

    The Army chief said though AFSPA has certain strong provisions, the Army is concerned about collateral damages and ensuring that its operations under the law do not inconvenience the local people.

    "We have never been strong in applying the force the way it could be applied (under AFSPA). We are very concerned about human rights. We are absolutely concerned about collateral damage. So do not get too much concerned because we are taking adequate measures and precautions," he said.

    General Rawat said the Army has rules of engagements for various operations at every level to ensure that no inconvenience is caused to the people while it is operating under AFSPA.

    "The AFSPA is an enabling provision which allows the Army in particular to operate in such difficult areas and let me assure you that the Army has got quite a good human rights record," he said.

    Asked whether time has come to adopt a combined approach involving all three services to deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in J-K, the Army Chief did not give a direct reply but added that the armed forces have "options available" to conduct various kinds of operations.

    "Yes, we have options available to conduct various kind of operations but these cannot be divulged because of the nature of the operations we have to conduct will only alert the other side," he said.

    General Rawat added that "when you do operational planning, these are best left to the armed forces in the manner in which they have to conduct their operations. And the manner in which the operations are conducted and the way they are planned and the way they are executed are never put in open domain."

    To question on whether there was room for synergy among external and internal intelligence gathering to effectively contain cross border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, he said the armed forces and all other agencies have been operating in unison.

    "At this juncture, the kind of cooperation we are having among the intelligence agencies is of a very high order. Today all the intelligence agencies and the security forces are operating in unison. There is an excellent synergy among all of us and I do not think we can take it to the next higher level from what is happening at the moment. I think this is the best way and right way," the Army chief said.

    Since the beginning of last year, the Army pursued an aggressive anti-terror policy in J-K and, at the same time, forcefully responded to all ceasefire violations by the Pakistani troops along the Line of Control with a tit-for-tat approach.

    The LoC remained volatile last year. According to official figures, 860 incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops were reported in 2017 as against 221 the year before.

This State Won The Best Tableau Award At Republic Day Parade
  • The tableau from Maharashtra depicting the coronation of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at the Republic Day Parade at the Rajpath in New Delhi won the first prize, followed by Assam's tableau on traditional masks of the Satras.

    The tableau of Chhattisgarh, which depicted Ramgarh's ancient amphitheatre in addition to artistes performing dance based on Kalidasa's 'Meghadootam', was awarded the third prize.

    Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the awards to the winning teams at an event in New Delhi today.

    Among the three military services, the contingent from the Army's Punjab Regiment was awarded the best marching contingent trophy, while the Indo-Tibetan Border Police team won the best marching contingent prize among the para-military and other auxiliary forces.

    In the category of tableaux representing Union ministries and departments, the best tableau award went to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. The tableau depicted 'Khelo India', the national programme for development of sports.

    Fourteen states and Union Territories had presented their tableaux at the Republic Day Parade at the Rajpath on Friday, depicting the country's rich art and cultural heritage.

    Nine central ministries and departments as well as central paramilitary forces had also presented their tableaux.

    Among performances by schoolchildren, South Central Zone Cultural Centre's 'Baredi Dance' (from Madhya Pradesh) was awarded the first prize.

Will Do Everything To Pass "Triple Talaq" Bill In Budget Session: Centre
  • The Government today made a strong pitch for the passage of the triple talaq bill in the Budget Session of parliament and said it would talk to various parties to bring about consensus on the issue.

    A day before the start of the session, the government met leaders of several political parties in parliament House and sought their cooperation in ensuring its success.

    The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar, besides leaders of the opposition and other parties.

    Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kumar termed the all-party meeting "fruitful".

    The government will do everything possible to ensure the passage of bill in the Budget Session, Mr Kumar later said.

    Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will present the current BJP-led NDA regime's last full-fledged budget on February 1. The first spell of the session will end on February 9.

    Parliament will meet again between March 5 and April 6.

    The budget is likely to carry a strong political message with an emphasis on farmers and the poor and an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

    Besides the budget priorities, it is the government's legislative agenda which is likely to witness strong protests from the Opposition.

    It will also seek to corner the government during the debate on the 'Motion of Thanks to the President's Address' over a host of issues, including unemployment, farm distress and communal clashes, opposition leaders said.

    The President's address, which projects the government's points of view, is likely to focus on the Centre's efforts at boosting economic and farm growth, creating employment and empowering the poor and other weaker sections of society.

    Besides the triple talaq legislation, which criminalises instant talaq by Muslim men, the government is also likely to make a pitch for the passage of the OBC bill, which seeks to give a constitutional status to the OBC commission.

    Both bills are politically significant for the BJP which is a strong votary of the abolition of instant triple talaq among Muslims, a practice declared void by the Supreme Court last year.

    The Lok Sabha had passed the bill seeking imprisonment for Muslim men convicted of practising instant triple talaq, but a united opposition had stalled it in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA lacks a majority.

    The BJP also hopes to consolidate its support among backward classes by according constitutional status to the OBC commission, which, it believes, will give it more teeth.

Can't Share The Other's Photo Online, Orders Supreme Court, Grants Divorce
  • The Supreme Court has dissolved the marriage of a couple and restrained the man and the woman from putting photographs of each other in any mode at any place, including the Internet and social media.

    While granting divorce, a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra directed the man, an engineering and managment graduate from Maharashtra, to pay Rs. 37 lakh to the woman towards permanent alimony within two months.

    The bench, also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, passed the order after both the parties said they would like to put the controversy to rest and their marriage should be annulled.

    "Neither the husband nor the wife shall put the photographs of each other in any mode at any place which would also include social media or online," the bench said in its order.

    The woman, who was represented through advocate Dushyant Parashar, told the court that the man should be asked to pay a substantial sum of alimony towards her maintenance.

    The Supreme Court also quashed the criminal proceedings arising out of the lodging of two FIRs in the case. It said that if any case relating to matrimonial dispute or any kind of property dispute, claim or dispute relating to any kind of criminal liability was pending between them, the same shall stand quashed.

    "The divorce petition preferred by the parties is deemed to have been disposed of and there shall be no future claims by the wife against the husband and vice versa," the top court said.

    It expunged from records all the allegations levelled in the petitions filed by the man and the woman against each other.

    "The expunging of remarks would mean no one shall be entitled to get the certified copy of the said pleadings," the bench said.

Padma Awards Selection Process Now Transparent, Says PM Modi
  • In his first Mann ki Baat address of 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi credited the government that he heads for ensuring the prestigious Padma Awards went to common people who "may not be seen in big cities but have done transformative work for society."

    One of the highest civilian awards of the country, Padma Awards are conferred in three categories -- Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.

    PM Modi said his government has given more importance to the work that the nominees did than to their identities. The old methodology used to decide who will get the Padma Awards has changed; it has become more transparent, now that anyone can nominate any person online, PM Modi said.

    As he was addressing the nation today, the Prime Minister's Office tweeted the names of some people who are not seen in newspapers and television, but who have done such work as worthy of being conferred the Padma Awards.

    "I am sure you all felt proud after reading about the Padma Awards," PM Modi said in his monthly radio address.

    He congratulated Arvind Gupta, an Indian Institute of Technology graduate who went on to make toys from garbage for children for over four decades. The 30-year-long dedication to social work by Karnataka resident Sitavaa Jodatti, who has been helping Devdasis and Dalits in Belgaum district, also found a mention in the Prime Minister's speech.

    "You may have noticed that many ordinary people not visible in big cities, in newspapers or on TV are being awarded with Padma citations," PM Modi said.

    Laxmikutty, a tribal teacher in Kerala who has created some 500 herbal medicines including antidote to treat snake bites, and West Bengal resident Subhasini Mistri, 75, who built a hospital for the poor with money that she saved by working as a maid and selling vegetables, were some of the people who, in PM Modi's own words, "not visible in big cities" and who were conferred the Padma Awards.

    The Padma Vibhushan is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service; Padma Bhushan for distinguished service of high order, and Padma Shri for distinguished service in any field.

    The awards are given in various disciplines of activities, art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, civil service.

Business Affairs

JSW Steel may offer Rs 30,000 crore for debt-laden Bhushan Steel
  • In a bid to give tough competition to competitors, JSW Steel is expected to double its bid value for debt-laden Bhushan Steel, a source privy to the development said.

    The last date to submit the bids now is 3 February 2018.

    On January 24, the insolvency resolution professional (IRP) of Bhushan Steel had extended the deadline for submission of resolution plans to 3 February 2018 from 25 January 2018. "The liquidation value has set been set at Rs15,000 crore, below that the bid will not be accepted.

    Looking at the competition, JSW Steel is expected to double its bid amount. It can be between Rs25,000 crore to Rs30,000 crore," the person aware of the development said. Liquidation value is the minimum value set for a stressed asset by the committee of creditors. Below that bid will not be accepted.

    Luxembourg-based multinational steel firm ArcelorMittal and domestic industry major Tata Steel are also in the race for Bhushan Steel, which is undergoing insolvency proceedings.

    JSW Steel has decided to bid for Bhushan Steel, maker of auto-grade steel in India, in a team. It has roped in its Japanese business partner JFE Steel Corp and Piramal Enterprises, which is the flagship firm of Piramal Group, for the purpose.

    Bhushan Steel, one of the 12 non-performing accounts referred by the Reserve Bank of India for National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) proceedings, owes an amount of Rs44,478 crore to its lenders. According to the information on Bhushan Steel Ltd website, the company is the 3rd largest secondary steel producer in the country with an existing steel production capacity of 5.6 million tonne per annum.

Corporate America urges Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to reduce tax uncertainties
  • Ahead of the Budget, corporate America has urged Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for further reduction in tax uncertainty for multinational companies and institutional investors, a step which it said would help attract more foreign direct investments to India.

    "A significant positive step toward improving the investment climate would be to further reduce tax uncertainty for multinational companies and institutional investors in India," Nisha Desai Biswal, the president of the US-India Business Council (USIBC), said in a memorandum submitted to Jaitley.

    Noting that in today's economic environment, scarce capital is allocated to markets offering optimal returns, Biswal said global businesses allocate investments where post-tax returns for a given risk profile are highest.

    When tax costs are uncertain, particularly in a foreign country, investors normally provide for them on a most conservative basis, she observed.

    "Therefore, tax uncertainty results in an increase of risk when investing in any given project drives investors to either withhold investments or require a higher rate of return to account for this risk, thus raising the cost of capital in the uncertain market," said Biswal, who was the Obama administration's point person for South and Central Asia.

    Welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plans to "transform" India's economy and his efforts to promote India as a global investment destination, the USIBC said for India to be successful in attracting the international investors, it needs to create a more stable and predictable fiscal regime and address retrospective taxation and legacy cases that remain open.

    "USIBC members believe that unless resolved, the lack of clarity in the government's approach to taxation risk will undermine progress in other areas of the economy and will continue to damage India's reputation among investors," said the memorandum running into 39 pages.

    Describing it as a major concern for international investors, including USIBC members, Biswal said by rescinding the historical retrospective tax legislation, India would have an opportunity to proceed to a satisfactory resolution of legacy cases which would be beneficial to both India and the companies involved.

    As indicated by the high-profile nature surrounding recent cross-border tax rulings, one of the primary frustrations of foreign multinational companies investing in India is an often inconsistent transfer pricing regime and a lack of a predictable, efficient dispute resolution mechanism, the USIBC rued.

    USIBC said it believes that India must ensure that transfer pricing principles are applied in a fair and consistent manner for all taxpayers, as well as allow a reasonable method for determining transfer pricing comparables that support fees on services performed in India for non-Indian affiliated entities and match the nature of the company's services performed.

    "To facilitate cross-border trade and investment without the barrier of double taxation, the Government of India and the US Government should reaffirm the shared commitment to improving tax dispute resolution. To that end, the two governments should work to modernize the US-India Bilateral Tax Treaty to reflect the current business and investment environment," the memorandum said.

    USIBC recommended that the compliance burden should be reduced on service sector by reducing the frequency of return filing. For e.g. instead of monthly returns, service sector companies should be allowed to file tax returns on a half-yearly basis.

    Noting that the industry is very pleased to see the significant progress in capital market reforms made over the past several years by the Ministry of Finance and others, USIBC said, however, continued lack of predictability in some tax policy stands as a "major deterrent" to Indian markets for global capital, dampening the effects of any policy and regulatory reforms made to encourage this capital.

Flex-engine bikes to hit Indian markets soon, says Nitin Gadkari
  • Two major bike makers are expected to soon come up with electric and flex engine motorcycles in the Indian markets, according to Union minister Nitin Gadkari.

    A flex-fuel or dual fuel vehicle is capable of operating on both petrol and ethanol.

    Keen to promote electric vehicles fleet as well as vehicles on alternative fuel like ethanol, Transport and Shipping Minister Gadkari has also been emphasising the need to enhance ethanol output in a bid to move towards ethanol- based transportation.

    "By the end of this month, two two-wheeler manufactures have promised to come up with electric as well as flex-engine motorcycles which can run both on petrol and ethanol," Gadkari told PTI.

    He said both bikes are expected to hit the market soon.

    "These can be run on 100 per cent petrol and 100 per cent ethanol," the minister said.

    Gadkari also emphasised the need to diversify agriculture towards power and energy by producing ethanol.

    The country incurs a huge Rs 7 lakh crore on import bills of crude and if "we save even Rs 2 lakh crore out of this by indigenous ethanol, it will turn around the agriculture economy," the minister said.

    Gadkari said the government is working towards policies to encourage ethanol, which can be easily produced from wheat straw, rice straw, bamboo and other produce.

    "One tonne of rice straw can produce 280 litres of ethanol and give rise to new industries. It is not only import substitute but cost effective, pollution free and clean fuel," he asserted.

    There is a need to change the crop pattern if there is surplus crop towards ethanol production, the minister said adding when America, Brazil and Canada can run vehicles like Mercedes, BMW, Ford or Toyota on flex engine, why cant automobile players do the same here.

    He said one litre of ethanol would cost about half the petrol price and urged the need for massive bamboo plantation in the North East for this.

    The minister said instead of setting up refineries at a cost of Rs 70,000 crore, India could go for massive bamboo plantation to obtain ethanol.

    The minister said plans are afoot to gradually convert transport to electric, ethanol, methanol, bio-diesel, bio CNG and other such means.

    The minister also said electric buses will be promoted and using super capacitor technology, a charged bus can run for 36 km and will be charged in 3 minutes.

    He said about a dozen companies have started manufacturing lithium ion batteries and the prices have dropped by 50 per cent and added that recently in Gurgaon a green transport fleet of 1,000 electric auto-rickshaws was launched.

Commerce Ministry for single GST rate on multimodal transport of vehicles
  • The commerce ministry has pitched for single GST rate for multimodal transportation of vehicles to improve logistic services and reduce compliance burden on automobile manufacturers, an official said. Multimodal transportation includes a combination of more than one mode of movement, such as rail, road or sea, for end-to-end delivery of goods.

    Automobile industry body Society of Indian Automobile Manufactures (SIAM) had approached the logistics department of the ministry raising issues faced by companies due to lack of a clearly defined multimodal GST (Goods and Services Tax) structure. In the present scenario, manufacturers and their logistics service providers have to deal with the issue of variable GST rates, applicable on various sectors of the entire multimodal transportation process, according to SIAM. They have stated that currently there is no clearly defined multimodal GST structure in place where vehicle makers could hand over finished goods through a single document to a third-party logistics service provider from the factory on an end-to-end basis.

    The government official said that the current structure is leading to complexity in the entire taxation system that often leading to certain inefficiencies. The ministry has suggested the GST council for single GST rate for multimodal transportation of vehicles, the official added.

    The SIAM has also pointed out that in the multimodal movement of goods, where multiple modes of transportation are involved, the present GST law is subjective and is left to the interpretation of consultants or taxation experts to provide better understanding of the applicable tax rates.

    "We would prefer all the activities under multimodal movement to be bundled together and considered one and may not be seen in isolation," the association has added. The government has appointed a special secretary (logistics) in the commerce ministry to facilitate logistics with a view to cut transaction costs for industry.

India cheapest country to live in after South Africa: Survey
  • India is ranked second only to South Africa as the cheapest country to live or retire, according to a recent survey of 112 countries.

    The survey by GoBankingRates ranked nations on the bases of four key affordability metrics provided by online pricing database Numbeo. The metrics are: Local purchasing power index, rent index, Groceries index, and Consumer price index.

    With the second lowest rent index among the 50 cheapest countries (after neighbour Nepal), living in India can be cheaper compared to most of the countries.

    India also has some of the lowest prices for consumer goods and groceries, with typical monthly expenses for these priced around USD 285 for a single person living in Kolkata.

    The survey says that India, home to 1.25 billion residents, is the most populous among the 50 cheapest countries. Its major industries include textiles, chemicals and food processing. India also has a relatively high local purchasing power in the major cities that were surveyed.

    Indias local purchasing power is 20.9 per cent lower, rent is 95.2 per cent cheaper, groceries are 74.4 per cent cheaper, local goods and services are 74.9 per cent cheaper, the survey said.

    India is cheaper than its neighbouring countries like Colombia ranked at 13, Pakistan (14), Nepal (28), Bangladesh (40).

    The local purchasing power index measures the relative purchasing power of a typical salary in that country, compared to New York City. A lower purchasing power buys fewer goods, while a higher purchasing power buys more.

    While the rent index compares typical rental prices in the country to New York City, the groceries index holds a similar comparison for typical grocery prices.

    The consumer price index compares costs of local goods and services - including restaurants, groceries, transportation and utilities ? to New York City.

    According to the survey, even among the 50 cheapest countries, rent is at least 70 per cent cheaper than in New York City, groceries are at least 40 per cent cheaper, and consumer goods and services cost less by 30 per cent or more. Local purchasing power does vary greatly among these cheap countries, however.

    South Africa has topped the survey as the cheapest country to live or retire. Being the worlds largest producer of platinum, gold and chromium, goes far to enrich the country and its economy. This resulted in a local purchasing power that is significantly higher than what New Yorkers face, which is the most favourable factor that helps South Africa top the list.

    Along with a higher local purchasing power, South Africa also offers lower prices on consumer goods and groceries, and rent costs that are typical of the 50 cheapest countries. In the major city of Cape Town, for instance, monthly expenses total just under USD 400 while the average rent costs are reflected by the typical price to rent a one-bedroom in Durban of around USD 280 a month.

    Among the most expensive countries in the survey are Bermuda (ranked 112), Bahamas (111), Hong Kong (110), Switzerland (109) and Ghana (108).

General Awareness

ndian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
Chhau dance

  • Context: A traditional Indian Chhau dance show will be staged at National Palace Museum in Taipei City as part of efforts to strengthen cultural exchanges between Taiwan and the South Asian nation. Jointly organized by NPM and India-Taipei Association, “Chhau Nritya: Dancing Tales from India” will be presented by Sarberiya Milan Sangha Chhau Nritya Party—a troupe sponsored by New Delhi-headquartered India Council for Cultural Relations.

    About Chhau dance:

    Originating in eastern India, Chhau features dancers in colorful masks and costumes performing movements inspired by animals, birds, martial arts and tribal and folk customs. The practice was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. Chhau shows typically depict episodes from classic Hindu epics.

    It is found in three styles named after the location where they are performed, ie. the Purulia Chau of Bengal, the Seraikella Chau of Jharkhand, and the Mayurbhanj Chau of Odisha. The dance is traditionally an all males troupe, regionally celebrated particularly during spring every year.

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