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Current Affairs - 30 January 2018

General Affairs 

In Bofors Case, Government's Top Lawyer Advises Against Appeal
  • The government's top lawyer has advised the Central Bureau of Investigation against challenging a 12-year-old order of the Delhi High Court, cancelling proceedings against the UK-based business magnates Hinduja brothers, and the Swedish firm, in the Rs. 64-crore Bofors case.

    In a note to the government, Attorney General  KK Venugopal  said the appeal will be rejected on the ground of such a long delay. Besides, no fresh points have emerged that would make the Supreme Court consider reopening the case.

    It would also count against the agency's case that despite being in office for the last three years, the NDA government not appealed or moved a special petition, Mr Venugopal said in the note.

    He advised the agency to remain a respondent in the case filed by Ajay Kumar Agrawal, a BJP member and advocate, who last year challenged the high court judgment in the Bofors case.  A dismissal of a separate petition by the CBI in the Supreme Court would prejudice this case, the note said.

    In the first hearing of Mr Agarwal's appeal earlier this month, the top court questioned his locus standi. A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said when the CBI has not filed any appeal, how could a private person file an appeal in the matter.

    Last October, the CBI had indicated that it was considering an appeal against the High Court decision after Michael Hershman, a private detective from US-based firm Fairfax, alleged then Congress government led by Rajib Gandhi had sabotaged his investigation into the case.  

    In interviews to a newspaper, Mr Hershman claimed that he was hired by then Finance Minister VP Singh to look into the alleged pay-offs into Swiss bank accounts. But Rajiv Gandhi had disapproved of the investigation and later, he received death threats, the investigator said.

    The Bofors pay-offs issue is also expected to come up tomorrow before the Public Accounts Committee, a parliamentary panel that has asked the defence ministry to trace and share all the files on the matter.

New-Found Respect For India In World: President Kovind
  • President Ram Nath Kovind said on Monday there has been a new found respect for India because of the government's "successful diplomatic efforts".

    "Due to the successful diplomatic efforts of my government, there has been a new found respect for India," Mr Kovind said in his address to the to the joint sitting of the two houses of parliament at the start of the Budget Session in New Delhi, his first since assuming office last July. 

    "As a result, India has been able to secure representation in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, International Maritime Organization and Economic and Social Council," he said

    In this connection, he also referred to the keenly contested election to the International Court of Justice of Judge Dalveer Bhandari last year. 

    The President mentioned about India being accepted in three of the four export control regimes - Missile Technology Control Regime, an informal and voluntary partnership of countries to prevent the proliferation of missile and unmanned aerial vehicle technology capable of carrying above 500 kg payload for more than 300 km; the Wassenaar Arrangement, which seeks to contribute to regional and international security and stability by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies; and the Australia Group, an informal forum of countries which seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons. 

    Stating that service to humanity is an integral part of India's cultural heritage, he said that India has always remained the first responder in times of crises, such as the earthquake in Nepal, flood calamity in Sri Lanka and drinking water crisis in Maldives.

    "Today, all Indians residing in any corner of the world are confident that in case of a crisis, their government will provide them with a safe passage to the country," Mr Kovind said. "More than 90,000 Indians stranded abroad have been safely brought back since 2014."

    In terms of connectivity, he described "a historic event" the commencement of operations at Chabahar Port in Iran, which has been jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan. 

    "First shipment of wheat has been sent to Afghanistan through this port. An air corridor between India and Afghanistan has been made operational this year and shipment of freight has started," Mr Kovind said.

    Stating that ties with Indian Diaspora are being progressively strengthened, he said that on January 9, on the occasion of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the conclave of Indian diaspora spread across the world, a Conference of Parliamentarians of Indian origin was organised for the first time in which elected representatives from 24 countries participated.

    1
    COMMENTSThe President appreciated the efforts to expand passport services and said: "The Ministry of External Affairs, in collaboration with Department of Posts, has embarked upon a comprehensive programme for expansion of passport services in the country. Under this programme, establishment of 251 Passport Service Kendras has been announced, of which 60 centres have started functioning."

    He also referred to the presence of heads of states and governments of all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries during this year's Republic Day celebrations as guests of honour and said this "added a special dimension to our vision of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam".

India's Soft Power Displayed At Republic Day Functions Across US
  • The Indian community in the US displayed India's rich cultural diversity through organising dance, drama and music performances across the country over the weekend to celebrate 69th Republic Day.

    From a small township in mid-West or down South to mega cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, Republic Day celebrations were organised by Indian community activists and organisations.

    Proclamations issued by governors and mayors to mark the occasions were read at these events attended by several government officials.

    Asserting that Indian Americans play a key role in strengthening India-US relationship, government officials pledged to work in their capacities to further enhance ties between the largest and oldest democracies of the world.

    "Our strong ties are evident from the India-headquartered companies doing business in Maryland including Tata and Infosys," said the Maryland Lt Governor Boyd K Rutherford in his address to Republic Day of India Banquet hosted by the National Council of Asian Indian Associations.

    Listing out the name of other Indian companies in Maryland and their expansion, Rutherford said these companies create large number of employment opportunities in the US.

    A proclamation issued by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan was presented to the organisers.

    New York Governor Andrew M Cuomo said Indian Americans are a "treasures component" of his State's vast mosaic of culture.

    Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said, "Republic Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate Virginia's thousands of Indian Americans, whose abilities and contributions strengthen Virginia's economy, enrich Virginia's diverse culture and invigorate Virginia's economy."

    "Indian Americans continue to make significant and lasting civic, cultural and economic contributions to our nation and this region," Maryland Secretary of State John C Wobensmith said addressing a gathering at a Republic Day Celebrations organised by Indian American Community Organisations of the Greater Washington Metro Region and National Council of Asian Indian Associations.

    Attended by a large number of people in the affluent Potomac suburb of Washington DC, Indian Americans celebrated the Republic Day around the theme of women empowerment.

    The Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) of the tristate (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), celebrated the Republic Day with its annual dance competition, "Dance Pe Chance", at the prestigious State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

    FIA has been celebrating Republic Day for over 40 years now, meticulously promoting the opulent culture and various dance styles of India.

    Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna in his messages to all these celebrations said the Indian diaspora by remaining committed and engaged at all levels has given great depth and resilience to India-US relationship. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi Asks Political Parties To Help Pass Triple Talaq Bill
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a fresh pitch for early passage of the bill to criminalise the practice of instant triple talaq by "humbly requesting" political parties to pass it in the Budget session which began today.

    In his customary address to the media outside Parliament House building on the first day of the session, PM Modi said it was the government's effort as well as the expectation of the people that there would be no politics on an important issues like triple talaq and Muslim women would get their right.

    "But in the last session, despite a Supreme Court ruling, we could not get the bill passed in Parliament. I hope and I humbly request all political parties of the country to get the bill passed in this session as a New Year gift of 2018 to Muslim women," he said.

    He said at a time when credit agencies, the IMF and the World Bank are giving positive opinion about India, the Budget will give a new energy to the economy which is already surging ahead.

    He also hoped that the Budget would live up to the expectations of the common man.

    PM Modi also said Parliamentary committees should do more to evaluate various provisions in the budget and come up with a roadmap.

Territorial Integrity Of Assam Won't Be Compromised: Rajnath Singh
  • Territorial integrity of Assam and other north eastern states will not be compromised when the final Naga peace accord is inked, Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal today.

    Mr Sonowal apprised Mr Singh about the situation in the state's Dima Hasao district where protests against the demand for a "Greater Nagalim" claimed two lives.

    "The home minister assured that not a single inch of Assam's land will be parted with any state. He (Singh) said that the territorial integrity of Assam and other states will be fully protected, and there should be no apprehension in anyone's mind," Mr Sonowal told PTI.

    The situation in Dima Hasao district continued to be tense for a week following protests over an RSS leader's reported statement that the district would be included in "Greater Nagalim" or Greater Nagaland as part of the Centre's proposed solution for the ongoing peace talks with the NSCN- IM.

    Two people were killed and about a dozen others injured when police opened fire to disperse a mob at Maibang in the district on Thursday.

    During a visit to Nagaland on December 8, 2017, the home minister had said that there should be no apprehension or worry as the territorial integrity of no north eastern state would be affected by the final Naga accord.

    He was replying to a question about the possibility of hampering the territorial integrity of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur by the impending peace agreement between the central government and Naga insurgency group NSCN-IM.

    The insurgent group NSCN-IM's key demand is to integrate the Naga-inhabited areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur, which has been strongly opposed by the three states, currently ruled by the BJP.

    The expectations for a lasting peace have soared in Nagaland, which had been hit by insurgency for decades, after the Centre and the NSCN (IM) signed a framework agreement in 2015.

    The NSCN-IM has been engaged with peace talks with the interlocutor of the central government since 1997 when it announced a ceasefire agreement after a bloody insurgency movement which started in Nagaland soon after the country's Independence.

Business Affairs

Economic Survey 2018 carries pink theme to emphasise on women empowerment, gender inequality
  • The Economic Survey 2018 started with the pressing issue of gender equality in the country. In a first, the survey document was in a pink cover in order to show the government's commitment and solidarity to women empowerment and equal rights. Explaining the significance of the pink cover, the finance ministry's Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian said, "In our bid to further the cause of women's empowerment, the cover of Economic Survey 2018 is pink."

    The survey, prepared by the CEA, highlighted that India has lower women participation in the labour force, "adversely affecting the growth potential of the economy".

    The survey first highlights that most Indian families are keen on having male children over girls and that has created 21 million "unwanted girls". The annual survey, which is the report card of the economy, pointed out that Indian parents keep producing children till they have the "desired number of sons". This phenomenon has been described as 'son meta -preference' in the chapter Gender and Son Meta-Preference.

    The survey highlights that the sex ratio of last birth in the country has come down barely from 39.4 per cent in 2005-06 to 39 per cent in 2015-16.

    The survey assesses the gender issues on three specific dimensions which show the status, role and empowerment of women at present:

    1. Agency - relates to women's ability to make decisions on reproduction, spending on themselves, spending on their households and their own mobility and health.

    2. Attitudes - violence against women/wives, and the ideal number of daughters preferred relative to the ideal number of sons.

    3. Outcomes - relate to 'son preference' measured by sex ratio of last child, female employment, choice of contraception, education level, age at marriage, age at first birth and physical or sexual violence experienced by women) which aim to reflect the status, role and empowerment of women in the society.

    The survey also pointed out that the number of women earning a living has seen no change in 10 years between 2005-06 and 2015-16, with only 24 per cent of women actively employed in 2015 -16 as compared to 36 per cent in 2005 - 06.

    However, the survey noted that there has been a considerable improvement in areas such as decision making regarding household purchases, visiting family and others. It added that government's schemes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Sukanya Samridhi Yojana schemes, and mandatory maternity leave rules are all steps in the right direction.

    The survey also mentioned that the North Eastern states have consistently outperformed the rest of the states and is a model for the country. Subramanian said that these states lead the way to gender equality, leaving the more prosperous hinterland and some developed Southern states behind.

    The pink theme of the survey was not only limited to the cover, but the website was also made pink, including icons and hyperlinks as well.

India's GDP to grow 7-7.5 % in 2018-19, says Economic Survey
  • The Economic Survey 2017-18 tabled in Parliament today by the Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs, Arun Jaitley predicts India's GDP to grow 7 - 7.5 percent in 2018-19, an increase from its prediction of 6.75 percent growth this fiscal. 

    The survey underlines the role of the newly introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST), the new Indian Bankruptcy Code, the implementation of the recapitalization package to strengthen the public sector banks, further liberalization of FDI and the export uplift from the global recovery, in contributing to the economic growth this year.

    The survey points out that as per the quarterly estimates; there was a reversal of the declining trend of GDP growth in the second quarter of 2017-18, led by the industry sector. The Gross Value Added (GVA) at constant basic prices is expected to grow at the rate of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18 as compared to 6.6 per cent in 2016-17. Similarly, Agriculture, industry and services sectors are expected to grow at the rate of 2.1 per cent, 4.4 per cent, and 8.3 per cent respectively in 2017-18.

    The survey adds that after remaining in negative territory for a couple of years, growth of exports rebounded into positive one during 2016-17 and expected to grow faster in 2017-18. However, due to higher expected increase in imports, net exports of goods and services are slated to decline in 2017-18. Similarly, despite the robust economic growth, the savings and investment as a ratio of GDP generally declined. The major reduction in investment rate occurred in 2013-14, although it declined in 2015-16 too. Within this the share of household sector declined, while that of private corporate sector increased.

    The survey points out that India can be rated as among the best performing economies in the world as the average growth during last three years is around 4 percentage points higher than global growth and nearly 3 percentage points higher than that of Emerging Market and Developing Economies.

    However, it cautions that the possibility of an increase in crude oil prices in the international market could have a dampening effect.

    The survey highlights that against the emerging macroeconomic concerns, policy vigilance will be necessary in the coming year, especially if high international oil prices persist or elevated stock prices correct sharply, provoking a "sudden stall" in capital flows.

    The agenda for the next year consequently remains full: stabilizing the GST, completing the TBS actions, privatizing Air India, and staving off threats to macro-economic stability. The TBS actions, noteworthy for cracking the long-standing "exit" problem, need complementary reforms to shrink unviable banks and allow greater private sector participation. The GST Council offers a model "technology" of cooperative federalism to apply to many other policy reforms. Over the medium term, three areas of policy focus stand out: Employment, finding good jobs for the young and burgeoning workforce, especially for women. Education: creating an educated and healthy labor force. Agriculture: raising farm productivity while strengthening agricultural resilience. Above all, India must continue improving the climate for rapid economic growth on the strength of the only two truly sustainable engines-private investment and exports, it states.

Every $10 per barrel jump in oil price brings down GDP by 0.3 percentage points: Economic Survey
  • The Economic Survey 2017-18 tabled in Parliament by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley predicts India's GDP to grow 7-7.5 per cent in 2018-19, an increase from its prediction of 6.75 per cent growth this fiscal. The survey points out that in terms of variation in oil prices, India experienced a positive terms of trade shock in the last three fiscal years in terms of fiscal and current account deterioration. However, in the first three quarters of 2017-18, the oil prices have been about 16 per cent greater in dollar terms than in the previous year. According to Chief Economist Adviser to the government, Arvind Subramanian, the price variations in the oil market significantly impacted the Indian economy. He said on Monday that every $10 per barrel increase in oil price brings down GDP by around 0.2-0.3 percentage points and worsens the CAD (Current Account Deficit) by about $9-10 billion dollars.

    The survey highlights that against the emerging macroeconomic concerns, policy vigilance will be necessary in the coming year, especially if high international oil prices persist or elevated stock prices correct sharply, provoking a 'sudden stall' in capital flows. "High oil prices (at current levels) remain a key risk as they would affect inflation, the current account, the fiscal position and growth, and force macroeconomic policies to be tighter," says the survey.

    With the increasing trade, expectations are that India's external sector would see growth. "The prospects for India's external sector in this and coming year look bright, says the survey, with the world trade projected to grow at 4.2 per cent and 4 per cent in 2017 and 2018, respectively, from 2.4 per cent in2016; trade of major partner countries improving and above all India's export growth also picking up," says the survey, adding that the downside risks lie in the rise in oil prices. However, this could also lead to higher inflow of remittances which have started picking up, it adds.

    Though concerns have been expressed about growing protectionist tendencies in some countries but it remains to be seen as to how the situation unfolds, says the survey, adding that some factors, including the possibility of an increase in crude oil prices in the international market, could have dampening effect on the GDP growth in the coming year.  

    Over the coming year, the government will need to focus on stave off any nascent threats to macroeconomic stability, notably from persistently high oil prices, and sharp, disruptive corrections to elevated asset prices, the survey predicts.

    If these objectives are achieved, the world economy maintains its growth momentum, and oil prices do not persist at current levels, the Indian economy should resume converging towards its medium-term growth potential that previous Economic Surveys have estimated to exceed 8 percent. India would then regain its status as the fastest growing major economy. India has two underlying macroeconomic vulnerabilities, its fiscal and current accounts, both of which tend to deteriorate when oil prices rise.

    At the same time, average oil prices are forecast by the IMF to be about 12 percent higher in 2018-19, which will crimp real incomes and spending - assuming the increase is passed on into higher prices, rather than absorbed by the budget through excise tax reductions or by the oil marketing companies. And if higher oil prices requires tighter monetary policy to meet the inflation target, real interest rates could exert a drag on consumption.

Bitcoin woes: Cryptocurrency investors unable to link bank accounts to wallets, says report
  • Though India is still straddling the fence when it comes to taking a stand on cryptocurrencies - the finance ministry is no fan but the RBI has not banned digital currencies like Bitcoin yet - retail investors in the country are already in a soup.

    According to a report in The Hindu BusinessLine, many investors are currently neither able to trade on several bitcoin exchanges in India nor use their linked bank accounts to withdraw/deposit money earned from trading. Given that a recent survey by the income tax department revealed 6 lakh active cryptocurrency traders in the country-unofficial figures put this at several times more-in nine cryptocurrency exchanges trading up to Rs 17,800 crore, we are looking at a major problem. With banks and the bitcoin exchanges passing the buck to each other in response, investors don't know where to go for grievance redressal.

    For instance, Varanasi-based Vandana Tiwari told the daily that when she recently tried to invest about Rs 20,000 on a leading bitcoin exchange from her bank account, through the NEFT transaction went through, the amount did not reflect on her bitcoin account. "I had written to the exchange but they said that they have not received the money while my bank statement shows that the money was credited. Now, I don't know whom to approach. Banks are also not giving any clarification," she added. She is not alone. On one hand, other investors report that they are being asked to verify bank accounts when they try to withdraw bitcoin investments, and on the other hand Belfrics India, an arm of Singapore-based exchange Belfrics, has admitted that the platform stopped taking fresh deposits and is awaiting further clarity from regulators.

    Ajeet Khurana, recently named as the Head of the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Committee of India (BACC), has issued a statement saying that "The recent knee-jerk actions by few banks in terms of closing bank accounts of some cryptocurrency exchanges has led to hardship to these citizens. It also created obstacles for exchanges in being able to carry out business. In the past, RBI has issued warnings and consumer education statements about cryptocurrencies. BACC welcomes RBI's actions and regard them as measured and well-thought out. It is our understanding that RBI has not asked banks to close accounts of any cryptocurrency exchanges. We invite banks to follow in the footsteps of RBI, understand this emerging sector, recognize the harmful effects of their knee-jerk reactions, and only then decide their course of action."

    While the RBI is still mostly mum on the topic, there is enough evidence of a crackdown in progress. Last week came news reports that the Registrar of Companies is no longer registering digital currency exchanges. This followed the income tax department's "surveys" of the leading Bitcoin exchanges in the country last month. The tax sleuths were basically looking for evidence to establish the identity of investors and traders as well as transactions undertaken to analyse the taxability of cryptocurrencies. Reports quoting the survey claimed that a 25-year-old, who had invested Rs 25 lakh in bitcoins, had seen valuation multiplying to Rs 760 crore. No wonder the taxman wants a slice of the pie while it lasts.

Realty, construction to generate 15 million jobs by 2022: Economic Survey
  • The real estate and construction sector will create over 15 million jobs over the next five years despite signs of stress in the segment in the last few quarters, the Economic Survey said today.

    Real estate and construction together is the second largest employment provider in the country, next only to agriculture, according to the Economic Survey 2017-18, tabled in Parliament.

    The sector employed over 40 million workforce in 2013, and as per projections, it is slated to employ over 52 million workforce by 2017 and 67 million workforce by 2022.

    "This implies that it will generate over 15 million jobs over the next five years, which will translate to about three million jobs annually," the survey report said.

    Nearly 90 per cent of the workforce employed in the real estate and construction sector are engaged in construction of buildings, while the rest 10 per cent workforce is involved in building completion, finishing, electrical, plumbing, other installation services, demolition and site preparation.

    Over 80 per cent of the employment in real estate and construction constitutes minimally skilled workforce, while skilled workforce account for over 9 per cent share, and the remaining are spread across work classes such as clerical, technicians and engineers.

    As per the National Skill Development Council (NSDC), real estate and construction sector is expected to require over 66 million people by 2022.

    The share of real estate sector which includes ownership of dwellings accounted for 7.7 per cent in India's overall GVA (Gross Value Added) in 2015-16.

    The growth of this sector decelerated in the last three years from 7.5 per cent in 2013-14 to 6.6 per cent in 2014-15 and further to 4.4 per cent in 2015-16, the report said.

    Based on an analysis of the sales results of services sector firms in the last few quarters, the survey said the only sector which has been showing signs of stress is the construction and real estate sector.

    However, the report said, the enactment of Real Estate (Regulation & Development) Act would bring accountability, leading to higher growth across the real estate value chain.

    The provisions of compulsory disclosures and registrations would ensure transparency in the sector.

General Awareness

Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Pulse polio programme

  • Context: Concerned over any entry of polio virus from other countries, the government has launched Pulse Polio programme for 2018.

    In order to mitigate the risk of poliovirus importation, the immunity against polio infection is maintained through National and Sub-National Polio rounds along with sustained high quality polio surveillance. For additional protection, the government has also introduced the injectable Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) into its routine immunization program.

    Background:

    In India the last polio case was recorded on 13 January 2011. India maintains a sensitive surveillance system for polio. All cases of paralysis with sudden onset in children up to 15 years (which is called Acute Flaccid Paralysis or AFP) are picked up by the polio surveillance network. Each of these cases is followed up and their stool samples tested for poliovirus in World Health Organization (WHO) accredited laboratories. In addition, sewage samples are collected from over 30 sites spread across the country for poliovirus detection at regular intervals.

    About IPV:

    IPV is produced from wild-type poliovirus strains of each serotype that have been inactivated (killed) with formalin. As an injectable vaccine, it can be administered alone or in combination with other vaccines. IPV is an evidence-based intervention that not only ensures continued protection of children against all types of polio viruses, but also helps save vaccine — a move bound to positively impact global vaccine supply in the coming years. IPV provides serum immunity to all three types of poliovirus, resulting in protection against paralytic poliomyelitis.

    India became the first country globally to introduce fractional doses of IPV in childhood immunisation programme in eight states and Union territories in early 2016.

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