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Current Affairs - 15 April 2018

General Affairs 

Take No Steps For Panchayat Poll Process: State Election Commission
  • A day after the Calcutta High Court stayed the ongoing panchayat election process in West Bengal, the State Election Commission asked officials concerned to refrain from taking any step in connection with the poll process till further instruction.

    "I am to request you not to take any step connected with the electoral process, including training programme till further instruction," State Election Commissioner A K Singh said in an order.

    Mr Singh, citing the High Court Order on Thursday, had asked to "stall the process of withdrawal, symbol allotment and publication of list of contesting candidates until further order" 

    Displeased with the SEC's recent decision to cancel its own order to extend the nomination process by a day, the Calcutta High Court put a stay on the ongoing panchayat election process in the state.

Karnataka Poll Date Was Speculation, Not Leak: Election Commission Committee
  • There was no leak of information from the Election Commission regarding the poll schedule of Karnataka and the media report was based on "mere speculation", a committee formed by the poll panel to look into alleged leak of poll schedule ahead of the EC's announcement said on Friday.

    "Historically, media has speculated the schedules of elections in the past. In the instant case, it seems similar attempts were made. Given that the information was not entirely accurate it is obvious it was not a leak, the alleged leak was not a leak and was mere speculation," the Committee said in its report.

    "Thus the committee is of the opinion that there was no leak of schedule of elections to the Karnataka legislative assembly, 2018," it added.

    However, it noted that the presentation of the news by some channels and its subsequent tweeting by politicians just as the Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat was making the announcement was "avoidable" and they "could have acted in a more responsible manner".

    It said that the existing process/system is "robust enough", but considering the secrecy of the process the Committee will "separately brief the Commission for further strengthening the process, if required".

    On March 27, a controversy had broken out when the ruling BJP's IT cell chief Amit Malviya tweeted that Karnataka would go to poll on May 12, even as the CEC was addressing the media in New Delhi and was yet to make the formal announcement.

    The EC then formed a committee headed by Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha to look into the possible leak of information. It later came to light that Karnataka Congress leader Srivatsa Y.B. had also tweeted the same dates and that a few Kannada channels also flashed the news at exactly the same time, that is, 11.08 a.m.

Huge Blasts Heard In Syria's Capital
  • Several huge explosions were heard in Syria's capital early Saturday, AFP's correspondent there said, as US President Donald Trump announced strikes on the country were under way.

    AFP's correspondent in Damascus said several consecutive blasts were heard at 4:00 am local time (0100 GMT), followed by the sound of airplanes overhead. Smoke could be seen emerging from the northern and eastern edges of the capital.

    Syrian state television simultaneously reported a US attack on Syria, in coordination with France and Britain.

    "Syrian air defence blocks American, British, French aggression on Syria," state television said. 

PM Modi's Picture Perfect Moment With Slippers For Tribal Woman At Rally

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, slated to present a pair of slippers to a tribal woman, surprised thousands of people at a public event on Saturday when he walked up to her, bent down and helped the bare-footed woman wear her new pair of slippers. The hugely symbolic gesture, welcomed by a loud applause, came during PM Modi's visit to Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district, counted among the country's most backward districts.

    Like everyone else, Health Minister JP Nadda, who was standing next to PM Modi when he decided to make it a memorable moment for the woman, was also taken aback.

    She was one of the thousands of women covered under the scheme launched more than a decade earlier to provide slippers to people engaged in collecting Tendu leaves in Chhattisgarh.

    Under the scheme operated by the state's minor forest produce corporation, one person in each family of Tendu leaves collector is eligible for a pair of slippers. A family is eligible for a pair, according to the federation's website, only if they pluck at least 500 bundles in a year.

    PM Modi had flown to the town early on Saturday and spent several hours in the state, listening to young girls such as Laxmi who spoke about the drone she had built and members of a girls' soft ball team.

    "Who would have imagined a girl in Bijapur would be able to make a drone," PM Modi later told the public meeting, lauding the efforts of the children in the naxal-infested part of Chhattisgarh.

    PM Modi, who is the first prime minister to visit the tribal district of Bijapur, also launched a health insurance scheme. inaugurated a new rail line and a passenger train between Gudum and Bhanupratapur, bringing north Bastar region on railways' map. This was the Prime Minister's fourth visit to Chhattisgarh, where assembly elections are due later in the year.

Villages In Maharashtra Compete To Save Water. And Everyone Wins
  • Over four thousand villages across drought-hit Maharashtra will participate in a game that will not only help them combat the severe water crisis facing the state but win one the villages a cash prize: Water Cup 2018.

    Organised by Bollywood star Amir Khan's NGO, Panni foundation, villages will be evaluated over a period of 45 days and the one that conserves the most amount of water will get a cash prize of Rs. 50 lakh. Among the villages that have been selected to participate in the competition are Kaudgaon Huda, Shrikrishna Nagar Tanda, Shriram Nagar Tanda, Bhilegaon, Mamdapur, Moha, Parchundi, Vaka, Waghala, Vadkhel, Rewali and Maknathpur.

    Several measures will be taken to ensure the conservation of rain water, including construction of structures soak pits, farm ponds, check dam and trenches that will augment the water table and provide long-term water security.

    It will enable the farmers to enhance crop yield and make villages less dependent on water tankers during the peak summer.

    Last week, Amir Khan took to social media to invite volunteers to take part in the movement. Walk shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the villages to contribute towards their betterment. Help a village," the actor said in his video message, adding, "I assure you that when you return home at the end of the day, you will realise that in actuality, it's the village that has helped you." Through his NGO, the actor aims to harness the power of communication to mobilise, motivate and train people to reach the goal of making the state drought-free.

Business Affairs

CBI books former UCO bank CMD in Rs 621 crore cheating case
  • The CBI has on Saturday booked former chairman-cum-managing director of UCO Bank Arun Kaul and others in connection with an alleged Rs 621-crore loan fraud which has caused a loss of over Rs 737 crore to the bank. The agency carried out searches at 10 locations on Saturday.

    Besides Kaul, the CBI booked Era Engineering Infra India Ltd. (EEIL), its CMD Hem Singh Bharana, two chartered accountants -- Pankaj Jain and Vandna Sharda -- and Pawan Bansal of Altius Finserve Pvt. Ltd. among others, the officials said.

    It is alleged that the accused persons in pursuance of a criminal conspiracy defrauded the UCO Bank to the tune of about Rs 621 crore by diversion and siphoning of the bank loans.

    Kaul, who was the CMD of a Kolkata-based bank between 2010 and 2015, allegedly facilitated the accused company in obtaining the loan.

    The loan was secured by producing false end-use certificates issued by the chartered accountant and by fabricating business data. The loan was not utilized for the sanctioned purpose, the CBI alleged.

    "Searches are being conducted at 10 places (8 in Delhi and 2 in Mumbai) including the office premises of the companies, chartered accountants and the residence of the aforesaid accused persons," the CBI spokesperson said.

    In its complaint, now part of the CBI FIR, the bank alleged that two loans were issued to the company in 2010 -- Rs 200 crore in March and Rs 450 crore in October.

    The Rs 200-crore loan was issued for repayment of high cost debt to Central Bank of India, Punjab National Bank and IFCI. It was found that the company did not utilize the amount for the purpose for which it was disbursed and diverted the funds.

    "No amount was used to repay the dues of Central Bank of India and Punjab National Bank while only Rs 59 lakh were repaid towards dues of IFCI while purpose of the loan was to repay the dues of these banks," it said.

    Chartered accountant Pankaj Jain dishonestly and fraudulently did not mention the details of utilisation of term loan in the end-use certificate.

    In the case of the Rs 450-crore loan, too, the funds were utilised for purposes other than stipulated in the sanction and the end-use certificates given by the chartered account were intentionally ambiguous and against the fact, it alleged.

    "The account was declared NPA as on July 7, 2013 by the bank and the present balance as on December 31, 2017 is Rs 737.88 crore," it alleged.

US places India under watch list to monitor its foreign exchange policies
  • The US Treasury Department on Friday placed India under a watch list that monitors countries' currency practices. The department in its report observed that the foreign exchange policies of six countries were needed to be monitored. Earlier, the department had five countries - China, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Switzerland - under this list. India is now the sixth country.    

    In a statement issued on Friday, US Treasury Secretary Steven T Mnuchin said: "The Treasury Department is working vigorously to ensure that trade is free, fair, and reciprocal so American workers and companies can compete and succeed globally. We will continue to monitor and combat unfair currency practices, while encouraging policies and reforms to address large trade imbalances."

    According to the Treasury Department, the findings and recommendations are intended to combat potentially unfair currency practices, support the growth of free and fair trade, and secure stronger and more balanced global growth. "Achieving these goals require that all economies durably avoid macroeconomic, foreign exchange, and trade policies that facilitate unfair competitive advantage," the Department noted.

    The Department's findings are based on the three key criteria: (1) a significant bilateral trade surplus with the United States, (2) a material current account surplus, and (3) engaged in persistent one-sided intervention in the foreign exchange market.

    The Treasury found that no major trading partner of the United States met all three criteria. Five major trading partners of the United States, however, met two of the three criteria for enhanced analysis in this Report. India met two of the three criteria. "Treasury will closely monitor and assess the economic trends and foreign exchange policies of each of these economies," the department said. 

    The report also said that India has a significant bilateral goods trade surplus with the United States, totalling USD 23 billion in 2017. 

    "India increased its purchases of foreign exchange over the first three quarters of 2017. Despite a sharp drop-off in purchases in the fourth quarter, net annual purchases of foreign exchange reached $56 billion in 2017, equivalent to 2.2 per cent of GDP," the report stated. 

    It further said: "Given that Indian foreign exchange reserves are ample by common metrics, and that India maintains some controls on both inbound and outbound flows of private capital, further reserve accumulation does not appear necessary."

    US President Donald Trump has been speaking against countries that have trade surplus with America. Last year in September, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that America was interested in growing trade with India but in a balanced way.

    He said: "Annual bilateral trade between the US and India has doubled over the last decade and was $114 billion in 2016. Unfortunately, over the same period trade deficit has tripled. We would naturally want to see growing trade and balanced trade." 

E-way bill rules: CBIC lays out procedure for interception, detention of goods
  • Tax authorities have asked field officers to follow standard procedure for interception of conveyances for inspection of goods and their confiscation under the e-way bill rules.

    The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has laid out a detailed procedure with respect to time bound uploading of reports/ forms by revenue authorities, time bound closure of cases where goods have been detained, instructions to release goods where there are no prima-facie irregularities.

    This would "ensure uniformity" in the procedure of interception or conveyance for inspection of goods, detention, seizure, and release and confiscation of such goods and conveyances, the CBIC said in a circular.

    The e-way bill rules rolled out from April 1 require businesses and transporters to produce before a GST inspector an electronic way bill for moving goods worth over Rs 50,000 from one state to another.

    Rollout of e-way bill for intra-state movement of goods in five states -- Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala -- is slated from today.

    As per the circular, the jurisdictional commissioner shall designate an officer to conduct interception and inspection of conveyances and goods in the jurisdictional area.

    It said the officer, empowered to intercept and inspect a conveyance, may intercept any conveyance for verification of documents and/or inspection of goods.

    "On being intercepted, the person in charge of the conveyance shall produce the documents related to the goods and conveyance. The officer shall verify such documents and where, prima facie, no discrepancies are found, the conveyance shall be allowed to move further," it said.

    E-way bill in the form of print out, SMS or written on invoice would be considered as valid.

    In case any discrepancy is found in the documents or where the officer intends to undertake inspection, a statement of the person in charge of conveyance shall be recorded.

    An order, requiring the person in charge of conveyance to station conveyance at the place mentioned in such order and allow inspection of goods, may be issued.

    However, within 24 hours of such order, the proper officer is required to prepare a report and upload the same on GST portal, the circular said.

    The inspection proceedings shall in general be completed within three working days from date of issue of order, post which a report of inspection of conveyance and goods shall be served on person in charge of conveyance.

    Final report of inspection shall also be uploaded on the GST portal within three days of such physical verification, the circular said.

    The goods and conveyance shall be released only when the owner of goods or a person so authorised makes payment of tax and penalty. The goods and conveyance can also be released on furnishing of bond along with security in form of bank guarantee equal to total amount payable.

    Where tax and penalty is not paid within seven days from the date of issue of detention order, a notice can be served proposing confiscation of goods and conveyance and imposition of penalty.

    Further, where proper officer is of the view that movement of goods is being effected to evade payment of tax, the officer may directly issue a notice for confiscating the goods and conveyance, it said.

    PwC Partner and Leader Indirect Tax Pratik Jain said, "While it has been clarified that e-way bill number available either in the form of a printout, or SMS or even written on invoice shall be considered as valid, the acceptability of same by officers at ground level needs to be seen."

    EY India Tax Partner Abhishek Jain said it is expected that e-way bill inspections may not entail unwarranted hardships to businesses.

    AMRG & Associates Partner Rajat Mohan said the circular should percolate down the chain and thereby streamlining detentions and seizures and pushing out an informal way of dealing things on the road.  

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinsecure puts Rs 2 crore bounty to recover lost bitcoins
  • Days after reporting the country's biggest bitcoin theft, India-based cryptocurrency exchange Coinsecure has announced around Rs 2 crore reward for anyone who helps the trading firm recover the lost digital currency. In a update on its website, Coinsecure said: "We are seeking help from the Bitcoin community and all our users who can help us identify the hacker or give us any information that could lead us to recover funds."

    Earlier this week, Coinsecure registered an FIR with the Cyber Cell of Delhi Police in which it claimed to have lost 438.318 bitcoins worth Rs 20 crore from the company's wallet. In the complaint, the exchange blamed its CSO Amitabh Saxena for playing role in multi-crore heist. To recover the lost bitcoins, Coinsecure in a statement said: "We are happy to issue a bounty of 10 per cent  to the community for help rendered for recovery of BTC." The exchange also assured the investors that their funds with the company were safe. The company will inform the users over the next week on how the withdrawals can be requested and processed.

    In its earlier statement, Coinsecure had informed about how it lost the bitcoins. It said: "Our system itself has never been compromised or hacked, and the current issue points towards losses caused during an exercise to extract BTG to distribute to our customers. Our CSO Dr Amitabh Saxena was extracting BTG and he claims that funds have been lost in the process during the extraction of the private keys."

    However, the company did not find Amitabh Saxena convincing and asked the Delhi Police to probe him. In an FIR to Delhi Police, it said: "As the private keys are kept with Dr. Amitabh Saxena, we feel that he is making a false story to divert our attention and he might have a role to play in this entire incident. The incident reported by Dr. Amitabh Saxena does not seem convincing to us."

    This comes weeks after the central bank barred all the regulated entities from dealing with individuals and businesses transacting in virtual currencies. It said that Virtual Currencies or cryptocurrencies raise concerns of consumer protection, market integrity and money laundering. "In view of the associated risks, it has been decided that, with immediate effect, entities regulated by RBI shall not deal with or provide services to any individual or business entities dealing with or settling VCs," the RBI said in a statement.

CBI books Delhi-based diamond trading firm for Rs 187-crore bank fraud
  • The CBI has registered an FIR against a Delhi-based diamond trading company, SSK Trading Pvt Ltd, and its directors for Rs 187-crore fraud in Punjab National Bank, which was reeling under losses incurred due to a USD 2 billion fraud committed by jewellers Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi in a separate case.

    The company, its directors Surender Kumar Bansal and Shefali Bansal, having showroom in Chandni Chowk, have been booked by the CBI under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the officials said.

    A consortium of six banks, with PNB as the lead bank, sanctioned credit facilities worth Rs 163 crore, with PNB having an exposure of Rs 55 crore, to the company in 2013, they said.

    The other banks of the consortium were Central Bank of India, Andhra Bank, Syndicate Bank, Bank of Baroda and Oriental Bank of Commerce.

    The loan became non performing asset (NPA) on June 30, 2014.

    The total value of loans went up due to non-payment of interests. The assets hypothecated against the loan were removed and disposed by the accused persons, the FIR alleged.

General Awareness

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

  • Context: Making a case for doing away with inflation targeting by the RBI, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) member Surjit Bhalla recently said it has made zero impact on prices. Under the new policy framework, the RBI aims to contain inflation at 4% with a band of (+/-) 2%.


    Average inflation in 2017-18 was 3.5%. India’s real interest rate is higher by 2.5%, which is 3rd highest in the world.

    What is inflation targeting?

    Inflation targeting is a monetary policy in which a central bank has an explicit target inflation rate for the medium term and announces this inflation target to the public. It will have price stability as the main goal of monetary policy.
    Many central banks adopted inflation targeting as a pragmatic response to the failure of other monetary policy regimes, such as those that targeted the money supply or the value of the currency in relation to another, presumably stable, currency.

    Why it is good?

    It will lead to increased transparency and accountability.
    Policy will be linked to medium/long term goals, but with some short term flexibility.
    With inflation targeting in place, people will tend to have low inflation expectations. If there was no inflation target, people could have higher inflation expectations, encouraging workers to demand higher wages and firms to put up prices.
    It also helps in avoiding boom and bust cycles.
    If inflation creeps up, then it can cause various economic costs such as uncertainty leading to lower investment, loss of international competitiveness and reduced value of savings. This can also be avoided with targeting.

    Associated concerns:

    Inflation targeting puts too much weight on inflation relative to other goals. Central Banks Start to Ignore More Pressing Problems. Inflation target reduces “flexibility”. It has the potential to constrain policy in some circumstances in which it would not be desirable to do so.

    Not a panacea:

    Inflation targeting has been successfully practiced in a growing number of countries over the past 20 years, and many more countries are moving toward this framework. Over time, inflation targeting has proven to be a flexible framework that has been resilient in changing circumstances, including during the recent global financial crisis. Individual countries, however, must assess their economies to determine whether inflation targeting is appropriate for them or if it can be tailored to suit their needs. For example, in many open economies, the exchange rate plays a pivotal role in stabilizing output and inflation. In such countries, policymakers must debate the appropriate role of the exchange rate and whether it should be subordinated to the inflation objective.

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