Current Affairs Current Affairs - 19 April 2018 - Vikalp Education

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Current Affairs - 19 April 2018

General Affairs 

After Surgical Strikes, We First Informed Pakistan, Says PM Modi
  • Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is boosting production capacity to manufacture locally-developed light combat aircraft, even as it strikes a strategic tie-up with American major Boeing Co. to bid to make F/A-18 fighter jets in India.

    Although the public sector aircraft maker has fallen behind on deliveries of the first group of 40 'Tejas' planes ordered in 2013, it's awaiting a fresh order from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to manufacture 83 extra aircraft.

    "The government believes the Tejas is required for the air force," Hindustan Aeronautics chairman and managing director T. Suvarna Raju said in an interview in Chennai on April 13.

    Since January 2015, HAL has delivered just eight Tejas aircraft to the Air Force. Still, Raju said the jets have passed all tests to prepare them for a two-front threat from China and Pakistan. "All the eight aircraft were flown three sorties each during the ongoing nationwide air warfare exercises," Raju said.

    The Modi government approved an 13.81 billion rupee ($210 million) plan on March 15, 2017 to ramp up production of the Tejas jets at HAL from the existing capacity for eight aircraft a year to 16 aircraft. At present, it's able to produce just six Tejas aircraft a year.

    On April 12, HAL signed up with Boeing and Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd. to jointly offer the F/A-18 to both the Indian Air Force and the Navy. American Lockheed Martin Corp. and Swedish Saab AB are also competing for the $15-billion Air Force tender for 110 jets. The Navy initiated its own 57-jet procurement process in January 2017.

    The additional 83 Tejas aircraft would fetch an order worth 500 billion  Before going public with the surgical strikes, India waited an hour to first inform Pakistan about the operation that was launched in 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, addressing the Indian diaspora in London. 

    India had carried out the strikes across the Line of Control on the intervening night of September 28 and 29, inflicting heavy casualties on terrorists preparing to infiltrate from  terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

    "Since 11 in the morning, we were trying to contact them over the phone but they were afraid and wouldn't take our call. I had instructed our officers to tell the Pakistani army that we did it. We did not hide it. At noon, they answered the call. We told them," said PM Modi answering a question at a townhall called 'Bharat ki Baat, Sabke Saath'.

    The strikes were launched days after terrorists attacked an Army camp in Jammu and Kashmir's Uri, killing 19 jawans.

    "Some cowards attacked and killed our jawans who were sleeping in tents. Will anyone of you want me to remain silent? Shouldn't such an act be answered in stronger terms?" the Prime Minister said to an applause from the gathering.

    Launching a sharp attack on Pakistan, PM Modi asserted that he won't tolerate those who 'run an industry of exporting terror and kill innocent Indians'.

    "They don't have the power to fight a war but attack from behind. This is Modi, he knows how to respond in that language," he said. 

    The entire operation was wrapped in secrecy till the Indian army held a press conference to say that seven terrorist launch pads were targeted up to two kilometres across the LoC and that "scores of terrorists were killed."

Chandrayaan-2 Launch Postponed To October-November, Says ISRO Chief K Sivan
  • The launch of India's second mission to the moon 'Chandrayaan-2', which was scheduled for this month, has been postponed to later this year, ISRO chief K Sivan today informed the government.

    A national level committee to review Chandrayaan-2 recommended some additional tests before the mission could take off, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) sources said.

    This has been done to exercise caution as Chandrayaan-2 will be ISRO's first inter-planetary mission to land a rover on any celestial body, they said.

    During a meeting, Mr Sivan briefed Jitendra Singh, Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (that looks after the Department of Space), on the upcoming Chandrayaan-2 mission, expected to be launched from Sriharikota around October-November this year, an official statement said.

    In a setback to ISRO last month, the GSAT-6A, the country's newest communication satellite, went incommunicado in space.

    An ambitious mission, Chandrayaan-2 will be equipped with a land-rover and probe, which will descend on the surface of the moon, from where they will collect samples of soil, water, etc. to carry back home for detailed analysis and research.

    This will be the first-of-its-kind moon mission.

    The landing of the rover will be done near the south pole of the moon which is a "very tricky area" with rocks formed a million years ago. This part has not been explored by moon missions undertaken by other countries.

    Before Chandryaan-2, ISRO had undertaken successful Chandrayaan-1 and Mangalyaan missions to Moon and Mars respectively.

    The total cost of the mission is about Rs. 800 crore -- Rs. 200 crore for launching and Rs. 600 crore for the satellite.

    "This cost is almost half of the cost of around Rs. 1,500 crore, which would have been otherwise incurred if the same mission had to be launched from a foreign launching site," Mr Sivan told the minister.

    In a media briefing in February this year, Mr Singh had told reporters that ISRO would be launching Chandryaan-2 in April.

    An ISRO official said there is only a window of one-two days in a month for launching the satellite to the moon. This window was in April and the next available date is in October and then November.

PM Modi, Theresa May Discuss Infusing New Energy In Post-Brexit Bilateral Ties
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi today assured his British counterpart Theresa May that the UK's withdrawal from the European Union offers opportunities to further increase bilateral trade ties as the two leaders had fruitful discussions on multiple aspects of India-UK relations and issues like counter-terrorism, radicalisation and online extremism.

    PM Modi, who arrived at 10 Downing Street for a breakfast meeting, was greeted with the customary handshake by May. "Very welcome to London, Prime Minister," May said as she greeted PM Modi.

    Both leaders discussed ways to boost cooperation between India and UK.

    "Wonderful meeting with Prime Minister @theresa_may at 10, Downing Street. We had fruitful discussions on multiple aspects of India-UK relations," Prime Minister Modi tweeted after the meeting.

    Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the two leaders had wide-ranging talks on redefining and infusing new energy into the bilateral engagement post-Brexit.

    Brexit refers to the UK's decision in a June 23, 2016 referendum to leave the 28-nation European Union or EU.

    A statement issued by 10 Downing Street after the meeting said that the Syria air strikes, counter-terrorism, radicalisation and online extremism were among some of the key topics covered by both leaders.

    "Prime Minister Modi said there would be no dilution in the importance of the UK to India post-Brexit. He said the City of London was of great importance to India for accessing the global markets and would remain so," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

    "The Prime Minister (May) updated Prime Minister Modi on the progress of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, saying the implementation period agreed in March gives Indian companies and investors the confidence that market access will continue on current terms until the end of 2020," the spokesperson said.

    May reiterated the UK's position on Russia's recent "destabilising behaviour", underlined by the attack in Salisbury on former Russian double Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia and the protection provided for the Syrian regime's repeated use of chemical weapons against its people.

    "They reflected on the progress made on bilateral defence and security cooperation since the Prime Minister's visit to India in 2016 and the agreement to a number of Defence Capability Partnerships in key strategic areas, with closer military-to-military ties underpinned by a succession of high level visits and exchanges," Downing Street said.

    During a discussion on cooperation between the two countries on legal matters, which is likely to have covered extradition matters, May also welcomed the return to the UK of the "Chennai Six", the former British soldiers accused of piracy who were freed from an Indian jail last year.

    The two leaders said trade between the UK and India had grown strongly over the last year and agreed to build on the recommendations of the UK-India joint trade review to reduce barriers to trade, to make it easier to do business in both countries and enable a stronger bilateral trade relationship for the future.

    Both prime ministers discussed a new UK-India Tech Partnership, which will create thousands of jobs and generate significant investment in both our economies.

    Looking ahead at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting or CHOGM tomorrow, they also agreed on the importance of working together to build a more "sustainable, prosperous, secure and fairer future" for all Commonwealth citizens.

    After his meeting with the British Prime Minister, PM Modi visited the Science Museum to explore the '5000 Years of Science and Innovation' exhibition and interact with Indian-origin and other scientists and innovators based in the UK.

    The event, hosted by Prince Charles, included the launch of a new Ayurvedic Centre of Excellence, aimed at creating a first-of-its-kind global network for evidence-based research on yoga and Ayurveda.

    "The Prince and @narendramodi watch a performance by the Akademi South Asian dance group at the @sciencemuseum," Clarence House tweeted.

    PM Modi had landed in Britain from Stockholm overnight for bilateral engagements as well as multilateral discussions as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting or CHOGM.

Rural Maharashtra Is Now Open Defecation-Free: Devendra Fadnavis
  • Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis today declared rural areas of the state open defecation-free and claimed the state has constructed the highest number of toilets in the country.

    According to the baseline survey of 2012, around 55 per cent of the families in the state in rural areas did not have access to toilets, he said.

    "In a period of just three and a half years, we have made available toilets to 55 per cent of the homes that did not have toilets. This exercise of constructing toilets spanned 34 districts, 351 talukas, 21,000 gram panchayats and 40,500 villages," Mr Fadnavis told reporters in Mumbai.

    Almost all homes (in rural parts) have access to toilets now, he said.

    The second part of the 'Swachh Maharashtra' campaign would focus on encouraging people to use these toilets, Fadnavis said. For this, the government is conducting campaigns like 'Darwaza band' as well as using the "Good Morning squad" in rural areas to tackle open defecation, he added.

    "Children in the squads will be armed with whistles and flowers to discourage people from open defecation. They will also be trained to ensure that womens' dignity is not compromised with," he said.

    Mr Fadnavis said 19.16 lakh toilets were constructed in 2016-17 and 22.51 lakh in 2017-18. Altogether 2.81 lakh common toilets have also been constructed, he said.

    These toilets were jointly constructed by the Centre and the state government at a cost of Rs. 4500 crore, Mr Fadnavis said.

    "I can say with confidence no other state has created as many toilets as we have in the last three and a half years," he said.

    President Ram Nath Kovind in October last year declared urban Maharashtra open defecation free. This announcement was made after all urban local bodies in Maharashtra were declared open defecation-free.

China's New Plan Under 'Belt And Road': Corridor Reaching India Via Nepal
  • China today proposed an India-Nepal-China economic corridor with multi-dimensional connectivity through the Himalayas as it seeks to expand its influence over the new Nepalese government headed by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, widely regarded as pro-Beijing.

    China's proposal came after visiting Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

    "Let me say China and Nepal have agreed on a long-term vision of a multi-dimensional cross Himalaya connectivity network," Mr Wang told a joint press briefing along with Mr Gyawali after their talks.

    Mr Gyawali is on his maiden visit to Beijing after the KP Sharma Oli-led government came to power in the recently held elections.

    Mr Wang said China and Nepal have already signed an agreement on the China's multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in which connectivity cooperation is a part.

    It included a long-term vision such as connectivity network and covering the links between the two countries though ports, railways, highways, aviation, power and communications.

    "We believe that such a well-developed connectivity network can also create conditions for an economic corridor connecting China, Nepal and India," Mr Wang said.

    "We hope that such cooperation will contribute to development and prosperity for all the three countries," he said.

    Reacting to a question whether Mr Gyawali's visit to China was aimed at counterbalancing the recent visit by Prime Minister Oli to India, his first visit abroad after taking over as Prime Minister, Mr Wang sought to make out a case for trilateral cooperation between India, China and Nepal.

    He said Beijing and New Delhi should facilitate such a cooperation.

    "China, Nepal and India are natural friends and partners. We are neighbours connected by rivers and mountains. This is a fact that cannot be changed by whatever changes taking place in the world and inside the three countries," Mr Wang said.

    "Support for Nepal's development should be a common understanding between China and India. As two major emerging economies, China and India shall deliver the benefits to their neighbour Nepal included in their own development," he said.

    "Nepal on its part should leverage its geographical advantage and connect China and India for greater development. Nepal stands as a natural beneficiary from cooperation from China and India. I think this is a logical desire that should be supported by China and India," he said.

    The pro-active initiatives by China came as Nepalese Prime Minister Oli, who is widely regarded as pro-China, during his last tenure as Prime Minister signed a transit treaty with Beijing in 2016 ending the decades-long dependence on India for commodity and energy supplies for his land locked country.

    He also sought railway connectivity between the two countries through Tibet which China is currently building.

Business Affairs

ATM cash crunch: SBI report says currency shortfall at Rs 70,000 crore
  • An SBI report has said that India's currency shortfall may be Rs 70,000 crore, which is nearly three times the government's estimate. The government had earlier claimed that the 'sudden and unusual' spike in cash demand has been due to a Rs 45,000 crore demand for currency in the economy in the past 2 weeks as against the normal Rs 20,000 crore, implying the shortfall at just Rs 25,000 crore.

    Curiously, despite the widespread shortage of currency in most of the country, the SBI report calls the current situation "The (Non) genuity of cash crunch". Banks in Delhi/NCR and Mumbai, the two biggest financial centres have said they received in a week's span the amount of currency they require on a daily basis. Banks have been writing to the regulator RBI regarding the shortage of notes for the past 3-4 weeks.

    Although, the currency in circulation is at Rs 18.29 lakh crore, which is well over Rs 17.98 lakh crore at the time of note ban, it is yet to catch up with India's nominal GDP growth. According to the SBI report, based on the nominal GDP growth of 10.8 per cent and 9.8 per cent in FY17 and FY18, currency with public would have been Rs 19.4 lakh crore by March 2018.

    However, currency with public right now is at Rs 17.5 lakh crore which shows a gap of Rs 1.9 lakh crore.

    The report also points to a lack of circulation of higher denomination currency notes as a possible reason for the ongoing cash crunch. It adds that the ATM withdrawals increased by 12.2 per cent in the second half of FY18 as compared to H1.

    Contrary to reports in the media which blamed harvest season festivals like Bihu and Baisakhi, the SBI reports says that cash withdrawals in H2 are always more than the H1 due to many reasons like festival and procurement season that fall in H2.

    SBI report takes into account the increase in digital modes of payment that compensates some part of the existing gap. "The shift to digital modes could be at least Rs 1.2 lakh crore. The apparent shortfall thus could be around Rs 70,000 crore or even less," it said.

    The report, however, does not take into account a possible fall in digital transactions due to RBI's mandatory know-your-customer (KYC) compliance norms for e-wallets which came into effect from March 1.  

    The SBI Ecowrap report comes a day after cash crunch was reported in various states across the country. According to the report, the currency with public has now reached around 96 per cent of currency in circulation due to which cash in hand (cash at ATM etc) with banks has declined.

    On Tuesday, the Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg told reporters that the government plans to increase the supply of cash in the banking system. "The currency printing will increase from Rs 500 crore to Rs 2,500 crore per day of Rs 500 note. So in a month, we will be printing about Rs 70,000-Rs 75,000 crore," Garg had said.

    The Finance Ministry had blamed the cash crunch on the 'unusual spurt in currency demand' in last three months. "In the first 13 days of the current month, the currency supply increased by Rs 45,000 crores," it said in a circular.

Rs 2,654 crore bank fraud: CBI arrests Diamond Power promoters from Rajasthan
  • In a joint operation, the CBI and the Gujarat Anti Terrorist Squad have arrested three promoters of Vadodara-based Diamond Power Infrastructure Ltd (DPIL) in connection with Rs 2,654 crore bank fraud. The three promoters - S N Bhatnagar and his sons Amit and Sumit - were held from a hotel in Udaipur on Tuesday night.

    Explaining the details, a senior ATS official said: "The CBI had sought our help in nabbing the Bhatnagar trio. Based on a tip-off that they were hiding in a hotel, a joint team of the Gujarat ATS and the CBI conducted a raid in Udaipur in Rajasthan last night and held them." The CBI had filed a complaint against the promoters two weeks ago.

    According to the CBI, the DPIL had fraudulently availed credit facilities from a consortium of 11 banks (both public and private) from 2008, leading to outstanding debt of Rs 2,654.40 crore as of June 29, 2016. The loan was declared a non-performing asset in 2016-17. DPIL allegedly submitted false stock statements to the lead bank by treating 'receivables more than 180 days' (non-current assets) as 'less than 180 days' (current assets) to get more drawing power in the cash credit accounts.

    The company and its directors managed to get the term loans and credit facilities, in spite of the fact that they were named in the Reserve Bank of India's defaulters list and ECGC (Export Credit Guarantee Corporation) caution list at the time of the initial sanction of credit limits by the consortium.

    The central investigating agency alleged that the DPIL extensively utilised cash credit limits for obtaining a large number of letters of credit, and many of them could not be honoured by the company and were thus 'forced charged' on the credit limit. Earlier this month, the central investigating agency carried out searches at the official and residential premises of the DPIL and its directors in Vadodara in Gujarat.

    The Income Tax Department is also probing the DPIL loan fraud case. Recently, the tax sleuths raided the premises of Vadodara-based firm and found that its promoters obtained loans by showing a huge turnover through bogus intra-group transactions of Rs 550 crore.

    While going through the accounts of DPIL and other companies floated by its promoters, I-T officials discovered fraudulent transactions, where one company 'sold' products to another company in the same group.

    "As of now, we have unearthed such fraudulent transactions worth Rs 550 crore while going through 2017-18 accounts alone. We are yet to check records of previous years. The promoters showed a high turnover through bogus transactions between their own companies," the I-T official said.

    The I-T Department initiated the action following raids by the CBI and the ED on the company offices and the promoters' residences.

RBI issues directions to Mumbai's City Co-operative Bank, puts limit on withdrawal
  • As the problem of sudden cash crunch hits several states of the country, India's two major regions, the Delhi-NCR and Mumbai, can severely get affected in the coming days if the situation persists. According to sources in one of the largest private banks in the country, in the past one week the Delhi-NCR region received around 20 per cent of the cash supply it used to get on a daily basis. In the country's business capital, Mumbai, banks received in a week what they need on a daily basis. If immediate measures are not taken to pump in more money, the ATMs in these regions could run dry very soon.
     The government has announced it plans to increase printing of notes by Rs 2,500 crore a day to tide over the crisis.
     In the NCR, the last time a few large banks received cash from RBI was nearly 6 days ago, causing many ATMs to remain shut. 
     Another possible reason for cash shortage is believed to be the RBI order on movement of cash from cash-surplus circles to those short of currency. "A month back, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) stopped banks from moving excess cash from one circle to the deficient circles. Hence, many circles have the excess cash supply while the others have nothing," said the source.
    Acording to reports, banks are only providing more of Rs 200 and Rs 100 currency notes; only Rs 500 notes are also being curtailed. The All India Bank Officers' Confederation has also claimed there's been around 30-40 per cent cash crunch in the country, which has emerged due to the RBI's constant pressure towards 'digital economy'.
     "We are facing a cash crunch. We are facing difficulty, don't know what to do," claimed a resident in the national capital, reported ANI. 
     At a given time, around 8 per cent of the country's ATMs are out of cash. Sources said at the country's biggest public sector bank SBI - that comprises 25 per cent of India's ATMs - about 16 per cent of the ATMs are running dry. In some pockets, the number has even reached 30 per cent. Experts suggest the scenario could also be similar in other larger banks as well.
    The government on Tuesday blamed the 'unusual spurt in currency demand' in past three months for the cash shortage. A Ministry of Finance circular clarified the claim saying the currency supply increased by Rs 13,000 crore in the first 13 days of April.The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has restricted the City Co-operative Bank, Mumbai, from issuing or renewing loans, liability, or accepting fresh deposits. The directions, issued under Section 35A of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 (applicable to co-operative societies) and Section 56 of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, will be applicable from April 17. The central bank has indicated poor "financial position" as a reason for these directions, which it said may change in future.

    The current directions by the central bank, however, do not in any way mean that the bank's licence has been cancelled, said the RBI.

    According to the directions, depositors will be allowed to withdraw less than Rs 1,000 of the total balance held in every saving bank or current account or any other deposit account, subject to conditions stipulated in the RBI directions.

    In case of any liability, the amount may be adjusted first to the relevant barrowal account, RBI said. The bank may also renew the existing term deposits on maturity, it said.

    Under the order, without the prior approval from the RBI, the bank can't grant or renew any loans and advances or investment. The RBI statement said the bank can't anchor any liability, including borrowal of funds, and acceptance of fresh deposits. It also can't disburse any payment for liabilities or otherwise enter into any comprise or agreement and sell, transfer, or dispose of any assets without the central bank's written approval.  

    The statement says the City Co-operative Bank would continue its banking business till there's an improvement in its financial position, and the Reserve Bank may consider modifications in them depending upon circumstances.

Sensex closes 63 points lower, Nifty at 10,526 on profit-booking; Axis Bank, M&M, IndusInd Bank top losers
  • The Sensex and Nifty snapped their nine-day gaining streak on Wednesday with banking and consumer durables stocks logging maximum losses on Dalal Street even as global cues were positive.

    Banking stocks were hit after RBI deputy governor NS Vishwanathan defended a revised framework for expeditious resolution of bad loans notified by the central bank on February 12, 2018.

    Investors preferred to book profits on the consumer durables counter which saw record highs yesterday buoyed by the RBI's normal monsoon forecast.

    While the Sensex closed 63 points lower at 34,331 level, the Nifty fell 22 points to 10,526.

    The Sensex had risen 1,375.99 points, or 4.17 per cent in the previous nine sessions.

    The Nifty gained 420.30 points, or 4.15 per cent in the past nine sessions.

    The BSE bankex dragged the Sensex and Nifty in the red after it fell 241 points (0.85%) to 28,158. Bank Nifty too closed 0.92% or 232 points lower to 25,102 level.

    On Tuesday, the BSE consumer durables index which rose 1.05% (over 250 points) to 23,038 on expectations of a normal monsoon saw profit booking and fell 1.18% or 272 points to 22,765 level in today's trade.

    Sameet Chavan, Chief Analyst, Technical and Derivatives at Angel Broking said, "We are not surprised by today's sharp cut as we have been continuously advocating about staying light if index enters the strong resistance zone of 10580 - 10640. Not necessarily we may start correcting right from this point, but one should take this as a warning and hence, in case of yet another attempt towards 10580 - 10640, it would be an opportunity to take some money off the table. Today, there was clearly some gush seen from the traders' fraternity as they turned skeptical around the 10600 mark. Such moves are now quite evident and hence, we expect some volatility with such kind of ambiguity to continue. Traders are advised to stay light and concentrate mainly on individual stocks."

    Axis Bank (2.60%), M&M (1.55%) and IndusInd Bank (1.23%) were the top losers on the Sensex.

    TCS, which will report its Q4 earnings on Thursday closed 0.20% lower at 3159 level on BSE.

    Market breadth was negative with 1131 stocks closing higher against 1527 ending in the red on BSE.

    Abhijeet Dey, Senior Fund Manager-Equities, BNP Paribas Mutual Fund said, "Market sentiment these last few days has been fairly benign. With volatility coming to the fore, no clear trend seems to be emerging for now. Domestic markets started the day on a positive note and drifted higher in early trade only to succumb to volatility and consequently swing between the positive and negative zone, through the day. Mirroring the wider market sentiment, sectoral performance on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) was mixed. While the FMCG and media indices gained over 1% in trade today, the banking, auto and IT indices witnessed selling pressure."

    Global stocks

    Markets followed Wall Street higher on Wednesday despite a Chinese tariff hike on U.S. sorghum in a swelling trade dispute with Washington.

    In early trading, London's FTSE 100 rose 0.7 percent to 7,278.02 and France's CAC 40 added 0.5 percent to 5,379.95. German's DAX advanced 0.3 percent to 12,630.42. On Tuesday, the DAX climbed 1.6 percent, the CAC 40 rose 0.8 percent and the FTSE 100 added 0.4 percent. On Wall Street, futures for the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 0.1 percent.

    The Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.8 percent to 3,091.40 and Tokyo's Nikkei 225 rose 1.4 percent to 22,158.20. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.7 percent to 30,284.25 and Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 added 0.3 percent to 5,861.40. Seoul's Kospi gained 1.1 percent to 2,479.98 and India's Sensex edged up 0.1 percent to 34,435.59. Benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia also rose.

Right to Food Campaign opposes plans to supply packed energy foods through Anganawadis
  • Over 170 civil society activists and groups have opposed the central government's reported move to replace the take-home rations given by Anganwadi centres to children in the age group of 6 months to 3 years and pregnant and lactating women, with "energy-dense, factory-made nutrient packets".

    In a letter to Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, civil society members grouped under the banner of "Right to Food Campaign" said they will oppose any move that allows private contractors to take control over supplementary nutrition supplies. "Such centralised commercial production and distribution is prone to corruption and poor quality. On the other hand decentralised supply can contribute to greater accountability, generate local employment and help ensure diverse diets", they point out.

    The activists caution that the introduction of nutrient packets will be against the objective of moving towards dietary diversity. "In the context of increasing burden of non-communicable diseases in India, experts have been warning us against excessive use of processed and ultra-processed foods".

    Civil society groups under the Right to Food Campaign banner have been opposing the role of private contractors in the supply of supplementary nutrition in the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme for long now. "In state after state it has been seen that the unholy nexus between the contractors and politicians/bureaucrats result in central contracts worth hundreds of crores for supply of food to ICDS. The quality of food supplied to the centres is compromised while companies make profits from the meagre allocation on supplementary nutrition", the letter alleged.

    The letter also highlights the recent allegations related to the conduct of IDCS's supplementary nutrition programmes in states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

    The ICDS's supplementary nutrition programme (SNP) serves a range of important purposes. It not only provides quantitative supplementation by increasing children's food intake but also enhances the quality of diets by giving them nutritious and diverse food items they may not get at home, such as vegetables, eggs, fruit, etc, they point out. "The provision of nutritious, cooked meals at the Anganwadi is a form of nutrition education - it helps to convey what a nutritious meal looks like, and to spread the notion that children require a regular and balanced intake of various nutrients. It provides the opportunity to create employment for local women as well as demand for local product such as vegetables, eggs, etc. All of this is possible only when the food is produced and distributed in a decentralised manner", the groups said.

    Incidentally, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), an affiliate organization of RSS, ruling party BJP's political mentor, had also opposed the corporate led anti-malnutrition drive for children that are being rolled out by various states in the country sometime back.

    SJM wanted the government to prepare a national policy to end the use of commercial Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) promoted by global food giants. Instead, it preferred the introduction of the supply of 'indigenous, economical and culturally relevant' home augmented food items.

    The civil society groups also called for a system that provides training and support to local groups to deliver nutritious and hygienic food. "Intervention to replace locally made food compromises decentralised autonomy and community control. They also detract from local livelihoods and take away the option of using local foods and recipes many of which have good nutritional value", they say.

General Awareness

Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
Simultaneous elections

  • Context: A draft white paper released by the Law Commission of India has recommended holding of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies, possibly in 2019. It suggests amending the Constitution to realise this objective.

    Background:

    Simultaneous elections were held in the country during the first two decades after Independence up to 1967. Dissolution of certain Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 followed by the dissolution of the Lok Sabha led to the “disruption of the conduct of simultaneous elections.

    Key recommendations made by NITI Aayog in this regard:

    Simultaneous elections in the country may be restored in the nation by amending the Constitution, Representation of the People Act of 1951 and the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies.
    The leader of the majority party be elected as PM or the CM by the entire house for stability.
    In case a government falls midterm, the term of the new government would be for the remaining period only.
    A no-confidence motion against the government should be followed by a confidence motion. No-confidence motion and premature dissolution of House are major roadblocks to simultaneous elections. Parties which introduce the no-confidence motion should simultaneously give a suggestion for an alternative government.
    The “rigours” of the anti-defection law in the Tenth Schedule should be relaxed to prevent a stalemate in the Lok Sabha or Assemblies in case of a hung Parliament or Assembly.

    Simultaneous elections: Is it a good idea?

    This will help save public money.
    It will be a big relief for political parties that are always in campaign mode.
    It will allow political parties to focus more on policy and governance.

    Need for simultaneous elections:

    To reduce unnecessary expenditures: Elections are held all the time and continuous polls lead to a lot of expenditure. More than Rs1,100 crore was spent on the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the expenditure had shot up to Rs4,000 crore in 2014.
    To reduce the unnecessary use of manpower: Over a crore government employees, including a large number of teachers, are involved in the electoral process. Thus, the continuous exercise causes maximum harm to the education sector.
    Security concerns: Security forces also have to be diverted for the electoral work even as the country’s enemy keeps plotting against the nation and terrorism remains a strong threat.

    Way ahead:

    The time is ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after Independence when elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held simultaneously. It is for the Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties.

    Facts for Prelims:

    Law Commission of India is an executive body established by an order of the Government of India. Its major function is to work for legal reform. Its membership primarily comprises legal experts, who are entrusted a mandate by the Government.
    The Commission is established for a fixed tenure and works as an advisory body to the Ministry of Law and Justice
    The first Law Commission was established during the British Raj era in 1834 by the Charter Act of 1833. After that, three more Commissions were established in pre-independent India. The first Law Commission of independent India was established in 1955 for a three-year term.

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