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Current Affairs - 23 April 2018

General Affairs 

Congress May Move Court If Impeachment Notice Rejected, Say Party Leaders
  • As the Congress awaits the decision of Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on an impeachment notice moved by it and other parties against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, it is considering moving the Supreme Court if the petition is rejected, party leaders said.

    They said if the Upper House chairman did not find merit in the notice for the impeachment, the decision could call for a judicial review.

    "The chairman's decision is open to being challenged. It is bound to go for a judicial review," said a Congress leader.

    The Congress was also trying to build up "moral pressure" on the Chief Justice of India in the hope that he would step aside from judicial duty if an impeachment motion was moved against him.

    Judges who faced impeachment had earlier stepped aside from judicial work and the Chief Justice should do the same, a party leader said.

    "It is only a convention, though there is no legal or constitutional bar (on this)," the leader said.

    The Congress also hoped that the decision on the motion would be taken soon.

    "He (the RS Chairman) cannot sit on it indefinitely, though there is no deadline laid out in the Constitution," a legal expert said, citing the case of an anti-defection law where the court had said it should be decided within a "reasonable" time-frame.

    Meanwhile, an official in Parliament stressed that making public the contents of a notice before it was admitted violated Parliamentary rules.

    This assumes significance in the wake of the seven opposition parties, led by the Congress, initiating an unprecedented step last week for the impeachment of CJI Dipak Misra by moving a notice levelling several charges against him.

    According to the provisions in the handbook for Rajya Sabha members, no advance publicity should be given to any notice to be taken up in the House till it is admitted by the chairman.

    "A notice for raising a matter in the House should not be given publicity by any member or other person until it has been admitted by the Chairman and circulated by members. A member should not raise the issue of a notice given by him and pending consideration of the Chairman," according to Rule 2.2 of Parliamentary Customs and Conventions in the handbook.

    A retired Lok Sabha official said the same rule also applied to the Lower House as it was listed under rule 334A of the procedure and conduct of its business.

    The notice has been referred by Naidu to Rajya Sabha Secretariat officials, who are preparing the file and identified this violation, the official said.

    According to the senior official in Parliament, a bulletin issued by the Rajya Sabha on December 8, 2017, reiterates the rule under parliamentary customs and conventions.

    Leaders of the opposition parties had met Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, who is also the chairman of the Rajya Sabha, and handed over the notice of impeachment bearing the signatures of 64 MPs and seven former members, who had recently retired.

Swati Maliwal Ends Fast; Terms Ordinance A "Historic" Victory
  • DCW chief Swati Maliwal Sunday ended her hunger strike after President Ram Nath Kovind promulgated an ordinance to give stringent punishment, including death penalty, for those convicted of raping girls below 12 years.

    She was on the hunger strike for the last 10 days at Rajghat.

    As she congratulated the people for the ordinance, Ms Maliwal noted that very few protests had achieved so much in such less time, and termed the government's decision a "historic victory" for independent India.

    According to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2018, new fast-track courts will be set up to deal with rape cases and special forensic kits will be provided to all police stations and hospitals in the long run.

    The ordinance stipulates stringent punishment for perpetrators of rape, particularly of girls below 12 and 16 years. Death sentence has been provided for rapists of girls under 12 years, officials said while quoting the ordinance.

    The minimum punishment in case of rape of women has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of seven years to 10 years, extendable to life imprisonment, they said.

    In case of rape of a girl under 16 years, the minimum punishment has been increased from 10 to 20 years, extendable to life imprisonment.

    The punishment for gangrape of a girl below 16 years will invariably be imprisonment for the rest of life, the officials said.

    Stringent punishment for rape of a girl under 12 years has been provided with the minimum jail term being 20 years which may go up to life in prison or death sentence, they added.

    Ending her fast, Ms Maliwal said, "Every day children aged three, four or six years are getting raped in a brutal manner. I wrote letters and issued notices. I even submitted 5.5 lakh letters written by citizens to the prime minister, but in vain.

    "After which, I decided to sit on a hunger strike. There was no strategy, but gradually people joined the movement across the country. It gained such a momentum that the prime minister after returning to India had to make an amendment in the law. I congratulate the people of India for this victory," she said.

    The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief had been demanding death penalty for rape of minors and setting up of fast-track courts across the country to try rape cases, along with other demands.

    Amid a nationwide outrage over cases of sexual assault on girls and women at Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, Surat in Gujarat and Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, the Union cabinet had Saturday approved the ordinance to provide stringent punishment, including death penalty, for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years.

    Ms Maliwal had Saturday written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioning her six demands, including the passage of the ordinance, recruitment of police personnel as per the United Nations standards and fixing accountability of the police force.

    She had also sought that files relating to the recruitment of 14,000 police personnel - approved by the Union home ministry but pending with the finance ministry - be cleared.

    Ms Maliwal also put forth her demand for constitution of a high-level committee, comprising Delhi chief minister, home minister and Lieutenant Governor to review safety of women in the national capital.

Sushma Swaraj Meets Chinese Foreign Minister, Hopes To Improve Ties
  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to discuss bilateral ties and step up the pace of high-level interactions to improve the relationship.

    Ms Swaraj reached Beijing on Saturday on a four-day visit to take part in the foreign ministers' meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

    This was their first meeting after Mr Wang was elevated as state councillor last month which makes him the top diplomat of the country in the Chinese hierarchy. He also continues to be foreign minister.

    In her initial remarks, Ms Swaraj congratulated Mr Wang on being elevated as state councillor and the special representative for the India-China boundary talks.

    Their meeting is part of efforts by the two countries to step up the pace of high-level interactions to improve relations, official sources here told PTI before the meeting.

    Following the Doklam standoff last year both countries increased dialogue to scale down tensions and improve relations with talks at various levels.

    Ms Swaraj and Mr Wang are meeting in the immediate backdrop of the recent meeting between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and top official of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) Yang Jiechi in Shanghai.

In Maharashtra's Gadchiroli, 14 Maoists Killed In Encounter
  • Fourteen Maoists were killed today in an encounter with the police in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district, a senior official said.

    He said a team of C-60 commandos, a specialised combat unit of the Gadchiroli police, carried out the operation.

    "Fourteen Naxals were killed in the encounter. Combing operations are still on," Sharad Shelar, Inspector General of Police, said.

    He said the combing operation, which started in the morning, was currently underway at Tadgaon forest in Bhamragad, around 750 kilometres from Mumbai.

    The official said that two district-level "commanders"of the proscribed outfit, identified as Sainath and Sainyu, were among those killed in the encounter.

    Director General of Police Satish Mathur congratulated the C-60 team which participated in the encounter.

French Defence Company Thales Plans To Double Footprint In India
  • French defence company Thales has said it is working on doubling its footprint in India by expanding its overall product portfolios with a major focus on India's ambitious project to build a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines.

    Senior Executive Vice-President (International Development) Pascale Sourisse said Thales was in particular looking at supplying key components such as sonars for India's nuclear-powered and other submarines.

    India has been working on a secret project to build six nuclear-powered attack submarines which are expected to boost the Navy's overall strike capabilities. The government had last year also begun the process to acquire six conventionally-powered advanced stealth submarines at a cost of around Rs. 60,000 crore under project P-75 (I). 

    "We can equip any kind of submarines including nuclear-powered submarines. We are equipping nuclear submarines in France," the senior executive of Europe's largest defence electronics company told PTI in an interview.

    Six Scorpene-class submarines are currently being built under 'Project 75' of the Indian Navy. The submarines, designed by French firm Naval Group, are being built by the Mazagon Dock Limited in Mumbai. The project P-75 (I) will be a follow-on for Project 75. 

    Sourisse said India was one of the top three priority markets for Thales and the company planned to double its footprint in the country in the next two or three years by ramping up its supply chain and building a sustainable ecosystem of partners.

    Thales expected defence manufacturing in India to grow because of the government's initiatives in boosting the production of weapons and military platforms, she said.

    In particular, she referred to the government's decision to raise foreign direct investment in defence manufacturing to 74 per cent for certain niche segments.

    Sourisse said the Thales strategy was not only to support the government's "Make in India" policy but also exports from India. 

    India is expected to spend close to USD 300 billion in the next five years in procuring defence equipment and almost all major global defence firms are eyeing a slice of it.

    "We are in India for 65 years. Since 1953, we have been working with the Indian Air Force, the Navy and the Army," she said, adding the company was looking to expand its product portfolio as well supplies to all the three forces.

    When asked about the project to upgrade the IAF's Mirage 2000 fighter jets, Ms Sourisse said it was moving along "very well". Thales is a part of the project along with Dassault Aviation.

    On the Rafale deal, she said it would be a "win-win" proposition for India. Thales will provide equipment and systems that are expected to account for about 25 per cent of the total value of each Rafale.

    India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs. 58,000 crore.

    In the naval domain, Ms Sourisse said Thales was ready to produce its premier Search Master radar in India under the "Make in India" initiative. 

    She said the company was keen to produce various equipment and surveillance devices for the Indian Air Force as well and particularly mentioned the fire control radar solution.

    Last week, Thales and India's MKU Limited had joined hands for the development and production of optronic devices and F90 close quarter battle (CQB) rifle for soldiers. 

    The optronic devices and F90 rifles will be manufactured in India at MKU's facilities in Kanpur. 

    Thales has been providing avionics and other equipment to the state-run aerospace behemoth Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for over four decades and Ms Sourisse said the company was now looking at expanding the association further.

    Earlier this week, Thales set up a new office in Bengaluru as part of its plans to strengthening its presence in India.

Business Affairs

Petrol price hit highest level under BJP govt, diesel at record high
  • Petrol price today hit Rs 74.40 a litre - the highest level under the BJP-led government, while diesel rates touched a record high of Rs 65.65, renewing calls for cut in excise duty to ease burden on consumers.

    State-owned oil firms, which have been since June last year revising auto fuel prices daily, today raised petrol and diesel rates by 19 paisa per litre each in Delhi, according to a price notification.

    The hike, necessitated due to firming international oil prices, comes on back of a 13 paisa increase in rates of petrol effected yesterday and a 15 paisa hike in diesel, it said.

    Petrol in the national capital now costs Rs 74.40 a litre, the highest since September 14, 2013 when rates had hit Rs 76.06. Diesel price at Rs 65.65 are the highest ever.

    Oil Ministry had earlier this year sought a reduction in excise duty on petrol and diesel to cushion the impact arising out of international oil rates but Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his Budget presented on February 1 made no concessions.

    India has the highest retail prices of petrol and diesel among South Asian nations as taxes account for half of the pump rates.

    Jaitley had raised excise duty nine times between November 2014 and January 2016 to shore up finances as global oil prices fell, but then cut the tax just once in October last year by Rs 2 a litre.

    Subsequent to that excise duty reduction, the Centre had asked states to also lower VAT but just four of them - Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh reduced rates while others including BJP-ruled ones ignored the call.

    The Central government had cut excise duty by Rs 2 per litre in October 2017, when petrol price reached Rs 70.88 per litre in Delhi and diesel Rs. 59.14.

    Because of the reduction in excise duty, diesel prices had on October 4, 2017 came down to Rs 56.89 per litre and petrol to Rs 68.38 per litre. However, a global rally in crude prices pushed domestic fuel prices far higher than those levels.

    The October 2017 excise duty cut cost the government Rs. 26,000 crore in annual revenue and about Rs. 13,000 crore during the remaining part of the current fiscal year.

    The government had between November 2014 and January 2016 raised excise duty on petrol and diesel on nine occasions to take away gains arising from plummeting global oil prices.

    In all, duty on petrol rate was hiked by Rs 11.77 per litre and that on diesel by 13.47 a litre in those 15 months that helped governments excise mop up more than double to Rs 242,000 crore in 2016-17 from Rs 99,000 crore in 2014-15.

    State-owned oil companies - Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum Corporation and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation - in June last year dumped the 15-year old practice of revising rates on the 1st and 16th of every month . Instead, they adopted a daily price revision system to instantly reflect changes in cost. Since then prices are revised on a daily basis.

India's pace of growth to accelerate in 2018-19, says RBI governor Urjit Patel
  • Asserting that the Indian economy turned in a resilient performance in 2017-18, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Urjit Patel has said the country's growth is expected to accelerate next fiscal.

    Patel was addressing the International Monetary Finance Committee here yesterday.

    "The Indian economy turned in a resilient performance in 2017-18," Patel said.

    Although the real GDP growth was moderated to 6.6 per cent from 7.1 per cent a year ago, there was a strong rebound in the second half of the year on the back of a turnaround in investment demand, he said.

    This was supported by an acceleration in manufacturing, rising sales growth, a pick-up in capacity utilisation, strong activity in the services sector and a record agricultural harvest, the RBI governor added.

    "Several factors are expected to help accelerate the pace of growth in 2018-19. There are now clearer signs that the revival in investment activity will be sustained," he said.

    Global demand has been improving, which should encourage exports and boost fresh investments, Patel said, adding that on the whole, real GDP growth was expected to expand at 7.4 per cent in 2018-19, with risks evenly balanced.

    In his address, Patel said since November 2016, headline consumer price inflation had generally remained below the medium-term target of four per cent.

    An unusual spike in vegetables prices pushed up inflation to a recent peak of 5.2 per cent in December, but it eased in subsequent months to reach 4.3 per cent in March, he said.

    Patel said several factors were likely to influence the inflation outlook, including a possible moderation in food prices if the monsoon turned out to be normal and was supported by an effective food supply management.

    "Countervailing this, upside risks emanate from the distinct hardening bias in crude oil prices, the steady firming up of inflation excluding food and fuel mirroring pick up in domestic demand, and spillovers from financial volatility as markets re-price the path of monetary policy normalisation by systemic central banks," he said.

    Noting that risks to inflation are tilted to the upside, the monetary policy rate was kept unchanged at 6.0 per cent in April 2018 with a neutral stance, Patel said.

    Asserting that the government is committed to fiscal prudence, the RBI governor said aided by buoyancy in tax revenues and rationalisation of subsidies, the gross fiscal deficit (GFD) of the central government has been steadily brought down since 2013-14 to 3.5 per cent of GDP in 2017-18 without compromising on public investment requirements and social sector spending.

    The GFD is budgeted lower at 3.3 per cent in 2018-19, he said. The government has accepted a debt rule that will bring down the debt-to-GDP ratio to 40 per cent over a period of time by 2024-25.

    Patel said the goods and services tax (GST), which was implemented from July 2017 has reformed the system of indirect taxes by simplifying payments and credits, and improving the efficiency of movement of goods across the country.

    Automation of tax payments and 'team-based assessment with dynamic jurisdiction' without direct interface with tax payers has improved overall efficiency and transparency of revenue administration, he said.

    Patel said with the pace of import growth relative to that of exports, the current account deficit (CAD) expanded from 0.7 per cent in 2016-17 to 1.9 per cent for the first nine months of 2017-18.

    External financing conditions remained comfortable, boosted mainly by robust inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI), he said.

    The UNCTAD's survey of multinational enterprises ranked India as the third most favoured destination for FDI for 2017-19. Reflecting these developments, India's foreign exchange reserves at USD 424 billion were equivalent of 11 months of imports, he added.

    "India has persevered with structural reforms over a wide area ranging from a flexible inflation targeting framework for monetary policy; liberalisation of FDI flows; a unique identification (Aadhaar) backed direct benefit transfers; an insolvency and bankruptcy code; the GST; realty reforms; and a swathe of measures for improvement in the ease of doing business more generally," he said.

    These factors have improved India's global ranking in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business, Patel added.

Sebi may seek forensic probe of ICICI Bank books, disclosures
  • Markets watchdog Sebi is mulling getting a forensic examination done on financial statements and disclosures made by ICICI Bank in last few years amid a controversy over alleged conflict of interest involving the lender's CEO Chanda Kochhar and her husband.

    According to top officials, the capital markets regulator will also consult the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on the matter to avoid any intra-regulatory jurisdiction issues.

    The forensic examination will focus on various disclosures made by the top private sector bank over the last few years, vis-a-vis the clarifications submitted by ICICI Bank to the stock exchanges in reply to queries made in the backdrop of a controversy regarding certain loans extended as part of a consortium to Videocon.

    Officials said the examination will also cover the disclosures made at the time of Kochhar being appointed as CEO and Managing Director of the bank for the first time in 2009.

    If required, Sebi will also seek details from the bank regarding various business dealings involving its top officials including Kochhar to look into alleged conflict of interest.

    The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has been looking into the matter for any possible disclosure and corporate governance-related lapses at ICICI Bank, but has not come across any concrete proof so far, the officials said.

    A probe by RBI in 2016 also did not find any 'quid pro quo' vis-a-vis ICICI Bank with regard to the loan extended to Videocon by the consortium which had the private sector lender as 'a small member', they added.

    ICICI Bank landed in the controversy following allegations about a Rs 3,250 crore loan to Videocon Group, whose chairman Venugopal Dhoot has been accused of having business dealings with NuPower Renewables, operated by Chanda Kochhar's husband Deepak Kochhar.

     Besides, questions have been raised about Avista Advisory, run by Chanda's brother-in-law Rajiv Kochhar, having advised some clients of ICICI Bank.

    The bank however has denied all these allegations and its board has strongly defended the chief executive saying it has full faith and confidence in Kochhar.

    Since RBI had already looked into the matter in 2016 and found no wrongdoing, the bank and its board members have been exuding confidence that the company would get out of the controversy unscathed.

    Kochhar has been known as one of the biggest driving forces behind the phenomenal growth of ICICI Bank, especially of its retail banking operations which got redefined following the entry of this private sector lender in the Indian banking space.

    Subsequently, she has played a key role in expanding the bank's business in other areas and its diversification, including the digital push in recent years.

Air India flight faces turbulence; three passengers injured, window panel comes off
  • In a nightmare for over 240 air passengers, an Air India flight from Amristar to the national capital last week experienced turbulence leaving at least three people with minor injuries and causing a window panel inside the aircraft to break away, according to four airline officials.

    Besides Air India, aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) are probing the incident, which happened on April 19 soon after the flight took off from Amristar, one of the officials said.

    The duration of Amristar-Delhi flight is about 35 minutes and on April 19, the flight was full with over 240 passengers, another official said.

    The officials said the flight experienced turbulence soon after take-off when the altitude was around 15,000 feet due to bad weather.

    At least three passengers had minor injuries and were given first aid after landing at the Delhi airport. Later, they took their connecting flights for onward journey, they added.

    A window panel inside the plane also came off when the flight experienced turbulence, the officials said.

    According to the officials, the turbulence continued for around 10-12 minutes.

    There was no official statement from Air India about the incident.

    A purported 50-second long video clip of happenings inside that flight showed an air hostess trying to fix the window panel that came off and pacifying an elderly woman passenger seated on that particular window seat. The video clip has been circulated in WhatsApp groups and social media platforms.

President promulgates Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance
  • President Ram Nath Kovind last night promulgated Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance that will allow the government to confiscate properties and assets of loan defaulters who flee the country.

    The president promulgated the Ordinance within hours of it being cleared by the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 12, but could not be taken up for discussion and passage due to the logjam in Parliament over various issues.

    The ordinance seeks to confiscate properties of economic offenders like diamond merchant Nirav Modi, who have left the country to avoid facing criminal prosecution.

    The provisions of the ordinance will apply for economic offenders who refuse to return, persons against whom an arrest warrant has been issued for a scheduled offence as well as willful bank loan defaulters with outstanding of over Rs 100 crore.

    It provides for confiscating assets even without a conviction and paying off lenders by selling off the fugitive's properties.

    Such economic offenders will be tried under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

    The ordinance defines a fugitive economic offender as a person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued for committing offence like counterfeiting government stamps or currency, cheque dishonour for insufficiency of funds, money laundering, and transactions defrauding creditors.

    A fugitive economic offender is one who has left the country to avoid facing prosecution, or refuses to return to face prosecution.

    According to the ordinance, a director or deputy director (appointed under the PMLA, 2002) may file an application before a special court (designated under the 2002 Act) to declare a person as a fugitive economic offender.

    The application will contain the reasons to believe that an individual is a fugitive economic offender.

    Besides, the application will have information about his whereabouts, a list of properties believed to be proceeds of a crime for which confiscation is sought, a list of benami properties or foreign properties for which confiscation is sought, and a list of persons having an interest in these properties.

    Upon receiving the application, the special court will issue a notice to the individual, requiring him to appear at a specified place within six weeks. If the person appears at the specified place, the special court will terminate its proceedings under the provisions of the Bill.

    Any property belonging to the fugitive economic offender may provisionally be attached without the prior permission of the special court, provided that an application is filed before the court within 30 days.

    Appeals against the orders of the special court will lie before the High Court.

General Awareness

Process to impeach the Chief Justice of India
  • Context: The Congress and six other opposition parties have moved a notice for the impeachment of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, accusing him of “misbehaviour” and “misusing” authority. So far, no Chief Justice has ever been impeached in India.

    Procedure for removal of CJI:

    Article 124(4) of the Constitution lays down the procedure for removal of a judge of the Supreme Court, including the CJI, who can be impeached on grounds of “misbehaviour or incapacity”.

    The process:

    Step 1: A removal motion signed by 100 members of Lok Sabha or 50 members of Rajya Sabha has to be submitted to the Speaker of the Lower House or Chairperson (ie Vice President) of the Upper House. This can be in either of the Houses of Parliament.
    Step 2: The Speaker/Chairperson can either accept or reject the motion.
    Step 3: If the motion is admitted, then the Speaker/ Chairperson forms a three-member committee comprising a senior judge of the Supreme Court, a judge of a high court and a distinguished jurist to investigate the charges leveled against the CJI.
    Step 4: If the committee supports the motion, it can be taken up for discussion. It must be passed by a special two-third majority of MPs in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
    Step 5: After it is passed in both Houses, it is presented to the President, who can pass a Presidential Order for removal of the CJI.

    Can CJI continue to work during this period?

    Both the Constitution and the Judges (Inquiry) Act of 1968 are silent on whether a judge facing impeachment motion should recuse from judicial and administrative work till he is cleared of the charges against him.

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