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Current Affairs - 18 June 2018

General Affairs 

At Centre's NITI Aayog Meet, One More Pitch For Simultaneous Elections
  • At the fourth meeting of centre's policy think tank NITI Aayog, Prime Minister Narendra Modi again flagged the issue of simultaneous elections at the central and the state level, urging a widespread debate on the issue. 

    Simultaneous elections have been on the centre's wishlist for some time, with various leaders arguing that it will cut down on the cost of elections in terms of both time and money. Most opposition parties have however objected, questioning the feasibility of this. They have also said simultaneous elections will be against federal principles.

    PM Modi has repeatedly asked all parties to rise above politics and consider it and even raised the issue in parliament. Last year, the NITI Aayog suggested synchronised, two-phase Lok Sabha and assembly polls from 2024 to ensure minimum disruption to the government's development works, but the idea gained little support.

    PM Modi pitched the issue again at today's meeting. A communique said, "The Prime Minister called for widespread debate and consultations on simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas, keeping in view various aspects such as the resulting financial savings and consequent better utilisation of resources".

    NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said the Prime Minister noted that the country remains in "perpetual election mode" and suggested there could be one uniform voter list for all elections.

    After the meeting, NITI Aayog chief Amitabh Kant said the commission was charged with making a 15-year vision document, a 7-year action document, and a 3-year action plan. "We have worked hard on the development agenda and it is ready... no one has worked with the speed at which we have," Mr Kant said.

    23 Chief Ministers and the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands attended the meeting in Delhi, held today under the shadow of the protest by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party.

    Four of the attending Chief Ministers spoke to PM Modi on the sidelines of the meet. They appealed to him to intervene in the deadlock between the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor, which, starting with what Mr Kejriwal called a strike of IAS officers, has snowballed into a full-scale demand for statehood.

Congress Attacks PM On Kashmir, Calls It Government's "Biggest Failure"
  • The Congress today attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Kashmir issue, calling it one of his government's biggest "failures", and wondered what India gained out of his foreign trips when he failed to stall the "pathetic" UN report on the alleged human rights violation there.

    Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera underlined his party's concern over the situation in the Valley, and asked the government to make public the measures it is taking for the security of the pilgrims of the Amarnath Yatra, which is scheduled to start on June 28.

    "Are you (government) capable of giving the pilgrims security?" he asked at a press conference.

    The Congress has been waiting for four years for an all-party meeting on the Kashmir issue, Mr Khera said.

    He accused the BJP of turning Kashmir into an "abhorrent laboratory" of its experiment of "communal politics" and alleged that the situation in the Valley is not only a failure of the central government's internal policies but also its foreign policy.

    The state of affairs in the Valley has become worse than what it was in 1990s, he told reporters, noting that the Election Commission is unable to hold the Lok Sabha bypolls in Anantnag due to law and order problems.

    A by-election recorded a paltry seven per cent polling under the present dispensation as against 71 per cent witnessed during the UPA's tenure, Mr Khera said.

    "Kashmir will be listed among one of the biggest failures of the PM Modi government. The situation there is becoming perhaps worse than what it was in the 1990s," he said, adding that 57 major attacks have taken place there in 27 days.

    While the world used to see it as a territorial issue, the BJP gave it a communal colour, he alleged, and referred to the gang rape and murder of girl from a nomadic Muslim tribe in Kathua.

    Ministers of the ruling party communalised the issue, Mr Khera claimed.

    The Congress leader also targeted the prime minister over the "one-sided" UN report on Kashmir, saying he keeps flexing his muscles over his overseas trips but the fact he allowed it to come out is his "crime".

    "What benefits has the country got from all your (Modi's) so-called goodwill foreign trips about which you keep boasting about," he asked, termed the UN report "one-sided" and "pathetic". Such a report was perhaps never brought in the history of independent India. Has India not been embarrassed because of you. This is your crime Modi ji that you allowed such a report to come out," Mr Khera alleged.

    He demanded that the government should call an all-party meeting on the Kashmir issue while underscoring the Congress' concern about the security of Amarnath pilgrims.

    The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had recently released its first-ever report on alleged human rights violation in Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and demanded an international probe into it. 

Karnataka Wants Centre To Bear 50% Cost Of Farm Loan Waiver
  • Flagging the agrarian crisis gripping the country, Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy on Sunday urged the Central government to bear 50 per cent of the farm loans the state government plans to waive soon.

    "As we are ready to waive loans to free farmers from debt, I request the Central government to provide 50 per cent financial support to our initiative," he said at the fourth meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog.

    Admitting that about 85 lakh farmers across the southern state were in debt for raising bank loans, he said they were in distress due to recurring droughts and crop failures over the years.

    "As the newly-formed coalition government has to fulfil many aspirations of the people, we need the Centre's support in our endeavour despite the ruling parties having different political ideologies," said Mr Kumaraswamy.

    Addressing the gathering that included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Ministers, other Chief Ministers and NITI Aayog members, Mr Kumaraswamy said as climate change was a reality, the Central government should use expertise to develop framework, strategies and practices to usher in a climate resilient agriculture revolution in the country.

    "As a leader in agricultural marketing reforms, our state has brought many transformations that were studied by the central government and incorporated in the e-NAM (electronic National Agriculture Market)," he said.

    The state's Unified Market Platform (UPM) also helped farmers as rate for their produce is being determined through competitive price discovery method.

    "We are following a unique method for location of grids in soil sampling, which is GIS-GPS enabled. We have also developed an Android application "Soil Sample Collector" for mobile devices," he noted.

    Through a web service, soil sampling database is integrated with the Bhoomi (land records) database and the state data integrated with the Soil Health Card portal of NIC, New Delhi.

    "We are committed to continue this innovative programme for the benefit of farmers," Mr Kumaraswamy asserted in his maiden address at the event, made available to IANS by his office in Bengaluru.

    Noting that water was becoming a scarce resource that would limit growth in the farm and other sectors, the Chief Minister said the state government had taken initiatives to rejuvenate lakes and charge water bodies.

    Lauding the Centre's Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Swasthya Suraksha Mission initiative, Kumaraswamy said the state government has been implementing schemes like "Yeshaswini" over the last 15 years for various categories of persons on assurance mode.

    "I suggest we dedicate a decade for water conservation with resources. A mission mode with monitorable indicators has to be the way forward," he said.

Not On Strike, Being Victimised, Delhi's IAS Officers Tell Media
  • The IAS officers of Delhi, who are at the heart of a huge stand-off between the elected government of Arvind Kejriwal and the Lieutenant Governor,  the Centre's representative, today held an unprecedented press conference to allege that they were being victimized in a political battle. The officers said misinformation was being spread about them, even though they were "apolitical" and  "neutral" and  were "answerable only to the law and the constitution".  

    Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has accused the Centre and the Lieutenant Governor of backing what he called the "strike" by the IAS officers.  His government says work has been suffering for the last four months since the officers won't meet ministers or attend their phone calls.

    Calling the allegations "completely false and baseless", the officers said "We are not on strike. We are attending all meetings, doing all our work". They skip only the meetings in which they felt their "safety" and "self-respect" were at risk, they said.  

    "Routine meetings and statutory meetings are different, we attend the latter," said IAS officer Manisha Saxena, adding, "We have no confidence, no one has reached out to us to boost our confidence".

    delhi metro station shut
    Five metro stations have been shut down ahead of the AAP's march to PM's house.

    This has been the stance of the association since the alleged attack on the Delhi Chief Secretary in February, when he had gone to attend a meeting at the Chief Minister's house. While two AAP leaders were arrested for the attack, the police are yet to conclude their investigation. Daring the police to file a chargesheet, AAP says the allegation is fabricated.

    The officials denied government allegations that work was suffering at mohalla clinics - a project that earned praise abroad. Overall, 164 clinics are operational, 33 sites are ready for possession, "all officers participate in improving services for Delhi," another officer said.

    Regarding last week's unattended meeting called by the Delhi Environment minister, the IAS officers said it was called on "very short notice". "The Environment Secretary could not reschedule his pre-scheduled meetings... he is also responsible for other departments," an officer said.

    The officers denied AAP claims that they were toeing the line of the Centre and the Lieutenant Governor. "We are not working on anyone's behest, please communicate this. Camera recordings cannot show our mental anguish," Ms Saxena added.

Anti-Armour Bullets Acquired By Terror Groups Triggers Alarm In J&K
  • Bullets with steel core- a new addition into the ammunition of terror groups especially Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed- have triggered alarms within the security establishment as it has the capability to pierce a static bullet proof bunker used during counter-terrorism operations, officials said.

    The first such incident in which this was noticed, had occurred on new year eve, when Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists had carried out a suicide attack on CRPF camp at Lethpora in South Kashmir when one of the five personnel of para-military force was killed by a bullet despite having a static bullet-proof shield provided by the Army, officials said. Five CRPF personnel were killed in the attack.

    A thorough enquiry showed that the bullet fired by the terrorist from the assault AK rifle was of steel core which has the capability of piercing through the static bunkers used by security personnel during encounters with terrorists.

    The findings showed that the bullet, which is mainly termed as Armour Piercing (AP), is built of hardened steel or tungsten carbide.

    "Precautionary measures have already been taken after the findings," said a senior official engaged in counter-terrorism in the Kashmir Valley.

    Generally, the AK bullets used in the armoury have a lead core covered with mild steel which cannot penetrate a bullet proof shield but after the December 31, 2017 encounter and subsequent findings, the rules of the proxy-war changed, the officials said.

    A detailed analysis of the previous suicide attacks was carried out during which ballistic analysis of the terror attack on district police lines of Pulwama in South Kashmir in last August showed that 'steel core' bullets had been used in that encounter by the terrorists on security personnel. Eight security personnel had lost their lives in the terror strike.

    The ammunition, according to the officials, is being modified from across the border with the help of Chinese technology of encasing the bullet with hard steel core.

    There have been instances when these bullets, though very small in numbers, have been recovered from hideouts mainly belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group.

    "Every ammunition round seized during recovery is scrutinized minutely to look for such bullets. In the meantime, direct exposure of security personnel using static bulletproof shield was being avoided," another official said.

Business Affairs

Excise duty cut in oil to impact India's fiscal deficit badly: Moody's
  • Rating agency Moody's has sounded a note of caution that any reduction in excise duty on petrol and diesel would adversely affect fiscal deficit unless it is matched by a commensurate cut in expenditure. Pressure has been mounting on the government to cut excise duty on petrol and diesel to bring down their prices which have gone up following a spike in crude prices in the international market.

    According to government estimates, every rupee cut in excise duty on petrol and diesel will result in a revenue loss of about Rs 13,000 crore.

    Observing that fiscal consolidation would be closely watched for assigning the sovereign rating, Moody's said India's biggest challenge is its fiscal strength which is relatively low as compared to 'Baa' rated peers. "Any reduction in revenues, including through the excise duty on petroleum and diesel, would most likely need to be offset by a comparable reduction in expenditure in order to achieve fiscal consolidation," Moody's Investors Service VP & Senior Credit Officer, Sovereign Risk Group, William Foster told PTI.

    Moody's had last year upped India's sovereign rating for the first time in over 13 years to 'Baa2' with a stable outlook, saying that growth prospects have improved with continued economic and institutional reforms. "India's biggest credit challenge is its fiscal strength ... due to persistently large general government fiscal deficits and a high debt burden. For example, India's general government debt-to-GDP ratio is nearly 70 per cent, relative to the 'Baa' peer group median of about 50 per cent.

    "Moving forward, maintaining the government's commitment to fiscal consolidation will be a very important contributor to the strengthening of India's fiscal dynamics and overall sovereign credit profile," Foster said.

    The government plans to bring down the fiscal deficit -- the gap between total expenditure and total revenue -- during 2018-19 to 3.3 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), from 3.53 per cent in last fiscal.

    Asked about the 0.25 per cent hike in interest rate by the RBI after a gap of over four years, Foster said from a sovereign rating perspective it would help in containing inflation and ensuring more sustainable growth.

    "The MPC's recent monetary policy decision is in line with the RBI's inflation targeting objectives, which supports the credibility of Indian monetary policymaking and contributes to a more sustainable growth dynamic by focusing on the anchoring of inflation expectations," he said.

    The RBI hiked rates citing growing concerns about inflation stoked by rising global crude oil prices as well as domestic price increases. The price of Indian basket of crude surged from USD 66 a barrel in April to around USD 74 currently. Retail inflation jumped to a four-month high of 4.87 per cent in May on costlier food items such as fruits, vegetables and fuel.

Indian Railways to issue credit card-like medical cards to employees, retirees
  • In yet another move to smoothen the services, Indian Railways has decided to replace the medical cards issued to its employees and pensioners with credit card-like health cards carrying unique all-India number. Currently, the medical cards issued by the zonal railways are in the form of booklets.

    The railway board recently passed an order, saying that the separate medical identity card with unique all India number will be issued to the employees as well as to their each dependent. "For bringing uniformity in the medical identity cards issued to employees and other beneficiaries of Indian Railways, the board has approved that the card should be a plastic-based card, the size of which should be same as that of debit/credit cards issued by banks," the order said.

    There would be a coloured strip on the top of each card. The colour of the strip would help identify the category of the card-holder -- serving, retired employees or dependents. The order has also said the cards for beneficiaries up to the age of 15 years should be issued with a validity of five years and after which they have to be renewed.

    The beneficiaries above the age of 15 years will be issued cards which need to be renewed once they turn 40 and later when they retire. Currently, railway has around 13 lakh employees and around the same number of pensioners and all their dependents are eligible to use the medical card.

    In the last couple of years, the railways have taken multiple initiatives to bring efficiency in the department and customer services. Recently, the railways overhauled its ticketing website to ensure better user experience.

    The new IRCTC website has more user friendly features for easier navigation. On new website, users can now enquire / search trains and check availability of seats without login. It also has class-wise, train-wise, destination-wise, departure/arrival time wise and quota-wise filters for facilitating customers while planning their journeys.

    To enhance user's booking experience, the Railways has also introduced waitlist prediction- a feature that will predict the probability of a Waitlisted or RAC ticket getting confirmed. This technique uses algorithm based on historical booking trends of the particular train.

India faces worst long term water crisis in its history: Niti Aayog
  • India faces the worst long-term water crisis in its history as demand outstrips supply and millions of lives and livelihoods could be at risk, said a think tank chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    By 2030, water demand is projected to be double the supply, implying severe scarcity for hundreds of millions of people. The shortage will eventually shave around 6 per cent off gross domestic product, the report said.

    About 200,000 Indians die every year due to inadequate access to safe water and 600 million face high to extreme water stress, the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog said on Thursday, citing data by independent agencies.

    "Critical groundwater resources that account for 40 per cent of India's water supply are being depleted at unsustainable rates," the report said, calling for an immediate push towards sustainable management of water resources.

    "India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat," it said.

    The think tank said it has developed a Composite Water Management Index with nine areas of assessment to help state governments manage water resources.

    Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating problems for India's rain-dependent farmers. At the same time, disputes between states are on the rise.

    Inter-state disagreements are on the rise, with seven major disputes currently raging, pointing to the fact that limited frameworks and institutions are in place for national water governance.

    Nearly 163 million of India's population of 1.3 billion lack access to clean water close to home, the most of any country, according to a 2018 report by Britain-based charity WaterAid.

FPIs withdraw Rs 5,500 crore from markets in June so far
  • Foreign investors have pulled out more than Rs 5,500 crore from capital markets this month so far due to global trade war worries coupled with hawkish commentary by the US Federal Reserve.

    This comes following a net outflow of over Rs 45,000 crore from capital markets (equity and debt) in the last two months. Prior to that, foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) had pumped in Rs 2,600 crore in March.

    According to latest data available with depositories, FPIs withdrew a net sum of Rs 831 crore from equities and a net amount of Rs 4,683 crore from debt markets during June 1-15, resulting in a total outflow of Rs 5,514 crore.

    "Investors were concerned as it was reported that the US President Donald Trump approved tariffs on about USD 50 billion of Chinese goods," said Abhijeet Dey, Senior Fund Manager Equities at BNP Paribas Mutual Fund.

    "Further, the sentiments were dampened due to rate hike and the hawkish commentary by the US Federal Reserve," said Jayant Manglik President at Religare Broking Ltd.

    "We believe one should remain cautious in the market due to global sentiments, movement of Indian Rupee against the US dollar and crude oil prices," he added.

    However, Indian equities had seen some buying from FPI's in the first week of June 2018 on the back of easing of global oil prices from their recent highs.

    The easing was premised on expectations that global crude output will increase by at least 1 million barrels per day post June 22 meeting between OPEC members (led by Saudi Arabia) and Russia, said Ajay Bodke CEO and Chief Portfolio Manager at PMS Prabhudas Lilladher.

    Further, Bodke had said that the just concluded fourth quarterly results pointed to revival in corporate earnings (baring corporate focused public and private sector banks) with volume growth in double digits in many sectors such as FMCG, retail, autos among others.

    So far this year, FPIs have invested over Rs 2,400 crore in equities and pulled out more than Rs 35,000 crore from the debt market.

Dues of PNB's big wilful defaulters rise to Rs 15,490 crore
  • Wilful defaulters borrowing Rs 25 lakh and above owed more than Rs 15,490 crore to PNB as of May end, up 2 per cent from the preceding month. The data from the state-owned Punjab National Bank covers the big wilful defaulters who are not paying back their loans despite having the capacity to do so.

    These borrowers of PNB had defaulted on loan repayment of Rs 15,199.57 crore as on April 30 this year.

    For financial year ended March 2018, the bank's balance sheet had closed with big wilful defaults owing Rs 15,171.91 crore.

    PNB suffered a standalone net loss of Rs 12,282.82 crore in 2017-18, as against a profit of Rs 1,324.80 crore in 2016-17.

    The major defaulters included Kudos Chemie - Rs 1,301.82 crore; Kingfisher Airlines Rs 597.44 crore; BBF Industries Rs 100.99 crore; ICSA (India) Ltd Rs 134.76 crore; Arvind Remedies Rs 158.16 crore and Indu Projects Ltd Rs 102.83 crore.

    Others included Jas Infrastructure and Power Ltd - Rs 410.96 crore; VMC Systems - Rs 296.8 crore; MBS Jewellers - Rs 266.17 crore; Tulsi Extrusion - Rs 175.41 crore. These borrowers took loan from PNB through a consortium arrangement of several banks.

    The defaulters who took loan solely from PNB were: Winsome Diamonds and Jewellery - Rs 899.70cr; Forever Precious Jewellery & Diamonds - Rs 747.97 crore; Zoom Developers - Rs 410.18 crore; Nafed - Rs 224.24 crore and Mahua Media Pvt Ltd - Rs 104.86 crore.

    The Indian banking sector, particularly state-owned lenders, is grappling with mounting non performing assets (NPAs) or bad loans as also a host of scams and frauds. NPAs in the banking sector stood at Rs 8.31 lakh crore as of December 2017.

    The total bad loan write-off by the public sector banks stood at over Rs 1.20 lakh crore in the last fiscal, with SBI bearing the burnt at Rs 40,196 crore, nearly 25 per cent of the total write-offs during 2017-18.

    This was followed by Canara Bank (Rs 8,310 crore), Punjab National Bank (Rs 7,407 crore) and Bank of Baroda (Rs 4,948 crore).

    Scam-hit PNB which has suffered a fraud of Rs 14,357 crore allegedly carried out by celebrity jewellery designer Nirav Modi and his associates, witnessed a sharp deterioration in its asset quality with gross loans mounting to 18.38 per cent of gross advances at the end of March 2018, as against 12.53 per cent a year ago.

    Net NPAs were also soared to 11.24 per cent against 7.81 per cent year ago.

    In absolute terms, the gross NPAs of PNB surged to Rs 86,620 crore in the fourth quarter as compared to Rs 55,370 crore in same quarter a year ago. Similarly, the net NPA also rose to Rs 48,684.29 crore from Rs 32,702 crore at the end of March 2017.

    General Awareness

    Smart cities mission
    • Context: Naya Raipur is now the 10th Smart City to be operational in the country, along with 9 other cities including Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Pune, Nagpur, Rajkot, Visakhapatnam, Bhopal and Kakinada. Naya Raipur is one of the three smart cities of Chhattisgarh selected under the smart cities mission.

      Key facts for Prelims:

      Prime Minister Narendra Modi also recently inaugurated India’s first integrated greenfield smart city project at Naya Raipur.
      Naya Raipur is the first integrated city in India and aims to develop four pillars of Smart city across, institutional (including Governance/Legal Framework), physical, social and economic infrastructure.
      Under the ambitious Smart City Mission, Integrated Command & Control Centres in 9 cities had alreadybecome operational in the cities of are Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Pune, Nagpur, Rajkot, Visakhapatnam, Bhopal and Kakinada.
      NayaRaipur is one of the 3 Smart Cities of Chhattisgarh selected under the Smart Cities Mission. The other two cities are Raipur and Bilaspur.

      About Smart City mission- Key facts:

      Under the scheme that was launched in 2014, around 100 cities in the country will be developed.

      Selection of cities: The selection is based on the scores cities get for carrying out urban reforms in areas including sanitation and governance. Cities that score the highest will be picked for the project, to be implemented over a 10-year period.

      Development: These cities will be developed to have basic infrastructure through assured water and power supply, sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, IT connectivity, e-governance and citizen participation. Bottom-up approach has been the key planning principle under Smart City Mission.

      Funding: Under the scheme, each city will get Rs 500 crore from the Centre for implementing various projects. An equal amount, on matching basis, will have to be contributed by the state or urban local bodies. The mission will provide central funding of Rs 48,000 crore to the selected cities.

      Implementation: The implementation of the Mission at the City level will be done by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) created for the purpose. The SPV will plan, appraise, approve, release funds, implement, manage, operate, monitor and evaluate the Smart City development projects. Each smart city will have a SPV which will be headed by a full time CEO and have nominees of Central Government, State Government and ULB on its Board.

      What’s important?

      For Prelims: Features of Smart cities mission.
      For Mains: Significance of ICCC and smart cities mission.

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