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Current Affairs - 12 July 2018

General Affairs 

India And Nepal To Speed Up Raxaul-Kathmandu Rail Project
  • Nepal and India have agreed to seal an agreement for preliminary engineering cum traffic survey for building a rail link that will connect Raxual in Bihar to the Nepalese capital, weeks after Nepal and China agreed on a feasibility study for a railway line connecting Tibet with the Himalayan nation
    Nepal and India had agreed to construct railway line linking Raxaul with Kathmandu during Prime Minister KP Oli Sharma's visit to India.

    Apart from Raxaul-Kathmandu railway line, India has already started building five cross border railway lines between Nepal and India. One line from Jayanagar to Janakpur-Kurtha will be completed within a year

    Senior government officials from Nepal and India on Monday agreed to seal the Memorandum of Understanding of the Raxaul-Kathmandu rail line as soon as possible.

    India has also dispatched the text of the MoU of Raxaul-Kathmandu railway line.

    During the meeting both sides agreed to put concerted efforts and resolve all issues expeditiously, to complete the railway lines from Jayanagar to Janakpur-Kurtha and from Jogbani to Biratnagar Customs Yard by the October 2018 time line, the Kathmandu Post reported.

    Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT) Joint Secretary Keshab Kumar Sharma and India's Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary (DPA-III) Namgya Khampa took part in the meeting.

    The meeting also agreed to take forward work in the remaining stretches of the two rail projects from Kurtha-Bijalpura-Bardibas and from Biratnagar Customs Yard-Biratnagar sections on priority, according to the statement.

    The meeting appreciated the work undertaken in the final location survey (FLS) for the remaining three rail links, New Jalpaiguri-Kakarbhitta, Nautanwa-Bhairahawa, and Nepalgunj Road-Nepalgunj which are to be implemented under Phase-II.

    An Indian team has conducted the first round of survey for the railway.

    "The Nepali side has conveyed its deep appreciation for the support of Government of India in the development of the India-Nepal cross border rail links, which would enhance people-to-people linkages between the two countries and promote economic growth and development in the region.

    "The India side expressed its appreciation for the government of Nepal's commitment to expeditiously resolve all the outstanding issues including making available remaining land required for completion of the ongoing rail link projects," the statement said.

    China and Nepal have agreed to build a strategic railway link connecting Tibet with Kathmandu, which Nepalese Prime Minister Oli sees as an alternative trade route for supply of commodities to the landlocked Himalayan nation.

    The detailed project planning report (DPR) of the Kerung-Kathmandu rail line would be completed in one-and-a-half years or so.

    China has been building rail, road and air links in the remote Tibet spending billions of dollars.

    During the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal in May, Mr Oli had said the two countries have agreed to expedite implementation of all pending projects of bilateral cooperation by Nepal's Constitution Day in September.

Simultaneous Elections Beneficial, Says Ex-Chief Election Commissioner
  • If electoral reforms are implemented quickly, there may not be any justification for simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, says former Chief Election Commissioner TS Krishnamurthy.

    If our political parties behave well during elections, strictly follow model code of conduct, observe the ceiling on expenditure, and avoid violence, hatred and muscle power, there may not be any justification for the concept, he said.

    "Since they do not follow any of these requirements and since they do not respect rule of law during election time, simultaneous polls will certainly benefit in terms of cost-benefit ratio," Mr Krishnamurthy told news agency PTI.

    "Simultaneous polls idea can be implemented only if there is a constitutional amendment and additional adequate paramilitary forces," he added.

    Mr Krishnamurthy listed law to regulate political parties, public funding of polls through national election fund, changing the first-past-the-post system and barring criminal elements from contesting polls as key electoral reforms.

    "If these four (reforms) are brought in, there may not be any justification for simultaneous polls," he felt.
    On how political parties can be regulated, Mr Krishnamurthy cited separate laws governing them in some countries covering issues including their formation, functioning, manifesto and financial procedures.

    Seeking to give shape to the central government's concept of "one nation, one election", the Law Commission's internal working paper has recommended holding the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls simultaneously but in two phases beginning 2019.

    On July 7 and 8, the Commission had held consultations with various parties on the issue.

    A total of six parties have voiced their support to the proposal, while nine are opposed to it. 

A Single Data Breach Costs Nearly Rs. 12 Crore In India: Study
  • The estimated average cost of a data breach in India went up to Rs. 11.9 crore in 2017 -- a nearly eight per cent increase from 2016, an IBM study revealed on Wednesday.
    Malicious or criminal attacks were the root cause for 42 per cent of data breaches, according to the 2018 edition of the "Cost of a Data Breach" study conducted by US-based Ponemon Institute on behalf of IBM Security.

    An estimated per capita cost per lost or stolen records reported last year was Rs. 4,552 -- a 7.8 per cent increase from the previous report.

    "The threat scenario shows a significant rise in both number and sophistication of breaches in this year's report, which is alarming as it continues to rise in India," Vikas Arora, Chief Transformation Officer, IBM India/South Asia, said in a statement.

    Based on in-depth interviews with nearly 500 companies globally that experienced a data breach, the study analyzed hundreds of cost factors surrounding a breach, from technical investigations and recovery, to notifications, legal and regulatory activities, and cost of lost business and reputation.

    The global average cost of a data breach is up 6.4 per cent over the previous year to $3.86 million, the report said.

    The average cost for each lost or stolen record containing sensitive and confidential information also increased by 4.8 per cent year over year to $148, the findings showed.

    Overall, the study found that hidden costs in data breaches -- such as lost business, negative impact on reputation and employee time spent on recovery -- are difficult and expensive to manage.

    For example, the study found that one-third of the cost of "mega breaches" -- involving over one million lost records -- were derived from lost business.

    In the past five years, the amount of mega breaches has nearly doubled, from just nine mega breaches in 2013 to 16 mega breaches in 2017.

    The study also calculated the costs associated mega breaches ranging from one million to 50 million records lost, projecting that these breaches cost companies between $40 million and $350 million, respectively.

    For mega breaches, the biggest expense category was costs associated with lost business, which were estimated at nearly $118 million for breaches of 50 million records -- almost a third of the total cost of a breach this size.

    The findings showed that data breaches are most costly in the US and the Middle East, and least costly in Brazil and India.

No Interim Order On Reservation In Government Job Promotions: Top Court
  • The Supreme Court has refused to pass an interim order against its 2006 verdict which dealt with the application of the 'creamy layer' for reservations to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes categories in government job promotions.
    A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said a seven-judge Constitution bench is needed to consider the 2006 verdict M Nagraj verdict.

    Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said the matter should be heard urgently by a seven-judge Constitution bench as lakhs of jobs in Railways and services are stuck due to confusion over various judicial pronouncements.

    The bench said one Constitution bench is already caught with various matters and the issue can only be taken up in the first week of August.

    On November 15 last year, the top court had said a five-judge Constitution bench will examine the limited issue of whether the 2006 verdict delivered in M Nagaraj and other versus Union of India was required to be re-looked at or not.

    The M Nagaraj verdict had said the creamy layer concept cannot be applied to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for promotions in government jobs like two earlier verdicts -- 1992 Indra Sawhney and others versus Union of India (popularly called Mandal Commission verdict) and 2005 EV Chinnaiah versus State of Andhra Pradesh -- which dealt with creamy layer in the Other Backward Classes category.

    However, on June 5, in a major relief to the Centre, the top court allowed it to go ahead with reservations in promotion for employees belonging to the SC and ST category in "accordance with law".

    The top court took into account the Centre's submissions that the entire process of promotions had come to a "standstill" due to the orders passed by various high courts and the Supreme Court had also ordered for "status quo" in a similar matter in 2015.

    A vacation bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Ashok Bhushan said the Centre was not "debarred" from making promotions in accordance with law in the matter.

    The government had said there were separate verdicts by the high courts of Delhi, Bombay and Punjab and Haryana on the issue of reservation in promotion to SC/ST employees and the Supreme Court had also passed different orders on appeals filed against those judgement.

In Outreach To Farmers In Punjab, PM Modi Talks Of Support Price Hike
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi today reached out to farmers with an address to a "thanksgiving" rally in Punjab, once known for its "Green Revolution". At the rally attended by thousands, he said he salutes the "hard working farmers from all over the country".
    "The farmer should have been the first to be uplifted. But for decades, you were ignored by the party that ruled India since Independence," he said, taking a dig at the Congress, which wrenched the state from its ruling Akali-BJP combine in last year's assembly elections.

    The "thanksgiving rally" in Muktsar -- 280 km from state capital Chandigarh -- was organised by the BJP and ally Akali Dal to mark the recent hike in minimum support price for 14 summer crops. The hike was the biggest during the four years of NDA rule, which will cost the government nearly Rs. 15,000 crore in public funds.

    "Our farmer brothers can now breathe easy... they can earn better... they can sleep peacefully... because of the MSP increase," the  Prime Minister said.

    But this, he said, will give sleepless nights to the Congress. "They never thought we could make this happen. No one in the Congress is daring to come out and speak, because they know that did nothing for 60 years".

    The hike in support prices -- one of the pre-election promises of the BJP -- comes on the heels of massive farmer protests across the country. They also had the support of the opposition, which highlights farmers' suicides to accuse the government of being insensitive to their needs.

    Ridiculing what the government has called "a historic decision" Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has compared the MSP hike to applying band-aid to a "massive haemorrhage".

Business Affairs

India becomes sixth-largest economy, squeezing past France
  • As per the World Bank's updated data for 2017, India has edged past France and snatched the tag of the world's sixth-largest economy from it, sending it a rank lower. India's gross domestic product (GDP) stood at $2.597 trillion at the end of last year while the French economy was valued at $2.582 trillion.

    The US remains the world's largest economy with a GDP of $19.39 trillion, followed by China ($12.23 trillion), Japan ($4.87 trillion), Germany ($3.67 trillion) and the United Kingdom ($2.62 trillion).

    Indian economy had slowed down last year due to transitory shocks like demonetisation and the chaotic implementation of the national goods and services tax (GST), but has since bounced back. India's growth accelerated to 7.7 per cent in the quarter ended March, up from 7 per cent in the previous quarter. Better still, last month, the World Bank forecast a growth rate of 7.3 per cent for India this year and 7.5 per cent for the next two years, making it the fastest growing country among major emerging economies.

    According to India Today, the World Bank noted that the Indian economy has benefitted from robust performances in manufacturing sector driven by increased consumer spending. Overall, India has made rapid progress, doubling its GDP in less than past decade and emerging as the engine of economic growth in Asia, especially with the Chinese economy showing definite signs of lethargy.

    The IMF's latest World Economic Outlook report expects China to decelerate from 6.6 per cent in the current year to 6.4 per cent in 2019, while India is expected to post growth rates of 7.4 per cent and 7.8 per cent in the same time frame. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to take GDP growth to double digits while speaking at the Niti Aayog's fourth Governing Council last month.

    But the outlook in terms of per capita GDP is rather dismal since India boasts a population of around 1.34 billion, and according to a 2017 UN report, is likely to surpass China as the world's most populous country around 2024. Despite India's per capita GDP rising to $7,170 in 2017, up from $6,690 the previous year, it only ranks 126th in the world as per IMF data. And France, with a population of 67 million, reportedly boasts a figure roughly 20 times higher than us.

    London-based consultancy, the Centre for Economics and Business Research's 2018 World Economic League Table recently predicted that the Indian economy will overtake the UK, too, in real money dollar terms in 2018. And by 2032, India will emerge as the world's third largest economy.

Govt may levy higher tax on petrol, diesel cars to promote electric vehicles: Report
  • Petrol and diesel cars might get more expensive in the near future, if the finance ministry has its way. According to Mint, the government is considering a proposal to impose a marginally higher tax on conventional cars in an effort to push electric vehicles (EVs).

    In a memorandum to the executive finance committee for phase two of the scheme for Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME), the finance ministry reportedly said that the proposal should be considered to avoid the additional financial burden that the government incurs as it incentivises buyers under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme. The ministry added that the move would also act as a catalyst for the promotion of EVs.

    To remind you, the government had launched the FAME scheme in 2015, offering incentives on electric and hybrid vehicles of up to Rs 29,000 for bikes and Rs 1.38 lakh for cars. In mid-April, the government had announced extension of phase one of the scheme by six months till September-end, or till its second phase is approved. Phase one was supposed to have ended on March 31, after being extended twice previously.

    Then in May, the Heavy Industry Ministry circulated a draft Cabinet note entailing the details of the second phase of the scheme, which according to sources will be restricted to new energy vehicles used for public transport, commercial purposes and high-speed two-wheelers. Significantly, the ministry said that the proposal entailed financial support of Rs 9,381 crore over five years from 2018-19 to 2022-23. This explains the finance ministry proposal to tax conventional vehicles.

    The final Cabinet note incorporating the views of related government departments has reportedly already been prepared and is expected to be taken up by the Union Cabinet for approval in the near future, paving the way for the roll out of FAME-II.

    Given that the Indian automotive market is very price-sensitive, industry experts say that car sales will be impacted if the proposal is approved - the additional cost will discourage customers from buying traditional fuel-run vehicles.

    Avik Chattopadhyay, founder of brand consultancy firm Expereal, told the daily that the move would be "very regressive", adding that that a separate fund should be allocated for promotion of alternative fuels instead of shifting the burden to the buyers of conventional vehicles.

    On the other hand, EV makers will have cause to celebrate. "The government is cash-strapped to offer subsidies. Customers will only get drawn towards EVs when the prices become equal to an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. So, this move makes sense," said Sohinder Gill, director, corporate affairs, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles. He added that an increase in taxes to the tune of 100 basis points on traditional vehicles will fetch a huge amount, which can provide subsidy for the first one million EVs.

Telecom Commission gives nod to net neutrality, new telecom policy
  • The principles of net neutrality have been approved by the Telecom Commission, paving the way for unrestricted access to the internet in the country. The net neutrality rules bar service providers from discriminating against internet services and content by blocking, throttling or granting them higher speed access. These provisons mandate strict penalties for any deviation or violations.

    The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had recommended restrictions for service providers prohibiting them from engaging into agreements that could lead to discriminatory treatment of content on the internet. The only services exempted from the gamut of net neutrality are mission critical applications like autonomous vehicles or telemedicine, which may require faster speeds or internet lanes than others.

    "The Telecom Commission (TC) today approved net neutrality as recommended by TRAI expect some critical services will be kept out of its purview," Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan was quoted as saying in a PTI report.

    The Telecom Commission also approved the new telecom policy -- National Digital Communications Policy 2018 -- for seeking approval of the Union Cabinet, Sundararajan said.

    "Everybody in the meeting today said that digital infrastructure is even more important than physical infrastructure for India... CEO of Niti Ayog (Amitabh Kant) said that for...districts, we must ensure digital infrastructure is provided at the earliest. Therefore, India must have ease of doing business and enabling policy environment," said the Telecom Secretary.

    The commission has also approved the installation of around 12.5 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots in all gram panchayats with viability gap funding of around Rs 6,000 crore by December 2018, the PTI report said quoting an official presen at the meeting.

UPI 2.0 to be launched this week; here are top features you can expect
  • To give a boost to cashless transactions in the country, the NPCI, after the delay of over a year, will launch the upgraded version of the Unified Payment Service (UPI) platform, UPI 2.0, this week. Though the latest UPI version will be loaded with features like auto debit and double transaction limit, etc., the Reserve Bank of India's decision to withhold 'Standing Instruction' feature could be a dampener.

    Transaction limit

    Among the features to be included in the refurbished version, the most anticipated one is 'transaction limit'. Focussing on Person-to-Merchant (P2M) transactions in UPI 2.0, the NPCI could increase the transaction limit to Rs 2 lakh from the current Rs 1 lakh.

    Overdraft accounts

    In the present version, one can only link bank accounts with UPI but the new version could allow businessmen to link overdraft accounts, a flexible borrowing facility on a bank current account, with UPI.

    Refund money

    The new upgrade could also allow merchants to refund money without making a new transaction. Also, they would be able to share the reference number of a transaction and block some amount from a customer's account as a security till the transaction is completed.

    Invoice option

    The UPI 2.0 will facilitate you with an invoice option as you make a payment through UPI, boosting transparency and seamless transactions.

    Standing instruction

    Though the NPCI was planning to introduce the 'Standing Instruction' feature in UPI, a final decision could be only made after the RBI nod. The feature allows recurring payments from your account towards loan payment or bill payment after a specific interval. Experts say allowing of the recurring feature could help in the seamless collection of bill payments or loan payments.

    Apart from the 'Standing Instruction' feature, biometric 'Aadhaar Payment' feature also won't be available in the new UPI version due to privacy concerns.

    UPI, a system that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile app and caters to 'peer to peer' collection request, was launched in April 2016. NPCI, an umbrella organisation for operating retail payments and settlement systems in India, is an initiative of the RBI and Indian Banks' Association (IBA) to create a robust payment infrastructure in India.

IPO corner: How stocks have fared post their market debut in 2018
  • The year 2018 has remained volatile for the markets which affected the prospects of the IPOs hitting the Dalal Street during the period.  Among 16 major firms hitting the primary market this year, 10 of them are trading below their listed price.

    These firms' market value has taken a hit due to lack of interest from retail investors, qualified institutional investors, and anchor investors keeping participation in the issue to the minimum.  

    Most of the funds that have been raised during the period under review were for business expansion plans, repayment of loans and to support working capital requirements.

    Further, many companies opted the IPO route to give exit to their existing shareholders such as private equity and venture capital firms. By taking the IPO route, companies achieve the benefits of listing the equity shares on the bourses, which enhances their brand name.

    The largest IPO by issue size was that of Bandhan Bank (Rs 4,473 crore) followed by Hindustan Aeronautics (Rs 4,229 crore), ICICI Securities (Rs 3,515 crore), Varroc Engineering (Rs 1,955 crore), IndoStar Capital Finance (Rs 1,844 crore) and Lemon Tree Hotels (Rs 1,040 crore). Here's a look at how these firms have performed after they made their stock market debuts this year.

General Awareness

    Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018

    • Context: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has sent the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, to the Union cabinet for approval, to replace the related Ordinance.

      Highlights of the Bill:

      It provides for stringent punishment including death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years.
      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.
      In case of rape of a girl under 16 years, the minimum punishment has been increased from 10 years to 20 years, extendable to imprisonment for rest of life, which means jail term till the convicts’ “natural life”.
      The punishment for gang rape of a girl below 16 years will invariably be imprisonment for the rest of life of the convict, another official 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. Gang rape of a girl under 12 years of age will invite punishment of jail term for the rest of life or death.
      The measure also provides for speedy investigations and trial. The time limit for investigation of all cases of rape has been prescribed, which has to be mandatorily completed within two months.
      The deadline for the completion of trial in all rape cases will be two months. A six-month time limit for the disposal of appeals in rape cases has also been prescribed.
      There will also be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years. It has also been prescribed that a court has to give notice of 15 days to a public prosecutor and the representative of the victim before deciding bail applications in case of rape of a girl under 16 years of age.

      Need for a stringent law:

      The number of reported cases of rapes of children increased in India by 82% in 2016 compared to 2015. A climate of violence, social and economic insecurity, alienation, and a progressive undermining of the status of women and children seem to have given an impetus to carry out crimes against women and children.

      Therefore, the legal system must give a clear signal that we as a nation consider the rape of children below the age of 12 as among the most heinous of offences. Making such crimes punishable by capital punishment certainly gives such a signal.

      Is it sufficient?

      Statistics have not been able to prove or disprove the efficacy of capital punishment as a deterrent. While the U.K. has seen an increase in murders since 1965 when capital punishment for murder was removed from the statute book, Canada has not seen any such impact since it abolished the death penalty in 1976. The underlying socio-economic conditions in a society that cause crimes seem to have as much of an impact on the increase or decrease of crimes as the law does.

      Way ahead:

      It is not the severity of the punishment but the certainty and uniformity of it which will reduce crime. Even for capital punishment to work as a deterrent, the fairness of the investigation, the certainty of conviction, and the speed of the trial are vital. With the police and judicial independence being under a cloud, especially after the incidents in Kathua and Unnao, the deterrent value of capital punishment seems diminished unless police reforms and fast-track courts are a part of the package.

      What’s important?

      For Prelims: Highlights of the Bill.
      For Mains: Capital punishment- need, concerns and the way ahead.

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