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Current Affairs - 25 July 2018

General Affairs 

19,000 NGOs Banned From Getting Foreign Funds: Kiren Rijiju
  • Nearly 19,000 NGOs in the country have been barred from receiving foreign funds by the government since 2011 by cancelling their FCRA registration, Union Minister Kiren Rijiju told the Lok Sabha today.

    Mr Rijiju also told the House that as on the date, 2,547 NGOs have not adhered to the government orders to submit their pending annual returns -- income and expenditure, receipts of funds from abroad and balance sheets.

    "Registration of 18,864 Foreign Contribution Regulation Act registered associations and institutions have been cancelled from 2011 till now and they have been barred from receiving foreign funds," he said replying to a written question.

In Chopper Scam, Ex-AgustaWestland, Finmeccanica Directors Summoned
  • A Delhi court today summoned as accused former AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica directors Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini, ex-IAF chief S P Tyagi and others in VVIP chopper PMLA case on September 12. 
    Special judge Arvind Kumar fresh non-bailable warrants against Italian middlemen Carlo Gerosa, Guido Haschke and Dubai-based businessman Rajeev Saxena in the case.  The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had earlier told the court that it has enough evidence to prosecute former AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica directors for alleged money laundering in the VVIP chopper case. 

    In the charge sheet, the ED had said it had recorded unimpeachable evidence supporting the allegations against all the accused persons. The probe agency had on July 18 filed a supplementary charge sheet, through advocate Yashu Khurana, accusing Orsi, Spagnolini and Tyagi, besides others, of money laundering in the case.    It accused 34 Indian and foreign individuals and companies, including Tyagi, Italian middlemen Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke, lawyer Gautam Khaitan and Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, of laundering money to the tune of around 28 million Euro. 

    The probe report also claimed that the kickbacks were paid by AgustaWestland through two different channels.

Top Court Not Satisfied With Centre's Response On Lokpal Search Committee
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed dissatisfaction over the Centre's response on appointment of search committee members for a Lokpal.
    A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, R Banumathi and Navin Sinha asked the Centre to file a fresh affidavit giving relevant details of the search committee.

    During the hearing, Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted an affidavit and said a meeting of the selection committee was held but the names for the search committee were not finalised.

    He said another meeting would be held soon for appointing members of the search committee, keeping in mind the provisions of law for such appointments.

    Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Common Cause, said the Centre has not specified the date of the next meeting and they are actually delaying the appointment of a Lokpal despite passage of a law nearly five years ago.

    He said contempt action should be initiated against authorities concerned or the court may proceed ahead for appointing the Lokpal by exercising its power under Article 142 of the Constitution (enforcement of decrees and orders of the Supreme Court).

    The bench, in its order, said it was unsatisfied with the Centre's reply and sought a fresh affidavit in four weeks giving all necessary details.

    The Centre had earlier told the apex court that the Lokpal selection committee, headed by the prime minister, was scheduled to meet to set up a search panel for recommending a panel of names for the appointment of the anti-graft ombudsman and its members.

    The government had said the search panel would lay down its procedures, following which the selection committee would fix the time frame within which the names for selecting the chairman and members of the Lokpal would be recommended.

    The committee comprises the prime minister, the chief justice of India, the Lok Sabha speaker, the leader of the largest opposition party and an eminent jurist.

    The Centre, in an earlier affidavit filed in the apex court, had said two meetings of the selection committee were held on March 1 and April 10 this year.

    It had said former attorney general and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi has been appointed as an eminent jurist in the selection committee after the post of eminent jurist was lying vacant since the death of senior advocate P P Rao on September 11 last year.

    Referring to the provisions of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, the Centre had said that the selection committee would have to constitute a search committee for preparing a panel of persons to be considered for appointment of the chairperson and members of the Lokpal.

    The government has said the search committee would comprise at least seven persons as per the provisions.

    It has said the selection committee would lay down a time period within which the search committee shall be required to submit a panel of names for consideration by the selection panel.

    In its note submitted in the court, the NGO has claimed that the Centre was "dragging its feet" in the matter and has not given any time frame in its affidavit for appointing a Lokpal.

    The court was hearing a contempt petition filed by the NGO, which has raised the issue of non-appointment of a Lokpal despite the apex court's judgment of April 27 last year.

    The apex court, in its last year's verdict, had said there was no justification to keep the enforcement of the Lokpal Act suspended till the proposed amendments, including on the issue of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, were cleared by Parliament.

Piyush Goyal Takes On Rahul Gandhi Over Black Money In Swiss Banks
  • Finance Minister Piyush Goyal today attacked Congress President Rahul Gandhi for maligning the country's image by raising the issue of increase in black money deposits of Indians in Swiss banks based on baseless reports.
    Indian deposits in Swiss banks have actually come down by 34 per cent to $524 million dollar in 2017, Mr Goyal said.

    According to reports published earlier, the money parked by Indians in Swiss banks rose over 50 per cent to Rs. 7,000 crore in 2017.

    "I think Rahul Gandhi should reply to nation why he is maligning the image of the country on baseless report," he told reporters outside Parliament.

    He accused Rahul Gandhi of saying baseless things without knowing the issue.

    "Of course, he has habit of saying things without knowing the facts. Even during the no-confidence motion, we have seen claims of Congress being demolished," he said.

    As per the data provided by Swiss authorities there has been 34 per cent reduction in deposits in Swiss Bank in 2017 as against 2016, he said.

    In the last quarter (October-December) of 2017, there was a reduction of 44 per cent, based on locational banking statistics, Mr Goyal added.

    "This clearly reflects that people are afraid of government of India and Modi government. The government will take strict against the hoarders of black money," he said.

    He further said that this government has taken a series of steps to put a curb on generation and siphoning of black money while Congress during the UPA regime had done nothing.

    "India also signed an agreement with Switzerland on December 21, 2017. Both countries started collecting data in accordance with global standards on January 1, 2018, and would start the exchange of data from September 2019 on a yearly basis," he said.

    This makes relevant information available in India which eliminates the threat of black money and action can be taken against any entity indulging in such activities, he said.

Rise In The Population Of Tigers Across India, Says Government
  • The population of tigers is on the rise, the government said today quoting preliminary census data.

    Minister of Environment Forest and Climate Change Harsh Vardhan also informed the Rajya Sabha that advanced strategies are being adopted to tackle the human-animal conflict and detailed advisories were being issued to state governments.

    Replying to a query during the question hour, he said preliminary data from the tiger census conducted every four years suggests that their population was on the rise in the entire country including in Maharashtra.

    To a query regarding the mechanism for monitoring of wild animals roaming outside jungles and mitigate conflict, he said the Centre has increased funding significantly to states and provided them facilities for recruitment of anti-poaching staff in tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

    "We also provide compensation of up to Rs. 5 lakh in case of unfortunate incidents," Mr Vardhan said.

    Replying to another question, he said the Centre has been increasing funding to states since the last 2-3 years.

    "We increased funding by Rs. 70-80 crore last year as against the previous year. There is a strong component for training of the lower level staff under wildlife action plan," Mr Vardhan said.

Business Affairs

Samsung overtakes Xiaomi to go back to No. 1 position in India after two quarters
  • South Korean electronics giant Samsung has usurped the pole position in the Indian smartphone market overtaking Xiaomi in the process in the second quarter of this calendar year, as per data collated by Counterpoint Research.

    The Chinese had ended Samsung's six year long leadership in the market in the last quarter of 2017 and had held firm in the beginning of this year. Samsung had a 29 per cent share against Xiaomi's 28 per cent in the smartphone segment that accounted for half of all handsets sold in the country in the April-June period.

    "Samsung has regained the leading position back after receding it to Xiaomi two quarters ago. The success of Samsung during the quarter can be attributed to its refreshed J series as it launched the most number of models as compared to any brand across multiple price points during the quarter," says Karn Chauhan, Research analyst at Counterpoint.

    "These new launches brought some of the most popular and sought after features like dual camera, infinity display, and facial unlock across different price segments for Samsung for the first time ever. Additionally, the strong offline distribution and aggressive marketing campaign around its J series helped the brand to gain not only market but also mind share during the quarter. Second half of 2018 is likely to be a close race between Samsung and Xiaomi especially during the important upcoming festive season."

    In the first quarter of 2018, Xiaomi had a 31 per cent share in smartphones as compared to 26 per cent for Samsung. The rest of the players including Vivo, Oppo, Huawei, Lenovo and Micromax all had single digit market shares.

    The second quarter also saw the smartphone market return to double digit growth (18 per cent) year on year after a flat first quarter growth even as the feature phone market continued to outpace with a 21 per cent year on year growth. In the feature phone market, Reliance Jio commanded a 47 per cent share followed by Samsung at 9 per cent Nokia, Itel and Lava at 8, 6 and 5 per cent each.

    "India smartphone market returned to double digit growth during the quarter and is likely to grow in double digits for the entire year. Growth during the quarter was driven by new launches and strong promotions across both online and offline channels during the quarter," says Anshika Jain, research analyst at Counterpoint. "As volume share of the top five players grew more than 80 per cent, local and smaller players were forced to change their strategy which involved changing channels and product strategy along with cutting down on SKUs. Additionally, the increase in duties for handset components announced during the starting of the quarter, forced smaller players to delay their product launches as they don't have necessary operations to save on the increased tariffs for certain components like populated printed circuit boards, mechanics and others," she said.

Reliance Jio to produce web series, compete with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video: report
  • Even after disrupting the telecom sector with cheap data plans, Reliace Jio is in no mood to call it a day. The Mukesh Ambani-led company is reportedly setting up its own production house to create original web series and short films for Jio subscribers. The move could be significant considering the growing popularity of shows produced by over-the-top media services providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The recent Netflix-produced Indian series Sacred Games has become all the rage in no time.

    The oil-to-telecom conglomerate will count on more than 215-million Jio subscribers and eventually expand its user base after the rollout of JioGigaFiber, the optic fiber broadband service by Reliance Jio.

    "Content market is still not properly tapped... Reliance has hired a bunch of scriptwriters and content creators and is in the process of setting up a huge production house," a person aware of the development told Livemint.

    The rise in video consumption over the past two years has also been due to affordable data tariffs following Reliance Jio's entry in the telecom market. At Reliance Industries' shareholders' meeting, RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani said that video consumption has grown from 165 crore hours per month to 340 crore hours per month.

    Reliance Jio currently offers some video content like movies and web series on Jio Cinema. While some of the content is from Reliance-owned Viacom, the company also offers original web series in partnership with studios like ALT Balaji, Eros, etc.

    According to the report, Jyoti Deshpande, a former group chief executive officer and managing director at Eros, who has joined as head of the media and entertainment business at RIL, is currently driving the company's initiatives to build businesses around the content ecosystem.

    "Recently, 20-25 creative people have come on board... the company has realised that viewers here are taking to original Indian content on platforms such as Netflix and Amazon in a big way... the company too expects to offer some web series to consumers within 4-6 months," the report quoted a source as saying.

    RIL has also been aggressively expanding in OTT content space. Last year, it acquired a 24.9 per cent stake in Balaji Telefilms. In February this year, it acquired 5 per cent stake in NYSE-listed Eros International for Rs 1,000 crore. The partnership with Eros was to set-up a fund to create and produce content.
    Jio had earlier joined hands with Hotstar to offer Jio TV service to its users. Viacom18, a joint venture of RIL-owned Network 18, and Viacom has a portfolio entertainment channels such as Colors, MTV, etc.

    Announced at RIL's 41st AGM, JioGigaFiber will not be your regular broadband connection. Along with the internet, the company plans Ultra HD entertainment on your large screen TV. JioGigaFiber will connect the GigaTV set-top box to your large screen TV, which will allow you to watch every type of content possible.

    While the commerce-content-carriage play of RIL may be unlikely to pose a challenge to existing players which are well established, the investment in the content space may bode well for budding artists in the country.

Paytm wants user data stored locally! The reason is not difficult to guess
  • With the Justice BN Srikrishna Committee report on an overarching data protection and privacy law expected to be submitted soon, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) releasing its own recommendations on the subject recently, the debate on data localisation has again picked up steam. Paytm, for one, remains a vocal proponent.

    "On the data storage bit, obviously we believe that it should be stored locally," Kiran Vasireddy, chief operating officer at Paytm, told The Economic Times, adding, "The moment data leaves the country, it falls under various jurisdictions, which in many cases, are beyond our control. It is important to keep all the data here so that the laws of the land can be made applicable to them."

    India's largest digital payments company further stated that it supports the move to identify the user as the ultimate owner of their data while every other player in the ecosystem is only a custodian. Trai in its recent recommendations on privacy, security and ownership of data had stated that entities processing or controlling such data have no primary rights over it.

    To back the company's views on storing data locally and underscore the need for the Modi government to push the same, Vasireddy reportedly cited Google as an example, saying it had rejected 55 per cent of the government's requests for data.

    Data localisation suddenly became a buzzword in the country after the RBI in its April 5 circular announced that payment companies operating in India - from fintech firms offering peer-to-peer money transfers and international transactions to gateway operators - would have to locate their servers in the country within six months.

    While global companies like WhatsApp, which maintains servers outside India, would have been adversely impacted by this development, Indian fintech companies such as Paytm or PayU had little to worry about as their data is already mostly in servers within the country.

    The payments sector got a breather two weeks ago, when the Ministry of Finance suggested payment firms could be allowed to store data in India as well as in the country where it is being stored currently. The decision was taken after a crucial meeting between the Finance Ministry's Department of Economic Affairs with payment companies like MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and other industry participants like Paytm, US India Business Council, and RBI last month.

    "Mirroring of data in India along with the country where the data is being currently stored could be a possible solution. The RBI may consider the issues connected with the kind of data that needs to be within India and the timeline it has given to players while issuing a clarificatory circular," the finance ministry reportedly said in a note shared with participant companies.

    According to experts this easing of the norms would not only save foreign companies mega bucks by allowing them to continue data analytics and processing outside India - hence saving money on setting up infrastructure -but also addressed their concerns about data safety. Stakeholders had previously pointed out that storing data at one place only could expose it to the risk of inaccessibility or destruction in the event of any disaster.

    But not everyone is happy with this latest development. Paytm told the daily that mirroring of data is not an ideal solution and pointed out that many countries have disallowed companies from doing so. "The ideal thing is to see whether data can be stored in India itself," said Vasireddy. "It is not majorly a cost issue and for all these large players, the cost will be negligible. It is more to do with intent."

    Paytm's concern is understandable since the easing of the norms might help its biggest potential rival, WhatsApp Payments, finally move towards a formal launch. The payments feature has been in Beta since February and is being tested by around a million users across the country. But the formal launch, which was expected to happen at the beginning of June, has been repeatedly pushed back due the current lack of clarity on India's data protection norms.

    The ministry of electronics and information technology last month had asked the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to clarify whether the new WhatsApp UPI payment method is violating any RBI rules but a response is still awaited.

    WhatsApp, in its defence, said that while it uses Facebook's infrastructure for the service, the parent firm does not use any payment information for commercial purposes. Moreover, sensitive user data such as the last 6 digits of a debit card and UPI PIN is not stored at all.

How a global currency war will impact the rupee
  • US President Donald Trump's decision to impose sanctions on Iran and trade tariffs on imports from China and other countries has put the spotlight on currencies globally. There are already fears of trade wars escalating to currency wars among countries. There is a view that countries would retaliate with devaluation of currency to counter the trade tariffs imposed by US. The scenario is equally scary for India as the rupee would also come pressure as the global biggies fight it out.      

    i) China's likely devaluation

    The US and China trade war will eventually see a currency war as the Chinese would play every trick in the book to protect  its exports in the international market. In the past, the US had often accused China of keeping its currency artificially low to  dump cheap goods in the global market. China is likely to resort to a gradual depreciation in its currency 'Yuan' against the US dollar. This will make Chinese goods more attractive in other countries. Indian exports, assuming the country will not participate in a currency war, will lose price advantage in many of the export markets. This will lead to widening of  trade  deficit and current account deficit.

    ii) Europe, Japan and other countries joining the currency war

    It is likely that other countries will also join the currency war as they won't be a mute spectator to US-China trade and currency war. If that happens, Indian currency will have to adjust to the general depreciation of all the currencies.

    iii) Devaluation of currency is not the right tool for India

    Devaluation of currency is not something advocated for India by experts. Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan had earlier rejected the idea that devaluation of the Indian rupee would be the right tool to push exports into the world market. Rajan, a celebrated global economist, said that there is a need to improve productivity to remain competitive in the international market. And he also linked productivity gains to better infrastructure, improved human capital, removing administrative obstacles and ease of doing business etc. .


    iv) India's weak macros  

    Indian currency is already depreciating for the last six months. The higher current account deficit, rising US Fed rates and a slowdown in FII inflows into the Indian capital market is already weakening the Indian currency. The trade war would further increase the  woes of the Indian economy.

    v) Falling foreign exchange reserves

    The Indian foreign exchange reserves are also declining for the last few months. The reserves have dropped from $425 billion to $405 billion. There is a clear indication that the RBI has been intervening in the market to protect the rupee value from depreciating. India  has a different problem at hand. The rupee depreciation brings the threat of imported inflation. Crude prices have been on the rise. The US has already imposed sanctions on Iran which  will be applicable to India from November onwards. This means  India can no longer import oil from Iran. It has to look for other markets. These development will surely have a big impact on the rupee value.

SJM wants India to uphold TRIPS flexibilities in UN forum on TB
  • Ashwani Mahajan, National Co-convener of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), an organisation affiliated with Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tweeted a message this morning (July 24).

    "Don't cave into US pressure tactics, TRIPS flexibilities are key to protecting public health", read the message, tagged to the twitter handles of Prime Minster Narendra Modi, Health Minister J. P. Nadda, Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and BJP National President Amit Shah.

    Mahajan was attempting to sensitise Indian top decision makers on an issue where developing country members of the United Nations (UN) were allegedly facing immense pressure from the United States. The negotiators and representatives of UN member nations are currently finalising the text of a political declaration that will be made by its leaders after the first UN high level meeting on tackling tuberculosis (TB) scheduled to be held in September.

    This declaration will set the tone of the policy direction in which global community will move to tackle the menace of TB. India and several other developing nations where TB is a major health problem would like to use all flexibilities provided in the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to ensure access to affordable TB medicines. This includes the permission to grant compulsory licenses to local drug manufacturers to supply low cost generic versions of patented TB drugs if they are not available in the country at affordable rates. The US does not want such an explicit endorsement of the use of TRIPS flexibilities in the declaration and hence wants the negotiators to drop all references to protecting the rights of individual nations to take fully legal actions to access affordable medicines for their patients.

    The deadline to finalise the text of the draft declaration has almost ended. The US is yet to change its position. Mahajan's message was clearly aimed at the Indian negotiators the G77 Group of Nations meets to review its position for the last time.

    SIGNIFICANCE

    In 2016, TB was responsible for 1.7 million deaths the world over. Even there, the multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is increasingly causing much bigger harm thus making the fight against TB more complex. It is critical for India as BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) together account for over 40 percent of TB and over 50 percent of drug-resistant TB cases.

    Incidentally, there are only two recent drugs that are effective against MDR-TB. The first one is bedaquiline, developed by US firm Johnson & Johnson, and the other is delamanid, from Japanese pharmaceutical company Otsuka. Both the medicines are relatively expensive and are being made available through charity or humanitarian programmes to the needy in India. While country level attempts are being made to get it sourced at a much lesser rate, the US move is meant to provide more negotiating power to the pharmaceutical companies.

    As his tweet suggests, Mahajan wants India, and other developing countries, to retain and exercise their rights to get MDR-TB sourced at an affordable price, while retaining the option to get it locally made by exercising public health emergency related flexibilities in the global trade order. The absence of a political declaration at a UN meet will not take away that flexibility, but it may send a conflicting signal that does not align with the sustainable development goals of the UN, that give prominence to access and affordability of healthcare. 

General Awareness

    Aspirational Districts
    • What to study?

      For Prelims: Aspirational District Programme- key features.
      For Mains: Significance of the scheme and the need for holistic development of backward districts.

      Context: A Statement of Intent (SoI) was recently signed between NITI Aayog and Lupin Foundation to collaborate in Aspirational Districts Programme.

      For this programme, the NITI Aayog and Lupin Foundation are collaborating to improve indicators in education, health & nutrition, financial inclusion and skill development, agriculture and water resources and basic infrastructure in Aspirational Districts of India.

      About Aspirational Districts Programme:

      Launched in January this year, the ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ programme aims to quickly and effectively transform some of the most underdeveloped districts of the country.

      The broad contours of the programme are Convergence (of Central & State Schemes), Collaboration (of Central, State level ‘Prabhari’ Officers & District Collectors), and Competition among districts driven by a Mass Movement or a Jan Andolan.

      With States as the main drivers, this program will focus on the strength of each district, identify low-hanging fruits for immediate improvement, measure progress, and rank districts.

      Focus of the programme:

      To enable optimum utilization of their potential, this program focuses closely on improving people’s ability to participate fully in the burgeoning economy. Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure are this programme’s core areas of focus.

      Significance of the scheme:

      If these districts are transformed, there would be tremendous improvement in the internal security environment of the country. If Prabhari officers can bring convergence in the development efforts of different Ministries and state Governments and the schemes specially launched by Home Ministry in these districts, it would serve as a great opportunity to ensure rapid development in the country.

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