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Daily Current Affairs for IAS & UPSC Preparation

All current affairs available date-wise and month-wise. Watchout for Back2basics and Notes4students.


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Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations India & Neighbours

[op-ed snap] No full stops: On Bhutan’s exit from the ‘BBIN’ agreement

Context:

  1. Bhutan announced that it is unable to proceed with the Motor Vehicles Agreement with Bangladesh, India and Nepal
  2. It is a road block for the regional sub-grouping India had planned for ease of access among the four countries

MVA:

  1. The sub-grouping, BBIN was an alternative mooted by the government after Pakistan rejected the MVA at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu in 2014
  2. It seeks to allow trucks and other commercial vehicles to ply on one another’s highways to facilitate trade

Road ahead:

  1. Of the other SAARC members, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are not connected by land, and Afghanistan could only be connected if Pakistan was on board
  2. Down to just three countries now after Thimphu’s decision, India, Nepal and Bangladesh will have to decide whether to wait for Bhutan to reconsider or to press ahead with a truncated ‘BIN’ arrangement
  3. The first option will not be easy

Why is Bhutan reluctant?

  1. The main concern expressed by Bhutanese citizen groups and politicians is over increased vehicular and air pollution in a country that prides itself on ecological consciousness
  2. The upper house of parliament has refused to ratify the MVA that was originally signed by all four BBIN countries in 2015
  3. The official announcement indicates that Thimphu will not push the agreement ahead of elections in 2018

Analyzing the situation:

  1. To begin with, Bhutan’s objections are environmental, not political, and its government may well change its mind as time goes by
  2. Dry runs have been conducted along the routes, and officials estimate the road links could end up circumventing circuitous shipping routes by up to 1,000 km
  3. Second, Bhutan’s concerns may be assuaged if India considers the inclusion of waterways and riverine channels as a less environmentally damaging substitute
  4. Bhutan’s objections may even spur an overhaul of emission standards for trucks currently plying in India, Nepal and Bangladesh

Increasing connectivity:

  1. The BBIN pact denotes a “can-do” attitude on India’s part, as it shows a willingness to broaden its connectivity canvas with all countries willing to go ahead at present, leaving the door open for those that may opt to join in the future
  2. A similar initiative for the Asian Highway project under the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) corridor got a boost this week as the countries moved to upgrade the dialogue to the governmental level
  3. India has refused to attend China’s Belt and Road summit on May 14-15, objecting to projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the BCIM will remain a way of joining the network when India’s concerns are met

Note4Students:

Connectivity is the new global currency for growth and prosperity as it secures both trade and energy lines for countries en route, and India must make the most of its geographic advantages.

Prevention of Corruption – POC Act, CBI, Lokpal Act, etc. Governance

[op-ed snap] Adieu, Lokpal?

Context:

  1. Six years ago, in April 2011, Anna Hazare began a hunger strike to establish a strong Jan Lokpal Bill to fight all-pervasive corruption
  2. Thereafter, for more than two years until the 2013 elections, the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement of Team Anna, riding the wave of popular discontent and anger against the governing class, brought a weak government to its knees and governance to a standstill

Lokpal Act 2013:

  1. Caving in to enormous public pressure, Parliament passed the Lokpal Act in 2013
  2. This act is perhaps the only one enacted post-Independence due to direct “people power”
  3. The Act, however, stagnates in the statute books, ignored by the civil society that earlier vigorously rooted for its implementation

Amendment in the Act:

  1. The act, even in its present moribund state, is being whittled down with amendments, such as one in 2016
  2. It eliminates the earlier statutory requirement for public servants to disclose the assets of their spouses and dependent children
  3. Though it is well-known that illegally acquired assets are usually in the names of family members
  4. Similarly, the government proposed amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA)
  5. This requires the Lokpal to seek government sanction not only for prosecuting public servants but even retired public officials – is clearly designed to weaken the Lokpal

Extinguishing public interest in the Lokpal:

  1. The singular factor is the prime minister who, post-demonetisation, has assumed the mantle of the nation’s anti-corruption messiah
  2. Deified by a large section of his countrymen, he is perceived as the only hope in the Herculean fight against corruption
  3. So powerful and clean is his public image that Anna Hazare’s recent threat to agitate against the government for not appointing the Lokpal has been contemptuously ignored
  4. And so has the SC’s reprimand over the delay in appointing the Lokpal
  5. No individual or institution today dares to confront the PM on corruption

Why is the PM, silent on Lokpal?

  1. The ostensible reason the government has given is that there is no Leader of Opposition for constituting the selection committee for appointing the Lokpal
  2. Although the same statutory limitation for the appointment of the CBI director was overcome through a suitable amendment in the law

SC’s ruling:

  1. The Supreme Court ruled this week that the Lokpal could be appointed without a Leader of Opposition
  2. It is not difficult to fathom that the real reason for the government’s reluctance on the Lokpal is on account of its implications for the CBI
  3. The Lokpal Act has invested the inquiry and prosecution wings of the Lokpal with the powers presently exercised by the CBI, the last thing that the political executive would concede willingly
  4. The CBI today is an outfit with an unmistakeable aura of menace, with everyone in the hierarchy from ministers downward holding the agency in fearful awe
  5. No government would want an investigating agency functioning under an unaccountable entity to monitor not only government servants but also MPs and the top political executive including the PM

Case in Romania:

  1. Countrywide anti-corruption protests in Romania in February this year, forced the government to withdraw an ordinance designed to weaken Romania’s anti-corruption authority, the DNA
  2. The ordinance that outraged the nation sought to decriminalise abuse in office by officials if the sums involved were less than $48,500
  3. The ruling party, the PSD, has alleged that the anti-corruption ombudsman, the DNA, is politically biased, indicting more of their officials than of other parties
  4. Significantly, in the first eight months of 2016, the DNA had indicted 777 individuals including judges, parliamentarians and ministers
  5. While the people have applauded the DNA, it has been accused by politicians of being draconian and biased

Note4Students:

What’s happening in Romania has important lessons for India. How does one ensure the impartiality and fairness of a Lokpal armed with a police investigative agency that functions free of political regulation? A good read from Mains PoV.

Services sector & developments Industries

[op-ed snap] Facing up to IT: On visa rules posing challenge to Indian IT companies

India’s IT Sector:

  1. A globalising world enabled the spectacular rise of India’s IT industry over the last couple of decades
  2. The IT sector not only pulled up the GDP but also came to symbolise young India’s aspirations

Challenge it faces:

  1. With the world now bending towards protectionism, it faces a challenge to its talent-centric, software export model
  2. In recent weeks, a slew of countries, which are estimated to account for three-fourths of the industry’s revenues, have placed stricter rules on their companies getting talent from overseas
  3. There are visa rule changes for Indian tech personnel after Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. after promises to put the brakes on outsourcing

Protectionism:

  1. President Trump signed the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order last week
  2. He was seeking to raise the bar for the award of H-1B visas, an important route for Indian companies, so that they are given to the “most-skilled or highest-paid” beneficiaries
  3. Earlier this month, the U.K. scrapped a category of short-term visas that have been used extensively by Indian companies to get their IT professionals on-site
  4. The Australian equivalent of this is the recent junking of what are called the ‘457 visa’ rules
  5. Singapore has reportedly kept approvals for work permits on hold for a while now

The way forward:

  1. It is still too early to gauge the exact impact on IT companies, because much depends on their ability to rework their operational models to do less on-site
  2. It is a challenging time for the industry – with slowing business growth, strengthening rupee and difficult transition from a traditional model to one that is cloud-based
  3. Indian IT companies are getting the lion’s share of H-1B visas for Indian nationals
  4. The government, which has reportedly sought a World Trade Organisation-backed framework to facilitate trade in services in the light of rule-tightening by the developed countries, is naturally concerned
  5. The industry, which employs over 3.5 million people and earns over $100 billion in export revenues, is now navigating a world with walls

Note4Students:

Read the op-ed to understand the changing global scenario.

Mull privatising PSBs: Acharya

  1. The deteriorating health of public sector banks has prompted the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to suggest radical steps to tackle the issue.
  2. These include considering mergers and possibly even the privatisation of some of the lenders which had been nationalised by previous governments.
  3. RBI deputy governor Viral Acharya mooted options for the troubled sector including raising private capital and selling non-core assets.
  4. Undertaking these measures would improve overall banking sector health, creating an opportune time for the government to divest some of its ownership of the restructured banks, as it has over time in many other sectors of the economy.
  5. These steps would pare the overall amount the Centre needed to inject as bank capital and help preserve its hard-earned fiscal discipline, he opined.
  6. Fiscal discipline along with a stable inflation outlook and the diverse nature of the country’s growth engine had made India the darling of foreign investors, he said.

Note4Students:

Important for Mains. Can be quoted in questions related to PSBs NPA as well as other issues.

Textile Sector – Cotton, jute, wool, silk, handloom, etc. Industries

Textiles likely to have uniform rate under GST

  1. The textile sector is likely to see a uniform rate under Goods and Services Tax (GST).
  2. Centre has introduced the PowerTex India scheme, which included subsidy for weaving units that want to go in for solar energy, construction of dormitory for workers.
  3. On the demand for removal of anti-dumping duty on imports of man made fibre, the Minister asked the industry to collect concrete data to support their plea.
  4. Regarding fluctuating yarn prices, the Minister urged the powerloom sector to go in for the yarn bank scheme project under the PowerTex India scheme.

Note4Students:

Important. Know about the Scheme highlighted. Also read about anti-dumping duty and related information.

Back2basics:

The above scheme has the following components:

  1. In-situ Upgradation of Plain Powerlooms
  2. Group Workshed Scheme (GWS)
  3. Yarn Bank Scheme
  4. Common Facility Centre (CFC)
  5. Pradhan Mantri Credit Scheme for Powerloom Weavers
  6. Solar Energy Scheme for Powerlooms
  7. Facilitation, IT, Awareness, Market Development and Publicity for Powerloom Schemes
  8. Tex Venture Capital Fund
  9. Grant-in-Aid and Modernisation & Upgradation of Powerloom Service Centres (PSCs)

‘Global standards will curb unsafe imports’

  1. A good standards regime will help in preventing flooding of domestic market with unsafe or sub-standard imports at the expense of the domestic industry as well as consumers, the Commerce Ministry said.
  2. The days of differential standards — low for domestic market and high for exports — are over and if the Indian industry has to survive and thrive, it has to adopt global standards, the commerce ministry said in a statement.
  3. The ministry, in collaboration with the industry body CII, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies (NABCB) and other knowledge partners, is organising a National Standards Conclave on May 1-2 in the national capital.
  4. The Conclave would also aim at preparing an Indian National Strategy for Standardization (INSS) document to enable the development of a harmonised, dynamic, and mature standards ecosystem in India.
  5. It will prepare industries, Central Government Ministries, State Governments, regulatory/standards setting and conformity assessment bodies on the growing importance of “Standards” in the changing scenario of global trade.
  6. The Standards Conclave is being held in the backdrop of diminishing importance of tariffs and rising influence of standards and regulation both in goods and services trade.

Note4Students:

Important for both Prelims and Mains. New global order in trade can be quoted in mains. National Standards Conclave and INSS is important for Prelims.

India, Cyprus call for decisive action against hosts of ‘violence factories’

  1. What: PM Modi and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades on Friday held detailed discussions on bilateral and regional issues and agreed on the need for all countries to decisively act against States that shelter and sustain violence factories in their regions
  2. Mr. Modi said India had always stood with Cyprus on crucial issues and firmly supported its sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity
  3. The two sides also agreed on the need of early reforms of the United Nations Security Council, Mr. Modi said and expressed India’s appreciation of Cyprus’ support to India’s bid for inclusion in it as a permanent member

Note4students:

This news is not important. However, locate Cyprus on the atlas and look at the surrounding countries, water bodies etc.

Black Money – Domestic and international efforts Finance and Banking

Money laundering may be made criminal offence

  1. What: The Central government is considering a proposal to make money laundering a separate criminal offence to be investigated by the Enforcement Directorate, irrespective of a probe by other agencies
  2. Effect: This will facilitate quick action against those indulging in money laundering
  3. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money has also been of the view that money laundering investigations by the ED should be allowed without any dependence on registration of cases by other police agencies under the legal provisions listed in the schedule of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA)
  4. Current arrangement: The fate of money laundering cases depends on that of the probe and prosecutions in predicate offences pursued by primary agencies
  5. Many in government agencies are of the view that certain restrictions on money laundering investigations on several occasions cause impediments in taking the cases to their logical conclusion
  6. Elsewhere: Money laundering in itself has been defined as a criminal offence in several countries
  7. Besides, there are separate legislations for dealing with funds generated through activities like drug trafficking or terror financing
  8. The United States has very stringent laws to check money laundering
  9. UK: In the United Kingdom, police have to prove predicate offence through circumstantial evidence, linking it to the funds generated and laundered
  10. Wherever money laundering is treated as a stand-alone crime, U.K. agencies are not required to wait for the outcome of investigations into the predicate offence
  11. Also, they are not supposed to prove that the funds are proceeds of a particular offence
  12. Based on enough circumstantial evidence, they have to just establish that the proceeds had a criminal origin
  13. According to experts, the Indian government will have to bring about several amendments to the PMLA
  14. Including the current definition of the “proceeds of crime” that is right now dependent upon the predicate offences as listed in the Act’s schedule
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act Indian Polity

SC dismisses Centre’s plea against judgment for probe into encounter deaths in disturbed areas

  1. What: The SC dismissed a curative petition filed by the Centre seeking to urgently re-consider its July 2016 verdict which ripped open the cloak of immunity and secrecy provided by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) to security forces for deaths caused during encounters in disturbed areas
  2. Effect: With this, the court’s original judgment that encounters with security forces resulting in deaths in sensitive areas should come under investigation has attained finality
  3. The SC had held that “there is no concept of absolute immunity from trial by a criminal court” if an Army man has committed an offence
  4. The judgment had held that every death caused by security forces in a disturbed area, whether the victim is a dreaded criminal or a militant or a terrorist or an insurgent, should be thoroughly enquired into in order to address any allegation of use of excessive or retaliatory force beyond the call of duty
  5. The Centre had argued in the curative that the judgment had become a fetter against security forces involved in anti-militancy operations in sensitive and border areas of the country
  6. Argument in curative: This court ought to have appreciated that the principles of right to self defence cannot be strictly applied while dealing with militants and terrorist elements in a hostile and unstable terrain
  7. This court ought to have taken into account the complexity and the reality of the conduct of military operations and tactics especially while combating terrorists
  8. Mr. Rohatgi submitted that the July 2016 verdict cast a shadow over personnel’s morale and ability to respond to insurgent and terror situations
  9. The court had agreed to consider the curative plea
  10. The July 2016 judgment by the SC had observed that an impartial investigation and prosecution of the guilty party is the basic requirement for rule of law to prevail in a democracy
  11. It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the state
  12. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both… This is the requirement of a democracy and the requirement of preservation of the rule of law and the preservation of individual liberties
  13. Background: The judgment came on a plea by hundreds of families in the north-eastern State of Manipur for a probe by a Special Investigation Team into 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters involving the Army and the police
  14. The July 2016 judgment was based on writ petitions filed by NGOs and victims’ families seeking a fair probe into encounter deaths in the northeastern State of Manipur during the heights of insurgency
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations India & Neighbours

Bhutan backs out of motor vehicle pact

  1. India’s plan for a sub-regional motor vehicle agreement faced a setback as the Bhutan government announced that it is not ready to go ahead with the process at present
  2. It asked the other members of the ‘BBIN’ grouping — India, Bangladesh and Nepal — to continue to operationalise it without Bhutan
  3. Reason: The decision to step out of the BBIN process comes on the back of severe domestic opposition to the motor vehicles agreement
  4. It is primarily on fears of vehicular pollution and environmental degradation if trucks from neighbouring countries are given access to Bhutan, a country that prides itself on its “carbon neutrality” and preserving the environment
  5. Background: Despite the fact that the MVA agreement was signed on June 15, 2015, and ratified on its second attempt in the lower house in July 2016, the upper house in Bhutan voted it down in November 2016

Note4students:

Prelims trivia- that Bhutan has withdrawn itself. Can be a part of mains answer on SAARC, BBIN, South Asian Connectivity etc.

J&K- The issues around the state Governance

All-woman battalion to take on Kashmir women pelters of stones

  1. What? The Union government plans to raise an all-woman India Reserve Battalion (IRB) in J&K
  2. Why? To counter the women who throw stones at security forces in Jammu and Kashmir
  3. The decision to raise an all-women battalion comes after it was observed that girl students were throwing stones at security forces in Srinagar
  4. The all-women contingent will be among the five IRBs sanctioned by the Centre for the State last year
  5. The battalion would also be assigned other law and order duties but its personnel will be primarily deployed for tackling protesters
  6. The IRBs are being raised to provide jobs to the local youths, with 60% of the vacancies to be filled with candidates from the border districts
  7. Other steps: The Centre has also given directions to the State government to not use Special Police Officers as “chowkidaars (guards)” at the houses of politicians and government officials and to use them in active policing instead
  8. The Centre asked the State government to build as many football fields and sports facilities as possible in rural Kashmir to engage the youth
  9. Development package: As part of the Rs. 80,000-crore development package announced by Prime Minister in 2015, around Rs. 19,500 crore was released for various projects

Note4students:

Steps taken towards the turmoil condition in valley- for mains.

NITI Aayog : The New Development Agenda Indian Polity

Judicial performance index mooted

  1. The NITI Aayog has proposed the introduction of a judicial performance index
  2. Aim: To reduce delays and the outsourcing of non-core functions of the police to private agencies or other government departments, in a bid to fix justice system that is in ‘dire need of reform’
  3. Benefits: The creation of a judicial performance index that could help High Courts and their chief justices keep track of the performance and processes at district courts and subordinate levels for reducing delay
  4. The performance index for courts will entail fixing of ‘non-mandatory time frames for different types of cases to benchmark when a case has been delayed’
  5. The index can also include certain progress on process steps already approved by High Courts and such an annual evaluation should give judges in High Courts ‘a sense of where they are failing and what they need to fix’
  6. Since the subordinate judiciary is largely within the domain of the High Courts, this could also spur competitive reform of the judiciary in those States
  7. Other recs: It has also mooted changes in criminal justice and procedural laws, a repeal of all irrelevant legislation by March 2019 and reforms in land ownership laws — which account for 67% of litigants in civil suits
  8. To improve the quality of policing, the think tank has asked the Home Ministry to create a task force to identify ‘non-core functions’ that can be outsourced to private agents or government departments in order to reduce the workload of the police
  9. India’s police to population ratio should reach the United Nations norms of 222 per lakh population, over the next seven years, from the current level of 137
  10. Women: Red-flagging the adverse implications of crimes against women beyond ‘the obvious horror for affected individuals’, the Aayog has asked the Home Ministry to push for greater hiring of women in the police force, with a target of 30% of all new recruits
  11. Enforcing contracts: Citing inordinate delays in India’s judicial system and its low rank on enforcing contracts in the World Bank’s ease of doing business report for 2017,
  12. NITI has also called for streamlining judicial appointments on the basis of online real-time statistics on the workload of pending cases
  13. Such data will help enable “priority appointment of judges at the lower judiciary levels keeping in mind a scientific approach to assess the number of judges needed to tackle pendency

Note4students:

The recommendations can be used in mains.

India, Sri Lanka sign energy pact

  1. Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between India and Sri Lanka, both sides will collaborate in a host of energy and infrastructure projects across the island
  2. India: “Our vision to promote connectivity and development takes Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas to our external environment, and naturally to neighbourhood first”
  3. The MoU includes:
    • the setting up of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant in suburban Colombo and a solar power plant in Sampur in Trincomalee
    • Indian assistance to enhanced use of natural gas in Sri Lanka
    • joint investment in the petroleum sector and partnerships in highways and transportation
    • the spotlight remains on the proposed joint venture to develop a World War-era oil storage facility in Trincomalee, the strategically located port town on the island’s east coast

Note4students:

MoUs are numerous and are not part of prelims but can be used in mains- an aspect of Indo-SL relations.

NITI Aayog : The New Development Agenda Indian Polity

[op-ed snap] The long road to a high-growth future

Context:

  1. NITI Aayog is preparing a 15-year vision and a seven-year strategy document, and has circulated a three-year action agenda
  2. The goal of transforming India and attaining the desired level of economic and social outcomes will require higher and sustainable growth in coming years
  3. Higher economic growth will create employment, generate higher revenue and will help increase government spending without disturbing the budgetary balance

High growth:

  1. The vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, Arvind Panagariya, showed a compound annual growth of about 8%
  2. Higher growth is the best way of lifting standards of living, as has been demonstrated by China
  3. Attaining and sustaining this level of growth is feasible, but will need policy action on various fronts

Growth rate:

  1. India’s potential growth slipped to about 7% during 2009-15 compared with 8% during 2003-08
  2. The Indian economy is estimated to have expanded by 7.1% in the last fiscal

Focus of work: Strengthen macroeconomic fundamentals

  1. Firstly, focus on strengthening macroeconomic fundamentals
  2. A sound macroeconomic environment is a prerequisite for sustained higher growth
  3. The N.K. Singh committee has proposed a new fiscal architecture that will reduce the level of total debt stock with steady reduction in fiscal deficit
  4. On the monetary policy side, the RBI’s rate-setting committee is targeting 4% inflation on a durable basis
  5. Reason for softer growth: a decline in savings rate
  6. Higher growth in the last decade was backed by higher savings
  7. India’s savings rate is estimated to have declined from the level of about 37% of the gross domestic product in 2007-08 to under 30% in 2016-17
  8. India will need higher savings to sustain higher growth

Focus of work: banking sector

  1. Secondly, fix the banking sector
  2. It is now well accepted that high levels of NPAs—particularly in public sector banks—are a drag on investments and growth
  3. The sector needs a fresh road map to address the current problems and also to provide the necessary checks and balances
  4. NITI Aayog’s action agenda has suggested auctioning assets to private asset reconstruction companies
  5. For a durable solution, the government should reconsider its role in the sector
  6. A significant reduction in government holding in banks will augur well for the economy
  7. India needs a lively corporate bond market as it will provide an alternative source of financing and reduce pressure on banking sector
  8. A vibrant, competitive and stable financial sector will help push investment and growth in the near future

Focus of work: land and labour markets

  1. Thirdly, improve conditions in land and labour markets
  2. In order to sustain higher growth, the government will need to make it easier for businesses to acquire land and hire labour
  3. The small and informal nature of business enterprises in India affects productivity and is an impediment to growth
  4. One of the reasons for having too many small enterprises is rigid labour laws
  5. The government should work on creating a flexible labour market, which will allow businesses to take advantage of economies of scale
  6. The government also needs to make it easier for businesses to acquire land
  7. A number of projects are stuck because of land acquisition problems
  8. Reforms in these markets would require greater coordination between the Centre and states

Focus of work: review government functioning

  1. The government needs to review its own functioning and change in a way that allows the market to attain its full potential
  2. For instance, it will need to withdraw from commercial activities through privatization and focus on strengthening regulatory capabilities
  3. The recent decision of the Narendra Modi government to impose price caps on coronary stents is an example of exactly what the government should not be doing
  4. Price caps inevitably result in shortages with adverse consequences. The government should always avoid such decisions

Note4Students:

The policymakers need to constantly work on multiple levels in order to create enabling conditions that will allow the Indian economy to develop at a rapid pace and achieve long-term goals.

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