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9 PM Daily NEWS Brief

9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – 22 February 2017



Front Page / NATIONAL [The Hindu]

India, Rwanda sign aviation, visa deals


Editorial/OPINION [The Hindu]

The Saeed test

Necessary limit


Economy [The Hindu]

Private sector gratuity to soar:

India, Japan ink pact on rail safety:

Withdrawal of funds from EPF to get easier


Indian Express

No half measures


Live Mint

Decoding the direction of monetary policy

Quest to widen direct tax net

Technology’s benefits for crop insurance


Front Page / NATIONAL


[1]. India, Rwanda sign aviation, visa deals 

 

The Hindu

 

Context

Indo-Rwanda cooperation

 

What has happened?

India & Rwanda have signed a bilateral air services agreementenabling direct flights between the two countries. Rwandan Airways will begin direct flights between Kigali and Mumbai in April

 

Backdrop

Vice President of India is on a 3-day visit to Rwanda. A total of 3 MoUs have been signed

 

Other two MoUs

The other two MoUs pertained to the,

  • Setting up of an entrepreneurial development centre in Rwanda
  • Exemption of visa for entry of diplomatic and official passports

 

Rwanda wants Bollywood

The Rwandan government wants to encourage tourism. With the air services agreement, that should happen. But they also want Bollywood films to be shot here, because they have noticed how tourism to New Zealand picked up after Bollywood started shooting films there

 

Lessons which India can learn from Rwanda

  • The reconciliation of various groups
  • To be conscious of a colonial policy of divide and rule and to try and overcome it
  • How Rwanda is overcoming ethnic majoritiarianism by concentrating on a shared linguistic and cultural heritage

Editorial/OPINION


[1]. The Saeed test

 

The Hindu

 

Context

The flurry of actions by the Pakistan government on Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed gives the impression of movement on an issue that has been a point of contention between India and Pakistan

 

Issue: Pakistan’s recent set of actions against Haifz Saeed

 

Author’s contention: Why Pakistan is acting against Hafiz Saeed?

The recent action against Saeed is not anything new or something to cheer about

  • Non-serious Pakistan: If Pakistan were indeed serious about the UN list, these actions should have been carried out in 2008, when Saeed and the JuD were put on the list
  • Timing of action to suit its own need: It is more than likely that Pakistan’s action is actually timed for the Financial Action Task Force’s officials meeting in Paris this week where a report on Pakistan’s terror funding record is being presented
  • It might be an attempt to show ‘good faith’ to both U.S. President Donald Trump and India

 

[2]. Necessary limit

 

The Hindu

 

Context

Price control for cardiac stents is inevitable to promote access to treatments

 

What has happened?

Government has cut the prices of life—saving coronary stents by up to 85 per cent. The maximum retail price of stents, inclusive of VAT and other local taxes will be,

  • Bare metal stents (BMS) = Rs 7,623 (Earlier Rs 45,000)
  • Drug eluting stents (DES) = Rs 31,080 (Earlier Rs 1.21 Lakhs)

The new prices are applicable with immediate effect

 

What is a coronary stent?

A coronary stent is a tube-shaped device placed in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. It keeps the arteries open in the treatment of coronary heart diseases. Stents are normally used in cardiac operations like Angioplasty

 

Angioplasty using a Stent Source: turmeric.com

Stents in NLEM

The government had included coronary stents in the national list of essential medicines (NLEM), 2015, in July 2016 and in the first Schedule of the Drug Prices Control Order (DPCO), 2013, in December 2016

 

The Need to regulate prices

Author states that the need to regulate the prices can be gauged by a research published in The Lancet in December 2015:

  • High out-of-pocket expenditure on Drugs: Nearly two-thirds of the high out-of-pocket expenditure on health incurred by Indians went towards drugs
  • Irrational use: There was irrational use of medical technologies, including cardiac stents and knee implants

 

Vulnerable population

Author notes that there are health concerns that mandated a price regulation,

  • There are over 60 million diagnosed diabetics in the country, and the average age at which the first heart attack strikes Indians is 50, a decade earlier than people in developed nations. So, it is necessary to provide access to stents and other treatments at reasonable price

 

Benefits of regulation

  • Increased accessibility: Regulated prices can be expected to make stents more accessible to patients who really need them, helping them avoid using up the weak insurance cover available, while also reducing the incentive for unethical hospitals to use them needlessly
  • Incentive to innovate: When expensive treatment technologies hit the market, they remain inaccessible to a large segment of the population. Price regulation can therefore open up a large market for such drugs incentivizing innovation with a proper reward.

 

Increased spending on public procurement to improve access

It was estimated in 2012 by the Planning Commission’s expert group on universal health coverage that,

  • Raising spending on public procurement of medicines to 0.5% of GDP (from 0.1%) would provide all essential medicines to everyone

 

Author suggests

Author suggests that,

  • The Centre should monitor expenditures jointly in partnership with the community, use regulation where needed, and raise public spending on health

Economy


[1]. Private sector gratuity to soar

 

The Hindu

 

Context
Workers in private firms could see maximum payout double to Rs. 20 lakh

 

What has happened?

The labour ministry has called a meeting with trade unions, industry and State governments on Thursday to discuss the proposal to increase the gratuity ceiling by amending the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972

 

The proposal

Proposal is to increase the present gratuity ceiling from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh

  • Presently employees are eligible to get gratuity after leaving an organisation after five years of continuous service

 

Why the move?

The move is aimed at bringing parity between public and private sector workers after the gratuity limit was raised for central government employees from ₹10 lakh to ₹20 lakh as part of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations accepted by the Centre in July 2016

 

Last revision

The gratuity ceiling was last revised from ₹3.5 lakh to ₹10 lakh in 2010 after the Sixth Pay Commission recommendation had raised the limit for central government employees

 

[2]. India, Japan ink pact on rail safety

 

The Hindu

 

Context

Indo-Japan agreement on rail safety

 

What has happened?

India signed an agreement with Japan, on 17th Feb 17, on enhancing railway safety in the Indian Railways with focus on railway track and rolling stock safety

 

Major Aim: Aim is to prevent major rail accidents

 

Areas of cooperation under the agreement

The areas of cooperation include

  • Rail inspection
  • Rail wielding
  • Providing automatic railway track safety inspection
  • Maintenance of rolling stock
  • Any other relevant railway safety matters jointly determined by both sides

 

Backdrop

The agreement with Japan comes at a time when the train derailments are on the rise. In 2016-17, the number of consequential train accidents remained the same level as last year at 95 while derailments rose from 56 to 74. Unmanned level crossing accidents fell

 

[3]. Withdrawal of funds from EPF to get easier

 

The Hindu

 

Context

Banking on your provident fund savings for critical contingencies will now become far simpler with the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) introducing a single page composite form for such withdrawals before retirement age

 

What has happened?

Over eight crore Employees’ Provident Fund account holders will no longer be required to submit evidential documents for withdrawing PF for availing housing loans, grant of advances in case of factory closure, marriage, higher education of children, among other things

  • A single page composite form for such withdrawals before retirement age will now be sufficient

 

Present situation

Till now, employees were required to fill and submit three different forms to EPFO for withdrawing provident fund for various purposes

 

Two categories of forms

The EPFO has introduced forms in two categories –

  • For those whose Aadhaar number is seeded with Universal Account Number (UAN): Employees whose Aadhaar number is seeded will not be required to get employer’s attestation for withdrawing PF
  • Without an Aadhaar number: Employees without the seeded Aadhaar number will need the employer’s approval on their forms before submitting it to the EPFO

 


Indian Express


[1]. No half measures

 

Indian Express

 

Context

To address rising NPAs, consider divesting government holdings in state-owned banks, including by strategic sales

 

Issue: Problem of Non-performing Assets (NPAs)

 

Latest data on NPA
Gross Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) or bad loans of state-owned banks have surged by 56.4 per cent to Rs 614872 crore for the 12-month period ended December 2016

 

Author suggests: Solutions to NPA problem

  • Time for disinvestment: Author states that time may have come for the government to look at divesting the government’s holdings in state-owned banks, except a handful such as the SBI, to below 51 per cent, including through strategic sales.

 

Conclusion

Author concludes by stating that, the longer the delay in addressing this crisis, the greater will be the challenge — not just in terms of ensuring a well-functioning banking system which supports the needs of businesses and individuals but also on the front of financial stability


Live Mint


[1]. Decoding the direction of monetary policy

 

Live Mint

 

Context

The committee is now aiming to reach a position where it is able to maintain inflation close to 4%

 

What’s the backdrop?

On 8 February, the rate-setting committee changed the policy stance from accommodative to neutral (means RBI is now open for a rate increase) in order to give itself more flexibility

 

Policy direction pointers

In terms of policy direction, there are at least two important points worth noting.

  • A change in stance from accommodative to neutral does not necessarily mean that rates cannot be reduced from the present level. If inflation continues to be below the target, the committee may decide to cut rates at a later date
  • The committee is now aiming to reach a position where it is able to maintain inflation close to 4%, which should be seen as a big positive for the economy

 

No other relevant points.

 

You can give the article a quick read

 

[2]. Quest to widen direct tax net

 

Live Mint

 

Context

There is need to drastically reduce the income tax exemption slab; say, down to Rs1 lakh from the current minimum threshold of Rs2.5 lakh

 

Terms used:-

  • Political democracy: It simply means the freedom to choose own leaders through free and fair elections. Through political democracy people can hold their leaders accountable for their actions. Power flows from people to the leaders.
  • Fiscal democracy: It refers to the control and utilization of fiscal assets of a nation by the people either directly or indirectly through their representatives.

 

Read More: You can read more about above terms here

 

Question

Author begins the article with a question,

 

Is there a wide gap between India’s political democracy and fiscal democracy?

 

A shocking observation

This year’s economic survey has the following to say regarding above question,

  • In Norway, for every 100 voters, there are 100 taxpayers. In India for every 100 voters, we have seven taxpayers

 

Observation

As per the above fact highlighted by Economic Survey, it seems that the burden of taxes is shared by a miniscule population. It answers the question asked in the beginning in negative meaning that in India, Political democracy exceeds fiscal democracy

 

The increasing burden of Indirect tax

Author points out that,

  • Indirect taxes in the form of excise taxes have risen by almost 50% for two consecutive years. Tax on petrol itself is up by 150% since July 2014. This adds to the misery of the poor as the indirect taxes do not depend on the paying capacity of the poor and affect them disproportionately

 

Example: A packet of Biscuits costs around Rs 10 (inclusive of taxes). Say, an indirect tax of Rs 1 or Rs 2 is included in the item’s price. This price is paid equally by the poor and the rich as it does not take into account the paying capacity of the buyer, which, in this case, might be anyone

 

Author’s contention

Author contends that we need to,

  • Widen the net to cover more direct tax payers

 

India: The most generous exemptor

As per a recent piece by Praveen Chakravarty titled, “Decoding India’s Low Tax Base Conundrum”, in Bloomberg Quint, India is the most generous exemptor when it comes to direct tax.

  • The minimum threshold below which no income tax is paid is Rs2.5 lakh. This is 250% of India’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP)
  • In most countries, income tax becomes payable when your income is about one-half or one-fourth of the average income in your country

 

Need of the hour

Author suggests that a drastic reduction in the exemption slab; say, down to Rs1 lakh is what we need at this juncture

 

Taxpayer’s view

Author states that the two major & misguided arguments put forward by existing tax payers in favor of tax reduction are,

  • Tax-free agricultural income: One is that they say, why are you letting agriculture income go tax-free?

 

Why above argument is flawed?

Meagre agricultural income: Almost 95% of the farmers who own land have barely 2-hectare holdings. Even with very high productivity, they can make only a modest income, which if all taxed, will add possibly 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) to tax collections, which is very less to have any effect on total tax collections

 

  • Steep nature of indirect taxes: When everyone is paying such steep taxes in the form of value-added taxes (VAT), excise and service taxes, why do you want to hike income taxes?

 

Why the above argument is flawed?

Mixing cause & effect: Author states that we have high incidence of indirect taxes because we do so poorly on direct taxes. The former would reduce automatically, if direct tax collection improved substantially

 

Author suggests

  • Catch those who misrepresent: What is actually needed is to catch the crooks who go scot-free misrepresenting their income as coming from agriculture
  • Increase direct tax net

 

Way forward

India’s ratio of direct to indirect taxes is 1:2, which is exactly the opposite of most advanced economies. We need to urgently correct this gap, for the sake of efficiency, fairness and reducing inequality. That’s the way of reducing the wide gap between our political and fiscal democracy

 

[3]. Technology’s benefits for crop insurance

 

Live Mint

 

Context

It can provide a more detailed picture of risk at a farm level without the costs of collecting data manually

 

Issue: Agricultural Insurance

 

Terms used:-

Index-based insurance: Insurance payouts that are stacked against easily measured environmental conditions, or an “index,” that is closely related to agricultural production losses. Possible indices include rainfall, yields, or vegetation levels measured by satellites.

 

Reviving agricultural economy

Author states that Union budget 2017-18 has taken a slew of measures to revive the agricultural economy in India,

  • Higher allocations to boost credit flow: The emphasis on agricultural insurance through higher allocation for the Pradhan Mantri FasalBima Yojana (PMFBY), and other major allocations for the sector, are expected to boost credit flow to farmers apart from expanding crop insurance and irrigation coverage
  • Digital revolution in agriculture: The budget allocation of Rs10000 crore to the BharatNet Project and the set target of reaching nearly 150,000 gram panchayats with high-speed Internet will also lay the foundation for a digital revolution in agriculture in India
  • Digitization will ensure that penetration of PMFBY increases and that each farmer having access to credit is protected
  • Easy Internet access will allow farmers to learn and implement the latest technologies available in the field of agriculture
  • Integrating PACS with cooperative banks: To ensure flow of credit to small farmers, all functional primary agriculture credit societies (PACS) will be integrated with the core banking system of district cooperative banks
  • Linking e-NAM to commodities market: There is a proposal to link e-NAM (the National Agriculture Market) to the commodities market to allow farmers to access better prices for their produce

 

Importance of agricultural insurance

  • Financial stability: Agriculture is risky business and is susceptible to volatility in production and commodity prices. Insurance helps the farmers to mitigate post-harvest risk

 

The Change begins in 2005

Author states that agricultural insurance, about a decade ago developed mainly outside Asia

  • This started to change after 2005, when India and China began expanding their own agriculture insurance plans

 

Author’s contention

Still there is a low penetration of agricultural insurance in India

 

Reasons of low penetration

Agricultural insurance in India faces following challenges,

  • Insufficient risk coverage
  • Delayed and inaccurate claim assessment
  • Leakage

 

Key challenges

Author states that government through the PMFBY, is trying to bring more farmers (targeting 50% by 2018) under the scheme’s fold but several key challenges need to be addressed to achieve this goal

  1. Making forecasts with highest accuracy: It is important that forecasts for seasonal crop productions are made with the highest possible accuracy, and field warnings detected early so that an action plan may be implemented
  2. Equipping the stakeholders with necessary technical know-how: Stakeholders such as the government, insurers and agricultural research agencies need to be adequately equipped with the necessary technological know-how to deal with some of the farming issues

 

What should be done?

Author suggests that,

  • Move beyond bancassurance: Banks continue to distribute the insurance products linked to agriculture but as per author there is a need to move beyond this existing model
  • Introduce technology:The introduction of new technology services into agriculture can provide a more detailed picture of risk at the farm level without the costs of collecting data manually
  • Present situation: Government officials in India conduct random-sample crop-cutting experiments (CCEs) to arrive at estimations of yield at the sub-district level or at even finer granularity. The process is resource-heavy, and prone to sampling and non-sampling errors and manual subjectivities
  • Utilizing Internet of Things (IoT): The IoT promises increased yields, reduced costs and other efficiencies, with the deployment of sensors, connectivity and analytics
    • Broadcast of real-time info: Soil sensors as an IoT technology can also be used to broadcast real-time information on the state of the soil. This can be combined with other data to forecast crop yields
  • Utilizing satellite imagery: Satellite images can be used to
    • Map the crop types
    • Identify potential yield categories
    • Calculate the area under each potential yield category
    • Find locations with the maximum area and then select the number of samples for CCEs
  • Complementing satellite imagery with handheld devices: Satellite imagery can be complemented with hand-held devices and smartphones to procure multiple images, which capture the varied field conditions in a village
  • Usage of drones: Drones can also be used to
    • Take images, Recreate and analyse individual leaves from close-enough heights
    • Assist in pest control
    • Monitor mid-season crop health
    • Assess the soil-water-holding capacity
    • Create weed maps or frost damage maps

 



 

Categories
9 PM Daily NEWS Brief

9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – 17 February 2017



Front Page / NATIONAL

[1]. Talaq case may go to Constitution Bench

[2]. Set up mechanism to delete sex determination ads: SC

[3]. India, Afghanistan take a hard line on Taliban at Moscow conference

[4]. Potent malaria vaccine on the anvil

Editorial/OPINION

[1]. The bumps ahead

ECONOMY

[1]. ‘Low solar tariff viability depends on cost of debt’

Indian Express

[1]. Costs of denial: The State of Global Air report is another warning

Live Mint

[1]. A fiscal-consolidation budget that falls short on reforms


Click here to Download 9 PM Daily Brief PDF (17th Feb. 2017)

Front Page / NATIONAL


[1]. Talaq case may go to Constitution Bench

Talaq case may go to Constitution Bench


The Hindu

Context

The Centre’s question as to “whether personal law is ‘law’ under Article 13” is significant

What has happened?

Indicating that a Constitution Bench may hear the question whether triple talaq and polygamy violate the fundamental rights of Muslim women, the Supreme Court has said it had to examine if these personal law practices were the “fundamental traits” of the minority religion

Centre’s question: Whether personal law comes under the ambit of Article 13

The Centre asked the Supreme Court to determine whether personal laws can be brought under the ambit of Article 13 (laws inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights) of the Constitution

All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB)’s stance

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board had submitted that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to strike down any provisions of personal law, but organisations and Muslim women from various walks of life across the country urged the court to strike down triple talaq and polygamy as “un-Islamic.”

Significance

This is the first time that aggrieved persons — individual Muslim women — themselves have approached the Supreme Court in person to settle the law on whether religious law is immune from constitutional standards enshrined in the fundamental rights

What happens if petition succeeds in the SC?

If the Supreme Court agrees that personal laws are included in the definition of laws under Article 13, the door will be opened wide for an aggrieved person to challenge in court a particular personal law of a religion as violative of the fundamental rights. In case the challenge succeeds in court, the personal law, to the extent of its inconsistency, shall become void

Conflicting decisions of the court

The courts have made conflicting observations about the immunity enjoyed by personal laws

  • The Bombay High Court in State of Bombay versus NarasuAppa Mali had held that personal law is not ‘law’ under Article 13.
  • The court had observed that reformation of personal laws is best left to the legislature as “chosen representatives of the people” and not the judiciary. It said the phrase ‘customs and usages’ in Article 13 does not include personal laws of various religions. It held that Article 44 acquiesced the existence of varied personal laws. This 1951 judgment was never challenged in the Supreme Court.
  • In Ahmedabad Women Action Group versus Union of India , the Supreme Court was asked to consider whether unilateral divorce by triple talaq and polygamy were violative of Articles 14 and 15. The court rejected the claim, saying it was for the legislature to determine.

 


[2]. Set up mechanism to delete sex determination ads: SC

Set up mechanism to delete sex determination ads: SC


The Hindu

Context

‘Order to Internet giants is to make search engines responsive to Indian law’

What has happened?

The Supreme Court has ordered three Internet giants — Google, Microsoft and Yahoo — to immediately set up their own in-house expert bodies to keep tabs on and delete online pre-natal sex determination advertisements

  • A Nodal Agency: This step is in addition to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s move to set up a nodal agency to receive complaints on violation of Section 22 of the 1994 Act

Legal clause

Section 22 of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994 prohibits advertisements relating to pre-natal determination of sex and imposes punishment. However, ads continue to appear online, rendering the law toothless

Directions by the court

  • Appoint in-house experts: The court ordered that the search engines “shall appoint their ‘In-House Expert Body’ which shall take steps to see that if any words or any key words that can be shown on the Internet which has the potentiality to go counter to Section 22 of the 1994 Act, should be deleted forthwith
    • The in-house expert body “shall on its own understanding” delete anything that violates the letter and spirit of language of Section 22 of the 1994 Act. In case of doubt, they are free to approach the Ministry’s nodal agency and be guided by the latter


[3]. India, Afghanistan take a hard line on Taliban at Moscow conference

India, Afghanistan take a hard line on Taliban at Moscow conference


The Hindu

Context

Oppose view of Russia, China, Pakistan to involve Taliban in reconciliation efforts

What has happened?

India and Afghanistan took a hard line at the six-nation talks in Moscow, opposing the dominant view from Russia, China and Pakistan to involve the Taliban in reconciliation efforts

Occasion

Russia hosted representatives from six countries for discussions aimed at encouraging the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government

  • Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran and India took part in the gathering, which came less than two months after a similar meeting between Russia, China and Pakistan.
  • The United States, for the second time in a row, was not invited

India’s stance

  • Denying “safe havens or sanctuaries to any terrorist group or individual in countries of our region,” was essential to stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan
  • Reconciliation efforts must be driven by the Afghanistan government and could only be facilitated by “friends and well-wishers of Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s stance

  • Referring to Pakistan’s stand on “good/bad Taliban” echoed by officials in Moscow, and the talks between China and Taliban officials last year, Afghanistan’s representative said
    • The key challenge to the process remains a policy selectivity by some to distinguish between good and bad terrorists, even though terrorism is a common threat that confronts the whole region, where if one of us doesn’t stand firm against it, others’ counter-terrorism efforts will not bear the results we all seek
  • Afghanistan also made a strong pitch for the United States to be included as one of its most important partners

 


[4]. Potent malaria vaccine on the anvil

Potent malaria vaccine on the anvil


The Hindu

Context

Encouraged by the trials, researchers say the registered vaccine will reached the market in two years

What has happened?

A malaria vaccine that mimics a mosquito bite yielded encouraging results in human trials, raising hopes for thwarting a parasite that kills a child every two minutes.

Name of the drug

The candidate drug, called PfSPZ, provided up to 100% protection for 10 weeks in a trial in Germany, although a trial in real life conditions in Mali gave a lower level of defence, they reported in two separate studies

  • PfSPZ is being developed against the Plasmodium falciparum mosquito-borne parasite, by far the deadliest type. Further trials are to follow in Mali, Ghana, the U.S. and Gabon.

Working

PfSPZ uses a live, immature form of the malaria parasite, called a sporozoite, to stimulate an immune reaction in humans. Two types of vaccine is there,

  • One, in which sporozites are radiated before being injected (Irradiated sporozites). In this case a high dosage of live malaria parasites i.e. sporozites was administered to volunteers. The highest dose conferred up to 100% immunity
  • Second is the one in which Sporozites are not exposed to radiation. These are injected along with Chloroquine. In this case a low dosage was administered to volunteers

Observations

All the volunteers in the high-dose group enjoyed malaria protection 10 weeks after the last dose, compared to six out of nine in the medium and three out of nine in the low-dose groups

Another vaccine

Another vaccine called RTS,S, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is being tested in children — the most affected population.It is considered the most advanced candidate, but results last year from a Kenyan trial showed it was only about four per cent effective after seven years


 


Editorial/OPINION


[1]. The bumps ahead

The bumps ahead


The Hindu

Context

Assessing inflation risk in the time of spiking prices and damp consumer sentiment

Nothing relevant in particular. Article talks about increasing wholesale inflation and future risks that might destabilize government’s fiscal calculations.

Give it a light read


 


ECONOMY


[1]. ‘Low solar tariff viability depends on cost of debt’

‘Low solar tariff viability depends on cost of debt’


The Hindu

Context

Article talks about the observations made in the recently released ICRA report

 What has happened?

The recently-concluded bid for three 250 MW units in the Rewa plant in Madhya Pradesh saw tariffs falling below ₹3 per unit, sparking some concern in the industry that tariffs were becoming unviably low

ICRA (Investment Information and Credit Rating Agency)
After CRISIL, ICRA is India’s second credit rating agency which was set up in 1991

Observations

  • Major improvement in cost competitiveness: The recently-concluded bid for three 250 MW units in the Rewa plant in Madhya Pradesh signifies a major improvement in the cost competitiveness of solar energy against both alternate renewable as well as conventional energy sources
    • With competitive bidding route adopted for award of solar projects &fall in PV module price levels, cost competitiveness of solar PV bid tariff has thus significantly improved as evident in decline from ₹6.5/kwh in calendar year 2014 to ₹5.0/kwh in calendar year 2016, and further to ₹3.3/kwh for bidding of project capacity in the Rewa Solar Park

What is competitive bidding?

Transparent’ procurement method in which bids from competing contractors, suppliers, or vendors are invited by openly advertising the scope, specifications, and terms and conditions of the proposed contract as well as the criteria by which the bids will be evaluated

  • Such low tariffs in Madhya Pradesh were enabled by a few favourable factors in the project power purchase agreements such as a
    • State government guarantee for the contracted capacity by the utility
    • Compensation for deemed generation(This means the producer is paid even if the electricity is not taken due to grid issues)in case of non-availability of the grid

 What is deemed generation?

The energy which a station was capable of generating but could not generate due to the conditions of grid or power system, beyond the control of generating station

Wind vs Thermal plants

The average feed-in tariff for wind energy and competitively bid thermal plants in the last 24 months has remained at ₹ 4.8/kwh and ₹4-5/kwh, respectively


 


Indian Express


[1]. Costs of denial: The State of Global Air report is another warning

Costs of denial: The State of Global Air report is another warning


Indian Express

Context

Article talks about the perverse effects of air pollution referring particularly to the recently released State of Global Air report prepared by the Boston-based Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the Washington University

Observations from the report

  • Premature deaths: Polluted air caused 91 early deaths out of 1 lakh Indians in 2015 while China, the world’s most populous country, lost 85 of its citizens
  1. Globally, there was 60 per cent rise in ozone attributable deaths, with a striking 67 per cent of this increase occurring in India.
  2. In 2015, long-term exposure to PM2.5 contributed to 4.2 million deaths and to a loss of 103 million years of healthy life. China and India together accounted for 52 per cent of the total global deaths attributable to PM2.5.
  3. It found that increasing exposure and a growing and aging population have meant that India now rivals China for among the highest air pollution health burdens in the world, with both countries facing some 1.1 million early deaths due to it in 2015.
  4. According to the report, while 1108100 deaths were attributed to PM2.5 exposure in China in 2015, in India, it was 10,90,400
  5. Around 92 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas with “unhealthy” air.
  6. Bangladesh and India, have experienced the steepest rise in air pollution levels since 2010 and now have the highest PM2.5 concentrations among the countries.
  7. Among the world’s 10 most populous countries and the EU, the biggest increase (14 per cent to 25 per cent) in seasonal average population-weighted concentrations of ozone over the last 25 years were experienced in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Brazil.
  8. China, India, Bangladesh, and Japan increases in exposure, combined with increases in population growth and aging, resulted in net increases in attributable mortality.
  9. Meanwhile, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India had PM2.5 attributable Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) rates that were 5 to 10 times the lowest rates, which were found in the US and Japan.

Source: KSG

Ignorance is not bliss

Author states that governments in India have largely been indifferent when it comes to environmental reports. But the government would be well-advised to not ignore the State of the Global Air report for several reasons.

  • GBD Data: The report draws on the Global Burden of Diseases data which is becoming an important tracker of health trends the world over. The State of Global Air Report ranks outdoor air pollution as the third leading health risk in the country

Graded Action Plan

The report comes a month after government announced its plan for a graded response to pollution

  • The plan involves upgradation of the Central Pollution Control Board infrastructure and additional monitoring stations within six months
  • Roadmap for rest of the country: The plan is intended towards Delhi-NCR region but it will provide a roadmap to the rest of the country
  • Including Ozone: Author states that the plan should take into account a new pollutant mentioned in the report i.e. Ozone, as the increasing rate of Ozone-related deaths are alarming. The report notes a 148 per cent increase in ozone-related deaths since 1990
    • Ozone monitoring stations: Graded action plan should establish ozone monitoring stations as a first step towards addressing Ozone-related pollution

Read More: You can read the report here, GBD


 


Live Mint


[1]. A fiscal-consolidation budget that falls short on reforms

A fiscal-consolidation budget that falls short on reforms


Live Mint

Context

The most urgent reform unfortunately omitted is the resolution of non-performing loans and the clean-up of corporate and bank balance sheets

Article talks about the budgetary measures, things which could have been done and positives that budget tries to accomplish.

You can give it a light read, as positives and negatives of the budget has been dealt in ample detail in previous briefs.


 


 

 

 

 

Categories
Mains Marathon

Answered: Mains Marathon – UPSC Mains Current Affairs Questions – February 15



1.How can India strengthen its intellectual property rights infrastructure without being influenced by US? Examine. (GS 3)

भारत कैसे अमेरिका से प्रभावित हुए बिना अपने बौद्धिक संपदा अधिकारों के बुनियादी ढांचे को मजबूत कर सकता है? जांच करें।


Suggested Answer:

A robust IPR regime provides protection to industrial patents, trademarks, and industrial innovations. It promotes competition this way. A bad IPR regime will mean violation of trade rights and misuse of patents which will discourage innovation in the long run.

Indian IPR regime is influenced by US by various ways:

– United States Trade Representative (USTR) special 301 report has put India into “Priority watch list” citing its bad IPR regime. This creates a bad global image for India.

– US has criticized section 3(d) and Section 84 of Indian Patents Act 1970. This section prevents “evergreening” of patents. SC upheld the patent cancellation of cancer drug Glivec manufactured by Novartis citing this section. This has been criticized by US corporate bodies.

– US also discredits Indian argument of developing indigenous capabilities for solar panel manufacturing in the Domestic Content Requirements dispute. This dispute was taken to WTO which decided in favour of USA.

– US and other developed countries exert hegemony in bodies such as WTO (for trade related IPR) and WIPO (for non-trade related IPR). Thus US has been influencing our IP regime in many ways.

India needs to do the following to strengthen its IPR infrastructure without US influence:

  1. Under Make in India, it needs to create an Indian brand value which will improve India’s global image: a solution to subjective USTR reports.
  2. India needs global support to finance innovation and RnD in renewables, especially in solar energy. Hence provision like DCR can get global recognition through platform like International solar alliance, Global climate funding etc.
  3. India needs to tap frugal innovation in rural areas and the TKDL, in order to increase its global share of patents, and create awareness regarding Indian innovation. Atal Innovation Mission under Niti Aayog as well as several IP awareness programmes being run by Commerce ministry are a good step in this regard.
  4. Training professionals like patent examiners in order to bring down the time to grant patents to 1 month, as envisaged in the National IPR policy 2016.
  5. Coming out with clear cut policy guidelines on the use of Sec 3(d) and Section 84 of the Patents Act, to provide stability to pharma MNCs against arbitrary misuse by government. The guidelines need to be backed by SC judgements in Glivec and Natco pharma case.
  6. Modernize its patent offices and leverage technology under Digital India to understand and apply global best practices of IPR management.
  7. Resist attempts by the US to alter the existing TRIPS mechanisms to the detriment of India and other developing countries.
    8. Ensure efficient working of IPAB, preferably by filling vacancies, opening more branches, digitizing records, and ensuring faster clearance of cases.

The best way forward, in order to counter US influence, is improving Indian brand image, creating awareness and providing a transparent and fair IP regime. For this, more needs to be done in addition to implementation of the National IPR policy 2016. Government and the civil society have to work in tandem to ensure that India gains and maintains an advantage in global knowledge economy.


2.“Speedy trials require coordination between government and the judiciary.” Critically evaluate. (GS 2)

“स्पीडी ट्रायल के लिए सरकार और न्यायपालिका के बीच समन्वय की आवश्यकता है।” समीक्षकों का मूल्यांकन करें।


Suggested Answer:

A recent NCRB report shows that nearly 67% of all inmates in Indian prisons are undertrials. Judiciary is faced with mounting pendency of cases, and the Executive and Judiciary are at loggerheads over the issue of judicial appointments.

In this context, coordination between Executive and Judiciary will help speed up the trials in the following manner:

  1. Coordination in matters of judicial appointments will lead to filling up of vacancies and faster disposal of cases. Logjam is being cleared with options such as the Memorandum of Procedure and the search-cum-evaluation committee, which have to ensure independence of judiciary while also ensuring transparency.
  2. Coordination in matters of funding the Judiciary will increase the latter’s efficiency and help speed up trials. Currently, less than 1% of the budget is spent on judiciary. Funding needs to be directed towards upgrading physical infrastructure, digitization of records, and giving an impetus to e-courts.
  3. Government is the biggest litigator. Thus, it needs to curb frivolous litigation in order to reduce the burden on judiciary. National Litigation Policy is being implemented to this effect. This will reduce pendency and speed up the trials.
  4. Proper funding as well as legislative framework for Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms will lead to speeding up of trials as small and petty cases as well as large scale commercial disputes will be solved by these means. International Centre for Alternate Dispute Resolution (ICADR) is a good step.
  5. Reforms in the police framework and strengthening of BPRD will lead to a responsive and efficient police force, which will ensure that the undertrials are treated according to law. For example, under Sec. 167 of CrPC, a judge can extend detainee’s custody for 15 days at a time. However, prisoners are held in custody for far longer, and not produced before a judge after the time frame.
  6. Coordination between Rajya Sabha, government and the judiciary in order to introduce an Indian Judicial Service can lead to merit-based appointments of judges, which will increase the efficiency of the judiciary while providing an impetus to legal education in the country.

However, it is not only coordination which is necessary to speed up trials.
There needs to be a sense of respect for the constitution and all the branches of the State – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, need to work within the spheres allocated to them. Judicial activism and overreach are problems these days, but they have arisen only because of policy paralysis and the other two organs not stepping up to solve problems of their respective domains.

Simultaneously, the citizens need to become aware about the laws, so as to maintain deterrence. A disproportionate number of undertrials belong to minorities and dalits, which are also the most disadvantaged sections in terms of literacy and livelihood.
Increasing literacy, transparency, and awareness about the laws are therefore essential to prevent crime in the first place.

Successive governments have undertaken several reforms for judiciary. National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, which includes research on reforms, e-Courts Phase II, Strengthening Acces to Justice in India (SAJI – supported by UNDP) is one of these. There needs to be coordination and trust amongst the government and the judiciary in order to ensure timely justice to the citizens, as envisaged in Article 21 of the constitution.


3.“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” Discuss. (GS 4)

“राय ज्ञान और अज्ञान के बीच का माध्यम है।” चर्चा करें।


Suggested Answer:

Humans are thinking beings, and thinking leads us to develop a worldview which is unique to each individual. This worldview is nothing but a set of opinions regarding the things, relationships and issues that surround us.

Opinion must be well-grounded in facts. Only then it can withstand critical analysis. But this seldom happens. Such an opinion is one of ignorance.

For example, I may hold an opinion that all fats and oils are bad for health. This opinion of mine may have been shaped by media, friends or relatives.
However, it is not based in facts and is therefore an opinion of ignorance. Offering this opinion during the course of a discussion will lead to a knowledgeable person enlightening me about the actual facts – that there are good fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oils, which are essential for body functions.
This conversation has made me gain knowledge of facts regarding oils, and thus my opinion has served as a medium between knowledge and ignorance.

The Socratic or dialectic method is frequently used to arrive at truth. It involves two people voicing their opinions and arguments. What emerges out of those arguments is not only the truth, but also enlightenment of the people who were arguing. They are now knowledgeable about the facts they were ignorant of. Thus, opinion serves as a medium between ignorance and knowledge.

In another example, people often hold the opinion that using cellphones causes cancer. However, it is only by voicing their opinion would they be able to learn about SAR limits, emissions and their effect on human body etc. Thus, an opinion, borne out of ignorance, has acted as a bridge to knowledge.

They say that ignorance is bliss. But knowledge is liberation, and it is only by knowledge that a man’s mind can truly be set free from the shackles of superstition and ignorance.


 

Categories
Daily Editorials for UPSC IAS Exam Preparation

Daily Editorial – Repairing India- China relations



  • Repairing India- China relations
  1. Background
  2. What are the suggestions made?
  3. Could there be a hidden agenda behind the suggestions?
  4. Do the suggestions made hold any water?
  5. Why is India reluctant to join OBOR initiative?
  6. What can India do as a counter measure to CPEC?
  7. A final word of caution

Click here to Download Daily Editorial PDF (3rd Feb. 2017)


Repairing India- China relations


 

Background


The provocations from China amount to a sort of ‘hostility’ against our nationhood, from their staking claim over the state of Arunachal Pradesh, occupation of the Shaksgam Valley in Ladakh, pumping up Pakistan with military, nuclear and missile capabilities – a brazen recourse to destabilize India, negation of New Delhi’s stance on terrorism with its incomprehensible stand on the listing of known terrorist Masood Azhar under the U.N. Security Council’s 1267 Committee, China’s obduracy on India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bid, the deployment of Chinese military and engineering assets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) exemplify Beijing’s obsessive antipathy towards India.

In this context, the Chinese Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, has recently put forward some suggestions for improvement of bilateral ties between China and India.


What are the suggestions made?


  • A friendship and cooperation treaty.
  • A free trade agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral relations.
  • Joining of hands on China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.
  • Resolve the boundary question based on negotiations held so far.

Let us examine the suggestions made, in detail:


Could there be a hidden agenda behind the suggestions?


It could be part of an effort within the Chinese establishment to review relations with neighbours like India, given the strategic uncertainties generated by the advent of Donald Trump’s.

  • Trump had made a phone call to Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-webefore he took office;
  • He had also proclaimed intention to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese goods.
  • The new U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson of Trump’s administrations had thinly disguised threats against China’s building of artificial islands in the disputed areas in the South China Sea.

All this have generated concern in Beijing.


Do the suggestions made hold any water?


  • The state bilateral relations is soar and the extent of unresolved political and security issues are many, there is also huge deficit in the trade balance, a treaty of friendship and cooperation may only look good on paper but cannot be a transformative document.
  • The suggestion FTA is forward-looking. Trade between India and China has grown to an annual volume of $70 billion (2015-16). Chinese investments under Make in India in infrastructure development, solar energy and smart cities will be helpful. An FTA that is goods-centred will obviously not benefit India given the huge trade in goods imbalance that favours China. An FTA that is comprehensive, covering goods and services, cross-border investment, R&D, standards and dispute resolution would be worth exploring for India.

Why is India reluctant to join OBOR initiative?


India’s reaction to China’s OBOR has been non-committal, mainly because of the CPEC through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. At the same time, India is a part of the frontline membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that is funding OBOR.

The provisions of the 1963 China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement which conceded the disputed nature of the territory (in what Pakistan now calls Gilgit-Baltistan but what is a part of Jammu and Kashmir) covered under the agreement but today the Chinese have chosen to disregard the sovereignty issues surrounding the dispute between India and Pakistan over the State of J&K.


What can India do as a counter measure to CPEC?


  1. India should explore the development of connectivity between Tibet and India, especially through the Sikkim sector into Bengal. The old route between Lhasa and Kolkata via Nathu La was the most easily traversed route; this is a road that provided for the transport of goods and services between Tibet and the outside world through India. This can be a true test of Chinese positivity; it would also be approval for India to open a Trade Office in Lhasa in place of the old Consulate General that operated there until 1962.
  2. An opening of ties between India and the Xinjiang region of China is also worth examining. Providing for air connectivity between Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province and New Delhi as one of the OBOR linkages would help the promotion of people-to-people ties, trade and commercial contact and could also help open a new chapter in counter-terrorism cooperation between India and China. The two countries have a common interest in curbing religious radicalism and terrorism. Kashmir and Xinjiang, both contiguous neighbours, have similar challenges posed by terrorism and separatist movements.

A final word of caution


Maturity of approach and strategic patience is a way forward.There has been peace between the two countries, from the 1970s till date;it deserves preservation and not disturbance. Competitive coexistence, with a clear delineation of areas of difference and how to manage them, the promotion of business and people-centred connectivity, and mutual confidence-building with tension-reduction measures cannot do any harm as such. But border problem can take time to be solved.

China is anxious to find a new market for its huge reserves of surplus cash and as another avenue for investment, and India is an attractive and huge market. Undoubtedly it will benefit if China invests in India’s infrastructure (Roads, flyovers, railways, hydro-electric projects, multi-storey office and residential buildings, are sectors that can benefit from Chinese investment) but India will need to carefully decide the direction in which to steer Chinese business as otherwise, in a democratic set up such as India’s, China will soon acquire a powerful business lobby capable of adversely influencing national strategic decisions.

In order to ensure strategic flexibility and increased investment, we must balance by offering similar competitive opportunities to other countries like Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. India can particularly benefit in the hi-tech, advanced electronics and defence sectors by encouraging investments from Japan and Taiwan on very preferential terms.

 


 

Categories
Newspaper

Must Read News Articles – December 9


Archives



The Hindu


Front Page / NATIONAL


Allahabad High Court: triple talaq is ‘cruel’, ‘most demeaning’ to women: Divorce permissible only in extreme emergency, when reconciliation efforts fail.

Centre unveils discounts to fuel switch to digital mode: The Centre is giving a push to alternative payment methods after its decision to withdraw high-denomination bank notes has triggered a shortage of cash that has impacted economic activity and livelihoods, particularly in the rural hinterland.

A more muscular rice variety takes on wheat: Bengaluru researchers raise a high-protein strain that could help diabetics.


INTERNATIONAL


India, U.S. talk defence partnership: India and the U.S. on Thursday finalized the specifications for designating India a ‘Major Defence Partner’ of the U.S.

‘U.K. must remain India’s gateway to EU’: The U.K. must maintain “free and unfettered access” to the European market to ensure it continues to be a gateway for Indian businesses to the EU, Wales First Minister said.


Editorial/OPINION


Making of a mammoth tragedy: The decision to demonetise will cause grievous injury to the honest Indian who earns wages in cash. The dishonest black money hoarder will get away with a mere rap on the knuckles.

A reform at risk: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is keeping his fingers crossed about sticking to the April 1, 2017 target to implement the Goods and Services Tax regime.

Accounting for natural capitalBiodiversity integration into developmental plans is crucial for sustainable development.


ECONOMY


Labour Ministry kept in the dark over made-ups sector labour reform package: The Union Cabinet’s decision to make employees’ contribution to Employees Provident Fund (EPF) optional in the made-ups sector on Wednesday took the Union labour ministry by surprise.


Indian Express


Crossing the chasm: In government’s push for a cashless economy, policy and regulation must focus on competition, innovation.


Live Mint



 

 

Categories
Newspaper

Must Read News Articles – December 5


Archives


must-read


The Hindu


Front Page / NATIONAL


India, Afghanistan corner Pak. on terror at Amritsar: Mr. Modi and Mr. Ghani jointly inaugurated the ministerial deliberations at the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process conference.

‘Centre doesn’t have to raise dispute with foreign govt. over private claim’: The court made the statement while denying relief to a woman who had sought directions to the Centre to take action for the realisation of the money deposited by her deceased husband.

Environment Ministry postpones forest policy indefinitely: It has decided to abstain from committing to a timeframe by which it would have a third of India’s land under forest or tree cover, a key promise of the Forest Policy.

Army going great guns with deal for U.S. howitzers: India’s deal with the U.S. for 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers (ULH) finally breaks a long-running jinx for the Army, which has failed to induct any new artillery gun in the three decades since the Bofors scandal erupted in the late-1980s. Deals for several other types of artillery guns are in various stages of procurement.


INTERNATIONAL


“It’s Pakistan’s turn to open the door”: An isolated Pakistan is not in the region’s interests, but Pakistan’s leadership must take action beyond its verbal assurances.

Sagarmala could deepen India’s trade and investment ties with China: India’s decision to rapidly develop ports, especially along the east coast, and China’s renewed focus on an expansion of its harbours are resulting in an unintended fusion of the Sagarmala initiative and Beijing’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR).


Editorial/OPINION


Due diligence, unsafe drugs: The Delhi High Court verdict quashing all notifications banning the manufacture and sale of 344 Fixed Dose Combination (FDC) drugs is a lesson in how not to administer a regulatory law.

A roadmap for the CBI: The investigative agency must proceed against its own erring officers and liberate itself from red-tapism.


ECONOMY


As India goes digital, hacking targets multiply: Phishing websites created by cybercriminals spoofed 26 Indian banks in order to steal personal information.


Indian Express


Tightening the net: The doctrine of extradition ensures an orderly process that protects the fugitive’s interests as it is subject to judicial review.

Over the barrel: The case for an energy ombudsman: A new department with executive authority will ensure energy sector is reinvigorated.


Live Mint


The unresolved problem of twin balance sheet: Even in a favourable economic condition, revival may be difficult for some companies.

More decentralization and more democracy: Decentralization is not merely for local governments, it also extends to greater flexibility for states.


 

Categories
Uncategorized

Analysis of Sri Lanka Presidential Elections 2015 and Implications for India

Maithripala Sirisena defeated the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The election was significant for many reasons : –

• Rajapaksa sought a third term by amending the Constitution of Sri Lanka – that incumbent president could contest any number of times. And he lost.

•  The election took place two years earlier than the actual schedule.

•  2015 election was the second presidential election after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  The military defeat of the LTTE did not work in Rajapaksa’s favour in this election. The minority community – Muslims, Tamil votes played a decisive role in defeating Rajapaksa.

• The reasons of Rajapaksa’s defeat were growing inflation, lack of economic opportunities , corruption and resentment of rural population against foreign companies involved in the agricultural sector. China’s increased involvement was also an issue brought in front by Sirisena. Increasing militarisation in Northern Province and slow progress in rebuilding war torn areas and failure in offering a concrete political solution worked against Rajapaksa.

How will India- Sri Lanka relations shape up now ?

• Sirisena has promised to evolve a more balanced approach in SL’s relations with both China and India. India should note that SL will not discard its relation with China. However the excessive tilt towards China by Rajapaksa will be addressed by the new President and he has suggested India should take advantage of the new position. The new Foreign minister of SL’s first visit being India and the first foreign visit of Sirisena is also going to be that to India. This gesture itself speaks volumes. An early visit to Colombo by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as part of India’s “neighbourhood first” diplomacy could indeed be the first step towards that exploration. 

• Cooperation is likely to continue in areas of development assistance, economic and security cooperation. India is hopeful that SL will consider having a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement ( CEPA ). India has a Free Trade Agreement ( FTA ) with SL right now. Given the potential of maritime security in Indina Ocean region, India – SL should revisit the defence cooperation pact of 2003. 

•  India and Sri Lanka bilateral relations will depend on whether the new government will consider India’s concerns about the reconciliation process with Tamil minorities. The implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka is an option that can devolve powers to the provinces.

•  There is also the question of fishermen issue and both the countries need to find a permanent solution involving the fishermen on both sides.

The new government in Colombo and a stronger political dispensation in India have the opportunity to restart the relation with a renewed vigour.