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GS: 1


Dealing with hijacking(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

India had repealed Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982 in 2016

The need for new stricter law:

  • The hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999 and the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., in which aircraft were used as missiles, made India realize that it needs to tighten the 1982 anti-hijacking law.
  • The need was also felt to make hijacking punishable with death penalty.
  • The government felt that the Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982 had insufficient penalties and was not comprehensive enough to deal with new challenges.

Highlights of the Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016

  • The Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016 repealed the 1982 Act.
  • Its objectives are in accordance to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft.
  • The Act further incorporated the September 2010 Beijing Protocol Supplementary to the Convention which specifically dealt with “unlawful acts against civil aviation by new types of threats”.
  • The Act highlighted the government’s concern for expedient measures to be taken during hostile acts of seizure or exercise of control of aircraft which jeopardise the safety of persons and property.
  • The new law revamped Section 3 of the 1982 legislation to expand the definition of hijacking to seizure or takeover of an aircraft using “any technological means”.
  • The law takes into consideration the possibility that a hijacker need not be physically present inside the aircraft to take control of it. According to the Act, even a credible “threat” to hijack an aircraft amounts to hijacking.
  • The definition of ‘hijacking’ further includes an attempt to commit the crime, abetting, organising, participating in it as an accomplice, and unlawfully and intentionally assisting a person involved in hijacking to evade investigation or prosecution or punishment.
  • Section 4 of the Act allows capital punishment if the hijacking leads to the death of a hostage, a security personnel, or any person not involved in the offence. The alternative is life imprisonment.
  • According to the Act, an aircraft is considered to be “in-service” from the beginning of its pre-flight preparation by ground personnel or crew for a specific flight until 24 hours after “any landing”.

You value a rape at ₹6,500, ‘shocked’ SC asks M.P. govt.(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Are you doing charity by paying 6,500 to a rape victim, asked the Supreme Court on Thursday after going through an affidavit filed by the Madhya Pradesh government on the compensation given under the Nirbhaya Fund scheme.

Introduction:

  • The Supreme Court said that it was “shocking” that Madhya Pradesh, which was among the States that received maximum funds from the Centre under the Nirbhaya scheme, was disbursing a meagre 6,000-6,500 to each victim of sexual assault.
  • There are 1,951 rape victims in Madhya Pradesh .
  • The court had last month directed all States and Union Territories to file an affidavit indicating the amount received by them under the Nirbhaya Fund, the amount disbursed by them and the number of victims who had received it.
  • As many as 24 States and UTs are yet to file their affidavits.
  • In its order, the Bench noted that despite all talks, discussions and intent expressed on gender justice, 24 States and UTs have not yet filed their affidavits.
  • It asked these States and UTs to file their affidavits within four weeks, “if at all they were interested” in the welfare of women.

About Nirbhaya Fund Scheme:

  • The Nirbhaya Fund scheme was announced by the Centre in 2013 after the horrific December 16, 2012 gang-rape and murder case in Delhi, to support the initiatives of governments and NGOs working for women’s safety.

Haryana:

  • The Haryana government also faced the wrath of the top court for not filing its affidavit giving details of the Nirbhaya Fund disbursement.

A deepening crisis(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

In 1966, the Kothari Commission had recommended that India should target at spending 6% of its GDP on education. However, even after 5 decades, India’s spending on education remains very low.

Why in news?

  • When it comes to the education, Union Budget 2018 has offered a marginal increase on different routine expenses and reduction on some.
  • In the Budget Speech the Finance Minister has referred to the importance of teacher education which has been appreciated.

Fund Issues:

  • Despite favourable social climate, education has failed to become a matter of national concern.
  • Budget spending on education has been low
  • Union Budget 2018 has offered a marginal increase on different routine expenses and reduction on some.
  • There has been no sign of funds to enable institutional recovery after a prolonged period of damage caused by financial cuts in higher education.
  • Elementary education has been facing a crunch in supply of funds for improvement in quality

Issues with Teacher Training:

  • Teacher training constitutes a relatively invisible, low-status sector of the education system.
  • It has seldom received high-level attention.
  • A few prestigious colleges that were set up under British rule a century ago have lost their importance.
  • In the discourse of policy too, teacher training lacked emphasis. The current popular term ‘public policy’ does not cover teacher education at all.
  • The Verma Committee Report highlighted the dismal state of teacher education, especially the corruption that has seeped into the regulatory system put in place in the mid-1990s.

Four-Year Option:

  • The Finance Minister made a special mention of the four-year integrated B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) programme as a way forward for achieving quality in teacher training.
  • But the major hurdle being that teacher education will have to pay for its own growth.
  • What the government is willing to invest in is mainly the in-service part of the sector.
  • Institutions of higher education directly or indirectly affect teachers for all levels.
  • The teachers affected by conditions in undergraduate colleges degrade the state of education
  • Therefore, most importantly there has to be more public spending and a recovery plan to bring about changes in higher education for better teacher training.

GS: 2


International relations:

Making up for lost time(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • Justice Trudeau , Canada’s  Prime Minister’s visit to India.

Introduction:

  • This is his first trip to India after he became Prime Minister in 2015.

Khalistani issue:

  • The ‘Khalistani’ issue has figured prominently between India and Canada at all levels.
  • However, Canadian political leaders and parties continue to mollycoddle the Khalisanti elements in the quest for electoral gains.

Recent developments:

  • Another welcome development in recent years has been a spike in investments by the well-endowed Canadian Pension Funds like CPPIB and CDPQ into India.
  • Together, Canadian companies have have pumped in some $12-15 billion Canadian in India in sectors including real estate, financial services, distressed assets, modern logistics facilities and e-commerce.
  • The bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPA), which have been under negotiation for several years, will help in boosting economic partnership between the two countries.
  • It would particularly open up the services sector allowing highly skilled Indian professionals, for whom there is a ready demand, to work in Canada.
  • BIPPA is closer to finalisation, but India would prefer that both agreements be operationalised in one go.

A strategic partnership

  • During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Canada in April 2015, both sides agreed to elevate their bilateral relations to a strategic partnership.
  • The ties essentially rest on 3Es — economy, energy and education.
  • India has started importing uranium from Canada, beginning 2015.
  • Canada also has sizeable reserves of oil and gas.
  • Over time Canada could become a key partner in India’s quest for energy security.
  • Indian students have begun heading for vocational and higher education to Canada in larger numbers.
  • Canada routinely provides a three-year work visa upon completion of studies, which opens up avenues of gainful employment and citizenship.
  • Canada also continues with a liberal immigration policy.
  • In 2016, some 40,000 Indian immigrants were admitted into the country.
  • Both nations also have some collaboration in agri-tech and much more can be done.

Way ahead:

  • There is enough potential for stepping up cooperation in areas like information technology, science and technology, clean and green tech, aviation and outer space, cold-climate warfare, cybersecurity, counterterrorism and tourism.
  • The need of the hour is to strengthen mutual trust and confidence, by taking a long-term view of the relationship.

Conclusion:

  • India and Canada must use Justin Trudeau’s visit to take a long-term view of bilateral ties

China slams Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh(The Hindu)

Context:

China has opposed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

Details:

  • China has firmly opposed P.M. Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh stating that it was not helpful in creating “enabling conditions” for boundary talks and improvement of India-China relationship
  • Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson further stated that China and India had reached “important consensus” on properly managing disputes, and the two sides were working to resolve the territorial disputes through negotiation and consultation.
  • China has also urged India to honour its commitment and abide by the relevant consensus, and refrain from taking any action that may complicate the boundary question.

Rouhani to push for investment(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Indian investment in Iran, including billions of dollars in connectivity, infrastructure and oil projects topped the agenda as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived for a three-day visit to India.

Positive and right track:

  • The two countries are on the same positive, right track.
  • The Chabahar investment project is a “key objective” for Iran while several MoUs would be signed after his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • The government was committed to “speeding up” work at the Chabahar Shahid Beheshti Project, denying reports that there had been any “slowdown” due to pressure from the U.S.

Threat of sanctions

  • The visit, which comes close on the heels of a decision by the Modi government to allow Indians to invest in Iran in rupees signals an independent line from the United States, which is threatening new sanctions against Iran in the coming months.
  • With the exception of Bhutan and Nepal, at present all foreign investments to be made in dollars. So investing in rupees in Iran is a step to boost interest in the country.
  • The rupee investment plan is expected to ease the path for businessmen wishing to circumvent challenges posed by the current sanctions regime against Iran.

Absence of banking and payment channels:

  • Many of the sanctions were lifted after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on nuclear scrutiny was signed in 2015.
  • The absence of banking and payment channels has been a challenge for Indian businessmen.
  • For addressing banking hassles, discussions on new investment routes, a double tax avoidance agreement, preferential trade agreements and a rupee-rial mechanism is going on.

Nepal gets new Communist Prime Minister: K P Sharma Oli sworn in for second time

Context:

CPN-UML Chairman K.P. Sharma Oli has sworn in as the 41st Prime Minister of Nepal

Details:

  • K.P. Sharma Oli has been appointed as the Prime Minister for the second time
  • He was the Prime Minister from October 11, 2015 to August 4, 2016.
  • He had to step down from the prime-ministerial post after the CPN (Maoist Centre) withdrew its support to his government.
  • Oli has claimed the Prime Minister’s post with the support of the Left alliance which had garnered a majority victory in the elections held in two phases on November 26 and December 7.
  • Maoist Centre and UML are set to merge soon

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Cauvery water dispute: Supreme Court to deliver verdict on February 16(The Hindu)

Context:

On 16th February the Supreme Court is expected to give its final verdict on Cauvery water dispute

Background:

  • The judgment will be passed on a batch of appeals by the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala challenging the 2007 award passed by the Cauvery River Water Disputes Tribunal
  • Over the years, the apex court has passed a series of orders setting a limit to the amount of water to be released by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu.
  • The state of Tamil Nadu had informed the court on 12 July 2016 that Karnataka had failed to fully comply with a series of orders passed by the court regarding timely release of water from the Cauvery River.
  • In October 2016, the court had directed Karnataka to release 2,000 cusecs of Cauvery water every day to Tamil Nadu till further orders
  • The court in December had said it was within its jurisdiction to hear appeals against the 2007 Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal award after the centre and Puducherry opposed the appeals saying that the Constitution expressly ousts the jurisdiction of the apex court in inter-state river water disputes.
  • After opposition from the centre, the apex court constituted a nine-member panel headed by G.S. Jha, chairperson of the Central Water Commission (CWC), and comprising members nominated by Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala to resolve the water-sharing dispute.
  • Karnataka had contested the final verdict of the dispute tribunals, arguing that a major share of the water will go to Tamil Nadu, leaving almost six Karnataka districts, including Bengaluru, without enough water for drinking and farming.
  • It was also claimed that Tamil Nadu had breached the 1924 agreement by extending its irrigation lands from the prescribed 21.38 lakh acres to 28.2 lakh acres utilising 566 tmc of Cauvery water.

The 2007 award:

  • The award had made an annual allocation of 419 TMC to Tamil Nadu in the entire Cauvery basin, 270 TMC to Karnataka, 30 TMC to Kerala, and 7 TMC to Puducherry.
  • It was notified by the government in 2013.
  • Tribunal held as valid the two agreements of 1892 and 1924 executed between the Governments of Madras and Mysore on the apportionment of water to Tamil Nadu

Agreement in 1892:

  • An agreement was signed in 1892 between the erstwhile princely State of Mysore and the Madras Government.
  • Karnataka had termed the agreement an “unconscionable bargain” reflecting an “inequality of bargaining power” and which has no validity after the birth of the Constitution
  • Tamil Nadu had countered that the 1892 agreement was preceded by a good deal of mutual consideration of both the interests of the Madras Presidency and Mysore State

Expectations from the Final Verdict:

  • It is expected that the court will put in place a scheme for peaceful and effective implementation of water sharing between the southern states.
  • The outcome of the legal battle ranging over a decade will also serve as a precedent on deciding water sharing disputes in the future.

Should Supreme Court proceedings be live-streamed?(The Hindu  Opinion)

Context:

The question is whether Supreme Court proceedings should be live-streamed

Arguments in favour:

  • It will enable the legal system to deliver on its promise of empowering the masses
  • It is important to make those matters that are of great public importance available for all to see. Example: public interest issues such as entry of women to the Sabarimala temple, or the constitutionality of the Aadhaar scheme, and similar other cases should be available for all to watch.

Strong reasons in favour of allowing live-streaming of court proceedings include:

  • The right to information,
  • Access to justice,
  • The need to build the right perception,
  • The need to educate common people on how the judiciary functions
  • To avoid multiple versions or wrong projections of facts

Arguments against:

  • Judges are accountable neither to the general public nor to the sovereign. They are accountable only to the rule of law and to the Constitution, as established by law.
  • The individuality of judges is more likely to become a subject of public debate through live-streaming, creating problems of its own
  • Live-streaming may also create practical problems. With live-streaming, there is a strong possibility that lawyers will tend to address not only the judges but also the public watching them.
  • The normalcy of the proceedings may also get hampered

Way Out:

  • Uniqueness of the Indian Supreme Court, its structure and processes, and the underlying problems that impede its effectiveness must be kept in kind

More fundamental reforms need to be implemented. These include:

  • Greater reliance on written briefs and the significance accorded to them,
  • Page limits for briefs,
  • Time limits for oral arguments
  • Greater emphasis on preparation in advance
  • The judiciary must also employ a press officer to liaise with the media, and issue simultaneously one or two page summaries of its judgments to facilitate greater public understanding.
  • Instead of live-streaming, audio and video recordings of court proceedings would reform the administration of justice

GS: 3


Economy:

Gem of a scam: On PNB fraud(The Hindu Editorial)

Context:

  • A regulatory filing to the stock exchanges by Punjab National Bank has blown the lid off a 11,500-crore fraud.

Introduction:

  • It is the largest such scam in India, it was perpetrated by a maverick diamond merchant in collusion with bank officials at a single branch in South Mumbai.
  • For India’s second largest bank to be defrauded in the manner suggested that there has been heightened scrutiny of public sector bank’s operations in the last few years.
  • The PNB has also issued a note to all the banks cautioning them against the modus operandi adopted in the fraud.
  • The bank found that the beneficiary companies were maintaining only current accounts with the branch and had not been sanctioned any credit limit.

What has happened?

  • Recently, PNB found that the SWIFT system had been misused by a junior-level branch officials, who had fraudulently issued letters of undertaking (LoUs) on behalf of some companies for availing buyers credit from overseas branches of Indian banks.
  • Preliminary investigation into the alleged fraudulent transactions worth 11,500 crore has revealed a complete breakdown of supervision and auditing mechanism in Punjab National Bank’s Mumbai branch and overseas branches of the other banks concerned.
  • The transactions remained undetected for almost seven years, despite the fact that the bank conducts internal and external audits on a regular basis.
  • Overseas branches of the other banks, which released payments on the request for settlement of import bills, also did not flag the discrepancies for such a long period.
  • The bank has pinned the whole blame on the then Deputy Manager, Gokulnath Shetty, and a low-rank staffer for the fraudulent issuance of Letters of Undertaking (LoU) on behalf of the three firms associated with diamond merchant Nirav Modi and his family members.
  • It is alleged that bills were also cleared for payments through PNB’s Nostro accounts with other banks that deal in foreign currency
  • As per rules, those availing such a credit facility are required to repay the loan within 90 days of the issuance of an LoU.

SWIFT system

  • In the PNB case, the accused officials misused the Society for Worldwide Inter-bank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) system to verify the fraudulently issued LoUs, conforming to the overseas branches of several banks that they could extend foreign exchange credit to the beneficiaries.
  • The SWIFT system is mainly used for clearing international wire transfers.

Accused book under Prevention of Corruption act:

  • The Central Bureau of Investigation has booked one retired and one serving PNB employee so far.
  • The Enforcement Directorate has registered a money laundering case in the matter.
  • It involves Mumbai-based billionaire diamond merchant Nirav Modi.

Banker-borrower nexus:

  • The banker-borrower nexus has been blamed for problems in the banking system for years.
  • This episode will set off fears of a nexus deeper than imagined.
  • The RBI and investigating agencies should act speedily to restore trust in the banking system.

Steps taken by Enforcement Directorate:

  • The Enforcement Directorate may soon write to all the banks to report any fraudulent transaction, for speedy action against those involved.
  • Alarmed by the manner in which Letters of Undertaking (LoU) were fraudulently issued to importers in connivance with certain PNB officials, the agency suspects that the same modus operandi could have been adopted in other banks to raise funds illegally in the name of settling import bills.

Letter of Undertaking(LoU):

  • LoU is a bank guarantee generated on behalf of importers for payments abroad.
  • Under this arrangement, the issuing bank agrees to unconditionally repay the principal amount and interest thereupon. It remains valid for three months.

Parliamentary Panel seeks FinMin report(The Hindu)

Context:

Recently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has questioned finance ministry officials about the $1.77 billion fraud in the state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) and asked them to submit a report on it.

Details:

  • The Committee has questioned the recapitalisation process of the state-run banks
  • Members of the Committee expressed their concern over such large scale fraud in the Punjab National Bank

About the Committee:

  • The committee is headed by senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily
  • Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also member.

Trade deficit widens to $16.3bn in Jan.(The Hindu)

Context:

According to the data released by the Commerce Ministry India’s goods trade deficit has widened to $16.30 billion in January 2018

Highlights:

  • The goods trade deficit has widened to $16.30 billion in January 2018 from $9.9 billion in the same month a year ago and $14.88 billion in the previous month owing to imports outpacing exports
  • The January trade deficit is a more than three-year high.
  • Exports for January went up by 9.07% year-on-year to $24.38 billion.
  • However, goods imports rose 26.1% to $40.68 billion.
  • Exports have been on a positive trajectory since August 2016 to January 2018 with a dip of 1.1% in the month of October 2017

Imports and Exports:

  • During the April-January 2017-18 period, trade deficit was $131.15 billion.
  • Exports during April-January 2017-18 increased by 11.75% to $247.89 billion,
  • However, imports during the 10-month period of the current fiscal registered a 22.21% growth to $379.05 billion.
  • Oil and non-oil imports during January jumped by 42.64% and 20.49% to $11.65 billion and $29 billion, respectively
  • Shipments of ready-made garments declined by 8.38% to $1.39 billion last month in January
  • Shipments of chemicals, engineering goods and petroleum products grew by 33%, 15.77% and 39.5% in January
  • Gold imports shrunk 22% to $1.59 billion.
  • According to the data by the Reserve Bank, the exports in services in December 2017 were valued at $16 billion. The imports stood at $9.85 billion.

According to Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO)

  • Though exports in January 2018 witnessed positive growth for third time in a row, the rate of growth is declining on a month-on-month basis.
  • Of export growth of about 9%, more than 6% has been contributed by petroleum products alone.
  • Labour-intensive sectors like garments, carpets, handicrafts, man-made textiles are exhibiting negative growth primarily due to liquidity crunch emanating from blocking of funds in GST
  • FIEO has estimated that the trade deficit in this fiscal will touch about $150 billion

Way Out:

  • FIEO wants the government to look into the refund issues by undertaking a clearance drive so as to clear all cases by March 31, 2018.
  • Alternatively, banks may be asked to finance exporters against the pending GST refund claims with interest to be borne by the government

Boost for women’s cooperatives(The Hindu)

Context:

Women’s cooperative societies in Rajasthan are expected to get a boost

Details:

  • Women’s cooperative societies in Rajasthan will get loans for dairy and animal husbandry works at 5.50% interest rate from cooperative land development banks.
  • The State government intends to bring one million women within the purview of cooperative sector.
  • Under the State government’s Sahakaar Mahila Kalyan Yojana, cooperative loans worth Rs. 200 crore will be disbursed to women
  • It was also affirmed that the existing rules and regulations would be changed if they create difficulty in achieving the targets.
  • The initiative is expected to make thousands of women self-sufficient and provide new avenues for development of rural areas.

Environment:

Week-long tiger census begins in Odisha today(The Hindu)

Context:

Week-long tiger census in Odhisa will begin on 16th February 2018

About the Census:

  • The week-long census that coincides with the national tiger census will be carried out in all forest divisions.
  • Both direct and indirect methods will be used to ascertain the status of tigers in the State.
  • Unlike earlier, the Odhisa Government has brought the entire Similipal Tiger Reserve, which houses the State’s largest tiger population, under the scope of the census.
  • After completion of the week-long census operation, the data will be shared with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Additional Information:

  • On January 19, a dolphin census was conducted across six coastal divisions of Odhisa
  • The number of endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the Chilika Lake was 114.
  • The dolphin population in the State rose to 469 from 450 in 2015.
  • A total of 307 dolphins were sighted in the Bhitarakanika National Park.
  • Of these, 108 were Indo-Pacific dolphins and 62 were Indian humpbacks.
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