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GS: 2


International relations:

Trump regime suspends security aid to Pakistan (The Hindu)

Context

The United States has suspended more than $1.15 billion security assistance to  Pakistan  ,accusing Islamabad of harbouring terror groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network within its border and showing unwillingness to take “decisive actions” against them.

The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes days after President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of providing “safe haven” to terrorists.

The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes days after President Donald Trump, in a new year tweet, accused Pakistan of giving nothing to the U.S. but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven” to terrorists in return for $33 billion aid over the last 15 years.

Foreign Military Funding (FMF) suspended

Prominent among the suspended amount include $255 million in Foreign Military Funding (FMF) for the fiscal year 2016 as mandated by the Congress.

Coalition Support Fund (CSF)

In addition, the Department of Defense has suspended the entire $900 million of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) money to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017.

The U.S., she said, will not be delivering military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan unless it is required by law.

New South Asia policy

Referring to the new South Asia Policy announced by Trump in August, Nauert said despite a sustained high-level engagement by this administration with the government of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilise Afghanistan and also attack the US and allied personnel.

Funds suspended

The National Defense Authorisation Act 2017 provides up to $900 million for Pakistan in CSF.

Of these funds, $400 million can only be released if the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis certifies that the Pakistan government has taken specific actions against the Haqqani Network.

No decision

No decision has been taken on the fate of $255 million security assistance to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017.

The deadline for that is September 30 this year.

US civilian assistance programs will continue

However, the suspension does not include US civilian assistance programs in Pakistan.

North korea agrees to hold talks with South (The Hindu)

Context

North Korea agreed on Friday to hold official talks with the South next week, the first in more than two years, hours after the United States and South Korea delayed a military exercise. South Korea said the North had sent its consent for the talks to be held on Tuesday. The last time the two Koreas engaged in official talks was in December 2015.

Meeting at Panmunjom

The meeting will take place at the border truce village of Panmunjom where officials from both sides are expected to discuss the Winter Olympics, to be held in the South next month, and other inter-Korean relations

Documented exchanges

North Korea asked for further negotiations about the meeting to be carried out via documented exchanges

New Year New Hope

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un opened the way for talks with South Korea in a New Year’s Day speech in which he called for reduced tensions and flagged the North’s possible participation in the Winter Olympics.

Military Drills after Olympics

U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in announced on Thursday that annual large-scale military drills would now take place after the Olympics.

China welcomes step

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang welcomed North and South Korea “taking positive steps to improve ties”, and said the postponement of the military exercises was “without doubt a good thing”.

Game for talks (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

The prospect of a thaw in relations between North and South Korea, which  resume talks after two years, holds out the hope of denuclearisation on the Peninsula. Lending the move diplomatic heft is the U.S.’s consent to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal to delay the controversial joint military exercises between the two allies.

These annual operations have traditionally caused consternation (a feeling of anxiety or dismay, typically at something unexpected) in Pyongyang

Suggestion by China

The significance of the U.S. decision can also be seen in the context of Beijing’s suggestion for a freeze on joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul in exchange for a halt to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme

Deployment of THAAD added impetus to the above suggestion

The demand acquired added impetus ever since Seoul launched the U.S.-backed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, raising fears that its radars could snoop on Chinese security infrastructure

US never considered the idea seriously

But the idea never received serious consideration from the U.S., as forcing Kim Jong-un, the North Korean autocrat, to completely give up the programme was the singular focus of President Donald Trump’s approach

Nuclear power balances the scales for NK

As for Mr. Kim, he sees recognition of his country as a nuclear power as a vantage point from where he could negotiate a roll-back of crippling international sanctions and a possible reconciliation with Washington.

Winter Olympics can help revive the dialogue process

The immediate trigger to the revival of dialogue is the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in South Korea next month

Global Alarm raised by NK

North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches and nuclear explosions have raised global alarm over the region’s safety for travel and tourism, not to mention security during the Games.

1988 memories

Memories of the downing by North Korea of a civilian aircraft ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics have prompted understandable caution by the host nation

NK athletes participation to act as a deterrent

Seoul has apparently determined that the most effective means of allaying those apprehensions is to confirm the participation of North Korean athletes

The deferment of the joint military exercises with the U.S. lends further credibility to Mr. Moon’s overtures to the North, as much as it assuages Chinese concerns

Restrictions imposed by China

Beijing had imposed an unofficial blockade on South Korean trade, tourism and entertainment following the THAAD missile installation last year

But China considered that needless

But it was quick to appreciate the needless economic and diplomatic cost of that approach, even if it did not alter its stance on the missile programme.

Positive developments

Cumulatively, these developments should boost public patronage in the entire region for the Winter Olympics.

Seize this opportunity

  • Mr. Moon, a former human rights lawyer, has been a staunch advocate of a negotiated resolution of the North Korean nuclear stand-off
  • A votary of reunification on the Peninsula, he may be expected to seize the momentum generated by these events to foster cooperation with the North

Conclusion

There will no doubt be many obstacles on that ambitious path. But a détente between neighbours is a possibility few leaders can ignore.

In regular touch with Pakistan: Centre(The Hindu)

Context

The government is in regular contact with Pakistan, but any meaningful dialogue would depend on an end to terrorism and cross-border violence, the Ministry of External Affairs told the Parliamentary standing committee on External Affairs, according to a report released on Friday.

For talks to be meaningful there must be an end to cross-border terror, govt. tells MPs panel

The government has maintained the channels of communications open with Pakistan, including through respective diplomatic missions, and regular contacts between the border guarding forces on both sides,” said a reply from the Ministry quoted in the action-taken report by the government on the committee’s 16th report on “Indo-Pak Relations”.

Background

Secret meeting between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval met his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. (Retd.) Nasir Janjua, in Bangkok on December 26

Challenges to ties

While no mention was made on Mr. Jadhav or the treatment his mother and wife received in the 82-page report, it contains several references to the challenges to better ties between India and Pakistan, including the rise in firing at the LoC and International Border, infiltration, and support to terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen.

FATF

The government made special mention of the UN terror finance watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force where Pakistan was pulled up in November 2017 for allowing the LeT and affiliates like Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-i-Insaniyat to access funds.

Social issues:

Memory myth and memorial (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The battle over Bhima-Koregaon is not just one of history, it is a battle for identity and equality

The memorial

It all began with a pillar, a little war memorial commemorating what history books antiseptically called the third Anglo-Maratha war

Memorial established by British

The British had established it in Bhima-Koregaon village to commemorate the British East India Company soldiers who fell in the battle of January 1, 1818. Along with a few British soldiers, many Mahar soldiers also died.

One battle, different narratives:

Maratha view

  • For the Marathas and for our history textbooks, the narrative was a battle between imperialism and nationalism
  • It marked not the continuity of the British but the end of Peshwa rule.

Mahars view

But the Mahars read this narrative differently

  • The history inscribed in textbooks did not take their memories seriously
  • The Mahars recollect how during the reign of Baji Rao II, they had offered their services as soldiers
  • The Peshwa spurned them, and this pushed the Mahars to seek out the British in the next war.
  • For Mahar memory, the presence of the British shrinks and it becomes a story of Mahar courage and valour, a testimony to Mahar martial values in their struggle for equality against the Peshwas

The pillar of equality

The Koregaon Ranstambh (victory pillar) represents a different kind of memory and a different kind of solidarity. It is now part of a new genealogy, not part of a battle between Indians and the British, but a struggle for equality.

A new memory

Visit by Babasaheb Ambedkar

In January 1927, Babasaheb Ambedkar visited the site and gave it this new legitimacy

This new memory triggered the formation of new communities

Formation of Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambh Seva Sangh (BRKSS)

The Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambh Seva Sangh was formed to commemorate the battle of the Dalits for self-respect and equality

Visits of members of the Mahar regiment

Over time this parallel memory acquired power as members of the Mahar regiment visited it to pay homage to Mahar militarism and valour

Local pilgrimage soon expanded

What was a local source of pilgrimage soon expanded to cover other States such as Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. Maratha history competed with Mahar memory over the interpretation of the Stambh.

Battle for identity and equality

  • While the Mahars are enacting their memorial to history reasserting their sense of identity and equality in a now immortalised village, the dominant castes are feeling unease with what they sense as re-appropriation of history.
  • For the Brahmins and Marathas watching these rituals, life seemed surreal. Suddenly, violence spreads across Maharashtra as pitched battles take place between Mahars and Marathas, each guarding their identity as if it were a piece of intellectual property
  • The battle now is not just one of memory, it is a battle for identity and equality

Other narratives

Hindutva forces, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar felt, were trying to poison society along caste lines

Controversy over Sambhaji’s burial by a dalit, Govind Mahar

  • Dalit scholars point to Vadhu Budruk, a village close to Bhima-Koregaon and the controversy around Sambhaji, the eldest son of Shivaji
  • Legend has it that Sambhaji’s body was mutilated and then thrown into the river
  • Legend adds to it that Govind Mahar, a Dalit, gathered the body and stitched it together
  • It was the Mahars who arranged for Sambhaji’s memorial and, when Govind Mahar died, they constructed a tomb for him in the same village

Upper Caste Marathas object to this narrative

Upper caste Marathas object to this narrative and a battle is being fought over it.

The BJP has over the years forged an anti-Muslim meta-narrative around these struggles. Hindutva organisations invoke past Maratha glory to keep the caste within their fold

Neo Peshwas

The recent attempt to link Hindutva battles as a neo-Peshwa enterprise is disturbing to the BJP’s electoral campaign as the party under its national president Amit Shah has been wooing Dalits into its fold. When other Hindutva organisations evoke Maratha glory, Dalit alienation and unease is obvious

Dalits Unite

Dalit organisations in response have organised a huge conference at what was once the dominant seat of the Peshwas.

Vote bank politics

A caste split now threatens the huge electoral wooing of Dalits as future vote banks. The BJP attempt to consolidate the electoral future is coming apart, ironically through the same caste wars it encouraged before it sought to consolidate an electoral future

Beyond containment

  • It is not a historical controversy alone, it cannot be restricted to a caste war, it is not a battle for identity, it is also a search for equality
  • It is also an attempt by politicians to go beyond all these fragments and create a more united future
  • One suddenly senses the many octaves in which politics in India occurs.

Non linear

One realises that memory is a strange, protean, alchemical force in India where linearity does not work, and past, present and future struggle to simultaneously control narratives in India.

Politics in 18th century

  • It’s a reminder of philosopher Ian Hacking’s reading of our time
  • He claimed politics in the 18th century was about control of the body, in the 19th about the control of populations, and in the 20th about the control of memory
  • The only thing he forgot to mention is how complex memory in our age has become as it combines myth, memory, history
  • One trembles as one thinks how easily a fragment of the past can rewrite the future of a democracy, or the dreams of identity and justice

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Constitution bench to look at adultery law (The Hindu)

Context

The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a Constitution Bench a petition to decide if the pre-Independence provision of adultery in the Indian Penal Code treats a married woman as a commodity owned by her husband and violates the constitutional concepts of gender equality and sensitivity.

Archaic Provision

  • The petition wants Section 497 (adultery) IPC to be dropped as a criminal offence from the penal code.
  • In the Yusuf Abdul Aziz case judgment of 1954, the Supreme Court, while answering the question why a wife cannot be prosecuted as an abettor to adultery, said the protection from prosecution given to women under Section 497 was in tune with Article 15 (3) of the Constitution, which allows the legislature to make “special provisions” which are “beneficial” for women and children.

Section 497

Section 497 of the Code mandates that if a man has sexual intercourse with another’s wife without the husband’s “consent or connivance”, he is “guilty of the offence of adultery and shall be punished.”

Sowmithri Vishnu case

In the 1985 decision in the Sowmithri Vishnu case, the apex court had concluded that “a man seducing the wife of another” was the most seen and felt evil in society

No similar provision for a woman

It had rejected arguments that while Section 497 gave the husband the exclusive right to prosecute his wife’s lover, a similar right was not conferred on a wife to prosecute the woman with whom her husband has committed adultery.

No Right

Secondly, the provision does not confer any right on the wife to prosecute her husband for adultery.

Case unaccounted for

Further, the law does not take into account cases where the husband has sexual relations with an unmarried woman.

Time for Change

A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra observed in the order that the provision raised a question mark on social progress, outlook, gender equality and gender sensitivity. It was time to bring to the forefront a different view with focus on the rights of women, Chief Justice Misra observed

Man as the adulterer?

The Constitution Bench would likely consider whether Section 497 would treat the man as the adulterer and the married woman as always a victim.

Question to be examined

The larger Bench may also examine why the offence of adultery ceases the moment it is established that the husband connived or consented to the adulterous act

So, is a married woman the “property” of her husband or a passive object without a mind of her own?

Denied in an earlier case

In 1988, a two-judge Supreme Court Bench, in the V. Revathi versus Union of India case, had denied there is gender discrimination in the fact that only the adulterer-man is punished and not the wife who consensually entered into the adulterous relationship.

Haj policy is fair, Centre tells SC (The Hindu)

Context

The Centre defended its new Haj policy, saying it is not discriminatory and allocation of subsidies on pilgrims is based on the objective criteria of the muslim population in each state.

Allegations by Kerala State Haj Committee

The Centre was responding to allegations made by the Kerala State Haj Committee that the policy, which allots subsidised seats based on the Muslim count in each State, denies Muslims from smaller States such as Kerala an opportunity to make the pilgrimage.

Arguments for

Bihar has a quota of 12,000 seats, but at least 5,000 seats remain vacant

Kerala has 95,000 applicants who want subsidy, but the quota is only for 6,000 seats. So, only one per cent goes

Arguments by the government

Countering this, AttorneyGeneral K.K. Venugopal argued that the allocation of subsidy quota on the basis of Muslim population of a State had been there from the very beginning and did not start with the current Haj guidelines for 2018-22.

Palpably arbitrary

The Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, made it clear that the court would intervene in the Haj policy only if it is found to be “palpably arbitrary”.

Bound by policy

Mr. Venugopal said the central Haj committee was consulted before the new policy was finalised. “The State Haj Committees are bound by the policy of the central Haj body. Each and every stakeholder was consulted. Now they cannot turn around and say this is not the right way to do Haj,” Mr. Venugopal argued.

Bengal unveils official state emblem (The Hindu)

Context

The official emblem of West Bengal was unveiled by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on January 5. The emblem designed by Ms. Banerjee features the Ashoka Pillar.

Chief Minister unveils the emblem at the State Secretariat.

We had to do this (create the State emblem) 70 years after Independence because it has never been thought of before

No one here thought that every State should have its individuality the Chief Minister said during the ceremony to unveil emblem at the State Secretariat Nabanna

Centre’s approval

She also said that the West Bengal government received the Centre’s approval for the emblem on January 3

The design was sent for Central approval in May 2017.

To be used in official work of the state

Describing the occasion as “historic”, the Chief Minister said that henceforth the State emblem can be used in all the official work and documents of the State government

Name of the State to be changed soon too

As for changing the name of the State, the Chief Minister said that it will be announced as soon as the Centre approves it. “We have also sent a request to the Centre about changing the name of the State. Discussions are being held and as soon as we get the official approval we will announce it,” she said. Her Cabinet decided in September 2017 that the State’s name will be Bangla in all the languages.

Enabling a law (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

The Supreme Court has struck a blow for the rights of the disabled ,with a direction to the Central and State governments to provide full access to public facilities, such as buildings and transport, within stipulated deadlines

Supreme Court’s timeline to ensure full access for the disabled to public facilities is welcome

People with a disability form 2.21% of India’s population according to the 2011 Census.

Series of orders in response to a PIL

Now, in response to a public interest petition filed by a visually handicapped activist, the court has issued a series of orders:

  • That all government buildings should be made accessible by June 2019;
  • Half of all government buildings in the capital cities should meet accessibility norms by December this year;
  • The Railways should present a report in three months from December 15 on implementing station facilities;
  • 10% of government public transport must be fully accessible by March 2018;
  • And advisory boards should be formed by the States and Union Territories in three months.

Ignorance for too long

For too long, planners and designers have built infrastructure for use only by able-bodied individuals, ignoring the aspirations of those with disabilities, and the letter of the law.

New technology to the aid

A transformation requires governments to also harness the power of newer technologies. Geolocation is one, and it enables targeted provision of services

Accessibility of transport

It is eminently feasible, for instance, to aggregate the travel requirements of disabled people with the help of information technology and smartphones, and provide affordable shared transport using accessible vehicles

Should be included in smart cities

Given the emphasis on smart cities and upgraded urban facilities, such schemes should be given the highest priority and start-up ideas roped in

Retrofitting all the stations

Railway stations and access to train carriages continue to pose hurdles for not just the disabled, but even elderly travellers

Level boarding all stations

The Railways should embark on an urgent programme to retrofit all stations, and try simple solutions such as portable step ladders to help board and exit trains, since level boarding is not possible in most places

Cost is not the barrier but the political will

Cost is not the barrier to improving facilities; what is in short supply is the political will to change the design of public facilities and stick to professional codes.

Conclusion

Today India, which is richer than it was then, and has passed a new law in 2016 to strengthen the rights of the disabled, should demonstrate the will to implement it

This too is a right (The Hindu)

Context

The right to sexual privacy makes the law on adultery open to constitutional scrutiny

Joseph Shine v. Union of India

Joseph Shine v. Union of India, the petition challenging the constitutional validity of the criminal prohibition on adultery under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, has now been referred to the Constitution Bench by the Supreme Court

Against both men and women

  • The petition was admitted by the court with the preliminary observation that the provision attacks the independent identity of the woman and is archaic in its nature
  • As widely argued, on the intuitive grounds of both directly discriminating against men and indirectly discriminating against women, there are overwhelming reasons why the apex court should strike down this provision.

But the Right to Sexual Privacy should be considered too

However, there is much less discussion on another significant aspect of adultery law: the right to sexual privacy.

For breach of trust

Generally speaking, in a marital bond based on love and trust, it is true that the spouse will have a necessary grievance against the adulterous partner

It is in view of this breach of fidelity that the civil laws in the country provide for adultery as a ground for divorce

Unfair to remain with the unfaithful partner

It is important to clarify that the adultery laws having consequences such as divorce might well be in the legitimate state interest. It does seem quite unfair to compel an individual to remain with an unfaithful partner.

The problem: Adultery, a penal offence

  • The problem, however, is with the fact that adultery is made a penal offence
  • Adultery covers sexual intercourse between consenting adults
  • What is under challenge is a punitive provision that existed since 1860, which crystallised Victorian notions of sexuality
  • To prescribe a criminal penalty for a voluntary sexual activity is strikingly disproportionate.

State’s flawed approach

The right to privacy is valued and cherished for it involves the most intimate decisions and choices

  • The individual is absolutely autonomous in her territory
  • She is free to err, resolve and experiment
  • She is informed and independent to make her own decisions
  • Privacy is freedom giving as well as empowering in this sense.
  • The right to engage in sexual intercourse is an intrinsic part of the right to privacy
  • Privacy has to invariably contain the right to bodily integrity, self-determination and sexual autonomy

A Paternalistic attitude

By criminalising adultery, the state is in fact showing a paternalistic attitude by telling individuals how to lead their lives and what behaviour to adopt

Moralistic undertones

It carries moralistic undertones of imposing what living an ideal life means for the state. Such an approach seriously undermines the underlying values of personal liberty.

Privacy judgement

  • In fact, in the celebrated privacy judgment in K.S. Puttaswamy (2017), exercising the police power of the state in matters of private choices was repelled by the apex court. Justice J. Chelameswar in clear terms held, “I do not think that anybody would like to be told by the state as to what they should eat or how they should dress or whom they should be associated with either in their personal, social or political life.”
  • Likewise, it seems to follow that individuals must be free from the interference of the state in matters of their sexual choices, or even in choosing their sexual partner.

Foreign jurisprudence

It is pertinent to note that none of the European countries has criminalised adultery

In most of South America, adultery is no longer a crime

Many States in the U.S. have either repealed adultery laws or put them to disuse

UN calls upon to stop penalizing adultery

Following this global trend, in 2012, a working group of the United Nations called upon countries to do away with laws penalising adultery.

Right to sexual privacy recognised globally

The right to sexual privacy is increasingly recognised in jurisprudence around the world

A constitutional right in the US

Enthusiastic US courts

  • In the U.S in particular, the courts have enthusiastically located a constitutional right to sexual privacy
  • In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the U.S. Supreme Court was cautious to highlight the importance of privacy in the peculiar sphere of marital bedrooms in the context of birth control
  • In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), when confronted with the question of the legality of certain sexual conduct between persons of the same sex, the court held that no “majoritarian sexual morality” could override legitimate privacy interests.

Ambivalent view of the Courts in India

On the other hand, the approach of the Supreme Court of India towards the right to sexual privacy has been, at best, ambivalent

  • The judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal (2013) upholding the criminalisation of voluntary sexual intercourse between those of the same sex remains a serious blow to the right to sexual freedom.
  • However, subsequently, in NALSA v. Union of India (2014), the Court said that the value of privacy is fundamental to those of the transgender community.

Present Challenge

The present challenge to the law on adultery is significant for various reasons

One of them certainly is that it is perhaps the first occasion where the privacy judgment in Puttaswamy is going to be doctrinally and forensically tested

Conclusion

It is also equally crucial that the right to sexual privacy forms a distinct and independent ground which makes the law on adultery further vulnerable to constitutional scrutiny.


GS: 3


Economy:

GDP growth seen slowing to 4 year low of 6.5% in 2017-18 (The Hindu)

Context

The Central Statistics Office (CSO)’s GDP forecast

What has happened?

CSO has forecast that GDP growth in the current financial year ending March 31 will slow to a four-year low of 6.5%, from the provisional 7.1% pace seen in 2016-17, dragged down by deceleration in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors

Other forecasts

  • Gross Value Added (GVA) was also projected to expand by 6.1% in 2017-18, slowing from 6.6% in the preceding fiscal year, according to the first advance estimates of national income for 2017-18, released by the CSO

Within this,

  • The GVA growth rate for ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing’ is expected to slow sharply to 2.1%, compared with the previous year’s 4.9% pace
  • Manufacturing sector growth has been forecast at 4.6% in 2017-18, compared with the 7.9% expansion provisionally estimated for 2016-17
  • Quarrying & Mining: The CSO’s estimates project the mining and quarrying, and construction sectors to grow faster in 2017-18 than they did in the previous year. While mining and quarrying is estimated to expand by 2.9%, compared with 1.8% growth in 2016-17, the construction sector is expected to grow by 3.6%, versus1.7% in the prior period

Double digit growth

  • The core sector data for November, the latest release so far, showed the steel and cement sectors registering strong double-digit growth

Base effect in agriculture

In agriculture, what we are seeing is a base effect because last year saw a very high growth rate because it followed two years of drought. In terms of production, the total production would probably be the second highest in a very long time. It is not unusual growth in agriculture in a good year

RBI’s forecast

  • The CSO’s GVA full-year growth estimate of 6.1%, compares with a 6.7% pace that the Reserve Bank of India had forecast at its December policy meeting
  • The central bank had at the time flagged rising oil prices and “shortfalls in kharif production and Rabi sowing” as posing downside risks to the outlook for GVA growth

Impact on fiscal deficit

For this year, the nominal growth is expected to be far lower than what was estimated in the Budget, so the fiscal deficit number will have to be adjusted if the 3.2% of GDP target is to be maintained. And, for next year, the base is now lower, so that year’s fiscal deficit figure will also have to be adjusted

More robust GDP in 2018-19

Economic activity has been picking up over the last three quarters and can be expected to strengthen in the coming period with the manufacturing PMI [Purchasing Managers’ Index] now reading at a five-year high of 54, and FMCG demand picking up briskly,” Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog Rajiv Kumar said in a written statement. “Hence, the GDP growth will become more robust in 2018-19

Gross Fixed Capital Formation

Gross fixed capital formation — a key investment metric — is expected to accelerate to 4.5%, from 2.4% in 2016-17

Growth rates of various sectors

  • Growth in the trade, hotels, transport and communication and services related to broadcasting is estimated at 8.7%, quickening from 7.8% in the previous year
  • Similarly, the financial, insurance, real estate and professional services sector is estimated to expand faster at 7.3% in 2017-18, from 2016-17’s 5.7% pace
  • However, the public administration and defence and other services category is expected to grow at 9.4% in 2017-18 compared with 11.3% in 2016-17

Come july label mandatory for food certified as ‘organic’ (The Hindu)

Context

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had issued regulations that required food companies selling organic produce to get certified with one of the two authorities — National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) or the Participatory Guarantee System for India (PGS-India). Companies could also get a voluntary logo from the FSSAI that marked its produce as ‘organic.’

News

From July 2018, it would be illegal to sell organic food that was not appropriately labelled so

FSSAI’s notification

  • Labelling on the package of organic food shall convey full and accurate information on the organic status of the product. Such product may carry a certification or quality assurance mark of one of the systems mentioned… in addition to the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India’s organic logo,” said a FSSAI notification on January 2 and published in the Gazette
  • These rules were finalised after almost a year of being sent out as a draft for public comments

PGS vs NPOP

  • For nearly two decades now, organic farming certification had been done through a process of third party certification under the NPOP
  • It was run by the Ministry of Commerce and was used for certifying general exports. Nearly 24 agencies were authorised by the NPOP to verify farms, storages and processing units and successful ones got a special ‘India Organic’ logo
  • The PGS-India programme, in contrast, had been around for only two years and — unlike the top-down approach of the NPOP — involves a peer-review approach. Here, farmers played a role in certifying whether the farms in their vicinity adhered to organic-cultivation practices. This programme was implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture through the National Centre of Organic Farming

Public stockholding of grains to stay (The Hindu)

Context

India’s ongoing public stockholding programmes would remain unaffected and continue, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu informed the Rajya Sabha on Friday

Backdrop

The minister’s assurance comes in the wake of the recent Eleventh Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (Nairobi) failing to reach a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes

Minister’s statement

  • In a statement he said that in a conference had agreed to extend an existing moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmission in exchange for another moratorium preventing the ever-greening of patents in the pharmaceuticals sector
  • Some developed countries sought explicit language on existing safeguards, according to Mr. Prabhu, and the U.S. said it could not agree to a permanent solution
  • Our public stockholding programmes, however, continue to be protected due to the interim solution that the government negotiated in 2014, which is available in perpetuity,” he said
    • Moratorium extended: “An existing moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmission was extended for two years in exchange for another moratorium on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights non-violation complaint, which, inter alia, prevents ‘evergreening’ of patents in the pharmaceutical sector, thereby ensuring accessibility and affordability of generic medicines.”

Ministerial declaration

  • Prabhu said that members could not arrive at an agreement regarding a ministerial declaration following the conference
  • “Ministers could not arrive at an agreed ministerial declaration at the end of the conference on the basis of a draft brought forward from Geneva,” the minister said.
  • “As the revised draft ministerial declaration subsequently proposed by the chairperson excluded or failed to adequately include important issues such as multilateralism, the Doha Development Agenda and special and differential treatment of developing countries, India could not support it,” he added

Rural BPO scheme: women from 40% of added headcount (The Hindu)

Context

The government’s India BPO promotion scheme, which aims to popularise the industry beyond metros, has so far provided employment to almost 11,000 people across the country, of which 40% are women

India BPO scheme

The scheme, under the Digital India Programme

  • Introduced in: It was introduced in April 2016 to incentivise BPO firms to extend operations to tier-2 and tier-3 cities in the country
  • Aim: With an outlay of about ₹500 crore, it aims to incentivise establishment of 48,300 seats, providing about 1.45 lakh jobs, under a three-shift strategy
  • Special incentives: Under the scheme, there are special incentives for employing women and differently-abled persons, and generating employment beyond target
  • Under the scheme, 109 units have been approved, through which about 40 firms such as Amazon Development Centre India and AGS Health, will be providing voice and non-voice services in about 16 languages. These will include English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Oriya, Marathi, Arabic, Urdu and Spanish
  • A total of 61 cities in 21 states and Union Territories have been already covered by the scheme

Employment stats under scheme

  • Till now, out of the reported employment of 10,968 persons under the scheme, approximately 40% are women
    • A Nasscom report had said that more than 34% employees working in the $155-billion IT industry are women
    • Under the scheme, about 18,160 seats were allocated by the Centre after four rounds of bidding, while close to 14,000 seats have been shortlisted after the fifth round and are likely to be allotted soon. This will take the total number of seats allocated under the scheme to nearly 32,000, or 66% of the targeted number
    • The seat allocation has been led by states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir. The uptake has been on the slower side in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal and almost Union Territories expect for Chandigarh and Puducherry
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