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GS:1


Society related issues:

‘Declare polygamy in Islam illegal’(The Hindu)

What happened?

A fresh plea was filed in the Supreme Court seeking to declare as “illegal” and“unconstitutional” the practices of polygamy and ‘nikahhalala’ among the Muslim community

What is NikahHalala?

‘Nikahhalala’ is a practice intended to curb the incidence of divorce, under which a man cannot remarry his former wife without her having to go through the process of marrying someone else, consummating it, getting divorced and observing a separation period called ‘iddat’ before coming back to him.

What the petition said?

  • By virtue of Muslim Personal Law, Section 494 of the IPC (marrying again during the lifetime of husband or wife) was rendered inapplicable to Muslims and no married woman from the community had the avenue of filing a complaint against her husband for the offence of bigamy.
  • This is in blatant contravention of Articles 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution

GS: 2


International relations:

Far short of the potential(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Indo-Japan ties:The India-Japan economic relationship remains underwhelming in relation to strategic ties

The bright side

  • Japan currently ranks as the third largest investor in India
  • Japanese investment in India totalled $4.7 billion in 2016-17, up from $2.6 billion the previous year
  • Japanese investment in India’s first bullet train
  • Regular high-profile bilateral visits between both sides
  • Have a common strategic objective in countering Chinese hegemony in Asia

Challenges on the economic front

  • According to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) data, China received about five times more Japanese investment between 1996-2015 ($116 billion) than India did ($24 billion).
  • Japan-India two-way trade — $13.48 billion in 2016-17 — is also a fraction of the $350 billion China-Japan trade relationship or even India-China trade ($84.44 billion in 2017

Reasons:  It takes Japanese companies in India longer than their Korean or Chinese counterparts to learn how best to localise their products for the Indian market

Example:Air conditioners

  • The Japanese tend to think that the most important element is the quality of the air conditioner so that it is able to last without the need for repairs.
  • But in India it is cheap to have an air conditioner repaired and technicians are abundant
  • The consumer is therefore more focussed on cost than durability

Solution: Switching from importing expensive parts from Japan to sourcing them locally as done by Japanese manufacturer, Daikin

The greatest challenge: Cultural

  • An outdated and negative image of India.
  • The larger corporations may realise India’s potential, but small and medium enterprises are the worst culprits of this attitude.

Punctuality

In Japan, being on time is akin to religion, whereas in India, time is fungible (replaceable by another identical item)

Inflexible Japanese corporations

Ultimately, Japanese corporations are strongly risk averse which makes it difficult for them to cope in the freewheeling, jugaad-proud environment of India, where flexibility and impromptu decision making are necessary skills in the business arsenal

Ray of optimism

  • Roping in more Indian companies to develop and design Japanese products for the South Asian market

It could be one major way forward in deepening the bilateral engagement

Example: Collaboration between Japan’s Panasonic and India’s Tata Elxsi to develop smart solutions and products for Panasonic customers in India and the neighbouring region.

  • India as a Manufacturing base for markets in Africa

Existing examples include Hitachi Construction Machinery’s joint venture with Tata whose Kharagpur plant is a hub for exports to developing countries, as well as auto major Nissan, which exports the India-made Datsun ‘GO+’ to South Africa.

Explaining 1971(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

India’s intervention was altruistic only in small part but was primarily based on realpolitik (a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.).

Why India’s liberation of Bangladesh was a practical move?

  • Eliminating a two-way front: The Bengali uprising provided India with the “opportunity of the century”, to break up Pakistan and thus eliminate the threat of a two-front war in any future confrontation.
  • Threat level reduced: Indian decision-makers concluded that even if the new country in the east would not be an “eternal ally”, it could never pose the kind of threat that ‘East Pakistan’ posed to Indian security
  • Holding grudge:New Delhi concluded that if Bangladesh became independent without Indian help, it would bear a serious grudge against the latter.
    • India had strongly encouraged the Bengali movement for autonomy through its propaganda and clandestine financial support.
    • To allow the Pakistani military to decimate the Bengali elite would have been viewed as a serious breach of trust by the Awami League leadership, potentially turning it into India’s bitter enemy.
  • Threat of radicalisation:New Delhi recognised that a drawn-out civil war would radicalise the Bengali population.
    • This could lead to the side-lining of the pro-India Awami League and shift the leadership of the movement to left-wing pro-China parties such as the Bhashani-led National Awami Party and the Communist Party.
  • Aid to Naxalites:Guerrilla warfare would then become a likely prospect
    • A Maoist-inspired guerrilla movement in East Pakistan would have provided the Naxalites with aid and destabilised West Bengal and the surrounding region.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Lok Sabha passes Finance Bill without discussion(The Hindu)

What happened?

The Lok Sabha passed the Finance Bill, 2018, with 21 amendments, some of which had to do with the controversial long-term capital gains tax on equity and tax exemptions for start-ups.

LTCG amendments

Regarding the long-term capital gains (LTCG) tax, one of the major amendments made was that the grandfathering of gains till January 31, 2018 will now be incorporated in the computation of the gains itself, rather than for the purposes of computing tax at the rate of 10%.

No deferment

Markets were expecting some relief from the government like deferment of new capital gains tax or increase in the threshold limit from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 2 lakh for levy of capital gains tax at the rate of 10

Allowing indexation

The only noteworthy change is that of allowing the indexation benefit to shares which were unlisted as on January 31, 2018 but are listed on the date of transfer which happens to be on or after April 1, 2018

Tax deductions to startups: linking of turnover limit directly to year of claim

  • Previously, start-ups were allowed 100% deduction of profits for any three out of seven years from the year of incorporation
  • Restrictive condition:To avail of this incentive, the start-ups were required to comply with a condition that stipulated that their turnover could not exceed Rs. 25 crore in those seven years.
  • Removed in the amendment: In an amendment to the Finance Bill as passed by the Lok Sabha, the condition is relaxed largely to the effect that turnover should not exceed the prescribed limit for the year for which 100% deduction is claimed by the start-up.

GS: 3


Economy:

In civic ranking, Pune is Maximum City(The Hindu)

Context

The Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017

Pune at the top, Bengaluru at the bottom

  • The Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017, which uses 150 parameters to judge 23 cities, has placed Pune at the top and Bengaluru at the bottom of the rankings.
  • While Pune scored 5.1 out of a maximum score of 10, Bengaluru got just 3.

Still behind globally

But Indian cities lagged behind global cities like New York and London, which scored 8.8.

About the survey

Who conducts it: An NGO, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy

Objective:It broadly looks at urban planning and design, capacity and resources of Urban Local Bodies, the degree of empowerment of the civic body, and processes for transparency and citizen participation.

No progress in devolution of powers

While financial management has improved in some cities, there has been little progress in devolution of powers to civic bodies

Just three out of the 23 cities enacted town planning legislations since economic liberalisation in 1991, while the rest rely on laws enacted nearly six decades ago

Fragmented governance

  • Local bodies suffer from fragmented governance. On average, Indian cities score 4.9 on this parameter.
  • Their municipal commissioners had an average tenure of only 10 months.
  • On the other hand, London, where the mayor is elected for five years and has far-reaching powers, scores 9.8.

No access to citizens

  • Not only are citizens kept out of governance, they do not even get access to important data concerning their civic life.
  • India’s cities have virtually no platforms where citizens can participate in civic matters in their neighbourhoods. This impacts the quality of democracy itself

 ‘No bank regulator can catch all frauds’(The Hindu)

Not possible to be in every nook and cranny of banking activity, says RBI Governor Urjit Patel

Amid criticism from several quarters, including the government, for failing to prevent banking frauds in the light of the recent Punjab National Bank scam, Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel said that no banking regulator can catch or prevent all banking frauds.

Problems faced by RBI

  • Banking regulatory powers in India were not ownership neutral.
  • The RBI did not have the power to supersede public sector bank boards as they were not registered under the Companies Act like private sector banks.
  • RBI can neither remove any directors of public sector banks nor liquidate a government-owned bank.

Failure of the BR Act

BR Act exemptions for PSBs mean that the one agency – the regulatory – that can respond relatively quickly against banking frauds or irregularities cannot take effective action.

‘LoU ban to hit importers as costs rise’(The Hindu)

What happened?

The Reserve Bank of India’s directive barring banks from issuing Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) has brought the $85 billion buyers’ credit market — a key source of low-cost trade finance for the country’s importers — to an abrupt standstill.

What is a LoU?

Letter of Undertaking is a bank guarantee and is issued for overseas import payments. A bank, while issuing LoUs for a client (like Nirav Modi), agrees to repay the principal and interest on the client’s loan unconditionally

  • When a LoU is issued it involves an issuing bank, a receiving bank, an importer and a beneficiary entity overseas

Hurt importers and exporters

Many exporters used the LoUs to help fund their imports of raw materials and the central bank’s decision would hurt their competitiveness

Cost of Credit will go up

  • The traders who have been conducting business through these instruments will now have to necessarily shift their transactions to Letters of Credit and Bank Guarantees
  • The result would be that cost of credit may go up, especially for the SMEs

Worst affected sectors

Gems and jewellery sector was likely to be the worst affected by the LoU ban.

LIBOR-based pricing

  • LoUs were the cheapest source of funding as the credit provided against them were typically priced 20-30 basis points above the three-month or six-month LIBOR.
  • Since the LoU route is no longer available, importers have to provide bank guarantees or letters of credit, which are more expensive.

‘RBI’s ban on LoUs may push up the cost of imports’(The  Hindu)

Context

Interview with SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar

What will be the impact of RBI’s ban on Letters of Undertaking (LoU)?

The cost of imports will go up. What was happening was importers, through the route of LoU they were availing dollar funding which was cheaper than rupee funding. So now, the importer will have an option of either opening a letter of credit, but for that they will need suppliers’ agreement – the supplier should be willing to extend the credit. Or otherwise, they have to fund it through rupee borrowing. So, that will increase the cost. And if they are exporting, then it will impact your export competitiveness also. So, the impact overall will be that the dollar borrowing of many of the importers will get either replaced by the letter of credit

What has been the response from the banking regulator for improving checks and balance after the PNB scam?

  • RBI has asked all the banks to integrate SWIFT with the core banking solution
  • All banks are now linking SWIFT with CBS.

What are the steps SBI has taken?

We thoroughly reviewed our LoU portfolio. Risk management in the bank is a continuous process and not a one-day process. Period review, see to it that checks and balances are working, you have to on a continuous basis.

RBI came out with a circular tightening NPA norms. What is your view?

There are two ways to look at it. One is there are definitely bring more discipline on the borrowing. Borrowers will be more careful on how they manage their cash flow and the intent will be to repay bank dues in time. However, on certain things probably some relief is required. The Indian Banks’ Association has represented to RBI on these issues

What are the issues?

One of the things that the circular says is that before an account is upgraded, 20% has to be paid. I think that is a bit tough requirement. Similarly, if the account is under restructuring and even if there is a delay of one day and then the account has to be referred to NCLT within 15 days

Urea subsidy extended till 2020(The Hindu)

Context

The Cabinet has approved the proposal by the Department of Fertilizers to continue the ongoing Urea Subsidy Scheme from 2017 to 2020

Benefit of the move

The continuation of the urea subsidy scheme will ensure that adequate quantity of urea is made available to the farmers at statutory controlled price

Urea Subsidy Scheme

Urea Subsidy is a part of Central Sector Scheme of Department of Fertilizers w.e.f 1st April, 2017 and is wholly financed by the Government of India through Budgetary Support

  • Imported Urea subsidy: Urea subsidy also includes Imported Urea subsidy which is directed towards import to bridge the gap between assessed demand and indigenous production of urea in the country
  • Frieght subsidy:It also includes freight subsidy for movement of urea across the country
  • For sustained agricultural growth and to promote balanced nutrient application, urea is made available to farmers at statutorily controlled price, which at present is Rs. 5360/- per MT (exclusive of the Central/State Tax & other charges towards neem coating). The difference between the delivered cost of fertilizers at farm gate and MRP payable by the farmer is given as subsidy to the fertilizer manufacturer/importer by the Government of India

Backdrop

Chemical Fertilizers have played an important role in making the country self-reliant in food grain production and provide a very vital input for the growth of Indian agriculture

Internal security:

Curb misuse of social media, says Rajnath(The Hindu)

Context

Social media posed a serious challenge to law enforcement agencies and the areas of concern included terrorism, financial frauds and victimisation of women and children, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said

Occasion

Two-day Asia-Pacific regional conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)

What are the challenges posed by social media to policing?

The three main issues are

  • Law and order
  • Cybercrimes, like fake and imitating accounts, financial frauds [Nigerian 419 frauds], malware delivery, drug and other illegal article sales, victimisation of women and children
  • Terrorism

Past examples of misuse of social media

  • In 2012, the exodus of North East people from south took place allegedly due to a misinformation campaign through Internet and social media
  • During the 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, the government had said that social media was used extensively by anti-social elements to spread hatred and misinformation among communities

A political choice(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The “surgical operation” earlier this month killing the mastermind of the Sunjuwan Army camp attack (Jammu) was lauded as a major victory for Indian security forces, but for some observers, it is surprising that such a seemingly provocative episode closed with such a measured response

Author’s contention

Authors contend that both India and Pakistan exercise a degree of capacity in selecting into a crisis after a provocation meaning not every terrorist attack escalates into a severe reaction. For eg: Pathankot attack received a very different handling than the Uri attack although both were relatively similar

What is a crisis?

A crisis involves three properties —

  • Acute threat
  • Significant abnormality, and
  • Temporal pressure

Factors that shape perceptions of these can increase or decrease the risk of crisis onset

What kind of provocations can lead to a crisis?

In the authors’ analysis, provocations correlated with crises exhibit intensified abnormality, like attacks involving complex assaults over an extended duration

Factors which increase the risk of a crisis?

High-volume media coverage and cumulative, successive attacks intensify perceived time constraint pressures on leaders’ decision making, increasing the risk of a crisis

Why the Sunjuwan didn’t lead to a crisis?

Sunjuwan involved an extended duration complex attack to draw attention and provoke Indian overreaction

  • Nevertheless, the attack was missing some important attributes of a crisis. It did not follow after cumulating cross-border attacks and occurred amidst the backdrop of National Security Adviser dialogue. Moreover, the media coverage — a key indicator of crisis atmosphere — in the week following Sunjuwan was relatively subdued

Conclusion

Authors conclude by stating that these probabilistic indicators suggest that even under pressure, the government exercises some agency in “selecting into” a crisis. In this case, the government chose not to.

Science and Technology:

Hawking, 1942-2018(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Passing away of Stephen Hawking

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Stephen Hawking diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, an incurable motor neuron disease was given only two years to live

His Breakthroughs

Luckily, the type of ALS he had progressed slowly, and over time he made many discoveries that marked him among the great physicists of his time

  • Singularity Theorem: His first breakthrough was in the work he did for his PhD thesis.Hawking came up with a singularity theorem for the universe. This work and its extensions, known as the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems, brought him international acclaim
  • Laws of black hole mechanics:Later, along with others he formulated the laws of black hole mechanics, which resemble the laws of thermodynamics. Thinking along these lines led him to a contradiction — that this theory predicted that black holes would exude radiation, whereas in a purely classical picture nothing could escape the black hole, not even light. He resolved this contradiction by invoking quantum mechanics. The radiation of the black hole was named Hawking radiation

A Brief history of Time

He came to be known to millions with the publication of A Brief History of Time, his best-selling book describing in non-technical terms the structure, development and fate of the universe

Impact

  • He ranks with Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein as that rare physicist who fired the popular imagination. However, unlike  Newton and Einstein, Hawking was focussed on cosmology and gravitation
  • His was a life that carried to the public not only the secrets of the cosmos but also the promise of hope and human endeavor; he showed that disability need not hold a person back in the pursuit of his dreams. He leaves behind a wealth of knowledge, and also the conviction that the will to survive can overcome all odds

How much plastic is there in your packaged water?(The Hindu)

Context

A worldwide study by Orb Media, a U.S.-based journalistic organisation

Results of the study

The study has found out that,

  • A single bottle can hold dozens, or possibly even thousands, of microscopic plastic particles
  • Contamination: Tests on more than 250 bottles from 11 brands reveal contamination with plastic, including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

Why purity of packaged water is important?

Packaged water can be a lifeline for many of the 2.1 billion people worldwide with unsafe drinking water. Some 4,000 children die every day from water-borne diseases, according to the United Nations

Last year, Orb Media revealed microscopic plastic in global tap water samples

Microplastic pollution

Recent studies have found microplastic — particles smaller than 5 mm — in the oceans, soil, air, lakes, and rivers

Are there any reasons for concern?

  • Based on current knowledge, which is very fragmentary and incomplete, there is little health concern. The human body is well-adapted to dealing with non-digestible particles
  • As much as 90% of microplastic that is consumed might be excreted, a 2016 European Union report on plastic in seafood said
  • Of the other 10%, some plastic under 150 microns (0.15 mm) could enter the gut’s lymphatic system, or pass from the bloodstream to the kidneys or liver, according the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The present bottled water study found plastic within that range

Environment:

Warming may ‘threaten’ half of species in 33 key regions(The Hindu)

Context

The analysis commissioned by WWF and published in science journal Climatic Change

What was the focus of the report?

The report focused on 33 so-called “Priority Places” which host some of the world’s richest and most unusual terrestrial species, including iconic, endangered, or endemic plants and animals

  • They include southern Chile, the eastern Himalayas, South Africa’s unique Fynbos ecoregion, Borneo, Sumatra, the Namibian desert, West Africa, southwest Australia, coastal east Africa, and southern Africa’s Miombo Woodlands, home to African wild dogs

Results

  • Global warming could place 25 to 50% of species in the Amazon, Madagascar and other biodiverse areas at risk of localised extinction within decades
  • The lower projection is based on a mercury rise of two degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels — the warming ceiling the world’s nations agreed on in 2015
  • The highest is for out-of-control warming of 4.5 Celsius
  • At warming of 4.5 Celsius, based on a “business-as-usual” scenario of no emissions cuts, the Amazon could risk the local extinction of 69% of its plant species
  • The Miombo Woodlands risks losing 90% of its amphibians, 86% of birds, and 80% of mammals
  • Limiting warming to 2 Celsius would enable many species to continue inhabiting the areas they currently occupy and if animals can move freely, not constrained by roads, fences, or human settlements, the proportion of species at risk at warming of 2 Celsius drops from 25 to 20%

Paris agreement might be too less too late

WWF in a statement has said that even with the emissions cuts pledged under the Paris Agreement, temperatures that were extreme in the past are set to be the new normal in all Priority Places

The report comes ahead of a major meeting of the IPBES inter-governmental panel in Medellin, Colombia, where scientists and governments will release five assessments of the state of biodiversity.

Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

  • It is an independent intergovernmental body established to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development
  • IPBES is placed under the auspices of four United Nations entities: UNEP, UNESCO, FAO and UNDP and administered by UNEP
  • HQ: Bonn, Germany
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