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GS: 1


Society related issues:

Halving the syllabus, squaring knowledge(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar claimed that the school syllabus needed trimming; he’d also bring back the system of “detention and examinations” in lower classes that the previous United Progressive Alliance government had done away with.

Background:

  • Delhi’s Education Minister, Manish Sisodia said in 2015 that schools’ syllabus for the 9th to 12th standards would be cut by a quarter and shun “outdated material” and leave more time for music, theatre and leisure.
  • The Bombay High Court in 2017, suggested that mathematics be made an optional for 10th standard students as lots of students were failing them and those in arts programmes didn’t need maths in their programmes.

More in news:

  • The common thread in these thoughts is that an enormous work load is the cause of stress among schoolchildren and halving the syllabus would translate into fewer hours of course work.
  • But this fails to acknowledge that the culprit is a system that encourages mindless crowd as the dominant indicator of ‘learning’.

Conclusion:

  • School students need to be trained to apply facts to real-world problems and be evaluated in their abilities to critique, seek out information and produce knowledge of their own.
  • This requires educators to re-imagine testing — everywhere, from kindergarten to management and encourage new Mozarts who’re confident of their creativity.

GS: 2


International relations:

India denies Canada view on Atwal(The Hindu)

Context:

India has denied Canada’s view on Atwal

What has happened?

The External Affairs Ministry has dismissed a “conspiracy theory” that the Canada-based Khalistan activist Jaspal Atwal’s visit to India was facilitated by “rogue Indian officials”.

Background:

  • The Ministry’s statement has come after Mr. Trudeau had expressed in public his support to the theory that Mr. Atwal’s visit was linked to “rogue elements in the Indian establishment who wanted to jeopardise Trudeau’s India visit due to alleged links between his government and Khalistan activists in Canada
  • The Canadian Prime Minister had promised an investigation on the goof-up

Ghani ready for talks with Taliban(The Hindu)

Context:

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban

What has happened?

  • Afghan president has disclosed the framework at the Kabul Process, a regional conference focussed on bringing peace to the country
  • He has called for a truce, after which the Taliban could become a political party and contest elections.
  • The apparent openness for some form of negotiations has come as civilian casualties have soared in recent months, with the Taliban increasingly targeting towns and cities in response to a new and more aggressive U.S. military policy

What has been Taliban’s response?

  • The Taliban said it was prepared to enter direct talks with the U.S. to find a “peaceful solution”.
  • However, the statement made no mention of negotiating with the Afghan government.

Pakistan ‘not’ on black list, confirms it will be on FATF grey list in June(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Pakistan confirmed that it will be on the grey list of Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) in June but disputed claims of being put on a black list.

More in news:

  • The lead Ministry for dealing with FATF/ICRG is the Ministry of Finance.
  • Secondly, the internal processes of FATF are confidential.
  • Pakistan will be assigned to the ‘grey list’ in June, once an Action Plan has been mutually negotiated.
  • But, the statement that Pakistan will be transferred from the ‘grey’ to the ‘black’ list in June is  not true.
  • The FATF website clearly demarcates the countries in ‘black’ list, as those who are non-cooperative.
  • Moreover, FATF has highlighted certain deficiencies in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Terrorist Financing (AML/CFT) framework of Pakistan.
  • As a matter of fact, the government of Pakistan, over the last few years, has taken a number of measures to address these issues, including through enactment of legislation, issuance of regulations and guidelines by SBP and SECP to the financial sector, establishment of the Financial Monitoring Unit and implementation of UNSC 1267 sanctions on the entities of concern.

India being criticized:

  • India has been criticized because despite calls for restraint, India continues to indulge in ceasefire violations.
  • The Forign Office also criticized the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association decision to uphold its ban on Pakistani artists, being caste in Indian media.
  • Unfortunately this decision, following several others, including non-issuance of visas to Pakistani Zaireen, refusal to allow participation of Sikhs and Katas raj pilgrims and cancellation of sports matches underscores the growing intolerance and bias prevalent in India exposing the shamocracy it is increasingly becoming.

Anti-Muslim violence in Ampara sparks concern(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Sri Lanka’s Leader of Opposition R. Sampanthan, condemned the recent anti-Muslim attacks in the Ampara district of Eastern Province and sought “stern action” against the culprits.

Why is it in news?

  • His comments come in the wake of an attack on a mosque and several Muslim-run shops late in Ampara town.
  • At least five persons were injured in the attack.
  • Police have since deployed additional security in the area.
  • The incident is said to have been triggered by a Sinhalese mob and has sparked concern among many Sri Lankans, given that the island has witnessed a spate of anti-Muslim attacks over the last few years.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Pharma promotions tax exempt: tribunal(The Hindu)

Context:

  • A recent decision of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal’s Pune bench allowing pharmaceutical companies to account for their spending on doctors as a deductible expenditure has sparked off a fresh debate on ethics.

More in news:

  • Since the companies are out of the purview of the Medical Council of India (MCI), money spent on promotions, which in some cases could be gifts, travel, hospitality and so on for doctors, besides medical conferences and samples, can be claimed as deductible expenditure.
  • Doctors accepting such promotions may be violating the code of ethics of the MCI.

Why is it in news?

  • The tribunal’s order came in a case involving Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd, which filed returns in which expenses of Rs. 2.07 crore were claimed as ‘advertisement sales promotions’.
  • Of this, about Rs. 50 lakh was for ‘print and promotion’ and the remaining Rs. 1.57 crore was for ‘sales promotions’.
  • The pharma company’s claim was disallowed by the IT department on the ground that it violated the MCI code of ethics.
  • However, the IT Appellate Tribunal reversed the decision by the assessing officer and ruled in favour of the company.

Conclusion:

  • The MCI code may not govern pharma companies but there are ethical problems as it directly affects patients.
  • The companies should have a code of ethics.

United by a common purpose(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • The Constitution Bench in the land acquisition case must show us that the court still respects rules of precedent

Provision in Land Act:

  • A provision in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act) is being replaced the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
  • As a result, landowners were placed at the state’s mercy.
  • Government was accorded vast discretion to expropriate land for supposed public use.
  • Requirements of due process were scant, and the amount of money paid in return for land was often derisory, that too in the rare cases where it could be grasped from the exchequer’s strong hands.
  • But it is also to be remembered that the number of safeguards that the law legislates has made the process of acquisition manifestly fairer.
  • For instance, it compels a social and environmental impact assessment as a precondition for any acquisition.
  • Besides, it also acknowledges a need for a system of rehabilitation and resettlement for those whose livelihoods are likely to be affected by the transfer of land.

Background:

  • Ordinarily, the court held that the state is always obligated to pay the landowner money in terms of any award made.
  • It was only in exceptional circumstances, defined in Section 31 of the 1894 statute, that the government could deposit those amounts into a court of law.
  • These included cases where a landowner might have refused to receive compensation, for some reason or the other.
  • But even there, a mere payment into the government’s own treasury wouldn’t suffice.
  • Therefore, the proceedings in all these cases under the 1894 law, the bench ruled, had to be annulled, with lands being returned to their original owners.
  • High Courts across India almost uniformly adopted this verdict, reversing acquisitions in a host of cases.

A different reading:

  • On February 8, a divided three-judge bench departed from the decision in Pune Municipality.
  • It has been found that in cases where a landowner refuses compensation, a payment into the government’s treasury was sufficient, and that there was no attendant obligation on the state to deposit this money into court.
  • This reading clearly fits neither with the language of the LARR Act nor the law’s larger objectives.
  • What makes the ruling patently unconscionable, though, is that it roundly disregards Pune Municipal Corporation, holding that the bench there showed a lack of due regard for the law.
  • Stare decisis, a principle foundational to the judiciary’s effective functioning, is predicated on a belief that settled points of law ought not to be disturbed.
  • The idea is that a court’s rulings should represent a consistent position.
  • If judges are allowed to easily depart from precedent, citizens might find themselves in an impossible position, where the statement of law remains prone to the constant vagaries of human interpretation.

Maintaining uniformity in Supreme Court’s decisions:

  • In India, since the Supreme Court declares the law for the whole country, ensuring uniformity in its decisions is especially critical.
  • Therefore, to ensure that its decisions remain predominantly consistent, the court has carved out rules that make its judgments binding on all benches of the court of an equal or lesser strength.
  • The court held that a three-judge bench cannot overrule a precedent set by an earlier bench of equal strength, but must, in cases where it thinks the previous bench might have blundered, refer the dispute to the Chief Justice, seeking the creation of a larger panel.
  • Maintaining such a rule not only ensures stability in the court’s rulings but also provides the court with the necessary flexibility to correct its errors in appropriate cases.

E-way bills redux: next step for GST Council(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

The group of ministers assessing technology issues related to the Goods and Services Tax regime has proposed rolling out on April 1 the e-way bill system.

What is the purpose of the e-way bill system?

To track inter-State movement of goods above the value of ₹50,000

Details:

  • A final decision on the launch of the system will now be taken by the GST Council at its next meeting.
  • A plan to start it on February 1 had to be abandoned after the IT network to create the bills crashed in its first few hours after generating about five lakh bills.
  • The government decided to defer its roll-out till the technical glitches, like those businesses faced while filing online returns on the GST Network initially after its July 1 roll-out last year, were removed.
  • For intra-State goods movement, the government had said all States must launch their own e-way bill systems by June 1.
  • The ministerial group headed by Bihar Finance Minister Sushil Modi has proposed that instead of bringing all States and Union Territories on board together, introducing intra-State e-way Bills in four or five at a time is better.

What will be the impact?

For businesses with operations across the country, this proposal will pose a fresh compliance headache as some States may require e-way Bills for internal movement of goods while others will not.

Fiscal compulsions of the government:

  • After a monthly inflow of over ₹90,000 crore in the first three months of the tax regime, revenue collections dipped.
  • This may be partly because of the large-scale rationalisation of tax rates carried out recently, but registered taxpayers are also finding ways to avoid tax dues.
  • Data for January shows about 69% of the over one crore registered businesses filed returns, with wide variations across territories
  • The disparity must be factored in by the GST Council when it considers proposals for a staggered launch of the intra-State e-way bill system.

Way ahead:

  • Boosting compliance is critical for further rationalisation of multiple GST rates
  • To achieve that goal, it must be ensured that States and industry are comfortable with the e-way bill regime
  • Strong It infrastructure is needed

An ode to a dying language(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  •  India is one of the great repositories of languages.

Death of a culture

  • The death of a language in particular has a particular poignancy.
  • Newspapers often report the death of a last tribal speaker, scarcely mentioning the death of a culture that preceded it.
  • There is a hypocrisy and ambivalence which captures modernity’s attitude to the obsolescent and near extinct.

Disappear of languages:

  • Futurists warn that over 3,000 languages might disappear over the next ten years.
  • The danger to minority languages and oral languages is high.
  •  Almost any census on languages is a ritual of mourning.
  • Development and the institutions of development like school mutually guarantee the disappearance of minority languages and dialects.

People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PSLI):

  • One group that is steadfastly fighting to keep languages alive is the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PSLI).
  •  India is an oral society that understands the culture of orality.
  • Today one needs to create a new social contract between orality, textuality and digitality to keep pluralism alive.
  • The PLSI also noted that extinction of a language and the death of ecology often goes together.
  • In India coastal languages are dying as the coast and the livelihoods of the coast are being destroyed ecologically and culturally.

Losing a language:

  • Losing a language is losing a cosmology, a set of myths, rituals of competence.
  • Yet no cost-benefit ever calculates the cultural cost of language extinction.
  • India is one of the great repositories of language in the world.
  • A language disappears as a new generation enters modernity, abandoning memory and older forms of competence.

World languages in danger:

  • 230 languages have become extinct since 1950.
  • Needs a kaleidoscope of spaces where different languages are juxtaposed and one switch between them as one shifts context.
  • Translation too becomes an important act of citizenship.
  • Local and regional languages are translated into English but one rarely thinks of translating from Tamil to Spanish.
  • One needs to move to a more polyglot world to sustain a vision of diversity.
  • Language loss is a part of a bigger problematic of diversity.

Way ahead:

  • Need a notion of heritage which can save agricultural and linguistic diversity together.
  • Need to invent a citizenship and a commons of cultures as part of our democratic imagination.
  • A people need to feel a language is relevant, possesses dignity, and provides competence, identity and meaning for it to survive.
  • Needs a special prayer for a language going extinct.

Against human rights(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

  • Rule of law is the fundamental principle of governance of any civilised liberal democracy but  the Uttar Pradesh government looks somewhat determined to disregard the first principles of the criminal justice system.

More in news:

  • Police encounters have become routine in U.P.
  • In December, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had introduced in the State Assembly the Uttar Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Bill, 2017 on the pattern of the regressive Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
  • Such legislation does not promote the rule of law, but is itself a kind of violence, though a legitimate one with due authority of law.
  • Such laws are basically examples of “rule by law” as law itself negates human rights and permits deviations from due processes.
  • The fundamental premise of the rule of law is that every human being, including the worst criminal, is entitled to basic human rights and due process.

Encounter killing:

  • Encounter killings generally take place with the prior consent or in full knowledge of the top authority.
  • But in reality, when after a long wait, the trial in cases of fake encounter takes place, the main culprits easily get discharged, and, in some cases, the Central Bureau of Investigation even refuses to file an appeal against such discharge, and subsequently many prosecution witnesses turn hostile.
  • There is a qualitative difference between use of force in an operation and use of such deadly force that is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly; one is an act of self-defence while the other is an act of retaliation.
  • Importantly, the above observations were about terrorists, not ordinary criminals like those being killed in U.P. encounters.
  • From the details of U.P. encounters, they do not look like acts of defence by the U.P. police.
  • These encounters demonstrate the government’s resolve to adopt ‘the rule by gun’ in preference to ‘the rule of law’.

Conclusion:

  • The primordial value is that it is the responsibility of every organ of the State to function within the four corners of constitutional responsibility.
  • That is the ultimate rule of law.

GS: 3


Economy:

GDP surges in third quarter(The Hindu)

Context:

According to official data, the GDP growth has accelerated in the third quarter from the preceding ones in 2017-18

Details:

  • GDP growth in the third quarter of financial year 2017-18 was 7.2%
  • Growth in GDP was at 6.5% in the second quarter of the current financial year.
  • Growth in the gross value added (GVA) in the third quarter stood at 6.7%, up from the 6.2% seen in the second quarter and the 5.6% in the first quarter of this financial year.
  • Manufacturing sector: In the third quarter, the manufacturing sector exhibited a strong recovery, growing at 8.1%, following up on a 6.9% growth in the second quarter.
  • Agricultural Sector: The agriculture sector also saw relatively robust growth in the third quarter, growing at 4.1%, up from 2.7% in the first and second quarters.
  • Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), a measure of overall investment activity in the economy, grew at a robust 12% in the third quarter, up from the 6.92% growth seen in the previous quarter.
  • The government also marginally increased its estimate for the full year’s growth to 6.6% from its earlier estimate of 6.5%.

Implications:

  • The GDP trends are consistent with the robust growth of the manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI), Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and consumer demand
  • The fast recovery in the economic indicators like IIP, PMI and consumer demand reflects a positive economic sentiment

Rupee weakens as dollar demand rises after fraud(The Hindu)

Context:

  •  A marked increase in demand for dollars has been pushing the rupee lower in recent sessions as banks exercise increased caution over issuing buyer’s credit, letter of credit (LC) and similar instruments for trade finance in the wake of the fraud uncovered at Punjab National Bank (PNB).

Rupee depreciation:

  • The rupee, which closed at 64.89 to a dollar on Tuesday, slid to as low as 65.31 intraday before state-run banks stepped in and sold some dollars helping the Indian currency pare its losses.
  • The rupee closed at 65.17 to a dollar, down 0.28 when compared to the previous close.

Factors responsible:

  • Since the PNB scam broke recently the rupee has depreciated 1.3% against the dollar.
  • It has weakened about 2% this year making it the worst performing currency in Asia in 2018 after the Philippine peso, which has depreciated about 4.2%.

Curbing volatility

  •  The Reserve Bank of India maintains that it never targets a particular value for the rupee and only intervenes to curb volatility.

Other factors that could impact the rupee:

  • The recent trend of the dollar strengthening internationally.
  • There has been an increase in dollar demand in the wake of the U.S. administration’s recent measures to incentivise the nation’s companies to repatriate earnings from overseas.

Manufacturing sector growth falls to 4-month low in Feb.: PMI(The Hindu

Context:

  • India’s manufacturing sector activity fell to a four-month low in February, as factory output and new business orders rose at a slower pace, according to a monthly survey.

Nikkei India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI):

  • The Nikkei India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell to 52.1 in February from 52.4 in January, indicating a modest improvement in operating conditions.
  •  This is for the seventh consecutive month that the index remained above the 50-point-mark that separates expansion from contraction.
  • According to Japanese financial services major Nomura, India’s manufacturing PMI remained in the expansion zone, but suggested some consolidation after the rapid ramp up of activity in December.
  • In December 2017, the index had touched a 60-month high of 54.7.

Highlights of the survey:

  • On the prices front, the survey said that cost inflation accelerated to the sharpest since February 2017, adding to expectations that inflationary risks will continue over the coming months.
  • The survey further noted that Indian manufacturers remained optimistic towards the 12-month outlook for output during February.

Fiscal deficit overshoots full-year revised estimate in Jan(The Hindu)

Context:

  •  India’s fiscal deficit touched Rs 6.77 lakh crore at the end of January, 113.7 per cent of the target for the entire fiscal, on account of higher expenditure.

Fiscal deficit:

  • The fiscal deficit, reflection of government borrowings to meet revenue-expenditure gap, was 113.7 per cent in the 10-month period of 2017-18 as compared to 105.7 per cent in the year-ago period.
  •  Fiscal deficit had been pegged at Rs 5.33 lakh crore, or 3.5 per cent of the GDP, for the current fiscal ending March 31.
  • The figure was revised to Rs 5.95 lakh crore in the Union Budget 2018-19.
  • As per data released by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA), the revenue deficit during the April-January period of 2017-18, at Rs 4.80 lakh crore works out to 109.2 percent of the revised budget estimate.
  • It was 129.9 per cent in the corresponding period of the last financial year.

Net tax receipts

  • Net tax receipts in the first 10 months of 2017-18 fiscal were 9.7 lakh crore.
  • Total receipts from revenue and non-debt capital of the government during the period amount to Rs 11.63 lakh crore or 71.7 percent of revised estimate.
  • The government’s revenue expenditure during the current fiscal till January came in at Rs 15.75 lakh crore, 81 per cent of the full-year revised estimate.
  • The capital expenditure was Rs 2.64 lakh crore, or 96.9 per cent, of the full-year revised estimate.
  • The total expenditure was Rs 18.39 lakh crore,83 per cent of the government’s full-year estimate of Rs 22.17 lakh crore.

Core sector growth accelerates to 6.7% in January(The Hindu)

Context:

  •  Growth in the country’s core sector accelerated to 6.7% in January, 2018 from 3.4% a year ago.

Introduction:

  • The growth in eight core sectors, which comprise 40.27% of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), was 4.2% in December and 7.4% in November, 2017.
  • Cement output surged to 20.7% in January against 13.3% contraction in the same month a year ago, while refinery products jumped 11% in January against a flat output in January 2017.

Reason:

  •  It was a huge jump in the output of cement and petroleum refinery, and a robust performance by the electricity sector.

Power generation:

  • Electricity generation went up to 8.2% from 5.2% during the period under review, while coal sector output slowed to 3% from 3.5% and steel production to 3.7% from 11.3%.
  •  Crude oil production shrunk to 3.2% (from 1.3% in January 2017) and fertilisers contracted by 1.6% (from -1.2%) and natural gas shrunk by 1% (from 11.6% in January, 2017).
  • The cumulative growth in the core sectors during April-January this fiscal slowed to 4.3% as against 5.1% in the corresponding period last fiscal.

Security and defence:

Rs. 9,435-crore arms purchases to get rolling(The Hindu)

Context:

The Defence Acquisition council (DAC) has given approval for various procurement proposals at an estimated cost of about Rs. 9,435 crore

Details:

  • It includes purchases of 41,000 light machine guns (LMG) and over 3.5 lakh close quarter battle (CQB) carbines for the three services.
  • The small arms would be procured under the Buy and Make (Indian) category and of the total quantities envisaged, 75% will be through Indian industry under “Buy and Make (Indian)” category and balance through Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
  • The cost of carbines and LMGs is Rs. 4,607 crore and Rs. 3,000 crore respectively.
  • The Coast Guard will get two Pollution Control Vessels (PCV) at an approximate cost of Rs. 673 crore.
  • The PCVs in addition to carrying out pollution control would also be capable of undertaking patrolling, search and rescue and limited salvage and fire-fighting operations at sea.
  • The largest deal is for the procurement of 7.4 lakh assault rifles from both OFB and Private Industry at an estimated cost of Rs. 12,280 crore.

Conclusion:

The DAC approval is the first step in the long-drawn defence procurement procedure and will take several years for the final deals to be concluded.

Science and Technology:

Fifty years of TERLS(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

India’s commitment to the peaceful use of outer space has been a constant

In news

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) to the UN, which fell on February 2, 2018, ISRO has honoured former employees of TERLS who had contributed to the sounding rocket programme.

About TERLS

  • TERLS is an Indian spaceport operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation.
  • It is located in Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram which is near the southern tip of mainland India
  • From TERLS India’s first rocket (US made) Nike-Apache was launched.
  • During the 1960s, TERLS became an international launch station and the sounding rockets launched from here proved instrumental in studying the equatorial electrojet.

TERLS Dedication to the UN

  • The Indian space programme received support from the U.S., the USSR, France, the U.K. and West Germany.
  • Often, this was in the form of technical equipment such as telemetry receivers, tracking systems and computers.
  • In return, India offered to dedicate TERLS to the United Nations as a goodwill gesture.
  • Consequently, the UN formally sponsored TERLS as an international scientific facility open to all its members.

India’s commitment to the peaceful use of outer space

  • Amidst changes in Indian space programme, India’s commitment to the peaceful use of outer space has been a constant
  • It is highly commendable given that the entire programme advanced on the back of a considerable resource crunch.
  • The space programme in India remains focussed on civilian benefits, using space technology to improve the life of the common man.
  • This includes the use of satellites to: map and survey crops, assess damage from natural disasters, and bring telemedicine and telecommunication to the remote areas of rural India.
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