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GS: 1

Society related issues:

‘Return of child to place of habitual residence may not be in best interest’(The Hindu) 

Context

Concept of “Habitual Residence” questioned

Pressure on India from US to accede to the Hague convention

There is immense pressure on India from the U.S. to accede to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which is a multi-national treaty that seeks to protect children wrongfully removed by one of the parents from the custody of the other parent.

Justice Rakesh Bindal Committee

The Justice Rajesh Bindal Committee was set up last year to suggest a model legislation to safeguard the interest of the child as well those of the parents when an NRI (Non Resident Indian) marriage goes sour and one of the parents flees from one country to another with the child (e.g. a woman fleeing the country of his husband with the child)

Observations of the Committee

  • The Committee feels that the concept of habitual residence is not synchronous with the best interest of the child
  • It adds that returning a child to the place of habitual residence may result in sending the child to an inharmonious set-up as well as overlook the fact that a mother is the primary caregiver of the child
  • The panel has also prepared a draft law to safeguard the interest of the children, as well as those of the parents, particularly mothers.
  • The proposed legislation lays down nine exceptions under which a child will not be returned to the country of habitual residence

Conditions for refusal

The important conditions under which a child’s return can be refused are — best interest of the child, domestic violence or mental or physical cruelty or harassment against the parent who fled with the child, the parent claiming the return of the child was not exercising the custody rights at the time of removal, and if there is a grave risk that the child would be exposed to physical or psychological harm.

Inter-Country Parental Child Removal Disputes Resolution Authority

The report also requires the setting up of an Inter-Country Parental Child Removal Disputes Resolution Authority, which will be the nodal body to decide on the custody of the child, mediate between the warring parties, as well as order the return of the child to the country of habitual residence

Indian family system

The panel has also emphasised the importance of the “Indian family system” in ensuring the best interest of the child, seemingly to question the logic behind returning the child to a place of habitual residence outside India

What now?

  • The Committee submitted its report to Women and Child Development Minister
  • The Ministry will be circulating the report to the Ministries of External affairs and Home Affairs for their inputs.
  • Once the Central government decides to set-up the Authority and frames a law on the issue, it is expected to take a decision on whether it should accede to the Hague Convention

GS: 2

International Relations:

Panel for revamp of Indo-Nepal treaty(The Hindu) 

What has happened?

The final report of a bilateral committee — appointed to advise governments in Delhi and Kathmandu — is likely to suggest that the 1950 India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty should be revised

Will guide relations in the future

  • The committee will finalise its report, which will shape ties over the next two decades, by this summer
  • The committee consists of eight members with four persons representing each side.

Eminent Persons Group (EPG)

  • The EPG was set up during the February 2016 visit of Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli, in the aftermath of the economic blockade of Nepal, to bring in measures to address concerns of both sides
  • It has met seven times in two years and will hold its last meeting next month in Delhi when the report is expected to be finalized
  • At the penultimate meeting in Kathmandu, the two sides had exchanged an early draft of the report.

What now?

Both sides had addressed the key issues and it will be up to the governments on both sides to implement the report

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Adult couple can live together, says SC(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The top court held that live-in relationships were now even recognized by the legislature and they had found a place under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

The case

  • The observations came while the top court was hearing a plea filed by Nandakumar against a Kerala HC order annulling his marriage with Thushara on the ground that he had not attained the legal age of marriage
  • The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act states that a woman can’t marry before the age of 18, and a man before 21. 

SC observed

  • Their marriage could not said to be “null and void” merely because Mr. Nandakumar was less than 21 at the time of marriage
  • It set aside the HC order granting girl’s custody to the father

GS: 3

Economy:

GST’s complicated(The Hindu Opinion) 

Context

The new compliance system and a proposal for cess on sugar send the wrong signals 

GST Council meeting

Council decided to introduce a new compliance system under which a single monthly GST return will have to be submitted by firms, barring a few exceptions.

However, this will only be done in a phased manner — with the first of three transition stages to begin six months from now 

Simplifying GST returns

The solution offered has gaps

  • For instance, in the second stage of the transition to simpler returns, buyers will get provisional input credit even if the seller doesn’t upload the invoices
  • While this could lead to disputes, in the third stage input credits will only be granted after sellers upload invoices
  • If a seller defaults on depositing GST dues collected from a buyer and remains evasive, the authorities can reverse the credit availed by the buyer for such outstanding taxes. 

Council could have done more

  • The timelines for the transition are long and bring fresh uncertainty for businesses still recovering from the initial jitters and confusion around the tax regime
  • Firms will again have to cope with significant changes in accounting software in the middle of the financial year

Cess on sugar is troubling

  • A cess at the rate of Rs. 3 a kg is proposed to alleviate ‘deep distress’ among sugarcane farmers. This faces opposition from several States
  • It has been rightly argued that this will burden consumers while favouring larger sugarcane-growing States like U.P. and Maharashtra
  • In addition, a special sugar cess will signal a looming breakdown of the basic tenet of GST: the abolition of such cesses and surcharges, barring the compensation cess for funding States’ revenue losses for five years
  • Along with a proposal to reward digital GST payments, this has been referred to new ministerial groups, which are to revert in a fortnight

No use

The decision to make the GSTN a 100% government-owned firm, instead of the present structure with 51% private ownership, explains neither how this will address data security concerns nor the impact on the Network’s functional efficiency, which was the original stated intent for giving private players an upper hand in operations.

Continental ambition(The Hindu Opinion)

What has happened?

The African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) is a potential game changer for the world’s poorest region. The pact — signed by 44 of the 55-member African Union (AU) in March — seeks to create a single market in goods and services, free movement of persons and investment, and eventually a customs union with a common external tariff.

Transformation from exporter of commodities to supplier of finished goods

  • With a number of African countries ranking among the world’s fastest-growing economies over the last two decades, the ACFTA could tap into the immense potential for closer trade integration.
  • Moody’s points out that exports in manufactured goods within the continent are more than double the exports to countries outside it
  • These findings buttress expectations that a continent-wide single market would enable Africa’s transformation from an exporter of commodities and raw materials to a supplier of finished manufactured goods.
  • Such trade diversification from relatively less labour-intensive sectors to value-added industrial products would in turn lead to sustained economic growth and employment generation.

Aim of ACFTA

  • The ACFTA aims to abolish import duties on 90% of goods, currently averaging at 6%, which is projected to raise internal trade by over 50%
  • That would double if non-tariff barriers are scrapped, says the UN Economic Commission for Africa. But the UN Conference on Trade and Development is cautious about the effects from initial loss of tariff revenues and uneven costs and benefits during the transition.

Conclusion

African leaders have been highly successful in leveraging their influence in the global strategic and economic arenas. But they could strive harder to uphold democratic rights and constitutional principles at home. That is critical to promote sustainable development

Rupee is dancing to more tunes this year(The Hindu)

Context

Menacing threats include rupee overvaluation, rising CAD, a retreat in capital flows and macroeconomic populism 

What has happened?

The Indian currency has been facing some selling pressure for the last 4-5 weeks, chiefly on the back of rising crude price. The rupee fell against the U.S. dollar by a little over 2.5% in April, and 4.3% since the beginning of the year, making it the worst-performing Asian currency.

U.S. dollar recovering

  • And this has come at a time when the U.S. dollar seems to be on a cyclical recovery path against other major currencies on the relative strength of the U.S. economy.
  • On all such occasions in the past, the rupee as well as the capital account of the country’s Balance of Payments came under pressure.

Real effective exchange rate gone up

The real effective exchange rate of the rupee has gone up by about 4.73% since 2015-16, but it remained flat in 2017-18, although the nominal effective exchange rate of the U.S. dollar fell by about 9% during that period. 

High inflation in coming months

  • RBI expects CPI inflation to lie between 4.4%-5.1% during the current fiscal year, with higher inflation expected in the first half. For the purpose of this estimate, RBI has assumed an average oil price of $68 per barrel
  • If global prices turn out to be higher than this, then the inflation will be higher
  • With the benchmark Brent having already touched a high of $75 per barrel, the possibility of inflation crossing 5% in the coming months is high.

 

India’s inability to gain market share in a global business   

“Make in India” not making enough

Despite the claims of ‘Make in India’, India does not yet figure among the top ten exporters of manufactured goods. China now exports manufactured goods worth $2 trillion (almost equal to India’s GDP) and its share of global exports of manufactured goods increased from 4.7% in 2000 to 17.9% in 2016.

Lackluster exports

  • While the country’s imports relative to its GDP is now much lower than the peak level reached in 2012-13, the performance of exports continues to be lacklustre.
  • In the financial year 2013-14, exports were 17.2% of GDP and by the financial year 2016-17, the ratio fell to 12.4% of GDP
  • In the traditional areas of exports, such as garments and textiles, where India was second only to China, the country now occupies third position in textiles and fifth position in garments.

Garment exports lagging behind

  • In 2000 the share of clothing exports as a percentage of total global clothing exports of Bangladesh, Vietnam and India was 2.6%, 0.9% and 3% respectively
  • By 2016, while India’s share of global clothing exports has increased marginally to 4%, Bangladesh has improved its share to 6.4% and Vietnam’s share is a stellar 5.5%.

A silver lining in exports: ITES

  • Indian IT services companies, which followed a low-cost global delivery model with success in the past, have not succeeded so far in graduating to the new world of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics
  • Growing trade protectionism in the West will certainly slow down the growth of exports of IT and IT-enabled services, unless Indian companies move up the value chain.

Gold Import rising

India’s gold import, which was $56 billion in 2011-12, declined 52% to $27 billion in 2016-17. However, a rising trend of gold import is now being seen, with the import in 2017 at 855 tonnes — a 67% rise over the previous year

Rapid increase in import of electronics goods

  • Rapid growth in imports of electronic goods, which was $3.4 billion in 2011-12 and $42 billion in 2016-17 — a massive 12-fold increase in five years
  • There is a distinct possibility that imports of electronic imports, mostly from China, will surpass oil imports in the near future

Rupee overvaluation

The rising trend of import of gold and white goods could very well be a manifestation of the rupee’s overvaluation

Decline in FDI

The FDI and portfolio flows in the first nine months of 2017-18 remained robust. But, a decline in portfolios flows is taking place now, as evidenced by an outflow of $2 billion in April

Disagreements with IMF?

  • Curiously, India’s annual Article IV consultation with the IMF staff, which usually takes place in February, has not yet happened this year.
  • As per its office in India, the earliest it is going to happen is in July, 2018.
  • One wonders if the delay is due to any disagreement between Indian authorities and IMF staff on macro issues.

Conclusion

Higher oil prices mean tough choices, especially on the fiscal front. In fact, there are no easy options left on any of the major macroeconomic policy front in the lead-up to the next general elections. 

Environment and Ecology:

When NECTAR turned poison for bamboo(The Hindu)

What has happened?

Bamboo farmers and entrepreneurs in the Northeast got a flicker of hope when Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley allocated Rs. 1,290 crore in Budget 2018 for a restructured National Bamboo Mission (NMB)

President’s ordinance

This followed President Ram Nath Kovind’s ordinance in November 2017 amending the Indian Forest Act to rid bamboo, botanically a grass, of its tree tag for 90 years and exempting it from requiring permits for felling or transportation. 

But NE not getting its hopes up.Why?

Reason: This is because of the failure of the Rs. 1,400-crore NMB from 2007-2014 as well as a related initiative called the North East Centre for Technology Application and Reach (NECTAR)

Failure of NMBA

  • The Department of Science and Technology (DST) had in 2004 launched the National Mission on Bamboo Application (NMBA) with an outlay of Rs. 200 crore.
  • In almost a decade since, the NMBA has spent Rs. 100 crore on building demo bamboo houses that hardly impacted lives across India’s bamboo belts.
  • An amount of Rs. 40 crore, refundable in instalments, was also provided to entrepreneurs as technology development assistance for partly procuring machinery and equipment
  • Contrary to its name, the NMBA neither developed any technology nor facilitated technology transfer for the assisted units
  • Bamboo entrepreneurs said the NMBA also failed to develop market linkages and virtually went off the radar
  • The Centre slashed duty on imported bamboo products from 30% to 10%.
    • Unable to compete with cheaper bamboo products – allegedly Chinese routed through Southeast Asian countries – in the domestic market, 99.7% of the 385 bamboo units formed with NMBA’s assistance shut shop.

Entry of NECTAR

  • In 2013, the Union Cabinet approved the creation of an autonomous society registered and headquartered in Shillong with a fund allocation of Rs. 292 crore.
  • The society was called NECTAR.

But NECTAR was a failure too. Why? 

Reasons: Old wine in a new bottle

  • The entire team that made NMBA a failure was rehabilitated in NECTAR without any responsibilities being fixed
  • NECTAR’s role, has been minimal except for occasional tours by officials to “use up funds” meant for creating livelihoods and employment
  • Soon after its formation, NECTAR began functioning from the same space of the DST Secretary’s office in New Delhi from where the NMBA operated. But DST was apparently unaware that NECTAR operated from the same building
  • Inability to shift NECTAR’s base to NE 

Huge market

  • Regional trade bodies say the Northeast is crucial for India to tap the estimated $10 billion market potential of bamboo.
  • India has the world’s largest fields of bamboo. It grows on nearly 13% of the country’s forest land. The eight North-eastern States – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura – grow 67% of India’s bamboo and have 45% of global bamboo reserves. Nearly 35 species of superior quality bamboos are found in the region.

Government Schemes:

Partial success for Gram Swaraj Abhiyan(The Hindu) 

What has happened?

At the end of a three-week drive to bring seven flagship schemes to 16,850 villages with a high number of poor, SC (Scheduled Caste) and ST (Scheduled Tribe) households, less than 30% of the target households received an electricity connection, while less than 40% got a gas connection, according to government data. 

Gram Swaraj Abhiyan

The Gram Swaraj Abhiyan was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 14, the birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, to reach out to villages, most of which have a majority of Dalit and tribal homes.

Why the Outreach program was launched?

The official objective of the outreach programme, which was launched a fortnight after nationwide protests against the dilution of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, was to “promote social harmony, spread awareness about pro-poor initiatives of government, reach out to poor households to enrol them in various welfare programmes.”

Code of Conduct

Villages in Karnataka and West Bengal, where the election code of conduct is in effect, were left out of it.

Targeted outreach

  • However, financial schemes for rural beneficiaries to get Jan Dhan bank accounts and sign up for life and accident insurance achieved a high level of saturation
  • A scheme to fully immunise all pregnant women, and all children under two years, also reached almost all targeted beneficiaries.
  • The Saubhagya scheme to give every household an electricity connection reached 4 lakh homes, as against a target of 14.5 lakh homes, thus reaching 27% of the intended beneficiaries.
  • Under the Ujjwala scheme to give gas connections to all homes, 39% or 5.6 lakh households were reached out of a total target of 14.4 lakh.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, a life insurance scheme, enrolled 73% of targeted beneficiaries, while the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, a risk insurance scheme for accidental death or disability, enrolled almost 88% of target beneficiaries

Till full saturation

Gram Swaraj Abhiyan officially ended on Saturday, the government planned to continue until full saturation was achieved

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