9 PM Current Affairs Brief – August 1, 2019

‘India and U.S. very close to resolving all trade issues’

  1. India’s Commerce Minister is planning to meet the U.S. Trade Representative.They will hold talks to resolve the differences over trade and investment.
  2. However,government officials have said that almost all issues have been resolved between the two countries.But the core area of disagreement which is market access is also close to being resolved.
  3. The Indian government is demanding greater market access in the U.S. for dairy products,medical devices and information and communication technology(ICT) services.On the other hand,the US is demanding increased market access on a wider range of products in India.
  4. India and the United States had differences over a range of issues like (a) India’s new rules on e-commerce that affected firms such as Amazon and Walmart (b) Data localisation rules which forced foreign companies to store their data locally and (c)Trade imbalance between India and the US.
  5. India has also imposed long pending retaliatory tariffs on 29 US products after US had withdrawn Generalized system of preferences (GSP) for Indian exporters.
  6. GSP is a preferential tariff system extended by developed countries to developing countries.It is a preferential arrangement in the sense that it allows concessional low/zero tariff imports from developing countries.

Cabinet approves ISRO Technical Liaison Unit at Moscow

  1. The Union Cabinet has approved the setting up of Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO)’s Technical Liaison Unit(ITLU) in Moscow, Russia.
  2. The establishment of this unit will help ISRO to collaborate with Space agencies/industries in Russia and neighbouring countries for mutually synergistic outcomes.
  3. Further,this unit will also help in ISRO’s Gaganyaan programme which requires development of some of the key technologies and establishment of specialized facilities which are essential to support life in space
  4. The ITLU Moscow office would be managed by an ISRO Scientist designated as “Counsellor (Space)” on deputation who will be deputed from ISRO.These representatives will provide India with all the information on development taking place in research and technology.
  5. However,the establishment of ITLU is not one of its kind.ISRO already has its ITLU units active in Washington,USA and Paris,France.The main agenda of these establishments is to collaborate with various government and space agencies in the USA and Europe.

Cabinet nod for revised Chit Funds Bill

  1. The Union Cabinet has approved the introduction of the Chit Funds (Amendment) Bill,2019 in Parliament.The bill seeks to amend the Chit Fund Act,1982.
  2. The 1982 Act regulates chit funds and prohibits a fund from being created without the prior sanction of the state government.  
  3. Under a chit fund,people agree to pay a certain amount from time to time into a fund.Periodically,one of the subscribers is chosen by drawing a chit to receive the prize amount from the fund. 
  4. The Act specifies various names which may be used to refer to a chit fund.These include chit,chit fund, and kuri.The Bill allows a chit fund company to mention under their name as ‘A ROSCA Institution’(Rotating Savings & Credit Association).This will help in distinguishing their business from other unconnected business.
  5. The Act specifies that a chit will be drawn in the presence of at least two subscribers.The Bill seeks to allow these subscribers to join via video-conferencing.
  6. Under the Act,the ‘foreman’ is responsible for managing the chit fund.He is entitled to a maximum commission of 5% of the chit amount.The Bill seeks to increase the commission to 7%.
  7. Currently,the Chit Fund Act 1982 does not apply to chits that are smaller than ₹100.The Bill seeks to remove the limit of ₹100 with the State government being allowed to set the limit over which the provisions of the Act would apply.

22nd National Conference on e-Governance 2019 to be held at Shillong on 8-9, 2019

  1. The 22nd National Conference on e-Governance,2019 will be held in Shillong,Meghalaya. This is the first time the event is being organized in North-Eastern region of the country.
  2. The event will be organized by the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances(DARPG) in association with Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology(MeitY).
  3. The theme of this Conference is “Digital India:Success to Excellence”.
  4. The discussions will be held on 5 sub-themes namely (a)India Enterprise Architecture(INDEA) (b)Digital Infrastructure (c)One Nation–One Platform (d)Emerging Technology for Practitioners (e)Secretariat Reforms and (f)National e-Governance Service Delivery Assessment (NeSDA).
  5. The conference will provide a platform to disseminate knowledge on effective methods of designing and implementing sustainable e-Governance initiatives to provide end-to-end digital services,exchange experiences in solving problems,mitigating risks and resolving issues.

Inclusion of Nepali and Santhali languages in the Scheme for grant of Senior/Junior Fellowships of Culture Ministry

  1. Union Minister for Culture has announced the inclusion of Nepali and Santhali languages in the Scheme for grant of Senior/Junior Fellowships of Culture Ministry.
  2. These two remaining languages from the 8th  Schedule of the Indian Constitution were included in the Sub-Field of category“Literature” in the scheme.
  3. The Ministry of Culture administers a scheme component namely Award of Senior/Junior Fellowships to Outstanding Artistes in the Fields of Culture.The fellowships are awarded for undertaking research oriented projects. 
  4. Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT),Dwarka is the Nodal institute for handling the Scheme till selection process.Further,“Literary Arts” is one of the Fields under this Scheme where candidates can apply for research in 22 languages as their Sub-Field.
  5. These 22 languages include 20 languages from the 8th Schedule of Articles 344(1) and 251 of the Indian Constitution along with English and Khasi. 

New Delhi may not join interim arrangement to replace appellate body at WTO

  1. India is unlikely to strike bilateral deals with World Trade Organization (WTO) members such as the European Union (EU) and Canada.
  2. The deal aims to work out an interim arrangement to preserve the dispute settlement function of the multilateral body by agreeing to set up arbitration panels to resolve disputes.
  3. The Appellate body considered the supreme court of the WTO is set to become dysfunctional by 10 December,2019 as the US is not allowing appointment of judges to the panel.
  4. The US has been trying to use the opportunity of a dysfunctional Appellate Body to push through wide-ranging reform in the WTO rules including amendment of the developing country criteria, 
  5. However,India is of the view that crisis in the Appellate Body should not be used as a leverage to extract concessions in other areas of the WTO’s functioning.
  6. India has proposed that the focus should remain on solution-oriented approaches to address the concerns of the appellate body in a manner that accommodates the interests of the entire membership and preserves the essential features of the system.
  7. The Appellate Body of the WTO was established in 1995 with its seat in Geneva, Switzerland.It is a standing body of seven persons.It hears appeals from reports issued by panels in disputes brought by WTO Members.
  8. The Appellate Body can uphold,modify or reverse the legal findings and conclusions of a panel.The Appellate Body Reports once adopted by the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) must be accepted by the parties to the dispute.

Cabinet approves increasing strength of Supreme Court judges from 31 to 34

  1. The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal to introduce a bill to increase the number of judges in Supreme Court from 31 to 34.
  2. This decision of the Cabinet came days after Chief Justice of India had written to Prime Minister to increase the number of judges in the top court.
  3. CJI had written that due to paucity of judges,the required number of Constitution Benches to decide important cases involving questions of law were not being formed.
  4. The strength of the Supreme Court is fixed by law made by the Parliament as per Article 124(1) of the Constitution of India.Therefore, the strength can be increased by way of parliamentary legislation.
  5. The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act,1956 originally provided for a maximum of 11 judges.The act was last amended in 2009 to increase the judges’ strength from 26 to 31.

Bill for 10% quota to J&K economically weaker sections approved

  1. The Union Cabinet has approved the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019.
  2. The bill provides up to 10% reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections(EWS) in educational institutions and public employment alongside existing reservations in the state.
  3. The 10% quota Bill to economically weaker sections was introduced through the 103rd Constitution Amendment in January,2019.
  4. The Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act provides for 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the economically weaker section in the unreserved category
  5. The Act amends Article 15 and 16 to provide for reservation based on economic backwardness.
  6. The criteria for Economically Weaker Section (EWS) includes a) annual income below Rs 8 lakh; b) agriculture land below 5 acres; c) residential house below 1,000 sq.ft; d) residential plot below 100 yards in notified municipality and residential plot below 200 yards in non-notified municipality area.

Start-ups, SMEs write to govt. on equalisation levy

  1. Recently,Domestic Small and medium enterprises(SMEs) and start-ups have written to Revenue Secretary.They have complained about the equalisation levy they have to pay to foreign companies for doing business in India.
  2. They have said that this has resulted in increased costs as well as loss of revenue to the government.
  3. The equalisation levy was introduced in 2016.It is a direct tax of 6% on payments made by residents to non-resident companies for (a)online advertisement (b)provision of digital and advertising space or (c)any other facility or service for online advertisement.
  4. The complaint made by the SMEs and start-ups is that many companies, despite doing business in India were sending invoices from abroad thereby making their clients pay the equalisation levy.
  5. They have also pointed out that this has not only increased the compliance costs for companies but it has also led to loss of  government tax revenue since these foreign companies were not providing invoices from within India.
  6. In order to rectify this,the start-ups have requested the government to mandate that any global corporation having sales and marketing operations in India must be required to invoice all Indian customers from their India entity.

U.S. Fed cuts interest rate for first time since 2008

  1. The United States Federal Reserve has announced that it would cut the interest rates for the first time since a decade.
  2. Fed Chairman cited global weakness, simmering trade tensions and a desire to boost too-low inflation as the reasons for the central bank’s decision to cut the interest rates.
  3. This rate reduction was the first since December 2008 crisis when the Fed dropped its interest rates effectively to zero as it battled recession and financial crisis.It began raising interest rates in December,2015.
  4. Further,this move was seen as a precautionary effort to protect the United States from slowing growth in China and Europe and uncertainty over US President trade war.
  5. The fed rate cut cycle also means a weaker dollar which is good for the US but may not be so for the rest of the world.
  6. It has been seen in the past that as the dollar weakens due to lower growth tendencies,the rupee has strengthened which has impacted exports.This will also impact the current account deficit(CAD).

‘India and U.S. very close to resolving all trade issues’

  1. India’s Commerce Minister is planning to meet the U.S. Trade Representative.They will hold talks to resolve the differences over trade and investment.
  2. However,government officials have said that almost all issues have been resolved between the two countries.But the core area of disagreement which is market access is also close to being resolved.
  3. The Indian government is demanding greater market access in the U.S. for dairy products,medical devices and information and communication technology(ICT) services.On the other hand,the US is demanding increased market access on a wider range of products in India.
  4. India and the United States had differences over a range of issues like (a) India’s new rules on e-commerce that affected firms such as Amazon and Walmart (b) Data localisation rules which forced foreign companies to store their data locally and (c)Trade imbalance between India and the US.
  5. India has also imposed long pending retaliatory tariffs on 29 US products after US had withdrawn Generalized system of preferences (GSP) for Indian exporters.
  6. GSP is a preferential tariff system extended by developed countries to developing countries.It is a preferential arrangement in the sense that it allows concessional low/zero tariff imports from developing countries.

OBC sub-categorisation panel gets extension for 6 more months

  1. The Union Cabinet has approved the extension of the term of the Other Backward Classes(OBCs) panel headed by BP Sharma.
  2. The panel was formed to review the creamy layer criteria for OBCs set by the Prasad Committee in 1993.
  3. The committee is supposed to work out a mechanism,criteria,norms and parameters for the sub-categorisation within the OBCs in the Central list so that the benefits of reservation are distributed equitably.
  4. Other Backward Class(OBC) is a collective term used by the Government of India to classify castes which are socially and educationally disadvantaged.
  5. In 1980,Mandal Commission was set up by the erstwhile government.It estimated the OBC population at 52% and classified 1,257 communities as backward.It recommended increasing the existing quotas which were only for SC/ST,from 22.5% to 49.5% to include the OBCs.Its recommendations were implemented by the then government in 1990.
  6. In Indra Sawhney case,the Supreme court had upheld the caste-based reservation for the OBCs as valid.The court had also said the creamy layer of OBCs should not get the benefits of reservation.
  7. At present,27% quota in government jobs and educational institutions is given to OBCs,provided the annual income of the family is up to Rs 8 lakh.Those with higher earnings are referred to as the ‘creamy layer’ and are not eligible for reservation.
  8. Creamy layer is a term used to refer to the relatively wealthier and better educated members of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).They are not eligible for government sponsored educational and professional benefit programs.

Vardhan inaugurates state-of-the-art lab at NCDC

  1. Union Health Minister has inaugurated a state-of-the-art laboratory complex at the National Centre for Disease Control(NCDC) in a bid to give impetus to laboratory diagnosis of emerging diseases of public health importance. 
  2. The Minister said that NCDC has contributed phenomenally in elimination and eradication of several diseases of public health importance such as smallpox, polio, guinea-worm and yaws.
  3. The National Centre for Disease Control(NCDC) is an institute under the Indian Directorate General of Health Services,Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  4. NCDC was established in July 1963 for research in epidemiology and control of communicable diseases.It was previously known as National Institute of Communicable Diseases(NICD).

PM chairs 30th PRAGATI meeting

  1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chaired his 30th PRAGATI meeting.
  2. Launched in 2015, PRAGATI stands for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation. It is an ICT based multi-purpose and multi-modal platform. It bundles three latest technologies: Digital data management, video-conferencing and geo-spatial technology.
  3. It is aimed at addressing common man’s grievances, and simultaneously monitor and review important programmes and projects of the Government of India and State Governments.
  4. It is a three-tier system: PMO, Union Government Secretaries, and Chief Secretaries of the States. It enables the Prime Minister to discuss the issues with the concerned Central and State officials with full information and latest visuals of the ground level situation.

What the Bill to curb Ponzi schemes says

  1. The Rajya Sabha has passed the Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2019. It seeks to tackle the problem of illicit deposit taking activities in India and protect the interests of depositors.
  2. According to the bill, a scheme is unregulated if it is not registered with the regulators listed in the Bill. There are several regulators; For example: a) Reserve Bank of India (RBI) regulates deposits accepted by non-banking financial companies, b) Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) regulates collective Investment Schemes, c) Ministry of Corporate Affairs regulate deposit taking activities by companies other than NBFCs and d) state and union territory governments regulate chit funds and money Circulation Schemes.
  3. The bill creates three different types of offences- a) running of unregulated deposit schemes, b) fraudulent default in regulated deposit schemes, and c) wrongful inducement in relation to unregulated deposit schemes.
  4. The Bill provides for complete prohibition on promoting, operating, issuing advertisements or accepting deposits in any Unregulated Deposit Scheme. It bans the unregulated deposit-taking activities by making the offence ex-ante i.e. based on assumption and prediction.
  5. It also provides for severe punishment ranging from 1 year to 10 years and pecuniary fines ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 50 crore to act as deterrent.
  6. The bill also provides for attachment of properties or assets and subsequent realisation of assets for repayment to depositors. Clear-cut timelines have been provided for attachment of property and restitution to depositors.
  7. It also provides for a Competent Authority by the State Government to ensure repayment of deposits in the event of default by a deposit taking establishment.

Thailand in talks with India to buy Brahmos cruise missiles

  1. According to media reports, Thailand is in talks with India over purchasing BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles. If the sale materialises, it will be the first export of the BrahMos missile by India.
  2. BrahMos missile is a 2.5 ton supersonic air to surface cruise missile with ranges of close to 300 km.
  3. BrahMos is a joint venture between India and Russia. It is named after Brahmaputra and Moscow rivers. It is capable of being launched from land, sea, sub-sea and air against surface and sea-based targets.
  4. In recent times, Thailand and India has increased maritime interaction and cooperation. The navies of India and Thailand have been working together in the areas of disaster risk management, maritime security safety, information sharing and interoperability.
  5. The two navies conduct a Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) exercise twice a year every year since 2005. It aims to keep a vital part of the Indian Ocean Region safe and secure for commercial shipping and international trade.
  6. The CORPAT has also strengthened understanding and interoperability between the navies. It has also facilitated institution of measures to prevent unlawful activities at sea as well as conduct Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.
  7. Further, the first India, Thailand and Singapore trilateral naval exercise will be held in September 2019.

Indonesian Villagers resist relocation plan from Komodo.

  1. Villagers on the island of Flores, which is the gateway to Komodo National Park are resisting an Indonesian government plan to relocate them as part of efforts to conserve Komodo dragons.
  2. Recently, Indonesian authorities said the island of Komodo would be closed in 2020 to allow for the recovery of the reptiles and the Komodo National Park
  3. The Komodo dragon is the world’s largest species of lizard. They can grow up to three metres in length and weigh as much as 70 kilograms. It is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.
  4. Komodo National Park is a conservation area between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. It is the only habitat for Komodo Dragons. It has been designated as World Heritage site.
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