9 PM Current Affairs Brief – October 11th, 2019

RCEP: Opportunity, fears in regional trade deal

News: Union Minister of Commerce & Industry and Railways will be attending the 8th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP) Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok. Thailand.

Facts:

What is RCEP?

  • RCEP is a proposed regional free trade agreement (FTA) comprising of ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their 6 FTA partners (India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand).

Aim:

  • The purpose of RCEP is to create an integrated market spanning all 16 countries, making it easier for products and services of each of these countries to be available across this region.
  • RCEP also aims to boost goods trade by eliminating most tariff and non-tariff barriers which is expected to provide the region’s consumers greater choice of quality products at affordable rates. 
  • It also seeks to liberalise investment norms and do away with services trade restrictions.

Importance of RCEP:

  • The RCEP member countries represent 49% of the world’s population and accounts for 30% of world GDP. It also makes up 29% of world trade and 26% of world FDI inflows. 
  • RCEP will reduce the trade barriers in Asia and the new rules will be consistent with WTO agreements.
  • It will also promote easier FDI flows and technology transfers by multinational corporations.

India and RCEP:

  • The sections of the Indian industry feels that being part of RCEP would allow the country to tap into a huge market and can make the domestic industry competitive.
  • The rise in protectionism and non- tariff barriers and regulatory measures and the deadlock in WTO negotiations are also important reasons for India to join the RCEP agreement.
  • RCEP also has the potential to influence India’s strategic and economic status in the Asia-Pacific region and help in fulfilment of India’s Act East Policy.

Concerns:

  • India is concerned that the trade pact will allow greater access to Chinese goods which may have an impact on the Indian manufacturing sector.
  • Experts have said that India would not be able to take advantage of the deal due to its poor track record of extracting benefits from the Free trade agreements(FTAs) with these countries.
  • The industries like dairy and steel have demanded protection due to growing competition from neighbouring countries with cheaper and more efficient processes may impact it negatively.
  • There are demands by other RCEP countries for lowering customs duties on a number of products and greater access to the market than India has been willing to provide.

Parliamentary committees

News:Parliamentary Committee on Finance has agreed to deliberate on the state of economy as the first subject to be taken up at its next meeting on October 17,2019.

Facts:

What are Parliamentary committees?

  • The Parliamentary committees are established to study and deal with various matters that cannot be directly handled by the legislature due to their volume.They also monitor the functioning of the executive branch.

Types of Parliamentary committees:The Parliamentary committees are of two kinds.

  • The Standing committees are elected or appointed periodically and they work on a continuous basis.
  • Ad hoc or select committees are created on a temporary basis as the need arises and they are dissolved after they complete the task assigned to them.

Powers and report:

  • Parliamentary committees draw their authority from Article 105 (on privileges of Parliament members) and Article 118(on Parliament’s authority to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of business).
  • The Committee reports are usually exhaustive and provide authentic information on matters related to governance.
  • The bills that are referred to committees are returned to the House with significant value addition.Parliament is not bound by recommendations of committees.

Importance of Parliamentary committees:

  • Lawmaking:The Committees do a detailed discussion and analysis on a proposed law which allows every law to be beneficial for the citizens.
  • Executive accountability:Parliamentary committees ensure executive accountability through scrutiny of public spending and various laws.
  • Better informed discussions: Committee allows members for a more meaningful exchange of views as against discussions in open Houses where party positions take precedence.This allows them to take better decisions on policies.
  • Expertise:Committees allow use of input and suggestions of various expertise on the subject matter of law thereby helping to formulate better policies and laws.

GST Council forms 12-member panel

News:The Goods and Services Tax(GST) Council has constituted a 12-member committee of officials from states and Centre to suggest steps to augment revenue and improve compliance under the GST regime.

Facts:

Why was the committee formed?

  • The committee was formed after the gross monthly collection has fallen to a 19 month low of ₹91,916 crore in September,2019.
  • The Government has set a target of collecting over ₹1 lakh crore every month during the current fiscal.

About the committee:

  • The committee will have the officials from Centre and GST Network (GSTN).
  • The committee will also have officials from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Punjab who will represent the States. 
  • Any other State could also join the committee on a voluntary basis.

Terms of reference for committee:The committee will look into wider range of reforms such as 

  • systemic changes in GST including checks and balances to prevent misuse
  • measures to improve voluntary compliance and anti-evasion measures using better data analytics and better administrative coordination. 
  • policy measures and relevant changes needed in the law and measures for expansion of tax base under the GST regime.

Additional information:

About GST Council:

  • Goods & Services Tax(GST) Council is a constitutional body for making recommendations to the Union and State Government on issues related to Goods and Service Tax.
  • As per Article 279A (1) of the constitution, the GST Council was constituted by the President.
  • The council consists of the following members: (a) The Union Finance Minister is the Chairperson (b) The Union Minister of State in-charge of Revenue of finance and (c) The Minister In-charge of finance or taxation or any other Minister nominated by each State Government.

Malware Smominru

News:Malware Smominru whose incidence was first reported in 2017, continues to infect computers in a big way.

Facts:

  • The malware attacks infrastructure in a widely distributed and complex way making it unlikely to be taken down easily.
  • The botnet relies on more than 20 dedicated servers mostly located in the US, Malaysia and Bulgaria.
  • It is affecting nearly 4,700 computers every day with over 90,000 computers affected globally in August 2019.
  • In its post-infection phase,it steals victim credentials and installs a Trojan module to propagate inside the network.
  • The malware also seems to have the ability to come back to hit the old victims if they fail to tackle the problem completely.

Additional information:

About Malware:

  • Malware which means malicious software refers to any kind of software that is designed to cause damage to a single computer, server or computer network
  • It is an umbrella term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive malicious software including computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, and ransomware among others.

Botnet:

  • The term botnet is derived from the words robot and network.A bot in this case is a device infected by malware which then becomes part of a network of infected devices controlled by a single attacker or attack group.
  • The botnet malware typically looks for vulnerable devices across the internet, rather than targeting specific individuals, companies or industries. 

Task force to improve India’s rights record

News:Government is forming a task force to prepare a National Action Plan on Human Rights(NAPHR) as mandated under the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review(UPR).

Facts:

About Universal Periodic Review(UPR):

  • UPR is a state-driven process under UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC).
  • It provides opportunities to member states to declare what actions they have taken to improve human rights and to fulfil their obligations.
  • A review cycle lasts four-and-half years, during which records of member states are reviewed.
  • In 2017,India had accepted 152 out of 250 recommendations on human rights. 
  • These pertain to sustainable development goals related to eliminating poverty, access to safe drinking water, sanitation and improving protection for women and children.

About the Task force:

  • The task force will involve the Union Home Ministry and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and have representatives from ministries such as social justice and health.
  • National Action Plan on Human Rights(NAPHR) once implemented,will help mitigate the criticism India faces at international level when it comes to its human rights record as well as strengthen the social justice system.
  • It will also lead to stronger administration of justice, strengthening of human rights institutions, and linking of rights with development.

Additional information:

About NHRC:

  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is a statutory body. 
  • It was established under the Protection of Human Rights Act(PHRA), 1993.
  • NHRC deals with promotion and protection of human rights.

About UNHRC:

  • The United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC) is a United Nations body.It was was established in 2006.
  • Its mission is to promote and protect human rights around the globe as well as investigate alleged human rights violations.
  • The UNHRC has 47 members elected on a regional group basis from 5 groups.
  • The members are elected for a period of three years with a maximum of two consecutive terms.

Conference of Central Council of Health and Family Welfare

News:The 13th Conference of Central Council of Health and Family Welfare was inaugurated by the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare.

Facts:

About the conference:

  • The purpose of the conference is to build a consensus on Universal Health coverage(UHC) through various flagship programs like Ayushman Bharat, National Control of Tuberculosis Program, National Nutrition Mission among others.
  • The conference also aims to promote steps towards the target of National Health Policy 2017 which is to allocate 2.5% of GDP to health by 2025.
  • The conference is to be conducted on 4 pillars of healthcare namely (a)Universal Health Coverage (b)Mission mode interventions (c)Quality and accessible affordable healthcare services and (d)Adequate Infrastructure.

Additional information:

About Central Council of Health and Family Welfare:

  • The Council of Health and Family Welfare is an apex advisory body to consider and recommend broad lines of policy in regard to matters concerning Health and Family Welfare.
  • The first meeting of the council was held in 1988.
  • Chairperson:Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare 
  • Vice-Chairperson:Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare
  • Members: (a)NITI Aayog (b)Ministers in charge of the Ministries of Health & Family Welfare (c)Medical Education and Public Health in the States/Union Territories with Legislatures (d)representatives of UTs, (e)Members of Parliament (f)Non-Officials and (g)Eminent Individuals.

Moody’s cuts India GDP growth forecast to 5.8%

News:International rating agency Moody has announced the lowering of India’s Gross Domestic Products(GDP) growth to 5.8% from 6.2%.

Facts:

  • The reasons for lowering the growth rate are (a)investment-led slowdown (b)weak consumption (c)financial stress among rural households and (d)weak job creation.
  • Further, credit crunch among Non-Bank Financial Institutions(NBFIs) who have been major providers of retail loans in recent years has increased the problem.
  • However,Moody’s has said that it expects a moderate pickup in real GDP growth and inflation over the next two years through monetary and fiscal stimulus.

Fiscal Deficit:

  • Moody has said that the recently announced corporate tax cuts and lower nominal GDP growth may increase the fiscal deficit to 3.7% of GDP in financial year 2019 marking a 0.4 percentage point slippage from its target.
  • It also said that the structural need for spending on public sector salaries, welfare schemes and infrastructure is also a major cause of India’s deficit. 
  • Further,the nation’s limited tax revenue base due to a large low-income population has also impacted fiscal deficit.

Additional information:

About Fiscal Deficit:

  • Fiscal deficit is the amount of money that the government needs to borrow in a given year because their expenses were more than their revenues.
  • In Union Budget 2019,India has set a fiscal deficit target of 3.3% of the Gross domestic product(GDP) for 2019-20.

About Moody:

  • Moody’s is an essential component of the global capital markets.
  • It providing credit ratings, research, tools and analysis that contribute to transparent and integrated financial markets.

Input tax Credit

News:Government has decided to restrict input tax credit under the goods and services tax to 20% of the eligible amount for an entity if its supplier has not uploaded relevant invoices detailing the payments made.

Facts:

  • There was no such restriction until now as input tax credit was claimed by taxpayers on the basis of self-assessment. 
  • This decision is aimed at curbing the menace of fake invoices and boost cash flow.
  • However, the apprehension is that it will increase the workload for assessees and a higher burden on companies until the full input tax credit can be claimed. 

Additional information:

About Input tax credit:

  • An input may refer to any goods that are used by the businesses in order to create the finished products provided to the end users. 
  • The input tax credit mechanism allows GST registered businesses to receive refunds on GST paid for the purchase of such inputs to prevent the cascading taxation effect.
  • Cascading effect is when there is a tax on tax levied on a product at every step of the sale.The tax is levied on a value which includes tax paid by the previous buyer which makes the end consumer pay tax on already paid tax.

J&K: 5,300 displaced families to get rehabilitation package

News:Cabinet has approved inclusion of 5,300 Displaced Persons(DP) families of Jammu & Kashmir in the Rehabilitation Package announced in 2016 for Displaced Families of Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir(PoJK) and Chhamb.

Facts:

Background:

  • In the aftermath of partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, thousands of families from Pakistan occupied areas of Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK) migrated to the Indian state. 
  • Subsequently, during Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971, a large number of families were displaced from Chhamb Niabat area of J&K. 
  • Hence, the Government have extended series of relief and rehabilitation packages to mitigate the hardship of displaced persons from PoJK and Chhamb and to rehabilitate them.

About rehabilitation package:

  • As per the package, 5.5 lakh rupees cash benefit per family will be disbursed to the displaced families. 
  • This financial aid will enable them to earn an income and subsist their livelihood.
  • This will also upgrade the Government’s capacity to respond effectively to such DP families need of financial assistance.

Emperor Penguins

News: a new study published in the journal Biological Conservation has recommended that the status of the emperor penguin, in the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), should be changed to ‘vulnerable’.

Facts:

  • The Emperor Penguin is the largest of all living penguin species. It is the only one that breeds during the Antarctic winter.
  • It is also the only known bird to never breed on dry land, preferring to raise chicks on frozen sea instead.
  • It is listed as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List.
  • The species is threatened by the effects of projected climate change, primarily through ongoing and future decreases in sea ice concentration and thickness.

Additional Information:

About IUCN Red List

  • The IUCN Red List (also known as Red List of Threatened Species, Red Data Book) was founded in 1964. It uses a set of criteria to scientifically assess the extinction risk of species and sub species of animals and plants.
  • Aim: The Red List aims to draw attention to the threatened state of the biodiversity and provide information to help formulate actions for biodiversity conservation.
  • Categories: IUCN Red List classifies species into 9 categories. Among the categories, Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable species are considered to be threatened with extinction.
    • Extinct: The last individual has died.
    • Extinct in the Wild: known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalized population outside its historic range.
    • Critically Endangered: Faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild
    • Endangered: Faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild
    • Vulnerable: Faces a high risk of extinction in the wild
    • Near Threatened: Likely to be in the threatened category in near future
    • Least Concern: They are widespread and abundant
    • Data Deficient: inadequate information for assessing the risk of extinction
    • Not Evaluated

Empowered Group for Privatization of Railways

News: The Ministry of Railways will form an Empowered Group to oversee the entry of private operators for 150 trains and development of 50 railway stations as per global standards.

Facts:

Composition:

  • Panel will be led by NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant
  • Other members of the panel will include Railway board Chairman, Economic Affairs secretary, Housing and urban affairs secretary and Railways financial commissioner.
  • Member (Traffic) and Member (Engineering) of the Railway Board will be members for their respective projects.

Tenure: The tenure of the panel of secretaries will be a period of one year

Responsibilities:

  • Approve and monitor the bidding process.
  • Take decisions to ensure the projects are awarded in a time-bound manner.

Gangetic River Dolphin

News: The annual Ganges river dolphin census has begun.

Facts:

About Ganges River Dolphin Census

  • It is undertaken by World Wide Fund for Nature-India in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department.
  • It takes place along about 250-km-long riverine stretch of Upper Ganga between Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary and Narora Ramsar site.
  • Unlike previous years, when direct counting method was used, this year the tandem boat survey method is being used.

About Tandem Boat survey Method:

  • The method has been developed by the renowned river and marine ecologist Gill Braulik.
  • Under this method, the officials use two inflated boats which move in tandem to count the dolphins. After collating the data, statistical tools are employed to arrive at the final count.

About Gangetic Dolphin

  • The Gangetic river dolphin inhabits the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh.
  • Being a mammal, the Ganges River dolphin cannot breathe in the water and must surface every 30-120 seconds. Because of the sound it produces when breathing, the animal is popularly referred to as the ‘Susu’.
  • It is among the four “obligate” freshwater dolphins. The other obligate freshwater dolphins are a) Baiji (likely extinct) found in Yangtze river in China, b) the Bhulan in Indus river of Pakistan and c) the Boto in Amazon river in Latin America.
  • In India, Dolphins are protected species as per the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The government has also declared Gangetic Dolphin as the national aquatic animal.
  • Gangetic dolphin is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List.
  • The only dolphin sanctuary in India is the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary located in Bhagalpur District of Bihar.
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