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Current Events 05 March 2017

 

NEWS

5 MARCH 2017

Sr. No.

Topic

News

1.

GS III : ECONOMY GST

GST Council clears draft laws

2.

GS II : BILATERAL INDIA USA

Indian store owner shot dead in U.S.

3.

GS II : SOCIAL-HEALTH

Delhi’s women obese and anaemic: study

4.

GS II : SOCIAL TRIBALS

Islands on the seam

5.

GS III : ENVIRONMENT CLIMATE CHANGE

Soaring heat record Antarctica

6.

GS II : INTERNATIONAL CHINA

China’s defence spending to rise by 7% this year

7.

GS II : INTERNATIONAL IRAN

Iran’s S-300 system becomes operational

8.

GS III : ECONOMY ENERGY

High on energy?

9.

GS III:  ECONOMY DIGITAL ECONOMY

‘E-wallet usage slips as cash returns’

10.

GS III:  ECONOMY DIGITAL ECONOMY

Centre unveils training scheme for traders

11.

GS II : BILATERAL INDIA-CANADA

India-Canada pacts to be progressive: Minister

12.

GS III : S&T  IT

Uber used secret software to steer drivers from stings

13.

GS III : S&T  IT

The green option for 3-D printing








 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GS III : ECONOMY GST

GST Council clears draft laws

  •  In a significant step towards meeting the July 1 deadline for the roll out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the GST Council gave its formal approval to the Central GST (CGST) and Inter-State GST (IGST) laws, with the Compensation Law already having been approved during the previous meeting on February 18.
  •   The Council will meet again on March 16 to deliberate on the final versions of the remaining two laws — the State GST law and the Union Territories GST Law.
  •   The remaining laws to be approved, the SGST and UTGST laws, are replicas of the CGST law, with only minor differences, Mr. Jaitley added.
  •   “The SGST law will apply to all States and Union Territories with legislatures (Delhi and Puducherry), but will not apply to those Union Territories without a legislature,” the Union Finance Minister said.
  •  “Therefore, we will need to bring out a Union Territories GST law for those Union Territories.”
  •  Mr. Jaitley said the two remaining Bills will be placed before the GST Council on March 16. “If they are approved then, and I have every confidence that they will be, then four out of the five laws will be ready to be placed before the Cabinet for approval and then tabled in Parliament during the second half of the Budget session,” he said.
  •   The SGST law will have to be approved by the Assemblies.

 

 

 

 

 GS II : BILATERAL INDIA-USA

Indian store owner shot dead in U.S.

  •  A 43-year-old store owner of Indian origin was shot dead outside his home in South Carolina, USA.
  •  The killing comes just days after an Indian engineer was killed in Kansas in a hate crime, sending shockwaves across the country.
  •  US President Donald Trump had condemned the Kansas shooting. He had said America stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.

 

GS II : SOCIAL-HEALTH

India’s women obese and anaemic: study

  • The recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) by the Union Health Ministry collected information from six lakh households, seven lakh women and 1.3 lakh men, and for the first time provides district-level estimates.
  • The survey showed that not just the Capital, but various parts of the country too continue to struggle with problems relating to obesity even as malnutrition remains a worrying trend.
  • Nation-wide obesity has now become a serious health issue. Not only has the proportion of overweight men doubled over the past decade, the percentage of women who are now overweight has also increased.
  • Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing problems, and some cancers.
  • Besides providing evidence for the effectiveness of the on-going programmes, the data from NFHS-4 will help in identifying any need for new programmes with area-specific focus. 

Key findings of the NFHS survey

 

GS II : SOCIAL TRIBALS

Islands on the seam

  •  Early January 2016, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands administration in Port Blair received a curious plan for the development of the islands via the office of the NITI Aayog.
  •  Titled ‘An Approach Paper on ‘Prospects of Island Development - Options for India’, it was intriguing at various levels.
  •  First, it was drafted not by the regular agencies, but by the New Delhi based Integrated Headquarters of Ministry of Defence—( Navy).
  •  For a paper prepared by the defence establishment, the focus was surprisingly less on strategic and defence-related projects and more on economic activities such as rail construction, port and petrochemical complex development, special economic zones (SEZ) and the tourism industry.
  •  At another level, for a plan that articulates the need for economic, social, ecological and cultural sustainability in development strategy, it was strikingly ignorant of the historical, social, ecological and legal context of the unique island system.
  •  Of particular relevance here is the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation (ANPATR) that was promulgated in 1956.
  •  Significant areas of the islands have been protected under this regulation for indigenous communities like the Jarawa and the Onge.
  •  The Approach Paper in its 40-odd pages does not have any mention of ANPATR even as it proposes a number of projects that will impinge directly on the lands and rights protected by the regulation.
  •  The 2016 vision includes the island’s transformation into an integrated tourism complex through long-lease or a PPP model, development of an international airport, and the construction of a new harbour at Dugong Creek for interisland connectivity.

Developmental Plan of 1965

  •  Another proposal for the development of A&N was the ‘Report by the Inter-Departmental Team on Accelerated Development Programme for A&N Islands’, published in 1965 by the Ministry of Rehabilitation.
  •  It laid out a roadmap and set the stage for what was to happen over the decades that followed.
  •  It was, in fact, a blueprint for the ‘colonisation’ of the islands, both in letter and spirit.
  •  Chapter 12 was even titled ‘Colonisation’, and it was difficult to see a country that had been a colony till 1947 talking the language and the intent of the coloniser less than two decades later.
  • The forests on the islands, inhabited by the Onge and the Jarawa, were referred to as ‘Jarawa infested’ and the forests had no value but for their timber.

Onges on Little Andaman Island

  •  Little Andaman Island, the roughly 730 square kilometres that is home to the indigenous Onge community has, interestingly, been a pivot in both plans even though they are separated by more than five decades.
  •  The 1965 plan suggested the clearance of 60,000 acres of forests, the settling in of 12,000 families from the mainland, and the establishment of an integrated industrial complex that would include timber and sugar industries.
  •  One might argue that 1965 was a different era, but it’s difficult to understand how in 2016, the tribal regulation is not accounted for at all; the fact that 520 sq. km. of Little Andaman is protected as the Onge Tribal Reserve and that Dugong Creek, where the harbour is proposed, is located deep inside the Reserve and has the most important settlement of Onges.
  •  The plan does not account for realities such as the fact that drinking water is a big challenge in many of the islands, that the islands are located in Seismic Zone V, part of the world’s most active seismic regions, that earthquakes are regular occurrences, that the 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake not far from the Nicobar Islands, and that tourism will be the first and the worst affected in case of calamities like earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones, which occur here regularly.
  •  The premise is clearly what anthropologist Vishvajit Pandya described as terra-nullius’— empty, unexplored, virgin territory that is waiting to be acted upon and operationalised.
  •  When the government team went to Little Andaman in 1964-65, the entire island was a tribal reserve, the forests unexploited, and the Onge the sole residents on the island they have inhabited for thousands of years.
  •  Half a century of ‘development’ later, the Onge Reserve is roughly 30% smaller (more than 200 sq. km of forest has been handed over for settlements, plantations, agriculture), the remaining forests are under increasing pressure, and for every Onge on Little Andaman there are now about 200 individuals from outside. The land of the Onge is not the land of the Onge any more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GS III : ENVIRONMENT CLIMATE CHANGE

Soaring heat recorded on Antarctica

  • At 17.5 degrees Celsius, the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula recorded the highest temperatures seen so far in the continent.
  •  This heat record was set on 24 March, 2015 at an Argentine research base, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
  •  Antarctica holds 90% of the planet’s freshwater, and if it were to melt entirely, sea levels would rise by 200 feet.

 

 

 

Indian Research Stations in Antarctica:

Station Name

Established

Location

Status

1.     Dakshin Gangotri

1983

Schirmacher Oasis

Converted to supply base

(It was abandoned as it got submerged in ice.)

2.     Maitri                     

1989 

Schirmacher Oasis

Working

3.     Bharati                  

2012 

Larsemann Hills

Working

 

GS II : INTERNATIONAL CHINA

China’s defence spending to rise by 7% this year

  • China will raise defence spending “around 7%” this year as it guards against “outside meddling” in its disputed regional territorial claims, a top official said, in an apparent reference to Washington.
  • Just days after U.S. President Donald Trump outlined plans to raise American military spending by around 10%, a spokeswoman for China’s Parliament told reporters that future Chinese expenditures will depend on U.S. actions in the region.
  • “We call for a peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation [of the territorial disputes].
  • At the same time we need the ability to safeguard our sovereignty and interests and rights,” spokeswoman Fu Ying said.
  • Beijing’s increasingly assertive stance towards its claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea have stirred alarm in the region and prompted criticism from Washington.
  • The planned spending increase is in line with last year, when the government said 2016 outlays would increase by 6.5-7.0%.
  • The 2016 figure marked the first time in six years that spending growth did not rise into double figures. Ms. Fu also said that concerns about the country’s military build-up are unwarranted.

GS II : INTERNATIONAL IRAN

Iran’s S-300 system becomes operational

  • Iran’s advanced S-300 air defence system, delivered by Russia following a July 2015 nuclear deal after years of delay, is now operational.
  • Iran had been trying to acquire the system for years to ward off repeated threats by Israel to bomb its nuclear facilities, but Russia had held off delivery in line with UN sanctions imposed over the nuclear programme.
  • A test at a desert base had seen several targets, including a ballistic missile and a drone, intercepted.
  • A domestically manufactured air defence system dubbed Bavar 373 which was “more advanced than the S-300” would be tested very soon.
  • Iran’s activation of the defence system comes amid mounting tensions with the new U.S. administration led by Donald Trump, which imposed sanctions after Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile in January 2017.

 

GS III : ECONOMY ENERGY

High on energy?

Oil and Gas sector in India benefitted:

  • The oil and gas sector in India has undergone transformative changes over the past few years. The bourses attest to this.
  • The S&P BSE Oil & Gas Index, after deep hibernation, has surged more than 50 per cent since early 2014.
  • Several of the sector’s stocks have done spectacularly well in this period. The PSU oil marketers Indian Oil, HPCL and BPCL have tripled or more
  • PSU gas transmitter GAIL (India) and integrated behemoth Reliance Industries too are up a neat 40- 45 per cent.
  • Only public sector hydrocarbon explorers ONGC and Oil India have slipped — between 2 and 7 per cent. But this too is not bad, considering that crude oil prices have halved since 2014.
  • Several factors have contributed to the good show —

1.      the crash of crude oil,

2.     fuel pricing reforms,

3.     healthy refining margins,

4.     high priority to local gas distributors and

5.     favourable re-negotiation of terms with foreign gas suppliers.

Fuel Pricing Reforms:

  • The key structural change, though, has been pricing reforms.  
  • Soon after the Modi government took charge in mid-2014, the rout of crude oil began.
  • This godsend enabled the Centre to build on the moves towards market pricing initiated by the UPA regime and bring about the most significant reform in the sector in decades — in October 2014, diesel pricing was freed.
  • This turned around the fortunes of the PSU oil marketing companies as diesel accounted for more than 60 per cent of their under-recoveries from selling fuels below cost.
  • Besides, the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders to 12 a year for a household, direct benefit transfer of LPG subsidy and gradual price hikes in kerosene and LPG have reduced under-recoveries further.
  • Petrol pricing was decontrolled way back in 2010.
  • Now, only a small portion of fuels is under price control.

Benefits of fuel pricing reforms:

  • This has largely resolved a fundamental problem that afflicted the sector for long — fuel price control — and benefited public sector oil companies by slashing their subsidy burden.
  • The government too has gained by the cut in subsidy outgo and a sharp increase in its revenue from excise duty hikes.
  • With their under-recoveries slashed thanks to the oil crash and pricing reforms, Indian Oil, HPCL and BPCL, which, earlier, had to wait long for government compensation, saw a dramatic revival.
  • Their borrowings and interest costs fell sharply, and marketing margins improved.
  • This, along with good refining marginsthe difference in the price of their fuel basket and crude oil — translated into huge profit growth for these companies.
  • This has enabled them to undertake big expansion plans that should aid profit growth in the coming years.
  • Paradoxically, even the PSU hydrocarbon exploration companies ONGC and Oil India have benefited from the crude oil crash.
  • That’s because these companies also bear a portion of the under-recoveries through product discounts to the oil marketers. With this burden sharply reduced, the net realisations of these companies improved despite a fall in their gross realisations.

Subsidy regime:

  • Clarity in the subsidy sharing mechanism also helped. The government agreed to bear the subsidy up to Rs. 18 a kg on LPG cylinders and Rs. 12 a litre of kerosene.
  • The rest was to be borne by ONGC and Oil India; GAIL was exempted.
  • Of course, when crude oil went under $45 a barrel and further to under $30 a barrel in early 2016, the oil producers got squeezed.
  • Even without the subsidy burden, their net realisations dipped lower than in previous years. But the subsequent price recovery to about $55 a barrel currently has eased the situation somewhat.
  • A good portion of the price recovery has happened after the late 2016 deals among OPEC and major non- OPEC nations to cut oil output.
  • Oil at $55-$60 a barrel seems to be a goldilocks range for India — the government is unlikely to backtrack on pricing reforms at these levels, and both downstream and upstream companies should make profits.
  • The government, having earned a bonanza from raising excise duties regularly with falling crude oil prices, has refrained from cutting taxes when oil reversed course.
  • This has enriched the exchequer. Consumers, of course, are not happy; the price they now pay for petrol and diesel is almost the same as in mid-2014.

High import dependency

  • While fuel pricing concerns have now been addressed to a large extent, the other big problem dogging the sector — stagnating domestic output and high import dependency — still poses a huge challenge.
  • India now imports more than 80 per cent of its crude oil and 40 per cent of its natural gas requirement.
  • Demand is rising with economic growth but domestic production has been falling.
  • Old fields in decline, limited success on new discoveries, unfriendly exploration regime, and lack of pricing and marketing freedom are among the factors to blame.
  • The government, to boost domestic production, recently reallocated 31 discovered but not-yet developed small fields of ONGC and Oil India to bidders on favourable terms.
  • It has also revamped the hydrocarbon exploration regime.
  • But whether this will help remains to be seen. Among the several challenges are protests by farmers and the long-elusive pricing freedom for gas.

Gas utilities on a roll

  • Artificially low domestic gas prices have benefited city gas distributors (CGD) such as Indraprastha Gas and Mahanagar Gas.
  • These companies have been given top priority in the allocation of domestic gas for compressed natural gas (CNG) supply to vehicles and piped natural gas (PNG) supply to households.
  • These segments account for a chunk of these entities’ business. While their costs have dipped, volumes have soared due to price advantages vis-à-vis other fuels such as petrol, diesel and LPG.
  • The regulatory push in favour of the environmentally cleaner natural gas has also helped. Good growth momentum is likely to sustain for these entities.
  • Gas importer and regasifier Petronet LNG has gained from the high demand and limited supply of gas in the country. It has also benefited from renegotiation of long-term contracts with major suppliers such as Qatar’s RasGas. So, the earlier high contract price has been reduced sharply in tune with prevalent lower international gas prices.
  • Petronet has committed to buy more gas from RasGas.
  • The under-utilisation of the company’s Kochi terminal due to lack of pipeline connectivity remains a concern, though.
  • Also, the core operations of gas transmission major GAIL have been impacted due to low gas supplies.
  • The company had ramped up its pipeline capacity in earlier years in anticipation of a healthy increase in domestic supplies. But the declining gas output in the country, primarily from the KG-D6 fields of Reliance Industries, has left GAIL’s pipelines under-utilised.
  • But the company’s petrochemicals business has gained from low gas prices.
  • Exemption from fuel subsidy sharing has also helped.
  • The exploration business of Reliance Industries has been facing setbacks, both domestically and internationally, with low output and weak prices.
  • But the company’s key refining and petrochemicals businesses have been doing quite well and have expanded capacities significantly.

Strategic reserves

  • Meanwhile, to improve the energy security of the country, the government has proposed two more strategic crude oil reserves in Odisha and Rajasthan in addition to the three reserves set up now at Visakhapatnam, Mangalore and Padur.
  • This will take the country’s strategic reserve capacity to 15.33 million tonnes from 5.33 mt currently.
  • But quick execution of the proposed projects, unlike in the past, is imperative if the country has to make the most of rapidly changing global crude oil price dynamics.
  • Also, PSU oil companies, egged on by the government, have been acquiring international energy assets that are available relatively cheap after the oil price rout.
  • The recent acquisition of stakes in Russian assets by a consortium of Indian energy companies is a case in point.
  • Also, in the recent Budget, the government has proposed to create an integrated public sector ‘oil major’.
  • Such an energy behemoth with enhanced financial muscle might be better placed in bidding for big-ticket foreign assets that see intense competition from major international players. 

 

GS III:  ECONOMY - DIGITAL ECONOMY

‘E-wallet usage slips as cash returns’

  • With cash coming back into the system, the use of e-wallets fell by about 50% in the first two months of 2017, according to a study.
  • The study found that 31.8% of respondents used digital wallets in January and February (2017) as compared with 64.7% using it in November and December (2016), a drop of 49.14%.
  • However, there are a few categories like travel, local food joints, online purchases and payments at petrol pumps where e-wallets are still popular.
  • All major wallet players, including Paytm, MobiKwik and Freecharge had seen a surge in users.

 

GS III : ECONOMY DIGITAL ECONOMY

Centre unveils training scheme for traders

  • The Centre rolled out a programme to train small and medium sized traders in various modes of digital payments.
  • The National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology, under the Ministry of IT and Electronics, will conduct the programme through five regional workshops, 30 state workshops and 100 Digi Dhan campaigns.
  • The objective is to help understand and adopt simplified digital payment mechanisms.
  • “This will contribute towards establishing digital economy and convey benefits of digital payments to traders through capacity building programs,” said Minister of Electronics and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad.

 

GS II : BILATERAL INDIA-CANADA

India-Canada pacts to be progressive: Minister

  • India has recognised that trade and investment pacts with Canada will have “progressive elements,” Canadian International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne said.
  • Referring to the recent Canada-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, Mr. Champagne said: “The agreement we reached with the EU was the most progressive trade agreement ever negotiated by Canada or the EU, including provisions on environment, labour, the right of space to regulate in health and safety as well as protecting cultural diversity.
  • India is in negotiations with Canada on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and a Foreign Investment Promotion & Protection Agreement (FIPPA).
  • However, India has been objecting to the inclusion of what it calls non-trade issues such as environment and labour, in trade agreements.
  • India has been also been expressing reservations on the inclusion of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in its investment pacts that allows investors to drag the government to international arbitration courts – without exhausting local remedies – and seek huge compensation for the “losses” they suffer due to reasons including policy changes.

 

GS III : S&T IT

Uber used secret software to steer drivers from stings

  • Uber has been wielding a secret weapon to thwart authorities who have been trying to curtail or shut down its ride-hailing service in cities around the world.
  • The programme included a feature nicknamed “Greyball” internally that identified regulators who were posing as riders while trying to collect evidence that Uber’s service was breaking local laws governing taxis.
  • To stymie those efforts, Uber served up a fake version of its app to make it appear the undercover regulators were summoning a car, only to have the ride cancelled.
  • The San Francisco company mined the data that it collects through its real app to pinpoint the undercover agents.
  • Greyball is part of a broader program called VTOS, shorthand for “violations of terms of service” that Uber says it developed to protect its service.
  • “This program denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers,” Uber said.

 

GS III : S&T IT

The green option for 3-D printing

  •  Cellulose may soon become a renewable and biodegradable alternative to the polymers that are currently used in 3-D printing materials, a new study has found.
  •  Cellulose is the most important component in giving wood its mechanical properties. And because it is inexpensive, bio-renewable, biodegradable and also chemically versatile, it is used in a lot of products.
  •  Cellulose and its derivatives are used in pharmaceuticals, medical devices as food additives, building materials, clothing, all sorts of different areas. And a lot of these kinds of products would benefit from the kind of customisation that additive manufacturing — 3D printing enables.
  •  When heated, cellulose thermally decomposes before it becomes flowable. The intermolecular bonding also makes high-concentration cellulose solutions too viscous to easily extrude, researchers said.
  •  To avoid this problem, researchers chose to work with cellulose acetate — a material that is easily made from cellulose and is already widely produced and readily available.
  •  Using cellulose acetate the number of hydrogen bonds in this material was reduced by the acetate groups.
  •  Cellulose acetate can be dissolved in acetone and extruded through a nozzle. As the acetone quickly evaporates, the cellulose acetate solidifies in place.
  •  A subsequent optional treatment replaces the acetate groups and increases the strength of the printed parts
  •  After we 3D print, we restore the hydrogen bonding network through a sodium hydroxide treatment.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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