Daily Current Affairs

Prelims Prominence - November 11, 2017

Cabinet Decisions

Cabinet approves MoU with Philippines on agriculture and related fields

  • The Union Cabinet approved signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Philippines in field of agriculture and related fields.
  • It will improve bilateral cooperation in field of agriculture and will be mutually beneficial to both countries.

Enlighten about the MOU

  • The MoU provides for cooperation in fields of rice production and processing, dryland farming systems, multi cropping system, bio-organic farming, solid and water conservation and management, soil fertility, agro forestry, sericulture, livestock improvement etc.
  • The MoU will promote understanding of best agricultural practices between both countries and help in better productivity as well as improved global market access.
  • It provides for constitution of Joint Working Group (JWG) composed of equal number of representatives. The JWG will meet once every two years alternatively in Philippines and India.

Service Sector

Debjani Ghosh to be first woman President of NASSCOM in 2018

  • The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has named Debjani Ghosh its president-designate.
  • She will succeed R Chandrashekhar after his tenure ends in March 2018.
  • It will make her first female president global trade body representing software companies.

Enlighten about NASSCOM

  • NASSCOM is global non-profit trade association (organisation) of Indian Information Technology (IT) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.
  • It facilitates business and trade in software and services and encourages the advancement of research in software technology.
  • It is registered under the Indian Societies Act, 1860. Its headquarters are in New Delhi.
  • It has regional offices in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune and Thiruvananthapuram

Education

National Testing Agency

Creation of a National Testing Agency (NTA)

  • The Union Cabinet on Friday approved the creation of an NTA to conduct entrance examinations for higher educational institution
  • The NTA will begin by conducting exams managed by the CBSE and gradually conduct other examinations too
  • The NTA will be chaired by an eminent educationist appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development
  • There will be a Board of Governors comprising members from user institutions

It will be a relieve to the CBSE

  • Its creation will relieve the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) – which conducts exams like the National Eligibilty-cum-Entrance Test
  • And the All India Council for Technical Education of the burden of conducting entrance tests

Grant from Centre

  • The Centre will give an initial grant of Rs. 25-crore to the NTA to start its operations in the first year
  • Thereafter, it will be self-sustaining

Centre Water Commission

CWC paper on pricing water

  • India has 17% of the world’s population but only 4% of its freshwater resources
  • India needs to rationalize water usage both in agriculture and industry, with transparent governance and attendant institutional mechanism
  • Central Water Commission (CWC) has put out a paper on pricing of water for agriculture, proposing methodology and principles

CWC paper on pricing water

  • India has 17% of the world’s population but only 4% of its freshwater resources
  • India needs to rationalize water usage both in agriculture and industry, with transparent governance and attendant institutional mechanism
  • Central Water Commission (CWC) has put out a paper on pricing of water for agriculture, proposing methodology and principles

Constitutional provisions related to water

  • As per the Constitution, water is a state subject
  • State governments tend to levy water charges on a crop-area basis
  • These rates are unrevised for years, often decades, contributing to water wastage, and thwarting of much-needed resources for maintenance of irrigation infrastructure
  • Water usage for our major crops is about 2-4 times that in other major farming nations

Points highlighted in CWC paper

  • The CWC paper notes that the 14th Finance Commission has recommended full volumetric measurement of irrigation water supply nationally
  • Water charges need to be proportionately higher for water-intensive crops, vary by season, duly take into account reliability of supply and factor in equity considerations such as farm size
  • This surcharge would not yield significant amounts but we need to disincentivize water usage, by researching better seed varieties

Underutilisation of resources

  • India’s ultimate irrigation potential is estimated at 140 million hectares
  • Today our infrastructure from myriad major, medium and minor irrigation projects including groundwater schemes covers well over 81% of that target
  • Unrealistic water rates prevent proper utilization or preservation of the assets that have been created

Rural Development

National Rural Drinking Water Programme

Need for Land pooling

  • The Union Cabinet has accorded its approval for continuation and restructuring of National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) to make it outcome-based, competitive and better monitored with increased focus on sustainability (functionality) of schemes to ensure good quality service delivery to the rural population.
  • The programme will cover all the Rural Population across the country.
  • A sum of Rs. 23,050 crore has been approved for the programme for the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) period 2017-18 to 2019-20.
  • The restructuring will make the programme flexible, result-oriented, competitive, and will enable the Ministry towards to reach the goal of increasing coverage of sustainable Piped Water Supply.

Enlighten about NRDWP:

What is it?

  • The NRDWP was started in 2009, with a major emphasis on ensuring sustainability (source) of water availability in terms of potability, adequacy, convenience, affordability and equity.
  • NRDWP is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme with 50: 50 fund sharing between the Centre and the States.
  • The aim and objective of National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) is to provide every rural person with adequate safe water for drinking, cooking and other basic domestic needs on a sustainable basis, with a minimum water quality standard, which should be conveniently accessible at all times and in all situations. Achieving this aim and objective is a continuous process.

Economy

GST Council 23rd Meeting: Key Takeaways

  • The highest Goods and Services Tax (GST) bracket was slashed three-quarters with only 50 items being retained in the 28 percent slab.
  • The GST Council, at its 23rd meeting, moved 178 items out from the list of 228
  • It also decided to reduce the tax rate for all restaurants, barring those in luxury hotels, to 5 percent, without any input tax credit
  • These measures are expected to cost the exchequer around Rs 20,000 crore
  • The tax rate for manufacturers under the composition scheme was also reduced to 1 percent from the earlier rate of 2 percent, bringing it at par with the tax rate for traders
  • The composition scheme for restaurants will continue unchanged with a tax rate of 5 percent
  • The hike in the threshold for the composition scheme would require an amendment in the CGST Act, there was an agreement to increase it to Rs 2 crore from Rs 1 crore at present.
  • Tanks and armored fighting vehicles have been now placed in the 12 percent tax slab instead of the earlier 28 percent
  • The proposed rate changes will be effective from November 15 prospectively
  • Changes regarding GST for restaurants
  • GST rate on takeaways have also been reduced to 5 percent without input tax credit, while the rate on outdoor catering will continue to be 18 percent with full input tax credit.
  • Restaurants in hotels with room tariff of Rs 7,500 and above per day will attract 18 per cent GST with full input tax credit.

European Union defensive on pre- 2020 action : India, China reject compromise formula

EU and Pre 2020 actions

  • A defensive European Union played down an ongoing confrontation with developing countries over ‘pre-2020 actions’on climate change and a compromise solution was nowhere in sight yet,
  • India and China comprehensively rejected initial proposals to address their demands

EU’s stand on the issue

  • Although EU was yet to ratify the Doha amendments, it is already on course to meet commitments for the pre-2020 period
  • EU does consider ‘pre-2020 actions’ important
  • According to EU, it was more about finding the right forums, in several parallel meetings, to discuss this so that the main work of finalizing the rule-book for Paris Agreement is not affected

3 Point Formula by Fiji

  • Fiji has put forward a three-point compromise formula
  • It has proposed that discussions on ‘pre-2020 actions’ be held at a scheduled review meeting next year
  • Then every subsequent year after that
  • And a new website be set up providing information on ‘pre-2020 actions’ being taken
  • India and China have rejected the compromise formula

Governance

Economic Advisory Council

P.M suggests incentives to states for skill development, more employment
EAC Second Meeting: Key points

  • The Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM), in its second meeting, outlined a roadmap for stepping up skill development, job creation, enhanced resource investment in the social sector including for health and education and for boosting infrastructure financing
  • The EAC-PM, chaired by Niti Aayog Member Bibek Debroy, formulated recommendations to guide the evolving framework for the 15th Finance Commission, including the incentivization of states for achieving health, education and social inclusion outcomes.
  • The Council is also evolving the design of a new Economy Tracking Monitor, linking economic growth indicators with social indicators.

What is required now?

  • According to the council, improvements are needed in National Accounts and innovative steps are required for unlocking the growth
  • Exports and employment potential of growth drivers were also deliberated upon including through transformation of India’s Gold Market
  • There is a need for infrastructure financing to be accorded high priority
  • The strategies for achieving Swastha Bharat by 2022 were also highlighted

Economic Advisory Council

  • The EAC-PM is an independent body which provides advice on economic issues
  • It advise can be either suo-motu or on reference from prime minister or anyone else.
  • It can also attend any other task as may be desired by prime minister from time to time.

Social

“People First” campaign

  • Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) has planned to conduct State specific Atal Pension Yojana (APY) mobilization Campaigns under the title “People First”.
  • The People First campaign will be a series of campaigns conducted at various states across the country to increase APY outreach.

Enlighten about APY:

  • The Atal Pension Yojana became operational from June 1, 2015 and is available to all the citizens of India in the age group of 18-40 years.

Features:

  • Under the scheme, a subscriber would receive a minimum guaranteed pension of Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000 per month, depending upon his contribution, from the age of 60 years.
  • The same pension would be paid to the spouse of the subscriber and on the demise of both the subscriber and the spouse, the accumulated pension wealth is returned to the nominee.
  • The Central Government would also co-contribute 50% of the total contribution or Rs. 1000 per annum, whichever is lower, to each eligible subscriber account, for a period of 5 years, that is, from 2015-16 to 2019-20, to those who join the NPS before 31st December, 2015 and who are not members of any statutory social security scheme and who are not Income Tax payers.

Bilateral Agreement

Joint Interpretative Declaration between India and Colombia

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for signing the Joint Interpretative Declaration (JID) between India and Colombia regarding the existing Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between India and Colombia.
  • Includes interpretative notes to be jointly adopted for many clauses, including, the definition of investor, definition of investment, Fair and Equitable Treatment (FET), National Treatment (NT) and Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment, expropriation, Investor – State Dispute Settlement provision and Denial of Benefits.
  • With increasing Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) disputes, issuance of such statements is likely to have strong persuasive value before arbitration tribunals. Such pro-active approach by partners can foster a more predictable and coherent reading of treaty terms by arbitration tribunals.

Service Sector

Debjani Ghosh to be first woman President of NASSCOM in 2018

  • The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has named Debjani Ghosh its president-designate.
  • She will succeed R Chandrashekhar after his tenure ends in March 2018. It will make her first female president global trade body representing software companies.
  • NASSCOM is global non-profit trade association (organisation) of Indian Information Technology (IT) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.
  • It facilitates business and trade in software and services and encourages the advancement of research in software technology.
  • It is registered under the Indian Societies Act, 1860.
  • Its headquarters are in New Delhi. It has regional offices in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune and Thiruvananthapuram

Economy

Avoidance of Double Taxation

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for entering into an Agreement between India and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of China for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to taxes on income.

About Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement:

What is it?

  • A DTAA is a tax treaty signed between two or more countries. Its key objective is that tax-payers in these countries can avoid being taxed twice for the same income.
  • A DTAA applies in cases where a tax-payer resides in one country and earns income in another.
  • India has DTAAs with more than eighty countries, of which comprehensive agreements include those with Australia, Canada, Germany, Mauritius, Singapore, UAE, the UK and US.

Why is it important?

  • DTAAs are intended to make a country an attractive investment destination by providing relief on dual taxation.
  • Such relief is provided by exempting income earned abroad from tax in the resident country or providing credit to the extent taxes have already been paid abroad.
  • DTAAs also provide for concessional rates of tax in some cases.

Legal provisions in this regard:

  • In so far as India is concerned, the Central Government is authorized under Section 90 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 to enter into an Agreement with a foreign country or specified territory for avoidance of double taxation of income, for exchange of information for the prevention of evasion or avoidance of income-tax chargeable under the Income-tax Act, 1961.

Some More facts –

  • Hong Kong is an autonomous territory in China. It is the world’s fourth most densely populated country or territory.
  • Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong maintains a separate political and economic system from China.
  • Except in military defence and foreign affairs, Hong Kong maintains its independent executive, legislative and judiciary powers.

Renewable Energy

Prime Minister’s Ladakh Renewable Energy Initiative

  • 1.5 MW Small Hydro Power Plant in Biaras Drass, Kargil (J&K) has become the first project to be commissioned under Prime Minister’s Ladakh Renewable Energy Initiative.
  • The plant will power the Drass town in Kargil, which is one of the coldest places in India.
  • Power from Biaras SHP would be sufficient to meet normal power requirement of about 1000 families, which would make them comfortable in the extreme winter season.
  • The project has been developed by Kargil Renewable Energy Development Agency (KREDA) under Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.

Enlighten about Prime Minister’s Ladakh Renewable Energy Initiative:

  • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is implementing the project.
  • It aims to minimize dependence on diesel in the Ladakh region and meet power requirement through local renewable sources.

Implementation:

  • The approach is to meet power requirements through small / micro hydel and solar photovoltaic power projects /systems and use solar thermal systems for water heating / space heating / cooking requirements.
  • The project also envisages setting up of 10 solar photovoltaic power plants in defence establishments.

Benefits:

  • Such projects would be able to replace use of diesel to a great extent, at least for about 8 months in a year and reduce green house emissions in the region.

Judiciary

Cabinet approves appointment of 2nd National Judicial Pay Commission

  • The Union Cabinet approved appointment of Second National Judicial Pay Commission (SNJPC) for subordinate judiciary in country.
  • It will be headed by Justice (Retd) J P.Venkatrama Reddi, former Judge of Supreme Court. R Basant, former Judge of Kerala High Court will be its member.

Terms of References

  • The Commission will examine present structure of emoluments and conditions of service of Judicial Officers in States and UTs.
  • It aims to evolve principles which will govern pay structure and other emoluments of Judicial Officers belonging to subordinate judiciary of country. It also aims at making pay scales and conditions of service of Judicial Officers uniform throughout country.
  • It will examine the work methods and work environment and variety of allowance and benefits in kind available to Judicial Officers in addition to pay and to suggest rationalization and simplification.
  • It will also devise its own procedures and formulate modalities necessary for accomplishing task
  • The Commission will make its recommendations to State Governments preferably within period of 18 months.
  • The recommendations will help in promoting efficiency in Judicial Administration, optimizing size of judiciary etc. and to remove anomalies created in implementation of earlier recommendations.