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25 June Current Affairs

It’s premature to count India out of the RCEP, says Centre

In News:

Government officials said it would be ‘premature’ to suggest India could be cut out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) being negotiated by 16 countries led by the ASEAN bloc, if it doesn’t agree to join it by the year-end.

Details:

The officials rejected a suggestion to that effect by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, who spoke on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit held in Bangkok on Sunday.

Reiterating that India is ‘consistently’ engaged with RCEP negotiations, which will see a free trade agreement which includes ASEAN countries, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, Commerce Ministry sources said Indian delegations have a series of meetings planned in the next few weeks to discuss the way forward in RCEP.

Unresolved issues:

“India also has shown it is keen for the partnership to work, as seen by our consistent engagement on the issue. There are some issues that need to be ironed out still, but it would be extremely premature to talk about RCEP going ahead without India,” a Commerce Ministry official who preferred not to be named. In an interview to the CNBC channel, Mr. Mahathir said he would prefer to go ahead with a formulation of 13 countries that are willing to go ahead immediately, and allow outliers India, Australia and New Zealand to join the pact at a future date.

“They [Malaysia] can have their perspective. They are not the full RCEP. We are sure that many other countries do not share this view and want to work with India in RCEP,” the official responded.

While Mr. Mahathir’s messaging may have been bluntly put, others in the grouping have been nudging India to show progress on RCEP negotiations in time for a proposed final declaration in November this year. Last year, the government had been able to negotiate for time on RCEP given elections were due to be held in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia between March and May this year.

“With the elections done, we expect the pressure to be ratcheted up by ASEAN countries to conclude the negotiations, and India will need to make a choice quite soon,” said a diplomat privy to the negotiations.

In their Bangkok declaration on Sunday, ASEAN leaders stated their “strong commitment” to concluding RCEP negotiations, adding that ASEAN partners like India must “prioritise RCEP negotiations and work with ASEAN to conclude the RCEP negotiations within this year.” Last week, Singapore’s Minister of Communication & Information and Minister-in-Charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran said during a visit to Delhi that India must not stay out of the agreement.

“India can ask itself, if it is better off inside such an agreement or outside such an agreement from business and also from a geopolitical point of view… if India is not part of it, I think it will be a loss.” Apart from giving up the first mover’s advantage, India, would give up the chance to frame the groupings rules and investment standards if it fails to join RCEP, say diplomats.

Meanwhile the Chinese government, which is understood to have first proposed going ahead with 13 countries instead 16 also reached out to the government, sending a delegation led by Vice Minister for Commerce Wang Shouwen for talks with Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan earlier this month. Officials privy to the discussions on RCEP however said the talks were inconclusive.

India’s main opposition to RCEP is the prospect of opening up its markets to China. Even though the grouping has accepted dual tariff rates for trade with China and other RCEP members, Indian industry has opposed RCEP for the larger impact on steel and aluminium, copper, pharmaceuticals and textile products and of allowing RCEP countries especially China and South Korea to “flood the Indian market.” India is the only RCEP country without a free trade pact with China, and has trade deficits with 11 of 16 RCEP countries.

House panel shies away from quantifying black money

In News:

The Standing Committee on Finance has shied away from estimating the quantum of black money within and outside India, saying that different methods by various agencies are yielding vastly differing figures.

Details:

The Standing Committee relied on three institutes — the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, the National Institute of Financial Management and the National Council of Applied Economic Research — to come up with their estimates of unaccounted income in the country. The three estimates varied significantly, ranging from 7-120% of GDP.

“It appears that the reliable estimation of unaccounted income and wealth inside and outside the country is a difficult task. This inference is validated by the widely varying estimates of the unaccounted income arrived at by these three institutes,” the report said.

“The Chief Economic Adviser has opined that there is no scope for arriving at a common estimate of unaccounted income by combining estimates from the three reports.”

‘Lack of consensus’

The report quotes Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey as saying that “there is a lack of consensus regarding the most suitable method in the Indian context”.

The Standing Committee enumerated the various steps taken to curb the generation of black money. The report said the paucity of time and the limited number of stakeholders that could be examined meant that the findings should be considered as only preliminary in nature.

“In the meantime, the Committee would expect the Ministry of Finance (Department of Revenue) to continue their efforts with greater vigour to unearth and bring to book unaccounted income/wealth both within and outside the country including follow-up action on the seven reports of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted on Black Money as well as the three study reports on estimation of unaccounted money,” the report said.

No-confidence motion

In News:

The notice for the no-confidence motion against Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P. Dhanapal, which was given by the DMK, will be taken up on July 1, the second day of the Assembly session.

Details:

This is the second time the DMK would be moving the no-confidence motion against the Speaker in the last two years.

After the motion is completed, the Assembly will take up the demand for grants of the Environment and Forest department.

“The no-confidence motion against the Speaker has to be taken up as per the procedure. It will be taken up on July 1. The agenda for it will be published on that day (before the Assembly begins)”.

DMK president M.K. Stalin proposed the motion of no-confidence against Mr. Dhanapal after the latter issued show-cause notices to three AIADMK legislators asking why they should not be disqualified for associating themselves with AMMK leader T.T.V. Dhinakaran.

About No-confidence motion:

A motion of no-confidence, alternatively vote of no confidence, or confidence motion, is a statement or vote about whether a person in a position of responsibility (government, managerial, etc.) is no longer deemed fit to hold that position, perhaps because they are inadequate in some respect, are failing to carry out obligations, or are making decisions that other members feel detrimental. As a parliamentary motion, it demonstrates to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in (one or more members of) the appointed government. In some countries, if a no confidence motion is passed against an individual minister they have to resign along with the entire council of ministers.

80,000 more to get skill development training

In News:

The Kudumbashree Mission has launched the second phase of the national skill development programme under Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kausalya Yojana (DDUGKY) in which 80,000 more will be given training across the State.

Details:

An amount of Rs. 800 crore has been sanctioned for the programme between 2019 and 2022. The Kudumbashree also signed agreements with 27 Project Implementation Agencies for the programme.

Kudumbashree sources said that the convergence model of DDUGKY with micro-enterprise like units for stitching of uniforms and canteen operation was recommended as a national model by the Ministry of Rural Development. Destitute, differently-abled persons and tribespeople were given priority in the programme.

Started in 2015, DDUGKY has its focus on poor rural youth in the age group of 18-35, and emphasises sustainable employment. Post-placement tracking, retention and career progression are part of the programme.

Women, persons with disabilities are given age concession up to 45 years. Backward communities are given 60% reservation and women have 33% reservation.

Accommodation, food and study materials are given to the candidates free of cost and the programme includes 126 courses in 32 sectors. They range from accounting and animation to air hostess training. Those who complete the courses of three months to one year are given National Council for Vocational Training certificates and and Sector Skills Councils Certificate.

A total of 51,200 rural youth were targeted for training in the first phase of the programme. Considering the performance, 20,000 more were added taking the total target to 71,200. Of these 52,350 were given training; 42,352 have completed the training and 32,498 secured employment.

DDUGKY-Kerala received the national award for being the second best State nodal agency for implementing the programme in 2017-18.

Aadhaar Bill introduced amid Opposition protests

In News:

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad introduced the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha on Monday amid protests from Opposition members.

Details:

Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal introduced a Bill that will allow trusts to set up units in special economic zones (SEZs), while Minister of State for Home Affairs G. Kishan Reddy moved a Bill to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act, 2004, that will allow people living along the International Border the benefit of reservation in government jobs.

‘Defies SC order’:

The Aadhaar legislation to replace an ordinance issued in March seeks to impose strict penalties for violation of norms.

Revolutionary Socialist Party leader N.K. Premachandran opposed the Bill on three grounds: it defies an earlier Supreme Court judgment, permits private agencies to store data and violates fundamental rights.

“Aadhaar is in the national interest and it does not infringe privacy … I want to convince [everyone] that there is no compulsory compliance. SIM cards can be taken with or without Aadhaar,” Mr. Prasad told the Lok Sabha.

The Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019 too seeks to replace an ordinance, promulgated in March by the previous government, that will bring trusts under the definition of a juristic person for the purposes of setting up a unit in SEZs.

The present provisions of the Act do not permit trusts to set up units in SEZs.

Six rivers in T.N. polluted in stretches: Union Minister

In News:

At least six rivers, including the Cauvery, in Tamil Nadu have been identified as polluted in stretches by the Central Pollution Control Board and the onus was on the State government and local bodies to prevent pollution in the rivers, Babul Supriyo, Union Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, told Parliament.

Details:

“As per a report published by CPCB in September 2018, the stretches of the Cauvery (Mettur to Mayiladuthurai), the Sarabanga river (Thathayampatti to T.Konagapadi), Thirumanimuthar river (Salem to Papparapatti), Vasista river (Manivilundhan to Thiyaganur), Bhavani river (Sirumugai to Kalingarayan) and Tamirabarani river (Pappankulam to Toarumuganeri) in Tamil Nadu have been identified as polluted based on Bio-chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) level in rivers, a key indicator of organic pollution”.

Pollution of the abatement of the rivers and waterbodies is a continuous process, the State governments or local bodies concerned were responsible for setting up facilities for collection, transportation and treatment of sewage being generated and ensure that the sewage did not fall into the rivers and waterbodies.

“Sewage Treatment Capacity of 477.66 mld and 15 STPs has been created so far,” explaining the Ministry’s role in helping State governments bring down river pollution”.

Hydrocarbon wells:

Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan informed the Lok Sabha that 23 hydrocarbon wells will be drilled in Tamil Nadu.

He was replying to a question raised by DMK MP A. Raja. The minister said 705 hydrocarbon wells would be drilled across the country in various States, of which 181 would be offshore.

Mr. Pradhan said, “In Tamil Nadu some local people/organisations have filed petition in National Green Tribunal against the exploration and production activities in the area. (The) Government of Puducherry has expressed its inability to grant permission for carrying out the exploration activities.”

CM urges PM not to grant green nod for Mekedatu dam

In News:

Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to grant the Terms of Reference (ToR) for environmental clearance for Karnataka’s proposed dam at Mekedatu.

Details:

In a letter to the PM on Monday, Mr. Palaniswami drew Mr. Modi’s attention to the proposal put forward by the Cauvery Neeravari Nigama Niyamita of Karnataka for the grant of ToR for environmental clearance for the Mekedatu balancing reservoir and drinking water project. Karnataka’s action of seeking environmental clearance for the Mekedatu project was in utter violation of the final order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal and the judgment of the Supreme Court, dated February 16, 2018, he said.

The T.N. government had conveyed its strong objections to Karnataka’s proposal and had asked the Centre to reject outright and return the detailed project report (DPR) for the Mekedatu dam, which was not a designated reservoir for the release of water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu in terms of the tribunal’s final order, as modified by the SC, he added.

Further, Karnataka had not obtained the prior concurrence of T.N. and other co-basin States. Cauvery being a deficit basin, the construction of Mekedatu [dam] or [the implementation of] any project in any place by upper riparian States would drastically affect the lower riparian States in terms of their ability to get their due share of water. Moreover, the matter was pending before the Supreme Court, the CM pointed out.

All these facts were mentioned in his latest memorandum to the PM, Mr. Palaniswami said, and urged Mr. Modi to direct the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to issue instructions to the authorities concerned not to consider the Karnataka government’s proposal for grant of environmental clearance.

T.N.’s permission:

Further, the Jal Shakti Ministry should be directed to advise the Central Water Commission to reject and return the reservoir’s DPR and not accord any clearance to the project without obtaining the prior concurrence of the Tamil Nadu government and those of the other co-basin States, Mr. Palaniswami said, seeking the PM’s immediate response.

Water crisis finds an echo in Rajya Sabha

In News:

The issue of the drinking water crisis in various parts of the country was raised by several members in the Rajya Sabha.

Details:

During Zero Hour, Satyanarayan Jatiya of the BJP said the water shortage had become a major problem in parts of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Permanent solution:

Mr. Jatiya urged the government to come up with a permanent solution, and suggested that the five major river-linking projects be implemented to maximise water use for drinking and irrigation.

His party colleague Ashok Bajpai seconded him, citing a NITI Aayog report on the impending water crisis in the country.

Saroj Pandey, another BJP member, called for sensitising the people to the need for harvesting rainwater to recharge the groundwater table.

Rewati Raman Singh of the Samajwadi Party also urged the government to intervene immediately.

Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu said he was willing to allow a discussion on the issue if notice was given after consultations with the members.

Govt. bringing back artefacts from abroad

The government is in the process of bringing back 40 artefacts, including 27 from Tamil Nadu, that had been taken to different countries illegally, the Lok Sabha was informed on Monday.

Answering a question by M.K. Raghavan, Culture Minister Prahlad Singh Patel said the government was working on bringing back 40 artefacts from Switzerland, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh, Singapore and the United States.

U.S. seeks non-military ways to stop Iran

In News:

U.S. intelligence and military officers are working on additional clandestine plans to counter Iranian aggression in the Gulf, pushed by the White House to develop new options that could help deter Tehran without escalating tensions into a full-out conventional war, according to current and former officials.

Details:

The goal is to develop operations similar to the cyberattacks conducted on Thursday and that echo the shadow war the U.S. has accused Tehran of carrying out with attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, according to U.S. officials briefed on the effort. Iran maintains that it was not responsible for the attacks on the tankers.

The cyberattacks were aimed at an Iranian intelligence group that U.S. officials believe was behind a series of attacks on tankers in the Gulf region.

The U.S. operation was intended to take down the computers and networks used by the intelligence group, at least temporarily. A separate online operation was aimed at taking out computers that control Iranian missile launches.

The White House has told military and intelligence officials it wants options in line with the kind of operations conducted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the officials said.

President Donald Trump has made clear he believes that, at this point, a direct strike would be escalatory, although he has repeatedly warned Iran against further aggression.

Intelligence and military officials have told White House policymakers, including Mr. Trump, that without an additional U.S. response, Iran will continue to destabilise the region.

Some divisions of opinion in the administration remain. A number of senior national security officials agree that further action against Iran is needed, but they are divided about how public that action needs to be.

Secret operations:

Officials did not provide specifics about the secret operations under consideration by the White House. But they could include a wide range of activities such as additional cyberattacks, clandestine operations aimed at disabling boats used by Iranians to conduct shipping attacks and covert operations inside Iran aimed at fomenting more unrest.

The U.S. might also look for ways to divide or undermine the effectiveness of Iranian proxy groups, officials said.

The CIA has long-standing secret plans for responding to Iranian provocations. Senior officials have discussed with the White House options for expanded covert operations by the agency, as well as plans to step up existing efforts to counter Iran’s efforts, according to current and former officials.

One former U.S. military commander said there was a range of options that the Pentagon and the CIA could pursue that could keep Iran off balance but that would not have “crystal-clear attribution” to the U.S. A U.S. operation that was not publicly announced could still deter further action by Tehran, if Iran understood what U.S. operatives had done, the former officer said.

Current and former officials say Iran’s covert attacks against shipping and its downing of a U.S. drone are an attempt to try to raise pressure on the U.S. Iran, they say, hopes that by sowing chaos in the Gulf it can drive up oil prices, which will put pressure on Mr. Trump and U.S. allies dependent on West Asian oil. Iran maintains that the drone it shot down had violated its airspace, while U.S. officials insist it had been over international waters.

“From the Iranian perspective, unconventional attacks, threats against Gulf shipping and air routes and bellicose rhetoric represent the best ways to pressure the international community to compel the U.S. to relieve sanctions without igniting a conventional conflict,” said Norman T. Roule, a former national intelligence manager for Iran and a CIA West Asian expert.

Shadowy techniques:

Some officials believe the U.S. needs to be willing to master the kind of deniable, shadowy techniques Tehran has perfected in order to halt Iran’s aggressions. Others think that, while helpful, such clandestine attacks will not be enough to reassure U.S. allies or deter Iran.

Iran will probably pause its activities for a time, senior U.S. officials said.

But, with sanctions biting, they say Tehran will once again resume attacks on shipping. That will once more force the White House to consider a direct military strike.

 

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