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27 June Current Affairs

India and U.S. resolve to work through their trade differences

In News:

India and the U.S. resolved to “work through” their differences which have led to an impasse on trade issues as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar hosted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Delhi ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump in Osaka.

Details:

“If you trade with somebody, and particularly if they are your biggest trading partners, it’s impossible that you don’t have trade issues. But I think the sign of a mature relationship is that ability to negotiate your way through that and find common ground,” Mr. Jaishankar said at the end of their meeting on Wednesday, although neither side announced any positive outcomes from the discussions. Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Jaishankar are understood to have thrashed out issues, including tariffs and counter-tariffs imposed by New Delhi and Washington on each other in the past year, as well as the U.S.’s specific concerns with India’s proposed laws on e-commerce and data localisation, on price caps and market access.

“The U.S. is clear that it seeks greater market access and the removal of trade barriers in our economic relationship, and today I addressed these differences in the spirit of friendship and I think we will be able to resolve these issues in the interests of our two countries”.

He clarified that the U.S. decision to withdraw India’s GSP preferential trade status this month had not come up for discussion.

Mr. Jaishankar said both sides had come away with a “better understanding” of each other’s concerns on a wide variety of issues besides trade, including energy, defence, investment concerns and people-to-people contacts, as well as the growing conflict in the Gulf with Iran and the peace process in Afghanistan.

Rejecting calls by the United States and the threat of sanctions under its CAATSA law, Mr. Jaishankar said that India will take its decision on the purchase of the Russian S-400 Triumf anti-missile system in its own “national interest”, and conveyed this to his American counterpart.

Mr. Jaishankar also raised India’s concerns over growing U.S.-Iran tensions and their impact on India’s energy security.

While India has zeroed out all oil imports from Iran since the U.S. sanctions deadline ran out on May 2, it has maintained a cordial and close relationship with the Iranian government. In response, Mr. Pompeo lashed out at the Iranian government, which he called a “terrorist regime”, adding that India and the U.S. had a “shared understanding” of the terrorist threat emanating from Iran.

Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and the Indian people have suffered from terror around the world. So there is a shared understanding of the threat and a common purpose to ensuring that we keep energy at the right prices and deter this threat.

Fish kill in Hejamadi may be due to discharge of effluents, says team of scientists

In News:

The recent fish kill in Hejamadi along the Kamini could be due to the possible discharge of effluents and unscientific construction of a bridge, according to the College of Fisheries, Mangaluru.

Details:

  1. Senthil Vel, professor and dean of the college, said that a team of the college visited the site for a study. It comprised scientists Lakshmipathi M.T. and Girisha S.K., Rakesh, Senior Research Fellow, and Amogh, Junior Research Fellow.

They found that the river joining the sea at Hejamadi was stagnating along the coast.

The stagnation is on account of unscientific construction of a hume pipe-based bridge along the coast whose level is higher than the water level thereby preventing the free flow of the river water into the sea.

The visiting scientists also discussed with the local panchayat people who agreed that the construction of the bridge is very unscientific and should have been at least three metres below the present level which would have enabled water to flow into the sea.

The stagnation of water is leading to depletion of oxygen, concentration of toxic material and thereby, fish kill.

Further, the team has carried out preliminary analysis of the water and is of the opinion that based on the colour, sediment, dead fish, there could be a possibility of discharge of effluents from nearby units and release of certain pollutants into the water.

The visiting team saw several dead fish, including small juvenile fish, indicating that there has been an increase in toxicity and total depletion of oxygen in water. The team collected sediments from various locations and is carrying out a detailed study in laboratories in the college with regard to water, sediments and dead fish to ascertain the cause of fish kill.

54 nations back India for UNSC non-permanent seat

In News:

India has won the unanimous support of all countries in the 55-member Asia-Pacific Group at the United Nations in support of its bid for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC) for a two-year term in 2021-22.

Details:

The development is particularly significant given that Pakistan and China, both countries with which India has had diplomatic challenges at the UN, supported the move.

“Humbled by the show of solidarity by the Asia-Pacific Group in endorsing India’s candidature,” India’s Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin told The Hindu . “We accept the responsibility with humility and will now seek support from the broader UN membership at the elections in General Assembly next year.”

The 55-member Asia-Pacific Group gets to nominate one of its members for the June 2020 elections to a non-permanent seat on the UNSC. Estonia, Niger, Tunisia, Vietnam and St. Vincent and the Grenadines were elected earlier this month.

No challenges to India’s candidacy are expected with regard to acquiring the support of other UN members. India will need the vote of two-thirds of the 193 UN General Assembly members to win a non-permanent seat on the UNSC.

India has already held a non-permanent seat on the UNSC for seven terms: 1950-1951, 1967-1968, 1972-1973, 1977-1978, 1984-1985, 1991-1992 and 2011-2012. It announced its candidacy for the 2021-22 seat at the end of 2013, with Afghanistan, a potential contender, withdrawing its nomination to accommodate India’s candidacy based on the “long-standing, close and friendly relations” between the two countries, as per what Afghanistan’s UN mission had said at the time.

India has been keen to hold the seat in 2021-22 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Independence in 2022.

It will be hosting the G-20 meeting in New Delhi in that year.

Expert says drug trade is narco-terrorism

After conventional acts of terror, it is narco-terrorism that is happening in many parts of the country which is sandwiched between the “Golden Triangle” and the “Golden Crescent” of international drug trade. Speaking at the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking programme, Dr. Shetty said that the act of extreme wickedness behind the push for drugs trade to weaken the country cannot be ruled out.

Centre set to roll out ‘Jal Shakti’ scheme for water-starved areas

In News:

The Centre is set to initiate the Jal Shakti Abhiyan to ramp up rainwater harvesting and conservation efforts in 255 water-stressed districts from July 1, in line with the government’s promise to focus on water.

Details:

Though water is a State issue, the campaign will be coordinated by 255 central IAS officers of Joint or Additional Secretary-rank, drawn from ministries as varied as Space, Petroleum and Defence, according to a notification issued by the Department of Personnel and Training.

The campaign seems to follow the model of last year’s Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, where central officials monitored the implementation of seven flagship development schemes in 117 aspirational districts across the country.

The campaign will run from July 1 to September 15 in States receiving rainfall during the south-west monsoon, while States receiving rainfall in the retreating or north-east monsoon will be covered from October 1 to November 30. Overall, 313 blocks with critical groundwater levels will be covered, along with 1,186 blocks with over-exploited groundwater and 94 blocks with low groundwater availability.

Progress monitored:

The Jal Shakti Abhiyan would aim to accelerate water harvesting, conservation and borewell recharge activities already being carried out under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme and the Integrated Watershed Management Programme of the Rural Development Ministry, along with existing water body restoration and afforestation schemes being undertaken by the Jal Shakti and Environment Ministries.

Progress would be monitored in real time through mobile applications and an online dashboard at indiawater.gov.in

A major communications campaign on TV, radio, print, local and social media will be carried out, with celebrities mobilised to generate awareness for the campaign.

Teams led by 255 Joint Secretary and Additional Secretary-rank officers and 550 Deputy Secretary-level officers from various central ministries would fan out across the country, making at least three trips of three days each to cover districts and blocks.

SEZ Bill cleared amid protests

In News:

The Lok Sabha passed the Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019, making a trust or any entity notified by the Central government eligible for consideration of grant of permission to set up a unit in special economic zones.

Details:

Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said the Bill, which would replace an ordinance, was aimed at improving and encouraging more investments and introducing features including single-window clearance and to ease imports and exports.

“To attract both domestic and international investors, the Prime Minister wants to keep up with the evolving business environment,” Mr. Goyal said, introducing the legislation. “To this effect, we want to add alternative investment funds trust in the definition of persons,” he added.

Opposition parties, however, questioned the manner in which the Bill had been brought in, with Congress MP Shashi Tharoor stating, “As per rule, an ordinance can be promulgated only when the President deems it necessary in emergency situations and when issues of extreme urgency arise and when it’s not possible to wait for Parliament to convene.”

“The Minister has to explain the urgency in this matter,” Mr. Tharoor said. “The PM must not treat this House as a rubber stamp for his political agenda”.

Questioning the government for the urgency in passing an ordinance, DMK leader D.N.V. Senthilkumar said: “Large chunk of trusts owned by minorities have been shut down under the previous Act. There are suspicions that the government has a hidden agenda to favour a selected few who are close to the government and have vested interests.”

‘Lynching no lesser crime than terrorism’

In News:

Enraged at the lynching of Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand, Muslim community leaders have demanded that lynching should be treated on a par with terrorism and the perpetrators should get the strictest possible punishment.

Details:

“Lynching is no lesser a crime than terrorism. It is going on across the country, especially in Jharkhand, where 13 to 14 people have lost their lives. However, the Central government is unconcerned,” said Hafiz Anwar, secretary of the civil society body Jamilulumahind. Members of the body visited Tabrez’s village on Wednesday. “In 2017, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to bring in a stringent law in this connection. Both the Centre and the State government have maintained silence. The issue never figures prominently in discussions in Parliament,” said Mr. Anwar. “The lynching case should be heard in fast-track courts and stringent punishment be awarded,” he demanded.

“Even if he was accused of theft, there was a court of law to take care of it. Who gave the perpetrators the right to take the law into their own hands?” asked the villagers.

“If he was accused of theft, why was he made to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’? It was done only after he revealed his identity. As both the BJP and the RSS have spread hatred across the country, people on the ground feel encouraged to commit such heinous crimes. The doctor and jailer who neglected their duty should be terminated from service,” Mr. Anwar said.

The Congress Jharkhand unit released the names of 18 victims of lynchings that had taken place between March 18, 2016 and June 17, 2019. Of the 18, 11 were Muslims.

Indigenous GPS

India’s own regional navigation satellite system named as “Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC)” is established by ISRO and is functional from April 2018 onwards.

ISRO has completed all the necessary preparations with regard to establishment of Space Segment (currently Eight IRNSS satellites are in orbit) and Ground Segment (spread across India). The Seven satellites in the system are providing Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services and one satellite (IRNSS-1A) is providing messaging services.

The potential of this indigenous system is being demonstrated in various application sectors viz. vehicle tracking system, mobiles, timing & power synchronization, fisheries, surveying etc. For example, all commercial vehicles registered from 1st April 2019 onwards are mandated to have vehicle trackers, which are also NavIC-enabled. More than 30 companies are manufacturing Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) or International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT) approved NavIC-enabled vehicle trackers in India. Through the provision of these services, the dependence on the American-owned GPS could be obviated.

Ban on Agricultural Products

The export and import policies for agricultural products, which include the decisions on lifting and imposing bans on export/import of individual agricultural products, are framed keeping several factors in mind, such as availability of surplus over the domestic requirements (including the requirement of buffer stock and strategic reserve, if any), concerns of food security, diplomatic/humanitarian considerations, international demand and supply situation, price competitiveness, need to balance between remunerative prices to the growers and availability of agricultural products to common man at affordable  prices.  During the last three years, no bans have been imposed on export and import of any of the major agricultural products. As such, no study has been conducted in this regard.

The Agriculture Export Policy, brought out by the Government in December 2018, aims at a stable trade policy for agricultural products, involving following steps:

Providing assurance that the processed agricultural products and all kinds of organic products will not be brought under the ambit of any kind of export restriction (viz. Minimum Export Price, Export duty, Export bans, Export quota, Export capping and Export permit) even though the primary agricultural product or non-organic agricultural product is brought under some kind of export restrictions.

Identification of a few commodities which are essential for food security in consultation with the relevant stakeholders and Ministries.  Any export restriction on such identified commodities under extreme price situation will be based on decision of a high level committee. Also, any kind of export prohibitions and restrictions on the identified commodities above would be taken up in a WTO compatible manner.

Liberalised import of agricultural products for value addition and re-export.

Consequent to the approval of policy, mandate of the Committee of Secretaries on Essential commodities has been expanded to provide recommendation on export restrictions on a few commodities, which are essential for food security, under extreme price situation only.

Relaxation of FDI Norms

Review of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy is an ongoing process and changes are made in the FDI policy regime, from time to time, to ensure that India remains an attractive investment destination.

FDI in various sectors is allowed in a calibrated manner after having intensive consultations with stakeholders including concerned Ministries and Departments, State Governments, apex industry chambers, associations and other organizations taking into consideration their views and comments.  FDI policy on various sectors, indicating therein sector-wise FDI limits is, provided in the ‘Consolidated FDI Policy Circular of 2017’, as amended from time to time through subsequent Press Notes, which are available on the website of Department for Promotion of Industry & Internal Trade at www.dipp.gov.in.

While FDI policy lays down an enabling framework for attracting foreign investment, Ministry of Home Affairs has laid down detailed guidelines for assessment of proposals from national security point of view. In order to boost economic growth without compromising the security of the country, proposals are evaluated on the basis of their potential threat to nation’s unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

 

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