Insights Daily Current Events, 07 May 2016

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Insights Daily Current Events, 07 May 2016

Paper 2 Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Overseas investors continue to shun oil palm industry

A recently released report has indicated that the government’s decision to allow 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in oil palm plantations in November last year has failed to draw even a single investor.

What else needs to be done to attract investors?

  • Oil palm should be declared as a plantation crop. There should be relaxation of land ceiling norms. This paves the way for large scale plantation of oil palm. The current policies of the Centre do not allow companies to either acquire or lease land beyond a specific acreage as defined by land ceiling norms. Thus, there is no scope for the corporate sector for large scale plantation of oil palm.
  • Oil palm developers say that the potential of this crop could be realised effectively if there is a separate oil palm development board, a separate import policy for palm oil and a separate budget for oil palm industry development.

What has the government done to encourage oil palm industry?

Oil palm is comparatively a new crop in India and is stated to be the highest vegetable oil yielding crop. In order to encourage its cultivation in the country as a part of its effort to reduce imports and ensure edible oil security, the government came out with a National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP).

About NMOOP:

NMOOP envisages bringing an additional 1.25 lakh hectares under oil palm cultivation through area expansion approach in the States including utilisation of wastelands.

Key facts:

  • The States currently engaged in oil palm cultivation are Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and West Bengal.
  • India’s edible oil imports are rising steeply. In the past 13 years, import of crude and refined oil was reported to have quadrupled and the import bill in this regard is expected to touch $ 15 billion in 2016-17.

Sources: the hindu.

Paper 3 Topic: infrastructure.

Steel firms may get NIIF funding support

The government is looking at creating a fund under India’s first sovereign wealth fund, NIIF, which will address capital requirements of domestic steel companies. Steel sector is capital-starved sector in the country.

  • The move is aimed at bringing down capital costs for the steel industry, which could see a staggering $190 billion in investment if the country has to reach a 300-mtpa target by 2025-26.
  • The government feels that though domestic demand has grown slower than anticipated in the last couple of years, in the medium term demand would pick up, making room for steel capacity expansion.
  • India currently has around 110 mtpa steel capacity. The country aims to create an additional 190 mtpa capacity by 2025-26. Approximately $1 billion investment is required to develop 1 mtpa steel capacity.

About National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF):

The NIIF is being operationalised with an initial corpus of Rs 40,000 crore. The government would hold up to 49% in the NIIF, which is expected to catalyse financing of infrastructure projects by leveraging the same multiple times. The remaining stake would be offered to domestic as well as foreign partners.

  • It was created as an investment vehicle for funding commercially viable greenfield, brownfield and stalled projects.
  • NIIF is set up as a Fund of Funds (Category II Alternate Investment Fund) with a proposed series of funds.
  • The government will seek participation from strategic investors such as sovereign fund, quasi sovereign funds and multilateral or bilateral investors, which can help leverage this fund to many times. Cash-rich PSUs, pension funds, provident funds, National Small Saving Fund will be able to pick up stake in the fund.

Sources: the hindu.

Paper 3 Topic: infrastructure.

Sagarmala project to be completed in 5 years

The government has decided to halve the previously estimated 10-year timeframe to complete the Sagarmala port development project.

  • The project targets to provide one crore employment. Port-led development has potential for direct employment generation for 40 lakh persons and for 60 lakh persons indirectly.

About Sagarmala:

The Sagarmala project seeks to develop a string of ports around India’s coast. The objective of this initiative is to promote “Port-led development” along India’s 7500 km long coastline.

  • It aims to develop access to new development regions with intermodal solutions and promotion of the optimum modal split, enhanced connectivity with main economic centres and beyond through expansion of rail, inland water, coastal and road services.
  • The Union Ministry of Shipping has been appointed as the nodal ministry for this initiative.

The Sagarmala initiative will address challenges by focusing on three pillars of development, namely:

  • Supporting and enabling Port-led Development through appropriate policy and institutional interventions and providing for an institutional framework for ensuring inter-agency and ministries/departments/states’ collaboration for integrated development.
  • Port Infrastructure Enhancement, including modernization and setting up of new ports.
  • Efficient Evacuation to and from hinterland.

Other objectives:

  • In addition to strengthening port and evacuation infrastructure, it also aims at simplifying procedures used at ports for cargo movement and promotes usage of electronic channels for information exchange leading to quick, efficient, hassle-free and seamless cargo movement.
  • It also strives to ensure sustainable development of the population living in the Coastal Economic Zone (CEZ). This would be done by synergising and coordinating with State Governments and line Ministries of Central Government through their existing schemes and programmes such as those related to community and rural development, tribal development and employment generation, fisheries, skill development, tourism promotion etc.

Sources: the hindu.

Paper 2 Topic: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.

Income Tax Dept. can reveal taxpayers’ details

According to an amendment in the Finance Bill, 2016, the taxman in the country can reveal information related to taxpayers disclosing previously concealed income under the Budget’s Income Declaration Scheme, if it is deemed to be in public interest.

  • The amendment is aimed to allay any misconceptions that the government would keep such taxpayers’ details confidential under any circumstance.


The Income Declaration Scheme offers people with undisclosed income to declare it by paying a penal tax rate of 45% on such income. The Finance Bill has imported Section 138 of the Income Tax Act into the declaration scheme’s ambit. Bringing in Section 138 to the Scheme brings in objectivity on confidentiality of income tax information and the limitations thereof.

  • The aim behind bringing in this section is to dispel the perception that the details disclosed under the scheme are confidential under any circumstances — they can be disclosed if it is deemed to be in public interest.
  • However, the discretion has been given to the Chief Commissioner who is a very senior authority and he has to see if it is in public interest to share the information.

Sources: the hindu.

Paper 2 Topic: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.

Most death row convicts first-time offenders

According to the recently released “Death Penalty India Report”, most death row inmates in India are poor, uneducated and first-time offenders.

What else the report says?

  • A total of 241 out of the 385 death row inmates in India are first-time offenders.
  • Around 60% of the prisoners did not complete secondary education and nearly 75% belonged to economically vulnerable sections.
  • Three-fourth of the prisoners sentenced to death belong to backward classes and religious minorities.
  • Overall, ‘murder simpliciter’ or accidental murder constitute most of the cases, followed by ‘rape with murder’.
  • Median duration of trials and High Court proceedings in cases involving sexual offences is the lowest as compared to other cases. State-wise analysis also shows that trails were fastest in cases of sexual offence.
  • Most prisoners who shared information didn’t have a lawyer during interrogation. Most of them claimed they had experienced custodial violence and were tortured in police custody.


  • According to the report, education levels affect the extent to which the death row prisoners are able to understand details of the case filed against them; lack of which results in alienation from the system. Alienation experienced by prisoners through lack of awareness of proceedings increased as cases rise in the appellate system.
  • Pendency of legal proceedings greater than five years is considered a grave violation of speedy justice by the Supreme Court. While the median duration of trial for the death row prisoners was around four years, trials went beyond five years for 127 prisoners. Though lengthy trials happen to be a concern in general, it has more significance in the case of death penalty.
  • Also, the seriousness of charge often forces the families to hire a private lawyer than rely on poor quality of free legal aid provided by the government. The report finds that while the high fee of private lawyers – opted by more than 60% of the prisoners during trial and high court – deepens the economic vulnerability of the already poor families, it doesn’t ensure access to competent legal representation. This makes it difficult for an accused to “navigate through the various stages of the legal process without sufficient socio-economic and political resources.”

Sources: the hindu.

Facts for Prelims:

Australia has decided to provide a three-year multiple-entry visitor visa for Indians by July 2016 on a trial basis. This is aimed at boosting Australia’s future tourism growth. This will allow entry into Australia multiple times on the same visa and each stay will be valid up to three months. Apart from India, this will be implemented in three countries — Thailand, Vietnam and Chile. The announcement of the trial was made as part of the Australian government’s 2016-17 budget. It will be applicable to eligible applicants on tourist and business visitor visa streams.