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Insights Daily Current Events, 22 February 2016

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Insights Daily Current Events, 22 February 2016

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Paper 1 Topic: art and culture.

Sammakka Saralamma Jatara

Asia’s biggest tribal fair, Sammakka-Saralamma Jatara, was recently concluded in Telangana.

  • Lakhs of devotees bid farewell to the tribal goddesses at Medaram village in Warangal district. About a crore people from various parts of the country attended the fair.

Key facts:

  • Sammakka Saralamma Jatara or Medaram Jatara is a tribal festival of honouring the goddesses celebrated in the state of Telangana, India.
  • It commemorates the fight of a mother and daughter, Sammakka and Saralamma, with the reigning rulers against an unjust law.
  • It is believed that after Kumbha Mela, the Medaram jatara attracts the largest number of devotees in the country.
  • It is a four-day festival held once in two years.
  • The festival is celebrated in Medaram during the time the goddesses of the tribals is believed to visit them. Medaram is a remote place in the Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary, a part of Dandakaranya, the largest surviving forest belt in the Deccan.

sources: the hindu.


 

Topic: Social issues (Prelims)

UGC tells universities to celebrate Matribhasha Diwas on March 3

UGC has asked universities across India to celebrate “Matribhasha Diwas” to promote the use of mother tongue on March 3 this year as February 21, the day declared by UNESCO as Mother languages day, was a Sunday.

  • The commission has also asked universities to hold various activities to celebrate “Matribhasha Diwas”.

About University Grants Commission (UGC):

  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) of India is a statutory body set up in 1956, and is charged with coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education.
  • It provides recognition to universities in India, and disburses funds to such recognized universities and colleges.
  • Previously, UGC was formed in 1946 to oversee the work of the three Central Universities of Aligarh, Banaras and, Delhi. In 1947, the Committee was entrusted with the responsibility of dealing with all the then existing Universities.
  • After independence, the University Education Commission was set up in 1948 under the Chairmanship of S. Radhakrishnan and it recommended that the UGC be reconstituted on the general model of the University Grants Commission of the United Kingdom.
  • The UGC was however, formally established in November 1956, by an Act of Parliament as a statutory body of the Government of India.

sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: money-laundering and its prevention. (Issue for debate)

Mumbai street vendors on taxman radar

In a bid to crack down on black money in the informal sector, Mumbai’s Income Tax department has decided to screen paanwalas , vadapav walas and juice walas in the city.

  • The decision was taken after a recent search in Central Mumbai which revealed huge unaccounted wealth and properties of a popular paanwala .
  • Hence, the department has, for the first time, started screening data of vendors registered with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and records of small shops available with the Labour Department.

sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Government Budgeting.

Experts want body to oversee budget

Members of the 14th Finance Commission have questioned the government’s failure to act on its recommendation to constitute an Independent Fiscal Council that objectively evaluates budget announcements and forecasts.

Why we need Fiscal Council?

  • The members of the commission have stressed that such an institution is critical to improve the government’s credibility on fiscal management.
  • According to them, such a council, in the short and medium term, will help allay fears of global credit rating agencies about the government’s commitment to fiscal targets.
  • Also, while the union government monitors fiscal targets of states nobody oversees its own fiscal decisions.
  • Such an independent council could also weigh in on the debate over the fiscal deficit that the budget should strive for — that is currently being driven by only government officials, myriad commentators and the RBI.
  • A Fiscal Council would also be a very important body especially when controversies on issues like fiscal deficit thresholds arise as there is no independent body to suggest a road map.

Background:

The Commission had mooted an Independent Fiscal Council as an oversight body over the finance ministry.

  • The council would report to the Parliament on how realistic government projections are, citing similar independent budget and fiscal management monitoring offices in 35 countries.
  • The Council can react after the budget comes out and give a view whether the intended purpose would be met or more funds should be provided, and the deficits are in line with projections.

In the past few years, states have been fiscally prudent but the Union has been skipping its own deficit targets. And hence, an independent Fiscal Council to act as an oversight body on the finance ministry that would report to the Parliament appears necessary.

sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Governance; e-Governance

Govt. to tap CSCs for rural banking access

The government is looking to leverage its Common Services Centres (CSCs) to enable easy access to banking services, particularly in rural areas.

  • With the CSCs, the government aims to make one person in every family digitally literate in four years.
  • The withdrawal facility has already been introduced at the CSCs whereas opening of accounts is being worked out with the banks and is likely to be rolled-out shortly.
  • It should be noted here that, so far, through CSCs the entrepreneurs have earned a total commission of Rs.438 crore till now on e-services such as pan cards.

What is expected from the CSCs?

  • Take the lead role in spreading e-commerce in rural India and in promoting local artisans.

How would government support them?

  • The government will provide them with internet access on priority basis.
  • To incentivise village level entrepreneurs, three best performing entrepreneurs would be rewarded Rs.2 lakh, Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50,000 each.

What are CSCs?

Common Services Centers (CSCs) are a strategic cornerstone of the Digital India programme. They are the access points for delivery of various electronic services to villages in India, thereby contributing to a digitally and financially inclusive society.

CSCs enable the three vision areas of the Digital India programme:

  1. Digital infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen.
  2. Governance and services on demand.
  3. Digital empowerment of citizens.

Significance of CSCs:

CSCs are more than service delivery points in rural India. They are positioned as change agents, promoting rural entrepreneurship and building rural capacities and livelihoods. They are enablers of community participation and collective action for engendering social change through a bottom-up approach with key focus on the rural citizen.

Key facts:

  • The CSC project, which forms a strategic component of the National eGovernance Plan was approved by the Government in May 2006, as part of its commitment in the National Common Minimum Programme to introduce e-governance on a massive scale.
  • It is also one of the approved projects under the Integrated Mission Mode Projects of the National eGovernance Plan.

sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

India studying impact of market economy status for China

India’s Commerce Ministry is assessing the implications of the likelihood of China being granted “Market Economy Status” (MES) from December this year under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) norms.

  • Beijing has cited the 2001 agreement on China joining the WTO to say that WTO-member countries had then decided to deem China as a ‘market economy’ from December 2016.

Background:

As per the 2001 agreement (Protocol on the accession of China to the WTO), in calculating the ‘normal value’ of the exported goods while adjudicating anti-dumping cases, the WTO member nations could for 15 years (that is till December 2016) ignore selling price and production costs in China.

  • They could instead calculate the ‘dumping margin’ on the basis of a comparable export price to an appropriate third country and by ‘constructing’ the production cost with ‘reasonable’ additions.
  • This permission to compare prices or costs with external benchmarks to calculate the ‘normal value’ and ‘dumping margin’ has often led to many countries using the anti-dumping route extensively against China and imposing high anti-dumping duties.
  • The 15-year time period was given to China to carry out internal reforms and transition into a ‘market economy.’

What happens if China is granted MES and why India is worried?

The main impact of China being granted MES would be on ‘anti-dumping’ cases. In the recent past, India has extensively used anti-dumping duty to offset the losses caused to the local manufacturers due to dumping. Of the 535 cases where anti-dumping duties were imposed by India from 1994-2014, a maximum of 134 has been on goods from China.

  • Once China is granted MES, it will severely limit India’s ability to resort to anti-dumping as the authorities (DGAD) will have to accept the production costs and selling price in China as the benchmark. It will in turn mean lesser chances of anti-dumping duties being imposed or lesser anti-dumping duties even if they are imposed.

Opposition:

  • To deny China the ‘MES’, India — and others such as the US and the EU — have been saying that unlike in ‘market economies’ where prices are mainly determined by market forces (of demand and supply), there is significant government influence in China that in turn causes distortions in international trade.
  • These countries have also been citing factors such as huge Chinese government subsidies, ‘price fixing’, ‘absence’ of proper business accounting standards, besides lack of transparency in not just loan rates, but also in minimum wages and property rights in China.

Way ahead:

The Directorate General of Anti-Dumping and Allied Duties (or DGAD, an autonomous body under the commerce ministry) has begun consultations with stakeholders including international trade experts and lawyers on the issue.

  • Like India, the European Union (EU) is also undertaking stakeholder consultations on the ramifications of granting MES to China.

Dumping is an unfair trade practice of exporting goods to another country at a price lesser than what is paid in the exporting nation or their normal production cost, thereby distorting international trade and causing injury to the domestic manufacturers of the goods in the importing country.

sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: IPR.

USIBC working hard to protect India’s IPR status

US-India Business Council (USIBC) is lobbying hard to prevent the risk of a downgrade in the upcoming Special 301 report that identifies trade barriers to U.S. companies and products due to a foreign government’s intellectual property regime.

  • USIBC efforts are to ensure that the India retains its current position, i.e on the ‘priority watch list,’ which has ‘countries of major concern’ to the U.S. Government. There are two categories worse than this as per the Special 301 ranking and India’s faces the risk being downgraded. The lowest category will face U.S sanctions.

USBIC is defending India citing the following actions taken by India:

  • In the last 12 months there has been substantive improvement in India’s IP environment. Series of measures by the Indian in the last few months have strengthened the IP regime in the country.
  • The government did not appeal against the Delhi High Court’s decisions in MSD (Merck) v. Glenmark and Roche v. Cipla. These decisions reflect the increased capacity and competency of Indian judges to resolve patent infringement cases, assess damages, and order injunctive relief.
  • In 2015 Prime Minister Narendra Modi made several public statements “reaffirming his commitment to a strong and robust intellectual property regime.”
  • The Government of India has also denied several compulsory license applications, providing investor certainty and predictability that their patents will be upheld in India.
  • The passage of the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Bill in December 2015 was also listed as proof of the government’s commitment to stronger IP regime, as this would help speedy adjudication of IP disputes.
  • The government has also started a scheme for facilitating start-ups IP rights.

Hence, USIBC has urged the US authority to not alter India’s position in the report until that time.

Background:

The U.S Chamber of Commerce International IP Index released recently had India at the lowest but one among 38 countries ranked. Venezuela was the only country below India.

The office of the U.S Trade Representative (USTR) prepares the special 301 report annually and the Government of India does not engage with the process as it considers it an infringement on the country’s sovereignty. However, few Indian experts point out that the categorisation in hte in the report is arbitrary and mostly a political decision, in order to reward or punish a target country.

sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Employment.

Unemployment down in urban centres, but persists in rural areas, says survey

The National Sample Survey Office has released the details of a survey conducted to assess the unemployment rate across the country.

Highlights of the survey:

  • The unemployment rate in urban areas reduced from 4.5% in 2004-05 to 3.4% in 2011-12. In rural areas, the rate has been stable at around 1.7% during this period.
  • The unemployment rate across all the religious groups in rural areas was on the lower side than those in urban areas for both males and females.
  • Christians have the highest rate of unemployment in both rural (4.5%) and urban (5.9%) areas in 2011-12.
  • Unemployment level in India is highest among those people who are richer and more educated. The reason is that poor people can’t afford to stay unemployed, and hence, opt for any kind of work, irrespective of the nature of the job. The better off have the capacity to be unemployed as they look for the right job. Christians are the most educated group, hence unemployment rate is higher among them.
  • Among the persons of age 15 and above, the proportion of people who are not literates was the lowest for Christians. Also, the proportion of persons with educational level secondary and above is highest for Christians.
  • While the unemployment rate in rural areas has decreased for Sikhs (from 3.5 to 1.3%) — now the lowest across all religious groups — it has slightly increased for Muslims (from 2.3 to 2.6%). At 3.3%, Hindus have the lowest unemployment rate in urban areas.
  • Self-employment is the major source of income for almost half the households, across all religious groups, in rural areas, followed by casual labour.
  • In urban areas, the proportion of households deriving major income from regular wage or salary earnings is the highest. Half the Muslim households in urban areas have self-employment as major source of income, the highest among all religions, while regular wage or salary earnings was the highest for Christians with 45.8% households.

What is Unemployment Rate?

Unemployment rate is defined as the number of persons unemployed as a proportion of the labour force (persons who are either ‘working’ or ‘seeking or available for work’), not the total population.

sources: the hindu.