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Current Affairs - 06 September 2018


Trade talks stuck as U.S. presses gas, aircraft sales to India

  • India and the United States are in a deadlock over contentious trade issues after the Donald Trump administration sought a formal commitment of additional purchases of $10 billion annually for the next three years, as part of a trade agreement under negotiation.
  • As both countries seek to reiterate their strategic partnership at the first 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi , India is in the cross-hairs of economic nationalists in the Trump administration. India has a surplus of $23 billion in trade with America, and the U.S. wants to wipe that off by forcing more imports by New Delhi.
  • American interlocutors took Indian officials by surprise last month with a draft agreement that committed additional imports by India, in civilian aircraft and natural gas.
  • When contacted, the Department of Commerce didn’t deny the details of the negotiations.
  • “Trade between countries is determined by competitive advantage and notions of enterprise of private parties. In democracies like India and the U.S., both governments have limited abilities to commit a trade value for future years...,” another Indian official said in Delhi.
  • Officials of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) office also aggregated all market access issues in the negotiations initially planned on the review of India’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) status and the steel and aluminium tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.
SC throws out plea to ban Malayalam novel Meesha
  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a petition seeking a ban on the Malayalam novel Meesha (Moustache), written by S. Hareesh, as it was perceived to be ‘derogatory’ to temple-going Hindu women.
  • The court said the creativity and imagination of an author cannot be held hostage to the vagaries of subjective perceptions, whims or fancies of individuals.
  • The court said it would safeguard the free flow of ideas in a democracy by quoting Voltaire’s “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
  • The court said the judiciary should remain committed to keeping the flag of liberty flying high. “We live not in a totalitarian regime but in a democratic nation, which permits free exchange of ideas and liberty,” Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, who authored the judgment, observed. 
  • The judgment said, “A writer should have free play with words, like a painter has it with colours. The passion of imagination cannot be directed.”
  • It is for the reader to read a creative work with a mature spirit, catholicity of approach, objective tolerance and a sense of acceptability founded on reality, it said.
  • The Chief Justice, along with Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, wrote that creative voices cannot be allowed to slip into “intellectual cowardice.”
SC bats for minor rape survivors
  • The apex court extended to minor children the National Legal Services Authority’s (NALSA) compensation scheme for women rape and sexual assault survivors.
  • A three-judge Bench led by Justice Madan B. Lokur directed that Special Judges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act should disburse compensation to minor victims of sex abuse as per the NALSA’s ‘Compensation Scheme for Women Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault/Other Crimes-2018’.
  • The NALSA scheme would be made applicable to minor victims from October 2 until the Centre frames compensation guidelines under the POCSO.
  • The NALSA scheme provides a uniform payment of ₹5 lakh to a maximum ₹ 10 lakh for “loss of life” and to gang rape survivors in any part of the country.
  • Similarly, in case of rape and unnatural sexual assault, the victim would get a minimum of ₹4 lakh and a maximum of ₹7 lakh as compensation.
  • Among other categories, if a victim suffers the loss of foetus, that is, by miscarriage as a result of assault or loss fertility, the NALSA scheme offers a compensation of ₹2 lakh to ₹3 lakh.
  • A victim of acid attacks, in case of disfigurement of face, would get a minimum compensation of ₹7 lakh, while the upper limit would be ₹8 lakh.
GoM takes up report on lynching
  • A Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, at a meeting , discussed the recommendations of a panel set up to suggest ways to check incidents of lynching, officials said.
  • A committee of secretaries, headed by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba, had submitted its recommendations last week.
  • One of its key recommendations is to hold country heads of social media platform sites accountable and make them act in a “time-bound” manner.
  • The panel is believed to have recommended tightening the law by inserting clauses in the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure through parliamentary approval.
  • The GoM was expected to hold further meetings over the next few weeks to finalise its recommendations and would subsequently send them to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a final decision, the official said.
2+2 to take full view of ties

  • India’s defence ties with Russia and energy links with Iran will not be the primary focus of the inaugural India-U.S. “2 plus 2” dialogue, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo indicated .
  • Mr. Pompeo and U.S. Secretary of Defence General James Mattis, who arrived here for the dialogue with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, will head their respective teams for the two-level talks.
  • The dialogue is the highest-level discussion of the year between the two countries.
  • On top of the discussion is the likely US plans to have a landmark agreement on communication and coordination on security issues – COMCASA and sale of high tech military items. 
  • The COMCASA agreement will allow exchange of secure communication between the two militaries and facilitate the sale of high tech encryption systems to India.
  • While finer details are still being worked out, some experts have cautioned that signing the deal might expose India’s critical security communication to the United States.
  • The “2 plus 2” dialogue was planned during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington DC last year and issues related to Iran and Russia that are important to the administration of President Donald Trump are expected to be discussed.
  • However, sources have indicated that India prefers to avoid third party mentions in bilateral talks.
  • The U.S. has been demanding that India “zero out” energy supply from Iran, even as Delhi has avoided spelling out how exactly it would comply with the American demand.
  • The other major U.S. concern is the S400 missile defence shield worth $6 billion that India plans to acquire from Russia. U.S. media sources have reported that both the issues would feature prominently in Thursday’s talks.
  • Before arriving in India, Mr. Pompeo held discussion in Islamabad with the new Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on regional security and Afghanistan. This is likely to find space in Thursday’s talks, especially while addressing India’s concerns on U.S. support to bring proscribed terrorists like Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba to justice.


Qatar offers permanent resident status
  • The tiny State of Qatar, where foreigners make up close to 90% of the population, has decided to grant permanent resident status to a select band of expatriates.
  • This is a landmark decision for the natural gas-rich Gulf State, which has the highest per capita income in the world. 
  • The government has identified certain categories of people for eligibility to obtain the proposed permanent resident card. The card will allow the permanent residents to buy houses and properties as well and entitle them to several privileges.
  • The preferred groups to obtain the card include: Qataris married to non-Qataris; those who provided great services to the country; and, those whose special competencies are necessary for the progress of Qatar. Those who were born abroad should have lived in Qatar for at least 20 years while those born in Qatar to expatriates should have lived in the country for at least 10 years. A Committee for the Grant of Permanent Resident Card will be set up soon.
  • Of the 26 lakh population in Qatar, 23 lakhs are expatriates. 
  • In the recent times, following Qatar’s feud with Saudi Arabia and its isolation from the Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar relaxed its visa norms allowing easy entry to thousands of people every week.
  • Qatar is racing ahead to hold the 2022 World Cup Football. Billions of dollars are being poured into new constructions. In view of the requirement of manpower in a variety of occupations, Keralites are now streaming into Qatar.
Pompeo hopeful of resetting ties with Pak.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was “hopeful” of resetting the troubled relationship with Pakistan, a key player in the Afghan conflict, after cordial meetings in including with new Premier Imran Khan.
  • The shift in tone comes days after Washington confirmed plans to cancel $300 million in military aid, and was echoed by Mr. Khan, who voiced his optimism at a fresh start.
  • Mr. Pompeo told pool reporters shortly before leaving Islamabad that the “broad spectrum” of topics discussed included efforts “to develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan”.
  • The cancelled military aid is part of a broader freeze announced by the Trump administration in January designed to pressure Pakistan into action.
  • But Mr. Pompeo said ahead of the trip that it was time to “turn the page”. In his earlier comments, Mr. Pompeo also held out the possibility that military aid could be restored under the right circumstances.

SC relief for Maharashtra, Uttarakhand
  • The Supreme Court  lifted its August 31 order staying construction activities in landslide-hit Uttarakhand for not placing on record in court its solid waste management policy.
  • The court also clarified that there is no stay on construction in Maharashtra too.
  • It had imposed a fine of ₹3 lakh each on Maharashtra and Uttarakhand, along with Madhya Pradesh and the Union Territory of Chandigarh, for not complying with a July direction of the apex court to place on record their respective policies under the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016.
  • While Maharashtra lawyers blamed a “communication gap,” as the State had already framed a policy in 2017, the Uttarakhand side submitted its policy was awaiting Cabinet approval.
  • Uttarakhand said it had been hit by calamity and the fine imposed on them should be channelled for rescue operations in the State.
  • Andhra Pradesh, which was ordered to pay a fine of ₹ five lakh for not even making an appearance in the last hearing on August 31, also pleaded the court for relief along with Odisha and Chandigarh.
  • The court asked them to file applications but not before rebuffing them for making an appearance now after being stung by the August 31 order.
  • The Odisha counsel ascribed the lapse due to some “confusion” on its part during the August 31 hearing. “Everybody is confused when it comes to implementation of law,” Justice Lokur reacted.
  • Towards the end of the hearing, the court questioned Maharashtra about the utilisation of cess collected under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. It sought a reply from Maharshtra by September 11 on what steps had been taken to use the funds for the welfare of construction workers in Mumbai.
Rupee nears 72
  • The rupee fell for the sixth straight session on Wednesday, ending at 71.76 to a dollar after touching 71.97 intraday — a record low — that prompted the central bank to intervene in the currency market to arrest the fall.
  • According to currency dealers, State-run banks spotted selling of the dollar on behalf of RBI when the currency neared the 72 mark, which helped the rupee cut some losses.
  • A combination of factors such as rising crude oil prices, which could widen the current account gap, strengthening of the dollar against all emerging market currencies, and bearish sentiments in equity markets also accentuated the fall.
  • The rupee, which has fallen close to 12% this year, is the worst-performing currency in Asia.
SEBI to review FPI diktat after panel submissions
  • The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) will soon review its circular issued in April that barred Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), among others, from managing funds they invest in India.
  • The circular became contentious with an industry body estimating that it could lead to outflows of $75 billion, though the regulator brushed aside any such concerns.
  • On Wednesday, the capital markets regulator said that a working group constituted under H.R. Khan, former RBI deputy governor, met with industry participants and would soon give its recommendations to SEBI, which would then review the entire matter.
  • “The working group has heard various stakeholders, has held consultations, and is in the process of giving its recommendations. Ministry of Finance, Government of India, has also been consulted on various issues. Based on these inputs, SEBI would review the matter and shortly take a holistic view,” SEBI said in a statement .


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