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Current Affairs : 3 November 2018


Iran oil: India to get U.S. sanctions waiver
  • Eight countries will be given exemptions and “weeks longer to wind down” their trade with Iran, once U.S. sanctions against Iran kick in on November 5. This was clarified by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo .
  • Mr. Pompeo said the list of eight “jurisdictions” would be released on Monday, two of which have already reached zero levels of Iranian oil imports.
  • He also clarified that the European Union (EU) — which consists of 28 countries including the U.K. — will not be one of the jurisdictions granted a temporary exemption.
  • India — for whom Iran is the third largest source of oil after Iraq and Saudi Arabia — is expecting to be on the list.
  • In terms of entities granted exemptions, there would be no exemption for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a global financial messaging service, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was also on the call, said. 
  • The EU, which remains party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or the ‘Iran Deal’) has been frustrated by the U.S’s withdrawal, and has been searching for ways to work around the sanctions, including through the use of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). 
  • Seven hundred entities — individuals and groups as well as companies — will be sanctioned.
Loans for MSMEs in 59 minutes
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced 12 measures to boost the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector, including a portal that would enable the units to get a loan in just 59 minutes and interest subvention of 2%.
  • The Prime Minister said firms registered on the Goods and Services Tax portal would be able to avail themselves of this facility on the portal itself. “When you file GST returns, you will be asked if you want a loan,” Mr. Modi said. “GST-registered firms will also get a 2% rebate on interest rates. Being a part of the GST and being an honest taxpayer will become your strength.”
  • Mr. Modi said public sector companies had now been asked to compulsorily procure 25%, instead of 20%, of their total purchases from the MSMEs. He said that of the 25% procurement mandated from the MSMEs, 3% must now be reserved for women entrepreneurs.
  • Also, Mr. Modi announced a 2% interest subvention on fresh or incremental loans for all GST-registered MSMEs. “These 12 decisions will mark a new chapter for the MSME sector,” he said.
  • The Prime Minister recalled India’s strong traditions of small scale industries, including Ludhiana’s hosiery and Varanasi’s saris.
NGT stays implementation of INO project
  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered a stay on the implementation of the Neutrino project in Theni district, pending approval from the National Board for Wildlife.
  • India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) was set to come up in an ecologically sensitive area of the Western Ghats.
  • The NGT gave the directions while delivering a judgment on a plea that challenged the environmental clearance (EC) granted to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research for the construction of the INO.
  • The environmental clearance granted to the INO project had stated that it was a proposal that entailed the construction of an underground laboratory for experiments in the “field of neutrino physics”.
  • Following the orders issued by the NGT’s Southern Bench in 2017, the project proponent had applied for a fresh EC before the Tamil Nadu State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA).
  • The State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC), in November 2017, had observed that because the Western Ghats was a “treasure trove of biological diversity” and formed a part of the catchment area supporting the livelihood of various communities, the project could not be appraised under Section 8 (a), that is, “Building and Construction Project”.
  • Following the SEAC report, the proposal was placed before the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and its Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) as a project of “national importance”.
  • The EAC had sought a detailed geo-technical investigation report on the study “carried out for locating underground laboratory of INO on Pottipuram site”.
  • Observing that the reports submitted by the Committees were under the Ministry’s consideration, the green panel said, “The specific or general condition or recommendation made by the Committees or Expert Groups will be mandatorily made applicable in the current project of INO also.”
E-pharma firms, chemists lock horns over online sales
  • The Madras High Court witnessed heated arguments over the appropriateness of selling drugs and medicines through mobile applications and online portals, using licences obtained by retail medical stores under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940.
  • Arguing before Justice R. Mahadevan, senior counsel AR.L. Sundaresan representing Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association (TNCDA), contended that a licence issued to a pharmacy for sale of medicines could be used to sell the drugs only from within a medical store and not beyond that through e-commerce.
  • However, the judge asked why pharmacies should not be allowed to exploit technological advancements.
  • “Yes, provided the trade is regulated,” Mr. Sundaresan said adding that at present only draft rules have been framed for online sale of medicines. “No firm in the country possesses a licence to sell medicines online. The existing licences could only be used for selling medicines in a store,” he contended.
  • When the judge pointed out that there was no express bar under the 1940 Act prohibiting pharmacies from selling medicines online, the senior counsel said there was no enabling provision either in the law. 
  • Opposing his contention that medicines could be sold only within four walls of pharmacies, senior counsel P.S. Raman, representing an e-pharma company, said: “Does he mean to say that pharmacies cannot undertake home delivery?”
  • Senior Counsel Satish Parasaran said, the comparison of sale of medicines with that of alcohol was inappropriate since their purposes were diametrically opposite to each other. Senior Counsel P.R. Raman contended that the Pharmacy Council of India recognises e-prescriptions and therefore, it must be understood that e-sales of medicines was lawful.
            SC declines to examine triple talaq ordinance
            • The Supreme Court declined to examine the legality of an ordinance, promulgated on September 19, declaring triple talaq a crime.
            • A Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said two months have already passed since the promulgation of the ordinance, which has even otherwise a life of only six months unless ratified by Parliament. The Chief Justice left it to Parliament to debate the constitutionality of the ordinance, saying the winter session is shortly to commence.
            • Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran said the very promulgation of the ordinance is a “fraud on the Constitution”. But Chief Justice Gogoi restrained the line of argument, saying it was not necessary to “go so high”.
            • The Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Ordinance, 2018 imposes a maximum sentence of three-year imprisonment when a husband pronounces triple talaq.

                Xi calls for ‘new era’ in ties with Pak.
                • Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan arrived in to rework “all-weather” ties with China, after reinforcing Islamabad’s bonds with Saudi Arabia, and keeping the door open for the re-entry of West-backed International Monetary Fund (IMF) into his country.
                • He was received at the airport in the early hours on Friday by Chinese Minister for Transport Li Xiaopeng, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing and Ambassador of Pakistan to China Masood Khalid. In the afternoon, Mr. Khan was welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People.
                • Mr. Khan has arrived at a time when Pakistan’s economy is in doldrums, and could benefit from financial support from China — Islamabad’s longstanding ally.
                • “I attach great importance to China-Pakistan relations and am willing to work together with the Prime Minister to strengthen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic partnership and build a new era of China-Pakistan destiny,” Mr. Xi said.
                • Talks between the two leaders commenced when Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have reached an alarming low of around $8 billion — barely sufficient to finance about two months of imports. Current account deficit in the financial year that ended in June was around $18 billion.
                • Prior to Mr. Khan’s arrival in Beijing, Saudi Arabia had come to Pakistan’s aid with a $6 billion package. 
                • Despite Riyadh’s emergency support, Pakistan is likely to approach China for financial backing to minimise its requirement for a loan from the IMF.
                • Analysts point out that China needs Pakistan’s full support to make the CPEC a success.
                • China has billed the $62 billion project as the flagship undertaking of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

                              RBI defends stiffer bank capital norms
                              • Amid a raging controversy over capital levels of Indian banks with the government wanting lower capital requirement, Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor N. S. Vishwanathan defended the central bank’s decision to stick to stiffer capital norms.
                              • The government wants the capital adequacy ratio of banks to be at 8% as per Basel norms, but RBI has prescribed 9%. On complaints over ‘unnecessary’ high capital requirements, Mr. Vishwanathan said prudential capital regulations aim to enable banks to sustain unexpected losses without defaulting on its obligations, especially deposits, by maintaining adequate levels of bank capital.
                              • “Further, higher levels of capital increases the skin in the game for shareholders, thus potentially leading to better credit appraisal and screening,” he said in a speech on October 29, which was put up on the RBI website on Friday.
                              • Though higher capital involves costs, the Deputy Governor argued that “there is no free lunch” but the costs to the economy are offset by the savings made in the form of potential losses avoided in averted banking crises.
                              • He said there was a misconception that capital was a pile of money stacked away as some sort of “rainy-day fund” and that the economy was deprived of that money.
                                    RBI allows banks to provide partial guarantee to NBFC bonds
                                    • The Reserve Bank on Friday permitted banks to provide partial credit enhancement (PCE), or a partial guarantee, to bonds issued by systematically important NBFCs and Housing Finance Companies, a move that will enhance their liquidity position.
                                    • It further said the proceeds from the bonds backed by PCE from banks should only be utilised for refinancing the existing debt of the NBFC-ND-SIs/HFCs.
                                    • Banks should introduce appropriate mechanisms to ensure that the end-use condition is met. “The exposure of a bank by way of PCEs to bonds issued by each such NBFC-ND-SI/HFC shall be restricted to one percent of capital funds of the bank within the extant single/group borrower exposure limits,” the notification said.

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