Polity & Governance
- Railways seek aid for unviable routes
- RBI raises red flag over banks’ telecom exposure
Environment & Ecology
- Met dept. expects a ‘normal’ monsoon
- ‘Indian wolf’ in Sunderbans!!
Bilateral & International Relations
- Australian “457” visa programme scrapped
- Trump’s order targets H-1B programme
- The Battle of Adyar
Key Facts for Prelims
- Textiles India 2017
Polity & Governance
Railways seek aid for unviable routes
The Railway Ministry has sought compensation for operating railway lines of strategic and national importance — a practice discontinued following the merger of Railway and Union Budgets.
What’s the issue?
- Every year, the Indian Railways used to get subsidy from the Finance Ministry for losses incurred on railway operations on strategic lines.
- After the Budget merger, the Finance Ministry had discontinued the practice of providing annual subsidy to the Railways for operating loss-making strategic routes as the Railways was no longer required to pay an annual dividend.
- However, recently, two Parliamentary bodies — Standing Committee on Railways and Estimates Committee — recommended that the Finance Ministry should continue compensating the Railways for losses in operating strategic lines for the following reasons:
- Considering the role of Railways in nation building, reimbursement to Railways on their operating losses on strategic lines is justifiable.
- Also, these lines mainly cater to defence movements on border areas and development of social and backward region.
- The compensation also helps the Railways in providing relief towards “socially desirable projects” which are usually loss-making projects.
RBI raises red flag over banks’ telecom exposure
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has raised a red flag over banks’ loans to telecom players and asked the lenders to increase their standard asset provisioning more than what is prescribed so that they can built ‘necessary resilience.’
- RBI has asked the banks to make provisions for standard assets in this sector at higher rates so that necessary resilience is built in the balance sheets should the stress reflect on the quality of exposure to the sector at a future date.
- Telecom players are reeling under a huge debt — estimated to be about ₹4.2 lakh crore — amid a tariff war and a consolidation among some of the players.
- The telecom sector is reporting stressed financial conditions, and presently interest coverage ratio for the sector is less than one.
- Interest coverage ratio of less than one means the company’s EBIDTA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) is not sufficient to repay interest, let alone principal.
- Debt accumulation and potential NPAs have been on the rise across a range of sectors including telecom.
- Alarming debt levels in the backdrop of recent declining revenues increase debt serviceability risks for the telecom sector. Five sectors, including telecom, contribute to 61% of the stress in the banking system.
Environment & Ecology
Met dept. expects a ‘normal’ monsoon
The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) has predicted a normal monsoon this year with a rainfall of 96% of the long-period average (LPA).
- Rainfall between 96% and 104% of LPA is considered as normal.
- IMD will come up with the regional forecasts in early June.
- The country had to suffer back-to-back droughts in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, rainfall received was 3% less than the 89 cm average despite IMD’s prediction of ‘above normal’ rains.
Reason for the normal monsoon:
- The IMD has attributed the projection to a weakening of El Niño and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).
- Weakening of El Nino and positive IOD conditions are expected to be favourable for a normal monsoon.
What is El Nino?
- The El Nino is characterised by a warming of sea surface temperature along the equatorial Pacific Ocean. El Nino is known to dry up monsoon rains every 6 out of 10 years.
What is IOD?
- The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) refers to a swing in the sea surface temperatures in the western and eastern Indian oceans.
Benefits of normal monsoon:
- The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) prediction of a normal monsoon will boost the sentiments of stocks. This will put an end to the almost continuous earnings downgrade witnessed in the markets in recent times. The poor earnings had transformed Indian stocks to be one among the most expensive stocks in the world.
- The forecast for normal monsoon is expected to result in three to four per cent growth in farm gross domestic product (GDP).
- Normal monsoon will help in agricultural production and ease inflationary pressures.
- The forecast for normal rains is also beneficial for consumer-oriented sectors such as two-wheelers, FMCG, banking and packaged consumer goods that are the worst hit owing to demonetisation.
- With an increase in farm and non-farm wages, these sectors are expected to witness growth. Demonetisation prevented these sectors from reaping the benefits of good rains last year.
- Less drawdown of water from reservoirs and the instances of drinking water crisis will be less.
- Improved power situation owing to more power generated in hydel power projects and usage of fewer pumps for irrigation.
- Less pressure on the RBI to raise interest rates Economic growth will get strengthened. The occurrence of drought will be less.
- The need for importing oilseeds and pulses will be less.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD), also referred to as the Met Department, is an agency of the Ministry of Earth Sciences of the Government of India.
- It is the principal agency responsible for meteorological observations, weather forecasting and seismology.
- IMD is headquartered in New Delhi and operates hundreds of observation stations across India and Antarctica.
- IMD is also one of the six Regional Specialised Meteorological Centres of the World Meteorological Organization.
- It has the responsibility for forecasting, naming and distribution of warnings for tropical cyclones in the Northern Indian Ocean region, including the Malacca Straits, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.
‘Indian wolf’ in Sunderbans!!
- An Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) has reportedly been sighted for the first time in the Sunderbans. the forest department is yet to verify the veracity of the claim.
- The sighting is significant since wolves in Bengal are mostly found in the western parts bordering Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
- The Indian wolf is a Schedule I animal in the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India.
- It prefers to live in scrub lands, grasslands and semi-arid pastoral/ agricultural landscape.
- Less than 2,000 wolves are currently found in the forests of India.
- It is categorised as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Bilateral & International Relations
Australian “457” visa programme scrapped
What is it?
The Australian government’s “457” visa programme allowed Australian companies to hire foreign workers in a number of skilled jobs for a period up to four years.
Why in news?
- Now the Australian government has scrapped the Australian “457” visa programme.
- This is aimed at giving priority for Australian workers for Australian jobs.
More stringent system:
- The “457” visa programme will be replaced with a more stringent system, making it difficult to hire non-Australian citizens.
- According to the notification, the new visa programme will cut more than 200 eligible jobs for skilled migrants — from 651 to 435, visa fees are set to increase, and the visas will be restricted to filling “critical skills shortages”.
What is New regime?
- The new Australian visa will have two streams: one for the short term, allowing entry for up to two years, and a medium-term option granting up to four years access, which will similar to the current 457 visa.
- The occupation list for the four-year visa includes IT professionals, so there continues to be visa options for skilled Indian nationals.”
- But both streams will come with several riders such as mandatory labour market testing with limited exemptions, a new non-discriminatory workforce test, criminal history checks, a market salary rate assessment and a new two-year work experience requirement.
- Further, English language requirements will be tightened for the medium-term stream.
- The new visa will also include a strengthened training obligation for employers sponsoring foreign skilled workers to provide enhanced training outcomes for Australians in high-need industries and occupations.
How would this new regime affect Indians?
- The move is expected to impact Indian IT and other companies. India provides the highest number of temporary skilled workers to Australia of any country; eight out of the top 10 occupations for Indian 457 visa holders (as at December 2016) were IT professionals.
- According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Indians constituted 76% of the total ‘457’ visas issued in the three IT streams, and 57% of permanent migrant visas issued in the skilled stream of workers last year.
- The Centre is studying the implications of the Australian government’s decision to scrap a visa programme that benefited Indians.
- It has warned that the move could have an impact on negotiations on the free trade agreement — Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECA) — between both countries.
Trump’s order targets H-1B programme
Donald Trump has signed an executive order to enforce and review the H-1B visa programme.
- He has ordered the country’s federal agencies to tighten the H-1B visa programme, widely used to bring high-skilled foreign workers to the US.
- This order is aimed at fulfilling his campaign pledges to put “America First”.
- In the document titled “Buy American and Hire American” order, Trump seeks to make modifications in government procurement that would give a push for purchases of American products in federal contracts.
- Earlier, Trump’s administration had rolled out policy shifts to clamp down on H-1B visa programme. It included a warning to employers not to discriminate against US workers.
Need of an executive order:
- H-1B visa programme is accused of taking away jobs from Americans. Also, Trump wants a more merit-based way of giving visas to highly skilled workers instead of the present lottery system.
- In his new order, trump has asked agencies to propose ideas to direct visas to the most skilled and highly paid applicants without resorting to the lottery system. In fact, several bills have been proposed in Congress to end the lottery system.
Implications of the move:
- The move is a deterrent to Indian IT companies which sends a huge number of software engineers to the US on H1-B visas.
- As per a report published by Bloomberg, companies like Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp and Mphasis Corp. would likely have fewer visas approved once the changes proposed by Trump are adopted.
About H1-B Visas:
- The ‘H’ visas are for temporary workers. The H1B Visas are for foreign skilled workers in occupations that generally require higher education, including science, engineering or computer programming.
- The H1B visas are given through a lottery system. Every year, the US government awards 65,000 H1B visas and randomly distributes another 20,000 to graduate student workers.
The Battle of Adyar
Why in news?
History lovers, curious onlookers, veterans and NCC cadets gathered recently in Chennai to commemorate The Battle of Adyar, a turning point in modern Indian history.
About Battle of Adyar:
- The Battle of Adyar took place on 24 October 1746.
- The battle was between the French East India Company men and Nawab of Arcot forces over the St. George Fort, which was held by the French.
- It was part of the First Carnatic War between the English and the French.
- The French captured Fort St. George from the British East Indian Company. Nawab of Arcot, a close ally of the British, set out to regain it by sending troops, led by his son Mahfuz Khan, to Madras.
- While leading an army of 10,000, he was dispersed by French forces, forcing him to move south. Khan seized San Thomé and formed a battle line on the north bank of the Adyar River on October 22 to prevent the French from moving up reinforcements from Pondicherry.
- 200 French and French-trained Indian troops led by Captain Paradis, force marched from Pondicherry, crossed Quibble Island and took positions on the south bank of the Adyar River and faced ineffective artillery fire from Khan’s forces.
- On 24 October, Paradis was informed that a similar sized army led by de le Tour was on its way from St. George Fort. He decided to ford the Adayar river to attack the rear of Mahfuz Khan’s battle line. de la Tour arrived too late to support Paradis, who with disciplined firing and then charging with bayonets, broke the Nawab’s line.
- Mahfuz Khan’s troops fled and the Battle of the Adyar River ended with the French retaining control over Fort St. George.
Key Facts for Prelims
Textiles India 2017
- Textiles India 2017 is a landmark global trade event for the Indian Textile and handicraft Sector that will showcase the entire range of textile products from ‘Fibre to Fashion’.
- It is the first ever global B2B Textile and handicrafts event in India.
- Hosted by the Ministry of Textiles, the event was inaugurated recently.
- The aim of the event is to make it one of the key annual destinations for International Buyers.