Polity & Governance
- Union cabinet simplifies visa regime
- Govt approves inclusion of 15 new castes in Central OBC list
- Cabinet approves rehabilitation package for displaced families from PoK, Chhamb
- Airlines seek stay on levy, HC issues notice
- National anthem must be played before screening of films: Supreme Court
- India, China pose positive outlook for Asia Pacific in 2017: United Nations study
Environment & Ecology
- Cabinet approves India’s negotiating position adopted at Kigali conference
Bilateral & International Relations
- Afghanistan, India hope to corner Pakistan
Key Facts for Prelims
- Second ‘Distinguished Indologist’ award
- Cuban rumba and Ugandan music now on UNESCO’s heritage list
Polity & Governance
Union cabinet simplifies visa regime
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for liberalization, simplification and rationalization of the existing visa regime in India.
Highlights of the decision:
- The Union cabinet approved merger of existing tourist, business, medical and conference visa categories to make one comprehensive long-term multiple entry visa category.
- The cabinet also decided that citizens of eight more countries will be eligible for e-tourist visa on arrival. Already citizens of 155 countries are eligible for e-tourist visa.
- Under the new non-permanent, non-working comprehensive visa category tourists, businessmen or people coming for medical treatment or to attend conferences or even for film shoots will be covered. The visa will be given for 10 years with multiple entry facility.
- As per the decision, except those covered under 10-year travel and trade visa policy, citizens of other countries would be offered five-year multiple visa for travel and trade. Further, if the stay is restricted to 60 days on a visit, the government may waive the visa fee as well. But to meet security concerns, the government will seek biometric details of the visitors.
Significance of the move:
- The approval will stimulate economic growth and ease travel for foreigners.
- It will facilitate entry of foreigners for tourism, business and medical purposes.
- This is expected to increase earnings from export of services like tourism, travel on account of business, medical value travel.
- It will also help to make ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Digital India’ and other such flagship initiatives of the Government successful.
- The cabinet approval came following discussions among all stakeholders that included ministries of home, commerce and external affairs.
- The original proposal for liberlisation of visa regime came from commerce ministry.
Govt approves inclusion of 15 new castes in Central OBC list
Union Cabinet has approved inclusion of 15 new castes and modification in 13 other castes in the Central list of Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
- The National Commission of Backward Classes (NCBC) had recommended a total of 28 changes in respect of 8 states — Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand.
- Out of these 28, 15 were new entries, 9 were synonyms or sub-castes of the castes which were already in the list and 4 were corrections.
What kind of benefits these castes avail?
- The changes will enable the persons belonging to these castes/communities to avail the benefits of reservation in Government services and posts as well as in Central Educational Institutions as per the existing policy.
- They will also become eligible for benefit under the various welfare schemes, scholarships etc. being administered by the Central Government, which are at present available to the persons belonging to the Other Backward Classes.
Process of inclusion of any castes/communities:
- Under Section 9 (“Functions of the Commission”) of the NCBC Act 1993, the Commission examines requests for inclusion of any class of citizens as a backward class in the lists and hears complaints of over-inclusion or under-inclusion of any backward class in such lists and tenders such advice to the Central Government.
- The Act also stipulates that the advice of the Commission shall ordinarily be binding upon the Central Government.
About National Commission of Backward Classes:
The NCBC was set up as per the NCBC Act, 1993 in pursuance to the Supreme Court judgement in the Indra Sawhney case (1992).
It consists of five Members, comprising of
- A Chairperson (Chairperson must be or has been a judge of Supreme Court or High Court)
- A social scientist;
- Two persons having special knowledge in matters relating to backward classes and
- It examines requests for inclusion of any class of citizens as a backward class in the lists of OBCs.
- It also hears complaints of under-inclusion or over-inclusion of any backward class in such lists and tenders such advice to the Union Government as it deems appropriate.
- The advice of the NCBC is ordinarily binding upon the Union Government.
So far based on recommendation of NCBC, Government has notified total of 2479 entries including its synonyms, sub-castes, etc. in Central List of OBCs in 25 States and 6 UTs.[Ref: Indian Express]
Cabinet approves rehabilitation package for displaced families from PoK, Chhamb
The Union Cabinet has approved Central Assistance of 2000 crore rupees for 36,384 displaced families from Pakistan occupied areas of Jammu & Kashmir (POJK) and Chhamb.
Why government is providing assistance?
- In the aftermath of partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, thousands of families from Pakistan occupied areas of Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK) migrated to the Indian state.
- Subsequently, during Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971, a large number of families were displaced from Chhamb Niabat area of J&K.
- Union Government and J&K state Government have extended series of relief and rehabilitation packages from time to time to mitigate the hardship of displaced persons from PoJK and Chhamb and to rehabilitate them.
- It was approved following an announcement of Prime Minister’s Development Package for Jammu & Kashmir 2015 announced in November, 2015.
- As per the package 5 lakh rupees cash benefit per family will be disbursed to the displaced families.
- This financial aid will enable them to earn an income and subsist their livelihood.
- The amount will be disbursed through J&K state Government to eligible families through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).
Airlines seek stay on levy, HC issues notice
In its action, the Delhi High Court sought a stay on the government’s notification on levy of Rs.7,5000 to Rs. 8,500 per flight operated by Indian airlines to create a regional connectivity fund (RCF).
- In this regard, the court has issued notices to the Centre, the Airports Authority of India and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation as the Federation of Indian Airlines (FAI).
- The court has sought the Centre’s response on the plea challenging the levy of tax and the UDAN scheme.
- The FAI has sought quashing of the October 21 notification, by which a rule for such a levy was brought into the Aircraft Rules, 1934.
Why this levy is being opposed?
- As per the opponents, such a levy mentioned under the scheme is not contemplated in the aircraft rules and cannot be brought in as an obligation.
- The argued that since this levy of tax is also not an amount payable by passengers for provision of any service of facility to them, this levy is nothing but a tax, and therefore cannot be levied without statutory sanction.
What is UDAN Scheme?
- The UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam naagrik) scheme seeks to provide connectivity to un-served and under-served airports of the country through revival of existing air-strips and airports.
- This first-of-its-kind scheme will ensure affordability, connectivity, growth and development.
Key features of the scheme:
- The UDAN scheme will be applicable on flights which cover between 200 km and 800 km with no lower limit set for hilly, remote, islands and regions which are security sensitive.
- Under the UDAN scheme, the flights are bound to connect at least one RCS airport (underserved and unserved airports).
- The RCS caps fares and also offers a ceiling for the VGF available for each route. Which means the airlines cannot charge beyond the caps specified from passengers.
- For the shortest route under the scheme fare has been capped at Rs 1,420. For longest route, fare has been capped Rs Rs 3,500.
- The Centre has also decided to provide concessions such as 2% excise on Value Added Tax (VAT) and service tax at 1/10th.
- State government are bound to provide free security and fire service, utilities at concessional rates and reduce VAT on ATF to 1%.
- There will be no landing charges, parking charges and Terminal Navigation Landing Charges will be imposed for RCS flights.
National anthem must be played before screening of films: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court (SC) ordered all cinema halls across India to play the National Anthem before the screening of films.
- The apex court also directed that all present must “stand up in respect” till the anthem ends before the screening.
- The Union Government, represented by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, agreed with the guidelines to show respect and honour for the national anthem and the flag.
Rationale of the move:
- The court stated that the practice would “instill a feeling within one a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism.”
Highlights of the order:
- The apex court directed the cinema halls to display the National Flag on screen when the anthem is played.
- The Bench stated that it is the duty of every person to show respect when the national anthem is played or recited or sung under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act of 1951.
- The court also issued a complete ban on the commercial exploitation of the national anthem and the flag.
- It banned dramatisation of the anthem or it to be used in any part of any variety shows or for entertainment purposes.
- It also banned the display, recitation or use of the abridged version of the National Anthem.
- The Supreme Court was hearing a plea to clarify when the national anthem should be sung. The PIL sought a set of parameters on what amounts to abuse of the anthem.
- The petition had referred to the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 and Article 51 (A) of the Constitution to contend that it was the duty of every person to show respect when the anthem was played.
- It is interesting to note that, Justice Dipak Misra, who ruled on how and when the national anthem should be played in cinemas, had passed a detailed order on the imperatives of showing respect to the national anthem 13 years ago. During that time, he was a judge in the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
India, China pose positive outlook for Asia Pacific in 2017: United Nations study
According to the Economic and Social Survey of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), India and China have been anchor of global economic stability, posing a positive outlook for developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region in 2017.
Highlights of the survey:
- The high and steady economic growth in Asia-Pacific is led by India and China.
- The survey finds resilient domestic demand and policy support resulting region’s developing economies growing at a steady pace of just below 5% despite sluggish global economy and weak trade growth.
- Progressive tax policies alongside better and effective economic governance can help economies in the region widen inclusiveness and move decisively towards sustainable development.
Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2016:
Besides, ESCAP has recently released Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2016. As per the report,
- International and intra-regional trade costs of India remained higher compared with the trade costs of best-performing economies in Asia and the Pacific, although a declining trend has been observed since 2009.
- FDI inflows to India expanded by 10% on average during 2010-2015, while in 2015 inflows recorded an even stronger expansion at 27.8%, which was significantly higher than the Asia-Pacific region’s average 5.6%.
- The services, construction development, computer software and hardware, and telecommunications sectors attracted the highest investments.
- Overseas investment from India contracted considerably by 36% in this period, which may reflect FDI diversion as Indian investors start to invest more at home than overseas.
- In addition to India’s robust economic growth and large domestic market, the Government’s “Make in India” initiative and easing of FDI regulations for about 15 sectors including aviation, defence and pharmaceuticals may contribute to the FDI attractiveness of India.
- However, in 2015, Indian goods exports shrank by 17.2%, which was close to twice as much as the Asia-Pacific region decline of 9.7%. But, India was the largest partner with several economies in South Asia, such as Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Since India is the fastest-growing emerging economy, it is somewhat expected to start filling the void in demand for intraregional exports that will emerge with the rebalancing of China’s trade patterns.
- Asia-Pacific trade flows were wavering amid sluggish global economic and trade growth, downward movement of world commodity prices and an uncertain policy environment.
- The report cautioned that a worrying trend is the increased usage of restrictive trade policies, especially non-tariff measures, within the Asia-Pacific region, which is partly driven by past distortive trade measures and current excess capacity in several key sectors.
- Additionally, the region is seeing a proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTA), with Asia and the Pacific rim contributing to almost 63% of world PTAs, curbing a momentum towards region-wide free trade.
Environment & Ecology
Cabinet approves India’s negotiating position adopted at Kigali conference
The Union Cabinet has given its ex-post facto approval to the negotiating position adopted by India at the recent 28th Meeting of Parties (MoP) to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda.
- The negotiations at Kigali meet held in October 2016 were aimed at including HFCs in the list of chemicals under the Montreal Protocol.
- The Cabinet has also approved baseline and freeze years proposal of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest (MoEFCC) over the issue of phasing down the climate-damaging refrigerants hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as negotiated in Kigali meet.
- In the Kigali meet, India had successfully negotiated the baseline years within a range of 2024 to 2030 and freeze year in subsequent years for phasing down the use of HFCs.
- It had two set of baselines years were agreed for developing countries. India along with nine other countries will have baseline years of 2024, 2025, 2026.
- India will completely phase down of HFCs in 4 steps from 2032 onwards with cumulative reduction of 10% in 2032, 20% in 2037, 30% in 2042 and 85% in 2047.
- It also gives additional HCFC allowance of 65% that will be added to the Indian baseline consumption and production.
- Other developing countries including China (largest producer of HFCs in the world), South Africa and Brazil opted for 2020-22 baseline.
- The developed countries on the other will hand reduce use of HFCs over a 2011-13 baseline and will reduce production and consumption of HFCs by 70% in 2029.
- The freeze year for India will be 2028 and it will be with a condition that there will be a technology review in 2024/2025.
- India’s position was mainly aimed at allowing sufficient room for growth of its domestic sectors using refrigerants.
About Kigali Amendment:
A historic global climate deal was reached in Kigali, Rwanda at the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MOP28).
- The so-called Kigali Amendment which amends the 1987 Montreal Protocol aims to phase out Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a family of potent greenhouse gases by the late 2040s.
- Under Kigali Amendment, in all 197 countries, including India have agreed to a timeline to reduce the use of HFCs by roughly 85% of their baselines by 2045.
- The Kigali Amendment amends the 1987 Montreal Protocol that was designed to close growing ozone hole in by banning ozone-depleting coolants like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
- The Kigali Agreement or amended Montreal Protocol for HFCs reduction will be binding on countries from 2019.
Bilateral & International Relations
Afghanistan, India hope to corner Pakistan
In the wake of the brazen Nagrota attack, India and Afghanistan are planning to seek to isolate Pakistan on terror at the upcoming two-day Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar as the two countries have pitched for a regional counter-terror framework to effectively deal with the menace.
- Finance minister Arun Jaitley will lead the Indian delegation at the two-day Sixth Heart of Asia (HoA) conference to be held in Amritsar.
What’s the issue?
- Tension over the cross-border terrorism has increased between India and Pakistan in the past few months. This is also seen as the biggest challenge to peace and security in the region.
- Afghanistan has been pushing for finalising an effective counter-terror framework to deal with terror at the conference which will be attended by representatives from over 30 countries including China, the US, Russia, Pakistan and Iran.
About the Heart of Asia conference:
HoA conference is a part of the Istanbul Process established 2011 which provides a platform to discuss an agenda of regional cooperation with Afghanistan at its centre.
- The 14 member countries of HoA engage in result-oriented cooperation for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and, by extension, a secure and prosperous region as a whole.
- As permanent co-chair of this regional process, Afghanistan has been recognized as the main focal point/ coordinator of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process.
- 14 participating countries are Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Supporting countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Iraq, Japan, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, UK and US.
- Supporting Organisations are UN, NATO, SAARC, SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation).
Key Facts for Prelims
Second ‘Distinguished Indologist’ award
- The President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee recently presented the second ICCR ‘Distinguished Indologist’ Award to Prof. Yu Long Yu of the People’s Republic of China.
- The annual ‘Distinguished Indologist’ Award has been instituted by ICCR to recognize eminent Indologists working abroad who have made outstanding contribution to the study/teaching/research of India’s philosophy, thought, history, art, culture, languages, literature, civilization, society etc.
- The Award amount is US$ 20000/-.
- The first ‘Distinguished Indologist’ Award was presented to Prof. Heinrich Freiherr Von Stietencron of Germany last year.
- Last year, a World Indology Conference was also organized by ICCR and hosted at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Cuban rumba and Ugandan music now on UNESCO’s heritage list
- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added Cuba’s rumba dance and Belgian beer to its coveted list of “intangible” heritage.
- In addition, the UN body also included Portuguese pottery and Ugandan traditional music into the list.
- UNESCO lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage aims at ensuring the better protection of important intangible cultural heritages worldwide and the awareness of their significance.
The list was established in 2008 when the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage took effect.