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Current Events 30 January 2017



30 JANUARY 2017

Sr. No.





Court stops deportations under Trump travel ban



NIA sets up camp near Kanpur derailment site



Oil spill in Chennai dooms turtles



Jats begin quota stir in Haryana



Atomic clocks on indigenous navigation satellite develop snag



SC cites Chola king in order



IT Ministry urges tax sops for PC manufacturers too



Nomura sees ‘Trumponomics’ having minimal impact on India



FinMin may aid rail safety fund



Aadhaar number printed on paper perfectly valid: Centre



The Railway Budget – a requiem



Living dangerously in the hacker’s shadow in a ‘less-cash’ economy





















Court stops deportations under Trump travel ban

  • A judicial order stayed the deportation of people from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia - who arrived in the U.S after President Donald Trump barred their entry into the country through an executive order.
  • The judicial order does not deal with the merit of the executive order issued by Mr. Trump that could be deemed unconstitutional as it effectively sanctions religious discrimination.
  •  Mr. Trump has said he will help Christians in Syria, but a Christian family of six that obtained U.S visas after a 15-year process was possibly the first victims of his travel ban.
  • Those detained or not allowed to travel to American include holders of permanent residency permits – popularly called green cards – students and business people. 
  • Mr. Trump’s selection of seven countries that figure in the list has also brought into focus questions of conflicts of interests that have been haunting his presidency from the word go. The seven countries have not been the source of any terrorism in the U.S while countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt that are connected to incidents of terrorism in the U.S are not included in the list.
  • Several commentators have linked this to Mr. Trump’s business links – while he has business interests in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Qatar, he has none in the seven listed countries.



NIA sets up camp near Kanpur derailment site

  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has set up a camp in Kanpur, close to the site where coaches of the Indore-Rajendranagar Express derailed on November 20, as it tries to join the dots in at least three train accidents, claimed to have been orchestrated at the behest of Pakistan’s ISI.
  • A senior Home Ministry official said the agency would clinically examine the accident site and the mangled coaches, still lying on either side of the tracks, to ascertain if there was any sabotage behind the derailment that killed more than 140 people.
  • The Home Ministry had asked the NIA to probe the claims made by the three accused arrested by the Bihar police for allegedly planting a powerful bomb packed in a pressure cooker on a track in Ghorasahan of East Champaran district on October 1. The IED was defused by the police. Paswan, one of the accused had told the police that they planted the bomb on the instructions of Pakistan’s ISI.
  • He also said that the ISI was involved in the Kanpur train accident of November 20 and that he and two others had travelled to the accident site to place the IED.
  • The NIA will also take into account the report of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS), which investigates all the major train accidents in the country.
  • Its preliminary probe had not found any evidence of sabotage and identified ‘carriage and wagon defects’ as the main reason for the accident.
  • “We have asked the CRS to submit its report. Reports from other accidents are also being collated to examine if there was a pattern in the derailments,” said the official.
  • Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh about the possibility of sabotage in at least six train accidents in the last one year.



Oil spill in Chennai dooms turtles

  • A thick oily tide from the sea lapped at the coast of several fishing hamlets in north Chennai on 29 January 2017, a day after two cargo ships, one of them an oil tanker, collided off Kamarajar Port in Ennore.
  • Several dead turtles and hatchlings coated with the black oil were washed ashore and discovered among the boulders.
  • M.T. Dawn Kanchipuram coming from Mumbai with a full load of petrol and diesel collided around 4 a.m. on  28 January 2017 with an LPG tanker, M.T. BW Maple.



Jats begin quota stir in Haryana

  • Seeking reservation in government jobs for the community, members of Jat organisations started their agitation in most districts of Haryana.
  • Violence in last year’s Jat stir claimed 30 lives and caused huge damage to property in the State.
  • Officials said Haryana this time has been put on maximum alert. Section 144 of CrPC has already been imposed in sensitive districts including Rohtak, Sonipat, Jhajjar and at other places as a precautionary measure, they said.
  • The assembly of five or more people in about 500 meters from the national and state highways as well as railway stations in the city has been prohibited, officials said, adding that paramilitary forces and state police personnel have been deployed in sensitive areas to maintain strict vigil.
  • Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar appealed to various organisations of the community to maintain peace in the State, saying the doors of his government are always open for dialogue.

About Jat agitation

Who are Jats?

  • In Haryana, Jats are a politically influential community and constitute nearly 29 per cent of the population.
  • Jats originally belonged to farming communities and now mostly live in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan and UP.
  • Their population in total is about 82.5 million. Over the years, they have become politically active in certain states, especially in Haryana and Punjab.

What are their demands?

  • Jats, Jat Sikhs, Rors, Tyagis and Bishnois, are seeking reservation under the Other Backward Classes(OBC) category.
  • They had been promised that the Economically Backward Category(EBC) quota will be increased from 10% to 20% by the state government.
  • In addition to this they were also promised the annual income ceiling raised from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh to accommodate more people under the category.


March 2008         : All India Jat Mahasabha raises demand for quota at a convention in Jind.

September 2010 : All India Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti(AIJASS), led by Hawa Singh Sangwan, blocks train traffic in Hisar´s Mayyar village.A youth dies during this protest.

December 2012  : Haryana government gives special backward status to Jats with 10% quota to five castes.

March 2014         : UPA government grants OBC status to Jats.

March 17, 2015   : Supreme Court sets aside the notification that granted OBC status to Jats

March 26, 2015   : Narendra Modi meets representatives of Khap Panchayats and Jat leaders, supports quota demand. 

February 2016    : AIJASS resumes agitation for inclusion of Jats as OBC.



Atomic clocks on indigenous navigation satellite develop snag

  • NavIC, the indigenously built satellite based positioning system, has developed a technical snag in the atomic clocks on its first satellite.
  • In the NavIC, a constellation of seven satellites, one of the three crucial rubidium timekeepers on IRNSS-1A spacecraft failed six months ago. The other two followed subsequently.
  • A. S. Kiran Kumar, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, confirmed the glitch in the clocks but clarified that the satellite was otherwise all right, and the rest of the satellites were performing its core function of providing accurate position, navigation and time.
  • However, without its clocks, the IRNSS-1A“will give a coarse value. It will not be used for computation. Messages from it will still be used.” ISRO, he said, was trying to revive the clocks on 1A and readying one of the two back-up navigation satellites to replace it in space in the second half of this year.
  • The troubled IRNSS-1A spacecraft was put in space in July 2013 and has an expected life span of 10 years.
  • The seventh navigation satellite, IRNSS-1G, was launched in April 2016.
  • The satellites of the Rs 1,420-crore NavIC, short for Navigation with Indian Constellation, and also known as the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System, give precise information on position, navigation and time (PNT) of objects or persons to users on ground, sea and air.



SC cites Chola king in order

  • An ancient Chola king is the personification of a perfect judge for the Supreme Court. This king who ruled South India around 250 B.C. has been the torch-bearer of the judges’ work philosophy that “nobody is above the law and all are equal.”
  • The legend of Manu Needhi Cholan or ‘Elara’ — the Chola king — and how he had inspired generations of judges was revealed in a recent Supreme Court order dismissing a challenge to the elevation of Justice J.S. Khehar as the country’s 44th Chief Justice of India in keeping with the convention of seniority.
  • The order came on a petition filed by a group of lawyers under the banner – National Lawyers Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms – which had questioned Justice Khehar’s fairness and eligibility to be the top judge.
  • They alleged the judge to have “usurped” the power to appoint judges to the country’s constitutional courts through his NJAC judgment.
  • Dismissing the allegation, a Bench of Justices R.K. Agrawal and D.Y. Chandrachud drew a parallel between the time-tested tradition of justice administration practised by judges in modern India and the ancient Chola king’s sense of justice without fear or favour.
  • “The judges of all the courts, since its very inception, have always maintained this great tradition of the Chola king and are rendering even justice to all concerned, whosoever he or she may be, irrespective of the fact whether they are rich or poor, and whether they occupy a high or a low status in society,” Justice Agrawal wrote.
  • The apex court narrated the legend of how Manu Needhi Cholan, who believed in “even justice towards friends and foes”, had his son crushed to death under the wheels of a chariot to render justice to a cow whose calf the prince had run over.



IT Ministry urges tax sops for PC manufacturers too

  • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has urged the Finance ministry to retain the differential excise duty regime and tax exemptions granted for the manufacture of mobile handsets and tablets, under the impending Goods and Services Tax regime, to prop up domestic manufacturing of electronic products.
  • In its key recommendations for the Union Budget 2017-18, the Ministry has suggested that these exemptions be expanded to personal computers and servers, as per the Phased Manufacturing Roadmap it has worked out in consultation with the Centre’s think tank NITI Aayog.
  • “The current duty dispensation is 12.5% countervailing duty (CVD) versus 1% excise duty (without input credit of excise duty paid on the goods).
  • Differential duty makes imports of mobile handsets more expensive compared with making them locally, encouraging smartphone players to set up manufacturing units in India.
  • Over the past one and a half years, about 40 new mobile factories have come up in the country, generating direct employment for more than 40,000 people and indirect employment for 1.25 lakh people.
  • The Ministry has also suggested that specified capital goods for the manufacture of electronic goods be exempted from basic customs duty and countervailing duties.
  • To promote indigenous manufacturing of LCD and LED panels, it has been recommended that the specified key raw materials and inputs for the manufacture of these panels may be permitted at 0% customs duty.
  • The ministry has also pitched for extension of income tax benefit for research and development (R&D) to software products and the chip design industry.
  • The proposal is expected to boost the generation of intellectual property in the country.



Nomura sees ‘Trumponomics’ having minimal impact on India

  • Japanese financial services major Nomura downplayed the impact of the protectionist trade policies of the U.S. President Donald Trump on India as it sees only a 10-basis-point hit on GDP at 6.8% in 2017.
  • It is also quick to add that ‘Trumpnomics’ will hit the domestic software exporters, as 86% of the H-1B visas in the past have been cornered by Indians.
  • “We expect this hit on growth to be only transitory, as remonetisation, wealth re-distribution and lower lending rates should result in growth returning to above 7% from the second half of 2017,” it said.
  • Trumponomics’ refers to economic policies of President Trump and assumes a fiscal stimulus to boost growth from the third quarter, two Fed hikes this year, low-scale U.S. trade protectionism and tighter immigration policies.



FinMin may aid rail safety fund

  • The Finance Ministry has agreed to contribute partially to a new dedicated railway safety fund in the upcoming Budget to be presented on February 1.
  • The Railway Ministry had requested the Finance Ministry to create a ‘non-lapsable’ safety fund named ‘Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh’ over five years.
  • Train derailments have increased to a six-year high of 74 till January 2017 compared to 65 in 2015-16 and this may prompt the Railways to bring back a cess on railway tickets to fund safety efforts.
  • The dedicated rail safety fund is proposed to be utilised for track improvement, bridge rehabilitation work, rolling stock replacement, human resource development, improved inspection system and safety work at level-crossings, among other things.
  • In 2001, when a Special Railway Safety Fund of ?17,000 crore was created, the Railways raised ? 5,000 crore through safety surcharge on passenger fare and the remaining ?12,000 crore came from the Finance Ministry.
  • The Railways had asked for ‘Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh’ to be set up based on the recommendations of a high-level safety review committee under former chairman Atomic Energy Commission Dr. Anil Kakodkar.
  • The Committee, which submitted its report in 2012, had projected an investment requirement of ?1 lakh crore on safety over five years.
  • The Centre has so far fully implemented 22 out of 87 partially or fully accepted recommendations made by the panel.





Aadhaar number printed on paper perfectly valid: Centre

  • The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has cautioned people about sharing their personal information with unauthorised agencies for printing Aadhaar numbers on a plastic card, while stressing that the Aadhaar letter, with its cutaway portion or the downloaded version, on an ordinary paper is “perfectly valid.”
  • Several agencies charge anywhere between ?.50 and ?.200, or more, for printing Aadhaar on a plastic card in the name of smart card.
  • The UIDAI has also warned unauthorised agencies that “collecting such information or unauthorised printing of Aadhaar card or aiding such persons in any manner amounts to a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment under the IPC and, also, Chapter VI of The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.”
  • The UIDAI further said that if someone loses the Aadhaar printout, they could download it for free from the website.
  • “The printout of the downloaded Aadhaar card, even in black and white form, is as valid as the original Aadhaar card sent by UIDAI,” it added.



The Railway Budget – a requiem

Indian Railways

  • The Indian Railways (IR) is a behemoth employing 1.3 million workmen, lifting more than 1 billion tonnes of freight annually and carrying 24 million passengers in its 12,000 passenger trains each day.
  • 2017 will go down in history as the first year when the Rail Budget was subsumed in the General Budget.

History of separate budget:

  • A separate rail budget has its genesis in the recommendations of the Acworth Committee of 1920 when its chairman, Sir William Acworth, pointed out the need for unified management of the entire railway system and inter alia, recommended that “the Finance department should cease to control the internal finances of the railway, that the railway should have a separate budget of its own….”
  • This was considered necessary because the Railways’ revenues far outstripped the general revenue and had the potential of masking small yet important aberrations in the general budget of the Government of India, if presented together.
  • In 1947, when Independence was achieved, railway revenues were still 6% more than the general revenue.
  • The Railway Convention Committee headed by Sir Gopalaswamy Ayyangar recommended, “separation of Railway finances from General finance should continue”.
  • A resolution to this effect was approved by the Constituent Assembly on December 21, 1949. The revised convention was to be effective for a period of five years starting 1950-51, but continued for 66 years, just as a few other constitutional provisions for language and reservation have enjoyed an extended life.
  • By the 1970s, the size of rail revenues had shrunk and was about 30% the size of general revenues.
  • By 2015-16 it was down to 11.5%.
  • The writing was on the wall; only the Railway Board failed to read it. Many erudite scholars of economics like Swaminathan S.A. Aiyar and Bibek Debroy were now raising the pitch for discontinuance of the rail budget.

Suicidal move? Could the Indian Railways have avoided this fate?

  • It erred on two facets of its philosophy for growth.
1.      First and foremost was its penchant for subsidising the passenger fares from artificially jacked up freight rates.
  • The non-AC fares have remained static for the past 12 years; this has been nothing short of suicidal.
  • Freight rates now are at such high levels that road hauliers successfully compete with Railways on grounds of being cheaper.
  • It is not surprising that the rail share in the overall freight kitty is down from 89% in 1950-51 to less than 30% in 2014-15.

2.     Secondly, the Railways themselves have been withdrawing from their core areas of operations and concentrating on peripheral items.

  • They have withdrawn themselves from all urban transport activities.
  • In the 1990s, if the IR had devised innovative solutions like forming Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) to catalyse construction of metro lines, both the people of India and the Railways would have benefited from it.
  • Instead, in the 1990s, a situation was created, albeit unwittingly, which made transportation of petroleum products cheaper by pipeline.
  • At that time, movement of petroleum products was the most profitable business for the Railways and it had a lion’s share of 75% in this sector. It is now down to 10%!

Is a retrieval from this quagmire feasible?

  • Well, a return to the halcyon days of having a separate budget seems implausible.
  • But, a retrieval of the Railways’ financial health is quite within reach, if due focus is laid on the core sectors of freight operation and enhanced productivity of assets.



Living dangerously in the hacker’s shadow in a ‘less-cash’ economy

Demonestisation pushed digitisation:

  • One of the undisputed benefits of the recent demonetisation exercise has been the concerted push towards digitisation of cash transactions.
  • Concomitant with this development has been the rapid growth in the use of smart devices, primarily mobile phones.
  • Though digital payment systems have been in existence for a while, the last few weeks have witnessed an explosive growth in their use.

Mobile-based systems:

  • There are a number of mobile banking applications that have been developed by major banks for their respective customers to perform transactions that they would normally have conducted over the bank’s webportal.
  • The Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) application has been developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to allow any customer of a Universal Payment Interface (UPI)-live bank (like SBI, HDFC, ICICI, etc.) to conduct certain basic transactions such as sending or receiving money.
  • While these applications do not (claim to) store any bank-related information on the phone itself, they connect directly to the consumer’s bank accounts, which may be a cause for concern.

Mobile wallets:

  • Mobile wallets on the other hand are applications that act like our physical wallets but in the digital world.
  • We can add money to our wallets from our bank accounts, debit or credit cards and then use these funds for various transactions – be it paying vendors or friends.
  • SBI Buddy, Chillr, Paytm, Oxigen, MobiKwik, etc. are examples of mobile wallets.
  • The limitation with such wallets is that the vendor and the customer should also be using the same wallet.

Advantage of mobile wallets v/s banking application:

  • Their advantage over the banking application is that the liability of the consumer is limited to the amount kept in the wallet (just like physical wallets).

Basic Reqirements:

  • In any of the applications mentioned above, secure communication (over 2G, 3G or Wifi network) is used to access and conduct transactions.
  • A smart phone is necessary and the encryption level is similar to what we get when using the bank’s web-portal.
  • In the case of BHIM, the dedicated UPI network between banks is used.
  • There are more than 47 banks that have registered with NPCI to conduct immediate payments over the UPI network.
  • Each of these applications varies in terms of the number of access passwords required to conduct a transaction.
  • For ease of use, wallets typically have the least number of access checks.

USSD-based payment system:

  • A relatively “low technology” method of conducting transactions is the USSD-based payment system.
  • This NPCI-developed system allows consumers to access their bank accounts using the regular wireless telephony network (non-data) to communicate with their respective banks and perform transactions.
  • The advantage here is that a smart phone is not required to conduct mobile banking transactions (especially for payment).
  • All these transaction methods are multi-lingual, and hence useful in the context of India.

Vulnerabilities exist:

  • Vulnerabilities associated with payments systems exist and hence signal the need for caution. Examples follow.

1.     Compromised applications: The most plausible vulnerability with payment applications is the presence of other applications on a consumer’s mobile phone.

If a user has an alternative keyboard application, it could be a risk in terms of logging passwords and pins while performing bank transactions.

It is also possible that a user inadvertently downloads an application while browsing the web that could compromise his/ her phone data and transactions.

With some payment wallets, anyone having casual access to a user’s mobile phone could be a vulnerability as application PINs are not set up.

2.     Denial of service: A vulnerability associated with all forms of payment systems is a denial of service attack on the network as whole. This could be at the level of the telephony network via jamming devices or at the server where billions of illegitimate requests could be sent in a short period of time, making it difficult for legitimate transactions to be completed.

3.     Man-in-middle vulnerability: In this scenario, a hacker gets access to either the servers on the telecom network, the payment wallet or the bank’s networks.

4.     Listening to the communication (despite being encrypted) could still be considered a risk. This type of vulnerability could be considered to be more esoteric.

5.    Hacking of a bank’s or NPCI’s servers : This could end up exposing personal details of users, while hacking of a mobile (GSM) network (A5/1 encryption has known vulnerabilities) could expose all communication, especially the USSD-based transactions.There are trade-offs between convenience and security.

Steps to minimize vulnerabilities:

  • While it is impossible to eliminate all vulnerabilities and risks, there are some simple steps that users, payment system providers, banks and governments could take to minimise their risks while using payment systems.
  • The greatest vulnerability in mobile payment systems lies at the consumer’s end.

Precautions to be taken by consumers:

1.     Users need to carefully protect their mobile devices from unauthorised access.

2.     In the least, one should have a PIN to lock the phone.

3.     A biometrics based locking/unlocking system would most secure as of now.

4.     PIN access for applications — especially for banking applications or digital wallets would be another layer of protection.

Measures to be taken by Payment systems:

1.     Payment systems should ensure that their systems are continually audited for security vulnerabilities and patched frequently.

2.     Systems should be hosted with active measures to mitigate denial of service attacks, while also maintaining flexibility to handle seasonal upsurges in traffic.

Measures to be taken by the government :

1.    While the government has put its weight behind the concept of a cashless economy, it needs to invest sufficiently in securing the network as well as educating the population on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

2.     There should be a robust training programme, especially focussing on the old and illiterate who will be affected the most by this transition.

Lastly, it must revisit laws and establish a special mechanism to ensure that entities stealing data or preventing legitimate digital transactions are dealt with severely and swiftly in a manner apparent to the public.






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