Current Affairs 18th August

Taliban vow to honour women’s rights but within Islamic law #GS2 #IR

The Taliban vowed on Tuesday to respect women’s rights, forgive those who resisted them and ensure a secure Afghanistan as part of a publicity blitz aimed at convincing world powers and a fearful population that they have changed.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who had been a shadowy figure for years, promised that the Taliban would honour women’s rights, but within the norms of Islamic law, though he gave few details. He said the group wanted private media to “remain independent” but stressed that journalists “should not work against national values”.

He said the insurgents would secure Afghanistan — but seek no revenge against those who worked with the former government or with foreign governments or forces. “We assure you that nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped.”

The capital of Kabul remained quiet for another day as the Taliban patrolled its streets and many residents stayed home, fearful after the insurgents’ takeover saw prisons emptied and armouries looted.

Many residents stayed home, fearful after the insurgents’ takeover saw prisons emptied and armouries looted. Many women have expressed dread that the two-decade Western experiment to expand their rights and remake Afghanistan would not survive the resurgent Taliban. Earlier, Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, made similar promises, saying the Taliban would extend an “amnesty” without giving details and encouraging women to join the government.

Samangani addressed the concerns of women, saying Taliban were ready to “provide women with environment to work and study, and the presence of women in different structures according to Islamic law and in accordance with our cultural values.” there are reports that fighters have lists of people who cooperated with the government.

SC issues notice to Centre on pleas alleging snooping #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued pre-admission notice to the Union government on petitions seeking an independent inquiry into allegations that the government used Israeli spyware Pegasus to snoop on citizens.

The court made it clear to the government that “none of us want to compromise the defence of the nation… but there are citizens, some of them persons of eminence, who have complained of hacking of their phones”. After issuing notice, a Bench of Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Aniruddha Bose said that it would consider the further course of action, including the formation of a committee to inquire into the allegations, in due time. The court listed the case for hearing after 10 days.

The notice was issued after the government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, stood firm by its two-page affidavit denying “all and any” allegations. Mr. Mehta said any revelation about any software allegedly used by government to counter terrorism would compromise national security.

“They [petitioners] want us to say whether Pegasus was used or not… It is nobody’s case that interception is done by governments for the purpose of national security. Softwares are used… They want to know which software is used… No government will say which software is used because if we divulge, terrorists may take advantage. Which software is used or not is a matter of national security. It cannot be a matter of public debate,” Mr. Mehta stated at the start of the virtual hearing.

He clarified that the government was not refusing to reveal anything to anybody at all. “We are just saying we will not reveal it publicly,” he observed.

“Tomorrow, a web portal may start a narrative that certain military equipment are used for some illegitimate purpose. A petition may be filed by a person who has nothing to do with this issue and who wants the military to declare whether the apparatus was used or not. I will be failing in my duty if I advice the government to divulge it on affidavit,” Mr. Mehta contended.

The government had fairly agreed in court to form a committee of experts to inquire into the reports of Pegasus snooping, he noted.

“As a responsible government, we are submitting that we will form a committee of neutral experts, whose report will be placed before the Supreme Court… I repeat, it is not my case that I will not divulge anything. All will be revealed before the committee… Let me do that before a committee… Permit us to form a committee… We will place its report before the Supreme Court itself,” Mr. Mehta stated.

Justice Kant said there was no question of compromising national security.

“We are not going to ask you to divulge anything that will harm the defence of the nation… We are extremely reluctant to say anything on that. But the question here is that there are some persons of eminence who have come here, saying there has been interception of their phones… That can be done, but with the permission of the competent authority…

What is the problem if that competent authority filed an affidavit before us? In the affidavit we don’t want a single word on any aspect that relates to the security of the nation… All we are saying is that we are issuing simple notice… Let the competent authority say to what extent what information can be disclosed,” he explained.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for veteran journalists N. Ram and Sashi Kumar, said “the security of the state is as important to the citizen as it is to the state”.

India must help Afghan brethren: PM #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) where he instructed all officials concerned to ensure the safe evacuation of Indian nationals from Afghanistan within the next few days and also provide all possible help to “Afghan brothers and sisters who are looking towards India for assistance.”

According to sources present at the meeting, Mr. Modi also said that “India must not only protect our citizens, but we must also provide refuge to those Sikh and Hindu minorities who want to come to India, and we must also provide all possible help to our Afghan brothers and sisters who are looking towards India for assistance.”

Nearly 140 people working at the Indian embassy in Kabul including Ambassador Rudrendra Tandon, staff at the embassy, Indo Tibetan Border Police guarding the Indian embassy in Kabul and four media persons flew into Delhi late in the evening in one tranche of an evacuation flight run by the Indian Air Force. Mr Tandon was present at the CCS meet and briefed the Prime Minister on the ground situation in Kabul.

Sources said the CCS was briefed in detail on the current and evolving security and political situation in Afghanistan. The Committee was also briefed on the recent evacuations of Indian Embassy officials and some members of the Indian community, as well as some members of Indian media.

The meeting was attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, being out of town could not attend the meeting in New Delhi, but Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla was present.

National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, principal secretary to Prime Minister P.K. Mishra and Cabinet secretary Rajeev Gauba were also present. The MHA on Tuesday has also added a new category of visa to process applications of those who want to come to India from Afghanistan following the Taliban take over.

Centre not for forming security force to protect judiciary, courts #GS2 #Governance

The Union government told the Supreme Court that it was “not advisable” to form a Central security force to protect the judiciary and court complexes. The government said security of courts was “better left to the States”.

Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, said problems of security varied from State to State. The State police would be better equipped to gauge the deployment needs in local courts and take care of logistics of transporting criminals and protecting witnesses, among other crucial functions within court complexes. The Ministry of Home Affairs had issued extensive guidelines for the States to follow while protecting courts and the judiciary. Besides, Mr. Mehta said ‘police’ is a State subject under the Constitution.

The court had taken suo motu cognisance of the attacks on judges along with petitions pending since 2019 seeking better protection for the judiciary and in courts. The turning point was the recent murder of a judge in Jharkhand, Uttam Anand, in broad daylight.

The court had asked the Centre’s opinion on forming a central security outfit in the manner of the Railway Protection Force to protect courts and judges.

“It is not advisable to have a central security force like the CRPF… There should be a fuller implementation of the guidelines of the Home Ministry. It is advisable that security is taken care of at the State level because problems vary from State to State. For example, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have naxal problems… It has to be State-specific instead of country-specific,” Mr. Mehta submitted.

But the court questioned the implementation of the guidelines and the poor security provided to courts.

“Question is whether the guidelines are followed and to what extent these governments are providing security… CCTVs cannot prevent a criminal from attacking a judge. There should be something in place to prevent threats, attacks on judges,” Justice Surya Kant, on the Bench, told the Solicitor General.

Affidavits from States

Justice Kant said several States had not bothered to file affidavits detailing the security arrangements in place for courts. Others who had filed affidavits presented a “lazy picture” of the security arrangements. The Bench allowed the States to file their affidavits in 10 days subject to paying Rs. 1 lakh each as costs. The court warned that Chief Secretaries would be summoned in case of non-compliance.

Exporters to get duty relief as part of Jan. 1 RoDTEP scheme #GS3 #Economy

The Centre notified the rates and norms for the Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products (RoDTEP) scheme, with Commerce Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam asserting it would put ‘direct cash in the pockets of exporters’ soon.

The RoDTEP scheme had kicked in from January 1, replacing the earlier Merchandise and Services Export Incentive Schemes (MEIS and SEIS) that were in violation of WTO norms.

A budgetary allocation of Rs. 12,454 crore has been made for 2021-22 under the scheme which covers 8,555 tariff lines, accounting for about 75% of traded items and 65% of India’s exports. To enable zero rating of exports by ensuring domestic taxes are not exported, all taxes, including those levied by States and even Gram Panchayats, will be refunded under the scheme.

The rebates under RoDTEP, which Director General of Foreign Trade Amit Yadav said is WTO-compliant as per legal advice, range from 0.5% to 4.3% of the Free On Board value of outbound consignments. The lowest rate is offered on items like chocolates, toffees and sugar confectionary, while yarns and fibres have been granted the highest rate.

“Steel, pharma and chemicals have not been included under the scheme because their exports have done well without incentives,” said Mr. Subrahmanyam. “There are a couple of more schemes in the pipeline to help exporters, but RoDTEP, which is valid till March 31, 2024, will be our flagship scheme.”

The top trade official also assured of a resolution of the pending dues under the MEIS and SEIS by the first week of September, through a ‘staggered’ mechanism.

Economy gaining a grip, price rise has peaked: RBI officials #GS3 #Economy

The economy is gaining traction with a gradual pickup in manufacturing activity and moderation in contraction of services, spurred by comfortable liquidity, RBI officials wrote in an article.

Observing that the retreat of the second wave of coronavirus pandemic had been slow, the officials writing on the ‘State of Economy’ in the August edition of the RBI Bulletin said, ‘aggregate demand conditions are buoyed by the release of pent-up demand post unlock, while the supply situation is improving with the monsoon catching up to normal levels and sowing gaining pace’.

“Manufacturing is gradually turning around. On inflation, the officials said the headline CPI inflation for July 2021 came in at 5.6%, down 70 bps from 6.3% in June, “reinforcing the view that the recent upsurge has peaked and the worst would be behind us”.

On a central bank digital currency (CBDC), a fiat liability denominated in the national unit of account that is digitally issued and accessible to all economic agents, the RBI officials wrote “there is a quiet confidence within that its time is nigh”.

‘Complement cash’

They said the CBDC may not directly replace demand deposits held in banks and would complement physical cash. It would compete with other online and offline payment methods and thereby support a more resilient and diverse payment system while shunning the risks associated with private digital currencies. The RBI was conscious that the CBDC had to be meticulously planned, designed and tested.

RBI unveils financial inclusion index #GS3 #Economy

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Tuesday announced the formation of a composite Financial Inclusion Index (FI-Index) to capture the extent of financial inclusion across the country. The FI-Index for the period ended March 2021 stood at 53.9 compared with 43.4 for the period ended March 2017.

The annual FI-Index will be published in July every year, the RBI said in a release. The index incorporates details of banking, investments, insurance, postal as well as the pension sector in consultation with the government and respective sectoral regulators.

‘Scrappage norms to spur new vehicle demand by up to 30% #GS3 #Economy

The recently unveiled automobile scrappage policy will help boost new vehicle demand in the country by about 25-30%, leading to additional GST revenues of about Rs. 40,000 crore for the Centre and States, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said on Tuesday.

The Minister added that the policy would help India become the top-most auto manufacturing hub in the next 5 years. “There are about 1 crore end-of-life vehicles in the country… and this data is three years old … People will not buy new vehicle if they don’t scrap the older vehicles,” he said. He also clarified that reduction of road tax by up to 25% by States is not just an advisory.

“We are authorised under the concurrent list to decide the principle of taxation… Scrappage policy will lead to an increase in revenue for State governments as there will be a 25-30% increase in auto sales and they will get GST… Centre and State governments will get Rs. 40,000 crore each… Employment will go up, pollution will decrease,” he explained.

Mr. Gadkari said the department had also requested the auto sector to give discounts of 5% on new models as incentive for consumers to scrap vehicles.

Amit Varadan, joint secretary, added that the Ministry had estimated savings of about Rs. 1.15 lakh in 5 years on new vehicle purchase following scrapping of the old vehicle. For trucks, this could go up to Rs. 8.32 lakhs in five years.