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September 14, 2017

City’s air quality improving

  • It may be hard to believe considering the persistent traffic snarls and unending construction, but pollution data throws up a surprising fact: air quality in Bengaluru is actually improving.
  • Since March 2015, the amount of Particulate Matter of less than 10 microns size (PM10) — which is among the most harmful air pollutants as they cause respiratory problems — has reduced in 12 out of 14 monitoring stations operated by the KSPCB.

Ban pellet guns in Kashmir: Amnesty

  • Amnesty International India on Wednesday asked the government “to prohibit firing pellet shotguns immediately in the Kashmir Valley”.Amnesty claimed that pellet victims “faced serious physical and mental health issues, including symptoms of psychological trauma”. “Several victims, who were the primary breadwinners in their families, fear they will not be able to work any longer. Many have not regained their sight despite repeated surgeries,” he added.Zahoor Wani, a campaigner, claimed that “metal pellets continue to remain lodged in the skulls and near the eyes of many victims”.“Doctors are afraid to remove the pellets fearing it will affect the eyesight but they are not sure what the long term effects will be,” Mr. Wani said.
  • The human rights organisation called for “prompt, independent and impartial civilians’ investigations into all incidents where the use of pellet-firing shotguns led to deaths or injuries to establish whether arbitrary or excessive force was used”.“Where sufficient evidence is found, prosecute those suspected,” it added.
  • The report comes just two days after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh admitted in Srinagar that Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide (PAVA) guns introduced to replace pellet shotguns had “failed to yield desired results”.

Indo-Russian war games in Oct.

  • India and Russia have begun discussions to work out the modalities for their first tri-service military exercise to be held in October. It will also be India’s first bilateral military exercise with any country involving all three services.
  • “The Indra exercise is scheduled from October 19 to 29. The Final Planning Conference (FPC) will be held from September 12 to 15 in Russia. All logistical issues and modalities will be finalised here,” an Army source told The Hindu .
  • In April, the two countries decided to upgrade Indra from an individual service exercise into an integrated tri-service.
  • “The aim of the exercise is to carry out joint exercises for suppression of international terrorist activities under the United Nations mandate,” the source added.
  • The Army will send about 350 soldiers from the infantry, artillery and armoured streams.

Heavy equipment

  • While the soldiers will take with them infantry weapons, ammunition, radio sets and related equipment, the issue of taking T-72 tanks and other heavy equipment will be decided in the FPC.
  • The Navy is fielding two ships, a stealth frigate, INS Satpura , and an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette, INS Kadmatt , along with two on-board helicopters. The naval component is likely to include an ASW component, the details of which are awaited.
  • The Air Force, which flies a large number of Russian aircraft, is likely to share fighter jets of the host. Details of contingent and other support elements would be decided in the planning conference.

India has ‘narrow’ pool of mustard varieties, say agricultural scientists

  • Slamming activists for spreading “misinformation” on genetically-modified (GM) mustard, India’s premier association of agricultural scientists has said that India has a “narrow” pool of mustard varieties.
  • That India had over 9,000 varieties of mustard and was the “centre of origin and diversity (of mustard) ” was among the key arguments made by Prashant Bhushan in the Supreme Court, as part of a petition by activist Aruna Rodrigues.Earlier a Supreme Court-appointed Technical Advisory Committee had also recommended a stay on GM mustard citing the breadth of India’s genetic diversity in mustard and that introducing it would lead to “irreversible” contamin- ation.
  • “Contrary to GM basher’s (sic) propaganda – that very high diversity is available in Indian mustard – scientific analysis has shown that the Indian gene pool of mustard is very narrow… as a consequence, in spite of extensive efforts by our plant breeders – there is very little impact of pure-line breeding on mustard yields in recent years,” says a report by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), a 600-member body of agricultural scientists.
  • In June, a 230-member quorum of the NAAS had passed a resolution unanimously supporting the commercial release of Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11 (DMH-11), a transgenic food crop that had been cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for commercial release.

Plea against NOTA not valid, says EC

  • The Election Commission has told the Supreme Court that a plea by a Gujarat Congress leader challenging the use of None of the Above (NOTA) option in the Rajya Sabha polls in the State is not maintainable.

Constitutional provisions

  • It referred to the constitutional provisions and said that any election to the Rajya Sabha can only be called into question by way of an election petition only.
  • “The provisions of NOTA in the ballot papers for the elections to the council of states has been made by the EC to effectuate this right of electors guaranteed to them under the said section 79(A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951,” the commission said.

Business climate hit, say companies

  • “Implementation of GST was to create a single unified large market with simplified tax structure for the auto industry,” Hyundai Motor India said in a statement.
  • “However, the recent rolling back to multiple rates with pre-GST classification has come as a setback to industry, shaking the confidence of auto manufacturers,” the Indian subsidiary of the South Korean auto major said.
  • Since July 1, the GST Council has changed the tax and cess rates on at least 98 goods and services, and issued 32 notifications, clarifications and corrigenda in the process.

Multiple changes

  • The resultant uncertainty over the tax rates and procedures could adversely impact investments and prices, say tax experts and corporations.
  • “The multiple changes in the rates and processes made after the introduction of GST have led to some degree of uncertainty, which industry has had to grapple with and it is hoped that incremental changes are not made on an ongoing basis,” said M.S. Mani, senior director-Indirect Tax, Deloitte India. “GST was touted as making indirect taxes simpler and more certain. GST itself has been unsettling. On top of that, if things keep changing, then that makes business even more uncertain.”

Auto makers upset

  • Auto makers are upset with the rule changes, since the cess applicable on motor vehicles was increased as recently as September 11, leading to further uncertainty in the sector and an increase in prices across almost all segments.

TRAI chief calls for zero cost for digital transactions

  • While calling for eliminating costs associated with digital payments for a sustained growth of such transactions, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma emphasised on the need for a speedy solution to issues of data ownership and privacy.
  • “If we want to have a sustainable digital transactions system, we must ensure that MDR or merchant discount rate is zero, especially for small value transactions because that is where the tipping point will come,” Mr. Sharma said.
  • Mr. Sharma said we are moving to a data world and data has become extremely important. Data has two important properties — it is sharable without diminishing and is boundary-less in nature. This raises a very serious issue of who owns data or data ownership, he said. “That is important…If you look at agreements of all these technology firms; they have policy called data privacy policy. One would think this policy is given to me (user) to say that how will I (the company) protect the privacy of your data. It is not that. It is a policy that says how a company can use/misuse or share users’ data.”

Data privacy

  • “Then there is data privacy. Once the data goes out, what can be done with that data… People are concerned about Aadhaar. People should be concerned about other things, for example, mobile is 100 times more dangerous than Aadhaar. Aadhaar does not emit your data, it’s just a number,” he said.

Russia comes forward to rebuild Aleppo

  • When Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman chief of Russia’s Chechnya region, offered to repair the damage that the ancient mosque sustained in ferocious clashes four years ago, Mr. Akkam felt he could not say no.
  • Syria’s second city was battered by four years of fighting between rebels in the east and government forces in the west, until an evacuation deal at the end of 2016 brought it under regime control.
  • In September 2015, Moscow began carrying out air strikes that have allowed Syrian troops to retake swathes of territory — including Aleppo. Now that it is back under government control, Russia appears keen to help rebuild it. Analysts say Syria’s financial institutions are not in a position to fund reconstruction and nations that have called for Mr. Assad’s ouster are unlikely to help.
  • Allies like Russia and Iran have stepped in to fill the void.