Current Affairs

Morning Brief: PNB Scam Fallout: RBI Bans LoUs; War On TB; ‘Name And Shame’ Wilful Defaulters, Banks Told

The RBI headquarters in Mumbai. (GettyImages)

Good morning, dear reader! Here’s your morning news and views brief for today.

Nirav Modi Scam Fallout: RBI Bans Banks From Issuing LoUs

The fraud at Punjab National Bank has prompted the Reserve Bank of India to ban the use of letters of undertaking (LoUs) and letters of comfort (LoCs). LoUs and LoCs are two of the instruments issued by Indian banks to domestic importers to get foreign exchange from banks abroad at a cheaper rate. The RBI issued the directive on LoUs and LoCs on Tuesday, about a month after it was discovered that diamond merchants Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi had misused LoUs issued by PNB to defraud the bank of over $2 billion. An LoU is a type of guarantee between two banks that allows the issuer bank’s customer to get foreign exchange from another Indian bank’s foreign branch in the form of short-term credit. The RBI decision could potentially push up the cost of imports by up to half a percentage point, besides putting foreign banks on an even keel with Indian banks in financing imports, bankers said.

War On TB: India Planning To Eradicate The Disease Five Years Ahead Of Global Target

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India has set a target for complete elimination of Tuberculosis (TB) by 2025, five years ahead of the global target of 2030. Launching the TB Free India Campaign at ‘Delhi End TB Summit’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that his government is implementing a national strategic plan (NSP) to end TB by 2025 with funding of over Rs 12,000 crore for the next three years to ensure every TB patient has access to quality diagnosis, treatment and support. Since state governments play an important role in this, Modi said he has personally written to the state governments to join government’s efforts to eliminate TB, strengthening the spirit of cooperative federalism. TB is the leading infectious killer in India. There were an estimated 28 lakh new cases of TB in 2016, with over 4 lakh people succumbing to the disease, including those with TB and HIV.

Aadhaar Linking Deadline Extended Until Supreme Court Delivers Verdict 

In a relief for consumers, the Supreme Court on Tuesday extended the 31 March deadline to link Aadhaar with various government services and even mobile phone connections indefinitely until after it delivers a final verdict on petitions questioning the validity of the unique identification number. A five-judge bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the extension will not apply to government services and benefits like pensions and scholarships, subsidised foodgrains under the public distribution system, subsidised cooking gas and the flagship job guarantee plan for rural households. Such benefits are covered by Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, which deals with the delivery of financial benefits and subsidies and services under government welfare programmes. The court restrained the authorities from insisting on Aadhaar for issuance of tatkal passports, which are processed faster.

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‘Name And Shame’ Wilful Loan Defaulters, Government Tells Banks

The Union government has asked banks to ‘name and shame’ wilful loan defaulters by publishing their photographs and other details in newspapers, in a bid to tighten the noose around them. The number of wilful defaulters, who did not repay loans to public sector banks (PSBs) despite the capacity to do so, rose to 9,063 at the end of December 2017. The Finance Ministry has written a letter to all state-run banks directing them to take board approvals for publication of photographs of such defaulters. “Lending institutions shall formulate a policy with the approval of their board of directors which clearly set out the criteria for publication of photographs of wilful defaulters,” sources quoting advisory of the Finance Ministry said. The government had last week directed banks to seek passport details of borrowers taking loans of Rs 50 crore and more. Passport details will help banks to take timely action and inform the relevant authorities to prevent fraudsters from fleeing the country.

Bonhomie Is Back: Annual India-China Military Exercise To Resume, Says Army Chief Rawat

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Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said on Tuesday that the annual India-China military exercise will resume. This comes after the relationship between the two countries that had turned sour after the Doklam stand-off was now showing signs of improvements. The “bonhomie” between the two forces was back, Rawat said. “The hand-in-hand exercise with China happens every year. Only in the last year, this exercise was shelved (due to simmering tensions over Doklam), but this exercise is back on the cards,” he said. The border personnel of India and China were locked in a 73-day stand-off last year in Doklam. The disengagement of forces took place in August last year, after hectic parleys between the two countries. A series of high-level visits are lined up with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman travelling to China next month. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit China in June to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting. On the issue of Pakistan, Army Chief Rawat said ceasing of hostilities in Jammu and Kashmir must be on Indian terms, noting that Pakistani forces have been feeling the “pain” of Indian Army’s offensive along the border.

Gorakhpur And Phulpur Lok Sabha By-Polls’ Results Today

Amid tight security arrangements, counting of votes for the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha by-elections will take place today. The by-polls were necessitated after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya vacated the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats following their election to the state legislative council. The voter turnout was 47.45 per cent in Gorakhpur and 37.39 per cent in Phulpur. Ten candidates were in the fray from Gorakhpur, while 22 candidates contested from Phulpur. According to the Election Commission, there are 19.61 lakh voters in Phulpur parliamentary constituency, while the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat has a 19.49 lakh electorate. After casting his vote in Gorakhpur, Adityanath had claimed the BJP was getting widespread support from the people, while Maurya had said that his party will win both the seats. On the other hand, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav had said it (polling day) was a day to “change and re-write history”.

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Foreign Law Firms Can’t Practise In India, Rules Supreme Court

Foreign law firms and lawyers cannot practise in India on a permanent basis, the Supreme Court said in a ruling, which also gives the Bar Council of India (BCI) regulatory control over overseas legal professionals even if they are in the country on temporary assignments. Foreign lawyers or law firms can take up tasks here only on a purely temporary, casual basis, a bench comprising justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and R F Nariman said on Tuesday, clarifying a Madras High Court ruling that allowed them to fly-in and fly-out to advise clients. In such cases too, they would be governed by the BCI’s code of conduct for lawyers, the top court said, brushing off opposition from foreign lawyers and firms to regulatory control in India. The court clarified that legal practice would include litigation and non-litigation work, such as giving of opinion, drafting of instruments, participation in conferences involving legal discussion as well. The top court said only advocates enrolled with BCI were entitled to practise law in India. All others can appear only with permission of court, authority or person before whom proceedings are pending.

Indian Army Expresses Concern Over Inadequate Fund Allocation

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The Indian Army is reeling under severe funds crunch and struggling to even make emergency procurements, it was revealed on Tuesday. "The budget of 2018-19 has dashed our hopes and most of what has been achieved has actually received a little setback," Indian Army Vice Chief Lt Gen Sarath Chand said in his deposition before the Parliament Standing Committee on Defence that tabled its report in Parliament. Lt Gen Chand said the Army was allocated Rs 21,338 crore for modernisation, which is insufficient as Rs 29,033 crore is required to pay for 125 on-going purchases. In addition, there are emergency procurements, ammunition purchase for 10 days of intense war and other ordnance factory requirements. "There is an overall shortfall of around Rs 12,296 crore as far as capital is concerned," he said. Referring to the regional security scenario, Chand said the possibility of “two front” war is a reality and the country needs to pay attention to modernisation of the Army.

MUST READ OPINIONS AND COLUMNS

Clean Fuel, Not Electric Vehicles, Should Be India’s Goal: Instead of looking at electric vehicles as the antidote to India’s pollution crisis, the focus needs to shift to the use of clean petrol and diesel.

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Band Aid After The Long March: Loan waivers and increased MSP will provide temporary relief to Maharashtra farmers. The state needs to explore alternative cropping patterns, modes of irrigation.

Space, The Next Frontier For Capitalism: Investment bank Goldman Sachs estimates that space start-ups have, globally, attracted $13.3 billion of investment since 2010.

SWARAJYA SPECIAL

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The Great Communist Charade: Forget The Farmer, Focus On The Optics: The communists’ march in Maharashtra and the campaign around it was a desperate assertion of relevance on their part after the rout in Tripura. Like all communist agitations, this one too needed a little blood, and that came from the feet of the farmers.

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