Current Affairs

Morning Brief: Trump Slams ‘Deceitful’ Pakistan, May Withhold Aid; Triple Talaq Bill In Rajya Sabha; Saudi-UAE Introduce VAT

US President Donald Trump at his Oval Office in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 

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

Trump Slams ‘Deceitful’ Pakistan, May Withhold Aid: US President Donald Trump has accused Pakistan of perpetrating "lies and deceit" despite receiving billions of dollars in American aid. "The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" Trump tweeted on New Year's Day. His warning came days after his administration leaked the news that it was planning to withhold $255 million in US aid till Islamabad demonstrated that it was serious about cracking down on terrorism that it openly sponsors, and for which it has been censured by the United Nations and the international community. Pakistan, however, hit back. "Pakistan has done more to defeat terrorism than anyone, instead of shifting blame on us, #DonaldTrump must revisit his policy for Afghanistan. We have done what we could for the World now the World must do more to defeat the menace of terrorism rather gragging us into blame game!" tweeted retd Lt Gen Amjad Shoaib, one of the country's pro-military talking heads who frequently wheels out the establishment line.

Triple Talaq Bill In Rajya Sabha: A bill that criminalises instant triple talaq among Muslims is set to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha today (2 January). All eyes are on Congress, whose stance may decide the fate of the bill in the Upper House. The government lacks a majority in the House and the opposition has joined hands many times to embarrass the Narendra Modi dispensation. The bill, which makes instant triple talaq illegal with up to three years in jail for the husband, was passed by the Lower House last week. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill is listed for introduction in the Rajya Sabha by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on 2 January, according to the list of business of the Upper House. Under the law, instant triple talaq in any form – spoken, in writing or by electronic means such as email, SMS and WhatsApp – would be illegal and void. The bill could get stalled in the Rajya Sabha where government lacks a majority and it may be referred to a parliamentary committee for a review.

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ONGC Makes Significant Oil And Gas Discovery: Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has made a significant oil and gas discovery to the west of its prime Mumbai High fields in the Arabian Sea. In a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said based on the data generated during drilling, nine objects/zones were identified and on testing all the objects flowed oil/gas. The discovery has indicated potential in-place reserves of about 29.74 million tonnes of oil and oil equivalent gas, he said. "The 9th object on testing flowed oil at the rate of 3,310 barrels per day and gas at the rate of 17,071 cubic metre per day," the minister said. "This multi-layered oil and gas accumulation in this well opened up new area for exploration/development." Mumbai High, India's biggest oil field, currently produces 205,000 barrels of oil per day (just over 10 million tonnes per annum) and the new find would add to that production in less than two years' time.

SBI Cuts Base Rate By 30 Basis Points: In what is seen as a New Year’s surprise to its customers, State Bank of India (SBI) has reduced lending interest rate by 30 basis points (bps) to 8.65 per cent with effect from 1 January 2018. Around 80 lakh borrowers are likely to benefit from this reduction. “Base rate reduced from 08.95 per cent per annum to 8.65 per cent per annum with effect from 1 January 2018,” SBI said. Base rate is the minimum lending rate below which banks cannot lend. Additionally, bank has decided to extend on-going waiver on home loan processing fees till 31 March 2018 for new customers keen on buying their dream house and other customers looking to switch their existing loans to SBI. It has, however, not made any changes in its current benchmark – the marginal cost of lending rate (MCLR). Besides the base rate, the bank has also reduced its prime lending rate, an even older benchmark, to 13.40 per cent to 13.70 per cent. SBI has also extended its ongoing waiver of home loan processing fees till 31 March 2018.

Nagaland Declared Disturbed Area: The state of Nagaland has been declared as “disturbed area” for six more months under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). In a gazette notification, the Union Home Ministry said it is of the opinion that the area comprising the whole of Nagaland is in such a “disturbed and dangerous condition” that use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary. The act empowers security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without any prior notice. A home ministry official said the decision to continue the declaration of Nagaland as “disturbed area” has been taken as killings, loot and extortion have been going in various parts of the state which necessitated the action for the convenience of the security forces operating there. The AFSPA has been in force in Nagaland for several decades.

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Banks Prepare To Refer 24 of 28 Stressed Accounts To NCLT: Following the closure of Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) deadline to resolve the 28 identified large stressed accounts in the second list, banks are preparing to refer as many as 24 of them for insolvency proceedings. These accounts together make up 40 per cent of bad loans of around Rs 4 lakh crore. In August, the RBI had asked banks to either resolve the 28 more large stressed accounts or refer them to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) by 31 December. "Except for Anrak Aluminium, Jayaswal Neco Industries, Soma Enterprises and Jaiprakash Associates, all other accounts are going to the NCLT (for resolution)," a senior banker said. Some of the large accounts, which are likely to go to the NCLT, include Asian Color Coated Ispat, Castex Technologies, Coastal Projects, East Coast Energy, IVRCL, Orchid Pharma, SEL Manufacturing, Uttam Galva Metallic, Uttam Galva Steel, Visa Steel, Essar Projects, Jai Balaji Industries, Monnet Power, Nagarjuna Oil Refinery, Ruchi Soya Industries and Wind World India.

Saudi Arabia And UAE Introduce VAT: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates introduced value-added tax on Monday, a first for the Gulf which has long prided itself on its tax-free system. It is part of the latest in a series of measures introduced by Gulf oil producers over the past two years to boost revenues and cut spending as a persistent slump in world prices has led to ballooning budget deficits. The 5 per cent sales tax applies to most goods and services and analysts project that the two governments could raise as much as $21 billion in 2018, equivalent to 2 per cent of GDP. The other four Gulf states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar – are also committed to introducing VAT but have decided to delay the move until early 2019. Saudi Arabia compounded the New Year blow for motorists with an unannounced hike of up to 127 per cent in petrol prices with immediate effect from midnight. The hike in fuel duty in Saudi Arabia was the second in two years. But it still leaves petrol prices as some of the lowest in the world.

Donations Clamp On Hafiz Saeed’s JuD: Pakistan on Monday banned alleged Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed-led Jamaat-ud Dawa and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation from collecting donations. The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan issued a notification prohibiting the collection of donations by the JuD, the front organisation of banned outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as several other such organisations named in a list of banned outfits by the UN Security Council. "The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan hereby prohibits all companies from donating cash to the entities and individuals listed under the UNSC sanctions committee's consolidated list," according to the notification. In January 2017, the Pakistan government had launched a crackdown against JuD, placing Saeed under house arrest. However, Saeed was released in November after the Lahore High Court refused to extend the period of his confinement.

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MUST READ OPINIONS AND COLUMNS

Make Jobs The Priority In 2018: Demonetisation and the goods and services tax have led to disruption in the informal sector and the performance of the industrial sector has been lacklustre. The lack of good jobs has already fuelled disaffection and social unrest among a section of young people.

Where Geography Is Destiny: India’s problem is not about competing with China in South Asia, but managing its messy interdependence with the neighbours with some strategic vision and a lot of tactical finesse.

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Rajinikanth’s Political Foray Has Come Too Late: Dravidian parties would do well to study the setbacks suffered by Telugu Desam in undivided Andhra Pradesh with the adoption of a similar strategy in propping up Chiranjeevi by floating a small party before being ultimately swallowed by the Congress.

Rural Economy Holds The Key To Economic Revival: Any hopes of a revival of the economy will squarely rest on the outcome of the agricultural sector. Distress in rural economy is not limited only to the agrarian sector but has also spilled over to the larger economy with unemployment becoming a major challenge.

SWARAJYA SPECIAL

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Jawaharlal Nehru University, At A Dangerous Inflection Point: The essence of any higher level university is that it is a forum for constructive and progressive engagement between thoughtful, kind and enlightened teachers and questioning, critical and respectful students. The JNU has taken an altogether different path – in several unnecessary tangents.

We hope you enjoyed reading our morning brief. Have a great day ahead!

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