1. Watchdog for auditors – National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA)

The Union cabinet has approved the creation of a National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) that would monitor and enforce compliance with accounting and auditing standards for listed companies and large unlisted companies.

The NFRA was proposed in the Companies Act 2013 after a series of auditing lapses such as in the Satyam case and many experts felt that a watchdog was needed to monitor auditors.

  • Jaitley said the act had been amended and the draft rules for the NFRA would be notified in due course.
  • Under section 132 of the Companies Act, 2013, the NFRA will recommend accounting and auditing standards, ensure compliance with them and oversee the quality of service of the accounting and audit professions. It has also been given the powers to investigate matters of professional misconduct by chartered accountants or CA firms, impose a penalty and debar the CA or the firm for up to 10 years.

The companies act states that “no other institute or body shall initiate proceedings in such matters of misconduct where the NFRA has initiated an investigation”.

2. Staying ahead of the double helix

The Delhi High Court recently ruled against discrimination in health insurance by United India Insurance Company involving a person with a heart condition which was perceived to be a genetic disorder. The court held, “Discrimination in health insurance against individuals based on their genetic disposition or genetic heritage, in the absence of appropriate genetic testing and laying down of intelligible differentia, is unconstitutional.”

Genetic discrimination (GD) is understood to be differential treatment of those not showing symptoms but who are nevertheless treated differently on the basis of any real or assumed genetic characteristics.  There were robust policies of eugenics in the U.S. in the 1900s. These led to laws in many States that made sterilisation compulsory for those who expressed a range of conditions believed to be inherited. Such conditions covered those with disability, who were poor, had mental health problems, were promiscuous, were dwarfs, and so on.

  1. In the U.S., researchers working with the Council for Responsible Genetics in Cambridge, Massachusetts recorded hundreds of cases of misuse of genetic information obtained through family history, genetic tests, or by employers and insurers accessing personal data.
  2. In the U.S., the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law in 2008. GINA provides strong protection against access to genetic information and genetic discrimination in the context of health insurance and employment. It prohibits insurers from “requesting or requiring” genetic tests from an individual or members of the person’s family, or using genetic information to determine eligibility or establish premiums. It also prohibits employers from “requesting or requiring” genetic information for hiring or promotional decisions, or when determining eligibility for training programmes.
  3. In the U.S., the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law in 2008. GINA provides strong protection against access to genetic information and genetic discrimination in the context of health insurance and employment. It prohibits insurers from “requesting or requiring” genetic tests from an individual or members of the person’s family, or using genetic information to determine eligibility or establish premiums. It also prohibits employers from “requesting or requiring” genetic information for hiring or promotional decisions, or when determining eligibility for training programmes.

If companies begin to insist on tests for everyone, then potentially no one will be insurable. Only universal health care can therefore be a viable solution.

3. Aviation sector on a high as UDAN spreads wings 

India is rapidly expanding its aviation network beyond its biggest cities, developing airports at 18 smaller and unserved destinations over the past year and seeking to bring commercial flights to at least five more towns over the next few months. Another 12 airports, to be put up for bids, are in various stages of development and may take more than a year to be ready.

Under the UDAN plan, which seeks to democratise and broaden aviation linkage in a nation where flying still remains beyond the reach of many citizens, the government is building airports in unserved or under-served locations, offering incentives for airlines to fly to these destinations.

  • As part of that plan, several new airports were built over the past year. Among those where commercial flights have begun operation or are ready for take-off are Mundra and Jamnagar in Gujarat (private airports run by the Adani Group and Reliance IndustriesBSE -2.48 %, respectively), Jalgaon in Maharashtra, Bhatinda in Punjab, Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh and Vijayanagar in Kanataka. The last location is also a private airport operated by the JSW Group.

“Many of these airports run into conflicts over land acquisition, at times with the state government. We have bid for an airport after another airline did a due diligence. Now we see that the airport is stuck. We have to rework our entire network plan accordingly,” said a senior executive at an airline.

The government has been proactive in operationalising unserved airports under the UDAN scheme. It is valid to get an airline to commit to operate at such airports and then develop/operationalise them.

4. India has 10% of world’s 50 most threatened freshwater turtle species

India ranks third in the list of countries with the largest number of threatened turtle and tortoise species in the world after China and Vietnam

  • The country has two of the world’s 25 most threatened freshwater turtle species – Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska) found in the Sudarbans, West Bengal, and the Red-Crowned Roof Turtle (Batagur kachuga), found only within the riverine National Chambal Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary (NCGWS) in Madhya Pradesh.

In India, the major threats include illegal trade of these species, drowning in fishing nets (which is a major threat to Red-Crowned Roof Turtle), habitat loss, and degradation due to sand mining, dam construction, and pollution. Illegal trade impacts primarily four species of softshell turtles (traded for food), as well as the Indian star tortoises and Spotted Pond turtles (for pet markets in Southeast Asia) rescued 16,000 freshwater turtles and tortoises from different parts of the country in 2017 from organised poaching rackets.

Two species listed under top 25 threatened worldwide

  • -Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska)
  • -Red-Crowned Roof Turtle (Batagur kachuga)

Five species listed under top 50 (including the two above) threatened worldwide

  • -South Asian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica)
  • -Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans)
  • -Arakan Forest Turtle (Heosemys depressa)

Three other threatened species outside the top 50 assessed as critically endangered

  • -Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhotii)
  • -Asian Giant Tortoise (Manouria emys)
  • -Leith’s Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia leithii)

5. Religion is becoming a numbers game and another disguise for politics: Sadhguru

  • There is sufficient intellect on the planet right now for us to reconsider the fundamentals of religion on this planet. Religion is an inward step. It is something intimate that a human being does within oneself. It is not something that you organise and do on the street. It is a step towards your creator.

India has always been a land of absolute freedom when it comes to matters beyond material. It is from this context that the culture evolved. This is a culture with a multiplicity of thought, belief and seeking. We call this sanatana dharma, which means an eternal law that will always be relevant. You can choose your own god – a man god, woman god, animal god, tree god – whatever you want. This is known as Ishta Devata, a god of your own choice. This is the only culture which allows you this freedom.

Now we have a situation where politicians are openly and proudly calling themselves as ‘Hindu leaders’ or ‘Muslim leaders’ or ‘Christian leaders.’ Religion is becoming a numbers game and another disguise for politics. If this is encouraged or even allowed, there will be organised and unnatural attempts to change the demographic complexion of the nation. Whenever there are such attempts to change the dynamics of the nation’s demographics – religious or otherwise – large-scale violence will erupt. This is threatening our very nationhood.

  • If we fail to handle this without the needed balance, polarisation of the nation on religious grounds will become a widespread and ugly reality, for which we as a nation will pay a heavy price. It is very important that the administration and society at large, particularly the religious and spiritual movements, approach this with sensitivity and long-term vision.

6. Chandrayaan-2 launch delayed, likely to take off only after Oct

  • India’s second mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2, is likely to be launched only in October. The original plan envisaged the launch between April and November with the real target focussed for April.
  • But on February 30, it was stated the lunar mission was not yet ready for an April lift-off and much still needs to be done. If the mission is launched in October, it will mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of the first Indian lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, which lifted off on October 22, 2008.
  • Chandrayaan-2 when launched will set a record. It will be the first lunar mission globally to execute a soft-landing in a particular region of the moon’s south pole, which will be a nailbiting manoeuvre. It will be also be the first mission to have the hyper spectral imager in the infrared region.

7. Public sector banks begin consolidation of overseas operations

  • Public sector lenders have begun to rationalize their overseas operations and are consolidating 35 of these operations as part of the government’s ‘clean and responsible’ banking initiative.
  • All 216 overseas operations are being examined, of which, 69 operations have also been identified for possible consolidation.
  • Since then, state-run Punjab National Bank has also reported a ₹12,700-crore fraud by jeweller Nirav Modi allegedly in connivance with the bank’s staff and officials of overseas branches of other state-owned banks.
  • While non-viable operations in overseas markets will be closed down, operations in the same geography will be consolidated. Further, equity stake in joint ventures that have multiple state-run lenders as partners will also be consolidated.

8. Fear of forfeiture : It is unclear whether the threat of confiscation of property will encourage fugitives to return

Given the apparent ease with which economic offenders flee India and cock a snook at the banking and judicial systems, the proposed law to seize their wealth is undoubtedly a welcome measure. In fact, given the public disquiet over the apparent impunity enjoyed by billionaire fraudsters living in the safety of foreign climes, any new law is likely to be viewed in a positive light. However, its success rides on the slim hope that the threat of confiscation of property will act as a serious deterrent to those seeking to flee or as a big incentive for fugitives to return. But laws deemed draconian, such as the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act, 1976, have not exactly been a success. Experience has shown that disposal of confiscated assets is not easy, especially at a price sufficient to recoup losses or pay off all creditors.

Under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, confiscation is not limited to the proceeds of crime, and extends to any asset owned by an offender, including benami property. Such clauses are liable for legal challenge, especially if there are third party interests and doubts about real ownership. Care must be taken to draft a law that is free from legal infirmities from the point of view of fundamental rights and due process

The convention envisages domestic laws for confiscation of property without a criminal conviction in cases in which the offenders cannot be prosecuted for reasons of death, flight or absence. The Bill is reasonable in that a fugitive offender will cease to be one if he or she appears before court. There is a 180-day window during which the property will remain attached, with a provision for appeal against an order of confiscation.

9. Restore democracy in the Maldives

Maldives turning down India’s invitation to participate in the Indian Ocean naval exercise Milan puts the spotlight on China’s growing influence in the region. The Maldives government cited the ongoing state of emergency in the country as the reason behind its decision. Clearly, New Delhi must rethink its strategy. China’s growing influence in the Maldives and the stronger presence in the Indian Ocean region, including the recent agreement to set up an ocean observation station in the islands, and the $160-million grant by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are red flags.

  • Abdulla Yameen, who removed Maldives’ only democratically elected leader Mohamed Nasheed, has close ties to radical Islam.

India, along with countries such as the United Kingdom, France, United States and Canada, must work towards the restitution of democracy in Maldives, including the release of opposition leaders as ordered by the country’s Supreme Court, and of the judges who got arrested for their pains. Military intervention cannot be the first resort but India must not rule it out, holding it out as an actionable threat. Working with other countries, New Delhi must ensure UN attention on the Maldives situation, pushing for economic sanctions that would undercut Yameen’s support in the country.




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