1. Macron’s India visit: India, France to unveil Pacific cooperation plan

India and France will come up with a joint vision statement on the Indo-Pacific– on the lines of a similar US-India declaration– to coordinate their strategic objectives in the region during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron starting on 9 March.

  • The ambitious blueprint envisions a trilateral naval exercise separately with the United Arab Emirates and Australia, and a logistics agreement with France for the Indian Ocean region that would give India access to French naval bases.
  • A pact between the national security councils of the two countries to protect the security and sanctity of documents pertaining to national security will also be signed after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Macron on March 10 Macron will take part in the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance on March 11. France has offered India 36 more Rafale fighter jets and to build six more advanced stealth submarines in India that will be an upgraded version of the Scorpene submarine.

The term Indo-Pacific has gained currency recently across diplomatic and security circles in the US, Australia, India and Japan as the countries devise ways to deal with an aggressive China in the region.

2. PM launches nutrition mission

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched National Nutrition Mission-2022 (Poshan Mission) to provide the best nutrition to newborns and expanded “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” to every district of the country.

  • Modi asked people to pledge to create an atmosphere of equality for the girl child and to end gender-based discrimination in the country. He said the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” programme was expanded from the existing 161 to 640 districts of the country.

The Poshan Mission  would be a comprehensive project involving Rs 9,000 crore, covering not only nutrition, but all issues related to children.

  • Union Minister for Women & Child Development Maneka Gandhi said the Centre would bring a Bill on curbing women trafficking. A new widow shelter home would be set up in Varanasi on the pattern of Vrindavan.

3. Ockhi was the deadliest storm that hit after ’99 supercyclone

Cyclone Ockhi that struck the Indian coast in the end of November 2017 killed 365 persons, according to information shared by the ministry of home affairs in Parliament this week, making it the deadliest since the Odisha supercyclone of 1999 that claimed around 10,000 lives.

  • Ockhi claimed 203 lives in TN, taking into account those who died and those still missing, and presumed dead. Kerala reported 60 dead and 102 missing, all of whom have now been presumed dead by the state government.
  • Cyclone Phailin that struck the Odisha coast in 2013 attained maximum wind speeds of 215km/ hour while Ockhi reached maximum wind speeds of 185 km/hr. Phailin caused 23 deaths. The 1999 super cyclone in Odisha attained maximum wind speeds of 260km/hr.
  • Under the second phase of the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP), which started in July 2015 and ends in March 2020, six states, including Kerala, are supposed to develop earlywarning dissemination systems for cyclones.
  • According to an audit by the World Bank, which is funding the project, of the ₹158.95cr that is allocated, the state government had spent no money till July 2017. Kerala had not even signed an agreement with Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL), its knowledge partner, in setting up an early warning dissemination system.
  • The other five states who are part of the project, including Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal, haven’t done any better.

4. Lanka president strips PM of law and order post

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Thursday replaced Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Law and Order Minister amidst fresh violence between majority Sinhala Buddhists and minority Muslims in the Kandy district despite imposition of nationwide emergency.

Wickremesinghe’s 11-day tenure as the law and order minister was marred by racial tension in the central district of Kandy since Monday. Muslim-owned businesses and religious sites came under attack from majority Sinhala mobs, forcing the government to enforce curfew. The Sri Lankan government on Wednesday suspended Internet services and blocked access to social networking websites.

5. Solar Alliance meet: India seeks place in the Sun

India is looking for significant gains from the International Solar Alliance(ISA) summit to be held here this weekend which will be attended by not less than 25 heads of government and state. The event, which will be held in the Rashtrapati Bhavan Convention Centre is close to the scale of the India-Africa summit a few years ago. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) has summoned some of its brightest officials from distant countries to handle the protocol and diplomatic details.

  • Since a bulk of the countries who are part of the ISA are from Africa, India has decided to use about $2 billion of the $10 billion line of credit promised to Africa for renewable energy projects in these countries. India is currently identifying a list of projects in the signatory countries — a number of these projects have been asked for by the countries themselves. So MEA will be involved in marrying Indian tech and finance capabilities with specific projects around the world.
  • At the moment, India is looking at four types of solar-powered projects — off-grid power supply hubs, street lighting, irrigation, green buildings, in addition to everyday products like solar cookers etc.

6. Why Andhra Pradesh, Centre can’t agree on special category status

Hours after the Centre ruled out “special status” for Andhra Pradesh, the TDP pulled out its ministers from the NDA government, with its chief Chandrababu Naidu saying he has only been asking for what has been provided for in the AP Reorganisation Act.

The Act, under which the state of Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014, doesn’t mention ‘special category’, but mentions that the Centre would help Andhra Pradesh bridge any resource gap. Apart from the legislation, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in the Rajya Sabha assured that Andhra Pradesh would be granted special category status. But the BJP, which came to power at the Centre in 2014, has been saying that the 14th Finance Commission doesn’t provide for such treatment to Andhra Pradesh.

  • YV Reddy-headed Fourteenth Finance Commission — a body that defines financial relations between the Centre and individual state governments — redefined the financial relationship between the Centre and the states for the five-year period ending 2019-20. The Commission did away with the ‘special category’ status for states, except for the Northeastern and three hill states. Instead, it suggested that the resource gap of each state be filled through ‘tax devolution’, urging the Centre to increase its share of tax revenues to the states from 32% to 42%. If devolution alone could not cover the revenue gap for certain states, the Commission said, the Centre could provide a revenue deficit grant to these states.
  • The Commission stated that Andhra Pradesh would end up as a revenue deficit state, and recommended that the Centre provide a revenue deficit grant for the period of the 14th Finance Commission.
  • If the special category status provision had survived and had been granted to AP, the state would have received funding for Centrally sponsored schemes (CSC) in the 90:10 ratio — with 90% of the funds coming from the Centre as against 60% for normal category states.

7. PNB fraud: The 80:20 gold import controversy

The 80:20 bullion rule has been in the news in recent days, and formed one part of the Union government’s efforts to deflect criticism from its handling of the fraud at the Punjab National Bank (PNB) and turn up the heat on the opposition United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

  • On 21 May 2014, five days after the UPA government was defeated at the polls and five days before the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took over, the UPA took a decision allowing so-called star trading houses (STHs), premier trading houses (PTHs), and units located in special export zones (SEZs) to import gold and sell up to 80% of the imports in the local market.
  • Until then, the rule had been that such firms could only import gold under the condition that all of it would be exported (after converting it to jewellery). The change resulted in a spike in gold imports. In the six months between June 1 and November 30, 2014, gold imports rose to 553 tonnes. Of these imports, almost 60% was accounted for by 13 PTHs and STHs.
  • The 13 trading houses that increased their imports during the period for which the scheme was active are: Rajesh Exports, MD Overseas, Kundan Rice Mills, Kanak Exports, Edelweiss Commodities, Zaveri & Co, Riddhi Siddhi Bullions, Khandwala Enterprise, Jindal Dyechem, Gopal Jewels, Reliance Industries, Gitanjali Gems, and Su-Raj Diamonds.

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