Current Affairs summary 2 Sept

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1. Solar installations in India down 52% in second quarter of 2018: report

• Solar installations in India plunged 52% to 1,599 MW during the second quarter of 2018, mainly due to uncertainties around trade cases and module price fluctuations, says a report.

• According to Mercom India Research’s ‘Q2 2018 India Solar Market Update’, the installations stood at 3,344 MW during the first quarter.

• The drop in solar installations in Q2 2018 after four consecutive quarters of growth was expected and can be attributed to uncertainties around trade cases, module price fluctuations, and PPA renegotiations after record low bids, which contributed to a slowdown in tenders and auctions in 2017.

• The report also noted that the installations during the quarter under review were down nearly 21% in comparison to 2,025 MW installed in the corresponding quarter of 2017. During the second quarter of 2018, large-scale installations totaled 1,184 MW as compared to 2,954 MW in the previous quarter and 1,800 MW in the corresponding quarter of previous year.

• Also, rooftop installations accounted for 415 MW during the quarter under review as against 390 MW during the previous quarter and 225 MW in second quarter of 2017, according to the report.

• Rooftop installations have been growing robustly so far but are expected to slow down until module prices decrease after the safeguard duty impact wears off. Rooftop is extremely cost sensitive and an increase in project costs will slow down the installations.

• Cumulative solar installed capacity totaled 24.6 GW at the end of the second quarter of 2018 with large-scale solar projects accounting for 90% and rooftop solar making up the remaining 10%.

• Mercom India Research is also forecasting solar installations of approximately 8.3 GW in 2018 with some upside, if the fourth quarter commissioning stay on schedule.


2. India to tell US its decision to go ahead with S-400 deal with Russia

• India is expected to convey to the US during the upcoming ‘two-plus-two’ talks that it is going ahead with the Rs 40,000 crore deal with Russia to procure a batch of S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems, notwithstanding the American sanctions on military transactions with Moscow, official sources said.

• They said India is likely to seek a waiver from the Trump administration for the mega deal, citing its requirement for the missile system in the wake of the evolving regional security architecture as well as considering its close defense ties with Russia.

• The US has imposed military sanctions against Russia under the stringent CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) law for its annexation of Crimea as well as alleged meddling in the American presidential election in 2016.

• CAATSA mandates the Donald Trump administration to punish entities and countries engaging in significant transaction with the defence or intelligence establishment of Russia.

• Randall Schriver, the Pentagon’s senior official handling issues relating to Asia, said Thursday that the US cannot guarantee that India will be exempted from sanctions if it purchases weapons and defence systems from Russia.

• The US has been indicating that it does not want India to finalize the deal with Russia.

• A new US defence legislation authorizes President Donald Trump to exempt countries from the military sanctions.

• The first edition of the much-awaited 2+2 dialogue on strategic affairs between the US and India will take place here on September 6 during which a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interests will be discussed.

• Under the new framework finalised last year, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will hold talks with Secretary of State Mike R Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis from the US.

• Russia and India are likely to announce the deal before the annual summit between prime minister Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in October.

• There has been mounting concerns in India over the US sanctions against Russian defence majors including Rosoboronexport as billions of dollars of military purchases may be impacted because of the punitive measure.

• India wants to procure the long-range missile systems to tighten its air defence mechanism, particularly along the nearly 4,000-km-long Sino-India border. S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system.

• China was the first foreign buyer to seal a government-to-government deal with Russia in 2014 to procure the lethal missile system and Moscow has already started delivery of unknown number of the S-400 missile systems to Beijing.

• The S-400 is an upgraded version of the S-300 systems. The missile system, manufactured by Almaz-Antey, has been in service in Russia since 2007.


3. Rule push for e-pharmacies

• The Union health ministry has decided to regulate online sale of medicines across India, setting rules for a channel that health officials say will improve patients’ access to medicines but faces opposition from brick-and-mortar retail chemists.

• A ministry notification released this week specifies the registration requirements for e-pharmacy outlets. It stipulates the rules governing adherence to and the preservation of prescriptions while allowing online sale of all medicines except narcotics, psychotropic drugs, tranquillisers and other drugs classified under Schedule X.

• An e-pharmacy portal will need to keep information about customers and prescriptions confidential but could be called on to furnish such data to the central or state governments for public health objectives. The data generated or mirrored through e-pharmacy portals must not be sent or stored outside India.

• “Online sales are expected to improve patients’ access to medicines. Stocks of specific medicines may not always be available with neighbourhood chemists, and aged people may find it difficult to go to chemists’ shops,” said Eshwara Reddy, Drug Controller General of India, who heads the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, the apex regulatory agency for medicines. “Online transactions will also be easier to track and monitor.”

• Some health officials believe that competition through online sales may also help lower the retail costs of medicines if the competitors decide to give up slices of their own margins.

• The proposed e-pharmacy rules – open for public comments for 45 days – will require e-pharmacy portals that receive prescriptions to verify the details of patients and doctors, and dispense drugs as instructed on the prescriptions. The portals will need to preserve the prescriptions.

• India’s pharmaceutical market is expected to grow annually at nearly 16 per cent to reach $55 billion by 2020 from $30 billion in 2015, a report from the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Frost and Sullivan has predicted.

• The report also predicted that the e-pharmacy model could account for 5 to 15 per cent of total pharmaceutical sales in India, largely by “enhancing adherence and access to medicines” for underserved populations.

• However, the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), an association representing over 600,000 brick-and-mortar retail pharmacy shops and drugstores across the country, says it is opposed to online sales of prescription medicines.

• “How will e-pharmacy portals be able to verify the authenticity of either patients, medical practitioners, or prescriptions?” asked Suresh Gupta, former general secretary of the AIOCD, which says online sales without reliable verification mechanisms may facilitate the illegal sale of prescription drugs.

• Sections of pharmacology experts have also worried about interactions between two or more drugs. “About 8 per cent of all adverse effects result from interactions between drugs taken at the same time,” said Supriya Malhotra, a professor of pharmacology at the NHL Municipal Medical College, Ahmedabad.

• “Drug interactions are something that doctors themselves should keep in mind before prescribing drugs – the need to ask patients what else they are taking,” Malhotra said. “There is commercial software available today that can quickly caution doctors about potential interactions. Online pharmacy outlets should also ask patients about other drugs they might be taking.”


4. Number of Income Tax Returns reached 5.42 cr, grew by 71 percent

• The Income Tax Department announced that number of returns filers, up to August 31 has gone up by 71 percent.

• From September 1, anybody filing return will have to pay Rs 5000 as penalty and this amount will go up to Rs 10,000 if return is filed after December 31. This is the first year of new penalty system.

• The department said that the total number of ITRs (Income Tax Returns) e-filed up to August 31 was 5.42 crore as against 3.17 crore up to August 31,2017 showing an increase of 70.86 percent. The total number of e-returns of salaried Individual taxpayers filed increased to 3.37 crore from 2.19 crore returns registering in increase of almost 54 percent.

• The department mentioned that signified growth was witnessed in the number of returns e-filed by persons availing the benefit of Presumptive Tax, with 1.17 crore returns having been filed 14.93 lakh returns upto 31st August, 2017 registering a massive growth of 681.69 percent.

• The increase in the number of returns reveals a marked improvement in the level of voluntary compliance of taxpayers which can be attributed to several factors, including the impact of demonetization, enhanced persuasion and education of taxpayers as also the impending provision of late fee which would be effective on late filing of returns.


5. UIDAI relaxes minimum Aadhaar enrolment targets

• In a breather to banks, the UIDAI extended the deadline for banks to do minimum Aadhaar enrolments and updations in identified branches.

• The UIDAI has asked banks to ensure that at least eight enrolments or updations are carried out daily in each stipulated branch from November 1, 2018, to avoid financial disincentives to be applicable from July 2018.

• On June 1, the UIDAI had said that stipulated bank branches with Aadhaar facility will have to ensure at least eight enrolments or updations in each branch daily from July 1, 2018, 12 per day per branch from October 1, and to 16 from January 1, 2019 onwards. The authority had outlined that non-compliance would attract financial disincentives.

• Under the new deadline, the banks will have to ensure that minimum enrolment or updation be raised to 12 from January 1, 2019 and 16 from April 1, 2019, according to the UIDAI directive.

• The Aadhaar-issuing the target of minimum 8 Aadhaar enrolment/updation per day per branch in the month of November 2018 will be exempted from financial disincentives up to October 2018.

• The deadline and targets had been relaxed after certain banks flagged difficulties faced by them in achieving the targets in view of natural calamities in Kerala and some other states, as well as technical problems in rolling out the enrolment facility.

• The banks have been mandated to set up Aadhaar enrolment and updation facilities within their premises in one out of every 10 branches.

• Banks not complying with minimum targets will be required to pay for UIDAI’s authentication and eKYC services, it has now warned.

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Hemant Bhatt

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