21, March 2017

1.Review of implementation of SEZ Policy (Ministry of Commerce & Industry)

Source: PIB

Ongoing review and reform, as necessary, of Government policy and procedure is inherent to Public Policy.

The Government, on the basis of inputs/suggestions received from stakeholders on the policy and operational framework of the SEZ Scheme, periodically reviews the policy and operational framework of SEZs and takes necessary measures so as to facilitate speedy and effective implementation of SEZ policy.  Whenever, SEZ policy is reviewed, efforts are made to maintain a level playing field for Domestic Tariff Area industries vis-a-vis SEZ units/Developers.

The following initiatives have been taken in recent years for implementation of the SEZ policy in the country and resolve the issues therein:

  • Minimum Land Area requirement for setting up of new SEZs has been reduced to 50% for Multi-product and Sector-specific SEZs.
  • Sectoral broad-banding has been introduced to encompass similar / related areas under the same Sector.
  • A new sector ‘agro-based food processing’ sector has been introduced to encourage agro-based industries in SEZs.
  • Dual use of facilities like Social & Commercial infrastructure by SEZs and non-SEZs entities has been allowed in order to make SEZ operations more viable.
  • Online processing of various activities relating to SEZ Developers and Units has been introduced for improving ease of doing business.

SEZ in India

This policy intended to make SEZs an engine for economic growth supported by quality infrastructure complemented by an attractive fiscal package, both at the Centre and the State level, with the minimum possible regulations.

SEZs in India functioned from 1.11.2000 to 09.02.2006 under the provisions of the Foreign Trade Policy and fiscal incentives were made effective through the provisions of relevant statutes.

The main objectives of the SEZ Act are:

(a) generation of additional economic activity

(b) promotion of exports of goods and services;

(c) promotion of investment from domestic and foreign sources;

(d) creation of employment opportunities;

(e) development of infrastructure facilities;

It is expected that this will trigger a large flow of foreign and domestic investment in SEZs, in infrastructure and productive capacity, leading to generation of additional economic activity and creation of employment opportunities.

The SEZ Act 2005 envisages key role for the State Governments in Export Promotion and creation of related infrastructure.

The SEZ Rules provide for:

” Simplified procedures for development, operation, and maintenance of the Special Economic Zones and for setting up units and conducting business in SEZs;

  • Single window clearance for setting up of an SEZ;
  • Single window clearance for setting up a unit in a Special Economic Zone;
  • Single Window clearance on matters relating to Central as well as State Governments;
  • Simplified compliance procedures and documentation with an emphasis on self certification
  • Approval mechanism and Administrative set up of SEZs

Approval mechanism

The developer submits the proposal for establishment of SEZ to the concerned State Government. The State Government has to forward the proposal with its recommendation within 45 days from the date of receipt of such proposal to the Board of Approval. The applicant also has the option to submit the proposal directly to the Board of Approval.

Chairman : Secretary, Department of Commerce

Once an SEZ has been approved by the Board of Approval and Central Government has notified the area of the SEZ, units are allowed to be set up in the SEZ. All the proposals for setting up of units in the SEZ are approved at the Zone level by the Approval Committee consisting of Development Commissioner, Customs Authorities and representatives of State Governmen.

2.Concessions under APTA (Ministry of Commerce)

Source: PIB

The Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA, formerly the Bangkok Agreement) is an Agreement signed since 1975.

The current membership of APTA consists of six countries, namely, Bangladesh, China, India, Lao PDR, Republic of Korea, and Sri Lanka.  (NO USA)

Key facts:

  • Three Rounds of tariff concessions have already been exchanged among the member countries till 2003. The tariff concessions being granted to APTA member States, on Margin of Preference basis, are being expanded under the fourth round of exchange of tariff concessions.
  • The APTA Ministerial Council in its meeting held on 13th January, 2017 has formally approved the implementation of the fourth round of exchange of tariff concessions.
  • APTA is a preferential treaty based on Margin of Preference.
  • Concessions on tariff lines offered by China and Korea, inter-alia, cover certain textiles and chemical products, which are likely to benefit the Indian exporters.
  • Some of items on which concessions have been offered by China and Korea include certain organic and inorganic chemicals, knitted and crocheted fabrics, and articles of apparel and clothing accessories etc.


  • APTA aims to promote economic development through the adoption of mutually beneficial trade liberalization measures that will contribute to intra-regional trade expansion and provides for economic integration through coverage of merchandise goods, services, investment and trade facilitation.
  • Open to all developing member countries, APTA is a truly region-wide trade agreement spanning East and South Asia, with potential to expand to other sub-regions, including Central Asia and the Pacific.
  • APTA is the first plurilateral agreement among the developing countries in the region to adopt common operational procedures for certification and verification of the origin of goods and it has the longest effective implementation period amongst the trade agreements in the entire Asia-Pacific.
  • Notably, APTA is the only operational trade agreement linking China and India, two of the fastest growing markets in the world, and other major markets such as the Republic of Korea.

3.Measurement of Emissions

Source: PIB

  • Emission Intensity is calculated by dividing ‘Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions’ by ‘Total Gross Domestic Product (GDP)’ of a country.
  • India has committed to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • Goal of reducing Emissions intensity of GDP allows a country to reduce its emissions even while its GDP grows.
  • The NDC was framed by adopting an inclusive process of consultations with key Ministries, State Governments, civil society organisations, think-tanks, and technical and academic institutions. Each country has chosen its own metric for climate action. Many other developing countries also use Emission Intensity of GDP for the purpose.
  • Each Mission under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is independently anchored by respective Ministries in-charge of implementing the Mission.
  • Following the Paris Agreement, the Missions continue to contribute to the declared goal of reduction of emissions intensity of GDP as also other sustainable development goals outlined in the NDC.

4.Bharatiya Mahila Bank (BMB) to be merged with State Bank of India (SBI)

Source: PIB

To ensure greater banking services outreach to a larger number of women, at a faster pace

Union Government is committed to enhance the access to financial services to the population at large and women in particular

Key facts:

  • The objectives of affordable credit to women as well as propagation of women-centric products need to be quickly achieved through a wider network and lower cost of funds.
  • The decision to merge BMB with SBI has been taken in view of the advantage of the large network of SBI among other things. In the three years since BMB was established, it has extended loans of Rs 192 crores to women borrowers, while the SBI group has provided loans of about Rs.46,000 crore to women borrowers.
  • Out of the total workforce of around 2 lakh employees in SBI, 22% are women. SBI group already has 126 exclusive all-women branches across the country while BMB has only seven. The proportion of administrative and managerial cost in BMB is much higher to reach the same coverage. For the same cost, a much higher volume of loans to women could be given through SBI.

The Union Government is committed to enhance the access to financial services to the population at large and women in particular.  Under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana, preference is given to women for overdraft facility.  Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana had 73% women borrowers in the previous financial year.

5.International Diamond Conference “Mines to Market 2017”

Source: PIB

India is the largest cut and polished diamond manufacturer in the world. 93 % of its production is exported

Key facts:

  • The Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India hosted the International Diamond Conference.
  • The conference was held with an objective of bringing together the leading Miners, Diamantaires, Retailers, Bankers and Analysts from across the globe on a platform to discuss the supply and demand issues faced by the Global Diamond Industry.
  • The conference witnessed Ministers from mining countries, delegates from Mining Companies, heads of Retail and Luxury brands, Int. Diamond heads of various banks and other prominent personalities of the Diamond industry.


  • The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) was set up by the Ministry of Commerce and industry, Government of India (GoI) in 1966.
  • It was one of several Export Promotion Councils (EPCs) launched by the Indian Government, to boost the country’s export thrust, when India’s post-Independence economy began making forays in the international markets.
  • Since 1998, the GJEPC has been granted autonomous status. The GJEPC is the apex body of the gems & jewellery industry and today it represents over 6,000 exporters in the sector.

6.Green nod for Neutrino project suspended

Source: The Hindu

The neutrino project is proposed to be a world-class underground facility to study fundamental particles called neutrinos

The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal on Monday suspended the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) that was to come up in Theni and asked the project proponent to make a fresh application.

Arguments over suspension:

The Tribunal was informed that the Madhikettan Shola National Park in Idukki district of Kerala was just about 4.9 km from the proposed project site and the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border was just a kilometre away, making it a Category ‘A’ project


  • In this case, the MoEF had called it a Category ‘B’ project, for which an Environmental Impact Assessment is not necessary, but the department processed it as an additional measure.
  • However, under the guidelines laid down by the Ministry, any project that falls within 5 km from an inter-State boundary or within a notified national park or a sanctuary has to be considered a Category ‘A’ project that involves a number of processes before an EC is granted

Way ahead:

Since the proposed project is near a national park, the INO has also been asked to get clearance from the National Board for Wildlife Is within 10 km from the boundary of areas which are protected under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972


  • The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) Project is a multi-institutional effort aimed at building a world-class underground laboratory with a rock cover of approximately 1200 m for non-accelerator based high energy and nuclear physics research in India.
  • When completed, the main magnetised iron calorimieter (ICAL) experiment include the world’s most massive magnet, four times larger than the 12,500-tonne magnet in the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

The project includes: 

Construction of an underground laboratory and associated surface facilities at Pottipuram in Bodi West hills of Theni District of Tamil Nadu.

  • Construction of a Iron Calorimeter (ICAL) detector for studying neutrinos, consisting of 50000 tons of magnetized iron plates arranged in stacks with gaps in between where Resistive Plate Chambers (RPCs) would be inserted as active detectors, the total number of 2m X 2m RPCs being around 29000.
  • Setting up of National Centre for High Energy Physics at Madurai, for the operation and maintenance of the underground laboratory, human resource development and detector R&D along with its applications.

INO being built for?

  • The initial goal of INO is to study neutrinos.
  • Neutrinos are fundamental particles belonging to the lepton family. They come in three flavours, one associated with electrons and the others with their heavier cousins the muon and the Tau.
  • According to standard model of particle physics, they are mass less.
  • However recent experiments indicate that these charge-neutral fundamental particles, have finite but small mass which is unknown.
  • They oscillate between flavours as they propagate. Determination of neutrino masses and mixing parameters is one of the most important open problems in physics today.
  • The ICAL detector is designed to address some of these key open problems in a unique way. Over the years this underground facility is expected to develop into a full-fledged underground science laboratory for other studies in physics, biology, geology, hydrology etc.

7.Ganga, Yamuna termed ‘living persons’

Source: The Hindu

In a first in the country, the Uttarakhand High Court has declared that the rivers Ganga and Yamuna were “living persons.”

On March 15, New Zealand river Whanganui became the first in the world to be granted a legal human status.

Key facts:

The Ganga and Yamuna, all their tributaries, streams are declared as juristic or legal persons or living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person in order to preserve and conserve river Ganga and Yamuna.

Recognizing the rivers as a living entity grants them new found legal identity and all rights laid out in the Constitution of India.

The two rivers thus have the right to be legally protected and not be harmed/destroyed. They can also be parties to disputes. The rights, experts say, can be used to protect the interests of the rivers.

What necessitated this move?

  • Both the rivers have been in a state of neglect and even though several government initiatives, including the Centre’s Namami Gange programme, are aimed at restoring their health, not much has been achieved yet.
  • Over 1500 million litres of raw sewage is discharged into the Ganga every day. This joins 500 million litres of industrial waste dumped by more than 700 highly polluting industries located along it.

Way ahead:

  • The court ordered that the Director of the Namami Gange programme, the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary, and the Advocate-General of Uttarakhand would serve as “parents” for the rivers and would be the human faces to “protect, conserve and preserve” the rivers and their tributaries.
  • The court has also directed the central government to constitute the Ganga Management Board within eight weeks to look into the issue of cleaning and maintaining the river.

8.Norway is the world’s happiest country

Source: The Hindu

The World Happiness Report is a measure of happiness published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

  • The World Happiness Report 2017 was released by the United Nations on the International Day of Happiness. It is the fifth such report since the first was published in 2012.
  • Norway occupies the top position. Rounding out the top 10 were Finland, in fifth place, the Netherlands (6), Canada (7), New Zealand (8), and Australia and Sweden tied for 9th.

Key facts:

  • Norway occupies the top position. It surged from fourth place in last year’s UN assessment all the way to the top spot. Other top countries on the list included Nordic neighbours Denmark and Iceland, as well as nearby Switzerland.
  • All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.
  • The entire top 10 were affluent, developed nations, although money is not the only ingredient for happiness. In fact, among the wealthier countries the differences in happiness levels had a lot to do with differences in mental health, physical health and personal relationships: the biggest single source of misery is mental illness.
  • Another major country, China, has made major economic strides in recent years. But its people are not happier than 25 years ago. China ranked 79th in the study of 155 countries.
  • India is ranked at 122 out of 155 countries, four notches below its previous rank of 118. India was behind the majority of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) nations, apart from war-ravaged Afghanistan, that stood at 141.
  • Among the eight Saarc nations, Pakistan was at 80th position, Nepal stood at 99, Bhutan at 97, Bangladesh at 110 while Sri Lanka was at 120. However, Maldives did not figure in the World Happiness Report.

  1. New Delhi, Kabul talks soon to boost trade

Source: The Hindu

India will soon hold talks with Afghanistan on ways to boost bilateral trade and investment. This move is also aimed at mounting pressure on Islamabad to facilitate trouble-free transit of goods from India to Afghanistan through Pakistan (Wagah-Attari route).

Significance of transit through Pakistan:

This is to help in the development of Afghanistan which is a land-locked and Least Developed Country (LDC) as well as to boost trade and investment in South Asia through better regional connectivity. It will also help India to improve trade ties with Central Asian nations.

In the absence of transit route through Pakistan, India depends on other countries, including Iran, to send goods to Afghanistan even though it increases time and costs for Indian exporters.


  • Thanks to the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), Afghanistan can use Pakistan’s territory for transit trade while Pakistan’s goods can move through Afghanistan to nations bordering Afghanistan. However, Islamabad has not agreed to allow using APTTA for goods to be transported from India to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s territory (via the Wagah-Attari route).
  • India is keen to join APTTA and Afghanistan has backed India’s readiness to be an APTTA member but Pakistan has so far rejected such a proposal.

Way ahead:

  • In this regard, the ‘India-Afghanistan Joint Working Group on Trade, Commerce and Investment’ meeting will discuss ways to make use of the United Nations TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers or International Road Transport) Convention to boost trade between India and Afghanistan through Pakistan.
  • The TIR Convention facilitates trade and international road transport by permitting customs-sealed vehicles and containers to transit nations without them being generally inspected at border crossings. Pakistan and Afghanistan are also ‘contracting parties’ to the TIR Convention.

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