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06 Dec, 2019

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New norms to make social media more accountable


Syllabus subtopic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

News: The government said that it was working on rules to mandate social media companies to identify and remove child sexual abuse material, rape images and content promoting terrorism without affecting privacy.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the significance of the move and challenges in its implementation, debate between online regulation and privacy

About the govt’s move

The government has invited public comments on its draft of amendments to the Intermediary Rules 2011 and has received public inputs on the same.

The amendments inter alia propose that intermediaries should proactively identify and remove child sexual abuse material, rape/gang­rape imagery and contents promoting terrorism without compromising accuracy or privacy using technology­based tools and mechanism. The rules are presently being finalised.

Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000, empowers the government to block any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above.

Existing regulations and misuse:

  • In India, social media platforms already come under the purview of the Information Technology (IT) Act, the ‘intermediaries guidelines’ that were notified under the IT Act in 2011 and the Indian Penal Code.
  • Under existing laws, social media channels are already required to take down content if they are directed to do so by a court or law enforcement.
  • There are also reporting mechanisms on these platforms, where they exercise discretion to ascertain whether a reported post is violating community guidelines and needs to be taken down.
  • These, however, have been reported to be arbitrary – many posts on body positivity and menstruation, for instance, have been taken down in the past while other explicit imagery continues to be allowed.
  • Many of the existing regulations themselves are “dangerously close to censorship and may have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, which is why cases are being fought on those in courts.”
  • Another problem of a lot of regulatory measures is the vagueness of language which is exploited by state agencies to behave in a repressive way.

Need for regulations:

The speed and reach of social media has meant that subversive rumours and fake news get aired with impunity. This has resulted in serious law and order problems. In India, this phenomenon has assumed dangerous proportions. Fake news on WhatsApp has led to lynchings and communal flare-ups in many parts of the country. This menace needs to be curbed.

Challenges before the government:

Too stringent a policy of policing social media could violate the individual’s right to privacy.

It’s not easy to force Facebook Inc., the owner of WhatsApp, to give up on the app’s unique selling proposition to the user of complete end-to-end confidentiality.

Way ahead:

Any conversation on additional regulation of social media brings up concerns about privacy and surveillance.

Therefore, any bid at regulating expression online has to be proportional and concrete with adequate redressal mechanisms and without any blanket provisions.

Source: The Hindu

OPEC, allies agree to deepen oil output cuts


Syllabus subtopic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India's interests, Indian diaspora.

News: OPEC and allies led by Russia agreed one of the deepest output cuts this decade to prevent oversupply in a deal that will apply for the first three months of 2020.

Prelims and Mains focus: about OPEC, its members and its importance for India’s oil demand, OPEC+


The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is meeting to discuss policy in Vienna. On Friday OPEC will meet with Russia and other producers, a group known as OPEC+.

Existing supply curbs of 1.2 million barrels per day, aimed at supporting oil prices and preventing excess supply, are set to expire in March.

A panel of energy ministers including Saudi Arabia and Russia had recommended OPEC+ deepen the cuts by 500,000 bpd (barrels per day). A cut of 1.7 million bpd would amount to 1.7% of global supply.

About the time framc

Cuts would last through the first quarter of 2020, a shorter timeframe than suggested by some OPEC ministers, who have called for extending cuts until June or December 2020.

OPEC+ has agreed voluntary supply cuts since 2017 to counter booming output from the shale fields of the United States, which has become the world's biggest producer.

Challenges faced by OPEC

OPEC's actions in the past have angered U.S. President Donald Trump, but Trump has said little about OPEC in recent months. That might change if oil and gasoline prices rise ahead of the U.S. presidential election set for November 2020.

OPEC sources have said Riyadh was pressing fellow members Iraq and Nigeria to improve their compliance with quotas, which could provide an additional reduction of up to 400,000 bpd.

Washington has forced an even steeper reduction in supply through sanctions on OPEC members Iran and Venezuela aimed at choking both countries' oil export revenue.

Producers face another year of rising output from the United States along with other non-OPEC producers Brazil and Norway.

With a weaker U.S. dollar, improving economic data and OPEC aggressively managing supply, this should ensure a $60-$65 Brent oil price in the seasonally weak period of next year.

OPEC's actions have supported oil prices at around $50-$75 per barrel over the past year.


Non-OPEC member Russia had previously opposed extending or deepening cuts as its companies are arguing that reducing output during winter months amid low temperatures damages the fields.

Saudi Arabia was more keen on reducing output as the kingdom needs higher oil prices to support its budget revenue and the initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco.

About OPEC

  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a permanent, intergovernmental Organization, created at the Baghdad Conference on September 10–14, 1960, by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

  • The five Founding Members were later joined by ten other Members: Qatar (1961) – terminated its membership in January 2019; Indonesia (1962) – suspended its membership in January 2009, reactivated it in January 2016, but decided to suspend it again in November 2016; Libya (1962); United Arab Emirates (1967); Algeria (1969); Nigeria (1971); Ecuador (1973) – suspended its membership in December 1992, but reactivated it in October 2007; Angola (2007); Gabon (1975) - terminated its membership in January 1995 but rejoined in July 2016; Equatorial Guinea (2017); and Congo (2018).

  • OPEC had its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in the first five years of its existence. This was moved to Vienna, Austria, on September 1, 1965.

OPEC’s objective:

OPEC's objective is to co-ordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers; an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations; and a fair return on capital to those investing in the industry.


OPEC plus refers to OPEC’s cooperation with non-OPEC oil producers to effect production cuts.

In an attempt to cut production and raise oil prices, OPEC came together and agreed on a production cut where each member country would cut production by a small amount, a couple percent in most cases.

In addition to including OPEC countries in this production cut, OPEC invited non-OPEC nations, mainly Russia and former U.S.S.R states like Azerbaijan that are still heavily influenced by Russia. OPEC was able to reach a consensus for production cuts not just between OPEC members but also for a handful of non-OPEC nations just increasing the total amount of oil production being cut and presumably making their efforts more effective.

In June 2018, Russia agreed towards 100 per cent compliance with oil output production cuts.

Source: Livemint

India’s forex reserves cross $450 billion for the first time

GS-III : Economic Issues Terminology

India’s forex reserves cross $450 billion for the first time

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

News: The country’s foreign exchange reserves crossed the $450­billion mark for the first time ever on the back of strong inflows which enabled the central bank to buy dollars from the market, thus checking any sharp appreciation of the rupee.

Prelims and Mains focus: About quantitative easing, forex reserve, its composition and significance


During the taper tantrums of 2013, (or the collective reactionary panic after the U.S. Federal Reserve said it would apply the brakes on its Quantitative Easing programme), India’s foreign exchange reserves fell to $274.8 billion in September of 2013, prompting the Centre and RBI to unleash measures to attract inflows. It has been a steady rise in the reserves since then, with $175 billion added in the last six years.

What does this mean?

India’s foreign exchange reserves were at $451.7 billion on December 3, 2019 — an increase of $38.8 billion over end­March 2019.

At $451.7 billion, the country’s import cover is now over 11 months. The rise in foreign exchange reserves will give the central bank the firepower to act against any sharp depreciation of the rupee, currency.

The Reserve Bank has always maintained that it intervenes in the foreign exchange market to curb volatility and does not target a particular level of the exchange rate.

Foreign investment

Net foreign direct investment rose to $20.9 billion in the first half of 2019­20 from $17 billion a year ago while net foreign portfolio investment was $8.8 billion in April­November 2019 as against net outflows of $14.9 billion in the same period last year.

Net investment by FPIs under the voluntary retention route has amounted to $6.3 billion since March 11, 2019.

Why the Foreign Exchange Reserves frequently fluctuate?

The Foreign Exchange Reserves are expressed in terms of the US dollars are subject to variations due to the appreciation/depreciation of non-US currencies such as the euro, pound and yen held in the reserves.

The components of India’s FOREX Reserves include:

  1. Foreign currency assets (FCAs)
  2. Gold Reserves
  3. Special Drawing Rights (SDRs)
  4. RBI’s Reserve position with International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Note: FCAs constitute largest component of Indian Forex Reserves and are expressed in US dollar terms.

Differences Between Helicopter Money and QE

Helicopter money is a theoretical and unorthodox monetary policy tool that central banks use to stimulate economies. Economist Milton Friedman introduced the framework for helicopter money in 1969, but former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke popularized it in 2002. This policy should theoretically be used in a low-interest-rate environment when an economy's growth remains weak. Helicopter money involves the central bank or central government supplying large amounts of money to the public, as if the money was being distributed or scattered from a helicopter.

Contrary to the concept of using helicopter money, central banks use quantitative easing to increase the money supply and lower interest rates by purchasing government or other financial securities from the market to spark economic growth. Unlike with helicopter money, which involves the distribution of printed money to the public, central banks use quantitative easing to create money and then purchase assets using the printed money. QE does not have a direct impact on the public, while helicopter money is made directly available to consumers to increase consumer spending.

Source: The Hindu

RBI lays down guidelines for payments banks’ SFB licence

GS-III : Economic Issues Banking

RBI lays down guidelines for payments banks’ SFB licence

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

News: Payments banks willing to convert themselves into small finance banks (SFBs) can apply for such a licence only after five years of operations, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in the final guidelines on on-tap licensing for SFBs.

Prelims and Mains focus: About Payment banks, small finance banks and their significance in financial inclusion, about CRILC


Existing payments banks (PBs), which are controlled by residents and have completed five years of operations, are also eligible for conversion into small finance banks after complying with all legal and regulatory requirements of various authorities and if they conform to these guidelines.

The minimum capital for setting up an SFB has been mandated at ?200 crore, the RBI said, adding for primary (urban) co­operative banks (UCBs), which wish to become SFBs, the initial requirement of net worth will be ?100 crore, which will have to be increased to ?200 crore within five years from the date of commencement of business.

About the guidelines

To reduce the concentration risk in the exposures of primary (urban) co­operative banks and to further strengthen the role of UCBs in promoting financial inclusion, certain regulations will be amended.

The guidelines would primarily relate to exposure norms for single and group/interconnected borrowers, promotion of financial inclusion, priority sector lending, etc. A draft circular proposing the changes will be issued shortly.

The banking regulator also added that it decided to bring UCBs with assets of ?500 crore and above, under the reporting framework of the Central Repository of Information on Large Credits (CRILC).

Note: to know about Central Repository of Information on Large Credits (CRILC) framework, click on the link below


Source: The Hindu

In a surprise, RBI keeps interest rates unchanged

GS-III : Economic Issues Banking

In a surprise, RBI keeps interest rates unchanged

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

News: The RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) unanimously decided to keep the key policy rate unchanged for the first time in 2019, as it worried about the rising inflation and felt that more time was needed for the impact of past rate cuts and more clarity on the fiscal policy and price fronts.

Prelims and Mains focus: About Monetary Policy Committee, repo rate, MCLR, various interventions by the RBI to sustain growth

Further action was taken by RBI

Unveiling the fifth bi-monthly monetary policy, the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) policy panel also sharply slashed its gross domestic product (GDP) growth estimates for fiscal 2019-20 to 5 per cent from 6.1 per cent earlier, citing weak domestic demand, a further slowdown in global economic activity and geopolitical tensions. The government had last week said the GDP growth in September 2019 quarter had plunged to 4.5 per cent, the lowest since the three months ended March 2013.

While the decision to keep the repo rate at 5.15 per cent was unexpected, the MPC said it will “continue with the accommodative stance as long as it is necessary to revive growth, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target”. An accommodative stance typically means that the MPC will cut rates whenever it finds the space available to do so.

However, the RBI indicated there is monetary policy space for future action after considering the fiscal measures in the Budget and more clarity on inflation.

Inflation targeting is the MPC’s “primary mandate”. While the RBI had cut repo rates by 135 basis points (bps) in five policy reviews in 2019, the one-year median marginal cost of funds-based lending rate (MCLR) has declined by only 49 bps. The weighted average lending rate (WALR) on fresh rupee loans sanctioned by banks declined by only 44 bps.

The MPC raised its inflation projection for the second half of the current financial year to 4.17-5.1 per cent from 3.5-3.7 per cent earlier. Under the RBI’s inflation targeting mandate, the MPC is supposed to keep headline inflation within a 2-6 per cent range, but it has typically targeted the midpoint of 4 per cent.

Concerns of various stakeholders

The MPC’s decision to pause surprised the markets and bankers, as they had expected a 25 bps cut thanks to GDP growth plunging to 4.5 per cent in September quarter. Other high frequency indicators such as core sector output for October, which contracted 5.8 per cent, and November auto sales point to sluggish demand.

In October, consumer price inflation rose to a 16-month high of 4.62 per cent. While most economists expected the MPC to look through this rise as transient, the MPC said that “the upsurge in prices of vegetables is likely to continue in immediate months.” It also pointed to “incipient price pressures seen in other food items such as milk, pulses, and sugar are likely to be sustained, with implications for the trajectory of food inflation.”

The RBI panel also indicated that various high frequency indicators suggest that domestic and external demand conditions have remained weak. “Based on the early results, the business expectations index of the Reserve Bank’s industrial outlook survey indicates a marginal pickup in business sentiments in Q4 (January-March),” the MPC statement said.

The RBI Governor said the monetary policy easing since February 2019 and the government measures “are expected to revive sentiment and spur domestic demand.” The RBI expects growth to pick up in the first half of fiscal 2020-21 at 5.9-6.3 per cent.

The MPC also said it was waiting for more insights from the forthcoming Union Budget.

Addressing a press conference. The RBI said most banks had linked their lending rates to the policy repo rate of the Reserve Bank.

Monetary Policy Committee (MPC)

  • The Monetary Policy Committee of India is responsible for fixing the benchmark interest rate in India.
  • The meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee are held at least 4 times a year and it publishes its decisions after each such meeting.
  • The committee comprises six members – three officials of the Reserve Bank of India and three external members nominated by the Government of India.
  • Decisions are taken by majority with the Governor having the casting vote in case of a tie.
  • The members need to observe a “silent period” seven days before and after the rate decision for “utmost confidentiality”.

Composition of MPC:

  1. Governor of the Reserve Bank of India – Chairperson, ex officio
  2. Deputy Governor of the Bank, in charge of Monetary Policy—Member, ex officio
  3. One officer of the Reserve Bank of India to be nominated by the Central Board – Member
  4. The other three members are nominated by the Government.


Marginal Cost of Funds based Lending Rate (MCLR) is the minimum lending rate below which a bank is not permitted to lend. RBI can give authorization for the same in exceptional cases.

MCLR (Marginal Cost of funds based Lending Rate) replaced the earlier base rate system to determine the lending rates for commercial banks. RBI implemented MCLR on 1 April 2016 to determine rates of interests for loans. It is an internal reference rate for banks to determine the interest they can levy on loans. For this, they take into account the additional or incremental cost of arranging additional rupee for a prospective buyer.

The Outcome of MCLR implementation

After the implementation of MCLR, the interest rates are determined as per the relative risk factor of individual customers. Previously, when RBI reduced the repo rate, banks took a long time to reflect it in the lending rates for the borrowers. Under the MCLR regime, banks must adjust their interest rates as soon as the repo rate changes. The implementation aims at improving the openness in the structure followed by the banks to calculate the interest rate on advances. It also ensures the prospect of bank credits at the interest that is true to the consumers as well as the banks.

How to calculate MCLR?

MCLR is calculated based on the loan tenor, i.e., the amount of time a borrower has to repay the loan. This tenor-linked benchmark is internal in nature. The bank determines the actual lending rates by adding the elements spread to this tool. The banks, then, publish their MCLR after careful inspection. The same process applies for loans of different maturities – monthly or as per a pre-announced cycle.

The four main elements of MCLR are made up of the following:

a. Tenor premium

The cost of lending varies from the period of the loan. Higher the duration of the loan, higher will be the risk. In order to cover the risk, the bank will shift the load to the borrowers by charging an amount in the form of premium. This premium is known as the Tenure Premium.

b. The marginal cost of funds

The marginal cost of funds is the average rate at which the deposits with similar maturities were raised during a specific period before the review date. This cost will reflect in the bank’s books by their outstanding balance.
The marginal cost of funds has several components like the Return on Net Worth and the Marginal Cost of Borrowing. Marginal Cost of Borrowings takes up 92% while the Return on Net Worth accounts for 8%. This 8% is equivalent to the risk of weighted assets as denoted by the Tier I capital for banks.

c. Operating Cost

Operational expenses include the cost of raising funds, barring the costs recovered separately through service charges. It is, therefore, connected to providing the loan product as such.

d. Negative carry on account of CRR

Negative carry on the CRR (Cash Reserve Ratio) takes place when the return on the CRR balance is zero. Negative carry arises when the actual return is less than the cost of the funds. This will impact the mandatory Statutory Liquidity Ratio Balance (SLR) – reserve every commercial bank must maintain. It is accounted negatively as the bank cannot utilize the funds to earn any income nor gain interests.

How is MCLR different from Base Rate?

MCLR is set by the banks on the basis of the structure and methodology followed. To summarise, borrowers can benefit from this change.

MCLR is an improved version of the base rate. It is a risk-based approach to determine the final lending rate for borrowers. It considers unique factors like the marginal cost of funds instead of the overall cost of funds. The marginal cost takes into account the repo rate, which did not form part of the base rate.

When calculating the MCLR, banks are required to incorporate all kinds of interest rates which they incur in mobilizing the funds. Earlier, the loan tenure was not taken into account when determining the base rate. In the case of MCLR, the banks are now required to include a tenor premium. This will allow banks to charge a higher rate of interest for loans with long-term horizons.

What are the deadlines to disclose monthly MCLR?

Banks have the liberty to make available all loan categories under fixed or floating interest rates. Additionally, banks need to follow specific deadlines to disclose the MCLR or the internal benchmark. They could be one month, overnight MCLR, three months, one year or any other maturity as the bank deems fit.

The lending rate cannot be below the MCLR for any loan maturities. However, there are other loans which are not linked to MCLR. These include loans against customers’ deposit, loans to the bank’s employees, special loan schemes by Government of India (Jan Dhan Yojana), fixed-rate loans with tenures above three years.

Source: Indian Express

PNB scam: Court declares Nirav Modi fugitive economic offender


Syllabus subtopic: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention

News: A special court Thursday declared diamantaire Nirav Modi, a “fugitive economic offender” under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 — enacted against those fleeing the country to evade the process of law. The court will now hear submissions for confiscation of his property.

Prelims and Mains focus: key features of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, PMLA, Enforcement Directorate


When Modi left India on January 1 last year, he was aware about payments that were due on January 25, 2018, to the Punjab National Bank on the Letters of Undertaking issued to his firms, and therefore he left the country in “suspicious circumstances”, the court said.

The special court, designated under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, said the Enforcement Directorate had filed a plea to declare Modi a fugitive economic offender last year.

The ED had submitted Modi left the country due to his involvement in an alleged bank fraud to the tune of Rs 6,498.70 crore in connivance with the bank staff though the diamantaire claimed it was a business-related trip. The court accepted the contention that Modi left the country to avoid criminal prosecution. Modi was arrested in the United Kingdom and is currently facing extradition proceedings.

Definition: Fugitive Economic Offender

The fugitive economic offenders’ law came into force in August 2018. A person can be named an offender under this law if there is an arrest warrant against him or her for involvement in economic offences involving at least Rs. 100 crore or more and has fled from India to escape legal action.

The procedure:

  • The investigating agencies have to file an application in a Special Court under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002 containing details of the properties to be confiscated, and any information about the person’s whereabouts.

  • The Special Court will issue a notice for the person to appear at a specified place and date at least six weeks from the issue of notice.

  • Proceedings will be terminated if the person appears. If not the person would be declared as a Fugitive Economic Offender based on the evidence filed by the investigating agencies.

  • The person who is declared as a Fugitive Economic Offender can challenge the proclamation in the High Court within 30 days of such declaration according to the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018.

Enforcement Directorate

Directorate of Enforcement is a specialized financial investigation agency under the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, which enforces the following laws:

  • Foreign Exchange Management Act,1999 (FEMA) – A Civil Law, with officers empowered to conduct investigations into suspected contraventions of the Foreign Exchange Laws and Regulations, adjudicate, contraventions, and impose penalties on those adjudged to have contravened the law.
  • Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) – A Criminal Law, with the officers empowered to conduct investigations to trace assets derived out of the proceeds of crime, to provisionally attach/ confiscate the same, and to arrest and prosecute the offenders found to be involved in Money Laundering.

PMLA 2002

Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to prevent money-laundering and to provide for confiscation of property derived from money-laundering.

  • PMLA and the Rules notified there under came into force with effect from July 1, 2005.
  • The Act and Rules notified there under impose obligation on banking companies, financial institutions and intermediaries to verify identity of clients, maintain records and furnish information.

Source: Indian Express

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