Politics & the Nation
  • Can India have a joint registration with Pakistan for Basmati rice under GI?
    • The central government is not sure about it.
    • India has so far 104 products registered under GI (Geographical Indication) including Darjeeling Tea and Kolhapuri Chappal in the past four years.
    • The Parliament passed the APEDA (amendment) Bill 2008.  This empower APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) to protect Basmati rice from patent infringements.
    • Geographical Indications of a product refer to a country or to a place as being the country or place of origin of that product.
Finance & Economics
  • Budget highlights and related facts and figures
    • The budget on the whole proved to be a damp squib.  Citing propriety the stand-in Finance Minister Mr. Pranab Mukerjee did not announce any initiative worth our note.  This is largely seen as a tactical move so that the UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi can announce something big just before the election announcement.  Will she or won't she?
    • The fiscal deficit, budgeted at 2.5% of GDP this year, will end up at 6%, to which should be added another 1.5% of GDP for off-Budget items like dues to oil and fertiliser companies. Throw in another 3.5% of GDP of state government deficits, and India will have a consolidated fiscal deficit of 11% in 2008-09, as high as in the crisis year of 1991. 
    • What is particularly noteworthy is the more than four-fold increase in revenue deficit, up from 1% in budget estimates to 4.4% (Rs 2,41,273 crore) in the revised estimates.  
    • Even with projected 7% GDP growth next year, the Budget projects tax revenue that will actually be lower — Rs 497,596 crore — than the sum originally expected in 2008-09 — Rs 507,150. This is on account of tax cuts in the stimulus packages to date, and expectations of weak corporate profits. 
    • Mr Mukherjee announced a virtual doubling of outlay for his government’s flagship programme — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — from Rs 16,000 crore to Rs 30,100. This is largely because the scheme now covers all 597 districts. The urban renewal mission outlay has been almost doubled from Rs 6,866 crore to Rs 11,8432 crore. 
  • Why is a high revenue deficit more worrisome than a fiscal deficit?
    • Unlike a higher fiscal deficit that can augment the country’s repayment capacity, a higher revenue deficit means the government is borrowing to spend on current consumption. A revenue deficit adds to the debt burden without creating the wherewithal to repay the debt. This is the reason why fiscal economists warn against countries running high revenue deficits. 
    • Given that debt servicing (debt repayment plus interest payments) already accounts for almost 100% of revenue receipts, according to revised estimates for the current fiscal, the danger of a high revenue deficit going forward cannot be over-emphasised. 
  • PN2 & PN3 of 2009
    • I think for quite some time you will keep hearing about these Press Notes.  It was just yesterday that we noted about the change in rules regarding computing foreign investment in Indian companies.  The government's policy in this regard is announced through these two Press Notes.  Instead of bringing more clarity to the policy pronouncement, these Press Notes have reportedly created more confusion.
    • Have a look at the gist of these notes here.  You can read the full Press Notes here: Press Note 2Press Note 3.
  • Japan's worsening economy
    • The world's second largest economy shrank 3.3% in the fourth quarter bringing the annual of contraction to 12.7%, the worst ever performance for the country since 1974.
    • Gross domestic product fell for a third straight quarter in the three months ended December 31.
    • Exports plunged an unprecedented 13.9% from the third quarter. 
  • Cambodian genocide trials begin
    • This is the first ever trial over the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime more than three decades ago.
    • When the communist Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 after five years of bitter civil war, many of their countrymen thought peace was at hand. But in their effort to remake society, they instituted a reign of terror that lasted nearly 4 years, until ended by an invasion by neighbouring Vietnam.
  • India's dwindling Tiger population
    • Tiger population has reportedly came down to 1400 in the country.
    • The government has set up 37 tiger reserves, spread across 19 states in India. But the current level of protection is proving inadequate for the animals. Last year, the central government's National Tiger Conservation Authority estimated that only about 1,400 tigers roam the wilds in India nowdays, down from an estimated 15,000 just two decades ago.
  • Human trials of HIV microbicide
    • Microbicides are substances intended to prevent the transmission of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections when applied inside a woman's private parts. They come as gels, creams or a film. When applied to the private parts, microbicides inhibits the virus from entering the human body.
    • Trials in the use of microbicides for preventing HIV were conducted in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and the US.
    • The first successful trials were reported from Zimbabwe, offering a glimmer of hope in the effectiveness of use of microbicides for prevention of HIV.