Current Affairs 2017 (August)

India-ETFA to hold FTA talks

India and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) will meet shortly in an attempt to conclude their long pending negotiations on Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

So far, 16 rounds of negotiations have taken place which had started in 2008. Both sides had resumed talks on the agreement in January 2017 after a gap of three years

Key Facts

The proposed FTA between India and EFTA covers trade in goods and services, investments, IRPR protection, trade facilitation, customs cooperation and public procurement. The early conclusion of the proposed FTA between India and EFTA as well as an investment protection framework will boost economic ties between the two sides. The India-EFTA bilateral trade was worth $19 billion in 2016-17 from $21.5 billion in 2015-16. The trade balance was in favour of EFTA members.

European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

EFTA is regional trade organisation and free trade area consisting of four European states, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It operates in parallel with European Union (EU), and all four member states participate in the European single market.

It was established in May 1960 thorough Stockholm Convention to serve as an alternative trade bloc for those European states that were unable or unwilling to join then European Economic Community (EEC) (which subsequently became European Union).

EFTA is not a customs union and member states have full rights to enter into bilateral trade arrangements with third-country. Moreover, it does not envisage for political integration nor issue legislation. Its secretariat is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Assam for first time extends AFSPA orders on its own

Assam Government has extended term of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958 and declared entire state a Disturbed Area for six more months under Section 3 of AFSP Act. This is for first time state government has extended AFSPA and Disturbed Area provision on its own. In the past, AFSPA provisions in state were always extended by the Centre.

Why it was extended?

The law and order situation in Assam continues to be matter of concern due to violent incidents carried out by the underground groups, as many as 16 incidents involving these groups were reported between May and July 2017. These incidents had resulted in deaths of civilians, security personnel and militants.

Background

Assam has remained “disturbed area” under provisions of AFSPA for nearly 27 years, after it was invoked by Centre for first time in November 1990, after ethnic insurgencies broke out in end of 1980s and following incidents of violence by ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom).

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA)

The AFSPA was enacted in 1958 to bring ‘disturbed’ areas declared under it under control. It empowers both state and central government to declare areas as ‘disturbed’ due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.

Declaration of Disturbed area: The section (3) of the Act empowers governor of State/UT to issue an official notification in Gazette of India, following which Centre has authority to send in armed forces for civilian aid. Once declared ‘disturbed’, the region has to maintain status quo for a minimum of three months.

Special powers to armed forces: The Act gives special powers to army and state and central police forces to shoot to kill, search houses and destroy any property used by insurgents in disturbed areas. It also provides army personnel with safeguards against malicious, vindictive and frivolous prosecution.

Note: At present, the AFSA has been enforced in 6 states viz. Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh (only the Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts plus 20-km belt bordering Assam), Manipur (except Imphal municipal area), Meghalaya (confined to  20-km belt bordering Assam) and Jammu and Kashmir.

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