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Current Affairs: 15 December 2018

NATION

Supreme Court rejects PIL pleas for Rafale deal probe
  • The Supreme Court refused to embark on a “fishing enquiry” into the deal to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets merely on the basis of PIL petitions spurred by a media interview of former French President Francois Hollande and reports of favouritism shown by the Narendra Modi government.
  • Mr. Hollande was reported to have said the French government had no option in the choice of an Indian Offset Partner (IOP). It had to agree to take on board a company suggested by the Indian government. The petitioners had alleged that the government wanted a “novice” company, Reliance Defence, as the IOP in the multi-crore deal.
  • The court concluded that the government had no role in the choice of an IOP. The option to choose an IOP rests fully with the French manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, under the Defence Procurement Procedure, it said.
Jammu & Kashmir legislation to stop ‘sextortion’ of women
  • Governor Satya Pal Malik’s administration in Jammu & Kashmir approved an amendment to the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), to insert a section to provide for the offence of “sextortion.”
  • Under Section 354E of the RPC, the new law explicitly bans sexual exploitation of women by those in positions of authority, having a fiduciary relationship, or a public servant, reads the order issued by Governor Malik-headed State Administration Council (SAC).
  • J&K has become the first State in the country to bring a law to prevent people in power from exploiting subordinates sexually.
  • Mr. Malik approved the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2018, and the Jammu and Kashmir Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, to incorporate the new Section.
  • Terming the offence as “Sextortion”, the amendments will “bring sextortion at par with similar offences prescribed under the Ranbir Penal Code and amendment is being made in the Prevention of Corruption Act to amend the definition of misconduct and to provide that demand for sexual favours would also constitute misconduct within the meaning of Section 5.”
  • An official said the J&K government decided to reinforce the legal framework to curb instances of women being victimised by the persons in authority or in fiduciary relationships.
  • Besides, the State Administrative Council (SAC) also approved introduction of the use of video conferencing “as an admissible method for presence of accused in criminal trials.”
One-stop centres help 2 crore women
  • Almost two crore women survivors of violence received help at one-stop centres opened in the past three years, the government informed Parliament.
  • Since April 2015, 234 one-stop centres have been established across the country for women facing physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
  • The total number of women who have been given assistance at these centres is 1,90,527, Minister of State for Women and Child Development Virendra Kumar said in the Lok Sabha.
  • Uttar Pradesh was at the top spot in the total number of women seeking help — 1,18,833. It was followed by Andhra Pradesh, 26,884, Chhattisgarh, 10,868, Telangana, 7,807, Punjab, 4,964, and Haryana, 3,878. The number is the highest in Uttar Pradesh because it is the only State that offers tele-counselling services at its 23 centres. 
  • All the States and the Union Territories, barring Delhi, West Bengal and Lakshadweep, have one-stop centres.
HC quashes Centre’s ban on oxytocin manufacture
  • The Delhi High Court on Friday quashed the Centre’s decision to ban the manufacture and sale of oxytocin, a drug which induces labour and controls bleeding during child birth, by private firms.
  • A Bench of Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and A.K. Chawla set aside the government’s April 27 notification imposing the ban, saying it was “arbitrary and unreasonable”.
  • “The UoI did not adequately weigh in the danger to the users of oxytocin, nor consider the deleterious effect to the public generally and women particularly, of possible restricted supply if manufacture is confined to one unit, to the pregnant women and young mothers, of a potentially life-saving drug,” the Bench said. It said the Centre’s decision to allow only a single, state-run entity — with no prior experience in manufacturing oxytocin — to make and sell the drug, was “fraught with potential adverse consequences”. 
  • The Bench was not impressed with the Centre’s “far greater” reliance on the need to prohibit availability of oxytocin from what was perceived to be widespread veterinary misuse. 
Term of IB, RAW chiefs extended
  • The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved a six-month extension in service to Intelligence Bureau Director Rajiv Jain and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Secretary A.K. Dhasmana.
  • The Centre has sought to maintain status quo in top security posts till the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
  • The two heads of country's internal and external intelligence wings had a fixed two-year tenure each. 
  • Mr. Jain, a 1980-batch IPS officer of the Jharkhand cadre, took over in December 2016. The next senior- most officer in the IB, Arvind Kumar, who superannuates in September 2019, will still have a chance to bag the two-year post if his appointment comes after June the same year.
  • Mr. Dhasmana, a 1981-batch officer from the Madhya Pradesh cadre, has been with RAW for 23 years, during which he served in important areas, including the Pakistan Desk.
  • The ACC has also re-designated Anil Srivastava, a 1985-batch IAS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, from Adviser, NITI Aayog, to Principal Adviser. The government also appointed Ramphal Pawar, a 1988-batch IPS officer of the West Bengal cadre, as the Director of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
WORLD

Rajapaksa to resign, pave the way for Ranil’s return
  • Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to vacate the office of Prime Minister — which he controversially held for seven weeks — paving the way for the return of ousted leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The move signals an end to the political crisis in the island nation.
  • He said their new party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or Sri Lanka People’s Front), would form a coalition with President Maithripala Sirisena.
  • Mr. Rajapaksa’s decision to “step down” came after the Supreme Court ruled that his November 9 move dissolving Parliament and calling for snap polls was illegal.
  • The front led by Mr. Wickremesinghe, with the support of other Opposition MPs resisting Mr. Rajapaksa’s appointment, showed a majority in the House several times since October 26, but both Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Rajapaksa refused to recognise the trust votes.
ECONOMY

RBI Board discusses governance
  • The board of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) agreed to examine the issue of governance further.
  • This was the first board meeting under the chairmanship of the new RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das, who assumed charge.
  • The statement also said the board reviewed various issues like current economic situation, global and domestic challenges, matters relating to liquidity and credit delivery to the economy, and issues relating to currency management and financial literacy.
  • Mr. Das assured the board that he would discuss the deliberations on capital management and governance with the government for an early resolution, sources said.
  • Mr. Das listened to all the points of discussions, including those which had caused discomfort within the RBI brass, they said.
  • RBI had imposed restrictions under the PCA framework for 11 public sector banks, which irked the government as it believed loan growth was impacted due to such restrictions.
  • There is a possibility that a formal proposal on PCA will be brought before the board at its next meet in mid-January.
  • The issue of liquidity and credit delivery were the two contentious issues between the government and RBI with the former wanting a special window for non-banking finance companies.
Shun loan waivers, Rajan tells States
  • State governments should resist giving farm loan waivers since they will create fiscal stress and not reach the farmers that need them, former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said. 
  • Mr. Rajan’s comments assume significance at a time when speculation is increasing about a possible farm loan waiver from the Centre similar to those given by some State governments. “Government-imposed credit targets are often achieved by abandoning appropriate due diligence, creating the environment for future NPAs,” he said. 
  • That said, Mr Rajan did stress that the agriculture sector needed serious attention, and that an all-party agreement on this would be in the nation’s interest.
  • Mr. Rajan’s note pertained to banking reforms in which he argued that public sector bank boards are still not adequately professionalised and that the government’s role in deciding board appointments leads to “inevitable politicisation.”
  • “The government could follow the P.J. Naik Committee report more carefully,” he wrote. “Eventually, strong boards should be entrusted with all bank-related decisions, including CEO appointment, but held responsible for performance. Strategic investors could help improve governance.”
  • Mr. Rajan further said that the out-of-court restructuring process and the bankruptcy process both need to be strengthened and made speedier.
          India Post launches e-com portal
          • India Post launched its own e-commerce website to help sellers, particularly rural artisans and SHGs sell their products across the country. 
          • “The small and local sellers, who have been left behind in e-commerce space, will now be able to maximise their reach and retailing power by leveraging the vast physical and lT network of the Department of Posts,” an official release said.
          • The products will be shipped through Speed Post. “India Post is open for registration of all vendors for e-commerce business. It will pick up products from vendor and deliver to doorstep of customers,” Minister of State for Communications Manoj Sinha said.

          Current Affairs: 14 December 2018

          NATION

          Supreme Court verdict on Rafale probe today
          • A Supreme Court Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, will pronounce its judgment on a batch of petitions for an independent court-monitored probe into the Rafale deal.
          • The hearing concluded in November with the government admitting there was no sovereign guarantee from the French government for the deal if the manufacturer defaulted.
          • Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, for the Centre, had, however, assured that there was a “Letter of Comfort” from France, which is as good as a sovereign guarantee. The petitioners countered that such a letter has no legal validity. 
          • The Bench also heard Air Vice-Marshal J. Chalapati, who explained how the fourth and fifth generation fighter aircraft have “niche technology”.
          • The court finally reserved the case for judgment. It questioned the government’s stand on having no “role” in Dassault’s choice of an Indian Offset Partner. An amendment to the Offset Policy, which allows “no offset obligations” for the first three years of a contract, also came under the spotlight.
          Scientists step in to save Punganur cow
          • The Punganur cow, considered one of the world’s smallest breeds of cattle, is said to be on the verge of extinction due to cross-breeding conducted by farmers, according to livestock journals.
          • While R.W. Littlewood was the first to highlight the breed’s vulnerable status in his 1936 book Livestock of South India, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Animal Genetic Resources list the breed as facing extinction.
          • Animal genetics and breeding scientists from the NTR University of Veterinary Sciences in Gannavaram are now engaged in efforts to save the unique breed from extinction.
          • The Punganur cow is diminutive, with a height of 70 cm to 90 cm and weighing around 115 to 200 kg. In comparison, the famous Ongole bull stands tall at 1.70 metres and weighs 500 kg. Both breeds trace their origins to Andhra Pradesh.
          • The Livestock Research Station at Palamaner in Chittoor district is said to be the last bastion of the breed. LRS has instituted a programme to conserve the breed.
          NGOs flay judge’s citizenship view
          • NGOs in Meghalaya have resented the plea by a judge of the State’s High Court for granting citizenship to migrants from India’s neighbourhood without any questions asked or production of documents.
          • Admitting a petition of an Army recruit denied domicile certificate by the Meghalaya government, Justice S.R. Sen had appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre to grant instantaneous citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
          • The judge also included the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos among those he felt needed unconditional citizenship. A fraction of three principal matrilineal communities of Meghalaya inhabits adjoining areas of Bangladesh.
          • The Khasi Students’ Union said the idea would be disastrous for the indigenous communities in the Northeast.
          • He said that even if 3 million of the 14 million Hindus in Bangladesh are granted instant citizenship, they would wipe out the 1 million ethnic Khasis of Meghalaya and other small indigenous groups of the Northeast.
          • Thma U-Rangli Juki, a social NGO, too, said the Citizenship Bill and the Justrice Sen’s “flawed judgment” needed to be opposed. 
          • “The judgement sought to characterise India as a ‘Hindu country’ and outlined a narrow religious and ethnographic-centric view of Indian history, which goes against the secular and federal character of the Indian republic,” the NGO’s Angela Rangad said.
          Come June, groundwater extraction will invite a fee
          • In a bid to promote conservation of groundwater, the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has notified a water conservation fee (WCF) that industries will need to pay on groundwater extraction starting from June.
          • As per the notification, industries extracting groundwater, including mining-dewatering units and those that use groundwater for packaged drinking water, will need to apply for a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the government. Individual households that draw groundwater using a delivery pipe of a greater than 1” diameter, too, will need to pay a WCF.
          • However, the agriculture sector — the largest consumer of groundwater in the country — will be exempt from the fees.
          • “The entire process of grant of NOC will be done online through a web-based application system of CGWA,” the Water Resources Ministry said in the notification.
          • The rates would be levied depending on the location of the groundwater extraction point and the amount of water being extracted. 
          • The government has a list of groundwater blocks, called assessment blocks. These are classified as ‘safe,’ ‘semi-critical,’ ‘critical’ and ‘overexploited’ depending on the groundwater draft.
          • Drawing up to 20 cubic metres (a cubic metre is 1,000 litres) a day in a ‘safe’ block would cost a company ₹3 per cubic metre. However, extracting 5,000 or more cubic metres a day, at an ‘overexploited’ block would invite a daily charge in excess of ₹100 per cubic metre.
          • The WCF for residential projects ranges from ₹1-2 per cubic metre. The WCF apart, all industrial as well as residential bodies would also need to apply for an NOC.
          • Defence establishments and users who don’t use electricity to extract water have also been granted exemption from the requirement of obtaining NOCs and having to pay the WCF.
          • In India, extracted groundwater is mainly used for irrigation and accounts for about 228 BCM (billion cubic metre) — or about 90% of the annual groundwater extraction. The rest, 25 BCM, is drawn for drinking, domestic and industrial uses.
          • India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, and accounts for about 25% of the global water extraction. The CGWB classifies 6,584 assessment units countrywide. While 1,034 units have been categorised as ‘overexploited,’ 253 are termed as ‘critical’, 681 as ‘semi-critical’ and 4,520 as ‘safe.’ The remaining 96 assessment units have been classified as ‘saline.’
          Lack of basic rights for the aged a concern: SC
          • Terming the rights of the rising elderly population of the country an “emerging situation” not envisaged even in the Constitution, the Supreme Court said the government could not tighten its purse strings in the name of “economic budgeting” to explain the inadequate welfare provided to senior citizens and the aged. 
          • The court said it was a statutory right of every aged person under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007 to be provided dignity, health and shelter. All the three are important components which make the fundamental right to life under Article 21.
          • A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur ordered the Centre to obtain the “necessary information” from all the State governments and the Union Territories about the number of old age homes in each district and file a status report by January 31
          • The apex court ordered the Centre to obtain details from the States about the medical and geriatric care facilities available to senior citizens in each district.
          • The court directed that the Centre should prepare a plan of action for giving publicity to the provisions of 2007 Act and ensure that the State governments carry out and execute the provisions of the law.
          • The court’s judgment, based on a petition filed by former Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, expressed shock at the “pittance” paid to senior citizens and the elderly in the form of pension.
          • The Centre also noted that there had been a steady rise in the population of senior citizens in India. It submitted in court that the number of elderly persons had increased from 1.98 crore in 1951 to 7.6 crore in 2001 and 10.38 crore in 2011. It is projected that the number of 60+ in India would increase to 14.3 crore in 2021 and 17.3 crore in 2026.
          SC bats for rights of death row convicts
          • Death row convicts should be allowed to meet with family, friends, lawyers and mental health professionals for a “reasonable period of time with reasonable frequency” like any other prisoner.
          • It is part of their fundamental right to dignity and equality, the Supreme Court held in a judgement.
          • The court said prison manuals or laws depriving condemned prisoners of their basic rights should be nixed.
          • The judgment came after the court took suo motu cognisance of the rights of the incarcerated and conditions in prisons across the country.
          • One of the issues specifically pertained to the right of the condemned; the extension of their right to be treated on a par with other convicted prisoners and the facilities allowed to them.
          • The judgment, however, does not delve into questions like at what specific point a person becomes a death row convict — is it when he is sentenced to death by a trial court or much later when all his remedies have been exhausted and he waits for his execution at the hands of the State.
          • The judgment mentions submissions made to solitary confinement of prisoners on death row. Here too, the court banks on generalities, referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and reiterating that right to life includes the “right to live with human dignity.”
          India, Russia to boost joint production in defence
          • India and Russia have agreed on ways to simplify export clearances to take forward joint manufacturing in defence. This was among the various issues discussed during the 18th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Russian counterpart General Sergei Shoigu on Thursday.
          • India is keen on moving from licence manufacturing of defence equipment to joint production under Make in India. This includes allowing Indian companies, both Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) and private sector, to manufacture spares for Russian systems in India. 
          • Eventually, India is keen that its companies supply components and spares to export to third world countries. 
          • The two sides also agreed to take forward inter-governmental arrangements for facilitating joint manufacturing of spares for Russian origin equipment in India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
          • In this regard, four military-industry conferences were held between Russian manufactures and Indian companies to take the process forward.
          Bill likely soon against fleeing NRI husbands
          • In order to secure the rights of wives abandoned by NRI men, the government plans to introduce a new Bill as well as amend three other legislations during the ongoing winter session of Parliament. The decision was taken at a meeting of a Group of Ministers (GoM).
          • A spokesperson of the Ministry of Women and Child Development said the government will amend the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1886, to make registration of NRI marriages mandatory and the Passport Act, 1967, to provide for revocation of passports of absconding NRI husbands.
          India ups ante over SAARC meet spat
          • Taking its protest over the presence of a minister from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) at a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting to the next level, India has now demanded that the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) be “derecognised” by the South Asian grouping.
          • In a letter addressed to the SAARC secretariat, which is based in Kathmandu, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) accused the SCCI of having “violated” the SAARC charter and principles by inviting the Minister from PoK Chaudhury Muhammad Saeed to its event in Islamabad on December 8. An Indian diplomat attending the event had walked out in protest against Mr. Saeed’s presence.
          • According to government sources, the SCCI has written to the High Commission of India in Islamabad, “expressing regret”.
          • In its letter dated December 10, two days after the event, the MEA referred to Mr. Saeed as a “renegade entity” from Jammu and Kashmir “which is under illegal and forcible occupation of Pakistan”, and said his presence at the event constituted a contravention of SAARC principles to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states.
          • Founded in 1992, the SCCI is formed from local chambers of commerce from all nine members of SAARC including the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). The group led by SCCI president Ruwan Edrisinghe meets regularly and is one of the SAARC’s most active bodies.
          Japan’s cold chain for Singur
          • On the day when the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) cadre were busy preparing for a mega-rally of farmers from Singur in the Hooghly district to Kolkata earlier the month, the Consul General of Japan in Kolkata, Masayuki Taga, was busy scanning the quality of vegetables stored outside a large warehouse.
          • About three years back, the State finalised a project with the Japanese warehousing-cum-transportation logistics company Kawasaki Rikuso Transportation (KRT), to set up a cold chain network. The KRT facility, funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency, has been made operational within three years of the initial discussion.
          • In Singur, the Japanese project, manned by Indian and Japanese experts, is housed in two large and cold rooms that store unsold vegetables of the day. The produce is sorted, pre-cooled and taken out between two to four days to the market.
          • “While the objective is to ensure that the post-harvest loss is arrested, the key problem is massive electricity consumption in the warehouse, which KRT has solved by using solar power,” said Gautam Mukherjee, the Joint Director of the State’s Agricultural Marketing Department.
          • Giant solar panels are fitted to the warehouse.

          WORLD


          Dissolution of House by Sirisena illegal: SC
          • In a landmark case of the Sri Lankan judiciary ruling on the executive, the Supreme Court said  that President Maithripala Sirisena’s move last month, dissolving Parliament and calling for snap polls, was illegal.
          • The judgment is a major blow to Mr. Sirisena, whose sudden decision on October 26 — dismissing the incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointing the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place — sparked, arguably, the country’s biggest political crisis since the civil war ended nearly a decade ago.
          • The bitter power struggle for seven weeks now has left the island without a legitimate government or Cabinet, while the economy and its key tourism sector have taken a severe beating.
          • “I hope the authorities concerned will honour this and act accordingly,”President’s Counsel K. Kanag-Isvaran told.
          • The President’s office is yet to comment on the development. However, sources close to Mr. Sirisena indicated that he might take a decision on Friday in the light of another case scheduled to be heard by the court.
          • After the appeal court on December 3 restrained him from functioning as Prime Minister, Mr. Rajapaksa moved the Supreme Court challenging the quo warranto petition earlier filed by 122 MPs opposed to his controversial appointment.
          • Tweeting soon after the verdict, Mr. Wickremesinghe said: “We trust that the President will promptly respect the judgment of the courts.”
          • On Thursday evening, the President met the MPs of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine and later held a separate meeting with legislators from his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
          • According to Dayasiri Jayasekara, a lawmaker from the SLFP, the President was likely to “appoint a new government” after Friday’s court decision. It is unclear whether the SLFP would be part of this government as it was in the national unity government which fell on October 26.  

          ECONOMY

          Bankers ask Das to ease PCA norms
          • Chief executives of public sector banks, who met the new Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das requested the central bank to relax the prompt corrective action (PCA) norms on the ground that it was hurting credit off-take.
          • According to sources, bankers highlighted the challenges they are facing to boost loan growth as there are 11 state-run banks under prompt corrective action. PCA was imposed on these lenders by RBI.
          • Bankers expect the central bank to take a decision in the Friday’s board meeting regarding easing the PCA norms so that restrictions are withdrawn from some of the lenders.
          • Bad loans in the banking system have risen sharply over the last three years, with gross NPAs crossing the ₹10 lakh crore mark. The rise in NPAs has impacted banks’ profitability and eroded their capital.
          • The Board of Financial Supervision (BFS) of RBI, which met last week, deliberated on the PCA issue and reviewed the performance of banks till the half year. 
          • While the government wanted the RBI to relax the PCA norms, the central bank was not in agreement with the proposal.
          • The request to relax PCA norms comes at a time when growth is slowing and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) are constrained by lack of liquidity. Since loans from NBFCs contribute almost 17% of the total credit off-take and one-third of retail credit, the crisis will hit loan growth. Since public sector banks, that have 70% of the market share have capital constraints they are unable to fill the space vacated by NBFCs. 
          • The controversial February 12 circular of the RBI mandated banks to restructure loans and make higher provision even if there was a default for one day.
          • The circular had also withdrawn all restructuring schemes that resulted in higher provision requirement for banks.
          • While both the banks and the government lobbied hard for relaxation of the one-day stressed asset norms the RBI did not oblige.
          India, China join hands to promote tea globally
          • Two apex industry organisations, Indian Tea Association (ITA) and China Tea Marketing Association (CTMA), have signed a memorandum of understanding to promote green and black tea consumption in major tea markets in Europe , the U.S., Russia and West Asia, besides India and China. The pact could also involve organisation of joint events.
          • Mr. Goenka said that the China imported 30 million kg of black tea annually amid its rising popularity in the country where green tea had earlier held sway. Indian exports stood at about 8.7 million kg in 2017 with the market being dominated by Sri Lanka and Kenya. 
          • An export of 15 million kg was being targeted next year.
          • ITA said that Solidaridad Asia had taken the lead role in forging this alliance which, it felt, would promote sustainable development of the tea industry in the two countries, including that of the small tea sector. The network works to promote sustainable production of 13 commodities across nine regions.
          • The MoU covers the areas of trade promotion, intellectual property protection and technology exchange.

          Current Affairs: 9 December 2018

          NATION

          Centre amends rules for minorities from three nations
          • The contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is pending in Parliament, but the Union Home Ministry has notified amendments to the Citizenship Rules, 2009, to include a separate column in the citizenship form for applicants belonging to six minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
          • The Centre has made the changes under Section 18 of the Citizenship Act, 1955. New rules were notified on December 3.
          • A parliamentary committee has been examining the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, that proposes citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who came to India before 2014. 
          • It has run into strong resistance in the BJP-ruled Assam because it will pave the way for giving citizenship mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam, who came after March 1971, in violation of the 1985 Assam Accord.
          • Around 40 lakh people in Assam have been excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on July 30. 
          After launch, GSAT-11 awaits ₹200 crore ground system
          • Now that GSAT-11, the third and latest Internet-boosting communication satellite, is up in space, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) says it is in the process of readying a ₹150-200-crore ground infrastructure across cities to use it.
          • A Ka-band hub or gateway each is being set up in Delhi, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Ranchi to deliver high-speed broadband services via the giant satellite.
          • The nearly six-tonne heavyweight satellite was launched in December 5 on a European launcher. Along with its older HTS mates — GSAT-19 and GSAT-29 — it forms an Indian quartet of high-throughput satellites (HTSs). Each of them has a different space location over India and must have its own ground systems.
          • The ground systems are being put up by external agencies chosen through competitive bidding. They will also be operated and maintained by them for five to seven years.
          • The use of the Ka band will be new in the country. In 2017, ISRO’s payload developing unit, the Space Applications Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad, had put out a search or RFP (request for proposal) for companies that could set up GSAT-11’s Ka-band ground systems.
          • About the HTSs, Dr. Sivan said, “Our target is to deliver close to a Net data speed at the rate of] 100 Gbps through them. We have planned a fourth one, too — the GSAT-20. It will be a four-tonne-class HTS and will be launched towards the second half of 2019 on our GSLV MarkIII vehicle. With that, our current national requirement should be met.”
          • The fleet is designed to mainly serve the remote and hilly northeastern States, and Jammu & Kashmir, which are starved of reliable Net services. 
          • Referring to the consecutive launches of GSAT-29 in November and GSAT-11 in December, Dr. Sivan said, “Within a matter of about 20 days, we have already beefed up the requirements of VSATs (very small aperture terminals) by putting up two satellites suited to them.”
          Beautification plan destroys oldest neighbourhoods in Varanasi
          • Around the temple of Lord Vishwanath — Shiva, the destroyer — in , destruction is taking place on a scale this ancient city hasn’t witnessed in modern times.
          • A strip of land — measuring 43,636 sq m — between the 18th century shrine and the River Ganga — is being cleared of all construction, many perhaps as old as the temple itself, so that pilgrims have an easier access through a wide and beautified corridor that has been planned under the Kashi Vishwanath Precinct Development Project.
          • The project is being executed by Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust, under the Uttar Pradesh government, but the driving force behind it is thought to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents Varanasi (or Banaras) in Parliament.
          • Close to 300 houses — 187 already demolished and 90 waiting to be razed — are making way for the project, which has effectively wiped out some of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, such as Lahori Tola. The first to settle here migrated from Lahore during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who had donated the gold that adorns the temple’s dome. Today, their sixth-generation descendants find themselves uprooted — quite suddenly.
          • Since the project affects only those living in the 43,636 sq m of land connecting the temple to the river, opinion is divided on the irrevocable damage that has been caused by it.
          • Many in the city, especially admirers of Mr. Modi, hail the move, saying it has rid the temple area of encroachments. According to them, the rightful owners were, in any case, not living in these buildings, which were occupied mostly by tenants paying a measly rent.
          JICA norms flouted in bullet train project
          • Officials of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) held meetings with farmers, their representatives and activists opposing land acquisition for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. The JICA funds the project.
          • “After the meeting, the JICA team has assured us that our concerns will be addressed and the JICA guidelines will be followed,” said Rohit Prajapati, an activist of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti.
          • Jayesh Patel of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj (farmers’ society) also met the team with demands of farmers in south Gujarat. “As per JICA guidelines, there must be fair compensation for those whose land is acquired for any project funded by it; but in the case of the bullet train project, the Gujarat government has diluted the provisions so that compensation comes down,” he said.
          • Farmers have alleged in their affidavits that the State has diluted the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, after Japan entered into a contract in September 2015 with the Indian government to build the country’s first bullet train corridor between Mumbai to Ahmedabad.
          Pak. issues visas to visit Shiva temple
          • Going ahead with a people-oriented diplomacy, Pakistan has issued a large number of visas for Indian pilgrims who are expected to visit the famed Shiva temple at Katas Raj Dham, near the city of Lahore.
          • Katas Raj is a complex of ancient temples that is among the most important Hindu pilgrimage centres in Pakistan. The temple complex consisting of seven shrines, is located around the Katas lake, considered sacred by pilgrims of multiple faiths. Apart from the temples, the area is renowned for its Buddhist remains and architecture.
          • The Pakistan government under Imran Khan has continued the policy of conservation of ancient temples followed by the Nawaz Sharif government.
          • Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan stepped in and stopped cement companies from extracting water from the lake.
          • Sunday’s announcement of visas for Indian pilgrims, came days after Islamabad issued 220 visas for the Shadani Darbar temple in Sukkur where a centuries-old festival is continuing.
          • Islamabad had earlier granted 3,800 visas for Sikh pilgrims visiting Nankana Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Punjab for the celebration of the 549th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.
          • Pakistan also formally inaugurated the project for building the corridor that will allow Sikh pilgrims to visit the holy temple at Kartarpur across the border.
          • The High Commission said Pakistan remains committed to the bilateral understanding of 1974 with India that allows pilgrims to travel freely.
          Navy on a major capability upgrade
          • Against the backdrop of increasing responsibilities in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with the rising Chinese presence, the Indian Navy has embarked on a major capability upgrade. A Navy officer said that this year, on an average, 35 Navy ships were deployed every day.
          • “The Navy has undertaken 113 port calls including operational turnarounds this year and has participated in 21 exercises including the Indra series with Russia which began on Sunday,” the officer said.
          • Operational requirements have significantly gone up with the Navy ensuring the presence of at least one major ship at all critical choke points in the IOR under its mission-based deployments and increased military-to-military engagement with friendly nations as part of India’s defence diplomacy in which the Navy is at the forefront.
          • “As on today, 32 ships and submarines are presently under construction in Indian shipyards. These include the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) Vikrant, Project-15B destroyers, Project-17A stealth frigates, P-28 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvettes, offshore patrol vessels (OPV) and Scorpene class submarines … In addition, government approval has also been accorded for 56 ships and six submarines,” the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba, said last week.
          • The 56 ships are in various stages of procurement and include replacements for existing platforms as well as new additions. “Construction activity will be spread over a decade,” Admiral Lanba stated. These include next generation frigates and destroyers, four stealth frigates from Russia, four landing platform decks (LPD), 16 shallow water craft, 12 mine sweepers, five fleet support ships (FSS), four survey vessels and two diving support vessels. All this comes against the backdrop of China increasing its presence and establishing permanent facilities in the IOR. Admiral Lanba stated that China deployed six to eight warships in the IOR at any given time.
          • The force enhancements were contingent on increased budgetary allocation which has not seen a major increase over the last few years.
          ‘History’s greatest arms race in Asia’
          • Asia is witnessing “history’s greatest arms race” as a result of a sense of insecurity stemming from tensions between the United States and China, and an “ill-defined Indo-Pacific concept”, said former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon here on Sunday.
          • “U.S. and Japan seek partners for what they call the free and open Indo-Pacific, which to my mind is an ill-defined concept because it cedes the continental order to China and leaves only the maritime order to the rest of us, which doesn’t serve India’s purpose because India is both a continental and maritime power,” Mr. Menon said.
          • “The other countries in the region are reacting to this by strengthening their own militaries and hedging against China. So what we are seeing is history’s greatest arms race in Asia,” Mr. Menon, who served as India’s Ambassador to China, Foreign Secretary and NSA, said.
          • Striking a cautionary note, former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said it would take India much longer to emulate China’s economic success than presently estimated.
          NRC-excluded people can go to court: official
          • Those not included in the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam could be placed in the category of “non-citizens”, but they would get an opportunity to present their case before the court of law after all options are exhausted, according to a top government official.
          • The official said the December 15 deadline — for making citizenship claims by those excluded from the final draft of the NRC published on July 30 — was not likely to be extended.
          • The official said that no call had been taken on deporting them to the “country of origin” as those left out could move the Foreign Tribunals and then on to courts to get relief. The call to strike away their names from the electoral rolls should be taken by the Election Commission, the official said.
          • On Supreme Court directions, the Registrar-General of India (RGI) published the final draft list of the NRC on July 30 to segregate Indian citizens living in Assam from those who had illegally entered the State from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971. The first draft containing the names of 1.9 crore out of 3.29 crore applicants was published on December 31 last year.
          • As per Centre’s submission in the Supreme Court, Class-1 officers will be deployed and five hearings per day will take place or eight hearings for cases involving children of 14 years or less.
          ‘Bioplastics may not be a viable alternative to plastic’
          • Bioplastics — often promoted as a climate-friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics — may lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study.
          • According to the study by researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, shifting to plant-based plastics could have less positive effects than expected.
          • An increased consumption of bioplastics in the following years is likely to generate increased greenhouse gas emissions from cropland expansion on a global scale.
          • Plastics are usually made from petroleum, with the associated impacts in terms of fossil fuel depletion but also climate change.
          • It is estimated that by 2050, plastics could already be responsible for 15% of the global CO2 emissions.
          • Bioplastics, on the other hand, are in principle climate-neutral since they are based on renewable raw materials such as maize, wheat and sugarcane. These plants get the CO2 that they need from the air through their leaves, researchers said.
          • Producing bioplastics therefore consumes CO2, which compensates for the amount that is later released at end-of-life. Overall, their net greenhouse gas balance is assumed to be zero.
          • Bioplastics are thus often consumed as an environmentally friendly alternative. However, at least with the current level of technology, this issue is probably not as clear as often assumed, researchers said.
          • “The production of bioplastics in large amounts would change land use globally,” said Neus Escobar from the University of Bonn.
          • “This could potentially lead to an increase in the conversion of forest areas to arable land. However, forests absorb considerably more CO2 than maize or sugar cane annually, if only because of their larger biomass,” Ms. Escobar said.
          • Experience with biofuels has shown that this effect is not a theoretical speculation. The increasing demand for the “green” energy sources has brought massive deforestation to some countries across the tropics, researchers said.
          WORLD

          Bahrain criticises Qatar Emir for not attending GCC summit
          • Bahrain’s Foreign Minister criticised Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for not attending a Gulf Arab summit in Saudi Arabia, an absence that suggests a rift between Doha and three Gulf Arab states is unlikely to be resolved soon.
          • Qatar sent its State Minister for Foreign Affairs to the annual one-day summit that is overshadowed by the economic and diplomatic boycott of Doha since mid-2017 by Riyadh, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt over allegations that Doha supports terrorism. Qatar denies the charges. 
          • In response, Ahmed bin Saeed AlRumaihi, director of the Information Office at Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, said: “Qatar can make its own decisions and had attended (last year’s) Kuwait summit while the leaders of the boycotting countries did not.”
          • The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) summit of six member states opened in Riyadh on Sunday at a time when the country is under pressure over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
          • Doha last week abruptly announced that it was exiting the oil exporters’ group OPEC after 57 years to focus on gas in an apparent swipe at the bloc’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia. Kuwait’s ties with Riyadh are also strained over control of shared oilfields, further weakening unity of the GCC which was set up in 1980 as a bulwark against larger neighbours Iran and Iraq.
          • Saudi Arabia has resisted U.S. pressure to restore ties with Doha following Khashoggi’s murder, an act that drew condemnation and scrutiny of Riyadh’s regional foreign policy.

          ECONOMY

          India should brace itself for a slowdown: Subramanian
          • Former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian warned the Indian economy was in for a slowdown for some time as agriculture and financial system were under stress.
          • Speaking at the release of his book, Of Counsel:The Challenges of the Modi-Jaitley Economy, he said both demonetisation and implementation of GST have resulted in moderation of the economy and the budget estimate of revenue collection from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) seems to be unreasonable.
          • “To judge the GST by what the budget demands of the GST, is unreasonable. I will say it frankly, the budget has made unreasonable demands on GST. It has asked for 16-17% [increase].”
          • With regard to the economy, he said: “we have to brace ourself for a slowdown for some time. I say that for a combination of reasons. First of all, the financial system is under stress, financial conditions are very tight. This is not conducive for rapid growth.
          • The agriculture sector remains under stress, he said, adding international environment is getting much softer.
          • “Europe is slowing down, Japan is slowing down...there are political calenders. It is easier to do things at some moments than other moments. I think to expect huge reforms that will perk up the economy at this stage would be somewhat ambitious. 
          • Dr. Subramanian said that the autonomy of the RBI should not be undermined. However, he said there were excess reserves with the RBI which can be utilised for the recapitalisation of public sector banks and not for funding the fiscal deficit of the government.
          Urjit Patel makes a statement with his CRR remark
          • At the press conference post the fifth monetary policy review on December 5, Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel brushed aside a question on reduction in cash reserve ratio (CRR) saying that it is not in the ambit of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).
          • On the face of it, it might look like he has only stated the obvious. But it is not so black and white. The unasked question on CRR was: why cannot it be voted upon in the MPC? It is after all a liquidity management tool that can impact interest rate. And again, it is not as if the MPC votes only on the repo rate. Though the law mandates voting only on repo rate, there is voting on the policy stance as well. So, why not on CRR as well? Mr. Patel’s answer at the press conference has to be seen in this context.
          • Observers see this as an emphatic statement on who is the decision-making authority on CRR. There are two other statements in the press conference which are seen as Mr Patel attempting to regain ground lost in the last board meeting of the RBI.
          • By unambiguously stating that liquidity is no longer an issue for non-banking finance companies, the RBI has virtually ruled out any discussion on the subject during the next board meeting. 
          • The other decision was to form an expert committee for micro, small and medium enterprises.
          • The central bank noted that without understanding the economic forces and transaction costs affecting the performance of the MSMEs, the often adoptedrehabilitation approach to the MSMEs stress has ‘focused on deploying favourable credit terms and regulatory forbearances.’


          Current Affairs : 8 December 2018



          NATION

          Hype around surgical strikes unwarranted: Lt. Gen. Hooda
          • Former Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, the face of the “surgical strikes” carried out across the Line of Control in 2016, said that the initial euphoria over the operation’s success was natural but the constant hype around it unwarranted.
          • Lt. Gen. Hooda said in hindsight, it would have been better had India carried out the strikes secretly. The aim of any such offensive had to be not only tactical but strategic too, which substantially hampers enemy morale, he said, adding that he could not say with certainty if India had actually achieved that objective in full measure.
          • The former Army Commander was speaking during a discussion on ‘Role of Cross-Border Operations and Surgical Strikes’ at the Military Literature Festival 2018 here.
          • Defence commentator Colonel (retd) Ajai Shukla cautioned against the recent trend of colouring military achievements with political motives.
          • Col. Shukla said that Pakistan had, in fact, been emboldened by the strikes as it knew that the Indian government would now always be under immense pressure to strike across the border after each terror attack.
          • Citing the example of the 1981 Israeli air strikes on Iraqi nuclear sites, which had caused considerable damage, Lt. Gen. (retd) N.S. Brar underscored the need to ensure long-term impact on the enemy before undertaking any such operation in future.
          Rajan’s student is new CEA
          • The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has cleared the appointment of Krishnamurthy Subramanian as the Chief Economic Adviser for three years.
          • Mr. Subramanian, who did his Ph.D at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 2005 under Luigi Zingales and former CEA and RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, is also an alumnus of the IIT-Kanpur and the IIM-Calcutta.
          • He is an associate professor at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.
          • Mr. Subramanian has written about a number of economic and financial topics ranging from demonetisation to labour laws, CEO compensation, and even crime data.
          • Mr. Subramanian’s expertise has been put to good use by several of India’s regulators, including the Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India.
          • He serves on the boards of Bandhan Bank, the Reserve Bank of India Academy and National Institute of Bank Management apart from being a member of the P.J. Nayak Committee on Governance of Bank Boards and the SEBI committees on corporate governance, primary markets and secondary markets. 
          • Soon after the announcement of demonetisation, he argued that the data from the National Sample Survey Organisation showed that the impact of the note ban would not be as detrimental for the poor as was being portrayed by the opposition parties. He also said that the move would be “revolutionary in the annals of the country’s fight against corruption”.
          • More recently, in 2018, Mr. Subramanian wrote about how the Prevention of Corruption Act needs to be amended to ward off a “witch hunt” against bankers. In a 2012 paper with current RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Mr. Subramanian argued that laws that protect employees against unjust dismissal spur innovation.
          • In another paper, also with Mr. Acharya, he wrote that “stringent labour laws can provide firms a commitment device to not punish short-run failures and thereby spur their employees to pursue value-enhancing innovative activities”.
          NSCN(K) faction asks Centre to revive ceasefire
          • A breakaway faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), led by Khango Konyak, has decided to revoke its decision of unilaterally abrogating the ceasefire agreement with the Union government with immediate effect.
          • The chairman and general secretary of the NSCN(K) faction, Konyak and Isak Sumi, said in a joint statement that the outfit resolved to revoke the unilateral decision after holding wide consultations with NGOs and civil society groups of Nagaland in the past one month.
          • The NSCN(K) had signed ceasefire with the Centre in 2001 but unilaterally abrogated it in March 2015 when the then chairman of the group, S.S. Khaplang, was alive.
          • The statement said that the appeal made by various organisations and the “positive response” by the Government of India were also factors that led to its decision.
          • The NSCN(K) expects the Centre to respond positively by honouring its decision to revive the ceasefire in the interest of peace in Nagaland and the Naga people in general, the statement said.
          • The NSCN (Isak-Muivah) has been engaged in peace talks with the interlocutor of the Central government since 1997, when it announced a ceasefire agreement after an insurgency movement that started in Nagaland soon after India’s Independence.
          • Subsequently, the Centre signed a Framework Agreement with the NSCN(I-M) on August 3, 2015.
          • The Union government has also started separate talks with working committees of six Naga nationalist political groups since 2017.
          M.S. Swaminathan calls GM crops a failure, Centre’s adviser faults paper
          • A research paper co-authored by leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, which describes Bt cotton as a ‘failure,’ was criticised by India’s Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), K. VijayRaghavan as ‘deeply flawed’.
          • The paper, ‘Modern Technologies for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security’, appears in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Current Science. It is authored by P.C. Kesavan and Prof. Swaminathan, senior functionaries of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). The article is a review of crop development in India and transgenic crops — particularly Bt cotton, the stalled Bt brinjal as well as DMH-11, a transgenic mustard hybrid. The latter two have been cleared by scientific regulators but not by the Centre.
          • “There is no doubt that GE (genetically engineered) Bt cotton has failed in India. It has failed as a sustainable agriculture technology and has, therefore, also failed to provide livelihood security for cotton farmers who are mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers,” according to the paper, “…The precautionary principle (PP) has been done away with and no science-based and rigorous biosafety protocols and evaluation of GM crops are in place.”
          • The piece also raises questions on the genetic engineering technology itself on the grounds that it raises the cost of sowing. Also, the insertion of foreign genes (in the plant) could lead to “molecular and cellular events not precisely understood.”
          • Prof. Swaminathan, credited with leading India’s Green Revolution, has in recent years advocated ‘sustainable agriculture’ and said the government should only use genetic engineering as a last resort. “…Swaminathan emphasised that genetic engineering technology is supplementary and must be needbased. Only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology,” according to the paper.
          • However, the MSSRF also dabbles in GE research. It has a programme on developing drought-resistant GM rice by using genes from mangroves to potentially protect rice varieties grown along the coasts from being affected by higher saline content — a consequence of warming seas from climate change. “The programme is ongoing but isn’t aimed for the present. Genes from salt-tolerant plants too aren’t ideal…however, GE may be deployed to manage against abiotic stresses,” said Mr. Kesavan. Abiotic stresses refer to environmental factors that could meddle with plant yield, as opposed to ‘biotic’ stressors such as insects.
          New Delhi cashes in on goodwill with UAE
          • Christian Michel, a key accused in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal case, was brought to India on board a Gulf Stream G3 jet owned by the Aviation Research Centre of the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW).
          • Mr. Michel was brought by a five-member team of the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) and RAW and two UAE nationals believed to be government officials. There were eight passengers and five crew on the flight.
          • Indian and UAE diplomats have denied any link between the extradition of Mr. Michel and a major operation reportedly carried out by the Indian Coast Guard in March, in which the UAE Prime Minister’s daughter was taken into custody and repatriated.
          • An External Affairs Ministry official called the linkage between Mr. Michel’s extradition and the Latifa case “ridiculous”. A UAE official told The Hindu: “Extradition order has been done through a court order and has nothing to do with the [Latifa] incident.”
          • The Ministry, however, did not reply to a specific request to comment on reports in The Hindustan Times and newsportal The Print that had suggested a “quid pro quo”.
          • Coast Guard commandos stormed a vessel, Nostromo, in the Arabian Sea off Goa and took into custody at gunpoint Princess Latifa, daughter of Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who had run away from home.
          • Friends of Ms. Latifa, who said they had helped her escape, alleged that the Indian government had arranged for her to be sent back to the UAE, and she has not been heard from since. Ms. Latifa had recorded a long video prior to her escape from Dubai, accusing her father of illegal incarceration and torture.
          • Speaking to various media organisations, including the BBC and Australian Broadcasting, Herve Jaubert, captain of the Nostromo, which had carried Ms. Latifa from the UAE to India, said: “On March 4, we were attacked by Indian forces who boarded us from Coast Guard boats. They were about 12 armed men. They beat us severely with guns, and they robbed us; took pretty much everything from the boat.”
          • In September, Amnesty International joined human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and ‘Detained in Dubai’, calling for India and the UAE to clarify their position.
          • On Mr. Michel’s extradition, UAE sources say he was held at the Dubai airport when he tried to leave on June 13. Since then, officials had been pursuing his case for extradition to India with their court, while holding him in custody.
          • On November 19, the UAE court dismissed objections from Mr. Michel’s lawyers and allowed the extradition. It is unclear why there was a lag between the time of the order and his extradition, but External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s travel to Dubai on December 3 and 4 for the India-UAE Joint Commission Meeting for Economic and Technical Cooperation was considered one factor.
          • National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who has made more than one visit to the UAE in the past few months to secure Mr. Michel’s custody, is believed to have monitored the progress constantly, until the plane finally landed in the Palam Technical Area at 10.30 p.m. on December 4.
          • Mr. Michel’s extradition, that of a national from a third country not wanted for more serious crimes such as terror or murder, is believed to be an exceptional gesture made by the UAE, and is seen as a credit to India’s diplomatic efforts in the past few years.
          • Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UAE twice since he assumed office, in August 2015 and February 2018, and forged particularly close ties with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who visited India in February 2016 and then as the chief guest of Republic Day in January 2017.
          • The invitation to the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince was considered a major break from protocol for New Delhi, given that the guest at Republic Day up to then had been a head of state or government..
          Social media sites told to filter content using AI
          • The Union government has asked social media platforms to emulate their practices in the U.K. in using Artificial Intelligence tools to identify and take down content inciting violence, a senior Home Ministry official said.
          • On a request by a law enforcement agency, the Ministry has reduced the time limit to take down such posts and videos to about four hours from about 36 hours.
          • The Ministry has asked Twitter to engage “flaggers” and “voluntary organisations” to identify, detect and take down objectionable content in real time.
          • He said that after the government met representatives of Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and others, the compliance rates in honouring requests have gone up from 60% to 80%.
          • “Google has agreed to deploy pro-active tools to voluntarily identify and remove such content. Social media platforms have been asked to engage NGOs working in the field, and appoint a grievance redressal cell, for prompt action,” the official said.
          • The Ministry had asked Twitter to produce telephone numbers and other identifiable sources to help track suspicious accounts.
          • The Centre has stepped up its interactions with social media platforms to arrest the spread of rumours, and messages inciting unrest, cybercrimes and other anti- national activities. In May and June, over 20 people have been lynched based on fake posts or rumours floating on WhatsApp.
          • WhatsApp has been asked to keep the complete trail of forwarding of unlawful content and share “meta data”to identify the author of the content.

          WORLD

          Address common concerns, China tells U.S. and N. Korea
          • Chinese President Xi Jinping told North Korea's Foreign Minister that he hoped Pyongyang and Washington will address each other's concerns so that peace talks on the Korean peninsula “continue to make positive progress”.
          • Mr. Xi met with Ri Yong Ho in Beijing as denuclearisation talks have made little progress since a historic June summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
          • “The international and regional situation as well as the situation on the Korean peninsula remains in flux, so timely exchanges and the coordination of positions between China and North Korea are still extremely essential,” said Mr. Xi.
          • For his part, Mr. Ri said North Korea “remains committed to the denuclearisation of the peninsula,” according to Xinhua.
          • Talks on nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled, with Washington pushing to maintain sanctions until its “final, fully verified denuclearisation” and Pyongyang condemning U.S. demands as “gangster-like.”
          ECONOMY

          Current account deficit widens to 2.9% in Q2
          • Current account deficit (CA) widened to 2.9% of GDP for the July-September quarter due to higher trade deficit compared with 1.1% during the same period of the previous year, the Reserve Bank of India said.
          • The deficit for the second quarter was $19.1 billion compared with $6.9 billion in the year-earlier period. The CAD for the April-June quarter was 2.4% of GDP or $15.9 billion.
          • The widening of CAD on a year-on-year basis was primarily on account of a higher trade deficit at $50 billion compared with $32.5 billion a year ago, the central bank said.
          • “The deficit widened due to sharp rise in oil prices. But now prices have corrected 31% from peak levels. Exports also picked up after rupee weakened against the dollar.
          • Private transfer receipts, mainly representing remittances by Indians employed overseas, was $ 20.9 billion, increasing by 19.8% from their level a year ago.
          • “In the financial account, net foreign direct investment at $7.9 billion in Q2 of 2018-19 moderated from $12.4 billion in Q2 of 2017-18,” RBI said.
          • The central bank had intervened in the currency market by selling dollars to arrest the sharp fall in rupee. In 2018 till October, the rupee had weakened 15% against the dollar but reversed trend in November as oil prices softened. Latest data released showed foreign exchange reserves increased by $ 932.8 million to $393.718 billion in the week to November 30.
          • Overall, the country’s balance of payments was in deficit of $1.9 billion in the July-September quarter as compared with a surplus of $9.5 billion in the year ago period.
          Liquidity stress has abated, says SEBI chief
          • The liquidity stress affecting non-banking finance companies and housing finance companies since September 2018 has abated significantly, and the Indian markets have performed better than several developed markets despite high global volatility this year, the chief of India’s stock market regulator Ajay Tyagi said.
          • The Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Chairman said that the role of capital markets in facilitating fund raising to sustain the country’s economic growth momentum ‘becomes even more important given the stress in the banking sector.’
          • The volatility in global markets, caused by factors such as uncertainty in oil prices, change in monetary policy stance of central banks like the U.S. Federal Reserves and U.S.-China trade tensions, is likely to persist, Mr. Tyagi said at a financial markets summit.
          • Despite the high volatility in the Indian markets compared with ‘previous years when markets were just rising and people almost thought they provide assured returns, the performance of Indian capital markets has been comparable, not much worse than the comparable jurisdictions,’ Mr. Tyagi said.
          • The SEBI chief said that the regulator has moved ‘in a timely manner’ ‘by government standards’ on implementing reforms in the corporate governance framework proposed by a committee headed by Uday Kotak.
          • Steps are afoot to enhance the focus on independent directors, prescribe the separation of CEO, MD and chairperson roles, enhance the role of audit, nomination and remuneration and risk management committees as well as strengthening disclosures of related-party transactions, he said.

          Current Affairs: 7 December 2018

          NATION

          Cabinet clears policy to double agri exports
          • The Union Cabinet approved the Agriculture Export Policy, aimed at increasing India’s exports to $60 billion by 2022 from the current $37 billion, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu announced.
          • The objectives of the policy are, apart from doubling farmers’ income, to diversify the export basket and destinations, and to boost high-value and value-added exports, with a focus on perishables.
          • The policy also aims to promote the export of “novel, indigenous, organic, ethnic, traditional and non-traditional” products, according to a press release. The objective also is to provide an institutional mechanism for market access, tackling barriers, and dealing with sanitary and phytosanitary issues.
          • In order to do this, the Centre will work with the State governments to create clusters that can focus on particular crops.
          Tourists bring a wave of trash to beaches
          • In addition to air and water pollution, India can now add one more category to its pollution worries: beach pollution. And here, tourism and fishing are the biggest culprits, contributing most of the plastic litter on beaches, according to a study by the National Centre of Coastal Research (NCCR).
          • The NCCR conducted a qualitative analysis of the litter on six different beaches on the eastern and western coasts. It found that plastic litter from tourism alone accounted for 40%-96% of all beach litter.
          • After tourism, fishing was the next biggest source of litter. While fishing nets were a major contributor, the processing of fish on the beach also produced a lot of litter.
          • At Fort Kochi, fishing litter accounted for 22% of the total, followed by Elliot’s Beach at 15%, and Karwar beach at 10%.
          • Also, the proportion of biomedical litter was high in urban areas, such as Elliot’s Beach and Fort Kochi Beach.
          • The study looked at tonnes of litter across these six beaches on September 15, 2018, the International Coastal Cleanup Day.
          • M.V. Ramana Murthy, Director, NCCR, said India needed a national marine litter policy to control and manage waste on land and prevent its entry into the marine environment.
          ‘Air pollution cause of 1 in 8 deaths’
          • India, with 18% of the world’s population, has a disproportionately high 26% of the global premature deaths and disease burden due to air pollution.
          • Moreover, one in eight deaths in India was attributable to air pollution in India in 2017, making it a leading risk factor for death.
          • This is according to the first comprehensive estimates of reduction in life expectancy associated with air pollution in each State, published by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, a venture of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with experts and stakeholders associated with over 100 Indian institutions.
          • The key findings from the paper include the fact that 12.4 lakh deaths in India in 2017 were due to air pollution, which included 6.7 lakh deaths due to outdoor particulate matter air pollution and 4.8 lakh deaths due to household air pollution.
          • Over half of the deaths due to air pollution were in persons less than 70 years of age. In 2017, 77% population of India was exposed to ambient particulate matter PM2.5 above the recommended limit by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The report states that the highest PM2.5 exposure level was in Delhi, followed by the other north Indian States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana.
          • Further, the study states that the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), attributable to air pollution in India in 2017 for major non-communicable diseases were at least as high as those attributable to tobacco use.
          • “The average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if the air pollution level were less than the minimal level causing health loss, with the highest increases in the northern States of Rajasthan (2.5 years), Uttar Pradesh (2.2 years) and Haryana (2.1 years),” the study says.
          • “The massive adverse impact of air pollution on health is being increasingly better recognised,” Prof. Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), in a release said, “What is now also becoming understood is that air pollution is a year-round phenomenon, particularly in north India, which causes health impacts far beyond respiratory illnesses.”
          Naveen writes to all CMs on women’s Bill
          • Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday wrote to Chief Ministers of all States and Union Territories seeking their cooperation to ensure 33% reservation for women in Legislative Assemblies and Parliament.
          • Earlier, he had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate steps to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha.
          • Stating that women have a major role to play in building the nation and society, he wrote: “Empowerment of women is empowerment of the nation. No household, no society, no state, no country has ever moved forward without empowering its women.”
          • Mr. Patnaik’s letters to Chief Ministers came a day after the ruling Biju Janata Dal in Odisha took a decision to consult 22 political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, as part of its efforts to build consensus on the Women’s Reservation Bill pending in the Lok Sabha.
          • BJD vice-president Debi Prasad Mishra said party representatives will meet leaders of seven national parties — the Congress, BJP, Trinamool Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, CPI, CPI(M) and NCP — and 15 regional parties in this regard.
          • Though the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, it could not be passed in the Lok Sabha.
          • The legislation lapsed following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
          • The BJD has also decided to put up a proposal regarding the Bill during the Winter Session of Parliament which is scheduled to begin in the second week of December.
          • The Odisha Assembly on November 20 had unanimously passed a resolution seeking reservation of one-third seats for women in State Assemblies and Parliament.
          • In 2011, the Odisha government had enhanced the reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies to 50%.
          Karnataka must set aside ₹500 cr. for Bengaluru lakes
          • Coming down heavily on the Karnataka government for failing to “protect and rejuvenate” Bengaluru’s Bellandur, Agara and Varthur lakes, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the State government to transfer ₹500 crore to an escrow account.
          • The amount is to be utilised for execution of action plans to clean the water bodies.
          • Observing that untreated sewage continued to flow into the water bodies “indiscriminately”, a Bench, headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, directed the State government to deposit ₹50 crore to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as environmental compensation.
          • The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palika (BBMP) had been directed to deposit an environmental compensation of ₹25 crore. The green panel further said that the State government had to furnish a performance guarantee to execute the plan in a time-bound manner. “The performance guarantee will undertake to pay a further amount of ₹100 crore for failure in execution of the action plan,” the NGT said.
          • A panel, to be headed by former Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde and comprising representatives from the CPCB, the State Pollution Control Board and T.V. Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science, would monitor implementation.
          Manifesto of tribal rights issued
          • Tribal groups in Rajasthan have demanded that the next elected government in the State reveal the status of each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with reference to tribal communities and declare their status targets.
          • A manifesto for rights of the tribal population, residing mainly in southern Rajasthan, has demanded that they be recognised as “custodians of ecosystem, nature and traditions” and paid an honorarium for their contribution to preservation of natural resources. Their environment-friendly practices were also highlighted in the charter of demands.
          • The document was released by the Tribal Development Forum, Vaagdhara, and other institutions working for tribal rights and food security last week.
          • Mr. Joshi said though 70% population in the tribal area depended on agriculture, which was primarily rain-fed, most of the government's investment towards agriculture was dedicated to the irrigated crop area.
          • “A sustainable integrated farming system needs to be developed for benefiting small and marginal tribal farmers. Besides, agricultural subsidies should be broadened to promote traditional farming,” he said.
          • A monitoring mechanism should be dedicated to the SDG index in the tribal village panchayats, blocks and districts, said Mr. Joshi.
          • Besides, the next government should take serious steps for stopping the migration cycle triggered by lack of education and skills and large family size, which contributed to tribal people's poverty, forcing them to leave forests and villages.
          • Rajasthan's tribal population mainly resides in Udaipur, Sirohi, Dungarpur, Banswara and Pratapgarh districts.
          Deaths in accidents due to potholes are unacceptable: SC
          • The Supreme Court described as “unacceptable” the death of nearly 15,000 people in road accidents caused by potholes in the last five years and said the number was probably more than those killed on the border or by terrorists.
          • This indicates that the authorities concerned are not maintaining the roads properly, a Bench headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur said. Justices Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta were also a part of the Bench hearing the matter.
          • The Bench perused a report filed by the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, which said 14,926 persons died in road accidents due to potholes from 2013 to 2017 across the country. “It is almost 15,000 deaths in five years, more that those killed on border or by terrorists,” the Bench said, adding, “These are government figures.”
          • It asked the Centre to file its response on the committee’s report after consulting all the States. The matter will be heard in January.
          Will fill all CIC posts on Dec. 11, Centre tells SC
          • Appointments to fill at least four vacancies on the Central Information Commission will be finalised on December 11, the Centre told the Supreme Court this week, according to one of the petitioners in the case.
          • The government’s counsel also informed the court that the Centre intends to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, said the petitioner Anjali Bhardwaj.
          • The 11-member Commission, the highest appeal body available to applicants seeking information under the RTI Act, is currently operating with only three members in the wake of multiple retirements. The eight vacancies include the Chief Information Commissioner, who completed his tenure last month.
          • While the Centre listed the RTI Amendments Bill, 2018, for introduction in the monsoon session of Parliament, Opposition MPs had protested, citing concerns that the proposed amendments to salary and tenure norms would compromise the independence of the commissions at the Central and State levels.
          • Apart from the CIC, a number of State Information Commissions (SICs) are also operating with multiple vacancies, leading to a rising pendency of cases, petitioners told the apex court.
          ‘A lot needs to be done to remove gender inequality’
          • Even after 70 years of independence, gender inequality runs deep in all spheres of life, historian Ramachandra Guha said.
          • Speaking on gender and caste inequalities as part of the Goa Art and Literary Festival(GALF) Mr. Guha said, “Seventy odd years after independence, caste discrimination is pervasive in most parts of India, in the cities as well in the countryside, and so is gender discrimination.”
          • He said that in all spheres of public life, women are denied dignity, respect, education, employment, promotion and voice and they are often subjected to horrific violence. “So the need to renew and strengthen the struggle for gender and caste equality is compelling.”
          • “A 100 years ago, when the movement against British rule gathered strength, gathered pace, the more reflective you were to battle the British. Today you have to battle society on behalf of those who have been discriminated against,” said Mr. Guha, adding, “When it comes to equality under the law, the Constitution abolished inequality and it abolished untouchability and provided for positive discrimination in the form of affirmative action to overcome centuries of disadvantage.”
          • He said that the law can definitely do two things. At the level of enactment, it can say that there is no inequality. At the level of making up for centuries of discrimination, it can go down the route of positive discrimination, “which we have done for Dalits”.
          • However, he lamented that there was no such positive discrimination of women, except in panchayats, where their powers are very limited.
          • “It is a very token kind of representation. You have women elected in panchayats, but since there has been no proper devolution of powers to the panchayats, the power rests in the State Secretariat,” he said. “Only with affirmative action at the level of State legislatures and Parliament we will see a level of progress that is possible.”
          • Mr. Guha said that while Kerala was at the forefront of a movement in the 1920s to allow Dalits to enter temples, the same State was currently embroiled in the Sabarimala controversy over entry of women of a certain age into the shrine.
          • “I do not know, I have not studied it properly. When it comes to equality before God, whether it is Hinduism or Islam or Christianity, Dalits have made some more progress than women,” he said.
          WORLD

          OPEC agrees to cut oil production
          • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) tentatively agreed an oil-output cut but was waiting to hear from non-OPEC heavyweight Russia before deciding the exact volumes for a production reduction aimed at propping up crude prices, two sources from the group said.
          • The price of crude has fallen almost a third since October, but U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded OPEC make oil even cheaper by refraining from output cuts.
          • “We hope to conclude something by the end of the day tomorrow... We have to get the non-OPEC countries on board,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told reporters before the meeting started.  
          • Asked whether OPEC could fail to reach a deal, Mr. Falih said all options were on the table. Possible output cuts by OPEC and its allies ranged from 0.5-1.5 million barrels per day, and one million bpd was acceptable, he said.
          • “It is unlikely to spark a meaningful price rally, but also will not be so dire either. In many respects it is the middle road, which may be the optimal solution,” said Mr. Sharenow, who helps manage a $15 billion commodities fund at Pimco.
          • OPEC delegates have said the group and its allies could cut by one million bpd if Russia contributed 1,50,000 bpd of that reduction. If Russia contributed around 2,50,000 bpd, the overall cut could exceed 1.3 million bpd. Oil prices have crashed as Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UAE raised output since June after Mr. Trump called for higher production to offset lower exports from Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer.
          • Russia, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have been vying for the position of top crude producer in recent years. The U.S. is not part of any output-limiting initiative due to its anti-trust legislation and fragmented oil industry.
          • Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said that he would support a cut as long as Iran did not need to reduce its own output. Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban said Iraq as OPEC’s second-largest producer would support and join a cut.
          ECONOMY

          CAD may fall to 2.2%, thanks to oil slide
          • The ongoing fall in the price of crude oil has made the government rethink its projections for the current account deficit (CAD) for the year, a senior Finance Ministry official said.
          • Where it was earlier expecting a CAD of 2.8% of GDP, it has now revised its estimate down to 2.2%, he said, adding that if oil prices maintain this trajectory, CAD could fall below 2% next year.
          • The CAD was 1.9% of GDP in the financial year 2017-18 and 0.6% in the year before that. It stood at 2.4% in the first quarter of this financial year.
          • Oil price increased 17.7% in two months from $72.4 per barrel on August 1 to a historical high of $85.2 per barrel on October 4. Prices fell drastically thereafter to as low as $58.6 per barrel on November 30.
          Political expediencies can’t dictate capital buffer for banks, says RBI ED
          • In a scathing attack on the government demand for liberalising capital norms for banks, a senior Reserve Bank of India (RBI) official made it clear that lenders aspiring to meet the bare minimum core buffers will be condemned to stay poor and warned that banking regulations should not be based on political expediencies.
          • Executive Director Sudarshan Sen said our banking system is short of at least ₹4 trillion in capital if we were to follow the global best practices even at an 8% capital buffer.
          • In a speech, Mr. Sen also said the lenders will have to set aside up to ₹2 trillion more in supervisory capital soon and doubted if the ongoing insolvency resolutions will yield good returns for banks. An additional ₹2 trillion will be needed to make adequate provisions for dud assets as per global norms.
          • He went to the extent of saying that “when the going gets tough, it is the banks with capital which will get going and those without it will be punished by the ecosystem.”
          • In the comments that come amid repeated demands from key Finance Ministry mandarins to lower the core capital requirements and align it to the global levels, Mr. Sen suggested that the debate over capital buffers itself is irrelevant, and the numbers 8% or 9% does not matter.
          • The Basel III norms prescribe 8% core capital buffer for banks — something the government is basing its arguments on.
          • “The more meaningful debate, which really should be happening is what should be the optimum level of capital for our banks, given the ground realities and not just expediency,” Mr. Sen argued.
          • It can be noted that the lowering of the capital requirements would release more lendable funds for the banking system, which is very important for government headed to polls in a few months.
          • The central banker said internationally, banks in jurisdictions that require 8% minimum capital effectively operate at around 14% or even higher.
          • He also lashed out at the demand for making an exception for the State-run lenders on capital requirements because of the implicit government guarantee that they possess, describing it as “spurious reasoning” which has risks like moral hazard, losing market credibility and not allowing a level-playing field.
          • “Business cycles and financial crises are old companions and they are here to stay,” Mr. Sen added.
          • On the debate over the counter cyclical capital buffers (CCB) where the RBI board had done some relaxations at its last meeting on November 19, Mr. Sen likened our situation to travelling on a rickety public transport.
          ‘PMAY-U needs push to succeed’
          • The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana - Urban (PMAY-U), being implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs under the Housing for All by 2022 Mission since June 2015, needs a concerted push to succeed, according to Crisil Research.
          • The government will need another ₹1 lakh crore in three years to build one crore houses, as disbursements under PMAY-U show a huge lag.
          • A ramp-up in fund-raising and utilisation is crucial, Crisil said.
          • As on November 26, 2018, only 12 lakh had been constructed, though 63 lakh houses had been sanctioned, while 23 lakh were under construction, Crisil said in a statement.
          • The Ministry aims to sanction 75 lakh houses and construct 30 lakh by the close of this fiscal.
          • The Central government needs to contribute a whopping ₹1.5 lakh crore in seven fiscals through 2022, at an average of ₹1.5 lakh per house.
          • However, only 22% of this, or ₹32,500 crore, has been disbursed so far.

                    Current Affairs: 6 December 2018

                    NATION

                    You may soon be able to opt out of Aadhaar
                    • The government is in the last stages of finalising a proposal to amend the Aadhaar Act to give all citizens an option to withdraw their Aadhaar number, including biometrics and the data.
                    • This follows the Supreme Court judgment in September that upheld the validity of Aadhaar, however, with certain riders.
                    • A Constitution Bench had struck down Section 57 of the Act that allows private entities to use the unique number for verification. The Bench also declared that seeking to link it with bank accounts and SIM cards was unconstitutional.
                    • “The initial proposal was prepared by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It submitted that once a child turns 18, he/she will be given six months to decide if he/she wants to withdraw,” a senior official said.
                    • This proposal was sent to the Law Ministry to be vetted. 
                    • However, the proposal, which will now be sent to the Cabinet, is likely to benefit only those who do not have a PAN card or do not require one, as the court had upheld the linkage of PAN with Aadhaar.
                    • Over 37.50 crore PANs have been issued till March 12, 2018. Of these, the number of PANs issued to individuals stood at more than 36.54 crore, of which about 16.84 crore PANs have been linked with Aadhaar.
                    • In line with the court order, the proposal seeks to appoint an adjudicating officer to decide whether a person’s Aadhaar-related data need to be disclosed in the interest of national security.
                    • The court had also struck down Section 33(2), which allowed disclosure of Aadhaar information for national security reasons on the orders of an officer not below Joint Secretary. It had said an officer above Joint Secretary should consult a judicial officer and together take a call.
                    PM-CJI talks speeded judicial appointments: Kurian Joseph
                    • A new channel of dialogue between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on issues relating to judicial appointments is a reason for the quick-fire filling of judicial vacancies in the Supreme Court and the High Courts, Justice Kurian Joseph, who retired as the third senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, revealed.
                    • He said the speedy appointments were due to “better clarity” that prevails after Justice Gogoi took over as the Chief Justice of India. “The Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India certainly had discussions on these issues. Both heads would have taken appropriate decision to expedite the process. There is no delay now. They have sorted out the gaps...,” said Justice Kurian.
                    • Asked whether there was some miscommunication before Chief Justice Gogoi took over, he said, “I think so. The lack of proper communication between the two heads stood in the way. If there is any problem, they should sit together and work it out.” To a question whether a regular dialogue between the government and the judiciary is healthy, he said the dialogue is on issues of judicial appointments and not about litigation.
                    ‘CO2 levels poised for record high’
                    • Global carbon emissions are set to hit an all-time high of 37.1 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2018, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Global Carbon Project.
                    • India, the third-highest contributor, is projected to see emissions rise by 6.3% from 2017.
                    • The 2.7% projected global rise in 2018 has been driven by appreciable growth in coal use for the second year in a row, and sustained growth in oil and gas use.
                    • This week, representatives from more than 190 countries have begun discussions at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland, on ways to equitably cut carbon emissions.
                    • The 10 biggest emitters in 2018 are China, U.S., India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Canada. The EU as a region of countries ranks third. China’s emissions accounted for 27% of the global total, having grown an estimated 4.7% in 2018 and reaching a new all-time high. Emissions in the U.S., which has withdrawn from its commitment to the Paris Agreement, account for 15% of the global total, and look set to have grown about 2.5% in 2018 after several years of decline.
                    • Limiting global warming to the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature increase this century to well below 2°C, would need carbon dioxide emissions to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by about 2050.
                    • Though coal use contributed to the rise in 2018 from last year, it still remains below its historical high in 2013 but may exceed that if current growth continues.
                    ‘Big bird’ to take Internet to villages
                    • India’s first six-tonne-class ‘big bird’ in space, the heaviest ever to be built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the 5,854 kg satellite, advanced communication satellite GSAT-11, was put into orbit from the European spaceport in Guiana in South America.
                    • Its mission is to enable high-speed satellite-based Internet services to users in rural and remote areas and to businesses down home over the next 15 years.
                    • The satellite and the launch fee have cost ISRO ₹1,200 crore.
                    • The liftoff of GSAT-11 and a South Korean co-passenger satellite on European space vehicle Ariane 5 VA246 was watched and cheered by ISRO Chairman K. Sivan.
                    • In his post-launch remarks, Dr. Sivan said, “It will meet most of the requirements of providing broadband connectivity to rural and inaccessible village panchayats under Bharat Net, which is part of the Digital India initiative.”
                    • Launched in October 2011, Bharat Net (earlier called the National Optical Fibre Network) aims to provide 2.5 lakh village panchayats with e-banking, e-education, e-health and e-governance, among others, through reliable broadband connectivity.
                    • This, along with GSAT-29 and GSAT-19, smaller satellites already launched from within India, will herald a new era of satellite-driven reliable high-throughput data services. 
                    • Enabling in-flight Internet and village web services are the government’s other goals: the latter promises to bridge the urban-rural digital divide.
                    • GSAT-11 carries eight transponders for the first time in the complex and efficient Ka frequency band, and 38 transponders in the Ku band. The Ka band enables smart coverage of places with multiple and reusable spot beams.
                    India gets first witness protection scheme
                    • The Supreme Court on Wednesday put in place a witness protection regime in the country, noting that one of the main reasons for witnesses turning hostile was that they were not given security by the State.
                    • A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer said the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 would come into effect immediately across all States.
                    • Under it, witness protection may be as simple as providing a police escort to the witness up to the courtroom or, in more complex cases involving an organised criminal group, taking extraordinary measures such as offering temporary residence in a safe house, giving a new identity, and relocation to an undisclosed place. The top court said the scheme, which aimed to enable a witness to depose fearlessly and truthfully, would be the law of the land till Parliament enacted suitable legislation.
                    • The issue came up when the Supreme Court was hearing a public interest litigation plea seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu.
                    No step taken to fill posts in information panels: SC
                    • The Supreme Court has said that posts in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and in State Information Commissions (SICs) are lying vacant and no effective steps have been taken to fill them.
                    • A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer has asked the Centre and States such as West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala and Karnataka to submit a status report on what steps have been taken to fill the posts.
                    • Advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted a chart which contained the status of vacancies in Information Commissions in the country. The report stated that there were eight vacancies, including that of Chief CIC, in the Central Information Commission. Mr. Bhushan said the CIC was functioning with only three Commissioners, due to which pendency had risen to 26,037 as on December 2. 
                    Centre may bring back curbs in Andamans
                    • The Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, Nand Kumar Sai, has said the Centre may like to revisit its decision to lift the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) system from 29 islands of Andaman and Nicobar, after the death of U.S. citizen John Allen Chau.
                    • Mr. Sai, who is leading a delegation of the Commission to the islands, told that the lifting of the regime proved problematic and the decision had “many pros and cons that needed to be re-looked”.
                    • However, the death of John Allen Chau could not be linked to the withdrawal of the regime.
                    • To develop tourism, the RAP regime, in place since 1963, was lifted around August this year from 29 islands, including the North Sentinel (where Chau was reportedly killed). Though the regime was withdrawn, a tourist is required to take permission from the Forest Department and the local administration as it is protected under two other Acts.
                    • Mr. Sai said there might have been some carelessness in tracking the movements of Chau.
                    Forced to step in, says Centre
                    • The Centre defended in the Supreme Court its decision to divest the powers of CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, saying it was done to restore the confidence of the public in the nation’s premier probe agency.
                    • Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal said the spat between the top officials had created an “extraordinary and unprecedented” situation due to which the government had to step in.
                    • “If the government had not stepped in, God knows where this spat between the top officials at CBI may have ended,” the Attorney-General said. 
                    • The A-G clarified that the action against the CBI Director did not amount to transfer and only his functions had been withdrawn. 
                    • The top court is also collectively hearing another petition by NGO Common Cause which has sought a probe against CBI officers, including Mr. Asthana.
                    • Earlier, the CVC had submitted its preliminary enquiry report into allegations against Mr. Verma in a sealed cover.
                    WORLD

                    ‘We will also develop banned N-weapons’
                    • A defiant Vladimir Putin threatened to develop nuclear missiles banned under a treaty with the U.S. after Washington gave a deadline to comply with the key arms control agreement.
                    • This came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would withdraw from a major Cold War treaty limiting mid-range nuclear arms within 60 days if Russia does not dismantle missiles that the U.S. claims breach the deal.
                    • Mr. Putin dismissed Mr. Pompeo’s statement as a smokescreen, saying that Washington had already decided to ditch the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF).
                    Yemen peace talks to open on Thursday
                    • Peace talks between Yemen’s government and rivals aimed at ending four years of devastating war will open on Thursday in Sweden, the UN announced.
                    • No breakthrough is expected at the talks, which mark the first meeting between Yemen’s Saudi Arabia-backed government and Houthi rebels, linked to Iran, since 2016 — when more than 100 days of negotiations failed to end a war that has now claimed upwards of 10,000 lives and pushed 14 million people to the brink of famine.
                    • Sources close to the rebels said that the Houthis are expected to request the reopening of Sana’a International Airport, which has been damaged by Saudi-led air raids and shut down by Riyadh and its allies, who control Yemen’s airspace.
                    • A source in the government delegation said President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s camp is seeking maps detailing landmines planted by the rebels.
                    • Sources on both sides said they would demand a ceasefire — initiated by their rival — and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

                    ECONOMY

                    Reserve Bank stands pat on rates
                    • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has left the key interest rate or the repo rate unchanged at 6.5% during the fifth bimonthly monetary policy review — which was on expected lines — while maintaining the ‘calibrated tightening’ stance though it reduced the inflation projection sharply.
                    • During the post-policy interaction, RBI Governor Urjit Patel said the central bank was ready to take policy action if upside risks to inflation did not materialise.
                    • “If the upside risks we have flagged do not materialise or are muted in their impact as reflected in incoming data, there is a possibility of space opening up for commensurate policy actions by the MPC,” Dr. Patel said.
                    • Consumer price index-based inflation is projected at 2.7-3.2% for the second half of the current financial year and 3.8-4.2% in the first half of the next financial year. In the previous policy review held in October, inflation was projected at 3.9-4.5% for the second half of FY19 and 4.8% in the first quarter of FY20.
                    • The sharp fall in inflation comes on the back of 30% decline in crude oil prices .
                    • The RBI decided to retain GDP growth rate for 2018-19 at 7.4% and estimated growth at 7.5% for the first half of the next financial year.
                    • S.C. Garg, Secretary, Economic Affairs, while ‘welcoming’ the RBI assessment on growth and inflation outlook, however said, “The policy stance probably required calibration.”
                    • In a move to boost credit flows, the central bank has decided to reduce the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) requirement for banks to 18% of net demand and time liabilities from 19.5% over the next six quarters, by 25 bps each in every quarter.
                    ‘Cyberattacks cost big firms in India $10.3 mn on an average’
                    • A large-sized organisation in India incurs an average of $10.3 million in economic losses due to cyberattacks, according to a Frost and Sullivan study commissioned by Microsoft.
                    • The study also said cyberattacks cost a mid-sized organisation an average of $11,000 in economic losses.
                    • “Cybersecurity attacks have also resulted in job losses across different functions in more than three in five (64%) organisations that have experienced an incident during the survey period,” it added.
                    • It found that more than three in five organisations (62%) surveyed in India have either experienced a cybersecurity incident (30%) or were not sure if they had one as they had not performed proper forensics or data breach assessment (32%).
                    • Keshav Dhakad, group head and assistant general counsel, Corporate, External & Legal Affairs at Microsoft India said, “With traditional IT boundaries disappearing, the adversaries now have many new targets to attack. Companies face the risk of significant financial loss, damage to customer satisfaction and market reputation — as is evident from high-profile breaches this year."