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Current Affairs: 23 January 2019

NATION

Centre files status report on CIC selection
  • The government handed over a status report to the Supreme Court on the progress in the process of appointment to the Central Information Commission even as PIL petitioners alleged that the procedure followed was arbitrary.
  • A three-judge Bench, led by Justice A.K. Sikri, took the status report on record and ordered that a copy be handed over to RTI activists-petitioners Anjali Bhardwaj, Lokesh Batra and Amrita Johri, represented by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva. They have agreed to file a response to the report in three days.
  • During the hearing, the petitioners submitted that the appointment process of Information Commissioners to the Central Information Commission happened in an “arbitrary manner as the search committee, had in violation of its mandate, short-listed persons who had not even applied for the post in response to advertisements.”
Pune-Secunderabad Shatabdi is India’s cleanest train
  • The results of the first-ever ‘Total Cleanliness Survey’ of the Railways are now out, and the winners are North Western Railway (NWR), which topped the zonal rankings in the ‘Premium’ category trains, and Southern Railway, which came out on top in the ‘Other than Premium’ category’ trains.
  • The cleanliness survey covered 209 trains and was conducted by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) through two professional agencies. The survey’s stated aim was to assess the progress of the ‘Swachh Rail-Swachh Bharat’ mission and promote healthy competition among trains.
  • While the NWR recorded an average score of 860 out of 1,000 in the ‘Premium’ category, South Central Railway finished at the bottom with an average score of 658. Southern Railway topped the ‘Other than Premium’ category’, recording the highest average score of 736 among the 16 railway zones, while the East Central Railway was the dirtiest in this group, with an average score of 572.
  • The ‘Premium’ trains included the Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duronto, Tejas and Gatiman while Sampark Kranti, Intercity, Jan Shatabdi and other Mail and Express trains were grouped under the ‘Other than Premium’ category.
  • The overall score of the Rajdhani trains was 787. 
  • In the case of the 26 Shatabdi trains, the Pune-Secunderabad Shatabdi, with 916, finished on top.
  • Opinion of on-board passengers was sought on the state of toilets, housekeeping, linen and general cleanliness, with the rating options ranging from 1 to 5.
Bal Sabhas to resolve issues in rural schools
  • A new initiative launched by the Congress government in Rajasthan for identifying and resolving issues in upper primary schools situated in the rural areas through “Bal Sabha” (Children’s Assembly) is set to bring about qualitative changes in education. Besides students, the Sabhas will be attended by parents, teachers and village elders.
  • A series of Bal Sabhas was organised in as many as 3,300 schools in Jaipur district on Saturday last. Minister of State for Education Govind Singh Dotasra attended the congregation in Bhojlawa village of the Govindgarh panchayat samiti.
  • Mr. Dotasra said that the novel concept would ensure the participation of all stakeholders and significantly improve the quality of education in government schools.
  • Principal Secretary (School Education) Bhaskar A. Sawant said extracurricular activities would shape the personality of students, while Director (School Education) Pradeep Kumar Borad said the Bal Sabhas would promote dialogue between villagers and schoolchildren.
Assam clears 10% quota for poor in general category
  • The Assam Cabinet has approved 10% quota for the economically weaker sections in the general category in government jobs and education.
  • The Constitution (124 Amendment) Bill, 2019, providing for 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions to the EWS in the general category was passed by Parliament in its recently concluded winter session.
  • The State Cabinet also approved the guidelines for disbursement of ₹5,000 each to five lakh farmers under the Mukhya Mantri Krishi Sa Sajuli Yozana for purchase of farm tools and implements, an official spokesman said.
  • The Cabinet also approved incentives for government doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers under the Ayushman Bharat and Atal Amrit Abhiyan schemes.
Mekedatu dam plan violates Supreme Court verdict: T.N.
  • The proposed construction of the Mekedatu reservoir on Cauvery river by Karnataka is an attempt to impound the uncontrolled flows in the intermediate catchment areas and is violative of the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Cauvery Tribunal, Tamil Nadu told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
  • This is part of the rejoinder filed by the Tamil Nadu government against the Centre’s claim that conditional clearance given to Karnataka for preparing a detailed project report (DPR) on the Mekedatu balancing reservoir-cum-drinking water project was subject to the amicable resolution of connected inter-State matters.
  • Tamil Nadu said the Centre’s claim was misplaced. The State, referring to the Guidelines of Submission, Appraisal and Acceptance of Irrigation and Multipurpose Project of 2017, argued that inter-State aspects had to be dealt with even at the stage of preparing the pre-feasibility report on the project.
  • The Centre failed to realise that even an “in-principle clearance” from its side to a detailed project report would require prior examination on whether the interests of the co-basin States like Tamil Nadu and Puducherry were protected under the 2017 Guidelines.
  • “The central agencies are duty-bound to act fairly and seem to have consciously ignored these guidelines while granting the permission to proceed for the preparation of DPR which is wholly illegal and untenable,” Tamil Nadu contended in its rejoinder.
  • Karnataka filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court informing that the project proponent, Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Ltd, submitted the DPR with the Central Water Commission on January 18, 2019.
Research fellowship hike likely to be notified by February
  • With hundreds of student-researchers in several institutions across the country picketing for a hike in fellowships, two senior officials said that a decision should be out by the first week of February and the hikes could range from 25-50%.
  • On January 16 about 2,000 students and researchers, including from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the labs of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and several universities converged for a protest in Delhi.
  • The students are gunning for at least an 80% hike in the research stipends given to those pursuing their doctoral degrees.
  • Typically these stipends are significantly revised once in four years — the last being in 2014 — and a committee of scientists had recommended an increase after a meeting last December.
  • Inspite of being a leading scientific power in terms of research publications, India spends about 0.7% of its GDP on research and development, which is much lower than countries of comparable scientific prowess.
  • The civilian science ministries were alloted ₹12,322 crore in February 2018, a hike of approximately 10% from the last year.
ILO urges universal labour guarantee
  • As heads of State and business leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum this week, the UN agency that sets international labour standards is asking them to commit to a universal labour guarantee, universal social protection from birth to old age, an international governance system for the gig economy, and a human-in-command approach to artificial intelligence.
  • In a report on the ‘Future of Work’, released in Geneva on Tuesday to mark its centenary, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned that “without decisive action we will be sleepwalking into a world that widens inequality, increases uncertainty and reinforces exclusion, with destructive political, social and economic repercussions.”
  • Around the world, 190 million people are unemployed, while 300 million workers live in extreme poverty, according to the ILO. Wage gaps are growing at a time of declining wage growth.
  • Two-thirds of jobs in the developing world are susceptible to automation, and only 15% of households in emerging countries have Internet access. Implementing the Paris Climate Agenda could create 24 million new jobs, but it could still be brutal to the 6 million workers expected to lose their jobs in the transition to a greener economy.
SC to take ‘in-chamber’ decision on Art. 35A plea
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will be taking an “in-chamber” decision on the listing of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35-A, which provides special rights and privileges to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • In August last year, the court indicated that it would consider the question of whether Article 35A was violative of the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
  • However, at that time, the Centre and J&K government had sought an adjournment on the ground that an interlocutor was carrying on dialogues with the State’s stakeholders.
  • The special status was bestowed on Jammu and Kashmir by incorporating Article 35A in the Constitution. Article 35A was incorporated by an order of President Rajendra Prasad in 1954 on the advice of the Nehru Cabinet.
  • Parliament was not consulted when the President incorporated Article 35A into the Constitution through a Presidential Order issued under Article 370. Article 368 (i) of the Constitution mandates that only the Parliament can amend the Constitution by introducing a new article.
EC files complaint against ‘cyber expert’
  • Taking cognisance of the claims made at a press conference in London by Syed Shuja, a self-styled Indian cyber expert, that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) used by the Election Commission of India could be hacked, the poll body on Tuesday asked the Delhi Police to register an FIR.
  • The Commission wrote to the Deputy Commissioner of Police (New Delhi), alleging that by making such claims, Mr. Shuja had caused public mischief, which is an offence under Section 505(1) (b) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • The Supreme Court and several High Courts, in their judgments, had endorsed the use of EVMs in elections.
  • Following doubts raised by various political parties, the Commission, on June 3, 2017, organised an “open challenge”, inviting experts to demonstrate any vulnerability in the machines, the poll panel said. “Nobody turned up for such demonstrations,” said the EC in its complaint, adding that the act of Mr. Shuja was violative of Section 505(1)(b).
  • In a letter to the Commission, the Electronics Corporation of India Limited said that Mr. Shuja had neither been its regular employee nor was he in any way associated with the design and development of EVMs in the public sector undertaking between 2009 and 2014.
  • The police said they had received the complaint and that legal action was being taken under Section 505 of the IPC. 
  • Under Section 188 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police also have powers to investigate crimes committed overseas by an Indian citizen, with prior sanction of the Central government.
India takes back 31 stranded Rohingya
  • India agreed on Tuesday to take back 31 Rohingya stranded on the International Border between Bangladesh and Tripura on Tuesday, and sent them to custody with the Tripura police.
  • The decision to take back the group of refugees consisting of 15 adults and 16 children including a 6-month old baby, who had been stuck in no-man’s land between the two countries since January 19, ended a stand off between Indian Border Security Force personnel, and the Border Guards of Bangladesh.
  • However. officials warned that the 31 Rohingyas are part of a much larger wave of more than 1,300 refugees who have fled India for Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar camps, which further strain diplomatic ties between Dhaka and New Delhi.
  • India also contested claims by Bangladeshi officials that the BSF was forcibly pushing the refugees over the border from its side.
  • “Government is aware of media reports of alleged movement into Bangladesh by some such persons. Government is not a party to such movements. We will work with our neighbours to handle such matters through mutual consultation,” the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs said on Tuesday. He added that the 31 persons who were on the ‘Zero line’ on the India-Bangladesh border, had been provided “necessary shelter, food and material” while their documentation was examined.
  • Sources said once the authorities were given clear evidence the group had crossed over from the Indian side, it was taken back by the Border Security Forces, and then handed to Tripura police, who have taken the adults into custody while the children are likely to be sent to juvenile homes until their case is decided.
  • When asked how the BSF officials established that the detained persons were Rohingyas, a senior government official told The Hindu that they had a card issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), India.
  • The MEA did not respond to a question on whether Rohingyas are fleeing India.
  • According to Nayana Bose, Communications Officer of the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), “More than 1,300 individual Rohingya refugees — some 300 families — have recently arrived from India in Cox’s Bazar.”
  • International Human Rights agencies like the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees have been calling on India to reconsider plans to deport Rohingya back to Myanmar unless their safety is guaranteed, but the government has already repatriated two groups there.
  •  According to officials the repatriations, as well as the threat of attacks at their camps in Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country are driving more and more Rohingyas to flee India for the camps in Cox’s Bazaar which already houses more than 7,00,000 refugees.
  • On Monday night, Tripura police apprehended another group of 30 Rohingya Muslims travelling on a Guwahati-bound bus at Churaibari, believed to be trying to travel across the border as well. As per the Home Ministry’s estimate, there are around 40,000 Rohingyas in India, of whom around 5,700 are in Jammu. Of these, only 16,000 are said to be registered with the United Nations, most of whom came in 2012-13.
ECONOMY

Centre’s debt-to-GDP falls, States’ rises
  • While the Centre is moving in the right direction in terms of meeting the N.K. Singh Committee recommendations on public debt, the States are moving in the opposite direction, data released by the government show.
  • According to the Status Paper on Government Debt for 2017-18, the Centre’s total debt as a percentage of GDP reduced to 46.5% in 2017-18 from 47.5% as of March 31, 2014. The total debt of the States, however, has been rising over this period, to 24% in 2017-18, and is estimated to be 24.3% in 2018-19.
  • In absolute terms, the Centre’s total debt increased from ₹56,69,429 crore at the end of March 2014 to ₹82,35,178 crore in 2017-18, representing a 45% increase. The total debt of the States increased from ₹24,71,270 crore to ₹40,22,090 crore over the same period, an increase of almost 63%.
  • The N.K. Singh-headed FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Review Committee report had recommended the ratio to be 40% for the Centre and 20% for the States, respectively, by 2023. It said that the 60% consolidated Central and State debt limit was consistent with international best practices, and was an essential parameter to attract a better rating from the credit ratings agencies.
  • “Outstanding liabilities of States have increased sharply during 2015-16 and 2016-17, following the issuance of UDAY bonds in these two years, which was reflected in an increase in liability-GDP ratio from 21.7% at end-March 2015 to 23.4% at end-March 2016 and further to 23.8% at end-March 2017,” the status report said.
  • “State governments as a group have exhibited a tendency to hold large cash surpluses/investments in Cash Balance Investment Account on a consistent basis while at the same time resorting to market borrowings to finance their GFD (Gross Fiscal Deficit),” the report said.
  • “This indicates scope for reducing the quantum of market borrowings by State governments in case they bring down their cash surpluses (parked as investment in treasury bills of the Central government),” the report added.
Crisil downgrades IL&FS arm to ‘junk’
  • Rating agency Crisil has downgraded Jharkhand Road Projects Implementation Company Limited (JRPICL) which is a subsidiary of IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd. (ITNL), and a part of the Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) Group to D which is default or junk grade after the company failed to service debt.
  • “The downgrade reflects non-payment of interest and principal obligations on Crisil-rated [non-convertible debentures of ₹438 crore] that were due on January 21, 2019,” it said.
  • Crisil said the rating action is on account of non-adherence to the structured payment mechanism, despite adequate funds in JRPICL’s escrow account.
  • Crisil said JRPICL, with its strong track record, has enough wherewithal to service the NCDs from its cash flow. As on December 31, 2018, the company had ₹345 crore of liquid funds available for debt servicing which is around 4.5 times the quarterly debt obligation of ₹76 crore due in January 2019.

Current affairs MCQ's with answers (23-01-2019)

Q1. Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura celebrated their which anniversary on 21jan 2019.
A. 45th
B. 46th
C. 47th
D. 48th

Q2. Raghbir Singh Bhola who recently passed away was a  famous player of which sports.
A. Cricket
B. Hockey
C. Kabaddi
D. Basketball

Q3. The annual meet of World economic forum has stated in which city.
A. Davos
B. Paris
C. New Delhi
D. London

Q4. What is the name of the Oldest man who recently passed away from Japan.
A. Masazo nonaka
B. Chan Chung
C. Naomi Walker
D. None of these

Q5. Which city is the venue of Arab economic and social development Summit 2019.
A. Baghdad
B. Beirut
C. Muscat
D. None of these



Answers
Q1.C
Q2.B
Q3.A
Q4.A
Q5.B

Current Affairs: 22 January 2019

NATION

CJI pulls out of CBI case hearing
  • Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Monday recused himself from hearing a petition challenging the appointment of M. Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director and ordered the plea to be placed before a Bench led by the number two Supreme Court judge, Justice A.K. Sikri, on January 24.
  • Justice Sikri himself was part of the high-power committee chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which ousted Alok Verma as CBI Director and paved the way for the appointment of Mr. Rao as interim Director. 
  • The vote of Justice Sikri, who went in place of Chief Justice Gogoi as his nominee, had proved to be the decisive one against Mr. Verma. During the court hearing, the Chief Justice explained that it would not be possible for him to hear the case as there is a meeting of the high-power committee scheduled for January 24. This committee would recommend a name for CBI Director from a panel. Chief Justice Gogoi would be attending the meeting as member.
  • The Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, mandates that the Centre appoint the CBI Director on the recommendation of a committee chaired by the Prime Minister and comprising the Leader of the Opposition, the CJI or his nominee Supreme Court judge.
Centre proposes to hike pensions
  • Ahead of the 2019 election, the Rural Development Ministry has proposed that the monthly pensions of the elderly poor, disabled and widows be increased from the current ₹200 to ₹800. For those above the age of 80, the proposal is to increase the pension from ₹500 to ₹1,200 a month.
  • The Ministry has submitted the proposal, which would have an additional annual cost implication of ₹18,000 crore, to the Finance Ministry to be considered for inclusion in the interim Budget to be presented on February 1.
  • If the proposal is announced, the Ministry will then move the Cabinet to approve the increase in pensions, said the official.
  • Separately, a study has been launched to consider doubling the number of people covered by the scheme, a promise originally made in last year’s Budget.
Protest against proposed bird sanctuary in Manipur
  • The Manipur government’s plan to set up a bird sanctuary at the Loktak lake in Bishnupur district has met with stiff opposition from the villagers in nearby areas.
  • “The villagers of Thingnunggei are poor and they have no other means of earning a livelihood except for catching fish and plucking vegetables from the lake. If fishing is banned in the lake, the villagers would starve. We are all for protection of birds, most of whom are migratory, but the new scheme should not be implemented at the cost of the poor villagers,” said one of the protesters.
  • Thousands of migratory birds flock to the Loktak lake, the largest freshwater lake in north-eastern India, every year. However, in the past few years there has been a sharp decline in the number of migratory birds coming to the lake.
  • Reports indicate that bird poachers are active in the area, targeting the winged guests.
  • Birdwatchers on the other hand blame human intrusion, bird poaching and hydroelectric power project near the lake for the decline in the number of migratory birds and brow-antlered deer in the Keibul Lamjao national park in the vicinity.
  • Some decades ago, the villagers of the lake islets had agitated against setting up of the Keibul Lamjao National Park, the natural habitat of the endangered brow-antlered deer.
  • Now, several years later, the latest census suggests that there are only 260 brow-antlered deer in the Keibul Lamjao national park.
Rajasthan tribal meet stresses on preserving indigenous practices
  • Farmers from the tribal belt of southern Rajasthan, attending a tribal colloquium in Banswara, laid emphasis on re-establishing their links with the livestock, local herbs, traditional foodgrain and indigenous agricultural practices as a safeguard for protecting their culture.
  • The conference was organised last week on the conclusion of a fortnight-long “farmers’ sovereignty march” through 190 village spread across Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, which brought all stakeholders together for development of tribal areas.
  • The subjects of agriculture, health care and democracy were brought up for discussion at the meet. The tribal farmers took a pledge to preserve the fertile soil in their areas for ensuring food security.
  • Civil society group Vaagdhara, which organised the colloquium, provided a key framework of “promote, provide and protect” in each sector of tribal welfare.
  • Uma Shankar Sharma, Vice-Chancellor, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture & Technology, Udaipur, said the modern technology should be used in balance with the traditional methods of farming with a “scientific approach for better results”. 
  • While Banswara Zila Pramukh Resham Malviya warned against excessive use of chemical fertilisers, Save the Children's campaign coordinator Hemant Acharya said there was an urgent need to protect the children of tribal communities against child labour.
Steel pipes will link Godavari and Cauvery, says Gadkari
  • Union Minister for Water Resources Nitin Gadkari has revealed plans to take the backwaters of the Godavari up to the Cauvery river in Tamil Nadu through Krishna and Penna using steel pipes instead of developing canals en route as suggested by a non-resident engineer from Andhra Pradesh. By doing so, wastage of water from canals could be prevented and the overall cost reduced, he said.
  • Addressing a BJP meeting here on Monday, Mr. Gadkari said: “The DPR for the river inter-linking project has already been prepared and is in the process of being submitted to the Cabinet. It is estimated to cost ₹60,000 crore.”
  • Claiming that the Central government was spending 100% of the funds for the Polavaram project and 62% physical progress had been achieved with the cooperation of the State government, he said it was his personal responsibility to ensure its completion as per schedule.
  • Mr. Gadkari said 1,100 tmcft of the backwater of Godavari river was going into the sea and there was a dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over 45 tmcft of it.
  • It was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who, as Prime Minister, had conceived the idea of linking rivers, he recalled.
‘Plastic waste imports to India go up’
  • In spite of a ban on the import of plastic waste into India, the influx of PET bottles has quadrupled from 2017 to 2018 thanks to legal loophole, says a Delhi-based environmentalist organisation, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smriti Manch (PDUSM).
  • “Indian firms are importing plastic scraps from China, Italy, Japan and Malawi for recycling and the imports of PET bottle scrap & flakes has increased from 12,000 tonnes in FY 16-17 to 48,000 tonnes in FY 17-18 growing @ 290%. India has already imported 25,000 MT in the first 3 months of FY 18-19,” says a note by the organisation.
  • Government and industry estimates suggest that India consumes about 13 million tonnes of plastic and recycles only about 4 million tonnes.
  • A lack of an efficient waste segregation system and inadequate collection is the root cause, according to experts, for much of the plastic not making its way to recycling centres.
  • To incentivise domestic plastic recycling units, the government had banned the import of plastic waste, particularly PET bottles in 2015. In 2016, an amendment allowed such imports as long as they were carried out by agencies situated in Special Economic Zones. It’s this loophole that’s been exploited.
  • Ravi Agrawal, director of Toxics Link, an organisation that works on plastic waste management, said that figures were “plausible” as China, once a major global importer of plastic waste for recycling, had banned such imports.
Affidavit in SC on CIC appointment
  • RTI activists filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Monday alleging that the appointment of former Law Secretary Suresh Chandra as a member of the Central Information Commission was done “in complete violation of the prescribed process”, as he had not applied for the post.
  • As The Hindu reported on Monday, Mr. Chandra’s name was not on the list of 280 applicants for the vacant positions, according to data made public by the Department of Personnel and Training.
  • The affidavit said the appointment of Mr. Chandra was in violation of the DoPT’s own affidavit to the SC on the appointment procedure to be followed. The search committee “acted beyond its mandate and undermined the selection process”, said the affidavit.
  • Referring to The Hindu’sreport, the Congress accused the Centre of “subterfuge and trying to keep the Opposition out” while making key appointments to statutory bodies.
Pak. shares draft pact on Kartarpur Corridor
  • Indian and Pakistani officials are expected to meet next month to discuss a “draft agreement” on the Kartarpur corridor in Punjab, sources confirmed. The meeting follows the Pakistan government’s announcement that it had shared the draft of the agreement, to be signed by the two governments, for “facilitation of (Indian) Sikh Yatrees to visit the Gurudwara, Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, Narowal, Pakistan”.
  • In a statement on Monday, the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the draft had been shared “in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment” to open the pilgrim corridor in time for the 550th Birth Anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak in November 2019. 
  • The Pakistan government also appointed its Director-General (South Asia & SAARC), Dr. Muhammad Faisal “as the focal person on Pakistan’s side and requested that the Government of India designate a focal person at its end”, the statement said, and called for an Indian delegation to travel to Islamabad to finalise the agreement.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs didn’t comment on the statement from Islamabad. However, sources said India has been working on modalities for arrangements for the corridor on the Indian side, and is expected to meet with Pakistani officials in February this year.
  • The Kartarpur initiative is seen as an exceptional case for the Indian government, which has refused to open talks with Pakistan on any other issue until concerns on terror are addressed.
  • Among the issues that need to be finalised are the exact point of crossing over for the pilgrims, the identity cards required, as well as security procedures and guarantees needed by both sides. In a previous draft, Pakistan had proposed a 14-point agreement, which included visa free travel for the pilgrims who would be processed at checkpoints on both the Indian and Pakistani side. 
Controversy continues over Justice Khanna’s elevation
  • In the backdrop of the controversy over the appointment of Justice Sanjiv Khanna, a 1998 opinion by the Supreme Court may shed light on the questions raised by the episode.
  • The objections against are not merely over seniority, but extends to questions about the Collegium dropping the names of two judges considered earlier and the reasons given for changing its decision.
  • As Justice Khanna shared the Bench with the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Monday, a section of legal experts condemned the controversy as a “selective” outcry.
  • They cited the recent example of the Collegium recommending Justice K.M. Joseph for appointment to the Supreme Court over many other judges senior to him. 
  • A nine-judge Bench in the ‘Special Reference Case’ of 1998 had ruled that “merit is the pre-dominant consideration for the purposes of appointment to the Supreme Court”.
  • However, objections voiced by the likes of former Chief Justices of India R.M. Lodha and K.G. Balakrishnan are not confined to supersession alone.
  • The furore, in fact, extends to why the Collegium had dropped its December 12, 2018 proposal to recommend Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and, within days, chose Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Khanna.
  • The former CJIs had asked why judges like Justices Gita Mittal and Ravindra Bhat, both from the Delhi High Court, too, did not figure in the recommendation.
  • Several reasons have been assigned as to why the Collegium led by Chief Justice Gogoi changed its mind after December 12.
  • These include unauthorised media leaks, “additional materials”, intervening Winter vacation and subsequent change in the composition of the Collegium on the retirement of Justice Madan B. Lokur during the holidays.
  • Finally, it has been reported that the CJI has the last word in recommendations for appointment to the Supreme Court.
  • The 1998 Special Reference case explains that when a Collegium judge retires in the midst of an appointment process and reasons are later made available for the non-appointment of the person under consideration, such reasons should be placed before the newly constituted Collegium.
  • Further, the Second Judges Case (Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association versus Union of India) judgment in October 1993, and later the court’s opinion in the 1998 Special Reference, confirm that “strong cogent reasons” should be the basis for appointing a judge to the Supreme Court by superseding others senior to him.
  • Finally, both the 1993 judgment and 1998 opinion have held that the CJI’s “final opinion” is not merely his individual opinion. The CJI’s opinion “must necessarily have the element of plurality in its formation”.
ECONOMY

China’s 2018 growth slows to 28-year low
  • China’s economy cooled in the fourth quarter under pressure from faltering domestic demand and bruising U.S. tariffs, dragging 2018 growth to the lowest in nearly three decades and pressuring Beijing to roll out more stimulus to avert a sharper slowdown.
  • Growing signs of weakness in China — which has generated nearly a third of global growth in recent years — are fuelling anxiety about risks to the world economy and are weighing on profits for firms ranging from Apple to big carmakers.
  • Policymakers have pledged more support this year to reduce the risk of massive job losses, but have ruled out a “flood” of stimulus like that which Beijing has relied on in the past, which quickly juiced growth rates but left a mountain of debt.
  • Fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) grew at the slowest pace since the global financial crisis, easing to 6.4% on-year as expected from 6.5% in the third quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. That pulled full-year growth down to 6.6%, the slowest annual pace since 1990. GDP in 2017 grew a revised 6.8%.
  • With support measures expected to take some time to kick in, most analysts believe conditions are likely to get worse before they get better, and see a further slowing to 6.3% this year. Some China watchers believe actual growth is already weaker than official data suggest.
  • Despite a raft of policy easing steps so far, December data released along with GDP showed continued weakness across broad areas of the economy at the end of last year. Factory output picked up unexpectedly to 5.7% from 5.4%, but it was one of the few bright spots, along with a stronger services sector. While regulators have been fast-tracking construction projects, most of the gain appeared due to higher mining and oil production.
‘Bihar outgrew others in FY18 GDP’
  • Bihar and Andhra Pradesh led the pack among States in terms of GDP growth in financial year 2017-18, clocking 11.3% and 11.2% growth, respectively, compared with the national GDP growth of 6.7% for the year, according to a report by Crisil.
  • According to the report, 12 of the 17 general category States grew faster than the national growth rate.
  • However, it noted that this growth was not equitable, with the gap between the per capita incomes in low-income and high-income States widening over the last five years.
  • “In fiscal 2018, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat were top-rankers in terms of GSDP growth among the 17 non-special States considered in our analysis,” the report said. “Jharkhand, Kerala, and Punjab were at the bottom.”
  • The States at the bottom, similarly, saw a reversal of fortunes. West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar had ranked at the bottom in the past five years. In financial year 2017-18, however, Bihar rose to the top spot and West Bengal rose to the sixth rank, with a growth of 9.1%, significantly stronger than the national GDP growth rate. Jharkhand, however, remained at the bottom.
  • On the fiscal front, the report noted that most veered off the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM) line of maintaining their fiscal deficits at 3% of their respective state GDPs.
  • “With little fiscal legroom for the Centre, States are now the new engines of government spending [over 65% in total government spending],” the Crisil report said.
  • “Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh topped the tally in proportion of capex in state spending in the past three years. But most states are not spending as they ought to, in areas such as health, irrigation, and education.”The combined fiscal deficit of States crossed the 3% of GSDP threshold, in both fiscals 2016 and 2017. This improved in fiscal 2018 to 3.1%, but this was still higher than the FRBM limit, and also the 2.7% of GSDP budgeted for the year, the report noted.
  • Looking ahead, in a separate report, India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) said that it expected the aggregate fiscal deficit of the States to come in at 3.2% in financial year 2019-20, which is higher than what it forecast in its FY19 Mid-Year Outlook.

Current affairs MCQ's with answers(22-01-2019)

Q1. Who has been selected for the Sheikh saud international prize for material research.
A. K Sivan
B. C N R Rao
C. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Azad
D. Narsimha Singhania

Q2. Which country becomes host country to host 2nd world integrated medicine forum 2019.
A. Japan
B. Russian
C. India
D. China

Q3. The central bank of Nepal banned Indian currency notes above
A. 50rs
B. 100rs
C. 200rs
D. Only 500 &2000 new notes

Q4. Japan has launched first satellite for artificial meteor show. This satellite launched with which rocket.
A. Epsilon -4
B. JAXA -8
C. Eplo-43
D. None of these

Q5. Shivakumari swami who recently passed away belongs to
A. Film making
B. Spirituality
C. Dancer
D. Poet


Answers
Q1.B
Q2.C
Q3.B
Q4.A
Q5.B

Current Affairs: 21 January 2019

NATION

CIC selection arbitrary, say RTI activists
  • RTI activists have termed the appointment of former Law Secretary Suresh Chandra as a Central Information Commissioner on January 1 an “arbitrary process” as he had not applied for the position.
  • According to files recently made public by the Department of Personnel and Training, he was not on the list of 280 applicants. But he was among the 14 short-listed, two of whom had not applied.
  • The Central Information Commission is the highest appellate body under the Act. 
  • “This is a high-level quasi-judicial body. You will see that many highly qualified candidates do not apply. I also did not apply… I was asked later on, I was approached; but in writing, there was no application,” he said.
  • “The search committee is not restricted to applicants, but to deserving candidates. Most applicants are top bureaucrats, not trained in a judicial background,” added the retired Indian Legal Service officer.
  • However, in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on August 27, 2018, the DoPT itself had said the search committee was to shortlist candidates “out of the applications received.”
Flamingo fete a huge draw at Pulicat lake
  • The Flamingo Festival had a flying start on Sunday with tourists, both domestic and foreign, making a beeline for the picturesque Pulicat lake, a safe haven for migratory birds.
  • It was a virtual treat for bird watchers as over 90,000 birds have come from far away places to the lake this year, though belated in view of the late arrival of the northeast monsoon and the failure of the southwest monsoon.
  • The lake is the second largest brackish water ecosystem in the country after the Chilika lake in Odisha.
  • Launching the State festival, Agriculture Minister Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy said Sullurpeta would be developed into an eco-tourist hub with better infrastructure to woo tourists in a big way.
  • He outlined the efforts being made by the State government year after year to augment the tourist facilities not only at Sullurpeta but also in Nelapattu, Atakanithippa and Bhimunivaripalem for the benefit of visitors to enjoy the flight of, among other birds, flamingos, pelicans and storks in their natural environment.
  • He commended the role of the local fishermen in protecting the ecosystem, even while eking out their livelihood.
ASI finds 2,300-year-old artefacts in Odisha
  • Archaeologists have unearthed artefacts believed to be 2,300-year-old while carrying out excavation at the Asurgarh Fort in Odisha’s Kalahandi district.
  • A nine member team of Archaeological Survey of India led by Dibishada B. Garnayak, Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Branch-IV, Bhubaneswar, excavated the items dating from Mauryan to Kushan period.
  • “The present archaeological work reveals a number of brick structures. Wedge shaped bricks are also noticed in the circular structures. Most of the structures have terracotta tiles with groves and hole for socketing,” said Mr. Garnayak.
  • “The Asurgarh people during that time probably used stone rubbles and tile fragments for flooring their houses and the streets. Besides, silver punch marked coins, silver and copper toe ring and ear rings, beads of carnelian, jasper, beryl, garnet, agate and coral have been found,” he said, adding that some of the artefacts were as old as 2,300 year.
  • Other discovered artefacts include, glass bangle pieces of different designs and colours, sling balls, pestle, iron equipment like small wheel, ring, and arrow head.
  • “The findings of coral beads and imperial variety of silver punch mark coins strongly indicates about long distant trade and association of hinterland people with seafaring people,” pointed out Mr. Garnayak.
  •  “Close to the western rampart, the river Sandul flows to the north thereby forming a natural moat on the western side of the fort. On the eastern side of the fort there is an extensive lake. The fort had four wide gates in four cardinal directions and at each gate was installed one guardian deity. These guardian deities are named as Ganga at the eastern gate, Kalapat at the western, Vaishnavi at the northern and Dokri at the southern gate,” he said.
Rajasthan, Bihar join hands to eradicate child labour
  • A multi-stakeholder initiative, launched here for eradicating child labour, has taken a resolve to rehabilitate the rescued children and undertake collective action to promote child labour-free goods and stop trafficking of children. The governments of two States and civil society groups have come together to support the initiative.
  • Citizens and industries also joined hands at the launch of the programme here over the week-end, saying they would spread awareness about the need to end the “despicable practice”.
  • Besides, partners of the initiative in Bihar will work for recovery of victims, their rehabilitation, access to compensation, enrolment in schools and regular follow-up visits to prevent re-trafficking.
  • About 80% of children employed in the workshops in Shastri Nagar, Ramganj, Chandpole and Brahmapuri localities of Jaipur are trafficked from Bihar. Over half of them are in the age group of 10 to 14 years and they end up working in harsh conditions for 15 hours a day, for which they receive a meagre payment of ₹800 to ₹2,000 per month.
  • Additional Labour Commissioner C.B.S. Rathore flagged off a mobile van which will reach out to citizens and ask them to take a strong stand against child labour.
  • The child labour-free goods production will be taken up through partnership with leading business champions with the goal of making Jaipur the safest place for international retailers and ethical Indian companies to do business. 
  • The initiative will also engage local communities to build resistance and raise awareness through hoardings, bus shelters, street performances and school presentations, requesting the public to call the helpline for children.
State armed with triple-drug therapy to fight elephantiasis
  • Maharashtra is all set to roll out the World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended triple-drug therapy for lymphatic filariasis to speed up elimination of the disease. A pilot project was rolled out in Nagpur.
  • Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a neglected tropical disease. According to the WHO, infection occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. The infection is usually acquired in childhood, causing hidden damage to the lymphatic system.
  • Dr. Mahendra Jagtap, the State’s entomologist, said the prevalence is down to six districts, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Nagpur, Bhandara, and Thane, from 17 a few years earlier.
  • The State currently has a two-drug regimen consisting of diethylcarbamazine citrate and albendazole. The drugs are distributed in endemic areas through a Mass Drug Administration (MDA) exercise carried out once a year. In the triple-drug regimen, a drug called ivermectin will be added.
  • During the MDA in Nagpur on Sunday, people were administered the three-drug combination while other areas got the two drugs. “We managed to cover nearly 85% population in the endemic areas. If people have these drugs, the disease can be prevented,” said Dr. Japtap. 
  • However, he said, it is a challenge to convince people to take them because very few understand the concept of prevention. Everyone except for pregnant women, children below one year and chronically ill patients were given the drugs.
  • Experts say the MDAs are better for prevention as those living in filariasis-endemic areas may be carrying the infection without symptoms. The drugs, which are safe to be taken for a non-infected person as well, kill the microfilariae (minute larvae) and clear intestinal worms.
RailTel is turning railway stations into digital hubs
  • The Indian Railways has one of the world’s largest public WiFi networks in RailWire WiFi.
  • With around 2.6 crore users logins in a month, and over 9,491 Tetra Byte (TB) of aggregated data consumption, RailWire WiFi at 746 railway stations across the country is only getting stronger.
  • The network, provided by RailTel, a ‘Mini Ratna’ central PSU (Public Sector Undertaking) under the Ministry of Railways, is not only one of the largest but also one of the fastest public WiFi networks.
  • Bona fide passengers are using this WiFi facility for streaming high definition (HD) videos, and downloading movies, songs and games, and engaging with their office work online, says RailTel.
  • For a modern handset, the speed can go as high as 40 Mbps for the initial 30 minutes of unhindered open access, which is unmatched on any other network.
  • The backbone capacity of each of these railway stations is 1 GBPS.
  • Free WiFi services to commuters are being provided under ‘RailWire’, RailTel’s retail Broadband initiative. Of the 746 railway stations, RailTel has provided high speed WiFi at 414 A, A1 and C category railway stations across the country, in association with Google as the technology partner.
  • Currently, 21 railway stations in Kerala have free WiFi, and a project to provide free WiFi to 100 more stations this fiscal as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of a Mumbai-based trust through RailTel is on the anvil, officials said.
Figures for long-term visas to minorities don’t add up
  • Only 230 Hindus from Pakistan and four Sikhs from Afghanistan had been given long-term visas (LTVs) till September 2018, the Union Home Ministry has said in response to a Right to Information (RTI) request filed by The Hindu.
  • However, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha on August 8 last year that 9,152 such visas were granted from 2016 to 2018 and 13,262 Pakistani nationals had applied for them during the period.
  • After hundreds of Hindus and Sikhs came to India alleging persecution in Pakistan, the then UPA government decided to give them long-term visas. Most of them had come on pilgrim visa, which expired. According to a Home Ministry official, the LTVs granted to Pakistani Hindus from 2011 to 2014 stood at 14,726.
  • In response to an RTI query on the “number of long-term visas given to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from January 1, 1990 to September 6, 2018”, the Home Ministry said, “As per the available information no. of certificates issued to Pakistani Hindus are 230, and Afghanistani Sikhs are 4. No other information is available to the undersigned CPIO (Central Public Information Officer).”
  • The Home Ministry did not furnish any reply on the number of Bangladeshi Hindus who have availed the facility.
  • Submissions by the Ministry before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill say that till now, 31,313 persons belonging to the minority communities (25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians and two Buddhists and Parsis each) have been given the LTVs, a precursor to Indian citizenship, on the basis of their claim of religious persecution.
  • These persons will be the immediate beneficiaries of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, that proposes to grant citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before December 31, 2014. The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8, is pending in the Rajya Sabha.
  • In 2015, the Home Ministry had empowered the District Collectors in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to grant citizenship and naturalisation certificates to the non-Muslim migrants from the three neighbouring countries under Section 5 and 6 of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  • Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the grounds to acquire citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the past 12 months and for 11 out of 14 years in India. The Bill proposes to relax the duration from 11 to seven years, only for persons belonging to the six religions from the three countries. It will help such people who do not have any document by not treating them as “illegal migrants”.
Aadhaar is now passport to Nepal and Bhutan
  • Aadhaar cards are now valid travel documents for Indians under 15 and over 65 travelling to Nepal and Bhutan, according to a Home Ministry communique.
  • Indian citizens going to Nepal and Bhutan don’t need a visa if they have a valid passport, a photo identity card issued by the government of India or an election ID card issued by the Election Commission, it added.
  • Earlier, persons over 65 and under 15 could show their PAN card, driving licence, Central Government Health Service (CGHS) card or ration card, but not the Aadhaar, to prove their identity and visit the two countries.
  • Giving details, the official said a certificate of registration issued by the Embassy of India, Kathmandu, to Indian nationals is not an acceptable travel document for travelling between India and Nepal.
ECONOMY

Soon, no e-way bills for non-filers of GST returns
  • Non-filers of GST returns for six consecutive months will soon be barred from generating e-way bills for movement of goods.
  • The Goods and Services Tax Network is developing an IT system such that businesses that have not filed returns for two straight returns filing cycles, which is six months, would be barred from generating e-way bills, an official said.
  • Officials said the move would help check Goods and Services Tax evasion. Central tax officers have detected 3,626 cases of GST evasion or violations cases, involving ₹15,278.18 crore in the April-December period.
  • The e-way bill system was rolled out on April 1, 2018, for moving goods worth over ₹50,000 from one State to another. The system for within the State movement was rolled out in a phased manner from April 15.
  • Transporters of goods worth over ₹50,000 would be required to present e-way bills during transit to a GST inspector, if asked.
  • Officials feel that to shore up revenue and raise compliance, strict anti-evasion measures must be adopted. The revenue department is working towards integrating the e-way bill system with NHAI’s FASTag mechanism beginning April to help track movement of goods.
Some banks may soon exit PCA: Kumar
  • Some of the public sector banks are likely to come out of the Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework in the next few months on the back of improvement in various parameters, Financial Services Secretary Rajiv Kumar said.
  • “Some of the banks, out of the 11, have shown better performance...If some banks are performing well and they are adequately capitalised as per Basel norms. Hence, capitalisation will facilitate them coming out of PCA. RBI is seized of the matter,” Mr. Kumar said.
  • There is a strong case on the basis of performance of some banks to be removed from the PCA list if not all, he added.

Current affairs MCQ's with answers (21-01-2019)

Q1. Which company will build up India's first lithium ion giga factory.
A. ONGC
B. BHEL
C. GAIL
D. EXIDE

Q2. Artificial intelligence course on BTech level is started by which IIT.
A. IIT KANPUR
B. IIT HYDERABAD
C. IIT MUMBAI
D. IIT KHARAGPUR

Q3. Diffo bridge is located in which state.
A. Arunachal Pradesh
B. Madhya Pradesh
C. Odisha
D. Karnataka

Q4. Who is elected as the new prime minister of Sweden.
A. Stefan lofven
B. Andrus muarad
C. Jones volvia
D. Samuel dejoy

Q5. The World first human rights TV channel is launched by which city.
A. Chennai
B. London
C. Berlin
D. Delhi

Correct answers
Q1.B
Q2.B
Q3.A
Q4.A
Q5.B

Current Affairs: 19 January 2019

NATION

Once again a palace fit for the Nizams
  • While Hyderabad’s heritage structures and sites are being seen as prime real estate up for grabs, the restoration of the Chowmahalla Palace to its age-old grandeur, putting it on top of the city’s must see bucket list, is a silver lining.
  • Once spread over 60 acres near the city’s Mecca Masjid, the palace complex with its eight buildings is restricted to just about 12 acres now. A big moment was the coronation of Mukarram Jah Nizam VII in 1967 after the demise of his grandfather Nizam VI Mir Osman Ali Khan.
  • After 1976, however, the palace complex was left untended and uncared for till Princess Esra, former wife of Mukarram Jah, stepped in to begin restoration efforts in 2000.
  • “We used a lime-friendly product and matched it to the original colour. We scraped off layer after layer and found the original colour. We used a 20% darker shade as lime fades as it sets in. The real challenge was marbling the front pillars, which was done for the first time. It took us six months of trial and error and close to 500 samples to get it right,” recalled Ms. Naik. The result is a stunning transformation in which pillars appear to have a glaze of newness.
  • Inside, there is a subtle change in the colour schemes and a more resplendent finish to the walls and ceiling with delicate daubs of colour on the intricate stucco work that dominates the building.
  • “This is an ongoing process. The upper floor of the darbar hall has been carefully restored taking care of the steel spans and beams,” said Princess Esra with a hint of pride.
U.P. govt. nod for reservation
  • The Uttar Pradesh government on Friday approved 10% reservation for economically backward among upper castes in jobs and educational institutions.
  • The nod was given at a meeting here of the State Cabinet presided over by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, senior Cabinet Minister and U.P. government spokesperson Shrikant Sharma told mediapersons.
  • Uttar Pradesh became the third State after Gujarat and Jharkhand to approve the legislation which has to be ratified by at least half the State Assemblies in the country.
  • The Constitution (124 Amendment) Bill, 2019, providing for 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions to the economically weaker sections in the general category was passed by Parliament in its recently concluded winter session.
  • President Ram Nath Kovind has since given his assent to the Bill.
  • Meanwhile, a meeting between Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma, who holds the Higher Education portfolio, and State and private universities, approved a proposal for implementing the 10% reservation for upper caste poor in higher education institutions after the Cabinet approval.
Rajasthan’s State bird may be extinct soon
  • Almost two years after the Rajasthan government proposed setting up of captive breeding centres for the Great Indian Bustards to boost their wild population, the wildlife activists here have called for enforcement of recovery plan for the country’s most critically endangered bird. The GIB’s last remnant wild population of about 50 in Jaisalmer district accounts for 95% of its total world population.
  • No progress has been made on the proposal for establishing a captive breeding centre at Sorsan in Kota district and a hatchery in Jaisalmer’s Mokhala village for conservation of the State bird of Rajasthan. The previous BJP regime had taken up the work in 2017 after the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change sanctioned ₹33.85 crore to facilitate the two centres and authorised the Wildlife Institute of India to be its scientific arm.
  • A group of wildlife activists, who met Rajasthan Minister of State for Environment & Forest Sukh Ram Bishnoi here earlier this week, offered to formulate an emergency action plan for conservation of GIB in order to help the State government tackle the issue methodically.
  • Tourism & Wildlife Society of Indian honorary secretary Harsh Vardhan, who was among those who met Mr. Bishnoi, said the decisions after the launch of the Project Bustard in 2013 had not been followed up for five years. 
  • The group pointed out that the WII had not nominated any scientist to work exclusively on GIB in the State despite the related issues discussed at a meeting held here in April 2017 to decide for setting up the conservation breeding centres. 
  • Mr. Vardhan said the group had suggested to the Minister that an incubation unit be set up at Jaisalmer district’s Sudasri — considered the sanctum sanctorum of the Desert National Park — so as to step up recruitment rate of the critically endangered species. 
  • Mr. Bishnoi told the group that he would visit the DNP after the ongoing session of the State Assembly was over and convene a meeting of WII, forest officers and wildlife activists to take the GIB programme forward. He agreed that the endangered bird should get the highest priority in the conservation plans.
Gaganyaan top priority: ISRO
  • The priorities for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) this year are working on the human space flight programme Gaganyaan and launching a major student outreach apart from the scheduled missions, said its Chairman Dr. K. Sivan on Friday, while stating that India is no less than China in its space programme.
  • “A separate Human Space Flight Centre has been formed in ISRO. The Gaganyaan project will come under it and that’s how we will target the first unmanned mission in December 2020,” Dr. Sivan said.
  • Responding to questions on the Chinese space programme, he said China had gone slightly ahead following its human space programme but, “Once Gagayaan is launched, we will be equal to them in all respects.”
  • Stating that this year ISRO is planning to spread its wings in new areas, Dr. Sivan announced a Young Scientist Programme (YSP) and termed it their most important project to reach out to students.
  • Under the YSP, three students, 8th standard pass, would be selected from each of the 29 States and seven Union Territories and will spend one month at ISRO during which they will be given lectures, get access to research and development and will be given experience to build a satellite.
  • “If the satellite is good, we will launch it. This programme is similar to U.S. space agency NASA’s student outreach,” Dr. Sivan stated. This year ISRO has planned 32 missions, including 14 launch vehicles, 17 space craft and one demo.
Rural housing achieves only 66% target
  • With two and a half months to go for the end of this financial year, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Grameen) scheme to provide housing for the rural poor has achieved only 66% of its target to complete one crore houses.
  • The Ministry of Rural Development still hopes to advance further towards the goal by the deadline of March-end, given that about 15 lakh homes have reached the late stages of construction with roofs ready to be added. Another 11 lakh homes have reached the lintel level, and may be completed in the next few months even if they do not meet the March 31 deadline. The scheme has been successful in reducing the average time of construction from 314 days to 114 days, according to an official statement.
  • However, there has been little headway with regard to one bloc of beneficiaries: the landless, who do not possess the land on which to construct the PMAY homes they are entitled to. In a letter to States dated January 4, the Ministry pointed out that only 12% of the 4.72 lakh identified landless beneficiaries had been provided land for house construction.
  • According to data provided in the letter, some of the most laggard States as of July 2018 were Maharashtra, which had provided land for only 890 of 1.39 lakh landless beneficiaries and Assam, which had provided land for 574 of 48,283 landless beneficiaries. In Bihar, only 55 out of 5,348 beneficiaries had been allotted land. West Bengal had not allotted land for even a single one of its 34,884 landless beneficiaries.
No adverse finding by SC: MoD
  • The Defence Ministry, which on Friday disputed The Hindu report on the steep price escalation in the deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets, said that “hidden deep in the article itself” was the statement that the price was 14.2% higher compared to the escalated price. “Probably this figure does not attract as much attention as a 41.4% higher price.”
  • The Ministry statement said that “the author has rightly pointed out” that the cost of the basic aircraft in the 2016 deal was better than the offer of 2007 after considering escalation but however, said, “Surprisingly, in the headline of the article, the author has compared the un-escalated price of 2007 with the price of 2016 without considering the escalation factors inherent in the price bid.”
  • Observing that even the UPA government had “rightly” rejected the European consortium EADS offer of a 20% discount in 2012 after opening of bids as violative of procedure, the statement said that consideration of this offer by the government would have again made it subject “to the charge of violating basic procedure”.
  • In September 2016, India and France signed a €7.87 billion Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for 36 Rafale multi-role fighter jets in fly-away condition following the surprise announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2015 citing “critical operational necessity” of the IAF.
  • Referring to the Supreme Court verdict over the issue, the statement said the court had not found “anything adverse in the deal” and had refused to order an investigation.
  • “The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) has been given access to all the files related to the Rafale deal. It is best to await the report of an authoritative agency like the CAG,” the statement said.
Northeast to see publicity blitz
  • Worried over the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the northeastern States, the Centre has decided to push a “region-specific” narrative to gain support.
  • A senior official said the government was planning publicity material to push the stand that the Bill would help many non-Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan who had fled their countries fearing persecution and were now settled in western parts of the country.
  • Submissions by the Home Ministry before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Bill said 31,313 persons from minority communities (Hindus: 25,447, Sikhs: 5,807, Christians: 55, Buddhists and Parsis: two each) who have been given long-term visas on the basis of their plea of religious persecution in their respective countries want Indian citizenship. These persons will be the immediate beneficiaries of the Bill.
  • The Bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs who entered India till December 2014. It reduces the mandatory requirement of a 12-year stay in India to seven years to be eligible for citizenship if they do not possess any documents.
  • In the northeast, the government will try to highlight the atrocities faced by Hindus in Bangladesh and the “change in demography” along the border.
  • There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam and other northeastern States as it would pave the way for granting citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam, who came in after March 1971, in violation of the agreement of the Assam Accord, 1985.
  • The official said there was a misconception that all those excluded from the NRC would immediately get citizenship once the legislation is passed by the Rajya Sabha.
  • The official said people would be made aware of the declining Hindu population in Bangladesh over the decades, which had come down 8.4% in 2011 census from 14 % in 1974.
  • However, on July 19, 2018, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha that population of the Hindus in Bangladesh had increased by more than 2% in 2017 from the 2011 figures.
DMK moves HC against 10% quota
  • DMK organising secretary R.S. Bharathi has filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court, challenging the legal validity of the recent amendment made to the Constitution granting 10% reservation in jobs and higher education admission for the economically weaker sections in the open competition category.
  • In his affidavit, Mr. Bharathi argued that caste-based discrimination had been plaguing Indian society for about three millenniums. He said the division on the basis of Jati or Varna was due to the contents of the Vedas, particularly the Rig Veda, which differentiates human beings on the basis of their profession.
  • The arbitrary division created between priests and teachers (Brahmins), warriors and rulers (Kshatriyas), farmers and traders (Vaishyas) and labourers (Shudras) had led to their segregation in all forms of life beginning from dietary habits to social life and caste began to determine the value of a human being, he said.
  • Post-Independence, the Constitution abolished untouchability and reservation was provided for the oppressed and backward classes in education and public employment “to heal the wounds of centuries of discrimination and to uplift the social status of people belonging to these classes.”
  • Contrary to the intent behind providing reservation for the socially backward communities, the Centre had now enacted the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019 enabling the State to make reservation based on the economic criterion alone which was unconstitutional and amounts to altering the basic structure of the Constitution.
India ranks third in research papers on artificial intelligence
  • India ranks third in the world in terms of high quality research publications in artificial intelligence (AI) but is at a significant distance from world leader China, according to an analysis by research agency Itihaasa, which was founded by Kris Gopalakrishnan, former CEO and co-founder of Infosys.
  • The agency computed the number of ‘citable documents’— the number of research publications in peer-reviewed journals — in the field of AI between 2013-2017 as listed out by Scimago, a compendium that tracks trends in scientific research publications.
  • India, while third in the world with 12,135 documents, trailed behind China with 37, 918 documents and the United States with 32,421 documents.
  • However, when parsed by another metric ‘citations’— or the number of times an article is referenced — India ranked only fifth and trailed the United Kingdom, Canada, the U.S. and China. 
  • Given India’s traditional strength in information technology and AI said to pose a transformation in industry and academic circles, the report was an attempt at mapping the state of AI-based research in India.
  • There were only about 50 to 75 principal researchers in the AI-space in India and they were tended to collaborate with each other. The Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Information Technology were among the key centres for AI research.
  • Healthcare, financial services, monsoon forecasting, retail and education were the key fields likely to benefit from AI and the field was “unlikely to lead” to a destruction of jobs — a key global concern regarding the field.
  • India’s national think-tank, the NITI Ayog, last June released a discussion paper on the transformative potential of AI in India that said the country could add $1 trillion to its economy through integrating AI into its economy.
ECONOMY

Inflation volatility is a challenge, says RBI Governor
  • Amid a growing demand for a reduction in interest rate in the upcoming monetary policy review scheduled for February 7, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das said wide divergences and volatility in inflation pose challenges for its assessment.
  • The case for a rate cut has been cited by economists and industry lobbies on the back of a sharp fall in retail inflation in recent months with the latest data showing December CPI inflation at 2.2%.
  • “While food inflation has turned negative since October 2018 and fuel inflation has been highly volatile, inflation, excluding food and fuel, remains sticky at close to 6%,” he said adding such ‘wide divergences and large volatilities’ pose challenges for inflation assessment
  • “Balancing the objectives of inflation and growth under a flexible inflation targeting framework would warrant careful analysis of every new data,” he said in his speech at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit.
  • Observing maintaining price stability in the economy was a basic mandate for a central bank, the Governor acknowledged that easing of global crude oil prices augured well for inflation outcomes. Mr.Das also spoke about challenges that Indian firms may face due to developments around Brexit.
  • On the banking sector, the Governor reiterated the central bank’s financial stability report assessment that gross NPA ratio of the banks could further come down to 10.3% in March 2019 compared with 10.8% in September 2018.
  • He also said banks had improved their profitability ratios and capital positions and also the provision coverage ratio which increased to 52.4% in end-September 2018 from 48.3% in end-March 2018.
  • The Governor, however, pointed out that the area where policy action is required is corporate governance in banks with a focus on transparency and accountability. He also described cyber risk as a major challenge.
  • Governor said the debt default of ‘a systemically important NBFC’ had highlighted the vulnerability and need for strengthening regulatory vigil on the sector and on asset liability management (ALM) framework in particular.
‘Let Indians have control of their data’
  • Flagging concerns about increasing data colonisation by global corporations, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani on Friday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take steps against the way some global corporations were ‘colonising data’ of Indian users in the rapidly growing digital economy in the country.
  • He also insisted that Indian data must be owned by Indians.
  • Addressing the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit, Mr. Ambani said “data is a new oil and new wealth” and therefore must be “controlled and owned by Indian people and not by corporates, especially global corporations.”
  • Citing Mahatma Gandhi’s movement against political colonisation during the struggle for Independence, Mr. Ambani said India now needed a new movement against data colonisation, especially against global corporations colonising data of Indian users.
  • Calling the Prime Minister a ‘man of action’, Mr. Ambani urged him to make the movement against data colonisation one of the principal goals of the Digital India mission.
  • Last month, Mr. Ambani, chairman of the country’s largest conglomerate with interests in energy to telecom, had said data of an individual or business belonged to them and not to corporates who could use it to monetise from them.
  • It may be noted that the Indian government wants companies doing business in India to store all customer data locally, a demand some global corporations are not inclined to comply with.
  • Besides the Centre, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in April 2018, ordered companies to store the “the entire data relating to payment systems operated by them... in a system only in India” so as to ensure “unfettered supervisory access” for “better monitoring.” Global Internet giants like Google had complained about the six-month deadline.
  • The Union Government has been considering a draft data security law that requires data centres for all companies to be physically located within India to store data of Indian consumers.