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Current Affairs - 31 August 2018

NATION

India committed to boosting BIMSTEC connectivity: PM
  • Making a strong pitch for enhanced regional connectivity, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India was committed to working with the BIMSTEC member states in the critical sector and to combating the menace of terrorism and drug trafficking.
  • The Prime Minister said the region had become a meeting point for India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies. 
  • Addressing the summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the BIMSTEC member states, situated between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, face frequent natural disasters such as flood, cyclone and earthquake, and called for “cooperation and coordination” among them in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
  • For research on art, culture and other subjects in the Bay of Bengal, India would set up a Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies at the Nalanda University, he said.
  • Prime Minister Modi said India will host the International Buddhist Conclave in August 2020 and invited all BIMSTEC leaders to attend the event as guests of honour.
  • Mr. Modi hoped that the BIMSTEC member states will attend the India Mobile Congress in New Delhi scheduled for October.
  • Bay of Bengal Initiatives for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)  is a regional grouping, comprising India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.
  • They are collectively home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of global population.
  • The fourth edition of Bay of Bengal Initiatives for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) was held in Kathmandu, capital city.
Nilgiri tahr climb the population charts
  • In a heartening development for conservationists, a recent census has revealed that the population of the Nilgiri tahr (an endangered mountain goat) at the Mukurthi National Park has grown by an impressive 18% in the last two years, from 480 to 568.
  • “Getting an exact figure each year is difficult, so there is always a small discrepancy in numbers. This year, however, there is a definite increase in the number of animals in the only pristine habitat left in the Nilgiris for the tahr,” said a Forest Department official.
  • The population estimation exercise, completed in May, was conducted jointly by the Forest Department and the Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology, Government Arts College, Udhagamandalam.
  • B. Ramakrishnan, assistant professor in the department, said that apart from the increase in numbers, the sex ratio, too, was encouraging. “From what we have recorded, there are two adult females for every male. This indicates a viable breeding population, and hints at further population growth,” he said.
  • The bad news is that the population also faces several threats. Researchers point to the continuing spread of invasive species of flora, such as wattle and pine, and exotic weeds like scotch broom (Cystisus scoparius) and gorse, which end up diminishing grazing land.
  • S. Senbagapriya, Deputy Director, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Mukurthi National Park, said that the Forest Department was stepping up efforts to remove exotics, with wattle eliminated in over 125 hectares of Shola grasslands. 
High water discharge from China threatens Arunachal


  • High discharge of water from China, the highest in 50 years, is threatening to submerge at least 12 villages along the river Siang in Arunachal Pradesh.The villages are near district headquarters Pasighat, about 560 km northeast of Guwahati.
  • Hydrological experts said the “unusually high” discharge indicates sudden release of water from man-made barriers or a natural dam that was formed due to landslides caused by major earthquakes in the Tibetan region of China in November 2017.
  • He cited a report received by New Delhi from the Chinese government saying the Yarlung Zangbo (Tsangpo) was swelling with observed discharge of 9,020 cumec due to heavy rainfall in Tibet. But the “incremental discharge of 950 cumec” compared to a discharge of 8,070 cumec in the Tsangpo reported on August 14 “should not be a cause for panic”, he said.
‘Pan-India reservation rule applies to Delhi’
  • Reservation is State-specific, but Delhi is a ‘miniature India’ where the “pan-India reservation rule” applies, the Supreme Court held.
  • A five-judge Constitution Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi unanimously held that “a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste in one State cannot be deemed to be a Scheduled Castein  any other State to which he migrates for the purpose of employment or education.”
  • “The benefits of reservation provided for by the Constitution would stand confined to the geographical territories of a State/Union Territory in respect of which the lists of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes have been notified by the Presidential Orders,” Justice Gogoi, 
  • But Justice Banumathi,  dissented with the majority opinion on the point that the pan-India reservation rule for Delhi was “fully in accord with the constitutional structure of a federal polity.”
  • Justice Banumathi said the very object of the constitutional scheme of upliftment of the SCs/STs of these Union Territories would be defeated if pan-India reservation is allowed in Union Territories like Delhi.
  • However, Justice Banumathi agreed that reservation should be State-specific.
  • The Constitution Bench was answering a reference made to it in Bir Singh versus Delhi Jal Board, a 2013 case, on the legal question whether a Scheduled Caste person from a State would be accorded the same concessions in employment in another State.
Gujarat land Bills cleared by President
  • President Ram Nath Kovind has given assent to two land amendment Bills in Gujarat that propose to allot surplus agriculture land, meant for landless farmers, to industries and civic bodies.
  • The two bills are the Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, 2015, and the Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
  • The Gujarat Congress had opposed the Bills, alleging that surplus agriculture land meant for landless farmers would be handed to industrialists.
Law Commission calls for re-think on sedition clause
  • Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of a robust public debate in a vibrant democracy, the Law Commission of India said
  • The Commission, which is the Centre’s topmost advisory body on laws, headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice B.S. Chauhan, published a consultation paper recommending that it is time to re-think or even repeal the provision of sedition (Section 124A) from the Indian Penal Code.
  • The Commission has invited public opinion on the prospect of either redefining or doing away with Section 124A in the “largest democracy of the world, considering that right to free speech and expression is an essential ingredient of democracy.
  • "While it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech,” the Commission said in its consultation paper.
  • It said “every restriction on free speech and expression must be carefully scrutinised to avoid unwarranted restrictions.”
  • But the Commission has also posed the query that if contempt of court invites penal action, should “contempt of government” also attract punishment. The Commission asks whether it would be “worthwhile” to rename Section 124A and find a “suitable substitute” for the term ‘sedition’.
  
WORLD

Russia, China set to launch joint military exercises
  • China will join Russia in a giant military exercise, sending a message of deterrence to the U.S. which has designated Beijing and Moscow as “revisionist powers”.
  • The five-day Vostok 2018 exercises, to be held from September 11, will be bigger than Zapad 81 — the mammoth manoeuvres carried out in Eastern Europe by the former Soviet Union in 1981. Mongolia will be the third country participating in the drills.
  • These exercises are taking place amidst Washington’s growing friction with Russia and China. The Pentagon’s national defence strategy unveiled in January focussed on Russia and China as principle strategic challenges to the U.S.
  • In presenting the new strategy, U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis called China and Russia “revisionist powers”, that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models”.
  • Russian foreign policy commentator Mark Sleboda was quoted by Sputnik as saying that the upcoming exercises are “a clear indication to the U.S. that it’s a response to their national security strategy, as well as a response to U.S. and NATO posturing in the South China Sea, in the Taiwanese Straits, as well as… the permanent stationing of troops that we are seeing on Russia’s western border”.

BUSINESS

MRPL to merge with HPCL
  • ONGC-owned Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) plans to merge its subsidiary Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL) with itself.
  • Early this year, the government transferred its 51% stake in HPCL to ONGC for ₹36,915 crore.
  • HPCL owns 17% stake in MRPL while its parent ONGC holds a majority 71.63% stake in the company.
  • “With MRPL, we can unload crude at Mangalore and get freight advantage. We have a big R&D facility in Mangalore. We have refinery in Vizag in the East Coast, Mumbai in West Coast, Bathinda in North and Mangalore in South. We can integrate facilities and create lots of synergies.” said HPCL chairman Mukesh Kumar Surana.
  • HPCL is also setting up a 9 mmtpa greenfield refinery cum petrochemicals complex in Barmer, Rajasthan for ₹43,129 crore and is a partner in the 60 mmtpa Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd.
SPORTS

ASIAN GAMES
  • Jinson Johnson, who had won silver in 800m earlier, followed that up with a brilliant run to finish with a gold medal in 1500m. 
  • The Women’s 4x400m relay team won gold yet again .
  • The 4x400m relay men appeared to be struggling a bit but Muhammed Anas and Arokia Rajiv, who ran the last two legs, steadied the boat to a good extent and helped the team to silver (3:01.85s) behind Qatar, which took the gold in a new Asian record time (3:00.56s, OR 3:00.76). Kunhu Muhammed and A. Dharun were the other members of the team.
  • Seema Punia, the defending champion in the women’s discus throw, had to be content with a bronze this time after a day’s best of 62.26m.
  • Asian champion P.U. Chitra also won a bronze in the women’s 1,500m as India finished its athletics competition with an impressive haul of seven gold, 10 silver and two bronze medals.
  • That saw the country finish third in in athletics, behind China (12-12-9) and Bahrain (12-6-7). 
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