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Curren Affairs : 21 - 22 October 2018


Dussehra disaster not our fault: Rlys.
  • The Railways denied any negligence on its part in Friday’s tragedy when a train mowed down 59 Dussehra revellers at Joda Phatak near Amritsar, even as Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh ordered a magisterial inquiry.
  • Mr. Sinha said no action was being taken against the driver. “There was a curve. The driver couldn’t have seen the crowd,” he added.
  • “People trespassed on to the railway tracks to see the Dussehra celebrations… they could not hear the repeated train engine whistles due to the sound of the [fire] crackers, which resulted in this unfortunate incident,” Deepak Kumar, spokesperson of the Northern Railways, said in a press release.
  • Mr. Kumar said the manned level crossing, 340 metres ahead of the accident site, was closed for road traffic. “…there was about a 2.5-metre-high track wall between the railway tracks and the Ravan effigy burning site,” he said. No communication on the event was given to the Railways, he added.
Khashoggi died in consulate, says Riyadh
  • Saudi Arabia said that dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in a fight in its Istanbul consulate, its first admission of his death after two weeks of denials that have shaken Western relations with the kingdom.
  • Riyadh provided no evidence to support its account of the circumstances leading to Khashoggi’s death.
  • Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in the consulate by Saudi agents.
  • He went missing after entering it on October 2.
Bullet train plan stalls on land row
  • The Narendra Modi government’s Shinkansen bullet train project is threatening to go off the rails as conflicts over acquisition of private land persist in Maharashtra.
  • Ahead of the annual summit between Mr. Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on October 28-29, State officials have warned of an imminent delay in meeting the December 2018 deadline for completion of survey and acquisition.
  • Unless the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited implements an urgent time-bound schedule, the project is likely to miss its first deadline for acquisition of private plots, warns the latest status report submitted by the office of the Collector of Palghar.
  • The report, addressed to the Maharashtra Chief Secretary and Chief Project Officer of the NHSRCL, said nearly all of the 108 km of land needed was yet to be acquired via the private negotiation policy of the State. 
  • The land, spread over 73 villages, is being blocked by villagers. 
Air pollution weakens your bones, shows recent study
  • As the country observed World Osteoporosis Day on Saturday, doctors suggested early diagnosis, regular exercise and healthy diet are what people should follow to avoid occurrence of the bone disease in later stages of life.
  • Osteoporosis is a common problem and occurs due to decrease in bone density over time.
  • It is a common disorder among elderly people. It literally means “porous bones”.
  • Recent research shows pollution accelerates the process of bone deterioration, say doctors.
  • “Air pollution has been linked to increase in worsening of bone diseases and their symptoms. Elderly people who are more frequently exposed to air pollutants from vehicular and industrial emissions experience faster bone loss and thus, higher risk of bone fractures,” said YashGulati, senior consultant, orthopaedics, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.
  • As the bones become weaker, there is a higher risk of a fracture following a fall or even a fairly minor knock.
  • Osteoporosis fracture is a huge problem in the ever-increasing elderly population, say doctors.
  • Till the age of 50-55 men are more at risk of developing these diseases. But menopause in women worsens the equation.
  • “Estrogen, the female hormone, lends a protective cover to the bone cartilage which reduces its wear and tear. After menopause, as the amount of estrogen hormone in the female body lessens, women become more at risk of arthritis and osteoporosis,” he said.
Sri Lankan projects delayed: PM
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday discussed the progress of a number of pending development projects, with the former expressing “concern” over delays, said a press release issued by the Sri Lankan PM’s office.
  • “Mr. Modi said he was not satisfied with the response he had received from the Sri Lankan government to his overtures,” said the release in Sinhala. India’s completed projects in Sri Lanka have been largely in the housing sector, and according to the release, Mr. Modi, during the meeting, agreed to finance another 10,000 homes for tea estate workers.
  • The statement came in sharp contrast to the more blandly worded release from the External Affairs Ministry about the meeting. “Prime Ministers discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and ways to further deepen the historically close and friendly relations between the two countries ... They also reviewed the progress in implementation of various decisions taken during high-level exchanges in the recent past,” it said.
  • Ministry officials present at the meeting said the delayed projects had indeed been the “main subject of discussion”, but characterised Mr. Modi’s reaction as “taking stock” of progress on the projects rather than “disappointment”.
  • During Mr. Wickremesinghe’s previous official visit to Delhi in April 2017, the two nations signed a “memorandum of understanding between India and Sri Lanka for cooperation in economic projects”. 
  • Under the MoU, Letters of Intent (LoI) were to be issued to India for most of the projects between May and September in 2017, but little or no movement has been made even a year later.
  • Some of the delay is over concerns that India would be allowed to acquire Sri Lankan land. Officials say the projects have also run into rough weather because of the deep disagreements between President Maithripala Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe, who belong to rival parties, and the release from the Lankan PM’s office indicated the sharp divide.
  • The pending projects include an LNG terminal in Kerawalapitiya near Colombo, a 50-100 MW solar power plant in Sampur, an oil tank farm in Trincomalee and a container terminal in the Colombo port. 
  • There has been little word on a proposal for India to develop the Palaly airport near Jaffna and the Mattala airport near Hambantota. The preferential trade treaty, Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement, still awaits clearances as it faces opposition from Sri Lankan business chambers. 
‘Sushma didn’t consult PMO on engaging Pak.’
  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj did not consult the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) before getting her Ministry spokesman to announce on September 20 that there would be a meeting with her Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, according to a highly ranked South Block source.
  • A Cabinet Minister confirmed to this correspondent that there had been no meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security before the decision to engage Pakistan was taken. Asked whether the PMO or the Prime Minister was consulted, a top official in the PMO directed all queries to the External Affairs Ministry.
Shimla may be renamed Shyamala
  • In the long list of renamed Indian cities, Shimla could be the latest entrant as the ruling BJP government is considering a proposal to change its name to Shyamala.
  • A campaign has been launched by some right-wing Hindu groups demanding that the capital of Himachal Pradesh be renamed.
U.P. sets up panel to modernise police force
  • Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Sunday announced constitution of a three-member commission to recommend steps for strengthening and modernising the State police force.
  • “A three-member commission will be constituted to give recommendations for strengthening and modernisation of police,” he said, adding by next year end, 1.25 lakh constables will join the force after training. “By the end of 2019, 1.25 lakh constables will join the force, ending their shortage. It will help people and will witness better policing. It will also address problem of their leave and they will be able to perform their duties without any tension and will also be able to spend quality time with their families,” Yogi said addressing the police on ‘Smriti Diwas’ here.
  • The Chief Minister said the State government was taking necessary initiatives for the family of policemen who laid down their lives while performing their duties.
  • “To enhance the morale of the force and ensure good work culture, the State government made special emphasis on their time-bound promotion. In 2017, as many as 9,892 police men and in 2018, 37,575 policemen were promoted, which is a record,” he said.
  • The Chief Minister said at present there was infrastructure for training only 5,793 constables and the government was planning to double the capacity.
  • “Help of Central Paramilitary forces and other States will also be sought for training capacity enhancement. In Jalaun and Sultanpur where training centres are ready, they will be started soon,” he said.
  • He said to meet housing demands, more barracks will be put up in police lines and police stations.
  • Yogi said cycle and uniform allowances of policemen will be increased soon and medical reimbursement related issues will also be sorted out.
  • Elaborating on the initiatives of the State government for the police, he said the State government has already increased compensation to the family of a martyr from ₹20 lakh to ₹40 lakh, besides hiking the amount given to their parents to ₹10 lakh.
  • Giving details, DGP O.P. Singh said 67 policemen lost their lives while performing their duties between September 1, 2017 and August 31 2018.
As groundwater depletes, drought looms over Maharashtra
  • With the number of tankers supplying water increasing in the last one month, a survey by the government’s groundwater surveys and development agency (GSDA) has warned of a water scarcity in 11,487 villages of 167 tehsils in the State.
  • In its 2018-19 report, the GSDA, which comes under the department of water supply and sanitation, has said the study of the groundwater level (in comparison to the level in October in the last five years) has shown that of the 353 tehsils in the State, 13,984 villages in 252 tehsils have shown a decrease by more than one metre.
  • “Of these, 3,342 villages have shown the drop by more than three metres, 3,430 villages have recorded between two and three meters, and the drop in 7,212 villages is between one and two metres,” the report said.
  • Between October 15 and 21, 380 tankers were used across the State, against 91 tankers in the corresponding period last year. A week prior to that the number was 354, and 329 tankers were used in the first week of October.
  • Water storage in dams in Marathwada region has reduced to merely 24.45% compared to 69.77% last year, and that in north Maharashtra has dropped to 64.11% from 84.14%. Collective water storage in all dams across the State has come down to 62.17% against 76.32% in 2017.
  • The government has already announced a cabinet sub-committee to look into announcing drought.
PM inaugurates revamped National Police Memorial
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi  opened a revamped National Police Memorial and a museum at Chankayapuri on Sunday.
  • Conceptualised in 1984, the earlier memorial, a 150-foot structure of steel, was brought down on the order of the Delhi High Court in 2008 because it violated environmental norms.
  • The National Police Commemoration Day is observed on October 21 every year to pay homage to the 10 men of the Central Reserve Police Force killed in an ambush by Chinese troops in 1959 in Ladakh’s Hot Spring area.
  • Mr. Modi said the plan to have a National Police Memorial was conceptualised when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister .
  • Mr. Modi also announced a decoration in the name of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose for police and paramilitary men engaged in disaster relief.

U.S. to pull out of Russia missile pact
  • U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed that the U.S. would pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, a crucial Cold War-era treaty banning the development, testing and possession of short and medium range ground-launched nuclear missiles with a range of 500-5,000 km. The treaty, signed in 1987, was central to ending the arms race between the two superpowers, and protected America’s NATO allies in Europe from Soviet missile attacks.
  • John Bolton, Mr Trump’s National Security Advisor, is in Moscow on a visit and is expected to convey the decision to the Russians. At issue is Russia’s alleged development and deployment of the Novator 9M729 missile, also known as the SSC-8, that could strike Europe at short notice, an allegation that Russia has repeatedly denied. 
  • The U.S. administration, under former President Barack Obama, raised the issue of Russia testing a ground-launched cruise missile with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014. The Russians denied the allegations and raised counter-allegations of the U.S. installing missile defence systems in Europe.
  • While the two countries failed to find a resolution using the dispute resolution mechanism in the treaty, the U.S. continued to remain party to the treaty under pressure from its European allies. 
  • A withdrawal will allow the U.S. new weapon options in the Pacific in its efforts to counter China’s growing influence. There are also concerns that the treaty’s end could mark the beginning of a new arms race between the U.S. and Russia.
  • The Russian government on Sunday warned the U.S. against such a withdrawal. “If the Americans continue to act as crudely and bluntly... and unilaterally withdraw from all sorts of agreement and mechanisms from the Iran deal to the International Postal treaty, then we’ll be reduced to taking action in response, including of a military nature. But we don’t want to go that far,” said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
Maldives judiciary upholds poll result
  • The Maldives Supreme Court on Sunday rejected a petition by outgoing President Abdulla Yameen to annul the September presidential election, clearing the way for transfer of power to joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
  • Mr. Yameen’s claim that the poll was rigged was not substantiated with evidence, the five-member bench ruled, underscoring the comfortable majority that Mr. Solih won in the high-stakes election.
  • “After weeks of uncertainty, the Maldivian people can finally enjoy clarity regarding the outcome of the election,” Mr. Solih said in a statement.
  • Many Maldivians feared that the September 23 poll may not be free and fair, given Mr. Yameen’s authoritarian tendencies. However, the election was largely peaceful, with complaints mostly pertaining to a rather slow voting process that forced people to wait in long queues for hours.
  • Soon after the results were out — Mr. Solih won 58.4% of the vote — Mr. Yameen publicly conceded defeat, but about a fortnight later, his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) filed a legal petition contesting the outcome, claiming the vote was “rigged”. 
  • Following Sunday’s Supreme Court ruling, Male will now prepare for the swearing-in ceremony in November.

Ireland woos Indian companies
  • With just six months away for Brexit to become a reality, Ireland is wooing Indian companies, currently having United Kingdom (U.K.) as their EU headquarters, to shift base to the country.
  • “Indian companies in the U.K. and particularly, those using the U.K. as a gateway to the EU face some important strategic and operational decisions,” said Tanaz Buhariwalla, director, India, IDA Ireland.
  • Since IT, automobile and pharmaceutical industries may be among the most prominent sectors for which Brexit poses some special challenges, Ireland has stepped up efforts to attact them. 
  • “Setting up offices in multiple EU countries is likely to be an expensive, unnecessary and complex exercise, and therefore the need for companies to identify the one, right location within the EU that works for them,” she said.
  • As per IDA’s estimates India’s trade with the EU — minus the U.K. — has more than trebled since 2000.
  • The EU, even without the U.K., is the third largest market for Indian companies. About 800 Indian companies use the U.K. as a gateway into the EU; over 1,10,000 people are employed with those companies. “An important segment of the automobile industry is also nervous about the post-Brexit world,” Ms. Buhariwalla said.
  • For Tata Motors Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Europe is an important market, accounting for 25% of the global sales.
            Rupee fall, high NPAs a concern, says Jalan
            • Former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan said the declining value of rupee and high non-performing assets remain a cause for concern.
            • Dr. Jalan, however, pointed out that the Centre had taken measures to contain the fall of the rupee.
            • He expressed hope that bad loans issue would be resolved as the Centre has introduced IBC and the RBI has announced prompt corrective actions.
            • “There is no doubt that our growth rates are one of the highest in emerging markets and inflation is low,” he said.
            • The Centre should adopt a cautious approach with regard to minimum support price as it affects the price of food grains for consumption for the poor in rural and semi-urban areas, said Dr. Jalan.
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