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Current Affairs : 14 - 15 October 2018


It’s a foggy autumn as farmers start burning stubble
  • As autumn sets in, farmers in Punjab have begun harvesting the kharif paddy crop and preparing the fields for the winter crop.
  • And despite official injunctions, paddy stubble is being set on fire, raising fears of a spike in air pollution across the northern States, including the national capital New Delhi. 
  • Aggravating the problem is the retreat of the southwest monsoon, setting off north-westerly winds which blow into the plains, carrying the smoke from the stubble.
  • Paddy is grown on 30 lakh hectares in Punjab. After harvesting, about 20 million tonnes of paddy straw is left in the fields. It is estimated that 15 million tonnes of paddy straw are burnt every year. 
  • Burning the crop residue is the “unanimous” decision, unless there is financial compensation from the government.
  • To solve the problem of stubble without burning, the State has provided agro-machines and other equipment, including mulchers and choppers, at subsidised rates to farmers and cooperative societies .
  • However, farmers and agri-experts feel the number of machines is inadequate. Besides the high cost of using them, given the rising costs of diesel, they will not serve the purpose of putting an end to stubble burning, at least during the ongoing harvesting season.
Cross-border row over killings of State animal
  • The killing of at least 10 mithuns — the State animal of Arunachal Pradesh — in the last one month has sparked a row with neighbouring Assam.
  • The mithun or gayal (Bos frontalis), considered a descendant of the Indian Gaur or bison, plays an important role in the socio-economic and cultural life of tribes such as the Nyishi, Apatani, Galo and Adi in Arunachal Pradesh. Reared under free-range conditions in hilly forests, the mithun is known as the ‘cattle of the mountain’.
  • The killing of mithuns since mid-September has sparked tension between villagers on either side of the inter-State border, specifically in Kangku circle of Arunachal Pradesh and adjoining areas of Assam’s Dhemaji district.
Windmills are not so green for wildlife
  • Windmills are seen as a source of green energy, but researchers say they pose a threat to wildlife in forests through collisions and noise.
  • The impact of the giant structures in Karnataka was studied by researchers from Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) during a two-year project. They found that windmills killed birds and bats in collisions, and that birds and mammals also moved away due to the noise.
  • The noise levels near windmills go up to 85 decibels (dB), the equivalent of large trucks. The drone of a turbine, which operates day and night, is above 70dB. By comparison, noise in urban areas is 55 dB and even in industrial areas, is lower at 75dB. Ambient noise in forests is less than 40 dB.
  • Such avoidance and movement to [forest] fringes might increase conflict with humans. This calls for protocols and policy guidelines before diverting forest land for wind farms, states the study.
  • The researchers led by H.N. Kumara looked at windmills in Chitradurga (around Jogimatti forests) and Gadag, including Kappatagudda, which was recently declared a sanctuary. They recorded between 35% and 40% of Karnataka’s bird diversity in these areas.
  • The team saw collisions of 10 animals — 6 bats and four birds — with a collision rate of 0.23 animals per year per turbine.
  • Researchers found birds avoiding windmill sites. “There are 50% fewer birds in the areas compared to undisturbed sites,” says Dr. Kumara.
  • The avoidance is seen among mammals too. Herbivores moved away, with predators following them.
              2013 report wanted changes to sexual harassment law

              • The Centre recently announced its plan to set up a panel of judges to look into the legal and institutional framework to curb sexual harassment at workplaces following the #MeToo campaign on social media.
              • However, as early as 2013, the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, in its landmark report on gender laws, had recommended setting up of an employment tribunal instead of an internal complaints committee (ICC) in sweeping changes to the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill.
              • The panel was formed in the aftermath of the December 16 Nirbhaya gangrape in 2012 and the ensuing nationwide protests, and submitted its report on January 23, 2013.
              • At that time of the submission of the report, the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill had already been passed by the Lok Sabha and was awaiting the Rajya Sabha's nod. The Bill was passed unchanged by the Upper House a month later.
              • The Committee, chaired by Justice Verma and including Justice Leila Seth and senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium, termed the Sexual Harassment Bill “unsatisfactory” and said it did not reflect the spirit of the Vishakha guidelines — framed by the Supreme Court in 1997 to curb sexual harassment at the workplace.
              • The report noted that an internal complaints committee as laid down under the then proposed law would be “counter-productive” as dealing with such complaints in-house could discourage women from filing complaints. Instead, the committee proposed forming an employment tribunal to receive and adjudicate all complaints.
              • The Committee said any “unwelcome behaviour” should be seen from the subjective perception of the complainant, thus broadening the scope of the definition of sexual harassment.
              • The Verma panel said an employer could be held liable if he or she facilitated sexual harassment, permitted an environment where sexual misconduct becomes widespread and systemic, where the employer fails to disclose the company’s policy on sexual harassment and ways in which workers can file a complaint as well as fails to forward a complaint to the tribunal. The company would also be liable to pay compensation to the complainant
              • The panel also made several suggestions to encourage women to come forward and file complaints. For instance, it opposed penalising women for false complaints and called it an “abusive provision intended to nullify the objective of the law”.
              • The Verman panel also said that the time-limit of three months to file a complaint should be done away with and a complainant should not be transferred without her consent.
              Victim of a crime should have a say in punishment: SC
              • The victim of a crime should have a say in the punishment of the criminal, the Supreme Court has said in a judgment.
              • A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur. S. Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta held that punishment should be “meaningful” to the victim also.
              • In criminal prosecution, the State takes the front seat while the victim becomes a prosecution witness. The crime is primarily considered a wrong against society and the punishment, a deterrent for prospective offenders.
              • “A victim impact statement or a victim impact assessment must be given due recognition so that an appropriate punishment is awarded to the convict,” Justice Lokur observed.
              • What may be ‘justice’ in the rule book may not serve the victim.
              • “Today, the rights of an accused far outweigh the rights of the victim of an offence in many respects… There needs to be some balancing… we still have a long way to go to bring the rights of victims of crime to the centre stage and to recognise them as human rights,” Justice Lokur wrote in the judgment.
              • The case concerned the rejection of an appeal filed by Mallikarjun Kodagali, a victim of an attack in February 2009, by the Karnataka High Court in 2014. The Supreme Court set aside the High Court decision.
                        Special forces in India-U.S. exercise
                        • The first India-U.S. tri-services exercise is likely to take place in 2019, and talks are on to include the special forces of the two countries in the drill, a senior U.S. defence official has said.
                        • The three forces of each country already take part in bilateral exercises separately — their Armies participate in an annual drill called Yudh Abyaas, whose latest edition took place in September, and the Air Forces take part in a bilateral drill called Cope India.
                        • The Navies participate in an exercise called Malabar, involving Japan.
                        • But this will be the first time, the three services of India and the U.S. will participate in a drill together.
                        • An initial planning conference will be held to discuss the scale of the exercise.
                        • No date has been fixed for the joint drill yet.
                        • The drill may take place sometime in late August because U.S. naval ships could be in the region around that time.
                        • The drill will focus on a United Nations-based scenario and the overarching mission of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief measure, the U.S. Brigadier-General said.
                        • He said India was the “natural humanitarian disaster relief hub” in the Indo-Pacific region.
                        • The Indian Army has Para SF, the Navy has Marcos while the Air Force has the Garud as their respective special forces.
                        • Though the joint tri-services drill was formally announced after the first 2+2 dialogue between the principals of the External Affairs and Defence Ministries of the two countries last month, work on it had begun much before.
                                          PMs’ museum plan gets off the ground
                                          • The foundation stone for a museum of Prime Ministers on the Teen Murti Estate premises will be laid on Monday.
                                          • Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri will lay the foundation stone on the Teen Murti Estate, the official residence of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
                                          • Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to his successor Narendra Modi on August 24, expressing concern over the plan to change the “nature and character” of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) on the Teen Murti Estate. He said the present museum respected both history and heritage, and urged Mr. Modi to leave the Teen Murti Estate “undisturbed”.
                                          • Senior Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Jairam Ramesh, both members of the NMML Society, and historians opposed the plan. Some called on Home Minister Rajnath Singh on August 26, urging him not to dilute the legacy of Nehru.
                                          • The new museum will include the memorabilia of the Prime Ministers, and is expected to cost ₹270 crore.

                                                Govt. panel struggles to define ‘shell company’
                                                • The multi-agency committee set to finalise the definition of a “shell company” for the purposes of enforcing penal laws for various violations is yet to arrive at a consensus on yardsticks for identification of such entities.
                                                • After a large number of entities, classified as a shell company, challenged the decision, the government had set up the committee to come up with a definition. Accordingly, the committee drafted a definition that had to be tested on various yardsticks to determine its legal feasibility.
                                                • The shady financial transactions, ownerships and assets of thousands of companies have been studied in a bid to come up with acceptable criteria to declare an entity a shell company as per the law.
                                                • The committee also examined the definition given by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
                                                • The OECD defines a shell firm as “a company that is formally registered, incorporated, or otherwise legally organised in an economy but which does not conduct any operations in that economy other than in a pass-through capacity. Shells tend to be conduits or holding companies and are generally included in the description of Special Purpose Entities”.
                                                • The issue had come up after the government cracked down on dummy companies that were used for round-tripping of funds and money laundering.
                                                GST: 1 year on, firms yet to set up infra for compliance
                                                • Corporates are now realising that coming to terms with GST means a more drastic change to their tax infrastructure than the basic compliance-related changes they have made so far, Vishal Parekh, regional head, South Asia, Thomson Reuters said
                                                • “The entire focus was in just trying to get an infrastructure in place so that there was compliance in GST.”
                                                • Most IT companies had either people on the bench to help them get their returns in place or had utilised their existing bandwidth and teams in their technology departments to help get them through the compliance process.
                                                • This transformation, he explained, means different things to different companies.
                                                • Mid-to-large segment companies, for example, could be looking at simply upgrading the GST module of their existing tax and finance infrastructure.
                                                • “Some others, which are fairly global in scale, are looking at their entire workflow and seek to upgrade their entire tax workflow, be it direct tax, transfer pricing, indirect tax, compliance, and they want to automate all of that in one go, even if it takes two years to do so,” Mr. Parekh said.
                                                        NBFC storm will let up sooner or later
                                                        • Non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) are in the news following the IL&FS fiasco. The fall from grace for the giant has shaken up India’s financial markets.
                                                        • “The secular upswing enjoyed by NBFCs over the past five years has come to a sudden halt — bond markets are in a tizzy, interest rates have firmed up, asset-liability mismatch is the only point being discussed and business models are being questioned,” said Antique Stock Broking Ltd. in a recent report.
                                                        • While there have been excesses in the space, it wrote, the NBFC space is heterogeneous where there are some extraordinary business models, some mediocre ones and some vulnerable spots, it wrote in the report.
                                                        • Even after 25 years of private banking, retail credit penetration in India is low, with roughly about 10% of the population having access to banking credit, Antique said in the analysis.
                                                        • NBFCs currently serve 60 million people through gold, micro, MSME, two-wheeler and commercial vehicle loans and have more than 50% market share in each of these segments.
                                                        • Based on the type of products and the category of customers serviced, there is a wide spectrum of NBFCs. A large part of the NBFC ecosystem services the retail population directly where the assets financed are liquid, repayments are regular and pricing power reasonable. The other part of the NBFC universe helps fill gaps left by PSU bank ‘hibernation’ and this is where the maximum risk lay.
                                                        • Asset liability mismatches arise because of two reasons — either being too reliant on short-term borrowings or illiquidity in the underlying asset being financed. Most new-age NBFCs and some housing finance companies (HFCs) having large exposure to developers and large-ticket loans against property, face the most critical challenge.
                                                        • For them, both growth and margins will slow down. Post the recent IL&FS fiasco, the risk arose that some financial entities would have issues rolling over their maturing obligations.
                                                        • Bright spots are segments that service retail customers, have good pricing power, are difficult for banks to disrupt and see good recovery in demand. Vehicle finance, consumer finance, MSME and micro banking are likely to remain bright spots over FY19 and beyond.
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