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Current Affairs : 24 October 2018


SC moves to make festivals less noisy
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck a balance between the interests of the firecracker industry and the right to public health, allowing the manufacture and sale of only “green” and reduced-emission or “improved” crackers, while banning those that are loud and toxic to man, animal and the environment.
  • A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan held that only green or improved crackers would be used during religious festivals and other occasions, including weddings.
  • In nationwide curbs, the judgment reduced the time for bursting crackers during Deepavali and other festivals to two hours: between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. For Christmas and New Year, the time slot allowed is half-an-hour, between 11.55 p.m. and half-past midnight.
  • The ban came on the basis of a petition filed by two infants — a six-month-old and 14-month-old — through their fathers in 2015. They said the air pollution caused by various factors, especially firecrackers, made Delhi a gas chamber. They pleaded for their right to life.
  • The court banned the manufacture, sale and use of joined firecrackers (series crackers or ‘laris’), holding that they caused “huge air, noise and solid waste problems.”
  • It banned online sale through e-commerce websites, including Flipkart and Amazon.
  • The court urged the Central and State governments to permit “community” bursting of crackers during festivities in pre-designated areas.
  • It directed that the public should be informed about the designated places a week before Diwali. Local Station House Officers would be held personally liable and hauled up for contempt if there was any violation of the judgment, including the time slots for bursting crackers or sale of banned crackers.
  • The court rejected arguments that bursting crackers was a fundamental right and an essential practice during religious festivals like Diwali. “We feel that Article 25 (right to religion) is subject to Article 21 (right to life). If a particular religious practice is threatening the health and lives of people, such practice is not entitled to protection under Article 25…Our endeavour is to strive at balancing of two rights, namely, right of the petitioners under Article 21 and right of the manufacturers and traders under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution,” Justice Sikri observed in the 54-page judgment.
  • Banning the use of barium salts in fireworks, the court entrusted the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) with the job of ensuring that only fireworks with permitted chemicals were sold or purchased during festivities or celebrations; test and check for the presence of banned chemicals like lithium/arsenic/antimony/lead/mercury; and ensure that only those crackers whose decibel (sound) levels were within the limits were allowed in the market.
  • PESO has been empowered to suspend the licences and appropriately dispose of stocks of manufacturers who violated the court’s directions.
Film body for anti-harassment panel
  • Following the #MeToo campaign that has underlined the need for a redress mechanism in the film industry, the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) has promised to set up its own Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (GS-ICC) by the first week of December.
  • Hitherto, the KFCC, which is registered under the provisions of the Karnataka Societies Registration Act, 1960, with over 5,000 members who are engaged in production and distribution of Kannada films, has been addressing all disputes through a Central Reconciliation Committee (CRC) comprising representatives of producers, distributors, exhibitors, artists and technicians.
  • Legal experts argue that a body like the KFCC, registered under the provisions of the Karnataka Societies Registration Act, 1960, is mandated to have an ICC.
  • Bindu Doddahatti, an advocate, said, “Besides protecting the welfare of its members engaged in production and distribution of films, as per its stated objectives, the KFCC should have policies in place to actively prevent sexual harassment of women at workplace and conduct sensitisation programmes.”
  • Though Film Industry For Rights and Equality (FIRE) has a mechanism akin to GS-ICC in place and appealed to the KFCC to transfer cases gender-sensitive in nature to it, the KFCC has not done so.

‘Temple belongs to public, not priest’
  • Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan lambasted Kandararu Rajeevararu, tantri of the Sabarimala temple, for threatening to close the doors of the sanctum if women of childbearing age entered the place of worship as allowed by the Supreme Court.
  • Terming the tantri’s statement injudicious, Mr. Vijayan reminded Mr. Rajeevararu at a press conference here that only the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) could decide when to open or close the temple. The priests were merely its employees.
  • The chieftain of the erstwhile Kadathanad kingdom in Malabar had replaced the tantri of the famous Lokanarkavu temple with another when the former shut the doors of the sanctum to disallow Dalits and backward classes from worshipping there as per the then ruler’s order. The “Sabarimala temple would remain” even if any priest left. The tantri’s job is to aid devotees and not oppose them.
  • Mr. Vijayan said subordinate priests had no business staging a protest in front of the Holy 18 steps. They, along with some TDB employees, had tried to sabotage the State’s bid to implement the court order. The Chief Minister urged the TDB to initiate stringent action against them.
  • The TDB was the legal owner of the temple. No priest, private person or member of the ruling family of erstwhile Pandalam had any right over Sabarimala.
  • The Pandalam family had ceded their lands and the Sabarimala temple to the royal family of erstwhile Travancore to save themselves from bankruptcy a century ago. They could not claim any entitlement to the temple or its revenue. Such authority, as claimed by the family, did not exist. The Pandalam family’s right, if any at all, was restricted to a token role in the conduct of temple festivities, he said.
  • Mr. Vijayan said social reforms have always met with some resistance initially. The conservative classes had shut the doors of the Guruvayur temple in 1932 to defeat the struggle by “untouchables and avarnas” for the right to worship.
  • Public pressure later forced the temple overlords to reverse their decision.
  • The Sabarimala temple opens for the annual pilgrimage season on November 17.
  • The government, he said, planned to regulate the number of daily visitors to Sabarimala to a more manageable figure.
Women have right to pray, not desecrate: Smriti Irani
  • Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani raised a Twitter storm with her statement that women everywhere have the right to pray, but not the right to desecrate.
  • The Minister said this difference between right to pray and right to desecrate must be “recognised and respected.” 
  • Ms. Irani explained that she had personally experienced this. As someone married to a Parsi and practising Zoroastrian faith, there were restrictions to praying at the city’s fire temples.
Norms for full-body scanner at airports likely next month
  • The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) is likely to release the technical norms for operating full-body scanners to screen passengers at airports next month, according to a senior government official.
  • The BCAS had decided to recommend body scanners using active and passive millimetre wave technologies instead of back-scatter and full transmission X-ray technologies after consulting the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), which had expressed concerns about frequent exposure of passengers to X-ray radiation, the official said.
  • The two types of millimetre wave scanners produce a silhouette of the passenger being screened instead of a naked image, thereby safeguarding the privacy of the individual.
  • The official added that these scanners would not be mandatory for airports to deploy but could be used in addition to equipment such as door metal frame detectors, explosive trace detectors, explosive vapour detectors as well as pat down searches.
India issues demarche to Pakistan
  • India summoned a senior diplomat from the Pakistan High Commission and issued a diplomatic note of protest regarding the military casualties suffered on October 21 during a cross-border infiltration attempt from the Pakistani side.
  • A statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) conveyed concern regarding continued infiltration attempts from Pakistan. “It was informed that two Pakistan armed intruders have been killed by the Indian security forces during the ensuing firefight and the Government of Pakistan take custody of the dead bodies of its nationals,” said the statement from the MEA that also declared that the latest infiltration bid revealed Pakistan’s complicity in aiding terrorism in the region.
  • The Army too lodged a strong protest with its Pakistan counterpart over the recent killing of soldiers.
Imran vows to hold talks with India
  • Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to hold peace talks with India after elections in the neighbouring country.
  • He made the announcement in a speech at an investment conference, where he launched a charm offensive targeting investors as Pakistan seeks to secure funds amid a balance of payment crisis.
  • “When I came to power, the first thing I tried to do was extend a hand of peace to India,” he said, adding that the offer was “rebuffed.” “Now what we are hoping is that we wait until the elections; then again, we will resume our peace talks,” Mr. Khan said.
  • In September, India pulled the plug on a rare meeting between its External Affairs Minister and her Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of a UN summit, a move termed “arrogant” by Mr. Khan and unleashed a barrage of insults from both sides.
Neither a boom nor a bust for sales
  • Manufacturers and sellers of fireworks across the country heaved a sigh of relief on Tuesday after the Supreme Court refused to impose a blanket ban on the manufacture, sale and usage of fireworks.
  • But the relief was tempered by anxiety over a raft of restrictions that the court had ordered, including the ban on the industry’s use of barium salts — a key ingredient in colour and light emitting fireworks — and how it may impact business in the key Deepavali period.
  • “At least 40% of the fireworks used during Deepavali are these types of colour and light-emitting products,” said K. Mariappan, secretary, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (TANFAMA). “If these products are banned, the industry will suffer.”
  • Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar district, with 1,070 registered fireworks units in Sivakasi, caters to more than 80% of the fireworks requirements of the country. At least 3 lakh people are directly employed in the industry, while the ancillary units for packaging, adhesives, box making and printing and transportation employ another 5 lakh people.
  • Mr. Mariappan said that the Supreme Court had not heard the Petroleum and Safety Explosives Organisation, which is the licensing and approving authority, over the ban on barium salts.
  • The other major sticking point was the restriction ordered by the SC allowing the use of firecrackers for only two hours on the night of Deepavali: from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Observing that there was already a regulation banning crackers between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., Mr. Mariappan said the Deepavali tradition in the State, unlike in other parts of the country, centred around celebrations in the morning. “This means children will have to wait till 8 p.m. to burst crackers,” he said.
  • “With no nationwide ban on crackers, we have crossed the first barrier,” said Mr. Mariappan, adding that the uncertainty over the last two years had shrunk the industry’s output to about ₹4,000 crore, from ₹6,000 crore. “Our legal fight will continue to safeguard the industry,” he added.
  • Babla Roy, chairman of All Bengal Firecracker Sellers Welfare Association, said the time restriction on use of firecrackers would hurt manufacturers.
  • Residents in Bengaluru welcomed the SC’s directions on firecrackers, terming them a prescription that would ensure ‘prevention is better than cure’.
  • Ramesh Dutt, president of the Citizens Action Forum, said if it was a question of preserving tradition versus protecting the environment, the latter ought to win. “Look at what is happening in New Delhi. We should not allow the environment to deteriorate,” he said.
  • T.V. Ramachandra from the Indian Institute of Science termed it “unfortunate” that the judiciary had to intervene to get people to do what they ought to have done on their own.
Priority is for public health, says court
  • The Supreme Court refrained from imposing a complete ban on firecrackers, even while emphasising that the right to health of millions is far more important than averting an economic loss to the firecracker industry.
  • “When the court is called upon to protect the right to life, economic effect of a particular measure for the protection of such right to health will have to give way to this fundamental right,” a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan observed in their 54-page judgment. 
  • They also acknowledged that the State actually suffered an equal, if not greater, economic loss if a hazardous industry or bursting of crackers ended up causing a rash of ailments in the community.
  • The firecracker industry, strongly backed by the Tamil Nadu government, had argued that there was no definite study to show that bursting of crackers worsened the air quality during festivals such as Deepavali.
  • The industry argued that the revenue from the manufacture and sale of fireworks came to ₹6,000 crore a year. “Such a revenue to the State as well as employment on which five lakh families sustain cannot be put in jeopardy by imposing a total ban. It is emphasised that there is a necessity to adopt a balanced approach,” the cracker manufacturers had argued.
  • The judgment said though the right to health was part of the fundamental right to life under Article 21 and assumed “greater importance,” the “endeavour” of the court right now was to strive for a balance between the right to public health and the right to occupation of the industry.
Bangladesh question looms over Citizenship Bill
  • As the deadline for a joint committee of Parliament on the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, nears an end, some members asked whether it was possible to present the Bill in a truncated form by excluding Bangladesh. 
  • The Bill proposes citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014.
  • The joint committee met on Tuesday to discuss the Bill, posing questions to the Ministries of Home, Foreign and Law whether the proposed law violated provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  •  One of the members also raised concerns if acknowledging the minorities from Bangladesh as “persecuted minorities” would hurt relations with the neighbouring country.
  • Another member said the draft legislation had unnecessarily led to a volatile situation in the northeast as Assam faced violent protests on Tuesday.
  • There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam.
Behave like a true State, CJI tells Assam, Centre
  • The State of Assam and the Centre should behave like a “true State” in the Aristotlian sense, said Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi while hearing the Assam NRC case.
  • The oral observation came on a hearing whether five documents — names in NRC, 1951; names in electoral roll up to March 24, 1971; citizenship certificate and refugee registration certificate; certified copies of pre-1971 electoral roll, particularly those issued from the State of Tripura; and ration card — can be used as proof by 40 lakh people excluded from the draft NRC to establish their Indian legacy during the ongoing claims and objections stage.
  • The Supreme Court, in the previous hearing on September 19, had said that these documents were “capable of being manufactured.” It had asked Assam State NRC Co-ordinator Prateek Hajela to examine the trustworthiness of these documents — part of a total of 15 documents listed by the Centre in their draft Standard Operating Procedure — and file a report.
  • On Tuesday, a Bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton Nariman informed the Centre and Assam that Mr. Hajeela had reported in the negative. 
  • Mr. Hajela concluded that it would be “inexpedient” to base a claimant’s legacy on any of the five documents. The court directed Mr. Hajela to make a powerpoint presentation to the officials of Assam, Centre and other stakeholders represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal about the conclusions.

Xi opens world’s longest sea bridge
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday inaugurated a 55-km bridge that will deepen the integration of Hong Kong and Macao with the rest of China.
  • The world’s longest sea-crossing bridge will be at the heart of an integrated Greater Bay Area (GBA) covering 11 major neighbouring cities, which include Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The giant GBA comprising 68 million people is expected to rival the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S., as well as the Tokyo Bay Area of Japan.
  • From a passenger clearance building of the Zhuhai Port in mainland China, President Xi announced the opening of the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge (HMZB). 
  • The opening of the bridge docks with the start of a bullet train last month between Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the gateway to the rest of mainland China. 
  • Analysts see the opening of the HMZB as a symbol validating the ‘One country, Two Systems’ formula under which Hong Kong and Macao have substantial political autonomy while remaining part of China.
  • The bridge has been built to withstand super-typhoons, a magnitude-8 earthquake, as well as hits by super-sized cargo ships. A 6.7 km underground sea tunnel to allow uninterrupted flow of shipping above, along the super-busy Pearl River Delta, is also part of the bridge’s design. In the end, it will cut the travel time between the three cities from three hours to just 30 minutes. It took about a decade to build the $20 billion bridge.
          Khashoggi’s killing was a planned murder: Erdoğan
          • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan laid out on Tuesday the Saudi planning of what he called the “premeditated murder” of Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, and demanded that the Saudi suspects face justice in Turkey.
          • Mr. Erdoğan, in his first extended remarks on the case, sketched out the chronology of a broad operation. The team of Saudi officials that arrived in stages in Istanbul to carry out the killing included generals, he said, and the Saudis conducted reconnaissance in rural areas outside the city where investigators have been searching for Khashoggi’s remains.
          • “This murder might have been committed at a consulate building which may be considered Saudi Arabian land, but it rests within the borders of Turkey,” he said, adding that international agreements on the status of consular property “cannot allow the investigation of this murder to be concealed behind the armour of immunity”.
          • Saudi Arabia has said that 18 officials were under investigation in the killing, but Mr. Erdoğan said that he would call King Salman of Saudi Arabia and ask that the case be adjudicated in Istanbul, not Riyadh or elsewhere in Saudi Arabia. NY Times

              CAG questions RBI’s role when NPA crisis was brewing
              • Comptroller and Auditor General of India Rajiv Mehrishi questioned the role of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) during the time when the banks were “going berserk with their lending”, leading to the high levels of NPAs, saying that there was no public discourse on the role of the central bank during this period.
              • “In the present banking crisis, we all have a narrative about how it can be sorted out,” Mr. Mehrishi said. “But nobody is asking the real question that what actually the regulator [the Reserve Bank of India] was doing. What is its role, what is its responsibility?
              • “And if it is accountable for this crisis or not, that is also a narrative nobody is talking about.”
              • Mr. Mehrishi also highlighted that there was a lack of any public policy debate about the root causes of the bank non-performing assets problem.
              • As of the end of March 31, 2018, the banking sector had NPAs worth over ₹9.61 lakh crore, according to government data.
                    Centre’s refusal to provide IGST refund hurts exporters
                    • While exporters are saying that a large part of their working capital is tied up in the Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) they have paid on inputs, the government in a recent circular said that it would not be refunding this amount to them since it has already paid them a drawback on the taxes they have paid.
                    • Exporters, however, say that the drawback amount paid back is only a fraction of the total amount they have paid and that most of it is locked in IGST. The system of drawback is such that exporters were eligible for two options: either an industry-wide drawback rate, or a higher brand rate.
                    • Several small exporters, The Hindu spoke to, said that the actual amounts tied up in IGST ran to ₹20 lakh each or so, whereas what they received as drawback was only ₹5-6 lakh. What they also say is the current system creates an unfair advantage for exporters operating in a single State, as opposed to those who have operations that cross State lines.
                    • “The inherent definition of drawback is that all the taxes you have paid on inputs, the government is giving back to you,” a senior official in the Finance Ministry said on the condition of anonymity as the government has made its official position clear in the circular. 
                    • “Many exporters after GST came and said that they are entitled to a drawback and in addition they wanted a refund of the IGST.” “What we have clarified is that you cannot have both,” the official added.
                    • “We have also pointed out the portion of the law that says that when you claim a drawback, then you cannot claim any other benefits, and this is something the exporter has to sign while claiming drawbacks. They have done this, so where is the question of getting IGST credit?”
                    • The circular, reviewed by The Hindu, reads thus: “It has been noted that exporters had availed the option to take drawback at higher rate in place of IGST refund out of their own volition. Considering the fact that exporters have made aforesaid declaration while claiming the higher rate of drawback, it has been decided that it would not be justified allowing exporters to avail IGST refund after initially claiming the benefit of higher drawback. There is no justification for re-opening the issue at this stage.” The exporters, however, are saying that there is more nuance to this argument than the government is making out to be.
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