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Current Affairs : 27 October 2018




NATION

Sri Lanka unity govt. falls, Rajapaksa sworn in as PM
  • In a sudden move, President Maithripala Sirisena pulled his faction out of Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition and within hours appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. The startling developments led to the collapse of the country’s first national unity government, with Mr. Sirisena joining hands once again with the leader he ousted in 2015.
  • Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), however, maintained that Mr. Rajapaksa’s appointment was “illegal and unconstitutional.”
  • In a letter to Mr. Wickremesinghe, Mr. Sirisena said he was using his powers to remove him from the post of Prime Minister with immediate effect. Mr. Wickremesinghe, in turn, in a letter to the President said he was the constitutionally appointed Prime Minister, and commanded "the confidence" of parliament. Both leaders cited Article 42(4) of Sri Lanka's Constitution to declare contradictory positions.
  • The growing friction between Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe within the country’s uneasy coalition was no secret. Mr. Sirisena’s reported outburst at a Cabinet meeting last week — over an alleged assassination plot targeting him and the development of a container terminal in Colombo — further exposed the discord.
Pakistan’s ban on Saeed’s outfits lapses
  • India questioned Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism following reports that Jamaat-ud Dawa and its associate group Falah-I-Insaniyat Foundation are no longer on the list of banned organisations.
  • In a submission to the Islamabad High Court, the legal team representing Hafiz Saeed, accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, said on Thursday the Presidential ordinance of February 2018 that put the organisations on the list, has lapsed, indicating that the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has not extended the ban.
  • An Indian official said, “The decision reflects lack of sincerity on the part of Pakistan to meet its international obligation to fight terrorism.”
  • Mr. Saeed, accused by India of masterminding the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, argued in court that he set up Jamaat-ud Dawa in 2002 after severing ties with the banned organisation Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT). India accuses LeT of committing terrorist attacks in Kashmir apart from being the tool for the Mumbai strikes.
  • The developments reveal that the Pakistani position of not extending the Presidential ordinance is a complete turnaround from its submission to the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that put it on a “greylist” earlier this year.
SC sets deadline for Verma probe, curbs powers of Rao
  • To safeguard the CBI’s reputation, the Supreme Court ordered the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its inquiry into the allegations of graft and misconduct against exiled CBI Director Alok Verma in two weeks.
  • The inquiry, which had commenced on the basis of a letter from the Cabinet Secretary about a complaint received in August 2018, would be conducted under the supervision of former Supreme Court judge A.K. Patnaik.
  • A Bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph also clipped the powers of the incumbent at the helm of the agency, M. Nageswara Rao. Mr. Rao will take care of only routine tasks essential to keep the CBI functioning. He has been barred from taking any major or policy decisions.
  • All decisions taken by Mr. Rao “from October 23 up to this hour” have come under the scanner. The court asked that a list of the decisions — including transfer of investigations — taken by Mr. Rao be placed before the Bench on November 12 in a sealed cover.
  • The court said “appropriate orders” would be passed on these decisions taken by Mr. Rao after perusing the details. The CVC, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, raised concerns that the appointment of Justice Patnaik would reflect on the Commission.
  • Mr. Mehta quoted Section 14 of the CVC Act of 2003 to buttress the fact that CBI was statutorily accountable in its functions.
  • This prompted the Bench to clarify in its judicial order that Justice Patnaik’s appointment was a “one-time exception felt necessary considering the particular facts of the case”. 
SC order a positive step, says Centre
  • The Centre has described the Supreme Court order seeking the completion of a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) inquiry into allegations against CBI Director Alok Verma under court supervision as an “extremely positive development”.
  • In the government’s first reaction to the Supreme Court order, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the recent developments “have eroded the credibility of the Central Bureau of Investigation” and that the “CVC, in the interest of fairness, had passed an order that till an investigation or inquiry is pending against the two top officers of the CBI, they must step aside and recuse themselves from the CBI’s function.”
  • He also gave reasons for Mr. Verma and CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana being sent on administrative leave.
  • “This was necessary in the larger interest of fairness because you can’t be heading an agency which is investigating into your own conduct,” he said.
  • Stating that the action against Mr. Verma and Mr. Asthana came on the recommendation of CVC, he said the government had given effect to that order. “What has happened in the Supreme Court today is that it has further strengthened the fairness criteria.” he said.
  • “The truth coming out is in the larger interest of India,” Mr. Jaitley said, adding that “all officers of the CBI, particularly the top few officers, like Caesar’s wife must be beyond suspicion, they must be above suspicion.”
IAF gets first overhauled Sukhoi
  • In a major step towards improving the availability rate of the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter fleet, the IAF's Base Repair Depot (BRD), Ojhar in Maharashtra has successfully overhauled a Su-30 MKI aircraft.
  • The first overhauled aircraft was handed over to Air Marshal HS Arora, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of South Western Air Command in a ceremony .
  • The statement added that 11 BRD is the only fighter aircraft repair depot of the force and undertakes repair and overhaul of frontline fighters such as MIG-29 and Sukhoi-30 MKI.
  • Indigenous overhauling in-house within the IAF, will significantly reduce the time and improve the availability rate of the overall fleet at a time when the service is a facing a drop in its fighter squadron strength, officials said.
  • The Su-30MKI procured from Russia and licence manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is the mainstay of the IAF’s fighter squadron. India has contracted 272 aircraft of which over 240 have been inducted into service.
  • As part of the measures, in March 2017, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of India and the United Aircraft Corporation and United Engine Corporations of Russia had signed two long term supply agreements for the Sukhoi fighter aircraft fleet to address issues of life cycle support and maintenance. These agreements cover about 57,000 spares and components related to the Su-30 aircraft.
  • To enable this deal, Russia changed its legislation permitting its companies to enter into direct agreement with foreign companies for long term support agreements. 
Varsities having Ordinance need not follow central rules
  • The Centre has decided that central universities already having an Ordinance of their own need not adopt the Central Civil Services (CCS) rules.
  • This comes close on the heels of a UGC letter to all central universities that they should adopt the CCS rules, which led to much controversy on the ground that the freedom of faculty members to criticise any government policy would stand in violation of these rules.
  • Criticism of this move on the grounds that it would have blocked even the writing of books or articles critical of government policy-- was followed by Minister of Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar tweeting that there would be no restriction of speech in DU or JNU at a time when the latter had already adopted the UGC's instruction regarding CCS rules.
  • A senior MHRD official told that since JNU had its own Ordinance, it was not required to impose CCS rules on its faculty.
  • The Central Civil Services Conduct Rules say: “No government servant shall make any statement of fact or opinion which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy of the Central government or a State.”
Migratory birds start arriving at Chilika, but numbers are down
  • Migratory birds have started arriving at the wetlands of Odisha’s Chilika Lake — one of the largest wintering grounds in Asia, but not in their usual numbers this year.
  • This year, however, fewer winged visitors have descended on the mudflats of the lake.
  • “Around this time, Chilika is usually filled with a cacophony of birds. As acres of patches are still under water, birds are not descending on the lake,” said Susanta Nanda, chief executive of the Chilika Development Authority.
  • Close to one million birds congregate on the mudflats of the lake during winter. The lake is home to 230 bird species, out of which 97 are intercontinental migrants. The lake is also a designated Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance).
  • The Nalabana Bird Sanctuary and Mangalajodi, the two major places where the birds congregate, also have not received the usual numbers.
  • One of the reasons behind the low turnout is the flooding after incessant rain triggered by cyclone Titli.

          WORLD

          China, Japan pivot to new markets
          • Faced with the threat of a trade war with the U.S., China and Japan have decided to work together to develop new overseas markets, by focussing on collaboration instead of competing with each other.
          • Mr. Li spotlighted that “we (China and Japan) are cooperation partners to each other and not a threat, and we support each other for peaceful development”.
          • In his brief remarks, the Japanese Prime Minister said joint forays in third countries would now be one of the new templates of Tokyo-Beijing ties.
          • “Over 1,000 business representatives from the two nations gathering and signing multiple cooperation documents is one good example,” he said.
          • Analysts say the Japanese Prime Minister’s remarks showcase his “pragmatism” notwithstanding his strong nationalistic instincts.
          • Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that by bolstering investment in other countries, Asia’s two biggest economies will aim to form a new model of economic cooperation between them.
          • The meeting between the two leaders was followed by the signing of a slew of agreements, which covered energy cooperation, military confidence building measures in the East China Sea, infrastructure development and joint development of hi-end technology.
          • Focussing on cutting-edge know-how, an agreement was signed to establish a discussion platform on hi-end technology and intellectual property. The Chinese side hopes that such a forum would help make up possible shortages of U.S. components, in case the Beijing-Washington trade and technology war escalates.
          • The two sides also signed an agreement on joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea — an initiative that was stalled in 2008, when tensions over islands, called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan, spiralled. A decision has also been taken to launch joint search and rescue missions in these waters.
          • Analysts say China seeks Japanese companies to participate in its Belt and Road projects, especially in the financial sphere, to counter allegations that Beijing is deliberately pursuing “debt trap” diplomacy as a tool for exercising political control in developing countries. By entering into joint ventures, Japanese firms hope they can revive their flagging fortunes in new opportunity areas.
          • The two countries also signed a bilateral currency swap dealt of $26.7 billion — around 10 times as larger than a previous agreement that has expired.
          • Mr. Abe said Japan and China agreed to work together to open a hotline as soon as possible. That would help avert accidental clashes at sea and in the air.
          Ireland votes on historic blasphemy ban
          • Irish voters were deciding whether to repeal a ban on blasphemy. The referendum was being held alongside a presidential election in which incumbent Michael Higgins was expected to secure a new seven-year term. 

          ECONOMY

          RBI to inject ₹40,000 cr. in November
          • The Reserve Banksaid it would inject ₹40,000 crore into the system in November through purchase of government securities as it looks to meet festive season demand for funds.
          • For October, the RBI has already injected ₹36,000 crore into the system through open market operations (OMO).
          • “Based on an assessment of the durable liquidity needs, RBI has decided to conduct purchase of government securities under OMOs for an aggregate amount of ₹400 billion in the month of November 2018,” the RBI said. The auction dates and the government securities to be purchased would be communicated in due course.
            Rise in input costs hits fertilizer units
            • A steep escalation in the prices of sulphuric and phosphoric acids has put the fertilizer industry in a tight spot. 
            • The price of sulphuric acid is now hovering around over ₹9,000 a metric tonne. It was ruling around ₹4,000 a metric tonne early this year. 
            • From $678 per metric tonne in mid-January, the prices of phosphoric acid have shot up to about $770.
            • With the domestic availability of sulphuric and phosphoric acids in short supply, fertilizers units are reportedly forced to import them. 
            • The current problem of the fertilizer industry, according to some industry sources, is to a large extent the result of the closure of the copper smelter factory of Sterlite, a Vedanta Group company, in Thoothukodi.
            • Mired in a pollution related controversy, the Sterlite unit is entangled in legal knots. The fertilizer industry is hoping for an early end to the legal logjam facing Sterlite.
            • Sterlite Copper, it is gleaned, is servicing 9% of the country’s sulphuric acid needs and 6.4% of the phosphoric acid requirements.
            • A few downstream units in the vicinity of Thoothukudi such as Greenstar Fertilizer and Amritha Chemicals are finding the going tough in the wake of the closure of Sterlite Copper.
            • Greenstar Fertilizers had been procuring close to 0.12 mt phosphoric acid and 0.1 mt of sulphuric acid from Sterlite Copper for the production of fertilizers. 
            • Their production programme is reported to have been seriously hit, forcing them to resort to import of additional quantities of fertilizer to cater to the Indian market and cut down on workforce.
            • “With India being the second largest consumer of fertilizers in the world, the impact of the closure on the downstream industries with price rises in acid raw materials will not bode well for the economy,” an industry source said.
            • India is also the biggest importer of raw materials required for production of fertilizers, especially for those containing phosphate and potassium.
            • “The availability of these raw materials in the international market is limited and a surge in domestic demand will only push the prices up,” it added.

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