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Current Affairs : 28 - 29 October 2018




NATION

Sirisena suspends Parliament
  • Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena suspended Parliament, a day after he sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, plunging the island nation into political turmoil.
  • Through an extraordinary gazette, Mr. Sirisena said Parliament was prorogued until November 16.
  • The announcement came just as Mr. Wickremesinghe declared he had the majority in Parliament.
  • “Reconvene Parliament immediately so that I can prove my majority,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said at a press conference.
  • Meanwhile, members of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine said they too had a majority of “120 plus” in the 225-member House.
  • While a confidence vote in Parliament might have put their competing claims to test, Mr. Sirisena’s decision has now deferred the possibility by about two weeks, fanning rumours of cross-overs between the two camps.
  • The Chinese Ambassador in Colombo met Mr. Rajapaksa and conveyed the wishes of his leadership and government, according to Mr. Rajapaksa’s office. 
  • India is yet to comment on the recent changes in the neighbouring nation.

New Delhi pins its prestige on Mauritius project
  • As work gets under way on one of India’s prize projects in the Indian Ocean to upgrade facilities on the Agalega islands in Mauritius, the government is watching a battle brewing in the Mauritius parliament over the project.
  • After facing resistance over placing its helicopters in the Maldives’ Addu Atoll and the virtual cancellation of its project to develop the Assumption Island in the Seychelles earlier this year, New Delhi is moving swiftly but quietly to ensure its project in Mauritius — to construct a jetty, rebuild and extend the runway, and build an airport terminal — does not run into trouble.
  • The $87 million project, to be funded by India, has been awarded to AFCON construction group and RITES engineering consultancy. Surveys have begun to fulfil the contract signed on September 28 this year, which stipulated that construction begin by February 12, 2019, and be completed in 2021.
As Capital chokes, Centre talks prosecution
  • Delhi’s air quality continued to remain “very poor” for the fourth consecutive day on Saturday, with some parts of the city slipping into “severe” category.
  • The deteriorating situation, compounded by fears that it may deteriorate further next week due to localised emissions during festival and stubble burning, prompted Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan to announce that the government has decided to initiate criminal prosecution against agencies which do not comply with the directives to check air pollution.
  • The decision came following a review meeting with 41 teams of the Central Pollution Control Board, which found the compliance rate of the agencies concerned in following the directives “very poor”.
  • The CPCB and the Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research issued separate advisories recommending people to avoid strenuous outdoor activities, wear masks and minimise the use of private vehicles.
  • Nearly 20%-30% of the dip in Delhi’s air quality on Friday and Saturday was due to crop burning in Punjab and Haryana, said CPCB officials. 
  • The board maintained that lack of wind height and local polluting factors were also contributing to the spiked pollution levels in the city.
Stubble burning has come down: officials
  • Stubble burning cases in key grain-producing States of Punjab and Haryana have dipped this season compared to the last year, according to officials.
  • With paddy harvest in full swing, Punjab this year witnessed 3,228 cases of stubble burning between September 27 and October 22 compared to the 8,420 cases reported in 2017 during the corresponding period, according to data from the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC). In 2016 the figure was 13, 358 during the same period.
  • Punjab’s State nodal officer for anti-stubble burning campaign K.S. Pannu attributed the drop to the constructive response of the farmers, coupled with environmental friendly initiatives taken by the State government as well as the Centre. 
  • In a statement, Mr. Pannu said that due to this the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Punjab was far better now than it was last year. “AQI of Punjab is 111 against 326 in the corresponding period last year,” he said.
  • Over 21,000 farm equipment and agro-machines have so far been given to the farmers for in-situ management of paddy straw in a scientific manner. Mr. Pannu said an awareness campaign had been launched, and nodal officers appointed in 8,000 paddy growing villages to check stubble burning.
  • Paddy is grown in about 30 lakh hectares in Punjab. After its harvesting, about 20 million tonnes of straw is left on the fields. It is estimated that 15 million tonnes of straw is burnt on the open fields to clear the land for sowing wheat or other crops.
  • In Haryana, meanwhile, according to the government statement, the burning of paddy stubble had been reported only on 6,200 hectares till date.
Ayodhya appeals listed for new SC Bench tomorrow
  • The Ayodhya title suit appeals are scheduled for hearing on October 29 before a completely new Supreme Court Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
  • The Ayodhya appeals were so far heard by the three-judge Bench of the previous Chief Justice, Dipak Misra, and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer.
  • On September 27, the Misra Bench, in a majority opinion of 2:1, decided against referring a question of law — whether offering prayers in a mosque is an essential practice of Islam — which arose in the Ayodhya appeals hearings to a Constitution Bench.
  • The majority opinion, authored by Justice Bhushan and supported by Justice Misra, had ordered the Ayodhya appeals “which are awaiting consideration by this Court for quite a long period, to be now listed in week commencing 29th October, 2018 for hearing”.
  • Usually, this would entail the appeals returning to the Bench comprising Justices Bhushan, Nazeer and a new third judge, replacing Justice Misra, who retired on October 2.
  • However, the appeals have been posted on Monday before a Bench which neither Justice Bhushan nor Justice Nazeer are a part of.
  • Nevertheless, experts say that not much ground had anyway been covered by the earlier Misra Bench on the appeals.
  • The hearings had got deflected on the question of reference to a Constitution Bench.
  • Experts also point out that it was rather unusual for Justice Bhushan, a puisne judge on the Bench, to fix the date of hearing of the appeals as October 29. They say it should have been ideally left to Chief Justice Gogoi.
  • September 27 had also witnessed the stinging dissent penned by Justice Nazeer, who observed in a separate opinion that the question of what is essential or not in a religion cannot be hastily decided. He held that the question raised on the essentiality of offering prayers in mosques should indeed be examined by a seven-judge Bench, before the Ayodhya suit appeals are heard further.
  • He had concluded that questions raised during the Ayodhya appeals hearing about the comment made in the Ismail Faruqui judgment of 1994 require a “comprehensive examination” by a seven-judge Bench.
  • Speaking for himself and the Chief Justice, Justice Bhushan had said that references cannot be made to a larger Bench merely because of “questionable observations” made in an earlier judgment.
India home to two new gecko species
  • The spot-necked day gecko and the Anaimudi day gecko, both very distinctly-patterned lizards found only in the higher reaches of the Agasthyamalai and Anamalai hill ranges in the Western Ghats, are the latest additions to India's reptile fauna.
  • Researchers were surveying reptiles in Kerala's Shola National Parks in 2013 when they came across a predominantly greyish-brown-coloured gecko.
  • The approximately six-centimetre-long lizard sported an unusual, bright red iris (a thin band surrounding the pupil of the eye) and a long, striking amber line also ran down its dark back: unlike anything the team had seen.
  • The team collected and studied the geckos’ morphology in detail.  They compared these with the morphology of other similar-looking lizards to establish Cnemaspis anamudiensis or the Anaimudi day gecko, as a new species.
  • The team (including scientists at the Zoological Survey of India and National Centre for Biological Sciences) utilized the same method to describe yet another day gecko they spotted at Kollam's Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary – which is part of the Agasthyamalai hill range – in 2016. 
  • This gecko had bluish-white spots in a distinct ‘necklace-pattern’ on its nape. While this differentiated the species from the similar-looking Ponmudi day gecko and the Bedomme’s day gecko, the lack of enlarged flat tubercles on its tail was one of the features that ruled out its possibility of being the ornate day gecko. The team named the new species Cnemaspis maculicolis or the spot-necked day gecko.
  • Both these diurnal geckos are currently known only from single localities in high-elevation forests located at more than 1,200 metres above mean sea level in the Ghats.
Protect Ranil’s privileges as PM, Speaker urges Sirisena
  • The Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, urged President Maithripala Sirisena to protect the rights and privileges of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe until his majority in the House was challenged by another member.
  • Further, citing possible “serious consequences” of the President’s decision to suspend Parliament till November 16, he pressed Mr. Sirisena to reconvene the House.
  • Drawing attention to the “convention” that prorogation should be done in consultation with the Speaker, Mr. Jayasuriya said the move would have “serious and undesirable consequences for the country” and urged Mr. Sirisena to reconsider the decision. 
  • Mr. Rajapaksa said he had accepted Mr. Sirisena’s invitation to assume charge as Prime Minister as he was aware that “the people expected our leadership and protection,” at this moment of “national peril.”
  • In the statement, signed as the ‘Prime Minister of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,’ Mr. Rajapaksa said the primary objective of leaders and lawmakers who had joined him and Mr. Sirisena was to ensure early conduct of provincial and parliamentary elections.
Trump not to attend Republic Day event
  • U.S. President Donald Trump will not travel to India as the chief guest for the Republic Day parade, and the White House has conveyed its regrets to the Narendra Modi government.
  • According to multiple sources, a final decision has been conveyed to the Ministry of External Affairs, with Mr. Trump’s “crowded calendar” being cited as the primary reason for his not accepting the invitation.
  • The sources also pointed to the uncertainties over the political situation in Washington. 
  • The sources pointed to the State of the Union address that the U.S. President must give during the Congress session around the same time in January.
  • In 2015, when U.S. President Barack Obama had come to India for the parade, he had been able to negotiate to bring forward the address to January 20, and travelled to India after it. In the current situation, however, with Speaker Paul Ryan having resigned, Mr. Trump would not be able to even begin the negotiations until December, when a new Speaker is elected by representatives going into the mid-term elections on November 6. 
No pressure on India to buy F-16 fighters from U.S.: envoy
  • The United States is not going to put pressure on India to buy F-16 fighter jets or any other defence system, a senior U.S. diplomat has said.
  • United States Consul General in Mumbai Edgard Kagan said India has purchased more than $15 billion worth of American defence materials and the U.S. is very proud of the expanding defence ties between the two countries.
  • Asked if there is a threat of the U.S. imposing trade sanctions on India after its multi-billion deal with Russia for the S-400 air-defence system, he did not give a direct answer.
  • Mr. Kagan said it is important to recognise that decisions have consequences and India is very well aware where the U.S. stands on a variety of issues. There are also matters that both countries can work closely to resolve, he said.
  • India recently concluded a $5 billion deal to buy the S-400 air defence missile system from Russia, which could attract U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act instituted by the U.S. Congress on arms purchases from Moscow.
  • American lawmakers, however, have allowed the possibility of a presidential waiver.
  • Mr. Kagan said, “The fact is India has purchased over $15 billion worth of American defence materials and there hasn’t been any hint of a scandal.”
  • This gives certainty to the people buying American products, the U.S. Consul General said. “When you compare the track record of the C-17 purchases for instance, or C-130 purchases, which were all done on budget, on time, and in a very transparent way without a single hint of impropriety with many other defence procurement, the difference is quite striking.” The C-17 and the C-130 are U.S.-made cargo aircraft.
A.P. ranked first, with 10.5% growth
  • Andhra Pradesh has achieved the number one rank in the country with an average growth of 10.5% during the last four years.
  • It has surpassed many developed States such as Maharashtra and Gujarat following a “focused approach” and setting high targets for itself.
  • According to the State Planning Department, the average growth in the country stood at 7.3% during the last four years.
  • Probably, Andhra Pradesh is the only State to clock the double-digit growth rate.
  • While Telangana has slipped to the second place, Maharashtra is ranked sixth. Punjab is placed 14th and Karnataka third.
  • The growth in Andhra Pradesh was 9.2% in 2014-15, the year of bifurcation. Later, it was ranked second. In the subsequent year, it achieved a double-digit growth of 10.6% though its rank had slipped to the 4th place.
  • Since then, the State has been achieving double-digit growth rates.
  • Gujarat, which is considered the most developed State, registered a growth of 10.5% in 2014-15. But it slipped to 10.1 in 2016-17. 
  • Telangana, which registered 6.8% growth in 2014-15 could achieve 10.4% in 2017-18, officials said.
  • The Per Capita Income (PCI) also increased by more than ₹40,000 during 2017-18 in the State, which started its journey with “the lowest PCI of ₹93,903” in the southern States.
  • The PCI crossed the ₹1 lakh mark in 2015-16. The trend has been upward since then.
  • Planning Secretary Sanjay Gupta said Andhra Pradesh, with a population of 4.96 crore (as per 2011 census), was placed 9th in the country with a PCI of ₹1.24 lakh in 2016-17 against ₹1.07 lakh in 2015-16.
  • Compared with the all-India PCI of ₹1.13 lakh in 2017-18, there is a quantum jump in the State’s PCI in 2017-18 and 2015-16.
Step up Zika surveillance, States told
  • As hundreds of cases of Zika viral infection continue to be reported from Jaipur in Rajasthan, after this year’s index case was reported on September 22, the Centre has directed all States to intensify vector surveillance and control activities so that the transmission of the vector-borne infection is limited.
  • The threat perception of a Zika outbreak may not be imminent in Kerala. But the vector which spreads Zika, the hardy Aedes aegypti mosquito, has been thriving in Kerala, responsible for the huge annual dengue epidemics in the State and it may only a matter of time before Zika surfaces in Kerala.
  • Given the high ende
  • “Majority of Zika infections are mild and asymptomatic and in adults, it is known to precipitate Guillain- Barre syndrome (GBS-weakness or paralysis triggered by an acute infection). Unless vector surveillance is strengthened and microcephaly, GBS trends are monitored, it is very easy to miss active Zika transmission in the community,” pointed out E. Sreekumar, a senior scientist at Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), who has been working in the area of dengue.
  • Once winter sets in, the current outbreak in Jaipur may subside. Kerala too will experience cooler weather in the coming months, which might prevent the Aedes flare up. But transovarial transmission of Zika virus (transmission through eggs, which hatch into infected mosquitoes) has been confirmed. Thus, once the transmission of a virus is established in a community, it can reappear when temperatures start rising again and spread to other parts through travel or migration.
  • Zika is new to the State and in the absence of herd immunity, can cause severe outbreaks, affecting a huge population.
Siberian visitors freeze Assam-Meghalaya border dispute
  • Umru village on the Assam-Meghalaya border lacks a road but that doesn’t stop its famous winter visitors — a flock of Amur falcons, the world’s longest travelling raptors.
  • While Doyang Lake near Pangti village in Nagaland’s Wokha district is better known as a stopover for the Amur falcons during their annual migration from their breeding grounds in Mongolia and northern China to warmer South Africa, a flock has been seen since 2010 in Umru.
  • The lack of an access road is not the only problem faced by the villagers. Umru is in Block II, one of 12 disputed areas along the Assam-Meghalaya border, since Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972.
  • Assam claims the village is under Baithalangso Assembly constituency of East Karbi Anlong district while Meghalaya asserts it is under Mawhati Assembly constituency of its Ri-Bhoi district.
  • The 50-odd Gorkha households in the village prefer to be in Assam while the 30 Khasi tribal households want to be in Meghalaya.
  • But these disputes are forgotten when the village welcomes the falcons in mid-October, uniting to ensure a safe stay for the birds. Both communities have made common cause in protection of the Amur falcons and have fixed a fine of ₹25,000 for anyone caught ensnaring or killing the birds.
  • The Tyrso Valley Wildlife Protection Society is an NGO formed by the villagers of the eponymous Meghalaya village adjoining Umru. The group has been organising the Amur Falcon Festival since 2015 to celebrate the “birds that have made this back-of-beyond area famous”. The festival is scheduled on November 7-8, a fortnight before the birds are expected to soar for the next destination.
  • The Umru-Tyrso area, about 75 km northeast of Shillong, however, is a relatively recent pit stop for the falcons. The birds used to flock to Umwang, also in the Block II disputed area, from 1998-2009 before human interference made them shift base.
  • Wildlife officials in Nagaland also point out that the birds used to roost in large numbers in the Changtongya Community Conservation Reserve but moved on to Pangti and Yaongyimchen, a lesser roosting site. Efforts are on to revive the Changtongya area, about 100 km north of Pangti, for the migratory raptors.
‘Extend Vishakha norms to religious institutions’
  • The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a PIL petition to extend the Vishakha guidelines against sexual harassment in workplace to ashrams, madrasas and Catholic institutions.
  • The Vishakha guidelines introduced by the apex court in 1997 were evolved into a parliamentary law called the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013.
  • The petition filed by advocate Maneesh Pathak said religious institutions also have women employed there other than those working on a voluntary basis. “If the Vishakha Guidelines are extended to these religious institutions, it would assist a lot in reducing sexually related crimes against women at religious places by gurus or leaders of that particular institution,” the petition said.
  • It said the government should do a background verification of religious leaders, especially “new upcoming babas” or “heads of those madrasas” and churches. It also sought directions to the Centre to provide adequate measures for women safety at religious places by conducting periodic checks by State women panels.
  • The petition mentioned recent instances such as cases of priests being accused of sexual abuse in Kerala and of self-styled gurus like Daati Maharaj, Baba Ram Rahim and Asaram Bapu.
Day One: Modi, Abe hold informal talks
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, held informal talks at a picturesque resort near Mount Fuji and visited a factory making industrial robots on Sunday as they spent eight hours together on the first day of the two-day summit.
  • Mr. Modi, who arrived in Japan to attend the 13th India-Japan annual summit, said the partnership had fundamentally been transformed and strengthened as a “special strategic and global partnership”. T
  • he summit will seek to review the progress in ties and deepen the strategic dimension of the relationship.
  • Mr. Modi was received by Mr. Abe at Hotel Mount Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture, west of Tokyo.
Elite China security team arriving
  • A delegation from a group responsible for the security of the top seven members of the Chinese leadership will visit New Delhi in November, as security ties between India and China begin to expand.
  • The delegation will hold talks on November 23 and 24, an official source told.
  • The wing is in charge of the security of seven members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, headed by President Xi Jinping.
  • The delegation will hold talks with India’s elite Special Protection Group (SPG).
  • “Both sides are of the view that there could be much to learn from each other regarding VVIP security. This is an important exploratory visit,” the source said.
  • The Chinese team’s visit comes after Zhao Kezhi, Minister of Public Security, concluded a visit to India earlier this month.
  • The Indian side is especially keen on learning from Chinese experiences in tackling cybercrimes, as part of a broader security interaction with China.
  • Mr. Zhao’s visit is part of a string of follow-up visits after the Wuhan informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi in April.
  • Towards the end of November, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval will be heading to China for Special Representative (SR) talks with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It is likely that the NSA’s visit will precede the G-20 summit in Argentina, where Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi are expected to meet again.
WORLD

India helped Maldives restore democracy, says Gayoom
  • India played a “positive” role in restoration of democracy in Maldives by “exerting pressure” on the ruling regime, and the new government in the island nation would be “sensitive” towards ’s “concerns”, said former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on Sunday.
  • Nearly a month after he was released from jail, Mr. Gayoom said the government of President Abdulla Yameen inflicted “huge damage” on Maldives but democratic forces have prevailed over their “enemies”.
  • Joint opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came out victorious in the September 23 presidential election, handing a shock defeat to Mr. Yameen.
  • Asked whether Mr. Yameen drew his strength from strong backing by China, Mr. Gayoom hoped that Beijing would respect the will of the Maldivian people.
  • Asked about India’s role after imposition of emergency by Mr. Yameen in February, Mr. Gayoom said, “India did play a positive role, and along with other international partners, did exert pressure towards restoration of democracy.”
ECONOMY

Depreciating rupee comes as no solace to exporters
  • Exporters in India are not happy with the current policy and exchange rate situation even though they should be cheering the depreciating rupee. 
  • A combination of higher input costs, uncertainty over tariffs, and the fact that the government has said it would not be refunding them the Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) they have paid, has meant that exports contracted in September for the first time in six months.
  • Exports contracted by 2.34% in September, albeit on a high base, despite the rupee averaging more than 72 a dollar during that month. Over August and September, when the rupee averaged 70.8 per dollar, India’s average export growth stood at 8.5%. Compare this to the 16.8% export growth rate in the same period of the previous year, when the rupee averaged a much stronger 64.2 to the dollar.
  • A depreciating rupee should ideally be good for exporters, since it means that India’s exports are relatively cheaper than they were before. However, export bodies such as the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) have said that this benefit is not passing through to exporters.
  • Apart from this, the exporters say that depreciating currencies in some of their biggest export destinations such as West Asia, Africa, and certain parts of Asia, has meant that buyers in these areas have also begun asking for discounts. While these factors are not completely in the government’s control, exporters complain that there are other issues where decisive government policies could go a long way in improving confidence in the sector and easing their financial troubles.
  • Several exporters have complained that the confusion surrounding India’s eligibility for the U.S. Generalised System of Preferences has meant that many advance orders, which ordinarily would have gone to Indian companies, are now being diverted to exporters in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.
  • Further compounding this issue is that there is a complete lack of clarity among exporters on whether India’s exports currently can get the GSP benefits or not. The GSP is a system where the U.S. allows certain eligible countries to export about 3,500 commodities to the U.S. on a duty-free basis. 
  • Others, however, say that they are receiving the benefits. It is up to the Indian government to clarify this situation with the U.S. government. 
  • The government has also maintained a stubborn stance on IGST refunds., say exporters. 
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