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Current Affairs : 30 October 2018


SC sets January 2019 to fix a date for Ayodhya hearing
  • A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, on Monday ordered the volatile Ayodhya dispute appeals to be listed in January 2019 before an appropriate Bench to fix a date for hearing.
  • Chief Justice Gogoi repeated that all that the court has ordered now is for the appeals to be posted in the first week of January before a Bench, that too, “not for hearing but for fixing the date of hearing.”
  • Last year, in the initial stages of hearing of the appeals, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing on the side of certain Islamic bodies and private appellants, had suggested in court that the Ayodhya hearings be posted after July 15, 2019, post the general election.
  • Mr. Sibal, along with senior advocates Dushyant Dave and Rajeev Dhavan, had pegged the Ayodhya dispute as not just any other civil suit. They flagged how the case covered religion and faith, and dated back to the era of King Vikramaditya.
  • The case, they said, was probably the most important case in the history of India, which would “decide the future of the polity.”
Modi, Abe back ‘free Indo-Pacific’
  • India and Japan outlined a vision for strengthened bilateral relations at the 13th annual summit.
  • Enhanced strategic and defence cooperation dominated the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe.
  • Japan’s formulation of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” received a central place in the vision statement issued at the end of the talks, with both sides stressing their “unwavering commitment to it.” The concept is usually seen as a response to China’s growing dominance in the region.
  • Speaking to the press after his talks with Mr. Abe, Mr. Modi said the India-Japan bilateral relationship was invested in upholding the rule of law and democratic values.
ICF rolls out Train 18, the NextGen Shatabdi
  • The gleaming, blue-nosed train standing at ’s Integral Coach Factory (ICF) has a cone-shaped frontage, similar to a bullet train. The new train comes fitted with amenities on a par with the best in the world — from on-board Wi-Fi to GPS-based passenger information system, ‘touch-free’ bio-vacuum toilets, LED lighting, mobile charging points, and a climate control system that will adjust the temperature according to occupancy and the weather.
  • What ‘Train 18’ doesn’t have, however, is a locomotive to pull the coaches — it is a self-propelled, semi-high-speed trainset that will soon replace the box cars of the inter-city Shatabdis.
  • Speaking at the launch function, Mr. Lohani said it can reach a maximum speed of 160 km per hour. The train can both accelerate and pull to a stop rapidly, thereby consuming much less energy, he added.
  • S. Mani, general manager of ICF, said the train was completed in a record time of 18 months after it was conceived in 2016. About 80% of the design, technology and manufacture of Train 18, a predecessor to ‘Train 20’, is Indian. The coaches in the fully air-conditioned train are linked with advanced bridge plates, leaving the train free of the shaky gangways Indian train travellers are used to.
Guidelines for safety of women
  • The Punjab State Women Commission has issued guidelines regarding safety of women at the workplace in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
  • Notably, a Punjab Minister was recently accused by a woman IAS officer of sending her inappropriate text messages. Later, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh released a statement saying the matter had been taken very seriously and, to the best of his knowledge, resolved to the officer’s satisfaction.
  • “All male officers and Ministers are required to understand that if a female employee is being called for any kind of discussion or meeting into a confined space, such as an office, there needs to be a minimum of one other woman present in the office for the entire duration of the meeting,” she said.
  • Ms. Gulati said any jokes, pictures, GIFs, videos or even plain text sent to any female’s mobile phone by a male colleague, shall be taken seriously and shall be dealt with strictly.
Odisha launches disaster alert system for its coast
  • The Odisha government on Monday launched the much-awaited Early Warning Dissemination System, the first-of-its-kind technology in India, to simultaneously warn coastal communities and fisherfolk about impending cyclone and tsunami through siren towers.
  • Sirens will go off from 122 towers installed along the 480-km-long coast of the State if a button is pressed in the State emergency centre in Bhubaneswar.
  • “The innovative warning system would alert people about disasters such as floods and cyclone. Fishermen fishing in deep sea can also be reached via mass SMS on their mobile phones through EWDS,” said Bishnupada Sethi, Managing Director of Odisha State Disaster Management Authority.
  • The EWDS, a collaborative effort of the Central and State governments, has been implemented under the assistance of World Bank.
  • It comprises technologies such as satellite-based mobile data voice terminals, digital mobile radio, mass messaging system and universal communication interface for interoperability, said Mr. Sethi.
  • It’s a part of the last-mile connectivity programme under National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project. Six coastal districts —Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Puri and Ganjam — have been covered under the EWDS.
  • Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik dedicated the EWDS to the public on the 19th anniversary of the Odisha Super Cyclone.
Pak. accepts India invite to SCO meet
  • India will host Pakistan and representatives of seven member countries that are part of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on handling urban disaster this week.
  • The National Disaster Response Force is hosting the preparatory meeting for the “Joint mock exercise on urban earthquake search and rescue” to be held next year in India. The meeting assumes significance as India called off dialogue with Pakistan last month.
  • A senior NDRF official said that Pakistan has accepted the invitation.
  • On his Kyrgyzstan visit in August 2017, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced that India would host the 10th meeting of Heads of Departments of disaster prevention of SCO member states.
  • The first phase of the meeting will be held from November 1-2 at Delhi’s Le Meridien hotel.
Children under 15 at serious risk from polluted air: WHO
  • Every day about 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 (1.8 billion children) breathe polluted air that puts their health and development at serious risk, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a new report that puts into numbers the devastating impact of air pollution on the global population’s health.
  • Tragically, many of these children die, with as many as six lakh estimated to have perished in 2016 alone due to complications from acute lower respiratory infections caused by dirty air, according to the report.
  • The report on air pollution and child health released on the eve of the WHO’s first ever global conference on Air Pollution and Health on Tuesday reveals that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, and have small, low birth-weight children.
  • Air pollution also impacts neuro-development and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer. Children exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease later in life, the WHO said.
  • One reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants. They also live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations — at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.
  • In addition, newborns and small children are often at home. If the family is burning fuels like wood and kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting, they would be exposed to higher levels of pollution.
Delhi tops national charts in bad air quality
  • Fourteen out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India as per figures compiled and released earlier this year by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Climate Trends, an Indian group working on environmental issues picked up the same 14 cities to analyse the CPCB data in summer and winter months for a comparative analysis — just to put it in context with the WHO children’s health report released on Monday which notes that 93% of the world’s children under 15 years breathe polluted air. It says Delhi tops the charts of bad air quality nationally.
  • The report says India faces the highest air pollution-related mortality and disease burden in the world, with more than 2 million deaths occurring prematurely every year, accounting for 25% of the global deaths due to poor air quality. 
  • It adds that apart from Delhi, in most cities the online monitoring was happening with less than 4 monitoring stations and Srinagar had none. Delhi has close to 40 monitoring stations that display data online every day.
  • Meanwhile the summer-time pollution too this year was rampant as the regions around Delhi and NCR experienced dust storms coupled with problems of pollution at the local level.
Tokyo talks stress democratic values
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed here that ties with Japan were invested in upholding the rule of law and democratic values.
  • He was speaking at a press conference after a summit with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe.
  • These are the very catch phrases that underlie the new security architecture that Japan and the United States are trying to put in place to counter China. The vision statement specifically mentioned the willingness of both countries to “expand concrete cooperation with the U.S. and other partners”.
  • It also referred to the necessity of ensuring the freedom of navigation and the importance of upholding the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), a set of conventions that China has been accused of flouting in the South China Sea.
  • Mr. Modi and Mr. Abe further announced the start of negotiations on an Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement, a logistics-sharing pact, that would allow Japanese ships to get fuel and servicing at Indian naval bases. 
  • Once signed, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force will be able to secure access to Indian naval facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which are strategically located close to the western Malacca Straits, a choke point for much of Japan and China’s trade and fuel imports. 
  • A new Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue, termed 2+2, was also announced to supplement an already formidable array of bilateral dialogue mechanisms that include the Annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue, Defence Policy Dialogue and the National Security Advisers Dialogue.
  • On the economic front, the two countries have agreed to a Bilateral Swap Arrangement that would allow their central banks to exchange local currencies for up to $75 billion.
  • This is substantially more than the $30 billion currency swap arrangement announced between China and Japan.
  • Mr. Abe told the press that 57 Japanese companies had committed to investing 320 billion yen in India, which is expected to create at least 3,000 new jobs. 
SC takes up ‘whistle-blower’ plea
  • The Supreme Court listed for hearing an application by Satish Babu Sana, the Hyderabad-based “whistle-blower” alleging a threat to his life.
  • Mr. Sana’s complaint of corruption and extortion against CBI officials had led to an FIR against the agency’s Special Director, Rakesh Asthana.
  • Mr. Sana, through advocate K. Parameshwar, urged a Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, to order the Hyderabad Police to provide him protection. Mr. Parameshwar sought an urgent hearing from the court, after which Chief Justice Gogoi asked him to hand over the details.
  • If Mr. Sana has acted as “whistle-blower and complainant” against Mr. Asthana, who was asked to go on leave, he also figures prominently in the ongoing Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) inquiry against exiled CBI Director Alok Verma. 
  • In his application, Mr. Sana said he had written to Justice Patnaik “stating his readiness and willingness to give statements under his supervision”.

Bolsonaro elected Brazil President
  • Former Army Captain Jair Bolsonaro was elected President of Brazil, promising a fundamental change in direction for the country.
  • Despite repulsing many with his open support of the torture used by Brazil’s former military regime, as well as remarks deemed misogynist, racist and homophobic, Mr. Bolsonaro managed to tap voters’ deep anger with corruption, crime and economic malaise.
  • Official results gave him 55.13% of the votes in the run-off election, to 44.87% for leftist opponent Fernando Haddad, with 99.99% of the ballots counted.
  • The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump had called Mr. Bolsonaro to congratulate him.
  • Dubbed the ‘Tropical Trump’ by some, Mr. Bolsonaro publicly admires the American leader.

‘Divided’ board signals strained RBI-Centre ties
  • The Reserve Bank of India’s October 23 board meeting was a stormy affair that lasted about eight hours in which 20 items were on the agenda for discussion. However, only three were discussed, albeit without arriving at a decision.
  • One of the issues discussed was the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework of RBI — which is essentially certain restrictions that the banking regulator has imposed on banks due to worsening capital, asset quality and profitability. If a bank breaches a particular threshold on any of these parameters, restrictions are imposed.
  • According to sources, some board members were in favour of diluting the risk threshold relating to capital. They argued that capital norms for Indian banks were a lot stringent than what the Basel norms prescribed, such as 9% capital adequacy ratio as compared with the 8% requirement of Basel norms. However, RBI officials argue that the non-performing asset provision norms for Indian banks are less stringent than what Basel proposes. Presently, there are 12 banks, 11 in the public sector and one in the private sector, that are under the PCA framework.
  • The other issue was pertaining to the norms for stressed asset classification as mandated by the RBI in its February 12, 2018 circular. In that circular, RBI had scrapped all existing restructuring norms and asked banks to start resolution process if loan repayment was overdue even for a day. Some of the board members opposed the circular.
  • Also, there was the contentious issue of RBI’s surplus transfer. While the government wants more funds transfer from RBI by dipping into contingency reserves, the central bank has not been agreeing to this proposal.
India, Japan sign $75 billion currency swap agreement
  • India and Japan signed a currency swap agreement worth $75 billion during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan, the government announced.
  • A currency swap typically involves the exchange of interest and sometimes of principal in one currency for the same in another currency. Interest payments are exchanged at fixed dates through the life of the contract.
  • The currency swap agreement, the government said, was an important measure in improving the confidence in the Indian market and that it would not only enable the agreed amount of capital being available to India, but it will also bring down the cost of capital for Indian entities while accessing the foreign capital market.

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