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Current Affairs : 31 October 2018


‘States can fix own slots for crackers’
  • The Supreme Court modified its October 23 order restricting the time for bursting crackers on Deepavali and other religious festivals to two hours, between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
  • Instead, it allowed Tamil Nadu and adjacent southern States to decide when people can burst crackers on festival days, provided the total time does not cross the two-hour mark. This means the authorities can stagger the time slots and even make it an hour in the morning and another in the night.
  • Further, the court said its direction that only green crackers could be manufactured and sold is only applicable to Delhi and the National Capital Region.
Suggest steps to lighten school bags, Centre told
  • A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court directed the Centre to suggest measures to lighten the weight of school bags. 
  • The court passed the directive on a petition filed by Johny Cyric, a doctor based in Kochi. According to him, heavy school bags had an adverse impact on the health of students.
Statehood sought for Assam’s Barak Valley
  • A students’ organisation has advocated statehood for southern Assam’s Barak Valley because of a “sharp division” between linguistic groups created by the National Register of Citizens and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
  • Barak Valley comprising three districts — Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj — is Bengali-dominated. The relationship between the people of this valley and the Assamese-dominated Brahmaputra Valley has been ambivalent.
  • Pradip Dutta Roy, advocate and founder-president of the All Cachar Karimganj Hailakandi Students’ Association, said that the Assam beyond Barak Valley should be divided into three parts — Bodoland, NC Hills-Karbi Anglong and Kamatapur — to ensure peace.
  • “We don’t want to hurt the Assamese people. They can live in peace all alone,” Mr. Dutta Roy said, lamenting that CM Sarbananda Sonowal’s dream of unity between Barak and Brahmaputra valleys “will remain a dream”.
  • AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said a few people have been driven by a divisive agenda to derail the NRC process.
        ‘India among nations that face grave danger to soil biodiversity’

        • India’s soil biodiversity is in grave peril, according to the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas prepared by the World Wide Fund for Nature.
        • The WWF’s ‘risk index’ for the globe — indicating threats from loss of above-ground diversity, pollution and nutrient over-loading, over-grazing, intensive agriculture, fire, soil erosion, desertification and climate change — shows India among countries whose soil biodiversity faces the highest level of risk. Coloured red on the Atlas, these include Pakistan, China, several countries in Africa and Europe, and most of North America.
        • Soil biodiversity encompasses the presence of micro-organisms, micro-fauna (nematodes and tardigrades for example), and macro-fauna (ants, termites and earthworms).
        •  Ravi Singh, CEO, WWF-India,  cited a Tamil Nadu Agricultural University study that observed that while 150 million bee colonies were needed to meet the pollination requirements of about 50 million hectares of agricultural land in India, only 1.2 million colonies were present.
        • “Science is showing us the harsh reality that our forests, oceans and rivers are enduring at our hands,” Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International, said in a press release.
        • The two key drivers of biodiversity loss were the over exploitation of natural resources and agriculture, the WWF added in its report.
        • While India’s per capita ecological footprint was less than 1.75 hectares/person (the lowest band among countries surveyed), its high population made it vulnerable to an ecological crisis, even if per-capita consumption remained at current levels, the WWF warned.
                  Protection for Asthana case whistle-blower
                  • The Supreme Court ordered the police to provide protection to Hyderabad-based Sathish Babu Sana, the “whistleblower” whose complaint about corruption and extortion against officials of the Central Bureau of Intelligence led to an FIR against the agency’s Special Director Rakesh Asthana. Mr Sana had on Monday alleged a threat to his life.
                  • A Bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justices U.U. Lalit and K.M. Joseph, however, did not stay a summons issued by the CBI on October 26 to question Mr. Sana about his complaint. It was on the basis of this complaint that an FIR of corruption was lodged by the agency against Mr. Asthana.
                  • Mr. Sana said though the initial investigating officer in this case was A.K. Bassi, the summons notice was sent by the new officer, Satish Dagar.
                  • The court also declined Mr. Sana’s plea that he should be questioned only under the supervision of former Supreme Court judge, Justice A.K. Patnaik monitoring the CVC probe.
                      India invites Italian firms to invest in defence sector
                      • India on Tuesday invited Italy to participate in the defence sector under the ‘Make in India’ scheme. The invitation was extended during the high-level discussion between visiting Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which also included an agreement to counter terror financing and state sponsors of terrorism.
                      • India and Italy held the 9th Military Group Meeting earlier in October in which they agreed on cooperation in 2019. Tuesday’s announcement was the first time the two countries have agreed on joint defence production since the AugustaWestland case exploded in 2013. 
                      • India’s Scorpene submarine project has suffered due to the controversy which left the submarines without the Black Shark torpedoes.
                      • Mr. Conte also indicated support for India’s quest for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and underlined Rome’s support to India’s membership in the global technology export groups.
                          Trump’s regret lands Centre in protocol difficulties
                          • Putting all doubts to rest, United States President Donald Trump clarified on Tuesday that he would not visit India on January 26 as chief guest of the Republic Day parade.
                          • However, the White House statement, which came four months after it had confirmed receiving the invitation, has raised more questions for the NDA government than it has answered.
                          • Far from sparing the government’s blushes, however, Mr. Trump’s official regrets have confirmed that the invitation was actually sent out to the guest without his “in principle” acceptance in the first place. With the regrets being made public, the government now has the difficult task of inviting another leader who will be well aware that he or she was not the “first choice”.
                          • While cancellations have taken place in the past, as with the Sultan of Oman’s last-minute pullout in 2013, the current situation is unusual, say former officials aware of the protocol.
                          • According to officials who asked not to be named, while bilateral visits may be accompanied by a little more flexibility, the invitation to the Republic Day chief guest is the “culmination of an annual exercise”, carried out with extreme formality, given the solemnity of the function. 
                          • Leaders from countries are seldom repeated, and more than one former diplomat The Hindu spoke to said it was surprising that President Trump’s name had been chosen by the PMO, given that President Barack Obama had already been the guest in 2015.
                          • Others pointed out that the Modi government’s choices of Republic Day guests have been fairly unconventional. Both Mr. Obama in 2015, and French President Francois Hollande in 2016 were chosen though Mr. Modi had visited their countries just months earlier, and another bilateral meeting would seem superfluous. 
                          • In another departure from protocol in 2017, the government invited the United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was not a head of state or head of government.
                          • The invitation to Mr. Trump may have been an effort to repair ties between the two countries as well, and provide the leaders a chance for extended dialogue, given that they last met in November 2017, and haven’t spoken on the phone since February


                                        ‘Birthright citizenship has to end’
                                        • President Donald Trump has said that he is planning to sign an executive order ending the birthright citizenship provision — the automatic conferral of U.S. citizenship on any individual born in the country.
                                        • “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits,” Mr. Trump said.
                                        • It is factually incorrect that the U.S. is the only country in the world with birthright citizenship laws, although only a minority have such laws.
                                        • Mr. Trump said he has consulted his counsel on this and plans to proceed with the executive order, which is almost certain to face legal challenges — as have his executive orders banning the entry into the U.S. of citizens from certain Muslim-majority countries.
                                        • It is by no means clear that the President has the legal authority to effect such a broad legal change through an executive order.
                                        • The concept of jus soli (right of the soil) derives from the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enacted in 1868 after the Civil War, in order to grant legal rights to former slaves. It says: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
                                        • Therefore, individuals born in the U.S., to parents on temporary visas or here without a valid visa, are also U.S. citizens. This has been central to motivating Republicans who want to end birthright citizenship.

                                                  CP redemptions keep NBFCs on edge
                                                  • With commercial papers (CPs) worth ₹1 lakh crore coming up for redemption by mid-November, non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) and micro-finance institutions (MFIs) are in a quandary on how to tide over the liquidity crisis. 
                                                  • While large lenders are sitting on comfortable liquidity, it is the mid and small NBFCs and MFIs that are likely to face the crunch.
                                                  • Banks and mutual funds are the main sources of funding for housing finance companies and other NBFCs. While banks contribute about 40% of the funding, MFs contribute 30%.
                                                  • According to estimates, 55% of NBFC papers with mutual funds have less than 90 days maturity, which could lead to redemption pressures.
                                                  • Anticipating liquidity pressure, micro-finance institutions are meeting their lenders on November 1 to discuss ways to tide over the liquidity crunch.
                                                  • While large MFIs have access to bank finance, the mid-sized and smaller ones depend on funds from NBFCs.
                                                  • If NBFCs face cash crunch, then that will have a cascading effect on the MFI sector.
                                                  • Anticipating liquidity crunch, the RBI has announced ₹40,000-crore liquidity infusion in November through open market operations. The liquidity deficit in last fortnight was about ₹1 lakh crore on an average. On some days, the deficit spiked to ₹1.5 lakh crore.
                                                              How Centre’s ‘board game’ fuelled the feud with RBI
                                                              • No RBI governor’s tenure is complete without a ‘lecture’ on the central bank’s independence. After Duvvuri Subbarao and Raghuram Rajan, the latest to join the chorus was the current RBI chief Urjit Patel via his deputy Viral Acharya.
                                                              • According to RBI sources, most differences between the RBI and the Centre in the past used to be over issues such as interest rates and when attempts were made to take way some functions such as debt management from the central bank.
                                                              • However, this time, what sparked tensions was the government’s intervention through the board. It all started with some board members asking for more dividends.
                                                              • Things took a drastic turn in September this year when the term of one of the board members, Nachiket Mor, was abruptly brought to an end by the government. This is said to be unprecedented in RBI’s history. Mr. Mor, one of the most articulate voices on the board, was extremely vocal against issues like regulatory forbearance and higher surplus transfer, which the government was aggressively pushing.
                                                              • Interestingly, Mr. Mor continues to be in the Eastern local board of RBI.
                                                              • Central banking sources claim that the induction of right-wing thinkers to the board like Swaminathan Gurumurthy only added to the tension. For example, Mr. Gurumurthy expressed discomfort over applying Basel norms to Indian banks.
                                                              • “Basel rules are designed for commercial banks, not universal banks which all Indian banks are, and term-lending institutions which IL&FS & the likes are. Applying NPA norms to them is to ask one play football with hockey rules. Unfortunate a good institution is being destroyed,” Mr. Gurumurthy had tweeted when the IL&FS crisis was unfolding.
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