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Current Affairs: 17 November 2018



NATION

Gaja wreaks havoc in T.N.
  • At least 13 persons died and public infrastructure and private properties in seven districts were damaged as Cyclone Gaja wreaked havoc in Tamil Nadu. 
  • The severe cyclonic storm that made a midnight landfall near Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district left a trail of destruction over seven hours with wind speeds as high as 110 kmph.
  • The cyclonic system also led to the shifting of over 81,000 people to 471 relief camps, left 28 livestock dead and felled over 5,000 trees and about 13,000 electric poles across the State.
  • Life was hit severely in these districts as the supply of electricity and essentials was disrupted and transport was affected. But government agencies began relief operations on a war footing to restore normalcy in a few hours.
  • Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami condoled the death of the 13 persons and announced a solatium of ₹10 lakh to each of their families.
  • The Chief Minister announced that ₹1 lakh would be granted to those who sustained serious injuries and ₹25,000 for persons with minor injuries.
  • Meanwhile, another low pressure area is likely to form over the central parts of the South Bay of Bengal by Sunday evening. This may move southwestwards by November 19.
A.P., West Bengal withdraw ‘general consent’ to CBI
  • Andhra Pradesh withdrew the ‘general consent’ granted to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), effectively curtailing the agency’s powers in the State.
  • The CBI and all agencies under the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, will now have to approach the State government for permission on a case-by-case basis.
  • Sources in the State Home Ministry said the general consent was routinely given for periods ranging from six months to a year for several years now. The last such consent was given on August 3, 2018.
  • Deputy Chief Minister N. Chinarajappa, who also holds the Home portfolio, said the withdrawal of general consent was in tune with the suggestions made by legal experts and intellectuals in the light of serious allegations against the CBI.
  • Shortly after Andhra Pradesh’s decision, the West Bengal government also decided to withdraw the ‘general consent,’ a senior official at the State secretariat in Kolkata said. The consent had been accorded to the CBI by the then Left Front government in 1989.
Sabarimala board to seek time to implement SC order
  • The Sabarimala temple opened for the annual 62-day pilgrimage season amid unprecedented security arrangements, even as the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) decided to move the Supreme Court seeking more time to implement its order allowing entry to women of all ages.
  • The day witnessed a tense stand-off at the Cochin International Airport after protesters prevented activist and leader of the Bhumata Brigade Trupti Desai from proceeding to the temple.
  • Ms. Desai, who arrived at the airport early in the morning along with six other women, could not leave the terminal as protesters chanting prayers staged a sit-in outside.
  • After several rounds of discussions with police and revenue officials, Ms. Desai decided to call off her visit and return to Pune.
Maternity leave: govt. for incentive scheme
  • In a bid to encourage employers, especially in the private sector, to implement the extended 26-week maternity leave law, the Labour Ministry plans to refund them for seven weeks’ worth of wages for women workers with a wage ceiling up to ₹15,000 a month. 
  • The Ministry is in the process of getting budgetary approvals for the ₹400 crore incentive scheme, according to an official statement.
  • In March 2017, the Centre amended the Maternity Benefit Act to increase paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks for all women employees in establishments employing 10 or more people. 
  • However, the statement noted that while implementation of the provision was good in the public sector, it was poor for those with private sector or contract jobs.
  • The Ministry of Labour and Employment is, therefore, working on an incentive scheme whereby the government would bear the cost of maternity leave wages for seven weeks, subject to certain conditions. 
  • The financial implication to the Centre is estimated to be ₹400 crore, and the Ministry is in the process of obtaining budgetary approvals. The scheme would “ensure the women equal access to employment and other approved benefits along with adequate safety and secure environment…,” said the statement.
Railways plan to set up 10 medical colleges
  • The Railways are planning to establish medical colleges to offer postgraduate courses at 10 of its existing hospitals across India.
  • The national transporter has already identified 10 hospitals with 300 or more beds across India, where there courses will be taught.
  • The official said that the proposal had been cleared by the Railway Board and now, the Railways was in the process of getting permissions from the Medical Council of India (MCI).
  •  Additionally, the Railways will also sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with local colleges and universities.
  • Currently, a total of 125 Railway hospitals, with a capacity of about 40,000 beds, offer primary, secondary as well as tertiary healthcare services to about 65 lakh beneficiaries. These include current Railway employees, retired employees, and their families. These hospitals employ about 2,500 doctors and 40,000 paramedical staff.
  • The shortlisted hospitals include nine Central hospitals and one Divisional hospital, including the Northern Railways Central Hospitals, Eastern Railways Central Hospitals, Southern Railways Central Hospitals, North Eastern Railways Hospital, Western Railways Central Hospitals, and the Kharagpur Divisional Hospital.
  • Earlier, the government-owned Coal India had proposed to establish medical as well as engineering colleges in mining areas. However, no progress was made on the proposal.
India’s Act East policy can meet OBOR: Chinese envoy
  • India’s Act East policy and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (One Belt One Road or OBOR) are a “natural” area of cooperation between the two countries, said China’s Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui, making another pitch for India to join China’s mega-infrastructure corridor, which New Delhi has rejected thus far.
  • However, instead of the more contentious part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor that he has spoken of in the past, Mr. Luo suggested that the cooperation could come through the “China-India-Myanmar” BCIM corridor to India’s North-East.
  • In a written message for the Youth event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he hoped it would “provide a platform for the youth of both nations to build a ‘Great Wall of Trust and Cooperation’ between the two countries.”
SC yet to examine plea on CVC’s role
  • The Supreme Court is yet to examine the question of whether the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) is, in the first place, empowered to divest a CBI Director of his powers, functions and duties.
  • On October 26, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi did not stay the CVC inquiry and made it time-bound. On Thursday, the court asked exiled CBI Director Alok Verma to file a reply by November 19 to the Commission’s inquiry report on him.
  • The petitions, which challenge the removal orders of Mr. Verma, have asked the court to examine if the CVC can divest a CBI Director before completion of his statutory term of two years. That too, without consulting the high-powered committee led by the Prime Minister, which had recommended his appointment.
  • The petitions were separately filed by Mr. Verma, NGO Common Cause and the Opposition Leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge. The petitions quote that any “transfer” or withdrawal of work from a CBI Director would necessarily require the previous consent of the PM-led committee now and not the CVC-led panel.
  • On the other hand, the CVC and the government quote the Central Vigilance Commission Act of 2003 and the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act to show they can exercise “superintendence and control” over the agency, especially in corruption matters. They said their decision was taken in an “extraordinary and unprecedented” situation.

WORLD

Rajapaksa loses trust vote again
  • Mahinda Rajapaksa lost a trust vote for the third time this week amid bedlam in the Sri Lankan Parliament as some of his party MPs resorted to violence.
  • The no-confidence motions were taken up in the wake of Mr. Rajapaksa’s controversial appointment as Prime Minister, replacing Ranil Wickremesinghe who was abruptly sacked by President Maithripala Sirisena three weeks ago.
  • Mr. Rajapaksa had, however, refused to accept the outcome of the first two motions — on his appointment and his address to Parliament — after failing to prove a majority in the House.
  • Mr. Sirisena, who has now realigned with his former political opponent Mr. Rajapksa, did not endorse the earlier votes, but had promised to accept Friday’s vote.
  • He is yet to acknowledge it or state his decision on a future course.
  • Mr. Sirisena had objected to the earlier motion and sought a modification.
Nasheed calls for audit of China-funded projects
  • Alluding to possible serious divergence of opinion on climate change issues, Mohamed Nasheed, former President of Maldives, which swears in a new government on Saturday, said that the island nation would be firm on not exceeding carbon emissions above 450 parts per million, even if India were to be “unhappy” with that approach.
  • Mr. Nasheed, President of the Maldives from 2008 to 2012, expressed his thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not visiting Male in the past five years “because everyone was in jail”.
  • He said that although the Maldives is strategically important to India and there would have been some who said he must go, “there was a realisation in New Delhi that that is not how you deal with the Maldives.”
  • Reflecting on the deep changes that were set in motion by this change of guard, Mr. Nasheed said that at the end of the day, the Maldivian people did not believe that the vast, China-driven infrastructure projects of the outgoing administration was truly improving their well being, and what they cared about was their families’ income levels and having freedom and justice.
  • At the heart of the sweeping changes that will blow across a new Maldives will be a review of many China-supported infrastructure projects, especially in light of the massive debt that the Maldives is said to owe Beijing, to the tune of several billions of dollars.
  • To tackle this thorny issue, Mr. Nasheed said, “First, we need to do an audit of the projects. We must pay back what we have received, but nothing more.”
ECONOMY

SBI sells over ₹400 cr. electoral bonds
  • More than ₹400 crore worth of electoral bonds were sold by the State Bank of India (SBI) in the 10-day window of October, a sharp rise from the ₹32 crore worth of bonds sold in the July tranche, according to data the bank released under the Right to Information.
  • The electoral bond data assumes significance against the backdrop of the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram.
  • The RTI data, released in response to queries by Factly, also shows that there is next-to-no demand for electoral bonds of smaller denominations and the majority of the bonds sold were in the highest denomination of ₹1 crore.
  • The data from all five tranches shows that barely any electoral bonds were sold in the smaller denominations of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, and ₹1 lakh. For example, in the March and April tranches, a total of just 17 bonds (2.2% of the total) were sold in the ₹1,000 denomination, and none was sold in the ₹10,000 denomination. In contrast, 450 bonds were sold in the ₹10 lakh denomination (58.6% of the total) and 291 in the ₹1 crore denomination (37.9% of the total).
  • The ₹1,000 denomination made up 0.6% of the total bonds sold in October, the ₹10,000 denomination made up 2.6%, the ₹1 lakh denomination 5.7%, the ₹10 lakh denomination made up 41.6%, and the ₹1 crore denomination made up 49.3%.
Govt. wants more say in RBI decision-making
  • The government wants greater involvement in the RBI’s decision-making as it feels the current practice leaves it out on many critical issues such as single-day default turning a loan into an NPA, sources said ahead of the crucial board meeting of the central bank.
  • The Centre feels that as the representative of the people, it should be involved in critical policy decisions made by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), they added.
  • To buttress its point, the government cites that quorum for some of the sub-committees is completed by the presence of the Governor and four Deputy Governors and not requiring any other directors to be present.
  • However, the central board of the RBI is headed by the Governor and includes two government nominee directors and 11 independent directors. Currently, the central board has 18 members, with the provision of it going up to 21. 
  • The board will meet on Monday where the government is expected to push for easing of norms for lending to the MSME sector, relaxing the Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework for weak banks and appropriate size of reserve to be maintained by the central bank, among others. 
  • The Centre and the RBI seem to be veering around to reach a solution, particulary with respect to relaxation of PCA framework and easing of lending norms for the MSMEs, sources added.
India may see fall in credit availability as NBFCs face credit squeeze: Moody’s
  • India faces a potential sharp slowdown in credit availability as non-bank financial institutions face a possible credit squeeze even as the asset quality is stabilising, Moody’s said in its 2019 Global Emerging Market Outlook.
  • While the asset quality cycle is stabilising following massive recognition of problem loans and their gradual resolution and provisioning, the recent default of IL&FS, a large infrastructure company, and the subsequent liquidity stress in the capital market, has created an emerging risk for banks in the country, it added.
  • While Moody’s has forecast that the Indian economy will grow by 7.3% in 2019, it believes that delinquency rates in Indian asset-backed securities (ABS) backed by loans against property to small and medium enterprises will increase in 2019.
  • This will be on account of rising interest rates and ongoing headwinds from the implementation of the GST outweighing the positive influence of robust growth.
  • The possible credit squeeze in capital markets caused by the default of IL&FS is unlikely to hurt the credit quality and performance of Indian structured finance deals, unless it escalates to the point where it results in significant weakness or even solvency concerns among non-bank financial institutions. On an overall level, slower global growth, rising interest rates, trade protectionism and geopolitical tensions pose challenges for emerging markets in 2019, said Moody’s.