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Current Affairs: 19 November 2018


Govt. directions to RBI under Section 7 unlikely
  • The Union government may not invoke Section 7 of the RBI Act to issue directions to the central bank in a bid to reduce the tension between North Block and Mint Road, sources privy to the government’s thinking told.
  • The central board of the RBI will meet to discuss contentious issues that figured at the last board meeting — economic capital, governance issues of the central bank, boost for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and the prompt corrective action framework for banks.
  • The October 23 board meeting failed to reach a consensus on any of the issues and was adjourned after an eight-hour discussion.
  • Though the government had ‘referred’ Section 7 of the RBI Act for ‘consultation’ on these issues, it may refrain from issuing directions as such a move will have wide ramifications. 
  • Section 7 has never been used in the 83-year history of the bank. Invoking it would be interpreted as interference in the bank’s autonomy.
  • It would also have a bearing on international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund that issue ratings for central banks.
  • To meet the government halfway, the RBI may take some steps to boost loans to the MSME sector that had been badly hit by the demonetisation exercise, and which the government is keen to support in an election year. 
  • The RBI may also climb down from its position of stringent norms for the PCA framework for banks. As many as 11 public sector banks out of 21 are under PCA, which the government thinks is hampering loan growth. RBI may ease some of the conditions, which may help some lenders come out of PCA.
  • The RBI and the Centre may also reach an agreement to form two committees, to address the issue of economic capital of the RBI and other governance issues.
  • On the governance issue, it is increasingly felt that the RBI management must be made accountable to the board. 
  • It has been argued that the central bank has slipped on many issues — such as not anticipating the IL&FS crisis and poor supervision in the case of fraud perpetrated at the Punjab National Bank — and that its management should have been made accountable to the board.
India-specific Rafale add-ons after delivery of all 36 fighters
  • The enhanced capabilities sought by India in the Rafale fighter jets will be incorporated after all the 36 aircraft are delivered, according to sources in the Defence Ministry.
  • There are 13 India-Specific Enhancement (ISE) capabilities sought by the Indian Air Force (IAF), which will be incorporated in batches after April 2022, an official source said.
  • “After the 36th jet is delivered, the first 35 aircraft would be modified in India by Dassault Aviation at the rate of seven aircraft per month, so that all the 36 aircraft would be of the same capability by September 2022,” the official source, with knowledge of the matter, said.
  • The first Rafale jet for India made its maiden flight on October 30 in France and is designated RB 008. It will, however, be the last to be delivered to the IAF in April 2022, 67 months after the signing of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA).
Tiger translocation may continue: NTCA
  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has hinted at continuation of the first-ever inter-State tiger translocation project in Odisha’s Satkosia Tiger Reserve despite huge setbacks.
  • A two-member team, comprising an expert each from NTCA and Wildlife Institute of India, was assigned to study if protocols were followed after the death of a tiger. 
  • There was uncertainty over the fate of the reintroduction programme in the Satkosia reserve after the tiger, translocated from Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh marking the first such inter-State transfer, was found dead on Wednesday last.
  • The post-mortem report indicated that the death was due to infected ante-mortem maggot-infested wound followed by multiple organ failure.
  • Initially, the project had run into trouble after the tigress, Sundari, brought from Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in M.P., was recaptured following couple of incidents of mauling.
  • Odisha had planned to bring three pairs of tiger from Madhya Pradesh to increase their population in Satkosia. One pair of big cats had reached Satkosia as part of the ambitious programme.
  • WII expert and another member, K. Ramesh, said: “The tiger had initially adapted to the situation and settled in the forest. It was not in conflict and its area was established. Everything was right. Its presence was noticed both in the core and the extended area.”
Rare bird sighted in Kerala’s Chinnar sanctuary
  • The sighting of a rare bird species in the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary has sparked much interest among ornithologists, since its presence was noticed on the eastern side of the Western Ghats for the first time.
  • The Sri Lankan Frogmouth, Batrachostomus moniliger, which was sighted at the sanctuary is usually confined to its habitation in the western side of the Western Ghats forests. It is a relative of Nightjar, a crepuscular and nocturnal bird breeding in Europe and temperate Asia. Its preferred habitat is a dry and open area with some small trees or bushes.
  • The Sri Lankan Frogmouth, like the Nightjar, eats insects and mainly seeks prey during night time.
  • The main feature is that it lays only one egg a year after the mating season in April-May. The nest is made using moss or leaves of soft plants and the bark of the trees. The male bird destroys the nest and flies away with the new born bird.
  • Ornithologists say that the bird has a unique habitat in Sri Lanka and is also believed to be present in the Thattekad bird sanctuary. It is also found in Karnataka, Goa, and Maharashtra.
  • It was believed that the species had gone extinct in the State after its presence was not noticed for a long period. Ornithologist Sugathan had found it at Thattekad in 1976. The Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary is on a project to study its habitat and make a favourable environment for it. The Sri Lankan Frogmouth usually rests on small tree branches during daytime. Because of its silent presence, it is hardly noticed.
A forest filled with butterflies
  • A recent survey held in Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, one of India’s protected forest areas spotted 221 varieties of butterflies, 11 of which were endemic to the area. With such a rich spread, the reserve could also hit the spotlight as a haven of butterflies.
  • The survey, initiated jointly by Department of Forest and Wildlife, Parambikulam Tiger Conservation Foundation, and Wayanad-based Ferns Naturalists Society, was held between November 9 and 12. 
  • Butterfly expert V.K. Chandrasekharan says the major species spotted include Small Palm Bob, Silverstreak Blue, Orange-tail Awl, and Red-disc Bushbrown. Among them, Orange-tail Awl gets active only during early morning and late in the evening.
  • The survey was held in different topographies and forest areas, including evergreen forests, dry deciduous forests, moist deciduous forests, shrubs and meadows, which lie in areas such as Aanapanthi, Parambikulam, Kuriarkuttya and Nelliyampathy. 
  • “One of the biggest surprises of the survey is the spotting of Red-disc Bushbrown, a high-altitude species endemic to Western Ghats. We found them in an area of Nelliyampathy region at an altitude of 1,320m. It would be difficult to spot them in any part further north of Western Ghats,” said Mr. Chandrasekharan.
  • The survey team also recorded migration patterns of the rare species — Dark Blue Tiger and Common Crow. Budha Peacock or Budha Mayoori, which was recently declared as State butterfly of Kerala.
Kerala plans to enforce cut in trans fatty acids in food
  • The Kerala Health Department and the Food Safety wing are joining hands to enforce dietary guidelines, involving the reduction of trans fatty acids (TFAs), salt and sugar in commercially available foods in the State.
  • The initiative, with technical support from the World Bank, WHO and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), is being launched as unhealthy diet is pushing up metabolic syndrome and premature deaths due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among Keralites.
  • Latest estimates put the prevalence of metabolic syndrome (MS) in Kerala between 24-33%, indicating that one in three or four persons in the State — predominantly women — have this condition.
  • Metabolic Syndrome (MS) is a cluster of metabolic abnormalities — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, abdominal obesity, abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together, increasing one’s risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
  • “A striking factor in Kerala is the high level of hypertriglyceridemia [elevated triglycerides in blood], at 45%, indicative of a dietary pattern high in fats and carbohydrates,” said P.S. Indu, Head of Community Medicine, Thiruvananthapuram Government Medical College.
  • WHO recommends that trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake and has called for the total elimination of TFAs in global food supply by 2023.
4.5 lakh reapply for inclusion in NRC
  • About 4.5 lakh of the 40,07,707 people excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens in Assam have reapplied for inclusion in the list.
  • Simultaneously, the authorities have received 175 applications challenging the inclusion of names of suspected foreigners in the NRC meant for bona fide residents of the State.
  • The complete draft of the Supreme Court-monitored NRC was published on July 30. It included the names of 2.9 crore of the total 3.29 crore applicants.
  • Officials associated with the exercise, seeking anonymity, said the pace of submitting applications for inclusion is expected to pick up before the window of opportunity closes. “A month ago, only 1.02 lakh people had submitted their claims form with relevant documents,” an official said.
  • One of the reasons for the low turnout of applications is believed to be the delay by the government in setting a standard operating procedure for the disposal of claims and objections. The apex court, too, had taken time to allow five documents that State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela sought to be scrapped from the initial list of 15 documents to be submitted by the applicants.
  • These five documents, allowed on November 1, are the 1951 NRC, electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, citizenship certificate, refugee registration certificate, and ration card. March 24, 1971 is the cut-off date for detecting and deporting illegal migrants, as per the Assam Accord of 1985.
  • The Assam government has decided to stop marking members of the Gorkha community as suspected foreigners and referring them to Foreigners Tribunals. The government will also move the Gauhati High Court for relief to members of the community whose cases are pending with the tribunals, officials said.
  • According to All Assam Gorkha Students’ Union president, more than 20,000 Gorkhas have been wrongfully marked as D-voters despite having all documents.
J&K all set for President’s rule
  • Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik said that the State was all set for President’s rule in January as there were no plans to dissolve the Assembly yet.
  • Since J&K has a separate Constitution, Governor’s rule is imposed under Section 92 for six months after an approval by the President.
  • In case the Assembly is not dissolved within six months, President’s rule under Article 356 is extended to the State. Governor’s rule expires in the State on January 19.
  • Asked if there were plans to hold Assembly elections after the panchayat polls that conclude in December, Mr. Malik said, “There are no plans to dissolve the Assembly. There are various civic issues which will be affected by this move. The decision to hold fresh Assembly elections in the State lies with the Centre and the Election Commission. I will give the report when asked for.”
  • Mr. Malik said the voter turnout in the first phase of panchayat polls on Saturday was unprecedented and comparable to Kerala figures. The Kashmir Valley recorded a 62.1% polling, a jump from the civic election figure of 35.1% last month.
  • The killings carried out by militants were filmed and uploaded on social media, evoking severe criticism from political parties.
  • He said only one youth had joined the militant ranks in the past three months and stone-throwing had come down.
  • He said corruption was entrenched deep in the system. Mr. Malik said he was fighting a tough battle on the corruption front and recently cancelled two deals involving powerful people that “nobody would have dared to touch.”
  • On October 27, the State government scrapped a contract given to Reliance General Insurance Company (RGIC) for a group health insurance policy for employees and pensioners and directed the Anti-Corruption Bureau to review the entire process in relation to the granting of contract.
New space industry emerges: servicing satellites in orbit
  • Imagine an airport where thousands of planes, empty of fuel, are left abandoned on the tarmac. That is what has been happening for decades with satellites that circle the earth.
  • When satellites run out of fuel, they can no longer maintain their precise orbit, rendering them useless even if their hardware is still intact.
  • In recent years, new aerospace companies have been founded to try and extend the lifespan of satellites, on the hunch that many clients would find this more profitable than relaunching new ones.
  • In 2021, his company will launch a vehicle that is capable of servicing two to three dozen satellites in a distant geostationary orbit, some 36,000 km from the earth.
  • This unmanned spacecraft will be able to latch onto a satellite to inspect it, refuel it, and possibly even repair it or change components, and put it back in the correct orbit.
  • Intelsat, which operates 50 geostationary satellites, chose a different option and signed a contract with Space Logistics for its Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV).
  • When it launches in 2019, the spacecraft will attach itself to a broken down satellite, and reposition it in its correct orbit.
  • The MEV will stay attached and use its own engine to stay in orbit.
  • On-orbit servicing could also help cut down on the perplexing problem of mounting space debris.
  • Of the 23,000 space objects counted by the U.S. military, just 1,900 are active satellites.
  • The rest includes nearly 3,000 inactive satellites, 2,000 pieces of rockets and thousands of fragments produced by two key events: the deliberate missile explosion of a Chinese satellite in 2007, and the 2009 collision of an Iridium satellite with an ageing Russian one.
  • Since 2008, France has required satellite operators to take steps to “deorbit” their spacecrafts by programming them to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere in 25 years so that they burn up, according to the French National Center for Space Studies (CNES).
  • A small Japanese company founded in 2013, Astroscale, is developing a system to approach and capture space debris and broken satellites.

                        In case of a split vote, Governor holds the aces
                        • Monday’s meeting of the Reserve Bank of India’s Central Board will be as important for the actions taken as for the fact that it’s the first time the body has met since the ‘RBI vs Finance Ministry’ tussle broke out in the open. 
                        • Opinions on the matter ranged from saying that the government had no business to engage in monetary policy decisions to opining that the RBI was never really independent of the government due to the way the RBI Act is worded, and still others pointing out that the whole issue was not a tussle between institutions but between two particular individuals.
                        • The issue of the government encroaching on the RBI’s autonomy has been discussed extensively already, but less has been mentioned about the effects that differences between the RBI Governor and the Centre could have on decision-making, as seems to be the case currently.
                        • One of the main issues with bodies like the RBI Board and the Monetary Policy Committee is whether decision making by committee is preferable to one man calling the shots.
                        • But someone in the government at the time of framing the RBI Act clearly seems to have also studied the research on voting systems and committees, and how they can be manipulated.
                        • Section 13 of the RBI Act says: “The Governor, or if for any reason, he is unable to attend, the Deputy Governor authorized by the Governor under the proviso to subsection (3) of section 8 to vote for him, shall preside at meetings of the Central Board, and, in the event of an equality of votes, shall have a second or casting vote.” 
                        • In other words, the Governor is the tie-breaker in all decisions of the Board. In doing so, they risk giving a potentially discontented Governor the deciding vote.
                        • Giving the Governor the deciding vote is theoretically sound, especially in the context of the research done by Allan Gibbard and Mark Satterthwaite, the seminal work on the efficiency of voting systems.
                        • What they said was that in any voting system, there is always a conflict between the seemingly aligned but counter-intuitively opposed aspects of complete democracy and complete honesty.
                        • The theorem says that if a system is completely democratic where everybody has an equal vote, then it would be vulnerable to tactical voting.
                        • The only way to counter this is something the government seems to have realised — empowering a single individual in the voting system more than the others.
                        India steps up agro-diplomacy with China
                        • As the trade war with the United States continues to bite — with only a slim chance that the world’s two biggest economies can go past a possible truce — China appears to be opening up to non-U.S. imports.
                        • Smelling an unexpected opportunity to export more to the Middle Kingdom, India is quietly squeezing in the door. The focus so far has been on pushing agri-products into the Chinese market. 
                        • Though Indian soya bean exports are apparently a priority, especially after the China imposed a 25% levy on U.S. imports, success in the huge Chinese soya bean market is yet to materialise, though some progress may have registered during talks. 
                        • Visiting Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Shouwen earlier in November “expressed satisfaction over progress on soya bean meal and pomegranate and related issues,” an Indian Embassy press statement said.
                        • However, other agri-products may have stolen a march over soya beans in finding a niche in the Chinese market. Assam tea, in particular, has good prospects in China as it blends well with milk-based tea drinks. 
                        • India’s efforts to export sugar to China, which began in earnest in June, also appear to have paid dividends. Earlier this month, a Commerce Ministry statement said the Indian Sugar Mills Association had signed its first sugar export contract of 50,000 tonnes with COFCO.
                        • China has also opened up imports of non-Basmati rice from India in June on the sidelines of the Qingdao summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
                        • Officials say China is a lucrative $1.5-$2 billion market for Indian rice. A delegation of Indian rice traders was in Beijing in October on a follow-up visit after China, in principle, opened its doors to 24 India-based rice mills.
                        • In his opening remarks at the fifth China-India Strategic Economic Dialogue, NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said India was ready to step in and supply soya beans to China. 
                        • Despite signs of incremental progress, India’s $63-billion trade imbalance with China is alarming. In his meetings in Shanghai, Mr. Wadhawan stressed that pharmaceuticals, information technology services and tourism, in which India has a significant global footprint, had a “minuscule presence” in China.
                        U.S., Europe firms looking at India as alternative to China
                        • Indian industry may well stand to gain from the fallout of the U.S.-China trade war, if the country plays its cards right, says Wheels India MD Srivats Ram. 
                        • China is significantly larger as a manufacturing base and has a bigger part of the global supply chain. However, China is now seen as not as cost competitive as it was in the past. Companies in the U.S. and Europe are looking at long-term options to build supply chain capabilities in India as an alternative to China. There is generally a move to de-risk.
                        • The other option they are looking at is to create a manufacturing hub in India, recreating what they did in China in the past. These are the two ways that foreign trade could potentially benefit India.
                        • For the first time, geo-politics, as much as economics, is playing a role in global trade. An adjustment in trade relationship is happening. As long as India plays its cards right, businesses in the country will benefit. Our Prime Minister has played his cards well, both on trade and foreign relationship fronts. Infrastructure development, too, has been really good in the country in the last couple of years.
                        • India certainly is in a good position to take advantage of this though scale is a challenge for us to match China.

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