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Current Affairs: 20 November 2018


Govt., RBI call truce after a marathon board meeting
  • The tension between the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) appeared to have defused for the time being with both agreeing to settle for a middle ground at the end of an over nine-hour board meeting on Monday.
  • The most contentious issue between the central bank and the Finance Ministry was the RBI’s capital. Now, while the RBI has agreed to set up an expert committee on the economic capital framework (ECF), its mandate is restricted to future earnings and not the existing reserves, sources privy to the board deliberations told.
  • Sources indicate there were detailed presentations by the RBI on economic capital as well as other issues such as the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework.
  • On the PCA, the Board for Financial Supervision (BFS) of the RBI will review the norms and take a call if some of the parameters like net non-performing asset (NPA) ratio could be relaxed so that some of the banks come out of the PCA. There are 11 public sector banks out of 21 that are on the PCA.
  • The BFS consists of the Governor, four Deputy Governors and a few other board members. 
  • Another significant decision was relief to micro, small and medium enterprises — the sector which is badly hit by the twin blows of demonetisation and patchy implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
NSA, Minister hampered Asthana probe: CBI officer
  • A senior CBI officer, who supervised the team probing the corruption case against the agency’s Special Director R.K. Asthana, moved the Supreme Court leveling a series of allegations involving National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Central Vigilance Commissioner K.V. Chowdhary, Law Secretary Suresh Chandra and Union Minister of State for Coal and Mines Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary.
  • Urging the court to step in before the CBI became the ‘Centre for Bogus Investigation,’ Manish Kumar Sinha, DIG (Head of Branch), CBI, Anti-Corruption Branch, Nagpur, narrated alleged instances in which Mr. Doval seems to have stalled his team’s investigation into the FIR against Mr. Asthana and CBI officer Devender Kumar, among others
  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi is to hear the petition filed by the exiled CBI Director Alok Verma in which he has alleged that his removal was the work of “high functionaries” who wanted to shackle the agency’s probe into several sensitive cases.
A new bank scam using Google Maps loophole
  • Taking advantage of the fact that on Google Maps, an establishment’s contact details can be edited by anyone, a group of Thane-based con artists have been putting up their own contact numbers and getting customers who call them into revealing sensitive account details.
  • According to the Maharashtra cyber police, the trend began over a month ago. Police officers said that if one searches for a particular branch of a bank on Google, the results include the Google Maps page. But the contact information on the page, such as the address and phone number, can be edited by anyone as part of Google's User Generated Content policy.
  • Mr. Rajput said many customers search online for their bank’s contact details, and after getting the incorrect number, call it with their queries. Unknown to them, they are actually speaking to a scamster who, under some pretext, convinces them to reveal details such as their Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) or the CVV numbers of their debit and credit cards, enabling the scamsters to withdraw money from their accounts.
  • When contacted, a Google spokesperson said, “Overall, allowing users to suggest edits provides comprehensive and up-to-date info, but we recognise there may be occasional inaccuracies or bad edits suggested by them. When this happens, we do our best to address the issue as quickly as possible. 
  • The Google Safety Center outlines tips to help consumers stay safe online.”
Innovative crop drying technology to boost harvest
  • Farmers in Odisha will soon have a handy tool to bring down quantitative and qualitative losses caused by high moisture content during post-harvest operation.
  • An innovative drying technology, Solar Bubble Dryer, developed jointly by International Rice Research Institute, Philippines; Grainpro, a leading post-harvest solution providing company; and University of Hohenheim, Germany, was introduced to farmers here on Monday.
  • Krishi Vigyan Kendra-Khordha, affiliated to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture, held a demonstration of the technology which is claimed to dry up crop at minimal cost. 
  • P.N. Ananth, director, KVK said “The quantitative loss in traditional sun-drying method is estimated to be in the range of 15 to 30% between harvesting and milling. Due to quality loss, farmer do not get proper price of their produce,” said Martin Gummert, an IRRI scientist.
  • The new technology has been developed in such a way that farmers can dismantle the machinery and reassemble it on their own. Power can be drawn both from solar energy and traditional electricity.
‘Literacy levels in rural India suffer from migration of families’
  • Literacy levels in rural households of India dip with seasonal migration, the UNESCO global education monitoring report 2019 has observed, bringing out the educational challenges thrown up by migration.
  • “In India, 10.7 million children aged 6 to 14 lived in rural households with a seasonal migrant in 2013. About 28% of youth aged 15 to 19 in these households were illiterate or had not completed primary school, compared to 18% of the cohort overall,” says the report. “About 80% of seasonal migrant children in seven cities lacked access to education near work sites, and 40% are likely to end up in work rather than education, experiencing abuse and exploitation.”
  • The report says that the construction sector absorbs the majority of short-term migrants. “A survey in Punjab State of 3,000 brick kiln workers in 2015-16 found that 60% were inter-State migrants. Between 65% and 80% of all children aged 5 to 14 living at the kilns worked there 7 to 9 hours per day. About 77% of kiln workers reported lack of access to early childhood or primary education for their children,” it says.
  • “An estimated 9 million migrated between States annually from 2011 to 2016,” the report says.
  • It also warns of the negative impact on education for children who are left behind as their parents migrate.
  • “The Right to Education Act in 2009 made it mandatory for local authorities to admit migrant children. National-level guidelines were issued, allowing for flexible admission of children, providing transport and volunteers to support with mobile education, create seasonal hostels and aiming to improve coordination between sending and receiving districts and states,” it says.
  • The report says some State governments have also taken steps for migrant children’s education. It, however, observes that most interventions are focused on keeping children in home communities instead of actively addressing the challenges faced by those who are already on the move.
  • It also talks of a failed initiative: “A pilot programme used on brick kiln sites from 2010-2011 in Rajasthan to track the progress of out-of-school children did not improve learning in any substantial way. Teachers on the sites cited culture, language, lifestyle, cleanliness and clothing as major barriers between them and the kiln labour community. Teacher and student absenteeism were rampant.”
  • The report sees the growth of slums and informal settlements — where schools are often scarce — due to migration as a challenge. “18% of the students displaced by a riverfront project in Ahmedabad dropped out and an additional 11% had lower attendance,” it says, citing an example.
  • The report shows there is only one urban planner for every 1,00,000 people in India, while there are 38 for every 1, 00,000 in the United Kingdom.
Make elephant corridors eco-sensitive zones: NGT
  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to consider declaring all elephant corridors in India as eco-sensitive zones.
  • Following a plea that sought legal recognition for elephant reserves and corridors in the State of Assam, a Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said, “After hearing the matter for some time, it was noted by us that the issue of elephant corridors has been raised by different applicants and various judgments have also been passed by the Tribunal. Therefore, we direct the MoEF&CC to look into this aspect in a broader perspective and also to have a permanent solution.”
  • The Bench further added, “We would like the Ministry to look into the issue by declaring all elephant corridors all over the country as eco-sensitive zones by exercising its power (under relevant Acts). We give two weeks time to the Ministry to look into the issue and to proceed in the matter.”
Army selects Russian Igla-S missile
  • India has picked Russia’s Igla-S missile system as the choice for the Army’s multibillion dollar contract for man-portable air defence systems, officials said on Monday.
  • “The Igla-S bid from Rosoboron export of Russia has been declared the L1 in the Very Short Range Air Defence (VSHORAD) deal,” said a defence official on condition of anonymity.
  • The declaration of the Russian bid as the lowest, which was reached after a series of delays that saw several trials and retrials, still doesn’t guarantee a certain transaction given some concerns about the possible threat of U.S. sanctions for arms purchases from Russia.

Global fight on malaria stalled: WHO
  • The World Health Organisation said global efforts to fight malaria have hit a plateau as it reported there were more cases of the killer disease in 2017 than the previous year.
  • The latest WHO report showed that the number of malaria cases climbed to 219 million last year, two million higher than 2016, while international funding has declined.
  • “As progress stagnates, we are at risk of squandering years of toil, investment and success in reducing the number of people suffering from the disease,” the WHO chief said.
  • Malaria, which is spread to people through the bites of infected female mosquitoes, occurs in 91 countries but about 90% of the cases and deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Foreign funding to some of the most affected countries has declined, in certain instances by more than 20 percent for every individual at risk of contracting the disease.
  • The disease killed 4,35,000 people last year, the majority of them children under five in Africa.
  • Another constraint in fighting malaria has been mosquitoes building up resistance to some insecticides, it said.
  • WHO said it was embarking on new ways to scale up the battle against one of the world's deadliest diseases.
  • The plan includes country-led projects to “jumpstart aggressive” control efforts, said Kesete Admasu, who heads Roll Back Malaria, a global partnership initiative to curb the parasitic disease.
  • Most malaria cases reported last year were in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, India, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
Sri Lanka House adjourned till Friday
  • The Sri Lankan Parliament, which met on Monday following violence and disruption last week, was adjourned minutes after it convened, without a resolution to the ongoing political crisis.
  • MPs aligned to ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and from other Opposition parties have sought the suspension of state funds to the PM’s Office, now occupied by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose administration they consider illegitimate.
  • The development is the latest in the series of events since President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Mr. Wickremesinghe on October 26, and replaced him with Mr. Rajapaksa.
  • The political stalemate in Sri Lanka’s legislature has been dragging since, because MPs backing the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine continue opposing a vote in the House that could test claims to a majority.
  • In a bid to resolve the complex political quandary, Mr. Sirisena convened an all-party conference on Sunday evening, where he urged MPs to go for a vote by name or by the electronic system.
  • Meanwhile, President Sirisena has transferred a top official from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) out of the role.
  • Chief Inspector Nishantha Silva was probing several high-profile cases, including ones that allegedly involve Mr. Rajapaksa’s family and the military, and is said to have been close to making a key arrest.
  • The President’s decision comes less than a month after he realigned with his former rival Mr. Rajapaksa, and subsequently took control of the Law and Order Ministry. It raises questions about the future of the investigations, many of which are said to be near-complete, according to lawyers and investigators.
  • Senior human rights lawyer J.C. Weliamuna said the transfer sent a “strong message” to the investigators, witnesses and victims.
  • Mr. Silva was one of the key investigator.
Maldives to pull out of China FTA
  • The Maldives’ new government will pull out of a free trade agreement (FTA) with China, said Maldivian Democratic Party leader Mohamed Nasheed.
  • Former President Abdullah Yameen signed the FTA during a visit to Beijing in December last year, and the same month, his Parliament ratified the treaty. Mr. Nasheed, now an adviser to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, said that Parliament would not pass the changes required for the agreement to come into force.
  • “It was ratified by Parliament, but fortunately it calls for different sets of legislation. We are not going to have this further legislation. We can’t go with that,” said Mr. Nasheed in an interview in the capital Male.
  • China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Culture and Tourism Minister Luo Shugang, President Xi Jinping’s special envoy to the inauguration, told Mr. Solih that China paid great attention to developing relations with the Maldives.
  • Between January and August this year, the Maldives’ imports from China were $342 million, while its exports to China were just $2,65,270, according to Maldives customs data. The island nation bought meat, agricultural produce, flowers, plants, electronics and toys from China among many other items.
  • The Yameen administration said at the time that the FTA would help diversify the $3.9 billion economy and boost fisheries exports from the Maldives, crucial since the European Union declined in 2014 to renew a tax concession. The two countries would open up services such as finance, health care and tourism, China said at the time. The Maldives has no free trade pacts with any other country.

Talks on with 150 nations to reform WTO: Prabhu
  • Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu said he was in talks with at least 150 countries to work out the way forward for reforming the World Trade Organisation (WTO). He said that the multilateral trading system was under stress and a number of fresh trade-restrictive measures, which would affect global trade and economic growth, had surged.
  • He said that he had personally met with 150 trade ministers to move a reformed WTO agenda forward. “I am getting a positive response from all concerned, including the Director General of WTO, in our endeavour to take all countries on-board.”
  • “Expansion of global trade hinges on rules and processes determined by the WTO and unless global trade expands, national economies will not benefit,” he said. “It is important that all substantive issues that have been agreed to at the Doha and other trade rounds, as well as new issues that have cropped up, are addressed with a sense of urgency.”
‘Corruption no longer among top 3 hurdles to doing business in India’
  • The perception among U.K. businesses that corruption is a major barrier in doing business in India has halved, according to the latest edition of the U.K. India Business Council’s Ease of Doing Business report compared with what it was in 2015.
  • “Since the first report was launched, there has been a considerable year-on-year fall in the number of companies that viewed ‘corruption’ as a major barrier – from 34% in 2016 to 25% in 2017, halving since 2015, where it stood at 51%,” the report said.
  • “Those identifying ‘corruption’ as a major barrier has declined far more dramatically over the four-year course of this survey among those currently doing business in India [decline of 27% in the last two years] where it is no longer considered a ‘top-three’ barrier compared to those not currently active in India,” the report added.
  • The report noted that initiatives such as Aadhaar, electronic submission of government documents, acceptance of electronic signatures, and the push to file taxes online, have all reduced face-to-face interactions where corruption is most likely to take place.
  • ‘Taxation issues’ and ‘price points’ overtook ‘corruption’ as major barriers identified by 36% and 29% of respondents, respectively, the report said. However, the proportion of respondents identifying ‘taxation issues’ was 3% lower in 2018 than 2017, which, the report said, suggests that businesses may be starting to adjust to the GST.

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