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Current Affairs: 23 November 2018


India, Pak. commit to Kartarpur corridor
  • India and Pakistan exchanged letters committing to build the required infrastructure for visa-free direct travel by Sikh pilgrims to Pakistan’s Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara, allowing them to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019.
  • The move was described by a Pakistani Minister as the “victory of peace lobbies” in both countries.
  • Indian and Pakistani officials will meet soon to discuss the logistics of the corridor and the point of border-crossing where the roads, which pilgrims will take on the Indian side from Dera Guru Nanak Dev in Gurdaspur district, will lead directly to the border and from the Pakistani side of the border directly to the Kartarpur Darbar Sahib Gurdwara, a senior official confirmed.
  • On the Indian side, President Ram Nath Kovind and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will lay the foundation stone for the corridor at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur on November 26, said an official statement.
  • A Cabinet meeting in Delhi proposed building a passage for the pilgrims accessible “365 days and 24 hours”, sources told.
  • The Cabinet also decided that preparations for the 550th anniversary of the founder of the Sikh faith will be overseen by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, which will include the setting up of a “centre for interfaith studies” in Amritsar, University Chairs in the UK. and Canada for the study of Guru Nanak, and a railway train connecting holy sites for the community.
  • The Kartarpur Sahib corridor was first proposed in 1999 when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bus ride to Lahore, as a long-standing demand from the Sikh community for easy access to the revered shrine across the border where Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life.
Not consulted on changes in RTI Act: CIC
  • The Centre did not take the Central Information Commission into confidence on its proposed amendments to the Right To Information Act (RTI), said outgoing Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Radha Krishna Mathur, who retires on November 24, 2018.
  • Mr. Mathur said the Commission had discussed the proposed amendments internally. “but the Commission has chosen not to take a stand on the proposal.” 
  • He refused to comment on the impact of the amendments on the functioning of the Commission or the implementation of the Act.
  • The government had planned to introduce the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018, in the Lok Sabha in July this year. But the Bill was not tabled following protests from civil society and the Opposition. The Bill proposes to give the Centre the power to decide the tenure and salaries of State and Central Information Commissioners. Critics have warned that the amendments undermine the independence and authority of the Commission.
  • Mr. Mathur, a 1977 batch IAS officer of Tripura cadre, has headed the Commission since January 2016. He was appointed soon after his retirement as Defence Secretary in 2015.
‘Death due to misplaced adventure’
  • An American national who tried to enter the North Sentinel Island in the Andaman was killed due to “misplaced adventure” in the highly-restricted area, a senior government official said. 
  • This was his fifth visit to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and he had come on a tourist visa. He was killed with bows and arrows, the police said.
  • John Allen Chau, 27, had not informed the authorities of his visit to the Sentinel Island; the inhabitants have not faced incursions and remain hostile to outsiders. The police got to know about the killing from the American Consulate in Chennai which forwarded an email sent by Mr. Chau’s mother about his visit to the island and “the attack by tribesmen”.
  • An official said that Mr. Chau’s body is yet to be recovered and there were no evidence to confirm that he had gone to the Islands to convert the inhabitants to Christianity.
  • In the letter he asked his mother to forgive him and said he had been bestowed by Jesus to visit forbidden places.
  • Mr. Chau’s family released a statement on Instagram saying they had learned from an unconfirmed report that he was killed while reaching out to members of the Sentinelese Tribe.
  • “On the morning of November 17, they (the fishermen) saw a dead person being buried on the shore, and from the silhouette of the body, clothing and circumstances it appeared to be the body of Mr. Chau,” the police said.
Shocked SC terms state of forensic labs as ‘utter chaos’
  • A Ministry of Home Affairs document in the Supreme Court on Thursday shows that vacancies in the country’s forensic labs are alarmingly high even as cases pile up in trial courts and undertrial prisoners languish in jails.
  • The role of the laboratories have expanded lately with the emergence of cybercrime and drug-related offences. They also play a major role in using medical evidence to crack sex crimes.
  • However, responding to the report, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta described the situation in these labs as “utter chaos, utter chaos”.
  • The document of November 20 shows that 164 posts out of total 450 in the six Central Forensic Science Laboratories (CFSLs) under the Directorate of Forensic Science Services are lying vacant. 
  • In fact the Central Bureau of Investigation’s only CFSL has 87 vacancies out 184 total sanctioned posts.
  • Justice Gupta highlighted how 40% of the total 7,582 sanctioned posts in the 31 forensic labs across various States are vacant. This makes it 3,685 vacancies in States’ FSLs.
‘Do you view undertrial prisoners as humans?’
  • The Supreme Court asked the government whether it viewed undertrial prisoners and children who suffered primeval conditions in jails and observation homes as “human beings.”
  • Undertrial prisoners accounted for 62% of India’s prison population, against the world average of 18-20%, the court said. The statistic raised questions about the humaneness of our system, it said.
  • A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta said officials hardly went out of their offices to visit these prisons or observation homes. It took two Supreme Court judges — Justices U.U. Lalit and A.K. Goel (retired) — to visit the Faridabad jail and observation home to understand the full horror of the living conditions of the inmates.
  • The two judges informed the court of their visit, and the court took cognisance of the letters.
  • The court compared the condition of the undertrial prisoners and the juveniles in observation homes with that of influential prisoners who watched TV shows on sofas and “enjoy life” in prisons. “Is there a parallel system running in jails? Do they [the influential prisoners] have special rights? What have you done about Tihar Jail,” Justice Lokur asked Mr. Lekhi, showing him media reports and pointing to one, saying “he [the prisoner] is enjoying TV and God knows what all he is enjoying.”
Facebook in race to curb fake news
  • Popular social media platform Facebook is set to deploy independent fact-checkers in a bid to curb the spread of fake news and misinformation ahead of the Assembly election in Rajasthan. 
  • Dedicated teams were focussing on defence against election interference, protection of the community against abuse and ensuring more control on information, said Shivnath Thukral, Facebook’s public policy director for India and South Asia.
  • “Through the improved artificial intelligence machines, thousands of pages, groups, and accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behaviour have already been removed,” Mr. Thukral said. Facebook’s policy was to “reduce, remove and inform.”
  • Immediately after a news item is reported, Facebook would check if it conformed to community standards and reduce its virality. Subsequent actions would include either complete removal, if a video was found offensive, or keeping the video posted with the ‘i’ option that would provide information on its origin and date and time of upload. “While Facebook uses machine learning tools to tackle the reported contents, the fact-checkers will consider the regional language context for understanding the reported post,” he said.

EU, U.K. reach draft deal on post-Brexit relationship
  • The British government’s Brexit process reached another milestone as the European Commission said that the U.K. and the EU had agreed at a negotiator level and in principle the draft political declaration on the future relationship between the two sides.
  • The development marks a symbolic victory for Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of a summit. In the summit, EU leaders are set to finalise details of both the exit process and outline of future relations.
  • Speaking in the House of Commons, Prime Minister May insisted the declaration was the “right deal for the U.K.” and honoured the public vote. 
  • During a heated session of the House of Commons, MPs from across the political spectrum raised concerns about both the draft agreement as well as the political declaration for the future. 
  • Unlike the withdrawal agreement, which would be binding, the political declaration is more of a statement of future ambitions of what a new relationship — including when it comes to the movement of people and goods and services — would entail.
  • Controversy over the terms of the withdrawal agreement led to several ministerial resignations and letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
  • The declaration established the parameters of an “ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership”. However, in one section on checks and controls at the border, the agreement pointed to arrangements that could lead to a “spectrum of different outcomes for administrative processes as well as checks and controls, and note in this context their wish to be as ambitious as possible, while respecting the integrity of their respective markets.”

Rupee strengthens to 71 with softer oil, fund flows
  • Softer crude oil prices, along with foreign fund inflows, helped the rupee post a gain of over 1% against the dollar. 
  • The change raised hopes for the current account deficit to remain within the tolerance limit and for a further reduction in petrol and diesel prices.
  • The rupee gained for the seventh straight session and appreciated by 1.07%, or 77 paise, against the dollar to close the day at 70.70 — its highest level in 12 weeks. The Indian currency has gained around 3% in the last three trading sessions and has appreciated over 5% now from its record low.
  • Soumya Kanti Ghosh, group chief economic adviser, State Bank of India, said the recent decline in oil prices was likely to compress the current account deficit by $5 billion-$6 billion from the estimates of $78 billion this fiscal.
  • In a report Mr. Ghosh said that if the rupee stayed at 70, petrol and diesel prices could fall by ₹4 or more.
  • While currency dealers said the Reserve Bank of India was not present in the market, the strengthening of the rupee gave an opportunity to boost foreign exchange reserves. 
SEBI simplifies regulations for reclassifying promoter as public investor
  • The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has come out with new rules for re-classification of a promoter as a public investor, wherein an outgoing promoter will have to relinquish special rights as well as control over the affairs of the listed firm and not be allowed to hold over 10% stake.
  • Besides, the promoter would not be allowed to have any representation on the board of directors or act as a key managerial person in the listed entity.
  • Further, the promoter seeking re-classification must not be a wilful defaulter or a fugitive economic offender, the SEBI said in a notification dated November 16. These norms will prevent the outgoing promoters from continuing to exercise their control on the company directly or indirectly.
  • In order to ensure that only compliant listed entities are eligible to apply for re-classification, SEBI said such listed firms need to be compliant with 25% minimum public shareholding requirement; their shares should not have been suspended from trading and they must not have any outstanding dues to the regulator, exchanges and depositories.
  • In all cases of re-classification of promoters, the proposal needs to be placed by the listed entity before shareholders and approved through ordinary resolution.

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