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Current Affairs: 14 December 2018

NATION

Supreme Court verdict on Rafale probe today
  • A Supreme Court Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, will pronounce its judgment on a batch of petitions for an independent court-monitored probe into the Rafale deal.
  • The hearing concluded in November with the government admitting there was no sovereign guarantee from the French government for the deal if the manufacturer defaulted.
  • Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, for the Centre, had, however, assured that there was a “Letter of Comfort” from France, which is as good as a sovereign guarantee. The petitioners countered that such a letter has no legal validity. 
  • The Bench also heard Air Vice-Marshal J. Chalapati, who explained how the fourth and fifth generation fighter aircraft have “niche technology”.
  • The court finally reserved the case for judgment. It questioned the government’s stand on having no “role” in Dassault’s choice of an Indian Offset Partner. An amendment to the Offset Policy, which allows “no offset obligations” for the first three years of a contract, also came under the spotlight.
Scientists step in to save Punganur cow
  • The Punganur cow, considered one of the world’s smallest breeds of cattle, is said to be on the verge of extinction due to cross-breeding conducted by farmers, according to livestock journals.
  • While R.W. Littlewood was the first to highlight the breed’s vulnerable status in his 1936 book Livestock of South India, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Animal Genetic Resources list the breed as facing extinction.
  • Animal genetics and breeding scientists from the NTR University of Veterinary Sciences in Gannavaram are now engaged in efforts to save the unique breed from extinction.
  • The Punganur cow is diminutive, with a height of 70 cm to 90 cm and weighing around 115 to 200 kg. In comparison, the famous Ongole bull stands tall at 1.70 metres and weighs 500 kg. Both breeds trace their origins to Andhra Pradesh.
  • The Livestock Research Station at Palamaner in Chittoor district is said to be the last bastion of the breed. LRS has instituted a programme to conserve the breed.
NGOs flay judge’s citizenship view
  • NGOs in Meghalaya have resented the plea by a judge of the State’s High Court for granting citizenship to migrants from India’s neighbourhood without any questions asked or production of documents.
  • Admitting a petition of an Army recruit denied domicile certificate by the Meghalaya government, Justice S.R. Sen had appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre to grant instantaneous citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
  • The judge also included the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos among those he felt needed unconditional citizenship. A fraction of three principal matrilineal communities of Meghalaya inhabits adjoining areas of Bangladesh.
  • The Khasi Students’ Union said the idea would be disastrous for the indigenous communities in the Northeast.
  • He said that even if 3 million of the 14 million Hindus in Bangladesh are granted instant citizenship, they would wipe out the 1 million ethnic Khasis of Meghalaya and other small indigenous groups of the Northeast.
  • Thma U-Rangli Juki, a social NGO, too, said the Citizenship Bill and the Justrice Sen’s “flawed judgment” needed to be opposed. 
  • “The judgement sought to characterise India as a ‘Hindu country’ and outlined a narrow religious and ethnographic-centric view of Indian history, which goes against the secular and federal character of the Indian republic,” the NGO’s Angela Rangad said.
Come June, groundwater extraction will invite a fee
  • In a bid to promote conservation of groundwater, the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has notified a water conservation fee (WCF) that industries will need to pay on groundwater extraction starting from June.
  • As per the notification, industries extracting groundwater, including mining-dewatering units and those that use groundwater for packaged drinking water, will need to apply for a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the government. Individual households that draw groundwater using a delivery pipe of a greater than 1” diameter, too, will need to pay a WCF.
  • However, the agriculture sector — the largest consumer of groundwater in the country — will be exempt from the fees.
  • “The entire process of grant of NOC will be done online through a web-based application system of CGWA,” the Water Resources Ministry said in the notification.
  • The rates would be levied depending on the location of the groundwater extraction point and the amount of water being extracted. 
  • The government has a list of groundwater blocks, called assessment blocks. These are classified as ‘safe,’ ‘semi-critical,’ ‘critical’ and ‘overexploited’ depending on the groundwater draft.
  • Drawing up to 20 cubic metres (a cubic metre is 1,000 litres) a day in a ‘safe’ block would cost a company ₹3 per cubic metre. However, extracting 5,000 or more cubic metres a day, at an ‘overexploited’ block would invite a daily charge in excess of ₹100 per cubic metre.
  • The WCF for residential projects ranges from ₹1-2 per cubic metre. The WCF apart, all industrial as well as residential bodies would also need to apply for an NOC.
  • Defence establishments and users who don’t use electricity to extract water have also been granted exemption from the requirement of obtaining NOCs and having to pay the WCF.
  • In India, extracted groundwater is mainly used for irrigation and accounts for about 228 BCM (billion cubic metre) — or about 90% of the annual groundwater extraction. The rest, 25 BCM, is drawn for drinking, domestic and industrial uses.
  • India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, and accounts for about 25% of the global water extraction. The CGWB classifies 6,584 assessment units countrywide. While 1,034 units have been categorised as ‘overexploited,’ 253 are termed as ‘critical’, 681 as ‘semi-critical’ and 4,520 as ‘safe.’ The remaining 96 assessment units have been classified as ‘saline.’
Lack of basic rights for the aged a concern: SC
  • Terming the rights of the rising elderly population of the country an “emerging situation” not envisaged even in the Constitution, the Supreme Court said the government could not tighten its purse strings in the name of “economic budgeting” to explain the inadequate welfare provided to senior citizens and the aged. 
  • The court said it was a statutory right of every aged person under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007 to be provided dignity, health and shelter. All the three are important components which make the fundamental right to life under Article 21.
  • A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur ordered the Centre to obtain the “necessary information” from all the State governments and the Union Territories about the number of old age homes in each district and file a status report by January 31
  • The apex court ordered the Centre to obtain details from the States about the medical and geriatric care facilities available to senior citizens in each district.
  • The court directed that the Centre should prepare a plan of action for giving publicity to the provisions of 2007 Act and ensure that the State governments carry out and execute the provisions of the law.
  • The court’s judgment, based on a petition filed by former Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, expressed shock at the “pittance” paid to senior citizens and the elderly in the form of pension.
  • The Centre also noted that there had been a steady rise in the population of senior citizens in India. It submitted in court that the number of elderly persons had increased from 1.98 crore in 1951 to 7.6 crore in 2001 and 10.38 crore in 2011. It is projected that the number of 60+ in India would increase to 14.3 crore in 2021 and 17.3 crore in 2026.
SC bats for rights of death row convicts
  • Death row convicts should be allowed to meet with family, friends, lawyers and mental health professionals for a “reasonable period of time with reasonable frequency” like any other prisoner.
  • It is part of their fundamental right to dignity and equality, the Supreme Court held in a judgement.
  • The court said prison manuals or laws depriving condemned prisoners of their basic rights should be nixed.
  • The judgment came after the court took suo motu cognisance of the rights of the incarcerated and conditions in prisons across the country.
  • One of the issues specifically pertained to the right of the condemned; the extension of their right to be treated on a par with other convicted prisoners and the facilities allowed to them.
  • The judgment, however, does not delve into questions like at what specific point a person becomes a death row convict — is it when he is sentenced to death by a trial court or much later when all his remedies have been exhausted and he waits for his execution at the hands of the State.
  • The judgment mentions submissions made to solitary confinement of prisoners on death row. Here too, the court banks on generalities, referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and reiterating that right to life includes the “right to live with human dignity.”
India, Russia to boost joint production in defence
  • India and Russia have agreed on ways to simplify export clearances to take forward joint manufacturing in defence. This was among the various issues discussed during the 18th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Russian counterpart General Sergei Shoigu on Thursday.
  • India is keen on moving from licence manufacturing of defence equipment to joint production under Make in India. This includes allowing Indian companies, both Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) and private sector, to manufacture spares for Russian systems in India. 
  • Eventually, India is keen that its companies supply components and spares to export to third world countries. 
  • The two sides also agreed to take forward inter-governmental arrangements for facilitating joint manufacturing of spares for Russian origin equipment in India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
  • In this regard, four military-industry conferences were held between Russian manufactures and Indian companies to take the process forward.
Bill likely soon against fleeing NRI husbands
  • In order to secure the rights of wives abandoned by NRI men, the government plans to introduce a new Bill as well as amend three other legislations during the ongoing winter session of Parliament. The decision was taken at a meeting of a Group of Ministers (GoM).
  • A spokesperson of the Ministry of Women and Child Development said the government will amend the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1886, to make registration of NRI marriages mandatory and the Passport Act, 1967, to provide for revocation of passports of absconding NRI husbands.
India ups ante over SAARC meet spat
  • Taking its protest over the presence of a minister from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) at a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting to the next level, India has now demanded that the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) be “derecognised” by the South Asian grouping.
  • In a letter addressed to the SAARC secretariat, which is based in Kathmandu, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) accused the SCCI of having “violated” the SAARC charter and principles by inviting the Minister from PoK Chaudhury Muhammad Saeed to its event in Islamabad on December 8. An Indian diplomat attending the event had walked out in protest against Mr. Saeed’s presence.
  • According to government sources, the SCCI has written to the High Commission of India in Islamabad, “expressing regret”.
  • In its letter dated December 10, two days after the event, the MEA referred to Mr. Saeed as a “renegade entity” from Jammu and Kashmir “which is under illegal and forcible occupation of Pakistan”, and said his presence at the event constituted a contravention of SAARC principles to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states.
  • Founded in 1992, the SCCI is formed from local chambers of commerce from all nine members of SAARC including the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). The group led by SCCI president Ruwan Edrisinghe meets regularly and is one of the SAARC’s most active bodies.
Japan’s cold chain for Singur
  • On the day when the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) cadre were busy preparing for a mega-rally of farmers from Singur in the Hooghly district to Kolkata earlier the month, the Consul General of Japan in Kolkata, Masayuki Taga, was busy scanning the quality of vegetables stored outside a large warehouse.
  • About three years back, the State finalised a project with the Japanese warehousing-cum-transportation logistics company Kawasaki Rikuso Transportation (KRT), to set up a cold chain network. The KRT facility, funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency, has been made operational within three years of the initial discussion.
  • In Singur, the Japanese project, manned by Indian and Japanese experts, is housed in two large and cold rooms that store unsold vegetables of the day. The produce is sorted, pre-cooled and taken out between two to four days to the market.
  • “While the objective is to ensure that the post-harvest loss is arrested, the key problem is massive electricity consumption in the warehouse, which KRT has solved by using solar power,” said Gautam Mukherjee, the Joint Director of the State’s Agricultural Marketing Department.
  • Giant solar panels are fitted to the warehouse.

WORLD


Dissolution of House by Sirisena illegal: SC
  • In a landmark case of the Sri Lankan judiciary ruling on the executive, the Supreme Court said  that President Maithripala Sirisena’s move last month, dissolving Parliament and calling for snap polls, was illegal.
  • The judgment is a major blow to Mr. Sirisena, whose sudden decision on October 26 — dismissing the incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointing the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place — sparked, arguably, the country’s biggest political crisis since the civil war ended nearly a decade ago.
  • The bitter power struggle for seven weeks now has left the island without a legitimate government or Cabinet, while the economy and its key tourism sector have taken a severe beating.
  • “I hope the authorities concerned will honour this and act accordingly,”President’s Counsel K. Kanag-Isvaran told.
  • The President’s office is yet to comment on the development. However, sources close to Mr. Sirisena indicated that he might take a decision on Friday in the light of another case scheduled to be heard by the court.
  • After the appeal court on December 3 restrained him from functioning as Prime Minister, Mr. Rajapaksa moved the Supreme Court challenging the quo warranto petition earlier filed by 122 MPs opposed to his controversial appointment.
  • Tweeting soon after the verdict, Mr. Wickremesinghe said: “We trust that the President will promptly respect the judgment of the courts.”
  • On Thursday evening, the President met the MPs of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine and later held a separate meeting with legislators from his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
  • According to Dayasiri Jayasekara, a lawmaker from the SLFP, the President was likely to “appoint a new government” after Friday’s court decision. It is unclear whether the SLFP would be part of this government as it was in the national unity government which fell on October 26.  

ECONOMY

Bankers ask Das to ease PCA norms
  • Chief executives of public sector banks, who met the new Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das requested the central bank to relax the prompt corrective action (PCA) norms on the ground that it was hurting credit off-take.
  • According to sources, bankers highlighted the challenges they are facing to boost loan growth as there are 11 state-run banks under prompt corrective action. PCA was imposed on these lenders by RBI.
  • Bankers expect the central bank to take a decision in the Friday’s board meeting regarding easing the PCA norms so that restrictions are withdrawn from some of the lenders.
  • Bad loans in the banking system have risen sharply over the last three years, with gross NPAs crossing the ₹10 lakh crore mark. The rise in NPAs has impacted banks’ profitability and eroded their capital.
  • The Board of Financial Supervision (BFS) of RBI, which met last week, deliberated on the PCA issue and reviewed the performance of banks till the half year. 
  • While the government wanted the RBI to relax the PCA norms, the central bank was not in agreement with the proposal.
  • The request to relax PCA norms comes at a time when growth is slowing and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) are constrained by lack of liquidity. Since loans from NBFCs contribute almost 17% of the total credit off-take and one-third of retail credit, the crisis will hit loan growth. Since public sector banks, that have 70% of the market share have capital constraints they are unable to fill the space vacated by NBFCs. 
  • The controversial February 12 circular of the RBI mandated banks to restructure loans and make higher provision even if there was a default for one day.
  • The circular had also withdrawn all restructuring schemes that resulted in higher provision requirement for banks.
  • While both the banks and the government lobbied hard for relaxation of the one-day stressed asset norms the RBI did not oblige.
India, China join hands to promote tea globally
  • Two apex industry organisations, Indian Tea Association (ITA) and China Tea Marketing Association (CTMA), have signed a memorandum of understanding to promote green and black tea consumption in major tea markets in Europe , the U.S., Russia and West Asia, besides India and China. The pact could also involve organisation of joint events.
  • Mr. Goenka said that the China imported 30 million kg of black tea annually amid its rising popularity in the country where green tea had earlier held sway. Indian exports stood at about 8.7 million kg in 2017 with the market being dominated by Sri Lanka and Kenya. 
  • An export of 15 million kg was being targeted next year.
  • ITA said that Solidaridad Asia had taken the lead role in forging this alliance which, it felt, would promote sustainable development of the tea industry in the two countries, including that of the small tea sector. The network works to promote sustainable production of 13 commodities across nine regions.
  • The MoU covers the areas of trade promotion, intellectual property protection and technology exchange.