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Current Affairs: 17 December 2018

NATION

N-E varsity researchers patent process to treat industrial waste
  • Three researchers from the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) based in Meghalaya capital Shillong have patented a fast, energy-efficient and low-cost process for treatment and bio-detoxification of industrial effluents contaminated with harmful azo-dye.
  • The ‘green process’ developed by Mihir K. Sahoo, Bhauk Sinha and Rajesh N. Sharan for treating waste-water from industries such as textile, leather and paint is 25% faster, 40% more energy-efficient and more sustainable than the existing technology.
  • Their process has also been found to leave the discharge environmentally benign and thus likely to be equally non-toxic to other bio-flora and fauna.
  • According to the trio, the traditional treatment of environmentally damaging waste-water effluents with appropriate chemicals processes such as chemical precipitation, coagulation and electrocoagulation only transfers the contaminating chemical entities and chemical groups of the waste-water to other media, thereby producing secondary wastes.
  • Although theoretically, modern chemical remediation processes completely eliminate the pollutants from waste-water, the trio’s bio-toxicity evaluation of such effluents using Escherichia coli, or E. coli based bio-toxicity assay showed that it still continued to be highly bio-toxic.
  • Most strains of E. coli, a common kind of bacteria that lives in the intestines of animals and people, are harmless. Their survival is crucial for bio-flora and fauna, the researchers said.
  • Therefore, the release of such effluents into the environment could adversely affect the survival of aquatic micro-organisms, flora and fauna, thereby disturbing the entire ecosystem and ecological balance.
Medical suppliers demand dues
  • Nearly 150 drugs and surgical device suppliers are planning to stop supply to government-run hospitals if their pending dues worth over ₹23 crore are not paid immediately. The All Food and Drug Licence Holders Foundation (AFDLHF), an association of suppliers, in a letter to the State government, stated that their dues have mounted for the last three years.
  • The 150-odd companies under the association supply essential drugs, implants, surgical devices and other hospital requirements like masks, gloves and gauzes to 17 State-run hospitals attached to medical colleges. These suppliers are selected through the tendering process of the lowest price offers.
  • “The Chief Minister had sanctioned ₹120 crore to clear the pending bills at State hospitals. But instead of clearing our dues, the hospitals began clearing their local purchase dues with that money,” 
  • Till six months ago, the drugs and devices would be supplied to DMER, Directorate of Health Services (DHS) and the Haffkine Institute and further be distributed to the State hospitals. Now, Haffkine has been appointed as the only purchase point by the government. “We hope this changes the scenario on the ground level for us as well,” Mr. Pandey said.
  • Dr. Prakash Wakode, joint director of DMER said that the State is looking at clearing the dues as soon as possible.
Kerala courts give a push to plea bargaining
  • Plea bargaining, the judicial process which offers speedy justice to the victim and lesser punishment for the under-trial prisoners, is getting a push in Kerala courts.
  • If an accused voluntarily admits his guilt, he/she could be released on probation or awarded lesser punishment by invoking plea bargaining. However, those offences which attract imprisonment of seven years or above and those committed against women and children will not be considered.
  • Over 200 cases have so far been identified for plea bargaining after the Kerala High Court, on a request from the Kerala State Legal Services Authority, asked all the subordinate courts of the State to draw up a list of such cases. The officers of the district legal service authorities, law students, advocates and para legal volunteers are visiting all jails to identify possible beneficiaries of the scheme.
  • Offences like causing hurt, grievous hurt, theft, causing death due to rash and negligent driving, assault or use of criminal force on women and causing danger or obstruction in public way or line of navigation would be considered for plea bargaining. If the accused was earlier convicted for the same offence or the offence affects the socio-economic conditions of society, plea bargaining will not apply.
Direct benefit transfer scheme for TB patients makes slow progress
  • The direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme for nutritional support to Tuberculosis (TB) patients — Nikshay Poshan Yojana (NPY) — rolled out from April this year has recorded slow progress in the last eight months. Of the 18 lakh registered TB patients across the country, only 4.69 lakh, barely 26% of the beneficiary pool, have received cash transfer so far.
  • Of the total registered patients, the bank account details of only 9 lakh patients are available with the Central TB division so far.
  • This is because many of the rural poor either do not have a bank account or are migrant patients, whose bank accounts are difficult to be captured.
  • Vikas Sheel, Joint Secretary (Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme- RNTCP) told that there is no dearth of funds for the DBT scheme under NPY.
  • “Although funds are not set aside for DBT, available funds can be used for all activities approved under the State plans. We have asked the States to expedite collecting bank account details of all registered patients under their jurisdiction,” he said.
  • Concerned over the slow progress, the Joint Secretary recently wrote to the Principal Secretaries (Health and Family Welfare) and National Health Mission (NHM) directors asking them to accelerate the uptake of DBT scheme.
  • In the letter dated December 4, the Joint Secretary has asked the State TB officials to transfer the benefits of NPY to the patient’s blood relative (spouse, parents, siblings) if he/she does not have an account in his/her own name.
  • “Also for beneficiaries who do not have a bank account even in his family member’s name, provision of opening zero balance bank account is available under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Indian Postal Bank. The District Magistrates/Collectors should ensure that zero balance bank accounts for the TB patients are opened expeditiously. The District TB officers should coordinate with the Lead Bank manager, nodal officer for PMJDY and Postal Bank in the district,” the letter said.
India recorded 95 tiger deaths in 2018, 41 outside reserves
  • According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) records till December 15, 2018, there were 95 cases of tiger deaths in the country. Of this, 41 cases of tiger deaths outside tiger reserves have been reported.
  • Of them, 14 occurred in Maharashtra, which accounted for over 34% of all deaths outside tiger reserves in the country. A total of 19 tiger deaths were recorded in Maharashtra in 2018, so deaths outside tiger reserves comprise more than 70% of all tiger deaths in the State.
  • The NTCA maintains the official database of tiger mortality in the country.
  • According to the last tiger estimation exercise in the country in 2014, Maharashtra is home to 190 tigers, but more than a third of its tigers, or about 74 of them, live outside tiger reserves in the State.
  • Three States comprise 60% of tiger deaths.
  • Till December 15, of the 95 tigerd that died in the country, 41 deaths occurred outside protected areas. After Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh recorded 22 deaths (11 outside and 11 inside tiger reserves), followed by Karnataka, with 15 deaths (six outside tiger reserves and nine inside) being recorded.
ISRO’s GSAT-7A to add muscle to Air Force
  • Military communication satellite GSAT-7A, due to be launched on December 19 evening from Sriharikota, is expected to add a new space-based dimension to the way Indian Air Force interlinks, operates and communicates with its aircraft.
  • Although all Indian communication satellites offer capacity to the armed forces, GSAT-7A will be the first one built primarily for the IAF to qualitatively unify its assets and improve combined, common intelligence during operations. With integrated action being a buzzword it will also support aerial activities of the Army and the Navy where required.
  • “About 70% of it would be for the Air Force and the rest for the needs of the Army,” said a source in Delhi. The ground force’s Army Aviation Corps operates many helicopters, uses UAVs and will acquire fixed wing aircraft in future — all for surveillance and rescue missions.
  • Multiple sources said the satellite using Ku band will enable superior real time aircraft-to-aircraft communication; and between planes that are in flight and their commanders on the ground.
  • It would enhance by many times the coverage now provided by ground communication systems such as radars and stations of the Army.
  • Out-of-sight and remote areas where ground infrastructure and signals are difficult would get into the critical information loop.
  • A military veteran said, “It will be a very important step towards what we call network-centric operations or warfare. It will enable communication and data linking at forward places and air defence centres. Pilots can communicate much better with headquarters while they fly. Headquarters can receive data in real time.”
  • Since August 2013, the Navy has a satellite largely for its use, the GSAT-7, for similarly linking its ships to command on land.
  • The GSAT-7A/ GSLV-F11 mission will also wrap up the calendar year for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The GSLV-F11 space vehicle will release it to an eventual geostationary orbit about 36,000 km from Earth.
  • In 2018, ISRO launched GSAT-11 on December 5 on a European vehicle from Kourou, GSAT-29 on November 14 on its GSLV-MkIII vehicle from Sriharikota, and the ill-fated GSAT-6A on March 29 from Sriharikota.
India is the closest friend of the Maldives: President Solih
  • Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih began his trip to India on an upbeat note by declaring his country’s commitment to trade with foreign partners.
  • Addressing a public event Mr. Solih said there were no obstructions to doing business with his country, and described India as the “closest friend” of Male.
  • Mr. Solih highlighted the business-friendly attitude of his government, and said that the Maldives was open for business and investment.
  • “We have near perfect capital mobility. In the Maldives, there are no obstacles to foreign ownership of investment,” he said. “The Maldives is open for business.”
  • The President, accompanied by senior members of his government, emphasised that the Maldives was a developing country that was building its infrastructure sector consisting of ports and other connectivity facilities.
  • The visit is significant as it comes a month after his swearing-in in Male that was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who paid a day-long visit to the archipelago nation. Mr. Solih will hold delegation-level talks with Indian leaders.
  • Earlier, welcoming the visiting President of the Maldives, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu urged the guest to seek India’s partnership in addressing Male’s development challenges. He said the Indian government’s flagship projects also had scope for Maldives-India partnership.
  • Minister of Urban Development and former diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri drew attention to the recent struggle of the country against the authoritarian government of President Abdullah Yameen, and said the election of President Solih was watched with “jubilation” in India.
The Indian bustard: on its last legs?
  • We’ve read those stories of recent extinctions — Sudan, the last male northern white rhino and Brazil’s Spix’s macaws — with much consternation. But closer home, a tale of extinction may be unfolding before our very eyes: the Great Indian Bustard, that narrowly missed being christened India’s national bird, is now teetering on its last legs. Several threats — including power lines — are decimating bustard populations. 
  • India, effectively the only home of the bustards, now harbours less than 150 individuals in five States.
  • What changed after 1969, when over 1,000 of these large, stately birds still roamed the dry grasslands of 11 Indian States? While hunting was probably one of the first factors (the bird was a popular game bird and still is in some pockets, despite being listed in Schedule I of India’s Wildlife Protection Act), bustard habitats have undergone tremendous change over the last decades.
  • The untamed, arid grasslands that bustards thrive in are categorised as ‘wastelands’, like most grassland habitats in India. The push to make these areas more ‘productive’ has seen an increase in water availability in these parts, resulting in the spillover of agricultural land into bustard habitats. Yet the birds do rely on agricultural fields too, suggests the only study of their diets to date: in the mid 1980s, researchers found that though they are predominantly insect-eaters, bustards “relished” arugula plants and ate cultivated Bengal gram and Ziziphus or ber berries.
  • More recent but unpublished data also suggests that the wide-ranging birds disperse to agricultural landscapes near Gujarat’s Kachchh during the non-breeding season. Yet, intensification of agriculture — including more pesticides, barbed-wire fences and new crops — could endanger the birds’ survival in this landscape.
  • More recently, what remains of their grassland homes are now sites for renewable power projects. With new wind turbines, come more power lines to take the ‘green’ energy to grids and homes.
  • Bustards, with their poor frontal vision and heavy bodies, cannot manoeuvre away from cables in time. 
  • Wildlife Institute of India (WII) report published in October suggests that around 18 bustards are likely to die every year (from a population of around 128 in the Thar) due to high-tension cables that intersect priority bustard habitat here. 
  • The situation is so dire that three non-profits — the Corbett Foundation, Conservation India and Sanctuary Nature Foundation — have initiated an online petition (which has already garnered more than 6,000 signatures) to Union Power Minister R.K. Singh to demand that power lines be routed underground.
  • “A landscape-level approach that will incentivise people to take up less intensive agriculture is required,” he said.
  • Talks for a bustard conservation breeding centre in Rajasthan are ongoing, and land will soon be allotted, he adds.

WORLD

Sirisena reinstates Ranil as PM
  • Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena reinstated United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, seven weeks after firing him in a snap move.
  • The re-appointment signals a likely end to the impasse that has gripped the island since October 26, when Mr. Sirisena appointed his former rival Mahinda Rajapaksa as premier. The move had left the country without a legitimate government for nearly two months.
  • However, in a message that seemed to foretell the challenges facing the “new government,” Mr. Sirisena said there was no change in his “personal position” that he would not work with Mr. Wickremesinghe even if all 225 members in Parliament backed him.
India welcomes end of uncertainty in Sri Lanka
  • A statement by the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the latest developments indicated the resilience of Sri Lankan democracy.
  • “This is a reflection of the maturity demonstrated by all political forces, and also of the resilience of Sri Lankan democracy and its institutions,” said the MEA spokesperson, welcoming the end of the political uncertainty.
  • Earlier, Mr. Wickremesinghe said his return was a collective victory. “Today marks victory not for myself or for the UNP. It is a victory for Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions and the sovereignty of our citizens. I thank everyone who stood firm in defending the Constitution and ensuring the triumph of democracy,” he said in a social media post on taking charge.
  • “India remains committed to taking forward its people-oriented development projects... We are confident that India-Sri Lanka relations will continue to move on an upward trajectory,” the MEA spokesperson said.
ECONOMY

MSMEs, traders witness loss of 35 lakh jobs: survey
  • The TMSME segment (Traders, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) has seen job losses of 35 lakh in the last four-and-half years, according to a survey by the All India Manufacturers’ Organisation (AIMO).
  • Job loss of 43% was reported in the trader segment, 32% in the micro segment, 35% in small segment and 24% in medium segment, as per the survey.
  • The survey, conducted by AIMO, covered over 34,000 TMSME representatives across India between October 1 and 30, 2018.
  • “The worst is the elimination of self-employed categories such as tailors, cobblers, barbers, plumbers, and electricians. Traders are closing down shops due to stiff competition from e-commerce sales,” AIMO said.
  • The closure of shops means loss of revenue in rental income for middle income families, it added.
  • The worst-hit were sectors dominated by unorganised labour.
  • “The year 2015-16 saw a growth in all areas of business due to high sentiment and expectations from the new leadership. It went down next year due to demonetisation and then again, due to GST implementation,” the statement from AIMO said.
  • “And then [came the] difficulty in availability of funds and higher outstanding with government payments and compliance matters,” AIMO added.
  • “Our survey is a clear indicator that the TMSME sector is in a critical condition at this moment and we feel the Government of India needs to address the issue with a lot more seriousness and urgency,” said K. E. Raghunathan, national president, AIMO.
  • AIMO has provided a list of suggestions to be implemented to create job opportunities based on the results of the survey.
  • The survey said sectors that need immediate revival and assistance are housing, textiles, automobiles, power, match industries, stone, plastic, tannery and consumer products.
Bank credit: is it growing, and where’s it going?
  • Credit flow to industry, or the lack of it, has been a bone of contention between the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). While RBI and its supporters assert that bank lending is now growing at a brisk pace, the government and industry lobbies insist that the credit taps remain shut. So who’s right? An analysis of RBI data on the deployment of bank credit yields some answers.
  • RBI data shows that Indian banks’ non-food credit growth, which had slumped to 7-8% in the three years to October 2017, got back to double-digit growth in the last one year (October 2017 to October 2018) at 13%.
  • Historically, bank credit in India has either matched or grown ahead of nominal GDP. In the three years from FY15 to FY18, bank credit growth at 7-9% lagged nominal GDP growth of 10-11%. But as the nominal growth rate picked up to 12.8% in the first half of this fiscal, bank credit has matched this expansion.
  • Absolute numbers on net credit flow make it even clearer that banks have stepped up their lending. In the year from October 2017 to October 2018, banks added a net ₹9.44 lakh crore to their outstanding loan books. This reflects new credit flow to the economy. It is more than twice the ₹4.7 lakh crore addition in October 2016-17.
  • In fact, in absolute terms, net bank credit flow in the past year has been at its highest level in a decade. In the nine years from 2007-08 to 2016-17, banks added ₹5.1 lakh crore every year to their loan books on an average.
  • New loans to industry were at ₹97,029 crore in the year ended Ocetober 2018, against ₹75,100 crore last year. Services bagged ₹4.74 lakh crore this year against ₹2.17 lakh crore. Retail loans were plentiful too, at ₹2.9 lakh crore in the year ending October 2018 compared to ₹1.15 lakh crore. Lending to MSMEs nearly doubled to ₹1.1 lakh crore.
  • These numbers suggest that RBI is right to take the view there’s no systemic problem impeding bank credit, despite its sweeping a few public sector banks into the Prompt Corrective Action framework.
  • But if credit flow has been picking up, why do market participants and the government complain that banks are playing scrooge? The key reason appears to be that a few sectors are hogging the lion’s share of these loans.
  • For instance, for every ₹100 of new bank loans added, it was services which bagged ₹50, while industry received just ₹10. Out of the ₹10 advanced to industry, large firms cornered ₹8.30, while medium and small enterprises had to make do with just ₹1.70. Apart from lending directly to large firms, banks were also heavy subscribers to corporate bonds, which are mostly floated by large companies.
  • Though credit flow to services appeared plentiful, NBFCs (financial services) cornered a disproportionate share of loans to this sector. With as much as ₹21 of every ₹50 in new bank loans to services finding its way into NBFCs, direct borrowers in services were left with smaller slices of the loan pie. NBFCs in turn seem to have funnelled this money into consumer loans, real estate, affordable housing, loans against property and shares, promoter funding and infrastructure.
  • There has been concern about a squeeze on bank credit to MSMEs post-demonetisation. Overall loans to MSMEs doubled this year, with ₹11.6 out of every ₹100 in new bank credit flowing to them. But the MSMEs in services hogged ₹11 of this, leaving manufacturing MSMEs with just ₹0.60. 
  • In FY18, banks are believed to have lent over ₹92,490 crore and NBFCs ₹27,000 crore under the Mudra Yojana.
  • Within the priority sector, though services MSMEs, agriculture and housing saw brisk growth, exporters were starved of credit, with their credit flow in negative territory for the last three years.
  • Agriculture, bagging ₹8 of every ₹100 in bank loans has also seen a dip in credit flow compared to the pre-demonetisation period. Thus data clearly show that if mid- and small-sized manufacturing firms, exporters or farmers complain of tight credit, they have good reason to do so.