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Current Affairs: 21 December 2018

NATION

Centre seeks ₹41,000 crore more to recapitalise banks
  • The government moved a proposal in Parliament for an additional ₹41,000 crore to recapitalise public sector banks, over and above the already budgeted ₹65,000 crore, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told.
  • If approved by the House, this would take the total recapitalisation package for the current financial year to ₹1,06,000 crore, of which the government plans to utilise ₹83,000 crore over the remaining portion of the year.
  • The government also said the recognition of loans that are non-performing assets (NPAs) was nearly complete and the recovery process was progressing strongly, with ₹60,726 crore recovered in the first half of this financial year.
Indigenous gun trials of Army to enter next stage by June
  • The development of the indigenously-designed heavy artillery gun, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), has advanced to a stage where user-assisted trials of the gun are likely to start by June and the Army has begun finalising the Preliminary Specifications Qualitative Requirements (PSQR), a defence official said.
  • The ATAGS is a 155mm, 52 calibre gun being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation on two parallel tracks: one prototype is being built in partnership with Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division), and the other is in collaboration with Bharat Forge.
  • The Army, which is in the process of drawing up the PSQR that details the essential and desired parameters for the gun, has already flagged a few concerns related to weight and accuracy. The gun currently weighs about 18 tonnes while the ideal weight for the army would be 14-15 tonnes. While the development team wanted the weight, accuracy and firing parameters to be relaxed in the PSQR, the Army has said that would be looked into after the user-assisted trials commence.
  • Once the PSQRs are approved, the process for formulating the final Qualitative Requirements would begin. Guns from both Bharat Forge and Tata Power would be evaluated and based on the commercial bids, the order would be split between them with the lowest bidder getting a larger order. The Defence Ministry has already approved the in-principle purchase of 150 of these guns at an approximate cost of ₹3,365 crore.
  • The gun has several significant features including an all-electric drive, high mobility, quick deployability, auxiliary power mode, advanced communications system, automated command and control system. It also sports a six-round magazine instead of the standard three-round magazine. 
  • The Army, which has been seeking to modernise its weaponry, recently inducted its first modern pieces of artillery in 30 years: the M777 Ultra-Light Howitzer from the U.S. and the K9 Vajra-T self-propelled artillery gun from South Korea.
LS clears Consumer Protection Bill
  • Lok Sabha passed two Bills amid protests by members of the Congress, the TDP and the AIADMK.
  • Besides the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018, which seeks to replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities (Amendment) Bill, 2018, was passed.
  • The Consumer Protection Bill will become law once it goes through the Rajya Sabha. It is meant to protect those who use new technologies such as e-commerce and online shopping.
  • The financial jurisdiction of the District Consumers Courts has been increased: they can deal with complaints involving ₹1 crore as against the ₹20 lakh earlier. Under the clause of product liability, a manufacturer will be liable to give compensation for products with defects.
A worried Speaker reaches out
  • Upset over repeated disruptions and washout of proceedings, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan met leaders of all parties.
  • The Speaker has learnt to have conveyed to the leaders that the image of the Lower House has taken a hit, especially over MPs trooping into the Well of the House with placards.
  • Ms. Mahajan has now decided to a convene a meeting of the Rules Committee, that she heads, to discuss this issue of MPs holding placards. An advisory body, the Rules Committee — with representatives from all the major parties — can suggest rules that can help in the smooth conduct of the House. 
  • The Parliamentary Affairs Minister along with his with two deputies, Vijay Goel and Arjun Ram Meghwal, are also in the Committee.
  • For the seventh straight working day, proceedings were disrupted as the Congress and the AIADMK members started shouting slogans. While the Congress members demanded a JPC into the Rafale deal, the AIADMK members wanted the Centre to constitute the Cauvery Water Board.
  • The winter session that ends on January 8 next year is the last full session before the next Lok Sabha elections and the government is keen to push some of the key bills such as the triple talaq Bill before the end of this session. Though there will be a budget session around February next year, it will only be to pass the Vote On Account or an interim budget.
Scientists, managers told of Pak. designs: Rajnath
  • Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that top scientists and senior managers in critical sectors like atomic, space, defence, power, oil and gas were sensitised to threats as “economic installations and iconic institutions” are being continuously targeted by Pakistani intelligence operatives from across the western border through espionage and cyberspace.
  • Mr. Singh asked government officials to be cautious in their dealings with officials from foreign missions.
  • The Minister, who addressed the inaugural session of the Conference of Directors-General and Inspectors-General of Police organised by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), said till November 29 this year, 17 espionage modules backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were neutralised and 25 espionage agents, including two Pakistanis, were arrested.
  • He said law enforcement agencies have been able to overcome the first tide of propaganda and mobilisation by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The new phase of IS propaganda emanating from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region was also being countered.
  • Mr. Singh said Pakistan was trying to revive terrorism in Punjab with the “active support of other Sikh radical/extremist entities based abroad, especially Europe and America.”
More bullet than pellet injuries in Pulwama incident
  • Records from hospitals in the Kashmir Valley suggest that the December 15 operation by the Army and police resulted in the highest number of civilians hit by bullets and not pellets — 20 out of a total of 32 civilians, of whom seven died — suggesting a violation in SOP (standard operating procedure) followed by security forces.
  • “Six civilians brought dead to the Pulwama District Hopsital bore at least two bullets, pointing at how the security forces not only fired to chase [away] but to inflict fatalities,” a senior doctor who performed surgeries on the injured at the PDH, told The Hindu. The seventh civilian, Touseef Ahmad Mir, was declared brought dead at Srinagar’s SMHS hospital.
  • The location of the bullet wounds of the seven dead civilians during the intense clashes that followed the killing of three Hizbul Mujahideen militants, also pointed at a pattern. “All six had bullet injuries in the abdomen, chest, head and neck,” said a doctor.
  • The PDH admitted eight persons with bullet injuries and declared six dead
  • For the PDH, admitting and referring 20 bullet-hit civilians was the highest “for a single day” this year in Pulwama, which has witnessed dozens of clashes.
  • In 2016, when the hospital treated 463 injured in the clashes that followed the killing of militant Burhan Wani, only 40 were hit by bullets.
  • Preliminary reports suggest not less than 50 bullets were fired into the crowd lined up in a nearby paddy field and the raised road when the Army and the police were retreating from the operation site.
  • According to the SOP, it’s the Law and Order component of a Cordon-and-Search-Operation team that has to control a mob-like situation before allowing the attack party to return. “The face-off took place when two Army men were injured in the operation and were being shifted. The crowd came dangerously close,” said a police official. However, police sources admit that the casualties could have been lower if the situation had been handled as it was on November 28, when LeT commander Naveed Jutt was killed in Pulwama.
India rejects Pakistan’s claim over Jinnah House
  • India on Thursday strongly rejected Pakistan’s claim of ownership of the Jinnah House in Mumbai and said the property belongs to it.
  • “Pakistan has no locus standi as far as this property is concerned. It is government of India’s property and we are in the process of renovating it,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
  • The Jinnah House on Malabar Hill in Mumbai was designed by architect Claude Batley in European style and Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah lived there in the late 1930s.
  • Pakistan has been demanding that the property be handed over to it for housing its Mumbai consulate.
  • Mr. Kumar said the government is considering putting the Jinnah House into use on the lines of the Hyderabad House here.
  • The property would be used to host government events, the Ministry of External Affairs announced.
  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had communicated earlier to Maharashtra BJP leader Mangal Prabhat Lodha that the plan to convert the property into a venue for government events has been sanctioned by the Prime Minister’s Office.
All computers now under govt. watch
  • The Ministry of Home Affair issued an order authorising 10 Central agencies to intercept, monitor, and decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.”
  • The agencies are the Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation; National Investigation Agency, Cabinet Secretariat (R&AW), Directorate of Signal Intelligence (For service areas of Jammu & Kashmir, North-East and Assam only) and Commissioner of Police, Delhi.
  • According to the order, the subscriber or service provider or any person in charge of the computer resource will be bound to extend all facilities and technical assistance to the agencies and failing to do will invite seven-year imprisonment and fine.
  • The MHA gave the authorisation under 69 (1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which says that the Central government can direct any agency after it is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so in the “interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence.”
WORLD

China’s Pak. investments take a military turn
  • When U.S. President Donald Trump started the new year by suspending billions of dollars of security aid to Pakistan, one theory was that it would scare the Pakistani military into cooperating better with its U.S. allies.
  • The reality was that Pakistan already had a replacement sponsor lined up.
  • Just two weeks later, the Pakistani Air Force and Chinese officials were putting the final touches on a secret proposal to expand Pakistan’s building of Chinese military jets, weaponry and other hardware.
  • The confidential plan, reviewed by The New York Times, would also deepen the cooperation between China and Pakistan in space, a frontier the Pentagon recently said Beijing was trying to militarise after decades of playing catch-up.
  • All those military projects were designated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a chain of infrastructure development programmes stretching across some 70 countries, built and financed by Beijing.
  • Chinese officials have repeatedly said the Belt and Road is purely an economic project with peaceful intent. But with its plan for Pakistan, China is for the first time explicitly tying a Belt and Road proposal to its military ambitions.
  • Since the beginning of the BRI in 2013, Pakistan has been the programme’s flagship site, with some $62 billion in projects planned in the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In the process, China has lent more and more money to Pakistan at a time of economic desperation there, binding the two countries ever closer.
  • For the most part, Pakistan has eagerly turned more toward China as the chill with the U.S. has deepened. Some Pakistani officials are growing concerned about losing sovereignty to their deep-pocketed Asian ally, but the host of ways the two countries are now bound together may leave Pakistan with little choice but to go along.
  • A Chinese-built seaport and special economic zone in the Pakistani town of Gwadar is rooted in trade, giving China a quicker route to get goods to the Arabian Sea. But it also gives Beijing a strategic card to play against India and the U.S. if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades as the two powers increasingly confront each other at sea.
  • A less scrutinised component of BRI is the central role Pakistan plays in China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. Pakistan is the only other country that has been granted access to the system’s military service, allowing more precise guidance for missiles, ships and aircraft.
  • Linking the port to western China would be a new 2,000-mile network of highways and rails through the Balochistan province, a resource-rich region plagued by militancy.
  • Military analysts predict that China could use Gwadar to expand the naval footprint of its attack submarines, after agreeing in 2015 to sell eight submarines to Pakistan in a deal worth up to $6 billion. China could use the equipment it sells to the South Asian country to refuel its own submarines, extending its Navy’s global reach.
  • According to the undisclosed proposal drawn up by the Pakistani Air Force and Chinese officials at the start of the year, an SEZ under the CPEC would be created in Pakistan to produce a new generation of fighter jets. For the first time, navigation systems, radar systems and onboard weapons would be built jointly by the countries at factories in Pakistan.
  • The proposal, confirmed by officials at the Ministry of Planning and Development, would expand China and Pakistan’s current cooperation on the JF-17 fighter jet, which is assembled at Pakistan’s military-run Kamra Aeronautical Complex in Punjab province. The Chinese-designed jets have given Pakistan an alternative to the U.S.-built F-16 fighters. NYTimes
ECONOMY

Das to meet chiefs of more banks
  • After meeting heads of public sector banks (PSBs) in two groups, Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das will now meet the heads of private sector and cooperative banks next week.
  • A day after taking charge, Mr. Das met heads of Mumbai-based PSBs on December 13 and other PSB chiefs on December 19. During the meetings, the Governor asked the PSB chiefs to share their views on several issues, including on credit offtake.
IL&FS to monetise education, fund management units, invites bids
  • Cash-strapped project developer and financier Infrastructure Finance and Leasing Services has decided to monetise its education business and alternative investment fund management business as it invited bids from potential investors.
  • “The board has decided to publicly solicit in two separate processes, expressions of interest for a sale of its interests in its education business comprising IL&FS’ interest in IL&FS Education and Technology Services Limited (IETS), along with other subsidiary businesses; and in Alternative Investment Fund Management business comprising IL&FS’ interests in IL&FS Investment Managers Limited (IIML) along with all its associated fund management platforms, as well as sponsor commitments relating to a few of the funds,” IL&FS said in a statement.
  • The company said the education business provides edu-tech services to K-12 schools and students through its proprietary digital content, devices, platforms and solutions, as well as (in a joint initiative with National Skills Development Corporation) offers job linked vocational skills programmes for the youth.
  • Further, the businesses in its subsidiaries provide advisory and project management services to central, State governments and industries for development of common infrastructure in industrial clusters, and technology-led knowledge management and assessment services for education, vocational skills and corporates.
  • The Alternative Investment Fund Management business, undertaken principally through IIML, manages private equity funds, infrastructure debt funds, etc., with total assets under management of approximately ₹13,340 crore.
Now, China looks to India as key market
  • As its trade war with the U.S. intensifies, China has started looking at India as a major market to sell its products and machinery. However, Indian companies want China to share its technology and even partner with them in its growth story rather than treating India purely as a market of its products.
  • Over 100 Chinese firms displayed their products and solutions at an exhibition in Mumbai this week. It was claimed to be one of the biggest exhibitions of Chinese products in India, indicating growing engagement of China with India.
  • Tang Guocai, Consul General of China said: “We are in a globalised world. There are different crisis in different regions in different times. As far India and China are concerned, it is a better time for cooperation.” On the issues of trade imbalance, he said: “ We are now seeing growing imports from India, mainly agriculture products, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing.
  • However, Vandan Shah, co-chairman, CII western region, said: “The Chinese firms have come here to expand their market but we should not be only focussing on buying. We should rather focus on how to manufacture these products by borrowing the newer technology, machinery and trends from China.”
  • “We don’t want to make the machinery. We actually want to sell those parts in the U.S. and Germany which the Chinese are already selling. So, we want to partner with such manufacturers as extra duties are now being levied on them. So let the Chinese become our marketing partners,” he said. He said the Chinese companies should now consider investing in Indian companies on a profit-sharing mode.