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Current Affairs: 26 December 2018


Govt.’s draft rules to regulate social media echo SC orders
  • The draft rules proposed by the government to curb “unlawful content” on social media that make it mandatory for intermediaries to trace the “originator” of such content have drawn strong criticism from the Opposition. The latter contend that the state is expanding the scope for surveillance of citizens.
  • However, a close look at the draft Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Amendment Rules, 2018, shows that the proposed changes are largely in line with developments on this front in cases before the Supreme Court in recent months.
  • While the Centre itself has been informing the court since October about its intentions, the court has also voiced its concern over irresponsible content on social media.
  • In fact, in a July 17, 2018 judgment in the Tehseen S. Poonawalla case, the court gave the government a virtual carte blanche to stop/curb dissemination of “irresponsible and explosive messages on various social media platforms, which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.”
  • For instance, Rule 3 of the draft speaks about the “due diligence” to be observed by online platforms that have over 50 lakh users.
  • It proposes the publication of rules, a privacy policy and user agreement for access to a social intermediary’s resource. Clause (1) of Rule 3 mandates that a user cannot host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share information, for example, which is pornographic, paedophilic, racially or ethnically objectionable, invasive of another’s privacy, harms minors in anyway, etc.
  • Now consider this. On December 6, a Supreme Court Bench, led by Justice Madan B. Lokur, mentioned online giants Google, YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft and WhatsApp and recorded that “everybody is agreed that child pornography, rape and gang-rape videos and objectionable material need to be stamped out.”
PM opens Bogibeel Bridge, India’s longest
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the NDA government’s focus on improving connectivity in the northeastern region while inaugurating the 4.94 km Bogibeel Bridge, India’s longest rail-cum-road span, across the Brahmaputra.
  • The strategic bridge, which connects Dibrugarh district on the river’s south bank in Assam to Dhemaji district on the north bank, would not only improve the livelihoods of millions of people in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, Mr. Modi said, but would also serve as a boon to the defence forces.
  • The project was conceived by the Rail India Technical Economic Services in 1973, and the foundation stone was laid by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in January 1997.
  • However, the actual work was initiated only in 2002 by the NDA government, which was headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Leh makes short work of a mountain of waste
  • Authorities in tourist hotspot Leh have put 65 tonnes of waste to productive use after the ecologically sensitive region’s garbage output went up drastically following the release of 3 Idiots on Christmas day nine years ago, drawing tourists in hordes.
  • Project Tsang-da, initiated by the district administration this year, aims at sustainable waste management in rural areas of Leh district and city. “For the first time, the project turned the waste into revenue-generating goods, such as curtains, toys and cushion covers. Wine or beer bottles and other broken glasses were also reused in construction of roads and buildings by local construction companies,” said Ms. Lavasa.
  • The vast cold desert region of Leh is home to a small population of 1.47 lakh people. Around three lakh tourists visited Ladakh in 2018, a quantum jump from 79,087 tourists in 2009, the year 3 Idiots came in the public eye for locations like the Pangong Lake, straddling India and China.
  • During peak tourist season, Leh city collects 16 to 18 tonnes of waste per day, and annual waste production stands at an alarming 374 tonnes. The region, from a hydrological point of view, is the source of some major waterways in the sub-continent, such as the Indus river system.
‘260 leopards poached since 2015’
  • At least 260 leopards were poached in the country between 2015 and 2018, with Uttarakhand accounting for 60 cases and Himachal Pradesh reporting another 49, according to information given to Parliament by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
  • Of this, 64 cases of leopard poaching were recorded in 2015, 83 in 2016, 47 in 2017 and 66 till October 2018, the data tabled in the Lok Sabha earlier this month show.
  • Central Indian States like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh also recorded a high number of cases of leopard poaching in the past four years, at 25 and 21 respectively. 
  •  MoEFCC said the figures had been compiled from data furnished by State enforcement agencies, as the management and protection of wildlife, including leopards, is primarily the responsibility of States and Union Territories. It added that information on the killing of leopards by villagers was not collated by the Ministry.
  • Wildlife organisations, however, estimate leopard poaching to be at a much higher level based on the seizures of body parts. According to the Delhi based Wildlife Protection Society of India, 163 cases of poaching and seizures of body parts were recorded in 2018, an increase from 159 in 2017.
  • Experts point out that since leopards live in close proximity to human habitations and are found all across the country, the cases of poaching too are spread countrywide, with a significant number of such incidents not showing up in government records.
  • Vidya Athreya, an ecologist at Wildlife Conservation Society who has worked on the human-leopard conflict, stresses on the need to evolve proactive policy measures for ensuring the protection of wild animals like leopards that live outside protected areas.
30 mn newborns cry out for help
  • An estimated 30 million newborns require specialised care in hospital every year without which many either die or develop preventable health conditions and disabilities that affect them for life, according to a recent study by a global coalition that includes UNICEF and WHO.
  • The report urges countries to invest in healthcare to prevent neonatal deaths among the most vulnerable newborns — the small and the sick. 
  • It points out that nearly 2.5 million newborns died during the first 28 days of life in 2017, of which approximately 80% had low birth weight and more than 65% were born prematurely. An additional 1.5 million small and sick newborns survive each year, with a long-term disability, including cerebral palsy and cognitive delays.
  • According to an earlier study by UNICEF, India witnesses 25.4 newborn deaths per 1,000 births and .64 million annually. The Sustainable Development Goal for neonatal deaths requires all countries to bring down the figure to 12 deaths or less per 1,000 births by 2030.
  • The study, ‘Survive and thrive: Transforming care for every small and sick newborn,’ was released earlier this month. 
  • It underlines that universal access to quality care could prevent 1.7 million neonatal deaths, or 68% of the deaths that will otherwise occur in 2030. Low and middle income countries will be able to avert two out of three neonatal deaths by 2030 if they increase investment by $0.20 per capita.
Tight security for Koregaon battle anniversary on Jan. 1
  • A robust police shield is in place ahead of the 201st anniversary of the Koregaon-Bhima battle to preclude any recurrence of the violent clashes that marred the bicentenary celebrations on January 1 this year.
  • More than 200 anti-social elements are being taken into preventive detention, said the Pune rural police.
  • Sandip Patil, Superintendent of Police (Pune Rural), said that since November, authorities were keeping a strict vigil on provocative and potentially inflammatory social media messages regarding the January 1 event.
  • “A force 10 times larger than last year’s will be deployed for the security of the people visiting the victory pillar. This includes 12 State Reserve Police Force companies totalling 5,000 policemen who will maintain peace in Bhima-Koregaon, Vadhu Budruk and other potential flashpoints,” said Mr. Patil.
Jairam files plea on Aadhaar
  • Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh has moved the Supreme Court for a review of its September 29 judgment upholding the passage of the Aadhaar Act in Parliament as a ‘Money Bill’.
  • Mr. Ramesh’s review petition highlights the lone dissenting opinion of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the five judges on the Constitution Bench led by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra. 
  • Justice Chandrachud had held that the passage of Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill by superseding the Rajya Sabha was a “fraud on the Constitution”.
  • The judge had said it might have been politically expedient for the ruling party to bring the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill, but it amounted to “subterfuge” and debasement of constitutional authorities.
  • The petition argues that the Aadhaar Act clearly did not fall within the ambit of Article 110 (1) of the Constitution, which clearly and narrowly restricts Money Bills to certain fields.
  • The majority judgment had used Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act to justify its passage as a Money Bill.
  • But Mr. Ramesh’s petition quotes Justice Chandrachud to counter that Section 7 is a provision for an authentication and not declaring any expenditure to be a charge on the Consolidated Fund of India.

Banks under PCA sitting on cash pile
  • Commercial banks, under the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), are sitting on a pile of cash as they don’t have too many options to lend, even as the banking system is scrambling for liquidity.
  • The 11 public sector banks under the PCA, enjoying 25% market share among commercial banks, are facing restrictions on lending while their deposit mobilisation has been healthy.
  • The average liquidity deficit in the banking system has been about ₹1 lakh crore since October with the shadow banks impacted the most as they are finding it difficult to raise funds following the IL&FS crisis. This, in turn, is affecting the loan market.
  • A senior official from another mid-sized public sector bank said the bank’s daily excess cash was about ₹40,000 crore.
  • As a result, the bank’s statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) was about 27-28%, much higher than the RBI mandated 19.5%. 
  • For banks under PCA, the ratio is much higher. Investments in government bonds is the most risk-free avenue to park funds which, in banking parlance, is known as ‘lazy banking.’ While ‘lazy banking’ refers to the risk averse nature of banks, here, the situation is slightly different as their hands are tied.
  • According to the latest RBI data, year-on-year deposit growth is 9.7% till the week ended December 7 compared with 2.7% a year ago.
  • “In this context, the government’s decision to provide the banks under PCA with additional capital is a good move which will bring them out of the framewok gradually so that lending activity can get a boost,” said Mr. Sabnavis. Last week, the government had sought Parliament’s approval to provide ₹41,000 crore to PSBs in the current fiscal. The aim is to provide capital to the banks under PCA, which will help them come out of restrictions imposed.
Foreign fund outflows highest since 2008
  • For the Indian equity markets, year 2018 will end as the worst in terms of foreign money outflows since 2008 when markets across the globe were reeling under the sub-prime crisis and Lehman Brothers filed for the largest bankruptcy in history.
  • In the Indian context, 2018 would also be only the third such year in the last decade when foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) would end a calendar year as net sellers of Indian shares.
  • Foreign investors, who have always been looked upon as the prime drivers of any bull run in the Indian equity market, have been net sellers at almost $4.8 billion or ₹33,344 crore during the current calendar year, till date.
  • Further, the year also saw overseas investors selling shares worth almost $4 billion or ₹28,921 crore in just one month — October — making it the worst-ever month in terms of FPI outflows. The previous high was seen in November 2016, when FPIs sold Indian shares worth ₹18,244 crore.
  • Market participants are of the view that such significant outflows were primarily on account of the weakness in the rupee and the volatility of the stock markets that saw the benchmark Sensex touching an all-time high of 38,989 in August only to lose more than 9% or more than 3,500 points since then.
  • “The one big factor that spooked everyone, especially foreign investors, was the fall in the rupee that moved from around 64 level to 74 against the dollar during the year,” said Harendra Kumar, managing director, institutional equities, Elara Capital.
  • While the benchmark Sensex had gained a little more than 4% or 1,413 points in the current calendar year, it is insignificant compared with the previous year’s rise of 7,430 points or almost 28% amidst robust FPI flows totalling ₹51,252 crore.
  • Incidentally, when foreign investors pulled out a record ₹52,987 crore in 2008, the 30-share Sensex had lost a whopping 10,639 points or 52.45%.
  • Neelkanth Mishra, co-head of equity strategy, Asia Pacific and India equity strategist, Credit Suisse, believes that even if volatility remains high in 2019, the impact on the Indian market would be moderate as foreign investors now have a lesser stake in the markets compared with some of the earlier years.Meanwhile, most market participants believe that the potential losses this year have been largely mitigated due to the strong buying support, especially in index constituents, from domestic institutional investors such as mutual funds and the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC).
  • Strong buying by domestic investors also helped the Indian stock markets overtake Germany for the first time ever in terms of market capitalisation. According to data from the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE), the market capitalisation of India was pegged at $2.06 trillion in December, slightly higher than Germany’s $1.9 trillion.

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