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Current Affairs: 27 December 2018

NATION

NIA busts IS-style module, foils terror strikes in Delhi
  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested 10 alleged members of an Islamic State (IS)-inspired module and detained six suspects in a joint operation with the Delhi police’s Special Cell and the Anti-Terrorist Squad of Uttar Pradesh.
  • The accused, from whom a huge stash of bomb-making material, weapons and a country-made rocket launcher have been seized, were planning to target political leaders and security and government installations.
  • NIA Inspector-General Alok Mittal said that given the preparation of the module, named Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam, which was active for the past four months and which received instructions from an overseas handler on WhatsApp and Telegram mobile chat platforms, terror strikes in the National Capital Region were imminent.
  • The accused had conducted surveillance of some targets. They intended to carry out ‘fidayeen’ attacks, besides triggering blasts at crowded places, for which they attempted to make bullet-proof vests and remote-controlled bombs, Mr. Mittal said. Five alleged members of the module were arrested in Delhi, and the rest were rounded up in Uttar Pradesh. While six more suspects are being interrogated, investigations are on to find out whether more were involved.
  • The accused are between 20 and 35 years of age. Among those arrested was alleged team head Mufti Mohammed Suhail, teacher at a madrasa at Amroha, U.P., and resident of northeast Delhi’s Jaffrabad. He had roped in the others and motivated them to raise funds and procure bomb-making items and weapons. It was a self-funded module, with the members raising money by selling the gold they had stolen from their houses, the agency said.
Andhra Pradesh, Telangana to have separate High Courts
  • Following a Supreme Court order to the Centre to notify the bifurcation of the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Courts by January 1, President Ram Nath Kovind ordered the separation of the “common” Hyderabad High Court into the separate High Courts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  • The principal seat of the Andhra Pradesh High Court is Amaravati, the capital of the State. The High Court in Hyderabad will function separately as the High Court of the State of Telangana.
  • Sixteen HC judges, including Justice Ramesh Ranganathan, who is now the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court, shall become judges of the Andhra Pradesh High Court from January 1.
  • The new Telangana High Court will have a sanctioned strength of 10 judges.
  • The presidential notification quoted Article 214 of the Constitution, which provides for a High Court for each State.
Govt. body chief calls loan waiver a failure
  • Kishore Tiwari, chairman, Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM), said the scheme has flopped, and blamed banks and the bureaucracy for its failure.
  • Mr. Tiwari, who holds the Minister of State rank and is also one of the leading activists in Vidarbha on agrarian issues, has submitted 10 demands to the State to ‘save farmers’. 
  • In his letter, Mr. Tiwari slammed the BJP saying it should not only concentrate on 144 urban seats but take note of anger in the rural areas as well. 
  • The letter has pointed out that the State does not have a full-time agriculture minister and agriculture secretary and their appointments need to be made soon. 
  • “Banks and bureaucrats have ensured the failure of the loan waiver scheme of the State government. Therefore, the Centre and the State should introduce a scheme before April through a law which will waive the loan of 100% farmers without any condition,” he said.
  • Mr. Tiwari said farmers and women self-help groups are harassed through micro-finance and private money lenders, and therefore waiving of their loans is a necessity. 
  • The loan waiver scheme named as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana (CSMSSY) was launched in June 2017 with a target to waive ₹34,000 crore loan of 80 lakh farmers. But, the government has disbursed only half the amount by December.
  • Among other demands raised by Mr. Tiwari are free education from KG to PG for farmers’ children, ₹1 lakh for the wedding of farmers’ daughter, and banning private companies from the Prime Minister crop insurance scheme.
  • Mr. Tiwari has cited examples of Telangana and Jharkhand where ₹5,000 per acre is given to farmers every season in the form of grant, and has demanded that a similar scheme be launched for farmers with non-irrigated lands in Vidarbha, north Maharashtra, Khandesh, and Marathwada.
Another olive ridley nesting site soon
  • The Odisha forest department is all set to add another olive ridley mass nesting site to its wildlife map.
  • It has started preparing the beach at the Bahuda river mouth in Ganjam district to lure the endangered turtles to come over for mass nesting next year.
  • Around 3-km stretch of the beach from Sunapur to Anantpur at Bahuda rookery is being developed as a possible olive ridley mass nesting site. The Bahuda rookery is located around 20 km to the south of Rushikulya rookery coast, a major mass nesting site of olive ridleys on the Indian coastline.
  • Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer Ashis Behera said the Bahuda rookery coast has been cleaned up once already and it will be thoroughly cleaned up again before the start of the mass nesting season in February. 
  • This year, a few hundred olive ridleys had nested at Bahuda river mouth in February. This encouraged the forest department to develop it as a second mass nesting site for the turtles on the Ganjam coast. \
  • At present, mating olive ridleys are being sighted near the Bahuda rookery. It is being hoped that the turtles will find the beach conducive and their mass nesting number at Bahuda will increase in 2019.
  • Marine fishermen in the area have been requested to refrain from using gill nets during fishing as that can kill the turtles.
Sex workers, lawyers seek to amend language of anti-trafficking Bill
  • The anti-trafficking Bill, set to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha, has triggered disquiet among sex workers and lawyers about the proposed law’s potential to criminalise all adult sex work in the absence of a clear distinction between the victims of sexual exploitation or human trafficking and persons who voluntarily opt to provide sex to make a living.
  • The National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) has written to Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu demanding that the Bill be sent to the Standing Committee of the Upper House. The NNSW has also urged a “meaningful dialogue” with the communities affected by the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation), 2018, Bill.
  • Voluntary adult sex work is not illegal in India under certain circumstances, such as when a woman provides the service in her own home without any solicitation. 
  • The primary law on trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation — the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA), 1986 — punishes offences including procuring a person for the purpose of prostitution, living on the earnings of prostitution of another person and keeping or using a brothel. But enforcement agencies often conflate trafficking with voluntary sex work and abuse the provisions of the law to evict sex workers from their houses. 
  • It is this experience that has stoked fears among sex workers about the new Bill, which is aimed at curbing “physical and other forms of trafficking”; they are urging lawmakers to revisit the language used in the Bill and to ensure that the legislation provides built-in safeguards.
  • Supreme Court lawyer Tripti Tandon said certain offences in the Bill were “clearly directed” at sex workers and that these definitions needed to be reworded to remove all ambiguity. For instance, the provision that makes the advertising and distribution of print and digital content that promotes trafficking of a person as an offence could result in adult sex workers using digital media to promote their services being sent to jail.
  • Sex workers also demand that the consent of a person rescued from trafficking should be a mandatory requirement before a decision is taken to send him or her to a rehabilitation centre.
SC rejects plea of staff who ‘abandoned work’
  • Retrenchment procedure under the Industrial Disputes Act will not apply to employees who have voluntarily “abandoned” work, the Supreme Court has held.
  • Once it is established that an employee had voluntarily abandoned service, he cannot be considered to have been in continuous service as defined under Section 2(oo) of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947. If that is the case, the employer’s obligation to fulfil retrenchment conditions under Section 25F of the Act ceases to apply.
  • The case concerned a former HSBC Bank employee whose services as a ‘senior confidential secretary’ became redundant after the officer she was attached to left the services of the bank.
  •  The bank offered her four alternate jobs with the same pay scale. But she refused on the ground that such jobs were either temporary in nature, or the claimant did not possess the experience or work-knowledge to take any of them up.
  • The bank terminated her services in 2005 after she expressed unwillingness to accept the redundancy package offered to her.
  • The former employee moved the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, which ordered her to be reinstated. The High Court, however, differed with the tribunal’s conclusion, saying she had voluntarily abandoned work.
  • Agreeing with the High Court, the Supreme Court concluded that her “conduct would constitute a voluntary abandonment of service, since she herself had declined to accept the various offers of service in the bank.”
Television services will not be affected, says TRAI
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) clarified that customers will not face any disruption of their TV services due to implementation of its new regulatory framework for broadcasting and cable services.
  • The new framework, which comes into force from December 29, allows consumers to select and pay only for the channels they wish to view, and requires the TV broadcasters to disclose maximum retail price of channels individually as well as of bouquets.
  • Keeping in view the interest of the subscribers and to enable a smooth transition, the Authority is preparing a detailed Migration Plan for all the existing subscribers.
  • “The migration plan will provide ample opportunity to each and every subscriber for making an informed choice. This will also enable service providers in carrying out the various activities as stipulated in the new regulatory framework in a time-bound manner,” it said.
  • The Authority maintained that the cost to consumers will not increase.
  • “Further some broadcasters with wider presence have reduced the price of their channels recently. The published prices as declared by broadcasters are offered prices and not the final market determined prices. The Authority expects the market forces to stabilise the prices soon based on economic principles,” it said.
  • The TRAI, in its FAQs on the new norms, has reasoned that after digitization of cable TV networks in March 2017, there was an urgent need to improve transparency as many stakeholders were not providing choice to consumers. It said the consumer becomes the real decision-maker now.
Miners struggle while PM struts on Bogibeel bridge, says Rahul
  • The uncertain fate of 15 coal miners trapped for nearly two weeks in a flooded coal mine in Meghalaya led to a spat between Congress president Rahul Gandhi and the junior Minister for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, on Wednesday.
  • Mr. Gandhi requested the Prime Minister to “save the miners”.
  • “15 miners have been struggling for air in a flooded coal mine for two weeks. Meanwhile, PM struts about on Bogibeel Bridge posing for cameras. His government refuses to organise high pressure pumps for the rescue. PM please save the miners,” Mr. Gandhi tweeted.
  • Mr. Rijiju hit back by suggesting that the previous Congress government in Meghalaya was negligent in cracking down on illegal and unsafe mines.
  • Mr. Gandhi’s sharp attack on the Prime Minister comes a day after Mr. Modi visited neighbouring Assam to inaugurate the rail-cum-road Bogibeel bridge connecting the north and south banks of Brahmaputra.
  • Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma, without mentioning Mr. Gandhi’s remarks, said there was no inaction and that the administration and the NDRF had really worked hard to trace the miners, but, unfortunately, the operation did not yield any result.
Nepal caps expenditure of its citizens in India
  • Nepal imposed a monthly limit on the amount of Indian currency its citizen can spend in India. A spokesperson of the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) said a Nepali citizen would be unable to spend more than ₹1 lakh per month while paying for goods and services in India and that the decision was taken to address the country’s current account deficit.
  • However, leading economists of Kathmandu are saying that the unprecedented step was prompted by Nepal’s recent experience with the Indian currency that included the demonetisation process launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • Central bank spokesperson Narayan Prasad Paudel said the decision was taken to deal with the growing problem of current account deficit and the balance of payment crisis.
  • Economists say Nepal has been confronted with a series of issues with the Indian currency since Mr. Modi launched the process of demonetisation of high denomination notes in November 2016.
  • Kathmandu-based expert Achyut Wagle said India’s demonetisation had created a negative sentiment in Nepal and by taking charge of its currency, Kathmandu wanted to secure itself against any future Indian moves.
WORLD

Russia successfully tests hypersonic missile
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed final tests of a hypersonic missile, which he had earlier said would render existing missile systems obsolete.
  • “Russia has a new type of strategic weapon,” he said, adding that the intercontinental “Avangard” system would be ready for use from 2019. 
  • Mr. Putin had unveiled features of the Avangard during his annual address in March, which he said would be part of a new generation of “invincible” weaponry.
  • The hypersonic missile could fly at 20 times the speed of sound and manoeuvre up and down, meaning that it could breach defence systems, he had said at the time.
  • The final test comes after U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to pull out of a key Cold War-era nuclear weapons pact, the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Mr. Putin has laid out plans to develop missiles banned under the deal if the U.S. abandons it.
Iran held talks with Taliban: official
  • Iran has met with the Afghan Taliban, a top Iranian security official said, according to the Tasnim news agency, just days after the militants attended reconciliation talks in the UAE.
  • Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, made the announcement while on a visit to Kabul, several Iranian agencies reported.
  • No details on where the talks took place were given by the news agency, which is considered close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
  • “The Islamic Republic has always been one of the primary pillars of stability in the region and cooperation between the two countries will certainly help in fixing Afghanistan’s security issues of today,” Mr. Shamkhani said. 
  • The announcement follows reconciliation talks last week between the U.S. and Taliban officials in the UAE.
  • Iran and Afghanistan share a nearly 600-mile border, and have a had a complex relationship in recent years. Tehran has long supported its co-religionists in Afghanistan, the Shia Hazara minority, who were violently persecuted by the Taliban during its rule in the 1990s.
  • Iran worked alongside the United States and Western powers to help drive out the Taliban after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

ECONOMY

Centre tightens rules for selling online
  • The government said beginning February 1, e-commerce companies would be barred from selling products sourced from firms in which they have stake in or control over.
  • This is a clarification issued by the Ministry of Commerce regarding the Consolidated FDI Policy Circular 2017. “100% FDI under automatic route is permitted in marketplace model of e-commerce,” the Commerce Ministry said. “FDI is not permitted in inventory-based model of e-commerce.”
  • The inventory-based model of e-commerce is when the inventory of goods and services is owned by the e-commerce entity and sold to consumers directly. The marketplace model is when an e-commerce company simply provides an information technology platform in order to act as a facilitator between the buyer and the seller. “Inventory of a vendor will be deemed to be controlled by e-commerce marketplace entity if more than 25% of purchases of such vendor are from the marketplace entity or its group companies.”
  • From the point of view of the vendor too, the clarification said that an entity with equity stake owned by an e-commerce marketplace entity or its group companies, or having control on its inventory by e-commerce marketplace entity or its group companies, will not be permitted to sell its products on the platform run by such marketplace entity.
  • The clarification also said an e-commerce marketplace will not force any seller to sell any product exclusively on its platform.
Tough times for private banks
  • For high street private sector bankers, 2018 was a year they will want to forget quickly. For the first time perhaps, they are under the public glare for the wrong reasons.
  • It started with the bad loan problem of the public sector banks having a spillover effect in terms of public perception on private sector banks. However, the image of private banks among investors and the public took a real hit over the course of the year.
  • It started with ICICI Bank.
  • Allegations of conflict of interest were levelled against the bank’s MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar for allegedly favouring a corporate entity to which her husband had financial links. Ms. Kochhar finally decided to resign in October but much damage had been done by then.
  • Ms. Kochhar’s former colleague at ICICI Bank, Shikha Sharma, who had led Axis Bank since 2009 (the same year Ms. Kochhar took charge as CEO of ICICI Bank), also decided to step down (effective December 31) as the Reserve Bank of India was not keen on granting her another extension.
  • The bank had reported significant divergence in bad loan reporting, which apparently had not gone down well with the banking regulator.
  • The chief executive of another private sector bank faced a similar situation when RBI declined to extend Yes Bank co-founder Rana Kapoor’s term as the chief executive beyond January 31, 2019. The bank had also reported significant divergence in bad loans.
  • “While private sector banks are performing better than their peers in the public sector in terms of business, there are issues related to governance and disclosure that have came to the fore in 2018,” said Kuntal Sur, FS advisory partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers.
  • “RBI has become strict with NPA disclosures and such divergence does not go down well with the regulator. So, the banks have to address the issue of strict implementation of NPA recognition norms,” said Mr. Sur.
  • Kotak Mahindra Bank also had a tough time. The bank’s promoter Uday Kotak was required to bring down his stake in the bank to 20% from 30% by December 31. The lender issued preference shares to bring down the stake.
  • One of the youngest private sector banks — Bandhan Bank — also faced RBI’s wrath over dilution of promoters’ stake.