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Current Affairs: 28 December 2018

NATION

Amid protests, triple talaq Bill passed
  • The Lok Sabha passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, after a heated debate. The Opposition Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) staged a walkout before the voting.
  • The two parties, through their floor leaders Mallikarjuna Kharge and P. Venugopal, had earlier opposed the Bill during the debate and asked that it be referred to a Joint Select Committee for consideration rather than be debated and passed.
  • However, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked members to pass the Bill, citing humanitarian consideration for Muslim women suffering under triple talaq. 
  • Under the proposed law, giving instant triple talaq will be illegal and void, and will attract a jail term of three years for the man. The fresh Bill is proposed to supersede an earlier Bill passed in the Lok Sabha and pending in the Rajya Sabha.
  • In the face of strong objections by the Opposition, led by Mr. Kharge, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Mr. Prasad said in his reply that 477 cases of triple talaq had been reported since January 2017, with over 200 coming after the Supreme Court verdict declaring ‘talaq-e-biddat’ void. He explained the penal provision in the Bill as a deterrent, stating, “Deterrent is also important while combating a crime.
  • He said he had incorporated several suggestions made by the Opposition during the debate last year on the Bill, including removal of the clause that neighbours of the victim could file a case. “Conditions for bail and mediation have also been added to the Bill as suggested by members,” he said.
Horse lovers throng Chetak festival
  • The third edition of Chetak Festival 2018-19, one the oldest horse fairs in the country, kicked off amid the presence national and international tourists, political leaders and horse breeders and traders in Nandurbar district.
  • Organised by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) in association with the Sarangkheda Committee, the festival this year has also attracted horse traders from various parts of the country.
  •  The Chetak Festival is a 300-year-old horse fair held on the banks of the Tapi. The festival hosts more than 2,500 horses and people from all over the State come in large numbers to witness world-class equestrian spectacle.
  • Mr. Rawal said that Nandurbar district has immense scope to boost tourism. “The government will see to it that the district gets maximum footfall through this festival. It is going to be grand in its own way. We are constantly trying to innovate and identify newer ways to enhance tourism in the State, which has immense potential to lure large number of travellers. I am confident that the district will become a holiday destination. We also have plans to construct a horse museum that will attract more tourists."
River Dolphins go missing in Sunderbans as water salinity rises
  • Rise in salinity in the water system that makes the Indian Sunderbans has resulted in a decrease in population of the Ganges River Dolphins in the region.
  • A recent study covering 100 km of rivers and channels around the Sunderbans has revealed that the national aquatic animal is no longer sighted in the central and eastern parts of the archipelago. Only in the western part of Sunderbans, where the salinity is lower, could researchers find some evidence of the species.
  • The details of the study have been published in Journal of Threatened Taxa, in an article titled Possible Range Decline of Ganges River Dolphin Platanista Gangetica in Indian Sundarban.
  • “The study is indicative of how natural changes, including the phenomenon of climate change, and human interventions in the Indian Sunderbans are having an adverse impact on the habitat of the species” Ms Mitra told The Hindu.
  • Ms. Roy Chowdhury, the other researcher who carried out the study from 2012 to 2016, said that because of its unique body shape, it becomes difficult for the dolphin to remain submerged in waters with high salinity. According to her, freshwater flow to the Sunderbans is crucial for the subsistence of these species. She pointed out that the hyper-saline zone in the central part of the Sunderbans, which includes areas such as Raidighi and Patharpratima, has lost connectivity with the upstream freshwater flow. Though there is some fresh water connectivity and flow in the eastern part, salinity levels were still high and there was therefore no evidence of the Ganges River Dolphin in this region.
  • The rise in sea level, triggered by climate change, is one of the reasons for the increase in salinity of waters of rivers and channels. “Hydrological modifications like water diversion and commission of large barrages upstream have had a great impact on the salinity profile of the rivers downstream in the Sunderbans,” the publication stated.
  • Classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List, the species was once found in tributaries of the Ganga in West Bengal. Researchers and experts said the sighting of the dolphin has dipped over the years in the 534-km stretch from Farakka Barrage to Sunderbans.
Virudhunagar shines in development
  • Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar showed the most improvement, between June and October, among the country’s 111 most underdeveloped districts, while Jharkhand’s Pakur reflected the least improvement, according to a survey by the Niti Aayog.
  • The government think tank released the second ‘delta’ ranking of these districts that measures the incremental progress made by them across areas such as health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion, skill development, and basic infrastructure.
  • Virudhunagar is followed by Nuapada in Odisha, Siddharthnagar in Uttar Pradesh, Aurangabad in Bihar and Koraput in Odisha.
  • Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara topped the list for ‘fast movers’ for showing initiative and displaying a qualitative jump in scores between June and October 2018. In the first delta ranking, Kupwara had topped the list for ‘least improved aspirational districts’.
  • The Aspirational Districts Programme was initiated in January 2018.
5 tourist spots to get audio guides via app
  • Soon, tourists visiting Amer Fort (Rajasthan), Kaziranga (Assam), Colva Beach (Goa), Kumarakom (Kerala) and Mahabodhi temple (Bihar) will be able to avail themselves of an audio guide through a mobile application. The Ministry of Culture signed an agreement with a private entity for the initiative.
  • The Ministry also awarded a Letter of Intent to seven agencies under its “Adopt a Heritage” programme which allows public and private sector companies to operate, maintain and develop amenities at heritage sites. These iconic tourist attractions include monuments of Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) and Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu), awarded to Dalmia Bharat Private Limited, as well as Bhimbetka rock shelters (Madhya Pradesh) and Aalampur Temple (Telangana), among others.
SC didn’t mandate govt. to frame triple talaq law
  • There was no pressure whatsoever on the government from the Supreme Court to enact a law on triple talaq.
  • A close look at the three separate opinions delivered by the Constitution Bench on August 22, 2017 shows that it was only the minority judgment of the Supreme Court which had directed the government to bring an “appropriate legislation” on triple talaq.
  • The majority opinions of Justices Rohinton Nariman, U.U. Lalit and Justice Kurian Joseph — which became the law of the land and superceded the minority opinion of then Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer — had declared triple talaq “manifestly arbitrary”, illegal and void.
  • The issue was brought to fore in the Lok Sabha debate on the Bill when several members said the Supreme Court has already declared talaq-e-biddat as void and the government’s stand that it enjoined a law to be passed on the matter did not hold much water. 
  • The minority opinion of the Supreme Court had nudged the government to consider framing a law which was in tune with the “modern advances” in Muslim personal law globally.
  • It had “beseeched” different political parties to keep their individual political gains apart, while considering the necessary measures requiring legislation on triple talaq.
  • It had injuncted Muslim husbands from declaring triple talaq for six months, giving time for the legislature to enact a law. The injunction would cease to operate had the legislature failed in bringing a law.
  • But the majority opinion had overawed the minority view of Justices Khehar and Nazeer by striking down instant talaq as not protected by Article 25 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution and violative of Article 14 (right to equality).
Shah Bano case echoes in LS
  • Nearly 33 years after the Shah Bano case and its aftermath shook up Indian polity, the case once again took centre stage in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the Muslim Women (Protection on Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, also known as the triple talaq Bill.
  • The Congress appeared to have gotten over its earlier defensiveness over passing the Muslim Women (Protection on Divorce) Act, 1986, with its MP Sushmita Dev declaring it “the one law that has brought justice to Muslim women”. 
  • “After the Shah Bano case, the government led by late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi passed the Bill that ensured time-bound disbursal of the entire alimony in the iddat period, and not just subsistence alimony, but a fair and reasonable one. It also provided for legal recourse to the aggrieved spouse to prosecute if not provided the same by her husband or his relatives,” Ms. Dev said. 
  • She pointed out that the NDA government’s Triple Talaq Bill spoke of “subsistence” rather than reasonable and fair alimony.
  • This was contested by Ms. Lekhi, who said the Bill following the Shah Bano case had “snatched” the rights of Muslim women under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which provided for maintenance in case of destitution, and was not specific to a religion and gave relief to all.
  • The politics of the 1980s was invoked as Ms. Lekhi said that after the Shah Bano case and “with a minister like Arif Mohammad Khan by his side”, late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had missed a “historic opportunity.
MEA upbeat over ties with China
  • Restoring relations with China and bringing back a “balance” to ties in the neighbourhood are considered achievements of the government’s foreign policy in the year 2018, while challenges ahead in 2019 will include keeping the balance between the U.S.-Europe axis on one hand and the Russia-China axis on the other.
  • According to a year-end review of the government’s policies, sources said, the establishment of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) by India ranked amongst its biggest successes as it is the first multilateral organisation — with as many as 71 member countries already signed on — that is headquartered in India.
  • “In the neighbourhood, the restoration of balance in our relationship with Nepal, as well as the reconnection with the new leadership in the Maldives are positive outcomes. The fact that the new Bhutan Prime Minister is making his first visit to India within a month is a positive,” said a government source briefing journalists on foreign policy achievements.
  • It added that India was not “the subject of domestic politics in the region, and the government has taken great care to ensure this in the recent political developments both in Sri Lanka and in Bangladesh.” However, no forward movement is expected with Pakistan, where talks over the Kartarpur corridor were described as a “cultural initiative” but not diplomacy. 
  • Describing the Wuhan Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as three subsequent meetings between the leaders this year as “unprecedented”, the official said that relations with China had returned to the “normal track” with progress made with high-level visits, the resumption of defence ties suspended last year after the Doklam standoff, restoration of peace at the India-China boundary and forward movement on trade where Beijing is actively considering Indian requests for more market access on agricultural and pharmaceutical products in particular.
  • While ties with the U.S. have seen an upward swing, the sources said some concern was felt about the recent developments over Afghanistan, with reports of a possible pullout of the U.S. troops and moves to engage the Taliban along with visits to Pakistan by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad being studied closely.
Bhutan to focus on development
  • Bhutan’s development agenda is expected to feature in bilateral talks that will be held during the visit of the country’s newly elected Prime Minister Lotay Tshering.
  • Sources said the 12th five year plan of the Himalayan country is among several topics expected to come up during the official level talks
  • Dr. Tshering, a well-regarded surgeon in Bhutan, led his party Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa to victory in the October 18 election, in which the party won 30 of the 47 seats of the Bhutanese national assembly. The victorious party had presented an agenda of development during the poll that is the agenda of the government in Thimphu.
  • The Indian source hinted that India is aware that Prime Minister Tshering has to deliver on his development promises. It was also known that both sides will discuss the details of the ongoing hydro electricity projects in Bhutan. The visit, the first foreign trip by the leader since he took charge, also highlights the special relation that exists between Bhutan and India.
WORLD

U.S. warned of defeat in Afghanistan
  • The Taliban warned the United States that it would face the same fate as the Soviet Union in the 1980s if it did not leave Afghanistan, as Washington considers slashing troop numbers.
  • In a message sent on the 39th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of the war-torn country, the Taliban said that U.S. forces faced “humiliation” and could “learn a great deal” from the experience of their Cold War foe.
  • Mujahid said any future relations between the Taliban and the U.S. should be based on “sound diplomatic and economic principles” rather than conflict.
ECONOMY

Traders welcome new e-commerce rules
  • A day after the government issued a clarification, tightening the norms for e-commerce players, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) welcomed the decision and demanded that the rules be implemented with retrospective effect from April 1, 2018 so as to void the Walmart acquisition of Flipkart.
  • The government barred online retailers from selling products of companies in which they own a stake. They also barred online retailers from selling goods exclusively on their platforms. These rules are to come into effect from February 1, 2019.
  • “It was under immense pressure that the government decided to frame new rules,” Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general, CAIT, told the media. 
  • “Both online and offline traders in the country will now be able to sell their goods on e-commerce platforms in a transparent manner,” Mr. Khandelwal added. “Some multinational companies, which recently struck deals, should also be included in it and it [new norms] should be implemented from April 1, 2018.”
  • A senior official in the Commerce Ministry, however, said February 1, 2019 was set so as to give companies time to comply with the rules. As such, implementing them with a retrospective effect would not be possible.
  • Mr. Khandelwal also called for the creation of an empowered regulator for the e-commerce sector.
  • The official also categorically said that the clarification issued was not intended to target any specific company and that they were aimed at “promoting fair and non-discriminatory trade.”
Seven PSBs to receive ₹28,615 crore from Centre
  • The government is likely to infuse ₹28,615 crore into seven public sector banks (PSBs) through recapitalisation bonds by the end of this month, sources said.
  • The amount infused will help the banks meet regulatory capital requirement, and its disbursement might take place before December 31, sources said.
  • Out of these seven PSBs, Bank of India is likely to get the highest amount of ₹10,086 crore, followed by Oriental Bank of Commerce, which might get ₹5,500 crore through recapitalisation bonds, sources added.
  • Other banks that are likely to receive capital infusion in this round included Bank of Maharashtra which may get ₹4,498 crore, UCO Bank (₹3,056 crore) and United Bank of India (₹2,159 crore).
  • The government will infuse ₹2,159 crore capital through preferential allotment in State-run United Bank of India, the lender has informed the exchanges on Thursday.
  • The lender is one of the 11 public sector banks under the prompt corrective action framework of the RBI following deterioration in financial health. The bank’s net loss widened during the July-September quarter to ₹883.2 crore from ₹344.8 crore in the year-ago period on the back of higher provisioning.
  • The gross NPA ratio was at 22.69% and net NPA ratio was at 14.36% as at end September.