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Current Affairs: 6 December 2018

NATION

You may soon be able to opt out of Aadhaar
  • The government is in the last stages of finalising a proposal to amend the Aadhaar Act to give all citizens an option to withdraw their Aadhaar number, including biometrics and the data.
  • This follows the Supreme Court judgment in September that upheld the validity of Aadhaar, however, with certain riders.
  • A Constitution Bench had struck down Section 57 of the Act that allows private entities to use the unique number for verification. The Bench also declared that seeking to link it with bank accounts and SIM cards was unconstitutional.
  • “The initial proposal was prepared by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It submitted that once a child turns 18, he/she will be given six months to decide if he/she wants to withdraw,” a senior official said.
  • This proposal was sent to the Law Ministry to be vetted. 
  • However, the proposal, which will now be sent to the Cabinet, is likely to benefit only those who do not have a PAN card or do not require one, as the court had upheld the linkage of PAN with Aadhaar.
  • Over 37.50 crore PANs have been issued till March 12, 2018. Of these, the number of PANs issued to individuals stood at more than 36.54 crore, of which about 16.84 crore PANs have been linked with Aadhaar.
  • In line with the court order, the proposal seeks to appoint an adjudicating officer to decide whether a person’s Aadhaar-related data need to be disclosed in the interest of national security.
  • The court had also struck down Section 33(2), which allowed disclosure of Aadhaar information for national security reasons on the orders of an officer not below Joint Secretary. It had said an officer above Joint Secretary should consult a judicial officer and together take a call.
PM-CJI talks speeded judicial appointments: Kurian Joseph
  • A new channel of dialogue between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on issues relating to judicial appointments is a reason for the quick-fire filling of judicial vacancies in the Supreme Court and the High Courts, Justice Kurian Joseph, who retired as the third senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, revealed.
  • He said the speedy appointments were due to “better clarity” that prevails after Justice Gogoi took over as the Chief Justice of India. “The Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India certainly had discussions on these issues. Both heads would have taken appropriate decision to expedite the process. There is no delay now. They have sorted out the gaps...,” said Justice Kurian.
  • Asked whether there was some miscommunication before Chief Justice Gogoi took over, he said, “I think so. The lack of proper communication between the two heads stood in the way. If there is any problem, they should sit together and work it out.” To a question whether a regular dialogue between the government and the judiciary is healthy, he said the dialogue is on issues of judicial appointments and not about litigation.
‘CO2 levels poised for record high’
  • Global carbon emissions are set to hit an all-time high of 37.1 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2018, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Global Carbon Project.
  • India, the third-highest contributor, is projected to see emissions rise by 6.3% from 2017.
  • The 2.7% projected global rise in 2018 has been driven by appreciable growth in coal use for the second year in a row, and sustained growth in oil and gas use.
  • This week, representatives from more than 190 countries have begun discussions at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland, on ways to equitably cut carbon emissions.
  • The 10 biggest emitters in 2018 are China, U.S., India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Canada. The EU as a region of countries ranks third. China’s emissions accounted for 27% of the global total, having grown an estimated 4.7% in 2018 and reaching a new all-time high. Emissions in the U.S., which has withdrawn from its commitment to the Paris Agreement, account for 15% of the global total, and look set to have grown about 2.5% in 2018 after several years of decline.
  • Limiting global warming to the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature increase this century to well below 2°C, would need carbon dioxide emissions to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by about 2050.
  • Though coal use contributed to the rise in 2018 from last year, it still remains below its historical high in 2013 but may exceed that if current growth continues.
‘Big bird’ to take Internet to villages
  • India’s first six-tonne-class ‘big bird’ in space, the heaviest ever to be built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the 5,854 kg satellite, advanced communication satellite GSAT-11, was put into orbit from the European spaceport in Guiana in South America.
  • Its mission is to enable high-speed satellite-based Internet services to users in rural and remote areas and to businesses down home over the next 15 years.
  • The satellite and the launch fee have cost ISRO ₹1,200 crore.
  • The liftoff of GSAT-11 and a South Korean co-passenger satellite on European space vehicle Ariane 5 VA246 was watched and cheered by ISRO Chairman K. Sivan.
  • In his post-launch remarks, Dr. Sivan said, “It will meet most of the requirements of providing broadband connectivity to rural and inaccessible village panchayats under Bharat Net, which is part of the Digital India initiative.”
  • Launched in October 2011, Bharat Net (earlier called the National Optical Fibre Network) aims to provide 2.5 lakh village panchayats with e-banking, e-education, e-health and e-governance, among others, through reliable broadband connectivity.
  • This, along with GSAT-29 and GSAT-19, smaller satellites already launched from within India, will herald a new era of satellite-driven reliable high-throughput data services. 
  • Enabling in-flight Internet and village web services are the government’s other goals: the latter promises to bridge the urban-rural digital divide.
  • GSAT-11 carries eight transponders for the first time in the complex and efficient Ka frequency band, and 38 transponders in the Ku band. The Ka band enables smart coverage of places with multiple and reusable spot beams.
India gets first witness protection scheme
  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday put in place a witness protection regime in the country, noting that one of the main reasons for witnesses turning hostile was that they were not given security by the State.
  • A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer said the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 would come into effect immediately across all States.
  • Under it, witness protection may be as simple as providing a police escort to the witness up to the courtroom or, in more complex cases involving an organised criminal group, taking extraordinary measures such as offering temporary residence in a safe house, giving a new identity, and relocation to an undisclosed place. The top court said the scheme, which aimed to enable a witness to depose fearlessly and truthfully, would be the law of the land till Parliament enacted suitable legislation.
  • The issue came up when the Supreme Court was hearing a public interest litigation plea seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu.
No step taken to fill posts in information panels: SC
  • The Supreme Court has said that posts in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and in State Information Commissions (SICs) are lying vacant and no effective steps have been taken to fill them.
  • A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer has asked the Centre and States such as West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala and Karnataka to submit a status report on what steps have been taken to fill the posts.
  • Advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted a chart which contained the status of vacancies in Information Commissions in the country. The report stated that there were eight vacancies, including that of Chief CIC, in the Central Information Commission. Mr. Bhushan said the CIC was functioning with only three Commissioners, due to which pendency had risen to 26,037 as on December 2. 
Centre may bring back curbs in Andamans
  • The Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, Nand Kumar Sai, has said the Centre may like to revisit its decision to lift the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) system from 29 islands of Andaman and Nicobar, after the death of U.S. citizen John Allen Chau.
  • Mr. Sai, who is leading a delegation of the Commission to the islands, told that the lifting of the regime proved problematic and the decision had “many pros and cons that needed to be re-looked”.
  • However, the death of John Allen Chau could not be linked to the withdrawal of the regime.
  • To develop tourism, the RAP regime, in place since 1963, was lifted around August this year from 29 islands, including the North Sentinel (where Chau was reportedly killed). Though the regime was withdrawn, a tourist is required to take permission from the Forest Department and the local administration as it is protected under two other Acts.
  • Mr. Sai said there might have been some carelessness in tracking the movements of Chau.
Forced to step in, says Centre
  • The Centre defended in the Supreme Court its decision to divest the powers of CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, saying it was done to restore the confidence of the public in the nation’s premier probe agency.
  • Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal said the spat between the top officials had created an “extraordinary and unprecedented” situation due to which the government had to step in.
  • “If the government had not stepped in, God knows where this spat between the top officials at CBI may have ended,” the Attorney-General said. 
  • The A-G clarified that the action against the CBI Director did not amount to transfer and only his functions had been withdrawn. 
  • The top court is also collectively hearing another petition by NGO Common Cause which has sought a probe against CBI officers, including Mr. Asthana.
  • Earlier, the CVC had submitted its preliminary enquiry report into allegations against Mr. Verma in a sealed cover.
WORLD

‘We will also develop banned N-weapons’
  • A defiant Vladimir Putin threatened to develop nuclear missiles banned under a treaty with the U.S. after Washington gave a deadline to comply with the key arms control agreement.
  • This came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would withdraw from a major Cold War treaty limiting mid-range nuclear arms within 60 days if Russia does not dismantle missiles that the U.S. claims breach the deal.
  • Mr. Putin dismissed Mr. Pompeo’s statement as a smokescreen, saying that Washington had already decided to ditch the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF).
Yemen peace talks to open on Thursday
  • Peace talks between Yemen’s government and rivals aimed at ending four years of devastating war will open on Thursday in Sweden, the UN announced.
  • No breakthrough is expected at the talks, which mark the first meeting between Yemen’s Saudi Arabia-backed government and Houthi rebels, linked to Iran, since 2016 — when more than 100 days of negotiations failed to end a war that has now claimed upwards of 10,000 lives and pushed 14 million people to the brink of famine.
  • Sources close to the rebels said that the Houthis are expected to request the reopening of Sana’a International Airport, which has been damaged by Saudi-led air raids and shut down by Riyadh and its allies, who control Yemen’s airspace.
  • A source in the government delegation said President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s camp is seeking maps detailing landmines planted by the rebels.
  • Sources on both sides said they would demand a ceasefire — initiated by their rival — and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

ECONOMY

Reserve Bank stands pat on rates
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has left the key interest rate or the repo rate unchanged at 6.5% during the fifth bimonthly monetary policy review — which was on expected lines — while maintaining the ‘calibrated tightening’ stance though it reduced the inflation projection sharply.
  • During the post-policy interaction, RBI Governor Urjit Patel said the central bank was ready to take policy action if upside risks to inflation did not materialise.
  • “If the upside risks we have flagged do not materialise or are muted in their impact as reflected in incoming data, there is a possibility of space opening up for commensurate policy actions by the MPC,” Dr. Patel said.
  • Consumer price index-based inflation is projected at 2.7-3.2% for the second half of the current financial year and 3.8-4.2% in the first half of the next financial year. In the previous policy review held in October, inflation was projected at 3.9-4.5% for the second half of FY19 and 4.8% in the first quarter of FY20.
  • The sharp fall in inflation comes on the back of 30% decline in crude oil prices .
  • The RBI decided to retain GDP growth rate for 2018-19 at 7.4% and estimated growth at 7.5% for the first half of the next financial year.
  • S.C. Garg, Secretary, Economic Affairs, while ‘welcoming’ the RBI assessment on growth and inflation outlook, however said, “The policy stance probably required calibration.”
  • In a move to boost credit flows, the central bank has decided to reduce the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) requirement for banks to 18% of net demand and time liabilities from 19.5% over the next six quarters, by 25 bps each in every quarter.
‘Cyberattacks cost big firms in India $10.3 mn on an average’
  • A large-sized organisation in India incurs an average of $10.3 million in economic losses due to cyberattacks, according to a Frost and Sullivan study commissioned by Microsoft.
  • The study also said cyberattacks cost a mid-sized organisation an average of $11,000 in economic losses.
  • “Cybersecurity attacks have also resulted in job losses across different functions in more than three in five (64%) organisations that have experienced an incident during the survey period,” it added.
  • It found that more than three in five organisations (62%) surveyed in India have either experienced a cybersecurity incident (30%) or were not sure if they had one as they had not performed proper forensics or data breach assessment (32%).
  • Keshav Dhakad, group head and assistant general counsel, Corporate, External & Legal Affairs at Microsoft India said, “With traditional IT boundaries disappearing, the adversaries now have many new targets to attack. Companies face the risk of significant financial loss, damage to customer satisfaction and market reputation — as is evident from high-profile breaches this year."