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Current Affairs: 7 December 2018


Cabinet clears policy to double agri exports
  • The Union Cabinet approved the Agriculture Export Policy, aimed at increasing India’s exports to $60 billion by 2022 from the current $37 billion, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu announced.
  • The objectives of the policy are, apart from doubling farmers’ income, to diversify the export basket and destinations, and to boost high-value and value-added exports, with a focus on perishables.
  • The policy also aims to promote the export of “novel, indigenous, organic, ethnic, traditional and non-traditional” products, according to a press release. The objective also is to provide an institutional mechanism for market access, tackling barriers, and dealing with sanitary and phytosanitary issues.
  • In order to do this, the Centre will work with the State governments to create clusters that can focus on particular crops.
Tourists bring a wave of trash to beaches
  • In addition to air and water pollution, India can now add one more category to its pollution worries: beach pollution. And here, tourism and fishing are the biggest culprits, contributing most of the plastic litter on beaches, according to a study by the National Centre of Coastal Research (NCCR).
  • The NCCR conducted a qualitative analysis of the litter on six different beaches on the eastern and western coasts. It found that plastic litter from tourism alone accounted for 40%-96% of all beach litter.
  • After tourism, fishing was the next biggest source of litter. While fishing nets were a major contributor, the processing of fish on the beach also produced a lot of litter.
  • At Fort Kochi, fishing litter accounted for 22% of the total, followed by Elliot’s Beach at 15%, and Karwar beach at 10%.
  • Also, the proportion of biomedical litter was high in urban areas, such as Elliot’s Beach and Fort Kochi Beach.
  • The study looked at tonnes of litter across these six beaches on September 15, 2018, the International Coastal Cleanup Day.
  • M.V. Ramana Murthy, Director, NCCR, said India needed a national marine litter policy to control and manage waste on land and prevent its entry into the marine environment.
‘Air pollution cause of 1 in 8 deaths’
  • India, with 18% of the world’s population, has a disproportionately high 26% of the global premature deaths and disease burden due to air pollution.
  • Moreover, one in eight deaths in India was attributable to air pollution in India in 2017, making it a leading risk factor for death.
  • This is according to the first comprehensive estimates of reduction in life expectancy associated with air pollution in each State, published by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, a venture of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with experts and stakeholders associated with over 100 Indian institutions.
  • The key findings from the paper include the fact that 12.4 lakh deaths in India in 2017 were due to air pollution, which included 6.7 lakh deaths due to outdoor particulate matter air pollution and 4.8 lakh deaths due to household air pollution.
  • Over half of the deaths due to air pollution were in persons less than 70 years of age. In 2017, 77% population of India was exposed to ambient particulate matter PM2.5 above the recommended limit by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The report states that the highest PM2.5 exposure level was in Delhi, followed by the other north Indian States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana.
  • Further, the study states that the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), attributable to air pollution in India in 2017 for major non-communicable diseases were at least as high as those attributable to tobacco use.
  • “The average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if the air pollution level were less than the minimal level causing health loss, with the highest increases in the northern States of Rajasthan (2.5 years), Uttar Pradesh (2.2 years) and Haryana (2.1 years),” the study says.
  • “The massive adverse impact of air pollution on health is being increasingly better recognised,” Prof. Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), in a release said, “What is now also becoming understood is that air pollution is a year-round phenomenon, particularly in north India, which causes health impacts far beyond respiratory illnesses.”
Naveen writes to all CMs on women’s Bill
  • Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday wrote to Chief Ministers of all States and Union Territories seeking their cooperation to ensure 33% reservation for women in Legislative Assemblies and Parliament.
  • Earlier, he had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate steps to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha.
  • Stating that women have a major role to play in building the nation and society, he wrote: “Empowerment of women is empowerment of the nation. No household, no society, no state, no country has ever moved forward without empowering its women.”
  • Mr. Patnaik’s letters to Chief Ministers came a day after the ruling Biju Janata Dal in Odisha took a decision to consult 22 political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, as part of its efforts to build consensus on the Women’s Reservation Bill pending in the Lok Sabha.
  • BJD vice-president Debi Prasad Mishra said party representatives will meet leaders of seven national parties — the Congress, BJP, Trinamool Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, CPI, CPI(M) and NCP — and 15 regional parties in this regard.
  • Though the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, it could not be passed in the Lok Sabha.
  • The legislation lapsed following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
  • The BJD has also decided to put up a proposal regarding the Bill during the Winter Session of Parliament which is scheduled to begin in the second week of December.
  • The Odisha Assembly on November 20 had unanimously passed a resolution seeking reservation of one-third seats for women in State Assemblies and Parliament.
  • In 2011, the Odisha government had enhanced the reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies to 50%.
Karnataka must set aside ₹500 cr. for Bengaluru lakes
  • Coming down heavily on the Karnataka government for failing to “protect and rejuvenate” Bengaluru’s Bellandur, Agara and Varthur lakes, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the State government to transfer ₹500 crore to an escrow account.
  • The amount is to be utilised for execution of action plans to clean the water bodies.
  • Observing that untreated sewage continued to flow into the water bodies “indiscriminately”, a Bench, headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, directed the State government to deposit ₹50 crore to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as environmental compensation.
  • The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palika (BBMP) had been directed to deposit an environmental compensation of ₹25 crore. The green panel further said that the State government had to furnish a performance guarantee to execute the plan in a time-bound manner. “The performance guarantee will undertake to pay a further amount of ₹100 crore for failure in execution of the action plan,” the NGT said.
  • A panel, to be headed by former Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde and comprising representatives from the CPCB, the State Pollution Control Board and T.V. Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science, would monitor implementation.
Manifesto of tribal rights issued
  • Tribal groups in Rajasthan have demanded that the next elected government in the State reveal the status of each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with reference to tribal communities and declare their status targets.
  • A manifesto for rights of the tribal population, residing mainly in southern Rajasthan, has demanded that they be recognised as “custodians of ecosystem, nature and traditions” and paid an honorarium for their contribution to preservation of natural resources. Their environment-friendly practices were also highlighted in the charter of demands.
  • The document was released by the Tribal Development Forum, Vaagdhara, and other institutions working for tribal rights and food security last week.
  • Mr. Joshi said though 70% population in the tribal area depended on agriculture, which was primarily rain-fed, most of the government's investment towards agriculture was dedicated to the irrigated crop area.
  • “A sustainable integrated farming system needs to be developed for benefiting small and marginal tribal farmers. Besides, agricultural subsidies should be broadened to promote traditional farming,” he said.
  • A monitoring mechanism should be dedicated to the SDG index in the tribal village panchayats, blocks and districts, said Mr. Joshi.
  • Besides, the next government should take serious steps for stopping the migration cycle triggered by lack of education and skills and large family size, which contributed to tribal people's poverty, forcing them to leave forests and villages.
  • Rajasthan's tribal population mainly resides in Udaipur, Sirohi, Dungarpur, Banswara and Pratapgarh districts.
Deaths in accidents due to potholes are unacceptable: SC
  • The Supreme Court described as “unacceptable” the death of nearly 15,000 people in road accidents caused by potholes in the last five years and said the number was probably more than those killed on the border or by terrorists.
  • This indicates that the authorities concerned are not maintaining the roads properly, a Bench headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur said. Justices Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta were also a part of the Bench hearing the matter.
  • The Bench perused a report filed by the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, which said 14,926 persons died in road accidents due to potholes from 2013 to 2017 across the country. “It is almost 15,000 deaths in five years, more that those killed on border or by terrorists,” the Bench said, adding, “These are government figures.”
  • It asked the Centre to file its response on the committee’s report after consulting all the States. The matter will be heard in January.
Will fill all CIC posts on Dec. 11, Centre tells SC
  • Appointments to fill at least four vacancies on the Central Information Commission will be finalised on December 11, the Centre told the Supreme Court this week, according to one of the petitioners in the case.
  • The government’s counsel also informed the court that the Centre intends to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, said the petitioner Anjali Bhardwaj.
  • The 11-member Commission, the highest appeal body available to applicants seeking information under the RTI Act, is currently operating with only three members in the wake of multiple retirements. The eight vacancies include the Chief Information Commissioner, who completed his tenure last month.
  • While the Centre listed the RTI Amendments Bill, 2018, for introduction in the monsoon session of Parliament, Opposition MPs had protested, citing concerns that the proposed amendments to salary and tenure norms would compromise the independence of the commissions at the Central and State levels.
  • Apart from the CIC, a number of State Information Commissions (SICs) are also operating with multiple vacancies, leading to a rising pendency of cases, petitioners told the apex court.
‘A lot needs to be done to remove gender inequality’
  • Even after 70 years of independence, gender inequality runs deep in all spheres of life, historian Ramachandra Guha said.
  • Speaking on gender and caste inequalities as part of the Goa Art and Literary Festival(GALF) Mr. Guha said, “Seventy odd years after independence, caste discrimination is pervasive in most parts of India, in the cities as well in the countryside, and so is gender discrimination.”
  • He said that in all spheres of public life, women are denied dignity, respect, education, employment, promotion and voice and they are often subjected to horrific violence. “So the need to renew and strengthen the struggle for gender and caste equality is compelling.”
  • “A 100 years ago, when the movement against British rule gathered strength, gathered pace, the more reflective you were to battle the British. Today you have to battle society on behalf of those who have been discriminated against,” said Mr. Guha, adding, “When it comes to equality under the law, the Constitution abolished inequality and it abolished untouchability and provided for positive discrimination in the form of affirmative action to overcome centuries of disadvantage.”
  • He said that the law can definitely do two things. At the level of enactment, it can say that there is no inequality. At the level of making up for centuries of discrimination, it can go down the route of positive discrimination, “which we have done for Dalits”.
  • However, he lamented that there was no such positive discrimination of women, except in panchayats, where their powers are very limited.
  • “It is a very token kind of representation. You have women elected in panchayats, but since there has been no proper devolution of powers to the panchayats, the power rests in the State Secretariat,” he said. “Only with affirmative action at the level of State legislatures and Parliament we will see a level of progress that is possible.”
  • Mr. Guha said that while Kerala was at the forefront of a movement in the 1920s to allow Dalits to enter temples, the same State was currently embroiled in the Sabarimala controversy over entry of women of a certain age into the shrine.
  • “I do not know, I have not studied it properly. When it comes to equality before God, whether it is Hinduism or Islam or Christianity, Dalits have made some more progress than women,” he said.

OPEC agrees to cut oil production
  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) tentatively agreed an oil-output cut but was waiting to hear from non-OPEC heavyweight Russia before deciding the exact volumes for a production reduction aimed at propping up crude prices, two sources from the group said.
  • The price of crude has fallen almost a third since October, but U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded OPEC make oil even cheaper by refraining from output cuts.
  • “We hope to conclude something by the end of the day tomorrow... We have to get the non-OPEC countries on board,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told reporters before the meeting started.  
  • Asked whether OPEC could fail to reach a deal, Mr. Falih said all options were on the table. Possible output cuts by OPEC and its allies ranged from 0.5-1.5 million barrels per day, and one million bpd was acceptable, he said.
  • “It is unlikely to spark a meaningful price rally, but also will not be so dire either. In many respects it is the middle road, which may be the optimal solution,” said Mr. Sharenow, who helps manage a $15 billion commodities fund at Pimco.
  • OPEC delegates have said the group and its allies could cut by one million bpd if Russia contributed 1,50,000 bpd of that reduction. If Russia contributed around 2,50,000 bpd, the overall cut could exceed 1.3 million bpd. Oil prices have crashed as Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UAE raised output since June after Mr. Trump called for higher production to offset lower exports from Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer.
  • Russia, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have been vying for the position of top crude producer in recent years. The U.S. is not part of any output-limiting initiative due to its anti-trust legislation and fragmented oil industry.
  • Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said that he would support a cut as long as Iran did not need to reduce its own output. Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban said Iraq as OPEC’s second-largest producer would support and join a cut.

CAD may fall to 2.2%, thanks to oil slide
  • The ongoing fall in the price of crude oil has made the government rethink its projections for the current account deficit (CAD) for the year, a senior Finance Ministry official said.
  • Where it was earlier expecting a CAD of 2.8% of GDP, it has now revised its estimate down to 2.2%, he said, adding that if oil prices maintain this trajectory, CAD could fall below 2% next year.
  • The CAD was 1.9% of GDP in the financial year 2017-18 and 0.6% in the year before that. It stood at 2.4% in the first quarter of this financial year.
  • Oil price increased 17.7% in two months from $72.4 per barrel on August 1 to a historical high of $85.2 per barrel on October 4. Prices fell drastically thereafter to as low as $58.6 per barrel on November 30.
Political expediencies can’t dictate capital buffer for banks, says RBI ED
  • In a scathing attack on the government demand for liberalising capital norms for banks, a senior Reserve Bank of India (RBI) official made it clear that lenders aspiring to meet the bare minimum core buffers will be condemned to stay poor and warned that banking regulations should not be based on political expediencies.
  • Executive Director Sudarshan Sen said our banking system is short of at least ₹4 trillion in capital if we were to follow the global best practices even at an 8% capital buffer.
  • In a speech, Mr. Sen also said the lenders will have to set aside up to ₹2 trillion more in supervisory capital soon and doubted if the ongoing insolvency resolutions will yield good returns for banks. An additional ₹2 trillion will be needed to make adequate provisions for dud assets as per global norms.
  • He went to the extent of saying that “when the going gets tough, it is the banks with capital which will get going and those without it will be punished by the ecosystem.”
  • In the comments that come amid repeated demands from key Finance Ministry mandarins to lower the core capital requirements and align it to the global levels, Mr. Sen suggested that the debate over capital buffers itself is irrelevant, and the numbers 8% or 9% does not matter.
  • The Basel III norms prescribe 8% core capital buffer for banks — something the government is basing its arguments on.
  • “The more meaningful debate, which really should be happening is what should be the optimum level of capital for our banks, given the ground realities and not just expediency,” Mr. Sen argued.
  • It can be noted that the lowering of the capital requirements would release more lendable funds for the banking system, which is very important for government headed to polls in a few months.
  • The central banker said internationally, banks in jurisdictions that require 8% minimum capital effectively operate at around 14% or even higher.
  • He also lashed out at the demand for making an exception for the State-run lenders on capital requirements because of the implicit government guarantee that they possess, describing it as “spurious reasoning” which has risks like moral hazard, losing market credibility and not allowing a level-playing field.
  • “Business cycles and financial crises are old companions and they are here to stay,” Mr. Sen added.
  • On the debate over the counter cyclical capital buffers (CCB) where the RBI board had done some relaxations at its last meeting on November 19, Mr. Sen likened our situation to travelling on a rickety public transport.
‘PMAY-U needs push to succeed’
  • The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana - Urban (PMAY-U), being implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs under the Housing for All by 2022 Mission since June 2015, needs a concerted push to succeed, according to Crisil Research.
  • The government will need another ₹1 lakh crore in three years to build one crore houses, as disbursements under PMAY-U show a huge lag.
  • A ramp-up in fund-raising and utilisation is crucial, Crisil said.
  • As on November 26, 2018, only 12 lakh had been constructed, though 63 lakh houses had been sanctioned, while 23 lakh were under construction, Crisil said in a statement.
  • The Ministry aims to sanction 75 lakh houses and construct 30 lakh by the close of this fiscal.
  • The Central government needs to contribute a whopping ₹1.5 lakh crore in seven fiscals through 2022, at an average of ₹1.5 lakh per house.
  • However, only 22% of this, or ₹32,500 crore, has been disbursed so far.

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