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Current Affairs : 8 December 2018


Hype around surgical strikes unwarranted: Lt. Gen. Hooda
  • Former Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, the face of the “surgical strikes” carried out across the Line of Control in 2016, said that the initial euphoria over the operation’s success was natural but the constant hype around it unwarranted.
  • Lt. Gen. Hooda said in hindsight, it would have been better had India carried out the strikes secretly. The aim of any such offensive had to be not only tactical but strategic too, which substantially hampers enemy morale, he said, adding that he could not say with certainty if India had actually achieved that objective in full measure.
  • The former Army Commander was speaking during a discussion on ‘Role of Cross-Border Operations and Surgical Strikes’ at the Military Literature Festival 2018 here.
  • Defence commentator Colonel (retd) Ajai Shukla cautioned against the recent trend of colouring military achievements with political motives.
  • Col. Shukla said that Pakistan had, in fact, been emboldened by the strikes as it knew that the Indian government would now always be under immense pressure to strike across the border after each terror attack.
  • Citing the example of the 1981 Israeli air strikes on Iraqi nuclear sites, which had caused considerable damage, Lt. Gen. (retd) N.S. Brar underscored the need to ensure long-term impact on the enemy before undertaking any such operation in future.
Rajan’s student is new CEA
  • The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has cleared the appointment of Krishnamurthy Subramanian as the Chief Economic Adviser for three years.
  • Mr. Subramanian, who did his Ph.D at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 2005 under Luigi Zingales and former CEA and RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, is also an alumnus of the IIT-Kanpur and the IIM-Calcutta.
  • He is an associate professor at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.
  • Mr. Subramanian has written about a number of economic and financial topics ranging from demonetisation to labour laws, CEO compensation, and even crime data.
  • Mr. Subramanian’s expertise has been put to good use by several of India’s regulators, including the Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India.
  • He serves on the boards of Bandhan Bank, the Reserve Bank of India Academy and National Institute of Bank Management apart from being a member of the P.J. Nayak Committee on Governance of Bank Boards and the SEBI committees on corporate governance, primary markets and secondary markets. 
  • Soon after the announcement of demonetisation, he argued that the data from the National Sample Survey Organisation showed that the impact of the note ban would not be as detrimental for the poor as was being portrayed by the opposition parties. He also said that the move would be “revolutionary in the annals of the country’s fight against corruption”.
  • More recently, in 2018, Mr. Subramanian wrote about how the Prevention of Corruption Act needs to be amended to ward off a “witch hunt” against bankers. In a 2012 paper with current RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Mr. Subramanian argued that laws that protect employees against unjust dismissal spur innovation.
  • In another paper, also with Mr. Acharya, he wrote that “stringent labour laws can provide firms a commitment device to not punish short-run failures and thereby spur their employees to pursue value-enhancing innovative activities”.
NSCN(K) faction asks Centre to revive ceasefire
  • A breakaway faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), led by Khango Konyak, has decided to revoke its decision of unilaterally abrogating the ceasefire agreement with the Union government with immediate effect.
  • The chairman and general secretary of the NSCN(K) faction, Konyak and Isak Sumi, said in a joint statement that the outfit resolved to revoke the unilateral decision after holding wide consultations with NGOs and civil society groups of Nagaland in the past one month.
  • The NSCN(K) had signed ceasefire with the Centre in 2001 but unilaterally abrogated it in March 2015 when the then chairman of the group, S.S. Khaplang, was alive.
  • The statement said that the appeal made by various organisations and the “positive response” by the Government of India were also factors that led to its decision.
  • The NSCN(K) expects the Centre to respond positively by honouring its decision to revive the ceasefire in the interest of peace in Nagaland and the Naga people in general, the statement said.
  • The NSCN (Isak-Muivah) has been engaged in peace talks with the interlocutor of the Central government since 1997, when it announced a ceasefire agreement after an insurgency movement that started in Nagaland soon after India’s Independence.
  • Subsequently, the Centre signed a Framework Agreement with the NSCN(I-M) on August 3, 2015.
  • The Union government has also started separate talks with working committees of six Naga nationalist political groups since 2017.
M.S. Swaminathan calls GM crops a failure, Centre’s adviser faults paper
  • A research paper co-authored by leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, which describes Bt cotton as a ‘failure,’ was criticised by India’s Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), K. VijayRaghavan as ‘deeply flawed’.
  • The paper, ‘Modern Technologies for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security’, appears in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Current Science. It is authored by P.C. Kesavan and Prof. Swaminathan, senior functionaries of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). The article is a review of crop development in India and transgenic crops — particularly Bt cotton, the stalled Bt brinjal as well as DMH-11, a transgenic mustard hybrid. The latter two have been cleared by scientific regulators but not by the Centre.
  • “There is no doubt that GE (genetically engineered) Bt cotton has failed in India. It has failed as a sustainable agriculture technology and has, therefore, also failed to provide livelihood security for cotton farmers who are mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers,” according to the paper, “…The precautionary principle (PP) has been done away with and no science-based and rigorous biosafety protocols and evaluation of GM crops are in place.”
  • The piece also raises questions on the genetic engineering technology itself on the grounds that it raises the cost of sowing. Also, the insertion of foreign genes (in the plant) could lead to “molecular and cellular events not precisely understood.”
  • Prof. Swaminathan, credited with leading India’s Green Revolution, has in recent years advocated ‘sustainable agriculture’ and said the government should only use genetic engineering as a last resort. “…Swaminathan emphasised that genetic engineering technology is supplementary and must be needbased. Only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology,” according to the paper.
  • However, the MSSRF also dabbles in GE research. It has a programme on developing drought-resistant GM rice by using genes from mangroves to potentially protect rice varieties grown along the coasts from being affected by higher saline content — a consequence of warming seas from climate change. “The programme is ongoing but isn’t aimed for the present. Genes from salt-tolerant plants too aren’t ideal…however, GE may be deployed to manage against abiotic stresses,” said Mr. Kesavan. Abiotic stresses refer to environmental factors that could meddle with plant yield, as opposed to ‘biotic’ stressors such as insects.
New Delhi cashes in on goodwill with UAE
  • Christian Michel, a key accused in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal case, was brought to India on board a Gulf Stream G3 jet owned by the Aviation Research Centre of the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW).
  • Mr. Michel was brought by a five-member team of the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) and RAW and two UAE nationals believed to be government officials. There were eight passengers and five crew on the flight.
  • Indian and UAE diplomats have denied any link between the extradition of Mr. Michel and a major operation reportedly carried out by the Indian Coast Guard in March, in which the UAE Prime Minister’s daughter was taken into custody and repatriated.
  • An External Affairs Ministry official called the linkage between Mr. Michel’s extradition and the Latifa case “ridiculous”. A UAE official told The Hindu: “Extradition order has been done through a court order and has nothing to do with the [Latifa] incident.”
  • The Ministry, however, did not reply to a specific request to comment on reports in The Hindustan Times and newsportal The Print that had suggested a “quid pro quo”.
  • Coast Guard commandos stormed a vessel, Nostromo, in the Arabian Sea off Goa and took into custody at gunpoint Princess Latifa, daughter of Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who had run away from home.
  • Friends of Ms. Latifa, who said they had helped her escape, alleged that the Indian government had arranged for her to be sent back to the UAE, and she has not been heard from since. Ms. Latifa had recorded a long video prior to her escape from Dubai, accusing her father of illegal incarceration and torture.
  • Speaking to various media organisations, including the BBC and Australian Broadcasting, Herve Jaubert, captain of the Nostromo, which had carried Ms. Latifa from the UAE to India, said: “On March 4, we were attacked by Indian forces who boarded us from Coast Guard boats. They were about 12 armed men. They beat us severely with guns, and they robbed us; took pretty much everything from the boat.”
  • In September, Amnesty International joined human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and ‘Detained in Dubai’, calling for India and the UAE to clarify their position.
  • On Mr. Michel’s extradition, UAE sources say he was held at the Dubai airport when he tried to leave on June 13. Since then, officials had been pursuing his case for extradition to India with their court, while holding him in custody.
  • On November 19, the UAE court dismissed objections from Mr. Michel’s lawyers and allowed the extradition. It is unclear why there was a lag between the time of the order and his extradition, but External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s travel to Dubai on December 3 and 4 for the India-UAE Joint Commission Meeting for Economic and Technical Cooperation was considered one factor.
  • National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who has made more than one visit to the UAE in the past few months to secure Mr. Michel’s custody, is believed to have monitored the progress constantly, until the plane finally landed in the Palam Technical Area at 10.30 p.m. on December 4.
  • Mr. Michel’s extradition, that of a national from a third country not wanted for more serious crimes such as terror or murder, is believed to be an exceptional gesture made by the UAE, and is seen as a credit to India’s diplomatic efforts in the past few years.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UAE twice since he assumed office, in August 2015 and February 2018, and forged particularly close ties with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who visited India in February 2016 and then as the chief guest of Republic Day in January 2017.
  • The invitation to the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince was considered a major break from protocol for New Delhi, given that the guest at Republic Day up to then had been a head of state or government..
Social media sites told to filter content using AI
  • The Union government has asked social media platforms to emulate their practices in the U.K. in using Artificial Intelligence tools to identify and take down content inciting violence, a senior Home Ministry official said.
  • On a request by a law enforcement agency, the Ministry has reduced the time limit to take down such posts and videos to about four hours from about 36 hours.
  • The Ministry has asked Twitter to engage “flaggers” and “voluntary organisations” to identify, detect and take down objectionable content in real time.
  • He said that after the government met representatives of Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and others, the compliance rates in honouring requests have gone up from 60% to 80%.
  • “Google has agreed to deploy pro-active tools to voluntarily identify and remove such content. Social media platforms have been asked to engage NGOs working in the field, and appoint a grievance redressal cell, for prompt action,” the official said.
  • The Ministry had asked Twitter to produce telephone numbers and other identifiable sources to help track suspicious accounts.
  • The Centre has stepped up its interactions with social media platforms to arrest the spread of rumours, and messages inciting unrest, cybercrimes and other anti- national activities. In May and June, over 20 people have been lynched based on fake posts or rumours floating on WhatsApp.
  • WhatsApp has been asked to keep the complete trail of forwarding of unlawful content and share “meta data”to identify the author of the content.


Address common concerns, China tells U.S. and N. Korea
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping told North Korea's Foreign Minister that he hoped Pyongyang and Washington will address each other's concerns so that peace talks on the Korean peninsula “continue to make positive progress”.
  • Mr. Xi met with Ri Yong Ho in Beijing as denuclearisation talks have made little progress since a historic June summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
  • “The international and regional situation as well as the situation on the Korean peninsula remains in flux, so timely exchanges and the coordination of positions between China and North Korea are still extremely essential,” said Mr. Xi.
  • For his part, Mr. Ri said North Korea “remains committed to the denuclearisation of the peninsula,” according to Xinhua.
  • Talks on nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled, with Washington pushing to maintain sanctions until its “final, fully verified denuclearisation” and Pyongyang condemning U.S. demands as “gangster-like.”

Current account deficit widens to 2.9% in Q2
  • Current account deficit (CA) widened to 2.9% of GDP for the July-September quarter due to higher trade deficit compared with 1.1% during the same period of the previous year, the Reserve Bank of India said.
  • The deficit for the second quarter was $19.1 billion compared with $6.9 billion in the year-earlier period. The CAD for the April-June quarter was 2.4% of GDP or $15.9 billion.
  • The widening of CAD on a year-on-year basis was primarily on account of a higher trade deficit at $50 billion compared with $32.5 billion a year ago, the central bank said.
  • “The deficit widened due to sharp rise in oil prices. But now prices have corrected 31% from peak levels. Exports also picked up after rupee weakened against the dollar.
  • Private transfer receipts, mainly representing remittances by Indians employed overseas, was $ 20.9 billion, increasing by 19.8% from their level a year ago.
  • “In the financial account, net foreign direct investment at $7.9 billion in Q2 of 2018-19 moderated from $12.4 billion in Q2 of 2017-18,” RBI said.
  • The central bank had intervened in the currency market by selling dollars to arrest the sharp fall in rupee. In 2018 till October, the rupee had weakened 15% against the dollar but reversed trend in November as oil prices softened. Latest data released showed foreign exchange reserves increased by $ 932.8 million to $393.718 billion in the week to November 30.
  • Overall, the country’s balance of payments was in deficit of $1.9 billion in the July-September quarter as compared with a surplus of $9.5 billion in the year ago period.
Liquidity stress has abated, says SEBI chief
  • The liquidity stress affecting non-banking finance companies and housing finance companies since September 2018 has abated significantly, and the Indian markets have performed better than several developed markets despite high global volatility this year, the chief of India’s stock market regulator Ajay Tyagi said.
  • The Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Chairman said that the role of capital markets in facilitating fund raising to sustain the country’s economic growth momentum ‘becomes even more important given the stress in the banking sector.’
  • The volatility in global markets, caused by factors such as uncertainty in oil prices, change in monetary policy stance of central banks like the U.S. Federal Reserves and U.S.-China trade tensions, is likely to persist, Mr. Tyagi said at a financial markets summit.
  • Despite the high volatility in the Indian markets compared with ‘previous years when markets were just rising and people almost thought they provide assured returns, the performance of Indian capital markets has been comparable, not much worse than the comparable jurisdictions,’ Mr. Tyagi said.
  • The SEBI chief said that the regulator has moved ‘in a timely manner’ ‘by government standards’ on implementing reforms in the corporate governance framework proposed by a committee headed by Uday Kotak.
  • Steps are afoot to enhance the focus on independent directors, prescribe the separation of CEO, MD and chairperson roles, enhance the role of audit, nomination and remuneration and risk management committees as well as strengthening disclosures of related-party transactions, he said.

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