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Current Affairs: 9 December 2018

NATION

Centre amends rules for minorities from three nations
  • The contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is pending in Parliament, but the Union Home Ministry has notified amendments to the Citizenship Rules, 2009, to include a separate column in the citizenship form for applicants belonging to six minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
  • The Centre has made the changes under Section 18 of the Citizenship Act, 1955. New rules were notified on December 3.
  • A parliamentary committee has been examining the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, that proposes citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who came to India before 2014. 
  • It has run into strong resistance in the BJP-ruled Assam because it will pave the way for giving citizenship mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam, who came after March 1971, in violation of the 1985 Assam Accord.
  • Around 40 lakh people in Assam have been excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on July 30. 
After launch, GSAT-11 awaits ₹200 crore ground system
  • Now that GSAT-11, the third and latest Internet-boosting communication satellite, is up in space, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) says it is in the process of readying a ₹150-200-crore ground infrastructure across cities to use it.
  • A Ka-band hub or gateway each is being set up in Delhi, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Ranchi to deliver high-speed broadband services via the giant satellite.
  • The nearly six-tonne heavyweight satellite was launched in December 5 on a European launcher. Along with its older HTS mates — GSAT-19 and GSAT-29 — it forms an Indian quartet of high-throughput satellites (HTSs). Each of them has a different space location over India and must have its own ground systems.
  • The ground systems are being put up by external agencies chosen through competitive bidding. They will also be operated and maintained by them for five to seven years.
  • The use of the Ka band will be new in the country. In 2017, ISRO’s payload developing unit, the Space Applications Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad, had put out a search or RFP (request for proposal) for companies that could set up GSAT-11’s Ka-band ground systems.
  • About the HTSs, Dr. Sivan said, “Our target is to deliver close to a Net data speed at the rate of] 100 Gbps through them. We have planned a fourth one, too — the GSAT-20. It will be a four-tonne-class HTS and will be launched towards the second half of 2019 on our GSLV MarkIII vehicle. With that, our current national requirement should be met.”
  • The fleet is designed to mainly serve the remote and hilly northeastern States, and Jammu & Kashmir, which are starved of reliable Net services. 
  • Referring to the consecutive launches of GSAT-29 in November and GSAT-11 in December, Dr. Sivan said, “Within a matter of about 20 days, we have already beefed up the requirements of VSATs (very small aperture terminals) by putting up two satellites suited to them.”
Beautification plan destroys oldest neighbourhoods in Varanasi
  • Around the temple of Lord Vishwanath — Shiva, the destroyer — in , destruction is taking place on a scale this ancient city hasn’t witnessed in modern times.
  • A strip of land — measuring 43,636 sq m — between the 18th century shrine and the River Ganga — is being cleared of all construction, many perhaps as old as the temple itself, so that pilgrims have an easier access through a wide and beautified corridor that has been planned under the Kashi Vishwanath Precinct Development Project.
  • The project is being executed by Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust, under the Uttar Pradesh government, but the driving force behind it is thought to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents Varanasi (or Banaras) in Parliament.
  • Close to 300 houses — 187 already demolished and 90 waiting to be razed — are making way for the project, which has effectively wiped out some of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, such as Lahori Tola. The first to settle here migrated from Lahore during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who had donated the gold that adorns the temple’s dome. Today, their sixth-generation descendants find themselves uprooted — quite suddenly.
  • Since the project affects only those living in the 43,636 sq m of land connecting the temple to the river, opinion is divided on the irrevocable damage that has been caused by it.
  • Many in the city, especially admirers of Mr. Modi, hail the move, saying it has rid the temple area of encroachments. According to them, the rightful owners were, in any case, not living in these buildings, which were occupied mostly by tenants paying a measly rent.
JICA norms flouted in bullet train project
  • Officials of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) held meetings with farmers, their representatives and activists opposing land acquisition for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. The JICA funds the project.
  • “After the meeting, the JICA team has assured us that our concerns will be addressed and the JICA guidelines will be followed,” said Rohit Prajapati, an activist of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti.
  • Jayesh Patel of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj (farmers’ society) also met the team with demands of farmers in south Gujarat. “As per JICA guidelines, there must be fair compensation for those whose land is acquired for any project funded by it; but in the case of the bullet train project, the Gujarat government has diluted the provisions so that compensation comes down,” he said.
  • Farmers have alleged in their affidavits that the State has diluted the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, after Japan entered into a contract in September 2015 with the Indian government to build the country’s first bullet train corridor between Mumbai to Ahmedabad.
Pak. issues visas to visit Shiva temple
  • Going ahead with a people-oriented diplomacy, Pakistan has issued a large number of visas for Indian pilgrims who are expected to visit the famed Shiva temple at Katas Raj Dham, near the city of Lahore.
  • Katas Raj is a complex of ancient temples that is among the most important Hindu pilgrimage centres in Pakistan. The temple complex consisting of seven shrines, is located around the Katas lake, considered sacred by pilgrims of multiple faiths. Apart from the temples, the area is renowned for its Buddhist remains and architecture.
  • The Pakistan government under Imran Khan has continued the policy of conservation of ancient temples followed by the Nawaz Sharif government.
  • Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan stepped in and stopped cement companies from extracting water from the lake.
  • Sunday’s announcement of visas for Indian pilgrims, came days after Islamabad issued 220 visas for the Shadani Darbar temple in Sukkur where a centuries-old festival is continuing.
  • Islamabad had earlier granted 3,800 visas for Sikh pilgrims visiting Nankana Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Punjab for the celebration of the 549th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.
  • Pakistan also formally inaugurated the project for building the corridor that will allow Sikh pilgrims to visit the holy temple at Kartarpur across the border.
  • The High Commission said Pakistan remains committed to the bilateral understanding of 1974 with India that allows pilgrims to travel freely.
Navy on a major capability upgrade
  • Against the backdrop of increasing responsibilities in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with the rising Chinese presence, the Indian Navy has embarked on a major capability upgrade. A Navy officer said that this year, on an average, 35 Navy ships were deployed every day.
  • “The Navy has undertaken 113 port calls including operational turnarounds this year and has participated in 21 exercises including the Indra series with Russia which began on Sunday,” the officer said.
  • Operational requirements have significantly gone up with the Navy ensuring the presence of at least one major ship at all critical choke points in the IOR under its mission-based deployments and increased military-to-military engagement with friendly nations as part of India’s defence diplomacy in which the Navy is at the forefront.
  • “As on today, 32 ships and submarines are presently under construction in Indian shipyards. These include the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) Vikrant, Project-15B destroyers, Project-17A stealth frigates, P-28 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvettes, offshore patrol vessels (OPV) and Scorpene class submarines … In addition, government approval has also been accorded for 56 ships and six submarines,” the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba, said last week.
  • The 56 ships are in various stages of procurement and include replacements for existing platforms as well as new additions. “Construction activity will be spread over a decade,” Admiral Lanba stated. These include next generation frigates and destroyers, four stealth frigates from Russia, four landing platform decks (LPD), 16 shallow water craft, 12 mine sweepers, five fleet support ships (FSS), four survey vessels and two diving support vessels. All this comes against the backdrop of China increasing its presence and establishing permanent facilities in the IOR. Admiral Lanba stated that China deployed six to eight warships in the IOR at any given time.
  • The force enhancements were contingent on increased budgetary allocation which has not seen a major increase over the last few years.
‘History’s greatest arms race in Asia’
  • Asia is witnessing “history’s greatest arms race” as a result of a sense of insecurity stemming from tensions between the United States and China, and an “ill-defined Indo-Pacific concept”, said former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon here on Sunday.
  • “U.S. and Japan seek partners for what they call the free and open Indo-Pacific, which to my mind is an ill-defined concept because it cedes the continental order to China and leaves only the maritime order to the rest of us, which doesn’t serve India’s purpose because India is both a continental and maritime power,” Mr. Menon said.
  • “The other countries in the region are reacting to this by strengthening their own militaries and hedging against China. So what we are seeing is history’s greatest arms race in Asia,” Mr. Menon, who served as India’s Ambassador to China, Foreign Secretary and NSA, said.
  • Striking a cautionary note, former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said it would take India much longer to emulate China’s economic success than presently estimated.
NRC-excluded people can go to court: official
  • Those not included in the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam could be placed in the category of “non-citizens”, but they would get an opportunity to present their case before the court of law after all options are exhausted, according to a top government official.
  • The official said the December 15 deadline — for making citizenship claims by those excluded from the final draft of the NRC published on July 30 — was not likely to be extended.
  • The official said that no call had been taken on deporting them to the “country of origin” as those left out could move the Foreign Tribunals and then on to courts to get relief. The call to strike away their names from the electoral rolls should be taken by the Election Commission, the official said.
  • On Supreme Court directions, the Registrar-General of India (RGI) published the final draft list of the NRC on July 30 to segregate Indian citizens living in Assam from those who had illegally entered the State from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971. The first draft containing the names of 1.9 crore out of 3.29 crore applicants was published on December 31 last year.
  • As per Centre’s submission in the Supreme Court, Class-1 officers will be deployed and five hearings per day will take place or eight hearings for cases involving children of 14 years or less.
‘Bioplastics may not be a viable alternative to plastic’
  • Bioplastics — often promoted as a climate-friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics — may lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study.
  • According to the study by researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, shifting to plant-based plastics could have less positive effects than expected.
  • An increased consumption of bioplastics in the following years is likely to generate increased greenhouse gas emissions from cropland expansion on a global scale.
  • Plastics are usually made from petroleum, with the associated impacts in terms of fossil fuel depletion but also climate change.
  • It is estimated that by 2050, plastics could already be responsible for 15% of the global CO2 emissions.
  • Bioplastics, on the other hand, are in principle climate-neutral since they are based on renewable raw materials such as maize, wheat and sugarcane. These plants get the CO2 that they need from the air through their leaves, researchers said.
  • Producing bioplastics therefore consumes CO2, which compensates for the amount that is later released at end-of-life. Overall, their net greenhouse gas balance is assumed to be zero.
  • Bioplastics are thus often consumed as an environmentally friendly alternative. However, at least with the current level of technology, this issue is probably not as clear as often assumed, researchers said.
  • “The production of bioplastics in large amounts would change land use globally,” said Neus Escobar from the University of Bonn.
  • “This could potentially lead to an increase in the conversion of forest areas to arable land. However, forests absorb considerably more CO2 than maize or sugar cane annually, if only because of their larger biomass,” Ms. Escobar said.
  • Experience with biofuels has shown that this effect is not a theoretical speculation. The increasing demand for the “green” energy sources has brought massive deforestation to some countries across the tropics, researchers said.
WORLD

Bahrain criticises Qatar Emir for not attending GCC summit
  • Bahrain’s Foreign Minister criticised Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for not attending a Gulf Arab summit in Saudi Arabia, an absence that suggests a rift between Doha and three Gulf Arab states is unlikely to be resolved soon.
  • Qatar sent its State Minister for Foreign Affairs to the annual one-day summit that is overshadowed by the economic and diplomatic boycott of Doha since mid-2017 by Riyadh, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt over allegations that Doha supports terrorism. Qatar denies the charges. 
  • In response, Ahmed bin Saeed AlRumaihi, director of the Information Office at Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, said: “Qatar can make its own decisions and had attended (last year’s) Kuwait summit while the leaders of the boycotting countries did not.”
  • The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) summit of six member states opened in Riyadh on Sunday at a time when the country is under pressure over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
  • Doha last week abruptly announced that it was exiting the oil exporters’ group OPEC after 57 years to focus on gas in an apparent swipe at the bloc’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia. Kuwait’s ties with Riyadh are also strained over control of shared oilfields, further weakening unity of the GCC which was set up in 1980 as a bulwark against larger neighbours Iran and Iraq.
  • Saudi Arabia has resisted U.S. pressure to restore ties with Doha following Khashoggi’s murder, an act that drew condemnation and scrutiny of Riyadh’s regional foreign policy.

ECONOMY

India should brace itself for a slowdown: Subramanian
  • Former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian warned the Indian economy was in for a slowdown for some time as agriculture and financial system were under stress.
  • Speaking at the release of his book, Of Counsel:The Challenges of the Modi-Jaitley Economy, he said both demonetisation and implementation of GST have resulted in moderation of the economy and the budget estimate of revenue collection from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) seems to be unreasonable.
  • “To judge the GST by what the budget demands of the GST, is unreasonable. I will say it frankly, the budget has made unreasonable demands on GST. It has asked for 16-17% [increase].”
  • With regard to the economy, he said: “we have to brace ourself for a slowdown for some time. I say that for a combination of reasons. First of all, the financial system is under stress, financial conditions are very tight. This is not conducive for rapid growth.
  • The agriculture sector remains under stress, he said, adding international environment is getting much softer.
  • “Europe is slowing down, Japan is slowing down...there are political calenders. It is easier to do things at some moments than other moments. I think to expect huge reforms that will perk up the economy at this stage would be somewhat ambitious. 
  • Dr. Subramanian said that the autonomy of the RBI should not be undermined. However, he said there were excess reserves with the RBI which can be utilised for the recapitalisation of public sector banks and not for funding the fiscal deficit of the government.
Urjit Patel makes a statement with his CRR remark
  • At the press conference post the fifth monetary policy review on December 5, Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel brushed aside a question on reduction in cash reserve ratio (CRR) saying that it is not in the ambit of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).
  • On the face of it, it might look like he has only stated the obvious. But it is not so black and white. The unasked question on CRR was: why cannot it be voted upon in the MPC? It is after all a liquidity management tool that can impact interest rate. And again, it is not as if the MPC votes only on the repo rate. Though the law mandates voting only on repo rate, there is voting on the policy stance as well. So, why not on CRR as well? Mr. Patel’s answer at the press conference has to be seen in this context.
  • Observers see this as an emphatic statement on who is the decision-making authority on CRR. There are two other statements in the press conference which are seen as Mr Patel attempting to regain ground lost in the last board meeting of the RBI.
  • By unambiguously stating that liquidity is no longer an issue for non-banking finance companies, the RBI has virtually ruled out any discussion on the subject during the next board meeting. 
  • The other decision was to form an expert committee for micro, small and medium enterprises.
  • The central bank noted that without understanding the economic forces and transaction costs affecting the performance of the MSMEs, the often adoptedrehabilitation approach to the MSMEs stress has ‘focused on deploying favourable credit terms and regulatory forbearances.’


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