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Current Affais: 22 December 2018

NATION

Furore in Rajya Sabha over order on data ‘interception’
  • The Rajya Sabha was adjourned on Friday as the Opposition accused the government of creating a “police state” by authorising 10 agencies for “interception, monitoring and decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.”
  • The notification means websites and web-based applications visited by a “suspect” on a computer or a mobile handset could be intercepted by the service providers at the request of the authorised agency after it has been cleared by the Home Secretary. The service provider will be liable to share the information under Section 69 (1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • A Home Ministry spokesperson said, “No new powers have been conferred on any of the agencies by the notification, and it has been issued to notify the Internet service providers, telecom service providers or intermediaries...to codify the existing orders.”
  • Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said not every mobile handset or computer would be intercepted and the notification was repeated time to time, the rules of which were framed in 2009 when the UPA was in power.
All 22 accused set free in Sohrabuddin encounter case
  • Thirteen years after the killing of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and his aide Tulsiram Prajapati in an alleged fake encounter in Gujarat, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court acquitted all the 22 accused, saying a conspiracy could not be proven
  • Judge Sharma went on to add, “I feel sorry that a family had lost its son [Sohrabuddin] and daughter-in-law [Kausar Bi], and it is unfortunate that a mother has lost her son [Tulsiram], but I am helpless on the evidence. I am really sorry but the way in which the evidence was brought before me, I could not help.”
  • He dictated the order in English and Hindi without looking at any paper and said, “There is no substantial evidence to show that threat, pressure, manipulation has been used in the case. The three main witnesses in the case turned hostile and circumstantial evidence is not substantive enough and there is no corroborative evidence.”
  • Judge Sharma said that of 210 witnesses, 92 turned hostile.
Himachal, Kerala and T.N. top development index
  • Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu have been ranked highest in terms of being on track to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), according to a first-of-its-kind index released by NITI Aayog.
  • The index comprises a composite score for each State and Union Territory based on their aggregate performance across 13 of the 17 SDGs. The score, ranging between 0 and 100, denotes the average performance of the State/UT towards achieving the 13 SDGs and their respective targets. The average Indian score was 57.
  • “The SDG Index Score for Sustainable Development Goals 2030 ranges between 42 and 69 for States and between 57 and 68 for UTs,” the report said.
  • “Among the States, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh are the front runners, with an SDG India Index score of 69. Among the UTs, Chandigarh is the front runner with a score of 68.”
  • Tamil Nadu has a score 66, and is the top scorer on the goals to do with eradicating poverty and also providing clean and affordable energy.
  • “The aim of the index is to instil competition among States to improve their performance across social indices as the States’ progress will determine India’s progress towards achieving the set goals by 2030,” NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said. Using the index, States will be monitored on a real-time basis.
  • Overall, the average score for the States was the worst when it came to gender equality (36), in creating sustainable cities and communities (39), in enabling industry, innovation, and infrastructure (44), and in eradicating hunger (48).
Hefty fines if States fail to give plans to clean up rivers: NGT
  • Noting that 16 States have submitted “incomplete action plans” pertaining to the cleaning of 351 polluted river stretches in the country, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has extended the deadline for submitting the action plans to January 31.
  • The green panel, however, added that in case of non-compliance, hefty compensation will be levied on the States and the Union Territories.
  • A Bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, said,“…for every delay, compensation for damage to the environment will be payable by each State or UT at the rate of ₹1 crore per month for each of the Priority-I and Priority II stretches, ₹50 lakh per month for stretches in Priority III and ₹25 lakh per month each for Priority IV and Priority V stretches.”
  • The tribunal added that the compensation amount “may be recovered from the erring officers.”
  • State Pollution Control Boards and pollution control committees of the UTs have been directed to display quality of the water of polluted river stretches on their respective websites within 30 days and the same has to be revised every three months.
Order challenges SC verdict on privacy: experts
  • The December 20 order allowing 10 different Central agencies to snoop on people is seen as a challenge to the nine-judge Constitution Bench judgment of the Supreme Court, which directed the government to protect informational privacy of every individual.
  • In its 2017 judgment, the court had asked the government always to balance individual privacy and the legitimate concerns of the state carefully and sensitively, even if national security was at stake.
  • The December 20 order allows Central agencies — from the Intelligence Bureau to the Central Board of Direct Taxes to the Cabinet Secretariat (RAW) to the Commissioner of Delhi Police — to intercept, monitor and de-crypt “any information” generated, transmitted, received or stored in “any computer resource”.
  • The government order is based on Section 69(1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and Rule 4 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.
  • “I would say the balance tilts heavily in favour of the government. A wide range of government bodies have been given blanket powers. There is no common thread among these agencies. For example, why should the Central Board of Direct Taxes get access to your encrypted material,” said senior advocate Sajan Poovayya, who was one of the leading counsel in the privacy case before the court. Mr. Poovayya pointed out that the order did not provide the procedure or the object for such an exercise or the quantum of period for which a person’s private data could be intercepted.
  • “This order cannot be a basis for interception. It can only be understood as nominating the agencies, who on a case-to-case basis and subject to oversight, will obtain orders from designated judicial authorities to intercept… Any other interpretation will result in a serious invasion of individual privacy recognised in the K.S. Puttuswamy (privacy) judgment,” senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan reacted.
  • Experts say the new order may be challenged in the court. The privacy judgment has asked the government “to be sensitive to the needs of, and the opportunities and dangers posed to, liberty in a digital world”.
LS panel suggests automatic suspension
  • The Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha, an advisory body to Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, on Friday suggested “automatic suspension” of members who troop into the Well of the House or disrupt the proceedings despite being repeatedly warned by the Speaker.
  • But the Congress member in the committee, Shashi Tharoor, said he had written to the Lok Sabha Secretary-General, objecting to the short notice given for the meeting.
  • A draft report, however, has recommended automatic suspension of MPs causing “grave disorder and wilful obstruction by coming into the well of the House” for five consecutive sittings.
  • This draft will now be examined by the Lok Sabha Secretariat and the Speaker’s office before being placed before the Rules Committee for final approval.
  • Right now, the Speaker or the Chair has to name a disrupting MP on the floor of the House to suspend for five days by invoking rule 374(1) of the Lok Sabha’s Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business, which deals with suspension.
India reminds China of peace
  • Peace and tranquillity are “important prerequisites” of continuous development of bilateral ties between India and China, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said.
  • Ms. Swaraj pointed to the benefit drawn from frequent meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. The two met earlier this year at Wuhan for an informal summit.
  • “We have laid out an ambitious agenda for the next year and we are confident that the visit by President Xi Jinping for the second informal summit will add another new facet for our bilateral ties,” the Minister said.
  • Ms. Swaraj highlighted the growing trade deficit as a matter of concern for Delhi, and expressed satisfaction at the steps China had taken to reduce the imbalance.
  • The concerns were raised at the end of bilateral discussion held during the first high-level mechanism for people-to-people exchanges.
  • Ms. Swaraj said that the parties identified 10 areas such as films, media, sports and tourism that would be in focus to facilitate greater relationship between the people of both countries.
  • Laying out Beijing’s plans, the Chinese Minister said heritage protection, academic exchanges and language teaching would be among the priority areas.
WORLD

UAE to deposit $3 billion in Pakistan’s central bank
  • The United Arab Emirates said it will soon deposit $3 billion in the central bank of Pakistan to help “enhance liquidity” as the country struggles with a balance of payments crisis.
  • The transfer of 11 billion dirhams by the government-owned Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) is expected to be carried out in the “coming days”, the WAM news agency said.
  • Pakistan is facing a deteriorating balance of payments crisis. The rupee plunged almost 5% to a record low at the end of November, after what appeared to be a sixth devaluation by the central bank in the past year.
  • Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan thanked the UAE “for supporting Pakistan so generously in our testing times”.
  • The UAE announcement came days after Pakistan attended talks in Abu Dhabi between the United States and Taliban officials from Afghanistan.
  • Islamabad has also received billions of dollars in Chinese loans to finance infrastructure projects.
U.S. to withdraw troops from Afghanistan
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to pull a significant number of troops from Afghanistan, a U.S. official has said, but the Afghan presidency brushed off concerns that the drawdown would affect security.
  • Reports suggested as many as half of the 14,000 troops in the war-torn country could be leaving.
  • The move stunned and dismayed diplomats and officials in Kabul who are intensifying a push to end the 17-year conflict with the Taliban. Taliban already controls vast amounts of territory and is causing “unsustainable” Afghan troop casualties.
  • Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid did not comment about the troop withdrawal when contacted by AFP. But a senior Taliban commander welcomed the decision.

ECONOMY


Indices lose nearly 2% on global cues
  • Weak global cues amid concerns of a global slowdown led to the Indian benchmark indices shedding nearly 2% on Friday with heavyweights from the auto, financials and information technology sectors losing heavy ground.
  • The broader Nifty settled the day at 10,754, down 197.70 points, or 1.81%. Elsewhere in Asia, Nikkei lost nearly 230 points while the overnight Dow Jones was down more than 460 points or nearly 2%.
  • Market participants are of the view that fears of a potential shutdown of the U.S. government amidst rising tension between the U.S. and China and interest rate hikes in the U.S. are making investors jittery across economies.
  • “Selling pressure was seen across the board but metal stocks exhibited major weakness on the news of removal of sanctions on major aluminium producer Rusal by the U.S. government,” he added.
  • The weakness in equities slipped over to currency markets as the rupee weakened after four days of strengthening. The rupee dropped 48 paisa to end the day at 70.18 a dollar. 
  • ICICI Bank, in its outlook for global markets, said that the Indian currency was likely to strengthen towards 69.
GST rates may be cut on some items
  • While the GST Council is expected to cut tax rates on some commodities, most notably cement, during Saturday's meeting, tax analysts do not expect a large number of rate cuts to take place. However, they expect greater clarity on the GST annual return form, around which there has been a lot of confusion.
  • The issue of tax rates on cement has been in the works for a while as it is expected to boost the infrastructure sector. Now, with the NITI Aayog vision document planning for a $4 trillion economy by 2022-23, demands for a boost to infrastructure through tax relief have regained steam.
  • Another area that may see a rate cut could be the financial inclusion sector, according to industry bodies.
  • Anand Kumar Bajaj, chair of the communication committee of the Business Correspondent Federation of India (BCFI), said,“The PMO has told BCFI that they will make the GST nil for all the financial inclusion services across India. We are expecting that to be take up during the upcoming meeting. The rate is currently 18% but the impact is actually 27%.”
  • Tax analysts also said that the government was likely to provide more clarity about any changes it might be making to the annual return form — GSTR 9. 

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