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Current Affairs: 01 January 2018


Govt. rejects demand to send triple talaq bill to House panel
  • The government rejected the Opposition’s demand in the Rajya Sabha to send the contentious Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, to a joint select committee for further scrutiny.
  • The House was adjourned after heated exchanges between the treasury and Opposition benches.
  • The government is in an uncomfortable position, with at least three parties, including NDA ally Janata Dal (United), opposed to the legislation.
  • According to sources, 25 members — 13 from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and six each from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the JD(U) — may walk out or abstain if a vote is called. The AIADMK and the TRS have rarely voted against any government legislation.
  • The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which has maintained equidistance from both the government and Opposition blocs, is backing the Bill.
  • The Opposition is confident of the support of 116 members out of the total strength of 245.
An app to cure your mobile addiction
  • Doctors at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) have come up with a mobile app that helps people reduce mobile usage.
  • The Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic has developed a Digital Detox app that has been found to be effective in bringing about behavioural changes. 
  • The app, available on Google Playstore as ‘Digital Detox by Shut Clinic,’ requires you to register. Once you sign up, it tracks your pattern of mobile usage every week and offers self-help strategies.
  • It asks users to specify their addiction-related symptoms, such as sleep disturbance, eye strain, loneliness, boredom, or excess Facebook usage. 
  • It asks them if their mobile usage affects their academics, work or interpersonal relationships, and has a feature for sharing their progress with friends.
  • A pilot test was done between September 2017 and September 2018 among 240 college students aged 18-25. The study found that 75.6% of the app’s users changed their mobile use pattern and showed significant reduction in the time spent on technology.
  • Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of clinical psychology, NIMHANS and head of SHUT clinic, said users were classified into three categories based on their technology usage: mild, moderate and severe. “We have enough data to indicate that those who were using tech tools in moderation have introduced lifestyle changes and now fall under the ‘mild users of technology’ category,” he said. 
Centre extends AFSPA in Nagaland
  • The entire State of Nagaland has been declared ‘disturbed area’ for six more months, till June-end, under the controversial AFSPA, which empowers security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without any prior notice..
  • A Home Ministry official said the decision has been taken as killings, loot and extortion have been going on in various parts of the State which necessitated the action. 
  • There have been demands from various organisations in the Northeast as well as in Jammu and Kashmir for repealing the controversial AFSPA, which, they say, gives ‘sweeping powers’ to security forces.
  • The AFSPA has been in force in Nagaland for several decades. It has not been withdrawn even after a framework agreement was signed on August 3, 2015, by the Naga insurgent group NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and government interlocutor R.N. Ravi in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
  • The framework agreement came after over 80 rounds of negotiations spanning 18 years with the first breakthrough in 1997 when the ceasefire agreement was sealed after decades of insurgency in Nagaland.
Tripura resumes trade with Bangladesh
  • Tripura resumed trade with Bangladesh following a two-day hiatus at the check posts in view of elections in the neighbouring country, an official said.
  • The ruling Awami League-led alliance cruised to victory, bagging 260 seats in the 300-member House.
  • All seven land custom stations in the State, closed since Saturday, recommenced operations along the border, P.K. Joardar, Assistant Commissioner of Customs Department (Tripura circle), said.
  • Trucks carrying goods from Bangladesh entered India in the morning through Agartala-Akhaura Integrated Check Post, one of the largest trading points between the two countries, Khokan Bhowmick, spokesperson of a trade association, said.
  • “We hope that export and import would begin in full swing from tomorrow. Much of the operations were withheld as truck drivers in Bangladesh had gone to their native places to cast their votes,” Mr. Bhowmick of Agartala Exporter Importer Entrepreneur Sangha said.
  • Tripura imports fish, cement and plastic products from Bangladesh, while exporting rubber latex, bamboo-based products, broomstick and soybean seeds, CNG-run vehicles and maize to the country.
‘Makaravilakku’ festival begins in Sabarimala
  • The annual ‘Makaravilakku’ festival began at the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple with ‘tantri’ (chief priest) Kandararu Rajeevaru, assisted by ‘melsanthi’ (head priest) V.N. Vasudevan Namboodiri, performing ‘Ashtadravya Maha Ganapati homom’ on Monday.
  • Hundreds of devotees have been camping at the base camp at Nilackal for the past three days. 
  • Meanwhile, the police have tightened security arrangements at the pilgrim centre by deploying additional forces in vulnerable areas. According to police sources, 75,110 pilgrims had crossed the police checkpost at the entry point to the Sabarimala trekking path at Pampa by 5 p.m. on Monday.
ASI declared 6 monuments of national importance in 2018
  • The 125-year-old Old High Court Building in Nagpur, Maharashtra, and two Mughal-era monuments in Agra — Haveli of Agha Khan and Hathi Khana — are among the six monuments declared protected and of national importance by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2018.
  • The ancient Neemrana Baori in Rajasthan's Alwar district; the Group of Temples at Ranipur Jharail in Odisha's Bolangir; and the Vishnu Temple in Kotali, Pithoragarh district, Uttarkhand, are the three other monuments that have been listed.
  • The last monument to be included in the list, in 2015, was the Vishnu Temple in Nadavayal in Kerala's Wayanad district.
  • Replying to the question, the Ministry said that the ASI takes up a survey for documenting/reporting ancient monuments/sites through exploration, and that a village-to-village survey and conservation of monuments is a continuous process.
  • According to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, an “Ancient Monument means any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than 100 years."
  • There were 3,686 centrally protected monuments/sites under the ASI in the country; the number has now increased to 3,693. Uttar Pradesh (745 monuments/sites), Karnataka (506) and Tamil Nadu (413) have the highest number of ASI-maintained sites.
  • According to information available with the Ministry of Culture, about 321 of these centrally protected monuments/sites have been encroached upon.
Review hearing in open court rare
  • The decision of a five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to have an open court hearing of the review petitions filed against another five-judge Constitution Bench’s Sabarimala judgment is “exceptional”, legal experts say.
  • The turn of events is quite extraordinary that an echo can be found 43 years ago in the open court review of the historic Kesavananda Bharati verdict in November 1975.
  • That review, however, was short-lived. On the third day of the court hearing, then Chief Justice of India A.N. Ray abruptly dissolved the Review Bench.
  • The Supreme Court decision in the Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community holds that a Bench of co-equal strength on its own cannot overrule a judgment of a Bench of co-ordinate number of judges.
  • So, a five-judge Bench cannot overrule another five-judge Bench’s verdict. In case the Sabarimala verdict has to be overruled, the Supreme Court would have to form a larger Bench of seven judges.
  • The Kesavananda Bharati judgment was delivered by a 13-judge Bench – the largest Constitution Bench in the history of the Supreme Court – on April 24, 1973. Through a wafer-thin majority of 7:6, the 13-judge Bench formulated that the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution cannot be altered by Parliament through amendments.
  • The Review Bench with Chief Justice Ray had also comprised 13 judges. If at all, the Kesavananda Bharati judgment had to be set aside, it would have been necessary to set up a Review Bench of 15 judges.
  • Finally, the 49 review petitions challenging the Sabarimala judgment question the very content of the verdict. This again is quite similar to how the Kesavananda Bharati review had questioned the core of the 1973 landmark verdict. The question framed in the review was “whether or not the basic structure doctrine restricted Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution.”
  • Review of any Supreme Court decision is rare. It is rarer still to examine review petitions filed against a Constitution Bench judgment. That too, in the open court.
  • The philosophy behind a review is explained in the A.R. Antulay judgment of the Supreme Court wherein the court admitted that it can be fallible. “To err is human. Courts including the apex one are no exception,” the court had acknowledged.
JPC clears its report on citizenship Bill
  • The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, which proposes citizenship to persecuted minorities barring Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, is likely to table its report on January 7 on the penultimate day of the winter session of Parliament as the panel cleared the report rejecting all amendments moved by the Opposition.
  • At Monday’s meeting, out of 30 members, all the 13 BJP members were present. And only six Opposition members were present. The draft report will be circulated on January 3 and it will be tabled on January 7. The Opposition is now planning to file dissent notes to the joint committee’s report.
  • The report will clear the decks for the legislation to become a reality. The Bill proposes citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014.
  • There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in the BJP-ruled Assam as it would pave the way for giving citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who came to Assam after March 1971, in violation of the agreement in the Assam Accord of 1985. Around 40 lakh people in Assam have been excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens published in July.
  • Rejected amendments include those moved by Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy to make the legislation religion- and country-neutral. Mr. Roy said the Bill should not limit itself to six religions. It should instead say that any person who leaves his country due to religious, linguistic and ethnic discrimination should be eligible for Indian citizenship. He also moved that Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan should not be the only countries named in it, since “we have huge number of refugees from Sri Lanka and Myanmar too”.
  • The committee has cleared an amendment moved by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi seeking to drop legal proceedings against six persecuted minorities. The amendment, if accepted, could mean that Bangladeshi Hindus lodged in detention centres in Assam, facing deportation or declared illegal foreigners would get relief.
Sudhir Bhargava is new CIC chief
  • The government has appointed Sudhir Bhargava the new Chief Information Commissioner. Four new members have also been appointed to the Central Information Commission (CIC), taking its strength to seven. Four vacancies still remain.
  • The CIC is the highest appeal body under the Right to Information Act. 
  • Mr. Bhargava, a former Secretary to the Social Justice Ministry, will be sworn in by President Ram Nath Kovind.
  • Suresh Chandra retired as Union Law Secretary earlier this year. Neeraj Kumar Gupta was Secretary in the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management.
  • Activists have slammed the government for a lack of transparency in the appointment process, as no details on the shortlist or the search committee have yet been made public. On December 13, the Supreme Court directed that such details be made available. 
  • “Once the commissioners take the oath of office, we will put the entire file on the process online. We have time until the next hearing date on January 22,” a DoPT spokesperson said.
  • “What is the point of such post-facto information? The details should have been put out before the appointment was made to ensure transparency,” said Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convener of the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information.
LS passes medical council Bill
  • The Lok Sabha passed the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill to allow a panel of eminent professionals to run the scam-tainted Medical Council of India (MCI) so that medical education can be regulated in the best manner.
  • The Bill seeks to replace an ordinance issued in September 2018.
  • Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda said this Bill superseded the MCI and the powers of the council had been vested in a Board of Governors (BoG). The BoG will have all eminent personalities and include directors of AIIMS and PGI, Chandigarh. This board will continue to perform till a council is constituted, according to Mr. Nadda.

Trump softens stance on troop withdrawal from Syria
  • President Donald Trump appeared Monday to water down shock plans for an immediate pullout of U.S. troops from Syria, even as he claimed that his achievements in the conflict should make him a “national hero”.
  • The tweeted comment came the day after Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Mr. Trump had promised to stay in Syria to finish the job of destroying the Islamic State (IS) — days after he shocked allies, and his own military establishment, by saying troops were coming home.
  • “ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants,” he said. 
  • In Afghanistan, Mr. Trump wants to bring home about half of the 14,000 soldiers locked in a war against Taliban, but no formal announcement has been made on that move.
  • Republican Senator Graham, who had expressed concern about Mr. Trump’s pullout, emerged from a two-hour lunch meeting with the President to say that Mr. Trump “understands the need to finish the job”.

NPA ratios improve, but are still high: Das
  • The gross non-performing asset ratio (GNPA) of commercial banks improved to 10.8% in September from 11.5% in March and is set to improve further to 10.3%, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in its Financial Stability Report.
  • This was the first half yearly decline in the ratio since September 2015.
  • “Stress test results suggest further improvement in NPA ratio, though its current level remains still high for comfort,” RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das wrote in the foreword to the report.
  • The net NPA ratio also fell to 5.3% in September 2018 as against 6.2% in March 2018, RBI said in the report.
  • GNPAs of state-run banks improved to 14.8% in September 2018 from 15.2% in March 2018, while private sector banks’ gross NPAs fell to 3.8% in September 2018 from 4% in March 2018.
  • Under the baseline scenario, the GNPA ratio of all banks may come down to 10.3% by March 2019 from 10.8% in September 2018, the report said. The ratio of restructured standard advances steadily declined in September 2018 to 0.5% following the withdrawal of various restructuring schemes in February 2018.
  • While asset quality improved, loan loss ratio of banks also increased to 51%.
  • The capital adequacy ratio (CAR) of state-run banks however declined from 11.7% to 11.3%, the report said.
  • The restrictions imposed on 11 public sector banks under the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework has helped in reducing contagion losses on the banking system in case these lenders fail, the report said.
  • The Governor acknowledged that some of the cases referred for resolution under the bankruptcy framework have lagged time-lines, but added that the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) will strengthen credit discipline.
  • Mr. Das said the shift in credit intermediation from banks to non-banks has given the corporate sector a diverse choice of finance instruments but added non banking finance companies need to be more prudent on risk-taking.
  • The high credit growth is “not stability enhancing,” Mr. Das said. “The framework for oversight of financial conglomerates also requires closer attention.”
  • On economic growth, Mr. Das said the slowdown in GDP growth to 7.1% is slower than expected, but pointed out to an uptick in gross fixed capital formation along with the dip in crude oil prices as a positive for sustained growth going forward.
‘RBI reserves ratio among the highest’
  • Analysis of the balance sheets of the central banks of 10 comparable economies shows that the RBI's reserves as a percentage of its balance sheet is among the highest, a report by consultancy firm Quantum Advisors found.
  • However, the bulk of these reserves are notional and thus their value can only be unlocked when the underlying assets are sold, the report added. This makes transferring the excess reserves to the government all the more difficult.
  • The analysis, which looked at the central banks of the BRICS countries, Fragile Five nations and three developed economies, found that the RBI’s reserves — which a separate analysis shows was about ₹10.5 lakh crore — form 26.2% its balance sheet. Only two central banks — those of South Africa and Russia — have a reserve ratio higher than this.
  • The other two BRICS nations, China and Brazil, have reserve ratios of 1.7% and 0.2%, respectively.
Iran oil: no tax on rupee payments
  • The Finance Ministry has exempted rupee payments made to the National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC) for crude oil imports from a steep withholding tax, according to a government order reviewed by .
  • The exemption will allow Indian refiners to settle about $1.5 billion of outstanding payments to NIOC. The two nations on November 2 signed a pact to settle oil trades through UCO Bank in rupees, currency not freely traded on international markets.

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