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Current Affairs : 02 January 2019


Modi rules out ordinance on Ram temple for now
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that any decision on bringing an ordinance on the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya could be considered only after the judicial process got over.
  • Mr. Modi also suggested that the judicial process was being slowed down because Congress lawyers were creating “obstacles” in the Supreme Court. 
  • Recently, there has been a renewed pitch within the party as well as by its sister organisations in the Sangh Parivar for expediting the process of construction.
  • The Sangh Parivar organisations are unhappy over the delay in resolving the matter and there are demands for an ordinance, similar to the one issued on triple talaq, to facilitate construction. 
  • The matter will be heard by the Supreme Court on January 4. Petitions have been filed in the court for day-to-day hearing.
  • The Prime Minister was asked why the government could not take the ordinance route for the temple when a similar step was taken to ban triple talaq. Mr. Modi said, “The triple talaq ordinance was brought after the Supreme Court verdict, in the light of the Supreme Court verdict.”
India, Pak. move towards release of civilian prisoners
  • In a peace overture, India has asked Islamabad to take back dozens of Pakistani nationals who have completed jail terms here. The Indian request came in the context of the exchange of the lists of prisoners in both countries on the first day of the new year.
  • “India has also asked Pakistan to expedite response in the cases of 80 Pakistan prisoners who have completed their sentences and await repatriation for want of nationality confirmation by Pakistan,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement after India handed over a list of 249 civilian Pakistani prisoners and 98 fishermen in its custody.
  • Pakistan shared lists of 54 civilian prisoners and 483 fishermen in its jails, who it claims are Indian.
  • Of the total number of Indian prisoners, Delhi has asked Islamabad to release 17 civilian prisoners and 369 fishermen whose nationality has been confirmed. The MEA said India had shared details of the reconstituted Joint Judicial Committee and of the medical professionals who are expected to visit Pakistan to help the elderly and mentally unsound Indian prisoners.
Parliamentary committee irked by States’ insensitivity to Western Ghats
  • Over 56,000 kilometres of ecologically sensitive areas (ESA) in the Western Ghats could not be earmarked as ‘no-go’ zones due to State governments’ ‘insensitivity’, a parliamentary committee has said. The panel has urged the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to constitute a committee to address the issues and grievances of local people.
  • The recent monsoon floods in Kerala and parts of Karnataka should serve as alarm bells for the administrations in the States of Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which have failed to mark ESA in the Western Ghats, the Committee on Government Assurances in the Rajya Sabha has said.
  • The panel, which keeps track of assurances given by ministers on the floor of the Upper House, presented its latest report on Monday. The panel had examined issues regarding the categorisation of the Western Ghats as ESA as per the recommendations of two committees led by Madhav Gadgil and K. Kasturirangan.
  • “The committee is of the view that implementation of the recommendations of the Kasturirangan report is only possible with active support of local population. It also requires consultation with the State government at micro level to achieve the objectives of saving the Western Ghats,” the report said.
  • The panel examined 62 assurances during its deliberations with various State governments and other organisations, and had visited Pune, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru, before preparing its report.
Cinereous vulture seen in Jharkhand
  • It is usually during the winter that a distinctly dark large bird – the Cinereous vulture, with a blacked-tipped pink beak – migrates from the mountainous regions of Europe and Asia to warmer places, including India.
  • While earlier records of this migratory bird have revealed that it comes to northern parts of India up to Rajasthan, bird watchers and researchers were baffled to find it in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand.
  • Shib Shankar Goswami, a bird enthusiast, spotted the vulture in Hazaribagh on December 30. “I was doing a nature walk with a group of bird enthusiasts, called Bird’s Buddy, when I spotted the vulture perched on a tree. Interestingly, the Cinereous vulture (classified as Near Threatened under the IUCN Red List) was found with three other endangered species of vultures,” Mr. Goswami said.According to him, the three other vultures in the frame were the Himalyan Griffon, White-rumped vulture and the Long-billed vulture.
  • Smitha Pankaj, Divisional Forest Officer (Hazaribag East), confirmed the presence of the visitor from far off countries to Jharkhand.
Ganga water quality has improved, govt. tells RS
  • The water quality of the Ganga in 2018 has “improved over last year”, according to a written statement in the Rajya Sabha on Monday by junior Water Resources Minister Satyapal Singh.
  • The statement said “dissolved oxygen” levels had improved at 39 locations, and “biological oxygen demand” (BOD) levels and faecal coliform had decreased at 42 and 47 locations respectively. These three parameters are a proxy for both the presence of aquatic life as well as microbes that may be harmful to these biota, and are conventionally used to assess the quality of the river.
  • The government said ₹5,100 crore, of the ₹20,000 crore allotted to clean the Ganga, had been spent under the Namami Gange Programme from 2014-15 to 2018-19.
  • Last year, ₹1,725.86 crore had been spent till December 26, taking the cumulative expenditure to ₹5,187.37 crore.
  • More than half the funds had been directed towards making new sewage treatment plants (STP) and effluent treatment plants (ETP), as well as making sub-par plants work better. From April 2014 to March 2018, a total of 145 projects were sanctioned at an estimated cost of ₹15,074.76 crore.
  • However, independent experts have said the cleaning efforts were half-hearted and there was little effort to ensure that the river’s voluminous flow in the upper stretches of Uttarakhand is maintained downstream.
Contentious January awaits CJI Gogoi
  • All eyes will be on Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi at the head of the Supreme Court Bench which is scheduled to hear a series of politically sensitive cases, including the Ramjanma- bhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute appeals on January 4, and a flood of review petitions in the Sabarimala temple case.
  • In the Ayodhya matter, the CJI-led Bench would fix the date for hearing the appeals. It is to be seen whether the court would fix a date after the Lok Sabha election or earlier. The case is considered a political hot potato with many Hindutva leaders urging an early hearing and decision from the court.
  • The Sabarimala review petitions, meanwhile, go to the very core of the majority judgment delivered by a Constitution Bench, striking down a law which banned women of menstrual age from entering or praying at the famed hill temple in Kerala.
  • In another significant case, scheduled for hearing on January 9, former Supreme Court judge, Justice H.S. Bedi, is expected to file his response to an objection raised by the Gujarat government that he had “unilaterally” prepared the final report on 21 police encounters which occurred in the State between 2003 and 2006 when Mr. Narendra Modi was Chief Minister.
  • The Bench led by Chief Justice Gogoi is also expected to pronounce its decision in a petition filed by exiled CBI Director Alok Verma, who has challenged his “overnight” divestment from the top post at the country’s premier investigative agency. Mr. Verma has alleged political interference in the functioning of the CBI.
  • Meanwhile, the government may seek an early hearing of its eight-page “correction” application in which it has blamed the Supreme Court for “misinterpreting” the English tenses in its December 14 judgment which said that the CAG has prepared a report on the 36 Rafale jets’ deal, which has already been examined by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee.
  • The first week of January would also see the CBI come back to the Supreme Court Bench, led by Justice U.U. Lalit, with its response to the court’s suggestion to have a single investigative agency probe the murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh, activists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare and littérateur M.M. Kalburgi.
  • The first month of the year may also see the Supreme Court Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, begin its hearing of appeals filed by the CBI and accused persons in the SNC Lavalin corruption case. The CBI has contended that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan should face trial in the corruption case.
Final NRC to offer Aadhaar benefit
  • The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will record biometric data including the fingerprints and iris scans of about 30 lakh applicants who have sought to be included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) after having been excluded from the final draft published last year.
  • Almost 30 lakh out of the 40 lakh people who found their names missing had filed claims to be included during the claims and objections round that ended on December 31.
  • The fate of the 10 lakh applicants who had not filed claims was yet to be decided, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
  • “This means that they do not have documents to prove that they came to India before March 1971, the cut-off date to be included in the NRC,” said the official, adding that the 10 lakh people had been identified and that their details were available with the authorities.
  • “Once the claims have been heard and the final NRC has been decided, only the eligible applicants will be given the Aadhaar card. The authorities will have the biometrics of all the applicants,” said the official.

Taliban confirms meeting Iran officials
  • The Taliban discussed Afghanistan’s “post-occupation situation” with Iran in their latest meeting, the group said on Tuesday, as Tehran makes a more concerted and open push for peace ahead of a possible U.S. drawdown.
  • It signals a growing confidence among the Taliban for U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan, after U.S. officials last month told various media outlets that President Donald Trump had decided to slash the number of boots on the ground.
  • There have been reports in the past of talks between Iran and the Taliban, but they have typically been denied by Tehran.
  • Tehran’s peace push will be viewed with concern by hawks in Washington, who fear that Mr. Trump’s planned withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan will cede regional influence to Iran.
  • The Taliban also met with the U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the UAE earlier in December. But, the militants refused to meet a delegation from Afghanistan.
  • Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi will travel to Afghanistan in the next two weeks, the Foreign Ministry said.
  • Meanwhile, Taliban fighters killed more than 20 Afghan security forces in simultaneous raids on a provincial capital and district in northern Afghanistan, an official said on Tuesday, as the city braced for further violence.


GST collections down for second month in a row
  • The government’s collections from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) declined for the second month in a row to ₹94,726 crore in December.
  • Collections declined from the ₹97,637 crore in November, which was itself lower than the ₹1,00,710 crore collected in October.
  • “The slight dip in GST revenue collections as compared to the last two months is a bit discouraging,” Abhishek Jain, tax partner at EY, said.
  • “This may deter the government from rationalising the rate of goods left in the 28% category like cement, auto parts, etc, in the short term,” Mr. Jain added.
  • The GST Council had in its 31st meeting in December cut rates on 17 items and six types of services, leaving just one common use item — cement — in the 28% tax bracket. The new rates took effect from January 1, 2019.
  • Mr. Jain said the next couple of months may also see similar collections, which means that the central government might want to come up with a “more realistic” estimate of GST collections for next year.
Reserve Bank relaxes debt recast norms for MSMEs
  • Following a demand from the government for a debt recast package for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has relaxed the provisioning norms for lenders for restructuring loans of up to ₹25 crore.
  • According to the guidelines released on Tuesday, the RBI has allowed one-time restructuring of existing loans to MSMEs that are in default but ‘standard’ as on January 1, 2019. Banks have to make only 5% provisioning for restructuring the loans as compared to 15-20% earlier.
  • “Considering the importance of MSMEs in the Indian economy, it is considered necessary at this juncture to take certain measures for creating an enabling environment for the sector,” RBI said. The issue of restructuring of MSME accounts was discussed by the RBI board on November 19, 2018 . The issue also figured during RBI’s recent interactions with the lenders.
  • The restructuring has to be implemented by March 31, 2020, the RBI said.
  • “A provision of 5%, in addition to the provisions already held, shall be made in respect of accounts restructured under this scheme,” the RBI said, adding that each bank or non-bank should formulate a policy for this scheme with the board’s approval.
‘Banks unfairly charged for soiled notes’
  • The Committee on Government Assurances has questioned the rationale behind banks being asked to bear the cost of soiled and counterfeit notes, particularly during the demonetisation exercise of 2016.
  • The number of soiled notes more than doubled in 2017-18 compared to the previous financial year. According to RBI data, 27,678 million pieces of soiled notes were disposed of by banks in 2017-18 compared to 12,503 million pieces in 2016-17. Over 99% of the notes that were rendered invalid by demonetisation had returned from circulation. However, the number of counterfeit notes detected in 2017-18 was lower at 5,22,738 pieces as against 7,62,072 in the previous year. 
  • The committee also felt that it was improper to penalise the banks especially at a time when they had stretched their limits to support the government during demonetisation process and has recommended that the Department of Economic Affairs should consider relaxing note refund rules in this regard.
  • The panel discussed the issue with some public sector banks and representatives of the RBI, NABARD and Department of Economic Affairs and Ministry of Finance on its study visits to Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru.

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