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Current Affairs: 09 January 2019


SC reinstates Alok Verma as CBI Director, but clips his wings
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday “reinstated” exiled CBI Director Alok Verma, but ordered him to “cease and desist” from taking any major policy decisions till a high-power committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decides the question of his divestment in a week.
  • Now, with just a few days left before the end of his tenure as CBI Director, Mr. Verma’s fate hinges on the decision of this committee comprising Mr. Modi, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge, as Leader of the Opposition.
  • Their call would be based on the allegations levelled against him in a complaint filed by rival CBI officer R.K. Asthana. The complaint had led to a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) inquiry and his divestment from office. The court itself has not commented on the merits of these allegations.
  • The judgment, delivered by a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Gogoi, however concluded that the CVC and the government acted outside their authority to unilaterally divest Mr. Verma and appoint M. Nageshwar Rao as the interim CBI Director.
  • Thus the court, though placing Mr. Verma back on the saddle, has effectively clipped his wings.
  • It dismissed the claims of superintendence over the CBI made by the government and the CVC.
Lok Sabha passes Citizenship Bill amidst Congress walkout
  • The Lok Sabha passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, that seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha, said the six communities — Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan — faced “discrimination and religious persecution” and they “have no place to go, except India.”
  • The Congress said many States opposed the Bill and it should be sent to a select committee. As the government rejected the demand, the party MPs walked out.
  • The Bill seeks to grant citizenship to members of the six communities who have come to India till December 31, 2014.
10% quota for the poor gets LS approval
  • The Lok Sabha passed a Bill allowing 10% quota in employment and education for the general category candidates who belong to the economically weaker sections.
  • The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, introduced by Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot, was cleared with a majority of the members (319) voting for it, and four against. 
  • However, the Opposition questioned the haste with which the government introduced the Bill, on the last day of the winter session.
  • Congress member K.V. Thomas said the Centre was introducing the Bill in haste with an eye on the general election. He said the Congress was not opposed to the Bill, but wanted the measure sent to a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
  • The 10% reservation will be over and above the 50% stipulated by the Supreme Court and is expected to benefit a huge section of upper castes, including Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas and Bhumihars and trading castes such as Kapus and Kammas.
  • The economically deprived among the poor in the other religions will also benefit.
  • Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan said, “The country is more important than caste” and demanded that reservation be extended to the private sector and juridical service. “People who were opposing reservation are now part of this 10% reservation,” he said. “So now they will not oppose reservation.”
  • Sudip Bandyopadhyay of the Trinamool Congress asked why the government did not take up the women’s reservation Bill with the same priority. This Bill was not only about jobs but also about misleading the youth with false hopes and fake dreams, he said.
SC sets aside Delhi HC ruling against Monsanto
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside a Delhi High Court Division Bench decision that held that U.S. agro major Monsanto did not have patent for its genetically modified BT cotton seed variants and had allowed it to claim registration under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001.
  • The Supreme Court Bench held that the High Court’s Division Bench had no business to go into the merits of the patent rights and should have just confined itself to the validity of an injunction granted earlier by a Single Judge of the High Court in March 2017.
  • The judgement, authored by Justice Sinha, restored the decision of the Single Judge. It remanded the case back to the Single Judge for disposal of the patent suit between Monsanto and Indian end-users like Nuziveedu.
  • Monsanto had sought a restraint on these Indian companies from selling, using seeds/hybrid seeds bearing its patented technology.
  • The issue dates back to 2004 when Monsanto entered into a sub-licence agreement with companies like Nuziveedu for an initial period of 10 years. The agreement had entitled the Indian firms to genetically modified hybrid cotton planting seeds with help of Monsanto’s technology and to commercially exploit it within the limits of the agreement on the payment of a licence fee.
  • However, the agreement was terminated in November 2015, giving rise to the patent suit. The Single Judge, in March 2017, in an interim relief, restored the agreement and ordered the parties (Monsanto and companies like Nuziveedu) to adhere to their obligations under it.
  • Now, the Supreme Court has restored this Single Judge decision.
HAL faces severe cash crunch as IAF delays payment
  • A rare cash crunch in its 80-year history, triggered largely by unpaid bills of around ₹14,000 crore from the Indian Air Force, has led defence aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. to worry if it can sustain a vital function after a month or two: that of servicing the IAF’s aircraft.
  • As a result, in the new year, HAL has proposed cost-cutting measures such as reducing 20% contract workers and curbing non-essential travel. The Defence Minister is slated to meet HAL CMD R. Madhavan and the three Services chiefs on Wednesday. 
  • Normally payments used to come from the IAF, its largest and main customer, within one to three months. Now, as it lives in the hope of getting back the money spent on delivering aircraft and maintenance services to the IAF over a period, the ₹18,600-crore navaratna company says it will soon run out of money to buy spares and materials for servicing military planes and helicopters. At the end of March this year, after delivering some more fighter including five Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, the bill will mount to ₹19,000-20,000 crore.
  • Some 2,500 small and medium-sized vendors supply to the defence PSU as their main customer.
  • The company was debt-free until now. About a month back, HAL took an overdraft of ₹962 crore to meet such mundane expenses as staff salaries.
  • Immediately after that, in the new year, it has also proposed to tighten the belt on internal activities.
  • Two other factors also led to the cash crisis: HAL paid a total of ₹11,500 crore to the government over two occasions in the past five years -- as dividends and to buy back its shares.
Irrigation projects delay led to jump in costs: CAG
  • Tardy implementation of projects under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) between 2008-2017 led to an almost threefold jump in the cost of these projects to ₹1.20 lakh crore, according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.
  • The AIBP was initiated in 1996 as a Central scheme to speed up the implementation of large irrigation projects, including dams and canals, especially those which were beyond the resource capability of the States.
  • The Union Ministry of Water Resources is responsible for framing policy guidelines for implementation while State Governments are associated with planning and implementing irrigation projects and schemes.
  • From 2008-2017, of the 201 major and medium projects approved, only 62 were completed. Of the 11,291 minor irrigation schemes sanctioned, only 8,014 were completed. As a result, only about 35% of India’s irrigation potential was utilised. Of the 118 major projects surveyed by the CAG, 105 suffered from a “time overrun” with some projects being delayed by more than 18 years.
  • The audit of the AIBP revealed lacunae in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the programme. Projects and schemes were included under AIBP in violation of the programme’s guidelines, resulting in irregular release of ₹3,718.71 crore. There were also deficiencies in the preparation and processing of Detailed Project Reports such as inadequate surveys, inaccurate assessment of water availability, Irrigation Potential and Command Area and the lack of activity-wise construction plans.
  • The CAG also pointed out “financial irregularities” such as diversion of funds amounting to ₹1,578.55 crore, parking of funds totalling ₹1,112.56 crore and “fictitious and fraudulent expenditure” of ₹7.58 crore. There were also instances of short/non-realisation of revenue amounting to ₹1,251.39 crore.
Six Assam groups to be accorded ST status
  • In a bid to calm tempers in Assam in the wake of vociferous protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday that a Bill to declare six communities in Assam as Scheduled Tribes (ST) would be introduced in the current session of Parliament.
  • Speaking on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Mr. Singh said the communities that the Centre proposes to give the status to are Koch Rajbongshi, Tai Ahom, Chutia, Matak, Moran and Tea Tribes.
  • The legislation will change the demographic status of Assam, making it a tribal-majority State.
  • “Full safeguards will be provided to protect the interests, rights and privileges of the existing Scheduled Tribes of Assam,” the Minister said. 
  • A separate Bill would be introduced to grant the ST status to Bodo Kacharis in the hill districts of Assam and Karbis in the rest of Assam, he said. “The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is also proposed to be amended to strengthen the Autonomous District Councils,” he added.
  • The Centre’s decision evoked mixed reactions in the State with the leaders of six communities sceptical of the intent.
  • The Coordination Committee of Tribal Organisations of Assam representing 56 tribal groups has been opposing ST status for the six communities, fearing it would eat into their rights and privileges. Meanwhile, the Congress in Manipur has reminded PM Narendra Modi of the demand of the dominant Meiteis to be granted ST status.
10% quota faces several legal and political challenges
  • Who will the new 10% quota apply to?
  • To all those who are not covered in existing quotas and have a family income below ₹8 lakh a year or agricultural land below 5 acres. Those who have a house above 1,000 square feet or a 100-yard plot or above in a notified municipal area or a 200-yard plot or above in a non-notified municipal area are not eligible.
  • What steps are necessary for its implementation?
  • The 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019, which the Lok Sabha passed on Tuesday, will have to be passed by the Rajya Sabha by a special majority of two-thirds of the members present and voting, which should not be less than one-half of the total strength of the House.
  • If it is not passed by both the Houses within the term of this Lok Sabha, it will lapse. The Bill will also have to be ratified by at least half the State Assemblies.
  • Once the Constitution is amended to add economic backwardness as a ground for reservations, it will most likely have to stand the test of judicial scrutiny, as the Supreme Court had in the Indra Sawhney case capped quotas at 50% of the available seats.
  • What are the future implications, should the Bill stand judicial scrutiny?
  • If the Supreme Court indeed agrees to lift the 50% cap, all States of India can extend the quantum of reservation and “upper castes” will stand to lose in State services.
  • If the Supreme Court rejects the idea of breaching the 50% cap, Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quotas can be provided only by eating into the SC, ST and OBC quota pie, which will have social and political implications.
  • How will it help the economically less prosperous “upper caste” Hindus and such groups in other communities?
  • It’s complicated question. If the EWS is treated as a category just like the SC, ST and OBC, a large chunk of general category candidates will apply for just 10% seats and the cut-offs can rise. While ideally the non-reserved 40% open seats should be open seats based on merit, there are complexities here too. For example, the UPSC accepts a reserved candidate in the civil services examination making it in the general merit list as general only if she has not benefited from reservation in the preliminary, mains, service choice and State cadre choice, say bureaucrats. So, many who are above the general cut-off may still occupy this 10% quota, as they get a better service or cadre in it.
  • A senior IAS officer told The Hindu that it is possible that a provision will be made for accommodating those who fall below the 10% EWS quota — in case its cut-off is above the general cut-off due to fewer seats — in the open, or general seats, but this can give rise to litigation.
  • What are the political implications of this move?
  • Upper castes may react positively to the move, but they are believed to be largely with the BJP anyway.
  • The moot question is the impact on the existing reserved categories in States where the BJP is strong and takes a chunk of OBCs.
  • While the government says the quota will be above the existent 50% reservation, the Supreme Court-mandated cap may make some OBCs wary, as they may feel it may eat into their pie if in case the apex court refuses to relax the cap.
SC ruling strikes a blow for CBI’s independence
  • The Alok Verma divestment case has led the Supreme Court to further protect the tenure of the CBI Director and the independence of the country’s premier investigative agency from interference by political higher-ups.
  • The judgment by the three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India echoes what senior advocate Fali Nariman, appearing for Mr. Verma, said during the court hearing.
  • Mr. Nariman had said that the unceremonious overnight divestment of his client as CBI Director through orders of the government and the CVC pointed to an interference in the statutory guarantee of a two-year tenure.
  • He had described the CBI Director as the “centre of power in an abundantly powerful organisation having jurisdiction to investigate and to prosecute key offences and offenders having great ramifications and consequences on public life.”
  • In short, the CBI was an able weapon in the hands of the rule of law to prosecute corruption in public life, among other offences.
  • With this judgment, the Supreme Court has protected the tenure of the CBI Director. It has interpreted Section 4B (2) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act of 1946 to expand the meaning of the word ‘transfer’ to include divestment and dispossession of CBI Director, quite like what happened to Mr. Verma.
  • The judgment mandates that the high-power committee of the Prime Minister, the CJI and the Opposition leader, set up under Section 4A (1) of the 1946 Act, should first approve any move by the government to transfer or even divest a CBI Director before the end of his tenure.
  • The court dismissed the contention of the government that the PM Committee had very limited power, that is, to make recommendation for appointment of a CBI Director.
  • The CVC argued that just because a person becomes a CBI Director, he or she does not cease to be a civil/government servant.The CVC has power over all civil/government servants.
  • To this, Chief Justice Gogoi countered, in his judgment, that Parliament has consistently enacted laws, from the CVC Act in 2003 to the amendments which ushered in provisions like 4A and 4B into the DSPE Act, in order to “completely insulate” the CBI Director’s office from outside influences.
Globalisation has not benefited all: Norway PM
  • The loss of faith in the international order and institutions is one of the big challenges the world faces, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Tuesday, inaugurating the Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) annual “Raisina Dialogue”.
  • “Many people feel left out by globalisation,” said Ms. Solberg, kickstarting the conclave organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
  • In remarks apparently aimed at U.S. where President Trump has threatened to walk out of the WTO, and at China for violating the international rules-based order in maritime disputes, Ms. Solberg said both Norway and India would “stand to lose” if rules-based international law is undermined.
  • Taking “exception” to the remarks, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said European countries had contradicted their own push for “rules-based order”.
  • The exchange set the course for the first day of the three day conference that will include more than 600 delegates from 93 countries. 
  • The theme for the 2019 edition of the conclave is “A World Reorder: New Geometries, Fluid Partnerships, and Uncertain Outcomes”.
Modi and Trump discuss security issues in Afghanistan
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump discussed strategic cooperation on Afghanistan and trade issues on Monday.
  • The conversation came days after the American leader argued for greater Indian contribution for ending the civil war in Afghanistan.
  • A White House readout on the conversation said that the two leaders discussed security issues.
  • “President Trump received a call today from Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India on the occastion of the New Year. The leaders agreed to strengthen the U.S.-India strategic partnership in 2019 and exchanged perspectives on how to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with India, expand security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, and increase cooperation in Afghanistan,” said a readout from the White House.
  • The call came just hours after President Vladimir Putin of Russia spoke to Mr. Modi and wished the latter for the upcoming Indian general election.
  • “They expressed satisfaction at the progress in India-U.S. strategic partnership in 2018. They appreciated developments such as the launch of the new 2+2 Dialogue mechanism and the first-ever Trilateral Summit of India, the U.S. and Japan,” said the Ministry of External Affairs in a press statement.
NASA’s probe discovers a new planet
  • NASA’s latest planet-hunting probe has discovered a new world outside our solar system, orbiting a dwarf star 53 light years away.
  • This is the third new planet confirmed by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) since its launch in April last year.
  • The planet, named HD 21749b, orbits a bright, nearby dwarf star about 53 light years away, in the constellation Reticulum, and appears to have the longest orbital period of the three planets so far identified by TESS.
  • HD 21749b journeys around its star in a relatively leisurely 36 days, compared to the two other planets — Pi Mensae b, a “super-Earth” with a 6.3-day orbit, and LHS 3844b, a rocky world that speeds around its star in just 11 hours.
  • All three planets were discovered in the first three months of TESS observations. “It’s the coolest small planet that we know of around a star this bright,” said Diana Dragomir, a researcher in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who led the discovery.
  • “We know a lot about atmospheres of hot planets, but because it’s very hard to find small planets that orbit farther from their stars, and are therefore cooler, we haven’t been able to learn much about these smaller, cooler planets. But here we were lucky, and caught this one, and can now study it in more detail,” Ms. Dragomir said.
  • The planet is about three times the size of the earth, which puts it in the category of a “sub-Neptune.”
  • However, it is unlikely that the planet is rocky and therefore habitable; it’s more likely made of gas, of a kind that is much more dense than the atmospheres of either Neptune or Uranus.


Customers cannot be charged for availing tokenisation service: RBI
  • The Reserve of India (RBI) has allowed all card payment networks to offer tokenisation service. However, the central bank has made it clear that no charges should be recovered from the customer for availing this service.
  • Tokenisation involves a process in which a unique token masks sensitive card details. The token is then used to perform card transactions in contact-less mode at Point Of Sale (POS) terminals, Quick Response (QR) code payments, etc.
  • “All extant instructions of Reserve Bank on safety and security of card transactions, including the mandate for additional factor of authentication (AFA) / PIN entry shall be applicable for tokenised card transactions also,” the RBI said in a release.
  • “This permission extends to all use cases/channels [e.g., Near-Field Communication (NFC) / Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST)-based contact-less transactions, in-app payments, QR code-based payments etc.] or token storage mechanisms (cloud, secure element, trusted execution environment etc.). For the present, this facility shall be offered through mobile phones/tablets only. Its extension to other devices will be examined later based on the experience gained,” the RBI said.
  • “Adequate safeguards shall be put in place to ensure that PAN cannot be found out from the token and vice versa by anyone except the card network,” the RBI said.
Nilekani to head RBI panel on digital payments
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has set up a five-member committee headed by Infosys chairman Nandan Nilekani to suggest a strategy for deepening of digital payments in the country. The committee will submit its report within 90 days from its first meeting.
  • The panel will review the existing status of digitisation of payments in the country, identify the current gaps in the ecosystem, and suggest ways to bridge them, the terms of reference said.
  • Besides, the panel will assess the current levels of digital payments in financial inclusion, undertake cross country analyses to identify the best practices that can be adopted in to accelerate digitisation and financial inclusion through greater use of digital payments.
  • The panel will also suggest measures to strengthen the safety and security of digital payments and provide a roadmap for increasing customer confidence while accessing financial services through digital modes.
Gopinath joins IMF as chief economist
  • Mysore-born Gita Gopinath has joined International Monetary Fund as its chief economist, becoming the first woman to occupy the top IMF post. Ms. Gopinath joined last week at a time, when she believes the world is experiencing a retreat from globalisation, posing challenges to multilateral institutions.
  • The John Zwaanstra professor of International Studies and Economics at Harvard University succeeds Maurice (Maury) Obstfeld as Economic Counsellor and Director of the IMF’s Research Department.

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