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Current Affairs: 11 January 2019


PM-led panel moves Alok Verma out of CBI, Rao back in charge
  • The high-power committee, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, removed Alok Verma as CBI Director, a day after he resumed office following the Supreme Court order that restored his position.
  • Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, who represents the Opposition in the three-member Selection Panel, submitted a six-page dissent note. Mr. Kharge argued that Mr. Verma should be “allowed to explain himself before this committee, along with the charges made against him, prior to any decision being taken.”
  • The decision to remove Mr. Verma was taken by a 2:1 majority in the three-member committee. Justice A.K. Sikri, a nominee of the Chief Justice of India, was the third member.
  • The panel recommended Mr. Verma’s transfer after taking into account the “extremely serious nature of observation” made by the CVC against him, sources said. In a point-by-point rebuttal, Mr. Kharge argued that six of the 10 charges levelled against Mr. Verma in the CVC report “are found to be unsubstantiated/false.”
  • However, the panel was of the opinion that Mr. Verma had been given an opportunity to present his case before the CVC, in presence of Justice A.K. Patnaik (retired).
  • And, until further orders, Additional Director M. Nageswara Rao has again been appointed interim CBI Director.
Centre aims for 20% cut in air pollution by 2024
  • The Centre has launched a programme to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution by 20-30% in at least 102 cities by 2024.
  • The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which was formally unveiled on Thursday, is envisaged as a scheme to provide the States and the Centre with a framework to combat air pollution. 
  • Pointing out that curbing PM pollution would be a long-term process, officials said the ₹300-crore programme will bring pollution concerns to the heart of a State’s development plans. “The NCAP will be a mid-term, five-year action plan, with 2019 as the first year. This is not a pan-India, but a city-specific programme,” said C.K. Mishra, Secretary, Union Environment Ministry, at a press conference. After five years, there will be a review of the progress.
  • In the past year, the 102 cities, identified as hotspots of pollution, were asked to submit a plan for addressing the problem. Broadly, the plans include increasing the number of monitoring stations, providing technology support, conducting source apportionment studies, and strengthening enforcement. For achieving the NCAP targets, the cities will have to calculate the reduction in pollution, keeping 2017’s average annual PM levels as the base year.
  • The World Health Organisation’s database on air pollution over the years has listed Tier I and Tier II Indian cities as some of the most polluted places in the world. In 2018, 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities were in India. A study in the journal Lancet ranked India as No.1 on premature mortality and deaths from air pollution.
Tax, compliance burden eased for small businesses
  • The GST Council, in its meeting on Thursday, decided on a series of measures that will ease the tax and compliance burden for small businesses. Henceforth, companies with annual turnover up to ₹40 lakh will stay out of the GST net (₹20 lakh earlier).
  • In the case of companies in the northeastern and hill States, the limit has been doubled to ₹20 lakh.
  • The annual turnover limit for eligibility for the Composition Scheme has also been raised to ₹1.5 crore from April 1. 
  • The Confederation of All India Traders said in a statement that the increase in limit would allow about 10 lakh traders to be exempt from the GST compliance burden, and added that increasing the Composition Scheme limit would benefit about 20 lakh small businesses.
Bengal to pull out of Centre’s health scheme
  • West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced that the State was pulling out of the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat scheme, accusing the Narendra Modi-led NDA government of “playing dirty politics” under the garb of the health coverage programme.
  • The ambitious Ayushman Bharat or the National Health Protection Scheme, which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August last year, aims to cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries) by providing health cover up to ₹5 lakh per family per year.
  • The expenses incurred are to be shared between the Centre and the State in 60:40 ratio.
  • The TMC supremo alleged that the Prime Minister was “politicising” the health scheme by sending letters about its provisions to every household of the State with his picture and a lotus symbol on top.
Kerala records a rising graph of crimes against children
  • There has been a steady increase in crimes committed against children in Kerala, according to a data released by the Kerala State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB).
  • Government officials are attributing this to increased reporting of crimes because of better awareness, but social workers contend that crimes against children have indeed increased.
  • A decadal comparison of data shows that 549 offences against children under all categories were recorded in 2008, while the number shot up to 3,278 as of October, 2018. This includes both serious and other offences. Cases of rape rose from 215 in 2008 to 1,101 in 2017, and 999 in the first 10 months of 2018. There were noticeable spurts in the number of recorded rape cases in 2011, touching 423, compared to 208 a year earlier. A similar trend of increases was noted in 2013, 2016 and 2017, over the preceding year.
  • There was a single instance of trafficking of a minor girl last year, an improvement over all other years including the base year of 2008, when there were 13 cases. But cases registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act rose from four in 2008 to 17 in 2017 and 15 till October 2018.
Navy shows prowess to airdrop containers
  • The Navy has successfully tested containers that can be air-dropped to enhance its operational logistics capability at sea.
  • Having a test payload of 50 kg, these containers, equipped to carry spares for ships up to 2,000 km away from the coast, were air-dropped into the Arabian Sea on January 8. “Successful trials of Sahayak Air Droppable Containers was undertaken from an IL-38 aircraft off the coast of Goa,” Navy Chief Public Relations Officer Commander Mehul Karnik said. 
  • He added, “This will reduce the requirement of ships to be close to the coast for collecting spares and stores, thereby increasing the duration of their deployment.”
  • With the successs of these trials, series production of Sahayak containers and parachutes would be undertaken.
  • These cylindrical containers have been indigenously developed by the Naval Science and Technological Laboratory and the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
States’ approval not needed for quota Bill
  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Fourth Amendment) Bill of 2019 providing up to 10% reservation for economically weaker sections of society may be notified as the law of the land sooner than expected.
  • The proviso to Article 368 (power of Parliament to amend the Constitution and procedure thereof) holds that an amendment to a fundamental right coming under Part III of the Constitution need not be ratified by the Legislatures of one half of the States. So, this Bill may be notified by the Central government as soon as it gets the assent from the President.
  • The Bill, passed by both the Houses of Parliament, adds new clauses to Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution. Both the Articles come under the part of ‘Fundamental Rights’ in the text of the Constitution. They are part of the ‘right to equality’ section of the fundamental rights envisaged in the Constitution.
  • The new clause (6) to Article 15 allows the government to carve reservation for the economically weaker sections of society in higher educational institutions, including private ones, whether they are aided or not by the State. Minority educational institutions are exempted. Likewise, the new clause (6) to Article 16 provides for quota for economically deprived sections in the initial appointment in government services.
  • Experts, however, agree that the economic reservation law is open for judicial review. “Primarily, it affects the basic structure of the Constitution. The Constitution does not provide for economic reservation. The Indira Sawhney judgment has capped the reservation limit to 50%. Now, the new Bill increases reservation to 60%. The court has said economically-deprived is not a homogenous group. It has held that economic backwardness cannot be the sole criterion for reservation,” former Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran said.
‘No change in stand on Taliban’
  • In the midst of confusion over the Army Chief’s comments on India joining talks with the Taliban on Thursday, the government made it clear that India would not engage the Afghan insurgents directly, and had not changed its position on the issue.
  • On the sidelines of the annual Raisina Dialogue, Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (Retd) V.K. Singh said India’s position on direct talks with the Taliban remained the same.
  • He explained that the attendance of two former diplomats at a conference in Moscow which included Taliban representatives was purely “non-official”.
  • A senior government official also said India’s traditional position on a purely “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” dialogue had not altered.
  • On Thursday, Mr. Rawat repeated his assertion that talks with the Taliban should be pursued.
  • Senior officials said the message that India was committed to pursuing bilateral ties with Afghanistan had also been conveyed to visiting U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. 
  • The issue over talks with the Taliban has dominated much of the conversation during the Raisina Dialogue this year, with Russian officials promoting direct talks with the Taliban, and Iranian officials offering to facilitate a dialogue between India and the Taliban.
‘India haunted by communal politics’
  • Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic leader of Malaysia’s Parti Keadilan Rakyar (People’s Justice Party) on Thursday said here the communal politics that defined birth of India in 1947, continues to be fanned in the country. Mr. Ibrahim urged for a tolerant world based on pluralism and freedom of religion and said his country is determined to protect freedom of religion for indigenous communities and religious minorities.
  • Mr Ibrahim said India’s democratic process is a strength of the country which makes it unique in a region where most of the countries have troubling democratic credentials.
  • Earlier in the day, Mr Ibrahim met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The Prime Minister congratulated Mr Ibrahim on his recent election as President of the PKR Party. 

RBI notifies deferment of capital buffer norms as per board’s call
  • The Reserve Bank on Thursday deferred the implementation of the last tranche of Capital Conservation Buffer (CCB) by a year, a move that would leave about an estimated ₹37,000 crore capital in the hands of banks.
  • This would help banks increase lending by over ₹3.5 lakh crore by leveraging ten times the capital.
  • Accordingly, minimum capital conservation ratios of 2.5% would be applicable from March 31, 2020.
  • Currently, the CCB of banks stands at 1.875% of the core capital.
  • The CCB is the capital buffer that banks have to accumulate in normal times to be used for offsetting losses during periods of stress. It was introduced after the 2008 global financial crisis to improve the ability of banks to withstand adverse economic conditions.
  • Further, it said, the pre-specified trigger for loss absorption through conversion or write-down of additional tier 1 instruments will remain at 5.5% of risk-weighted asset (RWA) and will rise to 6.125% of RWAs on March 31, 2020. The decision to defer CCB was taken at the November 19 meeting of the central board of directors.
Market risk, economic growth to drive gold demand in 2019: WGC
  • Increased market uncertainty and expansion of protectionist economic policies will make gold increasingly attractive as a hedge in 2019, says the latest report by the World Gold Council (WGC), adding that structural economic reforms in key markets will continue to support demand for gold in jewellery, technology and as means of savings in the year.
  • According to WGC, key trends that are expected to influence the precious metal’s price performance include financial market instability, monetary policy and the U.S. dollar and the structural economic reforms.
  • Gold’s performance in the near-term would be heavily influenced by perceptions of risk, the direction of the dollar, and the impact of structural economic reforms, WGC said.
  • Incidentally, gold prices witnessed a see-saw journey in 2018 as investor interest ebbed and flowed despite steady growth in most sectors of demand. 
  • The precious metal also faced headwinds for most part of 2018 with the dollar strengthening, the Fed continuing to hike rates steadily while other central banks keeping policy accommodative, and the U.S. economy getting a fillip in the form of tax cuts.

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