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Current Affairs: 18 January 2019


Court sets deadline for Lokpal panel
  • The Supreme Court gave the Lokpal search committee time till February-end to short-list a panel of names for chairperson and members of the Lokpal to be placed before the high-power selection committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • Under Rule 11 (2) of the Search Committee Rules, 2014, the panel recommends at least five names for chairperson and at least three times the number of vacancies in the case of members to the selection committee.
  • The selection committee comprises the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist as members.
  • At the previous hearing, the government said a search committee was constituted in September 2018 for zeroing in on eligible candidates.
  • The Department of Personnel and Training’s notification, issued on September 27, lists the names of the eight-member search committee, led by former apex court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai.
Indian cinema’s new address: Gulshan Mahal in Mumbai
  • Gulshan Mahal, the elegant 19th-century bungalow in South Mumbai, was once known for qawwalis and cultural gatherings. Now it is all set to return in a new avatar — as the home of the National Museum of Indian Cinema (NMIC).
  • The refurbished building of five floors and two mezzanine floors, will be opened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 19. 
  • Originally known as Gulshan Abad (garden of prosperity), it was built in the mid-1800s. It was owned by Peerbhoy Khalakdina, a Gujarati businessman from the Khoja Muslim community.
  • Over the years, Gulshan Mahal has been put to different uses. It has served as a hospital for soldiers, was a temporary campus for Jai Hind College, has housed the Documentary Films of India and the Films Division, and been used for film shoots like Munnabhai MBBS.
  • Modernised with the idea of turning the complex into a ‘film hub’, the NMIC now has been well equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including expansive auditoriums and a multi-purpose hall that could be used as a movie preview theatre or a seminar hall.
  • The new building has four halls: on Gandhi and Cinema; Technology, Creativity and Indian cinema; Cinema across India; and a Children’s Film Studio. The museum will showcase a 100 years of Indian cinema.
SC records how the bar girls took on the Maharashtra govt.
  • The 100-page judgment of the Supreme Court records for posterity how the Bharatiya Bar Girls Union of women working as dancers, singers or waitresses in bars, restaurants and beer halls challenged the might of the Maharashtra government.
  • The women ridiculed the State’s “patriarchal notion of morality” to bring a draconian law in 2016 which stripped them of their livelihood and dignity.
  • The union’s challenge led the Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan to conclude that the State had no right to thrust its notion of morality on society.
  • For one, the State had claimed that bar girls were usually minors or victims of trafficking or prostitution and other forms of flesh trade. But the Bar Girls Union, represented by advocate Nikhil Nayyar, challenged the Maharashtra government to produce proof in the Supreme Court to back its claim.
  • “The bar girls have voluntarily embraced dance bars to live with dignity and earn their livelihood… it (dance performances) opened newer opportunities and the option to leave exploitative sex work...,” the judgment quoted from the research.
  • The union argued that bar dance was a “non-obscene performance” as held by several High Courts. It said the Maharashtra government wanted to “perpetuate a myth that dance bars pose any danger to law and order or cause disturbance to peace and tranquillity.”
  • The union pointed out that dance bars remained closed across the State since 2005. Then where did the government get reliable data about immoral activities in them.
‘State can prohibit obscene dances’
  • The Supreme Court said there was nothing amiss with the definition of ‘obscene dance’ under the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurant and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016.
  • It said there was nothing vague in finding dance obscene if it “arouses the prurient interest of the audience.’
  • The court concluded the definition of ‘obscene’ in the State law was strikingly similar to the one given to obscene books, acts and songs under Sections 292 and 294 of the Indian Penal Code.
  • “It cannot be denied that dance performances, in dignified forms, are socially acceptable and nobody takes exceptions to the same. On the other hand, obscenity is treated as immoral. Therefore, obscene dance performance may not be acceptable and the State can pass a law prohibiting obscene dances,” the court observed.
  • The Bench did away with other conditions like the installation of CCTV cameras in the dance area as a violation of privacy.
  • It set aside the condition that only persons of good character would be allowed to run dance bars, saying the term ‘good character’ is too vague.
  • It also disagreed with the segregation of patrons who drink, from those who want to watch the dance performances in the bars.
Jaitley attacks ‘compulsive contrarians’
  • Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley attacked critics of the government as “compulsive contrarians” who were seeking to “subvert democracy” by “weakening a sovereign elected government.”
  • Citing the attack on the government by the opposition on a slew of issues including the Rafale jet deal to 10% reservations for economically weaker sections among the general category, Mr. Jaitley said it appeared that the “contrarians” believed that “every act” of the government must be opposed.
  • He cited the Justice Loya case, the CBI issue, the RBI debate as instances where the government’s critics had adopted “double standards”.
  • “Weakening a sovereign elected government and strengthening the unelectable is only a subversion of democracy,” he asserted. “Didn’t left-liberals find fault with the various actions that Gandhiji took during the freedom movement?” he asked rhetorically.
Out of CBI, Asthana may head Bureau of Civil Aviation Security
  • As per the official notification removing Rakesh Asthana, A.K. Sharma, M.K. Sinha and Jayant Naiknavare from the CBI, issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet approved the curtailment of tenure of the four officials in the rank of Special Director/Joint Director/DIG or SP with immediate effect.
  • “Mr. Naiknavare will be repatriated to his parent cadre Maharashtra as sought by the State government,” a senior official said, adding, “The other three will remain on Central deputation in different posts.”
  • Insiders in the government said Mr. Asthana is likely to be appointed head of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security.
  • Former CBI Director Alok Verma and then Special CBI Director Asthana were both engaged in a bitter feud that led to an FIR naming Mr. Asthana in an alleged bribery case. As the feud escalated, both officials were divested of their responsibilities in a midnight coup following a CVC report in October last year.
  • Mr. Verma was made Director General of Fire Services and Home Guards, a post he declined to take up.

Cut CRR, repo rate by 50 bps each, says CII
  • The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) which, along with other industry bodies, met Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das on Thursday, suggested a 50 bps (basis points) reduction in cash reserve ratio (CRR) requirements of banks to ease the liquidity situation and a similar reduction in the repo rate to address high cost of credit, particularly to the micro, small and medium enterprises and infrastructure sector.
  • The Reserve Bank’s next monetary policy review is due on February 7. On liquidity challenges faced by NBFCs, the CII highlighted the need to provide backstop facility to housing finance companies through the National Housing Bank.
  • It also wanted the central bank to extend the same facility directly to the systemically-important deposit-taking NBFCs along with providing refinance facility for mutual funds to address the liquidity challenges. 
  • The industry body also suggested a separate classification for “exceptionally large NBFCs” and an open liquidity window similar to banks.
Start-ups seeking angel tax exemption get relief
  • The government has eased the norms under which start-ups can apply for exemption from the angel tax which would otherwise be applicable on them.
  • According to the notification issued by the government on Wednesday, start-ups, whose aggregate amount of paid-up share capital and share premium after the proposed issue of share does not exceed ₹10 crore, are eligible for the exemption. On the investor side, the notification says the angel investor should have filed I-T returns of at least ₹50 lakh for the year preceding the year in which the investment was made.
  • Further, the investor’s net worth has to be at least ₹2 crore or the amount of investment made in the start-up, whichever is higher, as on the last date of the financial year preceding the year of investment.
Rupee pact with Iran to aid pharma exports
  • The Indian pharma industry now has an opportunity to increase exports to Iran, following a rupee payment mechanism agreed upon recently by India and the Persian Gulf nation.
  • Under the agreement, Indian refiners make payments in rupee for oil imports from Iran, to designated accounts maintained with UCO Bank. A portion thus received is to be used by Iran to pay for imports from India, including pharmaceuticals.
  • “Indian pharma exports to Iran were at $124.05 million last fiscal. Iran has a well-established pharma industry that meets 80% of the country’s requirement. The remaining 20% is met predominantly through imports from Europe,” said Ravi Uday Bhaskar, director general, pharmaceuticals export promotion council of India (Pharmexcil).
  • With a cloud of uncertainty hovering over continued pharmaceutical supplies from Europe in the wake of the U.S. sanctions against Iran, the Indian pharma industry could explore opportunities to step up exports
  • While imposing the sanctions again, the U.S. provided a time window of exemption under which India and a few other countries could continue to import oil for some time, but of relatively less quantity.
  • Pharmexcil, in a circular, intimated its members recently about the agreement under which 50% of the amount credited by Indian oil companies could be utilised by Iran for making payments to Indian exporters of goods and services. These funds may also be used for settlement of payments to Indian exporters for transactions that took place prior to operationalisation of the arrangement.
  • Constituting mostly APIs (bulk drugs), Indian pharma exports to Iran have been declining in recent years.
  • From $180.50 million in 2015-16, pharma exports to Iran fell to $160.33 million in 2016-17. Mr. Bhaskar said Indian drug makers ought to eye a bigger pie in Iran’s $1.3 billion generic market.

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