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Current Affairs: 21 January 2019


CIC selection arbitrary, say RTI activists
  • RTI activists have termed the appointment of former Law Secretary Suresh Chandra as a Central Information Commissioner on January 1 an “arbitrary process” as he had not applied for the position.
  • According to files recently made public by the Department of Personnel and Training, he was not on the list of 280 applicants. But he was among the 14 short-listed, two of whom had not applied.
  • The Central Information Commission is the highest appellate body under the Act. 
  • “This is a high-level quasi-judicial body. You will see that many highly qualified candidates do not apply. I also did not apply… I was asked later on, I was approached; but in writing, there was no application,” he said.
  • “The search committee is not restricted to applicants, but to deserving candidates. Most applicants are top bureaucrats, not trained in a judicial background,” added the retired Indian Legal Service officer.
  • However, in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on August 27, 2018, the DoPT itself had said the search committee was to shortlist candidates “out of the applications received.”
Flamingo fete a huge draw at Pulicat lake
  • The Flamingo Festival had a flying start on Sunday with tourists, both domestic and foreign, making a beeline for the picturesque Pulicat lake, a safe haven for migratory birds.
  • It was a virtual treat for bird watchers as over 90,000 birds have come from far away places to the lake this year, though belated in view of the late arrival of the northeast monsoon and the failure of the southwest monsoon.
  • The lake is the second largest brackish water ecosystem in the country after the Chilika lake in Odisha.
  • Launching the State festival, Agriculture Minister Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy said Sullurpeta would be developed into an eco-tourist hub with better infrastructure to woo tourists in a big way.
  • He outlined the efforts being made by the State government year after year to augment the tourist facilities not only at Sullurpeta but also in Nelapattu, Atakanithippa and Bhimunivaripalem for the benefit of visitors to enjoy the flight of, among other birds, flamingos, pelicans and storks in their natural environment.
  • He commended the role of the local fishermen in protecting the ecosystem, even while eking out their livelihood.
ASI finds 2,300-year-old artefacts in Odisha
  • Archaeologists have unearthed artefacts believed to be 2,300-year-old while carrying out excavation at the Asurgarh Fort in Odisha’s Kalahandi district.
  • A nine member team of Archaeological Survey of India led by Dibishada B. Garnayak, Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Branch-IV, Bhubaneswar, excavated the items dating from Mauryan to Kushan period.
  • “The present archaeological work reveals a number of brick structures. Wedge shaped bricks are also noticed in the circular structures. Most of the structures have terracotta tiles with groves and hole for socketing,” said Mr. Garnayak.
  • “The Asurgarh people during that time probably used stone rubbles and tile fragments for flooring their houses and the streets. Besides, silver punch marked coins, silver and copper toe ring and ear rings, beads of carnelian, jasper, beryl, garnet, agate and coral have been found,” he said, adding that some of the artefacts were as old as 2,300 year.
  • Other discovered artefacts include, glass bangle pieces of different designs and colours, sling balls, pestle, iron equipment like small wheel, ring, and arrow head.
  • “The findings of coral beads and imperial variety of silver punch mark coins strongly indicates about long distant trade and association of hinterland people with seafaring people,” pointed out Mr. Garnayak.
  •  “Close to the western rampart, the river Sandul flows to the north thereby forming a natural moat on the western side of the fort. On the eastern side of the fort there is an extensive lake. The fort had four wide gates in four cardinal directions and at each gate was installed one guardian deity. These guardian deities are named as Ganga at the eastern gate, Kalapat at the western, Vaishnavi at the northern and Dokri at the southern gate,” he said.
Rajasthan, Bihar join hands to eradicate child labour
  • A multi-stakeholder initiative, launched here for eradicating child labour, has taken a resolve to rehabilitate the rescued children and undertake collective action to promote child labour-free goods and stop trafficking of children. The governments of two States and civil society groups have come together to support the initiative.
  • Citizens and industries also joined hands at the launch of the programme here over the week-end, saying they would spread awareness about the need to end the “despicable practice”.
  • Besides, partners of the initiative in Bihar will work for recovery of victims, their rehabilitation, access to compensation, enrolment in schools and regular follow-up visits to prevent re-trafficking.
  • About 80% of children employed in the workshops in Shastri Nagar, Ramganj, Chandpole and Brahmapuri localities of Jaipur are trafficked from Bihar. Over half of them are in the age group of 10 to 14 years and they end up working in harsh conditions for 15 hours a day, for which they receive a meagre payment of ₹800 to ₹2,000 per month.
  • Additional Labour Commissioner C.B.S. Rathore flagged off a mobile van which will reach out to citizens and ask them to take a strong stand against child labour.
  • The child labour-free goods production will be taken up through partnership with leading business champions with the goal of making Jaipur the safest place for international retailers and ethical Indian companies to do business. 
  • The initiative will also engage local communities to build resistance and raise awareness through hoardings, bus shelters, street performances and school presentations, requesting the public to call the helpline for children.
State armed with triple-drug therapy to fight elephantiasis
  • Maharashtra is all set to roll out the World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended triple-drug therapy for lymphatic filariasis to speed up elimination of the disease. A pilot project was rolled out in Nagpur.
  • Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a neglected tropical disease. According to the WHO, infection occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. The infection is usually acquired in childhood, causing hidden damage to the lymphatic system.
  • Dr. Mahendra Jagtap, the State’s entomologist, said the prevalence is down to six districts, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Nagpur, Bhandara, and Thane, from 17 a few years earlier.
  • The State currently has a two-drug regimen consisting of diethylcarbamazine citrate and albendazole. The drugs are distributed in endemic areas through a Mass Drug Administration (MDA) exercise carried out once a year. In the triple-drug regimen, a drug called ivermectin will be added.
  • During the MDA in Nagpur on Sunday, people were administered the three-drug combination while other areas got the two drugs. “We managed to cover nearly 85% population in the endemic areas. If people have these drugs, the disease can be prevented,” said Dr. Japtap. 
  • However, he said, it is a challenge to convince people to take them because very few understand the concept of prevention. Everyone except for pregnant women, children below one year and chronically ill patients were given the drugs.
  • Experts say the MDAs are better for prevention as those living in filariasis-endemic areas may be carrying the infection without symptoms. The drugs, which are safe to be taken for a non-infected person as well, kill the microfilariae (minute larvae) and clear intestinal worms.
RailTel is turning railway stations into digital hubs
  • The Indian Railways has one of the world’s largest public WiFi networks in RailWire WiFi.
  • With around 2.6 crore users logins in a month, and over 9,491 Tetra Byte (TB) of aggregated data consumption, RailWire WiFi at 746 railway stations across the country is only getting stronger.
  • The network, provided by RailTel, a ‘Mini Ratna’ central PSU (Public Sector Undertaking) under the Ministry of Railways, is not only one of the largest but also one of the fastest public WiFi networks.
  • Bona fide passengers are using this WiFi facility for streaming high definition (HD) videos, and downloading movies, songs and games, and engaging with their office work online, says RailTel.
  • For a modern handset, the speed can go as high as 40 Mbps for the initial 30 minutes of unhindered open access, which is unmatched on any other network.
  • The backbone capacity of each of these railway stations is 1 GBPS.
  • Free WiFi services to commuters are being provided under ‘RailWire’, RailTel’s retail Broadband initiative. Of the 746 railway stations, RailTel has provided high speed WiFi at 414 A, A1 and C category railway stations across the country, in association with Google as the technology partner.
  • Currently, 21 railway stations in Kerala have free WiFi, and a project to provide free WiFi to 100 more stations this fiscal as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of a Mumbai-based trust through RailTel is on the anvil, officials said.
Figures for long-term visas to minorities don’t add up
  • Only 230 Hindus from Pakistan and four Sikhs from Afghanistan had been given long-term visas (LTVs) till September 2018, the Union Home Ministry has said in response to a Right to Information (RTI) request filed by The Hindu.
  • However, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha on August 8 last year that 9,152 such visas were granted from 2016 to 2018 and 13,262 Pakistani nationals had applied for them during the period.
  • After hundreds of Hindus and Sikhs came to India alleging persecution in Pakistan, the then UPA government decided to give them long-term visas. Most of them had come on pilgrim visa, which expired. According to a Home Ministry official, the LTVs granted to Pakistani Hindus from 2011 to 2014 stood at 14,726.
  • In response to an RTI query on the “number of long-term visas given to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from January 1, 1990 to September 6, 2018”, the Home Ministry said, “As per the available information no. of certificates issued to Pakistani Hindus are 230, and Afghanistani Sikhs are 4. No other information is available to the undersigned CPIO (Central Public Information Officer).”
  • The Home Ministry did not furnish any reply on the number of Bangladeshi Hindus who have availed the facility.
  • Submissions by the Ministry before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill say that till now, 31,313 persons belonging to the minority communities (25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians and two Buddhists and Parsis each) have been given the LTVs, a precursor to Indian citizenship, on the basis of their claim of religious persecution.
  • These persons will be the immediate beneficiaries of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, that proposes to grant citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before December 31, 2014. The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8, is pending in the Rajya Sabha.
  • In 2015, the Home Ministry had empowered the District Collectors in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to grant citizenship and naturalisation certificates to the non-Muslim migrants from the three neighbouring countries under Section 5 and 6 of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  • Under the Citizenship Act, 1955, one of the grounds to acquire citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the past 12 months and for 11 out of 14 years in India. The Bill proposes to relax the duration from 11 to seven years, only for persons belonging to the six religions from the three countries. It will help such people who do not have any document by not treating them as “illegal migrants”.
Aadhaar is now passport to Nepal and Bhutan
  • Aadhaar cards are now valid travel documents for Indians under 15 and over 65 travelling to Nepal and Bhutan, according to a Home Ministry communique.
  • Indian citizens going to Nepal and Bhutan don’t need a visa if they have a valid passport, a photo identity card issued by the government of India or an election ID card issued by the Election Commission, it added.
  • Earlier, persons over 65 and under 15 could show their PAN card, driving licence, Central Government Health Service (CGHS) card or ration card, but not the Aadhaar, to prove their identity and visit the two countries.
  • Giving details, the official said a certificate of registration issued by the Embassy of India, Kathmandu, to Indian nationals is not an acceptable travel document for travelling between India and Nepal.

Soon, no e-way bills for non-filers of GST returns
  • Non-filers of GST returns for six consecutive months will soon be barred from generating e-way bills for movement of goods.
  • The Goods and Services Tax Network is developing an IT system such that businesses that have not filed returns for two straight returns filing cycles, which is six months, would be barred from generating e-way bills, an official said.
  • Officials said the move would help check Goods and Services Tax evasion. Central tax officers have detected 3,626 cases of GST evasion or violations cases, involving ₹15,278.18 crore in the April-December period.
  • The e-way bill system was rolled out on April 1, 2018, for moving goods worth over ₹50,000 from one State to another. The system for within the State movement was rolled out in a phased manner from April 15.
  • Transporters of goods worth over ₹50,000 would be required to present e-way bills during transit to a GST inspector, if asked.
  • Officials feel that to shore up revenue and raise compliance, strict anti-evasion measures must be adopted. The revenue department is working towards integrating the e-way bill system with NHAI’s FASTag mechanism beginning April to help track movement of goods.
Some banks may soon exit PCA: Kumar
  • Some of the public sector banks are likely to come out of the Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework in the next few months on the back of improvement in various parameters, Financial Services Secretary Rajiv Kumar said.
  • “Some of the banks, out of the 11, have shown better performance...If some banks are performing well and they are adequately capitalised as per Basel norms. Hence, capitalisation will facilitate them coming out of PCA. RBI is seized of the matter,” Mr. Kumar said.
  • There is a strong case on the basis of performance of some banks to be removed from the PCA list if not all, he added.

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