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Current Affairs: 22 January 2019

NATION

CJI pulls out of CBI case hearing
  • Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Monday recused himself from hearing a petition challenging the appointment of M. Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director and ordered the plea to be placed before a Bench led by the number two Supreme Court judge, Justice A.K. Sikri, on January 24.
  • Justice Sikri himself was part of the high-power committee chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which ousted Alok Verma as CBI Director and paved the way for the appointment of Mr. Rao as interim Director. 
  • The vote of Justice Sikri, who went in place of Chief Justice Gogoi as his nominee, had proved to be the decisive one against Mr. Verma. During the court hearing, the Chief Justice explained that it would not be possible for him to hear the case as there is a meeting of the high-power committee scheduled for January 24. This committee would recommend a name for CBI Director from a panel. Chief Justice Gogoi would be attending the meeting as member.
  • The Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, mandates that the Centre appoint the CBI Director on the recommendation of a committee chaired by the Prime Minister and comprising the Leader of the Opposition, the CJI or his nominee Supreme Court judge.
Centre proposes to hike pensions
  • Ahead of the 2019 election, the Rural Development Ministry has proposed that the monthly pensions of the elderly poor, disabled and widows be increased from the current ₹200 to ₹800. For those above the age of 80, the proposal is to increase the pension from ₹500 to ₹1,200 a month.
  • The Ministry has submitted the proposal, which would have an additional annual cost implication of ₹18,000 crore, to the Finance Ministry to be considered for inclusion in the interim Budget to be presented on February 1.
  • If the proposal is announced, the Ministry will then move the Cabinet to approve the increase in pensions, said the official.
  • Separately, a study has been launched to consider doubling the number of people covered by the scheme, a promise originally made in last year’s Budget.
Protest against proposed bird sanctuary in Manipur
  • The Manipur government’s plan to set up a bird sanctuary at the Loktak lake in Bishnupur district has met with stiff opposition from the villagers in nearby areas.
  • “The villagers of Thingnunggei are poor and they have no other means of earning a livelihood except for catching fish and plucking vegetables from the lake. If fishing is banned in the lake, the villagers would starve. We are all for protection of birds, most of whom are migratory, but the new scheme should not be implemented at the cost of the poor villagers,” said one of the protesters.
  • Thousands of migratory birds flock to the Loktak lake, the largest freshwater lake in north-eastern India, every year. However, in the past few years there has been a sharp decline in the number of migratory birds coming to the lake.
  • Reports indicate that bird poachers are active in the area, targeting the winged guests.
  • Birdwatchers on the other hand blame human intrusion, bird poaching and hydroelectric power project near the lake for the decline in the number of migratory birds and brow-antlered deer in the Keibul Lamjao national park in the vicinity.
  • Some decades ago, the villagers of the lake islets had agitated against setting up of the Keibul Lamjao National Park, the natural habitat of the endangered brow-antlered deer.
  • Now, several years later, the latest census suggests that there are only 260 brow-antlered deer in the Keibul Lamjao national park.
Rajasthan tribal meet stresses on preserving indigenous practices
  • Farmers from the tribal belt of southern Rajasthan, attending a tribal colloquium in Banswara, laid emphasis on re-establishing their links with the livestock, local herbs, traditional foodgrain and indigenous agricultural practices as a safeguard for protecting their culture.
  • The conference was organised last week on the conclusion of a fortnight-long “farmers’ sovereignty march” through 190 village spread across Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, which brought all stakeholders together for development of tribal areas.
  • The subjects of agriculture, health care and democracy were brought up for discussion at the meet. The tribal farmers took a pledge to preserve the fertile soil in their areas for ensuring food security.
  • Civil society group Vaagdhara, which organised the colloquium, provided a key framework of “promote, provide and protect” in each sector of tribal welfare.
  • Uma Shankar Sharma, Vice-Chancellor, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture & Technology, Udaipur, said the modern technology should be used in balance with the traditional methods of farming with a “scientific approach for better results”. 
  • While Banswara Zila Pramukh Resham Malviya warned against excessive use of chemical fertilisers, Save the Children's campaign coordinator Hemant Acharya said there was an urgent need to protect the children of tribal communities against child labour.
Steel pipes will link Godavari and Cauvery, says Gadkari
  • Union Minister for Water Resources Nitin Gadkari has revealed plans to take the backwaters of the Godavari up to the Cauvery river in Tamil Nadu through Krishna and Penna using steel pipes instead of developing canals en route as suggested by a non-resident engineer from Andhra Pradesh. By doing so, wastage of water from canals could be prevented and the overall cost reduced, he said.
  • Addressing a BJP meeting here on Monday, Mr. Gadkari said: “The DPR for the river inter-linking project has already been prepared and is in the process of being submitted to the Cabinet. It is estimated to cost ₹60,000 crore.”
  • Claiming that the Central government was spending 100% of the funds for the Polavaram project and 62% physical progress had been achieved with the cooperation of the State government, he said it was his personal responsibility to ensure its completion as per schedule.
  • Mr. Gadkari said 1,100 tmcft of the backwater of Godavari river was going into the sea and there was a dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over 45 tmcft of it.
  • It was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who, as Prime Minister, had conceived the idea of linking rivers, he recalled.
‘Plastic waste imports to India go up’
  • In spite of a ban on the import of plastic waste into India, the influx of PET bottles has quadrupled from 2017 to 2018 thanks to legal loophole, says a Delhi-based environmentalist organisation, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smriti Manch (PDUSM).
  • “Indian firms are importing plastic scraps from China, Italy, Japan and Malawi for recycling and the imports of PET bottle scrap & flakes has increased from 12,000 tonnes in FY 16-17 to 48,000 tonnes in FY 17-18 growing @ 290%. India has already imported 25,000 MT in the first 3 months of FY 18-19,” says a note by the organisation.
  • Government and industry estimates suggest that India consumes about 13 million tonnes of plastic and recycles only about 4 million tonnes.
  • A lack of an efficient waste segregation system and inadequate collection is the root cause, according to experts, for much of the plastic not making its way to recycling centres.
  • To incentivise domestic plastic recycling units, the government had banned the import of plastic waste, particularly PET bottles in 2015. In 2016, an amendment allowed such imports as long as they were carried out by agencies situated in Special Economic Zones. It’s this loophole that’s been exploited.
  • Ravi Agrawal, director of Toxics Link, an organisation that works on plastic waste management, said that figures were “plausible” as China, once a major global importer of plastic waste for recycling, had banned such imports.
Affidavit in SC on CIC appointment
  • RTI activists filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Monday alleging that the appointment of former Law Secretary Suresh Chandra as a member of the Central Information Commission was done “in complete violation of the prescribed process”, as he had not applied for the post.
  • As The Hindu reported on Monday, Mr. Chandra’s name was not on the list of 280 applicants for the vacant positions, according to data made public by the Department of Personnel and Training.
  • The affidavit said the appointment of Mr. Chandra was in violation of the DoPT’s own affidavit to the SC on the appointment procedure to be followed. The search committee “acted beyond its mandate and undermined the selection process”, said the affidavit.
  • Referring to The Hindu’sreport, the Congress accused the Centre of “subterfuge and trying to keep the Opposition out” while making key appointments to statutory bodies.
Pak. shares draft pact on Kartarpur Corridor
  • Indian and Pakistani officials are expected to meet next month to discuss a “draft agreement” on the Kartarpur corridor in Punjab, sources confirmed. The meeting follows the Pakistan government’s announcement that it had shared the draft of the agreement, to be signed by the two governments, for “facilitation of (Indian) Sikh Yatrees to visit the Gurudwara, Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, Narowal, Pakistan”.
  • In a statement on Monday, the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the draft had been shared “in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment” to open the pilgrim corridor in time for the 550th Birth Anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak in November 2019. 
  • The Pakistan government also appointed its Director-General (South Asia & SAARC), Dr. Muhammad Faisal “as the focal person on Pakistan’s side and requested that the Government of India designate a focal person at its end”, the statement said, and called for an Indian delegation to travel to Islamabad to finalise the agreement.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs didn’t comment on the statement from Islamabad. However, sources said India has been working on modalities for arrangements for the corridor on the Indian side, and is expected to meet with Pakistani officials in February this year.
  • The Kartarpur initiative is seen as an exceptional case for the Indian government, which has refused to open talks with Pakistan on any other issue until concerns on terror are addressed.
  • Among the issues that need to be finalised are the exact point of crossing over for the pilgrims, the identity cards required, as well as security procedures and guarantees needed by both sides. In a previous draft, Pakistan had proposed a 14-point agreement, which included visa free travel for the pilgrims who would be processed at checkpoints on both the Indian and Pakistani side. 
Controversy continues over Justice Khanna’s elevation
  • In the backdrop of the controversy over the appointment of Justice Sanjiv Khanna, a 1998 opinion by the Supreme Court may shed light on the questions raised by the episode.
  • The objections against are not merely over seniority, but extends to questions about the Collegium dropping the names of two judges considered earlier and the reasons given for changing its decision.
  • As Justice Khanna shared the Bench with the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Monday, a section of legal experts condemned the controversy as a “selective” outcry.
  • They cited the recent example of the Collegium recommending Justice K.M. Joseph for appointment to the Supreme Court over many other judges senior to him. 
  • A nine-judge Bench in the ‘Special Reference Case’ of 1998 had ruled that “merit is the pre-dominant consideration for the purposes of appointment to the Supreme Court”.
  • However, objections voiced by the likes of former Chief Justices of India R.M. Lodha and K.G. Balakrishnan are not confined to supersession alone.
  • The furore, in fact, extends to why the Collegium had dropped its December 12, 2018 proposal to recommend Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and, within days, chose Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Khanna.
  • The former CJIs had asked why judges like Justices Gita Mittal and Ravindra Bhat, both from the Delhi High Court, too, did not figure in the recommendation.
  • Several reasons have been assigned as to why the Collegium led by Chief Justice Gogoi changed its mind after December 12.
  • These include unauthorised media leaks, “additional materials”, intervening Winter vacation and subsequent change in the composition of the Collegium on the retirement of Justice Madan B. Lokur during the holidays.
  • Finally, it has been reported that the CJI has the last word in recommendations for appointment to the Supreme Court.
  • The 1998 Special Reference case explains that when a Collegium judge retires in the midst of an appointment process and reasons are later made available for the non-appointment of the person under consideration, such reasons should be placed before the newly constituted Collegium.
  • Further, the Second Judges Case (Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association versus Union of India) judgment in October 1993, and later the court’s opinion in the 1998 Special Reference, confirm that “strong cogent reasons” should be the basis for appointing a judge to the Supreme Court by superseding others senior to him.
  • Finally, both the 1993 judgment and 1998 opinion have held that the CJI’s “final opinion” is not merely his individual opinion. The CJI’s opinion “must necessarily have the element of plurality in its formation”.
ECONOMY

China’s 2018 growth slows to 28-year low
  • China’s economy cooled in the fourth quarter under pressure from faltering domestic demand and bruising U.S. tariffs, dragging 2018 growth to the lowest in nearly three decades and pressuring Beijing to roll out more stimulus to avert a sharper slowdown.
  • Growing signs of weakness in China — which has generated nearly a third of global growth in recent years — are fuelling anxiety about risks to the world economy and are weighing on profits for firms ranging from Apple to big carmakers.
  • Policymakers have pledged more support this year to reduce the risk of massive job losses, but have ruled out a “flood” of stimulus like that which Beijing has relied on in the past, which quickly juiced growth rates but left a mountain of debt.
  • Fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) grew at the slowest pace since the global financial crisis, easing to 6.4% on-year as expected from 6.5% in the third quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. That pulled full-year growth down to 6.6%, the slowest annual pace since 1990. GDP in 2017 grew a revised 6.8%.
  • With support measures expected to take some time to kick in, most analysts believe conditions are likely to get worse before they get better, and see a further slowing to 6.3% this year. Some China watchers believe actual growth is already weaker than official data suggest.
  • Despite a raft of policy easing steps so far, December data released along with GDP showed continued weakness across broad areas of the economy at the end of last year. Factory output picked up unexpectedly to 5.7% from 5.4%, but it was one of the few bright spots, along with a stronger services sector. While regulators have been fast-tracking construction projects, most of the gain appeared due to higher mining and oil production.
‘Bihar outgrew others in FY18 GDP’
  • Bihar and Andhra Pradesh led the pack among States in terms of GDP growth in financial year 2017-18, clocking 11.3% and 11.2% growth, respectively, compared with the national GDP growth of 6.7% for the year, according to a report by Crisil.
  • According to the report, 12 of the 17 general category States grew faster than the national growth rate.
  • However, it noted that this growth was not equitable, with the gap between the per capita incomes in low-income and high-income States widening over the last five years.
  • “In fiscal 2018, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat were top-rankers in terms of GSDP growth among the 17 non-special States considered in our analysis,” the report said. “Jharkhand, Kerala, and Punjab were at the bottom.”
  • The States at the bottom, similarly, saw a reversal of fortunes. West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar had ranked at the bottom in the past five years. In financial year 2017-18, however, Bihar rose to the top spot and West Bengal rose to the sixth rank, with a growth of 9.1%, significantly stronger than the national GDP growth rate. Jharkhand, however, remained at the bottom.
  • On the fiscal front, the report noted that most veered off the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM) line of maintaining their fiscal deficits at 3% of their respective state GDPs.
  • “With little fiscal legroom for the Centre, States are now the new engines of government spending [over 65% in total government spending],” the Crisil report said.
  • “Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh topped the tally in proportion of capex in state spending in the past three years. But most states are not spending as they ought to, in areas such as health, irrigation, and education.”The combined fiscal deficit of States crossed the 3% of GSDP threshold, in both fiscals 2016 and 2017. This improved in fiscal 2018 to 3.1%, but this was still higher than the FRBM limit, and also the 2.7% of GSDP budgeted for the year, the report noted.
  • Looking ahead, in a separate report, India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) said that it expected the aggregate fiscal deficit of the States to come in at 3.2% in financial year 2019-20, which is higher than what it forecast in its FY19 Mid-Year Outlook.

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