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Current Affairs: 23 January 2019

NATION

Centre files status report on CIC selection
  • The government handed over a status report to the Supreme Court on the progress in the process of appointment to the Central Information Commission even as PIL petitioners alleged that the procedure followed was arbitrary.
  • A three-judge Bench, led by Justice A.K. Sikri, took the status report on record and ordered that a copy be handed over to RTI activists-petitioners Anjali Bhardwaj, Lokesh Batra and Amrita Johri, represented by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva. They have agreed to file a response to the report in three days.
  • During the hearing, the petitioners submitted that the appointment process of Information Commissioners to the Central Information Commission happened in an “arbitrary manner as the search committee, had in violation of its mandate, short-listed persons who had not even applied for the post in response to advertisements.”
Pune-Secunderabad Shatabdi is India’s cleanest train
  • The results of the first-ever ‘Total Cleanliness Survey’ of the Railways are now out, and the winners are North Western Railway (NWR), which topped the zonal rankings in the ‘Premium’ category trains, and Southern Railway, which came out on top in the ‘Other than Premium’ category’ trains.
  • The cleanliness survey covered 209 trains and was conducted by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) through two professional agencies. The survey’s stated aim was to assess the progress of the ‘Swachh Rail-Swachh Bharat’ mission and promote healthy competition among trains.
  • While the NWR recorded an average score of 860 out of 1,000 in the ‘Premium’ category, South Central Railway finished at the bottom with an average score of 658. Southern Railway topped the ‘Other than Premium’ category’, recording the highest average score of 736 among the 16 railway zones, while the East Central Railway was the dirtiest in this group, with an average score of 572.
  • The ‘Premium’ trains included the Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duronto, Tejas and Gatiman while Sampark Kranti, Intercity, Jan Shatabdi and other Mail and Express trains were grouped under the ‘Other than Premium’ category.
  • The overall score of the Rajdhani trains was 787. 
  • In the case of the 26 Shatabdi trains, the Pune-Secunderabad Shatabdi, with 916, finished on top.
  • Opinion of on-board passengers was sought on the state of toilets, housekeeping, linen and general cleanliness, with the rating options ranging from 1 to 5.
Bal Sabhas to resolve issues in rural schools
  • A new initiative launched by the Congress government in Rajasthan for identifying and resolving issues in upper primary schools situated in the rural areas through “Bal Sabha” (Children’s Assembly) is set to bring about qualitative changes in education. Besides students, the Sabhas will be attended by parents, teachers and village elders.
  • A series of Bal Sabhas was organised in as many as 3,300 schools in Jaipur district on Saturday last. Minister of State for Education Govind Singh Dotasra attended the congregation in Bhojlawa village of the Govindgarh panchayat samiti.
  • Mr. Dotasra said that the novel concept would ensure the participation of all stakeholders and significantly improve the quality of education in government schools.
  • Principal Secretary (School Education) Bhaskar A. Sawant said extracurricular activities would shape the personality of students, while Director (School Education) Pradeep Kumar Borad said the Bal Sabhas would promote dialogue between villagers and schoolchildren.
Assam clears 10% quota for poor in general category
  • The Assam Cabinet has approved 10% quota for the economically weaker sections in the general category in government jobs and education.
  • The Constitution (124 Amendment) Bill, 2019, providing for 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions to the EWS in the general category was passed by Parliament in its recently concluded winter session.
  • The State Cabinet also approved the guidelines for disbursement of ₹5,000 each to five lakh farmers under the Mukhya Mantri Krishi Sa Sajuli Yozana for purchase of farm tools and implements, an official spokesman said.
  • The Cabinet also approved incentives for government doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers under the Ayushman Bharat and Atal Amrit Abhiyan schemes.
Mekedatu dam plan violates Supreme Court verdict: T.N.
  • The proposed construction of the Mekedatu reservoir on Cauvery river by Karnataka is an attempt to impound the uncontrolled flows in the intermediate catchment areas and is violative of the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Cauvery Tribunal, Tamil Nadu told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
  • This is part of the rejoinder filed by the Tamil Nadu government against the Centre’s claim that conditional clearance given to Karnataka for preparing a detailed project report (DPR) on the Mekedatu balancing reservoir-cum-drinking water project was subject to the amicable resolution of connected inter-State matters.
  • Tamil Nadu said the Centre’s claim was misplaced. The State, referring to the Guidelines of Submission, Appraisal and Acceptance of Irrigation and Multipurpose Project of 2017, argued that inter-State aspects had to be dealt with even at the stage of preparing the pre-feasibility report on the project.
  • The Centre failed to realise that even an “in-principle clearance” from its side to a detailed project report would require prior examination on whether the interests of the co-basin States like Tamil Nadu and Puducherry were protected under the 2017 Guidelines.
  • “The central agencies are duty-bound to act fairly and seem to have consciously ignored these guidelines while granting the permission to proceed for the preparation of DPR which is wholly illegal and untenable,” Tamil Nadu contended in its rejoinder.
  • Karnataka filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court informing that the project proponent, Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Ltd, submitted the DPR with the Central Water Commission on January 18, 2019.
Research fellowship hike likely to be notified by February
  • With hundreds of student-researchers in several institutions across the country picketing for a hike in fellowships, two senior officials said that a decision should be out by the first week of February and the hikes could range from 25-50%.
  • On January 16 about 2,000 students and researchers, including from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the labs of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and several universities converged for a protest in Delhi.
  • The students are gunning for at least an 80% hike in the research stipends given to those pursuing their doctoral degrees.
  • Typically these stipends are significantly revised once in four years — the last being in 2014 — and a committee of scientists had recommended an increase after a meeting last December.
  • Inspite of being a leading scientific power in terms of research publications, India spends about 0.7% of its GDP on research and development, which is much lower than countries of comparable scientific prowess.
  • The civilian science ministries were alloted ₹12,322 crore in February 2018, a hike of approximately 10% from the last year.
ILO urges universal labour guarantee
  • As heads of State and business leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum this week, the UN agency that sets international labour standards is asking them to commit to a universal labour guarantee, universal social protection from birth to old age, an international governance system for the gig economy, and a human-in-command approach to artificial intelligence.
  • In a report on the ‘Future of Work’, released in Geneva on Tuesday to mark its centenary, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned that “without decisive action we will be sleepwalking into a world that widens inequality, increases uncertainty and reinforces exclusion, with destructive political, social and economic repercussions.”
  • Around the world, 190 million people are unemployed, while 300 million workers live in extreme poverty, according to the ILO. Wage gaps are growing at a time of declining wage growth.
  • Two-thirds of jobs in the developing world are susceptible to automation, and only 15% of households in emerging countries have Internet access. Implementing the Paris Climate Agenda could create 24 million new jobs, but it could still be brutal to the 6 million workers expected to lose their jobs in the transition to a greener economy.
SC to take ‘in-chamber’ decision on Art. 35A plea
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will be taking an “in-chamber” decision on the listing of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35-A, which provides special rights and privileges to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • In August last year, the court indicated that it would consider the question of whether Article 35A was violative of the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
  • However, at that time, the Centre and J&K government had sought an adjournment on the ground that an interlocutor was carrying on dialogues with the State’s stakeholders.
  • The special status was bestowed on Jammu and Kashmir by incorporating Article 35A in the Constitution. Article 35A was incorporated by an order of President Rajendra Prasad in 1954 on the advice of the Nehru Cabinet.
  • Parliament was not consulted when the President incorporated Article 35A into the Constitution through a Presidential Order issued under Article 370. Article 368 (i) of the Constitution mandates that only the Parliament can amend the Constitution by introducing a new article.
EC files complaint against ‘cyber expert’
  • Taking cognisance of the claims made at a press conference in London by Syed Shuja, a self-styled Indian cyber expert, that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) used by the Election Commission of India could be hacked, the poll body on Tuesday asked the Delhi Police to register an FIR.
  • The Commission wrote to the Deputy Commissioner of Police (New Delhi), alleging that by making such claims, Mr. Shuja had caused public mischief, which is an offence under Section 505(1) (b) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • The Supreme Court and several High Courts, in their judgments, had endorsed the use of EVMs in elections.
  • Following doubts raised by various political parties, the Commission, on June 3, 2017, organised an “open challenge”, inviting experts to demonstrate any vulnerability in the machines, the poll panel said. “Nobody turned up for such demonstrations,” said the EC in its complaint, adding that the act of Mr. Shuja was violative of Section 505(1)(b).
  • In a letter to the Commission, the Electronics Corporation of India Limited said that Mr. Shuja had neither been its regular employee nor was he in any way associated with the design and development of EVMs in the public sector undertaking between 2009 and 2014.
  • The police said they had received the complaint and that legal action was being taken under Section 505 of the IPC. 
  • Under Section 188 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police also have powers to investigate crimes committed overseas by an Indian citizen, with prior sanction of the Central government.
India takes back 31 stranded Rohingya
  • India agreed on Tuesday to take back 31 Rohingya stranded on the International Border between Bangladesh and Tripura on Tuesday, and sent them to custody with the Tripura police.
  • The decision to take back the group of refugees consisting of 15 adults and 16 children including a 6-month old baby, who had been stuck in no-man’s land between the two countries since January 19, ended a stand off between Indian Border Security Force personnel, and the Border Guards of Bangladesh.
  • However. officials warned that the 31 Rohingyas are part of a much larger wave of more than 1,300 refugees who have fled India for Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar camps, which further strain diplomatic ties between Dhaka and New Delhi.
  • India also contested claims by Bangladeshi officials that the BSF was forcibly pushing the refugees over the border from its side.
  • “Government is aware of media reports of alleged movement into Bangladesh by some such persons. Government is not a party to such movements. We will work with our neighbours to handle such matters through mutual consultation,” the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs said on Tuesday. He added that the 31 persons who were on the ‘Zero line’ on the India-Bangladesh border, had been provided “necessary shelter, food and material” while their documentation was examined.
  • Sources said once the authorities were given clear evidence the group had crossed over from the Indian side, it was taken back by the Border Security Forces, and then handed to Tripura police, who have taken the adults into custody while the children are likely to be sent to juvenile homes until their case is decided.
  • When asked how the BSF officials established that the detained persons were Rohingyas, a senior government official told The Hindu that they had a card issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), India.
  • The MEA did not respond to a question on whether Rohingyas are fleeing India.
  • According to Nayana Bose, Communications Officer of the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), “More than 1,300 individual Rohingya refugees — some 300 families — have recently arrived from India in Cox’s Bazar.”
  • International Human Rights agencies like the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees have been calling on India to reconsider plans to deport Rohingya back to Myanmar unless their safety is guaranteed, but the government has already repatriated two groups there.
  •  According to officials the repatriations, as well as the threat of attacks at their camps in Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country are driving more and more Rohingyas to flee India for the camps in Cox’s Bazaar which already houses more than 7,00,000 refugees.
  • On Monday night, Tripura police apprehended another group of 30 Rohingya Muslims travelling on a Guwahati-bound bus at Churaibari, believed to be trying to travel across the border as well. As per the Home Ministry’s estimate, there are around 40,000 Rohingyas in India, of whom around 5,700 are in Jammu. Of these, only 16,000 are said to be registered with the United Nations, most of whom came in 2012-13.
ECONOMY

Centre’s debt-to-GDP falls, States’ rises
  • While the Centre is moving in the right direction in terms of meeting the N.K. Singh Committee recommendations on public debt, the States are moving in the opposite direction, data released by the government show.
  • According to the Status Paper on Government Debt for 2017-18, the Centre’s total debt as a percentage of GDP reduced to 46.5% in 2017-18 from 47.5% as of March 31, 2014. The total debt of the States, however, has been rising over this period, to 24% in 2017-18, and is estimated to be 24.3% in 2018-19.
  • In absolute terms, the Centre’s total debt increased from ₹56,69,429 crore at the end of March 2014 to ₹82,35,178 crore in 2017-18, representing a 45% increase. The total debt of the States increased from ₹24,71,270 crore to ₹40,22,090 crore over the same period, an increase of almost 63%.
  • The N.K. Singh-headed FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Review Committee report had recommended the ratio to be 40% for the Centre and 20% for the States, respectively, by 2023. It said that the 60% consolidated Central and State debt limit was consistent with international best practices, and was an essential parameter to attract a better rating from the credit ratings agencies.
  • “Outstanding liabilities of States have increased sharply during 2015-16 and 2016-17, following the issuance of UDAY bonds in these two years, which was reflected in an increase in liability-GDP ratio from 21.7% at end-March 2015 to 23.4% at end-March 2016 and further to 23.8% at end-March 2017,” the status report said.
  • “State governments as a group have exhibited a tendency to hold large cash surpluses/investments in Cash Balance Investment Account on a consistent basis while at the same time resorting to market borrowings to finance their GFD (Gross Fiscal Deficit),” the report said.
  • “This indicates scope for reducing the quantum of market borrowings by State governments in case they bring down their cash surpluses (parked as investment in treasury bills of the Central government),” the report added.
Crisil downgrades IL&FS arm to ‘junk’
  • Rating agency Crisil has downgraded Jharkhand Road Projects Implementation Company Limited (JRPICL) which is a subsidiary of IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd. (ITNL), and a part of the Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) Group to D which is default or junk grade after the company failed to service debt.
  • “The downgrade reflects non-payment of interest and principal obligations on Crisil-rated [non-convertible debentures of ₹438 crore] that were due on January 21, 2019,” it said.
  • Crisil said the rating action is on account of non-adherence to the structured payment mechanism, despite adequate funds in JRPICL’s escrow account.
  • Crisil said JRPICL, with its strong track record, has enough wherewithal to service the NCDs from its cash flow. As on December 31, 2018, the company had ₹345 crore of liquid funds available for debt servicing which is around 4.5 times the quarterly debt obligation of ₹76 crore due in January 2019.

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