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Current Affairs: 25 January 2019

NATION

Justice Sikri also opts out of CBI chief appointment case
  • Within two days of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi recusing himself, Justice A.K. Sikri on Thursday bowed out of hearing a petition challenging the appointment of M. Nageswara Rao as interim CBI Director.
  • 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.
  • At the short hearing, Justice Sikri said he would ask for the matter to be posted before another Bench on January 25.
  • Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, for petitioners NGO Common Cause and Anjali Bhardwaj, said, “Tomorrow [January 25] will be too late in this case” as the high-power committee would meet in a few hours to recommend a new CBI Director.
  • “First, the CJI recuses and pushes the case to January 24, the very day the committee meeting is scheduled. Now, Your Lordship also recuses... It seems like an effort to frustrate our cause,” Mr. Dave protested.
  • Justice Sikri explained that the order passed by the Chief Justice was not on the administrative side, but a judicial order pronounced in court. He added that he had no opportunity to recuse from the case till it came up for hearing.
  • Mr. Dave said the petitioners had no objection to Justice Sikri hearing the petition. They had no misgivings about the fact that Justice Sikri had been part of the earlier high-power committee meeting which removed Mr. Verma.
ICICI loan scam: CBI books Kochhars, Videocon head
  • The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has booked Chanda Kochhar, the then managing director and chief executive officer of ICICI Bank, her husband Deepak Kochhar, Videocon Group head Venugopal Dhoot and others for sanction of credit facilities in violation of rules, which caused a loss of ₹1,730 crore to the bank.
  • The FIR, registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act, was based on a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) initiated by the CBI in December 2017, which traces the sanctioning of the loans amounting to ₹3,250 crore to various companies of the Videocon Group in violation of the Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines and the bank’s credit policy, and the alleged illegal gratification paid by the Videocon Group to the companies owned by Mr. Kochhar.
  • The CBI on Thursday, conducted searches at four locations in Mumbai and Aurangabad, including the offices of Videocon Group, Nupower Renewables Limited (NRL) and Supreme Energy Private Limited (SEPL).
  • Among those named in the FIR are Mr. Kochchar’s company NRL, Videocon International Electronics Limited (VIEL), Videocon Industries Limited (VIL) and SEPL.
  • During the inquiry, the CBI found that between June 2009 and October 2011, the bank had sanctioned six high-value loans to various Videocon Group firms. On August 26, 2009, ₹300 crore was sanctioned to VIEL in alleged violation of rules. Ms. Kochhar was a member of the sanctioning committee. On September 7, 2009, the loan was disbursed and the very next day, Mr. Dhoot transferred ₹64 crore to NRL via SEPL, as alleged.
  • This was the first major capital received by NRL to acquire its first power plant,” a CBI officer said.
  • The officer added that five other loans, collectively amounting to ₹1,575 crore were sanctioned to various companies of the Videocon group, including for refinancing the existing loans of the company, in violation of the credit policy of the bank.
  • According to the FIR, NRL was incorporated in December 2008 and Mr. Kochhar, Mr. Dhoot and one Saurabh Dhoot were its directors. The Dhoots resigned in January 2009. However, before doing so, the Videocon Group chief allotted over 19.9 lakh warrants valued at ₹10 per unit, to Mr. Kochhar on an initial payment of ₹1 per warrant.
  • In the case of SEPL, the agency said it was set up in July 2008 by Mr. Dhoot and his associate Vasant Kakade. Mr. Dhoot resigned as a director in January 2009 and transferred the company’s control to Mr. Kochhar by offloading his shares in favour of Pinnacle Energy Trust.
  • The credit limits in question were sanctioned after Ms. Kochhar took charge of ICICI Bank as MD & CEO in May 2009. 
We won’t be bullied into giving up EVMs: CEC
  • The Election Commission is open to any criticism or feedback from stakeholders, especially political parties, but it will not be intimidated into giving up Electronic Voting Machines and returning to ballot boxes, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said on Thursday.
  • He was speaking at an international conference on ‘Making our elections inclusive & accessible,’ organised a day ahead of the National Voters Day. His remarks came days after a self-styled cyberexpert said EVMs could be hacked.
  • Recounting the experience in the recent Assembly elections in five States, Mr. Arora said just six incidents were reported from among 1.76 lakh polling booths.
  • He said the EVMs were manufactured in highly secured conditions by the two public sector undertakings that were doing a lot of work for the country’s defence establishments.
Hope for Kerala in Bandipur deadlock
  • The difference of opinion between the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways over the proposal to construct elevated roads through sections of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve has given a sliver of hope to the Kerala government to tackle the night traffic ban on National Highway 766.
  • The contention between the two Central Ministries on the issue, in which Kerala and Karnataka have stakes, had led the Supreme Court to ask the Centre to arrive at a consensus within six weeks. 
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has not concurred with the project for an elevated 5 km road over Bandipur while the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is willing to construct five elevated sections, of which four will be in Bandipur and one in Wayanad. 
  • Now, the five-member panel appointed by the Supreme Court will have to intervene to secure a joint statement of the two Ministries before the apex court, T.M. Rasheed, convener, Nilgiri-Wayanad National Railway Action Committee, which has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court in this regard, told The Hindu on Thursday.
  • He said the nine-year-old ban on traffic through Bandipur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. is getting more complicated with an increase in vehicles plying via the highway connecting Kozhikode to Mysuru during daytime.
ISRO tastes first success of 2019
  • Under a starry night and a waning gibbous moon, ISRO’s PSLV C-44 broke the silence over a brimming Pulicat lake as it lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR, to successfully place into orbit a military satellite, Microsat-R.
  • The mission with the modified PSLV with just two strap-on motors, dubbed the PSLV-DL (dual strap-ons), marked another first for ISRO as it provided an alternative to its normal six strap-on motors. This will enable it to carry slightly higher payloads than its Core-Alone version.
  • Towards the end of the first stage, the rocket’s plumes were white with its tail end burning bright red even as a large flock of birds passed on the horizon. A second later, as the rocket soared further into the night sky, the second stage ignition burned a bright orange propelling the rocket ahead.
  • Microsat-R, placed into orbit 13 and a half minutes after lift-off, is a defence application satellite. It is the first time an Indian satellite was being placed by ISRO in a low orbit at an altitude of 274 km ISRO also used this launch as an opportunity to demonstrate the usability of the fourth stage of the rocket after the satellites are ejected into orbit.
  • Till Thursday night, the fourth stage used to just become yet another piece of space debris. However, ISRO has found a way to make use of this stage with a student satellite, Kalamsat, made by Space Kidz India, weighing just 1.26kg, attached to it.
  • This would enable any agency that wants to conducts experiments in space to use the fourth stage till it disintegrates naturally. The fourth stage of the rocket may be orbiting in space for six months to a year. ISRO is aiming to use this time-frame to enable agencies to run short time experiments. Mr. Sivan asked students in India to develop such satellites and ISRO would take care of the launch.
SC refuses to stay amendments to SC/ST Act
  • The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018, that nullified a judgment that diluted the stringent provisions of the law to protect Dalits.
  • The government brought in the amendments, arguing that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes still faced social stigma, poverty and humiliation.
  • The 2018 Act nullified a March 20 judgment of the court, which allowed anticipatory bail to those booked for committing atrocities against members of these communities.
  • The original 1989 Act bars anticipatory bail. After the verdict, protests broke out, in which several died and property worth crores was destroyed. The government filed a review petition and then amended the 1989 Act.
  • A Bench, led by Justice A.K. Sikri, declined the petition to stay the operation of the amendments and ordered that it be tagged with the review.
  • The government responded that there was no decrease in the atrocities on these communities, despite the laws to protect their civil rights, and 195 special courts in 14 States.
Pravasi meet attendance dips
  • The government has termed the three-day Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) convention of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs), that ended on Wednesday “the large and grandest of the PBDs held so far.”
  • However, numbers given by officials for 2019 appear to be below the figures issued by the government for the last PBD gathering in 2017.
  • The numbers dropped despite special arrangements being made for the delegates to travel to Allahabad and Delhi this year; even the date of the PBD was changed to attract larger numbers to the convention.
  • “We received registrations from 7,228 delegates from about 90 countries this year, which is a very big number, of which about 3,000 will travel to the Kumbh and to Delhi for the Republic Day parade,” said Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Singh on Wednesday.
  • Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Dnyaneshwar Mulay, Secretary CPV & OIA, had added that of the 7,228 registrations, the number of delegates who had attended the convention was “close to 5,000” and was “breaking all records of the past.”
  • However, according to the official figures given by the MEA at the 14th convention in 2017, when the PBD was held in Bengaluru, the previous conference had attracted as many as “8,000 delegates”.
  • “The 14th ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’ was inaugurated in the presence of the Prime Minister of India as well as the chief guest, the Prime Minister of Portugal. The event was held in the presence of 8,000 delegates, making it the largest ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’ ever,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said at a press conference on January 8, 2017.
India, South Africa to revise 22-year-old Strategic Partnership
  • India and South Africa will update their Strategic Partnership by agreeing on a comprehensive “roadmap” on the way ahead, as well as relaxing visa restrictions, when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa meets with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, officials said here.
  • Mr. Ramaphosa will be in India as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade on January 26, and and will be accompanied by nine Ministers and a 50-member business delegation.
  • The Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa, called the Red Fort Declaration, was signed in March 1997 by the then South African President Nelson Mandela and former PM H.D. Deve Gowda.
  • Officials said all aspects the partnership would be reviewed and updated with a three-year plan of action on security cooperation, trade and investment, tourism, harnessing the ‘blue economy’, maritime cooperation, agriculture, science and technology projects.
  • “This is going to be one important agreement, which will have all the areas on a roadmap with specific action plans,” he added, describing the “catch-all” document that will be signed on Thursday. 
  • The two sides are also expected to explore new defence deals in the backdrop of the lifting of a 13-year old ban on South African defence firm Denel that was barred from doing business in India since 2005.
  • The decision to take Denel off the blacklist was made after Mr. Ramaphosa made a personal intervention on the issue during his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Johannesburg last July.
Staff fret as banks ask them to buy shares
  • Several public sector banks that are coming up with Employees Share Purchase Schemes (ESPS) are asking their staff to buy a particular amount of shares to ensure that the process sails through smoothly.
  • Employees of some of these banks whom The Hindu spoke to said there had been a mandate to buy the shares. They, however, added that there was no formal communication in this regard.
  • According to an employee of a mid-sized public sector bank (PSB), those above a certain rank had been asked to buy 10,000 shares. Similarly, a large PSB had asked its clerical staff to buy about 1,000 shares, while higher rank employees had been asked to buy 10,000 shares.
  • Last year, when another large PSB came up with such a scheme, its general managers were asked to buy 7,000 shares each. To ensure they participate in the scheme, all these banks have asked their employees to open demat accounts. 
  • “We understand that banks are forcing staff members to open Demat Accounts, expressing intention to issue shares to all the staff members under Employee Share Purchase Scheme,” said Devidas Tuljapurkar, general secretary, All India Bank of Maharashtra Employees Federation.
  • In March 2017, the government had allowed public sector banks to offer stock options to their employees, which was mainly aimed at retaining experienced hands and better incentives, apart from raising capital.
  • Trade unions have opposed the sale of shares to the employees.
  • “Recently some of the public sector nationalised banks have come out with the decision to augment their capital through sale of shares to employees. As part of our decision to oppose all methods of privatising the capital of nationalised banks, we have been opposing sale of banks’ shares to private hands, both corporate and individual,” said C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary, All India Bank Employees’ Association.

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