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Current Affairs: 26 January 2019

NATION

SC upholds bankruptcy code, cites improved financial flows
  • In a whoop of victory for credits markets and entrepreneurship, the Supreme Court on Friday upheld the constitutionality of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), saying the law sends a clear message that India is no longer “the defaulter’s paradise.”
  • “We are happy to note that in the working of the Code, the flow of financial resource to the commercial sector in India has increased exponentially as a result of financial debts being repaid,” the judgment observed.
  • It said the liquidation value of 63 of the 80 cases resolved through the acceptance of resolution plans was ₹29,788.07 crore. But the amount realised from the resolution process was ₹60,000 crore, that is, 202% higher than the liquidation value.
Bharat Ratna for Pranab, Deshmukh, Hazarika
  • President Ramnath Kovind on Friday conferred the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian honour, on former President Pranab Mukherjee, along with social activist Nanaji Deshmukh (posthumous), and Assamese musician Bhupen Hazarika (posthumous).
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first to congratulate the awardees. “Pranab Da is an outstanding statesman of our times. He has served the nation selflessly and tirelessly for decades, leaving a strong imprint on the nation’s growth trajectory. His wisdom and intellect have few parallels,” he tweeted.
  • Of Nanaji Deshmukh, a senior RSS leader who also worked for rural development and welfare of farmers and was considered a stalwart of the Sangh Parivar.
  • He said Bhupen Hazarika popularised India’s musical traditions globally. The awards have political significance, with Nanaji Deshmukh being a nod to the larger ideological family of the BJP.
10% reservation for the poor challenged in SC
  • The Supreme Court on Friday sought the government’s response to petitions challenging the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, which provides 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for those economically backward in the unreserved category.
  • The law was passed by Parliament, and received the President’s assent. A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, refused to stay it on Friday.
  • The Act amended Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution by adding clauses empowering the government to provide reservation on the basis of economic backward- ness.
  • The petitions in the court said the Act violated the Basic Features of the Constitution.
  • The petitioners argued that the 50% ceiling on quota has been “engrafted as a part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution’s equality code” by the Supreme Court.
  • The Bench, also comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna, issued notice to the government and ordered it to reply in three weeks.
  • One of the petitions, filed by Youth For Equality, represented by advocates Senthil Jagadeesan and Gopal Sankaranarayanan, contended that the Supreme Court, in a nine-judge Bench judgment in the Indira Sawhney case, had already settled the law that economic backwardness cannot be the sole basis for reservation. The plea argued that the Act was “vulnerable” and negated a binding judgment of the top court.
Desecration of religious texts: no CBI probe, says HC
  • The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Friday dismissed petitions seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the desecration of religious texts and police firing incidents in the State in 2015 and challenging the findings of Ranjit Singh Commission into the incidents.
  • Justice Rajan Gupta said the special investigation team (SIT) formed by the Punjab government would probe the incidents.
  • The petitioners had demanded a CBI probe into the incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and related police firings.
  • They had also challenged a Punjab Assembly resolution passed in August last year for taking back investigation of the incidents from the CBI.
  • With the dismissal of the petitions, the interim stay granted on proceedings against police officers for their alleged role in firing on protesters at Behbal Kalan in 2015 where two people died, stands vacated.
  • Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda said, “Our stand has been that the findings of the [Ranjit Singh] commission are meant for the information of the government. These are not findings of the court of law as such.”
‘SAARC nations must have synergy’
  • The conundrum of South Asian identity, involving the challenges posed by the 1947 Partition, internal politics of each country and meddling by the U.S. and China, could be resolved if the “negative discourse” on the region was driven out of the public domain and the borders were rendered irrelevant, a panel of diplomats, essayists and foreign policy experts said here on Friday.
  • The experts said in the JLF session on “South Asia: Walls and Bridges” that the region’s future lay in cooperation among the eight SAARC nations and strengthening of bonds with emphasis on common ethnicity, culture, traditions, languages and religions. The panel felt the focus of South Asian discourse needed to shift away from the perception of India's dominance in the region.
  • Mr. Menon said the walls in South Asia were political, whereas the bridges could be built in every domain. The SAARC could play a meaningful role, as there were no security or financial dilemmas among the member countries, except between India and Pakistan, he said, and added that there was no need to panic on interference by countries such as China and the U.S.
  • Ms. Thapa pointed out that when Nepal looked towards India with an “emotional response” for emulating the values of secularism, institutional independence and women's empowerment, the new trends of majoritarianism were sending across confusing signals. 
  • Ms. Haidar made observations about the role of SAARC in the changing geo-political scenario and stressed the need to go a step ahead of the use of “soft power” and bring the South Asian nations together to ensure regional cooperation.
Audit report on Rafale deal not yet complete, says CAG
  • The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) has not yet completed its audit report regarding purchase of the Rafale aircraft, according to its response to an RTI query this week. This erodes the basis of the Supreme Court’s December 2018 judgment on the Rafale case, according to RTI activists.
  • On December 14, the Supreme Court refused to embark on a judicial review into the deal for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets. One paragraph of its judgment, however, caused considerable controversy. The verdict said, “The pricing details have, however, been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG), and the report of the CAG has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Only a redacted portion of the report was placed before Parliament and is in the public domain.”
  • The Centre petitioned for a correction of the statement, saying that the court had “misinterpreted” its submission. It said that while the government had already shared pricing details with the CAG, the CAG’s report “is examined” by the PAC, referring to the procedure which would be followed as and when the CAG report is ready.
  • In the wake of the controversy, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information co-convener Anjali Bhardwaj filed an RTI request to the CAG asking about the dates on which its report on purchase of Rafale aircraft was finalised, submitted to the government, and tabled in Parliament.
  • In a response dated January 21, the CAG replied: “Audit Report is under preparation. Therefore, no information can be provided in this stage.”
Get out and vote, says President
  • President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday called upon citizens to perform the “sacred” act of voting, and described this year’s election as a “once-in-a-century moment” that will shape the future of India.
  • Addressing the nation on the eve of the 70th Republic day, the President said the “Indian model” rested on the tripod of diversity, democracy and development.
  • In an indirect reference to the 10% quota for the economically weaker sections, President Kovind mentioned that the recent Constitution amendment to provide special facilities for talented children from poorer families was another step towards achieving Mahatma Gandhi’s dreams.
  • The President advocated the need for having conversations with groups which had been historically disadvantaged.
  • He observed that people born in the 21st century would vote for the first time, and called the elections a “collective call to wisdom and collective action and not just a political exercise”.
  • Stressing the importance of an inclusive and pluralistic growth model, he said: “This country belongs to each of us and to all of us — every group and every community, every region and every identity. It belongs to every citizen and every individual. India’s pluralism is its greatest strength and its greatest example to the world.”
  • He said while physical infrastructure such as roads, ports, railways and metro services were all integrating India like never before, the best indicator of social change was society’s attitude towards gender equity and providing equal opportunities to women.
  • President Kovind reminded the nation that 2019 marked the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and it will be followed by the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution.
India, South Africa seal partnership deal
  • India and South Africa on Friday agreed on a three-year strategic partnership agreement to boost relations.
  • The agreement, signed during the visit of President Cyril Ramaphosa, will cover defence and security, blue economy cooperation and sustainable development.
  • At the end of the delegation-level talks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the scope for cooperation.
  • “Our countries have compatible world views. We have strong partnership in platforms such as the BRICS, the G-20, the Indian Ocean Region Association and the IBSA Dialogue Forum. We can work together for the reform of the UN Security Council,” he said.
  • India also invited South Africa to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and congratulated it on securing the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for 2019-20.
  • A joint statement acknowledged the growing interaction between the Navies of the two countries, and the Indian leader welcomed the South African participation in the India-Africa Field Training Exercise next March.
  • The statement reiterated the role of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) that ensures freedom of navigation by keeping sea lanes free and secure.
  • Speaking at the first IBSA Gandhi-Mandela Freedom Lecture, organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs, Mr. Ramaphosa highlighted the common heritage of struggle and the common aspiration of non-discriminatory national and international politics.
ECONOMY

‘Agri sector should be boosted through credit flows’
  • The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC-PM) on Friday said that the agriculture sector should be bolstered through increased credit flows and schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The Council also added that it strongly felt that the government should not deviate from its fiscal consolidation path.
  • “While the prospects for world economic growth does not look very promising, particularly in the advanced economics, there is sufficient amount of growth momentum in emerging market economies,” the EAC-PM said in a release, following a review meeting on the state of the economy.
  • “India is not insulated from global developments. Nevertheless, India’s growth is expected to be in the 7-7.5% range in the next few years; one of the fastest in the world.”
  • However, it added that with reforms designed to address the structural problems, growth rates can “easily be enhanced by at least 1%”. 
  • “The Council felt that the exchange rate management of the rupee by the RBI has been sound despite the volatility in the price of crude oil,” it said. “The good news is that oil intensity (use of fossil as a percentage of GDP) is showing a declining trend.
  • “There are indications that financial savings have started going up and there is credit up tick through private banks to the services sector,” it added. “The reforms in the financial sector should be strengthened further building upon what the Government is already doing.”
  • The EAC-PM said that it felt that the challenge of insularity being seen in external trade should be reversed through supportive policy interventions because there is a positive turn in exports that is now visible.
  • The challenges in the agricultural sector should be addressed by looking at credit flows and support to employment programmes such MNREGA, the EAC-PM said.

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