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Current Affairs: 29 January 2019

NATION

Bodo outfit’s leader, 14 others convicted in Assam blasts case
  • A special court on Monday convicted the chief of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), Ranjan Daimary, and 14 others in the 2008 Assam serial bombing case. In the serial blasts triggered by the NDFB on October 30, 2008, in Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta, 88 people were killed and over 500 injured.
  • Daimary and 21 others were named as accused in the case, which was taken over by the CBI from the Assam police. Seven of the accused are absconding, and three are believed to have been killed in encounters with security forces. 
  • The first chargesheet was filed in 2009, followed by the second and the final one on December 20, 2010.
  • Arrested in Bangladesh in December 2009, Daimary was handed over to the Indian authorities the following year. He was released on interim bail in June 2013 to facilitate his participation in the peace negotiations with his group.
  • CBI investigating officer N.S. Yadav said the special court under Justice Aparesh K. Chakraborty would pronounce the quantum of punishment on Wednesday. The State sought the death penalty for the accused, he said.
  • They have been found guilty under the Indian Penal Code, the Explosive Substances Act, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
‘A.P. Buddhist remains date back to Satavahana period’
  • The Department of Archaeology and Museums has found Buddhist remains under the ‘garbhagriha’ (sanctum sanctorum) of Sivalayam at Kondaveedu fort. The remains date back to later Satavahana period — 1st to 2nd century A.D.
  • The department has taken up conservation and restoration of two temples — Sivalayam and Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple — in the fort recently.
  • The department officials found the remains during the process of dismantling the temple for reconstruction. A petal design on railing piece, stupa, pillar etc were unearthed from the site.
  • Department of Archaeology and Museums Commissioner G. Vani Mohan says the discovery of the ‘Buddhist remains’ push back the hoary past of the historic Kondaveedu fort to the Satavahana period. Now the history of Kondaveedu fort has to be rewritten as it goes back to the Satavahana period. 
  • The study and conservation of the ‘Buddhist remains’ are under way. Much more interesting facts would come to light when the exercise was done.
  • A few freelance archaeologists recently said that the stupa was built during the Ikshvaku period, that is the third century A.D. But, the department officials, however, concluded that the remains were much older. 
  • One small fragment of Brahmi Inscription was found in the stupa remains. Based on this inscriptional evidence, it emphasises that Buddhism existed on Kondaveedu fort from Satavahana period. It has eight letters i.e.. ‘gha ra kha tha sa a thae vaa.’
‘India can’t handle more big cats’
  • While conservation efforts are aimed at increasing the tiger count in India, global experts and officials in the government suggest that India must also prepare for a new challenge — of reaching the limits of its management capacity.
  • Officially, India had 2,226 tigers as of 2014. An ongoing census is expected to reveal an update to these numbers. But Rajesh Gopal, head of the Global Tiger Forum, said that India’s current capacity to host tigers ranged from 2,500-3,000 tigers.
  • Moreover, said another official, 25-35% of India’s tigers now lived outside protected reserves.
  • With dwindling core forests as well as the shrinking of tiger corridors (strips of land that allow tigers to move unfettered across diverse habitat), officials said there were several challenges — alongside the traditional challenges of poaching and man-animal conflict — to India’s success at tiger conservation.  
  • Barring China, all other tiger-range countries — Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, India and Nepal — were part of the conference in New Delhi on Monday.
  • Another official, involved in the ongoing census said the report — expected to be made public in May — will also, for the first time, discuss challenges of having a thriving tiger population.
  • K. Ullas Karanth, director, Centre for Wildlife Studies, however, said, “I would estimate the potential carrying capacity for tigers in India at 10,000 to 15,000, not the 3,000 we already have. When tiger recovery efforts began 50 years ago we had about 2,000 tigers.. If after all this effort and expenditure, we are satisfied with just 3,000 tigers, it points at a serious management problem: needlessly huge amount of money is being dumped repeatedly on the same 25,000-30,000 sq. km area where tigers are already at saturation densities, while other areas with potential for future recovery are starved of key investments.”
  • Since 2006, the WII has been tasked with coordinating the tiger estimation exercise. The once-in-four-years exercise calculated, in 2006, that India had only 1,411 tigers. This rose to 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014 on the back of improved conservation measures and new estimation methods.
SC to hear petition on Bhopal gas leak payout
  • The Supreme Court on Monday decided to examine in April a curative petition by the government for more compensation to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, over and above the $470 million paid by Union Carbide.
  • The petition, which came up before a Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said the compensation, determined in 1989, was based on the assumptions of truth unrelated to realities.
  • In 2011, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Union Carbide Corporation, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemicals Co., U.S.; Dow Chemicals; McLeod Russel India, Kolkata; and Eveready Industries, Kolkata.
  • The Centre had sought reconsideration of the May 4, 1989 and October 3, 1991 orders of the court, contending that the 1989 settlement was seriously impaired. It has sought ₹7,400 crore in additional funds from the pesticide company.
  • The tragedy unfolded in Bhopal on the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984, when the highly dangerous and toxic gas, Methyl Isocyanate, escaped from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). It resulted in the death of 5,295 humans and injuries to 5,68,292 persons, besides a loss of livestock and property of 5,478 persons.
  • The court has already dismissed a curative petition filed by the CBI in 2010 for increasing the punishment.
  • The agency had wanted to correct the Supreme Court’s “colossal failure of justice” in 1996 when it chose to dismiss the gas leak as the result of an act of negligence, and not culpable homicide, by former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson and his Indian employees. Mr. Anderson died in 2014.
  • Dismissing the curative plea in 2011, the court held that “no satisfactory explanation has been given to file such curative petitions after about 14 years from the 1996 judgment.”
  • As a Bhopal court order sentencing Union Carbide executives to two years in jail sparked public outcry, the CBI moved the Supreme Court and wanted it to “restore” the criminal charge under Section 304 Part II of the IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) against the accused.
Plea challenges ‘Hindu prayers’ in KVs
  • The Supreme Court on Monday referred to a Constitution Bench a plea questioning a revised education code followed by the Central government-run, 1,125-strong Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, which compels students to recite Sanskrit and Hindi verses with folded palms and closed eyes during morning assemblies or face public humiliation in front of the entire school.
  • A Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman found that the petition raises an important issue where a secular state, which is supposed to have no religion, is compelling students drawn from diverse faiths, beliefs, minority communities and many who may be coming from agnostic, sceptisist and rationalist family backgrounds, to recite a prayer which is “based on Hindu religion”, under threat of punishment.
  • The Supreme Court had issued notice to the Centre on the petition filed by Veenayak Shah, who is represented by advocates Satya Mitra and Pallavi Sharma, in January last year.
  • The petition said the revised education code of the Kendriya Vidyalayas violates Articles 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression) and Article 28(1), which prohibits the state from providing any religious instruction in an educational institution run on public funds. The petition said the common prayer amounted to “religious instruction”.
  • Kendriya Vidyalayas function under the aegis of the Ministry Of Human Resource Development. The Union Minister is the Chairman.
  • The petition pointed to Article 92 of the revised code, which mandates that “all students irrespective of their faith and belief, have to compulsorily attend the morning assembly and recite the prayer. All the teachers share the collective responsibility of supervising the assembly and making sure that every student folds his/her hands, closes his/her eyes and recites the prayer without fail. Any student failing to do so is punished and humiliated in front of the entire school”.
  • The petition said it is constitutionally impermissible to impose the prayer on students of other faiths and beliefs.
  • Besides, the practice is an obstacle to fostering a scientific temperament among the students as the “whole idea of God and religious faith is given immense priority and the same is instilled as a thought process among the students”.
SC seeks count of detained foreigners
  • The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to provide it details of the number of foreigners lodged in detention centres in Assam. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi sought the number of functioning detention centres, the status of pending cases against the detainees before the Foreigners’ Tribunal, the period of their detention and so on.
  • The Bench, which included Justice Sanjiv Khanna, asked Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta to provide details of the number of persons who were declared foreigners and deported till date. It sought year-wise details of foreigners who had illegally entered India in the past decade.
  • The information has to be provided by February 19, the next date of hearing in the court. On November 5 last year, the government informed the court about the framing of new guidelines for keeping foreign nationals in detention centres across the country. Mr. Mehta had then submitted that tenders were invited by the Assam government for the setting up of a new detention centre in Goalpara and the work was expected to be completed using pre-fab technology by August 31, 2019.
  • In September, the court admitted the petition filed by Harsh Mander, who, speaking through his lawyer Prashant Bhushan, compared the situation of families languishing in detention centres with the family separation policy imposed on illegal immigrants in the U.S. by the Trump administration.
  • The Bench had then sought responses from the Centre and the Assam government on the plight of families which languish in the State’s six detention centres as “declared foreigners,” separated from each other and their children..
No IB report on private institutes, says Centre
  • Higher Education Secretary R. Subrahmanyam has denied that the Union Human Resource Development Ministry had received a report from the Intelligence Bureau against giving the institute of eminence (IoE) status to several top private institutes for being critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • The news portal theprint.in reported on Monday that the IB had made adverse remarks against nine private universities, including Ashoka University, KREA University and Azim Premji University, in the note sent to the Ministry. The nine are among 12 private and seven public institutes that have made it to the second list of institutions picked for the IoE tag, the news portal said.
  • The board at KREA University, which is yet to begin operations, includes former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, who has been “critical of the government,” says the IB note accessed by the portal.
  • A senior intelligence official said the agency had not generated any such report.
Job on compassionate grounds not a right: SC
  • The Supreme Court has reiterated that the policy of compassionate appointment in public service is not a right, but a benefit held out by the state to rescue the family of an employee, who died in harness, from penury.
  • A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed that compassionate appointment is an exception to the general rule that appointment to any public post in the service of the state has to be made on the basis of principles which accord with Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
  • The court said it was the “immediacy of the need” which furnishes the basis for the state to allow the benefit of compassionate appointment. Where the authority finds that the financial and other circumstances of the family are such that in the absence of immediate assistance, it would be reduced to being indigent, an application from a dependent member of the family could be considered, Justice Chandrachud wrote.
  • The court was hearing an appeal filed by Shashi Kumar, whose father, an employee with the horticulture department in Himachal Pradesh, died suddenly.
  • Mr. Kumar applied for compassionate appointment, but the State government wrote back saying that the income certificate does not contain the family pension amount received. The State government argued in the High Court that the information about the family pension was required to calculate the financial status of the family and whether it was in need of compassionate appointment. The High Court ruled in favour of Mr. Kumar, following which, the State moved the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court set aside the High Court decision, reasoning that the scheme must take into account the welfare measures provided by the government, including the family pension.
WORLD

U.S. declares it has agreed upon peace framework with Taliban
  • American and Taliban officials have agreed to the framework of a peace deal in which the insurgents guarantee to prevent Afghanistan from being used by terrorists, and that could lead to a full pull-out of U.S. troops in return for a ceasefire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government, the chief U.S. negotiator said Monday.
  • After nine years of halting efforts to reach a peace deal with the Taliban, the draft framework, though preliminary, is the biggest tangible step toward ending the two-decade war.
  • A senior American official said that the Taliban delegation had asked for time to confer with their leadership about the U.S. insistence that the insurgents talk with the Afghan government and agree to a ceasefire as part of any finalised deal. The official said they had made it clear to the Taliban that all the issues discussed were “interconnected” as part of a “package deal”. The official’s account was supported by details that have been leaked by some Taliban and Western officials in recent days.
  • Although other Taliban sources said that more concrete details of a U.S. troop withdrawal had already been agreed upon, American officials said on Monday that those details had not yet been hashed out.
  • Mr. Khalilzad returned to Afghanistan on Sunday to brief the government in Kabul after conducting six days of talks with the Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar.
  • He highlighted previous settlements that ended in bloodshed, including when the Soviet Union withdrew from the country in the late 1980s. Despite a promise of a peace deal at the time, Afghanistan broke into anarchy. 
  • During the talks last week, the Taliban signalled its seriousness by appointing one of its most powerful officials from the original movement, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, as their chief peace negotiator.
  • Senior American officials said new talks would start in late February, but suggested that teams from both sides could start on technical details before then.

ECONOMY

FM urges PSBs to hike credit to MSMEs, homeowners
  • A few days before the presentation of the Vote on Account, Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on Monday held a meeting with the heads of public sector banks (PSBs) during which they discussed ways to increase support to the MSME sector and improve credit for homeowners.
  • During the meeting, also attended by RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das, the bankers reviewed the working of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and discussed ways by which faster resolutions could be reached.
  • Mr. Goyal said that the bankers spoke about how the working of the IBC had helped them recover large amounts of money both through the IBC mechanism and the NCLTs, and also due to the fact that many cases had been resolved without having to go through the IBC due to the pressure that is built up on large borrowers.
  • The bankers also held a separate meeting with Mr. Das, during which the Governor conveyed the expectations of the RBI and heard their views of the banking sector’s performance.
  • “Basically, the idea was to share with the PSBs, their MDs and CEOs, what the regulator’s expectations are from the banking sector and also to listen to them about their assessment of the banking sector in general and the public sector banks in particular and what is their take on the future of the public sector banks,” Mr. Das told the media after the meeting.
  • The Vote on Account is to be presented on February 1, while the RBI’s monetary policy review is scheduled for February 7.
  • “In this connection, the significant reduction in NNPAs and significant de-risking of their credit portfolios during the current financial year were taken note of.”
Be prepared for one or two major shocks in NBFC sector: Piramal
  • The liquidity problem among NBFCs is expected to continue for some time and there could be one or two major shocks in the financial services sector in the coming months, Ajay Piramal, chairman, Piramal Enterprises Ltd. (PEL), said on Monday.
  • “In August, I had said that there could be a shake up in the financial services sector and it will turn systemic. So, we had taken corrective steps and added to the equity,” he said.
  • Mr. Piramal said like the real estate sector, the NBFC sector was also heading for consolidation and only very few, strong players would survive.
  • “The marginal ones will close down in the medium term. And companies with strong track record will survive,” he added.

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