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Current Affairs: 3 January 2019

NATION

Bill to allow voluntary use of Aadhaar ID introduced
  • Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha that will provide legal backing for voluntary seeding of biometric Aadhaar ID with mobile numbers and bank accounts after the Supreme Court barred mandatory use of the 12-digit unique identifier by private firms.
  • He said the proposed amendment Bill was in compliance with the Supreme Court’s judgment and that there would be no infringement of privacy.
  • He also said the government was ready with a data protection Bill and it would soon be introduced.
  • Mr. Tharoor said it violated the ruling that held the right to privacy to be a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. 
  • Calling these apprehensions as ‘misplaced,’ the Bill to amend the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 and another Bill to amend the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002 were introduced in the House amid protests by members of the AIADMK and the TDP over various issues.
  • The two Acts are being changed to allow voluntary sharing of the 12-digit identification number for obtaining new mobile phone connections and for the opening of bank accounts.
  • Under the proposed changes, an Aadhaar holder can opt for offline verification using a QR scan and will not require to share the actual Aadhaar number.
New panel to protect Assam’s heritage
  • The Union Cabinet has approved the setting up of a high-level committee for implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord which provides for constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assam. It also recommended reserving Assembly seats for indigenous communities in the State.
  • Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had assured Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal in May 2018 that a committee would be set up at the earliest.
  • Home Minister Rajnath Singh had assured Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in May 2018 that a committee would be set up at the earliest in consultation with the State government.
  • The Cabinet approved several measures to fulfil the demands of the Bodo community. It approved the establishment of a Bodo Museum-cum-language and cultural study centre, modernisation of the existing AIR station and Doordarshan Kendra at Kokrajhar and naming a superfast train as Aronai Express.
Plan to have specific names on Arunachal ST list cleared
  • The Union Cabinet approved the Home Ministry’s proposal to replace the generic term ‘any Naga tribes’ with the specific names of the tribes that would qualify for recognition as Scheduled Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The decision taken ahead of the 2019 general election, on a proposal from the Arunachal Pradesh government, is likely to have a bearing on the peace talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM).
  • The NSCN-IM and other Naga groups have been campaigning for a Greater Nagalim or a contiguous land for the Nagas across Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Myanmar.
  • Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2018, for revision of the list of Scheduled Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, was cleared, and the names of some communities would be deleted.
  • An official statement said ‘Khampti’ would be replaced with ‘Tai Khamti’ in the list. ‘Abor’ would be deleted and ‘Mishmi-Kaman, Idu and Taraon’ would be included. ‘Monpa, Memba, Sartang, Sajolong’ would be included in lieu of ‘Momba’ in the ST list of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The Home Ministry will have to move the Bill in Parliament before the winter session concludes on January 8 for the changes to come into effect.
SC dismisses plea to defer bifurcation of Hyderabad HC
  • The Supreme Court refused to entertain a petition filed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court Advocates’ Association in Hyderabad to defer the implementation of a notification issued on December 26 bifurcating the Hyderabad High Court into the new Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Courts.”
  • Justice Sikri observed orally that the court had considered every aspect of the matter of bifurcation before asking the government to go ahead with it. 
  • The two separate High Courts are functioning from January 1. The petition had urged that the bifurcation be delayed until the new premises for the Andhra Pradesh High Court in the capital city of Amaravati was completed. The High Court will function from temporary premises till the construction work is completed.
  • Andhra Pradesh had already informed the Supreme Court that the judges, who would preside over the courts of the new High Court, were satisfied with the facilities that were created in an interim building complex that would house the High Court till a permanent building was constructed.
HC stays ban on online sale of drugs
  • A Division Bench of the Madras High Court stayed the operation of a single judge’s December 17 order banning online sale of medicines. Though the Centre was yet to notify statutory rules for regulating such sales, imposing a sudden ban would cause grave hardship and health issues to patients relying on e-pharmacies, the Bench said.
  • Passing interim orders on a batch of writ appeals preferred by e-pharma firms, Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and P. Rajamanickam said the number of people who prefer to purchase medicines online was on the rise because not all patients and their caregivers would be in a position to go in search of the required drugs.
  • They also recorded the submission of senior counsel P.S. Raman that e-pharmacies aided those who travelled from one State to another for medical treatment. 
  • “In such cases, e-pharmacies play a crucial role by procuring the drugs from the nearest possible location like West Bengal and delivering it to the patient through courier and other services,” Mr. Raman had argued .
  • “Of course sale/dispensation of medicines requires great care... as it deals with human lives,” the Bench observed, recording the assurance given by senior counsel P.R. Raman and others that there was no possibility of any irregularity or illegality as medicines would not be dispensed online without buyers having furnished prescriptions from registered medical practitioners.
  • Writing the interim order for the Bench, Justice Sathyanarayanan said there was no necessity to ban online sale in toto when e-pharma firms had conceded that the authorities constituted under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940 were already empowered to initiate appropriate action against them.
Olive ridleys perishing off A.P. coast
  • Many of the first batch of olive ridley turtles that chose the Andhra Pradesh coast for the annual breeding season have died before they reached the destination, after being trapped in fishing nets.
  • The coast, considered a safe breeding zone, is now witnessing deaths among the migrating turtles in recent years. The average lifespan of the turtle is 50.
  • The conservation status of the animal is ‘vulnerable’ and their population faces various threats according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The breeding season normally commences in January and the conservation authorities prepare the ground for the season until mid-summer.
  • The prime reason for the rise in the deaths is the absence of the ‘Turtle Excluder Device’ in fishing operations. The Wildlife authorities have identified 12 locations to set up rookeries between the Krishna and the Koringa wildlife sanctuaries, which witness a huge turnout of turtles.
  • “Seven rookeries will come up in the East Godavari district and five in the Krishna sanctuary alone,” Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife-Eluru) Ananth Shankar said.
  • Official teams at the rookeries are sent to save them from stray dogs and conserve the eggs. The hatchlings will be released into the sea in a phased manner.
Exotic trees eating up Western Ghat’s grasslands
  • Over four decades, the country lost almost one-fourth of these grasslands and exotic invasive trees are primarily to blame, find scientists. Though grassland afforestation using pine, acacia and eucalyptus ceased in 1996, the exotics still invade these ecosystems, confirms a study published on January 2 in the international journal Biological Conservation.
  • The satellite images they accessed reveal that 60% of the shola-grassland landscape has changed; almost 40% (516 km2) of native high-elevation grasslands have disappeared.
  • Most of this loss occurred on the mountain tops of the Nilgiri, Palani and Anamalai hill ranges, which comprise more than half of the Ghat’s shola-grassland ecosystems, primarily due to the expansion of exotic trees (pine, acacia and eucalyptus). 
  • Even though no plantations were established between 2003 and 2017, invasion by existing trees increased areas under exotic plantations by 27% in the Palanis and 17% in the Nilgiris. Broadly, shola-grassland ecosystems in Tamil Nadu showed the highest rates of invasion.
  • Despite this, there’s some good news: shola forests have remained “relatively unchanged” over these years. The Anamalai-Munnar areas have also remained stable during this time.
  • However, all possible efforts must be made to conserve the remaining grassland tracts, said scientist Dr. Robin V. Vijayan (IISER Tirupati), one of the authors who led the study. “There is very little research focus on grasslands and mechanisms to restore them are also few, unlike forests,” he added.
  • “The immediate reaction would be to remove all exotics including mature plantations from grasslands but that should not be done,” said Godwin Vasanth Bosco, who has restored some grassland patches in Udhagamandalam.
Trade Unions Act to be amended
  • The Centre proposes to amend the Trade Unions Act, 1926, to facilitate recognition of trade unions at the Central and federal level. The Union Cabinet approved the amendment.
  • Most trade unions, however, vehemently opposed the proposed amendments, saying the government was trying to interfere in, and cripple, their functioning.
  • Ten Central trade unions had earlier written to the Labour Ministry objecting to the draft version of the amendment Bill.
  • The amendment will “ensure that the nomination of workers’ representatives in tripartite bodies by the government will become more transparent… and reduce litigation and industrial unrest,” according to an official statement. Trade unions which are recognised under the amended law “would be accountable in maintaining industrial harmony,” it said.
  • “This is a dilution of the Trade Unions Act,” said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
  • He said the amendments were politically motivated, and would only give power to the government itself.
  • Ten Central trade unions have issued a general strike call on January 8 and 9.
India records 377 mine deaths in 3 years
  • At a time when multiple agencies are involved in the rescue of 15 miners trapped in a rathole mine in Meghalaya, data tabled in the Lok Sabha earlier this week revealed that 377 workers involved in mining of coal, minerals and oil were killed in accidents between 2015 and 2017.
  • Of the 377 deaths, 129 occurred in 2017 alone. As many as 145 died in 2016, while the figure was 103 in 2015.
  • Coal mines have accounted for the highest number of casualties due to accidents in mines. Of the 377, more than half, 210, were killed in coal mines.
  • These figures were provided by the Labour and Employment Ministry on December 31, 2018 in response to a question raised by Laxman Giluwa, BJP MP from Jharkhand.
  • Jharkhand, which recorded 69 deaths (11 in 2015, 46 in 2016 and 12 in 2017) in the three years, has accounted for the highest death of coal mine workers in accidents inside mines. Goda in Jharkhand witnessed one of the biggest open cast mine accidents in 2016 when 23 workers died in December that year.
  • Telangana recorded 32 deaths in these three years while Madhya Pradesh registered 29.
  • During the period, 152 persons died in accidents in metal mines across the country. Rajasthan, one of highest mineral producing States in the country, accounted for 48 deaths (20 in 2015, five in 2016 and 23 in 2017) while Andhra Pradesh recorded 29 deaths. During this period, 15 deaths were reported in oil mines, most of them occurring in Assam and Gujarat.
WORLD

Taiwan’s unification with China is inevitable, says Xi
  • Taiwan’s unification with the mainland is “inevitable”, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday, warning against any efforts to promote the island’s independence and saying China would not renounce the option of using military force to bring it into the fold.
  • Mr. Xi’s comments provoked a swift rebuke from Taipei, where President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan’s people would never willingly give up the kind of democratic freedoms unseen on the mainland.
  • China still sees democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.
  • Mr. Xi described unification under a “one country, two systems” approach that would “safeguard the interests and well-being of Taiwanese compatriots”.
  • Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, with its own currency, political and judicial systems, but has never declared formal independence from the mainland.
  • Relations have been strained since the 2016 election of President Tsai, who has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s stance that the island is part of “one China”. “Democratic values are cherished by the Taiwanese people, it’s their way of life,” Ms. Tsai said in a press conference arranged in response to Mr. Xi’s speech.
  • Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry released a terser response. “If the Chinese government cannot treat its own people kindly, cannot guarantee human rights and will not let its own people vote... then Taiwanese will look at China’s intent with suspicion,” it said.
China building ‘advanced’ warships for Pak.: report
  • China is building the first of four “most advanced” naval warships for Pakistan as part of a major bilateral arms deal to ensure among other things “balance of power” in the strategic Indian Ocean, the state media reported.
  • Equipped with modern detection and weapon systems, it will be capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and air-defence operations, China Daily quoted state-owned defence contractor China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) as saying.
  • The under-construction ship is a version of the Chinese Navy’s most advanced guided missile frigate, it said.
  • CSSC did not specify the ship’s type but said it is being constructed at its Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai.
  • The ship’s class is reported to be Type 054AP, which means it is based on the Type 054A of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, the report quoted the Pakistani Navy as saying.
  • The Pakistani Navy previously said four such ships had been ordered, according to the report.
  • Once constructed, the warship “will be one of the largest and technologically advanced platforms of the Pakistani Navy and strengthen the country’s capability to respond to future challenges, maintain peace and stability and the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region,” the report said.
  • An insider in China’s shipbuilding sector with knowledge of the Type 054AP programme told the Daily that the ship is the largest and most powerful combat vessel China has ever exported.
ECONOMY

China growth woes roil Indian markets
  • A weak trend in the global equity markets on the back of disappointing economic data from China led to the Indian benchmarks shedding 1% on Wednesday as investors became jittery over the near-term outlook on equities.
  • The 30-share Sensex fell below the psychological 36,000-mark while losing 363.05 points, or 1%, to close at 35,891.52.
  • During intraday trades, the benchmark was down nearly 520 points to touch a low of 35,734.01.
  • The negative sentiment was further corroborated by the weak market breadth as more than 1,600 stocks lost ground on the BSE, as against only 923 gainers. 
  • Meanwhile, the 50-share Nifty closed at 10,792.50, down 117.60 points or 1.08%.
  • Elsewhere in Asia, Hang Seng lost a whopping 715 points or nearly 3% with South Korea’s Kospi and Taiwan’s TSEC indices also shedding over 1% each. Most European markets were also trading in the red at the time of writing.
  • Market participants attributed the weakness to the contraction in the manufacturing activity — the first in 19 months — in China. Incidentally, data showed that factory activity has shrunk in other Asian economies such as Malaysia, Taiwan and South Korea, too.
  • The upcoming results season, beginning next week, also acted as a catalyst for the fall.
  • Auto and metal stocks bore the brunt with Vedanta, Tata Steel, M&M, Tata Motors, Maruti Suzuki and Hero Motocorp among the top losers in the Sensex pack.
  • The weakness in equities spilled into the currency markets with the rupee falling over 1% against the dollar to close the day at 70.18.
U.K. Sinha to head RBI panel on MSME revival
  • The RBI has appointed an eight-member expert committee headed by former SEBI chairman U.K. Sinha to comprehensively review and propose long-term solutions for revival of the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector.
  • Among the terms of references, the RBI said the panel would review the current institutional framework in place to support the MSME sector, and examine the factors affecting the timely and adequate availability of finance to the sector.
  • The MSME sector has been facing stress due to the demonetisation exercise and implementation of GST.
  • The panel will also review existing MSME-focussed policies and their impact, and study the global best practices with respect to MSMEs and recommend their adoption in India.
‘Economy on track to maintain high growth rate’
  • The Indian economy is projected to be the fastest-growing major economy in the current year and upcoming fiscal 2019-20, the Finance Ministry said.
  • The average growth of the economy between 2014-15 and 2017-18 was 7.3%, the fastest among major economies in the world, the Ministry said in its Year End Review 2018.
  • “Indian economy is projected to be the fastest-growing major economy in 2018-19 and 2019-20 [International Monetary Fund October 2018 database]. This is borne [out] by GDP growth of 7.6% in the first half of 2018-19,” it said.
  • Highlighting various initiatives taken to improve investor confidence and boost growth, it said there were measures to spur manufacturing, comprehensive reforms in foreign direct investment policy, special package for the textile industry, push to infrastructure development by giving infrastructure status to affordable housing and focus on coastal connectivity.
  • The direct tax-to-GDP ratio of 5.98% achieved during 2017-18 fiscal is the best in the last 10 years, the Ministry added.
  • It further said there was a growth of over 80% in the number of tax returns filed in the last four financial years from 3.79 crore in 2013-14 to 6.85 crore in 2017-18.