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Current Affairs: 30 January 2019

NATION

Include Chin refugees in citizenship Bill: Chakma NGOs
  • Eight organisations of the Chakma community on Tuesday submitted a memorandum to the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking the inclusion of Chin refugees in India by further amending the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
  • The Joint Parliamentary Committee that submitted its recommendations to the Centre after a series of discussions with stakeholders had rejected suggestions to include minorities from Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
  • The memorandum was made on the basis of a January 2009 report by the US-based Human Rights Watch titled ‘The Chin People of Burma: Unsafe in Burma, Unprotected in India’.
  • The report said that there are an estimated 100,000 Chins in Mizoram, which is 20% of the total Chin population in Myanmar.
  • Manipur too has an unspecified number of Chins, who are ethnically related to the majority Mizos of Mizoram and the Kuki-Zomi groups in Manipur.
  • About 4,000 Chin refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in New Delhi but in June 2018, the UNHCR decided to cancel their ‘refugee status’ with effect from August 1, 2018. The ‘cessation process’ would be completed by December 31 this year on the ground that Myanmar has now become “stable and secure” for them to return home and, therefore, they don’t need “international protection”.
Rajasthan Zika strain is endemic to Asia, says new study
  • The Zika virus that infected 159 people in an outbreak in Rajasthan last year, could have been circulating in India for several years and is endemic to Asia, according to a new study published in the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution this week.
  • “The finding that the outbreak was caused by an endemic virus is quite important,” said Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist from the Yale School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.
  • “It suggests that people in the region may have been previously exposed to the virus, building herd immunity that may limit future outbreaks.”
  • During the latter half of 2018, India recorded its first major Zika outbreaks in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
  • Around then, the ICMR said the Rajasthan virus had been sequenced and was closely related to a virus that had caused large epidemics and birth defects in Latin America in 2015.
  • Then, in November 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a press release, citing the NIV's research, to say that “known mutations” for foetal microcephaly were not present in the Rajasthan strain.
  • This week’s publication contradicts the ICMR's previous statements in two ways. First, it indicates that the Rajasthan Zika strain is not closely related to the Brazilian one.
  • Prof. Grubaugh adds that the phylogenetic analysis in the paper, along with previous research, suggests that the virus has been in Asia for “at least 50 years”.
  • While this is good news, because it implies that a portion of the population could be immune, it could also mean that Zika-related birth defects such as microcephaly were occurring even before the virus was first detected in India.
  • The NIV paper is also more cautious than the Ministry’s press release on the implications of a mutation in the viral genome called S139N.
  • In a 2017 paper published in Science, the existence of this mutation in the Brazilian strain was linked, using animal data, with microcephaly.
  • Based on this paper, the Ministry press release had said the Rajasthan strain didn’t have the “known mutation”.
139 polluted cities not on clean air plan: report
  • There are 139 Indian cities that breach air pollution standards but are not included in the Centre's National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), says a report by Greenpeace and made public on Tuesday.
  • The NCAP was launched by the government earlier this month and is a ₹300 crore initiative to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution by 20-30% in at least 102 cities by 2024. Airpocalypse III, as the Greenpeace report is titled, analyses air pollution data of 313 cities and towns for the year 2017.
  • Of these 313 cities, 241 (77%) had PM10 levels beyond the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). These specify upper limits to a range of airborne chemicals and compounds.
  • While 102 of these cities were included in the NCAP, the remaining 139 cities were left out.
  • That’s because, say the authors of the report, the government’s list of 102 cities relied on average pollution data until 2015, whereas Airpocalypse III used data updated up to 2017.
  • Even if the NCAP were to able to reduce pollution by 30% by 2024, 153 cities would still be left with pollution levels exceeding the NAAQS, the report added.
  • Of the 139 cities that have not been included in the non-attainment list under the NCAP, there are several cities that have a population of more than 1 million, and PM levels (recorded in 2017) above NAAQS.
Decision put off on Institutes of Eminence
  • The University Grants Commission has deferred a decision on which institutions should be granted the prestigious Institutes of Eminence tag as an expert committee has recommended more names than the government scheme allowed for.
  • “The expert committee recommended 30 names, 15 in each category. But the government scheme said we had to select ten in each category [of public and private institutions],” UGC member Sushma Yadav told The Hindu after the Commission’s meeting on Tuesday.
  • “It is not just a question of naming institutions, but there is also a ₹1,000 crore grant [for the public institutions]. So we decided to refer back to the government, whether they want to expand the scheme,” she said, adding that the committee had not put its list of names in any preferential order or ranking.
  • The scheme is aimed at developing world-class institutions which would put India on the global education map. Institutions were offered greater autonomy and freedom to decide fees, course durations and structures. The 10 selected public institutions would also receive a grant of ₹1000 crore, while the 10 private institutions would not receive any financial assistance.
  • The empowered expert committee headed by former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami had initially recommended 11 institutions for the tag in July 2018. 
  • Of those, the Centre had actually bestowed the tag on six institutions, three public — IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay and IISc Bangalore – and three private — BITS Pilani, Manipal University, and the yet-to-open Jio University.
Two members of statistical panel quit
  • In a body blow to the the National Statistical Commission, the two remaining members have resigned in protest at the body being sidelined.
  • The Hindu has learnt that P.C. Mohanan and J.V. Meenakshi tendered their resignations on Monday, leaving the NSC with only NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, who serves as an ex-officio member, and Chief Statistician of India Pravin Srivastava.
  • According to people in the know, Monday’s resignations stem from the fact that the NSC has been running at half strength, with the government moving very slowly on appointing new members, and the institution has been “systematically bypassed in its functions”.
  • One main grievance was the manner in which the back series GDP data was released.
  • That is, the involvement of NITI Aayog at the expense of the Commission was a cause for conflict.
  • “The proper way would have been for the Ministry to have put this back series in front of the Commission and consulted it on which of the two estimates to go by, what to do. They were not consulted at all,” a former member of the Commission said.
  • The second cause for protest was that the NSC had finalised the employment and unemployment data it wanted to release, had approved it on December 5, and said it should be released immediately. “It has not been released,” the former member said. “So finally they said, why have us? If you are going to NITI Aayog for direction, then why have us?”
Why no experts on RTI panels, asks SC
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked why Right to Information bodies, especially the apex forum of Central Information Commission (CIC), were almost completely manned by bureaucrats.
  • Justice Sikri pointed out that out of 280 applications received for the post of information commissioners at the CIC recently, 14 were shortlisted, and they were almost all bureaucrats.
  • “We are not blaming the appointments. But there were names who were not bureaucrats, but not one of them were appointed,” Justice Sikri pointed out, agreeing with advocate Pranav Sachdeva, representing the petitioner, Anjali Bhardwaj.
  • Ms. Anand said the appointments to the CIC were not done in a hurry and those appointed were “eminently suitable people”. She said the appointments process is an “ongoing process”.
  • Mr. Sachdeva argued that the minutes of the search committee showed that out of the five short-listed candidates for the post of Chief Information Commissioner, four had never even applied.
  • Of the 14 short-listed candidates for the post of Information Commissioners, two had not applied. He urged the court to usher in transparency in the appointments process.
Jewellery gets a ‘council’
  • The Commerce Ministry on Tuesday announced the formation of a Domestic Council for Gems & Jewellery to bring the industry’s domestic business stakeholders under one umbrella so that they could evolve a unified approach to promote growth in the sector.
  • “This Council will help in tapping new opportunities in the already existing large domestic market,” Commerce & Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu said.
Centre’s nod to ₹7,214 cr. disaster relief
  • The Home Ministry on Tuesday approved the release of ₹7,214 crore to six States and a Union Territory for damage caused by natural calamities during the kharif season 2018-19.
  • Among the sanctioned amount, ₹4,714.28 crore will be given to Maharashtra (drought), ₹949.49 crore to Karnataka (drought), ₹900.4 crore to Andhra Pradesh (drought), ₹317.44 crore to Himachal Pradesh (flood and landslips), ₹191.73 crore to Uttar Pradesh (flood), ₹127.60 crore to Gujarat (drought) and ₹13.09 crore to the Union Territory of Puducherry (cyclone).
ECONOMY

‘Farm support as central scheme ideal’
  • Any step announced by the government in the upcoming Vote on Account aimed at supporting the incomes of farmers would be better done as a centrally sponsored scheme rather than a debt waiver, India Ratings and Research said on Tuesday.
  • “There is a likelihood that the Union Government may announce a relief package for farmers while presenting the Vote on Account for 2019-20 in line with the Rythu Bandhu scheme of the government of Telangana,” it said in a report.
  • “If it is rolled out as a core centrally sponsored scheme, the cost to the union government exchequer would be 0.43% of GDP, while the cost to the combined state government exchequer would be 0.27% of GDP,” according to the report.
‘Defer implementation of new e-com rules’
  • Online retailer Flipkart has told the government the company faces the risk of “significant customer disruption” if the implementation of new curbs for e-commerce is not delayed by six months, a source said.
  • The new foreign investment restrictions will, from February 1, bar e-commerce companies from selling products from firms in which they have an equity interest and also ban them from reaching deals with sellers to only sell on one platform.
  • In a letter to industries department earlier this month, Flipkart chief executive Kalyan Krishnamurthy said the rules required the company to assess “all elements” of its business operations, according to a person privy to the communication.
  • The new curbs were only announced on December 26. He also said the regulations could cause “significant customer disruption” if the deadline for compliance wasn’t extended. He asked for a six-month delay. Officials have said the government was unlikely to change the policy’s implementation date.
  • The policy move has jolted Walmart, which last year invested $16 billion in Flipkart, and Amazon, which has committed $5.5 billion in India investments. Industry sources have said the new policy would raise compliance costs and force Amazon and Flipkart to review their business arrangements in the country.
  • Meanwhile, Snapdeal, in a letter dated Jan. 25, told the government that some companies were using “glaring loopholes” to run a proxy inventory-based model of e-commerce.

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