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Current Affairs: 31 January 2019

NATION

Ministries flouting norms, says EC
  • Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has rebuked Union Ministries for violating protocols while seeking approval for decisions to be announced after the Model Code of Conduct kicks in.
  • In a letter to Cabinet Secretary P.K. Sinha, the EC has indicated that requests to the EC for grant of ‘No Objection’ for specific decisions would simply be returned without consideration if the Ministries’ communications to the Constitutional body did not follow procedure.
  • The Commission had returned such requests in several cases during the recent State Assembly elections and has cited some examples from the polls held in five States last year, and the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections of December 2017.
  • The Commission has taken “a serious note of the way in which officers of various Central government departments are sending references” without following due procedure, and urged the Cabinet Secretary to ensure strict compliance.
  • References to Constitutional and statutory bodies like the EC have to be done in the form of a letter to its Secretary, Principal Secretary or Deputy Election Commissioner (Deputy EC). Simply sending an office memorandum from junior officials to the EC is not acceptable, it said.
ICICI Bank sacks Chanda Kochhar
  • The ICICI Bank has decided to terminate the contract of former managing director and CEO Chanda Kochhar after the B.N. Srikrishna panel found that she violated the bank’s code of conduct.
  • The bank also said there would be a clawback of bonuses paid between 2009 and 2019.
  • In June last year, the bank formed the one-member panel, assisted by a law firm, to look into the allegations of conflict of interest against Ms. Kochhar in relation to a loan given to Videocon Industries.
  • According to a bank statement, the Srikrishna panel report concluded that primarily on account of ineffectively dealing with conflict of interest and due disclosure or recusal requirements, Ms. Kochhar was in violation of the ICICI Bank Code of Conduct, its framework for dealing with conflict of interest and fiduciary duties, and in terms of applicable Indian laws, rules and regulations.
  • Ms. Kochhar, who assumed charge as MD and CEO on May 1, 2009, resigned in October last year.
Punjab seeks debt relief package
  • Citing tight financial situation faced by the State, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday sought a special debt relief package from the 15th Finance Commission. 
  • The State needs funds to support the government’s efforts to revive fiscal health, along with a one-time package to enable payment of the entire debt of the distressed farmers of Punjab.
  • At a meeting of the 15th Finance Commission here, Capt. Amarinder expressed concern over the permanent loss of revenue suffered by the State after the GST implementation. 
  • The compensation from the Centre will also end from July 1, 2022, resulting in a drastic fall in revenue in the range of ₹10,000 to ₹12,000 crore per annum, he pointed out.
  • An official statement said that in view of the loss, the Chief Minister urged the Commission to recommend a graded compensation tapering formula to the Government of India for States like Punjab beyond June 30, 2022. 
  • The statement added that Capt. Amarinder sought a special package for the State due to its special problems such as highest SC population in percentage terms, long and thickly populated border with Pakistan, riverine and sub-mountainous areas and flight of industry due to concessions to neighbouring States
ISRO launches Human Space Flight Centre
  • The Human Space Flight Centre, which will be the hub of ISRO’s manned missions, was inaugurated at the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru on Wednesday, the space agency has said.
  • Announced on August 15 last year, Gaganyaan, the country's first crewed mission, is set to happen by 2022. A full-scale model of Gaganyaan's crew module was also unveiled as former ISRO chairman K. Kasturirangan inaugurated the new centre in the presence of ISRO Chairman K.Sivan, and others.
Centre hikes scholarships
  • The Centre has hiked its popular research scholarship — called the Junior Research Fellowship — to ₹31,000 per month, a roughly 25% increase from the existing ₹25,000.
  • For months, research scholars across India have organised protests demanding that the scholarship be hiked as the stipend hadn’t been revised since 2014.
  • A Wednesday communiqué from the Department of Science and Technology, which was coordinating the exercise, said that the Senior Research Fellowships (SRF), given to research students two years into their doctoral studies, had been hiked to ₹35,000 per month. Stipends for Research Assistants (who are pursuing post doctoral studies and have at least three years of research experience) would range from ₹47,000 to ₹54,000 per month. In percentage terms, this is the lowest hike since 2010.
  • “The hike will directly benefit over 60,000 research fellows and also provide a template to the States to consider increase in their fellowship rates,” the department said in a statement.
  • But research scholars said they would continue their protests. “We were promised by various authorities that the hikes would at least be in sync with previous years. That is, a ₹9000 increase or a 56% increase (from 2010-2014). This is unacceptable and we will continue our protests,” said Nikhil Gupta, a representative of the protesting scholars and a doctoral student at the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute, Lucknow.
  • In spite of being a leading scientific power in terms of research publications, India spends only about 0.7% of its GDP on research and development, which is much lower than countries of comparable scientific prowess.
States may have to fund for MGNREGA wages
  • States struggling to pay workers under a national employment guarantee scheme have received additional funds from the Centre to meet their pending liabilities, but the money is unlikely to be sufficient for the rest of the financial year. They may have to use their own funds to meet unpaid wages for the next two months, says the Centre.
  • The financial statement of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme shows that as on January 30, 19 States and Union Territories were in the red. Nationally, the scheme shows a negative net balance of ₹4,101 crore.
  • The Rural Development Ministry received a supplementary additional allocation of ₹6,084 crore this week and approved disbursement to States based on their liabilities.
  • Having paid off liabilities, the scheme will now be left with less than ₹2,000 crore for the next two months. “The Ministry has requested another additional allocation of ₹5,000 crore,” said the official.
  • In case the additional funding does not come through, States will have to use their own resources to pay workers.
Land acquisition: Centre seeks Constitution Bench
  • Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday agreed to look into an oral request from the Centre to set up a Constitution Bench for expeditious disposal of issues relating to amendments in the Land Acquisition Act.
  • Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made an oral mention before the Chief Justice court.
  • Last year, the court issued notice to Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand on the amendments to their States’ land acquisition laws to the extent that consent of farmers or land owners was not required before their land was acquired for projects like industrial corridors, expressways, highways, etc.
  • Petitioners like activist Medha Patkar, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, had said the States allowed land acquisitions without social impact assessment, participation of representative local bodies in social impact assessment study, expert appraisal processes, public hearing, objections.
  • The petitions alleged that the amendments violate the “core spirit” of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013.
India warns Pak. after Qureshi’s call
  • India on Wednesday summoned the Pakistani envoy and warned that continued contact between leading figures of the Imran Khan government in Islamabad and Kashmiri separatists will have ‘implications’.
  • The warning came hours after Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign minister of Pakistan, telephoned Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chief of All Parties Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir.
  • “The Foreign Secretary conveyed that this deplorable act has violated all norms for the conduct of international relations even by Pakistan’s own standards. The Pakistan Foreign Minister’s actions are tantamount to direct interference in the internal affairs of its neighbour,” an MEA release stated.
‘NSC members aired no concerns’
  • Two days after the two remaining members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) resigned allegedly in protest of the sidelining of the body, the Ministry of Statistics has issued a clarification saying the members did not express these concerns to the Ministry.
  • P.C. Mohanan and J.V. Meenakshi tendered their resignations from the NSC on Monday, leaving the body with only NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, who serves as an ex-officio member, and Chief Statistician of India Pravin Srivastava.
  • “In the wake of resignation by the two members of the National Statistical Commission, reports from a section of media have suggested that the members had expressed certain concerns on the functioning of the Commission including release of the labour force survey results and the back series of GDP,” the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) said on Wednesday.
  • “These concerns were not expressed by the members in any of the meetings in the last few months,” the Ministry added. “The Ministry not only places a high regard for the Commission but also values its advice and on which appropriate action is taken.”
  • It added that the National Sample Survey Organisation was processing the quarterly data of the labour force survey for the period July 2017 to December 2018 and that the report would be released thereafter.
‘S-400 deal a proof of India-Russia ties’
  • The S-400 missile defence system, which India is acquiring from Russia in a multi-billion dollar deal, is a proof of the special nature of the partnership between the two countries, Nikolay R. Kudashev, the Russian Ambassador to India, says.
  • Last year, India and Russia signed the $5.2-billion deal for the S-400 system despite pressure from the U.S. and threats of sanctions. The S-400 is a highly advanced surface-to-air missile defence system that can shoot down hostile jets and missiles.
  • Asked if American sanctions would create hurdles for the payment of the system, Mr. Kudashev said both India and Russia recently came together to develop a practical solution, involving banks of two sides and national currencies, to overcome this challenge. “So as far as the problem is concerned, it’s no more there. Rather, it is about building the experience, the habit of payments in national currencies.”
  • Asked if India’s growing ties with the U.S. were a matter of concern for Moscow, he said, “We trust each other.” “We feel that it is more or less natural for a country of India’s size, influence and power to develop normal ties with other states... And we know that your relationship with the U.S. would not be anti-Russian in nature.”
  • He said Indo-Russia relationship was a living formula for the rest of the world. 
  • Asked about Russia’s growing ties with Pakistan in recent years, the Ambassador said Russia’s partnership with India and its ties with Pakistan were incomparable. “Our relationship with India is a special strategic partnership. We share with India unique confidence... Our relationship with Islamabad is minuscule. The aim of our ties with Pakistan is very much similar to yours — we need a stable government, predictable, we need a government which fulfils its obligations, to fight terror, drugs and crime,” Mr. Kudashev said.
  • He added that the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu was being developed successfully.
ECONOMY

DIPP rechristened to include internal trade
  • The government has notified changing the name of the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, and has enhanced its role.
  • The notification has also included four new categories of responsibilities the renamed body will be in charge of, including the promotion of internal trade (including retail trade), the welfare of traders and their employees, matters relating to facilitating Ease of Doing Business, and matters relating to start-ups.
  • These are in addition to the previous responsibilities of the erstwhile DIPP relating to general industrial policy, administration of the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951, industrial management, productivity in industry, and matters related to e-commerce.
  • The inclusion of the promotion of internal trade in the name and responsibilities of the body has been welcomed by the traders’ body Confederation of All India Traders.
E-way bill data to flow into sales returns
  • Businesses supplying goods worth more than ₹50,000 will have option to include details of e-way bills generated while filing the final monthly sales return under GSTR-1, a move aimed at curbing tax evasion.
  • Matching of invoices of e-way bills with the sales shown in GSTR-1 will help taxmen in assessing whether the supplies have been accurately shown in sales return and GST paid on the same, tax experts said.

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