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Current Affairs: 4 January 2019


Every second means life and death for miners: SC
  • “Every second means life and death for those 15 trapped miners,” Justice A. K. Sikri said, even as the Supreme Court expressed its dissatisfaction with the ongoing operations to rescue men from the flooded rat-hole mine in Meghalaya.
  • A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer said the rescue efforts seemed uncoordinated. The court asked the Centre what it had done so far. “You had wanted to send high-powered pumps to Thailand [to rescue Thai boys and their teacher trapped in a cave]... Why have you not done it here?” Justice Sikri asked Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta.
  • Mr. Mehta responded that the Coal Minister, along with the Meghalaya Chief Minister and senior officials, was monitoring the rescue, and would appoint a nodal officer for the effort.
  • The court asked why the government had previously refused the Army’s offer of help. “Army offered to help, but the government did not want it. Why?” Justice Sikri asked Mr. Mehta. “Instead of the Army, we have the NDRF [the National Disaster Response Force],” Mr. Mehta responded.
  • To which Justice Sikri told Mr. Mehta, “This is a question of life and death for the miners... Something has to be done immediately.” The court asked Mr. Mehta to get instructions and return the next day.
  • The hearing started with Meghalaya counsel submitting that multi-agency rescue efforts are on since Dec-ember 14. He was responding to a PIL plea filed by lawyer Aditya N. Prasad.
Many Swachh Bharat toilets defunct, unusable: MPs’ panel
  • Many toilets constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission have already become defunct and unusable, according to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development. It slammed the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation for not bothering to find out the scope of the problem, despite an earlier recommendation to conduct a survey.
  • In its reply, the Ministry claimed that only toilets built under previous schemes were defunct. “Dysfunctional toilets are those which were constructed under earlier rural sanitation programme, especially during Total Sanitation Campaign, with incentive of ₹500 to ₹3,200,” said the Ministry. Funds from the Finance Ministry’s Swachh Bharat Kosh, which channels private and corporate money to the mission, were being used to retrofit these defunct toilets constructed under earlier schemes, it said.
  • However, the parliamentary panel made it clear that Swachh Bharat toilets were also dysfunctional.
  • The panel had recommended that the Ministry do an assessment to find out the number of such defunct toilets, and criticised the Ministry for not following the recommendation. 
  • It had warned that the Swachh Bharat Mission’s data on open defecation was suspect as defunct toilets are being counted as functional. 
  • “The beneficiaries are in no position to avail the re-allocation of construction of toilets and still go in the open.”
Improved Light Combat Aircraft gets green light for production
  • On December 31, Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’ quietly progressed towards manufacture in an enhanced, battle standard format.
  • A new ‘limited’ clearance from military airworthiness certifier CEMILAC for the Indian fighter green-lights its production in a superior lethal version, multiple sources associated with the LCA programme confirmed.
  • Hindustan Aeronautics Limted (HAL), which is mandated to produce the LCAs for the Indian Air Force (IAF), aims to get the first aircraft out in late 2019 in the just-cleared standard, its Chairman and Managing Director R. Madhavan said.
  • “The lead time has become tight for us. As for the remaining aircraft, we must see how many of the 16 we can deliver by the middle of 2020,” Mr. Madhavan said.
  • The LCA is being designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in Bengaluru. The IAF has asked HAL to make 40 LCA aircraft. Of this, 20 will be in the advanced ‘FOC’ (final operational clearance) format. Another 20 are in the earlier IOC (initial operational clearance) version.
  • The FOC tag signals that the novice LCA is fully equipped and fit for battle. It adds many features over the IOC version, which Tejas achieved in December 2013. The IOC enabled the IAF to start flying it and in getting acquainted with its competences. Until then, only test pilots and ADA handled Tejas.
  • Tejas was expected to be FOC-compliant much earlier, the last two deadlines being June-end and December-end of 2018.
  • A higher-up in the defence set-up also confirmed the move: “It is ‘almost-full’ FOC. Very few additions [are there that] can be added later,” the person said.
  • To get the final of FOC certification, the plane must have battle-time requirements — such as mid-air refuelling, AESA radar, electronic warfare suites, a variety of bombs and weapons, among others. It has passed mid-air refuelling and armament testing, while the full picture was not immediately available.
  • The IAF has modified and upgraded its trainer requirement in its old package order of 40 LCA aircraft.
  • It has opted to have all eight trainers in the FOC mode, instead of four each in IOC and FOC standards.
Maggi: SC revives suit against Nestle
  • The Supreme Court spelt trouble for the Indian branch of the Swiss food giant Nestle on Thursday by resuscitating a ₹640-crore class-action suit filed by the government on behalf of thousands of consumers of the iconic Maggi noodles.
  • The suit was filed by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution in the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in August 2015 against Nestle India Limited on grounds of “unfair trade practices, sale of defective goods and sale of Maggi Oats Noodles to the public without product approval.”
  • The suit was filed under Section 12(1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. This provision allows the Centre or a State, either in its individual capacity or as a representative of the interests of the consumers, to file a complaint in the consumer forum.
Child care homes don’t paint a rosy picture
  • A pan-India survey of childcare institutions (CCI) conducted by the Centre has highlighted poor safety and security measures, inadequate monitoring of these facilities, and a lack of effort to trace parents of missing children sent to these homes.
  • The full report of the survey titled ‘Mapping and Review Exercise of Child Care Institutions’, conducted between December 2015 and March 2017, was recently made public by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD).
  • Some of the findings of this exercise were shared last year before the Supreme Court, which took suo motu cognisance of rampant child abuse at a shelter in Muzaffarpur in Bihar.
  • The detailed report shows that only 46.7% of the total homes had adequate number of caregivers per child and only 28.7% centres were able to tend to inmates showing signs of hunger or illness and 65.9% of homes were able to actively supervise children under trauma, according to the report titled ‘Mapping and Review Exercise of Child Care Institutions’.
  • The report also says that the lack of infrastructure facilities is “glaring” and finds that more than 1,000 homes did not have a dormitory for children, raising questions about sleeping arrangements made for them.
Judges under surveillance after Dec. order: lawyer
  • A lawyer made a sensational claim before Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi that computers and telephones of judges and “very senior” officials are under surveillance following the December 20 order allowing 10 Central agencies to snoop on people.
  • Advocate M.L. Sharma sought an early hearing of his PIL petition challenging the December 20 notification issued by the government, as a violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
  • A nine-judge Constitution Bench judgment of the Supreme Court in 2017 had directed the government to protect informational privacy of every individual. It had directed the government to carefully and sensitively balance individual privacy and the legitimate concerns of the state, even if national security was at stake.
  • The December 20 order allows 10 Central agencies, from the Intelligence Bureau to the Central Board of Direct Taxes to the Cabinet Secretariat (RAW) to the Commissioner of Delhi Police, to intercept, monitor and de-crypt “any information” generated, transmitted, received or stored in “any computer resource”.
  • The government order is based on Section 69 (1) of the Information Technology Act of 2000 and Rule 4 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.
Judges’ retirement age won’t go up
  • The Law Ministry on Thursday said there was no proposal as of now to increase the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 65 to 67 and of High Court judges from 62 to 65.
  • The Ministry was responding to the recommendation of a Parliamentary Standing Committee that raising the retirement age of judges would help retain the existing judges, which in turn would help in reducing both vacancy and pendency of cases in short run.
  • In August 2010, then Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily introduced the Constitution (114th Amendment) Bill, 2010 in the Lok Sabha.
  • The Bill, which sought to increase the retirement age of High Court judges to 65, could not be taken up for consideration in Parliament and lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
  • The committee, in its report tabled in Parliament on Thursday, raised concern over the large number of vacancies of judges in High Courts.
  • The Ministry countered that the appointment of judges in the Supreme Court and High Courts is a continuous and collaborative process of the Judiciary and Executive.
  • It further stated that the time line for initiation of the proposals for filling up of vacancies is rarely adhered to by the High Courts.
  • As of now, out of a total approved strength of 1,079 judges in 24 High Courts across the country, only 695 posts are filled.
  • As per the existing memorandum of procedure (MoP), the judge appointment proposal has to be initiated by the Chief Justice of the High Court six months before the occurrence of vacancy. Within six weeks, the Chief Minister/Governor has to recommend on the proposal received from the Chief Justice.
  • And within four weeks, the Chief Justice of India/SC Collegium has to recommend the proposal to the Law Ministry.
Dissent note on Citizenship Bill
  • Members of four Opposition parties have moved a dissent note against the report of the joint committee on Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016.
  • The Bill proposes to give citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan. The Opposition members have been demanding that the Bill should be made “religion and country neutral.” 
  • The members from Assam have also been opposing it because it would pave the way for giving citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam who came after March 1971, in violation of the agreement of the Assam Accord, 1985.
  • The Bill, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, is against the very basic fibre of the Indian society. “We stand for secularism and the Bill is just against the most basic value of our society,” he said.
  • The committee chairman said that notwithstanding the dissent notes, the report will be tabled on January 7.
5 Rohingya deported to Myanmar
  • Five Rohingya, who entered Assam illegally in 2014, were on Thursday deported to Myanmar from Moreh, a border town in Manipur.
  • Officials said all the five were from the Buthitang area of Myanmar and had probably sneaked into India to escape ethnic violence .
  • An Assam police officer, who declined to be quoted, said that the Myanmar nationals had been lodged in a detention centre for foreigners at Tezpur in northcentral Assam’s Sonitpur district. 
  • The officer said that the Border Police — a unit that deals with illegal migrants — had liaised with officials in Manipur for verifying the addresses of the five with the Myanmar authorities.
  • “The deportation process was taken up after the five said they would like to go back home,” the officer said.
  • An Assam Home Department official said 20 Rohingya are still lodged in the Goalpara, Tezpur and Silchar detention centres.
‘Committee on Assam Accord a poll gimmick’
  • The Narendra Modi government’s move to form a high-level committee for the effective implementation of Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord has been labelled a “poll gimmick” by political parties and organisations in Assam.
  • Clause 6 of the Assam Accord seeks to provide “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards” to “protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
  • The All Assam Students’ Union, which had ended a six-year agitation against illegal influx by signing the Assam Accord with the Centre in 1985, had a similar view. “This is an attempt to placate the Assamese people angered by the BJP’s bid to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016,” AASU advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya said.

China’s probe lands on far side of moon, sends images
  • A Chinese space probe touched down on the far side of the moon on Thursday, China’s space agency said, hailing the event as a historic first and a major achievement for the country’s space programme.
  • The Chang’e-4 lunar probe, launched in December, made the “soft landing” at 02.26 GMT and transmitted the first-ever “close range” image of the far side of the moon, the China National Space Administration said.
  • The moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate as it orbits our planet, so most of the far side — or “dark side” — is never visible to us. Previous spacecraft have seen the far side, but none has landed on it.
  • The landing “lifted the mysterious veil” of the far side of the moon and “opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration,” the agency said in a statement on its website, which included a wide-angle colour picture of a crater from the moon’s surface.
  • The probe, which has a lander and a rover, touched down at a targeted area near the moon’s south pole in the Von Karman Crater, after entering its orbit in mid-December.
  • The tasks of the Chang’e-4 include astronomical observation, surveying the moon’s terrain, land form and mineral make-up, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment of its far side.

‘₹70,000 cr. recovery likely by March from 12 big IBC cases’
  • The government expects a recovery of about ₹70,000 crore from the 12 big companies that were identified for bankruptcy proceedings under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, by March 31, 2019, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wrote in a blog on Thursday.
  • According to the RBI, these 12 companies are estimated to account for a quarter of the gross non-performing assets in the system, and so were identified for immediate bankruptcy proceedings.
  • He added that so far, 1,322 cases had been admitted by the National Company Law Tribunal. He said that the NCLT disposed of 4,452 cases at the pre-admission stage and that 66 cases had been resolved after adjudication, from which creditors had recovered about ₹80,000 crore. Another 260 cases had been ordered for liquidation. 
  • “The early harvest through the IBC process has been extremely satisfactory,” the Finance Minister added. 
  • The selection of new management has been transparent, he said, adding that there had been no political or governmental interference in the cases.
  • Mr. Jaitley explained that the effectiveness of the IBC process was arising out of three factors. The first was that debtors were beginning to pay their dues in anticipation of a potential default in order to avoid the prospect of them being removed from management.
  • The second is that once a creditor’s petition has been filed with the NCLT, the debtors have been paying at the pre-admission stage to prevent the declaration of insolvency. Thirdly, many major cases of insolvency have already been resolved or are being moved to liquidation.
Ease capital requirements for banks: House panel
  • A parliamentary panel on Thursday asked the central bank to ease its rules on capital requirements for banks so that they can increase lending.
  • The report comes after the government and some of the board members of the RBI have put pressure on the central bank to relax capital requirements for banks as they seek to boost credit and economic growth. 
  • Former RBI governor Urjit Patel, who quit last month, opposed the government’s demand for lowering capital requirements and warned about the need for a cushion to offset unexpected risks.
  • Indian banks are required to maintain a minimum capital to risk weighted asset ratio (CRAR) at 9%, against the global Basel-III requirement of 8%. On top of that, they have to keep a capital conservation buffer that is supposed to climb to 2.5% by March 2019. 
  • The rollback of additional capital requirements could release about ₹5.34 trillion ($76 billion) into the economy by releasing capital for lending. 
  • The ratings agencies have warned against dilution of capital norms for banks.
  • Saswata Guha, country director, financial institutions, at Fitch Ratings, said capital ratios for many banks were well below global standards and any relaxation could prove detrimental to banks and their ability to absorb unexpected losses.

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