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Current Affairs: 7 January 2019

NATION

Rana extradition unlikely before 2023, indicates U.S.
  • Indian agencies will have to wait a little longer before Tahawwur Rana, a key accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack case is extradited here from the U.S.
  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) team that was in the U.S. a few days ago to seek the extradition of Rana, a close associate of David Coleman Headley, has been given an indication that Rana has to first complete his jail sentence.
  • Rana, who was arrested in 2009, is serving a 14-year prison term in the U.S. for providing material support to terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which planned and executed the attacks.
  • Though he was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2013 by a U.S. district court, his term would also include the period he has already served in prison and would come to an end in 2023.
  • Minister of State Gen. V.K. Singh (retired) told the Lok Sabha last week that the Government of India had engaged with U.S. authorities, under terms of the India-U.S. Extradition Treaty of 1997, for custody of U.S.-based individuals for their role in the November 26, 2008, terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
  • Unlike Headley, Rana did not enter into a plea bargain with the U.S. authorities.
  • The ‘double jeopardy’ clause in U.S. law prohibits punishment for the same crime twice, so India renewed its bid to seek Rana’s custody on the ground that he was actively involved in planning an attack on the National Defence College in Delhi and Chabad Houses (Jewish religious centres) in several cities.
  • The NIA also has registered a forgery case against Rana for opening the immigration centre based on fake documents.
Aadhaar and driving licence may be linked
  • Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said the government will soon make it mandatory for linking Aadhaar with driving licences.
  • “At presently, what happens is that the guilty person who causes an accident flees the scene and gets a duplicate licence. This helps him go scot-free. However, with the Aadhaar linkage you can change your name but you cannot change your biometrics, neither iris nor fingerprints. So the moment you go in for a duplicate licence, the system will say this person already has a driving licence and should not be given a new one,” said Mr. Prasad, explaining the need for the linkage.
  • Eulogising about the Centre’s ‘Digital India’ programme, the Minister claimed that it had bridged the urban-rural divide.
  • Through a power presentation, Mr. Prasad said: “This is digital profile of India -- 123 crore Aadhaar cards, 121 crore mobile phones, 44.6 crore smart phones, 56 crore Internet users, there has been 51% growth in e-commerce. There is 130 crore population in India.”
After poor show in ranking, State extends deadline for startup week
  • The State government has extended the date of applications for the second edition of the Maharashtra Startup Week from January 5 to January 12. This comes weeks after the government came under criticism for Maharashtra’s placement in the bottom half of the Centre’s State Startup Ranking Report, 2018.
  • The Maharashtra State Innovation Society (MSIS) organises the Maharashtra Startup Week to provide entrepreneurs a platform to showcase their innovative ideas. Startups from sectors such as education, skilling, healthcare, agriculture, clean energy, environment, water and waste water management, smart infrastructure and mobility, governance, financial inclusion, and cyber security will be invited to submit their applications to the MSIS. The week will be held from January 29 to February 1.
  • The State had come under scanner after the Centre’s report released by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP). Of the 38 indicators studied in the report, Maharashtra failed to submit information about 17 and the State stood in the range of 25-50 percentile, taking it to the bottom. The Centre has assigned Gujarat to mentor Maharashtra.
  • Under the startup week, 100 finalists will pitch their ideas to the panel of industry experts, investors, and government officials. Of them, 24 winning startups will receive government work orders of up to ₹15 lakh each.
Tribals of West Bengal battling food scarcity: study
  • The study titled ‘An Inquiry into the world of the Adivasis of West Bengal’, conducted by Professor Amartya Sen’s Pratichi Institute and Asiatic Society, will be released in Kolkata on Monday.
  • The survey was conducted in 1,000 tribal households to ascertain living conditions, health and education.
  • West Bengal is home to a over five million tribals, with 6% of the India’s tribal population of 100 million. But in many areas, tribals of the State are “far behind” in terms of human development.
  •  One area, which has been a matter of contention in recent months after the death of seven tribals in a span of 15 days in November, is scarcity of food. The preliminary survey report claimed that “nearly one third [31%] of the surveyed households” reportedly faced “food scarcity in varying degrees” in the past year.
  • In addition “poverty-born vices like alcoholism [and] the fragility of the public health system…seemed to have resulted in a much lower life chances among the Adivasis than their more privileged co-citizens,” the report noted. Degradation of forest and environmental degradation are cited as two more reasons for “reduced availability of natural nutrients” resulting in early deaths.
  • The report indicated that the number of deaths reported to have occurred in the surveyed households, in the year preceding the survey, “was 52, among which 48 [92%] were premature deaths” and only four were due to old age.
  • The work participation rate [WPR] is higher among the Adivasis in Bengal “forcing the children of schoolgoing age to discontinue their studies in order to fend [for] themselves and support the families,” the report noted. According to the Census of 2011, while WPR is 39% and 49% in Bengal and India, respectively, “the corresponding figures for Adivasis were 49% and 47%,” indicating the participation of more children.
Railways propose new security plan at stations
  • The Railways is planning to seal stations just like airports, and passengers would be advised to arrive 15-20 minutes before scheduled departure of trains to complete security checks.
  • The security plan — with high-end technology — has already been put in motion at Allahabad, for the Kumbh Mela which begins this month, and at the Hubballi railway station in Karnataka with a blueprint for 202 more stations ready for implementation, Railway Protection Force Director-General Arun Kumar told.
MPs’ panel proposes legal status for SSC
  • A Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) has recommended that the Centre accord statutory status to the Staff Selection Commission (SSC), one of the largest recruitment agencies in the country.
  • The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and all State Public Service Commissions either have constitutional or legal status. The SSC is the only such organisation that performs similar functions on a much larger scale, but does not enjoy statutory status.
  • The SSC was created to ease the burden of the UPSC by taking over the recruitment for posts below the Group ‘A’ level. There has been a phenomenal increase in the workload of the SSC, from 9.94 lakh candidates in 2008-09 to over 2 crore in 2016-17.
  • While the workload and responsibilities of the SSC have increased exponentially over the years, it has remained an “attached body” under the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), and has to depend entirely on the government for all its needs, with no autonomy.
  • An expert group constituted by the government in 2014, for reviewing the examination system in the SSC, had recommended according statutory status to the Commission.
  • At present, the SSC has a sanctioned staff strength of 481 officers but is functioning with 75% of its sanctioned strength.
  • The DoPT further stated that the SSC would be conducting the Common Eligibility Test at three levels — Matriculation, Higher Secondary and Graduation — and would attract around 5 crore candidates, making it the largest examination in the world. 
Panel to go into quota for Assamese
  • The Centre has set up a high-level committee headed by former IAS officer M.P. Bezbaruah to assess the appropriate level of reservation of seats in the Assam Assembly and local bodies for the Assamese people, besides providing employment opportunities.
  • Last week, the Union Cabinet took a decision in this effect under the Assam Accord of 1985.
  • The committee and its terms of reference were notified a day before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, is expected to table its report in Parliament, paving the way for India to grant citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to the country prior to the year 2014.
  • There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam as 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 Assam Accord.
  • In a notification, the Home Ministry said the committee would examine the effectiveness of actions taken since 1985 to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
  • The notification said the panel will also hold discussions with various stakeholders, including social organisations, legal and constitutional experts, eminent persons from the field of art, culture and literature, conservationists, economists, linguists and sociologists.
  • It will suggest measures to be taken to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam.
  • The panel will be facilitated by the North East Division of the Home Ministry, and the State government will provide necessary administrative and logistic support to the committee.
  • Clause 6 of the Accord states: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”.
‘Aadhaar helped save ₹90,000 cr.’
  • The ₹90,000-crore savings from the implementation of Aadhaar is enough to fund three schemes the size of Ayushman Bharat, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wrote in a blog post on Sunday.
  • “Several duplicate beneficiaries, non-existent beneficiaries and fake beneficiaries have been eliminated. The Digital Dividend Report prepared by the World Bank estimates that India can save ₹77,000 crore every year by the use of Aadhaar.”
  • Mr. Jaitley said that in the past 28 months, more than 122 crore Aadhaar numbers had been issued, covering 99% of India’s population above the age of 18.
  • “22.80 crore of PAHAL and Ujjwala beneficiaries are given cooking gas subsidies through DBT in their Aadhaar-linked bank accounts. 58.24 crore ration card holders stand linked. 10.33 crore MGNREGA card holders get wage payment through DBT in their bank accounts. So do the 1.93 crore beneficiaries and other beneficiaries of the national social assistance programme. The Income Tax Department has already linked 21 crore PAN card holders with their Aadhaar numbers.”
  • Mr. Jaitley said 63.52 crore bank accounts had been linked with the unique identity as of December 15, 2018. The number of subsidy transactions are about 425 crore. The total subsidies transferred through Aadhaar now equal ₹1,69,868 crore, he said.
Defence manufacturing rules eased
  • The government issued a notification last week simplifying the the process for approval of manufacturing of a range of defence and aerospace equipment and components by private industry, by bringing them under the licensing authority of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).
  • Items are listed in three categories — defence aircraft, warships of all kinds, and allied items of defence equipment.
  • The most significant aspect is that warships of all kinds, surface and sub-surface, have been included in the listing. “With the list of defence items requiring industrial licences being pruned down by removing the requirement of licensing for ‘parts and components of the equipment’, this would accrue benefits towards Tier-I/Tier-II vendors giving a boost to the small and medium enterprises (SMEs),” industry body Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) said in a statement.
  • This move is also expected to help foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) looking for partnerships with the private sector. The Defence Ministry has formulated an ambitious Strategic Partnership (SP) model under the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), covering four specific areas to promote role of private sector in defence manufacturing. However, progress on finalising the projects under the SP model has been slow.
Understaffed CBI a concern: panel
  • A parliamentary standing committee has raised concern over non-filling of vacancies in the Central Bureau of Investigation, saying it will affect its performance.
  • “Increasing number of cases are now being referred to the CBI pertaining to areas like internal security, cybercrimes, corruption, financial irregularities and the nation cannot afford to have its premier investigative agency understaffed and thus ill-prepared,” the committee said in a report tabled in Parliament last Thursday.
  • The committee said the level of vacant positions in executive rank, law officers and technical officers is about 16%, 28% and 56% respectively. At the top level, out of four posts of Special Director or Additional Director, three are lying vacant.
  • To overcome the perennial problem of vacancies in the CBI, the committee recommended that the government simplify recruitment rules to overcome procedural bottlenecks.
  • The Department of Personnel and Training said efforts were on to fill the vacant CBI posts by fine-tuning the recruitment rules. The committee recommended that the CBI and the government should expedite approvals for setting up the ICEI-CBI centre.
WORLD

‘U.S. will withdraw from Syria only after security of Kurds is ensured’
  • President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser said that conditions such as guarantees on the safety of Kurdish allies must be met before American troops are withdrawn from Syria, NBC News said.
  • Mr. Trump’s announcement on December 19 that the U.S. would immediately withdraw its troops from Syria led to concerns, and he has since spoken of “slowly” sending troops home “over a period of time”.
  • “There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” said Mr. Bolton, who travels to Turkey after Israel.
  • Kurdish-led forces control a large swathe of Syria’s north and northeast, some of it seized from the Islamic State group. A U.S. withdrawal could leave them exposed to an attack by neighbouring Turkey and its Syrian proxies.
  • He said the withdrawal would take place in northern Syria, while some forces could remain to the south at the al-Tanf garrison as part of efforts to counter Iran.
ECONOMY

Panel asks RBI to fix problem of dry ATMs
  • A Parliamentary panel has asked the Reserve Bank to address the problem of perpetually dysfunctional ATMs so as to avoid any situation of forced cash crunch. 
  • As per RBI data, there were 2,21,492 Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in the country at the end of September 2018.
  • These include 1,43,844 ATMs of public sector banks, 59,645 ATMs of private banks and 18,003 of foreign banks, payments banks, small finance banks and White Label ATMs, which are owned and operated by non-bank entities.
  • “As digital transactions have not become anywhere near universal, the committee would urge RBI to pursue the lingering problem of dysfunctionality as well as shortage of ATMs vigorously with banks, while ensuring the economic viability of ATMs for all stakeholders, so that a forced cash crunch is not imposed on the public,” the report said.
Hydro projects of 5,950 MW stalled
  • As many as 16 hydro power projects of 5,950 MW capacity are stalled due to financial constraints and other reasons, which may prompt the government to bring in a hydro policy at the earliest.
  • “A total of 37 hydro power projects of 12GW generation capacities are under construction in the country. Out of these, 16 projects with a total generation capacity of 5,950 MW are either stalled or held up due to financial constraints and other reasons,” a senior official said.
  • According to the Central Electricity Authority estimates, the annual loss of energy generation from these stalled hydro projects is about 18,761 million units.
  • The official said the government is working on a hydro policy that would provide for longer loan repayment period, lower interest rate and other incentives which would help bring down the tariff of these projects.
  • The Power Ministry has informed about formulating a hydro policy to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy.
Nurturing innovation in the agriculture sector
  • As many as 24 teams of entrepreneurs, all in the agriculture start-up space, visited some of the coconut farms in Pollachi recently. They were there to meet the farmers, know first hand the challenges faced by the coconut growers, learn more about the irrigation systems used and see if their innovative solutions can be used in the farms.
  • After a two-day visit to Coimbatore and Pollachi and gaining better insight into the coconut crop, some of these teams have started submitting proposals to Marico Innovation Foundation to try out their technologies in the farms.
  • The visit was organised by the foundation, which is a non-profit organisation of Marico, as part of its “Innovate2Cultivate” programme.
  • This is a programme that connects start-ups with farmers of specific crops so that innovations are nurtured and taken to the farms.
  • Priya Kapadia, head of the Marico Innovation Foundation, explains that this is the first sector-specific project of “Innovate2Cultivate” and has the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship as its knowledge partner.
  • The foundation invited start-ups to take part by listing out some of the broad challenges faced by the coconut growers and received nearly 100 applications.
  • Of these, 37 were short-listed as cohort members and all of them are working in the agriculture sector.
  • The start-ups have developed or are working on technologies and solutions such as organic micro nutrients and alternatives to pest management and soil management. But these are for specific crops.