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Current Affairs: 8 January 2019


Centre plans 10% quota for the poor
  • The Union Cabinet approved a Constitution Amendment Bill to provide 10% reservation to the economically backward sections in the general category, a senior government official said. The Bill will also cover those from the Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and other minority communities. The quota will be over and above the existing 50% reservation to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes (OBC).
  • The specific details of the Bill were not available as there was no word from the government after the meeting.
  • The reservation is for those castes that now do not avail themselves of quota in any category.
  • Vijay Sampla, Minister of State, Social Justice and Empowerment, told The Hindu that those who have an annual salary of less than ₹8 lakh per year and possess less than 5 acres of land will be able to avail themselves of reservation in educational institutions and jobs.
  • Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution will have to be amended for the implementation of the decision, the Minister said.
  • A nine-judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court had, in the Indira Sawhney case, capped reservation at 50%. The court had ruled on November 16, 1992, that “clause (4) of Article 16 of the Constitution speaks of adequate representation and not proportionate representation” and “relaxation can be done in extraordinary situations and while doing so, extreme caution has to be exercised and a special case made out.”
  • According to the 2011 Census, the population of the country was 1.21 billion. The population of the Scheduled Castes was 201.4 million and that of the Scheduled Tribes stood at 104.3 million.
T.N. Minister gets jail term for rioting
  • Tamil Nadu’s Youth Welfare and Sports Development Minister P. Balakrishna Reddy, along with 15 others, was convicted and sentenced on Monday by a special court to three years’ imprisonment in a case of unlawful assembly and rioting in 1998 in Bagalur village, near Hosur, in Krishnagiri district.
  • The court later suspended the sentences of the 15 persons, allowing them to appeal before the Madras High Court. Mr. Reddy resigned from the Cabinet later in the day.
  • In 1998, over 150 villagers had gathered in front of the Bagalur police station and indulged in rioting, protesting against police inaction in removing illicit arrack units in the area. Mr. Reddy was part of the group which damaged public transport buses and set fire to police vehicles, including a jeep. Policemen were also injured in the attack.
  • Mr. Reddy was no. 72 among 102 persons accused in the case. A few of them died during the trial in the Krishnagiri court. Over 87 persons were tried before the trial court and the case was transferred recently to the special court in Chennai that deals with cases relating to elected representatives.
India secures extradition of bookie
  • India secured another legal victory in the U.K. as a judge at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court has said that the extradition of alleged bookie Sanjeev Chawla can proceed, and referred the case to Home Secretary Sajid Javid for a final decision. The development came at a procedural hearing on Monday before District Judge Rebecca Crane.
  • It complied with a ruling by the High Court in London last year, which overturned the verdict of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court discharging him on the basis of concerns over conditions at Tihar Jail.
  • The extradition of businessman Vijay Mallya was ordered last month. Mr. Mallya’s case has also been referred to the Home Secretary for a final decision.
  • The Home Secretary will now have two months, from the time the case is passed to him from the court, to decide whether or not Mr. Chawla can be extradited.
  • Under the extradition procedure Mr. Javid has to give consideration to matters such as whether there was a possibility of the death penalty being applied or extradition to a third country (neither of which factors would apply in the Chawla case).
  • Should extradition be ordered, Mr. Chawla would have two weeks to lodge an application to appeal to the High Court. Should this appeal be unsuccessful a further attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court could be made (though this would only happen if the Supreme Court granted permission to do so).
Stretch of Periyar turns rust-red, emits bubbles
  • The stretch of the Periyar which flows by the industrial zone of Eloor-Edayar took on a rust-red hue and erupted in bubbles in some areas.
  • Locals claimed to have noticed the change of colour upstream of the Pathalam regulator-cum-bridge at 8 p.m. on January 6.
  • The next morning, the rust-red colour was evident till the Pathalam Kadavu bridge.
  • The reddish hue changed into a turbid bronze-brown as the day progressed. Ever since this stretch of the river began changing colours, fish catch has decreased, claimed a resident.
  • The Eloor Pollution Control Board’s environmental engineer P. B. Sreelekshmi confirmed the colour change in the Periyar.
  • The team conducted a full day’s inspection of all possible industries that could have caused this pollution but could not identify any source for the problem, she claimed.
Animals begin to arrive at Wayanad sanctuary
  • With the rise in mercury in the Nilgiri Biosphere, the seasonal migration of wild animals from wildlife sanctuaries in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS) has begun.
  • Mammals such as elephants and gaurs migrate to the sanctuary from the adjacent Bandipur and Nagarhole national parks in Karnataka and the Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu in search of food and water.
  • “The WWS is a haven for migrating wild animals during summer owing to easy availability of fodder and water. We have taken highly structured measures at nearly ₹1 crore to ensure fodder, water and protection for the migrating wild guests,” N.T. Sajan, wildlife warden of the sanctuary.
  • Though the wildlife migration has started a little early this year, cases of man-animal conflict is comparatively very low on the fringes of the sanctuary, Mr. Sajan said. 
  • Mr. Sajan said water sources in the sanctuary, including 30 earthen bunds, 45 check-dams and 235 waterholes, are being closely monitored with GPS every week to ensure drinking water for the wildlife.
  • Fire line has been erected along 230 km on the forest fringes to prevent wildfire. Apart from 25 permanent anti-poaching camps and five watch towers at important strategic points, 12 new treetop ‘machans’ (temporary watchtowers) will start functioning in a week.
  • Forest officials, including guards and watchers, have been deployed there to keep watch over poaching and wildfire.
‘Pseudo-scientific discourse unfortunate’
  • Responding to the pseudo-scientific discourse at the ongoing 106th Indian Science Congress (ISC) in Punjab, India’s Principal Scientific Adviser, K. VijayRaghavan, in a blog post, said a formal complaint should be lodged against the speaker, and India’s science academies must voice their objection.
  • “It is unfortunate that the sitting Vice-Chancellor of a great State university — and a biologist to boot — says something that is scientifically completely untenable,” he noted in his blog.
  • Prof. VijayRaghavan was referring to a speech last Friday by Andhra University Vice-Chancellor, G. Nageshwar Rao, who said that the Kauravas of the Mahabharata were born due to stem cell and test tube technologies, and that India possessed knowledge about guided missiles thousands of years ago.
  • “When lay people, including politicians, make random and erroneous statements linking religion, culture, history etc., to science, the problem must be addressed by collegial communication. When scientists make such links, they should be addressed more squarely. If there’s a chance that such views may enter policy, the amount of engagement needs to go up,” he noted in the blog.
  • Prof. VijayRaghavan, a biologist and former Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, listed out examples of how pseudo-science, when it made its way into policy, had caused harm. For instance, when former South African President Thabo Mbeki and his Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msiang advocated that HIV did not cause AIDS, this led to an unnecessary loss of life.
  • “The talks reflect the speakers. A few are superb, some good, and a few preposterous. The last group receives disproportionate attention in the national and global media, which also lingers till the next Congress, and assigned to the #pseudoscience bin. It is a fascinating reflection of our mindset that this bin is taken to be emblematic of scientists,” his note added.
Navy to set up new air base in Port Blair
  • Later this month, the Navy will commission a new airbase 100 miles north of Port Blair in the strategically located Andaman and Nicobar islands.
  • “The base, INS Kohassa, will be commissioned by Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba on January 24,” spokesperson Capt. D.K. Sharma said.
  • This will be India’s fourth air base and the third naval air facility in the archipelago, which are more closer to Southeast Asia than to the Indian mainland, overlooking key sea lanes of communication and strategic choke points.
  • It will initially have a runway of about 3,000 m which will in phases be extended to 9000 m to support all kinds of aircraft including fighter jets.
  • As part of the upgrade, the base will feature staging facilities, a fuel dump and maintenance and repair facilities.
Centre okays Citizenship Bill
  • The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 recommended that the Assam government should help settle migrants “especially in places which are not densely populated, thus, causing lesser impact on the demographic changes and providing succour to the indigenous Assamese people”.
  • The Bill paves the way to grant citizenship to six religious minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014.
  • There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in the 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 of 1985.
  • The Union Cabinet cleared the redrafted Citizenship Amendment Bill on Monday, and it is likely to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) expressed its concern before the committee.
  • “Our only concern has been that the agencies who are inimical to us should not have a legal framework within which they can exploit our situation and infiltrate their own people into our own country. That is a matter of great concern for us,” the report quoted a RAW representative as saying.
  • “As a matter of fact, protecting the interest of the indigenous Assamese people is the responsibility of both the Central government and the State government of Assam. The resettlement packages and compensation to the State governments, as provided by the Central government for accommodating the migrants should motivate and encourage the State government to help settle such migrants especially in places which are not densely populated, thus, causing lesser impact on the demographic changes and providing succour to the indigenous Assamese people,” the report tabled in the Lok Sabha said.
  • Asked by the committee about the mechanism to establish religious persecution in a foreign land, the Home Ministry replied, “Inputs from security agencies along with other corroborative evidence in the print/electronic media would help to establish religious persecution in a foreign land.”
  • The Director of Intelligence Bureau suggested that after the Bill was passed, one more round of verification should be done for the applicants.
Leprosy is no longer a ground for divorce
  • The Lok Sabha on Monday passed a Bill seeking to remove leprosy as a ground for divorce, stating that this was a “discriminatory” provision for a disease that is now curable.
  • The Bill has sought to amend five Acts — the Divorce Act, 1869, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 — on provisions related to marriage, divorce, and separation of Hindu and Muslim couples.
  • Each of these Acts prescribe leprosy as a ground for seeking divorce or separation from the spouse. 
10% quota Bill may fail legal test
  • A proposed law, which got Cabinet approval on Monday, to provide 10% reservation for upper castes (or the unreserved category) exclusively with reference to their economic backwardness may run into rough weather if challenged in the Supreme Court.
  • A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney case of 1992 specifically answered the question “whether backward classes can be identified only and exclusively with reference to the economic criterion.”
  • It categorically held that “a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion.”
  • The Indira Sawhney judgment declared 50% quota as the rule unless extraordinary situations “inherent in the great diversity of this country and the people” happen. Even then, extreme caution is to be exercised and a special case should be made out.
  • If the government proposes to bring a constitutional amendment to include the 10% quota for “unreserved economically weaker sections”, the 11-judge Kesavananda Bharati judgment may stand in the way. The judgment held that constitutional amendments which offended the basic structure of the Constitution would be ultra vires. Neither Parliament nor legislatures could transgress the basic feature of the Constitution, namely, the principle of equality enshrined in Article 14.
  • The government, it is reported, proposes to bring the 10% over and above the 49% quota — 7% for Scheduled Castes, 15% for Scheduled Tribes and 27% for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, including widows and orphans of any caste, which is permitted. But a total 59% (49%+10%) quota would leave other candidates with just 41% government jobs or seats. This may amount to “sacrifice of merit” and violate Article 14.
  • This proposed Bill finds an echo in an ordinance promulgated in Gujarat in 2016. The ordinance provided 10% quota to upper castes there.
  • All the arguments here are based on the 104-page judgment of the Gujarat High Court in the Dayaram Khemkaran Verma versus State of Gujarat, which quashed the ordinance in August 2016. The case has been referred to a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court
  • Gujarat had justified the ordinance by referring to how Article 46 of the Constitution, which deals with the Directive Principles of the State Policy, required the State to promote weaker sections.
  • It had categorised the 10% quota as a ‘reasonable classification’ under Article 14 and not ‘reservation’. It said the 50% ceiling limit in the Indira Sawhney judgment applied only to SC/ST and SEBC.But the High Court said “reservation is nothing but an act of booking, kept blank, destined for a particular use of a particular person.”
  • The court observed that the “unreserved category itself is a class” and economic criteria was too fluctuating a basis for providing quota.
SC shocked as Section 66A of IT Act is still invoked
  • Over three years after it struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court on Monday said it was shocked to hear that authorities still continued to book people under the now-extinct draconian provision.
  • A Bench led by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, who wrote the judgment in March 2015 upholding online free speech against Section 66A, said “strict action” would follow if the claims in the petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) were found true.
  • The court ordered the Centre to respond to the petition in four weeks.
  • The PUCL said Section 66A, which restricted free expression online, continued to survive and occasionally found a place in the FIRs registered by the police in complete contravention of the Supreme Court judgment in the Shreya Singhal case.
  • The judgment had found that Section 66A was contrary to both Articles 19 (free speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.
  • The petition said many officials may not even know about the Supreme Court verdict.

Govt. says GDP to grow at 7.2% for FY19
  • The government has projected GDP growth for the full year 2018-19 to come in at 7.2%, which implies that growth in the second half of the year would slow significantly to 6.8% from the 7.6% clocked in the first half of the year, according to the first advance estimates of national income for 2018-19 released by the Ministry of Statistics.
  • This growth estimate for the entire year is slower than the Reserve Bank of India’s forecast of 7.4%.
  • Economists, however, feel that the government’s prediction for the second half of the year is too conservative.
  • The advance estimate says that the growth in the agriculture sector would be 3.8% in 2018-19, faster than the 3.4% in the previous year. The manufacturing sector is estimated to grow at 8.3% in 2018-19 compared with 5.7% in 2017-18.
  • However, this represents a dramatic slowdown in the manufacturing sector in the second half of the year, to 6.3% from 10.3% in the first half.
  • The construction sector, however, is expected to witness an acceleration in the second half of the year.
  • For the entire year, the growth has been estimated at 8.9%, with 8.3% having been recorded in the first half of the year. This implies a growth of 9.5% in the second half.
  • The transport and communications services sector is expected to grow at 6.9% in 2018-19, down from 8% in the previous year.
  • The financial services sector is set to grow at 6.8% in 2018-19 from 6.6% in 2017-18.
World Bank President announces resignation
  • World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced that he would step down next month, more than three years before his current term was due to expire.
  • The decision ends Mr. Kim’s six-year tenure and may give U.S. President Donald Trump decisive influence over the future leadership of the global development lender.
  • Mr. Kim, who became President in 2012, is to join an as-yet unnamed firm focussing on investments in developing countries, the bank said in a statement, and will return to the board of Partners-in-Health, which he co-founded.
  • World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva will serve as interim President.
SEBI takes steps to bring uniformity in commodity derivatives segment
  • With the number of exchanges offering commodity derivatives on the rise and national-level equity bourses also entering the fray, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is making all attempts to bring uniformity among the bourses in a segment which came under its regulatory purview only three years ago.
  • The capital markets regulator has decided to meet the chief regulatory officers (CROs) of all six exchanges that offer commodity derivatives trading once every quarter to discuss regulatory and compliance matters in order to enhance uniformity amongst the bourses.
  • This assumes significance as, unlike the equity segment with two main bourses and identical product offering, the commodity derivatives segment is quite diversified with each exchange having created a niche in a certain category of commodities.
  • “Commodity market is not linear like equities and hence requires more coordination and oversight,” said a person familiar with the SEBI initiative.
  • “Each bourse has specialised in its own set of commodity offerings and the dynamics of every commodity differs due to the nature of the underlying spot.

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