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Current Affairs - 16 December 2018

General Affairs 

Cyclone Phethai Gathers Over Bay Of Bengal, May Hit Andhra On Monday
  • The deep depression in the Bay of Bengal is likely to intensify further into a cyclonic storm during the next 24 hours, the Regional Meteorological Centre said.
    The storm is likely to further develop into a severe cyclonic storm in the subsequent 24 hours and may hit Andhra Pradesh on Monday. As the depression develops into a cyclonic storm , it will be named Phethai.

    Heavy rain is likely to hit north Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the next 24 hours.

    Moderate rains along with isolated heavy showers may occur over many places of Odisha, Skymet news agency reported.

    Deep depression over southeast Bay of Bengal moved northwestwards with a speed of 10 kmph during the past 6 hours. The depression now lay centred at 430 km east-northeast of Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, 670 km east-southeast of Chennai and 870 km south-southeast of Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

    The India Meteorological Department reported the cyclone is very likely to move to Andhra Pradesh coast between Ongole and Kakinada and make landfall Monday afternoon.

    14 districts have been put on high alert in Andhra Pradesh. Evacuation has already begun from old houses and low lying areas as precautionary measures and control rooms have been set up as well. Fishermen have also been asked to not venture out into the sea which has been hit by rough conditions. Various helpline numbers have also been set up across Andhra Pradesh.

Chopper Scam "Middleman" Christian Michel's CBI Custody Extended Again
  • A Delhi court today extended the CBI custody of Christian Michel, an alleged middleman in the Rs. 3,600-crore AgustaWestland chopper scam, by four days. The central agency had sought extension of custody from the judge, so they could further question him on the matter.
    During the hearing, Mr Michel's counsel Rosemary Patrizi said she had represented him for almost five years in trials held across Italy and Switzerland. The Patiala House Court then allowed her to speak to him for 10 minutes, in spite of the CBI questioning her credentials. It, however, refused to let Ms Patrizi visit him in CBI custody.

    Last week, the CBI had cited "non-cooperation" on the accused's part to seek nine-day custody. The court, however, had allowed only five. On December 11, a petition by the probe agency to take signature and handwriting samples of Mr Michel was admitted in court.

    The 54-year-old British national is one of the three alleged middlemen being investigated over charges of organising bribes for Indian politicians and bureaucrats to push for the AgustaWestland deal, involving 12 luxury choppers, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was still in power. He was brought to India from Dubai on December 4, over a year after India filed an extradition request in March 2017.

Mobile Internet Services Suspended In Most Parts Of Jammu And Kashmir
  • Mobile internet services were suspended on Saturday in most parts of Kashmir, including in Srinagar -- the summer capital, in the aftermath of killing of seven civilians in Pulwama district, officials said.
    The civilians were killed when security forces allegedly opened fire at an unruly crowd that tried to storm the site of an encounter in Srinoo village. Three terrorists and a soldier were killed in the encounter.

    High-speed mobile internet services have been suspended in most parts of the Valley as a precautionary measure, the officials said.

    They said the services have been barred in four districts of south Kashmir, Srinagar, Bandipora and Sopore township in Baramulla and Handwara in Kupwara district.

    The internet speeds have been throttled in Budgam and Ganderbal districts, they added.

    The mobile internet services are working normally in the rest of the areas in Baramulla and Kupwara districts, the officials said.

    Police said though the encounter ended in 25 minutes with the killing of the three terrorists, including an Army deserter - Zahoor Ahmed Thoker, the security forces had a tough time as people started climbing onto Army vehicles, the officials said.

    They said warning shots were fired but that did not deter the mob, forcing the security forces to open fire at the civilians.

    Dozens of civilians were also injured in the firing, including a youth who's condition was stated to be critical.

President Kovind Visits Statue Of Unity On Sardar Patel Death Anniversary
  • President Ram Nath Kovind today visited the Statue of Unity in the Narmada district of Gujarat on the death anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. President Kovind, accompanied by Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and state chief secretary JN Singh, began his visit with a stroll at the Valley of Flowers developed near the 182-metre tall statue of Sardar Patel in Kevadiya.
    After planting a tree in memory of Sardar Patel, President Kovind attended a prayer meet at the statue complex.

    The world's tallest statue dedicated to Sardar Patel was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October.

    After offering tributes to Sardar Patel, President Kovind visited the museum and exhibition area beneath the statue. He also visited the viewing gallery located at a height of 132 metres inside the statue.

    President Kovind then left the statue premises and headed to Kevadiya village, around 5 kms from the statue, to lay the foundation stone for a railway station.

    The railway station, proposed to be built at a cost of Rs. 20 crore, is aimed at providing direct rail connectivity to tourists visiting the Statue of Unity.

    To connect Kevadiya with the main broad-guage line, the Railways has sanctioned the work to convert 18-km Dabhoi-Chandod narrow gauge into broad gauge and extension from Chandod to Kevadia by constructing a new 32-km line.

India Raises Concern Over International Humanitarian Law Violations At UN
  • Voicing concern over repeated violations of international humanitarian law, India and Sweden have said that parties to armed conflicts, including non-state actors, who perpetrate human rights abuses with impunity should be brought to justice.
    India and Sweden, in the joint statement delivered on Friday during a General Assembly meeting on 'Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance', said they are deeply concerned that humanitarian emergencies, primarily driven by natural disasters and armed conflicts, reached a new high last year, as more than 131.7 million people needed humanitarian assistance.

    India's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Tanmaya Lal, delivering the joint statement on behalf of India and Sweden, said the humanitarian funding requirement in 2019 is nearly 22 billion dollars.

    As millions of people are forcibly displaced worldwide, Mr Lal said issues of concern also include those relating to access for and protection of humanitarian workers, especially in the situations of armed conflict.

    "Repeated violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law remain one of the most persistent challenges. The parties to armed conflicts, including the non-state actors continue to flout the international humanitarian law and perpetrate egregious abuses of human rights with impunity," he said, adding that women and children remain the most vulnerable and need special measures for their protection.

    "We must strengthen framework for international cooperation to bring perpetrators to justice," Mr Lal said. He underscored that all humanitarian actors need to strictly adhere to the policy of zero tolerance on sexual exploitation and abuse and ensure that the victims are afforded adequate protection.

    The General Assembly on Friday adopted four resolutions on coordinating humanitarian and disaster relief aid, as Member States echoed concerns that global crises and attacks on humanitarian personnel continue to increase at a time when millions of people are forcibly displaced globally.

    Mr Lal added that the increasing number of forcibly displaced people due to humanitarian emergencies remains an area of concern. The 'Global Compact on Refugees' and 'Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration' which are both soon to be formally adopted, as well as 2015 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction provide frameworks for enhanced international cooperation to mitigate displacement and reduce human suffering resulting from such displacement, he said.

    Mr Lal noted that while the UN agencies and other partners have been responding to several complex emergencies in a commendable manner, attempting to address different forms of humanitarian emergencies through a coherent and comprehensive approach remains a significant challenge.

    "Greater coordination and complementarity in action among various humanitarian actors, need to be achieved to undertake effective responses which are context-based, also enabling greater participation of local actors," he said.

    India and Sweden also called for adopting a "victim-centred approach" to humanitarian response with respect for human dignity and provide flexibility to making choices on the goods and services they need most.

    "Humanitarian action must focus on addressing more immediate and acute challenges while contributing to collective outcomes," he said.

    Mr Lal pointed out that persisting gap in humanitarian funding, for the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), to which both India and Sweden are long-standing donors, remains an area of concern.

    India and Sweden called upon Member States to consider increasing their contribution to UN humanitarian assistance system, including CERF and the country based pooled funds.

    Sweden is one of the single largest donors of core funding to UN humanitarian agencies and provides significant support to the world's major humanitarian crises.

    India also continues to assist relief efforts, particularly when facing situations of natural disasters such as Tsunami, earthquakes or cyclones. In the last four years, India has rescued 90,000 people including from 50 other countries caught in natural disasters or strife.

    Mr Lal told the General Assembly that India provided emergency aid of 200,000 dollars as well as two million dollars for rehabilitation projects to CARICOM (Caribbean Community) countries affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria last year.

    India has also increased its annual financial contribution to the core budget of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) from one million dollars in 2016 to five million dollars in 2018.

    "The essence of humanitarian response is to save their lives, to alleviate their suffering and to maintain their dignity in the face of situations of natural disasters and violence. We call on all states to respect and honour International Humanitarian Law and the humanitarian principles," he said.

Business Affairs

Rafale deal verdict: Govt seeks correction in SC references to PAC examining CAG report
  • The government has moved the Supreme Court seeking correction in a paragraph of its judgement in the Rafale deal case which refers to a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report regarding the pricing details of the deal being examined by the Parliament's Public Account Committee (PAC). The request from Defence Ministry comes as a controversy has started to brew over Supreme Court's statement that the PAC has examined the CAG report on Rafale deal's pricing details.

    In paragraph 25 of its verdict, the apex court said that the CAG has examined the pricing details of the Rafale deal, and its findings were then tabled before and have been examined by the PAC. This comment by the Supreme Court came from misinterpretation of a note submitted to the top court, the Defence Ministry said in its application for correction.

    One of the points on the note in question had said: "The Government has already shared the pricing details with the CAG.  The report of the CAG is examined by the PAC.  Only a redacted version of the report is placed before the Parliament and in public domain."

    The Defence Ministry had submitted the note along with the pricing details of Rafale deal to the Supreme Court in two sealed covers in compliance with an order by the court.

    The Supreme Court statement in reference to the CAG report suggests that it has already been examined by the PAC. In the application, however, the government has said that while the pricing details of the fighter jet deal have been shared with the CAG, the CAG report is yet to be presented to the PAC for examination.

    "The submission by the Union of India, to the effect that the report of the CAG 'is' examined by the PAC, was a description of the procedure which is followed in the normal course, in regard to the reports of the CAG.  The very fact that the present tense 'is' is used would mean that the reference is to the procedure which will be followed as and when the CAG report is ready," the government said in the application to the Supreme Court.

    The application also sought correction in Supreme Court's statement that a redacted version of the report has already been tabled before the Parliament. The government tried to clarify that only a bridged version of the CAG report will be presented before the Parliament and in public domain, as and when it comes.

    Congress had cried foul after Supreme Court referred to a CAG report being examined by the PAC in its enquiry of the Rafale deal while dismissing all petitions challenging the propriety of the deal. Senior Congress leader and PAC chairman Mallikarjun Kharge had accused the government of "misleading" the Supreme Court by presenting wrong facts about the CAG report on the Rafale deal.

Vedanta gets NGT nod to reopen Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin
  • The National Green Tribunal has ordered the Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu to be reopened early next month. The green tribunal overturned an order by the Tamil Nadu government to close the copper smelter over alleged damage to the environment. In this order, the NGT asked the state pollution control board to pass the required authorisations within three weeks.

    "Accordingly, we allow this appeal, set aside the impugned orders and direct the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to pass fresh order of renewal of consent and authorisation to handle hazardous substances, in the light of above finding, subject to appropriate conditions for protection of environment in accordance with law within three weeks from today. The appellant will also be entitled to restoration of electricity for its operations," the NGT said in its order.

    The electricity connection to the copper factory, which was snipped when it was shuttered back in May this year.

    In its judgement, the green court noted that the counsel for the Tamil Nadu government and the TNPCB relied on opinions regarding possible pollution from copper slag and gypsum, but both by-products have been deemed non-hazardous in reports by the Central Pollution Control Board and TNPCB. These were even recommended for land filling, road construction, cement manufacturing, etc, the order further said.

    "Further there is no evidence to show that even assuming that certain components in the water are higher than the standard provided, it has caused any health hazards in the locality and the pollution caused on account of the same to the environment is irreversible and irremediable," the NGT order said.

    An industry cannot be denied approval or closed permanently unless such things are satisfied by the authorities by scientific data, the green court said.

    "There is a duty cast on the SPCB as well as CPCB to provide remedial measures to prevent environmental pollution by the industries in such circumstances and without adopting those remedial measures refusing the consent and direct closure on that ground is illegal and not sustainable in law," the NGT said.

    During the NGT hearing, Vedanta had also offered to invest Rs 100 crore at Tuticorin, officially known as Thoothukudi, for the welfare of people in addition to the regular social work being carried out by it under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

    The Sterlite Copper smelter was closed down earlier this year by order from the Tamil Nadu government after protests erupted over alleged pollution by the facility. The matter had escalated after police forces had opened fire at the protestors in Tuticorin, killing 13.

    The Tamil Nadu government is not in favour of the reopening of the Sterlite Copper plant and has said it will challenge the NGT order in Supreme Court.

Last day to win 5 litres of free petrol under SBI scheme; here's how to avail the offer
  • The scheme by State Bank of India to win up to five litres of free petrol will end today. The offer allows SBI account holders to get free petrol on using SBI cards or BHIM SBI Pay to purchase fuel from Indian Oil fuel stations.

    The SBI scheme was extended till December 15 earlier this month and is applicable on purchase worth Rs 100 or more from Indian Oil outlets.

    To avail the offer, SBI customers will have to follow these steps:

    1. SBI customers will have to buy fuel at least worth Rs 100 from Indian Oil outlets and pay through BHIM-UPI or SBI cards.

    2. The 12-digit UPI reference number or the 6-digit approval/authorisation code to in a specified format to 9222222084.

    In case of payments through BHIM SBI Pay: 12-digit UPI reference number<space> DDMM

    In case of payments through SBI cards: 6-digit approval/authorisation code<space>DDMM

    The scheme, however, is subject to certain terms and conditions. Here are the some crucial points to keep in mind.

    1. This offer is open to Indian citizens aged 18 years or more, as on April 1, 2018, only.

    2. A customer can make multiple entries for repeat purchases. However, each SMS should have a separate authorisation code or UPI reference number. Multiple entries using the same authorisation code or UPI reference number will be considered invalid.

    3. The UPI reference code or the authorisation code for card payments have to be sent to SBI within seven days of the transaction. Out of all eligible SMSs received for a particular transaction date, 10,000 SMSs shall be entitled for cash-back ranging as per Rs 50, Rs 100, Rs 150, and Rs 200.

    4. One mobile number is eligible for getting cash-back for maximum two times during the campaign period.

    5. Winners will be declared normally within two weeks of the close of the offer. Winners will be sent link to enroll into the XTRAREWARDS Loyalty Program of Indian Oil and the cash-back incentive will be credited into the winners loyalty account. The winners shall be required to provide the requisite personal profile information to Indian Oil for creation of the loyalty account. The winner shall also have to agree to the XTRAREWARDS Loyalty Program to avail the cash back incentive.

    6. Winners may redeem the XTRAREWARDS loyalty point by visiting participating Indian Oil retail outlet against fuel purchase.

Indian oil Corporation shares close 3% higher on share buyback plans
  • Indian oil Corporation (IOC) shares ended 3 per cent higher, extending gaining streak for the third straight session, on Friday after state-owned oil market company said that it its board had approved the buyback of 3.06 per cent of equity shares for Rs 4,435 crore.

    "The board has approved buyback of 29.76 crore equity shares, approximately 3.06 per cent of the total paid up equity share capital of the company, at a price of Rs 149 per equity share payable in cash for Rs 4435 crore," Indian oil Corporation said in a filing to the Bombay Stock Exchange.

    In the oil&gas space, IOC was top performer, with shares surging as much as 3.75 per cent to touch an intra-day high of Rs 142.35, before closing at Rs 141.45, up 3.10 per cent, on the BSE.

    In a similar trend, stocks of the company settled 2.84 per cent higher at Rs 141.30 on the National Stock Exchange.

    The board of directors of the company have declared an Interim Dividend of 67.5 per cent i.e. Rs 6.75 per equity share of face value of Rs 10 each for the financial year 2018-19.

    "The dividend will be credited to the account of the shareholders or the dividend warrant in respect thereof will be dispatched on or before December 31, 2018," IOC said in the exchange filing.

    The company further said the record date for the purpose of aforesaid share buyback and interim dividend is December 25, 2018.

    Earlier this week, the government of India had trimmed its stake in IOC by 2.69 percent, bringing down shareholding in the company to 54.06 percent, according to exchange data.

    Meanwhile, the BSE oil & gas index closed at 13412.01, up by 228.92 points, or by 1.74 per cent. Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (Rs 343.85, 2.69%), Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. (Rs 146.95, 2.58%), Petronet LNG Ltd. (Rs 217.00, 2.14%), Castrol India Ltd. (Rs 149.25, 1.43%), were among other gainers across oil & gas space.

Baba Ramdev drops hints about Patanjali IPO
  • Patanjali Ayurved Ltd may have suffered its first setback in five years in the previous fiscal - its consumer goods business posted a 50% decline year-on-year in FY18 - but its founder yoga guru Baba Ramdev remains confident about future growth. In fact, earlier this week, he hinted that Patanjali may shortly announce plans to go public. He said that he would be able to share some "good news" on plans to get listed in the stock market in a month's time.

    This marks a U-turn from his stand just two months ago. In October, during a conference organised by FICCI Ladies Organisation, Ramdev had declared that his company would neither seek foreign funding nor go public as Patanjali is a charitable company.

    After starting out as a small pharmacy in 1997, Patanjali slowly picked up steam on the back of factors like value pricing and differentiated positioning. Patanjali reached Rs 10,000 crore in revenues FY16 from less than Rs 500 crore in FY12. It went on to launch more than two dozen mainstream FMCG products, and is now eyeing the apparel sector and dairy products, among others.

    But the company's growth trajectory took a big hit after the central government rolled out the GST in July 2017. While its arch rivals like HUL Ltd and ITC Ltd managed to use cutting-edge technology to quickly overcome the GST shock, Patanjali lagged behind. The company's weak distribution network and poor store filling frequency also caused demand for its products to dip.

    Nonetheless, Patanjali aims to achieve Rs 20,000 crore in annual revenues in three to five years. Speaking at the India Economic Conclave organised by Times Network yesterday, Ramdev added that the Patanjali group aspires to leave behind major companies like Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) by 2020 and become the world's largest FMCG company by 2025.

General Awareness

    Farm loan waiver
    • What to study?

      For Prelims: Which states announced farm loan waivers in last one year.
      For Mains: Advantages and Disadvantages of farm loan waivers, the need for viable solution to farm distress.

      Context: Former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan has stressed on the need to do away with farm loan waivers citing “enormous” problems for state finances and investment. He also said that farm loan waiver should not form part of poll promises and he has written to Election Commission that such issues should be taken off the table.

      Why?


      According to Rajan, loan waivers not only inhibit investment in the farm sector but put pressure on the fiscal of states which undertake farm loan waiver. In every state election during the last five years, loan waiver promise made by one political party or other. The recently concluded assembly election in five states, agriculture loan waiver and increasing minimum support price (MSP) of cereals was again part of manifesto of some of the political parties.

      Also, loan waivers, as the RBI has repeatedly argued, vitiate the credit culture, and stress the budgets of the waiving state or central government.

      Background:

      According to a 2017 report by the RBI, farm loan waiver amounting to Rs 88,000 crore likely to be released in 2017-18 by seven states, including Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, may push inflation on permanent basis by 0.2%.

      The ever- rising demand:

      Agriculture currently contributes just about 15% to the national output and about 50% of the population directly or indirectly depends on it for employment.

      Farmer distress is a real and pressing problem, as evidenced by the protests currently taking place in various parts of the country.  In the recent past, widespread demands have been heard for farm loan waivers amid continuing agrarian distress.

      Drawbacks of loan waivers:

      Firstly, it covers only a tiny fraction of farmers. The loan waiver as a concept excludes most of the farm households in dire need of relief and includes some who do not deserve such relief on economic grounds.
      Second, it provides only a partial relief to the indebted farmers as about half of the institutional borrowing of a cultivator is for non-farm purposes.
      Third, in many cases, one household has multiple loans either from different sources or in the name of different family members, which entitles it to multiple loan waiving.
      Fourth, loan waiving excludes agricultural labourers who are even weaker than cultivators in bearing the consequences of economic distress.
      Fifth, it severely erodes the credit culture, with dire long-run consequences to the banking business.
      Sixth, the scheme is prone to serious exclusion and inclusion errors, as evidenced by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) findings in the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008.
      Lastly, schemes have serious implications for other developmental expenditure, having a much larger multiplier effect on the economy.

      What needs to be done?

      Proper identification: For providing immediate relief to the needy farmers, a more inclusive alternative approach is to identify the vulnerable farmers based on certain criteria and give an equal amount as financial relief to the vulnerable and distressed families.

      Enhance non- farm income: The sustainable solution to indebtedness and agrarian distress is to raise income from agricultural activities and enhance access to non-farm sources of income. The low scale of farms necessitates that some cultivators move from agriculture to non-farm jobs.

      Improved technology, expansion of irrigation coverage, and crop diversification towards high-value crops are appropriate measures for raising productivity and farmers’ income. All these require more public funding and support.

      Way ahead:

      The magic wand of a waiver can offer temporary relief, but long-term solutions are needed to solve farmer woes. There are many dimensions of the present agrarian crisis in India. The search for a solution therefore needs to be comprehensive by taking into consideration all the factors that contribute to the crisis. Furthermore, both short- and long-term measures are required to address the numerous problems associated with the agrarian crisis.

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