Weekly Current Affairs Update for IAS Exam VOL. - 56 (22nd December 2014 TO 28th December 2014)


Weekly Current Affairs Update for IAS Exam

VOL. - 56 (22nd December 2014 TO 28th December 2014)


Issue : VOL. - 56 (22nd December 2014 TO 28th December 2014)

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Covered Topics:


:: NATIONAL PORTAL OF INDIA ::

PM calls for swift action to stop pollution of River Ganga

  • The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has called for time-bound, swift action and single-minded focus to stop pollution of the River Ganga. He was chairing a high-level meeting on the ‘Namaami Gange’ project.

  • The Prime Minister reiterated that the ‘Namaami Gange’ vision should focus primarily on two main areas to check pollution at the source. These include: urban sewage and industrial effluents. “Ganga ko ganda na karen,” the PM emphasized.

  • The Prime Minister was briefed extensively on critical hotspots along the stretch of the river, which generate the most pollution.

  • The existing gaps in sewage treatment capacity were highlighted. A total of 764 grossly polluting industrial units have been identified along the stretch of the Ganga. Tanneries, pulp and paper and sugar industries account for over three-fourth of this number.

  • The Prime Minister also emphasized the need to promote recycling of industrial waste water. He said industrial units should be motivated suitably to stop pollution, failing which action should be initiated within the framework of existing laws.

:: Ministry of External Affairs ::

VISIT OF INDIAN COAST GUARD SHIP ‘VIJIT’ TO DOHA

  • In the framework of the deep-rooted ties, time-tested friendship, and multi-faceted cooperation between India and the State of Qatar, Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) ‘Vijit’ will be making a friendly visit to Doha Port from 20 - 23 December, 2014 in conjunction with the celebrations of Qatar’s National Day.

  • ICGS Vijit, the second in the series of 90-meter Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs),was designed and built indigenously by M/s Goa Shipyard Limited and was commissioned on 11 December, 2010 at Goa.Vijit,meaning Victorious, is a projection of Indian Coast Guard’s will and commitment “To Serve and Protect” the maritime interests of the Nation.

  • ICGS Vijit, has 19 Officers and 120 other personnel under the Command of Deputy Inspector General Rakesh Pal, TM (Tatrakshak Medal) and is based at Porbandar (the birth place of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi) in the State of Gujarat, under the administrative and operational control of the Commander, Headquarters, Coast Guard Region (NW), Gandhinagar. Since commissioning, the ship has spent 600 days at sea and logged 101537 nautical miles.

:: Planning Commission of India ::

A Well Educated Population, Equipped with Relevant Knowledge, Attitudes & Skills is Essential for Economic and Social Development in this Century-Vice President

  • The Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari has said that Education is a critical tool for developing a modern economy, a just society and a vibrant polity. It provides skills and competencies for economic well-being and social mobility. Education strengthens democracy by imparting to citizens the tools needed to fully participate in the governance process.

  • It also acts as an integrative force in society, imparting values that foster social cohesion and national identity. Addressing at the “Golden Jubilee celebrations of the R.V. College of Engineering (RVCE)” at Bangalore, Karnataka, he said that a well educated population, equipped with the relevant knowledge, attitudes and skills is essential for economic and social development in this century.

  • He said that we have made progress in the field of higher education since 1947. Today, India has the third largest higher education system in the world.

  • We have around 652 universities and university level institutes that impart higher and technical education. They also provide affiliation to more than 33,000 colleges and institutes. However, our higher education system continues to be afflicted with the three problems of access, equity and quality. Enrollment rates in our higher education institutions have gone up to around 17% but are still well below the world average of 26 per cent.

:: National News ::

Center firm on insurance ordinance

  • As the winter session of Parliament came to an end, highly placed sources said the government is determined to push through the raised cap on Foreign Direct Investment in insurance via the ordinance route.

  • At least two senior Ministers indicated that the Narendra Modi government was left with no other option but to effect the policy change through an ordinance.

  • One of them said the ordinance was necessary to “spell out the government’s intent” even though he did not expect foreign investors to immediately invest in the insurance sector in the absence of an enabling legislation.

  • “The makers of our Constitution have thought far ahead for every situation. For everything else, there are enough precedents,” said the other Minister, alluding to ordinances being brought in the past to push key policy decisions.

  • Reacting to the Opposition’s criticism that the government wanted to push through the insurance legislation before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January 2015, the Minister said: “They are the ones obsessed with Mr. Obama. We are only thinking of national interest.”

  • The Union Cabinet had earlier this month cleared a proposal to raise the FDI cap in insurance to 49 per cent from the current 26 per cent. The government brought in amendments to a Bill in Parliament for the necessary legislative sanction.

  • The Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008, that had been listed in the legislative business of the Rajya Sabha, was not passed till the House adjourned due to frequent disruptions.

CVC decided to constitute panel on sanction to probe corrupt officials

  • The Central Vigilance Commission has decided to constitute a committee of experts to review pending cases referred to it by the CBI for sanction of prosecution against corrupt government officials.

  • It has sought applications from retired persons having held the position of Secretary or Additional Secretary to the Government of India or equivalent and CMD, MD or whole time director on the board of public undertakings, banks, and insurance companies who can be empanelled as experts in the committee.

  • The interested individuals should possess sufficient knowledge and experience in matters like vigilance and investigation, criminal law, public administration, finance including banking & insurance, tender & procurement etc. must be under 70 years of age and preferably residing in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), the CVC said in an order seeking applications from eligible persons.

  • The tenure of the committee shall be of two years, extendable for a further period of up to two years. The CVC had in July extended by six months the tenure of an existing eight-member committee of experts. The committee was formed for a period of two years on July 1, 2012.

  • The CVC tenders advice in respect of officers coming under its jurisdiction against whom the CBI, after probing the case, has recommended sanction for prosecution.

  • “On a few occasions, where the Commission has in agreement with the CBI’s recommendations, advised sanction for prosecution against a public servant, the disciplinary authority, in disagreement with the CBI’s recommendations, approaches the Commission for reconsideration of its advice.

:: International News ::

U.S. & NATO ends Afghan mission amid rising insurgency

  • The United States and NATO will mark the formal end of the war in Afghanistan with a ceremony at their military headquarters in Kabul as the insurgency they fought for 13 years remains as ferocious and deadly as at any time since the 2001 invasion that unseated the Taliban regime following the September 11 attacks.

  • The symbolic ceremony will mark the end of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, which will transition to a supporting role with 13,500 soldiers, most of them American, starting Jan. 1.

  • President Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September, signed bilateral security agreements with Washington and NATO allowing the enduring military presence.

  • The move has led to a spike in violence as the Taliban have claimed it as an excuse to step up operations aimed at destabilizing his government.

  • ISAF was set up after the U.S.-led invasion as an umbrella for the coalition of around 50 nations that provided troops and took responsibility for security across the country.

  • It ends with 2,224 American soldiers killed, according to an AP tally, out of a total of some 3,500 foreign troop deaths.

  • The mission peaked at 140,000 troops in 2010 with a surge ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama to root the insurgents out of strategically important regions, notably in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban had its capital from 1996 to 2001.

India Cements is planning to mobilise Rs.500 crore

  • India Cements is planning to mobilise funds to the tune of Rs.500 crore. This would be raised through qualified institutional placement or foreign currency convertible bonds or global depository receipts or other instruments.

  • The board has approved the proposal and a resolution to this effect was passed at the annual general meeting held.

  • Addressing shareholders at the meeting N. Srinivasan, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, said the company had returned to black in the third quarter after witnessing losses for four quarters. There was a slight improvement in demand this year, he said.

  • Mr. Srinivasan was cautiously optimistic on the performance in 2015 with the expectation of a pick-up in cement demand. The company also expected the market to pick up in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. He said there was excess capacity of 100 million tonnes at all-India level.

  • South also had a substantial excess capacity. In the case of India Cements, against a total capacity of 16 million tonnes, it produced only 9 to 10 million tonnes a year. When the capacity utilisation was lower, the company had to incur higher fixed costs.

  • The duties and levies alone came to Rs.100 per bag. With the expectation of a pick-up in demand and price, capacity utilisation would improve, resulting in an increase in margin, he said.

  • During 2013-14, due to lower price realisation, the company lost Rs.200 per tonne in margin, he said. The company was taking steps to cut cost and improve logistics. It had created 160 to 170 MW of captive power capacity.

  • This included 100 MW capacity from the power plants at Sankarnagar in Tamil Nadu and Vishnupuram in Telangana. The company was taking all necessary measures at the operational level to improve the working in the remaining part of the current fiscal.

  • With a stable Government at the Centre and the thrust on infrastructure development and housing and the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into two States, Mr. Srinivasan was hopeful that the investment activity would pick up resulting in an improved demand for cement in the coming months.

Japanese auto Honda set for record car sales in 2014

  • Riding on new launches, Japanese auto major Honda is set for over 62 per cent growth in its sales in India this year at around 1.8 lakh units. The company, which launched two models — mid-sized sedan City and multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) Mobilio during the year, had sold 1.11 lakh units in 2013.

  • “2014 was a very successful year for Honda as it continued its growth journey for the third consecutive year,” Honda Cars India Ltd. (HCIL) Senior Vice-President, Sales & Marketing Jnaneswar Sen said in a statement.

  • During January-November 2014, the company sold 1.65 lakh units, up 61.8 per cent, from 1.02 lakh units in the same period of previous year. Mr. Sen said Honda was set to end 2014 with a record sale of 1.8 lakh units.

  • “In line with business expansion, the company also made strong progress in expanding its dealership network during the year, and crossed the milestone of 200 dealers in the country in November 2014,” he added.

  • The company plans to rope in another 100 dealers by the end of the next fiscal, and take the total tally to 300 facilities by March 2016.

  • Elaborating on the launches during the year, he said that the new Generation City, which was launched in January, had sold more than 71,000 units till November 2014.

Reliance seeks immediate start of KG-D6 cost recovery dispute

  • With its KG-D6 cost recovery arbitration stuck for three years, Reliance Industries has sought immediate start of the proceedings for early resolution of the dispute.

  • Naming former UK judge Sir Bernard Rix as its arbitrator in place of former Chief Justice of India S. P. Bharucha, who quit earlier this month, RIL through its legal counsel has written to the Oil Ministry seeking start of the proceedings from next month, sources privy to the development said.

  • Bharucha was earlier RIL nominee on a three—member arbitration panel, which is to decide if the oil ministry was right in disallowing over $2.3 billion of KG-D6 cost as output lagged targets.

  • He, however, recused himself after the government challenged his nomination more than two—and—half years after his nomination.

  • The government felt he had not disclosed all previous associations with RIL and that his arbitration could create doubts about his independence and impartiality. The company, in the letter, expressed “distress” at the attempts of the government to remove Justice Bharucha from the panel of arbitration.

  • Bharucha, it said, has an impeccable reputation and it was “unfortunate” that the government chose to demonstrate, in the course of an international arbitration, that it did not have faith in a former chief justice.

:: India and The World ::

India contributes $1 million to ESCAP Trust fund

  • Ten years after a massive tsunami triggered by an earthquake smashed the coastline of around 14 nations; India announced a contribution of $1 million to a UN fund for strengthening early warning systems for natural disasters.

  • The contribution, made to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Multi–Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness in Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian countries, is expected to boost ESCAP’s efforts to strengthen early warning systems through regional and South–South cooperation.

  • Announced by Ambassador of India to Thailand Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the donation will also ensure that vulnerable communities receive timely warning information.

  • “India joins the international community in its efforts to prepare for any such natural calamity in the future by establishing effective early warning systems,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in her message.

  • On December 26, 2004, a 9.3–magnitude earthquake off Indonesia’s western point generated a series of massive tsunamis, smashing the coastline of 14 countries, including India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Somalia. The quake and the tsunamis claimed thousands of lives.

  • The trust fund supports activities that build resilience through strengthened early warning systems for coastal hazards.

  • Noting that the Indian Ocean tsunami was devastating in its impact on coastal communities in several countries in the Asia–Pacific region, Mr. Shringla said that despite suffering large casualties, India was one of the first countries to extend assistance in search and rescue and rehabilitation of victims in the neighbouring countries.

:: Business and Economy ::

Jet Airways (India) raises $150 million

  • Jet Airways (India), concluded a $150-million (about Rs.945 crore) five-year syndicated loan facility, which was fully subscribed by banks spread across the Middle East region.
  • “Jet Airways is renowned for introducing quality to India’s airline industry, and it is time to re-energise and re-establish ourselves as the country’s leading full-service airline.
  • We will continue to build on this strong foundation as part of our three-year turnaround plan. This syndicated loan facility will be instrumental in underpinning the airline on this progressive path” Jet Airways CEO Cramer Ball stated.
  • “The successful closure of this transaction is clear evidence of the growing liquidity available from the Middle East, favouring large leading Indian corporate,” John Iossifidis, Head of the International Banking Group at Mashreqbank said.

Vysya Bank employees also want merger

  • Speakers at a day-long convention of the All-India ING Vysya Bank Officers’ Association, as also those of the Employees’ Association, sought to highlight their demand that the proposed merger of the Bank with Kotak Mahindra Bank be taken forward only after they got a tri-partite agreement in writing on all assurances given to them.

  • Among those who addressed a gathering, were General Secretaries K.J. Ramakrishna Reddy of the Officers Association and S.A. Sridhar of the Employees Association.

  • The employees’ strength is an estimated 10,000-plus, including about 3,000 personnel on the bank’s rolls and the rest on contract. Mr. Ramakrishna Reddy and Mr. Sridhar said all they wanted was the agreement to be put in writing – whatever assurances were given to employees in the past and future settlements with the Indian Banks Association (IBA).

  • Bi-partite negotiations with the IBA and the concerned banks happen once in four years and the next one is due in 2017, they said.

  • Mr. Ramakrishna Reddy said that once the merger process was over, it would mean that Kotak Mahindra would have a share-holding of about Rs. 16,500 crore. The employees had already represented their concerns to the management but they are yet to be given convincing replies.

Centre says, Curbs on gold imports drive smuggling

  • The Union government has said restrictions imposed on gold imports to stem the pressure on the Current Account Deficit (CAD) are likely to have led to a substantial increase in smuggling.

  • From April to September this year, there was a more than four-fold increase in the seizure of smuggled gold, to 2,289 kg, against 522 kg seized during the same period last year.

  • Giving the information in a reply to a written question in Parliament, Minister of State in the Finance Ministry Jayant Sinha said: “…there had been a substantial increase in the seizure of smuggled gold as well as in the gold imports.”

  • “The increase in seizures of smuggled gold this year, compared to last year, may partly be attributed to the fluctuations in the price of gold, the restrictions imposed on the import of gold and customs duty rates,” Mr. Sinha said.

  • To stem the pressure on the CAD, the government and the Reserve Bank of India had taken measures to moderate the demand for the precious metal. These included an increase in customs duty on imports and prohibition of gold in the form of coins and medallions.

:: Science and Technology ::

Salinity increases in the Periyar

  • With the work on a temporary bund across the Periyar yet to be completed, the level of salinity in the river has been on a steady rise, casting a shadow over the supply of drinking water to Kochi and its neighbouring areas. 

  • Kerala Water Authority officials warn that any further delay in completing the bund would lead to disruptions in the operation of the water treatment plant in Aluva. “With the bund completion reaching only the halfway stage, there are chances of high tides from the sea reaching upstream, causing a sharp surge in salinity.

  • There would not have been no such concern had the bund been erected by November,” said a senior KWA official. Salinity in raw water stood at 15 ppm (parts per million), 35 ppm less from the level recorded 10 days ago.

  • This reduction in salinity, however, was achieved through releasing water from the Boothathankettu dam.  “Managing salinity levels by regulating the water flow from the dam upstream is not a feasible option as a sudden let-out may also lead to a manifold increase in the volume of silt and debris’’, the official said. 

Traders’ awareness important for a crop variety to succeed

  • Whatever hardship a farmer undertakes to grow a crop, it is ultimately the consumer preference that decides its success in the market place. Based on demand from the consumer, a crop is labelled a success or failure.

  • Particularly for rice varieties, today in almost all the markets across Tamil Nadu, the popularity of raw rice is so much that whatever variety a farmer cultivates it is sold under a major brand name called “super fine variety.”

  • Two years back the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, through its Rice Research Institute in Aduthurai had introduced a variety called ADT 49 which gave a good yield both under SRI method and general cultivation but traders simply refused to buy it from farmers because they had not heard the name and were not familiar about the characteristics of the variety.

  • Many farmers who had grown the variety were put through lot of hardship in marketing it. “Compared to many previous rice varieties ADT 49 is quite sturdy to stand up to pest and infestations. But I could not sell it easily after harvest from my four acres.

  • I had to wait for nearly three months and the interest value on my investments for those three months increased several fold till I could sell it and clear my dues,” sighs Mr. M. Velu a farmer in Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu.

:: Sports ::

Tendulkar named for ICC World Cup 2015 ambassador

  • Cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar was named the ICC World Cup ambassador for the second successive edition. “The International Cricket Council today announced Sachin Tendulkar as the World Cup 2015 Ambassador.

  • It will be the second successive time that the India maestro will be the Ambassador of ICC’s pinnacle tournament, after he fulfilled the role in the previous event in 2011,” the ICC said in a statement.

  • In his role as ambassador, Tendulkar will promote and support a variety of ICC initiatives to enhance the profile of the tournament, which is the third biggest sporting event in the world and will take place in Australia and New Zealand from February 14 to March 29.

  • Tendulkar retired from international cricket last year after representing India in 200 Tests, 463 ODIs and one Twenty20 International. In a career spanning 24 years, the 41-year-old scored a total of 34,357 international runs and 100 centuries.

Gouramangi Singh is Bharat FC’s new catch for 2015

  • Defender Gouramangi Singh has been roped in by new I-league team, Bharat FC to firm up its squad for the 2015 season which will kick off next month.

  • Bharat FC, which will compete in its inaugural I-League season starting on January 17, snapped up Gouramangi from Chennaiyin FC on a season-long contract.

  • “I and Stanly have worked at the national team and I know how good he is. I have also been speaking regularly to Stuart and his vision for the team is really exciting.

  • I am excited about my role here,” said Gouramangi, who joined the Kalyani group-owned team during its pre-season training camp at the BharatiVidyapeeth football ground on Tuesday.

  • “I want to transfer my experience of having played in the I-League, help build the team well and win lots of football matches,” he added. The 28-year-old, who was a India regular before Wim Koevermans became India coach, comes to Bharat FC on the back of an impressive showing in the Indian Super League.

  • The centre-back made 11 appearances for Chennaiyin FC, driving them to the semifinals of the competition. One of the most accomplished players in India, Gouramangi who is a graduate of the Tata Football Academy, began his professional football career with Dempo SC in the 2004-2005 season making 40 appearances and scoring one goal.

:: In The News (Person) ::

M.C. Sampath

  • M.C. Sampath, retired Senior Associate Editor of The Hindu, passed away here on Saturday evening after suffering a massive cardiac arrest. He was 78.

  • He retired from The Hindu in 2012 after serving the newspaper for 50 years, not counting the five years during which he was the part-time correspondent in Chengalpattu.

  • Joining the organisation in June 1961 as a Staff Reporter, he rose to become an Editorial writer and a Senior Associate Editor. He was also in charge of the Book Reviews for some years. For long years, he was writing the Religion column in the newspaper.

  • In his later years with the newspaper, as the seniormost member of the editorial team, Mr. Sampath assisted the Editor in managing the editorials for the day, finally seeing them off on the page after scrutiny.

  • MCS was an old school journalist who was meticulous in his commitment to accuracy, contextualising and fairness.

:: Selected Editorials of Importance ::

A step in the right direction

Yet another bold initiative was taken on the last day of 2014 when the Union government made public the draft National Health Policy 2015. The policy is a first step in achieving universal health coverage by advocating health as a fundamental right, whose “denial will be justiciable”. While it makes a strong case for moving towards universal access to affordable health-care services, there are innumerable challenges to be overcome before the objectives become a reality. The current government spending on health care is a dismal 1.04 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), one of the lowest in the world; this translates to Rs.957 per capita in absolute terms. The draft policy has addressed this critical issue by championing an increase in government spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP (Rs.3,800 per capita) in the next five years.

But even this increase in allocation falls short of the requirement to set right the dysfunctional health-care services in the country. Citing the health-care system’s low absorption capacity and inefficient utilisation of funding as an alibi for not raising the spending to 3 per cent of GDP is nothing but a specious argument. Insufficient funding over the years combined with other faulty practices have led to a dysfunctional health-care system in the country. Undivided focus is an imperative to strengthen all the elements of health-care delivery. The failure of the public health-care system to provide affordable services has been the main reason that has led to increased out-of-pocket expenditure on health care. As a result, nearly 63 million people are driven into poverty every year. The Ebola crisis in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which underlined the repercussions of a weak public health-care system, should serve as a grim reminder of this.

Draft on National Health Policy 2015

The national programmes provide universal coverage only with respect to certain interventions such as maternal ailments, that account for less than 10 per cent of all mortalities. Over 75 per cent of the communicable diseases are outside their purview and only a limited number of non-communicable diseases are covered. It is, therefore, crucial for the Union government to undertake proactive measures to upgrade the health-care services of poorly performing States such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

As it stands, health will be recognised as a fundamental right through a National Health Rights Act only when three or more States “request” it. Since health is a State subject, adoption by the respective States will be voluntary. Though a different approach has been taken to improve adoption and implementation by States, the very objective of universal health coverage that hinges on portability will be defeated in the absence of uniform adoption across India.

Courtesy: The Hindu

:: MCQs ::

1.

1. The Mid-Year Economic Review for fiscal year 2014-15 was tabled in the Lok Sabha. According to this review the Indian economy is expected to record 5.5% growth rate during the year.
2. The Mid-Year Economic Review (2014-15) was prepared by Arvind Subramanian, Chief Economic Advisor in the Finance Ministry.

Which of the following statements is/are true-?

a. Only 1
b. Only 2
c. Both 1 & 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2

2.

1. India exported its first warship – CGS Barracuda to Mauritius.
2. Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited (GRSE) ship-building company of the country has built this warship.

Which of the following statements is/are true-?

a. Only 1
b. Only 2
c. Both 1 & 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2

3.

1. A latest report on the status of health insurance in India prepared by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) was tabled in Parliament by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during December 2014.
2. According to this report 17 percentage of Indian population has been covered under health insurance.

Which of the following statements is/are true-?

a. Only 1
b. Only 2
c. Both 1 & 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2

4.

1. The union cabinet approved ordinances to push reforms in the coal and insurance sectors after it was unable to pass bills for these in the winter session of Parliament that ended on 23 December.
2. The Bills could not be taken up in the Rajya Sabha as a united opposition held up proceedings for much of the month-long session. The Insurance Bill has been pending in the Rajya Sabha since 2008.

Which of the following statements is/are true-?

a. Only 1
b. Only 2
c. Both 1 & 2
d. Neither 1 nor 2

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