Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 10 October 2017

Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 10 October 2017


Sale of firecrackers banned in Delhi

  • The Supreme Court suspended the sale of firecrackers in Delhi and NCR till November 1, 2017 in a bid to test whether a Deepavali without firecrackers this year will have a “positive effect” on the health of citizens and a steadily deteriorating air quality.
  • A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Sapre and Ashok Bhushan reverted to its November 2016 decision to suspend sales of firecrackers “to test itself to find out whether there would be a positive effect of this suspension, particularly during Deepavali period.”
  • “There is virtually a consensus in society that crackers should not be burnt during Deepavali, which can be celebrated with equal fervour by various other means as well...We have the direct evidence of deterioration of air quality at alarming levels, which happens every year. As already pointed out above, burning of these firecrackers during Deepavali in 2016 had shot up pm [particulate matter] levels by three times, making Delhi the worst city in the world, insofar as air pollution is concerned. Direct and immediate cause thereof was burning of crackers during Deepavali,” the court reasoned in its 20-page judgment.
  • But the court said its September 12, 2017 decision — saying a total ban on firecrackers’ sale in Delhi NCR is too “radical a step” and a graded, gradual approach to a complete ban should be adopted — would be effective from November 1.
  • “We are not tweaking the various directions contained in the orders dated September 12, 2017, the effect of that order would not be given during this Deepavali and, therefore, we are making it effective only from November 01, 2017. We are conscious of the fact that after the said order was passed, the police may have issued temporary licences. Accordingly, those are suspended forthwith so that there is no further sale in Delhi and NCR.”

In an historic event Dalit made Kerala temple’s head priest

  • The small hamlet of Keezhcherivalkadavu, where the rivers Pampa and Manimala meet near Thiruvalla, witnessed a historic event in the post-Temple Entry Proclamation period when a Dalit assumed charge as the head priest (Melsanthi) at the 150-year old Manappuram Siva Temple attached to the Travancore Devaswom Board.
  • The 22-year-old Yadukrishna is the first ever Dalit Melsanthi to be appointed by the TDB. This youth who hails from the Pulaya community has learnt Tantra under the guidance of the renowned Tantric scholar K.K. Anirudhan Tantri of the Sree Gurudeva Vaidika Tantra Vidya Peedhom at Moothakunam near North Paravur in Ernakulam district.
  • Yadukrishna was ranked fourth in the maiden examination conducted by the Devaswom Recruitment Board and incidentally became the first Melsanthi to be appointed from the rank list at a TDB temple.
  • “Yadukrishna is a studious seeker who has been learning Tantra at the 30-year-old Vidya Peedhom for the past 10 years. He came to me at the age of six as a helper who brings flowers for the puja at the Naalukettu Sree Dharma Sastha Temple at Chalakkudy,” says Anirudhan Tantri.
  • According to him, “we should not forget the rich Hindu concept that one becomes a Brahmana or an outcast by his or her deeds and not by birth.
  • “The step taken by the TDB to eliminate caste in priesthood is a historic one,” said K. Prabhakaran of the Hindu Aikyavedi and Murali Kovoor of the Bharatiya Vichara Kendram.
  • The villagers accorded a rousing reception to Yadukrishna who reached the temple along with his Guru in the morning. They took the new Melsanthi to the temple in a ceremonial procession with the accompaniments of Vanchippattu and temple percussion.

Not through video conferencing but through in camera

  • In a historic verdict, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, with a 2:1 majority, overruled its earlier orders to conduct matrimonial disputes cases through video conferencing, saying it is very doubtful whether the emotional bond can be established in a virtual meeting during video conferencing and it may even create a dent in the process of settlement.
  • Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar agreed that matrimonial disputes should be conducted in camera in the spirit of Section 11 of the Family Courts Act of 1984 and video conferencing would destroy the privacy of the proceedings and probably defeat the cause of justice.
  • “What one party can communicate with other, if they are left alone for sometime, is not possible in video conferencing… the expression of desire by the wife or the husband is whittled down and smothered if the Court directs that the proceedings shall be conducted through the use of video conferencing,” the majority judgment observed.
  • Describing matrimonial proceedings as “sanguinely private”, the majority judgment said chances of “reconciliation requires presence of both the parties at the same place and the same time so as to be effectively conducted”.
  • The majority judgment set aside a decision by a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice A.K. Goel on March 9, directing all high courts to issue administrative instructions to family courts across the country to open video conferencing facilities and use the technology to conduct marital disputes whenever one of the parties — husband or wife — requests for it. The court had said this would spare the parties the drudgery of appearing in person for the proceedings.
  • In his dissenting judgment, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, the third judge on Chief Justice Misra’s Bench, differed with the opinions expressed in the majority verdict, saying modern technology like video conferencing is “above all a facilitator, enabler and leveler”.
    “Appropriate deployment of technology facilitates access to justice,” Justice Chandrachud wrote.
  • The majority judgment, however, said video conferencing of marital disputes proceedings can be held if attempts at settlement fail and both the husband and wife mutually agree to it.
  • Besides, he argued that video conferencing can come to the aid of spouses who face genuine difficulties arising from the personal or employment compulsions to attend court. “There may also be situations where parties (or one of the spouses) do not want to be in the same room as the other due to a history of marital abuse or misbehaviour of a psychiatric nature or substance abuse,” he observed.

Craving the difference between refugees and infiltrators —ICHR

  • At a time when the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is being debated — including whether India should indeed deport them or adopt a humanitarian stand — the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) is organising a seminar to flesh out the difference between “refugees” and “illegal infiltrators”, seeing Rohingya Muslims as an example of the latter.
  • “Victims of religio-ethnic cleansing from the neighbouring countries which were part of eternal Bharat since time immemorial but got separated from us in 1947, are entitled to shelter and rehabilitation in India, but illegal infiltrators from outside India are not,” says a brief concept note on the seminar accessed by The Hindu.
  • “Rohingya are certainly not entitled to the refugee status. We have another category of refugees — who are internally displaced — like the Hindu community from our own Kashmir valley, unfortunately now refugees in their own land!
  • The note also says: “Study on refugees, or ‘forced migration’, is an established academic discipline in various countries, but somehow, it has yet to receive that kind of acceptability in India. As against this, there is the issue of illegal infiltration, and the two cannot be clubbed together.”


India-EU talks are low

India and the European Union have “failed to live up to their potential”, said German Ambassador Martin Ney, expressing disappointment at the failure of the EU-India summit held in Delhi last week to agree on the resumption of talks on the investment and free trade agreement.

There is no decision to resume negotiations on free trade agreement despite the possibility being at hand. There was no such decision taken at the last EU summit in March 2016, and the EU leaders and Prime Minister Narendra Modi failed to take such a decision during the summit two days ago.

Diplomatic officials say the tough comments are a signal of the growing unhappiness among European diplomats over the long period it has taken to get talks on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), as it is known, back on track after they broke down in 2013.

Since then, despite several commitments made by the leaders on the issue, including a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in June, there has been no movement towards resuming the talks.

Chief negotiators on both sides have met several times both formally and on the sidelines of other summit, and are expected to meet again in November, but diplomats hold that no real progress is yet on the cards

There had been some hope the EU-India summit would yield a political decision on resuming the talks, as top leaders Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, met for the summit 18 months after they failed to make a breakthrough in Brussels last year.

Commerce Ministry officials have repeatedly said that India is ready to restart talks, but would like to discuss a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement including investment, while the EU is keen to finalise the bilateral investment treaty first, given that India has allowed all its BITs with European countries and others to lapse in the past year.

Another point of disagreement has been over whether the talks would begin afresh, or will incorporate decisions from the previous talks that broke after 16 rounds in 2013.


China set to launch next phase of anti- corruption

  • China is set to launch the next phase of its anti-corruption campaign following the upcoming conclave of the Communist Party of China (CPC), held every five years.
  • The final preparations for the new edition of the anti-graft drive began in the Chinese capital. About 120 members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection — the party’s anti-graft arm — are participating in the two-day plenum.
  • The meeting will review the agency’s work report for the past five years. The final document will be submitted for endorsement to the party congress, which begins its session from October 18.
  • Analysts say that having already cracked down on the king-pins of corruption, called “tigers” in semi-official parlance, the next round of the campaign will mainly focus on “flies”.
  • These are the lower level officials, whose names may have surfaced after the extensive patronage networks of the high-flying “tigers” were exposed.
  • During his signature clean-up drive that began after he took over office in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping went after top guns of the party, including Zhou Yongkang, the former security Czar. Mr. Zhou also belonged the all-powerful seven-member standing committee of the Politburo, headed by President Xi.
  • His conviction and life-sentence broke an unwritten rule of sparing top leadership from criminal investigation. Other heavyweights felled by the sweeping campaign included former military leaders Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong.
  • Both were Vice-Chairmen of the powerful Central Military Commission, the apex body of China’s military establishment.
  • China’s anti-graft drive has so far netted more than 250 senior officials, military generals and corporate executives. Nearly 1.4 million cadres have been “disciplined,” official figures say.
  • While Mr. Xi’s unprecedented attack on corruption has been hugely popular, it has apparently threatened the momentum of economic growth. It is widely perceived that the fear of anti-corruption inspectors raiding their offices or homes has discouraged officials to clear major investment projects.
  • The disruption of networking between corporate executives and party officials over lavish parties has, presumably, fractured the economic decision making cycle.
  • Analysts say a new overarching anti-corruption architecture is expected to be cleared during 19th Party Congress, though its formal launch may have to await the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) — China’s Parliament — in March. That includes the formation of the National Supervision Commission, subordinating similar bodies at the provincial level.
  • Unlike the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which has jurisdiction only over the party members, the new commission will have powers to investigate all, including non-Communist Party members.
  • At the end of the party congress, a change of guard in the CCDI is expected. Having attained the unofficial retirement age of 69, current CCDI head, Wang Qishan, one of Mr. Xi’s trusted allies, is likely to be replaced by Li Zhanshu — the President’s chief of staff.

Nobel Economics Prize goes to Richard Thaler

  • U.S. economist Richard Thaler won the Nobel Economics prize for showing that economic and financial decision-makers are not always rational, but mostly deeply human.
  • Bridging the gap between economics and psychology, Mr. Thaler’s research focuses on behavioural economics, which explores the impact of psychological and social factors on decisions by individuals or groups in the economy and financial markets.
  • Mr. Thaler is well-known for co-founding the “nudge” theory, which demonstrates how people can be persuaded to make decisions that leave them healthier and happier.
  • “By exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control, he has shown how these human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes,” the jury’s statement said.
  • “His empirical findings and theoretical insights have been instrumental in creating the new and rapidly expanding field of behavioural economics, which has had a profound impact on many areas of economic research and policy.”
  • The 72-year-old takes home the nine million kronor (€944,000, $1.1 million) prize sum.
  • Mr. Thaler is a professor at the University of Chicago — a school popular with the Nobel economics committee.
  • One of the founders of behavioural finance, which studies how cognitive limitations influence financial markets, Mr. Thaler developed a model for explaining how people tend to focus on the narrow impact rather than the overall effect of each decision they make, which is called limited rationality.
  • This includes the study of how people’s loathing of losses can explain why they value the same things more when they own them as opposed to when they don’t, which is called the endowment effect.
  • Using a planner-doer model, he showed how short-term temptations disrupt people's plans to save for their old age, rainy days or live a healthier lifestyle.
  • "In his applied work, Mr. Thaler demonstrated how nudging — a term he coined — may help people exercise better self-control when saving for a pension, as well in other contexts,” the Nobel jury said.

Might lead to negative consequences if U.S. quits nuclear deal

  • Moscow warned there would be “negative consequences” if U.S. President Donald Trump fails to uphold the landmark Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor.
  • Mr. Trump is a fierce critic of the 2015 accord, which he has called “the worst deal ever.”
  • U.S. officials say he intends to tell Congress next week that Tehran is not honouring its side of the bargain.
  • “Obviously if one country leaves the deal, especially such a key country as the U.S., then that will have negative consequences,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
  • Mr. Putin has repeatedly hailed the importance of the existing deal, he added. Trump is expected to announce that he is “decertifying” Iran’s compliance with the agreement it signed to limit its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
  • U.S. officials insist this will not sink the deal itself but open the way for Congress to possibly develop new measures to punish other aspects of Iran’s behaviour.
  • Resumed sanctions could derail the accord negotiated with Tehran by former president Barack Obama and other major world powers.
  • Congress requires the president to certify Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days.
  • The next certification date is October 15.
  • Under the law, Congress would then have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions lifted by the deal.

IAEA states that Iran is complying with nuclear deal

  • The UN atomic agency chief affirmed Iran’s commitment to a 2015 nuclear deal, in a statement that came as U.S. President Donald Trump said Tehran was not living up to the “spirit” of the agreement.
  • “I can state that the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the (nuclear agreement) are being implemented,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano said.
  • An IAEA report had also affirmed Iran’s compliance with the programme, which froze some of Tehran’s nuclear activities. Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium used for peaceful purposes, but when further processed for a weapon did not exceed the agreed limit of 300 kilos, the report said. It added that Iran “has not pursued the construction of the Arak... reactor.”


ILO comes to defend its report on ‘modern slavery’

  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has defended its recent report on “modern slavery” after the Union government questioned the authenticity of its estimates.
  • The ILO, which produced the report titled ‘Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage 2017’ along with Australia-based Walk Free Foundation (WFF), said that it doesn’t focus on specific countries but provides a global picture.
  • “The estimates in the report do not focus on any one country but instead provide global and regional pictures of the situation,” an ILO spokesperson said in an e-mail to The Hindu .
  • Although country-wise figures were not mentioned in the 2017 ILO-WFF report, the study showed that 40.3 million people were victims of ‘modern slavery’ in 2016.
  • “The ILO does not recommend using these estimates to generate national statistics; however the ILO encourages member-states to implement their own national surveys for which the ILO can provide tested tools and technical support upon request,” the ILO said.
  • Union Labour and Employment Secretary M. Sathiyavathy had written a letter to ILO Director General Guy Ryder on October 4 saying “neither the Central government was consulted before the study nor its credibility has been established.”
  • “We would like to know the basis on which the data has been verified for credibility when apparently it has been neither verified with any official data source, including that of ILO nor any national governments have been consulted regarding the survey methodology,” the letter said.

IB missive

  • The Labour and Employment Ministry’s rebuttal came following a missive from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) asking the government to counter multiple international organisations on reports about slavery in India that can hurt India’s image and exports.
  • The Centre is exploring a rebuttal at an international level through consultations with the Ministry of External Affairs and other departments. The Labour and Employment Ministry is also planning to conduct its own surveys on bonded labour in a bid to counter various estimates by private agencies.

Apparel sector troubled by embedded taxes on exports

  • The Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC), the apex body for apparel exporters in India, has raised with the government the issue of embedded taxes on exports.
  • In a statement, the AEPC said the measures taken by the GST Council on October 6 will give immediate relief to the apparel exports sector which has been facing stress.
  • These measures include reduction in the rate of GST on man-made items including synthetic filament yarn such as nylon, polyester and acrylic, and artificial filament yarn, yarn of man made staple fibres, real zari from 18% to 12%.
  • The GST Council also made a provision for refund of GST for the month of July by October 10 and for August by October 18 which will ease the working capital stress. A facility of e-wallet has also been introduced for addressing the refund issue.
  • “However, since the duty structure remains inverted with fabric at 5% GST, we are hopeful that the embedded taxes arising out of this inverted structure will be refunded to exporters through appropriate mechanisms,” it said.
  • The AEPC said the key issue of embedded taxes needed to be taken up by the Centre to address the genuine concerns of the exporters and export sentiments. Invisible taxes needed to be considered for refund under drawback and Remission of State Levies (RoSL) schemes, so that the calibrated refund provided is representative of the tax incidences incurred by the industry, it said.
  • In its representation to the Ministries concerned, the AEPC said in the absence of encouraging duty drawback and RoSL, exports from the sector will further witness a sharp decline just ahead of the peak festival season.
  • “[The] appreciating rupee and... new levies like GST on intra-company stock transfers, job work, freight and samples imposed in the GST regime have led to cost escalation for exporters further narrowing their low margins in competitive global markets,” the AEPC said.

Efforts to bring petro products into GST

  • The government would consult states on bringing petroleum products into the ambit of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
  • Mr. Modi was reacting to suggestions from industry leaders to bring petroleum products, that now face high Central and State levies, into the GST net, at an official meeting with head honchos of the oil and gas industry.
  • The Centre currently levies an excise duty of Rs. 19.48 per litre on petrol and states levy VAT ranging between 6% and 48%.
  • Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has repeatedly urged the GST Council to bring petrol and diesel under GST.
  • At the moment, petrol, diesel, natural gas, and alcohol are outside GST.
  • The PM stressed the need to develop energy infrastructure in eastern India, and urged the private sector to participate in coal gasification and biomass energy through joint ventures.
  • “The PM thanked the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Rosneft..., for their support to India’s energy sector, and also appreciated the 2030 vision document of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said a statement from the PM’s Office.
  • “The PM said that as India moves towards a cleaner and more fuel-efficient economy, he wants its benefits to expand to all sections of the society, and, in particular, to the poorest.”
  • NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said that India’s oil demand was expected to rise to 7.5 million barrels per day by 2030 from 4.5 million bpd in 2016, raising its share in global demand from 4.65% to 6.8%. India’s gas consumption is expected to rise from 51.2 billion cubic metres in FY15 to 100-110 bcm by FY30.

HPCL’s acquisition by ONGC funded through selling stake to LIC and market borrowing

  • State-owned ONGC is likely to sell some of its stake in IOC to institutional investors like LIC to part-fund its more than Rs. 34,000-crore acquisition of refiner Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL).
  • Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) holds 13.77% stake in India’s biggest refiner Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), which was worth over Rs. 27,800 crore as .It has another 4.87% stake in GAIL India Ltd. worth Rs. 1,600 crore.
  • The acquisition of 51.11% government stake in HPCL will be funded through a combination of market borrowing and selling some stake in IOC and GAIL
  • Selling a stake in the open market may create volatility and so, ONGC is considering selling less than 2% in IOC to institutional investors like LIC in a block deal.
  • ONGC has already secured shareholder nod to raise up to Rs. 25,000 crore debt, he said, adding that the firm had about Rs. 10,000 crore of cash in hand.
  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had, on July 19, granted ‘in-principle’ approval to the strategic sale of the government’s existing 51.11% stake in HPCL to ONGC “along with the transfer of management control, which will result in HPCL becoming a subsidiary company of ONGC.”
  • But, since the offer meant a transfer of control to ONGC, there was apprehension it would trigger SEBI’s takeover code and compel the explorer to make an open offer to buy an additional 26% stake from minority shareholders, he said.
  • So, the terms of sale have been amended to state that “HPCL will continue to be a government company in terms of section 2(45) of the Companies Act, 2013, and will continue to be controlled by the Government of India through ONGC under the administrative control of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.”
  • The U.S. lifted sanctions against Sudan saying Sudan had made progress fighting terrorism and easing humanitarian distress. Output from OVL’s three blocks in Sudan has declined to about 25,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 48,000 bpd since last November after Sudan failed to renew the contract for Block 2B, Mr. Verma said.

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