Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 11 August 2017

Daily Current Affairs for IAS Exams

Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 11 August 2017


Pollution certificate is compulsory for vehicle insurance

  • In a decision with far-reaching consequences, the Supreme Court directed that vehicles without valid pollution under control (PUC) certificates would not be eligible for the annual insurance.

  • A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta accepted the recommendations of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) for mandatory linking of PUC certificates with annual insurance.

  • This recommendation was made by the EPCA in its report on assessment of the Pollution Under Control programme in Delhi and the National Capital Region. This report was submitted in the Supreme Court in April 2017.

  • The court passed the order on a petition for stringent steps to curb air pollution.

  • The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways was a party in the case and had responded positively to the EPCA report.

  • The court agreed with the EPCA that the linkage between PUC certificates and vehicle insurance would go a long way in ensuring compliance and a subsequent dip in vehicular emission levels.

  • The EPCA investigation has shown very poor level of compliance with the PUC programme. In Delhi, only 23% of vehicles come for PUC tests.

  • With mandatory linking of annual vehicle insurance with valid PUC certificate, the compliance level can improve significantly — especially as the Supreme Court has directed its enforcement nationwide.

  • The court also directed the linking of PUC centres with an online network and data centres to prevent manual tampering. It asked the State governments to audit PUC centres and set up a strong oversight system to ensure credible tests and emission results

Vice president Hamid Ansari’s farewell:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s experience as a “career diplomat” had come in handy while dealing with his responsibility in the Rajya Sabha.

  • Mr. Modi said he got to know the “real meaning” of career diplomats only after he became Prime Minister “as it was difficult to immediately interpret the meaning of a diplomat’s handshake or smile.”

  • He said Mr. Ansari came from a family that had been in public life for over 100 years, with a long association with the Congress and an active participation in the Khilafat movement.

  • He extensively quoted former Vice-President S. Radhakrishnan and said “a democracy is likely to degenerate into a tyranny if it does not allow opposition groups to criticise fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the government.”

  • He also said that “a democracy is distinguished by the protection it gives to minorities. .... But at the same time the minorities have also their responsibilities. This House is a creation of the Constitution and reflective of the wisdom and foresight of the founding fathers who wished it to portray India's diversity and to be a calibrated restraint on hasty legislation.”

  • Mr. Ansari hoped that all sections of the House would seek to achieve this laudable objective, as the manner in which they conduct business is watched by the citizens with a discerning eye.

  • “Your work remained limited in a particular area. But during these 10 years, you had to deal with a different kind of responsibility (in running the House). Each moment, you had to remain confined to the Constitution and you made a good effort. There may have been some struggle within you (all these years) but from now onwards, you won’t have to face this dilemma. You will have a feeling of freedom and you will get an opportunity to work, think and talk according to your ideology,” Mr. Modi told the outgoing Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

Banking Regulation Bill passed by Rajya Sabha

  • It empowers the Reserve Bank of India to issue instructions to PSBs to act against major defaulters

  • The Rajya Sabha passed the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, which empowers the Reserve Bank of India to issue instructions to the banks to act against major defaulters.

  • The Bill, earlier passed by the Lok Sabha, will replace the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017.

  • Replying to a debate on the Bill, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said there was nothing wrong in banks giving out loans and trying to recover them. It was only on the strength of the banking finance that businesses expanded, jobs were created and the economy moved on.

  • Responding to demands for making the names of big defaulters public, Mr. Jaitley said it was being done in the case of wilful defaulters. Only in cases of normal commercial transactions were the names not made public.

  • On the concerns raised by Congress member Jairam Ramesh about rising non-performing assets (NPA), Mr. Jaitley said they stood at Rs. 6.41 lakh crore by March this year. They were growing because of accumulated interests. Along with the stressed assets, they amounted to over Rs. 8 lakh crore.

  • Some members wondered why the government was extending such powers to the RBI, to which the Finance Minister said the RBI was not merely a regulator.

  • It also performed other functions like public debt management.

  • Mr. Jaitley said after the insolvency law, which provides for a window of 180 days for debtors to settle the matter or face eviction and subsequent takeover of management by debt reconstruction companies, things had started improving. Debtors were now coming forward to settle unresolved issues with lenders.

  • Earlier, in his opening remarks, the Finance Minister identified Steel, Infrastructure, Power and Textiles as the sectors with the most NPAs. Public sector banks were hit the most as big industrial and infrastructure programmes were supported by them in the hope that there would be further expansion.

  • Due to the import of steel from China, domestic businesses had suffered. However, things were now looking up with the government introducing customs duty and minimum import price. The road sector had also started showing good results. Mr. Jaitley said the earlier rules for debt recovery were time-consuming. The new parallel mechanism was more effective.

Winter exercises in Sikkim by Army

  • The Army’s 33 Corps, responsible for the security of the Sikkim border, has advanced its annual exercises to August-end. However, Army sources denied reports of a border village being evacuated.

  • The Indian Army was tight-lipped about the move, even as some reports spoke of China beefing up its military presence in the vicinity of the standoff site in Doklam in recent days.

  • According to sources, Sukna headquartered 33 Corps has already issued an operational alert for troop movement to hold its annual exercises before the end of August. Troop movement towards their areas of possible action during a conflict is already under way. The exercise would last two weeks.

  • Traditionally, the annual exercises are held in September, before snow sets in. During the exercise period, troops will be exercising in their likely areas of operation during a conflict.

  • The development comes even as the Chinese side continues to up its rhetoric. State-run China Daily on Wednesday warned: “The countdown to a clash between the two forces has begun, and the clock is ticking away the time to what seems to be an inevitable conclusion.”

  • Meanwhile, reports had emerged from the border that residents of Nathang village, 35 km from Doklam, where the two sides are on a military standoff, have been asked to vacate. Rejecting the reports, defence sources said that “neither any village has been evacuated nor proposed by the Indian Army to be evacuated in Sikkim.”

Cassini spacecraft

  • NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is set to begin its final five ultra-close orbits around Saturn, before the probe plunges into the atmosphere of the ringed planet and ends its 20-year-long journey. The spacecraft will enter new territory in its final phase, making the first of the five passes over Saturn on August 13.

  • Cassini’s point of closest approach to Saturn during these passes will be between about 1,630 and 1,710 km above Saturn’s cloud tops.
    It is expected to encounter atmosphere dense enough to require the use of its small rocket thrusters to maintain stability.


Tensions between government and judiciary in Bangladesh

  • The Bangladesh Supreme Court’s decision to nullify the 16th amendment to the Constitution, which empowered the country’s Parliament to remove top court judges, has triggered strong criticism from the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

  • The verdict, the full text of which was released, also drew flak from Awami League MPs as well as the country’s Law Commission Chairman.

  • Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anisul Haq told reporters that the government was “aggrieved” by the verdict, and that it was considering whether to appeal the ruling.

  • ‘In the 799-page verdict, Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha focussed on a host of issues such as military rule, the Election Commission, corruption, governance and the independence of the judiciary.

  • On an observation in the verdict by the Chief Justice that the “credit of for independence does not go to a single person” — an oblique reference to country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — the Law Minister said: “It’s indeed painful for us to reiterate the truth 47 years after independence. That’s why we decided for measures to expunge the offensive and irrelevant statements.”

  • Several MPs in Parliament have also raised concerns over the “motive” behind some observations made by the Chief Justice. A.B.M. Khairul Haque, a former Chief Justice, said the Constitution of Bangladesh says this is the people’s republic, “but after this verdict, it seems our country is going to be the judges’ republic of Bangladesh”.

Guam caught in a global war of words

  • Guam, a slice of America in the middle of Pacific, goes about as usual despite N. Korea’s sabre-rattling

  • It is a small slice of America, and it just happens to be in the middle of the Pacific. And within striking range of North Korean missiles.

  • That’s why the island of Guam was thrust into the spotlight after North Korea threatened a strike that would create “an enveloping fire” around it and said an attack would come this month.

  • But on the island, home to a strategic U.S. air base, life continued as normal. Patrons packed local restaurants, barely glancing at televisions bearing news of Pyongyang’s latest threat against their homeland.

  • Residents of the tiny territory just 19 km at its widest point and circled with beautiful beaches find themselves again caught in the middle of a war of words as a volley of hostile rhetoric was launched between North Korea and the United States, including pointed threats of nuclear action.

  • Guam has been a U.S. territory since 1898, when Spain ceded it in the wake of the Spanish-American War. It has a population of around 1,63,000 comparable to a small city in the Midwest.

  • The island has been the focus of North Korean threats in the past, as the home base for nuclear-equipped bombers that have the capacity to strike the reclusive nation. Tests of North Korea’s own missile suggest that now, the island is within the range of Pyongyang.

  • Guam is about 3,380 km southeast of Pyongyang, and 6,115 km west of Honolulu. But it is as steeped in U.S. culture as any small city on the mainland — even if shoppers at its Kmart (the biggest in the world) can look outside and see a lush Pacific island setting.

  • The majority of islanders are ethnically Chamorro the indigenous group that has lived on the island for thousands of years and their culture is a touchstone for the islander’s way of life.

  • Life on Guam is also deeply tied the military bases and the service members stationed at them. Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam house an estimated 13,000 military members and their dependents. One third of the island is owned by the U.S. military.

  • The church is an influential force on the island, where the vast majority of residents are Catholic, and the Archdiocese of Agana — the capital of Guam, also known as Hagatna — has advised residents to “look to God during these difficult times when world peace is threatened.”

Cholera is breeding in Yemen

  • Collapsing on sidewalks and constantly vomiting, some of the Yemeni villagers barely make it to the health centre where doctors spread carton sheets in the backyard and use trees to hang bags of IV fluids for patients.

  • They are part of a stream of hundreds of suspected cholera victims that continues to converge on the centre from the impoverished town of Bani Haydan in Yemen’s northern Hajja province. Just hours after being infected, vomiting and diarrhoea cause severe dehydration that can kill without rapid intervention.

  • Yemen’s raging two-year conflict has turned the country into an incubator for lethal cholera. Primitive sanitation and water systems put Yemenis at risk of drinking faeces-contaminated water; wells are dirtied by run-off from rainfall on piles of garbage; farmland is irrigated with broken sewers due to lax oversight and corruption; medical intervention is delayed due to unpaid government employees and half of the country’s health facilities are out of service.

  • The cholera outbreak in Haiti has killed more than 9,000 people since 2010, but Yemen has seen the largest outbreak of the disease ever recorded in any country in a single year.

::Business and economy::

Petroleum subsidy to be halved by 2020

  • The government expects to more than halve its petroleum subsidy bill over the next three years, from Rs. 25,000 crore this year to just Rs. 10,000 crore by 2019-20. While fertiliser subsidies are expected to stay flat, the food subsidy bill is estimated to shoot up sharply from Rs. 1.45 lakh crore this year to Rs. 2,00,000 crore by 2019-20, as per the medium-term expenditure framework tabled by the finance ministry in Parliament.

  • Indicating a continued thrust on public spending to spur the economy, the finance ministry expects government’s capex to rise by 25% to Rs. 3.9 lakh crore by 2019-20, driven largely by greater spending on defence, Railways, road transport and urban development.

  • Significantly, the finance ministry has asserted that any shocks to tax collections due to the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be absorbed in the current financial year itself, so the tax to GDP ratio may persist at the same level this year as last year — 11.3%.

  • But in the next two years, the government is betting on an expansion of the tax base, citing gains from GST and increased surveillance efforts post-demonetisation.

  • The tax-GDP ratios are projected to be 11.6% and 11.9%, in 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively.

  • Food, fertiliser and fuel subsidies for which the Centre has budgeted over Rs. 2.4 lakh crore are expected to rise to Rs. 2.8 lakh crore by 2019-20, but the government expects the overall proportion of subsidies to GDP to come down from 1.4% to 1.3% over the same period.

  • Following the abolition of price controls over diesel and petrol prices, the government has set its eye on rationalising kerosene and LPG subsidies, with a March 2018 target for eliminating the LPG cylinder subsidy altogether by raising prices by Rs. 4 each month.

  • Efforts are also underway to bring kerosene subsidies under the direct benefit transfer regime or while making some States ‘kerosene-free.’

  • On the food subsidy due to about 80 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act, the government said reforms have been initiated with six States automating all fair price shops and 72% of Ration cards being seeded with Aadhaar numbers.

  • “One of the main reasons for an increase in food subsidy is to meet the repayment obligations of FCI (Food Corporation of India) to the National Small Savings Fund,” the statement explained.

  • Interest payments amounting to Rs. 5.23 lakh crore this year, which constitute the largest component of the government’s revenue expenditure, are expected to rise nominally to Rs. 6.15 lakh crore by 2019-20, but the government is confident that there will not be any ‘upward pressure on interest rates’ owing to its borrowings.

  • Citing a substantial Rs. 12,000 crore saving from interest payments estimated for 2016-17, it said this is indicative of ‘the economy moving towards a more benign interest rate cycle.’

Demonetisation dented RBI income

  • Costs incurred due to the demonetisation exercise dented the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) income resulting in the central bank transferring less than half the funds — known as surplus to the government compared with the previous year.

  • For the 12 months ended June 30, 2017, the RBI will transfer a surplus of Rs. 30,659 crore to the Government of India, sharply lower than the previous year’s Rs. 65,876 crore. The RBI’s central board, which met on Thursday, approved the amount to be transferred.

  • This is the lowest-ever surplus transfer by the RBI to the Centre since 2011-12 when it transferred Rs. 16,010 crore. RBI transferred about 80% of its income as surplus in the previous three years.

  • There were costs of printing a huge amount of new notes to replace the notes rendered invalid following demonetisation.

  • In November, the Centre had announced that Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 denomination currency notes were invalid and subsequently issued a new series of Rs. 500 notes and Rs. 2,000 notes.

The British government is pushing for Indian investment

  • The British government is pushing for Indian investment into the country’s real estate sector, beyond London, to support its drive to create more affordable housing across the country, among other things.

  • While foreign investors including from China and Qatar have made big inroads into the U.K. real estate market, the country has seen limited investment (beyond private investments in housing or hotels) from India.

  • The exception is the Lodha group, which has two luxury housing projects in London and has expressed its confidence about moving to new price categories and beyond the residential sector.

  • At an event at the House of Lords for delegates of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI), the Department for International Trade highlighted infrastructure and property development opportunities in northern England and the Midlands, including in and around Birmingham.

  • Investors from across the U.K. are seeing stable and profitable opportunities and we are determined to see businesses seize these opportunities as we move forward towards Brexit.

  • With the next round of the U.K.-Indian joint economic and trade committee (JETCO) talks due to take place in London later this year, Mr. Hands expressed confidence in efforts to boost bilateral trade and investment.

  • “We’d like to focus on the services industry and getting access. India is an enormous market and getting U.K. financial services and U.K. legal services better access is hugely important to us,” the minister said.

Govt. panel to probe Kingfisher dues to AAI

  • The Civil Aviation Ministry has set up an internal committee to fix the responsibility for accumulation of dues worth about Rs. 300 crore payable by defunct Kingfisher Airlines to Airports Authority of India (AAI).

  • An internal committee has been constituted in AAI, headed by the senior officer, to fix the responsibility of the officials for the accumulation of dues by Kingfisher Airlines and to strengthen the systems and procedures further to ensure prevention of recurrence of such accumulation of dues.

  • On receipt of the report of the said internal committee, further action will be taken,” it further added. In return, the Committee has told the Ministry to take “strict action” against erring AAI officials.
    Facing financial woes, the airline had to shut down in 2012.

  • The defunct airline is supposed to pay dues worth Rs. 295 crore towards AAI till December 2016. The national airports operator has also filed a suit against the carrier to recover the dues. The committee had pulled up AAI saying it had allowed the airline to accumulate high level of dues in “violation of existing rules.”

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