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Current Events 21 April 2016



21st APRIL 2016 


Even President's decision can go terribly wrong, says HC

On the last day of hearing on a petition challenging the imposition of President's Rule in Uttarakhand, a Division Bench of the High Court told the Centre that though the President decided to impose Central rule, his decision was open to judicial review.

Chief Justice K.M. Joseph said: "The power of judicial review is with courts. It cannot be with the President. In earlier times, courts wouldn't interfere [in a President's decision]. There's nothing such as non-reviewability or absolute power [these days]."

He said the President could be an excellent person "but he can go terribly wrong." Similarly, judges were also open to judicial review, he said.

During the arguments, senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said there were apprehensions that the Centre could revoke President's Rule before the court gave its ruling. The Chief Justice said he hoped the Centre "will not provoke us" by revoking Article 356 before the verdict.



NIA wants more time to file Malegaon case charge sheet

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) sought more time from a Mumbai court to file a charge sheet in the 2008 Malegaon blast case involving members of Abhinav Bharat, even as Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi refused to decide whether the agency should retain the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act in the case.

Though the case was transferred to the NIA in 2011, it has still not filed a charge sheet owing to the delay in the probe and multiple petitions filed by the main accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit, who have questioned the applicability of the MCOCA.

It is learnt that Mr. Rohatgi has only given a "verbal suggestion" to the agency and has not given any written reply. An NIA official said that even if MCOCA charges were dropped, the Sections under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act were enough to prosecute the accused.

The 2006 Malegaon bombings were a series of bomb blasts that took place on 8 September 2006 in Malegaon, a town in the Nashik district, Maharashtra. The explosions - which resulted in at least 37 fatalities and 125 injuries - took place in a Muslim cemetery, adjacent to a mosque, after Friday prayers on the Shab-e-Bara'at holy day. They were initially blamed on Pakistan but a chargesheet filed in 2013 put the blame on India-based Hindu radicals.



Navy grants permanent commission to seven women officers

In a step towards giving equal status to women officers, the Navy has granted permanent commission to seven officers and has formalised plans to grant permanent commission in eight branches from 2017.

"Recognising the importance of providing equal opportunities to women officers, seven women officers from the batch of Short Service Commission officers of the Education branch and Naval Constructor cadre, who joined in 2008-09, have been granted Permanent Commission," the Navy said in a statement.

The statement also added that additional avenues for employment for women officers have also been opened up. "Starting 2017, women officers can choose to join as pilots of maritime reconnaissance planes as also in the naval armament inspectorate cadre," it added. A senior officer said that a total of eight branches will be opened for women officers in the Navy, which include education, law, meteorology, air traffic control, logistics, observers, pilots on maritime reconnaissance aircraft and naval constructor. He added that a policy for women officers to serve on select (new) warships that have appropriate facilities is being finalised.

So far women were allowed permanent commission in select streams by the Army and the Air Force while the Navy permitted only Short Service Commission for 14 years which means they were denied pension.

In a landmark judgement in October 2015, the Delhi High Court granted permanent commission for women and pulled up the Defence Ministry and the Navy for a 2008 order which it called "sexist bias."

Officials later clarified that the 2008 order for permanent commission was gender neutral and it granted women permanent commission along with male officers in three streams - education, law and naval construction as other areas had logistical issues.

The Air Force, which was the first to open its combat stream for women, is scheduled to get its first woman fighter pilot in June 2016.


God never wanted to obstruct public way, observes SC

It is an insult to God to have unauthorised religious structures on roads and pavements, obstructing public space, the Supreme Court said. The court pulled up States for not curbing encroachment of public space in the name of religion despite several orders since 2006.

The Bench told the States to "demolish these structures." "God never intended to obstruct public way and this is an insult to God," the Bench. Noting that its orders were not meant to be kept in the freezer, the court gave the States a deadline of two weeks to file affidavits detailing the steps taken to curb construction of these unauthorised structures, failing which the Chief Secretaries would be summoned.



Sugarcane is hero and villain in Beed

At its peak, the Kada Sahkari Sakhar Karkhana (KSSK), in the drought-hit Ashti taluka of Beed district, produced 3,03,169 tonnes of sugar in 1981-82. From then on, it kept falling, to touch 3,000 tonnes on the last day of production in 2014. The factory shut down because of falling production and rising debts.

The KSSK was taken over from Bhimrao Dhonde, BJP legislator from Ashti, by cooperative banks of Aurangabad and was later attached by the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation on November 11, 2015, for non-payment of arrears.

Nearly 10 sugar factories in Marathwada, of them five in Beed district, have shut down due to bad debts and falling production in the wake of poor monsoon. Of the 76 factories across Maharashtra, 30 have shut shop while production has crashed from about 20 lakh tonnes a couple of years ago to just 3.5 lakh tonnes in 2015. The debate around sugarcane rages on in Marathwada, more fiercely now with the State government's decision to ban licensing of new factories.

"This is a welcome move by the government. This crop is not in the interest of farmers in Marathwada even though they have made a good living out of it. I believe that this drought in Marathwada is man-made and sugarcane alone has played a 70-per cent part," India's waterman and Ramon Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh said.

Sugarcane continues to divide the academic discourse as well. Agriculture experts and agro-scientists who blame sugarcane for the current water crisis in Marathwada claim the cash crop guzzles up to three crore litres an acre of water annually. Those in favour, peg this number at 1.5 crore litres with the flow irrigation technique and nearly half of that with micro irrigation methods. Those criticising claim soyabean and chickpea only uses less than 50 lakh litres.

Unperturbed by the criticism of cane, the farmer in the water-sufficient areas around canals and river basins here still swears by the reliability and dependability of the crop, while those in the parched interiors who have already suffered one or more crop loss sound a note of caution. "With enough water from the Godavari basin, my cane yield touched 40 tonnes per acre last year. So far, I haven't felt the need for installing drip irrigation," says Sadashiv Ramesh of Georai taluka in Beed. There are those who criticise the "preferential" treatment sugarcane has received from the government over the years.


Dismal bank results could hit MF investors

The dismal earning numbers expected to be announced by banking entities could affect a large number of retail investors. Data from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) show that banking is the single-largest sector in terms of investments by mutual funds (MFs), which is used by retail investors to route their money to the equity market.

According to Sebi, nearly 20 per cent of the total assets under management (AUM) of mutual funds are parked in banking stocks. The data for January show that MFs have invested Rs 78,644.22 crore in banking stocks. This is 19.24 per cent of the total AUM of Rs 4.09 lakh crore.

Incidentally, banking has always been the single-largest sector for mutual funds with its share in the total AUM in the range of 19-22 per cent. In terms of sector exposure, banking is followed by software, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and finance, as per the Sebi data.

The Reserve Bank of India has given four quarters to banks, starting April 1, to make full provisioning for the existing stock of restructured loans that are showing signs of stress.

"Industry credit growth, albeit improved, but still hovering around multi-year lows, will continue to pressurise banks' top line growth, especially corporate heavy PSU banks," said Edelweiss in its preview report on corporate earnings.

"This, along with NIMs (net interest margin) pressure, will restrict NII (net interest income) growth. Further, higher credit cost (move towards consistent recognition of non-performing loan) will essentially entail softer earnings for PSU banks," it added.

"But fund managers typically reduce exposure towards risky banking stocks to more stable ones within the sector. The key is to know which banks are held in the scheme. Many funds moved from banks with corporate focus to those that have a retail focus," says Ms Vidya Bala, head, mutual fund research, FundsIndia.


‘IS killing its own injured fighters to sell organs'

Cash-strapped Islamic State (IS) terror group has been killing its own injured fighters so that their organs can be extracted and sold on the black market abroad, according to media reports.

The terrorists are suffering a budget shortage after their recent loss of territory in the Southern part of Mosul and for the same reason, they are reportedly killing their own militants who have been injured in southern Mosul. They then take out their body organs such as hearts and kidneys to sell them in the black market.


‘Coral bleaching hits 93% of Great Barrier Reef'

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is suffering its worst coral bleaching in recorded history with 93 per cent of the World Heritage site affected, scientists said, as they revealed the phenomenon is also hitting the other side of the country.

After extensive aerial and underwater surveys, researchers at James Cook University said only seven per cent of the huge reef had escaped the whitening triggered by warmer water temperatures. "We've never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before," said Terry Hughes, convenor of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce.

The damage ranges from minor in the southern areas - which are expected to recover soon - to very severe in the northern and most pristine reaches of the 2,300 kilometre site off the east coast. Mr. Hughes said of the 911 individual reefs surveyed, only 68 (or seven per cent) had escaped the massive bleaching event, which has also spread south to Sydney Harbour for the first time and across to the west.

Australia's Environment Minister Greg Hunt said it was "absolutely clear that there is a severe coral bleaching event occurring not just in the Great Barrier Reef but throughout many parts of the Pacific." Mr. Hughes said the bleaching began in Hawaii late last year and had already affected several Pacific islands.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their colour.

Corals can recover if the water temperature drops and the algae are able to recolonise them, but scientists warned last year that the warming effects of a El Nino weather pattern could result in a mass global bleaching event.


Kohinoor controversy

New claims over the Koh-i-Noor diamond make their periodic appearance in the United Kingdom. Most of them flounder and finally sink as they make their way through the law courts -- or indeed the court of public opinion, getting a day or two of media light at best. However, the relinquishment of a claim to the much-contested gem is a different matter and a cause for interest, as we just saw.

The Indian Solicitor General's submission before the Supreme Court that the heirs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave the diamond to the British as "voluntary compensation" for the expenses incurred in the Anglo-Sikh wars was widely picked up by the British press, with the leading British parliamentarian of Indian-origin, Keith Vaz, even issuing a statement in support of the Government of India's "stand."

The government's subsequent clarification dissociating itself from the view of its Solicitor General brings the debate over the 106-carat symbol of British colonialism, which at present glints harshly from the crown once worn by the former Queen Mother, back to where it was.

Claims have also been filed in Pakistan to return the diamond to Punjab there, from where it was gifted or taken [depending on your point of view]. In 2000, even the Taliban in Afghanistan asked the Queen to return the gem because of its brief association with that region at one point in time.

History of Koh-i-Noor

  • The Koh-i-Noor (Persian for Mountain of Light) is a large, colourless diamond.
  • It is widely believed to have come from the Kollur Mine in the Guntur District of present-day Andhra Pradesh, during the reign of the Hindu Kakatiya dynasty in the 13th century.
  • In the early 14th century, Alauddin Khilji, second ruler of the Turkic Khilji dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, and his army began looting the kingdoms of southern India. Malik Kafur, Khilji's general, made a successful raid on Warangal in 1310, when he possibly acquired the diamond.
  • It remained in the Khilji dynasty and later passed to the succeeding dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate, until it came into the possession of Babur, a Turco-Mongol warlord, who invaded India and established the Mughal Empire in 1526.
  • Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, had the stone placed into his ornate Peacock Throne.
  • While in the possession of Aurangazeb, it was cut by Hortenso Borgia, a Venetian lapidary, so clumsy that he reduced the weight of the stone from 793 carats (158.6 g) to 186 carats (37.2 g).For this carelessness, Borgia was reprimanded and fined 10,000 rupees.
  • Following the 1739 invasion of Delhi by Nader Shah, the Shah of Persia, the treasury of the Mughal Empire was looted by his army in an organised and thorough acquisition of the Mughal nobility's wealth. Along with a host of valuable items, including the Daria-i-Noor, as well as the Peacock Throne, the Shah also carried away the Koh-i-Noor. He allegedly exclaimed Koh-i-Noor! (meaning "mountain of light") when he finally managed to obtain the famous stone, and that is how the stone got its name.
  • The riches gained by the Persian Empire from the Indian campaign were so monumental that Nader Shah made a proclamation alleviating all subjects of the Empire from taxes for a total of three years.
  • After the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747 and the collapse of his empire, the stone came into the hands of one of his generals, Ahmad Shah Durrani, who later became the Emir of Afghanistan.
  • One of Ahmed's descendants, Shah Shujah Durrani, formed an alliance with the United Kingdom to help defend against a possible invasion of Afghanistan by Russia. He was quickly overthrown by his predecessor, Mahmud Shah, but managed to flee with the diamond. He went to Lahore, where the founder of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in return for his hospitality, insisted upon the gem being given to him, and he took possession of it in 1813.
  • Its new owner, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, willed the diamond to the Hindu temple of Jagannath in Puri, in modern-day Odisha, India. However, after his death in 1839, the East India Company did not execute his will.
  • On 29 March 1849, following the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Kingdom of Punjab was formally annexed to British India, and the Last Treaty of Lahore was signed, officially ceding the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria and the Maharaja's other assets to the company.
  • In 1852, Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, unhappy with its dull and irregular appearance, ordered it cut down from 186 carats (37.2 g). It emerged 42 per cent lighter as a dazzling oval-cut brilliant weighing 105.6 carats (21.12 g). However, the cut is far far from perfect, in that the culet is unusually broad, giving the impression of a black hole when the stone is viewed head-on; it is nevertheless regarded by gemmologists as being full of life
  • Today, the diamond is set in the front of the Queen Mother's Crown, part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, and is seen by millions of visitors to the Tower of London each year.
  • The governments of India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan have all tried to claim ownership of the Koh-i-Noor and demanded its return at various points in recent decades.
  • The British government insists the gem was obtained legally under the terms of the Last Treaty of Lahore.


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