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Current Events 23 April 2016




23rd APRIL 2016 


SC stays Uttarakhand HC judgement quashing President's Rule

The Supreme Court restored President's Rule in Uttarakhand till April 27, barely a day after the Uttarakhand High Court quashed the Centre's decision and restored the Harish Rawat-led Congress government.

A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh admitted the Centre's challenge to the High Court decision and brought back President's rule in the State for the simple reason that the judgment, dictated on April 21 by Uttarakhand Chief Justice K.M. Joseph in open court, was not yet available in the public domain.

The Bench said the High Court judgment would "remain in abeyance" till April 27, the next date of hearing in the Supreme Court. It further directed the High Court to release the signed judgment by April 26 to the parties, who will file copies in the apex court.

The Supreme Court recorded an oral undertaking from Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi that the Centre would not in the meantime revoke President's Rule in the State before April 27 as a ploy to install a BJP government. The High Court, in its judgment, had scheduled a floor test on April 29.

 "We are only making the judgment of the Uttarakhand High Court not implementable till the copy of the judgment is out," Justice Singh explained. He said it was not quite proper for the High Court to have dictated the judgment without immediately making available the signed copies for parties.


Those giving up LPG subsidy can apply after 1 year: Minister

Those who voluntarily give up the LPG cylinder subsidy under the government's Give It Up scheme can ask for it after a year, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said.

He also said his Ministry had not used the data from income tax returns to cut subsidy for people earning over Rs. 10 lakh a year. "Give It Up is for one year. You do not need to apply to give it up again, you will still be considered as having given it up. But, after a year, the person can re-apply for the subsidy if he wishes," Mr. Pradhan said. The usual understanding is that once you have given it up, you can't get it back.

The Minister announced that so far 1.13 crore people had given up the LPG subsidy and around 50 per cent of them were from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.

Earlier, Ministry officials had said they had accessed data from the Income Tax Department to identify three lakh people earning more than Rs. 10 lakh a year and had sent them SMSs saying they were no longer eligible for the LPG subsidy.

The SMSs urged consumers to give affidavits in case they were earning less than Rs. 10 lakh a year. Mr. Pradhan later confirmed this to a national business daily, saying income tax data were being examined in affluent areas.

Mr. Pradhan also said the government had created 60 lakh new LPG connections in BPL households using the savings from the Give It Up programme.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi would launch Ujjwala Yojana on May 1, under which free LPG connections would be provided to women from BPL households, Mr. Pradhan said. "Under the scheme, Rs. 8,000 crore has been earmarked for providing five crore LPG connections to BPL households," he said. In the first year, 1.5 crore connections would be provided.

India imports 40 per cent of its 21 million tonne LPG requirement, which the Minister said would rise sharply following the provision of new connections.


Maharashtra water crisis: Section 144 imposed in Ahmednagar district

With each passing day exacerbating Maharashtra's already fraught water situation, the Ahmednagar district administration has decided to clamp the prohibitory Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) around the Kukadi canal project.

With this, the district becomes the third in the State after Latur and Parbhani districts (in parched Marathwada) to impose the punitive section to preclude a possible law and order situation. The section prohibits an assembly of more than five persons around a water body.

Both cities of Pune and Ahmednagar draw water from this project. Rising complaints of water being diverted for irrigation has compelled authorities to take the extreme measure in a bid to ensure that waters were being released for strictly potable purposes.

With a full month to go before the pre-monsoon showers, nearly 700 tankers are presently in operation, and the numbers are expected to further rise, said authorities.

The rapid depletion of groundwater levels has given rise to another systemic problem: the fear of an outbreak of communicable diseases. With more than 2000 tankers supplying water to 1650 villages in Maharashtra, fears of water-borne diseases are bedeviling the State Health Department owing to the contaminated or poor quality of tanker water being supplied to rural areas. Authorities have reported around 20 outbreaks of water-borne diseases since January this year.



7th IRNSS navsat to be launched next week

India's own Regional Navigation Satellite System, the IRNSS, is all set to be completed in space when the seventh and last of its spacecraft gets placed in orbit.

The 1,425-kg spacecraft, IRNSS-1G, will be launched at 12.50 p.m. on April 28, Indian Space Research Organisation said.

IRNSS will be to the subcontinent what the U.S. Global Positioning System, GPS, is to its users worldwide, but with far greater precision and in Indian control, according to ISRO. It will drive both everyday uses as a 24/7 standard service for air, sea, ship transport and will also be used for missile-related applications as an encrypted and restricted service.

IRNSS-1G is slated to be launched from the PSLV-C33 from Sriharikota and will be the 35th PSLV flight in the last two decades.

An ISRO official said over the next three to six months, all the IRNSS satellites in the fleet would be stabilised as a constellation, their signals and performance verified and later put to use.

The fleet has two spare satellites ready in case of an emergency, a full-fledged ground control centre in Bengaluru and tracking stations across the country.

The constellation has been in the making since July 2013 when the IRNSS-1A was launched.


The Deccan's ‘precious nine' shine on like the Kohinoor

It is not just Kohinoor; nine other famous diamonds left the shores of India and these are now displayed in museums in Washington, Moscow, Paris and Istanbul, besides forming a part of the Iranian crown jewels.

The precious nine, all categorised as legendary diamonds and mined by the Qutub Shahis of the Deccan, are the Hope Diamond, Hortensia, Darya-i-Noor, Noor-ul-Ain, Orlov (also called Orlof), Regent, Sancy, Shah Diamond and Spoonmaker's, says V. Madhavan, who worked as a Professor of Geology in the Kakatiya University.

Two pink diamonds, the 182 carat Darya-i-Noor and 60 carat Noor-ul-Ain are part of the Iranian crown jewels

Prof. Madhavan, who has studied diamond mining for nearly six decades, says that by all historical accounts, the Kohinoor was mined by the Kakatiyas when Rani Rudrama Devi headed the kingdom, its headquarters in present day Warangal. There is a general consensus among historians that it was found at Kolluru, part of the Kakatiya kingdom, in the late 13th century in present day Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh.

According to Prof. Madhavan, India was the only producer of diamonds in the world till 1725 AD when they were mined in Brazil. Later in 1870, diamonds were explored in South Africa. Marco Polo, who visited India in the 13th century, talks in his travelogue of an inland kingdom ruled by a queen (Rudrama Devi)... "which produced all the diamonds in the world".

At the time of its discovery, the Kohinoor was the largest diamond in the world. But no longer. In 1905, workmen at the Premier Mines in South Africa unearthed the 3106 carats (621 grams) Cullinan diamond, which remains the largest so far. It was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, the founder of Premier Mines.


RCEP draft moots tough curbs on cheap medicines

A leaked chapter of the draft Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement being negotiated by 16 countries - 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 6 other countries that have Free Trade Agreements with the ASEAN - reveals that the trade pact in its current form could reduce access to affordable medicines in many developing countries.

The chapter on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is part of an October 2015 draft of the RCEP agreement. India has opposed some damaging proposals initiated by the RCEP members, particularly Japan and Korea, involving patent extensions, restrictive rules on copyright exceptions, and other anti-consumer measures.

Some member countries, who are part of both the TPP [the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership] and the RCEP, are trying to push for the TPP standards in RCEP. Japan and Korea are working to introduce some of the worst ideas from the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), the TPP and other trade agreements in the RCEP chapter on Intellectual Property.

The humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières'(MSF) is particularly concerned about a proposal by Japan and Korea demanding patent term extension - from the current 20 years by an additional five years - in ASEAN countries that are not party to the TPP.

From India's point of view, the draft proposals will compel governments to commit to newer Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights provisions like TRIPS plus - including the Patent Law Treaty (Geneva, 2000), which involve harmonisation in the examination of patent applications and requirements of patentability.

"Countries like India have, in the past, resisted pressure to sign the patents treaty as it can curtail the flexibility under the Indian system to address key public policy issues such as ever greening. If these terms are accepted, it would limit access to affordable medicines for people in Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos who depend on Indian generics," said Leena Menghaney, South Asia head of MSF's access campaign.

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are concerned at the move to withdraw the exemption granted under the TRIPS to implement intellectual property laws until 2033. "While it was previously agreed to exempt LDCs like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos from implementing the IP laws till 2033, Article 5.7 of the draft of the text withdraws the exemption," Ms. Menghaney added.


Rare primate sighted in Arunachal Pradesh

A group of wildlife photographers and biologists in India have reported sighting of a new species of primate, the White-Cheeked Macaque, in Arunachal Pradesh.

They narrowly missed being the first in the world to report the species after spotting the primate on March 30, 2015 and discovering that a group of Chinese researchers had already beaten them to it by days. The group from China, led by Cheng Li formally reported the discovery of the species, from bordering south eastern Tibet, in the American Journal of Primatology in March, 2015. Formally reporting a find in a journal takes precedence over spotting a species.

Macaques, which are distant cousins of langurs and gibbons, are a hard catch and when reported by Dr. Li, it was only the third macaque ever discovered since 1903. The Mentawai macaque (Macaca pagensis) was found in Indonesia in 1903 and Arunachal macaque (Macaca munzala) in 2005. The new species becomes the 22nd known macaque species and the 9th in India.

The researchers were confident about the newness of their find on the basis of photographic records and its several distinguishing characteristics from similar-looking macaque species, such as the Rhesus Macaque, Arunachal Macaque, Tibetan macaque and Assamese macaque. "They have an even fur, a relatively-hairless short tail, prominent pale to white side-and chin-whiskers creating a white cheek and round facial appearance, dark facial skin on the muzzle, long and thick hair on its neck, and a round male genitalia," said a statement by Aaranyak.

Typically the process of reporting the discovery of a new species to science is rather elaborate, with a DNA sample and a requirement that a specimen of the species be deposited in an accredited registry, preceding peer review. "I'm not sure if the Chinese group has reported DNA," said Mr. Borthakur.


Centre deploys sanitation messengers nationwide

The Ministry of Urban Development has deployed Swachh Dhoots (sanitation messengers) to boost its campaign against open defecation, a practice widely spotted in low-income urban centres.

In early March, the Ministry asked the urban local bodies of 75 cities to build self-help groups, including ASHA workers, in every municipality and send them to the neighbourhoods where open defecation is a norm.

Of these teams, Swachh Dhoots would be chosen to turn the campaign into a hyper-local one. "The idea is to make people anxious about and disgusted at excreting in public spaces," said Sanghamitra Bhattacharyya, an associate director at KPMG Advisory Services Limited, which is supervising the nationwide implementation of the NDA government's flagship Swachh Bharat Mission.

Launched in October 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Swachh Bharat Mission is aimed at bridging the gaps between sewerage and solid waste management and constructing several million toilets in urban centres.

 "If a Swachh Dhoot succeeds in turning one area into defecation-free zone, the Ministry will reward him or her with Rs.5,000," he said.

According to data from the Ministry, there are 4,041 urban local bodies in the country. And for each one, Swachh Dhoots would be deployed proportionate to the number of open-defecation zones. "These messengers will be in lakhs," Ms. Sanghamitra Bhattacharyya said.


ADB offers loans for Smart City projects

The Ministry of Urban Development urged the 20 Smart Cities, which were selected in the first round of competition, to quickly establish projects that can meet the criteria for obtaining loan assistance from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

At a review meeting at the Ministry, Rajiv Gauba, Secretary, Urban Development, told the officials of eight Smart Cities that are under construction in Ahmedabad, Surat, Pune, Bhubaneswar, Udaipur, Jaipur, Ludhiana and Jabalpur that the ADB had agreed to extend a loan of $1 billion.

Mr. Gauba told them that the World Bank was also willing to pump in a loan of $0.5 billion in the NDA government's flagship Smart City Mission.

Stressing the importance of resource mobilisation and the creation of municipal- level bonds, Mr. Gauba urged that the cities work toward achieving decent enough credit ratings from agencies approved by the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

He also said that the process for the credit rating of 85 cities had already been initiated under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), and all the 500 Mission cities shall complete this process in one year.

During the discussion on resource mobilisation through municipal bonds, it was informed that the U.S. Treasury had expressed willingness to be the transaction adviser for the Pune Municipality, which enjoys credit rating of ‘AA Stable'.


175 countries sign Paris Climate Agreement

The historic agreement on climate change marked a milestone, with a record 175 countries, including India, signing it. But world leaders made it clear that more action is needed, and quickly, to fight a relentless rise in global temperatures.

The agreement will come into force once 55 countries representing at least 55 per cent of global emissions formally join it, a process initially expected to take until 2020.

China, the world's top carbon emitter, announced it would "finalise domestic procedures" to ratify the agreement before the G20 summit in China in September. The United States, the world's second-largest emitter, reiterated its intention to ratify this year, as did Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

Maros Sefcovic, the energy chief o another top emitter, the 28-nation European Union, also said the EU waned to be in the "first wave" of ratifying countries.

Congo's President Joseph Kabila, speaking on behalf of the world's 48 least-developed countries, said all were committed to "to move in one irreversible direction to secure a safer climate". Even though small emitters, he said they would take the steps required to ratify the agreement "as soon as possible", a reflection of the wide reach of the agreement.

French President Francois Hollande, the first to sign in recognition of his key role in achieving the December agreement, said he would ask parliament to ratify it by this summer.

Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo Dicaprio, a U.N. messenger of peace and climate activist, captured the feelings of many when he said: "We can congratulate each other today, but it will mean absolutely nothing if the world's leaders gathered here go home and do nothing."

The signing set a record for international diplomacy - Never have so many countries signed an agreement on the first available day. States that didn't sign have a year to do so.

The ceremony, held on Earth Day, brought together a wide range of states that might sharply disagree on other issues.

North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong made a rare U.N. appearance to sign and Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe brought applause when he declared, "Life itself is at stake in this combat. We have the power to win it."

Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga of Tuvalu, which has seen four of its small islands disappear into the Pacific Ocean since 2000, said the agreement can change the world but islands on the frontline of climate change urgently need better access to financing to protect themselves against rising oceans. He urged international support for an insurance program for Pacific island nations.

Those that haven't indicated they will sign include some of the world's largest oil producers Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria and Kazakhstan, according to the World Resources Institute.

Under the agreement, countries set their own targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The targets are not legally binding, but countries must update them every five years.


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