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Current Affairs for IAS Exams - May 2018

::NATIONAL::

Bigger eye in the sky for India with GSAT 6-A

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully placed a communication satellite GSAT-6A in a geosynchronous transfer orbit.
  • It was carried on board the GSLV F-08 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
  • The GSAT-6A is a communication satellite that incorporates the high-thrust Vikas engine. It will complement the GSAT-6, which is already in orbit.
  • The GSAT-6A’s antenna has a diameter of six metres — it can be unfurled and opened like an umbrella once it reaches its prescribed orbit.
  • The ISRO team at Mission Control appeared pensive waiting for the indigenous cryogenic upper stage to fire and take the satellite into its initial orbit.
  • Former Chairmen of ISRO, K. Radhakrishnan and A.S. Kiran Kumar, too, watched the proceedings from Mission Control.
  • “These two satellites combined will provide platforms for development of advanced technologies such as the unfurlable antenna, hand-held devices, and ground networks,” K. Sivan, Chairman, ISRO, said after the satellite was placed in an initial orbit of a perigee of 170 km and apogee of 35,975 km, 18 minutes after the rocket blasted off at 4.56 p.m.
  • The satellite will be placed at a height of 36,000 km in a geostationary orbit, and the antenna will be unfurled in the coming days.

Health Department of Kerala bringing major initiative to control BP, diabetes

  • The Health Department is launching a major initiative as part of a national programme for developing a registry for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with focus on protocol-based standardised management of diabetes and hypertension.
  • According to the latest estimates, (as reported by the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies (AMCHSS), which studied a representative sample of 12,000 adults in Kerala) on an average.
  • Nearly one out of three persons above 18 years in Kerala has hypertension, while one out of five has diabetes, making the management of these two conditions a priority.
  • The State government has now chosen to integrate this programme, announced by the Ministry of Health in 2017-18, with two other initiatives, one of which is the India Hypertension Management Initiative (IHMI), a national programme being implemented by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Vital Strategies.
  • The other is developing Quality Standards for the implementation of Standard Treatment Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of primary hypertension in Kerala, for which the State is partnering with the Imperial College, London, and World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • The integrated programme will be implemented in six districts in the State — Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Kannur, Wayanad, Ernakulam and Alappuzha.
  • Protocol-based diabetes management too has been added as an additional component as 20% of the State’s population suffer from diabetes.
  • Everyone over 30 years in the designated area will be screened under each ASHA for diabetes and hypertension at primary health centres (PHC) through outreach camps and household surveys.
  • The screening at the Primary Health Centre level has already been initiated while field-level screening will be taken up soon.
  • Under the IHMI initiative, an expert committee has developed and revised hypertension and diabetes management protocols in such a way that henceforth the specified drugs in the protocol alone will be purchased and distributed by the State to PHCs.
  • The aim is to make the treatment schedule more patient-friendly and to improve adherence.
  • “Blood pressure and blood sugar levels will be routinely checked for anyone above 18 years coming to the sub-centres or clinics and protocol-based management will be initiated for those with diabetes or hypertension.
  • The target Blood Pressure is below 140/90 mmHg for those below 80 years and below 150/90 mmHg for those above 80 years.
  • The target routine blood sugar (RBS) should be less than 140 mg/dl.
  • These patients will be followed-up for one year to ensure treatment adherence. Vital Strategies is offering technical assistance and training for personnel.
  • They have also appointed cardiovascular health officers and treatment supervisors in four districts to follow up on the patients, sources said.
  • The separate module for the programme has been integrated into the e-health platform so that details of every patient is recorded, analysed and systematically followed up for an entire year to measure the impact of the protocol-based management of diabetes and hypertension.

Slew of Education reforms accepted by Cabinet

  • Minister of Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar announced that the Cabinet has approved a slew of reforms for school education in the country, in what could be considered as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan-2 project.
  • The SSA, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan and teacher training would be integrated into a single scheme from Classes 1 to 12.
  • The integrated scheme will be in place from April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2020, with an estimated allocation of Rs. 75,000 crore over the period, a 20% increase over the current allocation.
  • It aims to support the States in universalising access to school education from pre-nursery to Class 12 across the country. Mr. Javadekar said the government would focus on educationally backward districts, disabled students and women.
  • There would be a shift to digital blackboards from Class 9 to college education in the next five years. The government will provide a 20% incentive to the States for a learning-outcome based education.
  • Mr. Javadekar said that skill courses — which are now functional from Class 9 to Class 12 — would begin from Class 6 in future. This was aimed at enhancing the employability of students.
  • The Centre has also approved an increase in the outlay for making educational loans interest-free for students with modest financial means for studying in universities and colleges charging high fees. The interest subsidy will last till one year of their passing out of college.
  • Mr. Javadekar said that while this was a 2009 scheme, the allocation of Rs. 6, 600-crore over the next three years marked nearly a three-fold jump over the allocations made from 2009 to 2014.

SC ruling on SC/ST act, Govt. to file Plea

  • Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government is “preparing” to file a review petition against the top court’s ruling on the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 that puts a stop to immediate arrests in complaints filed under its provisions.
  • “I have already instructed my Ministry to consider the desirability of filing a review. Appropriate follow- up actions are being taken,” Mr. Prasad told reporters.
  • Officials in the Law Ministry said the government will approach the Supreme Court as early as next week after preparing a “water tight case” in consultation with the Ministry of Social Justice, the nodal Ministry to enforce the Act.
  • The government has been under pressure from the Opposition as well from its allies and Ministers from the Dalit community to seek a review or bring an amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling.
  • In a recent order, the Supreme Court had banned automatic arrests and registration of criminal cases under the Act.
  • The court had laid down stringent guidelines such as written permission from the appointing authority before a public servant could be arrested.
  • Arguing that such a ruling made the law “ineffective”, Congress president Rahul Gandhi led a delegation to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking “his immediate intervention.’’
  • Worried about the fallout, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan led a delegation of NDA’s SC and ST MPs including Social Justice Minister Thawarchand Gehlot to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • The Prime Minister is understood to have assured the delegation that the government would initiate ‘remedial measures’ to ensure that the Act retains its effectiveness in ensuring justice to Dalits and tribal people.
  • For the past one week, the Opposition parties have been alleging that the Central government didn’t argue the case well in the Supreme Court.
  • “We requested the President to file a review petition in the Supreme Court as the case was not well argued earlier in the top court,” said senior Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Satish Misra.

Irregular accounting by Telangana state overstating Revenue surplus

  • The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has said that Telangana State overstated its revenue surplus due to irregular accounting.
  • The CAG Report on State Finances tabled for the year ended March 2017 said that the State registered revenue surplus of Rs. 1,386 crore.
  • The revenue surplus was overstated by Rs. 6,778 crore due to irregular accounting while it had revenue deficit of Rs. 5,392 crore during 2016-17.
  • The government later, in revised estimates for 2016-17, had indicated a revenue surplus of Rs. 199.4 crore but the CAG report now made it clear that the State was not revenue surplus at all.
  • Picking holes in Telangana government’s claims based on audit of the Appropriation Accounts, it pointed out that the State also exceeded the ratio of fiscal deficit to GSDP ceiling of 3.5% under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act.
  • Even in the recent budget presented for 2018-19, the government repeatedly asserted that its fiscal deficit was well within the norms of FRBM Act every year so far.
  • But the CAG report categorically disproved that claim.
  • The ratio of fiscal deficit to GSDP excluding amount transferred under Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) scheme (Rs. 7,500 crore) was 4.3%.
  • The government, against Rs. 8,931 crore borrowed through UDAY bonds during the year, released an amount of Rs. 7,500 crore only to Discoms by end of the year.
  • The report also said that the entire amount transferred to Discoms had been shown under capital expenditure as equity.
  • About Rs. 3,750 crore, 50% of Rs. 7,500 crore released to Discoms was shown as equity instead of grant. This had resulted in overstatement of revenue surplus to that extent, it said.
  • About 69% of revenue expenditure was on consumption and only 31% was for investment in infrastructure and asset creation.
  • But the increase in return on investments was negligible at Rs. 1 crore, indicative of non-performing investments.
  • The State has to repay 49% of debt amounting to Rs. 56,388 crore within the next seven years.
  • The repayment of debt as percentage of tax revenue increased from 7.12 during 2015-16 to 32.16 during 2016-17.

Major water crisis ahead of Bhubaneswar

  • The Odisha government has admitted that water flow in the Kuakhai and Daya rivers – lifeline for the capital city’s drinking water needs – has gone down significantly.
  • “This year, no excess water (floodwater) has flowed down in the rivers such as Daya, Bhargavi, Ratnachira and Chandrabhaga through the Kuakhai river,” said Water Resource Minister Niranjan Pujari.
  • “When Mundali barrage on the Mahanadi witness water discharges 2.5 lakh cusecs of water, Kuakhai and its distributaries Daya, Bhargavi, Ratnachira and Chandrabhaga receive water.
  • Moreover, Kushabhadra, the riverbed of which is situated at a higher altitude than other riverbeds, gets water only when Mundali barrage discharges 4.5 lakh cusecs of water,” says an assessment of the Water Resource Department.
  • Dry riverbeds of Daya and Kuakhai show ominous signs, said Piyush Ranjan Rout, an urban development practitioner.
  • “Water supply structures for Bhubaneswar, are decades-old. No new source for drinking water supply for Bhubaneswar has been created in the recent years,” alleged Mr. Rout.
  • “Water discharged from Mundali barrage is allowed to flow into sea while no attempt is being made to store it halfway so that drinking water crisis of Bhubaneswar could be addressed,” he said.
  • Water Resource Minister said the State government was already in talks with IIT-Bhubaneswar and IIT-Roorkee for detail investigation and analysis on the issue.

::INTERNATIONAL::

Indo-Pacific strategy commitment soon between India-Japan

  • India is Japan’s “most important” partner in its “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” said Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
  • Both countries agreed to step up cooperation in their “Special Strategic and Global Partnership” during annual consultations and exchanged yen loan agreements for $1.4 billion.
  • “Our Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy and India’s Act East Policy should be further merged,” said Mr. Kono, in remarks that appeared to target China’s actions in the South China Sea.
  • “Our growing convergence on economic and strategic issues is important for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
  • Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Kono discussed a wide range of bilateral issues during the 9th India-Japan Strategic dialogue in Tokyo, while setting the agenda for the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan for the annual summit with PM Shinzo Abe.
  • They also witnessed the exchange of documents for loans from Japan to India for projects including the Mumbai metro line from Cuffe Parade.
  • Also a sea water desalinisation plant and an intelligent transport system to reduce traffic congestion in Chennai, tree-planting schemes in Himachal Pradesh as well as loans for the North East connectivity projects.

Intense scrutiny begins on H-1b applications by US

  • Multiple H-1B visa applications for the same beneficiary could be subject to closer scrutiny and potentially lead to rejection of all petitions for that beneficiary, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reiterated.
  • The USCIS will begin accepting H-1B petitions for 2018 on April 2.
  • Signalling a tougher vetting of multiple applications for the same person, the USCIS said, “absent a legitimate business need,” it “will deny or revoke the approval of all H-1B petitions filed by “related entities” for that beneficiary.
  • Used as a tactic to increase the odds of winning the lottery that selects beneficiaries from several times more applicants, multiple applications are barred if they come from “related entities.”
  • The USCIS said the term “related entities” includes petitioners that are not “related through corporate ownership and control,” as long as the petitions are “for the same beneficiary for substantially the same job”.
  • This was the adjudication of a particular dispute earlier, but will now be applicable for the entire selection process this year.
  • The question of what constitutes “related entities” was litigated in an administrative appeal in the USCIS and an order was issued on March 23, 2018.

::ECONOMY::

Record 2.77 lakh crore due to Public issues in 2017-18

  • The financial year 2017-18 saw a record mobilisation of Rs. 1.77 lakh crore through public issues, which was much higher than the all-time high of Rs. 86,710 crore recorded in 2009-10.
  • According to Prime Database, the total money raised in 2017-18 was 3.46 times that of the preceding financial year that saw offerings — including initial public offers (IPOs), qualified institutional placements (QIPs), follow-on offers, public bonds —worth Rs. 51,120 crore.
  • In terms of equity IPOs, 2017-18 saw 45 companies raise Rs. 82,109 crore, again a record in terms of the quantum of funds raised.
  • The largest IPO of the financial year was that of General Insurance Corporation (GIC) that raised Rs. 11,257 crore. The average deal size during the period was also high at Rs. 1,825 crore.
  • A notable feature of the year was that several companies that hit the market had a prior investment from either a private equity (PE) investor or a venture capitalist (VC), as per Prime Database.
  • As many as 17 IPOs had a prior PE/VC investment with their total offer for sale component pegged at Rs. 10,831 crore or 13% of total IPO raising.
  • Post-listing show
  • Public issues saw a strong post-listing performance as well with 17 of the 38 IPOs that listed giving a return of more than 10% on the day of listing. IPOs of SMEs also witnessed a record year with 155 such offerings raising Rs. 2,247 crore.
  • The largest SME (small, medium enterprise) IPO of the year was that of East India Securities that raised Rs. 88 crore.

New Corporate Governance norms by SEBI requires quick action by companies

  • India’s listed corporates will have to initiate quick action to get on board more directors, including a woman, if they to ensure compliance with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)’s new corporate governance norms.
  • While SEBI has given companies time to comply with the latest rules many firms are currently non-compliant and would need to act fast to conform including ensuring that the role of a chairperson and managing director is separated within the next one year.
  • There are a total of 65 companies that will have to increase the number of independent directors by April 1, 2019.
  • As many as 165 companies of the top 500 entities will have to separate the role of MD or chief executive officer from that of the chairman, according to data from Prime Database.
  • Further, there are at least 155 companies among the top 500 listed ones that would have to appoint a woman director by April 1, 2019, and if the universe of companies is expanded to the top 1,000 then 336 companies will have to include a woman director in the board by April 1, 2020.
  • The capital markets regulator approved most of the recommendations of the Uday Kotak Committee that was formed to suggest ways to strengthen corporate governance at listed entities.
  • The market watchdog decided to reduce the maximum number of directorships for individuals from 10 to seven in a phased manner while expanding the eligibility criteria for such directors.
  • The new norms also require at least one woman independent director in the top 500 listed entities by market capitalisation by April 1, 2019, and in the top 1,000 listed entities, by April 1, 2020.
  • The list of companies that will have to induct a woman director within the next one year include Ambuja Cements, Avenue Supermarts, Bharti Airtel, Castrol India, DLF, Fortis Healthcare, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, Godrej Industries, HDFC, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance and Reliance Industries along with most of the banking entities like State Bank of
  • India, Andhra Bank, Bank of India, Canara Bank and Central Bank of India.
  • Meanwhile, companies that currently have no segregation between MD/CEO and chairperson include Adani Ports, BPCL, BHEL, Coal India, General Insurance Corp., Wipro, Hero Motocorp, HPCL, TV Today Network, RIL and PVR among others.
  • The three-tier structure of a company that includes shareholders, board and the management need to be separate and independent of each other and hence SEBI has segregated the roles of MD/CEO with that of the chairman.
  • SEBI has also enhanced the roles of a company’s audit committee, nomination & remuneration committee and risk management committee.
  • The Kotak panel had recommended enhanced disclosures on auditor’s credentials, audit fees and reasons for resignation of auditors.