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GS: 2


International relations:

Sri Lanka’s first national unity government in trouble(The Hindu)

Context:

Sri Lankan first national unity government is in trouble

What has happened?

  • Sri Lankan President and PM have failed to reach consensus on the future of their coalition government, following the huge defeat their parties has suffered in the recent local government elections.
  • They have decided to set up a committee to chart out the next steps and “reform proposals” for their cohabitation government.
  • While the two parties tried reaching an agreement, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe came under pressure to resign
  • Amid the political developments, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka met President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe in separate meetings to discuss bilateral issues

Background:

  • Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and the Sirisena-led faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), its traditional rival, have been in government together since 2015
  • They had jointly ousted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a historic election
  • The other faction of the SLFP supports Mr. Rajapaksa and sits in the Opposition.
  • In the February 10 local government polls, the partners in national government contested separately and lost to the newly formed party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), or Sri Lanka People’s Front backed by Mr. Rajapaksa

Ramallah recall: On India’s Palestine policy(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Palestine signals India’s strategy to grow ties with Israel and Palestine separately

India-Israel ties:

  • In recent years, India has built strong ties with Israel
  • In 2017, Mr. Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel
  • Israel is also a source of defence equipment and agricultural technology in India

India-Palestine ties

  • India has been a champion of the Palestinian people’s national aspirations
  • In 2017, India had voted along with a vast majority of member-states at the UN General Assembly against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
  • Recently, in Ramallah, the Palestinian National Authority’s administrative headquarters, Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s support for the Palestinian cause, saying it “hopes that Palestine soon becomes a sovereign and independent country in a peaceful atmosphere”.
  • Both sides also signed a number of agreements for India-funded projects in the West Bank.
  • Traditionally, India has supported the creation of an independent Palestine within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Why is India not completely supporting Israel?

  • Israel has been facing political isolation internationally over its occupation of the Palestinian territories.
  • It also does not have diplomatic ties with most countries in West Asia.
  • India, which has vital interests in the Gulf and enjoys good ties with the region’s Muslim countries, cannot afford to be seen to be politically closer to Israel at the expense of ties with Palestinians.

Conclusion:

India’s policy objective is clear and rooted in political realism. It wants to maintain the balance in its relationship with both Palestine and Israel, and strengthen bilateral ties with each separately.

China will ‘take action’ if India sends troops to Maldives: Global Times(The  Hindu)

Context:

  • China’s state-run tabloid Global Times   warned that Beijing will retaliate if New Delhi unilaterally decides to send troops to the crisis-hit Maldives.
  • It warned that, “India should not underestimate China’s opposition to unilateral military intervention.”
  • This follows signals from the China’s side that it does not want to exacerbate tensions with India over the Maldives issue.

Recent developments:

  • The two visits by the Foreign Minister Wang and politburo member Yang Jiechi in December to India had built on the “fresh start” talks in September between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the BRICS summit in Xiamen.
  • The meeting took place soon after the Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Sikkim sector was defused.
  •  Chinese side has re-opened the gates of the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage for Indian travelers through Nathu La in Sikkim .
  • The route was closed last year in the wake of the Doklam face-off.

Crisis in Maldives:

  • The latest crisis in Maldives unfolded earlier this month, when the Yameen administration imposed an emergency in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling that quashed the conviction of opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, and ordered the release of 12 jailed parliamentarians.

U.S. Senate begins debate on immigration(The Hindu)

Context:

The U.S. Senate has started an open-ended debate on immigration.

About the Debate:

  • Immigration in U.S has been a highly divisive topic that has eluded political consensus for years now
  • The debate, which may last the entire week, is not on any specific Bill.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has picked up a random Bill into which amendments that get the support of 60 Senators could be inserted.
  • The most urgent immigration question relates to ‘Dreamers’, those who came to the country illegally when they were children.
  • Recently the Trump administration has announced that it planned to scrap Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), the program that gives temporary protection to undocumented migrants who arrived in the US as children.
  • He has also linked the offering of a path to citizenship for ‘Dreamers’ to a severe curtailment in the existing legal immigration regime.

About the Secure and Succeed Act

  • It is closely aligned to Mr. Trump’s views
  • It proposes family-linked visas only for spouses and minor children, an elimination of the diversity visa lottery, and the construction of a border wall.
  • It does not mention anything about skilled workers’ immigration.

About Immigration Innovation Act

  • There are several Bills that deal with the H-1B programme but one being pushed by Republican Orrin Hatch is in focus-the Immigration Innovation Act
  • It proposes changes to the visa programme that will allow higher wages and an easier route to permanent residency for skilled workers.

Kim stresses need to boost inter-Korea talks(The Hindu)

Context:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has said that he wants to boost the “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” with South Korea

Details:

  • The statement has come after his high-level delegation returned from a visit to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics
  • Mr. Kim has given instructions for measures aimed at more inter-Korean engagement
  • He has also given his gratitude to Seoul for their “sincere efforts” to prioritise the delegation’s visit, which were “very impressive”
  • Further, The South’s President Moon Jae-in has said that the U.S. is open to talking with North Korea

India in pact with UAE to spur energy security(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent trip to the UAE has resulted in two agreements being signed that will strengthen India’s energy security.

Agreements signed include:

  • The signing of the Concession Agreement between an Indian consortium and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company for award of 10% stake in Lower Zakum Offshore oil field.
  • An agreement between Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves (ISPRL) and ADNOC to operationalise the filling up of a strategic petroleum reserve cavern in Mangalore.
  • The Lower Zakum oil field is coming up for rebidding for 40% of its capacity, of which 10% had been awarded to India.
  • The second agreement allowed ADNOC to invest in the strategic crude oil storage facility in Mangaluru.

Education:

‘Colleges that perform well can apply for autonomy(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Colleges that perform well will now be able to apply for autonomous status, which will permit them to start new courses and programmes, set syllabi and even “fix fees for courses at their own level”.

Introduction:

  • The University Grants Commission has notified guidelines for this change.
  • The colleges will continue to be affiliated to the university but will enjoy autonomy to take their own decisions.
  • Autonomous status will initially be granted for 10 years, but can be extended for five years at a time.

Eligibility criteria:

  • To be eligible for such autonomy, the colleges must have been given ‘A’ grade by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, which means a Cumulative Grade Points Average of at least 3 on a scale of 4.

Reservation policies

  • Reservation policies will apply to these colleges too.

Own faculty:

  •  Such colleges will also have the right to appoint their own faculty and principal as per existent UGC regulations.

Internal security:

Centre to states: Strengthen cyber security(The Hindu)

Context:

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has asked states to focus on strengthening the cyber security ecosystem to push adoption of digital services in India

What has happened?

  • The minister had met IT ministers and secretaries from almost all states during a two-day conference to discuss the roadmap on making India a trillion-dollar digital economy by 2025.
  • IT Minister has requested every state to continuously monitor the traffic of websites and set up cyber security centres
  • Further, it was discussed that there should also be audit from time to time of sensitive centres such as nuclear power stations, financial hubs and IT hubs
  • In addition, Mr. Prasad who is also the Law Minister has asked the states to ensure that no one is denied any benefits for not having an Aadhaar card.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

The danger of counterfactuals(The Hindu)

Context:

Alleging that the Congress was responsible for the partition of the country, and for the division of Jammu and Kashmir is to distort a very complex history.

What has happened?

  • Recently, Prime Minister Modi has blamed Congress for the disasters that track Indians since 1947.
  • One of the troubling allegations has been that the Congress was responsible for the partition of the country, and for the division of Jammu and Kashmir.

Different Viewpoints about the Partition

  • Partition is one of the most debated issues among historians.
  • Most scholars agree that the causes of Partition can be traced to the turn of the 19th century.
  • The politicisation of religious identities was one of the important causes. Colonial policies gave an added fillip to this politicisation through group representation. By early 20th century this led to communal violence.
  • Another group of historians focuses on the role of elites in the making of independent nation states. Elites proceeded to tap religious identities, forge a constituency, and mobilise struggles for independence and for a separate state.
  • However, it is very difficult to discern one reason for the Partition.

Conclusion:

  • The Partition teaches us that the politicisation of religious identities can be dangerous.
  • This inevitably lead to devastation.
  • Yet, till today, communal organisations continue to trigger the brutalisation of social and political identities and creation of divides

For govt., Aadhaar may be an enabler for people with no proof of identity: Justice Chandrachud(The Hindu)

Context:
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud has observed that Aadhaar may be seen by the government as an enabler for every Indian who does not possess even a single proof of identity.
Background:

  • CJI Misra has been heading a five-judge Constitution bench hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Aadhaar Act.
  • At previous hearings, the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench have remarked that there was a need to balance national interest and right to privacy as well as indicated that they may not rule against Aadhaar on the ground that the identification programme may be misused.

The debate:

  • Justice Chandrachud has said that Aadhaar may be seen by the government as an enabler for every Indian who does not possess even a single proof of identity
  • To this, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for petitioners, argued that if one does not have a proof of identity, he/she cannot get Aadhaar in the first place.
  • He further led arguments on how the government has made Aadhaar the only proof of identity, to the negation of all others like ration cards to passports to voter ID card, to avail of benefits, welfare, subsidies and services.

Centre to consolidate small savings laws(The Hindu)

Context:

  • In a bid to consolidate the legislations pertaining to small savings schemes, the government is proposing a merger of the various laws into a Government Savings Promotion Act.

Highest priority:

  • The government gives highest priority to the interest of small savers, especially savings for the benefit of girl child, the senior citizens and the regular savers who form the backbone of our country’s savings architecture.

Benefits retained

  • No existing benefits to depositors are proposed to be taken away through this process.
  • The main objective in proposing a common Act is to make implementation easier for the depositors.
  • To introduce certain flexibilities for the investors.
  • Some of the small savings schemes also enjoy income tax benefits.

GS: 3


Economy:

‘New RBI norms to spur surge in NPAs’(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Early identification of stress and resolution will prevent future ever-greening, says Moody’s unit ICRA

Reserve Bank of India’s new norms:

  • The Reserve Bank of India’s new norms directing banks to start insolvency proceedings on accounts, if stress is not resolved in 180 days, could result in a jump in bad loans, according to Moody’s unit ICRA.
  • The revised framework on resolution of stressed assets issued by RBI is likely to increase the reported non-performing asset (NPA) levels of the banks in coming quarters,” ICRA said.
  • The RBI said that for accounts where a bank’s exposure exceeds 2,000 crore, a resolution plan must be implemented within 180 days from the date of first default.
  • In case a resolution is not implemented, lenders should file an insolvency petition within 15 days of the expiry of the 180 days.
  • The RBI had sent two lists of firms against which insolvency proceedings could be taken at the National Company Law Tribunal.
  • Banks have to make a 50% provision in respect of accounts that are subject to insolvency proceedings.
  •   In comparison, the provisioning norm for sub-standard assets is 15-20%.

Proactive resolution:

  • The RBI norms, announced entail proactive resolution of stressed assets with lenders needing to finalise the resolution plan as an account slips into special mention account category.

Special mention account category.

  • SMA category indicates the time period over which repayment on a loan has not been made.
  • Banks’ gross NPAs and standard restructured advances were estimated at 12.6% as on September 30, 2017.
  • The RBI had estimated SMA 2 advances (where repayment is not made for more than 60 days) to be 3.5% of gross advances.
  • ICRA said overall stress levels of banks including SMA0 (overdue between 1 and 30 days) and SMA1 (overdue between 31 and 60 days) borrowers was much higher than the reported GNPA level of 10.3% as on September 30.

Benefits:

  • Early identification of stress and resolution will prevent future ever-greening of loans.
  •  It will ensure a good financial health for the banking system in the long-term.

Citi India prohibits use of its cards to buy bitcoins(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Citi India announced its customers cannot use its credit and debit cards to purchase or trade in cryptocurrencies.
  • The lender has informed its customers about the decision.
  • This is the first instance that a bank in India has taken such a step.

Rationale behind this decision:

  • The move is in line with Citigroup’s global policy that has barred usage of cards for purchase of and trade in cryptocurrencies.
  • To protect customers
  • To deal with security related risks associated with bitcoins.
  • Recently, the banking regulator had voiced concerns over virtual currencies and had not given any licence or authorisation to any entity or company to operate trading platforms or deal in bitcoins or any virtual currency.

Bitcoins:

  • Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system.
  • It is the first decentralized digital currency, as the system works without a central bank or single administrator.
  • The network is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary.
  • These transactions are verified by network nodes through the use of cryptography and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain.

United India Insurance chief expects PSU insurers’ merger by March 2019(The Hindu)

Context:

At the National Insurance-ASSOCHAM Summit, Chairman of United India Insurance Co. Ltd. has said that the proposed merger of three public sector insurance firms may be completed by early 2019.

Background:
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his Budget speech had proposed a merger of three general insurers — National Insurance Co. Ltd., United India Insurance and Oriental Insurance Company Ltd.

Advantage of the merger:

  • There are a lot of operational advantages and savings that will accrue from this proposed merger
  • The merger is expected to create a stronger entity to fetch better valuations at the time of listing.

Environment:

Straw management now mandatory in Punjab(The Hindu)

Context:

  • Straw management now mandatory in Punjab.

Introduction:

  • In order to check the dangerous trend of stubble burning, the Punjab government has decided to make use of Super Straw Management System while using the combine harvester machines mandatory for harvesting the paddy (rice) crop.
  • The instructions have been issued under section 31 A of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.

Purpose of introducing Super straw Management System:

  • For saving the environment from air pollution caused by stubble burning.
  • With this method, farmers are not required to burn paddy straw before sowing the next crop.

Science and Technology:

How to handle Big Data(The Hindu Opinion)

Context:

There are infinite ways to analyse data but great caution must be exercised while handling large and complex data sets

What is Big Data?

Big data is a term used to denote data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing application software is inadequate to deal with them.

Causes of Data Blunders:

  • Bias,
  • low-quality data,
  • unreliable sources,
  • technical glitches,
  •  an improper understanding of the larger picture,
  • lack of proper statistical tools and resources to analyse large volumes of data
  • Relying too heavily on a particular model

Way Out:

  • Big Data is very complex and involves additional challenge.
  • They might involve the use of some skills involving analytics, decision-making skills, logical thinking skills, problem-solving, advanced computational expertise and also statistical expertise.
  • Therefore, the use of some routine algorithm is not enough.
  • Too much reliance on available software is serious mistake while handling Big Data
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