9 PM Current Affairs Brief – April 17, 2019

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Vellore parliamentary constituency polls rescinded

  1. President has cancelled polling in Vellore. It is the first Lok Sabha seat to have had its elections cancelled over abuse of money power.
  2. This decision comes after the Election Commission had recommended to the President that elections in Vellore be cancelled citing the suspected use of money power to influence voters after huge cash seizures were recovered.
  3. In 2017, EC had cancelled elections to the Radhakrishnan Nagar Assembly seat in Tamil Nadu twice. In April 2016,during the TN Assembly elections, the EC postponed polls in Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, after cash was recovered. In 2012,elections to two Rajya Sabha seats in Jharkhand were scrapped for the same reason.
  4. The EC has no direct powers to cancel or postpone an election.However, Article 324 of the Constitution gives the poll body the superintendency as far as the conduct of free and fair elections is concerned.
  5. Further, various Supreme Court orders have stated that where the law is silent, the EC can invoke Article 324 to ensure elections are conducted without malpractices.
  6. In 2016,EC had written to the Union Law Ministry seeking powers to revoke or countermand an election in case there is evidence of money power being used to influence voters, saying that it is not always possible to invoke the constitution.

UN owes India $38 million for peacekeeping

  1. UN Secretary General has said that United Nations(UN) owes India $38 million for peacekeeping operations as of March 2019.It is the highest UN has to pay to any country for the peacekeeping operations.
  2. The UN chief has also said that the troop and police-contributing countries will or will not be paid depends on the financial position of the individual missions to which they contribute. It is not determined by their individual capacity to shoulder that unfair burden.
  3. The United Nations Security Council has the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security. It thus authorizes peacekeeping operations to help countries that are conflict ridden and to create the conditions for lasting peace.
  4. United Nations Peacekeeping was created in 1948.It maintains three basic principles which are (a)Consent of the parties (b)impartiality and non-use of Force except in self-defence and (c)defence of the mandate.
  5. The UN Peacekeepers are led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DKPO).UN Peacekeepers are from diverse backgrounds, from areas all around the world. Further, UN peacekeepers are often referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmets.
  6. Peacekeeping forces are contributed by UN member states on a voluntary basis.India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are among the largest individual contributors. African nations also contributes nearly half the peacekeeping forces.

Many essential drugs priced much higher than manufacturing cost: WHO

  1. According to World Health Organisation (WHO),around 40% of the essential medicines in India are priced significantly higher than estimated production costs. This shows the amount of profiteering done by pharmaceutical companies and the scope for lowering the prices of drugs.
  2. The drugs used for cancer, hepatitis C and off patent drugs which are in the market for long and commonly used for diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are priced very high with huge margins over their cost of production.
  3. This results in high expenditure which pushes people into poverty. In India over 75% of health expenditure is out-of-pocket, of which the major chunk is spent on medicines. This is despite India being a manufacturing hub and the biggest supplier of low cost generic medicines to the world.
  4. Further, most of the high-priced medicines in India were found only in the private market which suggests a lack of availability in public facilities.

Pulitzer’s for NYT and WSJ over trump probes

  1. The 2019 Pulitzer Prizes were announced. It is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature and musical composition in the United States.
  2. Pulitzer was established in 1917 by provisions in the will of American Joseph Pulitzer who had made his fortune as a newspaper publisher.
  3. Prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. In twenty of the categories, each winner receives a certificate and a US$15,000 cash award. The winner in the public service category of the journalism competition is awarded a gold medal
  4. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for their separate investigations of misconduct and fraud in US President’s financial past.
  5. Further, Reuters won two Pulitzer Prizes one for revealing the massacre of Rohingya men by Myanmar security forces and another for photographs of Central American migrants seeking refuge in the United States.

Iran parliament labels US troops to Mideast as terrorists

  1. Iran’s lawmakers has approved a bill designating the US Central Command(CENTCOM) as a terrorist organisation. The bill considers any type of financial, technological or information aid given to CENTCOM as a terrorist measure.
  2. This move comes after the United States had designated Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps(IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. It is the first time that the U.S. has designated an entity of another government as a terrorist organization.
  3. The foreign terrorist designation allows the US administration to seek criminal penalties against elements of the IRGC and foreign officials deemed to be aiding it. It will also allow US to ban travel to the United States for individuals associated with IRGC.
  4. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp was formed after the 1979 Islamic revolution with a mission to defend the clerical regime, in contrast to more traditional military units that protect borders.
  5. The CENTCOM was established in 1983.Its objective is to protect the US national interests and those of its partners in 20 nations in the Middle East,Central and South Asia and the strategic waterways that surround them.

India, Pakistan officials hold technical meeting on Kartarpur corridor

  1. Indian and Pakistan officials has held a meeting to discuss the technical aspects of the proposed Kartarpur corridor. The two countries discussed on the (a)timing for completion of bridge (b)alignment of roads and (c)engineering aspects of the proposed crossing points.
  2. Earlier ,the first meeting to finalise the modalities for the corridor took place on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border. However in the second meeting, India had conveyed its objection to Pakistan over the presence of a Khalistan separatist in a committee appointed by Pakistan on the Kartarpur project.
  3. The Kartarpur Corridor is a 4km long proposed corridor comprising border gates, road and a bridge to link Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara in Gurdaspur district in India to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan. It is aimed at allowing the easy movement of Sikh pilgrims to the Kartarpur gurdwara.
  4. The gurdwara in Kartarpur stands on the bank of River Ravi, about 120 km northeast of Lahore.It is revered as Guru Nanak’s final resting place.
  5. Pilgrimages between India and Pakistan are governed by the 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines. The Kartarpur Corridor, which may provide visa-free access from India to the shrine inside Pakistan, might need a separate treaty.

Export of cotton textiles to China on the rise: Texprocil

  1. According to Cotton Textile Export Promotion Council(Texprocil), exports of cotton textiles to China has been on the rise.
  2. Texprocil has said that the robust export of cotton textiles to China has helped India reduce its trade deficit with China. It said that the recent government move to refund all State and Central taxes on textile exports boosted shipments to major consuming countries.
  3. Further, it said that higher exports of cotton textiles will not only help reduce the trade imbalance but also attract investments from the labour-intensive industries shifting out of China.
  4. However, export of cotton textiles could increase further if the tariff disadvantage of 3.5% to 10% suffered by India in comparison with Vietnam, Pakistan and Indonesia on textile products was addressed by the government.
  5. Texprocil was incorporated in 1954 as an autonomous, nonprofit body dedicated to the export promotion of cotton textiles. It makes suggestions for strengthening the export efforts and also to provide data for monitoring exports.

SC admits for consideration plea for lifting ban on Muslim women’s entry into mosques

  1. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition seeking permission for Muslim women to enter mosques to offer prayers. The petitioner has asked the apex court to declare the prohibition on entry of women inside mosques in the country as illegal and unconstitutional.
  2. The petition was filed on the grounds that (a)there is nothing in the Quran and the Hadith that requires gender segregation (b)the act of prohibition of females from entering Mosque is void and unconstitutional and (c)such practices are not only repugnant to the basic dignity of a woman as an individual but also violative of the fundamental rights.
  3. The apex court asked the petitioner whether a mosque or temple or church is a state. The court said that the provision for right to equality under Article 14 of Indian Constitution can only be invoked only against the state and not against non-state actors. The petitioner’s lawyer replied that the religious places get grants from the state and fundamental rights could be invoked against them.
  4. However, the apex court was not satisfied with the reply. It said that it has admitted the petition only because of the Sabarimala verdict delivered by the court last year. Earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled that women, irrespective of age, can enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. Previously, girls and women in the 10-50 age group were prohibited from entering the Sabarimala temple.
  5. At present, women are allowed to offer prayers at mosques under the Jamaat-e-Islami and Mujahid denominations but they are barred from entering mosques under the predominant Sunni faction. Even in mosques where women are allowed,there are separate entrances and enclosures for men and women.

Need to change development paradigm, aim for climate resilient development: Vice President

  1. Vice President of India has inaugurated the 4th Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific (RCAP) Congress 2019 in New Delhi.
  2. Vice President has said that there is a need to change the development paradigm and aim for a climate resilient development, moving away from traditional metrics.
  3. He has also urged all city, province and country representatives to adopt various multi-dimensional and innovative approaches, as a part of their endeavour to achieve the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development and to ensure low emissions oriented development.
  4. Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific(RCAP) Congress was launched in 2010.It is the annual global platform for urban resilience and climate change adaptation where dialogues are conducted to forge partnerships, with the ultimate goal of identifying implementable solutions and creating lasting impacts for cities in the region.
  5. This event is being organised in India for the first time and 31 countries are taking part in this programme. The three-day event is being hosted by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation in association with UN(ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability).

Govt targets Rs 50,000-crore of public procurement through GeM in FY20

  1. India’s public procurement portal Government e-marketplace (GeM) has witnessed a multifold increase in transactions in a single year. The commerce ministry has set a target of Rs 50,000 crore in 2019-20, ultimately hitting Rs 1 trillion worth of procurements by 2021.
  2. Government e Marketplace is an online marketplace setup in 2016 for procurement of commonly used goods and services by government ministries, departments and CPSEs. It aims to enhance transparency, efficiency and speed in public procurement.
  3. GeM has been envisaged as National Procurement Portal of India. It functions under Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals (DGS&D),Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
  4. GeM is a completely paperless, cashless and system driven e-marketplace that enables procurement of commonly used goods and services with minimal human interface.

Cabinet approves creation of sixth deputy CAG post

  1. The Union Cabinet has approved the creation of an additional post of Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General(Coordination, Communication and Information System) in the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.
  2. The Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General shall oversee the (a)coordination among state audits (b)audit of telecommunication and (c)coordinate the various information systems initiatives within the Indian Audit and Accounts Department.
  3. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India is an authority established by Article 148 of the Constitution of India. The CAG is appointed by the President of India following a recommendation by the Prime Minister.
  4. CAG audits all receipts and expenditure of the Government of India and the state governments, including those of bodies and authorities substantially financed by the government. CAG is also the head of the Indian Audit and Accounts Department,the affairs of which are managed by officers of Indian Audit and Accounts Service.
  5. The CAG is also the external auditor of Government-owned corporations and conducts supplementary audit of government companies in which Union Government has an equity share of at least 51% or subsidiary companies of existing government companies.
  6. The reports of the CAG are taken into consideration by the Public Accounts Committees (PACs) and Committees on Public Undertakings (COPUs).

Plea in SC to ensure safety of EVMs

  1. A plea in the Supreme Court has sought directions to the Election Commission to ensure safety and security of EVMs after 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
  2. The petitioners have raised concern that a long gap between the polling and counting dates of the polls, make the EVMs susceptible to tampering during post-poll seclusion.
  3. EVM or Electronic Voting Machines are used to cast vote without revealing voter’s identity. It is attached by a cable to an electronic ballot box. It comprises of two units – control unit and balloting unit. The control unit is with the Election Commission selected polling officer while the Balloting Unit is in the voting section into which the voter enters to cast their vote.
  4. There are only two Indian PSUs that manufacture EVM Machines-Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of Indian Limited (ECIL).

No sign of arson in cathedral blaze

  1. French prosecutors have said there was no arson involved in the fire that had engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The catastrophic fire was a result of an accident.
  2. The cathedral, whose name means Our Lady, is the seat of the archbishop of Paris. The cathedral is owned by the state.
  3. The foundation stone of the Notre-Dame was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III during the reign of King Louis VII. The construction of the cathedral was completed in the 13th century. It lies at the eastern end of the Île de la Cité, a small island in the middle of the river Seine River, Paris.
  4. People across the globe have lamented the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral. French President has pledged to rebuild the Notre Dame and has promised that an immediate fundraising campaign would be launched.

BSNL starts work on 5G

  1. The management of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has said that it has started work on 5G roll-out. The BSNL has however, not yet received approval for the 4G spectrum.
  2. BSNL is a state-owned telecommunications company. BSNL was incorporated in 2000. It took over the business of providing of telecom services and network management from the erstwhile Central Government Departments of Telecom Services (DTS) and Telecom Operations (DTO). Of late, BSNL’s financial position has deteriorated and has an estimated debt of about ₹16,000 crores.
  3. 5G (5th Generation) is a version of mobile communications. It succeeds LTE mobile networks- 4G, 3G, and 2G (GSM). In telecommunication, Long-Term Evolution (LTE) is a standard for wireless broadband communication for mobile devices and data terminals.
  4. According to experts, 5G would provide near-instantaneous connectivity —20 times faster than 4G. The other expected benefits of 5G include reduced latency (faster response time), energy saving, cost reduction, higher system capacity, and mass device connectivity.

Lakes filled with liquid methane spotted on Saturn’s moon Titan

  1. Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists have found that there are small liquid lakes in Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan is the solar system’s second largest moon; the first largest moon being Jupiter’s Ganymede. Previously, Cassini data measured Ontario Lacus, the only major lake in Titan’s southern hemisphere.
  2. These lakes are composed of methane and are more than 100 metres deep. Other than lakes, Titan also hosts rivers and seas of hydrocarbons. Titan is the only other planetary body in our solar system other than earth known to have stable liquid on its surface.
  3. Titan’s hydrological cycle works similar to Earth. However, the major difference is that instead of water evaporating, ethane and methane evaporates from the water bodies of Titan.
  4. The Cassini spacecraft has had helped study the geology and hydrology of Titan. From the studies, big seas with low elevation, canyons and islands were found on the eastern side of the Titan. Small but deep lakes have been found on the western side.
  5. The fact that the western lakes are small have put insights on the geology. According to scientists, these have been likely formed when the surrounding bedrock of ice and solid organics chemically dissolved and collapsed.
  6. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The spacecraft arrived in the Saturn system in 2004 and ended its mission in 2017
  7. It was the first to orbit Saturn, first to land in the outer solar system and first to sample an extra-terrestrial ocean.

Even remote peaks are not free of micro plastics: study

  1. Scientists have been discovered micro plastics in a remote area of the Pyrenees mountains, which runs between France and Spain. According to the study published in Nature Geoscience, micro plastics travelled through the atmosphere and were blown into the region by the wind.
  2. Micro plastics are plastics which are less than five mm in diameter in size. Sources of micro plastic include clothing, cosmetics, industrial processes etc. in the recent study, scientists had focussed on micro plastics mostly between 10 and 150 micrometres.
  3. Other recent studies have found micro plastics in farmland soils near Shanghai, China, in the Galápagos Islands, a UNESCO world heritage site, and in rivers in the Czech Republic
  4. Micro plastic pollution has become a major environmental concern. According to a 2017 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, micro plastics are estimated to constitute up to 30% of marine litter polluting the oceans.
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