9 PM Current Affairs Brief – August 13, 2019

FinMin plans 16-point ‘KRA’ to push PSBs

  1. Finance Ministry has planned to closely monitor Public sector banks (PSBs) achievements on 16 key performance indicators (KPIs) at the branch, region, State and national level.
  2. This step was taken in the backdrop of PSBs market share declining while that of private banks is rising. PSBs accounted for 63% of the outstanding credit of scheduled commercial banks against 67% as of June-end 2017.
  3. The fall comes in the backdrop of these banks facing asset quality issues since 2015.Further,Non-Banking Financial Companies(NBFCs) are also borrowing from banks and are able to attract customers in spite of higher interest rates.
  4. The 16 KPIs includes indicators such as Credit for infrastructure, Farm sector, Blue economy, Housing, MSMEs, Stand-Up India scheme, Education, Exports, Green economy, Cleanliness activities, Financial inclusion and women’s empowerment among others.
  5. The banks will then be benchmarked against the 18 PSBs’ average. If found lagging, specific action will be taken after consultation at various levels to improve their performance.

Jharkhand govt. launches direct money transfer scheme for small farmers

  1. Vice President of India has launched the Jharkhand government’s ‘Mukhya Mantri Krishi Ashirwad Yojana’.
  2. The programme aims to transfer money directly into the bank accounts of farmers in the state. 
  3. Under the scheme,Rs 5,000 per acre upto a maximum of five acres would be transferred directly to the bank accounts of small and marginal farmers in two instalments every year. 
  4. This would be in addition to the Rs 6,000 that the Centre gives to farmers in three installments every year under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana.
  5. Further,Jharkhand would become the fourth state to launch such a farmer assistance scheme after Telangana, Karnataka and Odisha.

New rules can deny green cards for immigrants using public benefits

  1. United States President has announced new immigration rules.The rules will apply to immigrants who enter the country legally and then apply for Green Card.
  2. Green Card is an identification card which gives one the status of a permanent resident along with legal rights to work in the USA.
  3. The rules change a 1999 law which defines a criteria the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials have been using to decide which immigrants qualify for green cards.
  4. Currently,the rules require those seeking green cards to prove they will not be a burden to the United States or what’s called a public charge.
  5. The criteria will now be expanded to include restrictions on using public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing. Other factors are also considered for the first time including credit scores,debt and English proficiency among other things.
  6. The rules will be applied from October,2019.They don’t apply to U.S. citizens even if the U.S. citizen is related to an immigrant who is subject to them.
  7. These rules are part of US President efforts to curb both legal and illegal immigration and is derived from the Immigration Act of 1882 that allows the US government to deny a visa to anyone likely to become a public charge.

Mapping world’s soil worms

  1. According to the global analysis of nematodes published in Nature,there are about 57 billion nematodes for every human being on Earth.
  2. The researchers have said that Sub-Arctic regions have the highest abundance of nematodes followed by temperate regions and tropical regions.
  3. Nematodes prefers colder region as soil organic matter content is the key driver for nematode abundance.
  4. Further,the low temperature and high moisture in the sub-Arctic regions reduces the decomposition rate of organic matter.This leads to accumulation of organic matter and the nematodes happily thrive on them. 
  5. Nematodes are worm shaped nearly microscopic animals,many of which are virtually invisible to the unaided eye when they are in the soil or within plant material.
  6. These are roundworms and their size can vary from a tiny 0.2 millimetre to a few metres.They are responsible for around 2.2% of the total carbon emission from soils.
  7. The nematodes play a crucial role in the environment as they are responsible for production of ammonia of the soil and also a bioindicator of soil ecosystem’s health.

World Elephant Day

  1. World Elephant Day is observed every year on August 12.The goal of Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants.
  2. This day also aims to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants.
  3. The African elephants are listed as Vulnerable and Asian elephants as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
  4. The various threats faced by elephants are (a)Poaching (b) Human elephant conflict (c)Mistreatment in captivity and (d)Habitat loss
  5. The solutions for the threats are (b) work towards better protection for wild animals (b)improve enforcement policies to prevent illegal poaching (c)Conserve the habitats of elephants and (d)provide better treatment for captive elephants.

Telling Numbers: Northeast crowds list of states with most dense tree, forest cover

  1. According to the data by the Ministry of Environment,Forest and Climate Change,a quarter of India’s geographical area which is 24.49% is under forest and tree cover.
  2. The lowest forest and tree cover in the country is in Haryana at 6.79 % of its geographical area.Punjab follows with 6.87 %.Further,Rajasthan’s forest and tree cover is over 7.26 % of its geographical area.
  3. The highest forest and tree cover in terms of % is at Lakshadweep at 97 %.Among the six states with the highest forest and tree cover,four are in the Northeast which are Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Meghalaya.
  4. The highest forest and tree cover in terms of geographical area is in Madhya Pradesh with 85,487 sq km.Further,Goa and Kerala are two other states with more than 50 % of their geographical area under forest and tree cover.

Taliban says latest talks end on U.S.’s Afghanistan withdrawal

  1. The talks between the Taliban and the United States has ended without any peace deal for Afghanistan.Both sides have said that they would talk to their leaders about the next move.
  2. The two sides have been discussing an agreement under which US forces would withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban would guarantee that the country would not be used to launch terrorist attacks.
  3. Further,the US is also pushing for a Taliban agreement on two other, more far-reaching elements namely (a)power-sharing talks with Afghanistan’s US-backed government and (b)ceasefire agreement.
  4. However,the Taliban has refused to engage with Afghan government as it considers the Afghan government illegitimate.
  5. The Taliban now control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since 2001 when the U.S.-led invasion had toppled their government after it gave protection to al-Qaeda.
  6. The U.S and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014 but the US and allied troops continue to train and build the Afghan military. However,US President has often expressed his wish to end the war in Afghanistan and bring back US troops.

Why lower fiscal deficit isn’t always good news

  1. According to the data,there is growing concern about the slowdown in India’s economic growth.Recently,RBI had also cut repo rates by 35 basis points, which was the sharpest cut in nine years.
  2. In macroeconomy,there are two components.One is the structural or the permanent component which is largely determined in the long term by factors such as institutions, productivity,human capital among others.
  3. The second is a cyclical or temporary component which refers to short-term fluctuations.
  4. In India,both the components seem to be in a slowdown phase and the projection is that it will slow down further.If the slowdown was there,the government should have gone for a countercyclical measure at least to address the short-term fluctuation.
  5. Further,there are two major policy instruments which is the fiscal policy and the other is monetary (interest rate) policy. 
  6. In a cyclical downturn,it is the fiscal policy that should have been ahead, followed by the monetary policy.But the government did the opposite to such an extent that monetary policy appears to be fighting a lonely battle.
  7. However,the government can take several steps to address the economic slowdown,Firstly,it should increase household savings.Given the declining deposit rates,the banking system is actually recovering its losses at the cost of household savings.
  8. Secondly,the government needs to correct a structural policy misstep introduced by the Finance Bill of 2018.The Bill did away with targeting revenue deficit and compromised on the public capital expenditure.
  9. Lastly,the government needs to quickly recapitalise public sector banks (PSBs).There could be resistance for this but unlike private banks,public sector banks have large social obligations.

Sanctions for prosecution of over 80 officials awaited

  1. The Central Vigilance Commission(CVC) is awaiting sanction from different wings of the government organisations to prosecute 83 government employees.
  2. The CVC was set up by the Government in 1964 on the recommendation of the Santhanam Committee.In 2003,the Parliament enacted CVC Act conferring statutory status on the CVC.
  3. The CVC is not controlled by any Ministry or Department.It is an independent body which is only responsible to the Parliament.CVC receives complaints on corruption or misuse of office and recommend appropriate action.
  4. However,CVC is not an investigating agency.The CVC either gets the investigation done by the CBI or through chief vigilance officer(CVO) in government offices.
  5. CVC is also empowered to inquire into offences alleged to have been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act,1988 by certain categories of public servants.
  6. Its annual report gives the details of the work done by the commission and points to systemic failures which lead to corruption in government departments.

Govt looks to reverse economic slowdown with a stimulus package

  1. The government is planning a set of measures to reverse an economic slowdown that is going through losses, layoffs and an investment freeze.
  2. The measures include (a)steps to boost infrastructure investments (b)goods and services tax(GST) relief to specific sectors (c)ways to further cut red tape on cross-border trade and (d)steps to improve ease of doing business.
  3. The government is also working on a new World Trade Organization (WTO) compliant duty reimbursement scheme.
  4. Further,fiscal responsibility and budget management(FRBM) Act constrained the government from providing a fiscal push in the Union budget.
  5. But the government is considering the use of escape clause in the FRBM Act for deviation in the fiscal deficit up to 50 basis points.
  6. This may give the government leeway to spend an additional ₹1.15 trillion in the current fiscal.The package will have concrete steps to implement the government’s ambitious plans for ₹100 trillion infrastructure investment over the next five years.
  7. The panel led by N.K. Singh to review the FRBM Act had suggested an escape clause allowing deviations up to 0.5 percentage points of Gross Domestic Product based on triggers including far-reaching structural reforms in the economy with unanticipated fiscal implications,acts of war and farm distress.

Decision on Kashmir doesn’t affect LAC, Delhi tells Beijing

  1. India’s external affairs minister is on a visit to China.During the visit,India and China has agreed on a host of initiatives to improve their relations.
  2. Ahead of the visit,China had objected to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019.It said that the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh has undermined its sovereignty.
  3. However,India has reassured China that its decision to exercise greater administrative control over Ladakh would have no implications for India’s external boundaries or the Line of Actual Control with China.
  4. India has also said that legislative measures were aimed at better governance and socio-economic development.
  5. During the meeting,China has also raised the rising tensions between India and Pakistan as a result of these changes.But India has reiterated that it was an internal matter that had no bearing on Pakistan.
  6. The two countries also discussed India’s trade deficit with China. Besides,four bilateral pacts were signed on (a)culture (b)traditional medicine (c)sports and (d)museum management.
  7. The foreign minister also co-chaired the second meeting of the High Level Mechanism(HLM) on Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges. The HLM was established during the first informal summit in Wuhan in April 2018.

Army may trim 27,000 from non-core units

  1. Recently,the army has planned to reduce its manpower by about 27,000 soldiers as well as restructure them for better efficiency and effectiveness.
  2. This proposed reduction is part of the larger reforms to transform the Army into a lean, mean, rapidly-deployable and operationally versatile force 
  3. The army has planned to reduce the manpower by around 1.5 lakh personnel over the next six-seven years to save around Rs 6,000-7,000 crore annually in revenue expenditure.
  4. Earlier,the army has initiated four studies to undertake overall transformation of the force.
  5. These include (a)restructuring of Army Headquarters (b)creation of Integrated Battle Groups(IBG) (c)the cadre review of officers and (d)review of the terms and conditions of Junior Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks. 
  6. Further,the Integrated Battle Groups(IBGs) which the Army plans to create as part of overall force transformation is close to implementation.
  7. Integrated Battle Groups(IBGs) are brigade-sized, agile, self-sufficient combat formations which can swiftly launch strikes against adversary in case of hostilities.

Two ways to look at GDP

  1. Researchers and academicians have raised doubts about the new methodology employed by the Central Statistics Office(CSO) to estimate India’s gross domestic product(GDP).
  2. In 2015,CSO had introduced a new series of National Account Statistics. The new series made several changes to estimate India’s gross domestic product(GDP).In particular,it revised the base year from 2004-05 to 2011-12. 
  3. However,the debate intensified when CSO released two back-series data which means recalibrating the GDP data for past years based on the new methodology.But the released data contradicted each other.
  4. The first back-series presented by the National Statistical Commission (NSC) in July 2018 found that the average economic growth between 2005-06 and 2011-12 was 8.6% instead of the 8.3%.
  5. The second back-series calculated by CSO and published in November 2018 found this average to be just 7%.
  6. Further,former chief economic advisor(CEA) had said that India’s GDP growth in the period 2011-12 to 2016-17 is likely to have been overestimated.He said that the growth during that period was actually 4.5% rather than the 7%.
  7. However,several experts have countered former CEA.They have said that India’s nominal GDP growth rate has not changed under the old and new series data.Further,there was no consolidated Consumer Price inflation(CPI) before 2011.
  8. They have also said that GDP methodology is on par with its global standing while highlighting that former CEC had used 17 high-frequency indicators but ignored the representation of the services sector (60% in GDP) and the agriculture sector (18%) in the analysis.

Headgear made mandatory for children above four years

  1. The government has made it mandatory for children above four years to wear protective headgear of prescribed standards while travelling on a motorcycle.
  2. The safety measures for the children travelling on motorcycles have been included in the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019.
  3. The amendment Act has made protective headgear compulsory for every persons above the age of four driving/ riding or being carried in a motorbike. Only Sikhs wearing turban have been exempted.
  4. Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act, 2019 amends the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
  5. It seeks to improve road safety through multifold increase in penalties for traffic violations. It also aims to streamline the licensing and road permit process.

PM-JAY to include cancer treatment soon, say health officials

  1. The National Health Authority is planning to include all types of cancer and its treatments under Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY).
  2. According to the WHO, the rate of mortality due to cancer in India is high. It is the second-most common disease in India and is responsible for maximum mortality (0.3 million deaths per year).
  3. The estimated number of people living with cancer is around 2.25 million. Further, over 11 lakh new cancer patients are registered each year
  4. Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in India, followed by breast cancer and oral cancers.
  5. Ayushman Bharat Yojana- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) is the Central Government’s health insurance scheme. It aims to give medical cover to over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families of approximately 50 crore beneficiaries.
  6. It provides a coverage of up to ₹5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation. The benefit cover includes pre and post hospitalisation expenses.
  7. National Health Authority is the implementing body of PM-JAY health insurance scheme.
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