9 PM Current Affairs Brief – June 24, 2019

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Five countries had zero malaria cases in 2018: WHO

  1. According to WHO’s E-2020 initiative: 2019 progress report, 5 countries viz. China, Iran, Malaysia Timor-Leste and El Salvador reported no indigenous cases of malaria in 2018.
  2. China and El Salvador reported zero cases for the second consecutive year; Iran, Malaysia and Timor-Leste had zero cases of malaria for the first time in 2018.
  3. In 2015, the World Health Assembly approved a Global Technical Strategy for Malaria to eliminate malaria by 2030. The strategy targeted 2020 to eliminate malaria in at least 10 countries.
  4. In 2016, WHO launched E-2020 initiative to scale up efforts eliminate malaria by 2020. The 21 countries were identified by WHO in 2016 as having the potential to become malaria-free by 2020. India is not among the 21 countries under E-2020 initiative.
  5. Recently, the WHO declared Algeria as malaria-free. It became the second E-2020 country to achieve certification, after Paraguay.
  6. Uzbekistan and Argentina though not E-2020 countries, were also awarded the malaria-free certification in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
  7. Countries that have achieved at least 3 consecutive years of 0 local cases of malaria are eligible to apply for the WHO certification of malaria elimination.
  8. Malaria is disease caused by Plasmodium parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
  9. According to the World Malaria Report 2018, more than 200 million people were affected by malaria in 2017. India (4%) along with Nigeria Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Uganda accounted for nearly 50% of all malaria cases worldwide.

Device to trap ocean plastic waste relaunches

  1. A floating device designed to collect plastic waste from the Great Pacific garbage patch has been re-deployed.
  2. The device, developed by the Netherlands-based engineering NGO Ocean Cleanup was first deployed in 2018. However, during the first run, the device broke under constant waves and wind.
  3. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as Pacific trash vortex is a gyre of marine litter. It is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.
  4. It is located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, between Hawaii and California. It covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometres
  5. The Great Pacific garbage patch formed gradually as a result of marine litter gathered by rotating ocean currents called gyres.
  6. The gyre’s rotational pattern draws in waste material from across the North Pacific. As the litter gets captured in the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually move debris toward the centre, thus trapping it.

Plants may be spreading superbugs to humans

  1. According to a new study by University of Southern California (USC), antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be transmitted to humans through consumption of plant foods.
  2. The study has noted that plant foods serve as vehicles for spreading antibiotic resistance to the gut microbiome. In an experiment conducted on mice, researchers observed that superbugs (antibiotic resistant bacteria) hid in the intestines of the mice fed with lettuce contaminated with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, E.coli.
  3. The study has concluded that unlike the outbreaks of diarrhoeal illnesses caused immediately after humans eat contaminated vegetables, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria can hide in human intestines for a long time before they cause an illness.
  4. The study is particularly significant as it highlights the importance of tackling food-borne antibiotic resistance from a complete food chain perspective that includes both plant foods and meat.
  5. Antibiotic resistance is a type of antimicrobial resistance. Anti-microbial resistance is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals and antimalarial) from working against it.

India scraps Israel anti-tank missile deal after DRDO says it will deliver

  1. India has scrapped a deal with Israel for the purchase of Spike anti-tank missiles from defence contractor Rafael Advanced Defence Systems.
  2. The decision to scrap the deal came after Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) claimed that it could deliver an alternative- the Man-Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile (MPATGM) by 2021.
  3. India had signed a deal with Israel to purchase 321 Spike launchers and 8,356 missiles in 2014. It was later scrapped in 2017 in favour of DRDO. However, again in January 2018, it was reauthorized following Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to India. Later, Rafael constructed a missile-manufacturing facility near Hyderabad in joint venture with the Kalyani group.
  4. Spike is a man-portable “fire and forget’ missile that can hit moving targets such as a tank, allowing the soldier who fires the missile to quickly move for cover.
  5. The MPATGM is a third-generation anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). It is fitted with high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead.
  6. It has a strike range of 2.5 km and is capable of being fired from shoulder. It can be used during day and night. It weighs around 14.5 kg to maintain man portability and has a minimum lateral centre and gravity offset.
  7. It also has features like Imaging Infrared Radar (IIR) Seeker with integrated avionics. DRDO had successfully test-fired MPATGM in March 2019.

Saudi launches residency scheme to boost revenue

  1. Saudi Arabia has launched Premium Residency scheme. The scheme is aimed at boosting investment and non-oil revenues by attracting wealthy expats.
  2. The scheme offers a permanent residency for 800,000 riyals and a one-year renewable residency costing 100,000 riyals.
  3. The other rights and privileges offered by the scheme are: a) Residence in Saudi Arabia with one’s family, b) Visit visas for relatives, c) Ownership of real estate for residential, commercial and industrial purposes, in areas other than the cities of Makkah and Madinah and border areas, d) Ownership of private means of transportation and other movables, e) Working at private establishments with the ability to change jobs, f) Engagement in business activities in accordance with the Foreign Investment Law, g) Exiting and entering the country at one’s own accord.
  4. Saudi Arabia is currently home to some 10 million overseas workers. At present, expat workers are typically sponsored by a Saudi employer and are required to get visas to exit and enter the country.

Scientists decode genome of miracle plant

  1. Scientists from the University of Kerala have decoded the genetic make-up of Arogyapacha (Trichopus zeylanicus).
  2. Arogyapacha is a subspecies of Trichopus zeylanicus. It is a small medicinal plant with slender stems and thick leaves. In India, it is found in the Agasthya hills, Western Ghats
  3. The plant has high therapeutical qualities. It is known for its traditional use by the Kani tribal community (a tribe in the Western Ghats area of Kerala) to combat fatigue. It helps body retain vigour and vitality.
  4. Several other studies have shown that the plant has properties such as anti-oxidant, aphrodisiac, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, anti-tumour, anti-ulcer, anti-hyperlipidemic, hepatoprotective and anti-diabetic.
  5.  In Ayurveda, arogyapacha is described as one of the 18 divine herbs.

MEA rejects US report on state of religious freedom in India

  1. Rejecting the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) International Religious Freedom Report, 2019, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said that foreign governments do not have the right to criticise India’s vibrant democracy and dedication to rule of law.
  2. MEA also asserted that the Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities. Fundamental right to freedom of religion is guaranteed under Articles 25, 26, 27 and 28 of Part III of the Indian Constitution.
  3. USCIRF Report had noted that there was overall deterioration of religious freedom conditions in 2018 in India. USCIRF has placed India in the Tier 2 country category.
  4. Tier 2 countries are those in which violations engaged in or tolerated by the government during 2018 are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the Country of Particular Concern (CPC) standard. CPC status are given to countries which engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.
  5. The report had identified several limitations to the right to freedom of religion or belief and challenges faced by religious minorities in India. It has identified a number of extremist groups who are responsible for an organised campaign of alienation against non-Hindus or low-caste Hindus.
  6. Further, it stated that anti-conversion and anti-cow slaughter laws are predominately used to discriminate against religious minorities. It has also raised concerns over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.
  7. The report also pointed out that there were several attempts to undermine minority institutions and change names of cities that reminded of the pluralistic nature of India. The report highlighted the change of the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj as an example.

Startup India fund falls short of allocation target by over Rs 1,000 crore

  1. The Startup India fund has fallen short of its capital allocation target by around Rs 1,000-1,200 crore.
  2. The Startup India fund which was launched in 2016 had a disbursal target of Rs 3,300-3,500 crore to venture capital(VC) firms at the end of the financial year ending March 2019.
  3. However,the Startup India fund has allocated Rs 2,265 crore to VC funds at the end of March 2019.
  4. Startup India is a flagship initiative of the government launched in 2016.It is intended to build a strong eco-system for nurturing innovation and Startups in the country to drive sustainable economic growth and generate large scale employment opportunities.
  5. In the previous government,startups were identified as a critical part of the economy which create new jobs.The government had launched the startup India fund to help startups get funding in early stages.
  6. This fund doesn’t directly invest in startups.Instead,it allocates money to VC funds which are required to invest at least twice the amount of contributions received from the government.
  7. However,early-stage startups in India had criticised the Startup India campaign after entrepreneurs of hundreds of startups complained of harassment by tax authorities who sent them ‘angel tax’ notices.
  8. Angel Tax is a 30% tax that is levied on the funding received by startups from an Angel investor.However, this 30% tax is levied when startups receive angel funding at a valuation higher than its ‘fair market value’. It is counted as income to the company and is taxed.

Vulnerable Ranganathittu bird sanctuary to get a solid makeover

  1. In an effort to better conserve bird species, Ranganathittu bird sanctuary is being revamped and various measures such as soil stabilisation has have been taken.
  2. Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is located in the Mandya District of Karnataka. It comprises of six islets on the banks of Cauvery River.
  3. It was formed in 1648 when the then Mysuru king Kanteerava Narasimharaja constructed an embankment across the Cauvery River. It was designated as a bird sanctuary in 1940 owing to the efforts of famous ornithologist Salim Ali.

India lining up defence deals worth $10 billion with US amid trade row

  1. India is lining up defence deals worth around $10 billion with the US over the next two-three years despite ongoing trade disputes and immigration concern.
  2. The latest deal being finalised by India under the foreign military sales programme of the US is for the acquisition of 10 more Poseidon-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft for over $3 billion.
  3. The Navy has already inducted the (a)first eight Boeing-manufactured P-8Is which are packed with sensors and armed with Harpoon Block-II missiles (b)MK-54 lightweight torpedoes and (c)rockets and depth charges to detect and destroy enemy submarines in January 2009.
  4. The other deals in the pipeline include (a)24 naval multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters (b)the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II for the missile shield over Delhi and (c)six more Apache attack helicopters.
  5. Further,the US administration has expressed its opposition to India’s inking of the S-400 Triumf missile systems deal with Russia which was followed by another deal for lease of a Akula-1 nuclear powered attack submarine in March 2019.
  6. India has also resumed some payments to Russia for defence contracts inked earlier through a new mechanism that uses a mix of foreign currency and a Rupee-Rouble transfer system.
  7. Indian banks with exposure to the US had earlier suspended payments and instalments to Russia to avoid the threat of punitive sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Explained: What purpose would simultaneous polls serve?

  1. Prime Minister has renewed the idea of One Country, One Election.He has announced that a committee will be formed to examine the issue,
  2. One Country,One Election is the method of holding single elections for both Lok Sabha and States instead of separate and continuous elections.
  3. One Country,One election is needed as (a)massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections (b)the policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time (b)Impact on delivery of essential services (c)Burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time (d)Frequent elections affect policy making and governance.
  4. However,holding simultaneous elections will bring with it certain requirements such as (a)Curtailment and extension of terms of the House of the People/State Legislative Assemblies (b)Amendment to the relevant provisions of the Constitution.
  5. There are various other challenges in its implementation such as (a) Operational feasibility (b)Impact to voter behavior (c)Weaken the federal democratic structure (d)Reduced Accountability(e)Premature Dissolution and (f)Lack of Resources.
  6. Further,Simultaneous elections are not new to India.They were the norm until 1967.But following dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and that of the Lok Sabha in December 1970,elections to State Assemblies and Parliament have been held separately.
  7. Law Commission of India had suggested that elections of legislative assemblies whose term ends six months after the general elections to Lok Sabha can be clubbed together.However,the results of such elections can be declared at the end of the assembly’s tenure.
  8. The Standing Committee had also recommended that elections could be held in two phases.It stated that elections to some Legislative assemblies could be held during the midterm of Lok Sabha.Elections to the remaining legislative assemblies could be held with the end of Lok Sabha‟s term.The Bye-elections to all seats that become vacant during a year may be conducted together during a predetermined time period.

Expert panel suggests ways to achieve USD 5-trillion economy target: Niti Aayog

  1. The Prime Minister had an interaction with economists and industry experts on India’s current economic situation.
  2. During the interaction,NITI Aayog has said that the experts panel for macroeconomics and employment has came out with suggestions to achieve $5-trillion economy target.
  3. During the session,the experts shared their views in five distinct groups, which are (a)economic themes of macro economy and employment, (b)agriculture and water resources (c)exports (d)education and (e)health.
  4. The expert panel has suggested (a)Improvement of governance in PSU banks (b)enhancing growth rate of exports & (c)employment generation.
  5. Further opening of banking and insurance sectors for FDI,speeding up disinvestment process and management of water resources were also among the focus areas of PM’s interaction.
  6. This interaction took place in the backdrop of issues such as (a)pressure on the fiscal numbers (b)Consumption is down across the board (c)corporate profits are hit (d)the banking crisis is showing no signs of abating (e)private investment is low and (f)manufacturing which is the only sector capable of generating jobs on a large scale has not picked up
  7. Further,the structural crisis in agriculture persists with low farmer incomes and a mismatch between the (high) share of population engaged in farming and its (shrinking) contribution to the GDP.

Delhi offers blueprint to promote development, inclusivity at WTO

  1. India has offered a blueprint for promoting development and inclusivity at the World Trade Organization(WTO).It has emphasized that resolving the crisis at its highest adjudicating body must be a top priority.
  2. The WTO Appellate Body which is an intergovernmental dispute settlement system for resolving and enforcing global trade rules will become dysfunctional from 11 December,2019 as US has repeatedly blocked filling its vacancies.
  3. The US and other industrialized countries has mentioned non-mandated issues such as the (a) controversial plurilateral initiatives for pursuing digital trade agenda (b)domestic regulation for trade in services and (c)disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises as part of the agenda at the WTO.
  4. However,India has said that developing countries must ensure that their development concerns in particular the outstanding development issues such as (a)consensus-based rule-making (b)non-discrimination and (c)special and differential treatment(S&DT) should be addressed.
  5. The WTO Agreements contain special provisions which give developing countries special rights.These are called special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions.These special provisions includes longer time periods for implementing Agreements and commitments or measures to increase trading opportunities for developing countries.
  6. The US has argued that the better-off developing countries may be eating up the gains that should accrue to the poorer nations in the category.However, India and others have maintained that there was a need to ensure that S&D treatment remains as they are still home to a large number of poor and vulnerable sections.

Many nations offer India GSP benefits, but US move will affect competitiveness

  1. United States has withdrawn Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Scheme to India provoking India to impose retaliatory tariffs on many imports of US goods.
  2. However,India still continues to enjoy tariff preference from many countries including Australia,Russia and Japan as well as the European Union (EU) among others.
  3. Further,within the group of countries that provided GSP benefit to India, exports to EU nations were highest followed by the US,Japan, Russia and Australia,respectively.
  4. GSP is a preferential tariff system extended by developed countries to developing countries.It is a preferential arrangement in the sense that it allows concessional low/zero tariff imports from developing countries.
  5. Some developed countries including European Union provide unilateral tariff preferences on exports from developing countries/least developing country under their Generalized System of Preferences Scheme.
  6. As per WTO,India is a beneficiary of GSP provided by Armenia, Australia, European Union,Japan,Kazakhstan,New Zealand,Norway, Russian Federation, Switzerland and Turkey.
  7. However,US withdrawal of GSP could affect India’s competitiveness in exports of 1,900 items including organic chemical raw materials,iron, steel,furniture,aluminium and electrical machinery as duties will now be levied on these products.

MUDRA bad loans rise in FY19, even as NPAs decline across banking system

  1. The government’s MUDRA scheme to finance small and micro borrowers has witnessed an increase in bad loans at a time when the system-wide non-performing assets(NPAs) have started showing signs of a decline.
  2. NPA is a loan or advance for which the principal or interest payment remained overdue for a period of 90 days.
  3. The NPAs under MUDRA or Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Ltd has increased by 68.7% to Rs 16,480 crore for the financial year ended March 2019 from Rs 9,769 crore a year-ago.
  4. However,NPA’s under the MUDRA scheme are much lower than the total system-wide NPAs.The banking sector’s gross NPAs declined to 9.3% in March 2019 which is much faster than the Reserve Bank of India’s estimate.
  5. Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana (PMMY) was launched in 2015.It seeks to extend affordable credit to micro and small enterprises.Loans up to Rs.10 lakh are extended to non-corporate, non-farm enterprises.These loans are classified as MUDRA loans.
  6. Loans under Mudra are given under different categories viz. ‘Shishu’, ‘Kishor’ and ‘Tarun’.These categories are based on the stage of growth or development and funding needs of the beneficiary.
  7. Sishu covers loans up to Rs. 50,000.Kishore covers loans above Rs. 50,000- and up to 5 lakh.Tarun covers loans above Rs. 5 lakh and up to Rs.10 lakh.

RBI to DRI: We can’t ask banks to share customer information

  1. The Reserve Bank of India(RBI) has said that it has no power to ask banks to share information on customers with third parties including investigative agencies of the government even if it is in the interests of the bank.
  2. The RBI’s response came on a request by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence(DRI) which sought RBI’s assistance in obtaining information from two state-owned banks on the alleged overvaluation of coal imports from Indonesia by Indian companies.
  3. The DRI has alleged that money was being siphoned outside the country and the electricity-generating firms were availing of higher tariff compensation based on artificially inflated cost of the imported coal.
  4. The RBI said the decision to share information lies with the banks which would be responsible for their actions in case of any dispute.
  5. While two private banks have shared all information with DRI on the case citing national interest but the government-owned banks have declined to do so citing a confidentiality clause.
  6. The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence is the apex intelligence and investigative agency for matters relating to violation of the Customs Act.
  7. DRI functions under the aegis of Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) in the Department of Revenue of Union Ministry of Finance.

India rejects Pakistan’s charge of politicising FATF

  1. India has rejected Pakistan’s allegation that it had tried to politicise deliberations at the Financial Action Task Force(FATF) which concluded its plenary with more criticism against Pakistan.
  2. Recently,FATF had warned Pakistan that the country could be blacklisted unless it fulfils an action plan against UN-designated terrorists operating in Pakistan by October,2019.
  3. A blacklist entry for Pakistan will mean it could lose potential loans and foreign investment,be shunned by the IMF,the World Bank,the ADB and the EU and also suffer a downgrade by credit rating agencies such as Moody’s,S&P and Fitch.
  4. India has called Pakistan’s statement on politicisation as a way to deflect attention and evade scrutiny of Pakistan’s poor compliance against Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terror(AML/CFT).
  5. In June 2018,the FATF had put Pakistan on the greylist and hand it a 27-point action plan meant to be implemented within 18 months (by September 2019).If it fails to fulfil its FATF commitments,it could face the next steps or being moved to the blacklist.
  6. India said that Pakistan instead of moving seriously on the action plan such as shutting down support for groups such as the Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad,Pakistan’s leadership has been trying to influence FATF member countries for support.
  7. Further,India has been publicly pushing for Pakistan to be placed on the blacklist alongside Iran and North Korea for its failure to show credible, verifiable,irreversible and sustainable measures against terror groups operating within its territory.

CJI writes to PM for removal of Allahabad High Court judge

  1. Chief Justice of India has written to Prime Minister seeking initiation of impeachment proceedings against Allahabad High Court judge Justice Narayan Shukla.
  2. The charges of judicial impropriety were slapped against the judge after it was found that he had made handwritten corrections to an order passed by his own bench so as to allow a medical college in Lucknow permission to take admissions.
  3. In January 2018,a three-judge in-house committee had concluded there was sufficient substance in the allegations against the judge and that it was serious enough to call for initiation of proceedings for his removal.
  4. When the CJI writes to the President and the prime minister for removal of a high court judge,the Rajya Sabha chairperson has to appoint a three-judge inquiry committee in consultation with the CJI under the provisions of the Judges (Enquiry) Act,1968 to look into the allegations.
  5. The committee appointed by the Rajya Sabha chairperson would examine the evidence and records and opine if the same formed the basis for whether or not removal motion be debated in the Upper House.
  6. A judge of a High Court (and Supreme Court) can only be removed by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by (a)the majority of the total membership of that House and (b)supported by a majority of not less than two thirds of the members of the House present and voting.Such removal can be only on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.
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