(Current Affairs For SSC Exams) National Events | February 2015

February-2015

NATIONAL

NFIR opposes FDI in Railways

  •  The National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) has vehemently opposed the Centre’s proposal for FDI in Railways and threatened to go on indefinite strike in June this year.
  •  According to NFIR General Secretary M. Raghaviah, there is no need for FDI in Railways. “Government’s move to slowly hand over the Railways to foreign hands is like the entry of East India Company, which ruled the country later,” he said.
  •  NFIR has offered the Railway Ministry to take loan from the Provident Fund of the Railway employees and repay them in due course for funding certain viable projects.
  •  “NFIR is strongly against FDI in Railways and will oppose it tooth and nail,” Mr. Raghaviah told reporters on the sidelines of Zonal Conference of its affiliated unit Central Railway Mazdoor Sangh (CRMS).
  •  He said if the government wants to raise money for certain new projects, it would be appropriate on their part to decide the priority and viability of the project and utilise the PF to certain extent.
  •  Mr. Raghaviah further said that a small amount can be taken from their salaries as loan for similar purpose. NFIR had discussed the issue of their opposition of FDI with Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and had apprised him of the lurking danger in FDI, he said.
  •  NFIR, which represents a majority union, has accused the government of ignoring safety aspects in the Railways, and not filling vacant posts in the operating and allied departments.
  •  Listing measures to augment revenue of the Railways, Mr. Raghaviah said passenger fare should be hiked and more facilities should be provided to them.
  •  People are willing to pay extra provided you extend good facilities including catering, he said. Railways should discontinue paying Rs. 9,000 crore dividend to the Government, he said and questioned the facility of senior citizen concession.

World Ramayana  Conference in Bengaluru

  •  The Ramayana Research Foundation in Bengaluru has organised a three-day World Ramayana conference from January 23 to 25 at the National College Grounds.
  •  Fifty scholars from across India will present papers on varied subjects. Sanskrit scholar Satya Vrat Shastri, politician Subramanian Swamy, scholar Bannanje Govindacharya and Mani Dravid will participate in a national debate on January 24.
  •  ‘Valmiki Sanman’ will be conferred on Sanskrit scholars Satya Vrat Shastri and K.S. Narayanacharya on January 25. Shobana will present dance ballets on January 23, and Nirupama Rajendra will do so on January 25.

U.S Secretary calls for greater Indo-US economic ties

  •  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed for expansion of India-US commercial ties and praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to the area of wind energy.
  •  “The world’s oldest democracy and the largest democracy can help to forge an era of shared prosperity and security. Trade between India and the U.S. has increased five-fold since 2001.
  •  We can do more together. I want our economic relationship to grow stronger in every aspect. We must do more together and we must do it faster. We share PM Modi’s goal of increasing our country’s annual trade fivefold.
  •  We want to expand our commercial ties with India and our bilateral trade to increase five-fold,” Mr. Kerry said in his address at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2015. He expressed awe at the “entrepreneurial passion” he saw in the entrepreneurs of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore on his several visits to India.
  •  “Our founding documents begin with the exact same words ‘We the people’ and our innovators and entrepreneurs are constantly pushing the curve of discovery,” he said.
  •  In the wake of the huge numbers of people in extreme poverty, Mr. Kerry pointed to “endless possibilities” in terms of setting up schools, hospitals, roads, energy grid and developing tourism.
  •  However, the threat of climate change was “an enormous cloud” hanging over the world. “Global climate change is violently affecting communities and disrupting commerce, development and economic growth around the world.
  •  It is costing farmers crops. It is costing insurance companies unbelievable payouts. If we continue down the current trendline, we will see climate refugees fighting for food and water.”
  •  In the light of this situation, Mr. Kerry expressed hope that the Indo-US could ensure sustainable development and opportunities for economic growth and prosperity.

India can lead smart growth says Ban Ki Moon

  •  Raising concerns over the impact of climate change, world leaders laid thrust on renewable energy and sustainable development at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged investors to “shape and agree on the post-2015 development agenda with a set of sustainable development goals.”
  •  He set 2030 as the target to provide universal access to energy to all seven billion people in the world, double energy efficiency and double the use of renewable energy.
  •  Praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s smart city initiative for encouraging the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency, Mr. Ban urged the Indian business community “to lead the transformation we need to achieve sustainable development and inclusive growth.”
  •  “India is in a unique position to lead the move towards sustainability,” the U.N. Secretary-General said. The Summit saw participation by 8,500 delegates, including 2500 foreign delegates from around 120 countries and about 30 world leaders from the field of politics and business.
  •  Large conglomerates from India and abroad announced huge investment and job creation plans. While Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani said his group would invest Rs. 1 lakh crore in 12-18 months across businesses, Kumar Mangalam Birla of Aditya Birla Group announced investment plans for Rs. 20,000 crore in the State.
  •  Prime Minister Narendra Modi cited the Centre’s recent decisions to invite foreign investment in Railways, Defence and Insurance. Projecting India as a 3D investment destination, Mr. Modi said the country had “democracy, demography and demand.”
    FM expects

GST to take effect in 2016

  •  Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said he expected the government to implement the common Goods and Services Tax (GST) across the country in the course of next year.
  •  Mr. Jaitley presented the GST Bill in parliament last year. It needs the support of two-thirds of its members as well as ratification by State legislatures.
  •  The Bill, which was returned, authorises payment and appropriation of certain additional sums from and out of the Consolidated Fund of India for 2014-15. It was passed by Lok Sabha on December 10.
  •  Describing the GST reform as a “win-win situation” for both the Centre and the States, the Finance Minister had said the Bill would not have “fear of the unknown” unlike Value Added Tax (VAT).
  •  Investors and manufacturers have long coveted the GST as a game-changer that would simplify taxes while broadening the tax base, adding as much as 2 percentage points to the size of Asia’s third-largest economy.

SC asks government for update on ‘Ganga clean-up projects’

  •  The Supreme Court asked the NDA government if there was any chance of cleaning up the Ganga river during its current term in power. Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar submitted that a consortium of IITs was preparing a road map for cleaning the river.
  •  He said the government was proposing a total of 80 sewage treatment plants (STPs) which would process, in a day, 368 million litres of water flowing into the river in the five river basin States.
  •  The court directed the government to present the status of 31 ongoing projects of STPs and 15 others which were in the bidding stage.
  •  The hearing primarily focused on the domestic sewage flowing into the river. In October 2014, the Bench had referred to the National Green Tribunal the responsibility of monitoring and inspecting industrial units along the river and even cut off their water and power connections if they were found to be polluting.
  •  The Supreme Court has been hearing this petition since the early 1980s. Numerous orders have been passed by it, directing the authorities to protect the river. The petition was filed by lawyer M.C. Mehta highlighting the alarming state of the river and its depletion owing to pollution.

Union Cabinet clears FM radio channels auctions

  •  The Union Cabinet cleared the third phase of auction of FM radio channels, expected to fetch Rs. 550 crore to the government.
  •  A Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the auction, while also clearing migration [renewal] of 135 private FM radio licences from the second to the third phase in 69 cities. Several more private channels will hence start operations in those cities.
  •  By the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, migration requires payment of a fee. As many as 243 private FM channels operate in 86 cities in 26 States and three Union Territories.
  •  “The auction process will add an estimated revenue of over Rs. 550 crore to the national exchequer on successful auctions of all proposed channels.
  •  Besides, it will beget the amount realised through the migration process which is dependent on the TRAI-recommended formula, where migration fee is linked to the discovery of market prices through the FM Radio Phase III auction,” the Cabinet statement said.
    IITs, IIMs to
    roll out free online courses
    • Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani announced the launch of free online courses by premier institutes such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes Management (IIMs) from the current year.
    • Ms. Irani said that as part of the digital initiatives and education reforms launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, consultations on the New Education Policy would begin on January 26.
    • A nominal fee would be charged for certification of various online courses. It would be free for people with special abilities and those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Literature Festival to showcase Rajasthan’s heritage

• The rich heritage of Rajasthan is set to come alive as the annual ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival showcases the vibrant culture of the State to the over 2 lakh visitors expected for the event.
• Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje will inaugurate the event. Rajasthani musicians Nathoo Solanki, Chugge Khan and the Jaisalmer Boys will open the world’s largest free literary festival with the sounds of their traditional music which has become synonymous with the first day of the festival.
• Also on the opening day, musicologist John Napier and Shanti Raman will speak of the tradition and challenges in archiving the oral history of the Nath Jogis. They will be joined by jogi performer Kishori Nath who will recite and perform from an ancient bardic repertoire.

Pahlaj Nihalani is  Censor board chief

  •  The government put in place an entirely new censor board with producer Pahlaj Nihalani as its chairperson. Mr. Nihalani, known for the 1990s blockbusters Shola aur Shabnam and Aankhen , produced “Har Ghar Modi-The Power House of India,” a fan-song for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, last year.
  •  The new board also features Dr. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, best known for his epic TV serial Chanakya and the critically acclaimed, national award winning Partition film Pinjar , based on Amrita Pritam’s novel of the same name.
  •  Other board members include Gujarat Central University Vice-Chancellor Syed Abdul Bari, besides film and theatre personalities who are either BJP members or have had close association with the party.
  •  BJP national secretary Vani Tripathy Tikoo, who has acted in films like Chalte Chalte and Dushman , and Bengali actor George Baker, who joined the BJP last year, were appointed members of the board.
  •  Mr. Baker contested from the Howrah parliamentary constituency in last year’s general elections but lost to Prasun Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress.
  •  Ashoke Pandit, Kashmiri activist and filmmaker, known for films like And the World Remained Silent and Sheen also found a place on the revamped censor board. Another new appointee, Ramesh Patange, is a Dalit RSS activist and author of Me, Manu anee Sangh (I, Manu, and Sangh).
  •  Tamil actor and former AIADMK MLA S.Ve. Shekher and Telugu actor Jeevitha were also appointed members of the board for three years.
  •  Ms Jeevitha is fighting a cheque bounce case in which she was sentenced to two years in prison and fined Rs. 25 lakh, which she paid.

Haryana’s decision to reduce retirement age to 58 upheld

  •  The retirement age of Haryana government employees now stands reduced to 58 years from 60 years as the Punjab and Haryana High Court has upheld the decision of the Manohar Lal Khattar government to the effect.
  •  The decision is likely to impact nearly 5,000 of the 3 lakh employees on an immediate basis.
  •  Government sources had earlier claimed that while the reduction in retirement age would result in an additional burden of Rs. 200 crore on the exchequer on immediate basis it would prove beneficial in the long run as it would lead to more job opportunities at the entry level.
  •  It was on November 25 that Mr. Khattar had announced the reduction in retirement age of employees.
    1-crore award for villages attaining balanced sex ratio
  •  Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi announced a Rs. 1-crore award for any innovative village attaining a balanced sex ratio.
  •  At the inaugural session of a national thematic workshop on woman and child development in Panipat, Ms. Gandhi urged the State governments and the district commissioners and other officials to work together for the success of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save daughter, educate daughter) programme to be launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi .
  •  Ms. Gandhi said the Prime Minister chose Haryana to launch the campaign as it was one of the States with a low female sex ratio. One hundred districts with a low female sex ratio were selected nationwide for the campaign, and 12 of them, including Panipat, were in Haryana.

Periyar Tiger Reserve wins NTCA award

  •  The Periyar Tiger Reserve, spread over 925 sq.km. in Kerala, bagged the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) biennial award for encouraging local public participation in managing the reserve.
  •  There are 75 communities living around the reserve, including tribal people who are dependent on eco-development programmes.
  •  The community-based eco-tourism activities helped visitors and there were night scouting programmes with the help of expert trackers as well. Tourism was supplemented by pepper growing and marketing which was a value addition. Now, self-help groups were involved in honey processing and other income-generating activities.

New Chief  Justice for J&K High Court

  •  Justice N. Paul Vasanthakumar, judge of the Madras High Court, has been elevated as the Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
  •  Justice Vasanthakumar, who is from Marthandam in Kanyakumari district on Tamil Nadu, had been a lawyer for 25 years. He was made an Additional Judge of the Madras High Court on December 10, 2005, and appointed permanent judge on April 20, 2007.
  •  He disposed of 92,000 petitions as a judge of the Madras High Court and delivered several landmark judgments.

Jhumpa Lahiri wins DSC Prize for 2015

  •  Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri won the $50,000 DSC Prize for Literature, one of South Asia’s top literary awards for her book, The Lowland .
  •  The Prize celebrates writing on the South Asian region from writers across the globe and is given to the best novel or translations into English of a work on or about the region.
  •  “This is an enormous honour for The Lowland and for me personally. I wish I was there in person to receive the award,” Ms. Lahiri said through a phone conversation from Rome. Publisher Caroline Newbury accepted the award on her behalf.

Irom Sharmila arrested again

  •  A day after being released from jail, rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila was arrested once again under the same charge of attempt to commit suicide by continuing her indefinite fast.
  •  Imphal West Superintendent of Police Jhaljit told PTI that Ms. Sharmila was arrested under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. She has been arrested for the same crime, but it is a different case .
  •  Imphal East district chief judicial magistrate rejected charges of attempt to suicide against the 42-year-old, who is on an indefinite fast for 14 years demanding the repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).She is in a government hospital under police custody, where she is force-fed through the nose.

A Simple Device to curb female foeticide

  •  A simple set top box is helping to prevent sex determination and female foeticide.
  •  Taking its cue from Jhajjar, which had the worst sex ratio among the districts of Haryana before staging a remarkable recovery in the past three years, the Jind administration has made it mandatory for all ultrasound labs to install active tracking devices with their machines so as to make available the details of the tests online to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO).
  •  Though Jind is not among the 12 districts identified for concerted action under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi , the district administration has introduced the scheme to track ultrasound machines to curb their misuse for sex determination tests and to improve the sex ratio.
  •  Deputy Commissioner Ajit Balaji Joshi, who had been instrumental in the introduction of the scheme in Jhajjar in 2011, said all the recordings of the ultrasound tests would be sent online to the CMO. This would help the administration monitor how the equipment was being used and what tests were being done.
  •  Mr. Joshi said the plan would cover all the ultrasound machines in Jind. “A set top box is put along with every ultrasound machine, and the power supply to the ultrasound machine is routed through it. So, both would have to be switched on together. The set top box contains a GPRS-based SIM card which sends a message to the CMO and the Deputy Commissioner the moment it is switched on. It records the entire functioning of the ultrasound machine and sends a video in encrypted form to the CMO every day.”

Crocodile project at Sunderbans gets a boost with expert assistance

  •  A crocodile project in Sunderbans, aimed at increasing the number of salt water crocodiles in the delta, has got a fresh start with the help of renowned experts in herpetology who introduced global best practices in crocodile conservation.
  •  The Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project started in the mid 1970’s, was aimed at increasing the number of salt-water crocodiles, a Schedule-I species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  •  A few years later, the eggs to hatchling ratio declined, and of the 100 eggs collected on an average — less than 40 would hatch, posing questions over the fate of the project.

R K Laxman Passes Away

  •  The messy business of the democracy that was India was unforgettably captured in the iconic creation, labelled simply The Common Man , of R.K. Laxman, died .
  •  Mr. Laxman, who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan and the Magsaysay Award, was a complex man, who defined his métier with an ingenious lightness of touch as evinced in his autobiography, Tunnel of Time.
  •  His astonishing career was a paradox in the Chestertonian sense — often interviewed in public, he fiercely guarded his private life. “There was an unmatched brilliance and warmth in his wit. He was inimitable. He could be many things to many people at the same time,” reminisced friend and fellow cartoonist Mangesh Tendulkar.
  •  Balding, clad in a tattered jacket and donning an eternally bemused expression through his spectacles, the Common Man was the first sight of millions of newspaper readers in Mr. Laxman’s pocket cartoon, You Said it, since 1951 in The Times of India.
  •  Be it Gattu, the tousled boy mascot of Asian Paints, or the masterly Malgudi illustrations,Mr. Laxman’s dab hand portrayed the tokenism of politicos and the existential angst of the Indian commoner with a devastating effectiveness.

Chandigarh launches Smart City app

  •  In the first major step towards making Chandigarh a “Smart City,” the city administration launched its “official mobile app” to create awareness of consumer rights and responsibilities and provide all types of citizen-centric and public utility services and information to the residents.
  •  Launching the scheme, Vijay Dev, Adviser to the Administrator of Chandigarh, said various departments would be directed to route all information and updates through the app and appoint a link officer for the work.
  •  The app would become an important platform for redressing grievances.
  •  Speaking at the launch of an app of the Food and Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, Mr. Dev described it as a single “e-window” to all information related to the department and various citizen-centric services.
  •  The app is now available free at Google Play store for Android phone users. Its iOS and Windows Phone versions would be released soon.
  •  Important addresses, contacts, helpline numbers and e-mail ids of the consumer forum and various departments of the Chandigarh Administration are available on the app.

Two Harappan  sites being excavated

  •  Excavations have begun at the two Harappan sites of Binjor in Rajasthan, close to the India-Pakistan border, and Rakhigarhi in Haryana.
  •  While the Archaeological Survey of India’s Excavation Branch at Purana Quila, New Delhi, is excavating Binjor, the Deccan College Post-Graduate & Research Institute, Pune, and the Haryana Department of Archaeology is excavating the Rakhigarhi site, 25 km from Jind. About 350 km separate Binjor from Rakhigarhi. As the crow flies, Binjor is situated seven km from the border, in Anupgarh tehsil of Sri Ganganganar district.
  •  There are about 2,000 Harappan sites in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with 500 in India and 1,500 in Pakistan.
  •  At its glory, the Harappan civilisation flourished over two million square km, from Sutkajendor on the Makran coast of Balochistan to Alamgirpur in Uttar Pradesh, and from Manda in Jammu to Daimabad in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.
  •  Sanjay Manjul, Director, Institute of Archaeology, New Delhi, who is director of the excavation at Binjor, said the excavation was being jointly done by the ASI’s Excavation Branch at Purana Quila and the Institute of Archaeology.
  •  Vasant Shinde, Vice-Chancellor, Deccan College, is the director of the excavation at Rakhigarhi. Professor Shinde said that with the discovery of two more mounds last year at Rakhigarhi, the site had staked claim to be the largest Harappan site. One of the two newly discovered mounds would be dug this season.
    Murthy and kin donate £200,000 for Gandhi statue
  •  The plans for erecting a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square have received a boost with a donation of £200,000 from N.R. Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys, and his family.
  •  The donation goes a long way in meeting the target of £750,000 set by the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust, a charity that was set up by the economist Lord Meghnad Desai for the purpose of commissioning and installing the statue.
  •  Earlier this month, the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust announced it had raised over £500,000 in donations and pledges.
  •  Mr. Murthy’s donation will close the target gap. The installation and unveiling of the statue is likely to take place soon.

Right to shelter

  •  The Congress will push for the right to shelter for the poor, on the lines of the right to information and employment legislation.

Jaishankar’s appointment comes in a twist

  •  With the Centre appointing S. Jaishankar the new Foreign Secretary, it is unclear if the sudden move will upset other officers in the External Affairs Ministry the way the surprise appointment of Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon did in 2006, with several officers resigning in protest.
  •  Dr. Jaishankar’s replacement of Sujatha Singh is an interesting twist, given they were both in the running for the Foreign Secretary’s post when Ms. Singh won the post in 2013. Officials in the then Prime Minister’s Office said that while Mr. Jaishankar was the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s choice, he was overruled at the time, primarily because of Ms. Singh’s seniority.

Remove ads on pre-natal sex selection: SC

  •  In an interim order, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant ordered the three search engines – Google, Yahoo and Microsoft — to “forthwith” withdraw online advertisements, currently being hosted or published, on pre-natal sex determination facilities, clinics or centres in violation of Section 22 of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) or PC-PNDT Act, 1994.
  •  Referring to an affidavit filed by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar said the government would be able to “stop the presentation of any kind of thing that relates to sex selection and eventual abortion” if the search engines part with the URLs of such content. Alternatively, he said the search engines can also “effectively or regularly” block key words and advertisement links as they have the “relevant technology and deep-domain knowledge”
  •  The hearing is based on a PIL filed by Dr. Sabu Mathew George in 2008 highlighting the use of Internet and popular search engines to promote sex determination technologies in violation of the 1994 Act.

Shekhar Sen is Sangeet Natak Akademi chairman

  •  Eminent singer and theatre director Shekhar Sen has been appointed the new chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the country’s premier institution for performing arts.
  •  Mr. Sen was awarded the Padma Shri on Republic Day.
  •  According to an order issued by the Culture Ministry , Mr. Sen has been appointed for a five-year term with immediate effect.
  •  The Akademi has been without a head after earlier chairperson Leela Samson, who was appointed by the UPA government, quit on September 30 last year.
    Gorkhaland movement leader Subhash Ghisingh dead
  •  Subhash Ghisingh, the founder-leader of the movement for a separate homeland for the Gorkhas in northern Bengal, passed away at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi. He was 80 and is survived by two sons and a daughter.
  •  Mr. Ghisingh was born in a tea estate in Darjeeling and later joined the Army’s Gorkha Rifles. “When he first started talking about a separate State, no one in the Darjeeling Hills was with him,” recalled Abhijit Majumdar, a Central Committee member of the CPI-ML in Siliguri. “But he was a genuine leader who slowly mobilised people, selling them the idea of a separate identity and self-rule.”
  •  Mr. Ghisingh’s politics was based largely on the alleged discrimination that Darjeeling Hills suffered at the hands of a government that ruled from Kolkata, nearly 600 kilometres south. The movement slowly drew in hundreds of thousands of people belonging to various ethnic groups, predominantly the Gorkhas, residing in the hills. He became their undisputed leader.
  •  For almost 20 years — from 1988 to 2007 — Mr. Ghisingh headed the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC). However, in 2007, his political disciples led by Bimal Gurung formed a separate outfit, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). Eventually, it became difficult for the legendary Gorkha leader to operate from the hills and he was forced to shift to Siliguri in the plains of north Bengal.

Human rights group slams India’s record

  •  A top global human rights group has criticised the Indian government for its treatment of minorities, lack of protection for women’s and children’s rights, restrictions on free speech and insufficient support extended for human rights via New Delhi’s foreign policy engagements.
  •  In its 25th annual World Report on human rights, New York-headquartered Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that there was a “spike” in incidents of violence against religious minorities in 2013 in the run-up to the national elections where 133 people were killed and 2,269 injured in 823 incidents.
  •  Even one year after the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Pradesh where over 60 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and tens of thousands displaced, “both the Central and the State governments had not provided proper relief or justice,” the report said.
  •  Citing numerous other incidents of violence against minorities, including recent cases of discrimination against Dalits in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, the HRW report focused attention on the plight of those involved in “manual scavenging,” the cleaning by hand of human waste.
  •  In terms of women’s rights, in early 2014, the government introduced guidelines for the medical treatment and examination of women and children who report rape, but failed to allocate resources necessary for their implementation. At the time of writing only two States had adopted the guidelines.

Govt. effects  major reshuffle of Secretaries

  •  The Narendra Modi government effected a major reshuffle of Secretaries of Union Ministries days after the tenure of Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was curtailed.
  •  Shankar Agarwal, secretary of the Urban Development Ministry and Anita Agnihotri, secretary Housing and Poverty Alleviation (HUPA) Ministry were both moved out, ahead of the launch of the government’s flagship schemes—the smart city project and housing for all by 2020.
  •  According to sources, the Prime Minister’s Office had held several rounds of meetings with both these ministries and there was “dissatisfaction” over the slow pace of work. The Prime Minister’s Office had recently asked the UD Ministry to fast track the smart city project, while the HUPA ministry was asked to submit the blueprint for how housing shortage, particularly for the weaker sections will be met.
  •  While Mr. Agarwal has been shifted as Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment in place of Gauri Kumar, Ms. Agnihotri will take over as Secretary, Department of Social Justice and Empowerment in place of Sudhir Bhargava.
  •  Madhusudhan Prasad, Special Secretary in the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry will take over as Secretary, UD and Nandita Chatterjee, Member Secretary, National Commission for Women, Ministry of Women and Child Development will take over as secretary HUPA.
  •  Gauri Kumar has been moved to (Co-ordination & Public Grievances), Cabinet Secretariat in place of S.B. Agnihotri.
  •  Lov Verma, Secretary Health and Family Welfare Ministry has also been moved out at a time, when the government is gearing to roll out the Universal Health Assurance Mission. He has been shifted as Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in place of Stuti Narayan Kacker, on her superannuation. Bhanu Pratap Sharma, Establishment Officer and Special Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, will take over as the new Health and Family Welfare Secretary.

Law Commission moots special commercial courts

  •  The Law Commission recommended that the government to set up special commercial courts for the speedy disposal of “high value commercial suits” and suggested “substantial” changes in the Civil Procedure Code.
  •  In its 253rd Report, the Law Commission of India headed by chairperson Justice A.P. Shah, recommended to Union Law Minister V. Sadananda Gowda that separate commercial courts, and commercial divisions and appellate commercial divisions in High Courts would all ensure that cases are disposed of expeditiously, fairly and at reasonable cost to the litigant.
  •  The Commission has also included a draft Bill, “the Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts and Commercial Courts Bill, 2015” and suggestions for substantive procedural changes in the form of amendments to the Civil Procedure Code, 1908.

Dilip Kumar gets lifetime achievement award

  •  Veteran actor Dilip Kumar was conferred ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for his contribution to Indian cinema.
  •  Actor Anumpam Kher received the award on his behalf at the Jaipur International Film Festival (JIFF) here.
  •  In her video message, Dilip Kumar’s wife Saira Bano said, “Dilip sahib will be very happy and feel to be honoured by with this award. Due to doctors’ advice, he could not come to Gulabi Nagari [Jaipur] to receive it.

Make Moral Science must in schools: plea

  •  The Supreme Court issued notice to the government and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on a plea to make ‘Moral Science’ compulsory from Class 1 to 12.
  •  A Bench comprising Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice A.K. Siki sought responses of the Human Resource Development Ministry and the CBSE on a PIL petition filed by advocate Santosh Singh, contending that Moral Science should be made compulsory to “include moral values and nurture national character in the national interest.”

Russia, China back India’s inclusion in expanded APEC

• Russia and China have endorsed India’s efforts to formalise an iron-clad rejection of international terrorism, amid a call by the three countries to end the era of a unipolar world and rid the globe of the threat of “regime change.”
• At the end of their day-long deliberations in the Chinese capital, the foreign ministers of the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping issued a comprehensive joint communiqué that called for an ambitious reform of an international system that was respectful of the diversity of home-grown political systems.
21-nation grouping
• The communiqué recommended India’s inclusion in an expanded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a 21-nation grouping of Pacific Rim countries.
• The Ministers endorsed India’s impending membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) after elevating the grouping, which is pillared by Russia, China and most of the Central Asian States as “one of the key instruments in promoting multilateral political, security, economic and humanitarian interaction in the region.”

In SCO

• The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which India is joining soon, has been holding major counter-terrorism exercises, in anticipation of the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Recognising the threat to stability posed during Afghanistan’s upcoming transitional phase, the three Ministers called for supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), in tune with the withdrawal of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Joint statement
• Without specifying the “Pivot to Asia” doctrine of the U.S., which involves concentration of forces on China’s periphery, a joint statement by the RIC grouping called for advancing talks in the East Asia summit framework on rule-based security architecture in the Asia-Pacific, driven by the United Nations.

Home Secretary sacked

  •  Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami was given his marching orders for allegedly trying to stall the arrest of Saradha scam accused and former Minister Matang Sinh.
  •  The final decision was taken after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh met and discussed the issue.
  •  Rural Development Secretary L.C. Goyal was appointed in his place, the order from the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet said.
  •  Despite high maternal mortality, India records drop in fertility
  •  India, which is unlikely to achieve the fifth Millennium Development Goals (MDG-5) of reducing maternal mortality to 109 per 1,00,000 live births by 2015, is however, confident of meeting the target for lowering the total fertility rate (TFR) by the end of the 12th Plan.

Right to religion not above public morality: SC

  •  Confirming the sacking of a government servant for bigamy, the Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to religion did not include practices which ran counter to public order, health and morality.
  •  The judgment by a Bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and A.K. Goel was on a petition filed by Khursheed Ahmad Khan against the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to remove him from service as Irrigation Supervisor for contracting a second marriage when his first marriage was still in existence.
  •  His ouster was based on Rule 29 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Government Servant Conduct Rules, 1956.
  •  Mr. Khan challenged the constitutionality of the provision in the 1956 Rules, arguing that it violated his right to freely practice his religion.
  •  But the Bench dismissed his contention. Justice Goel, who wrote the verdict, quoted the apex court’s 2003 judgment in Javed versus State of Haryana that “a practice did not acquire sanction of religion simply because it was permitted.”
  •  “What was protected under Article 25 was the religious faith and not a practice which may run counter to public order, health or morality. Polygamy was not integral part of religion and monogamy was a reform within the power of the State under Article 25,” Justice Goel wrote.
  •  The court further noted that no material was shown on record to prove that Mr. Khan had divorced his first wife, and moreover, his service record still showed his first wife’s name.
  •  “Sharp distinction must be drawn between religious faith and belief and religious practices. What the State protects is religious faith and belief. If religious practices run counter to public order, morality or health or a policy of social welfare upon which the State has embarked, then the religious practices must give way before the good of the people of the State as a whole,” the judgment reproduced the 1952 judicial precedent in the Narasu Appa Mali case.
    Punjab

Colleges to be tobacco-free

  •  All private and government universities of Punjab will soon become “tobacco-free”. Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Vini Mahajan has written to Vice-Chancellors and the principals of the affiliated colleges to implement the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA) on their campuses.
  •  In the communication, Ms. Mahajan said Punjab was the first State in India to ban the sale of loose cigarettes (as single sticks) to dissuade consumers and the Tobacco Control Cell of the State had been aggressively pursuing the agenda to bring down tobacco consumption in Punjab and banning of loose cigarettes was a step in that direction.
  •  Universities and colleges have been urged to keep a check on the shops and kiosks near their premises as well as small markets within to enforce complete ban on sale of tobacco products.
  •  The official reminded that under Section 4 of COTPA, smoking in public places is prohibited & under Section 6 of COTPA, tobacco selling is not allowed within 100 yards of any educational institution. She said this measure would go a long way in reducing prevalence of tobacco in Punjab as it would end up reducing the age of initiation.

John Kerry heads for India to attend ‘Vibrant Gujarat Summit’

  •  US Secretary of State John Kerry headed for India to attend the Vibrant Gujarat Summit during which he will address investors to boost economic ties and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss a broad range of bilateral and global issues, including climate change.
  •  “The Secretary would be emphasising the importance and future potential of our economic partnership with India, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told.
  •  “Obviously the discussion would be on everything from continuing to do more economically and technologically, given that United States and India, we believe, can reach greater level of prosperity together than we would achieve alone,” she said.
  •  The three-day Vibrant Gujarat Summit will begin tomorrow in Ahmedabad. “He would also be reiterating throughout the trip, our shared commitment to address the challenge of climate change, promoting clean energy in the future. Prime Minister Modi has a strong track record in this regard,” she said, adding that the Obama administration sees this trip as a pivotal point in India-US relationship.
  •  After a brief stopover in Munich to meet the Sultan of Oman, Kerry leading a high-level US delegation is scheduled to arrive in Ahmedabad. Soon after his arrival, he is expected to visit the Gandhi Ashram, meet members of the civil society and visit the Ford plant, which is expected to open shortly. He would address the

Vibrant Gujarat Summit and hold a round table with top Indian CEOs.

  •  Kerry is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Modi and hold another round-table with American CEOs participating in the summit.
  •  Referring to the multi-fold increase in bilateral trade in the last 10 years, which stands now at about USD 100 billion, Psaki said the summit is an opportunity to further the goal that US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi have talked about in terms of increasing trade five-fold to USD 500 billion.

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