📰 THE HINDU – CURRENT NOTE 21 January
💡 IS wreaks havoc again in Syria’s Palmyra
- Islamic State group has demolished more treasured monuments in Syria’s ancient Palmyra, a month after recapturing it from government forces.
- 10 days ago, Daesh destroyed the tetrapylon,” a 16-columned structure that marked one end of the ancient city’s colonnade, using an Arabic acronym for the terror outfit.
- In March, IS razed world-famous temples and tower tombs at the site. The IS recaptured Palmyra late last year as Syria’s government waged a fierce battle to take back all of the northern city of Aleppo from rebel forces.
- History at Palmyra:
- The tetrapylon, built during the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd Century AD, consisted of four sets of four pillars each supporting massive stone cornices.
- The monument had suffered considerable damage over the centuries and only one of the 16 pillars was still standing in its original Egyptian pink granite. The rest were cement replicas erected by the antiquities department in 1963.
💡 Ordinance to clear path for holding jallikattu
- The Centre cleared the Tamil Nadu government’s proposal to promulgate an ordinance to hold jallikattu, a bull taming sport.
- State government had proposed to issue an ordinance since the subject falls in the Concurrent list of the Constitution, it was mandatory to get a nod from the Centre.
- Home Ministry and Environment and Law Ministries gave there clearance to the draft for the ordinance.
- Now State Govt. can promulgate it by introducing it either as a Bill in the Assembly or the State Cabinet can clear it. It doesn’t have to go to the President of India for his assent since his powers are vested with the Home Ministry.
- Centre for solution:
- 46 AIADMK parliamentarians met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and submitted a memorandum, stating that the ban on jallikattu was against the fundamental, religious and cultural rights of the people of Tamil Nadu, especially when such bulls and cows are treated as a part of the farmers’ families.
- Home Ministry has assured that the file would be processed as early as possible so that ordinance could be promulgated in the two or three days.
💡 SC bows to Centre’s plea on verdict
- Supreme Court agreed to the Centre’s plea to defer its judgment on the Centre’s January 7 notification re-introducing bulls as ‘performing animals’, even though just last week it had refused a plea by several lawyers to pronounce the jallikattu verdict before the start of Pongal.
- The court had termed it an issue of “police excess” and asked the applicant to go to the Madras High Court.
- A review petition filed by the Tamil Nadu government against the 2014 judgment was also dismissed by the Supreme Court in November 2016.
- Petitions challenging the Centre’s January 7, 2016 notification re-introducing bulls as ‘performing animals’ were reserved for judgment by the Supreme Court. The court had also stayed the notification on pleas made by animal activists.
💡 China’s GDP growth beats expectations
- China’s economy grew a faster-than-expected 6.8% in the fourth quarter, boosted by higher government spending and record bank lending.
- The economy expanded 6.7% in 2016 the slowest pace in 26 years.
- Rising debt-to-GDP ratio:
- China’s debt-to-GDP ratio rose to 277% at the end of 2016 from 254% the previous year, with an increasing share of new credit being used to pay debt servicing costs.
- The 4th quarter was the first time in two years that the world’s second-largest economy has shown an uptick in economic growth.
- The impact of government efforts at structural reforms, and a potentially testy relationship with a new U.S. administration.
- A slowdown in the property market and steps to address supply shortages in the commodity sector put pressure on demand and output.
- Housing helped prop up growth again in the fourth quarter, with property investment rising a surprisingly strong 11.1% in December from 5.7% in November.
- Consumer spending was also strong, with retail sales in December rising at their fastest pace in a year on stronger sales of cars and cosmetics.
- Fixed asset investment grew 8.1%, the slowest pace since 1999, as investment by private firms slowed again in December on a monthly basis.
- Consumption contributed the bulk of growth last year, but income growth didn’t pick up, and a measure of China’s income inequality rose slightly last year.
- Liquidity Concern:
- The People’s Bank of China unexpectedly cut the amount banks must keep in reserve on Friday, a measure aimed at easing tight liquidity ahead of the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.
- Liquidity conditions are tighter than authorities’ expectations, as capital outflows remain strong.
- Capital outflows have been putting strong downward pressure on the yuan, which lost nearly 7 % last year, making it the worst performing major Asian currency.
- Risk Increase:
- Rapid monetary expansion and expectations of slower economic growth at home, along with a rising U.S. dollar, also hit the yuan.
- China’s sluggish exports could also come under fresh pressure if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump follows through on pledges to impose tough protectionist measures.
- Trump advisers and cabinet-nominees have identified the U.S.-China relationship as in need of adjustment to support the president-elect’s objective of a manufacturing renaissance.
💡 Cooperative banks cannot accept PMGKY deposits
The government announced that cooperative banks will not be authorised to accept deposits under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Deposit Scheme due to irregularities in book-keeping at cooperative banks.
Application for the deposit in the form of Bonds Ledger Account shall be received by any banking company, other than co-operative Banks, to which the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 (10 of 1949) applies.
💡 Draft steel policy to enable ₹10 lakh crore investments
- As part of the new draft National Steel Policy of 2017, Steel Ministry has proposed setting up greenfield steel plants along India’s coastline to tap cheap imported raw materials such as coking coal and export the output in a more cost-effective manner.
About the Policy:
- The draft policy lays out two alternatives of its vision — “to create a globally competitive steel industry that promotes inter-sectoral growth” or “to create a self-sufficient steel industry that is technologically advanced, globally competitive and promotes inclusive growth.
- The policy envisages to more than double India’s domestic steel production capacity to 300 million tonnes by 2030-31. It anticipates a requirement of ₹10 lakh crore of fresh investments to meet that goal and expects at least 11 lakh new jobs being created in the process.
- To cut down reliance on expensive imports of coking coal, the policy has mooted gas-based steel plants and technologies such as electric furnaces to bring down the use of coking coal in blast furnaces.
- It focuses on impediments like high input costs, availability of raw materials, import dependency and financial stress plaguing the sector, projections made under the policy for a couple of factors are all still under discussion, such as the demand and production of sponge iron.
- Public sector firms in the steel sector should aim for economies of scale and will be encouraged to divest their non-core assets through mergers and restructuring, according to the policy.
- Establishment of steel plants along the coast under the aegis of Sagarmala project based on the idea of importing scarce raw materials and exporting steel products.
- A cluster-based approach will be pursued, especially for micro, small and medium enterprises to ensure optimum land use, easy availability of raw materials and economies of scale.
💡 Centre shifts disinvestment advice to new department
- The government transferred the role of advising the government on how to utilise the proceeds from disinvestment from the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) to the Department of Economic Affairs.
- The Department of Economic Affairs in the Finance Ministry will now be in charge of “financial policy in regard to the utilisation of the proceeds of disinvestment channelised into the National Investment Fund.
- During his Budget speech 2016-17, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced renaming the previously known Department of Investment as DIPAM.
- The Centre had created a National Investment Fund in 2005 in which the proceeds from the disinvestment of Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) were to be channelised.
- The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, has given its approval to Alternative Mechanism, who would decide on the quantum of disinvestment in a particular Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSE) on a case-by-case basis subject to Government retaining 51 % equity and management control.
💡 Centre allows girl access to life-saving TB drug
- Delhi High Court had allowed a patient suffering from XDR TB (extremely drug resistant tuberculosis) access to life saving drug Bedaquiline.
- Till now, the drug was accessible only from six hospitals in five cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, and Guwahati.
- Reason: The teenager was denied treatment with Bedaquiline, a powerful antibiotic and the last line of treatment left for her, because she was a resident of Patna and not did not have domicile of Delhi.
- Asking for swift action Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+) has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for easier access to TB patients in India.
- The activist community has been demanding immediate scale up of Bedaquiline, which has so far reached fewer than 200 patients since its launch in February 2016.
- According to the latest Global TB Report by World Health Organisation (WHO), there were an estimated 2.8 million new TB cases in India in 2015.
- The report maintains that the incidence of DR TB might be between 42,900-85,800 in the country – with a majority of not having access to the drug.
💡 Scientists simulate Mars mission
- 6 scientists have entered a dome perched atop a remote volcano in Hawaii where they will spend the next eight months in isolation to simulate life for astronauts travelling to Mars.
- The NASA-funded mission, known as the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-SEAS), is the fifth of its kind intended to create guidelines for journeys to Mars, 56 million km from Earth.
- The study is designed to help NASA understand human behaviour and performance during long space missions as the U.S. space agency explores plans for a manned mission to the red planet.
- The crew will perform geological fieldwork and basic daily tasks in the 1,2002 Dome, located in an abandoned quarry 8,200 feet above sea level on the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island.
- Communications with a mission control team will be time-delayed to match the 20-minute travel time of radio waves passing between the Earth and the Mars.
💡 Astronomer studies ‘habitable’ exoplanet
- In an attempt to search for life outside Earth, an astronomer has studied an exoplanet called Wolf 1061c and found that the celestial body could be habitable.
- Focused on finding “habitable zones” where water could exist in a liquid state on a planet’s surface.
- Examining a habitable zone on a planetary system Wolf 1061c 14 light years away orbit changes at a faster rate, which may mean its climate could be quite chaotic.
💡 India steps up submarine induction as Chinese presence grows in region
- Indian Navy expects to induct two Scorpene diesel-electric submarines into service this year and launch a third submarine into water even as officials acknowledged the growing Chinese maritime presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
- Indian Scorpene Submarines:
- The first of the Scorpenes, Kalvari, is expected to finish sea trials by May and is on track to be inducted before the monsoon.
- The second submarine Khanderi was launched into sea in Mumbai last week. The commissioning of the Khanderi would be dependent on the monsoon as trials cannot be conducted during the three to five month period.
- The third Scorpene submarine Vela will be launched into water this year after the monsoons.
- India has contracted six Scorpene submarines from DCNS of France to be built locally with technology transfer. The Navy intends to induct all six by 2020.
- The P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft, procured from the U.S., has been a major force multiplier and the Navy has been keeping track of Chinese “sub-surface movement”, which has increased in the name of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
- At least one Chinese submarine has been continuously deployed in the Indian Ocean.