Today’s Current Affairs November 21 (from The Hindu and other sources)

November 21, 2019

Front Page ..

Nirmala Sitaraman has announced the government’s decision to sell off its entire stake in four PSUs.

Which are the four PSUs, and what is the government’s stake in these companies

Bharat Petroleum Corporation of India Ltd (BPCL) [53.29%],

Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) [63.75%],

Container Corporation of India (CONCOR)  [30.8%]

Tehri Hydro Development Corporation Ltd (THDCIL) [74.23%]

North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) [100%]

Why the government took the step.. The government needs cash to finance its plan expenditure. With a slowing economy, and falling GST collection, the need for cash has become more acute. The government had planned to mobilize 1.05 lakh crores through such disinvestment, out of which it has so far managed to reach just about 17.4 crores. Hence, such quick action was needed.

This apart, the Modi government feels that government should get out of the business of owning and managing commercial organizations that are best run by private companies.

Another important announcement of the Finance Minister.. There are about eight government agencies like SEBI tasked with the job of regulating various aspects of the finance sector. To eliminate confusion, these will be merged to form a single entity. She will bring a bill named ‘International Financial Services Centers Authority Bill, 2019 in the parliament.

Amit shah says NRC (National Register of Citizens) will be  implemented in the whole country, and will be re-run in Assam.

What is NRC .. It is a government-maintained record of the names of all genuine Indian citizens. When completed, it will effectively exclude illegal migrants who have entered India from neighbouring countries. NRC in Assam has completed its first stage. It has created huge controversy and fear among the non-Assamese people, particularly the minorities. Curiously, the state government of Assam has been up in arms against the NRC after the final list was published bringing down the number of unauthorized immigrants to a mere 19 lakh. The state government had expected a much higher number. Now, the state government wants to scrap the NRC, and re-launch it under stricter guidelines.

Who support it and who oppose it.. All BJP-led state governments support it, where as non-BJP states like Mamata’s West Bengal oppose it vehemently.

Some push towards labour reforms .. The cabinet has approved bringing a bill to be named Industrial Relations Code Bill. This new bill, when enacted, will merge and simplify three existing regulations —  relating to Trade Unions, Employment, and Disputes.

No Adhar-Social Media link plan .. To prevent posting of hateful comments and fake news in social media, some experts had suggested linking the person leaving a post to their Adhar Card. This would enable the police to pinpoint the offender easily. In the downside, it could have restricted the freedom of the social media, and brought the fear of an oppressive government to the users of the social media platforms. To allay such fears of government oversight, the government has shelved the plan to link Adhar with Social Media.

A new leadership in Sri Lanka .. After a sweeping victory in the recent general election, Gotabaya Rajapakshe  became the President of the country. The outgoing president Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted the verdict after his party’s candidate Sajith Premadasa lost the election. The new president, Gotabaya Rajapakshe, has nominated his elder brother Mahinda Rajapakshe as the prime minister of the country. Both the new president, and the prime minister are not popular with the Tamil minority community for their role in the deadly military campaign that destroyed the LTTE.

Supreme Court asks Kerala government to bring in legislation to administer  the Sabrimala Temple .. It needs to be remembered that the issue of allowing unrestricted women of all ages into the shrine, though permitted by Supreme Court, has now been referred to a 7-member bench. The Pandalam Palace has hailed the Apex Court’s order, where as the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) has expressed its reservations about the court directive.

Karnataka will permit women workers to work in factories in the night shifts..  Now, all women workers in all sectors of industries, small and big, can work in their factories at nights, just as women in IT/ITES sectors do.

Science ..

ISRO scientists successfully assess the impact of the North Korea nuclear test. 

ISRO scientists have successfully used their mathematical expertise to estimate the power and severity of a recent North Korean nuclear device explosion near Mt. Mantap, Pungye-ri test site.  A test explosion’s power is estimated by the vibrations it causes underground. Sensitive instruments record the vibrations and the data are extrapolated to calculate the power of the bomb. However, North Korea’s geographical remoteness and its opaque science culture make such estimation prone to error.

Scientists of ISRO used the satellite photographs of the test site before and after the blast for their analysis. The satellite photos were availed from two sources – one Japanese, and the other European. What was unique in this case is the use of a novel mathematical tool named Bayesian modeling. Such a technique yields much more accurate results of the analysis of the photos. The team comprising of K. M. Sreejith, Ritesh Aggarwal, and A. S. Rajawat estimate that the North Korean device was 17 times more intense than the Hiroshima bomb.

Future wars will be fought through IT power, not by gun powder.. President Kovind has said what most citizens of the world dread. All future wars will be fought through use of Artificial Intelligence, Cyber  attacks, that can cripple the enemy’s economy in minutes. Banks, infrastructure projects, transport networks etc. can be stalled and rendered useless through malignant use of IT.

National …

Onion woes .. Onion prices have been steadily rising across India. In Bengaluru,  good quality onions sell for Rs.100 a kg. Unseasonal rains have worsened the harvest, and reduced arrival of onions in the mandis. Fortunately, North Karnataka, the area that grows onions in large quantities, has seen plenty of sunshine in the last few days allowing the harvested crop to dry and avoid rotting.  Prices at APMC yards fluctuated wildly between Rs.500 to Rs.4500 a quintal. After the dry spell, the farmers have breathed a sigh of relief.

In another development, the central government has allowed the import of 1.2 lakh tons of onion to rein in the spiraling prices.

Rejuvenation of Krishna and Godavari rivers .. The Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) and the Institute of Forest Genetics of Tree Breeding (IFGTB) have joined hands to improve the flow and quality of water in the two rivers. With population pressure, increasing pollution, and global warming, the rivers have come under increasing threat to their health. The two organizations will work to obviate the risks by using suitable scientific intervention.

The U.S. agrees to sell its high-tech naval guns to India .. The MK-45 guns will have the capacity to engage intruding enemy aircrafts, besides firing salvos against hostile naval ships. The 13 pieces of the guns will cost India a billion USD.

International ..

Hong Kong on the boil, and the U.S, steps in to muddy the water further.. As we all know, Hong Kong was under British rule till 1997, when the colonial bond was severed, and Hong Kong came under the sovereign control of the Chinese. Before departing, the British had concluded a treaty with the Chinese as per which the unique political character would be maintained, and no Communist influence or control would be forced upon the tiny, but extremely prosperous region.

For the last few years, Chinese pressure on Hong Kong has grown, much to the unease of the people there. The current protests, spearheaded by the students started when the Chinese wanted to bring a legislation to permit extradition of persons accused of crimes to China for their trial in Chinese courts. The students knew Chinese justice system is flawed, and overly sympathetic to the government prosecutors. They wanted a total roll-back of the legislation, and took to the streets to vent their anger. Since then, the Hong Kng police and the students, buoyed by widespread middle class support, have confronted each other. The territory that normally bustles with commercial activities and tourists, now looks like a ghost town.

The U.S Senate has waded into the conflict by openly passing a resolution in support of the student’s democratic rights and the justness of their agitation. This step has further frayed the already embittered diplomatic relations between China and the U.S.

Iran is restive as the U.S sanctions bite..

Compelled by huge economic difficulties, the Iranian government reduced the subsidy on petrol that resulted in a sharp increase in the price of the fuel. Iranians have been reeling under great hardships due to soaring inflation (>45%), unemployment (>25%), and shortage of many essential items. The rise in petrol price snapped their patience leading to widespread and violent street protests. The authorities countered the demonstrations with a heavy hand resorting to use of live ammunitions. Amnesty International estimates that some 102 persons died in the violent crack-down.  The painful sanctions might drag on for quite long, and Iran will possibly face much more pain in future.

Financial News ..

RBI supersedes DHFL board..Dewan Housing Finance Company Ltd (DHFL) is the second big NBFC (after IL&FS) to collapse leaving its creditors, depositors and the banks in great distress. Large scale diversion of funds, and a general slow-down in the real estate sector have brought this giant housing finance company to grief. Belatedly, RBI has woken up to the crisis, and has superseded its board. Soon, actions as per the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Act 2019 will be enforced. The NCLT will appoint an Administrator as the Insolvency Resolution Professional to run the affairs of the company. The total debt of DHFL is a staggering Rs.80,000 crores out of which Banks’ dues amount to Rs.40,000 crores. Whatever may be the final outcome, the public sector banks and ICICI that have lent the beleaguered DHFL thousands of crores will take a very big hit.

More stringent rules for listed companies .. To curb the increasing trend to hide financial weakness and mismanagement of companies that eventually lead to NPAs, the SEBI has ordered all listed companies to disclose within 31 days any default in their statutory payments like those due to banks, shareholders, and institutional lenders. This, hopefully, will lead to greater transparency among the top management of companies.

Some respite, but no waiver of AGR dues for the Telcos..  After a recent Supreme Court judgment that led to a demand of nearly Rs.90,000 crores with respect to outstanding AGR dues on companies like Vodafone, Airtel, RCom etc. a hue and cry had started in the market as both Vodafone and Airtel said that the demand was too huge to meet, and they could shut down their operations. Alarmed by such negative developments, the government has agreed to defer the demand for payment of dues by the aggrieved companies. However, Ravi Shankar Prasad has clarified that the moratorium on the payment of the AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue) dues doesn’t mean waiver of any sort.

Editorial and Opinions…

The NRC fiasco..  Everyone agrees that the NRC exercise in Assam has resulted in much more confusion than before. The exercise involved very heavy financial and man power costs to the state government, and finally concluded that some 19 lakh inhabitants don’t have valid papers to prove their citizenship. No one knows what will be done with these 19 lakh people. Amit Shah says they will be confined to camps. The question arises, who will feed them, provide for their healthcare, education etc. Bangladesh has flatly disowned any link with these people and wouldn’t take back even a single person. Does it mean the government will bear the burden of these 19 lakh humans uprooted from their base in Assam? Even a lay man feels it is a huge and whimsical exercise that has yielded little.

Now, Amit Shah says he will extend it all over India, and re-run it in Assam. It’s irrational and totally unwarranted decision that will result in no benefit to the nation.

In another initiative, the Home Minister wants to bring in the Citizens Amendment Bill (CAB). When implemented, it will bestow citizenship rights to immigrants who have or are planning to migrate to India to live here. Curiously, this kindness will be shown to people of all faiths except Islam. Such exclusion of Muslim immigrants is morally reprehensible and repugnant to our liberal constitutional values.

The Home Minister will do well to desist from such reckless misadventures that could open up more fissures in the society.

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