Current affairs- March 31,2016




Women can enter temples
The Bombay High Court has come out in favor of women’s right to worship. The court has observed that there is no law that can prevent women from entering a place of worship.
Background:
These observations by the court were made during the hearing of a public interest litigation petition challenging the prohibition of entry of women in the Shani Shingnapur Temple in Maharashtra.

§  The petition seeks the entry of women not just into the temple, but also inside its sanctum sanctorum.
§  The petition says that the prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of fundamental rights of citizens.
What the law says?
Under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, if any temple or person prohibits any person from entering a temple then he or she faces a six-month imprisonment.
Important observations made by the court:
§  If a male can go and pray before the deity then why not women?
§  It is the state government’s duty to protect the rights of women and the government should give wide publicity to the Act and issue circulars, informing the general public at large about the Act and its provisions.

Stay on floor test in Uttarakhand
A Division Bench of Uttarakhand High Court has decided to keep the March 29 order of High Court allowing floor test in abeyance till April 6.
Why?
This decision is based special appeals filed by the Centre and opposition parties in Uttarakhand over ambiguities in the March 29 order of the court where Mr.Rawat was permitted a floor test.
§  The centre had approached the court questioning the permission for voting while the state is under President’s Rule and the opposition parties had approached the court questioning the rights of nine disqualified MLAs to participate in the ballot.
What the March 29 order says?
In its order on March 29th, the High Court allowed Mr. Rawat to take a floor test in Vidhan Sabha to test his majority.
Why can’t floor test be taken now?
According to the centre, after the imposition of President’s Rule, the State legislature cannot function and all its functions can only be discharged by or under the authority of Parliament. Also, voting is not permitted under President’s rule.


Virtual Earth-Space Telescope Reveals New Details About the Milky Way
Scientists have created a virtual Earth-space telescope system with the highest resolution of any astronomical observation ever made.
About the telescope:
Researchers created this telescope by combining the Russian RadioAstron satellite with the ground-based telescopes. The RadioAstron satellite was combined with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, The Very Large Array in New Mexico, the Effelsberg Telescope in Germany, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. This combined system produces a virtual radio telescope more than 100,000 miles across.
What has been found out?
With this, scientists have unveiled an unusually hot quasar jet in the Milky Way.
§  Scientists have pointed out these quasar jets at a quasar called 3C 273, more than 2 billion light-years from Earth.
§  Quasars like 3C 273 propel huge jets of material outward at speeds nearly that of light. These powerful jets emit radio waves. The emission was about 100 billion degrees.
§  The observations also showed, for the first time, substructure caused by scattering of the radio waves by the tenuous interstellar material in our own Milky Way Galaxy.
What are Quasars?
Quasars are supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. Quasars, also called quasi-stellar radio sources, are the most energetic and distant members of a class of objects called active galactic nuclei (AGN).
§  Their spectra contain very broad emission lines, unlike any known from stars, hence the name “quasi-stellar.” Their luminosity can be 100 times greater than that of the Milky Way.
§  Quasars are believed to be powered by accretion of material into supermassive black holes in the nuclei of distant galaxies, making these luminous versions of the general class of objects known as active galaxies.
§  Quasars also emit visible light, ultraviolet rays, infrared waves, X-rays, and gamma-rays.

Budget sets priorities for government spending
Budget 2016-17 has introduced a new classification system for the Centre’s spending.
The new system divides Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) into three categories:
1.     Core of the Core.
2.   Core
3.   Optional Schemes.
Key facts:
§  The new system has accorded the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme the highest priority by deeming it ‘Core of the Core’.
§  This system has been put in place as a run-up to the next financial year, when the Plan/Non-Plan distinction in government expenditure will be done away with.
§  As per the new system, the Core of the Core schemes will retain their expenditure allocation framework. For example, MGNREGA had 75 per cent of the material expenditure from the Centre and 25 per cent from the states.
§  The Core schemes will have a 60:40 formula, while the Optional schemes will have a 50:50 formula, with the states having the flexibility to decide whether to invest in these or not.
§  Under the new classification, eight schemes will be classified as Core of the Core. including MGNREGA and all the umbrella schemes for the upliftment of minorities, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes.
§  The Core schemes, 33 in number, include schemes as far-ranging as the Krishi Unnati Yojana, the Smart Cities programme, and the modernisation of the police force.

Background:
This system is based on the recommendations of a sub-committee of chief ministers formed by Niti Aayog for the rationalisation of the CSS. The exercise, to rationalise Plan and Non-Plan schemes of all Ministries and Departments, was undertaken by the committee for effective outcome based monitoring of implementation of the programmes and schemes and to ensure optimum utilisation of resources.
Is it a good move?
A.  Yes and why?
The classification is trying to segregate the schemes by importance. The state governments were earlier taking their own decisions regarding many of these schemes. Now the Centre has said that some are important schemes and the states can take their own decisions regarding the others.

B.  No and why?
It is meaningless to have 30-odd specific-purpose transfers (where central funds are transferred for a specific use) without any standard of outcomes. Also, the new system does not address this issue of linking expenditure to outcomes, it simply re-classifies the expenditure.

ADB lowers India’s growth forecast to 7.4 % for 2016-17
The Asian Development Bank has lowered India’s growth forecast to 7.4% from an earlier estimate of 7.6% for the financial year ending March 31, 2017.
Why?
According to ADB, this is mainly due to the failure of the government to push through the Goods and Services Tax and the Land and Labour Reforms.
Other important observations made by the bank:
§  India is one of the fastest growing large economies in the world and will likely remain so in the near-term. India’s gross domestic product is forecast to grow to 7.8% for the fiscal year to March 2018.
§  During the fiscal year ended March 31, 2016, a pickup in manufacturing, private consumption, and capital expenditure by the government helped offset a double-digit decline in exports.
§  Imports contracted largely due to a sharply lower oil bill, while inflation remained broadly subdued on the back of lower global commodity prices, although there was a pickup in food prices in the second half.
§  Measures to encourage more foreign direct investment resulted in a dramatic surge in investment. Ongoing efforts to curb spending and increased tax revenues saw the government achieve its budget deficit reduction target.
§  After two years of decline, consumer inflation is likely to accelerate, fuelled by the salary hike for civil servants and a mild pickup in global oil prices, with inflation expected to average 5.4% in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, rising to 5.8% in next year.
§  During the subsequent financial year, a weak global economy will continue to weigh on exports, particularly India’s refined petroleum products, offsetting a further pickup in domestic consumption, due in part to an impending salary hike for government employees on the implementation of the seventh pay commission award.
§  Public investment will remain strong as the government taps savings from lower oil costs to boost spending.
§  Strengthened public banks and corporate deleveraging will result in an uptick in bank credit and boost private spending, including on infrastructure.
§  With government policy actions in place, the ADB expects the business environment to improve.

The bank also notes that India still faces significant challenges to finance the infrastructure it needs to deliver sustainable growth, with funding requirements estimated at around $200 billion a year through 2017-18. But, public banks’ non-performing assets and an overleveraged corporate sector leave limited scope for more private investment in infrastructure and highlight the need for policy actions. However, in 2017-18, strengthened public banks and corporate de-leveraging are expected to result in an uptick in bank credit and boost private spending, including on infrastructure.

‘Market access for India’s services key to BTIA’
Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharman recently said that obtaining greater access to the market for services in the European Union (EU) is key for the progress of the Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA)between the EU and India.
§  India and EU are hoping to make progress on the trade deal during the 13th EU India Summit in Brussels.
Obstacles:
India has not been granted data secure status by the EU, and this has mainly hampered the progress of negotiations around the liberalisation of trade in services in the BTIA talks. Being considered ‘data secure’ is crucial for a number of services especially in the IT and ITES sectors.
About Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA):
On 28th June 2007, India and the EU began negotiations on a broad-based Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) in Brussels, Belgium.
§  These negotiations are pursuant to the commitment made by political leaders at the 7th India-EU Summit held in Helsinki in October 2006 to move towards negotiations for a broad-based trade and investment agreement on the basis of the report of India-EU High Level Technical Group.
§  India and the EU expect to promote bilateral trade by removing barriers to trade in goods and services and investment across all sectors of the economy. Both parties believe that a comprehensive and ambitious agreement that is consistent with WTO rules and principles would open new markets and would expand opportunities for Indian and EU businesses.  
§  The negotiations cover Trade in Goods, Trade in Services, Investment, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, Technical Barriers to Trade, Trade Remedies, Rules of Origin, Customs and Trade Facilitation, Competition, Trade Defence, Government Procurement, Dispute Settlement, Intellectual Property Rights & Geographical Indications, Sustainable Development. So far, 15 rounds of negotiations have been held alternately at Brussels and New Delhi.

SC upholds rules to support Good Samaritans
The Supreme Court has upheld a Central notification issuing standard operating procedure (SOP) for the protection and examination of ‘Good Samaritans’ — those who help road accident victims — and make it binding on all State governments and authorities.

§  The court has endorsed the January 21, 2016 notification issued by the Transport Ministry as a positive signal for a concerted effort to change the public’s attitude of turning away from helping a road accident victim reach critical medical care.
§  The court said wide publicity should be given by the Centre and the States about the guidelines.
Background:
The SOP was framed by the government on the orders passed by the Supreme Court on a PIL plea filed by NGO SaveLIFE Foundation in 2012, highlighting the fact that more lives of accident victims can be saved if a law can be made to protect Good Samaritans from legal and procedural hassles at the hands of police and hospitals.

§  Following this, the Centre issued a series of guidelines on May 12, 2015, to protect Good Samaritans. These included assuring them anonymity and protecting them from any civil or criminal liability for taking the victim to the nearest hospital. The government had also indicated that an SOP should be further evolved in this regard.
§  In the January 16 notification, the government highlighted that bystanders or passers-by, who chose to help a person in distress on the road, should be “treated respectfully and without discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality, caste or any other.”
§  Other SOPs include complete anonymity in case the Good Samaritan does not want to reveal his name or details, use of video-conferencing in case of any further interaction with him by the authorities and provision for the police to examine him at his residence or office or any place of his convenience. This should be done only once and in a time-bound manner.

PM for simultaneous LS, Assembly elections
According to a report, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in favour of simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
Why?
It is due the administrative issues arising out of frequent and successive elections in various states. The Prime Minister is concerned that the way the electoral calendar of the country is set up, there are polls every year in some part of the country or the other. With the Model Code of Conduct coming into force in one State or the other and even for the Centre in some cases, this leads to administrative lethargy, and issues.
Background:
The decision is also based on the 78th report of the parliamentary standing committee of Law and Justice that had been asked to go into the issue in detail. The report was submitted in December 2015.

§  The committee recommended a two-phase election schedule to make the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls coterminous, but had raised uneasiness in different political parties.
§  The first general elections to the Lok Sabha was held simultaneously with all State Assemblies in 1951-52. That practice continued in three subsequent general elections held in the years — 1957, 1962 and 1967.
§  However, due to the premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969, the cycle got disrupted.
§  In 1970, the Lok Sabha was itself dissolved prematurely and fresh elections were held in 1971. The term of the fifth Lok Sabha was extended till 1977 under Article 352. After that, the eighth, tenth, fourteenth and fifteenth Lok Sabha could complete their five year terms. The sixth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth ones were dissolved prematurely.
§  As a result of premature dissolutions and extension of terms of both the Lok Sabha and various State Assemblies, the last 48 years have seen separate elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies.

Skin bank
Karnataka recently got its first skin bank, the sixth in the country. It was inaugurated at the State-run Victoria Hospital.
§  Doctors hope that the skin bank may help save the lives of countless burn victims, as harvested skin is the best form of “biological dressing” available today.
§  Although artificial skin is available, it is prohibitively expensive. The government has agreed to fund all skin grafts done at the skin bank. A nominal charge may be executed.
Working of the skin bank:
§  Like any other organ donation, skin donation needs to be pledged by a living person or needs to be offered for donation by the family soon after death.
§  The skin is harvested within 6 hours of death either at hospital or home. The harvesting is done from hidden areas such as the back and the thigh with no bleeding or deformity to the body. The skin donation does not hamper the rituals of last rites.
§  The process is fairly simple and takes less than 45 minutes. The donor could be anyone above 16 years of age.
§  The donor should not have skin disease or skin cancer and should be negative for HIV and Hepatitis C.
§  No blood group matching is required.
§  The harvested skin is processed and stored as per international protocol in the skin bank ready for dispensing and safe use in burns care as the best biological dressing. This dressing not only saves the life but also relieves the pain, reduces infection increasing chances of survival significantly, especially when the burn area exceeds 40%.

Centre to promulgate ordinance on Enemy Property Bill

The Union Cabinet has recommended repromulgating an Ordinance to amend the nearly 50-year-old Enemy Property Act to guard against claims of succession or transfer of properties left by people who migrated to Pakistan and China after the wars.

Background:
Enemy Property Ordinance was ratified by the Lok Sabha in January 2016 and when it went to Rajya Sabha, it was referred to a Select Committee. The duration of this Ordinance is going to expire in the first week of April 2016. Hence, union cabinet has decided to repromulgate the ordinance till the receipt of the report of the Select Committee.
§  A bill to replace the executive order was also introduced in Parliament in the Budget session. While it was cleared by the Lok Sabha, the opposition in the Rajya Sabha forced the government to refer it to a Select Committee of the Upper House. Since there were little chances of the bill replacing the ordinance getting Parliamentary nod soon, the Rajya Sabha was prorogued recently to ensure a fresh ordinance could be issued.

An ordinance lapses if it is not replaced by an Act of Parliament within six weeks or 42 days of the beginning of a Parliament session.
Enemy Properties Bill:
Enemy Properties Bill includes amendments to plug the loopholes of the Enemy Property Act, 1968.
The amendments include:
§  Once an enemy property is vested in the Custodian, it shall continue to be vested in him as enemy property irrespective of whether the enemy, enemy subject or enemy firm has ceased to be an enemy due to reasons such as death and others.
§  The law of succession does not apply to enemy property. There cannot be transfer of any property vested in the Custodian by an enemy or enemy subject or enemy firm and that the Custodian shall preserve the enemy property till it is disposed of in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
§  A new section has been inserted in the Bill to say that “the Custodian, may, after making such inquiry as he deems necessary, by order, declare that the property of the enemy or the enemy subject or the enemy firm described in the order, vests in him under this Act and issue a certificate to this effect and such certificate shall be the evidence of the facts stated therein”.    
Background:
The Enemy Property Act was enacted in the year 1968. It provided for the continuous vesting of enemy property in the custodian. The Union Government through the Custodian of Enemy Property for India is in possession of enemy properties spread across many states in the country.
§  To ensure that the enemy property continues to vest in the Custodian, appropriate amendments were brought in by way of an Ordinance in the Enemy Property Act, 1968 by the then Government in 2010.
§  However, the ordinance lapsed on 6 September 2010. Later on 22 July 2010, it was introduced in Lok Sabha in form of a Bill but was withdrawn and another bill with modified provisions was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 15 November, 2010. This bill was thereafter referred to the Standing Committee. However, the said bill could not be passed during the 15th term of the Lok Sabha and it lapsed.
Enemy properties:
In the wake of the Indo-Pak war of 1965 and 1971, there was migration of people from India to Pakistan. Under the Defence of India Rules framed under the Defence of India Act, the Government of India took over the properties and companies of such persons who had taken Pakistani nationality. These enemy properties were vested by the Union Government in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India.
After the 1965 war, India and Pakistan signed the Tashkent Declaration on 10 January 1966. The Tashkent Declaration inter alia included a clause, which said that the two countries would discuss the return of the property and assets taken over by either side in connection with the conflict. However, the Government of Pakistan disposed of all such properties in their country in the year 1971 itself.

Sharmila acquitted in 2006 suicide bid case
Manipuri civil rights activist Irom Sharmila was recently acquitted in a case of attempted suicide registered in 2006 when she undertook a fast-unto-death.
§  Sharmila launched her fast-unto-death in October 2006 demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act:
It is an Act empowering armed forces to deal effectively in ‘Disturbed Areas’. Any area which is declared ‘Disturbed’ under the disturbed areas act enables armed forces to resort to the provisions of AFSPA.
Who declares an area as disturbed?
The choice of declaring any area as ‘disturbed’ vests both with state and central government.
Special powers provided to armed forces:
After an area comes under the ambit of AFSPA, any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or another person of equivalent rank can use force for a variety of reasons while still being immune to the prosecution.
Ambit:
§  The act was passed on 11 September 1958 by the parliament of India to provide special legal security to the armed forces carrying out operations in the troubled areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura (seven sisters).
§  In 1990 the act was extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir to confront the rising insurgency in the area.
§  In Manipur, despite opposition from the Central government, state government withdrew the Act in some parts in Aug, 2004.

The government can declare AFSPA in the following conditions:
§  When the local administration fails to deal with local issues and the police proves inefficient to cope with them.
§  When the scale of unrest or instability in the state is too large for the police to handle.
However, the decision of the government to declare a particular area ‘disturbed’ cannot be challenged in a court of law.

Norms for clinical trials eased
With the aim to speed up innovation and research in India, the Health Ministry has amended the Drug and Cosmetics Act, exempting clinical trials conducted at academic institutions from taking the hitherto mandatory permission from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI).
Background:
The latest amendment to the Drug and Cosmetics Act follows recommendations by the Professor Ranjit Roy Choudhury Committee, which had suggested that academic research should be approved by the Institutional Ethics Committees.
§  The once booming clinical trials in India came under the Supreme Court scrutiny in 2013, after at least 370 deaths were attributed to Serious Adverse Events (SEAs) during such trials.
§  In September 2013, the apex court ruled that no new clinical trials be permitted until the regulatory mechanism was reformed.
Criticisms:
§  Public health experts say the move is a setback for those working towards a safer, more transparent clinical trials regime.
§  With the latest amendment chances of misuse are also higher. The only defence for this decision can be that this is academic, not commercial, research.
Violation of rights:
In 2013, the Supreme Court banned trials after a public interest litigation petition brought to light that trials conducted in various parts of the country had violated patient rights as informed consent was not taken, and the patients subjected to clinical trials included newborns, children, pregnant women and mentally challenged persons.


Facts

Sand-eating tadpoles
Researchers have discovered a sand-eating tadpole that lives fully in total darkness until it fully develops into a young frog. The discovery was made in Western Ghats. These frogs belong to the Indian Dancing Frog family,Micrixalidae. They get that name from their habit of waving their legs as a sign of territorial and sexual display while sitting on boulders in streams.

Key facts:
§  The purple tadpoles were discovered from the deep recesses of streambeds in the Western Ghats and they possess muscular eel-like bodies and skin-covered eyes, which helps them to burrow through gravel beds.
§  Though they lack teeth, they have serrated jaw sheaths, to possibly prevent large sand grains from entering the mouth while feeding and moving through sand.
§  Unlike most tadpoles that swim early on, the Micrixalidae tadpoles hang onto underwater rocks with their powerful suckering mouths. When their arms grow strong enough they dig underground, where they live most of their lives, only to emerge in forest streams to reproduce.
§  Other unusual features of the tadpoles were ribs and whitish globular sacs storing calcium carbonate, known as “lime sacs”. Only four families of frogs are reported to have ribs, but the latest discovery shows that at least some of Micrixalidae also have ribs, even as tadpoles; this adaptation may provide for greater muscle attachment, helping them wriggle through sand.


Amazon’s biggest campus outside the US
E-commerce giant Amazon has begun work on its biggest campus outside the US in Gachibowli, Hyderabad. The new state-of-the-art campus is expected to be ready by 2019 and will house thousands of employees managing back-end operations for Amazon’s various global business and technology teams.


New Myanmar President
Myanmar has sworn in Htin Kyaw, a close aide of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as the country’s first civilian President in more than 50 years.