Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) declared six monuments “protected and of national importance in 2018”.
· The 125-year-old Old High Court Building in Nagpur, Maharashtra, and two Mughal-era monuments in Agra — Haveli of Agha Khan and Hathi Khana — are among the six monuments
· The ancient Neemrana Baori in Rajasthan's Alwar district; the Group of Temples at Ranipur Jharail in Odisha's Bolangir; and the Vishnu Temple in Kotali, Pithoragarh district, Uttarkhand, are the three other monuments that have been listed.
· In 2016 and 2017, no new monument was included in the list of sites of national importance.
· The last monument to be included in the list, in 2015, was the Vishnu Temple in Nadavayal in Kerala's Wayanad district.
· The ASI takes up a survey for documenting/reporting ancient monuments/sites through exploration, and that a village-to-village survey and conservation of monuments is a continuous process.
· According to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, an “Ancient Monument means any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than 100 years."
· There were 3,686 centrally protected monuments/sites under the ASI in the country; the number has now increased to 3,693.
· Uttar Pradesh (745 monuments/sites), Karnataka (506) and Tamil Nadu (413) have the highest number of ASI-maintained sites.
Keywords – monuments of national importance 2018, Archeological survey of India.
Why in News?
According to legal experts, the decision of a five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to have an open court hearing of the review petitions filed against another five-judge Constitution Bench’s Sabarimala judgment is “exceptional”.
· The turn of events is quite extraordinary that an echo can be found 43 years ago in the open court review of the historic Kesavananda Bharati verdict in November 1975.
· The Sabarimala judgment was delivered by a Constitution Bench of five judges. The Review Bench formed by Chief Justice Gogoi is also a five-judge Bench.
· The Supreme Court decision in the Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community holds that a Bench of co-equal strength on its own cannot overrule a judgment of a Bench of co-ordinate number of judges.
· So, a five-judge Bench cannot overrule another five-judge Bench’s verdict. In case the Sabarimala verdict has to be overruled, the Supreme Court would have to form a larger Bench of seven judges.
· The Kesavananda Bharati judgment was delivered by a 13-judge Bench – the largest Constitution Bench in the history of the Supreme Court – on April 24, 1973.
· Through a wafer-thin majority of 7:6, the 13-judge Bench formulated that the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution cannot be altered by Parliament through amendments.
· If at all, the Kesavananda Bharati judgment had to be set aside, it would have been necessary to set up a Review Bench of 15 judges.
· Review of any Supreme Court decision is rare. It is rarer still to examine review petitions filed against a Constitution Bench judgment. That too, in the open court.
· Review petitions are usually decided by circulation in judges’ chambers.
· The philosophy behind a review is explained in the A.R. Antulay judgment of the Supreme Court wherein the court admitted that it can be fallible.
· “To err is human. Courts including the apex one are no exception,” the court had acknowledged.
Keywords – review hearing, sabarimala judgement, Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community, kesavananda bharati judgement, antulay judgement.
Why in News?
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is planning to effect changes to the RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority) Act, 2016, invoking the ‘Removal of Difficulties’ clause, which would obviate the need for Parliamentary approval.
· The window for such a process ends on May 1, 2019. However, home buyers fear this will dilute the Act’s pro-consumer provisions.
· A number of suggestions to change the Act and to improve implementation were made.
· Section 91 of the RERA Act gives the Centre power to issue orders to remove difficulties in implementing the Act.
· The Act was passed by the Parliament and received the President’s assent in March 2016.
· Certain sections, including Section 91, were notified on May 1, 2016. Others were notified on May 1, 2017.
Keywords – real estate regulation act, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Removal of Difficulties.
Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016
Why in News?
The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 is likely to table its report on January 7 as the panel cleared the report rejecting all amendments moved by the Opposition.
· The Bill proposes citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014.
Resentment in Assam
· There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in Assam as it would pave the way for giving citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who came to Assam after March 1971, in violation of the agreement in the Assam Accord of 1985.
· Around 40 lakh people in Assam have been excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens published in July.
· Rejected amendments include those moved by Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy to make the legislation religion- and country-neutral.
· He also moved that Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan should not be the only countries named in it, since “we have huge number of refugees from Sri Lanka and Myanmar too”.
Keywords – Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016
Why in News?
The government has appointed Sudhir Bhargava the new Chief Information Commissioner.
· Four new members have also been appointed to the Central Information Commission (CIC), taking its strength to seven. Four vacancies still remain.
· The CIC is the highest appeal body under the Right to Information Act. It has been functioning with just three members since the former chief and several members completed their tenure in November, 2018.
· Mr. Bhargava has been a Commissioner since June 2015, and will take over as the ninth chief of the CIC. As all of his predecessors, he is a retired bureaucrat.
Lack of transparency
· Activists have slammed the government for a lack of transparency in the appointment process, as no details on the shortlist or the search committee have yet been made public.
· On December 13, the Supreme Court directed that such details be made available.
Keywords – Chief Information Commission, CIC, Sudhir Bhargava.
Medical Council Bill
Why in News?
The Lok Sabha passed the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill to allow a panel of eminent professionals to run the scam-tainted Medical Council of India (MCI) so that medical education can be regulated in the best manner.
· The Bill seeks to replace an ordinance issued in September 2018.
· This Bill superseded the MCI and the powers of the council had been vested in a Board of Governors (BoG).
· The BoG will have all eminent personalities and include directors of AIIMS and PGI, Chandigarh.
· This board will continue to perform till a council is constituted.
· A separate Bill to replace the MCI with the National Medical Commission is pending in Parliament.
Keywords – Medical Council Bill, Medical Council of India, Board of Governers.
Financial Stability Report
Why in news?
The gross non-performing asset ratio (GNPA) of commercial banks improved to 10.8% in September from 11.5% in March and is set to improve further to 10.3%, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in its Financial Stability Report.
Findings of the report
· This was the first half yearly decline in the ratio since September 2015.
· The net NPA ratio also fell to 5.3% in September 2018 as against 6.2% in March 2018.
· GNPAs of state-run banks improved to 14.8% in September 2018 from 15.2% in March 2018, while private sector banks’ gross NPAs fell to 3.8% in September 2018 from 4% in March 2018.
· While asset quality improved, loan loss ratio of banks also increased to 51%.
· The capital adequacy ratio (CAR) of state-run banks however declined from 11.7% to 11.3%, the report said.
PCA framework helps
· The restrictions imposed on 11 public sector banks under the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework has helped in reducing contagion losses on the banking system in case these lenders fail, the report said.
Keywords: RBI report, gross non-performing asset ratio (GNPA), capital adequacy ratio (CAR), prompt corrective action (PCA) framework.
RBI reserves ratio among the highest
Why in news?
Analysis of the balance sheets of the central banks of 10 comparable economies shows that the RBI's reserves as a percentage of its balance sheet is among the highest, a report by consultancy firm Quantum Advisors found.
· The analysis, which looked at the central banks of the BRICS countries, Fragile Five nations and three developed economies, found that the RBI’s reserves — which a separate analysis shows was about ₹10.5 lakh crore — form 26.2% its balance sheet.
· Only two central banks — those of South Africa and Russia — have a reserve ratio higher than this.
· The other two BRICS nations, China and Brazil, have reserve ratios of 1.7% and 0.2%, respectively.
· But the bulk of those reserves are arising out of the revaluation of its assets, i.e over the years as the rupee depreciated against the U.S. dollar, Great Britain Pound, euro etc, gold and foreign assets held by the RBI when translated into the current rupee value, leads to an increase in its asset value.
· So, the bulk of these reserves are notional, non-cash and thus their value can only be unlocked when the underlying assets are sold, the report added.
· This makes transferring the excess reserves to the government all the more difficult.
Keywords: Quantum Advisors found, reserves ratio, RBI, BRICS.
Science and Tech
Why in news?
A NASA spaceship is zooming toward the farthest, and quite possibly the oldest, cosmic body ever photographed by humankind, a tiny, distant world called Ultima Thule 6.4 billion kilometres away.
The mysterious object is in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt.
About the spaceship and Ultma Thule
· Scientists are not sure what Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) looks like — whether it is round or oblong or even if it is a single object or a cluster.
· Real-time video of the actual flyby is impossible, since it takes more six hours for a signal sent from Earth to reach the spaceship, named New Horizons, and another six hours for the response to arrive.
· It was discovered in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, and is believed to be 20-30 km in size.
· Scientists decided to study it with New Horizons after the spaceship, which launched in 2006, completed its main mission of flying by Pluto in 2015, returning the most detailed images ever taken of the dwarf planet.
· Seven instruments on board will record high-resolution images and gather data about its size and composition.
Keywords: Ultima Thule, New Horizons, Pluto, NASA, Kuiper Belt.
Port Blair Airort
Why in news?
Foreign tourists can now directly fly to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as the government has designated Port Blair airport as an authorised immigration check post for entry into and exit point from India.
· The decision to open up the Andaman and Nicobar Islands directly for foreign tourists came after it was found to be the most sought-after tourist destination in the country receiving an average four lakh tourists, including several thousand foreigners, annually.
· The Superintendent of Police (CID) of the Island has been designated as the “civil authority” for the immigration check post at Port Blair airport.
· According to data available with the Home Ministry, more than 16 lakh tourists visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands between 2015 and October this year to enjoy the natural beauty, beaches, flora and fauna and historically-significant landmarks in around 38 inhabited islands out of the 572 islets.
· The archipelago has received 4,02,393 tourists, including 11,818 foreigners, till October 2018, while it received 4,87,229 tourists, including 15,310 foreigners, in 2017.
Keywords: Port Blair airport, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, authorised immigration check post.
Lodge Nicopolis No.81
Why in news?
Lodge Nicopolis No.81, which is generally known as Vizianagaram IV Masonic Temple will celebrate its 110th anniversary in the New Year.
· The Nicopolis No.81 was constructed in 1909 by the then Maharaja of Vizianagaram Princely State Vijayarama Gajapathi Raju-IV.
· Programmes have been planned throughout the year to create awareness about the greatness of the temple which was founded on October 1, 1909.
· As part of the celebration, the new team of the Masonic Temple decided to allow common people to have glimpse of antiques on the premises.
· The temple also decided to take up service activities such as running poly clinic.
Keywords: Lodge Nicopolis No.81, Vizianagaram IV Masonic Temple, Vizianagaram Princely State, Vijayarama Gajapathi Raju-IV.