Current Affairs - 18 February 2014

Rajiv Gandhi killers' death sentence commuted to life term

  • In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court has granted relief to the three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case — Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan — by commuting their death sentence into life term on the grounds of inordinate delay in disposal of their mercy petitions by the President.
  • A three-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice P. Sathasivam rejected the contention of the Centre that the three convicts did not deserve any mercy as they never showed remorse for the killing of the former Prime Minister and they enjoyed their prison life.
  • Considering the fact that the convicts were languishing jail for nearly 23 years, the Bench also gave a ray of hope for their release by saying that the State government could exercise its remission powers under Section 432 and 433 and following the due procedure in law.
  • In May 2012, the apex court had transferred to itself the writ petitions filed by three convicts in the Madras High Court challenging the rejection of their clemency plea by the former President Pratibha Patil after 11 years. The High Court on August 30, 2011 stayed their execution.

Modernisation of 1.55 lakh post offices

  • Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said in his interim Budget speech that Rs.4,909 crore was being spent on modernisation of all 1.55 lakh post offices, and the project would be completed by 2015.
  • In the budget estimates for 2014-15, of the total plan outlay of Rs. 800 crore, Rs. 506 crore has been allocated for information technology induction in and modernisation of postal operations.
  • Approved by the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs in November 2012, the modernisation has to be implemented through eight projects. All rural post offices will be provided with handheld devices for financial transactions, a solar panel for charging it, a biometric reader for immediate identification and a thermal printer.

China and Pakistan’s “economic corridor”

  • The economic corridor, envisages expanding road links, building railway lines and installing energy pipelines linking Xinjiang with the Gwadar port in Pakistan.
  • Some Chinese companies have voiced concern about stability and security in Pakistan, while violent attacks in southern Xinjiang, located next to the PoK border, have been blamed by local officials on terror outfits with links to Pakistan-based groups.

World's top importer of Gold

  • Chinese demand for gold bars, coins and jewelry soared by 32% to record levels in 2013, even as the price of gold slumped 28%.
  • The surge in buying saw China overtake India as the world's top consumer of physical gold, importing 1,066 metric tons of the metal to India's 975 metric tons in 2013, according to new data from the World Gold Council. (A metric ton is equal to about 2,240 pounds.)
  • In India, consumption increased by 13% but further growth was curbed by import restrictions aimed at narrowing the country's current-account deficit. The council estimates around 200 metric tons was smuggled into the country.
  • China's lead over India as the world's top importer is likely to be sustained.

Changes in excise duty

  • The Interim Budget has some good news and some bad for consumers. Two-wheelers and cars will be cheaper while low-end mobile phones will be a bit more expensive due to changes in excise duty.
  • Auto-makers, including Tata Motors, Hyundai, Maruti Suzuki and Honda Cars India, have already announced that they would be passing on the benefits of the excise duty cut to the consumer.
  • Mobile phones that cost less than Rs. 2,000 are set to cost more after Mr. Chidambaram’s decision to levy a uniform excise duty on phones across price bands.

Burden of student loan eases

  • With an eye on the country’s youth bulge, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has proposed a moratorium period for all education loans taken up to March 31, 2009, and outstanding at the close of the 2012-13 fiscal. However, such student-borrowers – estimated to be in the vicinity of nine lakh -- would have to pay interest for the period beginning January 1, 2014.
  • Of the view that such students ``deserve some relief’’, the Minister said Rs. 2,600 crore would be set aside in the current financial year itself for the purpose. This will be transferred to Canara Bank which is the designated banker for the Central Scheme for Interest Subsidy (CSIS).
  • Dwelling at some length on the CSIS with respect to education loans, Mr. Chidambaram said the Government had introduced this in the 2009-10 Budget to take over the burden of interest for the duration of study and a little beyond from April 1, 2009.

First captain to score double and triple hundred in consecutive Tests

  • New Zealand's 680 for 8 declared provides the highest ever total posted by a team in the third innings of a Test match in the annals of Test cricket. The previous best was 671 for 4 by New Zealand against Sri Lanka at Wellington in Jan 1991. Here are some of the other statistical highs that New Zealand team and its players achieved during the two-match series against India.
  • Brendon McCullum became the first captain in the annals of Test cricket to score a triple hundred and a double hundred in consecutive Tests. He made 224 at Auckland and 302 at Wellington .
  • McCullum aggregated 535 runs in this series which is the record for most runs scored by a captain in a two Test series. The previous record was 510 runs scored by Mahela Jayawardene of Sri Lanka against South Africa in 2005 series. McCullum and Jayawardene are the only two captains to aggregate 500 plus runs in a two Test series.

Test rankings

  • India has retained its second position on the Reliance ICC Test Team Rankings following the Wellington Test, which ended in a draw to give New Zealand a 1-0 series win, but the series result has made Australia's task of finishing ahead of India on the table before the 1 April cut-off date slightly easier.
  • India has slipped from 117 ratings points to 112 ratings points, and is ahead of Australia by just one ratings point. This means Australia, which leads South Africa 1-0 in the three-Test series, now needs minimum of a draw in the series to move ahead of India.

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