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5 THINGS FIRST

Australia vs India, 2nd Test, Melbourne, day 4; PM Modi to inaugurate a section of the freight corridor; Army Chief Gen. Naravane in South Korea; Wipro’s share buyback offer opens; ISL: Chennaiyin FC vs ATK Mohun Bagan

1. For the first time, weekly Covid cases fall pan-India
  • For the first time since March, all states and Union Territories (UT) — save for Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu — registered a week-on-week decline in fresh Covid-19 cases last week, indicating that the pandemic was receding, at least for now.

  • 16,143 fresh cases were reported in the country on Monday, the lowest single-day count since June 23. Deaths dipped to 251, the lowest since June 2, nearly seven months ago.
  • But the government is bracing for a possible post-holiday surge in cases around mid-January, considering increased travel and public gatherings such as weddings and the looming threat of the new strain. The Centre has asked the states to increase alert levels of surveillance and containment systems and keep a close watch on any super-spreading events.
  • New strain: The Centre has identified 10 advanced regional laboratories to serve as regional hub laboratories for genome sequencing to monitor the genomic variations in the virus reported in the country.
  • Vaccine update: India will getthe bulkof the initial 40-50 million doses of the Oxford vaccine stockpiled by the Serum Institute of India (SII) since exports of these vaccines would require the World Health Organisation’s pre-qualification, TOI reports.
  • Chinese crackdown: A citizen-journalist who documented firsthand accounts of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was sentenced to four years in jail. Zhang Zhan was detained in May and accused of spreading false information, giving interviews to foreign media, disrupting social order and attacking the government.
2. Centre, farmers agree to talk some more
2. Centre, farmers agree to talk some more
  • The central government on Monday invited 40 protesting farmer unions for another round of talks on December 30 to find a “logical solution” to the current impasse over the farm laws. Farmers said they have “in-principle” agreed to attend but said the Centre should have spelt out the agenda of the meeting in its invite.
  • The last formal meeting between the government and farmers’ representatives took place on December 5, in which union leaders had demanded a clear ‘yes or no’ answer from the government on their main demand of the repeal of the three laws.
  • In their December 26 letter to the government, farmer unions had proposed resumption of talks but made it clear that the repeal of the farm laws and guarantee for minimum support price should be part of the agenda.
  • However, in its latest letter to the unions, the Centre has not made any specific reference to the repeal of the laws.
  • So far, five rounds of formal talks held between the Centre and 40 protesting farmer unions remained inconclusive. The sixth round of talks originally scheduled for December 9 was called off a day after an informal meeting of Home Minister Amit Shah with some union leaders failed to reach any breakthrough. The government had, however, sent a draft proposal to the unions in which it had suggested 7-8 amendments to the new laws and written assurance on the MSP procurement system.
  • Thousands of farmers, especially from Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Delhi borders for over a month seeking repeal of the farm laws and have threatened to intensify their stir if their demands are not fulfilled. More details here
3. Bowlers help India close in on victory in Melbourne
3. Bowlers help India close in on victory in Melbourne
  • Having achieved the highest innings score of the series overnight, India were looking to pile it on. But once centurion Ajinkya Rahane was run out, the visitors crumbled for 32 runs in a little over 15 overs on day three.
  • However, the lead of 131 was a sizeable one and Umesh Yadav removed the out-of-form Joe Burns in the third over of the Australian innings (after lunch). Unfortunately, the pacer was soon ruled out for the remainder of the day with a calf strain.
  • Matthew Wade and Marnus Labuschange looked to be steering the hosts towards tea, but the latter perished to R Ashwin’s class, caught at slip. Australia were still 66 short at the second break.
  • Five overs into the final session, Jasprit Bumrah bowled the struggling Steve Smith round his legs. Ravindra Jadeja, who managed a fifty during India’s innings, was then introduced into the attack. And in his fourth over he ended Wade’s fighting knock, trapping him lbw. Mohammed Siraj had Travis Head nicking to second slip two overs later, while Jadeja had captain Tim Paine caught behind next over.
  • The hosts had lost more than half their side to India’s probing four-man attack, one short of 100 and staring down the barrel. However, a dogged, unbeaten 34-run seventh wicket stand between Cameron Green and Pat Cummins meant India will have to bat again in this Test.
  • The scorecard: Australia 195 & 133/6 (Jadeja 2/25) lead India 326 (Jadeja 57, Lyon 3/72, Starc 3/78) by 2 runs
4. Time to pay tax on bitcoin gains?
4. Time to pay tax on bitcoin gains?
  • The government is considering a proposal to impose 18% Goods and Services Tax on bitcoin transactions in India, estimated to be around Rs 40,000 crore annually, reports TOI.
  • The Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, an arm of the finance ministry, has told the Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs that the government could receive about Rs 7,200 crore annually by taxing bitcoin trading.
  • The tax department has also been tracking Indian cryptocurrency investors who are exiting after bitcoin hit a three-year high of $20,000. It had collated data of investors who traded through banking channels before the Reserve Bank of India banned the cryptocurrency.
  • However, there are no laws on how to tax cryptocurrency gains. While some experts have said that returns from selling cryptocurrency could attract up to 30% tax, others believe that the tax department could also categorise the income from selling bitcoins as business income.
  • The unregulated crypto currency exchanges and its trading has been a challenge for the government, particularly after the Supreme Court lifted a two-year ban imposed by the RBI on banks and financial institutions to deal with digital currencies. Since there is no regulator for crypto currency, there is also the fear of it being used for money laundering.
6. And the ICC cricketer of the decade is…
6. And the ICC cricketer of the decade is…
  • … Virat Kohli. The Indian captain headlined the ICC’s top honours for the decade, winning the Sir Garfield Sobers award for the best male cricketer of the past 10 years, beating out the likes of R Ashwin, Joe Root, Kumar Sangakkara, Steve Smith, Ab de Villiers and Kane Williamson. The 32-year-old was also named the ODI Cricketer of the Decade.
  • This after scoring 66 out of his 70 international centuries in the “ICC Awards” period. He was also the batsman with most fifties (94), most runs (20,396) besides having the maximum average (56.97) among players with 70+ innings. In total, he amassed 12,040 runs in ODIs, 7,318 runs in Tests and 2,928 runs in T20 internationals, averaging more than 50 across formats.
  • Australian batting mainstay Steve Smith and Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan were named Test Cricketer of the Decade and T20 Cricketer of the Decade, respectively.
  • Australia’s Elysse Perry swept the women’s awards, securing the ICC Female Cricketer of the Decade honours alongside ODI and T20 Cricketers of the Decade awards.
  • Former India skipper MS Dhoni won the ‘ICC Spirit of Cricket Award of the Decade’, chosen by fans for his gesture of calling back England batsman Ian Bell after a bizarre run out in the Nottingham Test in 2011.
7. Assam seeks to abolish state-funded madrassas
7. Assam seeks to abolish state-funded madrassas
  • The BJP-government in Assam on Monday tabled in the assembly a bill to convert state-funded and private madrassas regulated by the now-dissolved State Madrassa Education Board into general educational institutes from the next academic session.
  • The bill seeks to repeal the Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation) Act, 1995 and the Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Employees and Re-Organisation of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act, 2018, and convert the state-funded madrassa they regulated into upper primary, high and higher secondary schools. Privately-run madrassas not regulated by the state madrassa education board will not be affected.
  • “We are not against the teachings or philosophies of any religion. We cannot be partial to one religion. If the government has to fund religious education in madrassas, we have to also start funding schools to teach the Gita or the Bible or the Guru Granth Sahib… ,” said education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
  • There are over 600 state-run madrassas — 542 madrassas, 198 high madrassa schools, 138 senior madrassas, and four Arabic colleges — in Assam, and the government spends Rs 260 crore annually on these institutions. The government is also converting state-run Sanskrit “tols” into study centres of Indian history and ancient Indian culture.
8. Why is China angry with the $2.3 trillion US stimulus package?
8. Why is China angry with the $2.3 trillion US stimulus package?
  • Outgoing US President Donald Trump managed to rile up China again by signing the Taiwan Assurance Act (TAA) of 2020 and Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) of 2020 as part of the $2.3 trillion Covid-19 relief package that will prevent 14 million Americans from temporarily losing unemployment benefits.
  • The signing of the two Acts by Trump marks a dramatic shift in US policy towards China, which has preferred to tiptoe around thorny issues such as China’s massive indoctrination efforts in Tibet and setting up military camps, to avoid a straightforward confrontation with the world’s second largest economy.
  • The TAA calls for the US to “conduct regular sales and transfers of defence articles to Taiwan in order to enhance its self-defence capabilities” and also advocacy for Taiwan’s induction and participation in various international bodies such as the UN, the WHO, International Civil Aviation Organisation as also support its membership to “other international organisations for which statehood is not a requirement for membership.”
  • Chief among the TPSA’s provisions is a tit-for-tat policy with regards to opening for new Chinese consulates in the US — which will now only happen when Beijing allows a US consulate to be established in Lhasa, Tibet. Additionally, the Act calls for building an international coalition against any Chinese interference in selecting the next Dalai Lama, which should be done by Tibet’s Buddhist community, failing which there will be economic and visa sanctions on Chinese officials.
  • Terming it as interference in its internal affairs, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the country was “resolutely opposed” to both the Acts and added that “the determination of the Chinese government to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests is unwavering”.
9. Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to five years in jail
9. Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to five years in jail
  • A Saudi Arabian court on Monday sentenced rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in jail for agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and conspiring against the kingdom. The court suspended 2 years and 10 months of her sentence, and backdated the start of jail term to May 2018. She could be released in February 2021.
  • Al-Hathloul, 31, had long been campaigning for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia and against the kingdom’s male guardianship system. She was detained for 73 days in 2014 for attempting to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates.
  • Saudi detained al-Hathloul and other activists, including Eman al-Nafjan and Nouf Abdulaziz, in 2018; Hathloul was arrested and flown in from UAE. Human rights groups allege the three were held in solitary confinement and subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, flogging and sexual violence. Last year, Al-Hathloul’s family said she rejected a proposal by authorities to secure her release in exchange for a video statement denying reports of torture.
  • In 2017, Saudi granted women the right to drive, and last year it allowed women to travel independently without a male guardian — reforms credited to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Answer to NEWS IN CLUES
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Tesla Motors. Nitin Gadkari, the Union minister for road transport and highways and minister of MSMEs, on Monday said that the Elon Musk-owned clean energy and electric vehicle company is expected to “start operations” in India early next year.

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Written by: Rakesh Rai, Judhajit Basu, Sumil Sudhakaran, Tejeesh N.S. Behl
Research: Rajesh Sharma

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