NATIONAL UPDATES

Fund crunch hits Indian drug trial

  • Three years after the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) said it would conduct a drug trial to test a novel drug-regimen for tuberculosis (TB), lack of funds is throttling the project, several officials involved with the project
  • In January 2014, the Drug Controller General of India — the referee for drug trials in the country — approved a phase 2b trial (a limited test of a prospective drug in humans to prove its potency) to test a combination of three TB drugs to treat multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).
  • The promise of this combination — called PaMZ (PA-824 + moxifloxacin + pyrazinamide) — is to cut treatment time by at least a third. Moreover, it was purportedly effective even when tested on HIV patients.
  • The drug, developed in collaboration with the international Global Alliance on Tuberculosis, was to enter phase 3, or large-scale trials last year in South Africa. However, there are reviews that are reconsidering these trials on the grounds that it hasn’t worked as well as it was supposed to in HIV patients.
  • According to the World Health Organisation, TB kills an estimated 1.5 million people annually, and is one of the world’s deadliest diseases. There were also approximately 190,000 deaths from MDR-TB in 2014 and more than half of these patients were in India, China and the Russian Federation. Currently, people with MDR-TB require 18 to 24 months of treatment, with several pills and daily injections for at least six months. Apart from the health benefits, the drug trial would have been the first such attempt by the CSIR-led Open Source Drug Development (OSDD) consortium — an initiative to discover and test new drugs for infectious diseases that are widespread in poor countries by using expertise outside the confines of traditional pharmaceutical companies — to test a new drug in India.
  • Most drugs that are available in India are reverse-engineered versions of drugs developed in Europe or the United States. Since 2015, however, the OSDD has been shut down as a CSIR project. A senior doctor involved with the PaMZ trial said it was “uncertain” whether funds would be available next year.

Prevent access to child pornography, Centre told

  • An anguished Supreme Court told the Centre to take steps and frame rules to stop access to websites featuring child pornography, classifying them as “obscene” and a threat to social morality.
  • A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and S.K. Singh was reacting to a submission made by the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association that there were instances where school bus drivers and conductors forced children under their care to watch porn and sexually assaulted them owing to easy and free access to porn, including child pornography, in the country.
  • Hearing this, Justice Misra said, “freedom of speech is not absolute, liberty is not absolute” when such rights were misused to subject innocent children to such sexual perversions. The court said technical glitches and jurisdictional niggles were not excuses for the Centre’s inaction in this regard.
  • Referring to the exposure of children to pornographic material owing to free access to it on the Internet, the court said: “these moral assaults may bring physical disasters with them.”
  • The court directed the Centre to file an affidavit on ways and means to curb free access to child pornography on the Internet and asked the government to reply whether there could be a ban on watching porn “of any form” in public places.
  • The Supreme Court, however, said a clear distinction had to be made between art and obscenity

India rules out Siachen withdrawal

  • Notwithstanding the loss of 10 soldiers in an avalanche in Siachen recently, India ruled out withdrawal of the Army from the icy heights in Jammu and Kashmir, saying Pakistan cannot be trusted and it may occupy the strategic area if India vacates.
  • Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said in the Lok Sabha that vacating Siachen could lead to loss of more lives and mentioned about the “experience” of 1984 when India evicted Pakistan from the strategically critical heights after a bloody fight.
  • India occupies the highest point in the Siachen glaciers, the Saltoro Ridge which is located at 23,000 feet
  • On February 3, an avalanche hit an Army post in a forward location in the Siachen glacier, burying 10 soldiers, including a JCO.
  • One of them was found alive under a huge mass of ice after six days but died a few days later.
  • The Minister said so far 915 people had lost their lives in the last 32 years in Siachen

Govt. in a fix over OCI cards for live-in partners

  • Applications by live-in partners of Indian origin people for Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards have put the government in a fix as the facility is offered only to spouses.
  • The Home Ministry is now examining the relevant rules and mulling over what to do with such applications.
  • The rules are clear that OCI cards can be issued only to the spouse of an Indian origin person even if the spouse does not have any root in India. There is no mention of live-in partners. Besides, there are no rules regarding children of such live-in couples

Jat quota stir erases bonhomie among communities in Haryana

  • Post-Jat quota stir, life is limping back to normality in Haryana — but the agitation pushing for reservation in jobs and education has pitted Jats against non-Jats and embittered social ties which could take years to heal.
  • People are furious and have been blaming both the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress for apparently the worst caste violence in recent times.
  • After a peaceful start the Jat agitation took a violent caste turn, in which the non-Jats, mostly the OBCs had to face the fury of angry protesters. Soon after, the non-Jat communities united together under the banner of “35 Biradari” (35 castes). In Haryana, where 36 castes make its social mosaic, grouping of non-Jats against the Jats points to the clear division between Jats and other communities, which mainly comprise Sainis, Banias, Brahmins, Yadavs, Punjabis, and Nais.
  • Inter-community relations are severely strained and possibly might never be the same again even as many people across the State feel that political parties were only playing petty politics during the stir.
  • In Haryana, Jats account for around 29 per cent of the population and are politically influential but until now, caste differences never led to such acute conflict.

In Kerala, a treasure trove of heritage

  • President Pranab Mukherjee will throw open over two dozen heritage museums, places of worship and other sites conserved at a cost of Rs. 104 crore in Muziris, a port believed to have fallen off the map in the 13th century due to a massive flood, an earthquake – or both.
  • The port that played a key role in maritime trade is said to have been spread along North Paravur and Kodungalloor bordering Ernakulam and Thrissur districts. Excavation works here yielded innumerable relics from across the seas.
  • The heritage footprints in the region, spread over 125 sq km, are so many that a discerning visitor may take at least a week to get a fair idea of the region’s history and cultural diversity.
  • Muziris, whose legacy goes back to 3,000 years ago, is said to have been the largest port of the ancient times in the East and traded in everything from precious stones to spices. It served as doorway for various cultures and races to India

SC does U-turn, admits plea for Court of Appeal

  • The Supreme Court admitted a Chennai lawyer’s petition for setting up a National Court of Appeal with regional benches to act as the final courts of justice in criminal and civil cases.
  • In doing so, the court has at one stroke questioned the past views of its own Chief Justices of India about bifurcation of judicial powers and a government order in 2014 that such a court of appeal is constitutionally impermissible.
  • The proposed court is meant to act as final arbiter of appeals against decisions of the High Courts and tribunals in civil, criminal, labour and revenue cases.

Law Ministry rejected proposal on three grounds

  • The lawyer had approached the Union Ministry for Law and Justice for setting up a National Court of Appeal earlier
  • In its order, the Ministry cited three grounds for rejecting the idea —
  1. The Supreme Court always sits in Delhi as per the Constitution;
  2. the Chief Justices of India in the past have “consistently opposed” the idea of a National Court of Appeal or regional Benches to the Supreme Court;
  3. and the Attorney-General said a National Court of Appeal would “completely change the constitution of the Supreme Court.”

Highlights of Railway Budet

  • Proposed an ambitious capital outlay of Rs. 1.21 lakh crore for 2016-17, a jump of 21 per cent over this year.
  • Indicated a cut in freight tariffs
  • Tapping new revenue streams and optimising expenses are part of a new structure
  • Action has been initiated on 139 budget announcements made last year

Passenger Services

  • No hike in passenger fares
  • on-board entertainment and travel insurance options at the time of booking.
  • Swacch Bharat: 17000 biotoilets and additional toilets in 475 stations before the close of this financial year.
  • Increased quota for senior citizens and women travellers this year.
  • wifi at 100 stations this year and 400 stations next year.
  • Enhanced capacity of e-ticketing system from 2,000 tickets/min to 7,200/min. Supporting 1.2 lakh concurrent users now, as opposed to 40,000 earlier.
  • Deen Dayal coaches for long distance trains for unreserved passengers. These coaches will include potable water and higher number of mobile charging points.
  • IRCTC to manage catering service in phased manner. Local cuisine of choice will be made available to passengers.
  • Cleaning of toilets by requests through SMS.
  • Children’s menu, baby foods, baby boards to be made available for travelling mothers.
  • GPS-based digital display in coaches for showing upcoming stations.
  • Will open cancellation facility through 139 helpline number.
  • Introduce bar-coded tickets on pilot basis to tackle menace of t.

Safety

  • Eliminate all unmanned level crossings by 2020.
  • All major stations to be brought under CCTV surveillance in a phased manner.

On new projects to be implemented this year:

  • Overnight double-decker trains to be introduced on business travel routes.
  • 1,600 km of electrification this year and 2,000 km proposed for the next year.
  • Broad Gauge Lumding-Silchar section in Assam, connecting Barak Valley with rest of country.
  • North-East India, especially Mizoram and Manipur, to be connected through broad gauge soon.
  • Special purpose vehicle for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high speed corridor registered this month

Financing for railways budget

  • The budget announced increasing investments by 21 per cent to Rs.1.21 lakh crore in 2016-17 – more than double the average investments made by the previous government in the 2009-14 period.
  • There are obstacles for investment
  1. Slow growth of our economy’s core sectors due to international slowdown
  2. The looming impact of the 7th Pay Commission and increased productivity bonus payouts
  • The budget factored in Rs.20,500 crore as impact of the recommendations of the 7Th Pay Commission in 2016-17; leading to a decline in the projection of the operating ratio to 92 per cent (the Railways will spend 92 paisa to earn a rupee). Operating ratio is a measure of financial performance of the Indian Railways and a lower ratio means better efficiency.
  • In 2015-16, the operating ratio declined to 90 per cent from 91.3 per cent in 2014-15. The decline in operating ratio from 88 per cent to 90 per cent, and to 92 per cent for next year is along expected lines, with freight and passenger traffic remaining nearly flat, and expenses continuing to increase.

3. As both passenger and freight traffic declined, the revenue earned by the Indian Railways was hit. The total revenue declined by 8.9 per cent to Rs.1.72 lakh crore in 2015-16 compared with last year. The gross traffic earnings were 8.6 per cent less than the target of Rs.1.83 lakh crore in 2015-16. The freight earnings were hit due to poor performance by the core sector – which constitutes around 88 per cent of the goods transported by the Indian Railways. The share of railways in the total freight traffic (35 per cent at present) has been consistently declining over the years

4. Most of the state governments coffers are empty

5. Private players are currently not in a mood to pick up PPP projects.

6. While international agencies are open for investing in Indian projects, they demand more reforms and at faster pace

In this context, how the increased investment target of Rs.1.2 lakh crore will be met, becomes more pertinent

Positives – budget expectations

  • However despite the burden of Seventh Pay Commission, the operating ratio is projected to move up by two per cent.
  • The government plans to raise Rs.20,985 crore in 2016-17 from institutional financing, a 119 per cent increase from the revised estimates of 2015-16.
  • This year, Railways plan to control the working expenses. The savings from diesel and electrical energy account would be Rs.5,000 crore. We plan to increase freight by 50 million tonne. With the passenger initiatives, the passenger earnings will go up. The non-fare box revenue will be doubled. So, increased revenue combined with reduction in working expenses will finance the Seventh Pay Commission burden.
  • SPV has been formed and registered. National High Speed Rail Corporation is the name of the company.Initially, Rs.200 crore will be provided as equity to the SPV. The total authorised capital is Rs.20,000 crore for this company. The funding model is 81 per cent of the funds will come from Japan and the balance has to be a joint company between the government of India and the (governments of) two states.
  • An incremental traffic of 50 million tonne in freight is expected in 2016-17 as the government is looking to bring down freight tariffs and look to increase the basket of freight goods.
  • The total revenue is expected to grow by 10 per cent to Rs.1.89 crore in 2016-17 as the government is looking to tap other sources of revenue besides passenger and freight.
  • Budget listed station redevelopment, monetising land along tracks, monetising soft assets, advertising as some of the means to shore up non-fare revenues.

More powers to zonal railways for faster decision-making

  • The Railway budget announced a radical overhaul of its organisational structure, more transparency and a hard look at the status quo on its operational parameters such as the average train speed.
  • Significantly, more powers have been delegated to the zonal railways for faster decision-making.
  • It also introduced accountability for officials –
  1. This includes defining key result areas (KRAs) for general managers and divisional railway managers to evaluate their performance.
  2. A single official would be made accountable for each train’s on-board experience to address passenger concerns
  3. third party audit will be conducted to ensure the quality of services on trains and stations.
  • The Railways will work on ensuring reserved accommodation to travellers on demand
  • Time tabled freight trains (for which a pilot will be started in 2016-17)
  • Semi-high speed trains along the Golden Quadrilateral.
  • It committed to expediting critical projects to connect the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country.
  • Also announced three new dedicated freight corridors to connect North-South (Delhi to Chennai), East-West (Kharagpur-Mumbai) and East Coast Corridor connecting Kharagpur to Vijayawada. The projects will be taken up on a priority basis.
  • Among the new announcements, East Coast connectivity through Dedicated Freight Corridor is perhaps the most impactful, as it would contribute to India participating in global production networks in South East Asia, and to Make in India
  • That new project announcements are limited indicates adherence to implementation focus, highlighted in the previous Budget

Rail travel insurance on the cards

  • The Railways has proposed an option to buy travel insurance for the passengers and said the government was working with the insurance companies on the issue.
  • To minimise the financial loss to passengers from such events, govt is working with insurance companies to offer optional travel insurance for rail journeys at the time of booking
  • While insurance companies welcomed the move, as it will increase insurance penetration, they also pointed out that delivery of services would be the key for the success of the plan.

Four new categories of trains announced

  • Budget announced four new categories of trains — one for unreserved passengers and three for reserved passengers.
  • The Antyodaya Express, a long-distance, fully unreserved, superfast train service, for the common man, to be operated on dense routes.
  • Two to four Deen Dayalu coaches will also be added to some long-distance trains for unreserved travel to enhance our carrying capacity for the masses
  • A fully third AC train, called Humsafar – The Tejas category of trains will run at 130 km an hour, with entertainment, local cuisine, Wi-Fi and other amenities on board.
  • Third AC is always a profit-making initiative. An added benefit will be that they will allow the Railways to target the subsidised prices towards these trains, so that they are not availed by higher income passengers
  • The final category is UDAY (Utkrisht DoubleDecker Air-conditioned Yatri), which will be overnight trains plying on the busiest routes to increase capacity by 40 per cent..

Apps, wi-fi services in pipeline

  • From connectivity to safety, the Budget places its bets on technology to make train travel more comfortable for travellers.
  • The Railways intends to bring out two mobile apps — one dealing with all ticketing issues and the other for receipt and redress of complaints and suggestions.
  • A new service “Clean my Coach” service will also be introduced Pan-India through which a passenger will be able to request cleaning of his/her coach/toilets on demand through SMS.
  • The budget also proposes to install information boards in trains enumerating onboard services along with GPS-based digital displays inside coaches to provide real time information regarding upcoming halts.
  • The Railway Ministry, in partnership with Google, will start Wi-Fi services at 100 stations this year, increasing it to 400 more stations in the next two years, the Minister said.
  • To keep boredom at bay onboard, Budget proposes a partnership with FM Radio stations and introduce Indian Railways bi-lingual magazine Rail Bandhu to all reserved classes of travellers in Mail/Express trains. The magazine will be made available in all regional languages.
  • By 2020, the Railways would work towards meeting long-felt desires of the common man, including use of high-end technology to significantly improve the safety record, elimination of all unmanned level crossings and increasing punctuality to almost 95 per cent.

Policies to promote freight transport through railways

The 2020 vision clearly defines the special package to improve the freight ecosystem in India thus getting fresh revenue streams for IR

  1. Indian Railways’ (IR) share of the freight market has been declining and the Railway Budget includes several measures to address this trend, including running time-tabled freight trains “with credible service commitments” by 2020. Network capacity constraints have prevented the railways from running time-tabled services so far but IR will start running container, parcel and commodity trains on a pilot basis in 2016.
  2. The country will get three new dedicated freight corridors, according to the Railway Budget 2016, in addition to the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata freight corridors that are due to be commissioned in 2019. The new projects are a North-South corridor, from Delhi to Chennai, an East-West corridor from Karaghpur to Mumbai and an East Coast corridor, from Kharagpur to Vijayawada. The projects will be financed through a PPP (public private partnership) mechanism and rolled out on a high priority basis
  3. Expanding the freight basket, which is highly concentrated (10 commodities account for 88% of the mix)
  4. Building terminal capacity to improve last mile connectivity
  5. Rationalising tariffs structures so freight is competitive

Tech friendly Budget

  • IR intends to use the latest drone and geo-spatial-based satellite technology for remotely reviewing the physical progress across major projects. Monitoring of dedicated freight corridor will be operationalised through this mode in 2016-17
  • The railways had already started using social media for resolving issues faced by the travellers, bringing transparency in its working. There will be extensive usage of this medium.
  • The railway ministry has also set apart Rs.50 crore for providing innovation grants to employees, start-ups and growth-oriented small businesses to support internal and external innovation.
  • The minister also proposed to set up a R&D organisation for developing strategic technology and bringing in holistic advancement.
  • Will set up a R&D organization, a Special Railway Establishment for Strategic Technology & Holistic Advancement, SRESTHA,
  • The new R&D organisation—Research Design and Standards Organisation— will now focus only on day-to-day issues while SRESTHA would drive long-term research.
  • The Indian Railways will also install 20,000 screens across 2,000 stations to provide real-time information to passengers. He also said the ministry will boost security at various stations through CCTVs and helplines.

Public-private partnerships to fuel future growth of Indian Railways

  • The Railway Budget has laid emphasis on Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to implement initiatives such as rail connectivity for ports, station-redevelopment, rail-side logistics parks and warehousing as well as satellite terminals.
  • A committee appointed for the purpose of revamping the ministry’s PPP cell has submitted its report and the initiative is “under implementation. The cell will be strengthened as part of organisational restructuring process to improve ease of doing business with the Indian Railways
  • The capital expenditure for the next financial year, pegged at Rs.1.21 lakh crore, calls for abandoning the “business-as-usual approach” and continually innovating to develop new frameworks for PPP
  • Foreign investors from Spain and France were keen on dedicated freight corridors (DFC) projects provided they were structured properly in terms of financial returns and risk-allocation and mitigation, he said. Land acquisition for dedicated freight corridors could take a long time.
  • The ministry would take up dedicated freight corridors and implement it in a time-bound manner through innovative financing mechanisms, including PPP. The corridors will to cater to rapid expansion of freight business
  • Port connectivity was important for seamless logistics to boost imports and exports and as a part of the ongoing coastal connectivity program, the government plans to undertake implementation of rail connectivity for the ports of Nargol and Hazira under the PPP model during the next financial year.

Ammunition from private sector soon

  • The Defence Ministry is working on proposals to further open up and streamline the defence procurement process.
  • These include allowing the private sector to manufacture ammunition and longer tenures for Army officers in the acquisition wing to ensure continuation
  • As the requirement for various types of ammunition by the Army keeps changing, the private sector will be given orders for 10 years to ensure financial viability
  • As of now, only the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is permitted to manufacture ammunition.
  • Also the short duration of Army officers in the acquisition wing delays procedures as personnel are frequently replaced.
  • Defence Ministry was planning to create a separate set-up for acquisition and OFB, both for capital and revenue streams.
  • In addition to revising the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) which is to be released soon there is need to tweak the Defence Procurement Manual (DPM) and the OFB procurement procedures to streamline the process and ensure transparency.

Now, e-visa for tourists from 37 more nations

  • Electronic tourist visas (e-TVs) will be extended to citizens of 37 more countries, taking the total number to 150.
  • The new additions are Albania, Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cote d’lvoire, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Iceland, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Moldova, Namibia, Romania, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Trinidad & Tobago, Zambia and Zimbabwe
  • TVoA (tourist visa on arrival), enabled by electronic travel authorisation, popularly known as the e-tourist visa scheme, was launched on November 27, 2014. Since then, more than 7.5 lakh such visas have been issued. At present, on an average, 3,500 e-TVs are granted daily.

EPFO tightens norms for withdrawal of funds

  • Retirement fund body EPFO has tightened norms on withdrawal of provident fund as well investment of such amount in Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana for its over five crore subscribers.
  • Now, the subscribers will not be able to claim withdrawal of their provident fund after attaining age of 54 years. They would have to wait till attaining the age 57 years. The ministry has notified new rules
  • As per the earlier norms, the EPFO subscribers were allowed to claim 90 per cent of their accumulations in their PF account at the age of 54 year

Interest subsidy of 3 per cent may be granted for select merchant exports

  • Merchant exporters, who procure goods from manufacturers for exports, are likely to be granted a three per cent interest subsidy on pre and post-shipment rupee export credit in certain sectors such as handicrafts, farm products, processed food and carpets.
  • These exporters are currently not included in the government’s Interest Equalisation Scheme (IES), previously termed as Interest Subvention Scheme.
  • Since November 2015 Cabinet decision on IES did not include merchant exporters in the scheme, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) and the Commerce Ministry have taken into account the continued contraction in exports and is considering a proposal to include merchant exporters in certain sectors where manufacturers/producers do not directly deal in exports Though the DGFT and the commerce ministry were in agreement with the proposal, it now needs the finance ministry’s consent and finally the Cabinet approval

Interest Equalisation Scheme (IES)

  • The scheme, announced in November last year, took effect from April 1, 2015 for a period of five years (till April 2020).
  • The government had announced the IES to help certain identified export sectors to be internationally competitive and achieve higher level of export performance.
  • The benefit of the IES is given to exporters based on a study by exporters’ apex body FIEO, according to which the rate of export credit in India is 11-12 per cent as against 2-3 per cent in the Euro area (except Greece), 2.6 per cent in Taiwan, 4.6 per cent in Thailand, 5.5 per cent in China and 6.2 per cent in Malaysia.
  • The sectors currently covered in the IES include all exports of micro, small and medium enterprises and 416 tariff lines in sectors such as processed food, handicraft, carpets, handloom, coir, textiles, sports goods, stationary, cosmetics, leather, medical instruments, auto components, iron & steel, electrical, engineering and telecom.
  • The annual financial implication of the scheme was estimated to be between Rs.2,500-2,700 crore. The manufacturers normally depend on merchant exporters to export their products.
  • Merchandise exports had contracted for the 14th consecutive month in January 2016, and exports of goods during April 2015-January 2016 this fiscal registered a negative growth of 17.65 per cent over the same period in the previous fiscal to $217.7 billion.

Cabinet nod to incentivise cashless transactions

  • The Union Cabinet approved several steps to promote cashless transactions, which include mandatory card-based or electronic payments beyond a prescribed threshold.
  • Some of the other major steps approved by the Cabinet include the withdrawal of any additional charge currently imposed on card or digital payments by various government entities and the introduction of the required infrastructure for digital payments in all government offices.
  • The Cabinet also approved the rationalisation of the merchant discount rate (MDR) on card transactions and telecom service charges for digital financial transactions to promote mobile banking.
  • With this decision, the government has completed its promise for such measures made in the previous Budget. However, the details of these incentives were not shared in formal communiqué of the Cabinet’s decision.

Advantages

  • Will be instrumental in tax avoidance,
  • migration of Government payments and collections to cashless mode,
  • discourage transactions in cash by providing access to financial payment services to the citizens to conduct transactions through card/ digital means and
  • shifting payment ecosystem from cash dominated to non-cash/less cash payments,” according to a government statement.

Pilferage remains a problem for LPG subsidy scheme

  • The direct benefit transfer scheme (DBT) for LPG subsidy has resulted in considerable savings for the government. However pilferage still remains a problem, according to a study. by MicroSave, an international financial consultancy
  • The survey, which covered over 100 LPG distributors and 6,000 consumers in Uttarakhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh
  • Despite being a well-designed system accruing big savings for the government, we discovered that cylinders continue to be diverted to the commercial market. In he research, it was found that families, irrespective of income levels and family size consume 9.5-10.5 cylinders per year leaving 2-3 unutilised, subsidised cylinders per household. It was discovered, this design has led to a unique problem that we call the ‘March problem.
  • It found that customers in these states said that they were approached by distributors to book the unused cylinders at the end of the financial year, in March. Once these extra cylinders are booked, the report found,the distributor sells them at market rates while the families receive the subsidy amount in their accounts in the following month.
  • Back of the envelope calculations show that around Rs.1,800 crore-Rs.3,000 crore (based on a usage of 9.5-10.5 cylinders) out of the total amount transferred under PAHAL (as the LPG subsidy scheme is called) is being pilfered, assuming that only half the eligible population across all states indulged in such activities. That works out to 6-10.5 per cent of the total LPG subsidy payments through this scheme. The actual figure could be more.
  • Government data shows that it has given out Rs.28,713 crore under the PAHAL scheme against a budgeted amount of Rs.21,140 crore.
  • DBTs had led to a 23 per cent reduction in the number of gas connections, removing over 40 million ineligible consumers. Savings on these ghost customers can be as high as around $2 billion computed at the rates prevailing at the time of launch
  • A per-cylinder approach to the subsidy payments could remove the incidence of pilferage.At the moment, the government gives a standard subsidy amount regardless of whether it is for the first cylinder consumed or the twelfth. The report recommends a graded approach where the first few cylinders used receive a high subsidy amount while the 10{+t}{+h}, 11{+t}{+h}and 12{+t}{+h}cylinders receive no subsidy at all.
  • Using this method, the overall subsidy received by the families for cylinders used will remain the same.

Make names of wilful defaulters public: panel

  • The Standing Committee on Finance recommended that state-owned banks make public the names of their respective top 30 stressed accounts involving wilful defaulters.

Details

  • Wilful defaulters owe PSU banks a total of Rs.64,335 crore or 21 per cent of total non-performing assets, (NPA), according to the report.
  • The sharpest increase in NPAs in the banking industry was observed in mid size corporates (Rs.25 crore—Rs.100 crore exposure to commercial entities) as they rose to 9.7 per cent in September 2015 from 6.4 per cent in March 2014.
  • Retail loans saw an industry-wise reduction to 4.7 per cent from 8.8 per cent.The committee said it was alarming that as on September 2015, nearly Rs. 6.8 lakh crore worth of bank loans were in the ‘stressed category’ as against Rs.5.91 lakh crore in the previous year.
  • The banks have “evidently failed” to notice the early signs of stress on the loans disbursed by them. There is an urgent need for banks to reduce their stressed assets and clean up their balance sheets lest they become a drag on the economy
  • So it recommended that state-owned banks make public the names of their respective top 30 stressed accounts involving wilful defaulters.
  • This will act as a deterrent and enable banks to withstand pressure and interference from various quarters in dealing with the promoters for recoveries or sanctioning further loans, the committee said in its report tabled in Parliament
  • For this, the committee recommended the government amend the RBI Act and other laws and guidelines.
  • The committee also recommended that specially-tasked committees be mandated to continually monitor the status of large loan portfolios and submit periodical reports to government and Parliament on the findings.
  • Since diversion of funds by promoters to unrelated businesses and poor pre-sanction due-diligence have been cited as key reasons for bank loans turning toxic, the committee said it was of the view that forensic audits should be made mandatory for specific class of borrowers.

Current status of NPA’s

  • Total credit off-take of public sector banks as on December 2014 stood at Rs. 60,60,699 crore and as on September 2015, the net NPAs were Rs. 2,05,024 crore, according to the report.
  • The gross NPAs were Rs. 3,69,990 crore. Certain estimates, the committee notes, indicate that the gross NPAs could reach Rs. 4 lakh crore by the end of this fiscal year.
  • The stressed assets ratio (gross NPAs plus restructured standard advances to gross advances) for the system as a whole exceeded 11 per cent at the end of March 2015 compared to March 2014.
  • Taking the gross NPAs and the restructured advances together, the stress on public sector banks is 13.03 per cent to total advances as on December 2014 and 8.71 per cent as on September 2015.

New range to test DRDO’s EW devices

  • The Defence Research & Development Organisation is setting up a large field, or outdoor test range, for indigenous electronic warfare (EW) devices that later get fitted on war planes, ships and army tanks.
  • An EW test range is among the [national defence] priorities for the coming years. EW devices broadly include radars, transmitters, antennas, sensors and communication devices — the defence forces’ ‘ears and eyes’ for detecting enemy presence or to deter its intelligence gathering.
  • DLRL, it is learnt, has more or less identified Orvakal in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh for this facility. DRDO has already chosen the place for its 2”,700-acre National Open Air Range for testing missiles.
  • EW devices are now tested indoors in labs and are qualified for use in a year or two. An outdoor range will vastly cut this time
  • DLRL and the Defence Avionics Research Establishment in Bengaluru are in an advanced stage of developing indigenous seekers and AESA radars. Some of the EW areas may not require imports in the near future
  • The EW devices market was globally estimated at $30 billion, and nationally at Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000 crore.

Leaders must pay for damage: SC

  • Agitations cannot hold the nation to ransom and be a reason to vandalise public property, the Supreme Court said
  • Organisers of such agitations will have to pay the cost.
  • The court’s resolve hit home after the widespread Jat quota agitation saw killings, burning and looting of shops, and mobs destroying canals supplying water to the National Capital. The Haryana government reeled under losses worth several thousands of crores and the Army was brought in to protect public property.
  • A Bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and C. Nagappan said parameters should be laid down to pin the blame on organisers and make them pay compensation for agitations which slipped into uncontrolled mob violence against innocents and their property.
  • Stressing that equal accountability should be applicable to all, the court said: “Whether it is the BJP or the Congress or whichever organisation or party, it may be asked to pay for the property damaged. They will collect the money and pay for the damage.”

SC questions Maharashtra guidelines for dance bars

  • Maharashtra government’s new guidelines for dance bars did not find favour with the Supreme Court. ,

The guidelines for the dance bars by high courts include

  • Sending live recordings of CCTV feed directly to the police. The feed from the CCTV cameras is supposed to be displayed at the police control room according to the guidelines
  • A“non-transparent” partition between the dance floor and the restaurant area
  • Permission for only four dancers at one time
  • Recordings up to 30 days would be preserved and placed before a competent authority in case of any dispute.

Earlier judgement

  • In October 2015, the Supreme Court had ushered dance back into the beer parlours and hotels of Mumbai by staying a legal provision in the Maharashtra Police Act prohibiting the entertainment.
  • But the court also gave a free hand to the authorities to crack down on the performances if they were found to be “remotely expressive of any kind of obscenity.”

Fiscal metrics remain weak: Moody’s

  • India’s economic growth at more than 7 per cent may be faster than that of its peers, but subdued rural demand and weak corporate profitability will contribute to hampering fiscal consolidation in the upcoming Budget, Moody’s Investors Service said.
  • Even if the February 29 budget shows deficit targets are being met or surpassed, fiscal metrics in India will remain on a weaker footing than other countries with similar sovereign credit ratings. This is because of the relatively high level of India’s state and central government deficits and debt. The fiscal weakness is partly due to structural factors
  • Low per-capita incomes limit the tax base and raise pressure for subsidies and development spending, while high debt levels (63.8 per cent of GDP in 2015-16) restrict fiscal flexibility.
  • India’s credit rating will not just depend on the forecasts for fiscal management but the specific measures the Budget takes to expand the revenue base, at a time when tax collections are tapering off, and insulate government expenditure from economic shocks.
  • Separately, cyclical and unanticipated developments would heighten fiscal pressures and any improvements in the fiscal deficit are ‘likely to be limited in the near-term,” the agency stressed, referring to a rise in food subsidy costs owing to a drought, revision of civil servant salaries next year and the need to recapitalise public sector banks.
  • Economic Affairs Secretary indicated that the government would neither go overboard with public spending to jumpstart the economy as some people have suggested, nor stick ‘tightly’ to the fiscal deficit goalposts. India’s fiscal deficit stood at 4.1 per cent of GDP in 2014-15 and the government has committed to a target of 3.9 per cent for this fiscal and 3.5 per cent for 2016-17, deviating from an original target to bring the deficit down to three per cent of GDP by then.
  • The shift in the roadmap made last year underscores the agency’s expectation that even with very modest deficit reduction goals, fiscal consolidation will be ‘difficult to achieve’ though the government is committed to it over the medium term.
  • “While it may or may not be a part of the Budget speech, clarity on the Goods and Services Tax regime would provide insight into how revenues could evolve over the longer term. On the expenditure side, the Budget will reveal how the government allocates current and capital spending in the context of the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission and , the still sluggish outlook for capital investment and efforts to strengthen state-owned banks’ balance sheets,” according to Moody’s statement.
  • The rating agency did highlight one silver lining for India compared to its peers – lower reliance on foreign currency debt, even though its public debt to GDP ratio is higher than similarly rated countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Romania and Turkey.
  • “This insulates government finances from gyrations in the exchange rate, which have been particularly severe in the last few years, and will continue to be so. Emerging markets with a higher reliance on foreign currency financing have witnessed sovereign borrowing costs rise as global risk appetite diminishes,” said the Moody’s note

FII cap in state-run banks may increase to 49 per cent

  • The government is considering a proposal to increase the cap on foreign institutional investment in public sector banks to 49 per cent from 20 per cent.
  • The move comes at a time public sector banks need equity capital while their stocks have taken a hammering after reporting huge losses in the third quarter due to a sharp rise in non-performing assets
  • According to present regulations, a single non-banking institution cannot hold more than 10 per cent in a bank while one bank can hold maximum 5 per cent stake in another bank. These stipulations, however, may continue.
  • The public sector banks will need to raise tier-I capital as their capital positions have depleted due to higher provisioning for bad loans. While the government has commited Rs.70,000 crore capital infusion in four years (starting from this financial year) that amount may be inadequate, several rating agencies had pointed out.
  • Earlier, the government had estimated an amount of Rs.2.8 crore as capital infusion for the public sector banks by 2018.
  • Public sector banks are constraint to raise equity capital from the markets as most of them are trading at a significant discount to their book value. For example, price to book value of State Bank of India is 0.68, while that is Canara Bank’s is 0.23, and Bank of India’s 0.17.
  • Profitability of public sector will come under pressure in the Jan-March quarter bad loans will further rise.
  • Most public sector banks reported weak earnings in Q3 after Reserve Bank of India (RBI), found in its asset quality review (AQR) that certain accounts needs higher provisioning and asked the lenders to classify those accounts as non-performing and gave the lenders two quarters – Q3 & Q4 – to complete the task. Most banks have classified 50 per cent of the RBI identified accounts in Q3 and remaining will be identified in Q4, which will result in further rise in NPAs.
  • Apart from provisioning for bad loans, public sector banks will also require capital to comply with the Basel-III norms.
  • The one of the biggest hurdle to increase the foreign shareholding cap in public sector banks was Reserve Bank of India, which was not in favour of higher limit due to concerns over stability.

PSU stake sale policy soon

  • The government will soon come out with a policy on strategic sale of state-owned companies and the disinvestment will not be confined to loss-making enterprises.
  • Broadly, the strategic sale is that government is selling the equity of the company along with the controlling management.
  • The previous NDA Government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had from 1999 to 2004 privatised about a dozen state—owned firms and hotels including Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL), Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd. (BALCO), CMC Ltd. and Hindustan Zinc (HZL).
  • But the policy was buried after the UPA came to power and only minority stake sales was pursued since then

Government to unveil IPR policy in a fortnight

  • The government had in November 2014 said it has set up an IPR think-tank to draft the IPR policy. However, despite the think-tank submitting the final draft in April 2015, the announcement of the policy was delayed as the Cabinet note on it had to be circulated among 29 ministries for their suggestions

The policy 

  • Will be entirely compliant with the World Trade Organisation’s agreement on Trade Related aspects of IPRs (TRIPS)
  • Will have a special thrust on awareness generation and effective enforcement of IPRs
  • Will provide encouragement of IP commercialisation through various incentives.
  • As per Mr. Modi’s suggestion, the IPR Policy will focus on creating IPR awareness at school/college level by making it a part of syllabus/curriculum, and promote organisations such as the National Research Development Corporation to help commercialise the inventions / patents developed at the level of educational institutes.
  • The policy will also suggest incentives such as tax benefits and fee waivers to encourage R&D and IP creation to strengthen the Make In India/Start-up/Digital India initiatives.
  • To protect ‘small inventions’ developed especially in the informal / unorganised sectors, the policy will promote ‘utility patents’ (with lower compliance burden and shorter period of protection, when compared to the normal patents) only for mechanical innovations. This ‘utility patents’ may not be extended to the pharmaceutical sector considering the sensitivities involved in ensuring the efficacy of the drugs.

Compulsory Licencing

  • However, the policy will not suggest any changes in the existing Indian IPR laws or other related policies on the patent-disabling Compulsory Licencing (CL) and the provision-preventing ‘ever-greening’ of drug patents (done through minor modifications of an existing drug).
  • The move to retain the provisions on CLs (in the National Manufacturing Policy and Section 84 of India’s Patents Act) as well as Section 3(d) of India’s Patents Act (preventing ever-greening of drug patents) comes even as the European Union and the US have been pressing India to make changes in this regard to “boost innovation, research and development (R&D) and foreign investment in India”.
  • According to Section 3(d), besides novelty and inventive step, improvement in therapeutic efficacy is a must for grant of patents when it comes to incremental inventions.
  • As regards Section 3(d), the U.S. and EU firms had said the so-called ‘additional filter’ in the form of “improvement in therapeutic efficacy” for grant of patents was inconsistent with WTO’s TRIPS agreement, a charge which India has denied.

NTPC stake sale oversubscribed

  • The government announced  that the first round of its offer for sale of 5 per cent stock in NTPC reserved for institutional investors was oversubscribed 1.8 times.
  • The 5 per cent stake in NTPC works out to 41.22 crore shares which is expected to earn the government Rs.5,029 crore.
  • While 80 per cent of the shares were up for sale , the balance 20 per cent has been reserved for the retail investors in the second round on Wednesday.
  • The government is committed to going ahead with minority stake and even strategic stake sale. The government would soon come out with a policy for strategic stake sale.
  • Foreign institutional investor (FII) participation in the whole process was very encouraging, with them accounting for around 23 per cent of the bids. There has been a good response from all the segments
  • FIIs bid Rs.925.45 crore while insurance companies bid the highest amount at a bid value of Rs.5,325.33 crore.
  • With this divestment, the government’s stake in NTPC will come down to 69.96 per cent.

Services asked to identify projects of contemporary relevance

  • Conducting a comprehensive review in a meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). of defence procurements cleared in the last two years, Defence Minister has directed the armed forces to identify procurement projects of “contemporary relevance” in the next few months.
  • The review comes as the Defence Ministry is in the final stages of formulating the new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) expected to be released in the next couple of months.
  • A contemporary review is particularly relevant as a large number of defence proposals in the pipeline have been pending for several years and even over a decade in many cases and are now irrelevant due to change in requirements of the forces and advancement in technology.
  • Observing that despite concerted efforts to expedite procurements there still remain 314 cases which have not yet fructified. Out of these 86 schemes worth approximately Rs. 1.5 lakh crore are close to final stage of approval

Prevent abuse by terror elements, Twitter told

  • Telecom Minister asked Twitter to ensure that the social media platform was not abused for terrorism and extremism that posed a threat to India.
  • Twitter said it recently suspended over one lakh accounts globally over such issues.
  • He also raised the issue of Jammu having been shown as part of Pakistan by the micro-blogging site at the first official meeting between the NDA government’s brass and Twitter

Govt. softens stand on foreign trips by officials

  • A new notification by the Finance Ministry is more than willing to allow government officials to go on such trips.
  • The office memorandum was issued on January 5 this year detailing instructions for foreign visits of government officers, as part of a cost-cutting exercise.
  • In particular, Section 19 says “There shall be no objection in accepting international air travel costs and hospitality from an international body of which India is a member, if the visit abroad is covered under bilateral/multilateral agreement or under a regular exchange programme.”
  • The O.M., as it is called has raised eyebrows in the Ministry of Home Affairs that has to clear such trips. Now, MHA says that the language of the memorandum when it comes to allowing foreign governments/agencies to pay for officers’ international travel is also “problematic” and can expose them to “being courted” by those agencies.
  • It puts in explicit language that “Cash allowance and other allowances” could be accepted as offered by the “foreign government/sponsors.”
  • While Finance Ministry officials explain this as a way of ensuring the government doesn’t have to reimburse officials especially where Indian allowances are higher than those of say the IMF/World Bank or UN agencies, the language of the new notification is in stark contrast to the past.
  • The big worry is if an international lobby firm, NGO, or health or education agency that has a vested interest in Indian projects, could use this clause to “reach out to” or “lobby with” Indian officials through a foreign government programme.

Issue

  • It is strange that the government is trying to be very strict on NGOs in this regard, and demanding accountability, while liberalising foreign-sponsored travel for government officials themselves
  • The move is short-sighted when they encourage officers to travel abroad on trips paid for by foreign sponsors. Accepting hospitality except directly from bilateral or multilateral organisations “could easily constitute a conflict of interest.
  • Out of the total budget of the Central government, the amount spent on foreign travel by ministries not including the MEA, that needs to travel much more, the figure is paltry

‘Civil liberties in danger, but India fighting back’ – Amnesty International

The report for 2015-16

  • It criticised the government for using archaic laws to suppress dissent in its report for 2015-16,
  • The report included India among countries that have failed to match up to the “international standard” of freedom of expression and civil liberties.
  • The report especially noted that over the past year, crackdown on freedom of expression by majoritarian groups linked to the government had intensified
  • Censorship and attacks on freedom of expression by hardline Hindu groups grew. Scores of artists, writers and scientists returned national honours in protest against what they said was a climate of growing intolerance
  • The annual report said India held at least 3,200 prisoners in various prisons without trial under executive order. The report said the country had failed to prevent “hundreds” of communal and ethnic riots in the past one year.
  • Some politicians contributed to religious tensions by making speeches justifying discrimination and violence,” said the report, while noting that incidents of non-vegetarianism and cow slaughter had often been cited as justification for communal and mob violence.
  • It criticised India for a negative gender justice environment, and for violating international legal obligations for the recent modifications in the juvenile justice system which “allows children aged 16 to 18 to be treated as adults in cases of serious crimes”.
  • However, praising the collective spirit of resistance in India, the report also said “growing intolerance” had faced tough opposition from the people who contested the majoritarian attempts to curtail freedom.
  • The report also made a special mention of Tripura, which was the first State to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Rajasthan agrees to Jat demands

  • After two days of talks with the agitating Jats, the Rajasthan government has agreed to the demands of the community
  • The agitators had demanded that the OBC Commission must be given the status of a statutory body, and that after the Bill on Jat reservation was passed in the Rajasthan Assembly, the State government must enter into talks with the committee formed under Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s chairmanship to take up their concerns at the Central level.

Venkaiah panel meets Haryana CM

  • The Venkaiah Naidu committee looking into the issue of Jat reservation in Haryana had its second meeting, this time in the presence of Haryana Chief Minister M.L. Khattar.
  • The meeting went into several socio-economic and legal issues concerning granting quota for Jats in the State, including how the past Bhupinder Singh Hooda government had dealt with the issue in courts, since the reservation had been thrown out by courts last year.

The issue is complicated by following factors

  • The violence of the agitation
  •  Complicated legalese involved in it  since the reservation had been thrown out by courts last year.
  • There were threats of demonstrations by other 35 non-Jat communities in the State, against Jat reservations

Arunachal ordinance tabled

  • A copy of the proclamation imposing President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh and another revoking it were tabled in the Lok Sabha
  • Loksabha met briefly after President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.
  • The government also tabled a copy of the Ordinance to amend the Enemy Property Act promulgated on January 7.

A-G declines consent for contempt petition

  • Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi declined consent to a petition seeking the Supreme Court to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and research scholar Umar Khalid, former Delhi University lecturer S.A.R Geelani, among others, for allegedly terming the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru a “judicial killing”.
  • Under Rule 3 (c) of the Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of the Supreme Court, 1975, a petition filed by a third person alleging contempt should receive prior consent of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General in writing before the court takes action. This screening is part of a mechanism to avoid wasting the court’s time on frivolous contempt pleas..

President spotlights welfare programmes

  • In his address to the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, President Pranab Mukherjee dwelt on the government’s programmes, especially those aimed at financial inclusion and the agricultural sector, including the recently launched Pradhan Mantri Fasal Beema Yojana.

Pradhan Mantri Fasal Beema Yojana

  • The government had recently launched the farmer-friendly crop insurance programme
  • The biggest-ever government’s contribution to crop insurance
  • The lowest-ever premium rates for farmers 5 % for horticulture crops and 1.5 %,2 % for Rabi and Kharif crops respectively.
  • National coverage of post-harvest losses due to inundation and unseasonal rains
  • No capping on subsidy
  • Use of technology for early and accurate settlement of claims
  • Assistance to farmers affected by natural calamities has been increased by 50 per cent and eligibility norms have been relaxed

Govt. to hike housing subsidy for beedi workers & miners

  • Ministry for Labour and Employment has proposed a nearly four-fold increase in the housing subsidy for beedi workers and miners employed in non-coal mines, to align the benefits with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious ‘Housing for All’ scheme.
  • For the current subsidy of Rs. 40,000 to such employees, the Ministry has mooted an increase to Rs. 1.5 lakh under the present Revised Integrated Housing Scheme of 2007.

Revised Integrated Housing Scheme of 2007

  • As per the Revised Integrated Housing Scheme of 2007, a worker gets Rs. 40,000 as assistance from the Central government to build a house on his own land with an area of at least 60 square yards.
  • Workers engaged in the beedi industry for at least a year and earning up to Rs. 6,500 per month can avail the subsidy to construct a house.
  • Also, non-coal mine workers working in iron ore, manganese ore, lime stone ore, dolomite ore, mica ore mines earning up to Rs. 10,000 can avail these benefits.
  • Further, co-operative society for construction of group housing colony for workers may also get the subsidy amount of Rs. 40,000 a tenement per worker.
  • The subsidy amount will be released in two instalments. The first instalment of Rs. 20,000 will be given after a worker contributes Rs. 5,000 towards the construction of the house. When the construction of the house reaches roof level, the second instalment of Rs. 20,000 along with the workers’ contribution of Rs. 5,000 will be given by the Director General of Labour Welfare.
  • In 2014-15, the government constructed 16,552 houses for beedi and non-coal mine workers, according to a reply given by Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya in the Rajya Sabha on July 29 last year.
  • The objective is to give them benefits under the Prime Minister’s ‘Housing for All’ scheme

‘Housing for All’ project

  • The government’s ambitious ‘Housing for All’ project aims to build 2 crore houses in five phases till 2021-22.
  • Under the scheme, a Central grant of Rs. 1 lakh would be available for a house under the slum rehabilitation programme and Central assistance of Rs. 1.5 lakh will be provided to economically weaker sections category households.

Kerala students to take digital literacy to the masses

  • The Kerala-wide Digital Empowerment Campaign, which seeks to bridge the digital divide and maximise the potential of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in day-to-day life, is all set to be rolled
  • Student police cadets from as many as 280 schools in all 14 districts will be enlisted for the campaign, which is expected to help 3 million people in the State.
  • Equipped with tablets preloaded with special software, the students will train at least one member in each family in the catchment area of a school extending up to a radius of 3 km.
  • President Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to launch the campaign on February 27 during his visit to the State.
  • The Kerala State IT Mission (KSITM), the nodal agency for the project, is readying as many as 5600 tablets to be distributed to the cadets.
  • Interestingly, one can monitor the training process on real time basis using the software. A programme monitoring unit will also be set up at KSITM.
  • More than 10 lakh people will be digitally empowered in the first phase of the campaign over a period of four months.
  • The initiative is aimed at making them capable of using e-mail, accessing online government services, making online utility payments and bank transfers and doing online shopping.
  • The training will also cover mobile services and information security. The second phase will utilise the services of both NSS volunteers and NCC cadets to reach out to more citizens.
  • Taken up under the Digital India initiative, the campaign seeks to build on the achievements registered through Akshaya and IT@School projects.
  • High mobile penetration, internet subscription base, optic fibre network coverage, e-governance initiatives and the rise in e-commerce activities justified a higher level of digital empowerment in Kerala.
  • Assuming that 50 per cent of the State’s population in the age group of 30 to 60 years has already been digitally empowered through Akshaya and IT@School programmes, the campaign seeks to reach out to the remaining 60 lakh people.
  • The pilot phase of the campaign last year had utilised student police cadets from 10 schools in Thiruvananthapuram to train 10,000 citizens.
  • The President is also expected to declare Kerala a ‘Digital State’ on the strength of its digital infrastructure and e-governance initiatives

Protection for men from false rape accusations: Court

  • Observing that it is high time that we take a stand on enacting a law to protect men from false rape charges, a court has acquitted a man of rape as the victim agreed to his plea for quashing the case.
  • The prosecutrix has filed her affidavit where she gave her no objection to the present First Information Report (FIR) being quashed, stating that the physical relations with the accused took place with her free consent
  • The victim in her complaint with the Ranhola police station in West Delhi had alleged that the accused had sexually assaulted her at her house in Mohan Garden in 2013 when she was alone.

Clash between ministries over cost cutting

  • A cost-cutting exercise by the Finance Ministry has sparked off a major inter-ministerial battle with the Ministry of External Affairs
  • The memorandum issued on January 5 stipulating new instructions for foreign travel which will need political clearances for officers travelling abroad.

What does the memorandum say

  • For the first time Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal approval is required for more than 4 visits by seceretaries in one year
  • Tele/ video conferencing preferred to actual travel
  • Non officials can only travel on PM’s approval not on MEA’s discretion
  • The memorandum insists that In an outgoing delegation there need not be any Ministry of External Affairs official from India. Instead, services of the Indian mission situated in the destination country could be utilised. When Mr. Modi had addressed the Indian communities in Shanghai, San Francisco and London in 2015, for example, MEA diplomats from the head office as well as other embassies had been flown in, especially to make arrangements for the Prime Minister’s address, a measure that will be constricted now

Impact

  • Will add to the red tape and cause delays.
  • Will affect India’s foreign representataions

GI tags for sweets from West Bengal

  • The West Bengal government is planning to get Geographical Identification (GI) tag for four traditional sweetmeat delicacies of the State to help protect them from imitations.
  • The four sweetmeats are ‘Moa’ of Jainagar, ‘Sarpuria’ of Krishnagar, and ‘Sitabhog’ and ‘Mihidana’ of Burdwan
  • A GI tag is given to products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.
  • ‘Jainagar-er moa’ is made of puffed rice and date palm jaggery at Jainagar in South 24 Parganas district
  • Krishnagar of Nadia district is famous for ‘Sarpuria’ which is made of milk cream.
  • ‘Sitabhog’ and ‘Mihidana’ are rice-based sweets from Burdwan.

Significance

  • It will prevent cheap imitations
  • The Centre also has plans to export sweets from the State and the GI tags would be of immense help in that endeavour
  • The necessity of maintaining quality of the sweets and their packaging which will help increase their shelf life.

IITs to hold entrance exam abroad for foreign students

  • In a bid to attract international talent, the prestigious IITs for the first time are planning to hold their entrance tests in Singapore, UAE, Ethiopia and SAARC nations next year to select foreign students for undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
  • Eight countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Singapore and Dubai — have been zeroed in on for holding entrance tests for foreign nationals from next year onwards.
  • The entrance tests held abroad for the IITs have been held till now only for Indian nationals. This is for the first time that it will be held for foreign students.
  • It is aimed that the plan would be operationalised from the JEE/GATE exams to be conducted in 2017.
  • The students will be selected through a common entrance exam, which would be conducted the IIT with the help of Indian missions in these countries.
  • Officials, however, added that seats to be offered to foreign nationals would be supernumerary or additional in nature, and would not reduce those available to Indian nationals at the 18 institutions.

Scheme for projects in Naxal zones extended

  • All projects require separate forest and environmental clearances, given the specific circumstances of a project.
  • A scheme granting default Forest Department approval for public utility projects in Naxal-affected regions has been in place since 2011 in 117 districts, including those in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Telangana.The programme lapsed in Decembter 2015.
  • The Environment Ministry has decided to extend to December 2018
  • The general approval was granted keeping in view the importance of creation of public utility infrastructure such as schools, dispensaries/hospitals, electric and telecommunication lines, drinking water projects, water/rainwater harvesting structures, minor irrigation canals, non-conventional sources of energy, skill upgrade/vocational training centres, power substations, rural roads, communication posts, police establishments like police stations/outposts/border outposts/watch towers in sensitive areas identified by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • They also include underground laying of optical fibre cables, telephone lines and drinking water supply lines in Left-Wing Extremism-affected areas.
  • However, this default approval is only eligible for projects that take up no more than five hectares.
  • Successful projects
  • Some of the successes that have resulted from this scheme are, a government polytechnic at Bagodhar in Giridih, Jharkhand; the construction of a Kendriya Vidyalaya at Deogarh, Odisha; Sloni Kanya Ashram Project and Magarlodha Boys School Project in Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh; women ITI training centre in Kanker, Chhattisgarh; construction of a government medical college at Kudwa, Gondia, Maharashtra; Vocational Bamboo Research and Training Centre at Chandrapur, Maharashtra; and establishment of Telangana School of Horticulture in Medak, Telangana.

NSSO survey on unemployment rates

  • Unemployment rate is defined as the number of persons unemployed as a proportion of the labour force (persons who are either ‘working’ or ‘seeking or available for work’), not the total population.
  • The unemployment rate in urban areas reduced from 4.5 per cent in 2004-05 to 3.4 per cent in 2011-12, new data from the National Sample Survey Office show. In rural areas, the rate has been stable at around 1.7 per cent during this period.
  • According to the survey, which was conducted in 2011-12 and released recently, the unemployment rate across all the religious groups in rural areas was on the lower side than those in urban areas for both males and females.
  • Christians have the highest rate of unemployment in both rural (4.5 per cent) and urban (5.9 per cent) areas in 2011-12. The rate in urban areas for Christians stood at 8.6 per cent in 2004-05 while the rural rate stays constant.
  • Unemployment level in India is highest among those people who are richer and more educated. The reason is that poor people can’t afford to stay unemployed, and hence, opt for any kind of work, irrespective of the nature of the job. The better off have the capacity to be unemployed as they look for the right job. Christians are the most educated group, hence unemployment rate is higher among them.
  • Among the persons of age 15 and above, the proportion of people who are not literates was the lowest for Christians. Also, the proportion of persons with educational level secondary and above is highest for Christians.
  • While the unemployment rate in rural areas has decreased for Sikhs (from 3.5 to 1.3 per cent) — now the lowest across all religious groups — it has slightly increased for Muslims (from 2.3 to 2.6 per cent). At 3.3 per cent, Hindus have the lowest unemployment rate in urban areas.
  • Self-employment is the major source of income for almost half the households, across all religious groups, in rural areas, followed by casual labour.
  • In urban areas, the proportion of households deriving major income from regular wage or salary earnings is the highest. Half the Muslim households in urban areas have self-employment as major source of income, the highest among all religions, while regular wage or salary earnings was the highest for Christians with 45.8 per cent households.

Mumbai picking up in organ doantion

  • Mumbai’s organ donation machinery is on a roll this year, inching close to Tamil Nadu, that has for years had the most robust organ donation system in place. Mumbai has so far recorded 11 cadaver donations, as compared to eight in the first two months of 2015. Not just that, the organs being harvested are no longer limited to kidneys. The total number of organs donated so far stands at 37.
  • The developments in Mumbai are in tune with the Centre’s national initiative to boost organ donations .
  • Factors enabling more donations include better awareness, proactive measures being undertaken by hospitals as well as high level of political support with the state Chief Minister
  • Until now, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala have been doing good. Organ donation in Chandigarh is picking up

Centre’s support for organ donation

  • Union Health Ministry was supporting the cause and as part of its national programme, it is giving up to Rs. 5 crore for setting up biomaterial centres to store tissues and bones that are harvested from cadavers.
  • The money is for both setting up such centres in each region and upgrading the existing ones to international standards.

Trends seen in organ donation

  • Organ donations are being viewed positively. The earlier impression of kidney rackets until a few years ago is gone. The trust is coming back now
  • Tier II cities like Aurangabad and Pune too were reporting cadaver organ donations
  • The nature of donations were not limited to kidneys.
  • Southern states are doing better

Compalints against Kerala Coastal Zone Management Plan

  • The Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) has received around 200 complaints on the draft Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) prepared for the coastal districts of the State.
  • A four-member committee has been constituted to look into the complaints regarding the plan. Coastal communities have been complaining that the CRZ norms restrict the construction and even repair and reconstruction of the dwelling units.
  • Several local bodies along the coast had demanded that they be excluded from the purview of the CRZ notification which would help them construct housing as well as commercial structures along the coast.
  • They had also asked for reassessing the salinity test, which formed the basis for determining the CRZ. If salinity of five parts per thousand was recorded in a waterbody during the driest part of summer, the coastal area adjoining the waterbody would come under the ambit of the CRZ.
  • Meanwhile, a move to identify the CRZ violations along Vembanad Lake have met with limited success. Though the authority had identified around 5,000 “land modifications” along Vembanad Lake and asked the local bodies concerned to verify them, only a few responded to it.

Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP)

  • The CRZ notification 2011 mandates that coastal States should have a plan in place, which will decide on the land use near waterbodies.
  • The CZMP details the geo-morphological and ecological features of each coast while marking the high tide and low tide lines from where the CRZ regime begins.
  • The specialities of each coast, including the presence of mangroves, intertidal zones, various other ecological and sensitive areas zones, and ‘no’ development zones would also be marked in the plan.
  • Once the plan is approved, it would serve as the base document for identifying the areas in which the development activities would be regulated.

FOR MORE ON CRZ 2011 Click here CRZ notification 2011

Govt. to tap CSCs for rural banking access

  • The government is looking to leverage its Common Services Centres (CSCs) to enable easy access to banking services, particularly in rural areas.
  • The withdrawal facility has already been introduced at the CSCs whereas opening of accounts is being worked out with the banks and is likely to be rolled-out shortly. With the CSCs, the government aims to make one person in every family digitally literate in four years.
  • Through CSCs the entrepreneurs have earned a total commission of Rs.438 crore till now on e-services such as pan cards.
  • Officials should see to that the CSCs provided Internet connectivity on priority basis, Mr. Prasad said. The CSCs should take the lead role in spreading e-commerce in rural India and in promoting local artisans. To incentivise village level entrepreneurs, the minister said three best performing entrepreneurs would be rewarded Rs.2 lakh, Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50,000 each.
  • CSCs play important role as an interface between the government and the beneficiaries of e-services, thus reducing corruption and delays

ICRA may revise ratings of government-owned banks

  • Rating agency ICRA may revise the ratings of public sector banks as their credit profile has deteriorated significantly following a sharp rise in bad loans during the Oct-Dec quarter.
  • Many public sector banks have suffered losses during the third quarter after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in its asset quality review identified accounts in which banks have to make higher provisioning. Since most banks provided only 50 per cent that was mandated by RBI in Q3, similar provisioning will be required in Q4 too.
  • Higher level of stress is likely to significantly impact earnings and solvency profile of PSBs over next 2-3 years. Additionally adverse capital markets conditions have reduced the prospects of mobilising capital from non-government sources, while there has been no material success in mobilizing capital through Additional Tier I (AT1) instruments
  • All these factors contribute to deterioration in credit profile of the PSBs, which may get reflected in ratings / outlook change announcements for some of the PSBs over next few days once the rating reviews are concluded.

Banks require holistic cure

  • Even as mounting bad loans have put Indian banks in a pincer-like situation, the idea of a government-backed ‘bad bank’ has kicked off quite a debate.
  • Bad bank’ concept allows a government-supported entity to buy bad loans from stressed banks at a fair price (discount). Such an entity will then be responsible for recovering the debt.
  • The objective is simple – to help banks clean up their books, and use their capital resources (which are otherwise locked up in making provision for bad loans) for funding the growth in credit needs.
  • The current debate also comes close on the heels of Italy and the EU inking an agreement to allow the Italian banks sell their NPA (non-performing assets) portfolios to private investors with government guarantee.
  • A national asset re-construction company (ARC) or `bad bank’ – given its size and expertise – can fetch multiple advantages to stakeholders, and bring about a quicker resolution to the recovery problems posed by the NPA imbroglio.

Issues with such an entity

  • The NPA levels of these banks are over Rs.3 lakh crore. How much of these can be absorbed by such an ARC or `bad bank’? Even allowing for a discounted price for such purchases, the effort requires quite a funding from the Government.
  • A resource-constrained Government will have difficulty in providing money for this. Elsewhere in the globe, national ARCs were funded by issuing long-term Government-guaranteed bonds.
  • It will also tantamount to condoning the mismanagement of banks
  • It may breed a sense of laxity in the banking system.  Is it right to throw more public money after failed money.
  • These imponderables will significantly impact the decision-making process in this regard. More than anything else, the country needs an ecosystem – both in the banking and legal spheres – that fosters a framework that is just and fair to all stake-holders, and which helps in speedy resolution of the entire debt recovery process. Surely, ARC alone is not the cure for the ills of banks.

Experts want body to oversee budget

  • Members of the XIV Finance Commission have questioned the government’s failure to act on its recommendation to constitute an Independent Fiscal Council that objectively evaluates budget announcements and forecasts, stressing that such an institution was critical to improve the government’s credibility on fiscal management.
  • In the short and medium term, it will help allay fears of global credit rating agencies about the government’s commitment to fiscal targets. The Congressional Budget Office in the U.S. and the Office for Budget Responsibility in the U.K. performed similar functions.
  • States have constraints in managing their finances as the RBI controls their deficit and cannot float a bond on a state’s behalf without the Centre’s approval. Since the 2003 FRBM law came into effect, there have been four pauses in the deficit targets enshrined in it and a few occasions where the targets have been flouted

Finance commission recommendation

  • The Commission had recommended a sharp increase in allocations to state governments in its report released last February, which the government accepted.
  • It had also mooted an Independent Fiscal Council as an oversight body over the finance ministry.
  • The council would report to the Parliament on how realistic government projections are, citing similar independent budget and fiscal management monitoring offices in 35 countries.
  • The Auditor General has to monitor the FRBM Act but that’s a post-facto assessment. The Council can react after the budget comes out and give a view whether the intended purpose would be met or more funds should be provided, and the deficits are in line with projections. For example, in the Seventh Pay Commission it could assess if provisions are realistic
  • In six of the last eight years, revenue forecasts of the government fell short by around 10 per cent, due to overestimation.
  • Such an independent council could also weigh in on the debate over the fiscal deficit that the budget should strive for — that is currently being driven by only government officials, myriad commentators and the RBI

Malayalam film wins Crystal Bear at Berlinale

  • Malayalam film Ottaal (The Trap) won a prestigious Crystal Bear award at the Berlin film festival. An eleven-member youth jury (between 11-14 years of age) awards Crystal Bears to the best feature-length and best short films in the children’s category.
  • Ottaal , directed by Jayaraj Rajasekharan, tells the story of a young boy and his grandfather. It is adapted from Anton Chekhov’s story Vanka .
  • The jury said, “This exceptional movie touched us all with its irresistible images of nature, laid-back music and amazingly gifted actors. The unique way of filming certain details blew us away. We think it’s important that such a sad and serious topic be tackled in a movie, though the film also managed to capture the humour and joy of life.”

Freedom 251 booking closed

  • Ringing Bells closed the booking for its ‘Freedom 251’ smartphone after receiving over 6 crore registrations for the device in just 2 days.The company which has attracted much controversy in the past few days over plans to sell the world’s cheapest smartphone at Rs. 251, said the response received far exceeded the number that they had expected and hence closed the invitation to bookings in this phase 1
  • On the other hand the Telecom Ministry has initiated internal inquiry to ascertain the “veracity of this venture”. Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY) has been instructed to look into the whole issue in the backdrop of long-term implications.”
  • While the IT Ministry confirmed that the Ringing Bell is not registered with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for meeting the safety standards in the country, making the sale of such handsets illegal, the company president Ashok Chaddha said their application was under filing and they expected to have the certification in hand well before delivery commences.
  • Besides, the firm has also come under the scanner of the Excise and Income Tax departments, with the I-T Department looking into the financial structure of the Noida-based company.

No place to honour martyrs

  • It is a tradition to give a ceremonial guard of honour to soldiers who have laid down their lives in line of duty. However, as the bodies reach Delhi, there is no fixed place to accord honour because the issue is stuck in a web of regulations and red tape. The armed forces are denied a permanent space in the name of security.
  • In the recent Siachen tragedy, the bodies of the nine soldiers of 19 Madras Regiment killed in an avalanche were flown to Delhi in a military aircraft and taken to the Palam Air Force station. However the normal practice is to bring them on civilian flights to Delhi, accord them the honours, and fly them to their native places. A site close to the airport is needed as  civil flights cannot be delayed. Military aircraft are not used regularly to fly bodies because it will be too expensive.
  • A new site was to be identified after objections from the Civil Aviation Ministry to the existing unused site, but the process is yet to move forward.
  • The Army had built Shradhanjali Sthal near the cargo terminal of the Indira Gandhi International Airport at a cost of Rs. 30 lakh in the area allotted by the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) in 2012. But since its completion in August 2014, the site has remained unused as the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), an independent body under the Civil Aviation Ministry, refused to give security clearance, citing regulations.

 ‘Matribhasha Diwas’

  • ‘Matribhasha Diwas’ is otherwise observed as International Mother Language Day across the world falls on Feb 21. The theme for 2016 is ‘Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes.’
  • As February 21  happens to be a Sunday, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has Universities to  to observe the day on March 3 instead.
  • The education institutions are expected to organise elocution, debating, singing, essay writing competitions, painting competitions, music and drama performances, exhibitions, online resources and activities as well as events exploring the cognitive, economic, social and cultural activities of multilingual society. These activitiescould be organised preferably in at least two languages, possibly more.

As near misses rise, DGCA mulls review of call signs

  • Incidents of mid-air near misses between airplanes have prompted the Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGCA) to review the call signs given by air traffic controllers to all airlines in order to prevent confusion.
  • A call sign refers to airline code and the number allotted to a particular flight.
  • A committee headed by DGCA’s joint director has been formed which will have representatives from Airports Authority of India, domestic airlines and the Delhi airport.
  • The Committee will review all the relevant regulations, international best practices and suggest measures for safety of aircraft operations. The committee is mandated to submit its report by end of March.

ISRO’s indigenous cryo engine passes test

  • Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) conducted successful hotbed test of the cryogenic engine for the upper stage of the GSLV Mark 3 rocket. The long-duration test at the ISRO Propulsion Research Centre at Mahendragiri lasted 640 seconds.
  • Using Liquid Hydrogen at -253 degrees C and Liquid Oxygen at -193 degrees C as propellants, the high-thrust cryogenic engine (CE20) generates power of approximately 2 MW.
  • Developed at the Liquid Propulsion System centre (LPSC), the engine had already undergone two short-duration tests for engine ignition and steady state performance.
  • Last year, the first developmental engine completed different hot tests in various operating regimes.
  • The third engine identified for flight use will be vacuum tested in the high altitude test facility as part of the flight acceptance test.
  • The first developmental flight of the GSLV Mark 3 in December 2016. The biggest rocket made in India, the Mk3 will be capable of launching four-tonne satellites into geosynchronous orbit.

Resurgence of Maoists in AP

  • While the two ambitious projects of the State government — Polavaram and Bauxite — appear to have given a new lease of life for the Maoist movement on one hand, the resurgence of the leftwing extremism has become a cause of concern for the government.
  • Projecting both the projects as ‘anti-people’, the Maoists have gained some of their lost ground both in Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts, and this has become a headache for the police, especially after the depletion of its manpower, post bifurcation.
  • Keeping both the projects in mind, the State government has made a request for sanction of more Central forces, including Border Security Force (BSF).
  • The merger of seven mandals from Khammam has opened up the border for East Godavari district. The district today has 75 km of border with Odisha touching Malkangiri and 45 km of border with Chhattisgarh touching Sukma district. Both Malkangiri and Sukma are hotbeds for the Maoists.
  • This apart, the district has about 40 km border with Telangana. Polavaram is located on the border and is easily accessible by the Maoists, both from Chhattisgarh and Odisha side.
  • Maoists have been building their base and inciting people on rehabilitation and resettlement package.

Congress rebel sworn in Arunachal CM

  • A few hours after President’s Rule was revoked in Arunachal Pradesh, the dissident Congress leader, Kalikho Pul, was sworn in as Chief Minister in the night.
  • Prior to this, both factions of the Congress, one headed by Mr.Pul and the other by former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, staked their claim to form a new government in the State.
  • Dissident Congress leaders had 32 MLAs with them, including 11 MLAs of the BJP, and had the requisite numbers to form the government. The total strength of the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly is 50 seats.
  • Mr. Tuki, whose authority was challenged by the party rebels, however, questioned the formation of a government without his approval. He said that with the revocation of President’s Rule, power would have to be restored to him and the former government should be reinstalled.
  • Mr. Tuki pointed out that 14 rebel MLAs had been disqualified by the Assembly Speaker.
  • The Congress rebels, however, disputed Mr. Tuki’s argument. A dissident leader Chowna Mein said that the Gauhati High Court had stayed the disqualification of 14 MLAs, so they could support the new government.
  • At present, the dissenting Congress faction consists of 21 leaders.
  • Since they have the support of 11 BJP MLAs, they have the numerical majority in the 50-member Assembly.

Industry 4.0 – Is India ready for it?

  • Analysts conversing at Davos said that we have to be ready to approach a fourth industrial revolution, ‘Industry 4.0.’The question is whether the sector is capable of matching this global challenge.

Points in favour

  • Figures released this month indicate that India’s average economic growth rate was 7.5 per cent in 2015. India grew at a greater rate than China in 2015 as the International Monetary Fund had predicted it would.
  • Today, India is known for its pro-business administration and for its Prime Minister who is keen to bring leaders of great, developed economies into the fold.
  • It is a country acting like an established power on the world stage and so it should.
  • The openness to international collaboration is the measure of a great business nation and the groundwork has been laid with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s overhaul of foreign direct investment and annulment of retrospective taxes; but there is more to a modern business nation than services, which comprise 55 per cent of India’s GDP.
  • In India, PM Modi aims to harness foreign direct investment into Indian manufacturing through his ‘Make in India’ campaign, thereby increasing the sector’s contribution to Indian GDP from 16 to 25 per cent.
  • This is the age of advanced manufacturing, composite materials, quantum engineering, 3D printing and robotics – the new face of industries globally – and it is one that will disrupt established sectors, from transport to construction.

Points Against

  • Rapid developments in global manufacturing suggest that India’s manufacturing companies could easily fall behind their global counterparts. New technologies and patents are enormously beneficial, but patents from the U.S. and the UK outnumber new Indian technologies over ten to one.
  • The industries risk being trodden over by the stampede towards innovative new technologies.
  • India does not have the scale of higher education and vocational training that the U.S. and Britain enjoy despite its Institutes of Technology, alma mater of the Google CEO, Sundar Pichai. To achieve this scale, India should open up its higher education sector and allow foreign universities to open campuses there.

Does this mean that the next generation of economic capabilities in India will be foreign-owned or will Indians profit from Industry 4.0?

  • Looking at the influence that Tata Industries has had on the industrial landscape in Britain, it would appear that Indian firms are ready to wield enormous power in the technological innovation of the future.
  • Tata Steel and the Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover have regenerated the manufacturing sector in the UK’s industrial heartlands of the Midlands and the North. They are key partners in innovation for British universities, building the bridge between the previous industrial era and the industries of tomorrow with advanced steels research and automotive innovation.
  • In Britain, Indian firms are key research partners. Indian manufacturers are without doubt capable of delivering large-scale orders and investing in the local supply chain’s R&D capabilities.
  • The greatest matter of urgency is developing the skills to support manufacturing growth. Policy makers must also focus on encouraging universities and industry to work together in the area of research and development in the way that is a matter of course here in the UK. For example, Jaguar Land Rover works closely with the University of Warwick’s Warwick Manufacturing Group and Rolls-Royce works closely with the University of Birmingham on advanced engineering research and development.
  • The world is captivated by the forthcoming developments in industrial techniques and if India’s leadership in this field continues, then its growth rates will be hard to compete with.
  • With manufacturing increasing in value across the globe, India’s economy is on track to surpass PM Modi’s target.

National Social Security Authority proposed

  • The Labour Ministry has mooted the idea of forming a National Social Security Authority and a separate Social Security Department within the ministry to provide social security to the entire population

Composition

  • Chaired by Prime Minister
  • The authority may have all the ministers and secretaries of all ministries dealing with social security programmes along with state government officials as members.

Functions

  • Mainly to formulate the National Policy on Social Security
  • To co-ordinate the central and state level programmes
  • To ensure that the objectives of the policy are achieved within the time frame prescribed

Proposed Social Security Department

  • The proposed Social Security Department within the Labour Ministry will provide “policy inputs” and “secretarial services” to the body.

Four-tier social security system

  • It proposes a four-tier system to cover the entire population of the country, including both formal and informal sector workers, through a common Social Security Code
  1. First tier- include the “destitute and people below the poverty line,”
  2. Second tier – workers in the unorganised sector who may be covered under a subsidised scheme
  3. Third tier – workers who can, with the help of employer, can make contribution to the schemes.
  4. Fourth tier – people who “are comparatively affluent and can make their own provisions for meeting contingencies or risks as and when arise.”
  • The social assistance programmes for the first tier shall be based on tax revenue
  • The current social security programmes and schemes can be “strengthened” and universalised.

BAE Systems picks Mahindra as partner for artillery gun deal

  • The United States Department of Defense (Pentagon) delivered to the defence ministry a Letter of Acceptance (LoA), agreeing to supply 145 M777 ultra lightweight howitzers to India. The LoA spells out the contract price, terms of supply and options available.
  • The vendor, BAE Systems, will supply the first batch of 155-millimetre, 39-calibre howitzers within six months of signing the contract. The remaining guns would progressively be built in India.
  • BAE Systems has picked the Mahindra group as a partner for the deal
  • Mahindra will build the guns in an “Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) facility”, using components shipped to India from BAE Systems facilities in the UK. The facility is a fundamental part of the M777 production line
  • Over the last three years, negotiations had apparently stalled, with successive defence ministers informing parliament that the cost was too high, and BAE Systems’ offset proposal was inadequate.
  • That impasse was broken last year when BAE Systems offered to assemble, integrate and test the M-777 in India. This brings the offer in conformity with the “Make in India” initiative. BAE Systems has also submitted a fresh offsets proposal.
  • A domestic Assembly, Integration and Test facility will enable the Indian Army to access maintenance, spares and support for the M777 locally.
  • The deal for 145 guns, which is expected to cost $700 million, is being discussed as a government-to-government deal under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.
  • The deal envisaged investing in 40 Indian defence suppliers across the country with an emphasis on the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) and the MSME (Medium, Small & Micro Enterprises) sector in addition to the AIT facility.

Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program

  • The U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program facilitates sales of U.S. arms, defense equipment, defense services, and military training to foreign governments.
  • The purchaser does not deal directly with the defense contractor; instead, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency serves as an intermediary, usually handling procurement, logistics and delivery and often providing product support, training, and infrastructure construction (such as hangars, runways, utilities, etc.)

M777

  • The M777, which has seen extensive operational service with the US military in Afghanistan, is being acquired to support Indian army operations on the rugged Himalayan borders with China and Pakistan.
  • Built of titanium components and weighing just four tonnes (compared to 10-tonne conventional 155-millimetre guns), it can be air-lifted to high altitude deployment areas by helicopters like the CH-47E Chinook, which India is buying separately.
  • The gun can also be towed more easily on narrow, twisty mountain roads.
  • The initial order for 145 guns could rise significantly once the M777 starts being built in India. This would equip just 6-7 artillery regiments, while the army actually needs new artillery for 50-plus artillery regiments in 16 mountain divisions.
  • If India can offer a consolidated order for the 1,000-odd guns needed for 50 regiments, BAE Systems could be induced to offer far higher indigenisation
  • India’s 220-odd artillery regiments have received no new artillery since the 1980s, when it bought 400 FH-77B, 155 mm/39 calibre Bofors guns.
  • An indigenous effort by the Ordnance Factory Board to develop a 155 mm/45 calibre gun is proceeding slowly, with a gun barrel bursting during trial firing in 2013.
  • Simultaneously, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is developing a 155 mm/52 calibre artillery gun in partnership with the private sector.

Translators to be honoured by Sahitya Akademi

  • Twenty four eminent authors writing in as many Indian languages were felicitated by the Sahitya Akademi at its annual Festival of Letters.
  • The recipients were awarded a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh each for their “outstanding books of literary merit”.
  • The awarded literary works have been written in 24 Indian languages, including English, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit, Bodo, Kashmiri, Manipuri, Nepali among others.
  • Urging authors from across the country to write extensively in various regional languages, Akademi President Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari said that Indian writing faces a threat from the effect of colonial thinking.
  • He also said that Indian literature has perennially been written under the fearful shadow of western literature. All literature in Indian languages has been written under the fear of TS Eliot and Sigmund Freud. And this fear surfaces in the writing as well. Encouraging the authors, Mr Tiwari said it was imperative for writers to free themselves from the fear of “colonial thinking” and write uninhibitedly in their respective languages.

Termites attack many trees in Adilabad forest

  • Forests in Adilabad district, especially the vegetation in the core area of Kawal Tiger Reserve (KTR), is currently under attack by termites. The stem of thousands of trees in the jungle is covered with mud layers.
  • This has spread on an unprecedented scale and teak trees ( Tectona grandis ) seem to be the main target though trees of other species have also been attacked by termites. Though mature teak and other trees are sturdy enough to resist the attack, it is the trees with smaller girth which can succumb to the pestilence.
  • An attack on this scale can result in serious damage to the local environment though there are no instances from the past to rely upon. The mud layer formation is also unusual because it extends beyond its normal 1-metre height on the tree stems
  • Teak may be a tough species so far as succumbing to a termite attack is concerned. It is however, susceptible if the attack is by drywood termite, Neotermes tectonae.
  • The change could be a result of the change in weather since the last few months. Termites attack trees when the weather is comparatively warmer. There is some rise in temperatures this year apparently owing to the deficit rainfall in Telangana State. The winter months of 2015-16 were much hotter when compared to previous years.
  • Environment can be a fragile entity and the one in KTR cannot be any different. A scientific study is essential in order to take timely action to prevent any loss due to termite attack

M.P. appeals against IPAB order on Basmati

  • The Madhya Pradesh government has asserted that the recent order of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board, directing the Geographical Indications Registry to proceed with registration of a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Basmati rice, according to the geographical demarcation conducted by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, is unscientific and erroneous.
  • It has approached the Madras High Court to quash the order and direct the registry to hear the matter afresh.

Hover port work in Puducherry suspended

  • Chief Minister announced that the works for construction of a hover port in the coastal hamlet of Veerampattinam had been temporarily suspended
  • The fishermen had been agitating over the hover port citing that it would hamper their free movement and routine fishing activities. He sought to dispel their fears.
  • The land for the proposed hover port had been acquired by the government and handed over to the Indian Coast Guard several years ago.
  • The government would explore the option of shifting the project to an alternative site and till then the work would be kept in abeyance

Frame safety norms for events: HC to Maharashtra

  • Taking cognisance of the fire that interrupted at the Maharashtra Night gala at the Make In India Week, the Bombay High Court directed the state to frame guidelines for the safety of artists and technicians on stage during performances.
  • A division bench was hearing a PIL petition filed by the Association For Aiding Justice which demanded that all those working on a production (set) or at an event should be given information that enables them to do their job safely.
  • The court said if such guidelines have not been framed yet, then it is high time that a policy is framed or rules are drawn up immediately to ensure safety of artists and technicians on stage and also that of the audience.

Private sector will build fighter jets in India

  • India would select one or more fighter aircraft which will be manufactured locally by a private company under the Make in India initiative.
  • The Air Force is expected to induct over 100 of the improved LCAs which will feature an Advanced Electronically Scanned Array radar, mid-air refuelling and improved electronic warfare suite in addition to other minor improvements.
  • With this companies who lost out in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft contest (MMRCA) have been pitching their aircraft in anticipation of a comeback into the race
  • This is in addition to the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the production of which is being scaled up.
  • India and France are in advanced stage of talks to conclude an inter-governmental agreement for the direct purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets. This fighter aircraft will likely be other than the Rafale.

Govt. clears proposal for gravitational wave detector

  • Days after an international team of scientists, including several from India, formally announced that it had detected gravitational waves from deep space, the Union Cabinet has “in principle,” approved a proposal to have a gravitational wave detector in India.
  • It was an important development and marked the government formally acknowledging it but a final decision regarding the money, and how it would be spent, was still some time away.
  • Current estimates suggest the project would cost at least Rs. 1,200 crore.
  • The gravitational waves were detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) — a system of detectors in Washington and Louisiana.

e-platform for non tax receipts

  • With the Prime Minister’s Office setting a target to switch at least 90 per cent of all official transactions to paperless mode by the end of 2016, Finance Ministry launched a new e-platform for non-tax receipts.
  • NTPC made the maiden payment on the portal developed by the Controller General of Accounts, by remitting Rs.989 crore as an interim dividend to the government.
  • This  will reduce a lot of the manual work now and almost instantly enable the payment at the different categories
  • The major sources of non-tax revenue for the government are from dividends paid by public sector companies, the Reserve Bank of India, etc.

PPP projects in Indian Railways

  • The Indian Railways has identified the first three projects to be taken up for development through the new build, operate, transfer (BOT) annuity model at an estimated cost of around Rs 2,450 crore.
  • The three targeted projects are developing third line between Nagpur and Wardha (both in Maharashtra), Kazipet (Telangana) and Balharshah (Maharashtra) and, Bhadrak and Nergundi (both in Odisha). The total estimated cost of development of 357 km third line is around Rs 2450 crore.
  • The Railways has received Rs 14,000 crore worth investment commitments since 2014 after it introduced new models for projects through public-private partnership (PPP) model. This is a sharp rise from roughly around Rs 4,000 crore investments generated in 2002-2012.

BOT model

  • Under the BOT annuity model for rail projects, the private developer gets a revenue guarantee of 80 per cent of projected revenue at the time of bidding.
  • The developer gets a full right to revenue between 80 and 120 per cent and the Indian Railways do not take any share from it.
  • It is only when the actual revenue is above 120 per cent, the additional receipts are shared with the Indian Railways in a staggered manner
  • To attract private investments in railways, the government had framed five models –
  1. non-government private line model,
  2. joint venture model,
  3. BOT model,
  4. capacity augmentation with funding provided by customers model and
  5. capacity augmentation through annuity model.
  • While five projects to be developed through PPP model have got in-principle clearance, 27 other projects are under implementation
  • Facing a resource crunch, Railways is focusing on raising funds through various channels, including the PPP route and forming joint ventures with the state governments. Recently, the Railways’ gross budgetary support was slashed by Rs 8,000 crore citing lack of spending by the national transporter.
  • The Railways face an additional burden of Rs 32,000 crore towards implementing the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendations.

 EPFO recommends 8.8% interest rate

  • The board of trustees of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) recommended an 8.80 per cent rate of return on Rs.10 lakh crore of retirement savings under its watch for 2015-16.
  • This rate was meant as “interim relief” for workers and the board would meet again later to discuss the possibility of a further interest rate hike.
  • Although the rate for this year is a notch higher than the 8.75 per cent paid out in 2014-15, trade unions were disappointed as the Finance and Investment panel of the EPFO board had earlier recommended a higher interest of 8.95 per cent on EPF savings.
  • However, the Finance Ministry that has decided to moderate the returns on small savings instruments from April 1, 2016, wanted the EPF rate to fall in tandem.
  • The EPFO Board’s proposal would be vetted and ratified by the Finance Ministry, so it could still overrule the 8.80 per cent rate recommendation.
  • There are as many as 8.5 crore EPF accounts.

Provide names of defaulters above 500 cr- SC

  • The Supreme Court directed the RBI to provide a list of companies, which had defaulted bank loans of over Rs. 500 crore while expressing serious concern over the rise in bad loans.
  • The bench wanted to know how the state-owned banks and financial institutions were advancing large-scale loans without proper guidelines and whether there was adequate mechanism to recover them.
  • The court made RBI party to a PIL filed in 2005 by an NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation, in which it has raised the issue of loans advanced to some companies by state-owned HUDCO.
  • Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for CPIL, submitted that about Rs. 40,000 crore of corporate debt was written off in 2015.

Indigenously developed Anti-Radiation Missile

Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM)-

  • Advanced State-of-the-art air-to-surface tactical missile
  • will target the enemy’s air defence capabilities by attacking radars and communication facilities.
  • Range – 100 to 125 km
  • Will be mounted on combat aircraft Sukhoi (Su-30) and Tejas-Light Combat Aircraft.
  • The missile picks up the radiation or signals of radars and communication facilities and homes on to the targets to destroy them.
  • Being developed by Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL)
  • Instead of thrust propulsion, the missile uses dual pulse propulsion system as in the case of LR-SAM. The dual pulse propulsion will widen the envelope as well as the engagement capability of the missile. After coasting the missile for the required duration by firing the first pulse, the second pulse will be initiated just before interception of the target or during the terminal phase

Test flights

  • Captive flight trials the Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM) are planned for April-May this year, and the maiden flight test by year-end
  • The entire missile is being developed indigenously, including the seeker. The missile will be inducted in about two years after conducting a number of developmental trials.
  • According to DRDO sources, scientists will evaluate the performance of the seeker, navigation and control system, structural capability and aerodynamic vibrations during the captive flight trials.
  • These will be followed by ground testing and the missile will be fired from Su-30 during the actual flight trial by year-end
  • Only a few countries, including the U.S. and Germany, have ARMs at present
  • The dual pulse propulsion system could be configured with other air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles

Notice to vodafone by tax authorities

  • Tax authorities have issued a reminder to Vodafone Group Plc asking the company to pay Rs. 14,200 crore of tax dues or risk having its assets seized.
  • This dispute is currently the subject of international arbitration. The government stated in 2014 that existing tax disputes would be resolved through existing judicial process.”
  • The notice, dated February 4, to Vodafone International Holdings BV pertains to its 2007 acquisition of Hutchison’s 67 per cent stake in a telecom venture in India for $11 billion. The deal was executed through companies that are not based in India.

Let parliament decide on euthanasia: SC

  • Passive euthanasia is the act of withdrawing medical treatment with the deliberate intention of causing the death of a terminally-ill patient.
  • The Supreme Court said Parliament or the “people’s court” should be the final judge to decide the legality of passive euthanasia and “Living Will”.
  • The Centre agreed with the apex court and illustrated the complexity of medically taking a person’s life by pointing at how Formula One legend Michael Schumacher is “being kept alive for years in the hope he will wake up from his coma one day”.
  • A Constitution Bench, led by Justice Anil R. Dave, said it will wait till July 20 for the government or Parliament will finalise a law on passive euthanasia
  • On legalising the ‘Living Will’, the Bench asked whether the concept was fundamentally against a person’s instinctive urge to live. Living Will’ is an advance directive to physicians for end-of-life medical care
  • “A Living Will is valid if a person prepares it in his right mind when he is already a terminally ill patient and knows he has six months more to live. Such a Will is not stale. But a 90-year-old man is not bound to a Will he made when he was 18… So the narrow question is the level staleness,” Justice Nariman observed.

Wholesale prices decline for 15th consecutive month

  • India’s wholesale prices continued to fall in January 2016 marking the fifteenth successive month of contraction in the wholesale price index for inflation.
  • Experts said that the surge in the pace of price decline was driven by the global meltdown in commodity prices impacting energy and manufactured product costs.
  • While food articles continued to see a rise in prices, the pace slowed down from 8.17 per cent in December 2015 to 6.02 per cent in January.
  • Official data released also included a revision in the wholesale price inflation numbers for November 2015 from -1.99 per cent earlier to -2.04 per cent.
  • Within primary articles, inflation accelerated in non-food articles from 7.7 per cent in December 2015 to 8.24 per cent in January 2016. The fuel and power segment continued to see a pullback in prices at the wholesale level, shrinking by 9.21 per cent in January compared to a negative growth of 9.15 per cent in December.
  • The persistence of deflationary conditions indicate a continued moderation in demand. Combined with two consecutive months of negative growth in the index of industrial production it points to a strain in industrial activity
  • The divergence in consumer price inflation and wholesale price inflation was driven largely by prices for pulses shooting up in January.

Exports shrink for 14th straight month in January

  • Merchandise exports fell for the 14th consecutive month with shipments in January, 2016 contracting 13.6 per cent year-on-year to $21 billion due to weak overseas demand as well as fall in major export items such as engineering goods and petroleum products.
  • Imports also fell during the month by 11 per cent to $28.7 billion, resulting in the trade deficit narrowing to an 11-month low of $7.6 billion.
  • The gold imports recorded an 85.16 per cent increase in January to $2.91 billion.
  • The trend of falling exports is in tandem with other major world economies. The growth in exports have fallen for U.S.A. (-10.51%), European Union (-9.48%) and China (-7.01%) for November 2015 over the corresponding period previous year as per WTO statistics.

Details

  • Seventeen of the 30 export sectors recorded a negative growth in January. These included major sectors such as engineering goods (-27.6 per cent to $4.98 billion), ready-made garments (-6.1 per cent to $1.4 billion) and petroleum products (-35.1 per cent to $1.9 billion). Non-petroleum exports in January 2016 fell 10.55 per cent to $19.1 billion.
  • Merchandise exports during April 2015-January 2016 this fiscal registered a negative growth of 17.65 per cent over the same period in the previous fiscal to $217.7 billion.
  • Over-valuation of rupee, after adjusting against the domestic retail inflation, is also eating into the competitiveness of the Indian exports. The fall in engineering exports will have a negative impact on jobs.
  • Imports during April 2015-January 2016 recorded a negative growth of 15.46 per cent to $324.5 billion.
  • When compared to the contraction in overall exports, the fall in non-petroleum exports during April 2015 – January 2016 was lower at (-) 9.6 per cent to $192.4 billion.
  • Reflecting the fall in global oil prices, oil imports in January 2016 were 39 per cent lower year-on-year at $5 billion. However, non-oil imports during January, 2016 were only 1.4 per cent lower at $23.7 billion.
  • The net export of services for April-December, 2015-16 was estimated at $54.8 billion, lower than $56.5 billion during April-December 2014-15. Taking merchandise and services together, overall trade deficit for April-January, 2015-16 was $52 billion, a fall of 17.6 per cent from $63 billion in same period the previous fiscal

National Capital Goods Policy

  • National Capital Goods Policy was introduced to spur capital goods sector and the Make in India initiative.
  • It was unveiled during the Make in India Week programme

Objective 

Increase production of capital goods from Rs. 2.30 lakh crore in 2014-15 to Rs. 7.50 lakh crore in 2025

Raising direct and indirect employment from the current 8.4 million to 30 million.

making India a net exporter of capital goods

Aims

  1. facilitating improvement in technology across sub-sectors,
  2. increasing skill availability,
  3. ensuring mandatory standards and
  4. promoting growth and capacity building of MSMEs

Key policy recommendations include

  1. Strengthening the existing scheme of the DHI (Department of Heavy Industry) on enhancement of competitiveness of capital goods sector by increasing budgetary allocation and increasing its scope to further boost global competitiveness in various sub sectors
  2. Enhancing export of Indian made capital goods through a ‘Heavy Industry Export and Market Development Assistance Scheme (HIEMDA)’.
  3. A Technology Development Fund,
  4. Upgrading existing and setting up a new testing and certification facility,
  5. Making standards mandatory in order to reduce sub-standard machine imports and at the same time providing opportunity to local manufacturing units by utilising their installed capacity and
  6. Scheme for skill development for capital goods sector.
  7. Some of the key issues addressed include availability of finance, raw material, innovation and technology, productivity, quality and environment-friendly manufacturing practices, promoting exports and creating domestic demand.

Swachh Survekshan 2016

  • Swachh Survekshan-2016 was a sanitation survey conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development under the Swachh Bharat Mission comissioned in october 2015
  • The survey was conducted in 75 major cities, including 53 with a population of above 10 lakh each and State capitals. Since Kolkata and Noida will participate in the next round, the ranking this year is for 73 cities.
  • Mysuru has emerged as the country’s cleanest city followed by Chandigarh and Tiruchi. New Delhi Municipal Council came in fourth while Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi was ranked 65th among 73 cities. Dhanbad was at the bottom of the ladder
  • The survey was “more participatory and evidence based” as all the featured cities were informed two months in advance about the methodology. Cities were asked them to put in place records of their efforts in support of infrastructure creation, deployment of men and machines, improvements made, expenditure, etc,
  • In a year-long survey, the researchers studied 476 first-tier cities with two parameters: one, how ‘minimal’ open defecation was in the city; two, how robust the municipalities were with the solid waste management system.
  • Out of the total marks of 2,000 for assessing the performance of efforts of 73 cities, 60 per cent were assigned for solid waste management related parameters, 30 per cent for construction of toilets and 5 per cent each for city level sanitation strategy and behaviour change communication.
  • The Quality Council of India had conducted the survey by deploying 25 teams which visited 42 locations in each city

Analysis

  • Mysuru had also topped the last cleanliness survey which was conducted in 2014 among 476 cities with a population of one lakh and above each. This was commissioned by the Ministry under the National Sanitation Policy 2008, before the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission.
  • Based on the comparison of the marks and ranks of the two surveys, Cities from South and West continue to do well over all but those in other parts of the country
  • Of the cities surveyed, 32 have improved ranks since the last survey including 17 from the North. This is a clear evidence of enhanced efforts being made by the northern cities towards sanitation and new cities challenging the domination of cities from the South and the West.

Swachh Bharat Mission : aimed at ensuring

Door-to-door collection, transportation and scientific disposal of municipal solid waste –  all the 83,000 wards in urban areas by 2019

Construction of one crore household individual toilets and over five lakh public and community toilet seats.

SC rejects RTI plea to make data public

  • Supreme Court of India dismissed an Appeal filed by RTI activist Mr. Lokesh Batra challenging an order of Delhi High Court which ruled that the Supreme Court Registrar cannot be directed under the RTI Act to maintain records relating to period for which judgments remain pending after being reserved.
  • This would have addressed concerns among lawyers and litigants about undue delays in pronouncing judgements long after the case hearing has ended. The delay could be from a month to years together. Much of the delays are blamed on too many cases, leaving no time for judges to write judgements.

Background

  • The CIC had on Aug 3, 2011, directed the Supreme Court to begin compiling this information so that people could access this information.
  • The CIC had ruled that the top court was a public authority under the Right to Information Act, 2005, and directed it to maintain its records so that the public could be relevant information on the number of pending judgements.
  • The CIC maintained – Now that the benefit of computerization is available, placing such data in the public domain should not be particularly difficult. Therefore, if the Supreme Court is not maintaining such data, it should do so now in order to  facilitate the citizens to learn about the status of pendency before the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court registrar general had gone to the High Court single judge and lost the case.
  • But a division bench set it aside on the ground on January 7, 2016, that the Commission lacked the jurisdiction to issue such directions, prompting the CIC to challenge it.

Madras HC judge ‘stays’ his transfer

  • Justice C. S. Karnan of the Madras High Court ‘stayed’ the Chief Justice of India’s proposal to transfer him to the Calcutta High Court, forcing the Supreme Court to authorise a freeze on his functions as a judge.
  • In an unprecedented development which threatened institutional esteem, Justice Karnan, had passed a “ suo motu judicial order” ‘staying’ the Chief Justice of India’s recommendation to transfer him.
  • Justice Karnan’s “order” directly addressed the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
  • Justice Karnan claimed he was being targeted because he was a Dalit.

Northeast’s first ‘smart village’ along Indo-Bhutan border

  • A remote nondescript, insurgency-ravaged village in Assam along Indo- Bhutan border has earned the distinction of being the area’s first smart village.
  • Barsimaluguri, about 11 km from the Indo-Bhutan border, in Baksa district has been turned into a model smart village with 100 per cent toilets, solar power and pure drinking water, following an initiative taken by a few individuals under the aegis of Nanda Talukdar Foundation (NTF).

Indian gravity wave detector 8 years away

  • With the discovery of gravitational waves by the U.S.-based LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory),such a project in India might become a reality though it is at least eight years away
  • This is not counting the time it will take the Central government to clear the proposal, estimated to cost around Rs. 1,200 crore, and is further premised on the project not running into environmental or State-level hurdles.
  • Scientists associated with the India-LIGO project (called INDIGO), since 2009, done considerable work in identifying suitable sites in India and met officials in several States. All of north India is ruled out [as a potential site] because of its seismicity, as are the deserts of Jodhpur because of sandstorms. The Deccan Plateau is best suited.
  • INDIGO will be a replica of the two LIGO detectors and many of its components have already been built and are ready to be shipped from the United States.
  • The project was initially to be located in Australia but, since 2011, scheduled to be located in India. At least 25 sites were considered for the detector that will, most saliently, have two L-shaped four-kilometre-long arms.
  • Other than the benefit of having a third detector, which will likely improve the chances of spotting gravitational waves, an India detector would improve the chances of novel, exciting discoveries being made out of India and being made by Indians.

Indian contribution

  • Indian scientists have, over 30 years, contributed substantially to the gravitational wave discovery that was announced last week. C.V. Vishveshwara and Bala Iyer, formerly of the Raman Research Institute, Bengaluru, were among the first to solve Einstein’s equations to derive a mathematical model to explain how colliding blackholes would look and what tell-tale signals they emitted.
  • In later years, Anand Sengupta of the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, developed methods to ensure that both the LIGO detectors — separated by 3,000 kilometres — have caught the same gravitational wave, and Sanjib Mitra of the IUCAA, has found ways to tell apart gravitational waves from various exotic stars.

Central nodal agency to curb human trafficking planned

  • To strengthen the fight against human trafficking, the Union government has decided to set up a central nodal agency
  • The government was also mooting a law for the same. The legislation will be complementary to the nodal agency
  • Sustained initiatives such as Operation Smile, a month-long campaign to rescue and rehabilitate those trafficked, had also been bearing fruit. The figures for just four States of Operation Smile II carried out in January this year pointed out that over 10,000 missing children had been rescued.

Aid for rescued bonded workers may increase

  • The central government has proposed a major revamp of the rehabilitation scheme for rescued bonded workers, raising aid from the present Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 3 lakh.
  • The proposal is a three-tier rehabilitation funding scheme
  1. A rescued transgender or disabled person will get Rs. 3 lakh,
  2. Women or children – Rs. 2 lakh
  3. Adult men – Rs. 1 lakh.
  • To ensure a sustainable flow of money, a significant chunk of the rehabilitation sum will be credited to the bank accounts of the rescued persons in the form of fixed monthly deposits. For instance, of the total entitlement, transgender and disabled people will get Rs. 2 lakh in the form of monthly deposits signed by the District Collector.

Background

  • A person becomes a bonded labourer when his or her labour is demanded as a means of repayment of a loan.
  • It is estimated that 1.4 crore workers in the country are bonded labourers, one of the highest in the world, according to the Global Slavery Index of 2014 released by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation.
  • However, official estimates show the State governments had rehabilitated 2.80 lakh workers till March 2015.
  • Now, Rs. 20,000 goes towards rehabilitation of a bonded labourer with an equal contribution from both the Centre and the States.

Strengthening PSBs

The Reserve Bank was in the process of strengthening the public sector banks.

  • One of the measures was to strengthen the boards governing the banks. New board members would be brought in through a transparent process.
  • Universal banking licences would be reopened soon
  • The RBI has also initiated three major steps to improve transactions. These include a unified payment interface which would be facilitated by an e-mail-like identity of the persons involved; trade receivables exchanges, which would bridge the gap between payment by a company to a manufacturer and the latter’s working capital requirements and measures to create an alliance between Internet market places and financiers.
  • On financial inclusion, the last mile problem still remained but the payment side was making big strides through the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana.

RBI’s monetary policy targetting

  • Less than a year ago — at the end of February 2015 — RBI entered into a historic agreement with the government on an inflation targeting monetary framework with clear and specified goals and timelines.
  • The first target of limiting retail inflation to 6 per cent or below by January 2016 has now been met, with the government reporting CPI data that showed the headline number at 5.59 per cent. While the reading is a 17-month high, it has slowed considerably from the 11.15 per cent recorded in November 2013.
  • It’s the journey ahead to the next milestone of 5 per cent by March 2017 which is likely to challenge monetary policy makers. The target agreed by the government and the central bank is for inflation of 4 per cent, with a band of plus or minus 2 per cent.

There are several factors that could contribute to roiling the RBI’s inflation targeting plans.

  • The first is the 7th pay commission proposals that have recommended a 23.5 per cent increase in salary, allowances and pension for serving government staff and pensioners. The impact of this hike was not factored in by the RBI while setting the 5 per cent retail inflation target for March 2017.
  • The second is food inflation. Different food item prices in the inflation basket are showing varying trends. January inflation data shows retail food prices rose 6.85 per cent on the year in January, accelerating from a 6.40 percent pace in December.
  • A deficient monsoon may exert further pressure on food prices.
  • The headline inflation numbers are also being impacted by services inflation, which has been sticky since September 2015 across housing, transport and communications, medical and other services.
  • And crude oil prices may not remain benign throughout the next financial year.

The 5 per cent inflation target is set under the assumption of a normal monsoon this year and the current level of international crude oil prices, RBI had said at the sixth bi-monthly monetary policy review on February 2.

Fiscal management far better this year than earlier: CGA

  • The government’s fiscal management this financial year has been better than the previous years with expenditure being spread out as opposed to the usual bunching up toward the end of the year, according to Controller General of Accounts
  • The normal trend in government expenditure over the years has been that expenditures increase in the last two quarters of the financial year, mainly Q4. The criticism is that this is wasteful expenditure and that government departments just spend money so as to exhaust the budget. But this year if you look at the trend of the spending, you’ll find that even up to the six-month period, expenditure was more or less 48-50 per cent of the budgeted amount
  • This means the government has taken the right decisions to ensure that funds are released right upfront, in the beginning.
  • Another factor that is helping the government better manage its finances is the increasing push towards e-payments, with the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme taking centre-stage.
  • The PFMS (Plan Fund Management System) portal in in CGA’s office has become the agency through which all DBT transfers take place in the country. This fiscal some seven crore beneficiaries have been added on the PFMS portal since April. Once this has happened, there was a lot of pressure from other ministries, state governments and union territories to onboard other schemes onto the portal
  • The CGA has already completed the development of its non-tax portal, which will provide systematic, electronic data on the government’s non-tax revenue, which is around Rs. 2.1 lakh crore in this Budget.

Issues

  • However, before the DBT scheme can be expanded further through electronic payments, the software systems in place will need to be upgraded
  • The CGA also expressed concerns about ramping up electronic payments as connectivity was poor across the country. We are dependent on the available backbone of connectivity in the country.  the connectivity systemhas to be strengthened up to the district level in all 630 districts in India
  • One of the key elements lacking in accounting in India is a timely report of the consolidated picture of government accounts.At present, there is a time lag of 2-3 years before the consolidated report can be presented. That lag is not good, it needs to be bridged. For the second time since independence, the financial statements of the Centre, namely the appropriation accounts and the finance accounts of the previous financial year were presented to the legislature on December 22 last year, which is in the same calendar year

Collegium recommends transfer of High Court judges

  • The Supreme Court Collegium led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur has recommended the transfer of High Court judges across the country.
  • The Ministry of Law and Justice will now process the current collegium recommendations.
  • Following the logjam created by the litigation on the National Judicial Appointments Commission laws, the judiciary is, at this point of time, battling rising vacancies in High Courts which have touched over 400.
  • It is learnt that the Chief Justice of India has written to High Court Chief Justices to suggest names of persons suitable for appointing to the High Court Benches. CJI Thakur had said that filling up the 400 judicial vacancies in High Courts would be a “big challenge” in 2016.
  • The collegium’s steps show urgency as the Union Law Ministry is still in the process of collecting feedback from the State governments and High Court Chief Justices for the preparation of a new Memorandum of Procedure for transfer and appointment of judges.

Plastic cards may soon go out of fashion

  • Very soon, carrying multiple plastic cards may be unnecessary when you go shopping as your mobile phone would be all you need to transact.
  • The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and software product think-tank ISpirt are ready for the technical roll out of a new Unified Payment Interface, that would allow people to people or P2P transactions from any bank account to another, using a mobile phone app.
  • Eventually the system would allow mobile to mobile payments (without any bank accounts involved) and payments to an Aadhaar number or a virtual address if people are not comfortable sharing their bank account details.
  • The Unified Payment Interface (UPI) project was initiated last February by Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan, and over the past year, the application program interface (API) has been developed that allows payments from any bank account to another.
  • The technical introduction launch of the interface, built on an open source framework, is in Bengaluru. Over 500 representatives from start-ups, banks, and venture capital funds keen on exploring possibilities it throws up for new applications, are likely to attend.
  • The UPI is a new layer on top of the IMPS (Immediate Payment Service) that has been used by banks for electronic fund transfers for about five years. This will allow seamless, inter-bank connection using a mobile app that can be used to pay merchants as well as make other ‘proximity payments’ on an offline basis
  • There is a very simple API that would provide for both push and pull payments. So one can send money to another or can send request another to pay, as merchants may do if buying. One has to approve the request on his phone
  • This is a big leap from the old system for credentials, where one had to give his card to the merchant and there is a security risk. In this model, everything happens through one’s own phone,  credentials are established and payment is approved. Many new phones come with biometric iris or fingerprint scanners so Aadhaar authentication is possible on these devices.
  • A billion people can use this, it’s completely open so it is critical for India’s digital independence.
  • The UPI has a level playing field with no gatekeepers. We can use it to fundamentally change the way we do business or improve any government service or process

IIT-M, Nokia to harness unlicensed spectrum

  • IIT-Madras and Nokia  announced a three-year partnership to explore the possibility of using unlicensed radio spectrum to deliver broadband connectivity.
  • Nokia would fund the project through its Corporate Social Responsibility research programme for rural development. Nokia will also provide technological expertise to IIT-M’s Centre of Excellence for Wireless Technology (CEWiT).
  • The objective is to deliver broadband connectivity and complement govt.’s National Optical Fibre Network initiative
  • The IIT-M project envisages a base station, connected to the National Optical Fibre Network, wirelessly providing broadband connectivity to villages maybe as far as 20 km away. Fourth generation LTE signals will be used to “haul” the connection over such large distances while WiFi technology will be used to provide broadband at the village.
  • Apart from outdoor-use, Indian scientists will have to devise a way to “haul” the connection. It will also look at the possibility of targeting the signal, where particular villages will receive it instead of having to send blasts indiscriminately.

Private companies must buy compost from municipal waste

Himalayan griffon spotted in Goa

  • Birdwatchers in south Goa have reported spotting the rare Himalayan griffon, also known as Himalayan vulture.
  • The Himalayan griffon was previously believed to belong to the upper Himalayas and was presumed to stray till the Gangetic plains at the most. In 2013, however, “an exhausted juvenile” was rescued in Thrissur district of Kerala. In the same year, multiple sightings of the species were also reported from Bangalore in Karnataka and Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh. Earlier this year, the same species was reportedly spotted in Kaiga in Karnataka
  • Himalayan griffons do not breed in the first three years, and hence juvenile birds of the species do not remain in breeding grounds to avoid competition

In 5 years, detection of black money goes up by 15.5 times

Rise in undisclosed income over the years
  • The nationwide crackdown on black money has meant a steady increase in detection of undisclosed income, which has jumped 15.5 times over the past five years.
  • A comprehensive report of the Director General of Income Tax (Intelligence and Criminal Investigation) shows more and more prominent business houses, including diamond traders, steel magnates and the country’s leading pharma companies, coming under the taxmen’s scanner.
  • National undisclosed income jumped from just Rs. 5,894 crore in 2011 to Rs. 90,391 crore in 2014. The undisclosed income detected in 2012 was Rs. 6,573 crore and Rs. 19,337 crore in 2013. The data for 2015 has not been fully collated, but the number stood at Rs. 1,900 crore in the first couple of months of the financial year, tax officials said. More and more companies are involved in making bogus entries in their accounts.
  • Under this jamakharchi , paper entries are made in account books to facilitate cash movement.
  • There’s a concept called “Jama Kharchi”, which is about converting black money to white. Jama-kharchi , of “accomodating entry” companies which basically make two kind of entities meet:
    • One that wants to reduce its profits (and thus, taxes) by showing purchase entries
    • Two, that that wants to shore up sales because they will get higher credit

    The Jama-kharchi companies will “accomodate” accounting entries that help both these companies and charge a 2% to 4% commission to be the go-betweeen.

Interest rate on small savings may come down

  • Interest rates for small savings schemes, such as Post Office Savings Account, Public Provident Fund and Post office Fixed Deposit Scheme, may be reduced by the government to align them more closely with the market rates
  • The new rates would be applicable from April 1, 2016. The rates for the long-term schemes and those for the girl child and senior citizens will remain unaffected by the decision
  • The Reserve Bank, over the last one year, has reduced interest rates by over a percentage point. At present, the small savings rates are linked to government securities and are readjusted every year. The decision is to start adjusting the rates on quarterly basis
  • Broadly the underlying philosophy of the planned changes is to align the small savings rates more frequently and more closely to the market-aligned.
  • The smalls saving schemes include Post Office Monthly Income Scheme (MIS), PPF, Post Office Fixed Deposit Scheme, Senior Citizens Savings Scheme, Post Office Savings Account and Sukanya Samriddhi Accounts.
  • While the rates for the girl child and senior citizen schemes will also be adjusted every quarter, the spreads they have over the G-Sec rates will be left unaltered

Asset quality review (AQR) of banks by RBI causing slump in shares

  • The RBI had conducted an asset quality review (AQR) of banks and identified specific accounts, which banks have to identify as non-performing in two quarters, October-December and January-March. As a result, bad loans have hit banks’ profitability in the third quarter with most of them posting heavy losses in Q3.
  • While the profitability of some banks may be impaired in the short-run, the system, once cleaned, will be able to support economic growth in a sustainable and profitable way
  • Private banks, which are in a much better shape on the asset quality front, saw their business growing much more than their public sector counterpart
  • Non-food credit growth from public sector banks, the more stressed part of the system, grew at only 6.6 per cent over the calendar year 2015. In contrast, non-food credit growth in private sector banks was 20.2 %, per cent.
  • This has been one of the reasons for the current decline in share prices of banks
  • There are two polar approaches to loan stress. One is to apply band aids to keep the loan current and hope that time and growth will set the project back on track. An alternative approach is to try to put the stressed project back on track rather than simply applying band aids. This may require deep surgery.
  • loan classification is merely good accounting — it reflects what the true value of the loan might be. It is accompanied by provisioning, which ensures the bank sets aside a buffer to absorb likely losses. If the losses do not materialize, the bank can write back provisioning to profits.
  • The Indian banking sector is seeing rise in stressed assets over the last three years. According to RBI data, stressed asset, that is gross NPA plus standard restructured advances, as a percentage of advances moved up to 11.3 per cent as on September 2015 as compared to 9.2 per cent in March 2013.

New arbitration law to strengthen NBFCs

  • The year 2016 appears to have begun on a positive note for non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) with the Centre notifying the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 on the first day of the New Year.
  • The Act is deemed to have come into effect from October 23, 2015. It has brought in certain changes to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.
  • NBFCs give secured loans. In case of defaults, borrowers use the court process to prevent these firms from taking possession of mortgaged assets. This will change now with the modifications to the Act.
  • Empowering the arbitral tribunal to pass interim orders, fixing time-limit for passing an award and fast-tracking arbitral procedure, among others, are the salient features of the amended Act.
  • Sec. 17 of the original Act has been strengthened. The amended Act now allows, rather empowers, an arbitral tribunal to pass interim orders.
  • And, it has made it clear that the arbitral tribunal will have “the same power for making orders, as the court has for the purpose of, and in relations to, any proceedings before it.’’ Such orders should, however, reflect the orders of the court. This new provision will avoid costs, namely court fee and other expenses. Besides, it will also save undue delay
  • Courts are still empowered to grant interim relief either before the commencement of an arbitration or even after the commencement if it is shown that an order from the arbitral tribunal was efficacious.
  • The amended Act also provides for a time-frame to pass an award. A new section has been added to ensure that an award is passed within a year. This means that the arbitrators will not be able to grant much time to the parties, and are under an obligation to pass awards within a year. Nevertheless, the Act allows for a six-month extension.
  • This will act as a deterrent against borrowers/guarantors who drag on the proceedings. The arbitral tribunal is empowered to fast-track the procedure in certain cases and decide the dispute based on documents and submission sans oral hearings within six months.
  • Before the amendments, filing of an application for setting aside of the award itself operated as an automatic stay, preventing NBFCs from filing execution proceedings for recovery of the awarded amount . In the amended Act, there is no such automatic stay of the enforcement of the award upon filing of application by the borrower for setting aside an award. Stay can happen only if courts grant it, and on terms, including that of depositing part-sum of the award, set by them. This will provide scope for recovery as the courts may pass an order for stay subject to certain conditions, which may include a substantial payment, and may even discourage parties from challenging the awards

SC for uniform compensation scheme for differently abled rape victims

  • Highlighting the plight of differently abled victims of rape and sexual exploitation, the Supreme Court ordered all States and Union Territories to formulate a uniform scheme for providing them compensation.
  • It stressed that no amount of money can wipe away the tears of these women who have to battle both the social disadvantage of their disability and stigma of the crime committed against them.
  • Compensation and rehabilitation expenses range from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 1 lakh at the most, except in the State of Goa where victims were paid Rs. 10 lakh.
  • In Jammu and Kashmir, a minor rape victim or a victim of custodial rape is paid a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh by the State. In Karnataka, a minor rape victim is paid Rs. 3 lakh while victims other than minors are eligible to a maximum of Rs. 1.5 lakh. In Kerala, minor rape victims are paid “50 per cent extra” of Rs. 3 lakh maximum compensation awarded to rape victims and Rs. 1 lakh for rehabilitation costs. In the Union Territory of Puducherry, a rape victim is eligible for a maximum compensation of Rs. 3 lakh and Rs. 20,000 for rehabilitation.
  • The court noted that in Maharashtra, no amount is given as victim compensation for the offence of rape.

‘Can Governor intervene in Speaker’s disqualification powers?’

  • The Supreme Court questioned Governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s authority to concern himself with the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker’s powers to disqualify legislators under the anti-defection law.
  • “How can the Governor take away the constitutional powers of the Speaker to disqualify lawmakers on the grounds of defection? The Governor has no role to play in issues prescribed in the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection provision) of the Constitution,” a five-judge Constitution Bench led by Justice J.S. Khehar observed.
  • It questionaed the Governor’s interventions in the wake of Speaker Nabam Rebia disqualifying 16 of the 21 rebel Congress MLAs
  • The court questioned the Governor’s use of his “constitutional discretion” to advance the sixth session of the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly by over a month, asking whether it was backed by sound constitutional principles.
  • The advancing of the session from its scheduled date of January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015 in order to remove Speaker Nabam Rebia triggered the entire political crisis, leading to imposition of President’s rule on January 26

Hike in reward for killing J&K militants raises concern

  • With the Jammu and Kashmir hiking the reward money for police personnel killing a militant by 25 per cent, human rights groups in the State have expressed the fear that there would be an increase in encounters rather than arrests.
  • According to a J&KCCS survey, there was a sudden increase in the killing of militants from 1998 and decline in arrests, just months after the reward money for counter-insurgency policemen was increased by almost 50 per cent by the government.
  • The revised policy on rewards, approved in November last year, enhanced the reward money from Rs.10 lakh to Rs.12.5 lakh for “A plus plus”, the highest category of a wanted militant. Similarly, there is a hike in the categories of militants of “A plus”, “A”, “B” and “C”.
  • However, the complex categorisation, where a militant’s longevity and his armed actions are factored in before the Inspector General of Police assigns him a category, has further complicated this unaccounted kill money.

States can use curfew powers to block mobile Internet access: Supreme Court

  • The Supreme Court agreed with a lower court decision that the State can use its curfew powers to block Internet access on personal mobile phones if there is apprehension that a public agitation can turn aggressive and disturb public tranquillity.
  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur on Thursday dismissed an appeal filed by law student Gaurav Sureshbhai Vyas against a September 2015 Gujarat High Court order upholding a clampdown on mobile Internet access under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) during the Patidar agitation as only “minimal restriction” and not a violation of free speech which extends to Internet access.
  • The dismissal of this appeal gives full credence to the Gujarat High Court’s view that blocking of Internet mobile facility is an “appropriate action” in situations “prone to aggression.” The High Court had opined that the State should be left to figure out an “effective approach” like blocking Internet on mobiles in order to maintain law and order.

Odd even rule again

  • The second instalment of the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme will be back in April
  • Scheduled to be rolled out between April 15 and April 30, woman drivers, two-wheeler riders and VIPs will continue to be exempted from its provisions even as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government was “seriously considering” the “permanent enforcement” of the scheme for 15 days every month in the future

Plan to eliminate malaria by 2030

Centre makes it mandatory for power firms to buy from solid waste plants

  • The Central government has issued a circular to all power distribution companies stating it was mandatory for them to buy electricity from power plants fuelled by solid waste.
  • In case the companies brush aside the instructions, the government would impose severe penalties on them, an entitlement that comes from the recent amendment of the Electricity Regulatory Act (2013), the notice said.
  • About four solid waste-run power projects across the country had to be shut down because power distribution companies would not buy electricity from them.
  • The Centre now aims at generating 700 megawatts of electricity from solid waste-run plants in the next five years.
  • Every day, about 1.68 lakh tonnes of solid waste is collected across the country
  • As State governments will have to build plants that can produce energy from solid waste, the ministry offered to cover “20 per cent” of the cost of each plant. This money would come from the Swachh Bharat Mission.
  • Of its budget allocation of Rs. 62,000 crore, Rs. 38,000 crore would be spent on building solid waste management infrastructure across the country.
  • The road to arriving at energy generation is still long but the ministry has made a significant progress in setting up an effective door-to-door collection and transportation of solid waste

Facebooks pulls out Free Basics from India

  • Social networking giant Facebook  pulled the plug on its controversy-ridden ‘Free Basics’ programme in India, days after telecom regulator TRAI barred operators from charging discriminatory rates for Internet access based on content.
  • The service was offered in India in partnership with Reliance Communications and was earlier known as Internet.org.
  • Launched in 2014, Facebook is running the programme across 17 countries

Govt plans to set up 2,000 waterports; 30 on Ganga between Varanasi-Haldia

  • Government plans to set up 2,000 waterports as well as “Ro-Ro” services at 5 select places to transport goods and vehicles
  • Besides, there is a plan to develop 1,300 islands and 280 light houses as major attractions for tourists
  • Government is also constructing waterways on a 1,620 kilometer stretch on the Ganga between Varanasi and Haldia and 30 water ports would be constructed there.
  • Varanasi, Haldia and Sahibganj will be developed as multi-modal hubs with roadways, waterways and railways.
  • Government will soon start Ro-Ro (Roll-on Roll-off) service at five places including Haldia, Patna, Varanasi and Sahibganj with the World Bank assistance. Once they are operational, trucks could be transported till the points leading to huge savings which in turn would boost economy
  • Cargo transportation through river could bring the charges down to as low as 10 paise a km in comparison to Rs 1.5 per km for transportation through road and Rupee one through waterways.
  • Government had initiated river traffic control system from Haldia to Farakka and the system will be introduced in next six months from Farakka to Patna and thereafter from Patna to Varanasi.

In a first, IMD to bring out summer forecasIMD_LOGO

  • For the first time in its history, the India Meteorological Department — best known for its monsoon forecasts — will issue a summer forecast for April, May and June
  • Those involved say that though such a forecast may not be of much help to farmers — who rely on IMD’s rain forecasts to make sowing decisions and don’t plant their crops in these months — the information would be useful to power companies, several service-sector industries and state planners who’d like a heads-up on possible water shortages.
  • In mid-March, the IMD will send out a colour-coded map of India, showing how temperatures in different regions of the country are likely to deviate from what’s normal, during summer months.
  • These numbers would be updated every five days
  • Businesses that have requested summer forecasts include manufacturers of refrigerators, air conditioners, ice cream and cold drinks
  • The IMD’s initiative comes even as India bears the brunt of one of the longest and severest El Ninos ever experienced.
  • Said to be responsible for two consecutive droughts as well awry winter patterns in North India, the El Nino — a meteorological phenomenon marked by an unusual warming of the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean and associated with droughts — is likely to continue for a couple of months more.
  • The IMD does give warnings about imminent heatwaves and dry weather but these are no more than five days ahead.
  • The key factor to forecasting weather a few months ahead is in ensuring that the computerised weather models are consistently able to simulate the weather as it actually plays out.
  • Last month, the IMD officially expunged the word “drought” from its vocabulary, months after it correctly forecast one of India’s severest monsoon deficits last year.

Gates Foundation on Centre’s radar

  • The Indian government will closely scrutinise the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s (BMGF) methods of donations in India after an international report accused the world’s biggest philanthropist of influencing government policies in favour of multinational pharmaceutical companies.
  • Unlike other international donors, the BMGF is not registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), leaving its funding out of the ambit of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which is the regulatory authority for NGOs and associations who receive foreign funds.
  • The foundation instead operates as a “Liaison Office” under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) as approved by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
  • Since it is not registered under the FCRA, the funding of NGOs doesn’t come under the government’s watch list. It is not clear where and what they are funding. It is a loophole and it can open gates for other NGOs as well to use this route to escape scrutiny
  • RBI allows “liaison offices” to operate in India and the central bank does not want to give up this power. This is being exploited by many foreign associations and organisations to route undetected foreign funds.
  • Though the RBI gives LO permits, it does not regulate them as there are no such rules. No inspections can take place and thus no taxes are paid. The BMGF works as a marketing office for U.S. pharmaceutical vaccines pushing only WHO pre-approved manufacturers, all of whom are either USA or EU based
  • In Ford Foundation’s case, MHA first put it under a “watch-list” category as it funded Gujarat-based activist Teesta Setalvad’s NGOs. Ford was neither registered as a society nor under FCRA. After the government’s crackdown, Ford registered itself under FEMA last month. Officials say the international NGO will soon be taken off the watch-list.
  • In the health sector, the BMGF is accused of altering aid priorities by ‘legitimizing the role of multinational pharmaceutical companies’ by pushing for public-private-partnerships (PPPs). According to Global Justice Now, both the BMGF-funded Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) and the GAVI Alliance, are PPPs and have questionable associations with the pharmaceutical industry.

Government to ease norms for real estate business

  • The government is easing rules for granting construction permits around airports and monuments by developing colour-coded maps in a bid to give fillip to urban growth
  • Developers have to get permits from Airport Authority of India (AII) in New Delhi to build projects around the country’s airports. “It took a hell lot of time,”
  • At AII, the process of clearing such applications is manual.
  • AII has now come out with colour-coded zonal map. The airspaces used by jetliners for landings and take offs are highlighted in the map. No construction will be allowed in such spaces.
  • Construction would be allowed in those areas that fall out of “colour coded” zones
  • Developers don’t have to come all the way to Delhi to get building height clearances among others. The government will soon empower urban local bodies to follow the colour-coded zonal maps and authorise real estate development accordingly
  • In July 2015, Mr. Naidu had reached out to all the ministries, asking them to amend the laws that hamper the real estate growth across the country. The ministries had responded positively, agreeing to fix the gaps by the end of 2015.
  • Jaipur International Airport is the first one to develop a colour-coded map. All the other civilian airports across India, including 28 defence airports that are being used for civilian purposes, will have their maps ready by December 2016.
  • Ministry of Civil Aviation has also commissioned “improved version” of online NOCAS (No Objection Certificate Application System) to help applicants calculate permissible heights in airport zones.
  • Similarly, the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with ISRO is developing colour-coded maps for 281 monuments that fall in construction zones.
  • Ministry of Culture has launched a mobile app that enables online approvals for construction around monuments in just 72 hours.

Govt. renews air safety contract with Wicks Group

  • The government has renewed a contract with the U.S.-based Wicks Group to help the country retain its air safety ranking.
  • The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had hired the firm on a one-year contract in 2014 after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had downgraded India’s safety ranking to Category-II based on a 2013 audit.
  • The DGCA signed the agreement with the United States Technical Development Agency, which will be partially funding the project and share the cost of assistance with the Wicks Group, according to a Civil Aviation Ministry statement.
  • The current contract is aimed at “sustaining efforts undertaken during 2014” for restoration of air safety rankings and “bringing in more systemic improvements in the area of operation, airworthiness and licensing.”
  • The Wicks Group had assisted the DGCA and the FAA had in April last year restored India’s safety ranking to Category-I, implying the country is meeting the international standards in terms of civil aviation safety oversight.
  • The move comes close on the heels of a pending audit report from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which had conducted a comprehensive air safety audit in December last year.
  • Although an ICAO downgrade will not have a direct impact on airline operations it may raise alarm bells among other aviation authorities. For instance, the ICAO audit in 2012 had prompted FAA to conduct its own audit which led to a downgrade in India’s air safety ranking.

TRAI rules in favour of Net neutrality

  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) barred telecom service providers from charging differential rates for data services, effectively prohibiting Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero platform by Airtel in their current form.
  • No service provider can offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.
  • No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation.
  • Reduced tariff for accessing or providing emergency services, or at times of public emergency has been permitted.
  • Financial disincentives for contravention of the regulation have also been specified
  • TRAI may review these regulations after a period of two years.
  • TRAI said a fine of Rs. 50,000 would be levied per day, subject to a maximum of Rs. 50 lakh, for any violation of these regulations by the service providers. An exemption, however, has been made for offering emergency services.
  • Ruling out case-by-case approval for plans that might be priced differently, the regulator said a clear policy should be formulated.
  • The TRAI said tariff for data services could not vary on the basis of the website/application/ platform/ or type of content being accessed. For example, a consumer could not be charged differently based on whether she was browsing social media site A or B, or on whether she was watching streaming videos or shopping on the Internet, it added.
  • It, however, said that to bring more users on the Internet, this prohibition would not apply to other forms of tariff differentiation that were entirely independent of content.
  • For instance, providing limited free data that enables user to access the entire Internet is not prohibited

What’s net neutrality?

It is the principle that all traffic on the Internet must be treated equally by Internet service providers. Those advocating Net neutrality believe all bits of data are equal, and, therefore, should not be discriminated on the basis of content, site or user. This has largely been the default mode since Internet started.

Who benefits from net neutrality? How?

Every Internet user. Think through how you would like to browse the Internet. Wouldn’t you like to access the Web without worrying about how differently videos will be charged compared to other forms of content? Wouldn’t you like to access the Web without the telecom service provider getting to serve some sites faster than others? If yes for both, you are pro-Net neutrality.

New ventures benefit too. In fact, one of the key reasons for start-ups to have come up in a big way in recent decades is the openness of the Internet. The Internet has reduced transaction costs and levelled the playing field.

A start-up can come up with an app today, and can immediately attract a global audience. The likes of Googles and Facebooks could have struggled to grow if the Internet had not been open.info_2641370a

Panel proposes mandatory vision and hearing tests for class 1 admissions

  • If a proposal made by a vision committee is accepted, parents will have to submit a doctor’s report on the child’s hearing and vision.
  • The technical committee set up by the State government to frame the State Vision Policy has proposed, among other things, a mandatory testing of vision and hearing ability of children at the time of admissions to class 1.

Aditya gets ready to gaze at the sunth04-blr-aditya_TH_2729769e

  • Aditya-L1, the Indian Sun mission due after three years, may turn out to be a unique formation of not one but two spacecraft looking at the Sun from two stable orbital points.
  • That is if the Advisory Committee on Space Sciences, which is the brain behind the country’s extra-planetary missions, has its way. Internal discussions have appare
  • That is if the Advisory Committee on Space Sciences, which is the brain behind the country’s extra-planetary missions, has its way. Internal discussions have apparently been launched.
  • Aditya is the nation’s third big extra-terrestrial outing after Moon and Mars, all conceived and designed by ADCOS, the multi-faculty body of the Indian Space Research Organisation.
  • ISRO has started activities to send a 400-kg spacecraft to look at the Sun from a special stable orbital slot called L1 around 2019-20. L1 or ‘Lagrangian’ point # 1 is about 1.5 million km from Earth towards the Sun.
  • There are four more Lagrangian points L2 to L5 for Sun and Earth where space objects can resist the pulls of both the celestial bodies and stay relatively stable in that orbit.
  • ADCOS has designed the 2008 Chandrayaan-1; its future sequel; the 2013 Mars Orbiter Mission and is weighing the pros of either a second Mars mission or a Venus trip — the last of which is attracting other Space agencies as potential partners.

The challenges

  • The first task is to build a few ultra-sensitive instruments to accurately measure minute details about the Sun.
  • The bigger challenge is to create an all-aluminium 20-metre-high magnetic test facility near Bengaluru to specially assemble and test the spacecraft and instruments in a magnetically clean manner with “not one electric material, not even a car, being nearby”.
  • A satellite and a launcher each cost around Rs. 200 crore.

With Zika, Indian firm scales up trials for ‘GM mosquitoes’

  • A Maharashtra company is getting ready to scale up trials to find out whether genetically engineered mosquitoes can be a useful tool to check the growth of the insect.
  • Gangabishan Bhikulal Investment and Trading Ltd. (GBIT), a sister company of the Maharashtra Hybrid Company (Mahyco) that first brought Bt cotton to India, has been breeding male mosquitoes.
  • These mosquitoes contain genes which when passed on to its progeny render them unable to mature unless they have access to tetracycline, a compound that is not naturally available in the environment. The idea is that once enough of these laboratory-bred mosquitoes mate with the disease-carrying females in an open environment, they would reduce the region’s mosquito population.
  • The technology — licensed from Oxitec, a University of Oxford company — is being tested in Malaysia and Brazil, which has seen the highest number of Zika cases. The strain of mosquito, called OX513A, is sourced from Oxitec and introduced into local sites.
  • According to GBIT scientists, international evidence so far shows the strain can reduce the number of mosquitoes in a place by 90 per cent in three or six months.

NDRF trains 160 dogs for disaster response

  • In a maiden initiative, a squad of 162 dogs is being raised by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to aid its personnel in rescuing people trapped under debris in the aftermath of natural calamities like earthquake.
  • The NDRF, which was involved in disaster rescue operations like the deluge in Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Chennai and the earthquake that struck Nepal last year, has undertaken the exercise on a ‘mission mode’
  • The force is training a batch of 162 dogs for their specialised Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) tasks under which the NDRF teams have to sift through mounds of rubble to look for life trapped beneath.
  • A number of them have finished their regime and are being subjected to drills and field exercises where they are made to sniff out life in a collapsed concrete structure.

India flags API issue to U.S. govt.

  • India has sought clarity from the U.S. government on the ramifications of a recent adjudication, which gave rise to apprehensions that the medicines procured by the American government should be only from companies making even the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) either locally or in certain designated nations such as European Union (EU) members.
  • India and China account for about 80 per cent of the U.S.’s requirement of API (drug raw materials).
  • The ‘determination’ of the U.S. Homeland Security Department — which seemed to imply that the drugs that contained APIs imported from India and China are ineligible to be sold to the U.S. government — is likely to directly and indirectly hurt India’s API exports to the U.S., according to a preliminary assessment by India’s commerce ministry.
  • The U.S. decision has major implications on generic drugs, affordability of medicines and on efficient sourcing
  • The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (or CBP, which comes under the Homeland Security Department) that made the ‘determination’ in November 2015, said any party-at-interest may seek judicial review of this ‘final determination’ before the Court of International Trade.
  • The matter relates to the U.S. CBP ‘determination’ that the API in Carlsbad Technology Inc’s drug Acyclovir was manufactured in India and China. The drug was meant for U.S. government procurement. It is used against herpes viruses. The matter came to the Indian government’s attention after Pharmexcil (a lobby group of the pharmaceutical industry) approached the commerce ministry earlier this month, asking them to intervene and help resolve the issue.
  • The decision was taken as per the provisions under the U.S. Trade Agreements Act (TAA). The U.S. TAA applies America’s international trade agreements with other countries and the World Trade Organisation’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) to the U.S. government procurements.
  • As per the interpretation of the U.S. TAA, in cases of U.S. government procurement, medicines need to be made in the U.S., or in certain ‘designated countries’ (such as some EU-member countries and Japan, which are also signatories to the GPA) if they are to be given the benefit of waivers from “Buy American” restrictions.
  • India and China are not in this list of ‘designated countries’. India is not a signatory to the GPA and does not have a free trade pact with the U.S.

Chettinad cotton saree wins Indian Handloom tag

  • The Chettinad cotton saree has won the ‘India Handloom’ tag for its unique designs and identity
  • In this regard, the Textiles Committee, Union Ministry of Handlooms and Textiles, Mumbai, has registered the Chettinad cotton saree under the India Handloom Brand Scheme after checking various quality parameters stipulated by the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and offered a logo.
  • The Chettinad saree inherits the intricacies of now out-of-vogue and over a century-old‘ Kandangi’ pure silk sarees. The sarees are already popular in few North Indian states in the country and are also popular in other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.

Project Sunrise

  • Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Jagat Prakash Nadda recently launched Project Sunrise in Manipur.
  • Project Sunrise is a five year programme aimed at complementing the ongoing National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) which is to primarily improve coverage, quality and scale of HIV interventions among People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) in eight North East States.
  • Activities of the project are to be implemented through the existing system in close co-ordination with State AIDS Control Societies (SACS) in the North-Eastern states.
  • National Human Resource reduction strategy will be a part of the project and will be implemented in five years. Approximate cost of the project is Rs 70 crore.
  • In the entire North East States, the project will be implemented in 20 districts. The Central Government is funding the NACO projects and the amount would be transferred directly to the State AIDS Control Society through NACO.
  • Project Sunrise will implement more customized flexible approach so as to increase the availability and accessibility to clean needles and syringes through secondary distributors such as Government health care facilities, preferred healthcare providers, non-traditional outlets and peer volunteers.
  • The programme also includes lower threshold strategies to improve Opoid Substitution Therapy (OST), coverage and sensitization workshops for law enforcing officials. It also includes HIV intervention in prison settings.
  • The programme also aims to strengthen linkage with Ministries and Government Departments, community mobilization, intervention among Female Injecting Drug Users (FIDU), Intervention Among Spouses of PWID, establishment of Real Time Monitoring (RTM) system, Implementation of innovative approaches such as community based HIV-testing, safe disposal of used needles and syringes etc.

U.S., India in talks to settle solar power trade dispute

  • The U.S. and India are in talks that could settle a long-running solar power trade dispute, delaying the announcement of a ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • Washington filed the WTO challenge three years ago, claiming that India’s national solar power programme illegally discriminated against imported solar panels and related products through its domestic content requirements.
  • The WTO, in recent weeks, has twice delayed the public announcement of a ruling in the case, rescheduling it for next Wednesday. Indian media reported last August that a WTO dispute settlement panel had confidentially notified Washington and New Delhi that it would rule against India in the case.
  • S. Trade Representative Spokesman Andrew Bates declined to confirm any details of the WTO’s intentions but said the talks were aimed at reaching an out-of-court resolution before any public announcement by the Geneva-based trade body.
  • The U.S. initiated this dispute for the purpose of advancing the rapid deployment of clean, affordable energy in India and around the world
  • India has now asked to speak with the U.S. regarding the issue and in light of ongoing discussions, release of the WTO panel’s report ruling has been temporarily delayed
  • The U.S. complaint in 2013 alleged that the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission subsidies were available only if developers used equipment produced in India, violating a key global trade rule. The programme is aimed at easing chronic energy shortages in India.
  • The Obama administration argued that the rules are a barrier to solar products made in America and elsewhere but also effectively raised the cost of generating solar power in India and extended the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

As customs duty exemption goes, 76 life-saving drugs to get costlier

  • In a move that could inflate the cost of essential life-saving imported drugs, the Finance Ministry has withdrawn exemption of 76 medicines from customs duties.P1-customs_2725616a
  • The list includes 10 HIV drugs and at least four cancer drugs, but haemophilia patients are likely to be the most affected by the decision.
  • Putting old HIV or cancer medicines out of the list makes no difference as the generic versions are available in India at cheaper rates. This is a move to boost domestic competition among Indian drug-makers. The pressure will be on patients who do not have an alternative source. They already pay out of pocket and piling duty on them seems a move that has not been well-thought out
  • The Department of Revenue has issued a notification on January 28, withdrawing exemption from import duty on a number of drugs, including cancer and other lifesaving drugs. This will result in excise/import duties to the extent of over 22 per cent, which will make these drugs more expensive
  • There are over 75 drugs on this list. This will also impact the indigenous drugs being manufactured in SEZs, thus adversely impacting the government’s aim of making healthcare affordable and accessible to patients in India

Haemophilia is a genetic disorder in which the patient tends to bleed excessively. Anti-haemophilic factor concentrates (VIII & IX) that are given to patients to control the bleeding are off the list. These concentrates are proteins that help the blood clot

Juvenile board to decide if suspect in two murders can be tried as adult

  • A decision will soon be taken by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) on whether a 17-year-old boy, who is accused of committing two murders in Delhi in five months to raise money for a reality show, will be tried as a juvenile or as an adult.
  • As per the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, which came into effect in mid-January, the boy could be tried as an adult if the board assesses him mentally and physically capable of committing the heinous offences and as having the ability to understand their consequences.
  • The boy, who will turn 18 next month, was first apprehended last September on charge of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy for ransom and killing him later.
  • He was allegedly assisted in the crime by his juvenile girlfriend, who too aspired to make it big in a reality show. They needed the money to fund their aspirations.
  • If he ends up being tried as an adult, his will be among the first such major case in Delhi after the much-debated law was passed in December and approved by the President on the last day of 2015.
  • The JJB “shall conduct a preliminary assessment with regard to his mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which he allegedly committed the offence”.
  • For the assessment, the board may take the assistance of “experienced psychologists or psycho-social workers or other experts”.

About JJ Act:

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 repealed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 was passed by Lok Sabha on 7th May, 2015; was passed by Rajya Sabha on 22nd December, 2015 and received Presidential assent on 31st December, 2015.

 The JJ Act, 2015 provides for strengthened provisions for both children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law.

Some of the key provisions include:

  • Change in nomenclature from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with law’, across the Act to remove the negative connotation associated with the word “juvenile”;
  • Inclusion of several new definitions such as orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children; and petty, serious and heinous offences committed by children;
  • Clarity in powers, function and responsibilities of Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) and Child Welfare Committee (CWC);
  • Clear timelines for inquiry by Juvenile Justice Board (JJB);
  • Special provisions for heinous offences committed by children above the age of sixteen year;
  • Separate new chapter on Adoption to streamline adoption of orphan, abandoned and surrendered children;
  • Inclusion of new offences committed against children;
  • Mandatory registration of Child Care Institutions.

Child offenders:

  • Under Section 15, special provisions have been made to tackle child offenders committing heinous offences in the age group of 16-18 years.
  • The Juvenile Justice Board is given the option to transfer cases of heinous offences by such children to a Children’s Court (Court of Session) after conducting preliminary assessment.
  • The provisions provide for placing children in a ‘place of safety’ both during and after the trial till they attain the age of 21 years after which an evaluation of the child shall be conducted by the Children’s Court.
  • After the evaluation, the child is either released on probation and if the child is not reformed then the child will be sent to a jail for remaining term.
  • The law will act as a deterrent for child offenders committing heinous offences such as rape and murder and will protect the rights of victim.

 Adoption:

  • To streamline adoption procedures for orphan, abandoned and surrendered children, the existing Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) is given the status of a statutory body to enable it to perform its function more effectively.
  • Separate chapter (VIII) on Adoption provides for detailed provisions relating to adoption and punishments for not complying with the laid down procedure.
  • Processes have been streamlined with timelines for both in-country and inter-country adoption including declaring a child legally free for adoption.

Rehabilitation:

  • Several rehabilitation and social reintegration measures have been provided for children in conflict with law and those in need of care and protection.
  • Under the institutional care, children are provided with various services including education, health, nutrition, de-addiction, treatment of diseases, vocational training, skill development, life skill education, counselling, etc to help them assume a constructive role in the society.
  • The variety of non-institutional options include: sponsorship and foster care including group foster care for placing children in a family environment which is other than child’s biological family, which is to be selected, qualified, approved and supervised for providing care to children.

 New Offences:

  • Several new offences committed against children, which are so far not adequately covered under any other law, are included in the Act.
  • These include: sale and procurement of children for any purpose including illegal adoption, corporal punishment in child care institutions, use of child by militant groups, offences against disabled children and, kidnapping and abduction of children.

 Children Home:

  • All child care institutions, whether run by State Government or by voluntary or non-governmental organisations, which are meant, either wholly or partially for housing children, regardless of whether they receive grants from the Government, are to be mandatorily registered under the Act within 6 months from the date of commencement of the Act. S
  • tringent penalty is provided in the law in case of non-compliance.

Panel to finalise national afforestation fund plan by month-end

  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests will finalise its suggestions on how to use the national afforestation fund of Rs. 38,000 crore that has been idling for 10 years
  • The panel has been seeking views of public and private stakeholders across the country and met agencies concerned in the State
  • The Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, 2015 seeks ways to unlock the fund that has accumulated with the Compensatory Afforestation Management Planning Authority (CAMPA).
  • Incentives to persons displaced from eco-sensitive zones and using CAMPA funds to acquire land in sensitive areas have been made to the panel

Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015

  • The proposed legislation seeks to provide an appropriate institutional mechanism, both at the Centre and in each State and Union Territory, to ensure expeditious utilization in efficient and transparent manner of amounts realised in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose.
  • This would mitigate impact of diversion of such forest land.
  • The proposed legislation also seeks to provide safety, security and, transparency in utilization of these amounts, which currently are being kept in Nationalised Banks and are being managed by an ad-hoc body. These amounts would be brought within broader focus of both Parliament and State Legislatures and in greater public view, by transferring them to non-lapsable interest bearing funds, to be created under public accounts of the Union of India and each State.
  • The proposed legislation will also ensure expeditious utilization of accumulated unspent amounts available with the ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), which presently is of the order of Rs. 38,000 crore, and fresh accrual of compensatory levies and interest on accumulated unspent balance, which will be of the order of approximately Rs. 6,000 crore per annum, in an efficient and transparent manner.
  • Utilization of these amounts, will facilitate timely execution of appropriate measures to mitigate impact of diversion of forest land, for which these amounts have been realised. Apart from mitigating the impact of diversion of forest land, utilisation of these amounts will also result in creation of productive assets and generation of huge employment opportunities in rural areas, especially in backward tribal areas.
  • Expenditure of the National CAMPA is proposed to be met from the funds to be retained in the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) from the accumulated funds transferred to it by the ad-hoc CAMPA, and the funds to be transferred, on yearly basis, to the National CAF from a part of the funds credited by user agencies directly into State CAFs. The proposal, therefore, does not involve any additional expenditure on the Centre.

The Bill provides for among other things:-

  • Establishment of the National CAF and the State CAFs to credit amounts collected by State Governments and Union Territory Administrations to compensate loss of forest land diverted for non-forest purpose.
  • Constitution of a National Authority to manage and utilise amounts credited to the National CAF.
  • Constitution of a State Authority in each State and Union Territory to manage and utilise the amounts credited to the State CAFs.
  • Establishment of a Monitoring Group to assist the National Authority in monitoring and evaluation of activities undertaken from amounts released from the National CAF and State CAFs.

Panel to seek increasing ISRO outlay by 50 p.c.

  • The Chairman of the visiting Parliamentary Committee on Science & Technology said the panel would recommend a 50 per cent higher budgetary outlay for the Department of Space (DoS) for the upcoming financial year.
  • If it materialises, it could be the highest ever increase for the department and the total budget may surpass Rs. 10,000 crore. It got a 43 per cent hike two years ago, i.e. in 2013-14.
  • In the budget presented in February 2015, the DoS received Rs. 7,388 crore, including about Rs. 1,400 crore for non-plan expenditure. The amount was a little more than what it was allocated the previous year (Rs. 7,238 crore for 2014-15), but this was later revised and became about 20 per cent lesser.
  • Congress leader Ashwani Kumar chairs a 31-member MPs’ team on S&T and Environment & Forests and was also in charge of the DoS in the erstwhile UPA government.
  • At the end of two days of meetings related to space, forest and environment in Bengaluru, he told a news conference that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has contributed a lot to the social and defence needs of the country. It undoubtedly needs a bigger budget for new projects and a matching technical pool to complete them.

Prepare manual on juvenile offenders: SC

  • The Supreme Court directed the Ministry of Women and Child Development to prepare a manual exclusively for juvenile offenders in custody under the new juvenile law.
  • In a detailed written order dealing with dignity to those behind bars, a Bench, headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur, said the new manual should be fashioned after the Model Prison Manual being prepared by the Union Home Ministry for adult prisoners.
  • Issuing notice to the Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, the apex court said it wants a response by March 14, 2016, the next date of hearing.
  • The purpose of issuance of notice to the Ministry is to require a manual to be prepared by this Ministry taking into consideration the living conditions and other issues pertaining to juveniles who are in Observation Homes or Special Homes or Places of Safety in terms of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015
  • A “composite document” on custodial management, medical care, education of prisoners, vocational training and skill development programmes, legal aid, welfare of prisoners, aftercare and rehabilitation, Board of Visitors, prison computerisation, etc.
  • The apex court has stepped in after a new juvenile justice law has been passed to rein in rising number of heinous crimes involving juveniles.

Government may ask central bank to consider roads as a priority sector

  • The government will soon approach the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan with a proposal to include road projects under the priority sector list for lending purposes and review the non-performing assets norms to revive Rs. 40,000-crore worth of highway projects that have not taken off due to bureaucratic delays and cost overruns.highway-road-300x237
  • The Road Transport and Highways Ministry has decided to take up the priority sector route with the central bank,following a consultation with the Indian Banks’ Association earlier this month.
  • The banks provide a certain portion of ‘priority sector’ lending in the form of small value loans to farmers for agriculture, micro and small enterprises, poor people for housing, students for education and low income groups and weaker sections.
  • At present, 40 per cent of loans given by banks should go to priority sectors defined by the RBI. Out of this, 18 per cent should go toward agriculture lending.
  • In a separate move, the Union government may ask the RBI to ease non-performing asset norms for bank loans to revive projects. It may ask the RBI to not classify bank loans as NPAs if the project has failed to take off beyond two years from its original date of commencement.
  • At present, bank loans, extended for infrastructure projects, become NPAs if the project has been delayed for two years from its original schedule even for reasons beyond the control of promoters such as land acquisition approvals. This will, however, be done for road projects which are found viable after assessment.
  • The government may also ask the RBI to allow banks to infuse more funds into projects facing cost overruns due to delays. At present, the RBI guidelines allow banks to fund additional interest during construction of projects and other cost overruns up to 10 per cent of the original project cost. The IBA has requested the government to increase the limit of 10 per cent to support stalled projects.
  • The government is finding it hard to revive the 19 highway projects worth Rs. 40,000 crore and it recently met road developers and bankers to address the issues.
  • One of the main reasons behind the delay in highway projects is shortage of funds. While the road contractors said banks were reluctant to fund projects due to mounting non-performing assets, the government officials said the ‘managerial inefficiencies’ of developers have stalled these projects.
  • Last year, the government had taken several decisions to revive the stalled road projects. The Cabinet had approved a policy to allow National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to infuse one-time funds for completing public-private partnership (PPP) projects where 50 per cent work is done.
  • However, the scheme has not found many takers as banks have not agreed to NHAI getting the first charge on the toll revenues from these projects.

Co-optex’s handloom tag gets noticed abroad

  • After a gap of two years, surviving a recession that had hit even the handloom sector, Co-optex has bagged a sizeable business from overseas customers for its furnishing material.
  • The Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society, known better as Co-optex, has a niche clientele in Europe and in the United States. The organisation participates in the annual fair held by the European Free Trade Association. For the past two years Co-optex had felt the heat of the recession that had hit the western market.
  • Co-optex has hired a designer who qualified from the Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design to develop these products.

New products

  • Among the new products that have sold well abroad and in North India are the double jacquard honeycomb design bedspreads, throws and quilts. Co-optex has so far bagged around Rs. 1 crore worth of business in its export segment
  • The organisation has been chosen by the European Free Trade Association countries as its products comply with their norms of environmental standards in terms of dyeing, chemicals, effluents used, discharge of effluents into the ecosystem, non-use of child labour and fair wages to the weavers

States to get greater role in wetland management

  • The Union government has begun revising the existing regulatory framework on wetlands across the country in a bid to enable a greater role and ownership by State governments in their management.
  • the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA) provides the policy framework and support to the States.wetland_2719960f
  • The State Wetland Authorities will be tasked with managing wetlands within their jurisdiction
  • in a strategic step towards increasing the capacity of wetland managers in integrated and holistic management, upgrading the existing Wetland Research and Training Centre of Chilika Development Authority at Barkul in Odisha into the National Capacity Development Centre for wetlands is also being envisaged by the Ministry.
  • The theme of World Wetlands Day this year is ‘Wetlands for our Future – Sustainable Livelihoods’.

Bajaj unveils bike with INS Vikrant metalTH02_BU_BAJAJ_2719850f

  • Bajaj Auto on Monday unveiled a 150-cc bike named ‘V’ that contains metal sourced from India’s first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.
  • INS Vikrant was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of Indian Navy in 1961. After years of distinguished service, it was decommissioned in January 1997 and served as a museum till 2012. In November 2014, the aircraft carrier was dismantled and sold as scrap metal.

N-plant parts to be made in India

  • In a move that could become a model for countries keen for a share of India’s civil nuclear energy pie, India and Russia have set up a working group to locally build components for nuclear power plants of Russian design.
  • This is based on the Action Program signed between Rosatom and the Department of Atomic Energy of India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Moscow in December last year.
  • Based on the decision signed in December 2015, a fourth working group on the localization of production in India has already been established and is operating successfully
  • Rosatom as part of its plans for expanding its global footprint is in the process of opening its regional office for South Asia office in Mumbai.
  • The Action Program includes areas of cooperation in the field of joint machinery production, especially for nuclear power plants, as well as cooperation in the field of joint development, mastering and technological support of the implementation of end-to-end production technologies of products for heavy and power engineering industries.
  • The three joint working groups set up under the Indo-Russian Coordinating Committee on cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy established in December 2014 are on the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear energy and scientific-technical cooperation.
  • The localization plans are part of the government’s efforts to build manufacturing in the country under its ambitions Make in India initiative
  • Russia is currently building six reactors in Kudankulam of which the first unit was commissioned in autumn 2013. It was shut for the first scheduled preventive maintenance (SPM) and has now successfully restarted power generation.
  • The assembly of the second unit assembly has been finished and the hot run stage was completed.
  • The physical launch is scheduled by the Indian party for mid-2016
  • The permit for excavation works and foundation pit preparation for power units 3 and 4 has been obtained from the Indian regulatory body. The comprehensive delivery contract for reactor equipment for these units was signed in September last year.
  • Russia is also scheduled to be allotted a second site most likely in the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh for setting up another six units as agreed in 2014.
  • India is looking to majorly ramp up nuclear power generation to overcome power shortages as well as reduce carbon emissions under its global commitments.

HAL’s import, assemble, supply ‘model’

  • The Ravindra Gupta Task Force Report on Defence Modernisation and Self Reliance submitted its report in September 2012, officially recording that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, India’s aerospace giant, has been importing most of its raw material from abroad, assembling them and supplying finished products to the Indian military. And that it has failed to create a robust supply network of domestic companies and R&D capabilities.
  • Of the total raw material consumption of HAL, the import component has been going up over the years. Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, it was always above 77.3 per cent. And in 2009-10 and 2010-11 it went up further to 92.6 and 95.4 per cent respectively.
  • Over the last decade, as HAL grew exponentially, its total raw material consumption was worth Rs. 12,280 crore in 2010-11.
  • The indigenous component was just Rs. 565 crore, which was just 4.6 per cent of the total consumption as opposed to 15.8 per cent in 2000-01, the Task Force Report pointed out.
  • Air Marshal Matheswaran’s report points out that the annual reports of HAL for 2011-12 and 2012-13 omit the details of imports after the Task Force report. The report pointed out that the figures available from the Task Force and other sources show that “These figures reiterate the window-dressing that ‘indigenisation’ actually has become in many DPSUs/PSUs.”
  • “HAL has been an assembler, in essence, of SKD and CKD [semi knock down and completely knock down] kits for engines and aircraft for six decades. Much of this is dependent on component, sub component, engine and airframe assemblies manufactured under licence. Hence it could actually be thought of as a ‘licence raj’,” the Matheswaran report says.
  • It points out that the import content of HAL for materials and spares amounts to a major portion of its turnover itself.
  • HAL’s model has resulted in very little indigenisation, less than expected ancillary job and revenue generation within India, besides inadequate vendor development.
  • Along with scanty vendor development in terms of true value and criticality of product to the aircraft itself, there is negligible impact on skill development within the DPSU/PSU
  • Examining the 2010-11 performance of HAL, the report points out that the company’s turnover was Rs. 13,115.5 crore and the total consumption was Rs. 12,280.2 crore. Of the total consumption “Rs. 11,715.1 crore [i.e. 95.4 per cent] went abroad towards imports and can be said to be towards profits that foreign OEMs, vendors and MRO services would make there from,” the report says.
  • “Although 10 Research and Development centres have been in existence for a long period of time at various divisions of HAL, their contribution towards self reliance is negligible,” the report says.
  • Most of these centres spend most of their time resolving basic transfer of technology implementation issues. Resultantly, HAL has come to be fully dependent on imported items.

Avalanche on the Siachen glaciersiachen_2723795f

  • Ten soldiers have been buried under snow after their camp in the northern part of the Siachen glacier was hit by a major avalanche
  • According to preliminary information, the avalanche struck the camp located in the northern Siachen Glacier, at a height of 19,600 feet
  • The post was manned by a Junior Commissioned Officer and nine soldiers
  • Rescue operations by specialised teams of the Army and the Air Force are under way, and are being coordinated from Leh and Udhampur.
  • The incident highlights the extreme risks that soldiers face in manning the inhospitable terP13-soldiers_2723996a rain at heights of 21,000 feet under extreme weather conditions on the world’s highest battlefield.
  • Over the years, India has invested heavily in procuring high-quality equipment. The Army has streamlined procedures for better acclimatisation, and this has helped to cut casualties. However, all that is no guarantee against the avalanche of the sort that hit the camp on Wednesday.
  • On an average, India spends Rs. 5 crore a day for maintaining troops on the glacier.
  • More soldiers have been killed in the Siachen glacier owing to weather than by enemy fire over the years.
  • Over 870 soldiers have lost their lives due to climatic conditions and environmental factors since the Army launched Operation Meghdoot in 1984, pre-empting Pakistan’s attempt to occupy the strategic heights.
  • The guns fell silent after India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the Line of Control Actual Ground Position Line in November 2003.
  • The guns fell silent after India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the Line of Control Actual Ground Position Line in November 2003.
  • The 10 soldiers trapped in ice after an avalanche on the Siachen glacier were declared dead
  • However rescue efforts are still on to locate and retrieve the bodies

Pakistan offers help: The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) of Pakistan tweeted an offer to help in the search mission. However the Indian Army, while appreciating the gesture, declined it as “adequate resources and personnel have already been pressed into service.”

The Indian Army has been controlling the dominant heights of the glacier, the world’s highest battlefield, since occupying it in April 1984 under Operation Meghdoot pre-empting Pakistan’s move which controls heights at the lower altitudes.

IT services exports to cross $100 billion

  • IT services exports would cross the $100 billion mark in 2015-16 and the sector would clock double digit growth in 2016-17
  • The optimism comes despite concerns about the impact of the election campaign in the United States, which accounts for half of India’s IT exports and the rise of protectionism in Europe and the U.K.
  • The IT sector, which India’s largest private sector employer, is likely to add two lakh new jobs this year, taking its employeestrength to 3.7 million.
  • It expects another two lakh new jobs in 2016-17 with an expected 10 per cent to 12 per cent growth in exports at the present currency valuations.The domestic growth is expected to be between 11 per cent and 13 per cent.
  • While global economic growth slowing to 2.4 per cent in 2015, spending on IT-business process management (IT-BPM) grew by a mere 0.4 per cent though this was largely due to the impact of currency fluctuations. Yet, the industry expects total revenues to grow to $143 billion in 2015-2016 from $132 billion a year agowith exports rising at 12.3 per cent.
  • The IT industry body, which has now began to include e-commerce businesses in its domestic IT-BPM industry assessment, said online retail is growing at 20 per cent and would hit $17 billion in 2015-16 compared to $14 billion in the previous year.

Government and Qualcomm announce contest for start-ups

  • In support of the forthcoming Make in India Week event to be held in Mumbai, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) and Qualcomm Ventures announced India’s largest start-up contest — “QPrize Make in India”— awarding $3.5 lakh in equity investment as prize money for the winning company.
  • The contest is to catalyse Indian entrepreneurs and start-up community to drive the entire value chain from innovation to manufacturing in India.
  • Short-listed companies will be invited for the final pitch presentation during the grand finale on February 18.
  • With over $5 billion worth investment in 2015 and three to four start-ups emerging every day, India has the third largest number of start-ups in the world.

WHO certifies vaccine maker GreenSignal Bio

  • Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) has accorded PQP (Pre-qualification of Medicines Programme) certification to the city-based GreenSignal Bio Pharma Pvt. Ltd., a BCG vaccine-making firm.
  • GreenSignal is the second Indian company to get PQP certification from WHO.
  • PQP certification helps GreenSignal to participate in the global immunisation pro
  • gramme, which is facilitated through international procurement agencies such as UNICEF and others.
  • These global institutions go by the WHO’s list of pre-qualified products while making a decision on procurement for medicines for distribution in resource-limited nations.
  • The WHO certification will provide GreenSignal access to 5-7 countries with UNICEF setting it year-wise allotment target for supply of BCG vaccine.

IS threat: Maharashtra rolls out deradicalisation plan

  • Faced with the challenges of both home-grown extremism and the global Islamic State (IS) threat, Maharashtra has rolled out a deradicalisation programme for the minority community.
  • The programme includes opening vyayam shalas in minority areas, making National Cadet Corps (NCC), Bharat Scouts and Guides (BS&G) compulsory in minority schools, and setting up an independent media outlet to deliver ‘mainstream thoughts and values’ to the minority youth in the State.
  • The Union Home Ministry had asked three States to draw up a comprehensive counter-strategy in the wake of attempts by international terrorist outfits to propagate jihadi ideologies.P1-IS_threat_2722589a
  • Concurrently, the State Home Department has rolled out a 50-point socio-economic strategy with the aim of ‘bringing youth of the minority community into the mainstream’ and making coordinated efforts and policies in 13 sectors, including education, sports, urban planning, law and order, skill development, women and child, social justice, and health.
  • The proposed responses drawn up against the threat of home-grown extremism include: plans to teach religious texts from all sects in minority schools and teaching merits of democratic States and demerits of dictatorships as a separate chapter in the Urdu textbooks.
  • The State police, which has faced flak in the past for poor handling of communal rights, has been directed to deal with religious extremism ‘in the strictest possible manner.’ Individuals and organisations disturbing communal harmony, spreading propaganda on social websites and services, ‘must be dealt with strongly.’ The cops have been told to identify and reduce any feeling of communalism within the force and ‘reach out to the minority community and win their hearts at all costs.’
  • The plan aims to create an environment of solidarity and trust among the minority, and envisages different departments undertaking various schemes to reach out to the minority, implement a scheme a year, while setting aside 15% of their funds for the same
  • As per the government resolution on ‘deradicalisation of youth and preserving communal amity’, the State Education Department will launch a mid-day meal scheme in Urdu schools, provide textbooks at subsidised rates, and teach Urdu as optional subject in 300 Marathi shalas (schools). Muslim scholars have already criticised the efforts to label the community as radicalised.

Indian firm files patent for Zika vaccine candidates

  • Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech has filed for global patent of two vaccine candidates – a recombinant vaccine and an inactivated vaccine – for Zika virus.
  • The company announced that it could make available the inactivated vaccine in two years if the Indian Government fast-tracked the regulatory approvals once the pre-clinical trials proved to be successful.
  • While the recombinant vaccine might take time, the pre-clinical testing of the inactivated vaccine in animals would be completed in five months.
  • Zika is now present in 23 countries. Brazil, the hardest-hit country, has reported around 3,500 cases of the devastating birth defect called microcephaly.
  • The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, which can breed in a pool of water as small as a bottle cap and usually bite during the day.

Steady rise in incidence of lung cancer

  • There has been a steady rise in incidence of lung cancer in India in the03bg_bgyas_Canc_04_2723216f past decade, and it continues to top the list. While smoking and exposure to tobacco remains the leading causes of lung cancer, another emerging risk factor is the dangerous mix of air pollutants breathed in daily, especially among the urban population
  • Lung cancer accounts for about 13 per cent of all new cancers in India and 10.8 per cent in Bengaluru. This cancer is gradually also on the rise among women, among whom breast cancer still tops the list.
  • According to the Population Based Cancer Registry (PBCR) – 2013, an estimated 63,000 new lung cancer cases are reported annually with a slim five-year survival rate of 10 per cent.
  • “There is little doubt that smoking is the leading instigator of lung cancer. However,
  • urban air contains many known carcinogens (cancer causing agents) such as suspended particulate, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, among others.
  • These components are believed to trigger cancerous mutation in the body’s cells

IAF bases on western border put on high alert

  • In the aftermath of the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase, all Indian Air Force (IAF) bases on the western border are on high alert and shoot-at-sight orders are in effect to prevent wrongful entry.
  • When a base is on alert, shoot-at-sight orders are issued against anyone trying to gain wrongful entry or scaling wallsP12-IAF_2722598f
  • Precautionary boards had been put out warning public about the instructions
  • Six terrorists breached the walls of the Pathankot airbase on January 2 and held their ground for four days before being killed.
  • On the findings of the security audit, which was ordered after the attack, the officer said there were no major “weaknesses” but had identified vulnerabilities which would be addressed.
  • As part of the process, perimeter security is being beefed up on a priority basis and procurement of equipment will be fast-tracked. These include smart fences, perimeter installation detection systems, video motion detection systems, thermal cameras and quad copters. The estimated cost per base is Rs. 100-150 crore and 54 major bases will be taken up in the first phase.
  • In addition, officials said the stipulation for no constructions up to 100 metres outside bases and 900 metres outside weapon depots would be implemented.

GM mustard study to be out soon

  • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which examines the scientific merits of releasing genetically modified seeds into the environment, will consider making public, immediately, the results of tests and studies so far conducted to test the safety of transgenic (or GM) mustard.
  • This comes even as several farmers’ groups and environmental activist organisations have alleged that the GEAC plans to allow GM mustard on farmer fields.

Defence PSUs profiting on advances

  • Official studies have been conducted in recent years into India’s ambition to emerge as a major aerospace manufacturer that can design and build its own aircraft and related systems
  • All those reports remain confidential, and the government has taken almost negligible action on them to improve the situation
  • The studies show that the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Bharat Electronics Ltd, Bharat Dynamics Ltd and Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited (MIDHANI) —all of them enjoying virtual monopoly in defence aerospace sector — have been booking profits over the years not from their businesses
  • Instead, they take huge advances from the military against future deliveries, earn interest on them, and show them as profits. Then they award a significant part of the so-called profit to their majority shareholder, the government.
  • With annual defence budget growing at a healthy rate, and defence forces under pressure to spend them within the financial year, it is now a well-established practice for them to give away significant advances to the defence PSUs, even if there is significant delay in production, and products are not delivered for years. That cycle is adding to what is plaguing the DPSUs, the reports point out.
  • Although, the profits have been increasing, a major portion of the profit has been from ‘other income’ not related to aircraft repair, maintenance, manufacture/overhaul. Significant portion of the other income comprises the ‘negative’ financing cost due to the interest accrual on advances from Defence Customer for the huge order book
  • How it makes profit is an eye-opener. The HAL receives advance from the military, almost three times its annual turnover. In 2010-11, the financial turnover was a bit over Rs. 13,000 crore, but the order book was Rs. 68,265 crore, against which HAL took advance of Rs. 35,146 crore from its customers. On that advance, it earned an interest income of over Rs. 2,200 crore, and booked a profit after tax of Rs. 2,114 crore. That year, HAL paid the government, its majority shareholder, a dividend of Rs. 423.12 crore.
  • With a captive customer base, and no government demand on performance improvement, HAL has become an predominant assembler of systems for the Indian military. Its exports have remained negligible: In 2012-13 it exported just Rs. 382 crore worth of systems, the report points out.

Bharat Electronics Ltd

  • With over 10,000 employees, BDL is a Navratna DPSU since June 2007 and has nine production units and 31 manufacturing divisions. It produces electronic warfare systems, avionics components etc. for aircraft.
  • Like HAL, Bharat Electronics Ltd also enjoys assured orders and large advances from MoD. Its sales/turnover have been rising consistently along with profits
  • More than 70 per cent of its income has been coming mainly from non-core activities. The report points out that BEL’s income from other sources, especially against advance taken from the military, almost doubled between 2010 and 2013. In 2012-13, other income of BEL stood at Rs. 723.35 crore.

Bharat Dynamics Ltd

  • A manufacturing base for guided weapons systems, BDL has been the prime production agency for the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme.
  • Like other DPSUs, the profitability of the company is mainly due to heavy advances received from MoD. In fact, other income of BDL has been more than the profit of the company
  • The report points out that the company has been making losses in its core activities and “has been showing profit only due to large order book & advances received from the Government.”
  • In 2013, the company had a turnover of Rs. 1,074.71 crore, had taken an advance of Rs. 4,899 crore from the government and earned almost Rs. 522 crore on it, and booked it as other income.
  • It also says that BDL is overbooked far beyond its capacity with the requirement of ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) and SAMs (surface to air missiles). It almost enjoys a monopoly in missiles production within India due to government restrictions. Against an annual turnover of just Rs. 1,100 crore the total value of AON (acceptance of necessity) with the company was over Rs. 35,000 crore.

Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited

  • MIDHANI is equipped for metallurgical facilities to make super-alloys, titanium, special purpose steels etc. for aerospace, defence, atomic energy etc.
  • The financial analysis of the company for the last two financial years indicates increase in sales revenue and net profit. The profitability of MIDHANI like other DPSUs has a significant contribution of other income generated by the interest accrued on advances received from its customers

No mammography needed for women under 50: WHO

  • Mammography has gained popularity globally, as well as in India, over the years with the rising incidence of breast cancer.
  • The IARC, the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, recommends mammography for women aged over 50 as now there is scientific evidence that it is effective in reducing breast cancer mortality for women in the 50–69 age-group, but has limited efficacy in the younger age band of 40 to 49. It states that the benefit of reduced mortality extends to women screened at age 70–74.

Fuel tax rates result in two-wheeler owners paying more per litre than airlines

  • Higher state taxes coupled with greater incidence of central excise duties has resulted in petrol becoming more expensive per litre than aviation turbine fuel (ATF), the cost of which is borne only by those who can afford to fly.
  • All fuels are subject to several taxes, both at the central and state levels, resulting in their final market price being significantly higher than the price dealers pay for the fuel.
  • One major reason for the mismatch between the prices of ATF, a highly refined fuel and petrol is the higher burden of central excise duties on the latter
  • While oil prices in India fell from $50.2 per barrel at the start of February 2015 to $30.3 currently, the government absorbed most of this benefit by hiking excise duties on petrol five times in that period from Rs. 6.95 per litre to Rs. 9.48 per litre currently.
  • State-level tax rates differ but the trend is one of higher rates for petrol compared to ATF.
  • The central excise duty on ATF is at an ad valorem rate of eight per cent as opposed to a fixed amount for petrol. This greatly benefits airlines when oil prices fall, as is currently happening, since the quantum of tax payable by them will also fall proportionately. The excise duty on petrol remains fixed regardless of the price of oil.
  • Another reason for ATF enjoying lower excise duties than petrol or diesel, apart from lobbying by airlines, is that aviation fuel can be freely imported. Hence, if the Indian government hikes the excise duty on ATF, airlines can simply import it from cheaper sources. Consumers of diesel or petrol don’t have any such option.

India gears up to face Zika virus

  • With Zika virus cases being reported from South America and the US, the Centre decided to constitute a technical group to monitor the situation even as it prepared to come out with an advisory soon.
  • A day after WHO warned that Zika virus was spreading “explosively”, the government also decided to strengthen its surveillance system and asserted that it is taking all measures to ensure that it is “well prepared” in case of any eventuality.
  • This mosquito also carries the viruses that cause Dengue and Chikungunya which are of great public health concern in tropical countries like India. The outbreak began in Brazil last year and has now spread to 24 countries in the Americas.

HAL rolls out first prototype of basic trainer

  • The first prototype of basic military trainer aircraft HTT-40, planned as the first of three-rung trainers for novice Air Force pilots, has just rolled out of the hangar, its maker Hindustan Aeronautics LtdHTT40_2_2721003f
  • The made-in-India aircraft will next undergo ground runs and taxi trials followed by a maiden flight
  • The twin-seater Hindustan Turboprop Trainer can be modified into a light attack aircraft, used for aerobatics, instrument flying, navigation, night flying and close formation.
  • The HTT-40 project, touted as a symbol of capability to design and manufacture a trainer aircraft within the country, was almost aborted until the Defence Acquisition Council announced in March last year that 68 of them would be bought for the Air Force.
  • The IAF has a total requirement of 181 basic trainers, the rest being filled by importing the Swiss-make Pilatus PC-7 Mark-II.
  • The HTT-40 prototype was recently rolled out of the Aircraft Research & Development Centre’s hangar using a remotely operated mini car.
  • HAL said the team working on HTT-40 is the youngest on any of its prototype programmes. It will be powered by the Honeywell TPE 331-12B engine and produced at the Aircraft Division, Bengaluru.
  • Seventy of the 90 LRUs or systems on the trainer are sourced from the Lucknow, Hyderabad and Korwa divisions.

RBI relaxes FDI norms to boost start-ups

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) relaxed several rules including foreign direct investment norms to boost start-up activity in the country.
  • To begin with, start-ups are allowed to receive foreign venture capital investment irrespective of the sector in which they operate. The new norms will enable transfer of shares from foreign venture capital investors to other residents or non-residents.
  • The central bank also permitted, in case of transfer of ownership of a start-up enterprises, receipt of the consideration amount on a deferred basis as also enabling escrow arrangement or indemnity arrangement up to a period of 18 months.
  • The regulatory changes for easing the cross-border transactions, particularly relating to the operations of the start-up enterprises, are proposed to be made in consultation with the Government of India
  • The central bank simplified the process of dealing with delayed reporting of foreign direct investment (FDI)-related transaction by building a penalty structure into the regulations itself.
  • RBI also said certain proposals are been considered and consulted with the government.
  • These proposals include, permitting start-up enterprises to access rupee loans under External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) framework with relaxations in respect of eligible lenders, issuance of innovative FDI instruments like convertible notes by start-up enterprises and streamlining of overseas investment operations for start-up enterprises.
  • RBI also said certain issues that are permissible under the existing regime shall be clarified like issue of shares without cash payment through sweat equity or against any legitimate payment owed by the company remittance of which does not require any permission under FEMA and collection of payments by start-up enterprises on behalf of their subsidiaries abroad.

Inter-ministerial meet to discuss measures to increase exports

  • Inter-ministerial talks will begin soon to consider measures to boost exports and improve the ease of doing business.
  • The move comes in the backdrop of merchandise exports shrinking for the 13th consecutive month in December.
  • As part of the discussions, the government will also look into the likely impact of the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST) on exports besides reviewing free trade agreements, including the one with Asean member-countries.
  • Besides, the commerce ministry will soon approach the ministries of external affairs and finance on customs-related issues.

Govt. sets up Tax Policy Council headed by Finance Minister

  • The Government has created a Tax Policy Research Unit (TPRU) and Tax Policy Council to be chaired by the Union Finance Minister with nine other members including Minister of State for Finance, Niti Aayog Vice Chairman, Commerce and Industry Minister Revenue Secretary and the Chief Economic Advisor. Finance secretary, Commerce Secretary and Industry Secretary will also be its members.
  • The Council will be advisory in nature, which will help the Government in identifying key policy decisions for taxation.
  • The TPRU will comprise of officers from both the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) as well as economists, statisticians, operational researchers, legal experts
  • The decision is based on the recommendation of the Tax Administration Reform Commission (TARC) that have in its First Report, identified handling of tax policy and related legislation as one of the areas in need of structural modifications.
  • Right now this is handled in the CBDT and the CBEC.
  • Independently of the two boards, the Tax Research Unit (TRU) and Tax Policy and Legislation (TPL) wings also send proposals to the union Finance Minister.
  • To bring consistency, multidisciplinary inputs, and coherence in policy making, the TARC recommended that a Tax Council supported by a common Tax Policy and Analysis (TPA) unit should be established to cater to needs of both direct and indirect taxes. It also recommended that Comprising tax administrators, economists, and other specialists such as statisticians, tax law experts, operation research specialists and social researchers should be set up for both the the boards.
  • The TPRU will be a multi disciplinary body with the objectives of carrying out out studies on various topics of fiscal and tax policies referred to it by CBDT and CBEC.
  • It will provide independent analysis, prepare and disseminate policy papers and background papers on various tax policy issues. It will assist Tax Policy Council and liaise with State Commercial Tax Departments.

Companies Law Committee submits report to Government

  • The Companies Law Committee — constituted in June 2015 to make recommendations on the issues related to implementation of the Companies Act, 2013 — submitted its report to the Government
  • After extensive consultations with stakeholders and exhaustive deliberations, the Committee has proposed changes in 78 sections of the Companies Act, 2013 which, along with consequential changes, would result in about 100 amendments to the Act
  • Approximately 50 amendments to the Rules have also been proposed.
  • The recommendations cover significant areas of the Act, including definitions, raising of capital, accounts and audit, corporate governance, managerial remuneration, companies incorporated outside India and offences/ penalties.
  • The Committee has endeavoured to reconcile the competing interests of the various stakeholders keeping in mind the difficulties and challenges expressed by them and also being mindful of the government’s objective of furthering ease of doing business, encouraging start-ups and the need for harmonising various laws, according to the statement. Some of the key changes proposed are regarding managerial remuneration to be approved by shareholders and modification of definition of associate company and subsidiary company.Private placement process should be substantially simplified and incorporation process made easier.
  • The suggestions also include omitting provisions relating to forward dealing and insider trading from Companies Act.
  • Companies may give loans to entities in which directors are interested after passing special resolution and adhering to disclosure requirement. Restriction on layers of subsidiaries and investment companies could be removed.
  • Auditor will report on internal financial controls with regard to financial statements. Frauds less than Rs. 10 lakh could be compoundable offences
  • Other frauds can be continued to be non-compoundable.
  • Requirement for a managerial person to be resident in India for 12 months prior to appointment may be done away with
  • ESOPs may be allowed to promoters working as employees/directors.
  • The Committee was chaired by Secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs.