This section covers national issues for the month of December and is updated daily. All issues in news are gathered from resources like Hindu, PIB etc. Following this page regularly is important both for prelims and mains.
Centre hand-picks 20 smart cities for first phase of plan
- The Union government has announced the names of the first 20 urban areas that will be developed as smart cities.
- These 20 cities will be the first to receive funds, thus kickstarting the process of developing them into ‘smart cities’.
- The next two years will see the inclusion of 40 and 38 cities, respectively.
- The selected cities will be equipped with basic infrastructure, efficient urban mobility and public transport, IT connectivity and e-governance mechanisms.
- Bhubaneswar has topped the list of 20 Smart Cities followed by Pune and Jaipur coming second and third.
- There are five capital cities among the 20 smart cities chosen.
- None of the cities are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. On the other hand, some states have two or more nominees – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
- The selection was done on the basis of replies to a questionnaire. The urban development ministry had received proposals for 97 cities from state governments.
- The cities in the first list have made it to the top of the competition based on implementation framework, including feasibility and cost-effectiveness which has a weightage of 30%, followed by result orientation (20%), citizen participation (16%), smartness of proposals (10%), strategic plans (10%), vision and goals (5%), evidence-based city profiling and key performance indicators (5%) and processes followed (4%).
Where did the idea come from?
- The concept of smart cities originated at the time when the entire world was facing one of the worst economic crises
- In 2008, IBM began work on a ‘smarter cities’ concept as part of its Smarter Planet initiative. By the beginning of 2009, the concept had captivated the imagination of various nations across the globe.
- Countries like South Korea, UAE and China began to invest heavily into their research and formation.
- Today, a number of excellent precedents exist that India can emulate, such as those in Vienna, Aarhus, Amsterdam, Cairo, Lyon, Málaga, Malta, the Songdo International Business District near Seoul, Verona etc.
What are smart cities, exactly?
A ‘smart city’ is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. There are many technological platforms involved, including but not limited to automated sensor networks and data centres.
According to the documents released on the Smart Cities website, the core infrastructure in a smart city would include:
- Adequate water supply
- Assured electricity supply
- Sanitation, including solid waste management
- Efficient urban mobility and public transport
- Affordable housing, especially for the poor
- Robust IT connectivity and digitalisation
- Good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation
- Sustainable environment
- Safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly
- Health and education
- The success of the government’s Smart City Mission is largely dependent upon the finance generation at the State-level as well as private investments.
- The Centre has set aside Rs. 48,000 crore for the mission and the money will be released to urban local bodies at frequent intervals in the next five years. The Centre has asked the State governments to generate the rest of the Rs. 48,000 crore as the grand total of the mission is estimated at Rs. 96,000 crore.
Belagavi, Davangere among top 20 smart cities
- The border city of Belagavi and Davangere in central Karnataka have made it to the list of top 20 smart cities.
- Union Minister for Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu released the list of the first 20 out of the 98 shortlisted cities for the Smart City Plan (SCP)
- Implementation of SCP will showcase integrated planning.
- Under the five-year project (2015-2019), each smart city will be given a Rs. 500-crore grant from the Centre, besides an additional Rs. 500 crore from the State government.
- The officials at Belagavi City Corporation (BCC) said the comprehensive proposal of Rs. 3,866 crores and involvement of over 1 lakh individuals and institutions in coming out with innovative suggestions seem to have helped the municipal corporation in getting it to the top 20 smart cities in the country.
- SCP would be essentially Area Based Development (10.78 sq km) and Pan City solutions
IMD to issue block-level forecasts soon
- The India Meteorological Department (IMD) will begin to issue weather forecasts at the block level later this year
- Through this farmers could be warned, three to five days ahead, of potentially anomalous weather in their localities that could threaten their crops.
- The IMD currently issues such short-term forecasts in 100 districts across States and so-called agro-climatic zones. These are contiguous districts that are known to have similar weather conditions.
- On an average, 8-10 blocks make up each of India’s 688 districts but often the weather can vary quite significantly within a district, to the extent, that farmers need different types of forecast even if say 40 km apart.
- The IMD generally relied on a bank of statistical data, collected over two centuries, to prepare its weather forecast. However with complaints and concerns over its accuracy — such as in predicting droughts — it has started to rely on so-called numerical weather models.
- These rely on the processing power of super-computers but, according to those who work with them, they are yet to become reliable enough to consistently simulate monsoon and Indian climate conditions
- The IMD’s initiative comes even as a study by the National Council for Applied and Economic Research (NCAER) found that India has posted an improved agriculture-performance in rain-fed farming with a sizeable number of farmers attributing a 25% rise in their net income to improved meteorological advisory services.
- On the other hand, the report notes that nearly 75% of Indian farmers lacked reliable access to these services.
- India saw consecutive droughts in 2014 and 2015, a rare event said to be at least partly due to climate change. This in turn is said to induce changes in the monsoon that also makes local weather even more unpredictable.
IMF reforms: India, China, Brazil get more voting rights
- The IMF’s 2010 quota and governance reforms have finally become effective and will give emerging markets like BRICS more power and greater say at the lender of last resort.
- The reforms were approved by the IMF’s Board of Governors in 2010. US foot-dragging on reforms to the institution had blocked changes meant to give more voting power to BRICS and other emerging economies, frustrating countries around the world.
- These reforms will double the IMF’s quota resources and reallocate the quota. That meant reducing the role of advanced European countries and Gulf states, and increasing that of emerging nations, particularly China.
- More than 6% of the quota shares will shift to emerging and developing countries from the U.S. and European countries. The combined quotas — or the capital countries contribute — doubles to about $659 billion from about $329 billion.
- China will have the third largest IMF quota and voting share after the United States and Japan, and India, Brazil and Russia will also be among the top 10 members of the IMF.
- India’s voting rights has increased to 2.6% from the current 2.3%.
- With these reforms, for the first time, the Executive Board of the IMF will consist entirely of elected executive directors, ending the category of appointed executive directors. Currently, the members with the five largest quotas appoint an executive director, a position that will cease to exist.
- These reforms will improve the representation and voice of emerging markets and developing countries in the International Monetary Fund and is conducive to protecting the IMF’s credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness. The reforms are the biggest change in the governance of the Fund since it was established after World War Two.
Tabla, flute and violin debut at Beating Retreat
- The “Beating the Retreat” ceremony at Vijay Chowk turned into a unique musical extravaganza, with sitars, flutes and tablas being heard for the first time along with 15 military and 18 pipe and drum bands.
- The four-day long Republic Day celebrations came to its end with the Beating the Retreat ceremony.
- President Pranab Mukherjee was joined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice President M Hamid Ansari and other dignitaries to witness the traditional military ceremony, which reminded the ancient days when belligerent armies stopped fighting in the evening, only to restart it next morning.
- The ceremony this year had for the first time two Indian orchestras – complete with sitars, flutes and tablas – joining with military bands, playing tunes like “Ai Mere Watan Ke Logon”, “Taaqat Watan Ki Humse Hai” and “Vande Mataram”
- Bands from the state police and Central Armed Police Force performed at the ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony for the first time this year.
- The bands comprising Border Security Force, Indo-Tibet Border Police and the Delhi Police played the tunes ‘Samvidhan’, ‘Abhinandan’ and ‘Carriappa’.
- The Tri-Services Military Band, Indian classical instruments Sinfonietta and Jazz Symphonic Orchestra playing the tune ‘Agyat Youvana’. Sinfonietta also played the tune ‘Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyara Hai’.
- Mukherjee arrived in his presidential buggy amid loud cheers by the spectators. The President was received by Prime Minister, Vice President and chiefs of Indian Army, Navy and Air Force.
- Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite “Abide with Me” was played towards the end of the ceremony, before the military bands marched up Raisina Hill to the tune of “Sare Jahan Se Aachha”.
- The retreat was sounded and the national flag was brought down to mark the end of the ceremony. The spectators were spellbound as thousands of light bulbs illuminated the Rashtrapati Bhavan, South Block, North Block and the Parliament House complex.
High reserve price for spectrum worries telcos
- With the telecom regulator Trai fixing higher reserve price for spectrum, there is an apprehension that telecom companies may not bid aggressively this year.
- The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had recommended reserve price for spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz,1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz and 2500 MHz bands and it will be auctioned in June-July this year.
- With the Trai suggesting a steep reserve price of Rs 11,485 crore per MHz nationwide in 700 MHz category, the government expects to garner over Rs 5.5 lakh crore in this year alone.
- Though telecom companies are given time to give their feedback to the regulator on the reserve price, the government takes a final call on the issue. Though the most efficient band of spectrum, 700 MHz, will be put for auction, there is an apprehension that the telecom firms are unlikely to bid aggressively due to higher price.
Govt fiscal position improves during April-December
- Despite maintaining a healthy spending, the government’s financial position improved in the last nine months with the fiscal deficit for April-December coming at Rs 4,88,185 crore, or 87.9 per cent, of the Budget estimate.
- Last year, during this period, the deficit was 106.2 per cent.
- The revenue deficit too remained in check at Rs 3,22,234 crore or 81.7 per cent of the Budget estimate, in the April-December period. It was 106.2 per cent of the full-year target in the corresponding period, a year ago.
- The improvement in financial position has been on the back of lower oil prices, higher indirect tax revenue collection, higher dividend by the Reserve Bank of India this year, and other non-tax revenues, which showed a robust growth.
- State-owned companies too paid higher dividend to the centre, this year.
- This is the first time that fiscal deficit has remained lesser than the Budgetary target in the first three quarters of a financial year.
- In the past many years, fiscal deficit in April-December had always breached the Budget target, forcing the government to cut the expenditure drastically.
- According to the data released by the Controller General of Accounts, tax revenue was at Rs 6.22 lakh crore.
- The full-year target is Rs 9.19 lakh crore. Total receipts from revenue and non-debt capital of the government in April-December came in at Rs 8.25 lakh crore, as against Budgetary estimates of Rs 12.21 lakh crore.
- The government’s Plan expenditure during the period was Rs 3.45 lakh core, 74.4 per cent of the full-year estimate. The plan expenditure at Rs 3.45 crore is highest in many years.
- The improvement in financial position is due to lower oil prices and higher indirect tax revenue kitty
- The revenue deficit remains in check at Rs 3,22,234 crore or 81.7 per cent
Open to framing law on euthanasia, says Centre
- After 14 years of debates and several draft Bills, the government has said it is ready to frame a statutory law on passive euthanasia, the act of withdrawing medical treatment with deliberate intention of causing the death of a terminally-ill patient.
- However, it said its “hands are stayed” because of a pending litigation in the Supreme Court on mercy killing.
- The affidavit filed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the Supreme Court on January 28, 2016 provides the first clear insight into whether the Government considers euthanasia as manslaughter or an act of mercy.
- The Ministry informed the Supreme Court that an expert panel has made changes and cleared the formulation of legislation on passive euthanasia after extensive debates, from July 2014 to June 2015.
- The committee however refused on legalising ‘active euthanasia’ – an intentional act of putting to death a terminally-ill patient – on the grounds that this would lead to potential misuse and is practised in “very few countries worldwide”.
- The affidavit traces back to how the debate on legalising and regulating euthanasia began with a Lok Sabha private member’s Bill – The Euthanasia (Regulation) Bill, 2002 – which was examined by the Health Ministry.
- The debate kick-started again four years later, following the 196th Law Commission Report on euthanasia and the drafting of the Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006.
- But the Ministry’s experts under the Director General Health Services took a stand against euthanasia for reasons that it amounted to “intentional killing” and against the Hippocratic oath.
- The affidavit said of how the Government even viewed euthanasia as an act against progressive medical science’s objective to rehabilitate and treat patients. “Death may be a fleeting desire arising out of transient depression” and doctors should not fall for the patient’s wish to escape suffering by embracing death, it said.
- The affidavit also said the Government’s perceptions about euthanasia changed in 2011 when the Supreme Court issued comprehensive guidelines allowing passive euthanasia in the tragic case of the bed-ridden former Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug. In her case the staff of KEM Hospital took care of her till her natural death last year.
- The apex court’s guidelines, accepted by the Government, led to the Law Commission’s 241st Report recommending a re-look at passive euthanasia in 2012.
- The Law Commission subsequently took full two years to draft a new law on the subject – The Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill. The Ministry had received the draft Bill in April 2014 and begun its task to fine-tune the law.
In a first, all-woman naval team to go around the world under sail
- The Navy has firmed up its plans to embark on all-women circumnavigation under sail in August 2017, in a bid to push the frontiers of gender constructs.
- Six women naval officers shortlisted for the historic voyage are training under the first Indian solo circumnavigator on a sail boat, Commander Dilip Donde.
- A whole new sloop, of the class of the legendary INSV Mhadei with over one-lakh nautical miles under the keel and two circumnavigations behind it, is being built for the purpose.
- In the run-up to this exciting new phase of the Navy’s Sagar Parikrama project, Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi — part of the present crew of Mhadei skippered by Cdr Donde as the 56-ft-long sloop leads a ‘Parade of Sails’ comprising 50 small boats at the International Fleet Review (IFR) in Visakhapatnam next month — will take command of the vessel in March
- By mid-May, the all-woman crew of Mhadei will add zeal to their sea legs by embarking on a round trip under sail to Mauritius.
- They will then be closely associated with the construction of the new boat, as Cdr Donde had been when Mhadei was being built, and its upkeep post-delivery, to build a bond with it.
- The Mhadei will then have a whole new crew that will steer her to cruise across the South Atlantic in what was originally known as the Cape-to-Rio Ocean Race.
Cinemas, shops, banks may soon work 24/7
- The government has framed a new model law that will allow cinema halls, restaurants, shops, banks and other such workplaces to be open 24/7.
- The law will also enable women to work during the night in such offices with mandatory cab services and other workplace facilities for them.
- The government has sent a draft Cabinet note on Model Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 2015 for inviting comments from various Ministries and government departments.
- This will act as an advisory to the State governments which will have the option to either adopt this model law or make changes to it according to local needs.
- The draft law proposes to cover all premises, barring factories, or shops with work related to printing, banking, insurance, stocks and shares, brokerage or theatres, cinema and “any other public amusement” which is currently not covered under the Factories Act 1948.
- All such units which employ 10 or more workers are proposed to come under this Act
- At present, States have their own rules related to shops and establishments which cover physical shops or workplaces regardless of the size of the unit. The law lays down statutory obligations and rights of employers and employees.
- For the first time, godowns, warehouses or workplace related to packaging activities are proposed to be covered under the law. This will bring many e-commerce companies under the labour law rulebooks as many of these companies face problems while operating godowns in various States.
- The law will not apply to government offices and the Reserve Bank of India.
- The draft model law has laid down several provisions for workers in such establishments. It said women would be permitted to work during night shift and there would be “no discrimination against women in the matter of recruitment, training, transfer or promotion.” Facilities such as cab services, night crèches and ladies toilet should be compulsorily provided by employers in case women are working on the night shift.
- A worker will get 12 days mandatory casual-cum-sick leave throughout the year. This apart, five paid holidays for festivals will be a must, according to another proposal. A worker can work nine hours a day with a mandatory break of 30 minutes. Instead of factory inspectors, there will be facilitators who will provide information and advice to employers and workers related to the law and inspect the establishment.
The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2015
- Denmark the least corrupt country, India at 76th position
- India has climbed nine points to rank 76th in this year’s global corruption index topped by Denmark, with watchdog Transparency International calling graft a global “blight”.
- According to Transparency International’s International Corruption Perceptions Index 2015, India is placed at 76th position along with Thailand, Brazil, Tunisia, Zambia and Burkina Faso out of 168 countries.
- India has improved its past year’s position of 85 and has a grade index score of 38 out of a possible 100 which indicates the least corrupt
- The index was prepared by using data from institutions including the World Bank, the African Development Bank.
- According to Berlin-based Transparency International, 68 per cent of countries worldwide have a serious corruption problem and half of the G20 are among them.
- Denmark tops of the index for the second consecutive year as the country perceived as least corrupt. It scored 91 points, while North Korea and Somalia remained at the bottom with unchanged scores of 8.
- The other top spots, from second to ninth, were occupied by Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada.
- Brazil and Turkey were among nations that tumbled the most. Brazil slid to 76th place, sharing its position with India, down from 69th last year. Turkey fell two spots to 66th, continuing its descent from 53rd place in 2013.
- Global corruption index, a composite index that draws from 12 surveys to rank nations around the globe, has become a benchmark gauge of perceptions of corruption and is used by analysts and investors
Centre clears new financing model for highway projects
- The union government approved the hybrid annuity model for building national highways, paving the way for construction of 28 projects worth Rs. 36,000 crore this fiscal year.
- The move will speed up the construction of roads in the country by renewing interest of private developers in highway projects as the risk will be distributed between the government and the private players.
- The government plans to build 28 national highway projects worth Rs.36,000 crore this fiscal year
- Under the public-private partnership (PPP) model, the government will invest 40 per cent of the construction cost for building highways and the balance will come from the private developer. The government will invest money in five equal instalments based on the targeted completion of the road project.
- The private developer will recover his investment from the government by receiving annuity payments over a period of 15 years
- Under this model, the highway toll tax will be collected by the government unlike the build, operate and transfer (BOT) toll model where the private sector collects it.
- So, there is no revenue or traffic risk on the part of the developer
- It is a fairly sensible risk-sharing model because it requires the private sector to focus on areas which bring in efficiency mainly in capital cost, project completion time and quality. This model will bring in long-term infrastructure funds like pension funds into the sector
- A government official said this model will double the speed of highway construction in the country as the government will no longer will be dependent on its limited financial resources and the expertise of private sector will be utilised to operate and maintain the roads.
- In the next two fiscal years, the government will build more than 5,000 km of national highways based on the hybrid annuity model
- In the present fiscal year, 1,000 km national highway projects were awarded through the BOT model – where a private operator funds the project, operates it for a period and transfers it back to the government – and 3,000 km through the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) model in which the government pays the contractor a sum to build the project.
UNDERSTANDING HYBRID ANNUITY MODEL (HAM)
In India, road projects are awarded via one of the three models :
- Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT)-TOLL
- Engineering, procurement and construction (EPC)
The first two BOT-TOLL AND BOT –ANNUITY are PPP model while EPC is not a PPP model.
- This was one of the earliest models of PPP used for road construction.
- The private party is selected to build, maintain and operate the road based on the fact that which private bidder offered maximum sharing of toll revenue to the government.
- Here, all the risks- land acquisition and compensation risk, construction risk (i.e risk associated with cost of project), traffic risk and commercial risk lies with the private party.
- The private party is dependent on toll for its revenues.
- The government is only responsible for regulatory clearances.
Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) ANNUITY
- This model was brought in to reduce risk for private players so as to attract them for PPP projects (as the previous BOT-TOLL model was happening to be an unviable project for many road projects due to excessive risk involved, thus, forcing private players to shy from bidding in road PPP projects).
- In this model, the private player build, maintain and operate the road projects while government pays each year (annually) the private player a fixed amount of annuity for the term of contract.
- The private party recovers all the costs which it incurred for building, maintaining and operating the road project from the annual annuity amount paid by the government.
- It is obvious that there is no commercial and traffic risk to the private party as was the case with BOT- TOLL model. HOWEVER, risk associated with cost of project remains. And it goes without saying that the government selects that private player (in competitive bidding) who asks for minimum annual annuity from the government for the project.
Engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) MODEL
- From year 2010 and more so after year 2013/2014, government failed to attract private players for road projects even under BOT-ANNUITY model.
- So, EPC model was brought in, where all (100%) money or cost to build the road is provided by the government including that for land acquisition and rehabilitation of people affected by project.
- Private developers will only design and build fixed length of stretches and leave after completing their part of work handing the road to the government, which then maintains and operates the road by collecting toll or otherwise.
- The contract for building road is given to that private player who offers to build it at lowest price while simultaneously guaranteeing the quality desired.
- Quite clearly, the risk to private player in this model is minimum or evil nil as it doesn’t need to even bother about the finances for the project. On the other hand, forget all other risks like land acquisition, compensation, commercial, traffic, security etc, which is borne by government- the model makes the government arrange for even financing the road projects.
- So, in a sense, EPC MODEL is a simple contract which a government gives to a private player for getting a work done efficiently and so technically speaking, the EPC MODEL can’t be called a PPP MODEL.
NOW WHY HYBRID ANNUITY MODEL?
- As explained above, the EPC model was putting lot of strain to the the government for financing road projects.
- The model was defeating all grand plans of government to bring a substantial part of financing of road projects from private sector. T
- he precarious situation of government finances with mounting subsidy bill and fiscal deficit coupled with the necessity of quickly building roads and highways, caused the realization of one thing to the government- that the EPC MODEL is unsustainable and private players needed to be attracted to some new and innovative PPP model. This is where HYBRID ANNUITY MODEL (HAM) came in.
WHAT IS HYBRID ANNUITY MODEL?
- The HAM is a mix EPC and BOT- ANNUITY model, with the government and the private companies sharing the total project cost in the ratio of 40:60 respectively.
- Apart from 60% project cost, the private player will also build the road and on completion will hand it over to the government.
- The government shoulders the responsibility of revenue collection (by toll). The government will then pay the fixed amount of annuity annually to the private player for the defined period (10 or 20 years) as per the contract.
- The government will select that private player (in competitive bidding) who asks for minimum annuity from the government.
Benefit: HAM is a kind of win- win situation for both private players and government. The government has reduced responsibility for arranging for cost of project (only 40%, while in EPC it was 100%). The private player has to arrange for only 60% of project cost (in BOT- ANNUITY, it was 100%, unless government gives viability gap funding, VGF of 20%; nevertheless it was minimum 80%). Moreover all regulatory clearances risk, compensation risk, commercial risk and traffic risk is borne by government, so risk for private sector is also minimal.
CERT-In signs cyber security pacts with 3 nations
- The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) has signed cooperation pacts with its counterparts in Malaysia, Singapore and Japan for cyber security.
- CERT-In is the nodal agency responsible for dealing with cyber security threats
- The Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) will promote closer cooperation for exchange of knowledge and experience in detection, resolution and prevention of security-related incidents between India and the three countries
- The Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, apprised of the three MoUs which were signed last November and December.
- An agreement between CERT-In and CyberSecurity, Malaysia, was signed on November 23, 2015, in Kuala Lumpur during Mr.Modi’s visit to Malaysia, while the MoU with Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SingCERT), Cyber Security Agency (CSA) of the Republic of Singapore was signed on November 24, 2015 during the Prime Minister’s visit to Singapore.
- The agreement between CERT-In and Japan Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (JPCERT/CC) was signed on December 7, 2015 through diplomatic exchange.
Indian Computer Emergency Response Team
- Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) is the Government organisation under Ministry of Communications and Information Technology
- It is a nodal agency that deals with cyber security threats like hacking and phishing.
- It strengthens security-related defence of the Indian Internet domain.
Increasing the Authorized Share Capital of the National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation
- The Union Cabinet, gave its approval for enhancement of. Authorized Share Capital of the National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC), a Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE) working under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment from Rs. 1000 crore to Rs. 1200 crore.
- The approval will enlarge the quantum of funds available for economic activities, better coverage and enhanced outreach to double the Below Poverty Line (DPL) Scheduled Caste beneficiaries.
- Enhancement of share capital would expand its ambit of coverage and increase disbursement of funds to larger sections of the economically deprived scheduled caste population.
- The NSFDC provides loans through its Channelizing Agencies at concessional interest rates for self-employment & economic development activities to its target group
- NSFDC also sponsors skill/entrepreneurial training programmes to assist the unemployed members of scheduled castes in wage/self-employment
Cabinet approves policy on Promotion of City Compost
- Under the policy, a provision has been made for Market development assistance of Rs. 1500 per tonne of city compost for scaling up production and consumption of the product
- Market development assistance would lower MRP of city compost for farmers.
- Compost from city garbage would not only provide carbon and primary/secondary nutrients to soil but also help in keeping the city clean.
- Eco-Mark standard for City Compost would ensure that environment friendly quality product reaches the farmers.
- Composting can reduce the volume of waste to landfill/dumpsite by converting the waste into useful by-products. This also prevents production of harmful greenhouse gases (especially methane) and toxic material that pollutes groundwater apart from polluting the environment. City Waste composting would also generate employment in urban areas.
- Fertilizer companies and marketing entities will also co-market City Compost with chemical fertilizers through their dealers’ network
- The companies will also adopt villages for promoting the use of compost.
- Government Departments and Public Sector undertakings will also use City Compost for their horticulture and related uses.
- Concerned Ministry/Department will carry out IEC campaigns to educate farmers on the benefits of city compost and will take steps to increase setting up of compost plants across all States.
- The Agricultural Extension Machineries including KVKs of ICAR will also make special efforts in this regard.
Centre to roll out dedicated infrastructure fund
- At a time when the highly-stressed banking sector is unable to finance India’s creaking infrastructure, the government is launching a fully-dedicated Rs 40,000 crore fund, with the help of foreign investors to give a leg-up to patchy roads, rail and highways holding back economic growth.
- To be launched under the aegis of National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), this will be India’s first sovereign wealth fund to finance long-term infrastructure projects.
- The government will maintain an arm’s distance. It will eventually have not more than 49 per cent equity in it. All investment decisions will be taken by investment company of NIIF
- Countries, such as the UK, the UAE, Singapore, Russia and Australia, have already expressed their interest in the fund.
- Until now, the basic model of India’s infrastructure financing was somewhat different, where the Centre borrowed funds from the World Bank or Asian Development Bank, or the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and gave it to implementing authorities in the states.
- But the new initiative will change the way infrastructure projects are financed in India
National Marine Fisheries Census 2016 from Feb 1
- The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, a research body under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR-CMFRI), will begin the month-long National Marine Fisheries Census 2016 from February 1 in all maritime states and two Union Territories of the country.
- This exercise is funded by Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries of Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India and is being coordinated by the regional, research, field centres and the headquarters of ICAR-CMFRI.
Boost for stem cell research
- Researchers from four institutes in the country will undertake an ambitious international project to use stem cells to study and treat disorders of the brain and blood
- Called ‘Accelerating the application of Stem Cell Technology in Human Disease’ (ASHD), the programme has received Rs. 141 crore from the Union government’s Department of Bio-Technology (DBT) and Rs. 6 crore this year from the Pratiksha Trust, set up by IT mogul Kris Gopalakrishnan.
- The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) — all in Bengaluru — and Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore will collaborate with the Centre for iPS Cell Research and Application of Kyoto University, Japan.
- The programme will utilise the large patient base of NIMHANS — which sees more than 5 lakh people traversing its campus every year — as well as CMC College, which specialises in blood disorders, to create a database of blood and body fluid samples
- Once processed, they will be analysed by researchers at NCBS and inStem, along with those from Kyoto University, where the ‘defects’ in the gene code will be identified and edited out.
- The promise is that this understanding of genes can eventually lead to treatment techniques that can be clinically tested.
- Neurological disorders such as schizophrenia remain grossly under-researched in the Indian context while blood disorders like haemophilia (an estimated 60,000 suffer this in India) and Beta Thalassemia (more than 60,000 children a year) remain virtually untreated as the costs are prohibitive.
India sets an example in subsidised TB diagnosis
- The Indian private sector offers the cheapest price for the WHO-approved Xpert MTB/RIF, a molecular test for diagnosing TB
- India also has the highest number of private labs offering the test, with 113 labs offering it at a subsidised rate.
- While it costs only Rs.2,000 in the 113 labs (with 5,200 collection centres) which are part of a novel initiative — Improving Access to Affordable & Quality TB Tests (IPAQT) — that was launched in India in March 2013, the charges are anywhere between Rs.3,500 and Rs.5,000 in labs that are not part of the IPAQT initiative.
- The cost of the test will see a further drop if the Indian government waives off customs duty of 31 per cent levied on Xpert machine and reagents.
- As a result of the subsidised pricing agreement with the manufacturer, there has been an increase in the number of people in India accessing the highly accurate diagnostic test since 2013. From 15,190 people who availed the test between March and December 2013, it has gone up to 131,440 tests in 2015. The total number of tests done since March 2013 stands at 208,550.
- Access to accurate tests at subsidised price is very important in India as nearly 80 per cent of the population in India first seek the private sector. If one out of every four TB patients in the world is an Indian, one in eight TB patients in the world is a privately treated Indian patient.
- Though the price is internationally set at $9.98 per cartridge, and the agreement allows for a 10 per cent variation in the exchange rate, the cost of the test has not been increased since January 2014 despite the rupee depreciating against the dollar in recent times.
- Besides increasing the access to the highly reliable and sensitive test, all labs that become a member of the Initiative abide to ban the unreliable serological test. India banned serological test for TB in June 2012. Also, TB notification by the member labs has improved dramatically as IPAQT helps them with the process of notifying all TB cases.
- While the sensitivity of smear microscopy is about 50 per cent, Xpert has 90 per cent sensitivity (in smear positive cases) and 98 per cent specificity. It can also indicate resistance to rifampicin — a first-line TB drug.
‘Organic tag to boost Sikkim’s cardamom exports’
- The global demand for large cardamom grown in India is expected to rise with Sikkim, which produces a chunk of this highly-valued spice, being declared an organic-farming state, according to Spices Board.
- Organically-grown large cardamom may be priced higher than its fertiliser-fed counterpart but the former has burgeoning premium-class consumers abroad whose number are increasing of late
- Organically-raised large cardamom was another initiative under the present government’s Make in India mission which aims to make the country a global hub of indigenously-developed products.
- India exported 665 tonnes of large cardamom in 2014-15. In the first half of the current fiscal, the powerful flavouring spice, endemic to a certain section of the Himalayan terrain, has earned the country Rs. 2,011.50 lakh in the international market, statistics show
- Sikkim, which grows large cardamom in 17,000 hectares of land, produces 4,000 metric tonnes (90 per cent of the country’s production) of the spice annually
- The Spices Board had designed the ‘Organic Sikkim’ logo that was released
- The cultivation of large cardamom will receive impetus in six months from now as the Spices Board is set to unveil an e-platform for its famed fortnightly auction in Sikkim’s traditional spice market of Singtam. This is in accordance with the Digital India campaign
Women marching to Shani temple stopped
- The Ranragini Bhumata Brigade’s attempt to enter the prohibited inner sanctum of the Shani Shingnapur temple on Republic Day failed as police detained the activists at Supa village, 70 km from the temple town in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district.
- More than 500 women from across the State set out in buses to defy a 400-year-old tradition that debars women from worshipping the stone idol of Lord Shani, on account of “harmful vibrations” believed to be emanating from the deity.
- The odds were stacked against the RBB activists as they faced a formidable security barrier both outside the village of Shani Shingnapur and inside the temple .
Genetics throws light on genesis of caste system
- This is the result of a study of numerous communities undertaken by researchers from the National Institute of BioMedical Genomics in West Bengal. Researchers analyse genotype data of 367 individuals drawn from 20 ethnic populations
- The study was published in the latest issue of the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).The study looked at the genes of various communities to answer questions that have often been suggested in history books: when did caste become the dominant norm for ethnic communities of the region.
- The team has found, through genetic analysis, that the country’s billion inhabitants have a far more complex origin than previously imagined. However, in the complexities of genes lie the secret of one of the country’s most persistent practices: the caste system.
- For most upper-caste communities, endogamy (that is marrying within one’s caste) started nearly 70 generations ago, or around the time of the Hindu Gupta period around 1,500 years ago
- A lot of social transformation took place during the Gupta period. Notable among these was the enforcement of social strictures against marriage between castes, as enshrined in the Dharmasastra
- By looking at “ancient” genes within modern genomes, the scientists have been able to figure out when the “mixing” of genes ended — that is, when the caste system closed its grasp.
- The results point to the Gupta period, nearly 1,500 years ago, when many historians believe prohibition of marriage between castes was enshrined in the Dharmasastra. Similarly, other communities can trace their caste consolidation to kingdoms such as Rashtrakutas or the Pala dynasty, shows the study.
Genes loosen iron casts of Indian castes
- It was believed that two kinds of people – Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and Ancestral South Indian (ASI) – entered India at different times. These two groups intermingled, but over time, reduced their interaction and then stratified. Thus caste was born
- A study – published in last week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – finds that this story isn’t so neat. There, authors proffer evidence for two more groups – Ancestral Austro Asiatic (AAA) and Ancestral Tibeto-Burman (ATB) that currently constitute much of India’s tribes.
- The four circles (in the figure) represent the four ancestries that have made up mainland India – ANI, ASI, AAA and ATB – and the coloured arches in the chart show the proportion of genes from these ancestries that make them.
- Pure castes, thus, are a myth.
Liberalisation of passport system
- External Affairs Minister announced the government’s decision to do away with police verification for the issuance process, for first-time normal category passport applicants.
- The applicants can acquire passport faster with other government-issued identity papers.
- The new system prioritises issuance of normal passports, leaving police verification for a later date.
- If you submit application with copies of Aadhaar, Voter ID and PAN Card, with an affidavit of no criminal case, passport will be issued
- Normal passport applications of all first-time applicants furnishing Aadhaar, Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC), Permanent Account Number (PAN) Card and an affidavit in the format of Annexure-I will be processed on Post-Police Verification basis, subject to successful online validation of Aadhaar number
- Annexure-1 of the passport application form lays out the format of the affidavit declaring “no criminal record” of the applicant.
- The police verification process, which can take place after the applicant has acquired the new passport, has been streamlined with the launch of “mPassport Police App” for speedy submission of Police Verification (PV) report.
- The app would facilitate the field level verification officers to directly capture the PV report into the system digitally. With launch of this app, the need to download and print the physical Personal Particulars Form and questionnaire would no longer be required, resulting in paperless end-to-end digital flow of the PV process
- The new app will reduce the police verification process to 21 days.
Govt plans to institute one of its kind Annual Employment Survey
- An estimated million people are joining India’s workforce every month, thanks to its demographic dividend of a high number of youth in the population.
- As of now, the only employment data in India is available through
- quinquennial (once every five years) surveys by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO),
- a limited ad-hoc survey of employment in a few sectors that was initiated by the Labour Bureau after the global financial crisis in 2008 and
- the Annual Survey of Industries (which only captures the employees of the registered factories).
- By contrast, developed markets have quarterly official data on employment, if not monthly reports, that help them assess the state of the economy better.
New employment survey
- The government could soon launch a first of its kind annual employment survey, with the ability to generate quarterly reports on job market trends in certain segments like urban India.
- The plan is to release such employment data soon after the surveys, unlike other official data, by using modern technology
- The NSSO has readied the design, modalities and mechanisms for conducting the survey and could start as soon as the nod comes for the formal proposal of the Statistics Ministry.
- The National Statistics Commission had first called for a periodic labour force survey in 2009 and a pilot survey was undertaken in 2012-13. The design of the new annual employment survey has been finalised on the basis of a peer and stakeholder review of the pilot survey’s outcomes.
- As of now, the only employment data in India is available through quinquennial (once every five years) surveys by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), a limited ad-hoc survey of employment in a few sectors that was initiated by the Labour Bureau after the global financial crisis in 2008 and the Annual Survey of Industries (which only captures the employees of the registered factories).
- By contrast, developed markets have quarterly official data on employment, if not monthly reports, that help them assess the state of the economy better.
- The new survey will lead to better mapping of the economy
- It will enable policymakers to react faster to labour market movements and track job creation goals.
Pranab gives assent to Central rule in Arunachal Pradesh
- President Pranab Mukherjee approved the Union Cabinet’s recommendation for the imposition of President’s rule on Arunachal Pradesh.
- The president signed on the dotted line after being satisfied that the law and order situation in the border State was sensitive to this uncertainty in government.
- The deadline for the rule under which an Assembly has to meet every six months expired in Arunachal Pradesh on January 21
- The Governor [Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa] has been sending multiple reports that even the Raj Bhavan was not safe and had been seized by Congress MLAs and there was no law and order in the State
On-Board House-Keeping Service’ (OBHS) scheme
- Coaches of long-distance trains originating from various cities under South Western Railway Zone are comparatively cleaner now, thanks to ‘On-Board House-Keeping Service’ (OBHS) scheme.
- More trains will have this facility and the numbers will hit 50 by June this year.
- South Western Railway Zone has 25 railway stations under ‘comprehensive mechanised cleaning’ scheme and also has a ‘clean train station’ concept where express trains with over 20 minutes stoppage are cleaned.
- The housekeeping staff travel on the train to ensure that the coaches are cleaned twice a day.
- They also have to take up unscheduled cleaning when passengers demand it
- Soon after the message is sent, the onboard housekeeping team is alerted to address the complaint. Meanwhile, the complainant receives a code which he has to provide to the housekeeping staff if he is satisfied with the cleaning. The complaint is considered as closed only when the staffer keys in this code obtained from the complainant
- The SWR has a feedback mechanism in place, which is considered while making payment to the housekeeping agency, to which the work is outsourced.
- SWR had the permission to introduce OBHS in 37 trains in the last fiscal and it introduced it in 13 trains. This year, it has permission for 50 trains and has implemented it in 25 trains.
Government mulls Shome panel suggestions on tax administration
- The government is considering the recommendations of the Parthasarathi Shome committee aimed at simplifying tax administration
- Among the key proposals of the Tax Administration Reform Commission (TARC), headed by Dr. Shome, was a suggestion that Income Tax Return forms should also include wealth tax details.
- The panel had mooted that retrospective amendments to tax laws should be avoided as a principle and that the post of Revenue Secretary be abolished.
- Other recommendations were for the CBDT and the CBEC to be merged and for the use of Permanent Account Number (PAN) to be widened.
- The TARC, which was appointed by the UPA Government, submitted its report in June 2014.
Following are the some of the important recommendations
- The post of Revenue Secretary should be abolished. The present functions of the Department of Revenue should be allocated to the two Boards (CBDT and CBEC). This would empower the tax departments to carry out their assigned responsibilities efficiently
- Permanent Account Number (PAN) should be developed as a common business identification number (CBIN), to be used by other government departments also such as customs, central excise, service tax, DGFT and EPFO. It is also necessary to provide for de-registration, cancellation or surrender of registration numbers and PAN.
- Both central excise and service tax should be covered under a single registration as both the taxes are administered by the same department and cross-utilisation of credit is permitted between central excise and service tax under the CENVAT credit rules
- I-T returns should also include wealth tax return so that the taxpayer need not separately file wealth tax returns. These returns should also be processed together in the CPC at Bengaluru.
- In line with international practice, a minimum of 10% of the tax administration’s budget must be spent on taxpayer services. At least 10% of the budget should be alllocated and spent for ICT-based taxpayer services
- Retrospective amendments to tax laws should be avoided as a principle. It said the approach to retrospective amendments has resulted in protracted disputes, apart from having deeply harmful effects on investment sentiment and the macro economy
- A dedicated organisation should be established for delivery of taxpayer services with customer focus and made a strong case for “pre-filled tax returns”
- There should be a separate budgetary head for refund of direct tax and indirect taxes in the annual budget out of which refunds should be issued so that there is transparency. Adequate allocation should be made by the government under this head.
- Once TDS is deducted from a payment, TDS should get credited to the taxpayer’s account. This should be like an account with running balance, to be utilised by the taxpayer at his option to set off his tax liabilities.
- The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) needs to put in the public domain a national database of the non-profit sector to bring transparency.The CBDT should also come out with clear Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) guidelines, which should also cover the timing differences between different tax jurisdictions.
Government makes it easier to set up companies, do business
- The government unveiled two initiatives to expedite clearances and ensure greater ease of doing business in the country.
- Central Registration Centre (CRC) and Government Process Re-engineering (GPR) for ensuring faster clearances to incorporate companies and improve the ease of doing business.
- These initiatives are also meant for uniformity in application of rules and removing discretion,
- It will be supplemented by intensive monitoring aimed at providing timely approvals. These services are in line with best international practices.
- The GPR involves a three-pronged approach of further automating some of the approval processes by utilising advanced software tools, rationalising and modifying certain rules and engaging professionals to expedite the process of manual scrutiny.
- In the first phase, the CRC will process applications for name availability (INC-1 e-forms), submitted online across the country and endeavour to process them by the end of the next working day. Operations of the CRC will formally commence from January 27 and more services rolled out progressively
- Last month, the ministry had said following several measures taken by it as part of the government’s ‘ease-of-doing business’ initiative, the average number of days taken for incorporation of a company had come down significantly — by nearly 50 per cent — from 9.57 days in December 2014 to 4.51 days in November 2015.
- Steps are being planned to further reduce the time taken for all approvals regarding a company’s incorporation to one-two days in normal cases
- The introduction of an integrated incorporation Form INC29 and tighter monitoring of Registrar of Companies’ performance had resulted in faster approvals and lower number of clarifications being sought from the stakeholders
National Industrial Corridor Authority
- The Union Cabinet is expected to grant its approval for a proposal to establish a National Industrial Corridor Authority (NICA)
- With a corpus of around Rs 18,500 crore, the authority will supervise the implementation and coordination among the five industrial corridors in the works.
- Bringing all the corridors under the ambit of an Authority (NICA) — on the lines of the National Highways Authority of India — is aimed at providing certainty to investors as well as to multilateral agencies like Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and JBIC (which are supporting DMIC and CBIC) and the Asian Development Bank (which has completed a conceptual development plan for VCIC).
- The authority will effectively monitor the development of these industrial corridors. The corridors, with smart cities linked to transport connectivity, will be the cornerstone of the strategy to drive India’s growth in manufacturing and urbanization.
Cabinet clears Central rule in Arunachal
- The Union Cabinet has recommended imposition of President’s rule on the Congress-ruled Arunachal Pradesh after it felt the State was heading for a “constitutional breakdown
- Now, the President will issue a proclamation in this regard under Article 356(1) of the Constitution.
- The Centre based its decision on Article 174 of the Constitution, according to which six months shall not intervene between the last sitting of the Assembly in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.
- According to one interpretation, the next session should therefore have taken place at the latest by January 21, 2016.
- The Centre has also considered the fact that the Speaker, using the State machinery, prevented the session, though it was called by the Governor. The Union government also felt that there was flouting of Article 167(b) of the Constitution as the government was not responding to the Governor’s letters on issues of public importance.
- A session was indeed held on December 16, 2014 albeit outside the Assembly building (where a majority of the members had voted) as access to the building was denied. But, the session which took place on December 16, 2015 has been disputed by Chief Minister Nabam Tuki and his supporters.
- Now, it is up to the Supreme Court to decide the validity of this session.
- Even if the Supreme Court rules in favour of the interpretation that this session was not valid, there will be a constitutional breakdown because the requirement of Article 174(1) would have been breached.
- On the other hand, if the court holds that the December 16 session was valid, it is clear the government is in a minority and is not allowing a vote of confidence.
Dinosaur Fossils Found In Kutch Region Of Gujarat
- A team of Indo-German geologists and palaeontologists have found fossils of a 135-million-year old herbivorous dinosaur in Kutch, Gujarat, possibly the oldest such fossil found this century
- The fossil belonged to the time when India and Madagascar were one landmass and the Himalayas yet to form.
- Gujarat is considered to be home to one of the largest collection of dinosaur remains in India. A large number of dinosaurs eggs have been discovered at Balasinor, 100 km from Ahmedabad, and fossils have been found near the Narmada banks too.
- The Kutch Basin, it is believed, was inundated by seawater during the Jurassic period and these repeated over millennia to throw up an extremely varied bio-geography.
- The most recent dinosaur fossils from India in this millennium is the “Rajasaurus Narmadensis”, a 30-feet-long, carnivorous and stocky animal, which was discovered from the Narmada Valley Basin in Kheda, Gujarat.
- Jurassic era spanned 250-145 million years during which herbivorous dinosaurs flourished and laid the ground for beasts, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex. These flourished during the Cretaceous period —145 to 65 million years ago — after which the double blows of a meteor strike and overflowing volcanoes are said to have destroyed these animals.
Centre sanctions funds for Wagah-like ceremony in Tripura
- The Centre has sanctioned funds to create infrastructure for ‘Beating Retreat’ ceremony at Agartala-Akhaura border with Bangladesh, similar to that at Wagah in Punjab.
- The money was sanctioned by the Union Tourism Ministry under the ‘Swadesh Darshan scheme’ for building a mini stadium and roads among others
- The Agartala-Akhaura check post is an integrated one, which is also the second largest trading centre with Bangladesh after Benapole and Petrapole in West Bengal.
India Signs Financing Agreement with World Bank
- India Signs Financing Agreement with World Bank for US$ 250 Million for Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project
- The Financing Agreement for World Bank (IDA) assistance of US$ 250 million for Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project was recently signed between Government of India and the World Bank.
- Along with this, a Subsidiary Agreement was also entered into between Government of India and Project Implementing Entity i.e. Government of Jammu & Kashmir.
- The loan is for an implementation period of 5 years. Government of Jammu & Kashmir is the implementing agency.
Nai Manzil’ Scheme Launched in Jammu and Kashmir
- The centre has launched the ‘Nai Manzil’ scheme for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir
- The scheme has been launched for girls in Srinagar in three institutions.
- Under the scheme girls from minority communities will be imparted three month skill development training in seven identified sectors relevant to the region
- These include training in saffron processing, food processing, embroidery, computers IT (both software and hardware), Tourism/hospitality, electronics and plumbing. Trainees will also be given stipend of Rs.4500/-for the course.
- The Nai Manzil Scheme is designed as an integrated education and training programme that provides youth from minority communities skills needed for different tasks in a rapidly changing world
- This scheme will also provide avenues for continuing higher education and also open up employment opportunities in the organised sector.
‘Giriputrika Kalyana Pathakam’ launched
- ‘Giriputrika Kalyana Pathakam’ is a scheme designed to provide a onetime financial assistance of Rs.50,000 to each tribal woman who gets married.
- The amount would be disbursed through District Tribal Welfare Office directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiary.
- Each beneficiary would have to fulfil some mandatory conditions like submission of marriage certificate, income certificate etc to avail benefits of the scheme.
- The scheme is envisaged to provide nutritional food to infants till the age of seven years
- The Andhra Pradesh State government has come out with a novel scheme to support the tribal women in their quest for livelihood
French soldiers take part in Republic Day parade
- French Army soldiers today created history by marching down the Rajpath during the Republic Day parade, becoming the first foreign military contingent to take part in the celebrations.
- Led by Lt Col Paul Bury of the French Army’s 35th Infantry Regiment, one of the oldest regiments of France, the 76-member contingent marched before an audience that included President Pranab Mukherjee, visiting French President and Chief Guest Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- Forty-eight members of ‘The Music of the Infantry’, a ceremonial band based in Lyon in France, played two military tunes at the parade as the spectators cheered them.
- The French Army’s 35th Infantry Regiment traces its origin back to 1604 when it was raised in Lorraine in France.
- The regiment has as many as 12 battle honours to its credit. It has varied combat experiences, having served in Algeria, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan among other places
India celebrates 67th Republic Day with majestic parade
- India’s military prowess and multi-hued images of the country’s rich cultural diversity and achievements in various fields were on display at the majestic Rajpath today during 67th Republic Day parade which was graced by French President Francois Hollande as the chief guest. This is the fifth time a French President is going to be our chief guest
- A French military contingent also marched down the Rajpath, a first by any foreign armed force
- In 2009, an Indian contingent had also participated in France’s annual Bastille Day parade.
- Apart from India’s missile firing capability T-90 ‘Bhishma’ tank, Infantry Combat Vehicle BMP II (Sarath), Mobile Autonomous Launcher of the BrahMos Missile System, Akash Weapon System, Smerch Launcher Vehicles, the highlights of the parade also included a canine squad.
- Noted actor Anupam Kher, singer Udit Narayan, former CAG Vinod Rai, chairperson of media group Bennett, Coleman & Co. Indu Jain, sports star Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal, spiritual leaders late Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Tejomayananda and former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill are among the 19 eminent people chosen for Padma Bhushan.
- Industrialist Pallonji Shapoorji Mistry, Maruti Suzuki chairman R C Bhargava and eminent architect Hafeez Contractor also figure in the list of Padma Bhushan awardees.
- Senior lawyer Ujjwal Nikam, who was the prosecution counsel in the Mumbai terror attack case, actors Ajay Devgn and Priyanka Chopra get Padma Shri.
List of Padma awardees
- Vinod Rai
- Anupam Kher
- Udit Narayan
- Robert D Blackwill
- Saina Nehwal
- Sania Mirza
- Indu Jain
- Ram V. Sutar
- Heisnam Kanhailal
- Yarlagadda Lakshmi Prasad
- N. S. Ramanuja Tatacharya
- Barjinder Singh Hamdard
- Nageshwar Reddy
- Hafeez Contractor
- Ravindra Chandra Bhargava
- Dr.Venkata Rama Rao Alla
- Late Swami Dayanand Sarawasati
- Pallonji Shapoorji
Rajnikanth – Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, popularly known as Rajinikanth, is one of the most popular film personalities in India. The superstar who works mostly in Tamil films has acted in other industries including Hollywood, Hindi, Bengali. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 2000.
Ramoji Rao – Ramoji Rao is a media entrepreneur. He is the owner of Ramoji Group, the world’s largest film production facility Ramoji Film City and film production company Ushakiran Movies.
Jagmohan – Former J&K governor Jagmohan is a recipient of Padma Shri in 1971 and Padma Bhushan in 1977. A retired civil servant, he is also a published author.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar- Ravi Shankar, populary known as Sri Shri Ravi Shankar, is a spiritual guru and founder of Art Of Living Foundation.
Yamini Krishnamurthy is a renowned Bharathanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer.
Girija Devi is an eminent vocalist of the Banaras gharana. She is known to have elevated the profile of thumri.
V K Aatre – A former Defence Research and Development Organisation chief , Aatre is also a Padma Bhushan recipient.
Dhirubhai Ambani – The late business tycoon was the founder of Reliance Industries. He founded the company with his cousins in 1966.
Avinash Dixit is an Indian-American economist and the author of a number of books in economics.
Viswanathan Shanta – Dr.V. Shanta is a prominent Oncologist and chairperson of Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai. She is also a Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan
Startups to be allowed to self-certify their compliance with nine labour laws.
- The Labour Ministry has directed retirement fund body EPFO and health insurance provider ESIC to exempt startups from inspection and filing returns for three years.
- Except the EPF and Miscellaneous Provisions Act and the ESI Act, the implementation of other seven laws lies in both central and state government’s sphere. Labour Ministry had directed its officials as well as the EPFO and ESIC to regulate inspection of startups, under laws which lie in the centre’s sphere
- They will be exempted from inspection under the Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, Inter—State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, Payment of Gratuity Act and Contract Labour Act.
- Startups will also be exempted from filing returns under the Industrial Disputes Act, Building and other Construction Workers Act, Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, Contract Labour Act, EPF Act and ESI Act.
- There will be a blanket exemption from inspection and filing returns for the first year and would be asked to file an online self declaration form.
- They will also not be asked to file return or inspected for the next two years, but will be inspected in case a “very credible and verifiable” complaint of violation is filed in writing and the approval has been obtained from the Central Analysis and Intelligence Unit (CAIU).
- Promoting startups would need special hand holding and nurturing. Hence these steps. This is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to nurture startups
- Train passengers will soon be able to enjoy free high-speed Wi-Fi service at Jaipur and Ranchi stations
- Recently Mumbai Central Station became the first station to have high-speed Internet facility for thousands of its passengers who travel everyday by trains.
- After Mumbai Central, four stations — Jaipur, Allahabad, Ranchi and Patna — will be connected with the high-speed Wi-Fi network
- This is part of railways’ commitment to provide better Internet connectivity to passengers at 100 busiest stations by the year end. The service will eventually be rolled out at 400 stations across India.
- Railtel, railway’s telecom arm, will provide Internet services as RailWire via its extensive fiber network at stations.
- Designed to offer rail users the best Internet experience, Railwire Wi-Fi will be available to any user who has a working connection on a smartphone.
- Users will be able to easily stream a high definition video while they are waiting, research their destination, or save some videos for offline viewing, download a book or a new game for the journey.
National Risk Assessment in Money Laundering
- Government agencies have launched a massive National Risk Assessment (NRA) exercise to identify the sectors that are susceptible to money laundering and terror funding, and plug the loopholes. This is in line with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations.
- As part of the process, the World Bank had earlier this month made a customisable excel-based self assessment software tool available to Indian agencies. It focusses on all vital aspects of money laundering, including terror financing risks, and helps identify threats and vulnerabilities in different sectors.
- A three-day workshop attended by senior officials of the Finance Ministry and enforcement agencies was organised recently to thrash out the future course of action. Real-estate emerged as one of the sectors requiring urgent intervention.
- The NRA exercise generally takes about a year. It begins with the collection of data on sectors that are prone to money laundering in high, medium and lower categories at the national level. The country then has to prepare an action plan based on the level of risk.
- FATF is an inter-government body that sets the standards for measures to counter terror financing, money laundering and other threats to international financial system.
- While India has met its obligation of mutual evaluation with FATF, it is now required to make a risk assessment and put necessary mechanisms in place.
365 gallantry awards approved for Republic day
- 365 gallantry awards and other defence decorations are approved by President Pranab Mukherjee on the eve of the 67th Republic Day Celebrations.
- These include four Kirti Chakras, 11 Shaurya Chakras, one Bar to Sena Medal, 48 Sena Medals, four Nao Sena Medals, two Vayu Sena Medals in addition to 298 Distinguished Service medals.
- Lance Naik Mohan Nath Goswami from the Army’s elite Para Special Forces has been awarded the Ashok Chakra, the country’s highest peacetime gallantry award, posthumously for his role in saving two colleagues during an encounter with militants in Kashmir last year.
- Another of his colleague, Subedar Mahendra Singh was awarded Kirti Chakra for his valiant actions in the same operation.
- The other Kirti Chakra was posthumously awarded to Sepoy Jagdish Chand from the Defence Security Corps for his display of raw courage in tackling terrorists during the attack on the Pathankot air base on January 2.
- Of the eight Shaurya Chakra given to Army personnel, two were awarded posthumously.
- Among the four Navy gallantry awards, three went to personnel at INS Shikra, the naval air station in Mumbai, for their efforts in the rescue of vessels in distress.
- In the Air Force, the two Vayu Sena Medals (Gallantry) went to Wing Commander Nirmal Kumar Bakshi and Wing Commander Rajiv Dobhal, both Mi-17 helicopter pilots, for their role in Operation Maitri to provide relief operations in adverse weather conditions in Nepal following the devastating earthquake last year.
- Decorations: The Armed Forces of India are eligible for a myriad of military decorations. Decorations are awarded for extraordinary bravery and courage, as well as distinguished service during times of war and peace. Decorations in the order of precedence:
Wartime gallantry awards
|Param Vir Chakra (PVC)|
|Maha Vir Chakra (MVC)|
|Vir Chakra (VrC)|
Peacetime gallantry awards
|Ashok Chakra (AC)|
|Kirti Chakra (KC)|
|Shaurya Chakra (SrC)|
Rupee slumps to touch pre-Rajan era level as bears grip stocks
- India’s benchmark equity indices fell to their lowest levels in 20 months as concerns about a global economic slowdown amid slumping commodity prices and a weakening rupee spurred investors to sell shares.
- The rupee breached the 68-a-dollar mark for the first time since August 2013. It closed at a record low of 68.85 a dollar on August 28, 2013, just days before Raghuram Rajan took charge as RBI Governor.
- Dealers said state-run banks intervened on behalf of the central bank after the currency touched an intra-day low of 68.17 a dollar, helping the rupee close at 67.95, compared with Tuesday’s 67.65.
- The RBI intervened in both the currency futures as well as in the spot market
- The intention of the central bank was not to allow the rupee to depreciate at a fast pace
- The central bank always maintains that it intervenes to curb volatility and does not target any level for the rupee.
- The rupee has weakened 2.74 per cent so far this year after declining more than 5 per cent in 2015
- Still, the Indian currency has performed better than its emerging market peers from Russia, Brazil and South Africa. Dealers said there could be more pressure on the rupee, going forward.
Design for second domestic aircraft carrier to be frozen by year-end
- By the end of the year, India expects to freeze the design for the largest battleship ever built for the Indian Navy.
- It will also be one of the largest carriers across the world after the U.S. super carriers, which weigh about 1,00,000 tonnes.
- According to Navy sources, the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-II) would be of 65,000 tonnes, and will be capable of carrying over 50 aircraft.
- In comparison, displacement of INS Viraat is only 28,500 tonnes and INS Vikramaditya is 45,400 tonnes, both of which are of foreign origin and currently in service with the Indian Navy.
- The first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant weighing 40,000 tonnes is currently under construction at Kochi.
- The feasibility study for IAC-II has begun and will take about 8-10 months based on which the design will be frozen
- Given that this the first time a ship of such size will be built in India which involves development of several new technologies, design consultancy will be sought from foreign companies with expertise in carrier design and construction.
- Five countries have been identified for the purpose — the U.S., Russia, France, the U.K. and Italy — all of which currently operate carriers
- The Navy has issued a letter in July 2015 to identify the domestic shipyard for constructing IAC-II. Following that, a study group headed by Rear Admiral Surinder Ahuja, Assistant Controller of Carrier Project, has been set up to identify suitable Indian shipyards for construction of IAC-II and to arrive at the build strategy
- The Navy aims to achieve 80 per cent indigenisation in the project.
- The critical factors which define a carrier are the number of aircraft, launch mechanism and propulsion which in turn determine the size and displacement of the carrier.
- While the launch mechanism would be Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR), the Navy said “modern technologies for launch and recovery will be considered,” leaving room for incorporating Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) technology of the U.S.
Vikrant: The first indigenous aircraft carrier
- It was in advanced stage of construction and was on course to be delivered by December 2018
- The plan is to begin sea trials by September 2017 and deliver by December 2018 after which aviation trails can start
Ministry of Shipping initiates Project Green Port
- Weighing in the environmental perspective for sustained growth, the Ministry of Shipping has started ‘Project Green Ports’ which will help in making the Major Ports across India cleaner and greener.
- ‘Project Green Ports’ will have two verticals –
- ‘Green Ports Initiatives’ related to environmental issues
- ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’.
- The Green Port Initiatives include twelve initiatives which will be implemented under strict time bound fashion in order to achieve the targets.Some of these initiatives are:
- preparation and monitoring plan
- acquiring equipments required for monitoring environmental pollution
- acquiring dust suppression system
- setting up of sewage/waste water treatment plants/ garbage disposal plant
- setting up projects for energy generation from renewable energy sources
- completion of shortfalls of Oil Spill Response (OSR) facilities (Tier-1)
- prohibition of disposal of almost all kind of garbage at sea
- improving the quality of harbour wastes etc.
- Under Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, the Ministry has identified 20 activities with certain time-line to promote cleanliness at the port premises. Some of the activities include
- cleaning the wharf, cleaning and repairing of sheds
- cleaning and repairing of port roads
- painting road signs, zebra crossing, pavement edges
- modernizing and cleanliness of all the toilet complexes in the operational area
- placement of dustbins at regular intervals
- beautification and cleaning of parks, boards indicating cleanliness messages
- cleaning and repairing of all drainages and storm water systems and tree plantation.
- In order to achieve these objectives, regular training will be provided to the staff in order to generate awareness and inculcate a positive attitude towards keeping the environment clean and green.
- All the Major Ports have already initiated action on the above mentioned activities and are making good progress.
- India has 12 major ports, Kandla, Mumbai, JNPT, Marmugao, New Mangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Ennore, V O Chidambarnar, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Kolkata (including Haldia), which handle about 61 per cent of the country’s total cargo traffic.
- Cargo traffic handled at the 12 major ports rose by 3 per cent to 447.05 million tonnes (MT) between April and December this fiscal helped by pick up in demand.
- This was against 433.5 MT cargo handled during the same period in 2014-15.
Cabinet nod for power tariff policy
- Union Cabinet has approved several amendments to the national power tariff policy with a view to promote renewable energy and improve the ease of doing business for developers in the sector.
- The policy also seeks to “create a win-win between the generator, utilities and consumers” by allowing power generators to sell their surplus power on the power exchange and sharing the proceeds with the state government.
- The amendments are based on four Es—electricity for all, efficiency that will ensure affordable tariffs, the environment, and ease of doing business to attract greater investment in the sector
Features of the amendment:
- Power companies are allowed to pass costs on to consumers arising out of any changes in taxes, cesses and levies levied on them.
- The amended tariff policy also imposes a renewable energy obligation on new coal or lignite-based thermal plants, requiring them to establish or purchase renewable capacity alongside their own generation units. This provision is very important as it will be a big boost for renewable energy.
- Mandates that no inter-state transmission charges will be levied until a time to be specified by the government.
- To encourage efficiency, the policy allows power producers to expand up to double their capacity through the automatic route, at their existing unit locations. This automatic approval was earlier limited to 50 per cent capacity expansions.
- The tariffs for multi-state power projects will be determined by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, thereby removing a major point of uncertainty to do with such projects.
- The power regulator has to come up with a clear action plan to ensure 24×7 power supply to all consumers by 2021-22 or earlier. Towards the power for all initiative, the policy enables the creation of micro-grids in remote villages as yet unconnected to the grid, and also says that these micro-grids can sell their surplus power to the grid when it reaches those areas.
Issues: It could add to generating companies’ stress. There are generating companies that are already stressed as they are not being able to sell the power they generate. Now they will have to purchase renewable power, which will add to their stress
Shipyard industry gets infrastructure status
- The union government has granted infrastructure status to the shipyard industry in a bid to ease its financial stress. With the infrastructure status, the shipyards will be able to avail flexible long-term funding at lower costs.
- The Institutional Mechanism on Infrastructure chaired by Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs has recommended inclusion of shipyards undertaking shipbuilding and ship-repair under the Harmonised list of Infrastructure Sectors. With this inclusion, the financial stress which the stand alone shipyards are experiencing will be eased substantially
- The shipyards will be able to avail flexible structuring of long-term project loans, long-term funding from infrastructure funds at lower rates of interest and longer tenure equivalent to the economic life of their assets, relaxed ECB norms, issuance of infrastructure bonds for meeting working capital requirements as well as benefits under Income Tax Act, 1961
- The Indian shipyards employ around 30,000 people at present which will substantially go up once this sector is reviatlised
- The shipbuilding industry is a strategically important industry due to its role in energy security, national defence and for developing heavy engineering industry.
Issue: Religious and linguistic minority
- A Supreme Court Constitution Bench on Monday decided to examine whether a religious community should be granted minority status in a State where they are both numerically strong and suffer no apprehension of being “dominated” by others.
- The case may see the Supreme Court take a re-look at the circumstances in which a State Government declares a community as a religious or linguistic minority.
- The case concerns a challenge by Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) of a Punjab and Haryana High Court judgment of December 2007 stayed later by the apex court.
- A Division Bench of the High Court had quashed notifications issued by the State government granting minority status to SGPC-run educational institutions. The notifications had allowed SGPC to reserve 50 per cent seats in its institutions for students from the Sikh community.
- The High Court rejected the minority status to Sikhs in Punjab on the grounds that the community was numerically strong. Moreover, it held that the Punjab government had produced no material to show that Sikhs “apprehended deprivation of their religious, cultural or educational rights in the State of Punjab from any other community, who may be in majority and who may gain political power in the elections.”
- In the Bal Patil judgment, the Supreme Court had held that a community should be protected as a minority only if there was an apprehension that the community may be “dominated” by other communities.
- Minority as understood from constitutional scheme signifies an identifiable group of people or community who were seen as deserving protection from likely deprivation of their religious, cultural and educational rights by other communities who happen to be in majority and likely to gain political power in a democratic form of Government based on election
- the Constitution Bench also referred to how the 11-judge Bench in the historic 2002 T.M.A. Pai Foundation judgment held that it is the State, and not the whole of India, which has to be considered as a “unit” for determining a community as a religious or linguistic minority.
- The State has to be regarded as the unit for determining “linguistic minority” vis-à-vis Article 30, then with ‘religious minority’ being on the same footing, it is the State in relation to which the majority or minority status will have to be determined
Bank chiefs ‘stressed’ as Rajan firm on NPAs
- With the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan having set a March 2017 deadline to clean up banks’ balance sheets, lenders have been handed three lists.
- The first two contain the names of borrowers who haven’t paid their dues and whose loans have become non-performing as of March 2015. The lenders have now been advised to make provisions for these bad loans. Banks have to set aside 50 per cent provisioning each for the October-December and January-March quarter for the 150 accounts mentioned in the two lists.
- While there is no official figure of the amount banks have to provision for, some industry analysts estimate it could be in a range of about Rs.70,000 crore to Rs.1 lakh crore
- The third list, where banks have to identify loans that could become an NPA and accordingly provide for, is for 2016-17.
- The central bank is of the view that since the government is committed to support the banks in terms of capital, banks should take the one-time hit and clean up their balance sheets, bankers said. The banking regulator has kept the finance ministry informed about the actions it is taking to clean up banks’ books.
- Higher provisions will erode capital at a time when banks have to meet the Basel-III norms. Public sector banks are constrained from raising capital from the market as most of them are trading at a discount to their book value. And the government, which is the owner of public sector banks, doesn’t want to sell the shares cheap. The government, which has its fiscal constraint, has promised capital infusion of 70,000 crore in the public sector banks in four years. The quantum, however, is seen as inadequate by many analysts and rating agencies.
Panel to revisit national policy on farmers
- An expert committee will be set up to re-examine the National Policy for Farmers (NPF) amidst growing number of suicides by farmers, the government has told the Supreme Court.
- The Agriculture Ministry told the Supreme Court that suicides continue to be reported despite the NPF being in place for the past eight years.
- There is, thus, a need for an integrated approach and re-look at the present policy
- It said that Minimum Support Price for various crops was as per the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) to promote de-risk farming and cut losses.
- The PIL was filed by the Punjab-based NGO Youth Kamal Organisation
- The apex court had earlier imposed a cost of Rs. 25,000 on the government for failing to clarify its stand on the question of re-visiting the policy.
States join start-up bandwagon
- The Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments are finalising the contours of a start-up policy to attract young entrepreneurs to set up shop in their terrain, following half a dozen States that have already announced measures for start-ups ahead of the NDA government’s Start-Up India action plan
- Kerala was the first State to have a start-up policy that included the setting up of Kochi Startup Village in partnership with the Union Science and Technology Ministry.
- Since then, Karnataka, Andra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have also formulated similar policies for new-age businesses.
- A few budding ventures are already being incubated in a Start-Up Oasis set up by the Rajasthan government in Jaipur
- Uttar Pradesh has emerged as India’s leading State in computers, electronics and optical products manufacturing a few years ago. The State’s IT department has recently invited inputs from industry bodies for formulating its own startup policy.
- While Karnataka has a policy for start-ups within its IT policy, it is now mulling a separate start-up policy to facilitate new ventures. Some of these policies may need to be re-oriented in order to be able to tap the benefits offered under the Centre’s action plan, such as tax breaks, quicker patents and easier compliance with labour and environmental laws.
- A lot of State entrepreneurship policies are driven by the departments of IT and electronics. So IT has probably the most fertile ecosystem for start-ups with ample traction from private capital
Air India changes stand on 5/20 rule to allow private airlines to fly abroad
- National carrier Air India, marking a major shift in its stance, has dropped its resistance to abolish five years and 20 aircraft norms, also known as 5/20 rule, for Indian carriers to be able to fly abroad.
- Air India, which is struggling to return to profitability has conveyed to the government in a recent meeting that it will not oppose the ‘5/20 rule’ if it is abolished
- According to the ‘5/20 rule’, all airlines in India are permitted to fly abroad only if it has five years of domestic flying experience and at least 20 aircraft in its fleet.
- The Union government has drafted a ‘civil aviation policy,’ that is yet to go to the Cabinet for its approval, in which it is evaluating abolishing the ‘5/20 rule’.
- The industry is divided over the issue of ‘5/20 rule’. The private airlines which are allowed to fly abroad — indigo, Jet Airways, spicejet — have all opposed the proposal to abolish the rule as it will impact their market.
- However, the new airlines — Vistara and airasia India — are in favour of scrapping the decade-old rule which is restricting them to fly to international airports from India.
- The draft civil aviation policy has been delayed mainly due to the government’s unclear stand over the ‘5/20 rule.’ The government is evaluating three options — keeping the rule, completely doing away with it or replacing it with a credit-based system.
- The shift in stand by AI will give more room to the government to abolish the rule thereby helping Vistara and AirAsia India to fly abroad.
- All the previous AI managements had expressed strong reservations over the idea to ease the 5/20 rule. The previous management had said “the sudden withdrawal of the protection of 5/20 rule, might be the proverbial last nail in the national carrier’s coffin without bringing any significant benefit to the nation.”
- The ‘5/20 rule’ was approved by the Union Cabinet in December 2004 when many decisions were taken to protect national carrier Air India. At that time, along with Air India, Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and defunct airline Air Sahara were allowed to fly on international routes.
- IndiGo, launched in 2006, had to wait till 2011 to begin operating on international routes and SpiceJet, which began operations in 2005, had to wait till 2010 to do so.
- In 2004, the government had taken many policy decisions to protect Air India.
- To allow growth of its network, it is decided that Government may reserve traffic rights for Air India in accordance with its operational plans for the next two years. A calibrated approach may be adopted so that the national carriers get time to adjust to the new competitive environment
- Back then, the operation of flights to the Gulf countries of UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was kept reserved for Air India and Indian Airlines for the next three years “as most of their operational revenue and profits on international routes accrue from these routes.”
Road Ministry proposes policy on scrapping vehicles
- In the Union Budget this year, the government may announce cash and tax benefits to owners of old vehicles if they scrap and replace them and may also double the fleet of public transport buses to check pollution
- This is one of the Union Budget proposals given by Road, Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in a meeting held recently.
- The Road, Transport and Highways Ministry has requested at least 50 per cent rebate in excise duty to people who, on purchase of new vehicles, give their old vehicles in exchange for scrapping
- This will be a part of the proposed ‘end of life’ policy for old vehicles.
- Gadkari had announced earlier that his ministry is framing a policy to give financial incentives of up to Rs 1.5 lakh on surrender of more vehicles more than 10 years old.
- A policy on scrapping of old vehicles is in the preliminary stage. For this, we will have to facilitate de-registration of old polluting cars so that car owners do not have to run from pillar to post while visiting road transport offices
- A separate environment-friendly industry to scrap old vehicles is proposed to be set up, the source added
- Another proposal from the Road, Transport and Highways Ministry calls for doubling the fleet of state transport undertaking buses.
- Ministry has also requested accelerated depreciation of up to 50 per cent to auto industry on additional investment for bringing environment-friendly vehicles, news agency Press Trust of India reported.
- According to the proposed cash-for-clunkers scheme, consumers would get an incentive, including tax-exemptions, of up to Rs 30,000 for discarding passenger vehicles and up to Rs 1.5 lakh for commercial vehicles.
- The industry had urged the government to re-look the fitness regime of vehicles in the country and accelerate its plans to form a vehicle scrapping policy to address pollution immediately. The Union government sought suggestions from the industry on the issue.
Flex fuel policy of government to curb pollution worry automakers
- India can soon expect a policy on flexible-fuel cars, cars that can run on bio-ethanol and petrol, or a blend of both
- The government is expected to make an announcement before January 26, according to Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari.
- The move to flex-fuels will decrease pollution and encourage a diversion in the sugar industry’s output away from sugar and towards ethanol
- Biofuel production would help farmers by supporting the diversification of agriculture into energy, power and bio-plastics
Implications for auto industry
- A policy on flex-fuel vehicles is likely to affect the automotive industry in several ways. Flex-fuels are widely used in several countries, famously Brazil and the United States, where they are available at the pump; examples include E10, E15, E85, the number reflecting the proportion of ethanol.
- The technology for the engines that can take these fuels is certainly not new but making the engines available in India (Mr. Gadkari said he had asked Volkswagen to come up with a flex-fuel engine) will take the greater part of a year at least. It requires modifications along the supply chain and calibrating the engine for Indian conditions.
- Additionally, such a policy will give manufacturers who are already in flex-fuel markets an advantage over indigenous producers
- One of the reasons is that ethanol, unlike petrol, is prone to oxidation and this can cause gum-like sediments to accumulate in various engine parts. Ethanol also reacts with other materials in the car, such as rubber, and this causes degradation
- Consequently, if flex fuels are to be rolled out, engines will have to be built for them — and this will mean an additional variant for manufacturers’ production plants.
- For companies [car manufacturers], it is the variety that kills them. Adding an additional line of engine variants is not cheap. All this accumulates as internal costs within the company and they do not like doing this unless they are forced or required to do it
Impacts on other industries
- At present, the most obvious and reliable source of bio-ethanol in India is sugarcane. The world’s second largest sugar market, India produces some Rs.800 billion of sugar and supports approximately 40 million people.
- Ethanol is produced from cane molasses, a by-product of the sugar production process. The government’s current Ethanol Blending Policy mandates five per cent blending of ethanol with petrol, though in reality the average ethanol blending achieved has been just two per cent. The government wishes to achieve 10 per cent blending.
- A new flex-fuel policy will mean a diversion in the production process to support the production of ethanol rather than sugar. The government is keen to increase the ethanol component in this mix partly because the sugar industry has an excess supply problem and consequently sugar prices are depressed. Mills are mired in debt to cane farmers.
- If a flex-fuel policy comes into effect, the additional ethanol demand will likely exceed what can be produced by diverting resources from sugar.
- Some of it can come from sources other than molasses, such as cellulosic ethanol, made from bagasse or sugarcane tops, and some can come from improved farming practices or planting higher-yielding varieties of cane.
- Such differences in productivity are already evident across the country; Tamil Nadu yields 100 tonnes of sugar per hectare of cane, while Uttar Pradesh and Bihar yield 50-55 tonnes per hectare
- Even if a ten per cent increase in sugarcane yield happens, this would produce 3 million tonnes extra of sugar or 2 billion litres of ethanol
- India imports more than 80 per cent of its crude oil so this will mean significant reductions in the oil bill.
Social and environmental impacts
- Flex-fuel cars, and biofuels in general, are promoted because they are cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels. However, their ability to generate more energy than is used in their production is in question.
- Additionally, an increase in bio-ethanol production has also raised concerns about food security, farmers’ livelihoods and the environment, including water usage.
- The National Policy on Biofuels (2009) , which directs the nation’s overall approach to biofuels, says these fuels will be produced using non-food feedstock (source materials) on wastelands, thereby allowing India to stay clear of the traditional food versus energy security debate that other countries have had to deal with.
- Memories of India’s infamous and unsuccessful experiment with jatropha — a plant used to produce bio-diesel and promoted by the government across the country, are still fresh. The purported ability of the weed to grow on wastelands and its drought-resistant properties were not reflected in the ground realties of its commercial cultivation and the programme was not successful.
Remote cardiac monitor wins Google tech contest
- Cardiac Design Labs, a startup that has come up with an innovation to help cardiac patients in rural India access critical care through a wearable device, came out triumphant at a live contest hosted by tech firm Google at the Startup India event.
- The Bengaluru-based firm combines communications and heart monitoring technology and is designed for use in rugged rural conditions .
- The patient can be monitored from home. The cardiologist will be able to remotely interact and diagnose the patient using his cell phone.
- The firm has built MIRCaM, comprehensive suite that comprises of wearable sensors, doctor’s terminal, patient’s bedside and a mobile app.
Rapid heart rate
- The company said the system provides real time analysis and generate instant alarms on episode detection or abnormally rapid heart rate among the patients. This enhances patient care and safety.
- Five innovative startups which were shortlisted through a robust selection process, pitched their ideas to an audience of venture capitalists, angel investors and government representatives and industry experts.
World Bank to help create fund to develop railways
- The World Bank and the Indian Railways will work together to create a Railway Development Fund that will partly finance the $142 billion investment plans for the core infrastructure sector announced by the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- The size and nature of the fund was still under discussion and a formal announcement would follow soon.
- The World Bank was likely to work with global pension funds, among others, to raise money for the new fund.
- The minister attended a World Bank meeting on transportation, interacted with business leaders at the U.S. –India Business Council (USIBC), met officials of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Renard Foxx.
- Globally railways get 30-40 per cent of their income from non-railway operations. In India it is not even two per cent
- In various interactions, the minister encouraged U.S. businesses to invest in Indian Railways that has been opened up to 100 percent FDI in most part of its operations.
- In less than two years, minister Prabhu has undertaken serious efforts to give a facelift to the Indian railways and revolutionise the way Indians travel, transport goods and services and conduct business
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana – A boost to the farming sector
The highlights of this scheme
- There will be a uniform premium of only 2% to be paid by farmers for all Kharif crops and 1.5% for all Rabi crops. In case of annual commercial and horticultural crops, the premium to be paid by farmers will be only 5%. The premium rates to be paid by farmers are very low and balance premium will be paid by the Government to provide full insured amount to the farmers against crop loss on account of natural calamities.
- There is no upper limit on Government subsidy. Even if balance premium is 90%, it will be borne by the Government.
- Earlier, there was a provision of capping the premium rate which resulted in low claims being paid to farmers. This capping was done to limit Government outgo on the premium subsidy. This capping has now been removed and farmers will get claim against full sum insured without any reduction.
- The use of technology will be encouraged to a great extent. Smart phones will be used to capture and upload data of crop cutting to reduce the delays in claim payment to farmers. Remote sensing will be used to reduce the number of crop cutting experiments.
- The new Crop Insurance Scheme is in line with One Nation – One Scheme theme. It incorporates the best features of all previous schemes and at the same time, all previous shortcomings/weaknesses have been removed.
- It is farmers’ welfare scheme that aims to reduce the premium burden on farmers and ensure early settlement of crop assurance claim for the full insured sum
- Robust cushion to our farmers
- Encourage them to consider investing more on inputs and crop protection solutions thereby adding to overall yield and production.
- The contribution of farmers in premiums will be substantially reduced between 1.5 and 5 per cent – and the government will bear the remaining financial burden even if the share of the government increases beyond 90 per cent. Under the PMFBY, there will be only one premium rate for each season for all foodgrain, oilseeds and pulses.
- Under the PMFBY, farmers would pay only 2 per cent premium for all kharif, 1.5 for rabi and 5 per cent for horticulture crops. Previous premiums ranged between 8 and 12 per cent
- Old systems lacked transparency and systemic inefficiencies which will now be addressed.
- Under earlier scheme Compensation took a long time and process of claims and disbursement was riddled with corruption, which will be addressed by the new scheme
- It also assumes significance as the government has been working towards spreading financial literacy by providing access to the common man to insurance products. Starting a new crop insurance scheme can be viewed as an extension of the same ideology.
- For the first time, inundation and post harvest losses arising out of cyclone and unseasonal rains have been included under localised risk cover, major improvements over the previous schemes.
- The scheme is also likely to rationalise government spends – as against its current annual spend of about Rs 5,000 crore on disaster relief, the new scheme is likely to cost Rs 8,000-9,000 crore, which shall only mean an incremental addition.
Areas of concern
- We have to ensure the land records are in place and digitised including their linkages with the Aadhaar card number of the farmers.
- The assessments of crop losses have to be done in a time bound manner, and using high-end technologies such as automatic weather stations (AWS), drones, Low Earth Orbits (leos) and satellites.
- Payment to farmers should be done directly into their accounts.
- Insurance companies and government departments dealing with this must be geared to deal with high volumes
- Weather data of all regions should be adequately captured so that forecasts and assessments are done expeditiously
- Creating awareness among farmers, and especially the small peasants who are more vulnerable, is going to be vital for the spread of the programme.
- Those assigned the task of making crop loss assessment should be adequately trained.
PSLV-C31 launches IRNSS-1E
- PSLV-C31 successfully put into orbit IRNSS-1E, the fifth satellite of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) after its succesful launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), SHAR, Sriharikota
- PSLV-C31 for the eleventh time used ‘XL’ version of PSLV.
- IRNSS-1E, with a liftoff mass of 1425 kg, carried navigation payload and ranging payload
- Some 19 minutes after it lifted off from Second Launch Pad of the SDSC at 9.31 am,, PSLV-C31 placed the satellite in precise orbit.
- PSLV C-31 rocket has successfully launched IRNSS-IE satellite in orbit
- The configuration of IRNSS-1E is similar to that of IRNSS-1A, 1B, 1C and 1D launched by PSLV-C22, PSLV-C24, PSLV-C26 and PSLV-C27 in July 2013, April 2014, October 2014 and March 2015 respectively.
- The ranging payload of IRNSS-1E consists of a C-band transponder which facilitates accurate determination of the range of the satellite. IRNSS-1E also carries Corner Cube Retro Reflectors for laser ranging.
- Besides the deployment of the constellation of seven satellites, the ground segment comprises 13 Indian Range and Integrity Monitoring Stations, a IRNSS Network Timing Centre, a ISRO Navigation Centre and a Space Control Facility.
- IRNSS, an independent regional navigation satellite system, is designed to provide accurate position information service to users in India as well as the region extending up to 1,500 km from its boundary.
- The system is expected to provide a position accuracy of better than 20 metre in the primary service area.
Fewer children dying in infancy, says National Family Health Survey
- After 11 years, the much-awaited data on India’s health indicators were released by the Health Ministry
- The Phase 1 results from the National Family Health Survey-4 for 2015-16, which covered 13 States and two Union Territories (UTs)
- In nearly every State, fewer children are dying in infancy, and across all States, more mothers are getting access to skilled ante-natal care. The last round of NFHS data was released in 2005-06.
- Other findings are that while anaemia is widespread, rates have declined. Currently, over half the children in 10 States and over half the mothers in 11 States continue to be anaemic.
- Consistent with the burden of non-communicable diseases in India, over-nutrition or obesity among adults has emerged as a major concern.
- At least three in 10 women are overweight or obese in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Puducherry, and Tamil Nadu.
- A promising trend in the data shows that women are having fewer children.
- The total fertility rates or the average number of children per woman, range from 1.2 in Sikkim to 3.4 in Bihar. All first phase States/UTs except Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya have either achieved or maintained replacement level of fertility — a major achievement in the past decade
- Findings for the 13 States — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttarakhand and West Bengal — and two Union Territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry show that all have rates below 51 deaths per 1,000 live births, although there is considerable variation among the States/Union Territories.
Social media posts to be used as evidence in cases
- Investigating agencies are in the process of producing messages posted by individuals on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms as evidence in court against those arrested for supporting or joining the Islamic State (IS) or any other terrorist outfit
- According to agencies, 25 Indians have so far travelled to Syria or Iraq to fight for the IS.
- The government has developed a blueprint on the social media strategy against the IS for effective monitoring of the Internet and the dark Web, the hotspot of recruitment by the terrorist outfit.
- So that a case ends in conviction in court, we will use the messages exchanged by an individual on social media websites as well as through his or her e-mails, which reflects his or her inclination towards terrorist outfits like IS as evidence in the court of law
- Concerned over the growing influence of the IS in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and even the Maldives, the Union Home Ministry has decided to use the existing provisions under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to seek information about the terrorist outfit. The importance of legal cooperation with West Asian countries was highlighted as India received excellent cooperation from the UAE regarding the arrest of Afsha Jabeen, who was deported here and arrested for propagating and recruiting young men on behalf of the IS.
- The influence of the IS in the Khorasan province of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region was a cause of concern; so was its influence in Bangladesh, with which we share a porous border. We have an open visa regime with the Maldives, a country where many youngsters have travelled to Syria to join the IS. It was felt that a careful watch must be kept on young Indians, particularly from the southern States who travel there for work
- Wholesale price index (WPI) remained negative for the 14th consecutive month at -0.73 per cent in December 2015. This is also the fourth consecutive month in which the pace of WPI contraction has slowed over the previous month.
- The slower pace of WPI contraction was mainly driven by the primary articles component, which came in at 5.5 per cent in December 2015 compared to 2.3 per cent in November. Of this, the food articles component was at 8.2 per cent and the non-food articles component at 7.7 per cent.
- We see a continuation of the deflationary trend, albeit at a slower pace. Prices of select food articles, however, continue to exhibit pressure on the upside and this needs continuous monitoring by the government. Raising agri-productivity and astute supply side management is the key to tackling the elevation in prices of food articles
- The fuel and power segment of the WPI contracted by 9.15 per cent in December compared to a contraction of 11 per cent in the previous month, a reflection of the ongoing fall in global fuel prices.
- Global oil prices have fallen around 70 per cent in the last 15 months.
- The contraction in the price of manufactured goods slowed marginally for the fourth consecutive month, coming in at -1.36 per cent in December compared to -1.42 in November. This also suggests that manufacturers do not have adequate pricing power due to poor demand.
- The decelerating contraction of the WPI comes when the consumer price index for December quickened to 5.6 per cent, the fifth straight month of acceleration.
Auto makers oppose advancing target of BS VI shift
- Automobile companies raised serious concerns over the government’s decision to fast-track implementation of clean vehicular fuel norms and sought a clear road map on the issue, “rather than moving the goalpost.”
- Automakers sought an assurance about the availability of BS-VI fuel throughout the country from 2020.
- BS-VI is the Indian equivalent of the Euro-VI norms. At present, BS-IV norms are being followed in over 30 cities while the rest of the country followed BS-III norms.
- Earlier, the Ministry of Petroleum had also expressed inability to supply clean fuels by 2020.
- However, after the Supreme Court asked the government whether implementing BS-V norms from 2020 and BS-VI norms from 2022 could be advanced, the government decided to skip BS-V norms and go for BS-VI directly from 2020 – advancing the earlier deadline by a year.
- Sources said the industry raised two major concerns — one on the early deadline and the other on the availability of fuel.
- Industry is learnt to have suggested that addressing pollution by introducing cleaner fuel would take time so the government should look at scrapping older, polluting vehicles urgently.
- The government has given auto companies enough time till 2020 to implement BS-VI norms as these companies are already selling BS-VI cars to other countries.
- The industry has been demanding BS-VI fuel norms to be implemented by 2022 instead of 2020
Proposed start up mission
- The Start-Up India mission to be unveiled includes an ambitious plan to
- create a network of startup centres,technology business incubators and research parks,
- to take the startup culture beyond the top-tier education institutions such as IITs and IIMs.
- The Human Resource Development Ministry and the Department of Science and Technology have agreed to partner in an initiative to set up over 75 such startup support hubs in the National Institutes of Technology (NITs), the Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs), the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) and NIPERs or National Institutes of Pharmaceutical Education and Research.
- As per the plan, the HRD Ministry and the Science and Technology Ministry would share the costs for setting up startup centres in these institutions, which would need around 5,000 square feet space and cost around Rs. 50 lakh a year.
- The Science and Technology Ministry would bear 100 per cent cost to set up business incubators in institutes like NITs.
- Each incubator would work with 20 budding ventures, and be spread over 10,000 sq.ft. The cost of each incubator is expected to be in the range of Rs. 5 crore to Rs. 10 crore.
- Separately, research parks like the one at IIT Madras would be set up in a handful of institutes at a cost of Rs. 70 crore to Rs. 100 crore each.
- They would be fully funded by the HRD Ministry.
- A technology business incubator would be built into these parks that have at least 1,00,000 sq. ft. of space for operations.
Issues faced by startups
- Simplified tax structure,easy compliance process and single window system are some of the issues that startups expect to be addressed through the much-awaited ‘Startup India’ policy to be unveiled on saturday
- Ease of doing business is important for any enterprise but critical for startups. With limited resources at their command, they cannot afford to spend too much time, money and effort in navigating a complex environment, populated by archaic laws and a labyrinth of registrations, permits and approvals
- Likewise, when it comes to bankruptcy, the complete filing process takes approximately 4.3 years in India as compared to only 0.8 years in Singapore.
- The problem in most cases is not the regulation but the red tape that makes compliance difficult despite best intentions.
- The criteria to qualify for angel funding are stringent
- There should be tax breaks and incentives for individuals supporting start-ups with capital.
- India needs to realise importance of innovation in cyber security landscape and follow the example of the U.S. which has established In-Q-Tel and a CIA-funded venture capital firm to invest in technology startups.
- The government needs to enable easy availability of loans.
Bio-diesel will power locos
- Use of bio-diesel in diesel locomotives of different types is all set to commence in a big way in Tiruchi with requisite facility put in place and a large quantity of fuel having arrived here.
- The Diesel Loco Shed in Tiruchi is where high-speed diesel blended with bio-diesel will be topped up in the fleet of diesel locomotives that are being maintained in the sprawling shed.
- A 20,000-litre tank with new pipelines has been established at a cost of Rs. 10 lakh adjoining the shed by the Indian Oil Corporation to store bio-diesel.
High coliform count in a major river in kerala
- The coliform count recorded in the once mighty Bharathapuzha is at all-time high which continues to remain a major drinking water source for Palakkad, Malappuram, and Thrissur districts
- Already facing an imminent death largely because of massive deforestation, encroachments, chemical contamination, dumping of waste, and unscientific sewage disposal, the river is now posing severe health hazard to people living in its basin areas.
- According to official statistics, the river meets the drinking water needs of a population of over 5.9 lakh in rural areas and 1.73 lakh in urban areas. It quenches thirst of 175 grama panchayats and a dozen municipalities spread in the three districts and they include the temple town of Guruvayur.
- Tests conducted at government labs on water collected from the river from Pattambi have confirmed that the coliform count was above 1,000 per 100 ml water.
- The situation is quite alarming. The count is high at a time when the river is reduced to a trickle because of the onset of summer months. The count would increase manifold if allowed unchecked during rainy months. The situation demands better steps to properly treat sewage in areas close to the river
- The much-trumpeted river revival mission of the Rural Development Department with an initial outlay of Rs.76.79 crore still remains on paper.
Anti microbial resistance mapping in India
- The U.S. government’s Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) was launched two years ago to contain the spread of new and emergent infections following the Ebola outbreak
- It has now pumped in a whopping $ 8 million to map the rising anti-microbial resistance in India and build capacities to tackle it better.
- The rising anti-microbial resistance is a serious health concern in India, and also figured in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in September last year.
- While Indian hospitals acknowledge a rise in drug-resistant infections, there is no centralised documentation of the infection rates, with hospitals shying away from reporting this data fearing loss of business.
- This project is aiming, rather ambitiously, at the creation of a national network where hospitals will pool in their data on infection rates, which would then be in the public domain for patients to make an informed choice when they have to select a hospital to undergo treatment.
- The project’s larger goal, however, is containing the spread of infections given the huge volume of traffic between India and the U.S., said observers.
- Titled ‘Capacity Building and strengthening of hospital infection control to detect and prevent anti-microbial resistance in India’, the project will be jointly executed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the India office of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- The project will start with surveillance, followed by data analysis. Systems will then be put in place to first check infections and eventually bring down resistance rates.
- The project will map surveillance of bloodstream infections, ventilator acquired pneumonia and other hospital-acquired infections
- The ICMR has been on the resistance trail since 2014 when it set up six nodal centres in four hospitals. Dr. Walia said the GHSA grant came to India mainly because of ICMR’s existing surveillance network. This project will build upon this network, before it is expanded to around 15 more hospitals in the country.
- Work will start with six major hospitals — PGI in Chandigarh, JIPMER in Pondicherry, AIIMS in Delhi, CMC in Vellore, Hinduja in Mumbai and Assam Medical College in Dibrugarh — handpicked for their robust infection control mechanisms.
IMD redefines terms
- The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has officially expunged the word “drought” from its vocabulary, months after it struck a contrarian note and correctly forecast one of India’s severest monsoon deficits last year.
- According to a circular issued by the department l, the move is part of a decision to do away with or re-define terms that are not scientifically precise.
- Beginning this season, for instance, if India’s monsoon rainfall were to dip below 10 per cent of the normal and span between 20 and 40 per cent of the country’s area, it would be called a “deficient” year instead of an “All India Drought Year” as the IMD’s older manuals would say. A more severe instance, where the deficit exceeds 40 per cent and would have been called an “All India Severe Drought Year,” will now be a “Large Deficient Year”.
- The IMD has never used the term “drought” in its forecasts and has maintained that declaring droughts was the prerogative of States.
- The agency had several definitions of drought: meteorological, hydrological and agricultural, and it was quite possible for a State to have a meteorological drought — 90 per cent shortfall of the average monsoon rainfall — but not suffer an agricultural drought —if the shortfall didn’t affect more than 20 per cent of the State’s area.
- Officials said the change in the nomenclature would not practically influence the way States viewed droughts.
- There would now be a standardised definition for heat waves and cold waves, and the IMD’s local arms would no longer use terms such as “could” or “may” to suggest the possibility of showers.
SC questions ban on entry of women into Sabarimala shrine
- Taking a swipe at religious customs and temple entry restrictions violating women’s constitutional rights, the Supreme Court said no temple or governing body could bar a woman from entering the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala where lakhs of devotees throng every year.
- When the governing board of Sabarimala shrine countered that the prohibition was based on custom followed for the past half-a-century, Justice Misra asked what proof it had to show that women did not enter the sanctum sanctorum over 1,500 years ago.
- The Constitution rejects discrimination on the basis of age, gender and caste
Woman named trust chief in Shani Shingpura
- Marking a radical shift in an age-old tradition, the trust board of the famous Shani Shingnapur Temple in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district has appointed a woman as its president.
- Anita Shete, who was inducted last week as one of the trustees, was announced as president of the trust on Monday
- However, rather than a conclusive demolishing of gender barriers, the gesture is being viewed largely as a symbolic one as Ms. Shete is being perceived as a conservative who is an ardent believer in, and a keeper of, centuries-old traditions.
- Following her appointment last week, Ms. Shete, along with Ms. Lande, is reported to have said that the tradition of women devotees not being allowed to worship the Shani deity would be maintained.
- One of the most controversial traditions has been the barring of women from the inner sanctum of the temple where the idol of Lord Shani is installed.
- The temple’s trustees have been embroiled in controversy since November last year, when a woman attempted to enter the sanctum where the idol of Lord Shani is installed. The ‘violation’ caused the trustees to perform ‘purification rituals’, which kicked up a row and outraged several women groups across the State.
- The trustees said both men and women were not allowed to climb the shrine arena where offerings like garlands and oil are kept.
- In December, four women from the Bhumata Brigade attempted to breach the stiff security cordon around the inner sanctum, but were barred by security personnel. The brigade plans a massive rally of 400 women activists to storm the temple premises on Republic Day this month as part of their crusade against gender discrimination and in a bid to overthrow the tradition of debarring women from entering or offering worship inside the sanctum.
SC asks for separate law for child rape
- Crimes against children was an indication of the abysmal depths to which society is falling, the Supreme Court said
- Rape of infants and children below 10 years was nothing but brutal perversion. It asked Parliament to enact a separate law providing for harsh punishment.
- This is the first time the Supreme Court has distinguished infants and children below 10 from the general description of “minors” given by law to anyone below the age of 18.
- The suggestions to Parliament are part of an order dictated at the end of a hearing of a writ petition seeking castration as an additional punishment for child rapists.
- The court pointed out how Section 376 (2) (f) of the Indian Penal Code only talked of rape of a “woman below 12 years of age.” The Code had no specific provision dealing with punishment for raping a girl below 10 and infants.
Industrial Relations Bill
- Combines India’s three archaic legislations- the Trade Unions Act, 1926, the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, and the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947- into a single code
- It makes it easier for companies to retrench employees and to raise severance pay.
- Allows companies with a staff of 300 to retrench workers without government permission, up from the present requirement of up to 100 workers.
- But the compensation for a retrenched worker is proposed to be increased three times to 45 days’ pay for every completed year of work, as against 15 days’ pay at present.
- An employer will need to give compensation to a worker laid off for prolonged illness. At present, organisations can lay off workers on the ground of continued ill-health without giving a one-month notice or compensation, both mandatory in other cases under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
- In a first, workers affected by retrenchment or factory closure will be re-skilled by employers. A re-skilling fund will be set up, and employers will contribute 30 days’ wage of every retrenched worker immediately before the retrenchment.
- It will also tighten norms for establishing unions as no outsider will be allowed to become office-bearer of a union in the organised sector
- The proposed law would put an end to flash strikes as workers in all factories will have to give employers a strike notice of at least two weeks. At present, only workers in public utilities are required to do so. Go-slows, gheraos, squatting or demonstrations by employees at employers’ house, during conciliation proceedings, will not be allowed.
- The Bill is in the final stage of legal vetting, and it will be sent for the Cabinet’s approval very shortly
- While it has been a long-pending demand of industry to amend the Industrial Disputes Act, trade unions strongly opposed the Bill when the government first proposed it in April last year.
- The Union government had to set up a sub-committee to discuss the Industrial Relations Bill and proposed other measures to ease concerns of the unions.
- Since then, the government has held several rounds of discussions with the unions and industry on the proposed Bill, but the resistance remains. Constant protests from the trade unions have derailed the government’s proposed labour reforms.
- The Small Factories Bill, a separate labour law for factories with fewer than 40 workers, and the code on wages, have been sent to an inter-ministerial panel led by Finance Minister
Telangana’s mision Bhageeratha might alienate many ST’s
- Forest rights of Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwelling communities have come into sharp focus in connection with Mission Bhageeratha
- It is the drinking water project of Telangana State, which requires the alienation of vast tracts of forest lands.
- Exercise is on to identify locations where the pipelines would cut across lands on which the rights of the tribals and forest dwellers have been recognised as per the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. Once the locations are identified, it is upon the respective district authorities to conduct ‘gram sabha’ and obtain consent from the villagers for acquiring land.
- As per the Act, the authority to divert forest lands for public purposes, which include drinking water supply and water pipelines, is vested with the Central government.
- However, such diversion is subject to the rider that the land in question is less than one hectare in each instance and the ‘gram sabha’ recommends it.
- Of the 26 segments the project is divided into, 21 need forest clearances. They have been further divided into 96 sub-segments for the purpose of convenience, and proposals are being prepared for the same, officials informed.
- District collectors, as chairpersons of the district level committees for recognition of forest rights, have to issue certificates that the requirements under the Act have been fulfilled.
- Adilabad and Khammam are two districts where the project might come into conflict with forest rights, as they have large number of tribal inhabitants.
Centre permits jallikattu in Tamil Nadu
- The Centre issued a notification to permit jallikattu, Tamil Nadu’s traditional bull-taming sport, ahead of the Pongal festival.
- The notification overturns a 2011 notification that prohibited the exhibition or training of bulls, and some other animals, as performing animals. The Supreme Court had in 2014 upheld the 2011 government order.
- The present order permits jallikattu — and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, etc.
- There has been widespread political opinion in the State in favour of the traditional sport.
- There was also pressure from Maharashtra, where there has been a tradition of bullock cart races.
- While retaining the general prohibition on using some animals — bulls, bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and lions — as performing animals, the notification makes an exception for such traditional sports involving bulls, subject to the permission of the local administration and some conditions.
- It adds to the 2011 prohibition the qualification: “provided that bulls may continue to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal, at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat…”
- It, however, adds a few guidelines to regulate it: these events shall take place in these areas at such places as the district magistrate or collector explicitly permits, and that the bull once out of the enclosure shall be tamed within a radial distance of 15 metres.
Cultural Mapping of India
- The project of ‘Cultural Mapping of India’ under which data of artists shall be collected, has been initiated by the Ministry of Culture in order to carry out a survey on Cultural Topography of the country.
- The work of entry of data of artists has been assigned to Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT), New Delhi. So far Data on more than 55 lakhs artists has been collected.
- Ministry is also taking the help of State Governments and other organizations to collect the data of artists.
- Under this scheme, a Web Portal would be developed through National Informatics Centre (NIC) for collection of data directly from artistes online for cultural mapping
- It will serve as an Artist Repository and can be used in future for the purpose of providing grant-in aid under various cultural schemes administered by this Ministry.
States asked to keep a check on online sale of drugs
- The Central drug regulator Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has asked the states to take action against companies selling medicine online as it violates the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
- The DCGI took the action after receiving several representations against e-pharmacies that appear to be gaining popularity.
- The existing law does not distinguish between sale of medicines in a store and over the internet as long as the rules are followed. However, experts and pharmacists pointed out in the online business there was barely any way to check if rules are followed properly or not.
- At present, producers are allowed to sell drugs only to licensed dealers, registered doctors and hospitals.
- Retailers are licensed only if they have adequately equipped premises for storage of temperature-sensitive medicines and have qualified on-site pharmacists to dispense drugs against prescriptions by registered medical practitioners and advise patients about the dosage.
- There is no provision in the law to deliver drugs to customers by mail or courier. Selling prescription drugs by persons other than pharmacists is a criminal offence that can land the offender in prison for six months as per the Pharmacy Act.
- The Drugs Consultative Committee under the DCGI formed a panel under Maharashtra FDA chairperson Harshdeep Kamble to examine the online pharmacy business.
Volkswagen asked by NGT not to sell cars with cheat devices
- The National Green Tribunal asked Volkswagen to give an undertaking by January 11 that it will not sell anymore Audis or Porsches with ’emission-violating cheat devices’ in India.Cheat or defeat device is a software in diesel engines to manipulate emission tests by changing the performance of the vehicles to improve results.
- The Government of India gave an affidavit that they have already sold 3.25 lakh such vehicles in India.
- The judicial bench said when such a mass violation occurs anywhere in the world, India suffers the most in the form of global warming and crop reduction.
- It pointed out that India represents one-sixth of humanity with almost nil public health support as compared to Germany or US.
- The Ministry of Heavy Industries said it was considering penal action against Volkswagen for flouting emission norms.
- On declaration of vehicle recall by the manufacturer, Ministry of Heavy Industries has immediately handed over the matter to Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to examine penal provisions and decide further action related to continuation or otherwise of production and the applicable penalty.
- INS Kadmatt is the second ship of Project 28 (P28) class Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Corvettes
- It was commissioned into the Indian Navy by the Chief of Naval Staff at Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam today.
- The event marks the formal induction into the Navy of the second of the four ASW Corvettes, indigenously designed by the Indian Navy’s in-house organisation, Directorate of Naval Design and constructed by Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited, Kolkata.
- It marks yet another milestone in our journey towards self-reliance and Make-in-India”.
- INS Kadmatt is named after one of the large islands amongst the Lakshadweep group of Islands off the west coast of India. The Lakshadweep Islands and the Navy share a special relation with the Island chain being home to our base INS Dweeprakshak, as well as detachments on Minicoy, Androth and Bitra Islands.
- The commissioning of INS Kadmatt today signifies the importance of our Island territories as our maritime interests
- Regarded as a very prestigious acquisition, INS Kadmatt is one of the most potent warships to have been constructed in India.
- The ships of P28 class have been constructed using high grade steel (DMR 249A) produced in India.
- With a displacement of 3300 tonnes, the sleek and magnificent ship spans 109 meters in length and 13.7 meters at the beam and is propelled by four diesel engines to achieve speeds in excess of 25 knots with an endurance of 3450 Nm.
- Some of the advanced stealth features have been incorporated in this ship.
- INS Kadmatt has a multitude of networks such as Total Atmospheric Control System (TACS), Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS), Integrated Bridge System (IBS), Battle Damage Control System (BDCS) and Personnel Locator System (PLS) to provide a contemporary and process oriented System of Systems for optimal functioning of the warship.
- The unique feature of this ship is the high level of indigenisation incorporated in the production, accentuating our national objective of ‘Make in India’. About 90% of the ship is indigenous and the ship is equipped to fight in Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare conditions.
- INS Kadmatt has many firsts to its credit which include the rail-less helo traversing system and foldable hangar door for the integral ASW helicopter.
- The ship’s weapons and sensors suite is predominantly indigenous and showcases the nation’s growing capability in this niche area.
- Some of the major equipment/ systems developed indigenously include Combat Management System, Rocket Launcher, Torpedo Tube Launchers and Infra-Red Signature Suppression System.
- The ship’s crew comfort has been a significant feature in the design of INS Kadmatt and has been ensured through ergonomically designed accommodation and galley compartments using modular concept.
- The ship is commanded by Commander Mahesh Chandra Moudgil and would be an integral part of the Eastern Fleet under the Eastern Naval Command.
- With the changing power dynamics in the Indian Ocean Region, INS Kadmatt will augment the mobility, reach and flexibility of Indian Navy.
- eNPS is an Online Subscriber Registration and Contribution Facility under NPS
- In light of “Digital India” on promoting e-governance for providing last mile connectivity through extensive use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) platforms, Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority (PFRDA) has been pursuing the development of online transaction facilities in NPS.
- Through this platform, a prospective subscriber can register for NPS; contribute to his/her Permanent Retirement Account.
- Further, the subscribers who already have an NPS account can make contributions through eNPS directly.
- A prospective subscriber can visit NPS Trust website www.npstrust.org.in and select NPS Online menu to register and contribute to NPS.
- Subscriber can make subsequent contribution online through net banking /debit card/credit card at any time and the same will be credited in the subscriber’s PRAN account on T+2 basis.
- Presently, ten banks have provided the facility of online KYC verification. PFRDA has advised all other Bank POPs to join the eNPS platform and provide online verification of KYC for the customers of their Banks willing to open NPS account online.
- seamless on boarding experience where he need not visit a Point of Presence
- can register from anywhere through an internet connection, contribution with minimum cost of transaction and
- reduction in errors resulting from various manual activities.
Currently, NPS has more than 1.13 Crore subscribers with total Asset under Management (AUM) of more than Rs. 1.08 lakh crore.
Credit guarantee fund for MUDRA launched
- The Union Cabinet has approved creation of a Credit Guarantee Fund (CGF) for Micro Units Development Refinance Agency (MUDRA) loans
- It also approved conversion of MUDRA Ltd. into MUDRA Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) Bank as a wholly owned subsidiary of SIDBI.
- MUDRA (SIDBI) Bank will undertake refinance operations and provide support services with focus on portal management and also data analysis
- MFIs can now become Member Lending Institutions (MLIs) with MUDRA (SIDBI) Bank for refinance and with NCGTC for Credit Guarantee.
This membership is predicated on the fulfilment of certain criteria such as size, experience, an assessment of internal systems, processes and procedures, CRAR and other norms, capacity assessment rating, etc.
On an ongoing basis, the cost of guarantee is linked to rating and recovery performance, to incentivize all MFIs, who join up as MLIs to continue good performance.
A paradigm shift in the approach for faster implementation under ‘Namami Gange’ programme
- The Union Cabine has approved the proposal for taking up Hybrid Annuity based Public Private Partnership (PPP) model under Namami Gange Programme
- It has been adopted to ensure performance, efficiency, viability and sustainability. In this model, a part of the capital investment (upto 40%) will be paid by government through construction linked milestones and the balance through an annuity over the contract duration upto 20 years.
- It had been observed that benefits accrued from substantial investments made under various past programmes (Ganga Action Plan I & II, NGRBA, Yamuna Action Plan) were less than optimal.
- According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), almost 30% of the Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) monitored in the 4 states of UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar & West Bengal were not operational and 94% were non-compliant with the prescribed effluent standards.
- Cabinet’s approval addresses the above issues that acted as road blocks for all previous efforts to clean river Ganga.
- The approval paves the road ahead for complete reform in the wastewater sector in India, implementation of projects in a fast track mode and ensure effective utilisation of funds released under 100% funded ‘Namami Gange’ – central sector scheme.
An SPV established
- Keeping in view the specialized nature of this model and to scale it up in future on sustainable basis, the Government is establishing a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV)
- The functions of the SPV are
- to plan, structure,
- procure concessionaires,
- monitor implementation of such PPP projects and
- develop market for treated waste water
- through appropriate policy advocacy under overall guidance of National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG).
- The SPV will be established under Indian Companies Act 2013 for providing required governance framework and enabling functional autonomy.
- The SPV would enter into a Tripartite Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with participating State Governments and concerned Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) for taking up individual projects.
- These MoAs will aim at introducing reforms and regulatory measures for recovery of user charges on Polluters Pay principle, restrictions on usage of ground & fresh water for non-potable purposes through stricter monitoring and guidelines that promote re¬use of treated wastewater.
- The Ministry in a first of its kind has already entered into an MoU with Ministries of Railways, for purchase of treated water from STPs wherever feasible to facilitate faster market development for treated wastewater. Similar MoUs are also being worked out with other Ministries of Power, Petroleum, Industries etc.
- This is a futuristic step taken by the Government where the market development for treated waste water and structural reforms are complementing the projects.
- This will help taking up more number of projects with the same allocation as made available under Namami Gange programme with reduced financial liability in the initial years.
- Spreading the stakes of the private participant over the entire period of concession would ensure continued operations over long-term.
- Linking of performance standards with the annuities will ensure desired objective of treated water of appropriate standard.
- It would help gradual capacity building of the Urban Local Bodies by setting ground for recovery of user charges on Polluter Pays Principle.
- Development of the market for treated water will lead to reduced demand on riverine fresh-water and will result in enhanced flows in river Ganga.
- These steps would also kick-start the process of responsible use of water in general and go a long way in mitigating the projected water shortage in the country.
Government decides to directly shift from BS-IV to BS-VI Emission norms
- Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has decided to leapfrog from BS-IV to BS-VI emission norms directly by 01.04.2020.
- The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has assured supply of BS-VI fuel across the country by 01.04.2020.
- The Ministry has withdrawn an earlier draft which had suggested shifting to BS-VI after switch to BS-V.
- The Ministry is also sure that the Indian Automobile industry with its technical competence and commitment to environment will rise to the occasion and support the decision.
- It may be mentioned that the Auto Fuel Policy had recommended implementation of BS-VI norms by 2024. .
Stand Up India Scheme approved
- The “Start up India Stand up India” initiative was announced by the PrimeMinister in his address to the nation on 15th August, 2015. The Stand up India component is anchored by Department of Financial Services (DFS) to encourage greenfield enterprises by SC/ST and Women entrepreneurs.
- The Scheme is intended to facilitate at least two such projects per bank branch, on an average one for each category of entrepreneur.
- It is expected to benefit atleast 2.5 lakh borrowers. The expected date of reaching the target of at least 2.5 lakh approvals is 36 months from the launch of the Scheme.
The Stand Up India Scheme provides for:
- Refinance window through Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) with an initial amount of Rs. 10,000 crore.
- Creation of a credit guarantee mechanism through the National Credit Guarantee Trustee Company (NCGTC).
- Handholding support for borrowers both at the pre loan stage and during operations. This would include increasing their familiarity with factoring services, registration with online platforms and e-market places as well as sessions on best practices and problem solving.
The details of the scheme are as follows:
- Focus is on handholding support for both SC/ST and Women borrowers.
- The overall intent of the approval is to leverage the institutional credit structure to reach out to these under-served sectors of the population by facilitating bank loans. The loans are repayable up to 7 years and between Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 100 lakh for greenfield enterprises in the non farm sector set up by such SC, ST and Women borrowers.
- The loan under the scheme would be appropriately secured and backed by a credit guarantee through a credit guarantee scheme
- Margin money of the composite loan would be up to 25%. Convergence with state schemes is expected to reduce the actual requirement of margin money for a number of borrowers.
- Over a period of time, it is proposed that a credit history of the borrower be built up through Credit Bureaus.
- An online software, ‘Anubhav’ for showcasing outstanding work by retiring employee and sharing experience of working with the Government.
- The software was launched by the Department of Pension & Pensioner’s Welfare
- It is envisaged that over a period of time, this will create a wealth of institutional memory with replicable ideas and suggestions.
- This tool in addition, gives opportunity to the retiring employee to invest his experience, skill and time for growth of social capital of the country.
- A format comprising of few questions that can be used to build up write-ups for ‘Anubhav’ has been circulated
- Another feature of uploading audio file has been added to the ‘Anubhav’ software. It provides facility to upload recorded voice message of 3 to 4 minutes (3MB) duration by the retiring employee.
- Till date, 78 organizations have registered, 1043 write-up have been published and 312 write-ups which have been uploaded and are waiting to be published.
Implementation of Namami Gange Programme
Ganga Task Force deployed Ganga Gram Yojana launched
- As a major initiative towards fast track implementation of Namami Gange Programme the first company of Ganga Task force Battalion was deployed at Garhmukteshwar
- Three such companies will be deployed soon at Kanpur, Varanasi and Allahabad.
- The Jawans of the Ganga Task force will be deployed on the banks of the river Ganga to ensure that industry and civilians do not pollute the river.
Ganga Gram Yojana
- Ganga Gram Yojana was also launched at Village Puth in Hapur district of U.P.
- 1600 villages situated along the banks of river Ganga will be developed under this scheme.
- In the first phase of the progamme 200 villages have been selected. In these villages open drains falling into river Ganga will be diverted and alternative arrangements for sewage treatment will be made.
- The villages will have toilets in every house hold. It is proposed to incur and expenditure of Rs. One crore on every village.
- These villages will be developed under the Sichewal model. It may be noted that Sichewal is situated in Punjab, where cooperation of the villagers has been solicited for the water management and waste disposal in a meticulous way.
Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Bill, 2015 notified
- The Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was passed by the Parliament recently
- The provisions of the Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Act, 2015 shall be deemed to have come into force on the 15th Day of June, 2015, the day on which the Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015 was promulgated to further amend the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.
- The Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Act, 2015 is focused on clarifying the jurisdiction related issues for filing cases for offence committed under section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.
Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881
- The Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 was enacted to define and amend the law relating to Promissory Notes, Bills of Exchange and Cheques.
- The object of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 is to encourage the usage of cheque and enhance the credibility of the instrument so that the normal business transactions and settlement of liabilities could be ensured.
- Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 deals with the offence pertaining to dishonor of cheque, drawn for discharge of any debt or other liability, on account of insufficiency of funds in the drawer’s account or on account of the fact that the cheque amount is more than the amount agreed to be paid by the bank, and provides for penalties for such dishonour.
- Earlier, the Supreme Court, in its judgment held that the territorial jurisdiction for cases relating to offence of dishonour of cheques is restricted to the court within whose local jurisdiction such offence was committed, which in the present context is where the cheque is dishonoured by the bank on which it is drawn.
- Various financial institutions and industry associations had expressed difficulties, arising out of the legal interpretation by the Supreme Court
- In view of the urgency to create a suitable legal framework for determination of the place of jurisdiction for trying cases of dishonour of cheques , it was decided by the Government to introduce suitable amendments to the Act
- The Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Act, 2015, facilitates filing of cases only in a court within whose local jurisdiction the bank branch of the payee, where the payee delivers the cheque for payment through his account, is situated,
- Exception to this is in case of bearer cheques, which are presented to the branch of the drawee bank and in that case the local court of that branch would get jurisdiction.
- The Act provides for retrospective validation for the new scheme of determining the jurisdiction of a court to try a case under section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.
- The Act also mandates centralisation of cases against the same drawer.
- The clarification of jurisdictional issues may be desirable from the equity point of view as this would be in the interests of the complainant and would also ensure a fair trial.
- Further, the clarity on jurisdictional issue for trying the cases of cheque bouncing would increase the credibility of the cheque as a financial instrument.
- This is expected to help the trade and commerce in general and allow the lending institutions, including banks, to continue to extend financing to the productive sectors of economy
- The Technology Vision-2035 document has identified 12 sectors for special focus and provided a roadmap for each of them, besides plotting the future technology trajectories.
- The document — which was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the inauguration of the 103rd Indian Science Congress — lists education, medical science and healthcare, food and agriculture, water, energy, environment, habitat, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, materials, and information and communication technology as thrust areas.
- Guaranteeing nutritional security and eliminating women and child anaemia .
- Ensuring quantity and quality water in all water bodies- It hints at the use of desalination technologies to reduce the pressure on fresh water systems and provision of 100 per cent sanitation and sewage to all houses.
- Securing critical resources commensurate with the size of the country
- Providing learning centric, language neutral and holistic education to all .
- Understanding national climate patterns and adapting to them is reckoned to be within the potential of technological and human resources available in the country and has been accorded importance in view of its impact on agriculture.
- Making India non-fossil fuel based economy – As the energy bill has bloated and could become unmanageable in future if the country’s hydrocarbon requirements are imported. A comprehensive implementation structure to deal with policies, technology development and rapid large-scale deployment of non-fossil energy in the country would have to be put in place
- The other major challenges are developing commercially-viable decentralised and distributed energy for all, taking the railway to Leh and Tawang, and ensuring universal eco-friendly waste management, among others.
Anganwadi workers only for designated jobs
- The Union government has written to the State governments directing them to not assign any other work to anganwadi workers apart from the designated one
Differetial pricing in telecommunication?
- The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a consultation paper on differential pricing for data services
- The consultation paper raises issues related to zero-rating tariff models – a practice wherein service providers offer free data to users for select applications and websites.
- “Differential pricing should not become a tool that facilitates market dominance or enables anti-competitive behaviour by either TSP or platform provider. It should not offer direct or indirect commercial benefit including leveraging the value of customer data generated in the process. Further it should not offer lower prices for own or partner content/ service,” Nasscom gave its opinion
Snowflake coral, a serious threat to biodiversity
- Colonies of snowflake coral ( Carijoa riisei ), an invasive species recently documented off the coast of Thiruvananthapuram and Kanyakumari, could pose a serious threat to the marine ecology of the region, according to scientists.
- The documentation was done as part of a research project harnessing the traditional knowledge of the fishermen community to assess the marine biodiversity of the region.
- The snowflake coral is known to inhabit reefs and underwater structures such as shipwrecks and piers, attaching itself to metal, concrete and even plastic. It is considered an invasive species because of its capacity to dominate space and crowd out other marine organisms.
- A native of the tropical Western Atlantic and the Caribbean,C.riisei was first reported as an invasive species from Hawaii in 1972. Since then, it has spread to Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
- In India, it has been reported from the Gulf of Mannar, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Gulf of Kutch and Goa.
- With its capacity to thickly settle and occupy a variety of surfaces, C.riisei can destabilise the marine ecosystem. It will crowd out other species like corals, sponges, algae, ascidians that contribute to the rich marine biodiversity of the region.
Sabarimala to be plastic free
- Thanks to the emphatic intervention by the Kerala High Court, PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and other plastic wastes will be effectively banned in Sabarimala, situated in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, from February 1.
- In November 2010, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (PCB) imposed a blanket ban on the sale and use of plastic carry bags and the dumping of plastic bottles, including PET bottles, sachets and pouches in and around the Sanidhanam, Pampa, Chalakkayam, Nilackal and Erumely.
- Though the Travancore Devaswom Board, the police and local self-government institutions were bound to implement the PCB ban, it was not done.
- This has been leading to the accumulation and littering of plastic waste in the reserve forests, posing a serious threat to the wildlife as well as the environment.
Lodha panel report
- The Supreme Court-appointed Justice R.M. Lodha Committee submitted its 159-page report presented on Monday
- Urging lawmakers to legalise betting in cricket for all except cricket players, officials and administrators. As a rider, betting should be restricted through licensed betting houses. Again, players and others banned should disclose their assets to the BCCI in a measure to ensure that they do not bet.
- The report suggested sweeping changes in the BCCI super-structure.
- It recommended that a nine-member apex council replace the present 14-member BCCI working committee
- Five of the nine office-bearers, namely BCCI president, vice-president, secretary, joint secretary and treasurer, should not be either government servant or minister. The office-bearers should not have crossed 70 years of age, should be an Indian and not an insolvent.
- Each of these office-bearers has a three-year term and can contest for a maximum three terms. There will be a mandatory cooling-off period after each term. No office-bearer can hold office consecutively in a row.
- In case of the BCCI president, no person can hold the office for more than two terms.
Importance to be given to players- Report
- The report said players, who were the driving force of the game, had been reduced to the status of employees and subordinates of those governing the game. In the affairs of the sport that they are the drivers of, they have no voice and no independence. Players who are the sport’s biggest draw are not spared from the apathy of the BCCI. They are treated less like assets and more as the employees and subordinates of those governing the game
- It also urged a change in the attitude towards players.
- The disdain for players was also evident in how no attempt was made to protect the sport and its players from the orgy of excess that quickly began to envelop the Indian Premier League which thrust the sport into shame and mired the BCCI into controversy. Noting that the Indian cricket calendar had changed to accommodate more of this IPL “extravaganza,” the Committee suggested more days of rest for Indian national players rather than thrust them into IPL contracts and parties. A testing and cramped cricketing year takes a substantial toll on a professional cricketer’s body and longevity,” the Committee pointed out.
- But the “most unfortunate fact” the Committee found was how the Indian women’s cricket team had last played a Test match eight years ago. Coupled with general chauvinism, the women players receive paltry earnings and have only a one month-long domestic season. The Women’s Cricket Committee is to be therefore formed to exclusively pay attention to this much ignored department in addition to the Women’s Selection Committee
IRNSS satellite to be launched
- The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch the fifth satellite of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) on January 20.
- IRNSS is a 7-satellite constellation to provide an indigenous terrestrial, aerial and marine navigation, vehicle tracking and fleet management, disaster management, precise timing, mapping, visual and voice navigation for drivers etc, with a service area spread over 1,500 km.
Concept Paper On Rail Development Authority of India
- Rail Development Authority of India wa sproposed by the railway minister in the Rail Budget 2015-16.An independent regulatory mechanism was required orderly development of infrastructure services, enabling competition and protection of customer interest. The concept paper has been prepared in line with the vision presented by the Minister of Railways.
- National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC) Report of 2014 had recommended that a Rail Tariff Authority should be set up which should become the overall regulator.
- Later Bibek Debroy Committee Report had also recommended a regulator with overarching functions.
- Many of the countries like U.K, Russia, US, Australia, Germany have regulatory structure in some form or the other.
Proposed Rail Development Authority
- The Authority will undertake four key functions:
- Fixing tariff.
- Ensuring fair play and level playing field for private investment in railways.
- Determination of efficiency and performance standards.
- Dissemination of information.
- The Authority can initially be set up through an executive order and can be subsequently strengthen through a legislation process.
- The Authority will consist of Chairman and four other members who have experience and knowledge in railways, infrastructure, finance, law, management and consumer affairs
The Authority will discharge functions in a manner to
- protect the interest of consumers,
- ensuring quality of service,
- promoting competition,
- encouraging market development,
- efficient allocation of resources,
- provide non-discriminatory open access specially on DFC and
- to benchmark service levels for ensuring quality, continuity and reliability of service.