NATIONAL ISSUES – MAY

Enter the superbug?

  • Alarm bells have been sounded after a woman in the U.S. was detected with bacteria resistant to a last-resort antibiotic.
  • The 49-year-old was carrying E. coli bearing a new gene, mcr-1, which is resistant to even colistin
  • Colistin is the last available antibiotic that works against strains that have acquired protection against all other medication.
  • This is the first reported case of the mcr-1 gene in an E. coli strain found in a person living in America, but it raises worries about how far it may have spread.
  • The results of mcr-1 gene identification were published recently in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy .
  • Though resistance to colistin has been detected for about 10 years in several countries, the danger from this has been somewhat played down since such resistance was brought about by gene mutations that cannot spread easily between bacteria.
  • In the case of E.coli , the colistin resistance is not insurmountable as it is still treatable by other known drugs. But were the gene to spread to bugs treatable by only last-resort antibiotics, we could be facing the dreaded — and indeed, long-anticipated — superbug.
  • Thus, the discovery of mcr-1 in more countries and settings increases the chances of the emergence and spread of resistance against all available antibiotics. It could well lead to an era without effective drugs to treat bacterial infections — the post-antibiotic age, as it were.

MCR-1

  • The mcr-1 gene was first identified in China in November 2015, following which there were similar reports from Europe and Canada.
  • The unchecked use of antibiotics in livestock is a major reason for the development of drug resistance.
  • Indeed, given the widespread use of colistin in animals, the connection to the drug-resistant mcr-1 gene appears quite clear.
  • A November 2015 paper in The Lancet noted that a significantly higher proportion of mcr-1 positive samples was found in animals compared with humans, suggesting that the mcr-1 gene had emerged in animals before spreading to humans.
  • Besides being administered for veterinary purposes, colistin is used in agriculture.
  • The global community needs to urgently address the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in an actionable manner, and fast-track research on the next generation of drugs.
  • But mcr-1 poses a threat of an entirely different order; in this case a small piece of DNA (plasmid) found outside the chromosome carries a gene responsible for antibiotic resistance. Since the gene is found outside the chromosome, it can spread easily among different types of bacteria, as well as among patients.

What are antibiotics?

  • Antibiotics are a broad class of drugs that work by inhibiting the function of bacterial cells. They do this by killing the bacteria or stopping them from reproducing – but have no effect on viruses.
  • They are used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia or skin infections
  • Before antibiotics were discovered in the 1920s, infections were a common cause of death in people of all ages.

Bring brand ambassadors under Consumer Protection Act, says CAIT

  • Traders body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has said that brand ambassadors should be brought under the ambit of Consumer Protection Act as consumers are often “guided” through such endorsement, irrespective of quality of product.
  • CAIT has also threatened to move court if the government did not take necessary action. The body has also demanded that specific guidelines be formulated, fixing the liability of brand ambassadors.
  • According to CAIT, prominent personalities of different fields are engaged by big companies to endorse their products to grab more share in the market for their products irrespective of the quality of the product and those personalities in lust of earning huge money never care for the quality.
  • Also, such endorsements influence customer’s choice to great extent.

Background:

  • Recently, in its report on the Consumer Protection Bill 2015, a parliamentary panel had also suggested legal teeth to make celebrities accountable for misleading advertisements.
  • The panel had suggested legal teeth to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to curb misleading ads, besides proposing severe penalties, jail and cancellation of licence of those involved in food adulteration.

Food Safety and Standards Act

  • There is no specific word in the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) about the extent, or lack, of liability or duty of care of the brand ambassador, who signs on to promote the brand as its ‘face’ and takes on the role of a marketing representative. Sections 24 and 53 of the 2006 Act deal specifically with advertisements.
  • Section 24 (1) says in general terms that “no advertisement shall be made of any food which is misleading or deceiving or contravenes the provisions of this Act, the rules and regulations made thereunder.” Here, it does not explain whether the term “made” is only confined to commissioning the advertisement or its actual making. In the latter case, a brand ambassador does play a part.
  • Subsection (2) of the same section says “no person shall engage himself in any unfair trade practice for the purpose of promoting the sale…” This clause does not specify who the “person” mentioned in it is, thus, making the ambit of the provision pliable.

Cloud technology changing TV ad landscape

  • Geo-targeted advertisements and Internet-based telecasts are the new trends
  • In fact, around 25 news and entertainment channels are beaming region-specific ads. With the trend of geo-targeted advertising catching on, more companies are making use of technology to beam adverts to only areas where their products have strong presence.
  • Advertisements tailored to the location or browsing pattern of a person is common on websites. For example, we see an HDFC or Flipkart advertisement on New York Times website. We might also see ads of the travel portal we have been checking.
  • ‘Hyperlocal’ is the new buzzword. The Google Search trends report for 2015 says keywords like ‘car dealers near me,’ were being increasingly used, with a 32 per cent growth in queries for hyperlocal services.
  • Any digital media needs a geo-targeting possibility
  • What is common on websites is coming to television. Airing of region-specific content is determined by triggers as varied as the user’s GPS location or watermarks on the video stream.
  • On television, it happens differently. Normally, local cable operators have decoder boxes for each channel that receive and relay the programmes to households. To enable geo-targeted advertising these boxes are replaced with smart boxes that not only store data but also intelligently identify the spot where the location-specific ad has to replace the nationally telecast one.
  • The trigger for the geo-targeted ad comes from a unique watermark inserted on the video, which gives the cue to the smart box to run the local ad. Watermark is an invisible and inaudible identifier, like a product barcode.
  • There are at least two companies that have the technology for geo-targeted advertising. While Amagi was founded by three technologists in 2008, Star TV came out with AdSharp in 2014.
  • The KPMG-FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2016 speaks of considerable scope for geo-targeting, considering that the Indian market is underpenetrated and India is a heterogeneous market.
  • Location-specific replacement of content happens on mobile apps too.
  • The traditional mode of television broadcast, which involves use of satellites, too is changing. TV channels spend huge sums of money to uplink programmes to satellites, and 85 per cent of the content is not live. Most of it is entertainment like movies, music, infotainment etc, that don’t require satellite. Internet is providing a way out and it involves a reversal of the traditional sequence of broadcast. Normally, what should go on air is decided first, and the playout (comprising all the contents, including graphics, promos and others) is delivered using satellite to local operators. In the Internet-based method, all contents are stored in the cloud, and delivered to playout servers at different locations: they could be anywhere in the world. The platform then does everything from managing the contents to graphics, subtitling, scheduling, editing, quality checks and the like. In other words, traditionally, it’s playout first and then delivery. But now it is delivery first and then playout.
  • B4U is another channel that uses the technology. The scheduling of the 12 channels is done in Mumbai, the contents are pushed from London, and they are viewed across all time zones.
  • The technology can be used to even set up a TV channel without taking recourse to satellite.
  • Amagi recently announced that by augmenting its Cloudport platform with its 24/7 managed playout service, FLIK TV, a high-definition movie channel, went live in Indonesia in a few weeks at a fraction of traditional satellite delivery costs.
  • As the Internet continues to increase its reach, it becomes easier for broadcasters to reach out to more people. Today YuppTV is available in all countries and partnered with multiple CDNs (content delivery networks) to deliver the content to end users. YuppTV proprietary algorithm decides which CDN to be used for a user in a country based on various performance metrics.”

Govt. to unveil solar zones policy in June

  • To encourage solar power generators and equipment manufacturers, the New and Renewable Energy Ministry will unveil a policy on solar zones.
  • Solar zones-
    • would be spread over one or even more districts of a State to encourage generators as well as equipment manufactures
    • Under the policy, the developer will be provided with inputs like land availability and power evacuation locations for planning his project

Digital vans all set to take e-governance to rural areas

  • The government will roll out a new campaign under which 66 digital vans, equipped with Internet and audio-visual facilities, will go to 657 districts by March 2017 to increase awareness about various e-governance services in rural and semi-urban areas.
  • The aim is to reach out to more than 10 lakh citizens and register over 1.5 lakh rural citizens for MyGov, digital locker, Aadhaar and other digital services
  • It will run from May 30, 2016 to March 31, 2017. The vans will use the Internet and audio visual facilities to interact with and educate the people in rural areas, especially the youth, about the various Digital India initiatives.
  • State governments, along with the Department of Posts, Department of Telecommunications (BSNL) and CSC-SPV, will play an active role in the execution of this campaign.
  • A district level committee, headed by the District Collector, will foresee its ground level execution to ensure that the maximum benefit is generated out of this campaign
  • Rural citizens will be informed about the services offered at CSC centres, national scholarship portal, e-hospital, digital lockers and Aadhaar in 14 languages — Hindi, English, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Oriya, Bengali, Assamese, Manipuri, Urdu, Marathi and Malayalam.

Steps to check invasion of Giant African Snails

  • Foreseeing a renewed invasion of the Giant African Snails in Kerala during the monsoon, invasive species experts have kicked off a pest eradication programme.
  • Giant African Snails
    • The invasive mollusc has independent populations across 126 locations in the State and comes out of slumber with the onset of the monsoon.
    • The ferocious feeder eats anything from crops to ornamental plants and crawls all across walls and buildings.
    • It was three years ago the presence of the mollusc was first reported in the State.
    • It is for the first time established populations of the species have been identified at over 100 locations, and if not contained during this season, its management will become difficult
  • Meanwhile, researchers have begun sending awareness material for eradicating snail population to all local bodies. In some cases, demonstrations on preparing Tobacco Decoction Copper Sulphate (TDCS) mixture and its applications are conducted.

States warned against diverting urban development funds

  • In a stern message to State governments, the Urban Development Ministry wants no “diversion or misuse” of funds that are meant to fix urban infrastructure.
  • The Ministry sent a circular to States last week asking them to ensure that the 14th Finance Commission grants are only spent on developing a network of sanitation, water supply, solid and liquid waste management, storm water drains, roads, footpaths, street lights and burial and cremation sites.  Earlier, the States had this habit to divert funds to other development projects like building a flyover while ignoring the basic infrastructure like drainage and solid and liquid waste disposal
  • The Ministry has also asked States to submit utilisation reports for 2015-16 by June end, and in addition, develop “advance” annual action plans for the coming year.
  • States are asked to ensure transfer of Finance Commission grants to the Urban Local Bodies within 15 days after receiving them from the Centre. In case of delays, the Ministry would slap “bank rate of interest.” A similar interest rate will be imposed on States in case they cross the deadlines for the submission of annual utilisation reports.
  • From next year onward, the Ministry will allot money to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) according to their annual action plans.
  • Also urged State governments to ensure effective monitoring of utilisation of grants at the level of Chief Secretaries besides coexisting evaluation by third party.
  • In a threefold increase over that of the 13th Finance Commission, the 14th Finance Commission awarded total grants of Rs.87,144 Crores to ULBs as Basic Grant (80%) and Performance Grant (20%).

Panel moots 1 lakh scholarships for poor

  • The high-level government-appointed T.S.R. Subramanian committee submitted its report on the evolution of a new education policy

Recommendations

  • Proposed to link autonomy for universities with their rating
    • Seeing both quality and inclusion as important, the panel has recommended linking the autonomy of higher education institutions with their rating/performance,
    • he institutions being rated in the lowest category should close down. Higher the rating, more the autonomy. For those getting rated in the highest category, the report has recommended full academic autonomy
    • With those making it to the highest bracket having the freedom to choose their fee structure, curriculum and even the scales paid to their faculty members.
  • Greater professionalism in rating
    • As of now, NAAC under the University Grants Commission rates institutions across India.
    • The inspection or assessment of institutions based on these standards needed greater professionalism, and agencies/companies that are trained to evaluate should be entrusted with the task.
  • It has recommended one-lakh scholarships for meritorious students from poor families and socially and educationally backward communities to pursue higher education.
  • The panel also proposed an Indian Education Service to attract teaching talent with selections done by the UGC
  • It has also underlined the need for greater quality in school education
    • suggesting a no-detention policy only till Class V, instead of Class VIII at present.
    • Students not learning as per requirements should be offered remedial classes from class 1 itself, and online resources can also be used for this.
    • A student failing the Class V exam should be given another attempt to pass. If he or she fails again, there should be an option to specialise in some vocation, so that vocational training can go alongside language and numerical skills
  • The report has also recommended the inculcation of values — peace, harmony, respect for diversity, equality, truth, dharma and non-violence among others — in students and has said that pride in the nation should be one of the values education should promote.

India to ‘export’ #TwitterSeva

  • Micro-blogging platform Twitter is now considering the roll-out of the Twitter Seva service in other countries such as the U.K. and the UAE. This follows the success of the service, developed for the India market to help delivery of e-governance services.

Twitter Seva

  • Twitter Seva helps process a large volume of tweets and assigns them to the relevant authority for real-time resolution.
  • It is currently being used by Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Railways, besides the Bengaluru Police.
    • Through the service, the Railway Ministry processes about 5,500 tweets per day, responding to any citizen query related to catering, cleanliness, or even urgent medical support on board a train.
    • Similarly, Ministry of External Affairs processes over 6,000 tweets in a month,
    • while the number is over 40,000 per month for Commerce Ministry and over 3,000 in a month for Bengaluru Police.
  • Twitter Seva is an India-only product right now
  • The product had been designed and developed in the country, and the processes that Twitter had built into it are ‘absolutely’ India exclusive
  • Twitter India is also exploring the roll-out of the product with more ministries and state governments.
  • The objective is to inject this solution as a real-time service delivery and feedback-gathering mechanism. With the help of the Twitter dashboard, queries and complaints can be easily monitored and quick actions can be taken.
  • The detailed analysis of the tweets also presents insights about their audience along with the receptiveness and impact of their tweets
  • In the two years of being in power, Prime Minister Modi’s following on Twitter has grown by 400 per cent from 4 million to 20 million followers, making him the most-followed political leader in India and second in the world after American President Barack Obama.
  • Further, 95 per cent of ministers in the ruling government are active on Twitter

New device to send border alert to fishermen

  • Following frequent instances of fishing crews from Maharashtra and Gujarat being arrested for accidentally crossing international maritime boundaries, a Mumbai-based digital firm and an NGO have come up with a device that will send out an alert when they enter international waters.
  • Such incidents are mostly noticed near Porbandar, Verawal and other parts of Gujara
  • Most used a ‘mukhota (mask)’ on their boats to ward off evil, and hence the name — Mukhota. The Mukhota is GPS-enabled and coded in such a way that once it comes near the coastal border, it sends out an alert.
  • The digital firm has already tested the device and distributed 1,500 such sets free of charge to fisher workers on a trial basis.

Indigenous aero engine stays on radar

  • An indigenous aero engine, the Kaveri engine didn’t make it to powering the LCA light fighter plane.
  • New efforts, tweaks and hopefully a Rs. 2,600-crore grant are being explored to salvage 25 years of work and resources of over Rs. 2,000 crore spent on the Kaveri and use the engine’s derivatives in unmanned strategic projects of the future – probably with a different name.
  • Already its spinoff version has been identified as the engine for ‘Ghatak’, a tentatively named future unmanned combat aircraft on which early studies have been taken up at two aeronautical labs based in Bengaluru.
  • For anything in future that requires a 50-kilo-Newton engine [& its multiples,] here is a readily available one. Only a few engineering adaptations are required
  • The military research establishment has not given up the quest for a potential Indian powerplant for future military systems
  • The development of aero engine technology and product was long identified as a critical need in defence research.

Clone train for the waitlisted 

  • Repeat services likely to ply on high-demand routes from June
  • The Indian Railways plans to launch ‘clone trains’ on high-demand routes that will be run within an hour of a scheduled train’s departure to accommodate those on the waiting list. The idea behind such real-time demand-driven trains is to ensure that they reach their destination around the same time originally scheduled. Moreover, passengers will be informed about their berths in the clone train soon after the reservation charts for the original scheduled train are firmed up four hours before departure.
  • These trains could originate from Howrah, Mumbai CST, Chennai, Secunderabad and New Delhi, where the Railways has big coaching yards and rolling stock to put together a clone train in quick time

Norms soon to weed out fraud in staffing industry

  • The Centre is set to regulate private employment agencies by amending the contract labour law of 1971

Current status

  • Unfortunately till date, there has been no regulation for private recruitment agencies.
  • Some quarters have looked upon contract workers as undesirable due to the industrial unrest in recent years, stemming from poor quality of jobs and the individuals being vulnerable to false hopes.
  • At present, there are no official estimates on the number of private staffing agencies that are operating in the country
  • There is no official website to check the authenticity of a particular agency.
  • The number of staffing agencies is growing and is largely unregulated and they mislead the workers.

The labour secretary listed out the principles for the proposed regulation for staffing firms.

  • First, they should not charge any money to the candidate.
  • Second, the due diligence of workers such as character verification, police verification, and evaluation of capabilities should be done by the staffing agency. This may be time consuming and expensive but is the need of the hour

Need

  • It is fortunate that the proposal to regulate staffing agencies will be a part of the labour reforms.
  • A national licensing regime for staffing firms will be critical to keep a check on ‘mom-and-pop’ shops that exist in the form of contractors
  • Recruiting workers on contract will allow flexibility in the labour market

Mars emerging from Ice Age, says study

  • The Red Planet is emerging from an Ice Age, according to radar images of Mars’ polar regions that are shedding new light on our neighbour’s climate cycle, researchers said.
  • The ice began its retreat about 370,000 years ago
  • The findings are based on data collected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling Mars for 10 years.
  • On Earth, ice ages take hold when the polar regions and high latitudes become cooler than average for thousands of years, causing glaciers to grow toward the mid-latitudes. In contrast, the Martian variety occurs when — as a result of the planet’s increased tilt — its poles become warmer than lower latitudes. The result is the retreat of Martian polar caps and the build-up of water vapour toward the equator, forming ice on the ground and glaciers at mid-latitudes. Now that the most recent Ice Age has ended, ice is building up on the poles again.
  • Mr. Smith and colleagues found a maximum ice thickness of 1,050 feet across the polar cap, matching previous models’ predictions in 2003 and 2007.This suggests that we have indeed identified the record of the most recent Martian glacial period and the re-growth of the polar ice since then

Importance

  • The research confirms previous models that found the glacial period ended about 400,000 years ago.
  • It also deepens scientists’ understanding of the climate shifts that happen on Mars, and how they differ from Earth.
  • Using these measurements, we can improve our understanding of how much water is moving between the poles and other latitudes, helping to improve our understanding of the Martian climate.

Tejas to replace MiG as key fighter

  • Indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas would be the mainstay of the Indian Air Force and would likely replace the entire MIG-21 fleet of almost 250 fighters.
  • About 250 MiG-21s were in service, most of which would be phased out in the next 10-15 years
  • In the past, the IAF had been reluctant to fully back the domestic Tejas programme.
  • LCA will be mainstay. There will be seven squadrons of it. It is 3-4 times better than MiG-21s
  • The second version of Tejas, which is an improved version, is coming into production after the first two squadrons.
  • The improved version of LCA referred to as Mk-1A with four major improvements over the Mk-1 variant has been offered by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as an interim measure in view of the delay in LCA-MK2.
  • The third squadron with 1A would be a highly improved version, which was under trials. Those special additives are under trial like firing a Bond Visual Range (BVR) missile etc.

Functionally, the LCA is better than many other foreign fighters.

  • It reacts very smoothly,
  • fly-by-wire
  • its turn radius is very good,
  • manoeuvrability is very good

LCA has limitations

  • However, the LCA being a single-engine, light-weight fighter, it has its limitations, which is why another twin-engine fighter would be needed other than the Rafale. In the sense that it is a light combatant. It cannot go into deep penetration. It is mostly good for dogfights in your own sky or to degrade the opponent Army’s command posts. We need more twin-engine fighters for deep penetration.

SC panel inspects Mullaperiyar

  • Led by Central Water Commission Executive Enginee, the five-member sub-committee constituted by the Supreme Court-appointed High Power Supervisory Panel for Mullaperiyar dam, inspected the main dam, the spillway and the baby dam recently
  • After noting down the readings, including the quantum of inflow, discharge and seepage and storage level in the main and baby dams, the committee checked the condition of spillway shutters and operated seven of them.
  • The inspection as a routine exercise. When the southwest monsoon sets in over Kerala, inflow into the dam is bound to increase. The spillway shutters should be in a good condition to maintain the permitted level of 142 feet in the dam and must be operable in case of an emergency. (The water level touched 142 feet in Mullaperiyar dam in the early hours of December 7, 2015.)

Defence Ministry to take a call on charges

  • The IT department sent a letter to the MHA on May 18 seeking its opinion on invoking OSA against Mr. Bhandari
  • The department had also sent a tranche of ‘classified’ documents taken from Mr. Bhandari’s premises.One of the eight companies was recently in the news after it entered into a joint venture with two prominent French firms, one dealing with weapons-to-aircraft interface systems, while the other one is an aircraft manufacturer.
  • The IT department is scrutinising the financial transactions of Mr. Bhandari’s companies to ascertain the source of funds they received between 2009 and 2014. It suspects that these companies together received around Rs. 70 crore from over three dozen companies in multiple instalments. Once the Defence Ministry took a decision and requested an investigating agency like the CBI or the Delhi Police to probe the matter, the Home Ministry would come into the picture.
  • The prosecution sanction under OSA is given by the Home Ministry, whereas the decision to invoke OSA is that of the investigating agency.

Official Secrets Act 1923

  • The Official Secrets Act 1923 is India’s anti espionage (Spy” and “Secret agent”) act held over from British colonisation.
  • It states clearly that any action which involves helping an enemy state against India.
  • It also states that one cannot approach, inspect, or even pass over a prohibited government site or area.
  • According to this Act, helping the enemy state can be in the form of communicating a sketch, plan, model of an official secret, or of official codes or passwords, to the enemy.
  • The disclosure of any information that is likely to affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, or friendly relations with foreign States, is punishable by this act.

For details on official secrets act click here official secrets act explained

Two years on, Modi manifesto scores 70/100

  • The Narendra Modi Government has fulfilled 18 per cent of the promises the BJP made in its election manifesto, and work is in progress on 52 per cent, going by the numbers.
  • That finding comes from ‘Kulhar’, an organisation founded by Mr. Kush Sharma, who has been a researcher with both the BJP and the Congress.
  • All 246 promises listed in the Highlights of BJP’s Manifesto for 2014 General Elections were analysed, and
  • Only official sources such as annual reports, parliamentary questions and RTI replies were used for the research
  • As a manifesto is framed for five years, this analysis gives a snapshot of the status of the commitments after two years. The time frame for execution has not been taken into consideration.
  • The 35 promises that have been rated as ‘fulfilled’ include
    • launch of a Skill Development Mission and
    • boost to entrepreneurship via programmes like ‘Start-up India’.
    • Initiatives have been launched to promote participatory governance and crowdsourcing of ideas from citizens on important policy issues via http://www.mygov.in.
    • Improving upon previous programmes, a new farm insurance scheme was launched to take care of crop loss due to natural calamities.
    • Also, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy revised the target of National Solar Mission upward five times to create a capacity of 1 lakh MW solar power by 2022.
  • Another 104 promises (52 per cent) have been taken up.
    • These include the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which aims to make the country open defecation free by 2019.
    • Further, the Goods and Services Tax Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha (and is pending in the Rajya Sabha) to simplify the indirect tax regime.
    • Work is on to provide broadband connectivity in every village, interlink police stations under the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS) project and create 100 smart cities.
  • But no substantial work has been done on 57 promises (30 per cent)
    • These include reservation for women in Parliament and Assemblies,
    • fellowships and internships for youth to contribute to governance and
    • framing of a national plan on the Maoist insurgency.
    • Also, fast track courts have not been extended to all levels of the judiciary and the number of judges and courts has not been doubled, as promised.
    • The BJP also ‘broke the promise’ of providing 50 per cent profit in the Minimum Support Price to farmers. After coming to power, they refused to act on this, stating that doing so could distort the market.

North-east may get resource centre

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi hinted at the possibility of upgrading the North Eastern Council (NEC) as a state-of-the-art resource centre capable of meeting the aspirations of the people at the NEC’s plenary session. The Governors and Chief Ministers of all north-eastern States attended the two-day 65th session.
  • The NEC was established in 1972 to act as a platform for development initiatives in the region. “Perhaps, there is a need to re-orient and upgrade the NEC
  • It could enable the States and the implementing agencies to properly plan and execute projects, promote research and innovations and provide strategic policy vision for the region.
  • He also dedicated to the nation the Doppler Weather Radar at Cherrapunji.

Tight norms soon for journal publications

  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) has set up a committee to prepare an exhaustive list of journals in which academics must publish if they want their publications to earn them points in the Academic Performance Indicators (API) system.
  • Headed by V.S. Chauhan of the UGC, the committee is expected to finalise the draft list in about six weeks
  • The API system awards points — these are counted for promotion as also while applying for teaching jobs — for publications, which are seen as a sign of an academic being active in research.
  • The Committee is in the process of consulting experts from a range of organisations like the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, etc., to draft its list comprehensively.
  • Experts in social sciences and other fields are also being consulted.
  • The step follows the widespread perception that many teachers in colleges and universities were claiming points for research published in sub-standard journals.
  • As per the UGC’s recent notification,
    • a person gets 30 points for publishing a book brought out by an international publisher,
    • 20 for a book brought out by a national publisher,
    • 15 points for publishing an article in a refereed journal and
    • 10 points for an article in other reputed journals.

IAF test-fires land-attack version of BrahMos

  • The Indian Air Force successfully test-fired a land-attack version of the supersonic cruise missile, BrahMos, in the western sector.

BRAHMOS missile system

  • A missile is an intelligent unmanned rocket designed to carry a payload to a designated point with an aim of destroying the object or target
  • Missiles have four system components: targeting and/or missile guidance, flight system, engine, and warhead.brahmos_infograf
  • BRAHMOS is a two stage missile
    • solid propellant booster engine as first stage which brings it to supersonic speed and then gets seperated
    • the liquid ramjet or second stage then takes the missile closer to 3 Mach speed in cruise phase
  • flight range- upto 290 km with supersonic speed all through
    • shorter flight time
    • therefore lower dispersion of tragets, quicker engagement time and non interception by any known weapon system in the world
  • operates on fire and forget principlecruisin altitude 15km and terminal as low as 10 m
  • conventional warhead 200 to 300 kgs
  • Universal for multiple platforms
  • low radar signature

Land attack version – flight trial

  • The flight-trial which took place in a firing range, met its mission parameters. The missile destroyed a designated target.
  • Its accuracy in mountain warfare mode was re-established during a campaign by the Army in the eastern sector last year and repeated last month.
  • The missile system has empowered all the three wings of the armed forces with anti-ship and land-attack capability
  • This brings to light that the IAF too has been equipped with the land-attack version of BrahMos, which flies at a supersonic speed of Mach 3 (that is, three times the speed of sound). The Navy and the Army have already deployed the missile
  • The IAF had deployed the missile in the border areas to take out the enemy’s communication towers, runways, and radar in case of a conflict, the sources said.
  • The IAF is preparing to fire the air version of BrahMos from its Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft in the coming weeks

RTI gets a memorial in Rajasthan

  • A unique memorial celebrating the Right to Information has come up in the Beawar town of Rajasthan where the RTI movement had started 20 years ago
  • Its ironic that the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the State has opted to delete chapters on the evolution of RTI campaign and law from its school textbooks.
  • Hundreds of people from all walks of life, who gathered at Chang Gate in Beawar on Thursday night to commemorate the historic 40-day dharna of 1996 for RTI, witnessed unveiling of the aesthetically-built memorial and demanded restoration of chapters dealing with common people’s contribution to RTI in the textbooks.
  • The dark blue memorial, is perhaps the only structure of its kind in the country, giving recognition to peasants and labourers who launched the campaign for their right to know about the way the government functioned and spent the public money.

40-day dharna

  • organised by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) at Chang Gate.
  • The dharna, which lasted 40 days, went on to become a movement for transparency, accountability and participatory democracy and led to the establishment of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI).
  • The movement forced the Rajasthan government to pass the State RTI Act in 2000, after which Parliament enacted the RTI Act in 2005.

Roanu brings cheer to paddy farmers in Krishna

  • The recent cyclone Roanu has brought cheer to the farmers in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh.
  • The land preparation works for the kharif season are in full swing across the district. Farmers are gearing to raise paddy nurseries anticipating the next spell of rain.
  • Farmers are keen on raising nurseries instead of preferring direct sowing of paddy, expecting good amount of rainfall in time for the kharif.
  • Agriculture Department sources say that normally 2.55 lakh hectares comes under paddy cultivation. In 2015 kharif, paddy was sown on 2.5 lakh hectares only owing to untimely rains.

Chhattisgarh tribals use art to document encounter killings

  • Villagers in the heavily militarised areas of south Chhattisgarh have embraced the traditional Gond art to document fake encounters that are not uncommon in that part of India.
  • The last moments of Gond tribals, as they are killed by the security forces, are narrated on stone plaques called Mritak Sthamv. Kamal Shukla, a writer-journalist from south Chhattisgarh who has documented such plaques, says he never came across such unique storytelling earlier.
  • The tribals often put up a stone or two to mark the passing away of a member in the village. The plaques (not headstones) are not placed in the burial grounds like in organised religion but mostly in an open space near the village and coloured with pigments extracted from trees. But of late, the villagers are documenting encounter killings on plaques.

Sulenga plaque

  • The plaque in Sulenga village in Bijapur district in Bastar Division is named after its resident Hedma Ram, who was killed on February 4. His name is painted at the top of the plaque. The upper panel shows a man, presumably Mr. Ram, resting while cattle graze around. He then gets surrounded by armed men in the second panel. The third panel, at the bottom of the plaque, shows Mr. Ram’s body being “dragged by the police”, with many animals witnessing the encounter.

Partial stay on green tribunal directive

NGT directive asking Kerala government not to permit automobiles older than 10 years will stand

  • Much to the relief of vehicle manufacturers, the Kerala High Court  stayed for two months a directive of the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) Kochi Special Circuit Bench to the State government not to allow registration of new diesel vehicles of 2,000 cc and above.
  • However, the other directive of the tribunal to the government not to permit diesel vehicles older than 10 years in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kochi, Thrissur, Kozhikode, and Kannur cities will stand.
  • The court observed that a close reading of the tribunal’s order indicated that the applicant before the tribunal had never contemplated such an order.

Study on pollution

  • The Lawyers Environmental Awareness Forum, the applicant before the tribunal, had not even sought an interim order of this nature. It was also seen that the order was passed at the time of admission of the application.
  • The application by the forum sought only a final order after a detailed study of the quality and standard of pollution in the State through the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
  • The court also observed that even assuming that the grievance of the applicant before the NGT related to environmental pollution in the State, there was absolutely no data available before the tribunal to pass such an order, which would affect commercial activities of the State as also the use of various public service vehicles.

An effort to break the language barrier for students

  • In a multi-lingual and multi-cultural country like India, the lack of knowledge of a particular language for a student often becomes an impediment to his or her learning and know-how of a subject or culture. However, those days could soon be past as students will now have the resources to read any language in any script through any language interface.
  • Moreover, now they will also be able to search for one language text in another language as well as get meanings in different languages. Learning new languages, through cross-lingual grammar books and transliteration will also become a much easier process.
  • All this becomes possible with the multilingual ‘Bharatavani’ portal and app, which were recently launched by Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani
  • The Central Institute of Indian Languages at Mysuru will implement the project for the MHRD.
  • The first knowledge portal of its kind in India, which focusses on becoming a single-point source for multiple language learning content and technology, www.bharatavani.in is being termed as a treasure trove of knowledge and India’s indigenous cultures.
  • The project is in line with the Ministry’s “efforts to not only ensure universalisation of education but also towards creation of a knowledge society in a digital age.”
  • The project aims at fostering national integration. Its goal is to “bring together the people under one portal, to bridge the digital and language divide, with the idea to publish and involve people in the Open Knowledge movement

For details about the project click here Bharatavani project

Draft Juvenile Justice Act 2015 

  • The rules released by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi prescribe detailed child-friendly procedures for the police and the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) and Children’s court to deal with children in conflict with law.
  • The rules were drafted by a multi-disciplinary committee comprising a senior judge and advocates, members of Juvenile Justice Board and Child Welfare Committee, representatives of State governments, mental health experts and civil society members.
  • According to the draft rules,No child between 16 and 18 years of age in conflict with law will be handcuffed or sent to jail or lock-up, according to the draft rules of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015
  • proper medical and legal aid will be provided to juvenile criminals, and their parents and guardians will be duly informed.
  • The Board and the Children’s Court are to adhere to the principle of the best interest of the child and the objective of rehabilitation and reintegration of the child in the society
  • According to the rules, every State government is required to set up at least one ‘place of safety’ for the rehabilitation of such children. The rules prescribe extensive services to be provided to such children.
  • Several new offences against children have also been included in the Act such as sale and procurement of children for any purpose, corporal punishment in child care institutions, use of children by militant or adult groups, giving children liquor or narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances or tobacco products.
  • It also prescribes detailed procedures for determination of age.
  • The JJB or the Juvenile Justice Committee will determine the age of the child within 30 days from the date of submission of application

Cabinet clears Bills to expand ST list; nod for six IITs

  • The Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared the introduction of two Bills in Parliament to add some communities to the list of the Scheduled Tribes for Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Tripura. The following will be included in the Scheduled Tribes’ list after Parliament passes these Bills.
    • Malayali Gounder, Narikoravan and Kurivikkaran in Tamil Nadu;
    • Irular in Puducherry;
    • Boro, Boro Kachari, Bodo, Bodo Kachari and Karbi in Assam;
    • Bhuinya, Bhuiyan, Bhuyan, Kisan, Saunra, Saonra and Dhangad in Chhattisgarh;
    • Bhogta, Deshwari, Ganjhu, Dautalbandi (Dwalbandi), Patbandi, Raut, Maajhia, Khairi (Kheri) and Puran in Jharkhand and
    • Darlong in Tripura
  • They will be entitled to benefits available to STs, including reservations and various scholarships, etc.

Six IITs to come up

  • Six new Indian Institutes of Technology will soon come up at Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), Palakkad (Kerala), Dharwar (Karnataka), Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), Goa, and Jammu (Jammu and Kashmir). ISM Dhanbad will be converted into an IIT under the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961.
  • The decision was taken at the Cabinet meeting. It granted ex-post facto approval to the amendment to the Act.
  • The decision will bring six new IITs within the ambit of the Act, making them institutions of national importance, said a release.

India fifth largest producer of e-waste: Study

The study said 

  • India has emerged as the second largest mobile market with 1.03 billion subscribers, but also the fifth largest producer of e-waste in the world
  • discarding roughly 18.5 lakh metric tonnes of electronic waste each year
  • with telecom equipment alone accounting for 12 per cent of the e-waste

What has been done

  • e-waste management rules, 2016
    • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has notified e-waste management rules, 2016, in which producers are for the first time covered under extended producers’ responsibility (EPR).
    • The rules prescribe a waste collection target of 30 per cent waste generated under EPR for the first two years, progressively going up to 70 per cent in the seventh year of the rule.
    • The rules prescribe stringent financial penalties for non-compliance. .
  • Given the huge user base and vast reach of telecom in India, it is practically difficult and expensive for the handset manufacturers to achieve the targets prescribed in the rules from first year, the study said.
  • Further, the study said the unorganised sector in India is estimated to handle around 95 per cent of the e-waste produced in the country

What needs to be done instead

  • It is suggested that electronic waste collection targets are implemented in a phased manner with lower and practically achievable target limits.
  • Also, detailed implementation procedures for collection of electronic waste from the market need to be followed

Monsoon cheer as Australia signals end of El Nino

  • Australia’s weather bureau
    • said the withering El Nino had ended.
    • The El Nino this time was among the strongest in history and responsible for two years of consecutive droughts and record summer temperatures in India
    • Changes in the tropical Pacific Ocean and atmosphere, combined with current climate model outlooks, suggest the likelihood of La Niña forming later in 2016 is around 50%
  • Private weather agency Skymet
    •  expected all of the monsoon months, except June, to record rains well above what’s usual and would translate into gains for agriculture.
  • According to the IMD’s latest update
    • the monsoon is likely to set in on June 7 over Kerala. This was partly due to a depression in the Bay of Bengal that morphed into cyclone Roanu and brought heavy rains to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and killed at least 20 in Bangladesh.
    • The monsoon-rain-bearing systems were yet to gain enough force to coast over India and though the El Nino was gone, it would take some time for its effect to spill over into the atmosphere and aid the monsoon
    • While that bodes well for the monsoon, weather officials in India said this could also be a precursor to floods during August and September and monsoon possibly spilling over to October.

El nino and La nina

  • Typically, an El Nino — marked by above-average temperatures in the Pacific — that begins to cool is followed by a neutral phase before transitioning into La Nina, a phenomenon of below-normal temperatures. The latter brings heavy rain over India.
  • La Nina is a converse phenomenon of below-normal temperatures in the same region. The latter brings heavy rain over India.

El Nino Diagram with textel nino

Potassium bromate found in bread –  a carcinogen

  • A study done by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) recently found cancer-causing chemicals in bread samples of virtually all top brands 
  • Nearly 84 percent of 38 commonly available brands of pre-packaged breads including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate,
  • These are banned in many countries as they are listed as “hazardous” for public health
  • Union Health Minister has asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to take the issue of carcinogenic chemicals in bread seriously and submit a report at the earliest.
  • The bread samples which were tested included brands such as Britannia, Harvest Gold and the fast food chains – KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Subway, McDonald’s and Slice of Italy.

But what are these chemicals which are the cause of this sudden panic in the country?

  • Potassium bromate
    • According to CSE, its a chemical which is classified as a category 2B carcinogen (something possibly carcinogenic to human beings).
    • It is a powerful oxidising agent which makes the bread fluffy, soft and gives it a good finish.
    • Under the perfect baking conditions, potassium bromate converts into bromide, a harmless chemical. But this does not happen in practice, the report added.
    • A 1982 research from Japan stated that it could also cause cancer in rats and mice. Another report said that studies revealed that potassium bromate was a “genotoxic carcinogen”, which is a chemical agent that damages genetic information and hence causes mutations.
    • The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said that a person may require medical attention if he or she is exposed to potassium bromate through the skin or eyes or if the person ingests it.
  • Potassium iodate (KIO3)
    • is a chemical which can contribute to thyroid-related diseases.
    • The CSE report further said that the use of potassium iodate as a flour treatment agent in bread could lead to higher consumption of iodine.
    • The European Food Safety Agency, in its scientific opinion of 2014, said that the chronic excessive iodine consumption “may accelerate the development of sub-clinical thyroid disorders to overt hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, increase the incidence of autoimmune thyroiditis and increase the risk of thyroid cancer.”

Flipside of the argument

  • However, the report in The Hindu also said that potassium bromate was “in the same league” as coffee, aloe vera, mobile phone radiation and carbon black (which is an ingredient in eye-liner).
  • It further said that the chemical is actually less toxic than processed and red meat according the list of agents deemed potentially cancerous by the International Agency For Research on Cancer (IARC) — a World Health Organisation body.
  • International Agency For Research on Cancer (IARC)
    • The intergovernmental agency’s periodic reviews play a critical role in determining national decisions to ban or regulate the use of certain substances and often make news when it pronounces judgment on the carcinogenic potential of agents such as coffee and the use of wifi.
    • The CSE referenced the IARC’s classification of potassium bromate to bolster its claim.
    • In its nearly four decades of existence, the IARC has evaluated 989 agents for their association with cancer.
    • Based on the quantity and quality of scientific evidence that is available through peer-reviewed literature and documented reports on the risk of cancer, the IARC follows a five-step grading scheme, the highest of which is Grade 1, or substances that are proven to cause cancer in humans, and the lowest at Grade 4 where there is definite proof that there is no link to cancer.
    • There are grades 2A and 2B which include potassium bromate and coffee that differentiates between agents ‘probably’ and ‘possibly’ associated with cancer. These grades makes up the bulk — 791 — of the agents that have so far been tested by the IARC.
    • There are 118 agents classed in Grade 1 and only one, caprolactam, listed as ‘probably not cancerous.’
    • It differentiated between ‘risk’ and ‘hazard,’ where a hazard reflected how often a substance had been linked to cancer in humans and animals, and ‘risk’ indicating the probability of someone contracting cancer by exposure.
    • IARC doesn’t do risk assessment. The types of exposures, the extent of risk, the people who may be at risk, and the cancer types linked with the agent can be very different across agents. Therefore, comparisons within a category can be misleading. IARC would be revisiting in June reports of links between cancer and coffee.
    • Active smoking, according to the IARC’s primer on interpreting cancer categories, carried a much higher risk of lung cancer than air pollution, although both are categorised in Group 1.
  • India by-and-large followed international regulations to decide whether to ban agents, there were instances of products allowed in India and disallowed abroad. Aloe vera is allowed as per our regulations [for skin products]) but internationally there have been [cancer] concerns over it

ISRO to test rocket that takes its fuel from air

  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to test an air-breathing propulsion system
  • The mission to test the technology would be launched either in the last week of June or early July from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota. The mission would be on a sounding rocket

Air-breathing propulsion system

  • Generally, vehicles used to launch satellites into space use combustion of propellants with oxidiser and fuel.
  • Air breathing propulsion system aims at use oxygen present in the atmosphere up to 50 km from the earth’s surface to burn the fuel stored in the rocket.
  • ISRO is now evolving and testing various technologies to bring down the cost of launch vehicles. The national space agency had earlier developed rockets that can send multiple satellites in a single mission.

Advantages

  • This system, when implemented, would help in reducing the lift-off mass of the vehicle since liquefied oxygen need not be carried on board the vehicle.
  • This would also help increasing the efficiency of the rocket and also make it cost-effective
  • The new propulsion system, once mastered, would complement ISRO’s aim to develop a reusable launch vehicle, which would have longer flight duration.
    • The system, involving the scramjet engine, would become crucial while sending up the spacecraft.
    • According to ISRO, the Dual Mode Ramjet (DMRJ), the ramjet-scramjet combination, is currently under development, which will operate during the crucial Mach 3 to Mach 9 ascend flight of the launch vehicle.

Air pollution levels up by 8%: U.N. report

  • The UNEA report is called  “Actions on Air Quality”
  • The United Nations Environment Assembly, reckoned to be the global environment parliament, is meeting at the UNEP headquarters at Nairobi for the second time with the broad agenda of implementation of the 2030 sustainable development goals that were adopted by the member nations in 2015.
  • It said the declining air quality across the globe was threatening to add to the seven million air pollution deaths across the world in what was described as a ‘’global public health emergency.”
  • The report comes close on the heels of World Health Organisation (WHO) findings which listed 13 of India’s cities among the world’s top 20 polluted cities.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner spoke of “reclaiming our air’’ as more and more people around the world are affected by air pollution and the negative health affects.
  • More than 80 per cent of the people live in urban areas and are exposed to quality pollutants that that exceed the WHO limits which has a bearing on lives, productivity and the economy of the countries concerned, according to the report.
  • The cost of reducing air pollution in 2010 for India was pegged at $0.5 trillion and $1.4 trillion for China.
  • However, on an optimistic note, the report said there have been improvements in access to cleaner cooking fuels and efforts point to a growing momentum for change.

India’s status

  • Positives
    • A snapshot on the actions on air quality taken by countries across different regions saw India figure high among those with stringent air quality laws and regulations
    • India was ranked among countries where major investments have been made in public transport in the last 5 years
    • India with major air quality challenges in many cities has established air quality laws besides regulation and implementation strategies for them
  • Negatives
    • But it was also among those countries where burning of both agricultural and municipal wastes is not regulated and commonly practiced.
    • It also figures among nations with neither low sulphur fuels (50 ppm) nor advanced vehicle emission standards, highlighting the dichotomy between intent and ground action.
  • This underlined the glaring gap between expression of intent and the ground that needs to be covered in implementing the policies.

Centre relaxes norms on higher education

  • The government has issued a new set of regulations for college and university teachers and doctoral students

New guidelines

  • While earlier, the weekly teaching workload was 16, 14 and 14 hours for assistant professors, associate professors and professors, these are now 18, 16 and 14 hours, respectively.The two hours’ increase in teaching workload at these two levels are in the form of an advisory to help students with special needs. They will not be counted in API scores
  • A new set of regulations has capped the time period allowed for completion of Ph.D. to six years
  • The minimum permissible duration will be three years. Similarly, the M.Phil. course would have to vary from a minimum of one year to a maximum of two.
  • There is, however, a relaxation of two years for women pursuing research leading to a Ph.D. and one year for M.Phil. The relaxation would also apply to candidates with more than 40 per cent disability.

NEET breather for States as President signs ordinance

  • President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test ordinance
  • The Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Ordinance, 2016, and The Dentists (Amendment) Ordinance, 2016, are being promulgated to amend the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, and Dentists Act, 1948, respectively to make way for a uniform entrance examination for UG and PG courses
  • It comes with a stipulation that for the 2016-17 academic session, the States can opt to conduct their own examinations for UG courses.
  • However, all management quota seats shall be filled by the private colleges and deemed universities through the NEET examination only.
  • The purpose of the ordinance is to provide a firm statutory status to the concept of Uniform Entrance Examination for all UG and PG admissions, while providing a relaxation to the State governments in relation to only UG admissions for this year [2016-17] in view of their difficulties
  • The ordinance was required because the Supreme Court was on vacation and both Houses of Parliament had adjourned sine die on May 13.
  • The ordinance came after pressure from State governments, which had opposed NEET on the grounds of disparity of syllabus and differences in regional languages.

Govt. for raising EPFO investment in stocks

  • Labour Minister hinted at increasing EPFO’s investment in exchange traded funds for this fiscal.
  • However, he did not specify the quantum of increase in investments
  • Last fiscal 5 per cent of its investible deposits are parked in exchange traded funds.

Oil price recovery

  • The sudden recovery in global oil prices in recent weeks deserves attention.
  • India has been a major beneficiary of the collapse in global oil prices since end-2014.
  • Lower energy prices have helped bring down inflation, the current account deficit and the subsidy bill.
  • From a low of $ 24.03 per dollar reached on January 20, the average cost of crude imported by Indian refiners has now climbed to $ 45.51.
  • As the government enters its third year, the comfort from cheap oil may well be a thing of the past.

The cushioning effect

  • Against Inflation that would normally have accompanied two consecutive years of drought.
  • Helped halve the value of India’s oil imports from $ 164.77 billion in 2013-14 to $ 82.66 billion in 2015-16 and,
  • In turn, reduce its current account deficit from a peak of $ 88.16 billion in 2012-13 to an estimated $ 20 billion in the fiscal gone by.
  • The government, wisely perhaps, did not fully pass on the gains from lower international oil prices to consumers. Instead, in the last two years, it has raised the specific excise duty on diesel from Rs 3.56 to Rs 17.33 a litre and that on petrol from Rs 9.48 to Rs 21.48 a litre. The additional revenues from this alone, taking annual consumption of 8.8 crore kilo-litres of diesel and 3 crore kilo-litres of petrol, works out to over Rs 157,000 crore.
  • Previously, oil marketing companies were losing money on sales of most petro-products. The “under-recoveries” from these — the burden of which had to significantly be borne by the Centre, either directly as subsidy or as lower dividends from national oil companies — amounted to Rs 143,738 crore in 2013-14 and a mere Rs 27,571 crore last fiscal.

Consequence of rise

  • The Centre’s overall yearly fiscal windfall from the global oil crash would, thus, be upwards of Rs 250,000 crore.
  • If crude were to cross the $ 50/barrel mark, there is the possibility of pressures on all three fronts — inflation, current account and fiscal — returning.
  • A good monsoon can, of course, mitigate the first risk; this would be the reverse of the “good luck” from oil neutralising the “bad luck” from drought in the first two years of the Modi government. .

Largest gene database of Indians soon

  • In a move to create one of the largest repositories of Indian genomes, Bangalore-based Medgenome has teamed up with a Southeast Asian consortium that has committed to sequence 100,000 Asian genomes. Were it to work to plan, this could mean a consolidated storehouse of at least 30,000 Indian genomes and could help understand the wide genetic variety in India’s various ethnic groups and midwife customised medications for cancer and heart disease, as well as identify possible new genetic aberrations that cause untreatable diseases.
  • Ever since the human genome was first sequenced in 2003, that is the entire DNA pattern in the cell that lends people their unique identity was deciphered, several countries have announced initiatives to map genomes of their resident populations.
  • The so-called 1000 Genomes project is a collection of gene samples from across the world to capture the variety of genes that are typical to different population groups. The United Kingdom announced a plan in 2014 to create a bank of 100,000 genomes in the nation and 100,000 Asia genomes project — called GenomeAsia 100K — echoes similar ambitions. Indian populations are greatly neglected in such database
  • The project will develop in phases with an initial 1000 genomes, consisting of India and East Asian populations, sequenced within this year, and the entire database to be ready by 2020. Medgenome already has a bank of 200 Indian genomes.
  • $120 million project
  • Though human genome sequencing is a frontier area of biotechnology, it was prohibitively expensive. Technology advancement has made prices dramatically drop, enabling several companies to offer genome sequencing services.
  • Experts however say that while the cost of sequencing has fallen, it is the analysis of genes that adds value, and that would mean being able to access and compare huge datasets.
  • While many diseases are linked to genes going awry, afflictions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc., are usually the result of several genes malfunctioning, and often in a domino-like effect. Identifying such culprits is impossible without comparing genes, across individuals and population groups, in large numbers. Thus BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 — genes associated with breast cancer — are found in as many as one-third of women. Several of them go on to live without ever contracting the cancer. These genes come in several varieties that can vary on the level of families as well as ethnicities. Genome sequence studies are effective in studying such variations.

International Buddha Poornima Diwas 2016

  • Buddha Purnima or Vesak is regarded as the thrice-sacred day that celebrates three momentous events in Buddha’s life namely
  1. Buddha’s birth – Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha in Lumbini in present day Nepal
  2. sambodhiprapti – He attained sambodhiprapti in Bodhgaya in Bihar,
  3. mahaparinirvana – mahaparinirvana in Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh.
  • UN recognizes the importance of this day. The UN Day of Vesak Celebration is internationally a cultural and humanistic festival of the United Nations International Organizing Committee. The established process of this celebration commenced in year 2000.
  • To mark this most auspicious occasion, various Buddhist bodies and organizations of India have come together under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture in collaboration the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) to commemorate and celebrate the day in a grand manner.
  • “Vesak Samman Prashasti Patra-2016” awards were presented in recognition of outstanding contribution to the preservation, development and promotion of Indian arts and culture, and promotion and dissemination of Buddhist studies.

Significance for India

  • India is the land of the origin of Buddha dharma, and home to three of the four holiest Buddhist sites, namely Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar, and numerous others connected with Buddha’s life and thereafter.
  • Out of Eight Sacred places of Buddhism, Seven places are situated in India. Ministry of Tourism has launched a programme namely “Swadesh Darshan” which has a special component of “Buddhist Circuit” which connects all religious places of Buddhism very conveniently.
  • India is home to sacred Buddha Relics currently housed in museums. These relics are objects of veneration, and need to be consecrated in a sanctified manner. One such initiative is the proposed construction of a Grand Relic Vihara for the Buddha Relic found at Devni Mori in Gujarat.
  • India is also the repository of ancient knowledge and spiritual wisdom. People from all over the world come to India to seek and learn its spiritual traditions. India can therefore look forward to reviving its preeminent status as the spiritual leader of the world.

Three rail connectivity projects awarded under Sagarmala

  • Three rail connectivity projects under the Ministry of Shipping’s flagship programe ‘Sagarmala’, have been awarded by Indian Port Rail Company Limited (IPRCL). These projects will help to increase connectivity and efficiency of ports. The port wise details of the connectivity projects are:
  1. Visakhapatanam Port Trust: providing direct connectivity between OEC and Western Sector joining at NAD curve from Eastern Coast Railways.
  2. Visakhapatanam Port Trust: connecting the dead end line at North of R&D yard to Eastern Grid (third line) from Eastern Coast Railways Chennai Port Trust: The third connectivity project that has been approved by IPRCL is the laying of new railway track at west of western yard 1 and providing paving block platform in between new track and western yard 1. The overall cost of this project is 12.68 crores and the work is expected to be completed by April, 2017.
  • IPCRL is also working towards executing 18 more port connectivity projects. All these projects will help in better port connectivity and quick evacuation of cargo

The Sagarmala initiative will address challenges by focusing on three pillars of development,

  1. Supporting and enabling Port-led Development through appropriate policy and institutional interventions and providing for an institutional framework for ensuring inter-agency and ministries/departments/states’ collaboration for integrated development,
  2. Port Infrastructure Enhancement, including modernization and setting up of new ports,
  3. Efficient Evacuation to and from hinterland.

For details on Sagarmala initiative click here

125th Birth Anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

  • Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Badshah Khan or the Frontier Gandhi, was among those truly distinguished leaders, who led the people in an epic struggle against British imperialism.
  • He was a deeply religious man, committed social reformer, passionate advocator of Pashto language, believer in the unity of India and above all a staunch Gandhian. He was awarded Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award in 1987.
  • Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a staunch nationalist and a pluralist to the core. He never accepted the two nation theory and strongly opposed the partition of India. He advocated the unity among the Hindus and Muslims as one nation.
  • Badshah Khan was of the opinion that when various constitutional formulas failed against the Partition Plan and a Referendum was recommended in the Frontier provinces to decide whether it should join the latter or the former, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was stunned at this decision.
  • Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, being a socio-religious reformer to the core, realized that the lack of proper education let the Pakhtuns go astray. He wanted to unite all the tribes of Pakhtuns, educate them and reform the Pakhtun society, and eventually he succeeded in his goal to a great extent.

Indigenously developed fecal incontinence management system ‘Qora’ launched

  • Aimed to train the next generation of medical technology innovators in India to develop innovative and affordable medical devices to augment unmet clinical needs of India, an innovative medical device has been developed under Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science & Technology supported Bio design Programme by M/s. Consure Medical, New Delhi.
  • A spin-off from the Program Bio design is a Med-Tech innovation Program of DBT.
  • This Program is implemented at AIIMS and IIT, Delhi in collaboration with International partners such as Stanford University, USA, Queensland University of Technology, Australia and Tottori University and Japan.
  • Fecal incontinence (FI) is a medical condition marked by inability to control one’s bowel movements, causing stool (feces) to leak unexpectedly from the rectum. It affects nearly 100 million bed ridden patients worldwide. Furthermore, about 50% of the psychiatric ward patients have FI due to long-term neurological diseases. Absorbent pads and fecal drainage catheters are the only available solutions for this condition a need for a better solution was felt by the team.
  • M/s. Consure Medical has developed this novel technology ‘Fecal Incontinence Management System-Qora’ to address the clinical and economical implications of fecal incontinence by expanding indications for use, reducing skill level required to use a device, and introducing a new level of care for patients outside the ICU. The product was clinically validated at AIIMS, New Delhi.
  • After nearly two years of intense development, the Consure Medical has developed the QoraTM Stool Management Kit, the world’s first FDA 510(k) approved indwelling fecal drainage device for the management of fecal incontinence that can be used across a continuum of care facilities from ICUs to nursing homes. In select markets like India, caretakers of bedridden patients at home can use the device.
  • The intellectual property for the company’s core QoraTM technology under DBT’s ownership has been granted in key markets, including US, EU, Canada, Singapore, Australia, and Japan. As a result of its elegant and versatile design, the QoraTM technology has the potential to expand globally and benefit more than 100 million fecal incontinent patients each year.

Bank consolidation

  • India’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) formally started merger of 5 associative banks and Bharatiya Mahila Bank with itself. The merged entity will have India’s one-fourth of the deposit and loan market.
  • Post-consolidation, SBI’s market share will increase from 17 per cent to 22.5-23 per cent, while the total business of the merged entity will be over 35 lakh crore rupees.

Against this backdrop, it is pertinent to analyse pros and cons of consolidation in the Indian banking sector.

Bank consolidation background

  • Last year we saw two new banks, IDFC and Bandhan Bank. 20 more new banks, 10 small banks and 10 payments banks will come up
  • then in this credit policy in April the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) said that it would again explore the possibilities of giving differentiated banking, whole sale banks, custodian banks.
  • It is complicated as on the one hand we say that we need more banks, different kinds of banks and on the other hand we say we need consolidation
  • particularly this time the trigger for consolidation is the high NPAs (non preforming assets) which is eroding, not the net worth but the profitability of many of the PSU (public sector undertaking) banks and the government of India is under pressure to capitalise… so in some sense that the trigger that how long can we keep on capitalising the banks.

Arguments in favour of consolidation

  • At present, there are a total of 27 public sector banks (PSBs) in the country. Apart from the SBI, all the remaining banks are regional banks. Hence, consolidation helps in leveraging the benefits of economies of scale.
  • India is the fastest growing major economy in the world. To sustain this growth, there is a need for mega banks that only will ensure investments into the large scale infrastructure projects.
  • Cost rationalisation – Consolidation would result in cutting down branches, particularly in urban areas where there are too many branches of different banks in a same area.
  • Other benefits – Risk diversification, scale and specialization would increase, improves ratings.
  • Banking sector is suffering from non performing assets (NPAs) problem. To overcome this, the government is resorting to capital infusion. Consolidation will increase capital efficiency, apart from improving the ability of banks to recover bad loans.
  • Consolidation will help in leveraging the synergies among the banks that have diverse portfolios, focus areas and coverage areas.
  • At present, there is not a single Indian bank in the top 50 global banks list. The consolidation is expected to fill this gap, and, consequently, help build the ‘Brand India’ among international investors.
  • As the government is the only common owner of all the PSBs, the process of consolidation is much easier and effortless.
  • Indian companies are going global. Now we are home to many multinational companies that have presence in various sectors of the economy. Again this context, big-ticket Indian banks are the most proper platforms to deliver financial services to them.
  • International experience is also favourable towards consolidation. Banks in Japan gained a lot as a result of large scale merger and acquisition process between 1990 and 2004.

Arguments against consolidation

  • Experts argue that consolidation should take place in a positive environment. The present process of consolidation is not driven by the inherent strength of the banking system. It is resorted to escape from the problem of NPAs.
  • There are apprehensions among the labour unions that the consolidation will lead to job losses.
  • RBI has done an AQR (asset quality review) and it has proposed that balance sheets will get cleaned up by March 2017. Post 2017 (after balance sheets get cleaned up), on the basis of mutual consent by all stakeholders this model can be adopted.
  • There are risks of creating giant banks Global experience since 2008 has shown that large banks are not necessarily efficient banks.
  • For example, four of the five biggest global banks in terms of assets are now Chinese. Few see them as paragons of financial stability. There is good reason to believe that the large Chinese banks are far weaker than what the official numbers say. The US too has seen that large banks are not necessarily efficient banks.

Obstacles for successful consolidation

  • In PSU banks, the one will be cultural change—HR basically is the problem.
  • Compatibility—how we decide mergers. It should not be forced mergers.
  • There may be a few technology challenges.
  • Beyond this we have see if we are merging two branches, two banks or two anything –there will be a gestation period of 18-24 months and this is a distraction. For nearly 24 months, owners are putting a pause button on growth because the senior management time will get deflected to this. For those two years, there will be challenges. The time it takes and the distraction it bring to the senior level should be worth doing.
  • Integrating business processes. Processes in two banks are so different at times, it is very difficult to adjust and understand new systems and so on.
  • When bank portfolios are uniformly strained, as they are today, mergers can accentuate the strains. i.e., Merger of two or more banks which have strained balance sheets can lead to a collapse.
  •  At a time when PSBs need a razor focus on cleaning up credit portfolios, mergers will be very distracting and will bring the sector to a halt.
  •  It will likely reduce competition—and without any major efficiency gains to the economy as a whole.

If we in principle agree that we need consolidation, how do we approach this?

  • Need to look at complementarity. These are the building blocks for a successful consolidation process.
    • Look at branches as a factor. If one branch is in one place and the other one is in another region, it makes eminent sense to come together.
    • Then look at the businesses—some might have CASA (Current Accounts, Savings Accounts) others might have other businesses.
  • Need to look at the regionalisation and getting scale in a particular geography. Each merger or consolidation given that India is so layered is considered. We are a very inch-wide mile-deep kind of country as opposed to mile-wide and inch-deep kind of country. We can scale this up with a large regional bank.
  • There could be one geographical business based model. One bank could be aggressive in steel while other is aggressive in agriculture and so on. There could be 3-4 national level banks and then regional banks. We should have 3-4 national level banks, it will have all sorts of business presence to that, then there are regional banks, payments banks, they will continue on regional basis.

The key takeaway is that there are challenges of trade unions, technology, business model and HR. But we can overcome these, as none of this is unsurmountable. But there has to be a specific reason. There shouldn’t be a merger for merger’s sake or triggered by a sudden surge in bad assets. Will it be able to gain efficiency? Bring down costs? Serve our customers, etc. If the answer to all this is yes, then we should.

India planning ‘yoga’ visa

  • The government is planning to introduce a new category of visa to promote yoga, to help make India the world destination for yoga enthusiasts. The government is planning a ‘yoga’ visa ahead of the 2nd International Day of Yoga on June 21.
  • Currently, there are 18 types of visas which include diplomatic, mountaineering, employment, tourist, medical, student, research and conference, among others.
  • On India’s request, the United Nations had designated June 21 as the International Day of Yoga in 2014. The announcement came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly the same year.
  • Last year, the government accorded special status to yoga by categorising its promotion as a charitable activity, giving its promoters tax exemption benefits.

India lauded for Red Line Campaign on antibiotics

  • In its final report on tackling drug resistant infection released on May 19, the global Review on Antimicrobial Resistance — commissioned by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron in 2014 and chaired by economist Jim O’Neill — says India has led the way so far with its idea of a ‘Red Line Campaign’ for antibiotics packaging and should be considered as a starting point.
  • Common labelling standards of this type could become a condition of sale of antibiotics around the world,” the report notes
  • While stressing that convincing people to stop using antibiotics would not be effective unless they recognise antibiotics.
  • The report says laws prevent sale of antibiotics and other antimicrobials over-the-counter, but these may be weakly enforced in some countries and non-existent in many.
  • It says 20-30 per cent of antibiotics are consumed without prescription in south and east Europe, and up to 100 per cent in parts of Africa.
  • Ten million people could die by 2050 unless sweeping global changes are agreed to tackle increasing resistance to antibiotics, which can turn common ailments into killers, a report warned.
  • It needs to be seen as the economic and security threat that it is, and be at the forefront of the minds of heads of state
  • The overuse of antibiotics should be reduced by cutting the vast quantities of medicines given to farm animals, improving diagnoses to stop unnecessary prescriptions, and a global public awareness campaign, the paper urged

Red Line campaign

  • India’s Red Line campaign, launched in February this year, began marking prescription-only antibiotics with a red line to curb their irrational use and create awareness on the dangers of taking antibiotics without being prescribed.
  • It is still early in India to map the impact of the Red Line initiative, but experts see better awareness.
  • The government has backed it up with a communication campaign that says a Red Line medicine should not be taken without prescription

Innovative IT initiatives of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways

  1. ePACE (Projects Appraisal & Continuing Enhancements)
    • is an online integrated Management  Information System that brings projects from all wings of the  Ministry under a common platform,  ensuring  their effective and real time tracking.
    • The portal can be freely accessed by anybody, and information regarding projects in any particular state can be found at the click of a button.
    • The portal also allows for  validation checks to prevent wrongful entries, making it difficult to fudge figures. It has provision to obtain reports in multiple formats with graphical interface for round the clock monitoring.
    • It has also been provided with GIS interface to enable easy geo-tracking of the projects.
    • The application has a data export engine for feeding into other applications. The architecture of the application is scalable and customizable.
    • ePACE as a platform is amenable to be used for monitoring projects pertaining to any ministry in the country and can improve governance of such projects.
  2. INFRACON
    • is the National Portal for Infrastructure Consultancy Firms and Key Personnel.
    • This portal acts as a kind of bridge between consultancy firms working in the road engineering and construction sector and domain experts and key personnel who are deployed both for project preparation and supervision.
    • The portal hosts the credentials of consultancy firms and key personnel and has linkages to Aadhar and Digi-locker for data validation and purity.
    • 474 consultancy firms and 2387 key personnel under various categories are already registered with the portal.
    • In addition to this, agencies within the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, like the NHIDCL can  receive technical proposals through INFRACON. This leads to  a significant reduction of  paper work  during bid submissions and also brings in a lot of transparency and speed since the evaluation of technical bids can be done at the click of a button
  3. INAM PRO
    • a web-based application for Infrastructure and Material Providers.
    • It is a kind of a web based market place that brings together the material providers and the prospective buyers on a common platform. 
    • The platform was launched in March 2015 to facilitate contractors and cement buyers engaged in executing central/state funded roads and highways and bridge construction projects to place cement orders online with the registered cement companies offering cement at competitive rates in the vicinity of project execution locations.
    • Cement companies are facilitated to update their offered stocks and the prices on the portal.  They in turn get instant intimation about the orders placed and are able to approve the delivery schedules as requested by the cement buyers without hassles and delays.
    • This is helping cement companies plan their annual production in advance and schedule deliveries with better precision. Cement companies also have the facility to increase the cement stock offerings based on market demand and reduce prices to attract more buyers.
    • In addition, using INAM Pro, companies are able to track orders, add more products , add cement offerings, view listed buyers, and submit their complaints or suggestions to Ministry.
    • Similarly, buyers are able to view and track the orders placed with different companies and also submit their suggestions or complaints. With the help of INAM Pro, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is able to track and monitor the activities of buyers and suppliers, and remove impediments of both the parties
    • Given the success of INAM-PRO, other materials like steel and steel slag have also been brought on this platform so as to make this as a comprehensive e-market place for infrastructure providers.

Dairy sector

  • National Conference on Gauvansh / Gaushalas was held recently

Significance of dairy sector

  • Dairy provides livelihood to 60 million farmers. Out of this, two third are small, marginal and landless labourers. 75 million women are engaged in the sector as against 15 million men
  • During 2015-16, farmers produced 160.35 million tonnes of milk
  • At present, dairy sector is growing at the rate of 9.59 per year.

Indigenous breeds in detail

  • India has 18% of the world’s bovine population.
  • Cattle Genetic Resources have been evolved by the farmers/cattle rearers/breeders using traditional and scientific knowledge, and today we have 39 breeds of cattle.
  • Indigenous breeds are robust and resilient and are particularly suited to the climate and environment of their respective breeding tracts.
  • They are endowed with qualities of heat tolerance, resistance to diseases and the ability to thrive under extreme climates and low plane of nutrition.
  • Studies of impact of Climate Change and effect of temperature rise on milk production of dairy animals indicates that temperature rise due to global warming will negatively impact milk production. The decline in milk production and reproductive efficiency will be highest in exotic and crossbred cattle followed by buffaloes. Indigenous breeds will be least effected by global warming. In order to develop heat tolerant and disease resistant stock countries including United States of America, Brazil and Australia have imported our indigenous breeds.
  • The indigenous breeds of cows are known to produce A2 type protein rich milk
    • which protects us from various chronic health problems such as Cardio Vascular Diseases, Diabetes and neurological disorders besides providing several other health benefits.
    • Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries has sanctioned Rs. 2 cr each to Odisha and Karnataka for marketing of A2A2 rich Milk of our indigenous breeds.
  • Rastriya Gokul Mission
    • has been initiated under National Programme for Bovine Breeding and Dairy Development to take up development and conservation of indigenous breeds in a focused and scientific manner.
    • Under the Scheme 35 projects with an allocation of Rs. 582.09 cr has been sanctioned.
    • States have been granted permission to establish 14 Gokul Grams. 
    • funds have been sanctioned for strengthening of 35 bull mother farms of indigenous breeds including Yak and Mithun
    • Bull production programme of indigenous breeds for natural service have been inducted by the States of Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat.
  • For the first time in the country to take up holistic and scientific development and conservation of indigenous breeds two National Kamadhenu Breeding Centres are being established: one in southern region- in Andhra Pradesh and second one in northern region in Madhya Pradesh. Nucleus herd of all 39 indigenous breeds of cattle and 13 breeds of buffaloes is being established at National Kamadhenu Breeding Centre with the aim of development and conversation of these breeds.

Cyclonic Storm ‘ROANU’ Over West Central Bay of Bengal

  • The cyclonic storm ‘ROANU’ over west central Bay of Bengal remained about 80 km south-southeast of Machilipatnam
  • The system is likely to move initially north-north eastwards along and off Andhra Pradesh coast during next 12 hours, thereafter north eastwards.
  • The system is likely to intensify into a severe cyclonic storm by tonight.

Social Progress Index (SPI)

Concept of GDP

  • In the early 1930s a need was felt to capture all economic transactions by individuals, companies, and the government in a single measure. It was essential for this measure to reflect an increase in it in good times and a decrease in adverse conditions.
  • In January 1934, Simon Kuznets prepared a report titled ‘National Income, 1929-32’ and presented it to the U.S. government. It laid the foundation of how we judge the economic success of countries today.
  • In it was elucidated the concept and measurement of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP since then has been used to measure the economic performance of a nation, and has been shaping the debate on the performance of countries for the past 80 years or so. Today, almost every country maintains GDP statistics.

Merits of GDP

  • GDP growth over time enables central banks and policymakers to evaluate whether the economy is in recession or inflation. In that sense it is still required.
  • Also, GDP has held significance as a universal metric over the years.

Demerits of GDP

  • However, with rapid globalization and technology-oriented integration among countries, this metric has become outdated and does not accurately take into consideration other aspects like the wellbeing of the residents of a country.
  • The most significant weakness of GDP is its exclusion of voluntary market transactions. GDP as a measure of economic growth fails to account for productive non-market activities, like a mother taking care of her child, a homemaker doing household chores, a homeowner doing maintenance of his house, leisure (paid vacation, holidays, leave time), improvement in product quality, etc.
  • GDP also ignores important factors like environment, happiness, community, fairness and justice. To be fair, it was not intended to measure these. But these are important aspects of development.

Thus, there is a need for alternative measures which can take into consideration other key factors like hunger and malnutrition, safety parameters, literacy rate and tolerance.

Alternatives

  • It is where some of the recent approaches have tried to go beyond GDP and incorporate most of these factors into the measurement of the well-being within the society.
  • Some of these include GINI coefficient, HDI (Human Development Index), and GNH (Gross National Happiness).
  1. GINI coefficient
    • which was introduced in 1912 by Corrado Gini and adopted by World Bank,
    • And measures the income inequality among a country’s citizens
    • But it fails to measure social benefits or interventions that reduce the gap or inequality between rich and poor.
  2. GNH,
    • which was introduced in the 1970s by the king of Bhutan
    • similarly measures the happiness levels of the citizens in a country
    • while it ignores other important elements like gender equality, quality education and good infrastructure.
  3. HDI,
    • devised and launched in 1990 by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq,
    • is computed and published by the United Nations Development Programme and
    • overcomes most of the shortcomings of the Gini coefficient and GNH. After this, Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals were also built along various dimensions based on the work done in understanding human development.
    • However, HDI, as a measure, falls short in its capture of the unequal distribution of wealth within the country and the level of infrastructural development.
    • Many prospects of a healthy society, such as environmental sustainability and personal rights, are not included in HDI.
    • It is not successful in tracking the apparent progress of countries,
    • nor is it sufficiently factorised into primary level parameters to indicate many important areas of policy.

These are some of the limitations of the approaches in finding a composite measure of well-being to date.

SPI as complementary index

  • The next stage in the measurement of well-being went into creating what is termed as the Social Progress Index (SPI).
  • It goes beyond the traditional measure of GDP and has most parameters that are required to fulfil SDGs.
  • SPI is based on three fundamental pillars:
    • basic needs for survival;
    • access to the building blocks to improve living conditions, and
    • access to opportunity to pursue goals and ambitions.

Advantages of SPI

  • One significant difference between GDP and SPI is that SPI focusses on outcomes rather than inputs that are used in GDP. For example, the quality of life and longevity are measured instead of spending on health care, and people’s experience of discrimination is looked at instead of focussing on whether there is a law against discrimination.
  • SPI also reframes the fundamentals about development by taking into consideration not just GDP but also inclusive, sustainable growth that will lead to a significant improvement in people’s lives.
  • SPI can best be described as a complementary index to GDP and can be used along with GDP to achieve social progress.
  • With the move to getting it introduced at a sub-national level, the index is expected to help development practitioners and other stakeholders in analysing well-being in a better manner. Ideally, the development project should start with a bottom-up approach, from a grass-root level to city, then from district to State and, finally, to the national level.

Measurement

  • This brings us to the measurement and present scores on the index. If the world is considered as one country, it would score 61.00 on the SPI on a population-weighted basis.
  • India ranks 101 with a social progress score of 53.06 among 133 countries, according to SPI 2015.
  • One significant find is that all countries doing well in GDP/capita are not always the ones at the top of SPI. For example, New Zealand has GDP per capita almost half that of the top performing nations, according to GDP per capita figures, but performs better than most nations on SPI.
  • The U.S., which has significantly higher GDP than New Zealand, ranks lower than New Zealand on SPI. Another example is Costa Rica which may be called a social progress superpower because it is on a par with some west European countries in spite of a much lower GDP per capita. West Asian economies like Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia perform contrary to this pattern as they have high GDP per capita, but secure significantly inferior positions in SPI.
  • In conclusion, SPI can bring substantial betterment in the policy discourse on development.
  • SPI, when introduced in India — a beta index will be launched in September — can this way lead to a better understanding of well-being and prosperity within the country.

Draft National Policy for Women, 2016

  • The new draft Policy shifts the focus from entitlements to rights and from empowerment to creating an enabling environment.

Background:

  • Nearly a decade and half has passed since the National Policy for Empowerment of Women, 2001 was formulated. The discourse on women’s empowerment has been gradually evolving over the last few decades, wherein paradigm shifts have occurred –from seeing women as mere recipients of welfare benefits to mainstreaming gender concerns and engaging them in the development process of the country.
  • The policy envisions a society in which, women attain their full potential and are able to participate as equal partners in all spheres of life.  It also emphasises the role of an effective framework to enable the process of developing policies, programmes and practices which will ensure equal rights and opportunities for women.
  • The broad objective of the policy is to create a conducive socio-cultural, economic and political environment to enable women enjoy de jure and de facto fundamental rights and realize their full potential.

PRIORITY AREAS

  1. Health including food security and nutrition:
    • Focus on recognizing women’s reproductive rights, shift of family planning focus also to males,
    • addressing health issues in a life cycle continuum  such as psychological and general well-being, health care challenges related to nutrition/ hygiene  of adolescents, geriatric health care,
    • expansion of health insurance schemes and
    • addressing the intergenerational cycle of under-nutrition
  2. Education:
    • Improve access to pre-primary education, enrolment and retention of adolescent girls,
    • implement innovative transportation models for better schooling outcomes,
    • advocate gender champions and address disparities with regard to ICTs.
  3. Economy:
    • Raising visibility,
    • engendering macro-economic policies and trade agreements,
    • generate gender-disaggregated land ownership database,
    • skill  development and training for women, entrepreneurial development,
    • review of labour laws and policies, equal employment opportunities with appropriate benefits related to maternity and child care services, address technological needs of women.
  4. Governance and Decision Making: Increasing women’s participation in the political arena, administration, civil services and corporate boardrooms,
  5. Violence Against Women: 
    • Address all forms of violence against women through a life cycle approach,
    • Legislations affecting /relating to women will be reviewed/harmonized to enhance effectiveness,
    • Improve Child Sex Ratio (CSR), strict implementation of advisories, guidelines, Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) and protocols,
    • prevention of trafficking at source, transit and destination areas for effective monitoring of the networks.
  6. Enabling Environment: Gender perspective in housing and infrastructure, ensuring safe drinking water and sanitation, gender parity in the mass media & sports, concerted efforts towards strengthening social security and support services for all women especially the vulnerable, marginalized, migrant and single women.
  7. Environment and Climate Change:  addressing gender concerns during distress migration and displacement in times of natural calamities due to climate change and environmental degradation. Promotion of environmental friendly, renewable, non–conventional energy, green energy sources for women in rural households.
  8. The policy also describes emerging issues such as making cyber spaces safe place for women, redistribution of gender roles, for reducing unpaid care work, review of   personal and customary laws in accordance with the Constitutional provisions, Review of criminalization of marital rape within the framework women’s human rights etc. relevant in the developmental paradigms.
  9. Operational strategies laid down in the policy provide a framework for implementation of legislations and strengthening of existing institutional mechanisms through action plan, effective gender institutional architecture. Advocacy and Stakeholder Partnerships, Inter-Sectoral Convergence, Gender Budgeting and generation of gender disaggregated data have also been given due focus.

Operational strategies

Create an enabling environment through continued and additional initiatives:

  • Enabling safety and security of women – with initiatives such as One Stop Centres, Women Helpline, Mahila Police Volunteers, Reservation of women in police force, creating immediate response mechanism through panic buttons in mobiles, public and private transport, surveillance mechanisms in public places.
  • Creating eco-systems to encourage entrepreneurship amongst women – through platforms like Mahila E-Haat, dedicated theme based exhibitions, focussed skill training, mentoring through Women Entrepreneurship Council, availability of easy & affordable credit and financial inclusion.
  • Training and capacity building of all stakeholders including youth through Gender Champion initiative, frontline workers, women sarpanches and all officials dealing with policy and delivery systems impacting women.
  • Facilitating women in workplace – through gender friendly work place, flexi timings, increased maternity leave, provision of child care / creches at workplace, life cycle health care facilities.

Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourer Scheme – 2016 to be Made Central Sector Scheme

  • The Government is revising the rehabilitation of bonded labour scheme
  • Increasing the quantum of financial assistance from Rs 20 thousand
    • While the most deprived and marginalised like the disabled, female and children rescued from trafficking, sexual exploitation and transgender will get Rs 3 lakhs, the next in order is the special category comprising of females and the minors who will now get Rs 2 lakhs.
    • A normal adult male bonded labour will get Rs. 1 lakh
  • Under this new package the money will remain in an annuity account, controlled by the District Magistrate and a monthly earning will flow to the beneficiary account for his/her comfortable living. The corpus remains untouched until decided by the DM.
  • One of the special features of the new scheme is that it aims to address new forms of bondage such as organised begging rings, forced prostitution and child labour for which females, disabled and transgenders are mercilessly used by the powerful elements.
  • The Minister said that the rehabilitation work has been made simple for the DM/Collectors. A permanent and renewable district level rehabilitation fund of atleast Rs. 10 Lakh will be available with the DM/Collector which will be used as a stop-gap arrangement before reimbursement by Central Government through the DBT system.
  • The DM/Collector is also empowered to provide several non-cash benefits such as land, house, ration and occupational support through State Programmes.
  • The DMs/Collectors will also have the freedom to extend state care where bondage is not proved but the person is in distress.
  • Minor children and women will remain in State care and educated & skilled as per their needs. Marriage of orphan girls will also be the responsibility of State Government.
  • Soon after revising the scheme, the 1976 Rules will be amended for effective implementation. The Government will ensure that Bonded Labour cases are tried and judgment pronounced on the same day like other summary trial cases as per Cr.PC.
  • It will also be ensured that such cases are monitored by the Sessions Courts and the State High Courts by way of regular review as per their respective criminal manual apart from the State Home and Revenue Departments. Suitable provisions will be made in the Rules to facilitate institutional involvement of other stakeholders.

Bonded Labour System- Current status

  • Bonded Labour System is a social evil which though has declined over a period, however still exists in India despite constitutional provisions for its total eradication.
  • The BLS(A) Act, 1976 for the last 40 years has not been able to eradicate Bonded Labour System completely.
  • Even the Rehabilitation Scheme of 1978 have been able to free 2.82 lakh Bonded Labourers in 18 States across 172 districts in the country during the past 38 years.
  • There is no correct estimation of the extent of bondage which has also transformed its form under the compulsions of transitional economy.

SC upholds law on criminal defamation

  • The Supreme Court has upheld a colonial and pre-Constitutional law criminalising defamation.
  • The challenge to the validity of Section 499 and 500 of the IPC was undoubtedly the biggest free speech issue to have arisen in recent times.
  • The two-judge Bench could have referred the matter to a Constitution Bench.
  • The judgment holds far-reaching implications for political dissent and a free press

Background:

Sections 499 and 500 in the IPC deal with criminal defamation. While the former defines the offence of defamation, the latter defines the punishment for it.

  1. Section 499:Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.
  2. Section 500:Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

What is defamation all about?

Defamation refers to the act of publication of defamatory content that lowers the reputation of an individual or an entity when observed through the perspective of an ordinary man. If defamation occurs in spoken words or gestures (or other such transitory form) then it is termed as slander and the same if in written or printed form is libel. Defamation in India is both a civil and a criminal offence.

  • In Civil Law, defamation falls under the Law of Torts, which imposes punishment in the form of damages awarded to the claimant (person filing the claim).
  • Under Criminal Law, Defamation is bailable, non-congnizable and compoundable offence. Therefore, the police cannot start investigation of defamation without a warrant from a magistrate (an FIR cannot be filed). The accused also has a right to seek bail. Further, the charges can be dropped if the victim and the accused enter into a compromise to that effect (even without the permission of the court).

Basic requirements:

  1. Presence of defamatory content is required.
  2. Claimant should be identified in the defamatory statement. (General statements not defamation.
  3. Publication of the defamatory statement in either oral or written form.

Under a criminal suit, intention to defame is an important element.

Arguments for criminalising defamation

  • Reputation of an individual was an equally important right and stood on the same pedestal as free speech.
    • The right to reputation is a constituent of Article 21 of the Constitution. It is an individual’s fundamental right
  • Mutual respect is the fulcrum of fraternity that assures dignity. It does not mean that there cannot be dissent. One has a right to freedom of speech and expression. One is also required to maintain the idea of fraternity that assures the dignity of the individual
  • The court held that criminalisation of defamation to protect individual dignity of life and reputation is a “reasonable restriction” on the fundamental right of free speech and expression.
  • Defamation should remain a penal offence in India as the defamer may be too poor to compensate the victim in some cases.
  • Since there is no mechanism to censor the Internet from within, online defamation could only be adequately countered by retaining defamation as a criminal offence.
  • Also, criminalisation of defamation is part of the state’s “compelling interest” to protect the right to dignity and good reputation of its citizens.
  • Unlike in the U. S, defamation in India cannot be treated only as civil liability as there is always a possibility of the defamer being judgment free, i.e., not having the adequate financial capability to compensate the victim.
  • Besides, Sections 499 and 500, framed in 1860, cannot be said to obsolete in a modern democratic polity as there are 10 exceptions to Section 499 of the IPC. These exceptions clearly exclude from its ambit any speech that is truthful, made in good faith and/or is for public good.

Arguments against  criminalising defamation

  • Criminal defamation may have a chilling effect on the freedom to circulate one’s independent view according to Article 19(1)
    • Upholding criminal defamation in modern times would amount to imposition of silence.
    • Penalisation of defamation is past its time, and the nation now risks the danger of being reduced to a “frozen democracy.
  • ‘Truth’ is generally considered to be a defence to defamation as a civil offence but under criminal law, truth is a defence only in a limited number of circumstances. Besides the statement or writing being demonstrably true, it also requires to be proved that the imputation was made for public good.
  • Many countries, including neighbouring Sri Lanka, have decriminalised defamation, which should be a civil offence alone.
  • In fact, there is enough anecdotal evidence that its existence on the statute book leads to self-censorship, and that it is often used to stifle legitimate criticism.
  • The court has sought to create an artificial balance between the fundamental right of free speech under Article 19(1) (a) and the right to reputation as part of one’s right to life under Article 21.
    • If criminal defamation is really needed to protect reputations, it is befuddling how the right to reputation under Article 21 can be extended to collectives such as the government, corporations and institutions, which presumably have the resources to set right damage to their reputations.
  • When an individual has the recourse to sue respondents in civil courts for damages against loss of reputation, there is hardly any justification to keep the criminal option open. It is true that ‘defamation’ is one of the reasonable restrictions to free speech envisaged in the Constitution, but this is not enough to justify retaining its criminal component.
  • In the Indian context, criminal defamation is not generally a dispute between two individuals. It is invariably a shield for public servants, political leaders, corporations and institutions against critical scrutiny as well as questions from the media and citizens. 
  • The origins of criminal defamation lie in the Court of the Star Chamber of King Henry VIII, where it was used as a means of “punishing disrespect towards authority”. Some State governments seem to go by this principle while filing defamation complaints against political rivals, media organisations and journalists.
  • The outcome is often of little significance, as it is the process that is the punishment.
  • It is patently unfair to allow the State to use its legal machinery to suppress criticism without public servants concerned being required to testify in court on the actual injury or loss of reputation suffered by them.

Arguments for criminalising defamation

  • Reputation of an individual was an equally important right and stood on the same pedestal as free speech.
    • The right to reputation is a constituent of Article 21 of the Constitution. It is an individual’s fundamental right
  • Mutual respect is the fulcrum of fraternity that assures dignity. It does not mean that there cannot be dissent. One has a right to freedom of speech and expression. One is also required to maintain the idea of fraternity that assures the dignity of the individual
  • The court held that criminalisation of defamation to protect individual dignity of life and reputation is a “reasonable restriction” on the fundamental right of free speech and expression.

Arguments against  criminalising defamation

  • Criminal defamation may have a chilling effect on the freedom to circulate one’s independent view according to Article 19(1)
    • Upholding criminal defamation in modern times would amount to imposition of silence.
    • Penalisation of defamation is past its time, and the nation now risks the danger of being reduced to a “frozen democracy.
  • Many countries, including neighbouring Sri Lanka, have decriminalised defamation, which should be a civil offence alone.
  • In fact, there is enough anecdotal evidence that its existence on the statute book leads to self-censorship, and that it is often used to stifle legitimate criticism.
  • The court has sought to create an artificial balance between the fundamental right of free speech under Article 19(1) (a) and the right to reputation as part of one’s right to life under Article 21.
    • If criminal defamation is really needed to protect reputations, it is befuddling how the right to reputation under Article 21 can be extended to collectives such as the government, corporations and institutions, which presumably have the resources to set right damage to their reputations.
  • When an individual has the recourse to sue respondents in civil courts for damages against loss of reputation, there is hardly any justification to keep the criminal option open. It is true that ‘defamation’ is one of the reasonable restrictions to free speech envisaged in the Constitution, but this is not enough to justify retaining its criminal component.
  • In the Indian context, criminal defamation is not generally a dispute between two individuals. It is invariably a shield for public servants, political leaders, corporations and institutions against critical scrutiny as well as questions from the media and citizens. 
  • The origins of criminal defamation lie in the Court of the Star Chamber of King Henry VIII, where it was used as a means of “punishing disrespect towards authority”. Some State governments seem to go by this principle while filing defamation complaints against political rivals, media organisations and journalists.
  • The outcome is often of little significance, as it is the process that is the punishment.
  • It is patently unfair to allow the State to use its legal machinery to suppress criticism without public servants concerned being required to testify in court on the actual injury or loss of reputation suffered by them.

Alternatives

  • The court could have read down Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that allows public prosecutors to step into the shoes of allegedly defamed public servants.
  • Perhaps the last hope is that Parliament may be rallied to scrap it.

Climate change and marginal farming

  • India is uniquely vulnerable to rising temperatures — it ranks in the top 20 in the Climate Change Vulnerability Index.
  • Our average surface temperature, over the past four decades, has risen by 0.3° Celsius, accompanied by a rising incidence of floods, droughts and cyclones.
  • With the majority of all landholdings in India measuring less than a hectare, marginal farmers face a steep decline in household income and a concomitant rise in household poverty through exacerbated droughts.
  • Climate change would impact soil health, with increasing surface temperatures leading to higher CO{-2}emissions and reducing natural nitrogen availability.
  • Mitigating this by increasing chemical fertilizer usage could impact long-term soil fertility, leaving the soil open to greater erosion and desertification.
  • Meanwhile, migration patterns, farmer suicides and stagnating rural incomes, along with increasingly ad hoc land acquisition in the name of public goods, have politicised the idea of climate mitigation.
  • Marginal farmland will increasingly be useless for agriculture.
  • Our dependency on rain continues to amplify — rain-fed agriculture is practised in the majority of our total cropped area supporting a significant proportion of the national food basket (55 per cent of rice, 90 per cent of pulses, 91 per cent of all coarse grain).
  • Our regional crop patterns assume a specific range of weather variability, failing to cope with the recent high periods of heavy rainfall with long dry intervals.
  • In 2013, large crops of wheat, gram, lentils and mustard, weeks away from harvesting, were destroyed in untimely rains. India’s flood-affected area has doubled since Independence, despite generous state spending on flood protection schemes.
  • Research has highlighted the deleterious impact of climate change on crop production.
  • By 2100, thekharif season will face a varying temperature rise (0.7-3.3° Celsius) with rainfall significantly impacted. Limited temperature rises could lead to a 22 per cent decline in wheat yield in the rabi season, while rice yield could decline by 15 per cent.
  • Other staple crops — sorghum, groundnut, chickpea — could see a sharp decline.
  • Its impact is already prevalent: it is estimated that without rising temperatures and rain variability, India’s rice production over the past four decades could have been 8 per cent higher. India is home to the largest hungry population — falling agricultural yields will only make matters worse.

Suggestions by National Commission on Farmers

  • A rural spending plan, focussed on investments in agriculture infrastructure, particularly in irrigation, rainwater harvesting and a national network of soil-testing laboratories is needed.
    • Simple water harvesting and conservation measures (micro-irrigation, watershed management and insurance coverage) can reduce the majority of the potential loss due to drought (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013).
  • Drought strategies should be extended to the village level — for example, each village should have a village pond, created under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
  • Conservation farming and dryland agriculture should be promoted.

Suggestions related to farming practices

  • Each village should be provided timely rainfall forecasts along with weather-based forewarnings regarding crop pests and epidemics in various seasons.
  • Afforestation, in a biodiverse manner, should be encouraged to help modify regional climates and prevent soil erosion.
  • Our agricultural research programmes need to be retooled towards dryland research — it has been argued that adoption of drought-tolerant breeds can help reduce production risks by nearly a third, while offering attractive returns to breeders.
  • Changing planting dates could have a significant impact; research highlights that planting wheat earlier than usual can help reduce climate change-induced damage.
  • Zero tillage and laser-based levelling can also help conserve water and land resources.
  • Crop planning can be conducted as per the climatic zones of different regions, while utilising better genotypes for rain-fed conditions.

Other measures required

  • Expanding our formal credit system to reach all marginal farmers.
  • Insurance coverage should be expanded to all crops while reducing the rate of interest to nominal levels, with government support and an expanded Rural Insurance Development Fund.
  • A debt moratorium policy on drought-distressed hotspots and areas facing climate change calamities should be announced, waiving interest on loans till farming incomes are restored.
  • The Centre and States should launch an integrated crop, livestock and family health insurance package
  • while instituting an Agriculture Credit Risk Fund to provide relief in the aftermath of successive natural disasters.
  • Agricultural investments in food crops, along with systemic support for irrigation, infrastructure and rural institutions can help move India beyond climate change-induced food insecurity, strengthening our stressed food production systems. Through adaptation and mitigation measures, we can overcome this  crisis.

Indians voting behaviour

Several factors determine voter choice – According to research

  • More and more people vote for development interests rather than merely to support the party that projects their ethnic or caste identity.
  • Recent research across India has shown that those who spend the most do not always win elections and voters do not feel any obligation to vote for those handing out freebies. In fact, they often accept the goodies from all parties but vote for only one.
  • Research has shown that historically high percentages in voting do not provide any indication of results and dramatic upsets have been caused both by low turnouts and high ones.

Why High voter turn out?

  • Some institutional factors– namely the cleaning up of electoral rolls and the voter enrolment and awareness drives undertaken by the Election Commission. First-time voters are particularly targeted and deceased voters are being removed from lists.
  • Based on research conducted by a team of researchers across India, we show that to understand the significance of elections and high voter turnout rates, we need to pay attention not just to politicians but also to the voters themselves.
  • Research revealed that the act of voting itself holds enormous significance for people because on election days the most important actors are not the politicians but the voters. While politicians seemingly dominate campaigns, people point out the irony of even the most arrogant heads being bowed to beg for votes and the most corrupt of them being unable to buy a victory — thereby conceding that it is ordinary people who hold power at least during elections.
  • Many noted that it is also the only time they see the administration doing their work free from political interference, thanks to the Model Code of Conduct imposed on the political establishment. It is the world they crave for.
  • Being able to vote gives people self-respect and dignity. For the vast majority of the impoverished and ostracised population of India, being able to cast a vote freely is an affirmation of their status as human above all and as equal citizens of India.

So in India, elections are the most important constitutionally radical moment in public life. By exercising their franchise, voters are able to reacquaint themselves with the values that democracy promises — equality, dignity and civility — values that sadly only manifest themselves on election days. We need to preserve their integrity at all cost.

SDG 3: big agenda, big opportunities for India

  • The year 2016 marks an end of the era of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which drove the global development agenda since the new millennium.
  • The MDGs have paved the way for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the world will strive to achieve over the next fifteen years. It is an opportune moment to reflect on the successes and the lessons learnt from the MDG era and the possible way forward for achieving the ambitious and inclusive agenda of SDGs in the health sector.
  • SDG-3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

SDG-3

  • Unlike MDGs, which had three dedicated health goals, the SDG agenda has only one health goal (SDG-3) which aims to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all in all ages’.
  • The 13 broad targets under health goal are in-tune with current global epidemiological reality as under
  1. By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births
  2. By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births
  3. By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases 
  4. By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being
  5. Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol
  6. By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents 
  7. By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes
  8. Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all
  9. By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination
  • Capacity development goals include
  1. Strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate
  2. Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all
  3. Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States
  4. Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks
  • The unprecedented scope of SDGs provides immense opportunity to bring health at the centre of economic growth agenda, . Universal Health Coverage (UHC), which is an explicit target under SDG-3, can act as the anchor to guide and inform SDG goals in health.
  • It is interesting that these thoughts have their roots in what was envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.” It is this thinking, which was reflected in the MDGs and is now even more central in the SDGs.

Lessons learnt (Need to be done in SDGs in health sector)

  • First, high-level political commitment globally and nationally drove much of the progress towards MDGs. We need nothing less for the SDGs.
  • Second, while MDGs helped improve the overall health of nations, the focus was on the aggregate targets ignoring inequities within countries. To understand the real progress and challenges there is a need to disaggregate data by gender, economic status and geographical area.
  • Thirdly, neither the economic benefits of good health nor the direct financial consequences of ill-health were sufficiently captured by MDGs. We know that nations require a healthy population to prosper. When people do fall sick, high out-of-pocket expenditures on healthcare lead to financial hardship and diminish the ability of the population to contribute to the economy. In India, nearly 60 million people fall into poverty just paying for healthcare, while many more abstain or delay seeking healthcare due to financial difficulties.
  • Fourthly, MDGs did not capture the importance of prevention, early detection and response to disease threats. The growing noncommunicable disease (NCD) epidemic and consequent premature deaths could be prevented by reducing lifestyle risk factors, specifically tobacco use, food intake, inactivity, and alcohol consumption. In addition, diseases like SARS, Ebola, MERS and Zika pose threats to global health security and have the potential to cripple countries. MDGs missed this important issue.
  • Lastly, it is not only about ‘more money for health, but also more health for money’; the MDGs focused on addressing specific disease and symptoms, which led to fragmentation, duplication and inefficiencies in the health systems. WHO estimates that nearly 20-40 per cent of all health resources are wasted

Towards sustainable development

  • India can progress towards sustainable development in health if it follows the following five steps.
  • First, health must be high on the national and state agenda,
  1. as it is the cornerstone for economic growth of the nation.
  2. requires high political commitment and collective long-term efforts by ministries beyond the Ministry of Health to invest in health.
  3. The proposal in India’s draft National Health Policy 2015 to raise public to health expenditure to 2.5 per cent of the GDP by 2020 is commendable.
  • Second, India should invest in public health and finish the MDG agenda
  1. through further improvements in maternal and child health,
  2. confronting neglected tropical diseases, eliminating malaria, and
  3. increasing the fight against tuberculosis.
  4. programmes and interventions need to be taken to scale, with a central emphasis on equity and quality of services.
  • Third, accelerate the implementation of universal health coverage.
  1. UHC is important to prevent people slipping into poverty due to ill health and to ensure everyone in need has access to good quality health services.
  2. To complement tax revenue based health financing, incremental expansion of prepayment and risk pooling mechanisms such as Social Health Insurance are worth considering.
  • Fourth, build robust health system in all aspects and strengthen both the rural and urban components,
  1. with comprehensive primary health care at its centre.
  2. Given the magnitude of the private sector in India, more effective engagement with private healthcare providers is vital.
  3. Appropriate contracting modality, which is an important feature under the Social Health Insurance or RSSY, can be worked out
  4. Private sector can be instrumental in complementing the public sector as demonstrated by different country experiences, including Thailand and Philippines.
  • Finally, develop a strong system for monitoring, evaluation and accountability. It is absolutely essential to regularly review and analyse the progress made for feeding into policy decisions and revising strategies based on the challenges.
  • In conclusion, the SDGs have the potential to create a world where no one is left behind.

417 coal blocks endanger fresh water sources, documents show

  • As many as 417 out of 835 current and future coal blocks must be categorised as ‘inviolate areas’ as per hydrological parameters, information obtained under the Right to Information Act by Greenpeace India
  • These coal blocks, if auctioned, pose serious threats to fresh water sources present in the forest areas
  • These coal blocks mostly fall in the five states: Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.
  • Last year the Forest Survey of India (FSI) assessed 835 coal blocks based on the draft parameters for identification of inviolate forest areas.
  • For applying the hydrology parameter, the Union Environment Ministry recommended excluding 250 m. on either side of a major water stream while marking the boundaries of coal blocks. This renders over half of the coal blocks as ‘partially inviolate’
  • 121 of the 835 coal blocks assessed had ongoing mining activities, and of these 4 were in ‘inviolate forest’ areas and 117 were affected by the hydrological layer, which means they encroached upon river beds or water streams.
  • The Coal Ministry has raised objection to the ‘hydrological layer’ proposed by the Environment Ministry contending that almost all coal mines in the country encroached upon river basins, including that of Damodar, Mahanadi, Wardha, Sonbhadra and Godavari.
  • Given the drought situation in the country such inevitable consequences of coal mining could destroy precious freshwater sources

AYUSH Ministry rails against global study on homeopathy

  • An year back Australia’s top medical research organisation, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), had debunked homeopathy as no more effective than a placebo
  • The Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha & Homeopathy) has now criticised the most extensive, global study on the subject for using an “unscientific approach” and stated that the findings are contrary to conclusions reached in India.
  • According to the ministry NHMRC had not taken up any study on effectiveness of homeopathy. It had studied a small number of already published papers and reached conclusions. The observations of the NHMRC have drawn criticism for its unscientific approach and methodological shortcomings.
  • The AYUSH Ministry will shortly be piloting a programme called ‘homeopathy for a healthy child’ in five districts in Delhi, Kamrup (Assam), Palghar (Maharashtra), Noida (Uttar Pradesh) and Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh). The programme will mainly focus on dental problems in children between the ages of one and 18

NHMRC study

  • The NHMRC study was the first of its kind to thoroughly review 225 research papers on homeopathy before coming up with a position statement in March 2015.
  • Further, the researchers had reviewed evidence of 176 trials, focussed on 68 different health conditions, and conducted a total of 57 systematic reviews to establish if the treatment is valid.
  • The NHMRC had concluded that there was no evidence that homeopathy was more effective than placebo on any of the conditions.
  • Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concluded that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective

All you need to know about the draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs on May 4, 2016 released a draft of “The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016.”
  • According to the draft, it will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, disseminating, publishing or distributing any geospatial information of India.
  • Even though the Bill is only in the draft stage and has been opened up for suggestions, it is important to understand its salient features:

What does “geospatial information” mean?

  • According to the draft it means:
  • Geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Graphical or digital data depicting natural or man-made physical features, phenomenon or boundaries of the earth
  • Any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes;

What does the Bill say?

  • In simple terms, any addition or creation of anything that has to do with any geospatial information – or location – within the territory of India will need the permission of the government or, in this case, a Security Vetting Authority.

What does Security Vetting Authority do?

  • It grants licenses to organisations/individuals who want to use geospatial data.
  • It will check the content and data provided and make sure it is well within national policies, “with the sole objective of protecting national security, sovereignty, safety and integrity”

Who will this impact?

  • Every person, every business which uses location as a major feature to function. Apart from the usual Google, this includes other apps like Ola, Uber, Zomato, AirBnB and Oyo. It also includes Twitter and Facebook which can track your location.

What happens if I violate this law 

  • Illegal acquisition of geospatial information of India – Fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 100 crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.
  • Illegal dissemination, publication or distribution of geospatial information of India – Whoever disseminates, publishes or distributesany geospatial information of India in contravention of section 4, shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 100 crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.
  • Use of geospatial information of India outside India – Fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 100 croreand/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.

The concerns about the proposed law 

  1. The anxiety, post-1947, draws as much from the nature of the country’s territorial disputes as from the security implications of a more laissez-faire map policy. Most of these anxieties are, of course, overblown.
  2. The possibility of harassment for possession of widely prevalent cartographic imagery at odds with the official boundary (think most foreign magazines)
  3. The implications for a host of applications, commercial or in the public interest, that need real-time updates. Any company, organisation or individual that disseminates maps contradicting official versions could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to Rs.100 crore.
  4. The proposed legislation envisages appellate authorities and enforcement agencies — a signal that could be dealt with more strictly than they are currently.issues of misrepresentation
  5. The Survey of India’s two-dimensional, multi-coloured maps, of varying resolutions, have served to give us a static picture of the world around us. But geospatial maps, which the government wants to oversee, reflect how our neighbourhoods are mutating in real time. They allow us to capture the extent and nature of air pollutants around us, plot the unsustainable plundering of our groundwater, gauge the spread of a new flu outbreak to confirm if official estimates of, say, a malaria outbreak are understated, or that simply plot restaurant options in a neighbourhood.
  6. The provisions suggest that any modification to the maps or value addition also need to be cleared. The time lag the proposed process would impose, as well as the possibility of updates being rejected have worrying, disruptive implications.
  7. The draft Bill says that the government will vet geospatial information to preserve the “security, sovereignty and integrity” of the country — a broad objective that could be misused by the authorities to prevent any inconvenient information from being tracked, besides creating an avenue for rent-seeking. This is ironic considering that the Centre has a data-sharing policy in place since 2012 that exhorts departments to make their data on health statistics, forests, weather, and so on, more accessible to the public and in machine-readable formats.

Way forward

  • Need to switch to a simple registration-based system that doesn’t make the acquisition of a licence a precondition to using data
  • However, scrutinising the credentials of every end user is not possible and therefore, a clear distinction must be made between the producers and consumers of geospatial data
  • The bill mentions about the exclusion of government departments but still does not give any clear direction of which all departments will be exempted—need to clarify
  • Other steps:
    • Widen the definition of ‘consumers’
    • All publishers of geospatial data should register with the security-vetting authority and provide an online window through which the authority can conduct an audit of their data— for the vetting authority to go through and raise an objection if there exists something objectionable
    • Allow the data to be used by end users and be updated by the publisher as required

That the government says it is open to modifying the draft is reassuring. Much like telecom spectrum, geospatial imagery too is a resource that is only beginning to be valued. It would be better mined — to the profit of the public and the government — with a transparent policy that values information more than fines.

 Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana

  • Under PMUY LPG connections will be given to the women of the BPL households.
  • Finance Minister in the Budget speech on 29.2.2016 had announced a budgetary provision of Rs. 2000 crore to provide deposit free LPG connections to 1.5 crore women belonging to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) families.
  • Further, the Budget announced that the Scheme will be continued for two more years to cover 5 crore households.
  • Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana provides financial support of Rs 1600 for each LPG connection to the BPL households.

Job growth in India

  • There will be no demographic dividend without growth in industrial and service sector jobs. The underlying logic behind a dividend is that as jobs grow, incomes rise and so do savings. Based on higher savings, the investment rate to GDP grows, resulting in faster GDP growth. This was the reason behind the phenomenal growth in savings to GDP from 24 per cent in 2002-2003 to 38 per cent in 2007-2008 and investment from 25 per cent to 39 per cent of GDP.
  • Economic growth is meaningful only as long as it creates new non-agricultural jobs. Job growth leads to an increase in consumer demand which has the effect of sustaining GDP growth and reducing volatility in the output growth rate.

GDP growth v/s job growth

  • One of the most important sources of increased consumer demand since the turn of the century was the increase in infrastructure investment. Starting with the Golden Quadrilateral Highway network which began construction in 2001, infrastructure investment picked up. As a result, the number of workers in construction rose from 17 million in 1999-2000 to 26 million in 2004-2005.
  • Investment in infrastructure rose strongly thereafter, and during the 11th Five Year Plan, infrastructure investment in the public and private sector together grew by $475 billion. The result was that employment in construction jumped from 26 to 51 million in 2011-12, trebling from the turn of the century. Unlike in the five years preceding 2004, real wages increased significantly until 2012.
  • The combined effect of non-agricultural job growth plus real wage growth was a consumer demand booming in both rural and urban areas. The combined demand and supply effects of investment plus job growth resulted in sustained economic growth at a rate unprecedented in India’s economic history

What is the current trend in job growth?

  • Between 1999-2000 and 2004-2005, around 12 million people were joining the labour force every year. The period from 1999 to 2004 was very unusual in India’s history as 12 million people were joining the labour force every year. Never before 1999 and never after 2004 has this been the case. While the employment elasticity of output has been falling since 2000, the good news is that 7.5 million new non-agricultural jobs were created annually between 1999-2000 and 2004-2005.
  • About 7 million have been added to the labour force annually since 2005. This is due to a declining population growth rate and rising educational levels.  An additional 7.5 million new industrial and service sector jobs were created annually between 2004-2005 and 2011-2012.
  • In other words, if the economy continues to grow rapidly, India has already demonstrated an ability to generate at least 7.5 million new jobs annually over a 12-year period from 1999-2000 to 2011-2012 — or at least the same number as new entrants to the labour force.
  • But job growth has been much slower since 2012. The Labour Bureau of the Ministry of Labour has compiled data for job creation in labour-intensive non-agricultural sectors each quarter since the 2008 global financial crisis. The latest figures show that 1.35 lakh jobs were created in 2015, the lowest figure since 2008
  • Similarly, for the first time in any nationwide sample survey, the Labour Bureau’s Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey Report in 2013-2014 showed that underemployment remains a major problem. Only 60.5 per cent of persons aged 15 and above who were available for work for all the 12 months were able to get work during that year.
  • More worrying is the fact that for the 7 million young people who are joining the labour force, the open unemployment rate is 10 times higher than that for those 30 years and above. Unemployment for 15- to 17-year-olds is 10.2 per cent and for 18- to 29-year-olds is 9.4 per cent in 2013, but 0.8 per cent for over- 30-year-olds.

Reasons for slow pace

  • First, while the share of organised sector jobs is increasing, most of the job increases are still taking place in the unorganised segment of industry and services, and in informal jobs.
  • Second, while construction had been booming from 2000 to 2012, its growth dipped since 2012, and has begun to revive only since late 2015 as infrastructure investment revived. Since 2004-2005, for the first time in Indian history, 5 million agricultural workers have been leaving agriculture per annum. They are mostly absorbed in low-skilled construction employment. 
  • Third, education enrolment levels of youth joining the labour force have been increasing every year since 2010 or so. As a result, secondary gross enrolment ratio has increased from 62 to 79 per cent between 2010 and 2014.

Important schemes for job growth

  • The Ministry of Labour is finalising the scheme to offer to pay 8.33 per cent of the salary as contribution for a pension scheme for new employees getting formal sector jobs. The scheme will be applicable to those with salary up to Rs.15,000 per month.
  • The Ministry of Commerce is customising incentives for labour-intensive export sectors. It has already initiated an Interest Equalisation Scheme and the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme to support declining exports, given that exports have been declining for 15 months.
  • In the Budget, the government also announced that 100 per cent FDI in food retail will be permitted on the condition that the goods have to be manufactured in India.
  • Under the Stand Up India scheme, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women entrepreneurs will get support such as free pre-loan training and facilitating loan and marketing.

Is it enough?

  • However, government schemes rarely create many jobs. International evidence is that when consumer demand grows consistently, whether from domestic or international markets, that is when jobs grow.
  • That requires an industrial policy. Ease of doing business improvement and infrastructure investment increases should improve the economic environment. But they don’t necessarily add up to an industrial policy, which has been lacking in India ever since economic reforms began in 1991.
  • The international evidence on incentives to employers for creating jobs (which is the idea behind the first scheme) is not promising, certainly not in creating jobs on the scale that India needs.
  • The educated youth are unlikely to join agriculture and will look for non-agricultural jobs in urban areas.
  • The revolution in rising expectations is already causing social movements (the Patel and Jat agitations in Gujarat and Haryana, for instance).

Industry opposes contract wage hike

  • Government proposal – to fix a minimum monthly income of Rs.10,000 for contract workers
  • There is a lot of variation in the minimum wages for workers in various states and they range from between Rs.3,500 and Rs.10,000. Keeping this in mind, the government has thought of giving minimum wage of Rs.10,000 to contract workers.
  • In the draft notification issued on 30 March to amend the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abollition) Central Rules, 1971, the Labour Ministry has fixed minimum monthly income for contract workers at Rs.10,000.
  • The ministry had sought stakeholder comments on the proposal till the end of April.
  • As per a study by the VV Giri National Labour Institute in 2011, there were 3.6 crore contract labourers in the country. The study also said that 30 per cent of all workers in private sector and around 32 per cent in the public sector are employed through contractors.

Opposition by industry officials- Reasons

  • Will result in job losses and dent India’s industrial growth
  • Artificial increase in the minimum wages through an ill-conceived notification on contract workers will completely distort the labour market and make India’s apparel exports less competitive on a global scale.
  • A national level minimum wage for contract workers is out of sync with the current system where each state fixes minimum wages for different levels of skills, based on local conditions. The government didn’t take into consideration the current scenario. At the macro-level since 1948, the minimum wages were always fixed by states looking at the cost of living in the state and demand-supply situation. Wage level varies for different industry segments and skill-sets. The cost to company for each employee will go up to Rs.15,990 a month as companies need to pay statutory dues like provident fund, bonus along with other entitlements
  • Increasing the minimum wage to Rs.10,000 per month regardless of the categorisation of skilled and unskilled workers becomes arbitrary to our view. Many labour-intensive sectors such as apparel industry employ a lot of unskilled labour. If you take the minimum wage level to such a high level, the industry will then say should we start looking at automation so intensely
  • The need of the hour is to bring workers into the organised sector. With this move, the govt will end up destroying the jobs because business will migrate away to countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam
  • The move is an encroachment on the states’ power. The states should decide the minimum wages. Even industries are also in favour of increasing minimum wage but it has to be in a planned manner
  • Trade unions ask the government to increase the minimum wage to Rs.18,000 per month on lines of the Seventh Pay Commission

On-tap bank licences: NBFCs upbeat, corporates disappointed

  • Non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) are hopeful of setting up banks with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) making it clear that companies primarily involved in finance business will make the cut for bank licence.
  • The central bank said existing NBFCs that have a successful track record for at least 10 years will be eligible to convert into or promote a new bank.
  • An open licensing regime should result in a balanced approach to applying for a bank licence and many NBFCs may want to wait on the sidelines till they understand the merits of the transition from the two banks that got their licences
  • While many NBFCs are upbeat, for entities promoted by large corporate houses like Reliance, L&T and Aditya Birla, getting a licence would not be easy given the stringent norms.
  • Groups in the private sector that are ‘owned and controlled by residents’ and have a successful track record for at least 10 years, provided that if such a group has total assets of Rs.5,000 crore or more, the non-financial business of the group does not account for 40 per cent or more in terms of total assets in terms of gross income

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY)

  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) has been operationalised from 1st July, 2015 with the objective of enhancing irrigation coverage and improving the delivery system at farm level.
  • The programme aims at end-to-end solutions in irrigation supply chain, viz. water sources, distribution network and farm level applications.
  • All the States and Union Territories are covered under the programme.
  • The scheme envisages decentralized state level planning and projectised execution, allowing the states to draw their irrigation development plans based on district/blocks plans with a horizon of 5 to 7 years.
  • The scheme has four components which are as under:
  1. Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP): To focus on faster completion of ongoing Major and Medium Irrigation including National Projects.
  2. Har Khet Ko Pani (HKKP): Creation of new water sources through minor irrigation (both surface and ground water); repair, restoration & renovation of traditional water bodies;  command area development; strengthening and creation of distribution network from sources to the farm etc.
  3. Per Drop More Crop (PDMC): Precision irrigation systems, efficient water conveyance & application, micro level storage structures, topping up of input cost beyond Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) permissible limits, secondary storage, water lifting devices, extension activities, coordination & management etc..
  4. Watershed Development (WD): Ridge area treatment, drainage line treatment, soil and moisture conservation, rainwater harvesting and other watershed interventions.
  • Major, medium and minor irrigation projects are covered under PMKSY to bring more areas under irrigation and increase agricultural production. Major and Medium irrigation projects  are incorporated under Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) and Minor irrigation along with Command Area Development (CAD) comes under Har Khet Ko Pani component of PMKSY both components being administered by Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga rejuvenation.

Issues

  1. Under AIBP several irrigation projects were delayed beyond deadline. But, no project or State government was penalised. Similarly, there is no reference to accountability in PMKSY when there is a failure to meet targets or to formulate any district plans.
  2. CAG audit found major irregularities in a 2004-2010 audit of AIBP. No major reform was undertaken after the audit.
  3. The PMKSY envisages water management at district level. This contradicts the National Water Policy-2012 which provides for water management at river basin or watershed level. If a single watershed is divided by several districts, there could be several plans within a single watershed severely affecting its implementation.
  4. One of the principal causes of the failure of the AIBP was its inability to take land acquisition into account. PMKSY pays little attention to this.
  5. “Per Drop More Crop” requires higher investment to introduce costly sprinklers and drip irrigation which small landowning farmers cannot afford. It finds no mention in PMKSY.
  6. While specialists are given greater preference in water management in advanced countries, there is dominance of generalists in PMKSY bureaucracy.
  7. The tenure of service of the bureaucrats heading the committee will be secure, irrespective of the outcome of PMKSY

Erosion of coastlines

  • As per data base compiled by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in the year of 2005, around 23% of the Indian coastline is affected by varying degrees of erosion.
  • Shoreline Change Atlas of the Indian Coast – by the Space Application Centre (SAC), Ahmadabad and Central Water Commission in May, 2014-
  1. 45% of the total coastline is under erosion,
  2. around 35.7% of coastline is under accretion
  3. rest (18.79%) is under stable category.

Following steps have been taken to check the extent of coastal erosion:-

  • Coastal Protection Development & Advisory Committee (CPDAC) constituted in 1995- for organising, coordinating programme of collection, compilation, evaluation and publication of data relating to various natural phenomenon in coastal processes, which affect the coastal line, identification of coastal zones and draw up short and long term plans for coastal protection.
  • During the X Plan (2002-07), a Centrally Sponsored Scheme, “Critical anti-erosion works in coastal and other than Ganga basin States” was approved by Government of India under which the anti-sea erosion works for the States of Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and UT of Puducherry were included
  • During the XI Plan (2007-12), the Government of India launched a Flood Management Programme (FMP) for providing central assistance to the State Governments for taking up flood management works including anti-sea erosion works. Under this scheme, central assistance was released to Government of Gujarat for construction of sea-walls/coastal protection works.
  • In addition, the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Resources initiated the process of collecting details of severely affected reaches to explore the possibility of preparing a National Coastal Protection Project (NCPP) for taking up the same for external assistance. A loan amounting to 250 Million USD for Sustainable Coastal Protection and Management Investment Programme (SCP&MIP) was approved by ADB in Oct, 2010. Currently, Sustainable Coastal Protection and Management Investment Programme (SCP&MIP)-Tranche-1 is on-going in the States of Karnataka and Maharashtra at an estimated cost of 62.7 Million USD including ADB loan of 51.56 Million USD.
  • Planning and execution of the anti-sea erosion measures are undertaken by the maritime States/UTs as per their own priority. The union government supports the efforts of states by providing technical advice and promotional financial assistance for critical projects.
  • The Flood Management Programme launched by the Ministry has provision for anti sea erosion/coastal protection works and the funding pattern under this programme is 50(centre) :50 (states) for General Category States.

Rural electrification on mission mode

  • In view of the Prime Minister’s address to nation, on Independence Day, Government of India has decided to electrify remaining 18,452 unelectrified villages within 1000 days i.e. by 01st May, 2018.
  • The project has been taken on mission mode under rural electrification component of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) and strategy for electrification consists of squeezing the implementation schedule to 12 months and also dividing village electrification process in 12 Stage milestones with defined timelines for monitoring.
  • 7,549 villages have been electrified till date. Out of remaining 10,903 villages, 444 villages are uninhabitated.
  • 7,059 villages are to be electrified through grid, 3,003 villages to be electrified through off- grid where grid solutions are out of reach due to geographical barriers and 397 villages are to be electrified by State Govt own.

Actions taken to expedite the process

  • Close monitoring is being done through Gram Vidyut Abhiyanta (GVA)
  • Reviewing the progress on monthly basis during the RPM meeting,
  • Sharing of list of villages which are at the stage of under energisation with the state Discom,
  • Identifying the villages where milestone progress are delayed.

Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY)

  • This scheme will enable to initiate much awaited reforms in the rural areas.
  • It focuses on feeder separation (rural households & agricultural) and strengthening of sub-transmission & distribution infrastructure including metering at all levels in rural areas. This will help in providing round the clock power to rural households and adequate power to agricultural consumers .
  • The earlier scheme for rural electrification viz. Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) has been subsumed in the new scheme as its rural electrification component

Components:

  1. feeder separation;
  2. strengthening of sub-transmission and distribution network;
  3. Metering at all levels (input points, feeders and distribution transformers);
  4. Micro grid and off grid distribution network &
  5. Rural electrification- already sanctioned projects under RGGVY to be completed.

Electrification definition

  • As per the new definition, a village would be declared as electrified, if :
  1. Basic infrastructure such as Distribution Transformer and Distribution lines are provided in the inhabited locality as well as the Dalit Basti hamlet where it exists.
  2. Electricity is provided to public places like Schools,Panchayat Office,Health Centers,Dispensaries,Community centers etc.
  3. The number of households electrified should be at least 10% of the total number of households in the village.

Centre steps in to expedite patent approvals

  • The government is taking measures to reduce the time to examine patent applications for clearing them at the earliest
  • Now the time is between 5 and 7 years for the first examination of patent applications. The target is to bring it down to 18 months
  • One of the main reasons for this situation was shortage of manpower. In addition to the existing strength of 130 examiners of patents and designs, the government recently hired 458 new examiners, Mr. Abhishek said. An additional 263 examiners will soon be recruited on a contract basis.
  • Also, online examination has begun to reduce pendency.
  • The pendency in patent applications and trademark registration as on February 1, 2016 was around 2.37 lakh and 5.44 lakh respectively.
  • The patent rules are being amended to fast-track examination for patents by start-ups. The government has appointed a panel of around 80 lawyers to ensure free consultation to start-ups.

FDI inflows hit record $51 bn in April-February last fiscal

  • India received $51 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), the highest-ever FDI inflow in a fiscal, during April-February FY16, according to Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP)
  • DIPP said the increased FDI inflow was the result of the government’s efforts to improve the ease of doing business and initiatives such as ‘Make In India.’
  • $29.4 billion during April-December period in FY16. Of this, $10.98 billion was from Singapore and $6.1 billion from Mauritius.
  • Computer software and hardware sectors received $5.3 billion
  • services sector accounted for $4.2 billion.
  • Automobile – $1.7 billion
  • telecom sectors $1.07 billion
  •  the National Capital Territory (comprising Delhi, part of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana) received $10.6 billion while Mumbai got $5.2 billion.
  • To boost the investment environment and bring in foreign investments, the government had brought in FDI-related reforms and liberalisation touching upon 15 major sectors of the economy by putting more FDI proposals in the automatic route.

Drought- Does irrigation help?

  • A drought is a period of below-average precipitation in a given region, resulting in prolonged shortages in its water supply, whether atmospheric, surface water or ground water.
  • Following main types of drought may be recognized: 1. Meteorological Drought 2. Hydrological Drought 3. Agricultural Drought 4. Soil Moisture Drought 5. Socio-Economic Drought 6. Famine 7. Ecological Drought

1. Meteorological Drought:

  • It describes a situation where there is a reduction in rainfall for a specific period (days, months, seasons or year) below a specific amount (long term average for a specific time).
  • The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has defined drought as a situation occurring in any area when the mean annual rainfall is less than 75% of the normal rainfall.
  • IMD has further classified droughts into the broad categories viz.,
  • a severe drought when the deficiency of rainfall exceeds 50% of the normal rainfall and
  • moderate drought when the deficiency of rainfall is between 25 and 50% of the normal rainfall.

2. Hydrological Drought:

  • Hydrological drought is associated with reduction of water. A meteorological drought often leads to hydrological drought. Generally it takes two successive meteorological droughts before the hydrological drought sets in. There are two types of hydrological droughts viz., surface water drought and  ground water drought.
  • Surface-water Drought:It is concerned with drying up of surface water resources such as rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, tanks, reservoirs etc.
  • Ground-water Drought: Ground-water drought is associated with the fall in the ground water level. This happens due to excessive pumping of ground water without compensatory replenishment and creates more or less irreversible ground water drought even in normal rainfall conditions.

3. Agricultural Drought:

  • Agricultural drought is concerned with the impact of meteorological/hydrological drought on crop yield. When soil moisture and rainfall conditions are not adequate enough to support a healthy crop growth to maturity thereby causing extreme moisture stress and wilting of major crop area, it leads to agricultural drought.

4. Soil Moisture Drought:

  • This is a situation of inadequate soil moisture particularly in rainfed areas which may not support crop growth. This happens in the event of a meteorological drought when the water supply to soil is less and water loss by evaporation is more.

5. Socio-Economic Drought:

  • It reflects the reduction of availability of food and income loss on account of crop failures endangering food and social security of the people in the affected areas.

6. Famine:

  • A famine occurs when large scale collapse of access to food occurs which, without intervention, can lead to mass starvation.

7. Ecological Drought:

  • Ecological drought takes place when the productivity of a natural eco-system fails significantly as a consequence of distress induced environmental damage.

Current drought situation

  • The incidence of drought can no longer be considered a rare event. Climate change has quickened the occurrence
  • India has experienced numerous drought years in the past, but the frequent recurrence after 1988 — in 1999, 2002, 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2015 — is highly worrisome.
  • The Union government has already declared that the country is grappling with severe drought conditions which are estimated to have affected a sizeable population, nearly 330 million people.
  • More than 50 per cent of the districts across the country have had rainfall deficit, many along with high temperatures of above 45 degrees Celsius.
  • The most severely affected States include Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Telangana.

Impact of drought on irrigation projects

  • Agricultural sector provides livelihood to almost 75 per cent of the population directly and indirectly.
  • Drought affect the production and the productivity of key crops viz. wheat and rice- India’s food basket.
  • In a situation of a continuous decline in the level of water tables and low capacity of water reservoirs, irrigation would contribute little to help in the drought conditions.

Scaling up irrigated area

  • Hardly any increase in the total net irrigated area- around 63 million hectares/ 45 per cent of the total area sown in the country.
  • Some improvement in irrigation intensity -Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in recent years.
  • But increase public investment in major, medium and minor irrigation has increased  massively from Rs .235 billion in 2004-05 to Rs. 309 billion in 2013-14.
  • A virtually stagnancy in irrigated area — especially of the area under canal irrigation — raises concerns about the efficiency of the ongoing investments and the quantum of investment that is further required to scale up area under irrigation.

Major v/s minor irrigation

  • The investment in major projects increased- by 3.5 times, minor irrigation -times only.
  • International Food Policy Research Institute – sharp drop in the marginal returns from additional public investment in major and medium irrigation from 1.41 per cent during the nineties to 0.12 per cent when expenditure incurred during the 2000s
  • Evidence also shows that the ratio of irrigation potential created from public expenditure is higher for minor irrigation projects than medium and large irrigation projects.
  • Unfortunately, minor irrigation projects have received only scant attention from policymakers over time. Minor irrigation structures play a significant role in recharging of wells, drought mitigation and flood control.

Immediate measures taken

  • Large-scale public works are organised
  • Food distribution  arranged for destitute persons who were unable to work.
  • Arrangements also made for debt relief, cattle camps, water supply
  • The drought relief system is best developed in the western States of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, but the basic framework was much the same elsewhere even if its implementation often fell short.
  • The government has initiated drought relief programmes to compensate crop losses,
  • encourage judicious use of groundwater, and
  • has sent ‘water trains’ to the highly water-scarce areas
  • extending financial help to the States to cope with the emerging crisis.
  • Also permanent income support measures such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the Public Distribution System (PDS), midday meals and social security pensions. This also reduces people’s dependence on special relief measures in drought years. There’s a need to intensify these permanent income support measures

Long-term remedial options

  • Increased water conservation and promoting cultivation of less water-intensive crops 
  • Adopt drought-resistant crop varieties – some parts of Odisha for paddy/rice through the help of the International Rice Research Institute. This can maintain productivity and income of the farmers and also ensure price stability to the consumers.
  • It is important for the government to sustain an increased investment in irrigation but at the same time gear up towards faster completion of the ongoing projects.
  • Shortage of drinking water – through promoting conservation and generating awareness.
  • Media reports – funds allocated by the Centre for drinking water projects remained underutilised by States. The States must act responsibly and gear up to come out of the current situation of water crisis.

Micro irrigation system

  • comprising drip and sprinkler irrigation has greater potential to improve water use efficiency in agriculture.
  • Studies show  –
  1. helps save water,
  2. reduce cost of cultivation
  3. improve crop yield,
  4. net return per inch of water supplied through drip irrigation was 60-80 per cent higher than that of conventional irrigation system.
  • Despite various promotional efforts undertaken by State governments, their level of adoption and spatial spread has remained low. Reasons-
  1. high initial capital cost,
  2. suitability of designs to different soil conditions,
  3. problems in receiving subsidy like delay and appropriation of  by better-off farmers
  4. small holdings,
  • The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana is a good policy initiative that would accelerate public investment in both micro and macro irrigation.
  • During the recently organised India Water Week, 2016, India has also partnered with Israel, a water-scarce country, to learn and adopt innovative strategies to harness rainwater. Small vegetable-growing farmers near Solan, Himachal Pradesh, have long adopted Israel’s water-saving technology through the assistance of the Mother Dairy retail chain that procures their fresh produce. It is an opportune time to scale up technology adoption.