NATIONAL CURRENT AFFAIRS

Telangana launches T-Wallet for people with and without mobile phones

  • The Telangana Government has launched a digital wallet, named T-Wallet, which doesn’t charge transaction fee from consumers.
  • The government is planning to use the wallet, available in Google Play, for remittances under job guarantee scheme MNREGA and scholarships for students.
  • Telangana IT and Industry Minister KT Rama Rao said that the wallet is better than BHIM, the one launched by the Union Government. “T-Wallet is a bi-directional.
  • While consumers use it for public and private transactions, the government can use it to make payments to various beneficiaries,
  • They have over 4,000 MeeSeva (e-governance centres) in the State and those without phones can also have wallets using these centres.

About T-Wallet

  • It has a two-factor authentication to ensure security of the wallet.
  • The two-factor authentication happens with Aadhaar with biometrics or Aadhaar with OTP (one-time password) to Aadhaar-linked phone number.
  • It also can be used over the web version. One can top up the wallet using credit or debit cards, Internet banking or through cash at Mee Seva centres.
  • It allows a maximum transaction of Rs1 lakh for e-KYC (know your customer) users.
  • For non-KYC users, the limit is set to Rs20,000.
  • The government has picked Transaction Analysts (TA), which secured an RBI licence to run mobile wallets, to run the wallet. Vijaya Bank, a banking partner for the initiative, will provide an escrow account facility for Transaction Analysts.
  • The settlement process and merchant settlement of T-Wallet will also be handled by the bank.The wallet supports, presently available in Android version, supports English, Telugu and Urdu.

Prithvi-II missile successfully test-fired

  • India successfully test-fired its indigenously developed nuclear-capable Prithvi-II missile from a test range in Odisha as part of a user trial by the Army.
  • The trial of the surface-to-surface missile, which has a strike range of 350 km, was carried out from a mobile launcher from launch complex-3 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur at around 9.50 am
  • The trial of the sophisticated missile was successful and the mission objectives were met
  • The Prithvi-II missile is capable of carrying 500 kg to 1,000 kg of warheads and is thrusted by liquid propulsion twin engines.
  • It uses advanced inertial guidance system with manoeuvring trajectory to hit its target with precision and accuracy.
  • The state-of-the-art missile was randomly chosen from the production stock and the entire launch activities were carried out by the specially formed strategic force command (SFC) and monitored by the scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as part of training exercise
  • “The missile trajectory was tracked by the DRDO radars, electro-optical tracking systems and telemetry stations located along the coast of Odisha,” the sources said.
  • Teams on board the ship deployed near the designated impact point in the Bay of Bengal monitored the terminal events and splashdown.
  • In salvo mode, two Prithvi-II missiles were successfully test fired in quick succession from the same base, on November 21, 2016.
  • Inducted into Indian armed forces in 2003, the nine-metre tall, single-stage liquid-fuelled Prithvi II is the first missile to have been developed by the DRDO under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme.

Prithvi-II

  • Prithvi-II is a tactical short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) developed indigenously by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
  • It is the first missile to be indigenously developed by DRDO under India’s prestigious Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP). The missile is capable of carrying 500 kg to 1,000 kg of nuclear as well as conventional warheads. the missile has a strike range of 350 km.
  • The missile is powered by liquid propellant and can operate with both liquid as well as solid fuel.
  • It has the ability to dodge enemy missiles by using advanced inertial guidance system with manoeuvring trajectory to hit its target.
  • The missile was inducted into Indian armed forces in 2003. The missile has been inducted into the 333-missile regiment of the Indian Army.
  • The missile can deliver warheads deep into enemy territory and inflict heavy damage to forward airfields. It is designed in such a way that it can be taken close to the forward line over any kind of terrain

India’s first automatic coastal warning for disasters to come up in Odisha

  • Odisha can warn the population residing along its 480km long coastline by pressing one single button from a control room in the State capital in the event of the occurrence of natural disasters like a cyclone or tsunami.
  • The government is all set to commission the ambitious Early Warning Dissemination System (EWDS) that would enable loud sirens, going off simultaneously from towers at 122 locations by July.
  • Odisha is the first state in India that has developed an automatic public address system that can be activated along its entire coastline.
  • Odisha is the first State in India to have developed an automatic public address system that can be activated along its entire coast. Neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is also building up such capability to face natural calamities.
  • The 122 locations include tourist destinations, fish landing centres and coastal habitations.
  • The protocol, which will be developed in due course of time, will help people understand the gravity of situation depending on the number of sirens that would go off from towers.
  • The EWDS comprises of technologies like Satellite-Based Mobile Data Voice Terminals (SBMDVT), Digital Mobile Radio (DMR), Mass Messaging System (MMS) and Universal Communication Interface (UCI) for inter-operability among different communication technologies.
  • The project, which is being implemented with assistance from the World Bank, will have towers in 22 blocks under six coastal districts such as Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Puri and Ganjam at an estimated cost of Rs 82 crore.

Highlights:

  • The warning can be circulated just by the press of a button from the control room in the State capital in the event of occurrence of natural disasters
  • It would trigger loud sirens simultaneously from 122 towers at various locations across the state, including tourist destinations, fish landing centres and coastal habitations
  • The sound eliminating from the towers can be heard in localities up to a radius of 1.5 km
  • The towers will be installed in 22 blocks under six coastal districts such as Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Puri and Ganjam
  • The EWDS comprises of Satellite-Based Mobile Data Voice Terminals (SBMDVT), Digital Mobile Radio (DMR), Mass Messaging System (MMS) and Universal Communication Interface (UCI) for inter-operability among different communication technologies
  • The project at an estimated cost of Rs 82 crore will be implemented with assistance from the World Bank
  • The EWDS will help the people to move to safer places before government agencies commenced evacuation
India, Russia Sign Pact For Two More Units of Kudankulam N-plant, to Push Military Ties
  • India and Russia on 1st June signed the much-awaited agreement on setting up of two more units of a nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu and decided to give a “new direction” to the defence cooperation between the two “great powers”.
  • The two countries also decided to hold the first Tri-Services exercises, named ‘Indra-2017’, this year and start joint manufacturing of frigates, adding on to the co-production of Kamov-226 military helicopters.
  • These decisions were taken at the wide-ranging talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg which covered a range of issues, including terrorism and increasing trade and investment.
  • A Joint Declaration issued after the talks said that “the Indian-Russian special and privileged strategic partnership is a unique relationship of mutual trust between two great powers.”
  • An agreement on cultural exchanges for a period of two years (2017-2019) has been signed between the two nations.
  • An agreement for the construction of the third stage of the Kudankulam NPP (KK5 & KK6) along with the Credit Protocol has been signed between NPCIL and ROSATOM
  • An agreement between the Federal Service for Intellectual Property (Rospatent) and the Council of India on Scientific and Industrial Research has been signed to provide access to Rospatent experts to the Indian Digital Library of Traditional Knowledge (TKDL).
  • Contract between JSC (Russian Railways) and the Ministry of Railways on the preparation of the justification for the implementation of the high-speed service at the Nagpur-Secunderabad section has been signed.
  • Memorandum of cooperation between ALROSA Joint Stock Company and the Council for the Promotion of the Export of Precious Stones and Jewellery of India has been signed.
  • It said the relationship covers all areas of cooperation, including in the spheres of political relations, security, trade and economy, military and technical field, energy, scientific, cultural and humanitarian exchanges, and foreign policy.
  • The relationship helps promote national interests of both countries, and contributes to the establishment of a more peaceful and just world order, the declaration said. The two sides signed five agreements, which included one on setting up of Units 5 and 6 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu with the Russian help.
  • Modi said the nuclear agreement, which was a major outcome of the summit meeting, will further strengthen the ties between the two countries.
  • The other pacts included a contract for a high-speed train service between Nagpur and Secunderabad, an MoU for export of precious stones and jewellery and a programme on cultural exchanges.
  • The reactors will be built by India’s Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Russia’s Atomstroyexport company, a subsidiary of Rosatom, the regulatory body of the Russian nuclear complex. Each of the two units will have a capacity to produce 1,000 MW of power.
  • The document titled ‘A vision for the 21st Century’ said economies of India and Russia complement each other in the energy sector and both countries will strive to build an “energy bridge”.
  • It said the future of Indian-Russian cooperation holds great promise across a wide spectrum covering nuclear power, nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear science and technology.

Sebi forms committee on corporate governance

  • To improve the standards of corporate governance of listed companies, markets regulator Sebi on Friday set up a committee under the chairmanship of Uday Kotak, chief of Kotak Mahindra Bank.
  • The panel includes representatives of Corporate India, stock exchanges, professional bodies, investor groups, chambers of commerce, law firms, academicians and research professionals, and Sebi.
  • The panel headed by Kotak, the executive vice chairman and managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, would have to submit the report within a period of four months, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has said in a statement.

Objectives

  • The committee would make recommendations to SEBI on ensuring independence in spirit of independent directors and their active participation in functioning of the company and steps for improving safeguards and disclosures pertaining to related party transactions.
  • Besides, the panel would suggest measures for addressing issues faced by investors on voting and participation in general meetings and ways for improving effectiveness of board evaluation practices.
  • Further, it will also suggest SEBI on issues pertaining to disclosure and transparency.
  • Earlier in April, SEBI had come out with detailed corporate governance norms for listed companies providing for stricter disclosures and protection of investor rights, including equitable treatment for minority and foreign shareholders.
  • The new rules, which would be effective from October 1, require companies to get shareholders’ approval for related party transactions, establish whistle blower mechanism, elaborate disclosures on pay packages and have at least one woman director on their boards.
  • Sebi’s norms are aligned with the new Companies Act and are aimed to encouraging companies to “adopt best practices on corporate governance”.

Securities and Exchange Board of India

  • Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) was first established in the year 1988 AQF as a non-statutory body for regulating the, securities market.
  • It became an autonomous body by The Government of India on 12 April 1992 and given statutory powers in 1992 with SEBI Act 1992 being passed by the Indian Parliament.
  • SEBI has its headquarters at the business district of Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai, and has Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western Regional Offices in New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Ahmedabad respectively. It has opened local offices at Jaipur and Bangalore and is planning to open offices at Guwahati, Bhubaneshwar, Patna, Kochi and Chandigarh in Financial Year 2013 – 2014.
  • Controller of Capital Issues was the regulatory authority before SEBI came into existence; it derived authority from the Capital Issues (Control) Act, 1947.
  • Initially SEBI was a non statutory body without any statutory power. However, in 1995, the SEBI was given additional statutory power by the Government of India through an amendment to the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992. In April 1988 the SEBI was constituted as the regulator of capital markets in India under a resolution of the Government of India
  • SEBI is credited for quick movement towards making the markets electronic and paperless by introducing T+5 rolling cycle from July 2001 and T+3 in April 2002 and further to T+2 in April 2003. The rolling cycle of T+2 means, Settlement is done in 2 days after Trade date.
  • SEBI has been active in setting up the regulations as required under law. SEBI did away with physical certificates that were prone to postal delays, theft and forgery, apart from making the settlement process slow and cumbersome by passing Depositories Act, 1996.

Shashi Shekhar Vempati named CEO of public broadcaster Prasar Bharati

  • Shashi Shekhar Vempati, a former principal architect of Infosys Technologies, has been appointed the new chief executive officer (CEO) of public broadcaster Prasar Bharati.
  • The appointment announced comes seven months after the last CEO, Jawhar Sircar, resigned from the post.
  • Vempanti, a technocrat, had been on the board of Prasar Bharati as a part-time member.
  • His appointment as CEO was made on the recommendation of a three-member committee headed by vice-president Hamid Ansari, Press Council of India chairman Justice CK Prasad and the secretary of the Information and Broadcasting ministry who is also the President’s nominee.
  • An IIT Bombay alumnus, Vempati’s tenure will be for five years from the date of assumption of office.
  • Vempati has over two decades of experience as a technocrat with specialization in areas of corporate management, technology consulting and digital media.
  • He currently holds two patents ‘Real Time Business Event Monitoring, Tracking and Execution Architecture’ and ‘System and method for monitoring and management of inventory of products and assets in real time’ under his name
  • With the appointment of Vempati, the government broke away from the tradition of appointing former bureaucrats to the position.

Vizianagaram bags MGNREGA national award

  • The Ministry of Rural Development has selected Vizianagaram as one among the 17 districts across the nation for the MGNREGA annual award for effective implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act during 2015-16.
  • The award would be presented at the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA Sammelan to the district programme coordinator and District Collector on June 19 in New Delhi.

Achievements

  • The district had generated works for 3,61,668 households in 2015-16 and disbursed Rs 483.42 crore as wages with an average of Rs 106.
  •  Over 5,000 farm ponds, 240 rain water harvesting structures, and 440 water shed works were executed. In addition, 3,427 minor irrigation tanks were de-silted and restored to their original capacity
  • Using MGNREGA convergence grants, 154 fish- breeding units and an equal number of vegetable pandals, besides fodder production, sericulture, and development of horticulture in 5,000 acres of land were taken up.

Convergence works

  • While appreciating people’s representatives, DWMA officials and other functionaries, the Collector said the material component that remained unused for the past few years was now being used for bridging the developmental gaps through convergence works, which include CC roads, NTR Jala Siri, energised bore-wells, plantation, and construction of IHHLs under Swachh Andhra Pradesh.
  • The State had been utilising 16% of the nation’s MGNREGA funds

US to sell $366.2 million C-17 Globemaster aircraft to India

  • The Donald Trump administration’s decision to sell one C-17 transport aircraft to India will improve its capability to meet current and future strategic airlift requirements
  • The proposed sale of C-17 transport aircraft by Boeing comes at an estimated cost of $366.2 million.
  • The plane comes with a missile warning system, countermeasures dispensing system, one identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder and a precision navigation equipment.
  • The proposed sale will improve India’s capability to meet current and future strategic airlift requirements,
  • India lies in a region prone to natural disasters and will use the additional capability for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
  • In addition, through this purchase, India will be able to provide rapid strategic combat airlift capabilities for its armed forces.
  • India currently operates C-17 aircraft and will have no difficulty in absorbing this aircraft into its armed forces, the agency said, adding that the proposed sale will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
  • The Congressional notification said that a determination has been made that India can provide substantially the same degree of protection for the sensitive technology being released as the United States.
  • According to the Pentagon, the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III military airlift aircraft is the most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the US Air Force fleet. The C-17 is capable of strategic delivery of up to 170,900 pounds of personnel and/or equipment to main operating bases or forward operating locations.
  • The aircraft can perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions as well transport litters and ambulatory patients during aeromedical evacuations, when required.
  • A fully integrated electronic cockpit and advance cargo delivery system allows a crew of three, pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster, to operate the aircraft on any type of mission

Vizianagaram bags MGNREGA national award

  • The Ministry of Rural Development has selected Vizianagaram as one among the 17 districts across the nation for the MGNREGA annual award for effective implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act during 2015-16.
  • The award would be presented at the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA Sammelan to the district programme coordinator and District Collector on June 19 in New Delhi.
  • District Collector Vivek Yadav said this at a press conference on Saturday. He said a selection committee at the Centre had selected the district for the award after field verification.

Achievements

  • The district had generated works for 3,61,668 households in 2015-16 and disbursed Rs 483.42 crore as wages with an average of Rs106.
  •  Over 5,000 farm ponds, 240 rain water harvesting structures, and 440 water shed works were executed. In addition, 3,427 minor irrigation tanks were de-silted and restored to their original capacity, he said.
  • Further, Mr. Yadav said using MGNREGA convergence grants, 154 fish- breeding units and an equal number of vegetable pandals, besides fodder production, sericulture, and development of horticulture in 5,000 acres of land were taken up.

Convergence works

  • While appreciating people’s representatives, DWMA officials and other functionaries, the Collector said the material component that remained unused for the past few years was now being used for bridging the developmental gaps through convergence works, which include CC roads, NTR Jala Siri, energised bore-wells, plantation, and construction of IHHLs under Swachh Andhra Pradesh.
  • The State had been utilising 16% of the nation’s MGNREGA funds

India Secures Top Position in Global Retail Development Index

  • India’s rapidly expanding economy, easing of foreign direct investment (FDI) rules and a consumption boom are the key drivers for India’s top ranking in the GRDI.
  • The GRDI, titled ‘The Age of Focus’, ranks China in second place. Despite its slower overall economic growth, the market’s size and the continued evolution of retail still make China one of the most attractive markets for retail investment.
  • The study is unique in that it not only identifies the markets that are most attractive today, but also those that offer future potential
  • India’s retail sector has been growing at an annual rate of 20 per cent. Total sales surpassed the USD 1 trillion-mark last year and the sector is expected to double in size by 2020.
  • Rapid urbanisation and a growing middle class with higher income levels is driving up consumption across the country, the consultancy group said.
  • The government’s continued support to relax FDI regulations in key areas of the retail sector have provided further boost to its growth, it noted.
  • In the past year, the government has allowed 100 per cent foreign ownership in B2B e-commerce businesses and for retailers that sell food products.
  • India’s retail sector has also benefited from the rapid growth in e-commerce. It is projected to grow 30 per cent annually and reach USD 48 billion by 2020. Retailers have been quick to seize the opportunity with 86 per cent of e-commerce dominated by pure-play online retailers in 2016.
  • The Indian government’s effort to boost cashless payments (witnessed in the recent nationwide demonetisation exercise) and reform indirect taxation with a nationwide goods and services tax (GST) are also expected to accelerate adoption of formal retail.

About GRDI

  • The GRDI is annually published by London-based business consultancy A T Kearney.
  • The study is unique as it identifies the markets that are most attractive in present and also helps to identify those that offer future potential.
  • The index ranks the 30 developing countries for retail investment worldwide and analyses 25 macroeconomic and retail-specific variables.

First rural LED street lighting project to take off in Andhra Pradesh

  • Energy efficient LED lights will now light up the rural areas of the country.
  • To start with, the Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), under the Ministry of Power, is going to retrofit 10 lakh conventional street lights with LED lamp in village panchayats in Andhra Pradesh which is the first project for rural LED street lighting in the country under the Government of India’s Street Lighting National Project (SLNP).
  • According to an official release, the project will yield energy savings of approximately 147 million units of electricity annually and lead to a reduction of 12 crore tonnes of CO2.
  • The upfront capital cost of this project is being funded by French development agency Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD). EESL will carry out the entire annual maintenance and do the warranty replacement for a period of 10 years.
  • EESL Managing Director Saurabh Kumar acknowledged the fact that AP State has welcomed it (EESL)’s initiatives with open arms and has truly spearheaded the energy efficiency movement in India.
  • The first phase of SLNP in AP will be implemented in Anantapur, Chittoor, Guntur, Kadapa, Kurnool, Nellore and Prakasam districts.
  • The Government of India targeted replacement of 1.34 crore conventional street lights under the SLNP.

India’s first ‘private’ railway station Habibganj to come up near Bhopal

  • Habibganj in the suburbs of Bhopal will redefine the concept of a railway station in India. The country’s first railway station to be redeveloped as a public-private partnership (PPP), Habibganj is set to become a swanky commercial hub with shops, offices and hotels, all in a span of three years.
  • The operation and maintenance responsibilities for the station have been given to Bhopal-based Bansal Group for a period of eight years. It has also received four land parcels on a 45-year lease. The group, which operates in the infrastructure and construction sector, also runs a television channel and educational institutions. It won the bid in 2016.
  • Bansal Group will invest Rs100 crore to overhaul the station which was opened in 1979, and around Rs350 crore to develop four commercial land parcels adding up to 17,245 sq. m.
  • On 9 June, railway minister Suresh Prabhu will launch commencement of the station re-development work in Bhopal.

How will the new station be designed?

  • The Habibganj railway station will be designed as a world-class transit hub, with a central concourse equipped with amenities for waiting passengers; arriving and departing passengers will be segregated.
  • The environment-friendly station will be powered by solar energy and has facilities for the differently-abled.
  • The station will have six lifts, 11 escalators and three travelators, along with two underpasses of 4m each provided for arriving passengers.
  • The station will have parking space for 300 cars, 850 two-wheelers, rickshaws, taxis and buses.
  • In case of an emergency, the premises can be evacuated in four minutes and passengers can reach designated points of safety in six minutes.
  • The management of the Habibganj railway station was given to the Bansal Group on March 1, 2017.
  • They will be taking care of all the facilities at the station like food stalls, retiring rooms, power, platform maintenance, parking.
  • The company will not be responsible for core operations such as train and parcel movement, signalling and ticketing.
  • IRSDC, which is overseeing the Habibganj project, is a special purpose vehicle formed by railway unit Ircon International Ltd (IRCON) and Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) to undertake station redevelopment projects.
  • The national carrier plans to modernize and upgrade passenger amenities at stations by raising money through commercial development of railway land.
  • Being the first PPP railway station project, the success of the project is very important as it will become a role model for the other projects.
  • The project’s success will give confidence to infrastructure developers who have been careful in investing in such brownfield projects

How did it start?

  • The Habibganj project was undertaken as part of the Indian Railways’ ambitious plan to re-develop 400 A1 and A category railway stations.
  • The idea of setting up world-class railway stations was mooted in 2009-10 by then railway minister Mamata Banerjee. Although initial studies were carried out in 2010, it was only in 2015 that the project was revived by Prabhu.
  • “It took us around eight years to define world-class. The standards of India as compared with other countries were very different and what railways wanted was not replication of one model but amalgamation of several models,” said a senior railway ministry official, asking not to be identified.
  • Apart from Habibganj, other projects being handled by IRSDC are Anand Vihar (Delhi), Bijwasan (Delhi), Chandigarh, Surat (Gujarat), Mohali (Punjab) and Gandhinagar (Gujarat).
  • Indian Railways’ ambition of redeveloping 400 stations into world-class facilities is completely based on land monetization.
  • The inventory of railway assets shows that there is huge potential in the land and what we are doing is just using that potential for a limited period of time.
  • There is no harm in monetizing land resources of railways which are getting encroached (on) with every passing day,

The Models

  • Indian Railways has adopted three models for station redevelopment.
  • One is the PPP model, under which a project is planned, statutory clearances obtained and a developer is chosen to upgrade a facility.
  • The second is collaboration with foreign governments to develop stations.
  • The third model is the Swiss Challenge method, where bidders have the freedom to design and develop a project after obtaining approvals on their own. Under this method, the company whose project plan is accepted is given the opportunity to work on the project at the price quoted by the lowest bidder.
  • If it does not accept this, then the project is given to the lowest bidder.

India’s biodiversity riches increases by 499 species

  • On World Environment Day, India has 499 reasons to cheer: 313 species of animal and 186 of plants have been discovered from various areas of the country last year.
  • Animal Discoveries 2016, New Species and Records, brought out by the Zoological Survey of India, and Plant Discoveries 2016, by the Botanical Survey of India, bring the glad tidings.

Wide variety

  • Of the new animal species, 258 are invertebrates and 55 vertebrates. As many as 97 species of insects, 27 of fish, 12 species of amphibians, 10 of Platyhelminthes, nine of Crustacea and six of reptiles have been discovered and described by the scientists. There are 61 species of moths and butterflies (order Lepidoptera) and 38 of beetles (Coloeptera).
  • ZSI Director Kailash Chandra said most of the new species were from the four biological hotspots of the country — the Himalayas, the northeast, the Western Ghats and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • Animal Discoveries 2016 says that for the first time, the number of animal species in the country, including protozoa, has crossed one lakh — 1,00,693 is the exact count.
  • Till last year, India was home to 97,514 species of animals.

Updated list

  • A lot of species in different groups have been updated during the past one year. India is one of the 17 megadiversity countries and it has about 6.42 per cent of the global fauna
  • Plant Discoveries 2016 says that along with 186 new species, scientists have discovered seven new genera, four subspecies and nine new varieties from India, taking the number to 206. The publication lists 113 new records from India.
  • The geographical distribution of the new plant species reveals that most discoveries were made in the Western Ghats (17%), followed by the Eastern Himalayas (15%), the Western Himalayas (13%), the Eastern Ghats (12%) and the west coast (8%).
  • Among the interesting discoveries of the year are eight new species of wild balsams, five species of wild ginger and one species of wild amla [Indian gooseberry].
  • Also, 39 varieties of mushrooms have been discovered. These new species will have use in horticulture and have medicinal value too,” BSI Director Paramjit Singh said.

ISRO successfully launches GSAT-17 Satellite

  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s communication satellite GSAT-17 will be launched early on 29th June morning around 2:00 am onboard Arianespace rocket from Kourou Launch Base in French Guiana.
  • ISRO said, “GSAT-17 is scheduled to be launched at 2:29 hrs IST on June 29 by the Ariane-5 launch vehicle
  • The 3,477 kg GSAT-17 will carry payloads in normal C-band, extended C-band and S-band to provide various communication services.
  • According to the space agency, the satellite also carries equipment for meteorological data relay and satellite-based search and rescue services being provided by earlier INSAT satellites.
  • This is the third satellite launch by ISRO in June. The earth observation Cartosat 2 series satellite on-board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) – C38 and the heavyweight Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III are the previous ones.
  • Both were launched from Sriharikota spacesport. GSLV MkIII successfully launched GSAT-19 satellite on June 5 while PSLV-C38 orbited Cartosat-2 Series satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites on June 23 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
  • Apart from GSAT 17, the Ariane-5 launch vehicle will also launch another communication satellite- Hellas Sat 3-Inmarsat S EAN. This is the fourth Ariane-5 mission in 2017.
  • The launch will be from Ariane Launch Complex No 3 in Kourou, French Guiana, and the total payload that will be carried on Flight VA238 is approximately 10,177 kg.
  • Hellas Sat 3-Inmarsat S EAN is positioned as the upper passenger on Ariane 5, and will be released first during the flight, followed by GSAT-17’s deployment from the launcher’s lower payload position, Arianespace said. It is expected that the mission from liftoff to deployment of the two satellites into Geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) will take about 39 minutes.

GSAT-17

  • The satellite will be an addition to the current fleet of 17 Indian communication satellites that are already providing services from space.
  • Apart from providing communication services, the satellite will provide meteorological and satellite-based data to help rescue services which were earlier provided by geostationary satellites called Indian National Satellite System (INSAT).
  • GSAT-17 will provide continuity of services of operational satellites in C, extended C and S bands Once launched, ISRO’s Master Control Facility at Hassan in Karnataka and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh will take over and place the satellite in geostationary orbit.
  • GSAT-17 was designed and assembled at the ISRO Satellite Centre in Bengaluru.
  • In addition, GSAT-17 will also launch communication satellite Hellas Sat 3-Inmarsat S EAN. Hellas Sat 3 will provide directly to home television and telecom services across Europe, West Asia and South Africa. Inmarsat is set to provide in-flight Internet facilities for European airlines.

Launch Vehicle

  • As ISRO is yet to have a launcher that is capable of lifting payloads above 2,000 kg. ISRO has just started testing the GSLV-Mark III for this purpose.
  • GSAT-17 will be the 21st Indian launch for the Arianespace. ISRO’s upcoming GSAT- 11 which will weigh more than 5,000 kg will also be launched by Arianespace.

China launches its Biggest Naval Destroyer

  • China launched its most powerful naval destroyer, the Type 055, which is among the largest warships in the world.
  • China is building four of these destroyers, the first of which was shown off this morning at the Shanghai port.

About the ship

  • Weighing in when fully armed at more than 12,000 tonnes, the colossal Type 055 is considerably larger and more powerful than India’s latest Project- 15B “Visakhapatnam” class destroyers which have still not been commissioned.
  • India’s latest destroyers will displace close to 8,200 tonnes when completely armed and are designed to carry a mix of nearly 50 surface-to-air, anti-ship and land attack missiles.
  • In contrast, China’s giant cruiser will combine nearly 120 missiles, making it one of the most heavily-armed ships in the world.
  • Powerful phased array radars will help it focus on targets at sea, on land and in the air.
  • The giant new warship is the most sophisticated design put to sea by China which has commissioned a host of new, advanced warships at a remarkable pace over the last five years. According to PLA Realtalk, an ope-source online platform which discusses Chinese military developments, “The 055 is expected to field a substantially more modern and more capable command and control and battle management system.”

Worry to India?

  • Since March 2014, China has commissioned five Type 52D destroyers thought to be similar in capability to India’s `Visakhapatnam’ class warships mentioned above.
  • Worryingly for India, which has planned seven of these warships, China plans a fleet of at least 18 ships of this class.
  • Earlier this year, China launched its first indigenous aircraft carrier, construction of which started in November 2013.
  • India’s own homegrown aircraft carrier, the Vikrant (named after India’s first aircraft carrier), in development since 2009, she sailed out for the first time in 2011, but is unlikely to be completed before 2023 according to a report last year of the national auditor.

India – USA – China

  • China is presently locked in a war of words with the United States over its presence on artificially-created islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
  • India is an important maritime ally of the United States and shares deep concerns on the expansion of the Chinese Navy, particularly in the Indian Ocean.
  • In the last five years, China has constantly deployed submarines (including nuclear submarines), warships and support vessels in the Indian Ocean.
  • In January this year, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., the Commander of the US Pacific Command said, “I believe India should be concerned about the increased Chinese influence. If you believe there is only a finite amount of influence in the region, then whatever influence that China has is influence that India doesn’t have.”

EC takes Facebook help to call unregistered eligible Indian voters

  • The Election Commission will launch a special drive to enrol new electors, and has collaborated with Facebook to launch a ‘voter registration reminder’ on July 1.
  • From next month, Facebook will remind eligible Indian voters to get themselves enrolled as the Election Commission of India has teamed up with the social media giant to push its “No Voter To Be left Behind” moto.
  • An official statement said that ECI is launching a ‘Special Drive’ to enrol left out electors, with a special focus on first time electors from 1st July , 2017 , so as to move in the direction of Commission’s motto that ‘NO VOTER TO BE LEFT BEHIND’
  • “In order to reach out to maximum eligible voters, the ECI is collaborating with Facebook to launch first Nationwide “Voter Registration Reminder” on 1st July ,2017,”the statement adds.

How will it work?

  • On 1st July, a notification of the “voter registration reminder” will be sent to people on Facebook in India who are eligible to vote.
  • The reminder will be sent out in 13 Indian languages – English, Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu, Assamese, Marathi and Oriya.
  • Facebook has over 180 million people in India on Facebook, which will now have the ‘Register Now’ button designed to encourage Indian citizens to register themselves with the Election Commission of India.
  • By clicking on the “Register Now” button on Facebook, people will be directed to the National Voters’ Services Portal (www.nvsp.in) , which will guide them through the registration process.
  •  This is the first time Facebook’s voter registration reminder has been rolled out across India. In 2016 and 2017, Chief Electoral Officers made such efforts at state level during their respective state elections.

India’s First Blood Bank for Cattle to Come up in Odisha

  • Odisha is all set to become the first state in the country to have a blood bank for the cattle.
  • Stating this, the Vice-chancellor of the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) Surendra Nath Pasupalak said that the first of its kind blood bank would be established on the premises of OUAT at an estimated cost of Rs. 3.25 crore.
  • Mr. Pasupalak said a proposal in this regard was earlier submitted to the National Agriculture Development Programme (NADP). After approval from the NADP, the OUAT is now awaiting approval from the state government.
  • The project will have a 60:40 sharing between the Centre and the state government
  • 60% of the project cost would be funded by the Central government and the rest 40% would be funded by the Odisha state government.
  • The cattle farmers will provide blood voluntarily.
  • The blood bank will also go and collect blood from centres.
  • Blood transfusion facility for cattle blood will also be done at the proposed blood bank. This will prevent death of cattle during deliveries and other ailments, he said.
  • The storage facility would come in handy for the veterinarians to save lives of the domesticated animals.

After decades of wait, Indian Army finally gets modern bullet-proof helmets

  • The Indian Army has reportedly received its first batch of bullet-proof helmets from Kanpur-based MKU Industries which was awarded a contract to manufacture 1.58 lakh helmets at the cost of Rs 180 crore.
  • MKU claims that the bullet-proof helmets go through rigorous quality tests and ballistic lab test conducted at the company’s testing facilities in India as well as in Germany.
  • The new helmets are reportedly designed to bear the impact of 9 mm ammunition fired from a short range. This, reports add, match global standards of equipment for armed forces.

Why is it important?

  • Head is the most venerable part of the body to get injured in a combat operation.
  • According to studies, 26 per cent to 28 per cent of soldiers die because of head injuries.
  • In addition to the current 1.6 lakh order, we hope to deliver over 7 lakh helmets to Indian Army and overall one million helmets to different Indian armed forces.
  • In March this year, government think-tank NITI Aayog had prepared a draft note on ‘incentivising’ domestic manufacturing of light weight body armours for the army and para-military forces.

Current Equipment

  • At present, Indian armed forces are using patkas that are worn over outdated infantry helmets.
  • However, it had severe limitations as they are bulky and heavy, weighing over 2.5 kgs.
  • They are capable of protecting only the forehead and back of the head

How did it start?

  • The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had reportedly asked NITI Aayog to prepare a roadmap on the possibility of encouraging production of home-made light weight body armours.
  • As of now, besides MKU, Tata Advanced Materials exports body armour to armed forces around the world including United Kingdom, Germany and Spain.

FSSAI issues draft regulations for organic food products

  • Organic foods will have to comply with the provisions under the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) administered by the government or the Participatory Guarantee System for India (PGS-India) run by the Agriculture Ministry or any other standards notified by the food authority.
  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has sought public comments of the draft regulations, which has been prepared in view of rising demand for organic food products, being considered as healthy, in the country.

The new Regulations

  • Organic food products are either those grown under a system of agriculture without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides or made from organically produced raw materials
  • Currently, a number of food products are being marketed as organic
  • However, the regulator said that consumers do not have any way to check the authenticity of organic food products due to lack of a regulatory framework.
  • The draft regulation on organic food is aimed at overcoming this problem and ensuring that what is sold as organic food is really organic
  • The draft regulation mandates that labelling of organic foods should convey full and accurate information on the organic status of the product.
  • Organic food products should also carry a certification mark or a quality assurance mark given by any of the notified certification bodies.
  • The FSSAI’s draft has exempted organic food marketed through direct sale by the original producer or producer organisation to the end consumer from verification compliance.
  • However, this exemption does not apply to processed organic products.
  • The FSSAI has defined ‘organic agriculture’ as a system of farm design and management to create an eco system of agriculture production without the use of synthetic external inputs such as chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides and synthetic hormones or genetically modified organisms.
  • Organic farm produce means the produce obtained from organic agriculture, while organic food means food products that have been produced in accordance with specified standards for organic production, as per the draft.

World Bank clears $250-mn loan to train job seekers under Skill India Mission

  • The World Bank has cleared a $250 million loan for making Indian youth more employable through reskilling, in a move that is seen to aid the Skill India mission.
  • The multi-lateral lender is keen to support the Indian government in its efforts to better equip the young workforce with employable skills. It said the support will help the youth contribute to India’s economic growth and prosperity.
  • The $250 million Skill India Mission Operation (SIMO), approved by the World Bank board of executive directors, will increase the market relevance of short-term skill development programmes (3-12 months or up to 600 hours) at the national and state level
  • Under the programme, adults in 15-59 years of age, underemployed or unemployed, will get the skill training.
  • It will also include the 1.2 crore youngsters in the age group of 15-29 years who are entering the labour market every year.
  • The programme has a mandate to provide placement and entrepreneurship opportunities to women and increase their exposure to skill training.
  • The Washington-headquartered World Bank’s SIMO is a six- year programme in support of the Indian government’s National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (2017-23).
  • SIMO will be implemented through the National Skill Development Mission and will specifically target labour market entrants.
  • According to an official skill gap analysis, India will require an additional 109 million skilled workers in 24 key sectors by 2022.
K. Kasturirangan to head panel on National Education Policy

West Bengal Honoured with UN Public Service Award

  • In a major boost to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s pet project ‘Kanyashree’, the United Nations today accorded its highest award for public service to the West Bengal government for the scheme initiated to empower the girl child with education.
  • The project was launched in 2011 soon after Mamata Banerjee came to power and has helped more than 40 lakh female students in the state.
  • ‘Kanyashree’ was ranked the best among 552 such social sector schemes from across 62 countries that were nominated for the coveted award.
  • The award was presented at the World Public Service Forum by UN Assistant Secretary General at a ceremony in Hague in Netherlands.
  •  After receiving the award, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dedicated it to the people of her state and the country.

Kanyashree Prakalpa

  • Kanyashree Prakalpa is a initiative taken by the Government of West Bengal to improve the life and the status of the girls by helping economically backward families with cash so that families do not arrange the marriage of their girl child before eighteen years because of economic problem.
  • The purpose of this initiative is to uplift those girls who are from poor families and thus can’t pursue higher studies due to tough economic conditions.
  • It has been given international recognition by the United Kingdoms Department of International Development and the UNICEF.

POSOCO-IMD Weather Portal & Web Portal ‘MERIT’ launched

  • The government today launched a portal on weather information that will help discoms manage power distribution accordingly.
  • The weather information on the portal will also help in better planning for infrastructure availability to ensure cost effective and reliable supply, the power ministry said in a statement.
  • Day to day weather variations have an impact on load demand and energy production, transport and distribution management as well as energy prices.
  • Extreme events such as heat waves or cold waves, wind storms or floods can have dramatic consequences on the production means or the electrical grid of a country, including physical damage to the infrastructure.
  • The information available on the portal regarding weather forecast shall help state discoms to take pro-active steps regarding short term and medium term management processes and supply planning requirements and also for better planning for infrastructure availability to ensure cost effective and reliable supply
  • The portal provides regional weather outlook for current day and up to next 7 days.
  • Weather stations of meteorological department have been mapped to the nearest important electrical station/power stations in each state.

Features of the portal

  1. Regional Weather Summary: This provides Weather Outlook for the Region for the current day and upto next 7 days. Weather stations of Meteorological department have been mapped to the nearest important Electrical Station/ Power Stations in each State.
  2. Nowcast: It is used to forecast weather for a short period ahead, updated every 3 hours
  3. Weather Forecast: It is provided for the current day and next 6 days
  4. Weather Warning: Special Nowcast warning is issued for the next 3 hours.
  5. Radar: The Doppler Weather Radar generates different displays and derived products of practical utility based on standard algorithms. These displays are updated every 10 minutes.
  6. Satellite Images: INSAT 3D is being used to monitor the Weather of Indian Origin. The image is updated every 30 minutes.
  7. Meteogram– The Meteogram at Web-Portal provides plots for Meteorological variables such as Rainfall, Cloud Cover, Temperature, Humidity, Wind, Speed, Sea Level Pressure, Indices for Thunderstorm etc. for 10 days with a resolution time of three hours. Each Meteogram provides information for the 10 km radius.
  8. Region Specific Forecast – Fog Forecast, Metar, Bay Bulletin, Coastal Area Bulletin, Cyclone, Port Warning etc.

NITI Aayog Selects CCMB as Incubation Centre for Biotech Start-ups 

  • An incubation centre for biotechnology start-ups is to be set up at the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad.
  • To be supported by the NITI Aayog, it will create facilities and bring in stakeholders to ensure the success of innovative ideas.
  • The CCMB is one of the 10 organisations identified to host the ‘Atal Incubation Centre’, according to Rakesh Mishra, its Director.
  • Under this, the government will release funds of Rs. 10 crore in the coming five years.
  • The Centre has set up the Atal Incubation Centre in the NITI Aayog to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • He felt that the support from the NITI Aayog has come at an opportune time to catalyse the efforts of small start-ups in biotechnology, to mature rapidly as successful entrepreneurs.
  • The incubation centre would engage with all the stakeholders of a biotechnology translational journey, including intellectual property agencies, regulators, seed funders, business developers, successful businessmen and research institutions.
  • N. Madhusudhan Rao of CCMB said much progress had been made in developing point-of-care devices for human and non-human diseases, to capture the shifting therapy from drugs to biologics, to engage in big data analysis for precision medicine and in the area of stem cell therapy.

Government launches VAJRA scheme to attract Indian scientists abroad

  • In a bid to bring together the Indian scientists abroad and India-based researchers for conducting joint researches in India, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) on 22nd June launched a scheme named ‘Visiting Advanced Joint Research Faculty’ (VAJRA).
  • Minister of Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan launched the Web portal of VAJRA in New Delhi and said that the initiative would boost research work and lead to newer, cutting edge technologies, which was needed in India.

VAJRA Scheme

  • Under this scheme, scientists or senior researchers abroad – of Indian origin or otherwise can collaborate with faculties here
  • Under the scheme, foreign researchers would receive endowments at par with those in their own countries.
  • The researchers would receive endowments at par with those in their own countries.
  • They would be given USD 15,000 in the first month of residency and USD 10,000, for the remaining months.
  • The scheme would promote broad areas of research like energy, health, advance material among others.
  • Public funded academic institutions and national laboratories will be eligible for hosting the VAJRA Faculty.
  • The VAJRA faculty can reside in India for a minimum of 1 month and a maximum of 3 months a year.
  • The applications received from the interested foreign researchers would be evaluated by a Selection Committee of eminent scientists.
  • The Committee will meet twice a year in January and July and make recommendations.

NASA launches World’s Lightest Satellite designed by Indian Student

  • The world’s smallest and lightest satellite KalamSat, which is built by Indian students from Tamil Nadu was launched by NASA’s Wallops Space Center.
  • The satellite has been named after former President of India and world-renowned scientist Dr APJ Abdul Kalam

Key facts about KalamSat: 

  • Designed by Rifath Sharook, an 18 year old student from Pallapatti in Karur district in Tamil Nadu, the satellite weighs just 64 grams and is composed of 3-D printed reinforced carbon fiber polymer. Organisation named ‘Space Kidz India’ funded the satellite.
  • The satellite which is fitted in a 3.8 centimeters cube will function for 12 minutes and will record various data before falling into the sea.
  • The parts needed in the composition of KalamSat were supplied from India and some from abroad as well, claims report.
  • As per the reports of leading portal India Today, the satellite made by Rifat was chosen from 86,000 designs submitted by teams from 57 countries in a ‘Cubes in Space’ contest held by NASA and ‘I Doodle Learning’.
  • Apart from Rifath Sharook, six other children designed the satellite.
  • After participating in ‘Young Scientist Contest’ the team which includes Tanishq Dwivedi (flight engineer), Vinay S Bhardwaj (design engineer), Yagna Sai (lead technician), Mohammed Abdul Kashif (lead engineer), Gobinath (biologist) came together and took a different responsibility to complete the satellite.
  • Earlier in 2015, Rifath Sharook had launched a 1,200g helium weather balloon from a ground in Kelambakkam.

Smart City: 30 more added to Smart Cities Mission

  • Thirty cities were added to the Centre’s Smart Cities Mission and a total investment of Rs. 57,393 crore was announced by Union Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, taking the total number of smart cities to 90.
  • The announcement marks the second anniversary of the launch of the Smart Cities Mission.
  • Among the selected cities, Thiruvananthapuram topped the challenge.
  • The other cities are, Naya Raipur in Chhattisgarh, Rajkot, Amravati in Andhra Pradesh, Patna, Karimnagar in Telangana, Muzaffarpur in Bihar, Puducherry, Gandhinagar, Srinagar, Sagar (Madhya Pradesh), Karnal in Haryana, Satna in Madhya Pradesh, Bengaluru, Shimla, Dehradun, Tirupur, Pimpri Chinchwad (Maharashtra), Bilaspur, Pasighat (Arunachal Pradesh), Jammu, Dahod in Gujarat, Tirunelveli, Thootukkudi, Tiruchirapalli, Jhansi, Aizawl, Allahabad, Aligarh and Gangtok.
  • Mr. Naidu said that of the cities, 26 had proposed affordable housing projects, another 26 new schools and hospitals and 29 had proposed redesign and development of roads.
  • A total of 100 cities were supposed to be selected for the Smart Cities Mission. For the remaining 10 spots, 20 cities – Itanagar, Biharsharif, Diu, Silvassa in Dadra and Nager Haveli, Kavaratti in Lakshadweep, Navi Mumbai, Greater Mumbai and Amaravati in Maharashtra, Imphal, Shillong, Dindigul and Erode in Tamil Nadu, Bidhannagar, Durgapur and Haldia in West Bengal, Meerut, Rai Bareilly, Ghaziabad, Sharanpur and Rampur in U.P. – would have to compete.

India’s biggest municipal bonds programme launched in Maharashtra

  • To finance its 24×7 water supply project, the Pune Municipal Corporation launched India’s biggest municipal bonds programme.
  • The project looks to raise Rs 2,264 crore in five years.
  • Union Urban Development minister Venkaiah Naidu, who launched the programme at Bombay Stock Exchange, said that as cities need more resources to address gaps in infrastructure, they need to look at newer avenues for resource mobilisation. Municipal bond is one such tool. It is, however, not used much for various reasons and this needs to change in the context of capital-intensive urban transformation.
  • Pune’s bond programme is the first since the publication of the Issue and Listing of Debt Securities by Municipalities Regulations, 2015, by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).

How does it works?

  • In its first part, the corporation raised Rs200 crore through the Bombay Stock Exchange’s bond trading platform at a coupon rate (a fixed security amount) of 7.59% for 10 years.
  • The issue received a good response with bonds being over-subscribed by six times.
  • Municipal bonds are debt instruments through which a corporation or municipality raises money from individuals or institutions.
  • The civic body floating the bonds returns the principal amount on a maturity date with a specific amount of interest.
  • There are usually two kinds of bonds – general bonds, where money is raised without mentioning the cause in particular, and revenue bonds, where funds are raised for income-generating projects and revenue from the projects is used to repay the buyers.

How will the funds be used?

  •  The Pune civic body will use the funds for its 24×7 water supply project and has decided to adopt a telescopic water tariff structure based on consumption for the next 30 years to generate revenue from it.
  • The corporation has also decided to set aside a portion of its property tax collection to service the debt programme.
  • Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged SEBI and the Centre’s Department of Economic Affairs to get at least 10 cities to issue municipal bonds within a year as part of his Smart Cities mission.
  • The municipal corporations of New Delhi, Ahmadabad and a few others have also lined up with credit ratings and the necessary documentation to issue municipal bonds, next year.

Uttarakhand and Haryana Declared Open Defecation Free States

  • Uttarakhand and Haryana have become the fourth and fifth Open Defecation Free (ODF) states of India under the Swachh Bharat Mission, said an official statement.
  • The two states joined the league of Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala, which were the first three states to be declared ODF.
  • Nationally, the sanitation coverage has increased from 42 per cent to over 64 per cent in just two-and-a-half years since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission
  • Uttarakhand’s 13 districts, 95 blocks, 7,256 gram panchayats and 1,5751 villages, while Haryana has 21 districts, 124 blocks, and 6,083 gram panchayats — all of which have declared themselves as ODF in formal declarations in Dehradun and Chandigarh, respectively.
  • With the total number of ODF states now rising to five, over two lakh villages and 147 districts have been declared Open Defecation Free across the country.

Indian Railways to launch Operation Swarn to revamp Rajdhani, Shatabdi trains

  • The Railway Ministry is to launch “Operation Swarn” to improve services in Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express trains.
  • In the first phase, the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express and Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express have been selected for upgradation. Work will start from September 26. More trains will be identified in a phased manner.
  • Under the project, the Indian Railways will focus attention on 10 key areas — punctuality, cleanliness, linen, coach interiors, toilets, catering, staff behaviour, security, entertainment, housekeeping and regular feedback.
  • The Ministry official also said the plan will be upgraded in future with services like Wi-Fi, infotainment screens (that were first provided in Tejas Express) and coffee vending machines.
  • The modified trains will also have improved coach interiors,better furnishing and new comfortable seats.
  • The official said an amount of Rs 50 lakh will be allotted to each Rajdhani and Shatabdi train on various routes for the revamp. To monitor the work, two committees will be formed.
  • In May, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu launched the first high-speed premium train Tejas Express between Mumbai and Karnali in Goa.
  • The premium train was loaded with features like LCD screen on every seat, improved interiors, coffee vending machines, automatic doors, fire repression system, bio-vacuum toilets, attendant call buttons, reading LED lights, and others. Tejas Express also offers free Wi-FI connectivity.
  • The train was designed to travel at 200 kmph but keeping in view the track conditions in the Konkan region, the speed was limited to 130 kmph

Operation Swarn

  1. Operation Swarn is aimed at improving the services in the premium trains — Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express.
  2. The operation was launched because of constant complaints from passengers about sanitation, food quality and delay in train arrivals, etc.
  3. Under the operation, in the first phase, Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express and Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express will be upgraded.
  4. More trains will be identified for up gradation in a phased manner.
  5. Indian Railways will work towards improving 10 aspects, namely punctuality, cleanliness, linen, coach interiors, catering, toilets, staff behaviour, security, housekeeping and regular feedback.
  6. Under the operation, a sum of 50 lakh would be allotted to Rajdhani and Shatabdi each on various routes for the purpose of revamping.
  7. Indian Railways will set up two committees to monitor the revamping work.
  8. In future, these trains will also be upgraded with services like Wi-Fi, infotainment screens, coffee-vending machines etc.

First Indigenously built Floating Dock Launched by L&T

  • “It is truly a Made in India product,” said Vice-Admiral DM Deshpande, Controller Warship Production and Acquisition of Indian Navy, at the launch function at L&T Kattupalli Shipyard.
  • FDN-2 will move to Andaman & Nicobar Islands to be used for assets not only of the Navy but also of other Services.
  • It can take up to 8,000-tonne ships with draught up to 7 metres, including submarine
  • The Rs 468-crore floating dock was lowered in to the waters of Bay of Bengal by Anjali Deshpande, wife of the Vice-Admiral in the presence of, JD Patil, Senior Executive Vice-President & Whole time Director (Designate) – Defence, L&T and B Kannan, MD & CEO L&T Shipbuilding. FDN-2 was the first Naval shipbuilding project for L&T.
  • Simultaneous docking of multiple ships, and off-center docking options are also feasible, said Patil.
  • Floating docks can be installed either along a jetty, moored in calm waters and also moved to high seas enabling round-the-year operation.
  • It is provided with a hauling-in system to handle a ship’s docking and undocking operations.
  • It can also support ships berthed along its side.
  • Patil said L&T has also been mandated by Indian Coast Guard to design and build seven Offshore Patrol Vessels with two of these to be launched in the second half of this financial year.
  • The company is also undertaking repairs and refits of Naval and Coast Guard ships regularly and delivered six refit ships, including the largest Logistics Tanker ship INS Jyoti.
  • Six ships can be docked for repairs or refit at the shipyard at any point of time

Break Even

  • L&T has invested around Rs5,000 crore in the Kattupalli shipyard, which is now focusing only on Defence orders.
  • The facility had an accumulated loss of Rs 2,500 crore. “We hope to break even by 2019-20,” he said.
  • Kannan said the Kattupalli facility is also building 12 high-speed patrol vessels for Vietnam Border Guard. The company won the order last year.

Ramamani Iyengar yoga institute bags Prime Minister’s award

  • Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Memorial has been selected for the Prime Minister’s award for outstanding contribution towards the promotion and development of yoga at the national level by the Ministry of AYUSH.
  • According to the ministry, the purpose of the award is to recognize the efforts and felicitate individuals and organizations that have positively impacted the society by promoting yoga.

About the winner:

  • The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute has worked to spread yoga internationally.
  • The institute has published several books on yoga and these have been translated into multiple languages.

About the award:

  • Last year, during the 2nd International Day of Yoga celebrations at Chandigarh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the institution of awards for the promotion of the ancient Indian spiritual discipline.
  • Following this, the ministry of AYUSH had developed the guidelines for the awards and two committees — screening committee (for preliminary evaluation) and evaluation committee (Jury)– were constituted so that a transparent process is followed in finalising the awards.

Reliance Defence inks Pact with Serbia’s Yugoimport to Manufacture Ammunition in India

  • Yugoimport, a Serbian state-owned company that makes ammunition, signed a strategic partnership with Reliance Defence Ammunition (RDA), an Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group firm.
  • RDA, which is a subsidiary of Reliance Infrastructure, and Yugoimport will work together in the field of ammunition, amongst others, with projected minimum requirement of Rs 20,000 crore over the next 10 years from the Indian armed forces
  • After coming to power in 2014, the Narendra Modi-led Indian government had liberalised the norms governing foreign direct investment (FDI) in the defence sector.
  • FDI to the extent of 49 percent is allowed under the automatic route, and FDI beyond that limit may be permitted if the government approves such a plan on a case-to-case basis.
  • But in the absence of any concrete and meaningful orders awarded out to these private sector and foreign companies, many of these partnerships exist on paper without much operations on the ground.
  • To further strengthen private sector participation in the Indian defence sector, the government also announced the Strategic Partnership Model that aims to create a defence manufacturing ecosystem comprising large companies and small and medium enterprises, by selecting certain private firms to build submarines and fighter jets in India in partnership with foreign companies.
  • According to Reliance’s statement, the Indian government has recently issued eight RFPs (request for proposal) for different grades of ammunition, opening up this area to private sector participation for the first time.
  • These proposals envisage transfer of technology by the OEM (original equipment manufacturer)—usually the foreign company—and indigenous manufacturing in India. India currently imports 50 percent of the ammunition requirement by value, which is worth around Rs 10,000 crore.
  • The Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group sees a promising future for itself as a defence manufacturer.
  • Even as it scales down some of its other ventures like infrastructure and telecommunications, and sells assets to pare debt, it has made some bold bets to further its defence business. In March 2015, Reliance Infrastructure acquired Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering Co and renamed it Reliance Defence and Engineering Ltd (RDEL).
  •  According to its website, RDEL is the first private sector company in India to obtain the licence and contract to build warships.

Indian Army to rethink on its Sahayak System

  • The Army is now actively considering recruiting civilian staff in peace stations to do away with the colonial-era Sakayak system, in the wake of rising cases of jawans coming out openly against it.
  • A top Army official, however, said the Sahayaks or buddy system whereby a solider is attached to officers — will continue be deployed in key bases and field areas as they have defined military duties.
  • In the recent months, a number of videos had surfaced where some Army jawans were seen voicing their anger over the Sahayak system with some even alleging that they are treated as servants by the officers to whom they are attached.
  • The official said the option of deploying civilian staff at peace stations instead of Sahayaks will help the Army in economising on its man power as well.
  • In March, the government had strongly defended the Sahayak system in the Army, saying it provides an “essential support” to officers in “fully” attending to their duties in times of peace and war.
  • At the same time, the government had said Sahayaks or orderlies are combatants and exhaustive instructions have been issued to not make them perform menial tasks which are not in conformity with the dignity of a soldier.
  • An annual conference of top Army commanders in April had held extensive deliberations on the Army’s “internal health” including on Sahayaks, and decided to reorient the human resource policy of the force.
  • Sahayaks are soldiers and their duties include protecting the officers, maintaining their weapons and equipment and helping them in carrying out their responsibilities.
  • In March, the body of a jawan, Roy Mathew, was found hanging at Deolali cantonment in Maharashtra after a sting video, which showed him complaining about being made to do household chores of superior officers, went viral.
  • Days later, a sepoy also posted a video online criticising the Sahayak system and accused the senior officers of treating them as “slaves”.

What is the Sahayak system in the Indian Army?

  • While officers of the army during colonial rule were supposed to have a retinue of servants — an official list from the late 19th century mentions 39 such servants — they needed help when in battle.
  • Thus evolved the concept of ‘batman’, short for ‘Battle Man’, wherein a young soldier helped out an officer with some of his mundane activities.
  • The practice has since been codified via an Army Order and other policy letters into the Sahayak system. No official figure is available, but an estimated 50,000 Sahayaks serve in the Army.

Who in the Army is assigned a Sahayak?

Sahayaks are authorised to Officers and Junior Commissioned Officers when serving with units or Headquarters functioning on War Establishment, i.e., those units which mobilise for war. The scale of Sahayak authorisation is as follows:
* 1 for every field officer and above,
* 1 for every 2 officers of the rank of Captain and below,
* 1 for every Subedar Major,
* 1 for every two Junior Commissioned Officers of the rank of Subedar and below.

The Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy do not have a system of Sahayaks for officers.

What jobs are Sahayaks supposed to do?

As per the Army Order, the duties assigned to a Sahayak are:

  • to provide personal protection and security,
  • to attend to telephones, receive and deliver messages during operations, training and exercise, and in peace,
    to maintain weapons, uniforms and equipment of Officers/Junior Commissioned Officers in accordance with custom and usage in the Army,
  • to assist in digging trenches, erect bivouacs and shelters during war, training or exercise, while the leaders are more busy in planning, coordination and execution of operations,
  • to be of assistance during patrols and independent missions,
  • to carry and operate radio sets, maps and other military equipment during operations, training cadres and outdoor exercises.

India awards road contract to complete Kaladan project in Myanmar

  • The Narendra Modi government is finally on course to completing the $484-million Kaladan multi-modal transport projects in Myanmar that will offer connectivity to Mizoram in India. Kaladan was the first major project taken up by India in Myanmar.
  • According to sources, a Rs1,600-crore contract has been awarded for building 109-km road connecting Paletwa river terminal to Zorinpui in Mizoram border. The construction is expected to start after the monsoon in October.
  • India completed the construction of Sittwe port, at the estuary of Kaladan river, in trouble-prone Rakhine state of Myanmar, last year, one year behind schedule.
  • Construction of the river terminal 158 km upstream and dredging of the river to ensure navigability are in the final stages.
  • At the Indian side, extension of the Aizawl-Saiha National Highway by 90 km to the international border at Zorinpui, at the southern tip of Mizoram, is almost over.

Four-laning of highway

  • It was one of the most challenging road projects taken up in this part of the country, in decades.
  • Also, a Rs 6,000-crore project is under way for four-laning of the 300 km Aizawl-Tuipang highway to ensure faster movement of goods between Sittwe and Mizo capital of Aizawl in the North West which is close to the Barak Valley of Assam.
  • However, absence of the road link between Paletwa and Zorinpui led to doubts over the utility of such huge investments on either side of the border.

Inordinate delay

  • Mooted in 2003, India entered a framework agreement with Myanmar for Kaladan project in 2008. Construction began in 2010 with a deadline in June 2015. But, no headway was achieved on the road project.
  • Inadequate fund allocation and planning failure were seen as major reasons for the delay.
  • In October 2015, the Narendra Modi government revised the budget estimates by nearly six times to Rs 2,904 crore and roped in State-owned Ircon Infrastructure and Services Ltd as consultant with an aim to complete the project in 2019.
  • However, finding a contractor became an issue. Last year, the project was tendered twice but without success. Sources say the logjam was broken recently as the project was awarded to a Delhi-based firm C & C Constructions.
  • While C&C could not be contacted, sources said the contractor would mobilise men and machine during the monsoon and open offices at Sittwe, Paletwa and Yangon in Myanmar.

SEZ at Sittwe

  • According to sources, as per the framework agreement, India should also set up an SEZ at Sittwe, which is located closer to the Chinese port and SEZ at Kyaukphyu.
  • In 2015, the Ministry of External Affairs appointed a consultant to explore the possibility. A suitable land was also identified in Sittwe.
  • This is important to promote Indian investment in the region overriding strong Chinese influence.
  • However, no movement is reported on this issue since.

President launches ‘Selfie with Daughter’ Mobile App

  • President Pranab Mukherjee launched selfie with daughter app on June 9, at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The mobile application is aimed at raising awareness about female foeticide and sex selection.
  • The President urged the people to take photographs with their daughters and help make the campaign a success.
  • President Mukherjee stated that the app is an innovative concept and an act of gentle persuasion.
  • ‘Selfie with daughter’ has become a world-wide movement against female foeticide and sex selection.
  • Speaking on the occasion, the President congratulated Sunil Jaglan on the launch of the mobile-app ‘Selfie-with-Daughter’.
  • He said that Jaglan’s efforts in initiating this campaign in Haryana are praiseworthy. Selfie-with-Daughter has become a world-wide movement against female foeticide and sex selection
  • He hoped that this would eventually help in dealing with the problems arising out of gender imbalance.

About Selfie with daughter

  • The campaign was started by Sunil Jaglan, former sarpanch, in village Bibipur, Jind, Haryana, in the year 2015
  • The aim of the campaign is to motivate the society to feel proud to be parents of a girl child
  • This in turn should help in improving the child sex ratio

Indian American among 12 new Astronauts Selected by NASA

  • NASA has chosen 12 new astronauts, including an Indian American, from a record number of over 18,000 applicants, who will be trained for missions into Earth orbit and to deep space.
  • The seven men and five women comprise the 22nd class of American spaceflight trainees since 1959. This is the largest group NASA has selected in almost two decades.
  • It was selected from a record 18,300 applicants more than NASA has ever had during an open astronaut call.
  • Lt Col Raja “Grinder” Chari, 39, is a commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
  • Hailing from Waterloo, Iowa, Chari earned a Master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT and graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School. His father is from India.
  • To get picked, people had to meet some physical requirements as well as certain education and experience criteria — such as having a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field or accumulating up to 1,000 hours of piloting jets.
  • But it’s clear that this new class greatly surpasses all the minimum skills that NASA requires.
  • After completing two years of training, the new astronaut candidates could be assigned to missions performing research on the International Space Station, launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, and flying on deep space missions on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.
  • Vice-President Mike Pence joined NASA leaders, including acting administrator Robert Lightfoot and director of flight operations Brian Kelly, in Houston, Texas to announce the new astronaut candidates, or “ascans”.

India to remain among top 3 investment destinations till ’19