NATIONAL CURRENT AFFAIRS SEPTEMBER 2016

PSLV-C35 places SCATSAT-1, seven other satellites in orbit

  • Isro’s PSLV-C35 places SCATSAT-1, seven other satellites in orbit in longest ever launch mission
  • It is for the first time that satellites were placed in two different orbits with a single rocket.isro-launch
  • The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C35) carrying the eight satellites took off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota at 9.12am. Around 17 minutes later, SCATSAT-1, the main payload of PSLV in its 37th flight, was placed in the polar sun synchronous orbit at an altitude of about 730km.
  • SCATSAT-1, which will provide weather forecast including cyclone detection and tracking, will succeed the now defunct Oceansat-2 satellite launched in 2009.
  • Isro chairman A S Kiran Kumar said SCATSAT-1 would be a stop gap arrangement between Oceansat-1 and Oceansat-2.
  • After the first satellite injection, PSLV-C35 coasted for an hour before its fourth-stage engine was reignited and shut down, for about 20 seconds. This provided the rocket the necessary thrust to coast into the polar orbit at an altitude of 689km.
  • Again, after an hour, the engine was restarted and cut off within a period of about one minute for it to further coast. It then began injecting the rest of the satellites.
  • They included two satellites developed by educational institutions — Pratham from IIT-Bombay and Pisat from PES University, Bangalore, and its consortium — and five other commercial satellites from Algeria, Canada and the US.
  • The challenge in the launch was igniting and shutting down the fourth-stage engine, called multiple burn technology, twice within a short span of time in a cold and low-gravity environment and letting it coast further.
  • Isro demonstrated the technology in its two previous PSLV launches – PSLV-C34 in June 2016 and PSLV-C29 in December 2015. But the trickiest part was to cool down the engine between two restarts and protect the rocket and satellites from the heat generated when the engine is operational.
  • Mastering the technology meant that Isro can accommodate satellites meant for different orbits in a single rocket thereby saving costs. Earlier, they had to build separate rockets to be flown to different orbits. It would cost around Rs 120 crore on an average to build a PSLV.
  • Placing satellites in different orbits will also facilitate launching more such commercial satellites in the future.

WHO study on Air pollution

  • According to a study conducted by WHO, air pollution could have killed at least 600,000 Indians in 2012.
  • India is second among all countries in the absolute number of deaths caused due to exposure to air pollution, just behind China
    • About 2,49,388 Indians died of Ischemic heart disease;
    • 1,95,001 of stroke;
    • 1,10,500 of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and
    • 26,334 of lung cancer.
  • Industries, households, cars and trucks emit complex air pollutants, including invisible PM2.5 particulates.

Impact of PM2.5 highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) study

  • Of all of pollutants, fine particulate matter has the greatest impact on health. A lot of the fine particulate matter comes from fuel combustion, both from mobile sources such as vehicles and from stationary sources such as power plants, industry, households or biomass burning
  • About a fifth of the 3 million who died worldwide were exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that may have aggravated or been directly responsible for cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer
  • The impact of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is felt through a broad spectrum of acute and chronic illnesses that cause premature death. These include lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Worldwide its caused
    • 16% of lung cancer deaths,
    • 11% of COPD deaths, and
    • more than 20% of ischaemic heart disease and stroke.
  • More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits.
  • The study gave the WHO air quality guidelines for PM2.5 as 10 micrograms per cubic metre annual average, and 25 micrograms per cubic metre 24-hour average.
  • While all regions of the world are affected, populations in low-income cities are the most impacted. Overall, 98% of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. However, in high-income countries, that percentage decreases to 56%.

WEF Global Competitiveness Report for the year 2016-17

  • World Economic Forum (WEF) has released the Global Competitiveness Report for the year 2016-17.

India’s performance:

  • India has risen rapidly among all countries in the global competitive stakes by climbing 16 notches to the 39th position during the past year.
  • This marks the biggest scale of improvement in competitiveness among all countries and is the second year in a row India has gone up 16 ranks in the WEF index.
  • India’s competitiveness has improved, particularly
    • in goods market efficiency,
    • business sophistication and innovation,
    • while lower oil prices and improved monetary and fiscal policies have made the economy not only stable, but also the fastest growing among G20 countries.
    • improvements in institutions and infrastructure have increased overall competitiveness
    • recent reforms such as opening the economy to foreign investors and increasing transparency in the financial system.

Challenges ahead:

  • According to the report, huge challenges lie ahead on India’s path to prosperity.
  • doing business – Tax regulations, Corruption, Tax rates and Poor public health
  • The labour market rigidities – The labour market is segmented between workers protected by rigid regulations and centralised wage determination, especially in the manufacturing sector, and millions of unprotected and informal workers.
  • The presence of large, public enterprises especially in the utilities and financial sector make the economy less efficient.
  • Lack of infrastructure and ICT use (where India is ranked 120th in the world) remain bottlenecks. Besides, progress in recent years has been slow and further investment is necessary to connect rural areas and ensure they equally benefit from and contribute to India’s development.
  • The country’s biggest relative weakness today is in technological readiness, where initiatives such as Digital India could lead to significant improvements.
  • The efficiency of the goods market in India has also deteriorated over the past decade, and the WEF reckons this would change once the GST regime is implemented

Performance of other countries:

  • Globally, Switzerland has retained its top position as the world’s most competitive economy for seventh year in a row and is followed by Singapore, the US, Germany and the Netherlands in the top-five.
  • These are followed by Japan, Hong Kong, Finland, Sweden and the UK in the top ten.
  • Among emerging economies, South Africa is ranked higher and it has re-entered the top 50, progressing seven places to 49th.
  • Elsewhere, macro economic instability and loss of trust in public institutions has dragged down Turkey (51st), as well as Brazil (75th), which posted one of the largest falls.
  • China, holding steady at 28, remains by far the most competitive among large emerging economies, although its lack of progress moving up the ranking shows the challenges it faces in transitioning its economy.

Joblessness rises to 5-year high

  • According to the latest annual household survey on employment conducted by Labour Bureau, jobless economic growth continues to haunt India’s youth, with the country’s unemployment rate rising to a five-year high of five per cent in 2015-16

Highlights of the report:

  • India’s unemployment rate
    • 3.8% in 2011-12
    • 4.7% in 2012-13
    • 4.9% in 2013-14
  • Female job seekers were the worst hit as the pace of unemployment rose sharply to 8.7% in 2015-16 compared to 7.7% in 2013-14.
  • Rural areas – 7% in 2013-14 to 5.1% in 2015-16
  • Urban areas 5.5% to 4.9%.
  • The annual survey also showed that 47.8% of the surveyed population was reported to be employed in 2015-16 compared with 49.9% (also known as worker population ratio) two years earlier when the previous survey was conducted by the Labour Bureau, under the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
  • The survey also shows that fewer households benefited from various employment schemes of the government in 2015-16. For instance, the benefits of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme were availed by 9% households compared to 24.1% households in 2013-14.
  • The survey showed a decline in the proportion of self-employed and salaried workers and a rise in contractual employment.

MCGS Victory

  • It is the first fast patrol vessel delivered to Mauritius by Goa Shipyard Limited.
  • The 50m vessel has been designed for coastal patrolling, anti-piracy, anti-smuggling, anti-drug surveillance, anti-poaching operations, and search and rescue operations.
  • The contract of the vessel was signed on May 17, 2014, and the keel for the vessel was laid on December 18 2014.
  • GSL is the largest exporter of military ships from the Indian subcontinent and is presently executing export orders worth 1,200 crore

IGI becomes carbon neutral:

  • The Indira Gandhi International Airport has become Asia-Pacific’s only and one of the world’s few airports to achieve a “carbon neutral”
  • Less than 25 airports in the world, with most of them located in Europe, have earned carbon neutral status.
  • IGI, managed by private operator Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL), boasts green buildings, solar power plants, rainwater harvesting system, etc., which have helped it reduce and offset its carbon emissions.
  • The announcement was made by the Airports Council International during the Airport Carbon Accreditation certificate presentation ceremony held recently in Canada.

Enhanced support under Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS)

  • In the backdrop of the continued challenging global environment being faced by Indian exporters, Department of Commerce has extended support to certain new products and enhanced the rate of incentives for certain other specified products under the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS).
  • 2901 additional products falling under different product categories have been added. These include items in the following areas:
    • Many items of traditional medicines like Ashwagandha herbs and its extracts, other herbs, extracts of different items.
    • Certain marine products, sea feed items.
    • Onion dried, processed cereal products and other value added items of plastics, lather articles, suitcases etc
    • Industrial products under different categories, including engineering goods, fabrics, garments, chemicals, ceramics, glass products, leather goods, newspapers, periodicals, silk items, made ups, wool products, tubes, pipes etc.

Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS)

  • Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS) under Foreign Trade Policy of India (FTP 2015-20) is one of the two schemes introduced in Foreign Trade Policy of India 2015-20, as a part of Exports from India Scheme.
  • Objective of Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS) as per Indian Foreign Trade Policy 2015-20 (FTP 2015-20) is to offset infrastructural inefficiencies and associated costs involved in export of goods/products, which are produced/manufactured in India, especially those having high export intensity, employment potential and thereby enhancing India’s export competitiveness.

Ministry of Shipping Proposes New Model Concession Agreement for Port Sector

  • The Ministry of Shipping has proposed a new Model Concession Agreement (MCA) for the Port Sector.
  • The proposed MCA will replace the existing Model Concession Agreement which came into existence in January, 2008.
  • The proposed MCA has taken into account the suggestions provided in various reports by Member Planning Commission (2010), Indian Ports Association (IPA-2015) and Kelkar Committee Report (2015).

The salient changes proposed in the Revised Model Concession Agreements are:

  • Change in equity holding to provide exit route.
  • Providing for refinancing provision in MCA.
  • Amendment in Definition of “Change of Law”.
  • Provision for mid-term review of concession.
  • Approval of Discounts on Ceiling Rates for the Purpose of Recovery of Revenue share.
  • Improved Utilization of Project Assets and Higher Productivity.
  • Grievance Redressal System.
  • Provision for Additional Land, Utilities & Services.
  • Replacement of “Actual project Cost” with “Approved Project Cost.

‘In-Residence’ programme:

  • Eminent artists Shri Paresh Maity and his wife, Smt. Jayasri Burman have commenced their stay in Rashtrapati Bhavan as Artists In-Residence. They will be in residence for 10 days.
  • The ‘In-Residence’ programme in Rashtrapati Bhavan was launched by the President of India on December 11, 2013 with the aim of providing writers and artists an opportunity to stay in Rashtrapati Bhavan and be a part of the life of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
  • The Programme seeks to provide an environment which will inspire creative thinking and rejuvenate artistic impulses.
  • It is intended to honour and recognize eminent and established artists and writers as well as encourage young upcoming talent from different parts of the country.

World’s largest solar power plant:

  • The ‘world’s largest solar power plant’ with an installed capacity of 648 MW has been commissioned at Kamudhi in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu.
  • It is set up by Adani Group. The plant comprises 3.8 lakh foundations, 25 lakh solar modules, 27,000m of structure, 576 inverters, 154 transformers and 6,000km length of cables.

Yatri Mitra Sewa for elderly, differently-abled

Why in News:In a move to make rail travel comfortable for elderly, differently-abled and ailing travelers, Railways has launched ‘Yatri Mitra Sewa’ to facilitate access to wheelchairs, battery operated cars and porter services.

  • ‘Yatri Mitra’ or ‘Passenger Friend’ can be a “Sahayak (assistant)” or any other person nominated for the purpose.
  • The service will be available at major railway stations across the country.
  • The service can be availed at the time of online booking of tickets, calling or messaging ‘139’, accessing an app to be developed by the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), or by simply dialling a dedicated mobile phone number to be activated for the purpose.
  • The IRCTC has been mandate to implement the service which may provide it ‘free of cost’ by involving some NGO, charitable trust, PSUs, etc under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) category.
  • But, if the service cannot be provided ‘free of cost’ due to lack of response, IRCTC may arrange this service on “reasonable and affordable” charges through a service provider or on its own.
  • Once the service is booked, the IRCTC will ensure the ‘Yatri Mitra’ receive the passenger at the entrance of the station and help in boarding the train safely.
  • The assistant will also be available at the coach when the passenger arrives at the designated railway station.

New changes in budget approved

Merger of rail budget with general budget
  • The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal of Ministry of Finance to merge Railway budget with the General budget.
  • The presentation of separate Railway budget started in the year 1924, and has continued after independence as a convention rather than under Constitutional provisions.

Details:

  • The Railways will continue to maintain its distinct entity -as a departmentally run commercial undertaking as at present.
  • Railways will retain their functional autonomy and delegation of financial powers as per the existing guidelines.
  • The existing financial arrangements will continue wherein Railways will meet all their revenue expenditure, including ordinary working expenses, pay and allowances and pensions etc. from their revenue receipts.
  • The Capital at charge of the Railways estimated at Rs.2.27 lakh crore on which annual dividend is paid by the Railways will be wiped off.
  • Consequently, there will be no dividend liability for Railways from 2017-18 and Ministry of Railways will get Gross Budgetary support. This will also save Railways from the liability of payment of approximately Rs.9,700 crore annual dividend to the Government of India.

Advantages

  • The presentation of a unified budget will bring the affairs of the Railways to centre stage and present a holistic picture of the financial position of the Government.
  • The merger is also expected to reduce the procedural requirements and instead bring into focus, the aspects of delivery and good governance.
  • Consequent to the merger, the appropriations for Railways will form part of the main Appropriation Bill.
Advancement of the Budget presentation
  • The Cabinet has approved, in principle, for advancement of the date of Budget presentation from the last day of February to a suitable date.
  • The exact date of presentation of Budget for 2017-18 would be decided keeping in view the date of assembly elections to be held in States.

Advantages :

  • The advancement of budget presentation by a month and completion of Budget related legislative business before 31st March
    • would pave the way for early completion of Budget cycle and
    • enable Ministries and Departments to ensure better planning and execution of schemes from the beginning of the financial year and
    • utilization of the full working seasons including the first quarter.
  • This will also preclude the need for seeking appropriation through ‘Vote on Account’ and enable implementation of the legislative changes in tax; laws for new taxation measures from the beginning of the financial year.
Merger of Plan and Non Plan classification in Budget and Accounts
  • The cabinet has approved the merger of Plan and Non Plan classification in Budget and Accounts from 2017-18, with continuance of earmarking of funds for Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan/Tribal Sub-Plan. Similarly, the allocations for North Eastern States will also continue

Why needed:

  • The Plan/Non-Plan bifurcation of expenditure has led to a fragmented view of resource allocation to various schemes, making it difficult not only to ascertain cost of delivering a service but also to link outlays to outcomes.
  • The bias in favour of Plan expenditure by Centre as well as the State Governments has led to a neglect of essential expenditures on maintenance of assets and other establishment related expenditures for providing essential social services.
  • The merger of plan and non-plan in the budget is expected to provide appropriate budgetary framework having focus on the revenue, and capital expenditure.

Cabinet approves the River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Authorities Order, 2016

  • The Union Cabinet under has approved the River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Authorities Order, 2016.

Key facts

  • The Order lays down a new institutional structure for policy and implementation in fast track manner and empowers National Mission for Clean Ganga to discharge its functions in an independent and accountable manner.
  • It has also been decided to grant a Mission status to the Authority with corresponding powers under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to take cognizance of the provision of the said Act and follow up thereon.
  • Similarly, there is adequate delegation of financial and administrative powers which will distinctly establish NMCG as both responsibility and accountability centre and effectively accelerate the process of project implementation for Ganga Rejuvenation.

Details:

  • Creation of the National Council for River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management),
    • as an Authority in place of the existing NGRBA
    • under the Chairperson of Hon’ble Prime Minister,
    • two-tier management structure with a Governing Council (GC) and Executive Committee (EC)
    • NMCG will comply with the decisions and directions of the National Ganga Council
    • for overall responsibility for superintendence of pollution prevention and rejuvenation of river Ganga Basin.
    • implement the Ganga Basin Management Plan approved by the National Ganga Council;
    • co-ordinate and carry out all activities necessary for rejuvenation and protection of River Ganga and its tributaries.
  • Setting up of an Empowered Task Force
    • chaired by Hon’ble Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
    • to ensure that the Ministries, Departments and State Governments concerned have an action plan with specific activities, milestones, and timelines
    • a mechanism for monitoring implementation of its action plans.
  • At the State level, it is proposed to create the State Ganga Committees in each of the defined States as Authority, to function as Authorities in respect of each State and perform the superintendence, direction and control over the District Ganga Protection Committees under their jurisdiction.
  • Similarly, the District Ganga Committees in each of the Ganga Bank Districts will carry out the assigned tasks as an Authority at the district level, to take cognizance of local threats and needs of river Ganga and conceptualise such measures as necessary to ensure overall quality of water in river Ganga and monitor various projects being implemented.

Story of Ganga cleaning till now

  • The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) Phase-I was launched in 1985
  • Later GAP Phase-II was initiated in 1993 with the objective of improving the water quality of river Ganga and was later expanded to include some of its tributaries also.
  • In May, 2015, the Government approved the Namami Gange programme as a comprehensive mechanism to take up initiatives for rejuvenation of river Ganga and its tributaries as a Central Sector Scheme with hundred per cent funding by the Union Government.

Submarine optical fibre cable connectivity between mainland (Chennai) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for provision of a direct communication link through a dedicated submarine Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) between Mainland (Chennai) and Port Blair & five other islands viz. Little Andaman, Car Nicobar, Havelock, Kamorta and Great Nicobar.

Need for submarine OFC:

  • The approval would equip Andaman & Nicobar Islands (ANI) with appropriate bandwidth and telecom connectivity for implementation of e-Governance initiatives; establishment of enterprises & e-commerce facilities.
  • It will also enable the provision of adequate support to educational institutes for knowledge sharing, availability of job opportunities and fulfil the vision of Digital India.
  • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are of immense strategic significance for India. The geographical configuration and the location of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands chain in the Bay of Bengal safeguard India’s eastern seaboard. Provision of secure, reliable, robust, and affordable telecom facilities in these islands is of importance from a strategic point of view to the country and also an important requirement for the socio-economic development of the islands.
  • Currently the only medium of providing telecom connectivity between Mainland and Andaman & Nicobar Islands is though satellites, but the bandwidth available is limited to 1 Gbps.
    • Satellite bandwidth is very costly and its availability is limited due to which future bandwidth requirement cannot be met solely through it.
    • Then, there is an issue of redundancy, that is, no alternate media is available in case of any emergency.
    • Lack of bandwidth and telecom connectivity is also hampering socio-economic development of the islands.

Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill 2016

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval to the proposal of Ministry of Shipping to enact Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill 2016 and to repeal five archaic admiralty statutes.
  • Admiralty jurisdiction relates to powers of the High Courts in respect of claims associated with transport by sea and navigable waterways.
  • The repealing of five admiralty statutes is in line with the Government’s commitment to do away with archaic laws which are hindering efficient governance.
  • The Bill consolidates the existing laws relating to admiralty jurisdiction of courts, admiralty proceedings on maritime claims, arrest of vessels and related issues.
  • It also repeals five obsolete British statues on admiralty jurisdiction in civil matters, namely, (a) the Admiralty Court Act, 1840 (b) the Admiralty Court Act, 1861, (c) Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890, (d) Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act, 1891, and (e) the provisions of the Letters Patent, 1865 applicable to the admiralty jurisdiction of the Bombay, Calcutta and Madras High Courts.

Salient Features of Admirability Bill, 2016:

  • The Bill confers admiralty jurisdiction on High Courts located in coastal states of India and this jurisdiction extends upto territorial waters.
  • The jurisdiction is extendable, by a Central Government notification, upto exclusive economic zone or any other maritime zone of India or islands constituting part of the territory of India.
  • It applies to every vessel irrespective of place of residence or domicile of owner.
  • Inland vessels and vessels under construction are excluded from its application but the Central Government is empowered to make it applicable to these vessels also by a notification if necessary.
  • It does not apply to warships and naval auxiliary and vessels used for non-commercial purposes.
  • The jurisdiction is for adjudicating on a set of maritime claims listed in the Bill.
  • In order to ensure security against a maritime claim a vessel can be arrested in certain circumstances.
  • The liability in respect of selected maritime claims on a vessel passes on to its new owners by way of maritime liens subject to a stipulated time limit.
  • In respect of aspects on which provisions are not laid down in the Bill, the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 is applicable.

Background:

  • India is a leading maritime nation and maritime transportation caters to about ninety-five percent of its merchandise trade volume. However, under the present statutory framework, the admiralty jurisdiction of Indian courts flow from laws enacted in the British era.

USOF support to BSNL

  • The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal to extend subsidy support of Rs. 1,250 crore to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), as compensation for deficit incurred by BSNL in operating the Rural Wire-line connections installed prior to 1st April, 2002.

Key facts:

  • The government has also said that the subsidy support would be the last and final payment and no further request from BSNL for financial/subsidy support from USOF on this count shall be considered.
  • In order to make Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) eligible for subsidy funding on nomination basis from USOF, amendment will be required in Rule 526 of the Indian Telegraph Rules (ITRs), 1951. It stipulates that the criteria for selection of Universal Service Providers shall be made by bidding process from amongst eligible entities for implementation of USOF schemes. Corresponding Amendment in Rule 525 will also be required.
  • USOF since its inception in 2002 has been providing subsidy for BSNL for the rural wire line connections installed prior to 1.4.2002. A total of Rs. 8,692 crore has been extended as USOF subsidy support till date, for the rural wire-line connections, installed by BSNL prior to 1.4.2002.

Universal Service Obligation Fund:

  • established in 2002,
  • provides effective subsidies to ensure telegraph services are provided to everyone across India, especially in the rural and remote areas.
  • It is headed by the USOF Administrator who reports to the Secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
  • Funds come from the Universal Service Levy (USL) of 5% charged from all the telecom operators on their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) which are then deposited into the Consolidated Fund of India, and require prior parliamentary approval to be dispatched.
  • The USOF works through a bidding process, where funds are given to the enterprise quoting the lowest bid.
  • However, the funds for NOFN were made an exception to this process since BBNL was the sole party involved in the implementation having being specifically created for it.

IWAI Signs Contract with DST

  • With its objective of providing safe, environment friendly and economical mode of transportation through National Waterway-1 (NW-1), the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), Ministry of Shipping has signed a contract with M/s DST, Germany to design vessels, especially suited to navigate the 1620 km stretch of NW-1.

Background:

  • Government is developing NW-1 under the Jal Marg Vikas Project, with assistance from the World Bank at an estimated cost of Rs. 4,200 crore.
  • The project would enable commercial navigation of vessels with capacity of 1500-2,000 tons. Phase-I of the project covers the Haldia-Varanasi stretch.
  • The project includes
    • development of fairway,
    • Multi-Modal Terminals at Varanasi, Haldia, and Sahibganj,
    • strengthening of river navigation system,
    • conservancy works,
    • modern River Information System (RIS),
    • Digital Global Positioning System (DGPS),
    • night navigation facilities,
    • modern methods of channel marking,
    • construction of a new state of the art navigational lock at Farakka etc

5th BIRAC Innovators Meet:

  • BIRAC (Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council), a non-profit Public Sector Enterprise under the aegis of Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, is organizing the 5th Innovators Meet in New Delhi.
  • The theme of the meet would be ‘Biotech Innovation Ecosystem – Strategizing the Next Leap’. The Innovators Meet is being organized for marking BIRAC’s continuous efforts to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in all places of research.
  • BIRAC’s mandate is to serve as a single window interface to promote affordable innovation in key social sectors with higher focus on start-ups & small and medium enterprises.

Incredible India Tourism Investors Summit (IITIS)-2016:

  • It was recently inaugurated by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
  • IITIS is a platform for domestic and international investors to meet project owners from across Indian states and the private sector.
  • The Key Highlights of the Summit are- Participation from 29 Indian States and UTs; Around 700 investable projects from across the country and from across various sectors of tourism; Total participation of more than 1800 registered delegates; Participation from 250 National and International investors; Key Policy Makers from Central and State Government; Welcome Diner & Cultural Evening and 23 seminars across the two days event.

Avian Influenza (H5N1)

Why in News:The Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers welfare has declared India free from Avian Influenza (H5N1).

  • India had notified outbreak of Avian Influenza (H5N1) in May 2016 in Karnataka. There has been no further outbreak reported in the country thereafter.
  • However, the Center has emphasized the need for continued surveillance especially in the vulnerable areas bordering infected countries and in areas visited by migratory birds.
  • H5N1 is a type of influenza virus that causes a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds called avian influenza (or “bird flu”). Human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person. When people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60%.
  • Almost all cases of H5N1 infection in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments. The virus does not infect humans easily, and spread from person to person appears to be unusual. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly prepared and thoroughly cooked food.

Economic corridors

Why in News:The government is planning to make 44 highway stretches totalling 27,000 km to be developed as “economic corridors” for seamless movement of cargo vehicles, cut delays, deepen economic activities and create jobs.

  • This will be the biggest highway expansion plan since the rolling out of Golden Quadrilateral and North South East West Corridor, totalling 13,000 km during the Vajpayee regime.
  • The new stretches pass through and connect major hubs of economic activities such as manufacturing clusters and ports.
  • It will help in decongesting 30 top cities in the country by building ring roads and logistics hubs along these corridors
  • The new plan is expected to be completed in six years. The government is exploring several funding options, including road development cess, loans from agencies and also private investment.
  • The government is also planning to develop another 15,000 km as feeder routes to these economic corridors. 40 interconnecting corridors will also be developed to link 44 economic corridors and the Golden Quadrilateral. This network will carry 80% of the country’s freight.
  • The government will also rebrand national highways as national corridors, economic corridors and feeder roads, a move aimed at helping in navigation and identifying the roads. The corridors have been identified using satellite imagery.

National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF)

Why in News: The government has tweaked the structure of the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF).

  • The fund will now have two dedicated funds — one for roads and another for clean energy.
  • This is aimed at getting long-term funds into these two crucial sectors of the economy.
  • This will also reduce pressure on banks, which are the primary source of finance for long-term infrastructure projects.

About NIIF:

  • The Fund aims to attract investment from both domestic and international sources.
  • The government’s contribution would be limited to 49% of the subscribed capital.
  • The government will seek participation from strategic investors such as sovereign fund, quasi sovereign funds and multilateral or bilateral investors, which can help leverage this fund to many times.
  • Cash-rich PSUs, pension funds, provident funds, National Small Saving Fund will be able to pick up stake in the fund.
  • The objective of NIIF is to maximize economic impact mainly through infrastructure development in commercially viable projects, both greenfield and brownfield, including stalled projects, NIIF would solicit equity participation from strategic anchor partners.

Operation calm down

  • It is an army operation in J&K.
  • It aims to clear out protesters and militants from the region.

Cabinet approves creation of GST Council and its Secretariat

  • The Union Cabinet has approved setting up of GST Council and setting up its Secretariat.
  • The GST Council has been created as per Article 279A of the amended Constitution.
  • GST Council Secretariat will be set up with its office at New Delhi.
  • The Secretary (Revenue) will be appointed as the Ex-officio Secretary to the GST Council.
  • The Chairperson, Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), will be included as a permanent invitee (non-voting) to all proceedings of the GST Council.
  • One post of Additional Secretary to the GST Council in the GST Council Secretariat (at the level of Additional Secretary to the Government of India) will be created.
  • Four posts of Commissioner in the GST Council Secretariat (at the level of Joint Secretary to the Government of India) will also be created.
  • As per Article 279A of the amended Constitution, the GST Council which will be a joint forum of the Centre and the States, shall consist of the following members:
  1. Union Finance Minister-Chairperson.
  2. The Union Minister of State, in-charge of Revenue of finance-Member.
  3. The Minister In-charge of finance or taxation or any other Minister nominated by each State Government-Members.

Functions performed by the council:

As per Article 279A (4), the Council will make recommendations to the Union and the States on important issues related to GST, like the goods and services that may be subjected or exempted from GST, model GST Laws, principles that govern Place of Supply, threshold limits, GST rates including the floor rates with bands, special rates for raising additional resources during natural calamities/disasters, special provisions for certain States, etc.

India sucessfully test fires long range surface-to-air missile

  • In a bid to galvanise its air defence capabilities, India today successfully test fired a new, long range surface-to-air missile jointly developed with Israel from a defence base off Odisha coast.
  • The long range missile, a product of a joint venture between India and Israel, was test launched from a mobile launcher at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur near here at around 10.13 hours
  • Apart from the missile, the system includes a Multi Functional Surveillance and Threat Alert Radar (MF STAR) for detection, tracking and guidance of the missile
  • The missile along with MF-STAR would provide the users the capability to neutralise any aerial threats.
  • Earlier, between June 30 and July 1, 2016 three consecutive test firing of the medium range surface to air missile, jointly developed by India and Israel were conducted from the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) base at Chandipur. The missile guided by armoured seeker had successfully hit the last minute manoeuvring target.
  • Indian Navy had also successfully test launched the long range surface to air missile (LR-SAM). The test was undertaken on the Western Seaboard by INS Kolkata on December 30, 2015. These missiles would be inducted in all the three services after trials were completed.
  • Many Indian industries like BEL, L&T, BDL, and TATA group of companies besides other private industries have contributed to the development of a number of subsystems which have been put into use in this flight test

Drones to spot open defecators

  • Low-flying drones hovering in the sky will now identify those who defecate in the open in some rural areas in Haryana.
  • certain areas in Haryana have been witnessing a pattern of sorts where people still go out into the open to defecate even though many of them have functional toilets at home. This has left authorities flummoxed, which is why officials say, this tendency has to be curtailed.
  • Yamunanagar lost the race to be declared an “Open Defecation Free” district to two others in the state, perhaps, also because of this “unexplained” pattern of rural people going out in the open to attend nature’s call.
  • The government has now found the solution to the problem — to use drones
  • These flying objects, fitted with cameras will collect data for authorities to take appropriate action. The utilisation of drones for this purpose, for now, is being done on a pilot basis.

Flip side: Cameras on drones recording people defecating in the open could invite the anger of the villagers

New study to probe ‘special’ properties of Ganga

  • With the NDA government’s support, a group of scientists is now comparing the Ganga water with that of Narmada and Yamuna rivers to find out if the Ganga contains anything special.
  • The analysis, researchers said, will help establish if the river, considered holy by millions of Indians, contains something that imparts non-putrefying properties to it, and if there was any scientific truth behind the myths associated with the Ganga.
  • Nagpur-based National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), one of the laboratories under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, began the study first solely on the Ganga with funding from the Ministry of Water Resources.
  • The scientists will collect samples at 10-15 points along the Narmada and Yamuna and analyse them.
  • Three other CSIR laboratories — National Botanical Research Institute and Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, both in Lucknow, and Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, — are part of the effort.
  • The researchers have tested the river waters for dissolved oxygen content, presence of microbes and bacteriophage as well as chemical elements. The presence of vegetation and their influence are also being scrutinised under this study, costing Rs 4 crore.
  • Several scientists researching on the “special power” of the Ganga water suggest the presence of a high concentration of many varieties of bacteriophage — a type of virus that eats bacteria — behind its unique properties.
  • This was first documented by British scientist Earnst Hankin in the 1890s. Others believe in the existence of an unknown agent or “mystery factor”, dubbed as ‘Brahm Drabya’ (divine elixir).
  • Last November, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences organised a scientific conference, where RSS leader Krishna Gopal cited references from Akbarnama and Hankin’s 1896 reports to underline the presence of bacteriophage activity in the mighty river.

UGC to bring all central varsities under e-governance platform

  • In an effort to bring more transparency and efficiency to their daily functioning, all Central Universities (CUs) will soon be brought under a single centralised e-governance system.
  • A move recently initiated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to introduce a cloud-based integrated University Management System (UMS) connecting all central varsities is expected to help ease the admission procedures and other student related matters.
  • UMS, which will help authorities in monitoring academics and examination related activities of the central universities, will also help in rapid handling of finance and administrative matters.

17 soldiers killed in terror attack in Uri

  • In the worst attack on the Army in many years, heavily armed militants suspected to be from Pakistan-based JeM stormed an army base in Uri in Kashmir killing 17 jawans
  • Located barely a few kilometres from the Line of Control (LoC) and some 70 km from Srinagar, the base was subjected to the brazen attack by four terrorists at around 5.30 AM, causing heavy casualties in the Dogra regiment which lost 17 of its men.
  • 20 more army personnel were injured, some critically, and were airlifted to the army base hospital in Srinagar.
  • After the three-hour gunbattle, four terrorists were killed and army was combing to ensure there were no other militants. Most of the army casualties resulted from the fire in tents in which jawans were sleeping.
  • India reacted strongly to the deadliest attack on the Army in Jammu and Kashmir in a quarter-century-old insurgency that sparked an outrage with Modi strongly condemning it

Govt announces 27 more smart cities in second round

  • The government has selected 27 new smart cities in the latest round of ‘Smart City Challenge’ competition.
  • The 27 smart cities announced are from 12 States including 5 from Maharashtra, 4 each from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, 3 from Uttar Pradesh and 2 each from Punjab and Rajasthan. Nagaland and Sikkim have made it to the smart city list for the first time.
  • Amritsar has topped the list. Eight other cities of pilgrim and tourism importance that made to the third list of smart cities are ; Ujjain, Tirupati, Agra, Nashik, Madurai, Thanjavur, Ajmer and Varanasi.
  • With this the number of cities selected under Smart City Mission for financing implementation of smart city plans has gone up to 60.
  • With this announcement, implementation of smart city plans is now spread over 27 States and UTs.
  • 9 States/UTs still to enter implementation phase are; Uttarakhand, J & K, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Puducherry, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra, Nagar & Haveli.

Background:

  • The Smart Cities mission
    • launched in June 2015
    • for the 100 Smart Cities project.
    • provide central funding of Rs 50,802 crore to the selected cities
    • for improving their infrastructure and service delivery through application of better technology and e-governance.
    • States and Urban local Bodies (ULBs) will play a key supportive role in the development of Smart Cities. Smart leadership and vision at this level and ability to act decisively will be important factors determining the success of the Mission.
  • Funding:
    • The total State and Central financial assistance for each smart city would be Rs. 1,000 crore.
    • The central government will grant every winning city a sum of Rs. 500 crore as overall cache of start-up funds
    • the State governments will provide an additional Rs. 500 crore.

India successfully test fires long range surface-to-air missile

  • India has successfully test-fired the Barak-8 long-range surface-to-air nuclear-capable ballistic missile, jointly developed with Israel, from a defence test facility off the Odisha coast.

About the missile:

  • LRSAM is also called Barak 8 missile in Israel which in Hebrew language means Lightning.
  • The missile configuration is same for both LRSAM/MRSAM.
  • For the LRSAM, DRDO has designed and developed Dual Pulse Propulsion System and other safe arm mechanisms for Solid Propulsion system.
  • It has the ability to hit targets within radii of 70 km to 90 km.
  • The missile is designed to defend against any type of airborne threat including aircraft, helicopters, anti-ship missiles, and UAVs as well as cruise missiles and combat jets.
  • Both maritime and land-based versions of the system exist.
  • The LRSAM programme consists of Missiles, MFSTAR (Radar), Weapon Control System, Vertical Launcher unit and Two- way data link.

Moody’s sees slower pace of new bad loans

  • According to a report released by Moody’s Investors Service, India’s banking system is moving past the worst of its asset quality slump. This outlook is based on the company’s analysis of five key factors—operating environment, asset risk and capital (stable), funding and liquidity, profitability and government support.

Highlights of the report:

  • According to the report, while the stock of impaired loans may still increase during the horizon of this outlook, the pace of new impaired loan formation should be lower than what it has been over the last few years.
  • While the operating environment for Indian banks is supported by a stabilising economy, the asset quality indicator still remains a problem but the picture is getting better on account, according to the report.
  • However, asset quality will remain a negative driver of the credit profiles of most rated Indian banks. But, the pace of deterioration in asset quality over the next 12-18 months should be lower than what was seen over the last five years.
  • The ratings outlook on 11 of the banks is positive, reflecting the global rating agency’s positive outlook on the sovereign rating and the high degree of government support that could be expected for the banks, if needed.
  • Moody’s baseline scenario assumes headline GDP growth of 7.4 per cent over the next two years compared with 7.3 per cent in 2015, with key drivers being a favourable monsoon season, ongoing public investment, and continued growth in foreign direct investment.

National wastewater reuse policy sought

  • According to the PwC report on “Closing the water loop, reuse of treated wastewater in urban India”, India needs a national wastewater reuse policy to help address the “perennial concern” of urban water stress by mandating targets and laying out legislative, regulatory and financial measures to hit those targets.
  • The suggestion for such a policy comes against the backdrop of the PwC report highlighting “water stress to be a perennial concern’’ in most Indian cities.

Why a policy in this regard is necessary?

  • The country is expected to add approximately 404 million new urban dwellers between now and 2050. This rapid urban growth will be linked with higher industrial output and greater energy demand thus adding to the urban water stress.
  • Hence, sound policy and regulatory interventions by the Central and State Governments are a prerequisite for the launching of innovative reuse projects.
  • Institutionalising the reuse of treated wastewater could go a long way in helping utilities to address this challenge in an effective manner.
  • Like other infrastructure sub-sectors in India, the wastewater sector would also have to be driven by government initiatives and implementation models would be designed around these initiatives.
  • The PwC study suggested that the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Water Resources should work together to define quality norms for different grades of industrial water. This would help standardise the design of reuse systems nationwide.

India slips 10 notches in World Economic Freedom Index 2016

  • The Economic Freedom of the World: 2016 Annual Report has been released worldwide by the Centre for Civil Society, a public policy think tank, along with Canada’s Fraser Institute.
  • The report measures the degree of economic freedom in countries in five broad areas based on 2014 data – size of government: expenditure, taxes and enterprises; legal structure and security of property rights; access to sound money; freedom to trade internationally and regulation of credit, labour, and business.

Highlights:

  • Hong Kong topped the index, followed by Singapore and New Zealand among 159 countries.
  • India has been ranked 112th. India has slipped 10 positions and ranks behind Bhutan (78), Nepal (108) and Sri Lanka (111) but stood higher than China (113), Bangladesh (121) and Pakistan (133).
  • India has fared badly in all categories i.e. legal system and property rights (86), sound money (130), freedom to trade internationally (144) and regulation (132) except the size of the government (8),” as per the report.
  • The 10 lowest-ranked countries are Iran, Algeria, Chad, Guinea, Angola, Central African Republic, Argentina, Republic of Congo, Libya and lastly Venezuela.
  • Other notable countries include the United States (16), Germany (30), Japan (40), France (57) and Russia (102).
  • In the top quartile, the average income of the poorest 10% was $11,283, compared with $1,080 in the bottom quartile in 2014. Interestingly, the average income of the poorest 10% in the most economically free nations was twice the average per capita income in the least free nations, says the report.
  • Life expectancy was 80.4 years in the top quartile compared with 64 years in the bottom quartile, while political and civil liberties were also considerably higher in economically free nations.

Significance of economic freedom index:

  • The economic freedom index of a country is directly proportional to the freedom and opportunities available to its citizens. People living in countries with high levels of economic freedom enjoy greater prosperity, more political and civil liberties, and longer lives. On the contrary, countries at the lower levels of freedom index tend to suppress its citizens’ freedom and rights.

National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) grading

  • Only one college among a total of 328 educational institutions in the country has bagged the prestigious A++ grade awarded by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) under the new grading pattern
  • Joseph’s College, Devagiri, Kozhikode in Kerala, has bagged a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 3.76 to get an A++ grade in the third cycle.
  • Seven educational institutes have got the A plus rating, while 81 have got A rating, 55 have got B++, 64 have got B +, 87 have got B and 33 have got the C grade.

National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC)

  • NAAC introduced the new grading pattern in July 2016, where it began grading institutions based on seven grades from the earlier four grades.
  • This method was introduced to encourage healthy competition among institutions so that they would strive for excellence.
  • The council uses seven criteria to assess institutes ranging from teaching-learning and evaluation, curricular aspects, research, consultancy and extension, infrastructure and learning resources.

Online search engines should check sex determination ads, says Supreme Court

  • Noting that online search engines Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are under an “obligation” to check pre-natal sex determination advertisements, the Supreme Court has directed them to develop in-house methods to prohibit such content.
  • What has the court said? – Search engines are under obligation to see that the ‘doctrine of auto block’ is applied within a reasonable period of time. Also, it has to be an in-house procedure/method to be introduced by the companies.

PCPNDT

  • PCPNDT law prohibits pre-natal sex determination. The PCPNDT Act was brought in to stop female foeticide and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. Under this Act, gender selection is prohibited.
  • The Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act, 1994 was enacted in response to the decline in Sex ratio in India, which deteriorated from 972 in 1901 to 927 in 1991.
  • The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.
  • Offences under this act include conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units, sex selection on a man or woman, conducting PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act, sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.
  • The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
  • It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect few cases.
  • No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
  • No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
  • Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.
  • The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.

Amendment in 2003

  • Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection. The Act was amended to bring the technique of pre conception sex selection and ultrasound technique within the ambit of the act. The amendment also empowered the central supervisory board and state level supervisory board was constituted. In 1988, the State of Maharashtra became the first in the country to ban pre-natal sex determination through enacting the Maharashtra Regulation of Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act.

One-third of total maternal deaths in 2015 happened in India: Report

  • Ahead of the U.N. General Assembly, The Lancet has published a new series of papers on maternal health which reveal that while progress has been made in reducing maternal mortality globally, differences remain at international and national levels.

Highlights of the report:

  • Each year, about 210 million women become pregnant and about 140 million newborn babies are delivered. But, nearly one quarter of babies worldwide are still delivered in the absence of a skilled birth attendant.
  • In high-income countries, rates of maternal mortality are decreasing but there is still wide variation at national and international level. For instance, in the U.S., the maternal mortality ratio is 14 per 1,00,000 live births compared to 4 per 1,00,000 in Sweden. Nigeria shouldered the maximum burden of 58,000 maternal deaths.
  • The sub-Saharan African region accounted for an estimated 66% (2,01,000) of global maternal deaths, followed by southern Asia at 22% (66,000 deaths). However, not all care is evidence-based, and improved surveillance is needed to understand the causes of maternal deaths when they do occur.
  • There are also new challenges in delivering high quality care, including the increasing age of pregnancy, and higher rates of obesity.
  • While facility and skilled birth attendant deliveries are increasing in many low-income countries, phrases such as ‘skilled birth attendant’ and ‘emergency obstetric care’ can mask poor quality care. Besides, many birth facilities lack basic resources such as water, sanitation and electricity.
  • Also, measuring progress via the current indicator of skilled birth attendant coverage is insufficient and fails to reflect the complexity of circumstances. It is also unethical to encourage women to give birth in places with low facility capability, no referral mechanism, with unskilled providers, or where content of care is not evidence-based. This failing should be remedied as a matter of priority.

Reasons for poor maternal health care:

  • According to the report, there are two broad scenarios that describe the landscape of poor maternal health care — the absence of timely access to quality care (defined as ‘too little, too late’) and the over-medicalisation of normal and postnatal care (defined as ‘too much, too soon’)
  • The problem of over-medicalisation has historically been associated with high-income countries, but it is rapidly becoming more common in low and middle-income countries, increasing health costs and the risk of harm. For instance, 40.5% of all births are now by caesarean section in Latin America and the Caribbean.

What’s the main concern?

  • In all countries, the burden of maternal mortality falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable groups of women. This reality presents a challenge to the rapid catch-up required to achieve the underlying aim of the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] — to leave no one behind.
  • One-third of the total maternal deaths in 2015 happened in India, where 45,000 mothers died during pregnancy or childbirth

Centre sends BS-V auto emission norms for a ‘six’

  • The Centre has notified the Bharat Stage (BS)-VI emission standards for two-wheelers and four-wheelers from April 2020 across the country.

Key facts:

  • With this, the government has decided to skip the BS-V emission standards and move directly to BS-VI from the BS-IV norms currently being followed in various cities.
  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has given the Union Petroleum Ministry four years to make BS-VI fuels available to auto companies.
  • Oil companies will be investing more than Rs.60,000 crore towards BS-VI fuels. BS-VI is the Indian equivalent of the Euro-VI norms. At present, BS-IV norms are being followed in over 30 cities while the rest of the country followBS-III norms.

Bharat norms

  • In a bid to curb vehicular pollution, the government, in January 2016 decided to implement stricter emission norms of Bharat Stage (BS) VI from April 1, 2020 by skipping BS-V altogether.
  • Introduced in the year 2000, the Bharat norms are emission control standards put in place by the government to keep a check on air pollution. Based on the European regulations (Euro norms), these standards set specifications/limits for the release of air pollutants from equipment using internal combustion engines, including vehicles. Typically, the higher the stage, the more stringent the norms.
  • The BS IV norms were introduced in 13 cities apart from the National Capital Region from April 2010. Currently, BS IV fuel is being made available across the country in stages, with the entire nation expected to be covered by April1 2017.

BS-VI Norms:

  • The particulate matter emission in BS-V and BS-VI is same for diesel cars though it is 80% less than BS IV.
  • The nitrogen oxide (NOx) level is, however, 55% less in BS-VI over BS-V which in itself is 28% lower than BS IV.
  • The sulphur content in fuel norms for diesel and petrol under both BS-V and -VI standards does not change at 10 ppm, though it is substantially less than 50 mandated for both the fuels under BS-IV.

SC moves away from death penalty

  • The Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence of a youth for raping and killing a seven-year-old girl but awarded him 25 year jail term, saying that judicial innovation was required in awarding appropriate punishment between death sentence and life imprisonment in heinous crimes.

What has the court said?

  • The court has said that the offence did not come within the ambit of rarest of rare case but also held that life imprisonment of 14 years would not be sufficient punishment for the crime committed.
  • Holding that innovative approach is needed to award sentence in such cases, the court directed that the convict must spent 25 years behind the jail.
  • The court has also held that judicial innovation for bridging the gap between death sentence on the one extreme and only 14 years of actual imprisonment in the name of life imprisonment on the other, serves a laudable purpose and does not violate any law in the Indian Penal Code or in the Code of Criminal Procedure
  • The innovative approach reflected in this case, on the one hand helps the convict in getting rid of death penalty in appropriate cases, on the other it takes care of genuine concerns of the victim including the society by ensuring that life imprisonment shall actually mean imprisonment for whole of the natural life or to a lesser extent as indicated by the court in the light of facts of a particular case.

Special category:

  • A judicial innovation was formalised by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Rajiv Gandhi killers’ case in December 2015, instead of the death penalty.
  • This judicial innovation helps get rid of death penalty and addresses the genuine concerns of the society to see justice done.
  • This innovative approach veering away from capital punishment was formalised after the Supreme Court gave itself the authority to tweak the sentencing laws and evolve a special category of sentence in its judgment in Union of India versus Sriharan alias Murugan last year.
  • The innovation is an endeavour by the apex court to make “no party (convict or the society) a loser”.
  • The innovation involves substituting death penalty with a “special category” of life imprisonment without the benefit of release on remission for prolonged periods ranging from 25 to 30 years, if not more.
  • The special category is to be limited to a “very few cases”. This special category finds its first mention in the Swami Shraddananda versus State of Karnataka judgment of the Supreme Court in 2008.

Cambodia emerges as surrogacy hub

  • With India toughening its stand on surrogacy, evident in the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 which the Cabinet cleared last month, Cambodia has emerged as a surrogacy hub.
  • Surrogacy service seekers and even doctors have started moving to destinations that still allow this service including Cambodia.
  • Besides Cambodia, countries such as Ukraine and Kenya are also attracting doctors from India.
  • As in the early days of surrogacy in India, the lack of proper laws or guidelines in Cambodia has proved a big attraction
  • Surrogacy laws in India are becoming tougher. India banned commercial surrogacy in November, 2015. The Cabinet also recently cleared the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016. The bill has made the government’s intent to ban commercial surrogacy clear.

Simplify factory inspections for ‘ease of doing business’: CII

  • Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) has released its white paper titled ‘Inspections and Regulatory Enforcements for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in India.’

What has the CII said?

  • In its report, the CII notes that the factory inspection system in India needs a complete overhaul to bring India among the top 50 countries in terms of ‘ease of doing business’ in the next two years
  • Why?
  • According to the report, the excessive number of inspections in India weighs down on the competitive advantage and the ‘ease of doing business’ of Indian businesses
  • What are the challenges faced by MSMEs in India, according to the report?
  • A manufacturing company in India has to comply with around 70 laws and regulations.
  • Besides, 40 inspectors and government officials visit factories on an average with the ulterior motive to fleece the company promoters and owners. Most of the inspections conducted are related to environment or labour law compliances.
  • Apart from multiple inspections, a company has to file around 100 returns every year.
  • Inspections in India have also been found to be excessive, duplicate and complicated, imposing significant costs on businesses, especially MSMEs. While most inspections are selected locally, without any objective criteria, inspectors act over-zealously and make extortionist demands from factories.
  • There are also variations in inspections conducted on small factories across the country. While inspectors for labour compliances visit most SMEs once or twice a year, it has been observed that in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand, SMEs are visited by labour inspectors once every month.
  • What needs to be done?
  • CII has called for an integrated inspection system and highlighted the need for inculcating a risk-based approach in the inspection system which will rationalise the number of inspections and weed out the redundancy and duplicity.
  • A portal could be created for automatically updating invoices related to excise, sales tax, customs and the like by SMEs and this could be used by regulators and inspectors in lieu of physically visiting the factory premises. Audited accounts of SMEs could be used by inspectors while performing verification.
  • CII has also urged the central government to encourage the states to pursue a process for simplification of labour laws and compliance.
  • Background:
  • India is currently placed at 130 out of 189 countries in the ‘ease of doing business’ rankings.

Rich Indians worry as ‘dollar’ visa set to end

  • Many high net worth individuals the world over, including in India, are worried as the controversial immigrant visa programme for the wealthy in the US- EB-5 Programme, is set to expire this month-end.

What is EB-5 Programme?

  • It is popularly called as the ‘Green Card for greenback’ scheme. The EB-5 programme was created in 1990 with the approval of the US Congress — America’s highest law-making body.
  • It aims to boost the American economy by attracting investment from foreign nationals and generating employment for locals. In 1992, its scope was widened through an Immigrant Investor Programme, or the Regional Centre Programme.
  • Simply put, the programme grants rich entrepreneurs — as well as their spouses and unmarried children below the age of 21 — an opportunity to bag the coveted U.S. Green Card (or status of permanent residence) and Citizenship.
  • The programme is named EB-5 as it is the fifth preference category under the Employment-Based (EB) immigration visas.

How this scheme operates?

  • Rich entrepreneurs have to invest in over half a million dollars in the U.S. and ensure that the funds help generate at least ten full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
  • The visa, given in exchange for investments, grants the holder a conditional permanent residence status.
  • After two years, the conditions may be removed, when it becomes permanent green card that can lead to citizenship, provided it has resulted in the creation of 10 jobs.

Key facts:

  • In order to be considered for permanent residency status in the U.S., the Programme mandates a qualified foreign investor to invest at least $1 million — or a minimum of $500,000 if the investment is made in certain rural areas or regions with high unemployment — and show that ten or more full-time positions were generated or preserved directly or indirectly as a result of that investment.
  • These EB-5 investments can be stand-alone or made through Regional Centres, with the former (direct investments) carrying a greater risk than investments made through over 860 approved Regional Centres that have more on-the-ground knowledge.
  • Regional Centres are certain designated organisations permitted to collect money from overseas investors seeking the EB-5 visas, and then pump such foreign investment into officially approved projects.

Why Indians are concerned?

  • In 2015, the U.S. authorities issued 111 EB-5 visas to Indians — that is 15 more than the previous year, and 74 more than the number of such immigrant visas issued in 2011. The rapid rise in the number of EB-5 visas to Indians in the last few years had led to the filing of over a thousand applications under that category from India this year.
  • However, in the backdrop of allegations of fraud and corruption — including against Indian-origin individuals — related to the programme, the U.S. Congress is planning to consider whether to renew it or to pay heed to growing criticism and wind it up altogether.
  • According to U.S. government data, applicants from China managed to get 8,156 visas under this programme.
  • This was followed by Vietnam (280), China/Taiwan-born (139), South Korea (116), India (111), Russia (88), UK (84), Mexico (77) and Iran (62).

Way ahead:

  • EB-5 programme has so far attracted FDI worth around $16.8 billion. It has also contributed $9.62 billion to the U.S. GDP, supported 29,300 jobs annually and generated $2.08 billion in tax revenue. Now, it remains to be seen how the U.S. Congress will do a balancing act especially since it is estimated that if the programme fails to get re-authorised, it could not only adversely impact over $20 billion worth of investments, but also lead to many court cases in addition to a loss of an estimated over three lakh jobs.

Mormugao

  • It is indigenously built Guided Missile Destroyer. It was recently commissioned. It is the second ship of Project 15B. Project 15B ships feature cutting edge advanced technology and are comparable to the best ships of similar class anywhere in the world. These ships have been designed indigenously by the Directorate of Naval Design, New Delhi. Each ship spans 163 metres in length and 17.4 metres at beam and displaces 7300 tonnes. These ships will be propelled by four gas turbines to achieve speeds in excess of 30 knots. The P15B destroyers incorporate new design concepts for improved survivability, sea keeping, stealth and ship manoeuvrability.

Giant African Land Snail (GALS)

  • It was recently sighted in Goa university.It has been listed in the world’s top 100 invasive species. According to experts, the presence of this snail in Goa could be showing indicators of impact of gross human interference in the natural ecosystem. Ecologically, the species are dangerous as they reproduce faster and take over entire ecosystems, this becoming a menace to crops

The Legal Information Management and Briefing System

  • The Legal Information Management and Briefing System , an integral part of the digital India initiative, aims to be a database of all the ongoing cases with the government
  • this is a big step under the Digital India project, intended to monitor and ultimately reduce spending on government litigation.
  • The aim is to conduct cases properly. If our system works, along with the national litigation policy, we will be able to prevent 50% cases before they are even filed
  • According to the government, the project will help reduce delays in filing responses in cases , contempt notices because of such delays and consequent monetary penalties.
  • The LIMBS project began internally at the ministry of railway sometime in 2013, but was soon expanded as a single platform across ministries.
  • In July 2015, it was hosted on the NIC server
  • The law ministry, by a gazette notification on 8 February, formally launched LIMBS to monitor cases filed against the Union government.
  • As of now, there is no special budget allocated for this project, which is being handled in house with a team of eight people – four developers on the technology side and four implementers for the case details.

Humsafar train to roll out next month with 20 % higher fares

  • ‘Humsafar’ trains are set to be launched next month with fares that would be about 20 per cent higher than the normal Mail and Express services.
  • Announced by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu during presentation of the Rail Budget 2016-17, Humsafar, a special class service comprising only AC-3 coaches, is likely to be launched between New Delhi and Gorakhpur.
  • Humsafar is a special class train for inter-city overnight journey with many additional facilities which are otherwise not available in normal AC-3 coaches
  • CCTV, GPS-based passenger information system, fire and smoke detection and suppression system and mobile, laptop charging points with every berth are some of the features on Humsafar trains.
  • Humsafar will have improved aesthetics with new interior and exterior colour scheme presenting a futuristic look with the use of vinyl sheets similar to Maharaja Express coaches. It will also have integrated braille displays.
  • The fare should not exceed beyond 20 per cent of normal Mail/Express fare on the route where Humsafar service will be pressed into.

Dynamic surge fares on Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto trains

  • The Railways have decided to put in place the flexi fare system for premier trains – Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi from September 9
  • The base fares will increase by 10 per cent with every 10 per cent of berths sold subject to a prescribed ceiling limit. There will be no change in the existing fare for 1AC and EC class of travel
  • According to the statement, other supplementary charges like reservation, superfast, catering and service tax will be levied separately. The railways further said that vacant berths left at the time of charting would be offered for current booking.
  • However, there will be no change in the existing fare for 1AC and Executive Class of travel in premier trains.
  • There are total 42 Rajdhani trains, 46 Shatabdi and 54 Duronto trains.

Talgo train completes Delhi-Mumbai trial in less than 12 hrs

  • The Spanish Talgo train completed today its final trial between Delhi and Mumbai in less than 12-hours at a maximum speed of 150 km per hour speed, to make a strong pitch for its induction in Indian Railways future venture.
  • It was a successful trial by the Talgo train comprising light weight aluminum coaches with tilting technology
  • The train with nine coaches had a third trial between New Delhi and Mumbai at 140 km per hour speed on September 7.
  • Currently, the super-fast Rajdhani Express train takes around 16 hours between New Delhi and Mumbai.
  • Railways had conducted the first trial run of Talgo trains on the Bareilly-Moradabad stretch in Uttar Pradesh followed by the second trial run was conducted on the Palwal-Mathura section of the North-Central Railway.
  • The nine-coach Talgo train consists of two Executive Class cars, four Chair Cars, a cafeteria, a power car and a tail-end coach for staff and equipment.

Govt to raise buffer stock of pulses to 20 lakh tonnes

  • To stabilise prices of pulses and encourage farmers, the government decided to increase the buffer stock of pulses from 8 lakh tonnes to 20 lakh tonnes.
  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to import 10 lakh tonnes of pulses and procure the remaining from the local market.
  • If need be, the government will sell pulses to the poor from the buffer stock at a cheaper rate.
  • The requisite funds for this operation will be provided through the Price Stabilisation Fund. Funds could be raised from financial institutions as well. For creating the buffer stock, the domestic procurement operations will be undertaken by the central agencies.

Cabinet clears higher education fund agency

  • In its effort to raise capital from the marketplace to fund infrastructure uplift of higher institutions, the Cabinet approved creation of non-banking higher education financing agency (HEFA).
  • The agency, set up with an authorised capital of Rs 2,000 crore, will issue educational bonds to raise funds from the market to invest on infrastructure upgrades at institutions like the IITs and NITs.
  • The Centre also approved to continue a World Bank-supported project to improve the quality of nearly 200 government funded and government aided technical institutions.
  • With a total outlay of Rs 2,660 crore, the project would have a specific focus on institutes functioning in seven “low-income states”, including Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (UP).
  • HEFA will be set up as a “special purpose vehicle” either within a public sector bank or under a government-owned non-banking finance company, which will act as its promoter.
  • The agency, jointly run by the promoter and the HRD Ministry with equal share of
  • Rs 1,000 crore each, will issue bonds in the market to raise up to Rs 20,000 crore.
  • It will also raise money from the debt market (through government securities), besides mobilising funds from PSUs and corporates under corporate social responsibility
  • Centrally-funded higher educational institutions will be given loans from the agency for improving their infrastructure, particularly world class research facilities, for a period of 10 years.
  • While the principal amount will have to be repaid by the institution concerned, payment of interest on such loans will be born by the government

CBEC to be renamed as CBIT under GST regime

  • Apex indirect tax body CBEC will be renamed as the Central Board of Indirect Tax (CBIT) once the new national tax framework kicks in from April 1 next year, as per the draft dealing in GST organisational structure prepared by the Centre.
  • CBIT will be headed by a secretary-level officer.
  • It will implement the rules, including exemptions and threshold, to be set by the GST Council, which is chaired by Union Finance Minister and has state finance ministers as its members.
  • CBIT will consist of six members, who will look after Customs, policy and IT, central excise and legal issues, training and litigation.
  • Besides, an additional secretary of the department of revenue, who will be secretary to the GST Council, will be a CBIT member for Central GST (CGST) and Integrated GST (IGST) related matters.

 Task force moots new panel on BPL

  • A task force headed by NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya to prepare a road map for elimination of poverty has submitted its report to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
  • The main task of task force was to prepare a road map for elimination of poverty as well as suggest strategies and anti-poverty programmes.
  • Its terms of reference included:
  1. Developing a working definition of poverty
  2. Coordinating and developing synergy with Central Ministries and State government task forces.

Recommendations:

  • The task force has suggested setting up of a committee to identify people below the poverty line (BPL).
  • It has also suggested participation from the States in defining the BPL population.
  • Continue with the Tendulkar poverty line.
  • Switch to the Rangarajan or other higher rural and urban poverty lines.
  • Track progress over time of the bottom 30% of the population.
  • Track progress along specific components of poverty such as nutrition, housing, drinking water, sanitation, electricity and connectivity.

Best Horticulture and Agriculture Awards:

  • Haryana has won ‘Best Horticulture State’ award of the Indian Council of Food and Agriculture (ICFA).
  • The award was bestowed upon the state for its concerted efforts made to increase the income of the farmers in horticulture.
  • The 2016 Best Agriculture State award was bestowed upon Odisha in recognition of state’s efforts towards development of agriculture and bringing rural prosperity.

AIR to launch website, mobile app for Baluchi audience

  • Public Sector Broadcaster All India Radio (AIR) is planning to launch a website and mobile app for its Baluchi service to reach people who speak this language across the globe.
  • The All India Radio has been airing hour-long Baluchi programme everyday, which also includes news as well. This service was started in 1974 and reaches those who speak the language in Pakistan as well.
  • website and mobile app, these programmes will gain a global audience especially among Baluchi speaking diaspora
  • The move to start an AIR web service comes in the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech in which he had brought up the issue of Pakistani atrocities on people of Baluchistan and PoK.
  • It was for the first time the disturbed areas in the control of Pakistan were mentioned by any Prime Minister during his Independence speech.
  • Earlier, DD News had also sent a team to Geneva to interview Brahumdagh Bugti, leader of Baloch Republican Party.
  • Public Broadcaster Prasar Bharati has been consistently focussing on strengthening its digital reach, a source said adding that a website and mobile app in Baloch language will also be a step in this direction.
  • The External Services Division (ESD) of All India Radio, presently broadcasts daily in 57 radio transmissions covering over 108 countries in 27 languages.
  • Out of these, 15 are foreign including Baluchi language.

INSAT-3DR

Why in News: In its tenth flight (GSLV-F05) conducted recently, India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, equipped with the indigenous Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS), successfully launched the country’s weather satellite INSAT-3DR, into a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). fb_1469862753_725x725

  • The launch took place from the Second Launch Pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR (SDSC SHAR), Sriharikota, the spaceport of India.
  • This was the first operational flight of GSLV equipped with CUS and the fourth to carry the indigenous CUS.
  • This flight was the third consecutive success achieved by GSLV carrying indigenous CUS.
  • The 2211 kg INSAT-3DR is the heaviest satellite to be launched from the Indian soil.
  • INSAT-3DR satellite is now orbiting the Earth with a perigee (nearest point to Earth) of 169.76 km and an apogee (farthest point to Earth) of 36,080.5 km with an orbital inclination of 20.62 deg with respect to the equator.

About INSAT- 3DR:

  • INSAT-3DR is an advanced meteorological (weather observation) satellite built by India to provide a variety inputs essential for accurate weather forecasting.
  • INSAT-3DR carries a satellite aided Search and Rescue Transponder that picks up and relays alert signals originating from distress beacons of maritime, aviation and land based users.
  • The major users of the service will be the Indian Coast Guards, Airports Authority of India (AAI), Directorate General of Shipping, Defence Services and fishermen.
  • The Indian service region will cover a large part of the Indian Ocean and will also include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Tanzania for providing distress alert services.

Significance:

  • The successful launch marks a departure from the long history of failures with the GSLV; except for the first, every launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), the workhorse of ISRO, has been a success. That September 8 launch marks the third consecutive success; the fact that it is the first operational flight by the GSLV carrying the indigenous cryogenic upper stage is confirmation that India now belongs to the elite club of countries that have mastered the cryogenic technology.
  • Maintaining structural and thermal integrity of the engine at very high temperatures during combustion just a few centimetres away from – 250° C, a temperature at which materials behave very differently, is a huge challenge. Likewise, igniting a cryogenic fuel and sustaining the combustion for a prolonged period is a daunting task.
  • It has fully utilised the maximum payload carrying capacity of the GSLV-Mk II by carrying the heaviest satellite (2,211 kg) ever from Indian soil. This became possible only because the cryogenic upper stage was used.

Cleanest state

  • Sikkim has been adjudged the cleanest state in the list on the condition of sanitation in rural areas of 26 states.
  • The results of survey carried out last year by National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) was released recently.
  • Following Sikkim come Kerala, Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Meghalaya among the top 10 States. S
  • ikkim scored 98.2% on a scale of 100. Kerala scored 96.4 while neighbouring Tamil Nadu notched up just 39.2.

Sarathi

  • It is an Indian Coast Guard Ship commissioned recently.
  • It is the third ship in the series of six Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV).
  • ‘Sarathi’ meaning charioteer is a projection of Indian Coast Guard’s will and commitment ‘To serve and protect’ the maritime interest of the nation.
  • It has been designed and built indigenously by GSL and is fitted with most advanced state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment, sensors and machineries.
  • The ship is designed to carry one twin engine Light Helicopter and five high speed boats including two Quick Reaction Inflatable Boats for swift boarding operations, search and rescue, law enforcement and maritime patrol.
  • The ship is also capable of carrying pollution response equipment to contain oil spill at sea

Swachh Survekshan 

  • The ‘Swachh Survekshan’ for rural India was recently released.
  • A total of 22 hill districts and 53 plain areas were assessed under the Gramin Swachh Survekshan launched in May 2016.
  • The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation had commissioned Quality Council of India (QCI) to carry out the assessment.
  • Each district has been judged on four distinct parameters. Maximum weightage was places on accessibility to safe toilets and water.
  • The parameters to judge sanitation status include:
  1. Households having access to safe toilets and using them (toilet usage, water accessibility, safe disposal of waste) (40%).
  2. Households having no litter around (30%).
  3. Public places with no litter in the surrounding (10%).
  4. Households having no stagnant wastewater around (20%).
  • Mandi (Himachal Pradesh) and Sindhudurg (Maharashtra) are the cleanest districts in India.
  • Mandi was judged as the cleanest district in “Hills” category and Sindhudurg as the cleanest in the “Plains” category.

Projects approved under Swadesh Darshanswadesh-darshan

  • The Central Sanctioning and Monitoring Committee (CSMC) for the Swadesh Darshan Scheme in Ministry of Tourism has approved projects to the tune of Rs. 450 Crore for development of
  • Heritage circuit in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand,
  • Ramayana Circuit in Uttar Pradesh,
  • North East Circuit in Sikkim and
  • Coastal Circuit of Tamil Nadu.

For details about Swadesh Darshan scheme click here

Driving Licenses and Vehicle Registration Certificates can now be accessed through Mobile App

  • A new service – integration of DigiLocker with Driving Licenses (DL) & Vehicle Registration Certificates (RC), was recently launched by the government.
  • With this integration people will no longer need to carry around physical copies of their RCs and Driving Licences. They can instead access digital copies of the same on their mobile phones via the DigiLocker mobile app.
  • DigiLocker
    • launched in July last year,
    • aims at transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
    • It is a platform for issuance and verification of documents and certificates digitally.
    • When a person signs up for a DigiLocker he gets access to a dedicated cloud storage space for his important documents.
    • DigiLocker currently has 21,26,332 registered users with 24,11,702 uploaded documents.

Key features:

  • Driving Licenses and Vehicle Registration documents can now be issued directly to the DigiLockers of individuals in digital formats.
  • These digital copies can be shared with other departments as identity and address proof.
  • They will also be used for on the spot verification through the citizen’s mobile, by various law enforcement authorities like the Traffic Police.

Its significance:

  • Besides being convenient for people, this will also result in assured authenticity of such documents and reduction of administrative overhead.
  • This platform is a major step forward towards ensuring greater transparency and cutting down corruption and red-tapism. The move will benefit a large number of people by facilitating ease of access to the documents.
  • The integration will bring a paradigm shift in the vision of paperless governance.
  • It will serve to bring agility and efficiency to the entire process of issuance of driving licenses and vehicle registration certificates through IT enablement

Leprosy Case Detection Campaign

  • In a bid to eradicate Leprosy from India, Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry has launched the biggest Leprosy Case Detection Campaign (LCDC) in the country across 149 districts of 19 states/UTs
  • The states and UTs covered in this campaign are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Chandigarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Delhi and Lakshadweep.
  • The districts having a prevalence rate of more than one case per 10,000 population in any of the last three years have been included in this campaign.

Leprosy Case Detection Campaign

  • The Leprosy Case Detection Campaign is a unique initiative of its kind in the world where each and every member of the targeted population will be examined. This is a fortnight-long
  • Objective –
    • Early detection of leprosy in affected persons
    • so that they can be saved from physical disability and deformity
    • by providing them timely treatment and
    • thus also halting the transmission of disease at the community level.
  • It will cover 1656 blocks/urban areas of these districts and screen a total of 32 crore people for leprosy.
  • For this purpose, 297604 teams comprising of one lady ASHA worker and one male volunteer each would visit every house in their allotted area and
  • screen all the family members for leprosy.
  • House to house visits will be done by the search team as per the micro plan prepared for the local area to detect hidden and undetected leprosy cases.
  • The first LCDC was launched during March-April 2016 in 50 districts of 7 states covering a population of about 6.8 crores. During this campaign 65427 suspected cases were identified out of which 4120 were later confirmed.

Gas4India campaign

  • The center has launched Gas4India campaign, aimed at promoting the use of gas in the country.
  • Gas4India is a
    • unified cross-country, multimedia, multi-event campaign
    • to communicate the national, social, economic and ecological benefits of using natural gas
    • as the fuel of choice to every citizen who uses, or will use in the near future,
    • gas in any way- cook, travel, light their homes, and power their business

What will it include?

  • The campaign includes social engagement via Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, and its official blogsite,
  • hyper local, offline events to directly connect with consumers through discussions, workshops and cultural events.
  • Public and private sector companies working in the sector have joined hands to promote the natural gas sector.

Rs.20,000 Crore Long Term Irrigation Fund to be Raised

  • In a move that aims to address the perennial irrigation water crisis affecting rural India, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and NABARD signed an agreement to operationalise the Long Term Irrigation Fund (LTIF) to be instituted in NABARD as part of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY).
  • The agreement aims to complete the 99 prioritized irrigation projects as part of the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY).
  • The loans from NABARD will be provided at 6% interest rate for a period of 15 years. The Water Users associations will be formed for participatory management of the projects.

LTIF

  • The Fund, with an initial corpus of about Rs 20,000 crore, was announced in the Union Budget 2016-17 by Finance Minister.
  • Corpus would be raised by way of budgetary resources and market borrowings
  • to fund fast tracking of implementation of incomplete major & medium irrigation projects.

National Initiative for Development and Harnessing Innovation (NIDHI)

  • NIDHI (National Initiative for Development and Harnessing Innovations), an umbrella program is pioneered by the Department of Science & Technology(DST) for nurturing ideas and innovations (knowledge-based and technology-driven) into successful startups.
  • NIDHI focuses on building a seamless and innovation driven entrepreneurial ecosystem especially by channelizing youth towards it and thereby bringing in the positive impact on the socio-economic development of the country.
  • The program aims to provide technological solutions not only to the pressing needs of the society but also targets to create new avenues for wealth and job creation.
  • NIDHI, by design connects and strengthens all the links of the innovation chain from scouting to sustaining to securing to scaling to showcasing, because a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
  • The key stakeholders of NIDHI includes various departments and ministries of the central government, state governments, academic and R & D institutions, mentors, financial institutions, angel investors, venture capitalists, industry champions and private sectors.
  • NIDHI strongly addresses the new national aspirations by massively scaling up DST’s experience of three decades in promoting innovative startups
  • The Central government has recently approved six proposals to set up centres of excellence to promote and fund start-ups under the programme.
  • The government has earmarked ₹500 crore to scale up the start-up eco system,
  • Under this seed funding of up to ₹10 lakh – to develop a prototype and access fabrication facilities in incubators.

CSCs may assemble LED lamps to boost rural economy

  • Looking at tapping the 2.29 lakh Common Service Centers (CSCs) in the country to boost rural economy, the government is planning to enable assembly and manufacturing of LED lights at these centers.
  • The government, through these centers, also will provide in rural regions, tele-consultation services for animal healthcare as well as legal issues.
  • Kits for testing of dieseses such as malaria and dengue will also be made available at these centers.

What are CSCs?

  • Common Services Centers (CSCs) are a strategic cornerstone of the Digital India programme. They are the access points for delivery of various electronic services to villages in India, thereby contributing to a digitally and financially inclusive society.
  • CSCs enable the three vision areas of the Digital India programme:
    • Digital infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen.
    • Governance and services on demand.
    • Digital empowerment of citizens.
  • CSCs are more than service delivery points in rural India. They are positioned as change agents, promoting rural entrepreneurship and building rural capacities and livelihoods. They are enablers of community participation and collective action for engendering social change through a bottom-up approach with key focus on the rural citizen.

Ministry of DoNER goes LIVE on e-office:

  • The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region has gone LIVE on e-office.
  • Required arrangements have been made. This includes
    • a joint training of officers and other employees to bring them on the same page with regard to e-office procedures,
    • understanding the modules of e-office etc.
    • A Central Registry Unit and technical support team has been created to ensure smooth transition from physical files to the electronic platform.
  • The e-office platform would not only digitize the entire office correspondence and file notings, but also ensure an audit trail of all entries and correspondence, thus providing an unprecedented level of
  • It also migrates the chain of custody from the individual to the system allowing easy access to relevant documents at all times.

Sedition charges can’t be slapped for criticising government, clarifies Supreme Court

  • The Supreme Court has clarified that sedition charges cannot be brought against a person merely for raising a voice against the government or its policies. The clarification became necessary in view of the controversy generated after sedition charges were recently slapped in a number of cases, sparking demands for the law to be scrapped.

Background

  • The petitioner sought the court’s intervention to stop misuse of IPC Section 124A
  • Also, he argued that the law has not been amended after the Kedar Nath Singh judgment by the apex court and many police personnel are not aware of this judgment.
  • Referring to an NCRB report, the plea said 47 cases of sedition were filed in 2014 alone and 58 people arrested in connection with these cases

Important observations made by the court:

  • The authorities, while dealing with offences under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, shall be guided by the principles laid down by the Constitution Bench in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar.
  • The guidelines framed by the Constitution Bench then are good enough in the present circumstances.

Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar judgement –

  • “The citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder”.
  • The court had clarified that comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapproval of government actions, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence was not sedition.
  • The court had pointed out two essential ingredients required to establish the crime of sedition:
    • The acts must be intended to have the “effect of subverting the government” by violent means.
    • The acts must be intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace and order by resort to violence and must incite violence.

Railway Ministry working on $5 billion fund to finance infrastructure projects

  • The government is working on a proposal to create a $ 5-billion fund to finance various infrastructure projects of Railways. The proposed Railways of India Development Fund (RIDF) will be placed before the Cabinet for its nod after sorting out some hurdles.

Key facts:

  • The proposed fund, which will be anchored by the World Bank, will be of seven years.
  • Nearly 20% of the fund will come from the finance ministry and the balance from pension funds and sovereign funds. The finance ministry’s share will come in the form of equity.
  • It is being planned that the World Bank will route the funds through the finance ministry, which will be invested in RIDF as equity.
  • The proposed fund will mainly invest in major infrastructure projects of the transport behemoth.

Draft Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Bill, 2016

Background

There are several legal issues confronting the issue of transnational inter-spousal child removal.

  • It is unfortunate that when a child is abducted by his or her own parent to India, while custody issues are pending determination in the courts of his or her habitual permanent residence abroad, there is little that local law enforcement agencies can do to remedy the situation. This is because there are no codified family laws or specific child custody laws under which these children can be returned to their homes in a foreign jurisdiction.
  • An aggrieved parent with a foreign court order requiring return of the child finds no slot in the Indian legal system, wherein a wholesome statutory remedy can be invoked for effective relief.
  • Regardless, the Indian legal system provides succour by invoking the habeas corpus writ. Bitter disputed custody battles requiring conventional evidence to be established fall under the outdated Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.
  • Parents then have to seek resolution of rights of access, custody, guardianship and visitation as a last resort of the proof of their superior parental rights.
  • This dilemma has now worsened with the converse also taking place, which means that children from India are also being abducted abroad and cannot be traced there or legally directed to be returned. When families get split across countries, conflicting child custody litigations are initiated under the separate legal systems of different nations.
  • Ninety-four states are party to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which desires “to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence, as well as to secure protection for rights of access”.
  • India is not one of them. The question of India’s accession to the Convention first came about in 2007, but reached no logical end. Meanwhile, in India, the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Bill, 2007, to secure the prompt return of wrongly removed or returned children, lapsed before reaching Parliament.

Proposed Bill

  • On June 22, 2016, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) uploaded on its website a proposal to enact a draft of the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Bill, 2016. Once approved will facilitate prompt return of any child under 16 who has been “wrongfully removed to or retained in other state which is not his/her habitual residence.” The bill will provide an enabling legislation to implement the provision of the Hague convention.
  • This was considered as it was imperative to have an enabling legislation in India before accession to the Hague Convention.
  • The draft Bill was prepared following a reference made by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to the Law Commission of India to consider whether recommendations should be made for enacting a suitable law and for signing the Hague Convention. T
  • he High Court had made this reference when a minor child remained untraceable after she was removed from the de jure custody of the court and taken abroad by misusing an interim order of 2006. The court had observed in its order that for want of the Indian government acceding to the Hague Convention or enacting a domestic law, children would continue to be spirited away from and to India, with courts and authorities “standing by in despair”.

Provisions

  • The proposed Bill considers
    • the removal to or the retention of a child in India to be wrongful
    • if it is in breach of rights of custody
    • attributed to a person, an institution, or any other body, either jointly or alone,
    • at a place where the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention.
  • It further stipulates that the removal to or the retention in India of a child is to be considered wrongful where at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, by a person, an institution or any other body, or would have been so exercised, but for the removal or retention.
  • The draft mandates setting up of a central authority, to be headed by a joint secretary level officer. The authority would have the power to decide all the cases
  • Voluntary return of any such child to the country in which such child had his or her habitual residence.
  • To exchange information relating to any such child, with the appropriate authorities of a Contracting State.
  • To provide, on request, information of a general character, as to the law of India in connection with the implementation of the Convention in any Contracting State.
  • To institute judicial proceedings with a view to obtaining the return of any such in which that child has his habitual residence. It also facilitate the provision of legal aid or advice.
  • It provide administrative arrangements related to return of a child.

Significance –

  • Replaces the outdated Guardians and Wards Act of 1890. A new law incorporating international measures of Hague Convention( though India has not signed this convention)
  • According to BOKH( Bring our Kids Home) India is among the top five countries for international parent-child abductions so this is a prudent step by GOI.
  • By invoking “First Strike” principle and comity of courts it will help in deciding which court has jurisdiction regarding final decision.
  • In a absence of any domestic law this law will secure the future of child.
  • However the bill does not provide any penal provisions against the parent found to have abducted the child and not applicable in J&K

Important note

  • It is important in this context to look at the watershed verdict of the Supreme Court in Surya Vadanan v. State of Tamil Nadu (2015). The court ruled that:
    • one, the principle of Comity of Courts and nations must be respected and the best interest of the child should apply;
    • two, the principle of “first strike”, namely, whichever court is seized of the matter first, ought to have prerogative of jurisdiction in adjudicating the welfare of the child;
    • three, the rule of Comity of Courts should not be jettisoned except for compelling special reasons to be recorded in writing by a domestic court;
    • four, interlocutory orders of foreign courts of competent jurisdiction regarding child custody must be respected by domestic courts;
    • five, an elaborate or summary enquiry by local courts when there is a pre-existing order of a competent foreign court must be based on reasons and not ordered as routine when a local court is seized of a child custody litigation;
    • six, the nature and effect of a foreign court order, reasons for repatriation, moral, physical, social, cultural or psychological harm to the child, harm to the parent in the foreign country, and alacrity in moving a concerned foreign court must be considered before ordering return of a child to a foreign court.
  • The above decision set at rest a string of precedents laid down by courts from time to time to evolve a consistent approach in multi-jurisdictional child custody disputes.
  • However, law still needs to be codified. India’s accession to the Hague Convention would resolve the issue since it is based on the principle of reverting the situation to status quo ante . It is also based on the principle that the removed child ought to be promptly returned to his or her country of habitual residence to enable a court of that country to examine the merits of the custody dispute and thereupon award care and control in the child’s best interest. This is because the courts of the country where the child had permanent or habitual residence are considered to best determine the child’s interest.

Realizing India’s Energy Sector

  • India is the 5th largest producer of electricity in the world. At an electricity-GDP elasticity ratio of 0.8, electricity will continue to remain a key input for India’s economic growth.
  • The targets set for power, coal and renewable energy at 175 gigawatt (GW) of renewable capacity by 2022 and increase domestic coal production to 1,500 million tonnes (MT) by 2020 from 612.4 MT in 2014-15 should enable reaching ambitious targets.

Factors Determining Energy Sector realizations

  1. Coal production:
  • Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015: The act aims to provide for allocation of coal mines and vesting of the right, title and interest in and over the land and mine infrastructure to successful bidders and allottees with a view to ensure continuity in coal mining operations and production of coal.
  • The domestic coal production target of 1,500 MT is to be realized in this manner:
    1. 1,000 MT by Coal India Limited
    2. 100 MT by Singareni Collieries Company Limited
    3. 400 MT by captive and private producers.
  • Provision from imports of some 66 MT (million tonne) of coking coal, we will still need domestic production of around 1,400 MT of coal. Thus, the target of 1,500 MT of coal production is a reasonable one.
  1. Renewable capacity: Three measures to encourage renewable power:
  • Feed-in tariff (FIT): a fixed tariff is guaranteed to the power producer for a certain number of years. For him or her, this is desirable as it ensures assured income that eliminates market risk and he or she is able to raise finance easily.
  • Renewable portfolio obligation (RPO): an electricity distribution company (DISCOM) is required to purchase a certain percentage of its total distributed electricity from renewable sources. The price that a renewable power producer will receive is determined by the market. Thus there is also incentive to supply electricity at competitive rates.
  • Accelerated depreciation allowance: provides incentive to set up the plant but not to maintain it or generate electricity, helped boost wind power in the country.

Why the need for RPO

Even though FIT has been successful but RPO as a “single most important” policy to drive renewable energy deployment in India seems imperative.

  • It guarantees a certain minimum price to be paid to a renewable power producer.
  • RPO is that it can be neutral to technology. One does not have to prescribe whether it is solar or wind or biomass. Competitive market forces will select the most economical option. Whereas FIT is related to Solar only.
  • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has recently announced consultation guidelines for long-term RPO trajectory. The guidelines stipulate separate RPO for solar and non-solar electricity. The guidelines prescribe that 2.75 per cent, 4.75 per cent and 6.75 per cent has to be solar energy for 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively. The shares of non-solar energy such as wind, biomass, and small hydro for these years are to be 8.75 per cent, 9.50 per cent, and 10.25 per cent, respectively.

Way Ahead

  • The success of energy realizations will depend on the specification of a floor price and effective enforcement by States. The Centre needs to create some mechanism to incentivise States to enforce such schemes.
  • The Centre could provide money from the non renewable source to renewable sources like in case coal cess revenue to States depending on the extent to which they meet the RPO targets.
  • Thus a reasonable aim of 1,500 MT of coal production by 2022 and a calibrated renewable energy push should enable reaching ambitious targets.

Real time video monitoring of crowds at railway stations

  • In a first, the Indian Railways has deployed ‘intelligent video analytics’ to assess crowd density at major railway stations and initiate crowd control measures when the number of passengers/visitors exceeds a prescribed limit.
  • Taking cue from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) guidelines on crowd control, the railway has included crowd management in its revised Disaster Management Plan.
  • The inflow of passengers is usually high during long weekends and festive season. Besides, major railway stations are vulnerable to terror attacks in view of the large gathering of people, multiple entry/exit points and stoppage of trains at wayside stations where adequate security arrangements are not in place. Hence, effective crowd management plans should be in place.

Zika alert in India

  • According to a study, India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh are vulnerable to Zika virus.
  • These countries receive a combination of high volumes of travelers from Zika-affected areas, have mosquitoes capable of transmitting Zika virus, climate conditions conducive to local spread, and limited health resources.
  • According to the study, identifying where and when populations would be most susceptible to local transmission of Zika virus could help inform public health decisions about the use of finite resources.
  • Even though Zika virus was first identified in Africa, and sporadic cases have been reported in both Africa and Asia-Pacific, little is known about whether the Asian strain of the virus (now circulating in the Americas) will affect individuals differently if they have previously been infected with the African strain.

Zika virus:

  • Zika virus disease is an emerging viral disease transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This is the same mosquito that is known to transmit infections like dengue and chikungunya.
  • World Health Organisation has reported 22 countries and territories in Americas from where local transmission of Zika virus has been reported.

Mobile access scheme for remote areas soon

  • The government is planning to unveil a new scheme to provide mobile phone access to over 55,000 villages, particularly those in border states and in the Himalayan region, to push forward its flagship Digital India programme. The scheme will be funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).

Background:

  • As per official data about 4,700 villages in Himalayan States (Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), and 2,138 villages in Border States (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana) are not yet connected.
  • Further, 5,41,939 villages out of total 5,97,608 villages in the country are already covered with mobile services, leaving 55,669 villages, i.e., 9.31%, without coverage.
  • Among states, Odisha has the highest number of villages (10,398) which do not have mobile coverage, followed by Jharkhand (5,949) and Madhya Pradesh (5,926), Maharashtra (4,792) and Chhattisgarh. In states such as Kerala and Karnataka all villages have coverage.

Universal Service Obligation Fund:

  • established in 2002,
  • provides effective subsidies to ensure telegraph services are provided to everyone across India, especially in the rural and remote areas.
  • It is headed by the USOF Administrator who reports to the Secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
  • Funds come from the Universal Service Levy (USL) of 5% charged from all the telecom operators on their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) which are then deposited into the Consolidated Fund of India, and require prior parliamentary approval to be dispatched.
  • The USOF works through a bidding process, where funds are given to the enterprise quoting the lowest bid. However, the funds for NOFN were made an exception to this process since BBNL was the sole party involved in the implementation having being specifically created for it.
  • As on date, the total available fund in USOF is more than Rs.47,411.56 crore. The total collection since the scheme was started in 2002-03 stands at about Rs.78,587.31 crore, while total amount disbursed for various initiatives to boost rural connectivity is about Rs.31,175.75 crore, according to government data.

Sainthood for Mother Teresa:

  • Mother Teresa has been declared a saint in a canonization Mass held by Pope Francis in the Vatican. Mother Teresa set up her Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata in 1950 and made it headquarters for nearly half a century. Earning global recognition for her unending work and compassion for the poor, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

TMC as National Party:

  • The Election Commission has granted national party status to All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) party.
  • The party has fulfilled one of the conditions of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968. TMC qualified for the status as it is recognised as a state party in four states.
  • The TMC is now the seventh party to be given the status after Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Nationalist Congress Party

National party

  • A political party shall be eligible to be recognised as a National party only if it fulfils any one of the following three conditions
  1. The party wins 2% of seats in the Lok Sabha (as of 2014, 11 seats) from at least 3 different States.
  2. At a General Election to Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly, the party polls 6% of votes in four States and in addition it wins 4 Lok Sabha seats.
  3. A party gets recognition as State Party in four or more States 

State Party

  • A registered party has to fulfill any of the following conditions for recognition as a State Party:
  1. A party should win minimum three percent of the total number of seats or a minimum of three seats in the Legislative Assembly.
  2. A party should win at least one seat in the Lok Sabha for every 25 seats or any fraction thereof allotted to that State.
  3. A political party should secure at least six percent of the total valid votes polled during general election to a Lok Sabha or State Legislative Assembly and should, in addition, win at least one Lok Sabha, and two Legislative Assembly seats in that election,
  4. Under the liberalized criteria, one more clause has been added to provide that even if a Party fails to win any seat in a State in a general election to the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly of the State, the party will still be eligible for recognition as State Party if it secures 8% or more of the total valid votes polled in the State

Insurance cover for train passengers 

  • The railways has launched a scheme allowing a person to get an insurance cover of upto Rs 10 lakh on booking a train ticket online by paying less than one rupee.

Details:

  • The facility is reserved for passengers of Indian Railways who book e-ticket, excluding suburban trains, through its official website, irrespective of the class of the ticket.
  • A person booking a train ticket through the IRCTC website will be able to opt for travel insurance cover for a premium of 92 paise only.
  • The cover will not be applicable for children upto 5 years of age and foreign citizens. It will be for passengers holding tickets such as confirmed, RAC and wait-listed ones.
  • The scheme offers travellers/nominees/legal heirs a compensation of Rs 10 lakh in the event of death or total disabilty, Rs 7.5 lakh for partial disability, upto Rs 2 lakh for hospitalisation expenses and Rs 10,000 for transportation of mortal remains from the place of a train accident or where an untoward incident, including terrorist attack, dacoity, rioting, shootout or arson, occurs. However, no refund of the premium will be given in case of cancellation of the ticket.
  • The scheme is being implemented by IRCTC in partnership with ICICI Lombard General Insurance, Royal Sundaram General Insurance and Shriram General Insurance selected through a bidding process. A total of 19 companies had participated in the bidding process and 17 were found eligible.
  • The scheme is also applicable for Vikalp trains, short termination and diverted route. In case of short termination, if the passenger opts for alternate mode of transportation arranged by Railway upto the destination station, then this part of the journey of the passenger shall also be covered under the policy taken.

Majuli named world’s largest river island

  • Majuli Island on the Brahmaputra in Assam was recently declared the largest river island in the world, toppling Marajo in Brazil, by Guinness World Records. According to Guinness World Records, the island lost around one-third of its area in the last 30-40 years due to frequent flooding of the river.

Majuli

  • Majuli is a large river island in the Brahmaputra River, Assam, India.
  • The island is formed by the Brahmaputra river in the south and the Kherkutia Xuti, an anabranch of the Brahmaputra, joined by the Subansiri River in the north.
  • The island was formed due to course changes by the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries, mainly the Lohit.
  • The river island covers an area of around 880 sqkm.
  • Home to an estimated 160,000 people of different ethnic groups, the island is an assembly constituency reserved for scheduled tribes.
  • It was recently declared a district and was earlier a sub-division under Jorhat district.
  • Majuli is the nerve centre of neo-Vaishnavite

IUCN World Conservation Congress

  • 25th World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)has begun in Hawaii. Since IUCN’s foundation in 1948, member countries have gathered 24 times in all corners of the world. The last Congress was held in Jeju, Korea in 2012. This is the first time the US is hosting the event.
  • The theme for this year’s IUCN Congress is ‘Planet at the crossroads’.

Details:

  • The Congress aims to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development.
  • The main issues to be discussed at the Congress are wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation.
  • Over 9,000 delegates from 190 countries, including heads of state, high-level government officials, scientists, indigenous people and business leaders will share, debate and act on the latest issues in conservation and sustainable development and define a global path for nature conservation for the future.
  • The IUCN Congress is expected to set the course for using nature based solutions to help move millions out of poverty, creating a more sustainable economy and restoring a healthier relationship with our planet.

IUCN

  • IUCN was founded in October 1948 as the International Union for the Protection of Nature (or IUPN) following an international conference in Fontainebleau, France.
  • It was renamed as International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1956 with the acronym IUCN.
  • IUCN is the world’s first global environmental organization. Today it is the largest professional global conservation network
  • The Union’s HQ is located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.
  • It demonstrates how biodiversity is fundamental to addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges such as climate change, sustainable development and food security.
  • The IUCN Red List is set upon precise criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world. The aim is to convey the urgency of conservation issues to the public and policy makers, as well as help the international community to try to reduce species extinction.
  • Species are classified by the IUCN Red List into nine groups, set through criteria such as rate of decline, population size, area of geographic distribution, and degree of population and distribution fragmentation.

China ratifies Paris agreement ahead of G20

  • China has ratified the emissions-cutting agreement reached last year in Paris.
  • So far, 23 countries have ratified or otherwise joined the agreement, representing just 1% of global emissions, according to the World Resources Institute.
  • US and China produce 38% of the world’s man-made carbon dioxide emissions. Both countries have set a 2030 deadline for emissions to stop rising.

For details about Paris summit and its outcomes CLICK HERE

Delhi government invokes ESMA, declares nurses’ strike illegal

  • Declaring nurses’ strike as illegal, the Delhi government has invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). The Lieutenant-Governor has approved the government’s proposal to invoke ESMA against the agitating nurses.
  • More than 2,000 nurses are on strike demanding revision of pay scale and allowances. The strike had affected medical services in most city hospitals. The agitation is a part of a nationwide protest with over 70,000 government nurses going on an indefinite strike.
  • The nurses are opposing the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission and demanding immediate redress of issues related to pay and allowances.

About ESMA:

  • The Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) is an act of Parliament of India. It is a central law.
  • It was established to ensure the delivery of certain services, which if obstructed would affect the normal life of the people. These include services like public transport (bus services), health services (doctors and hospitals).
  • Although it is a very powerful law, its execution rests entirely on the discretion of the State government. Each state in the union of India, hence has a separate state Essential Services Maintenance Act with slight variations from the central law in its provisions. This freedom is accorded by the central law itself.

Green tribunal nod for Vizhinjam seaport project

  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has cleared way for the Kerala government’s Vizhinjam International Seaport project being undertaken by Gujarat-based Adani Group.
  • The order was passed on a petition filed before the Tribunal, seeking cancellation of green clearance to the port.

About the project:

  • The Vizhinjam International Transhipment Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport is an ambitious project designed primarily to cater container transhipment besides multi-purpose and break bulk cargo.
  • It’s an ambitious project of the Kerala government and the Adani group commenced the construction on December 5 last year. The port is scheduled to be completed on December 4, 2019.
  • The port is about 16 km from Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram and just 10 nautical miles from the International Shipping Lane.
  • With both strategic and commercial importance, the under-construction Vizhinjam International Transhipment Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport is estimated over Rs 7,000 crore.

Advantages of Vizhinjam are:

  • Availability of 20m contour within one nautical mile from the coast.
  • Minimal littoral drift along the coast, hardly any maintenance dredging required.
  • Links to national/regional road, rail network.
  • Flexibility in design and expansion being a Greenfield project.
  • Proximity to International shipping route.

Central government approves Sabarimala spiritual circuit

  • The centre has approved the Sabarimala spiritual circuit. The approval was given by the Union Ministry of Tourism.
  • Enhanced facilities for Ayyappa devotees, setting up of solid waste management and sewage treatment systems, and CCTV surveillance are the thrust areas in the Rs. 99.98-crore Sabarimala-Erumeli- Pampa-Sannidhanam Spiritual Circuit.
  • The administrative and financial nod for the circuit have been sanctioned under the Union Tourism Ministry’s Swadesh Darshan Scheme.
  • Kerala has also received Rs. 19.99 crore as the first tranche to commence work for the fully funded Central project.
  • The circuit has to be executed by Kerala Tourism in 36 months of commencement of work and the State has to provide land free of charge.
  • Land owned by private individuals and trusts should not be part of the scheme. Barrier-free access for the disabled is mandatory.

Throughput communication soon for India

  • India is on the cusp of a satellite-driven digital or broadband revolution, similar to DTH or direct-to-home broadcasting of the 2000s, with a plan to deploy five high-throughput communication spacecraft starting this year.

Details:

  • Two of the Gen-5 spacecraft are approved and getting ready; the others are said to be at various stages of consideration.
  • The first of them, GSAT-19, is slated for launch from India in December. It will showcase the country’s technology capability in the new area of spectrum efficiency that is trending across the globe.
  • ISRO will also test new technologies with its HTSs, such as the new flexible ‘bus’ or satellite assembly platform, electric propulsion, Ka band, lithium ion batteries, among others.

About HTSs:

  • HTSs have been game-changers in the West, providing Internet connectivity many times faster, smoother, easier and probably cheaper than now. HTS reuses satellite ‘beams’ several times over smaller areas.
  • It will drive a next generation technology revolution. Individuals, planners in government, businesses like banks, ATMs, reservation systems, cellular and private networks and users in remote areas are expected to benefit from improved connectivity.
  • HTSs provide at least twice the total throughput of a classic FSS satellite for the same amount of allocated orbital spectrum thus significantly reducing cost-per-bit.
  • HTS are primarily deployed to provide broadband Internet access service (point-to-point) to regions unserved or underserved by terrestrial technologies where they can deliver services comparable to terrestrial services in terms of pricing and bandwidth.
  • HTS can furthermore support point-to-multipoint applications and even broadcast services such as DTH distribution to relatively small geographic areas served by a single spot beam.
  • A fundamental difference to existing satellites is also the fact that HTS are linked to ground infrastructure through a feeder link using a regional spot beam dictating the location of possible teleports. By contrast teleports for traditional satellites can be set up in a wider area as their spotbeams’ footprints cover entire continents and regions

National Workshop on Autism Tools INCLEN and ISAA

  • A meeting of Master Trainers from all parts of the country was recently held at the ‘National Training Workshop on Autism using International Clinical Epidemiology Network (INCLEN) and Indian Scale of Assessment of Autism (ISAA) Tools’. It was organized by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.
  • The workshop is the first of its kind in India. More than 75 professionals (Clinical Psychologist, Pediatrician and Psychiatrist) participated from 18 States.

Details:

  • The aim of the workshop was to train and empower health care professionals like paediatricians, psychologists & psychiatrists to be trained as Master Trainers. These Master Trainer will further train required number of professionals in their respective States.
  • In this workshop, in order to maintain uniformity and standard in assessment of autism, two types of assessment tools were recommended:autism
  • One is INCLEN Tool developed under INCLEN study – “Neuro Developmental Disorder in Children in India”.
  • The other tool is ISAA – “Indian Scale of Assessment of Autism”, developed by the Ministry of SJ&E through NIMH, as a research project.

Background:

  • Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder spanning entire life. There is no definitive cure.
  • The effect of autism can be minimized by early diagnosis and with the right interventions. Hence, it is of paramount importance that children with Autism are identified early and started on intervention.
  • Though the Government had notified Autism as a disability in 2001, it had not been issuing certificates.
  • Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, under MoSJ&E has notified guidelines on 26th April 2016 to pave the way for constitution of boards and issuing of disability certificates for Autism.

Government notifies National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme

  • Government has notified National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme. It is for the first time a scheme has been notified to offer financial incentives to employers.

Details:

  • The Scheme has an outlay of Rs. 10,000 crore with a target of 50 Lakh apprentices to be trained by 2019-20.
  • 25% of the prescribed stipend payable to an apprentice would be reimbursed to the employers directly by the Government of India.
  • The scheme also supports basic training, which is an essential component of apprenticeship training by sharing of basic training cost with basic training providers in respect of apprentices who come directly to apprenticeship without any formal trade training (fresher apprentices).
  • All transactions including registration by employers, apprentices, registration of contract and payment to employers will be made as online mode.
  • Eligible employers shall engage apprentices in a band of 2.5% to 10% of the total strength of the establishment. Employers need to register on the apprenticeship portal and must have TIN/TAN and any one of EPFO/ESIC/LIN.
  • Brand Ambassadors will be appointed for states and for local industrial clusters to act as facilitators and promoters to promote apprenticeship training.

Background:

  • Apprenticeship Training is considered to be one of the most efficient ways to develop skilled manpower for the country. It provides for an industry led, practice oriented, effective and efficient mode of formal training.
  • The National Policy of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, 2015 focuses on apprenticeship as one of the key components for creating skilled manpower in India. The policy proposes to work pro-actively with the industry including MSME to facilitate tenfold increase opportunities in the country by 2020.

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana extended to people of all Hilly States

  • Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has decided to extend the benefits under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to the people of all Hilly States including North-East States by treating them as ‘Priority States’ and release LPG connections to the eligible beneficiaries.
  • This step of the Ministry will effectively address the difficulty faced by poor people residing in the States of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Tripura in accessing LPG for cooking purposes.

About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana:

  • It aims at Providing Free LPG connections to Women from BPL Households.
  • The scheme is being implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. This is the first time in the history of the country that the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas would implement a welfare scheme benefitting crores of women belonging to the poorest households.

Details:

  • Under the scheme, Rs 8000 crore has been earmarked for providing five crore LPG connections to BPL households. This Scheme would be implemented over three years, namely, the FY 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
  • The Scheme provides a
    • financial support of Rs 1600 for
    • each LPG connection
    • to the BPL households.
  • The identification of eligible BPL families will be made in consultation with the State Governments and the Union Territories.
  • The scheme is being partly funded from the savings of the GiveItUp initiative.

Army sets up design bureau to reduce dependence on imports

  • Indian Army has formally announced the establishment of the Army Design Bureau. This is an attempt to indigenise procurements and reduce import dependence as part of the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
  • Army Design Bureau will help in fast tracking procurement process and also helps in modernisation.
  • ADB will also be a “single point contact” and a platform for an interaction between the army and academia, the defence public sector units (PSU), private players to understand the requirements of the army
  • The bureau will give a better understanding of the requirements of army to the academia, research institutions and the industry for development of defence products.

RBI allows banks to sell stressed assets to NBFCs, other lenders

  • In a move to increase competition that could lead to better price discovery of stressed assets, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has allowed commercial banks to sell such loans to their competitors as well as to non-banking financial companies.
  • Till now, banks are allowed to sell stressed loans to asset reconstruction companies.

Details:

  • From now on, prospective buyers (of stressed assets) need not be restricted to securitisation or reconstruction companies.
  • Banks may also offer the assets to other banks/NBFCs/financial institutions, etc. who have the necessary capital and expertise in resolving stressed assets.
  • RBI has advised banks to identify assets that could be sold, at least annually, preferably at the start the year.
  • The regulator also directed that all doubtful assets above a threshold amount be reviewed by the board periodically.
  • According to RBI, allowing a wider range of buyers for stressed assets apart from asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) or securitization companies (SCs) will help in better price discovery.

Criticism

  • Experts say permitting banks to buy stressed assets is a mistake. According to them, “Banks should not be in the business of buying and resolving stressed loans. They should ideally be incentivised to sell these loans to someone who is a specialist in the space.”

Permanent Residency Status to Foreign Investors

  • The Union Cabinet has approved the scheme for grant of Permanent Residency Status (PRS) to foreign investors subject to the relevant conditions as specified in the FDI Policy notified by the Government from time to time.
  • The scheme is expected to encourage foreign investment in India and facilitate Make in India Programme.

Features of the scheme:

  • Under the Scheme, suitable provisions will be incorporated in the Visa Manual to provide for the grant of PRS to foreign investors.
  • The PRS will be granted for a period of 10 years with multiple entry. This can be reviewed for another 10 years if the PRS holder has not come to adverse notice.
  • PRS will serve as a multiple entry visa without any stay stipulation and PRS holders will be exempted from the registration requirements.
  • PRS holders will be allowed to purchase one residential property for dwelling purpose.
  • The spouse/ dependents of the PRS holder will be allowed to take up employment in private sector (in relaxation to salary stipulations for Employment Visa) and undertake studies in India.
  • The scheme will be applicable only to foreign investors fulfilling the prescribed eligibility conditions, his/her spouse and dependents. These include:
  • The foreign investor will have to invest a minimum of Rs. 10 crores to be brought within 18 months or Rs.25 crores to be brought within 36 months.
  • Further, the foreign investment should result in generating employment to at least 20 resident Indians every financial year.

Dissolution of Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Limited

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval to proposal for dissolution of Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Limited (CIWTC).

Why this was necessary?

  • Due to inherent limitation and infrastructure bottle necks, the operations of CIWTC have never become viable and company has been incurring losses since inception. The Company has only five employees at present. Hence, it has been decided to dissolve the company.
  • This decision is in line with the decision of the Government to revitalize sick CPSUs wherever possible or to wind up irretrievable cases.
  • This would free up the assets for better utilization and for the benefit of the people. A number of assets would be taken up by Inland Waterways Authority of India to provide services on Brahmputra River (NW-4).

About CIWTC:

  • Central Inland Water Corporation Limited (CIWTC LTD) was incorporated in May 1967 as a Govt. of India Undertaking after taking over the business from a loss making erstwhile sterling company, namely River Steam Navigation & Co. (RSN & Co.). It is under the administrative control of Ministry of Shipping (MOS)

Jains have highest percentage of literates: Census 2011

  • Census 2011 data on ‘education level by religious community for age 7 and above’ was recently released.

Highlights of the data:

  • Jains have the highest percentage of literates above 7 years of age among India’s religious communities, with 86.73% of them as literate and only 13.57% as illiterate.
  • Muslims have the highest percentage of illiterates aged beyond 7 years at 42.72%, as compared to 36.40% among Hindus, 32.49% among Sikhs, 28.17% among Buddhists and 25.66% among Christians.
  • Other minority communities score over both Hindus and Muslims in literacy levels. As compared to 63.60% of 7 years-plus Hindus and 57.28% Muslims in the ‘literate’ category, the percentage of literates among Christians is 74.34%, among Buddhists 71.83% and among Sikhs 67.51%.
  • The overall literacy rates among all communities have gone up since 2001. The following table shows the rise in literacy levels of various religious communities in 2011 when compared to 2001.
Religion 2001 2011
Hindus 54.92 63.60
Muslims 48.05 57.28
Christians 69.45 74.34
Sikhs 60.56 67.51
Buddhists 62.16 71.83

HADR exercise

  • It is an Annual Joint Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) exercise. It was recently organized by the Armed Forces in collaboration with Central Armed Police Forces and civil administration in different places of the country.