National Current Affairs – UPSC/KAS Exams- 12th January 2019

H1b Visa


Topic: International Relations

IN NEWS: U.S. President Donald Trump said he is planning changes to the H-1B program that grants temporarily visas to highly educated immigrants who work in specialty occupations such as technology or medicine.

More on the Topic:

  • US companies often use H-1B visas to hire graduate-level workers in several specialized fields, including information technology, medicine, engineering and mathematics.

About H1B Visa:

  • Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a non-immigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence.
  • Temporary worker visas are for persons who want to enter the US for employment lasting a fixed period of time, and are not considered permanent or indefinite.
  • The US H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ graduate level workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields for a certain period of time.

What are the issues with H-1B Visa Bill and Indian Employees:

  • The Bill encourages companies to recruit American workers. It explicitly prohibits replacement of American workers by H1-B or L-1 visa holders.
  • The Bill seeks to increase the minimum salary of H1-B visa holders from $60,000 to $1,00,000 per annum.
  • By raising the salary to a level more in line with the average American salary for these positions, it would help cut down on abuse by removing the profit incentive and ensuring these positions remain available for companies who truly needed them.
  • If the reform goes through, the resultant increase in employee wages will be a cost worry for the IT industry.
  • For the Indian firms, the challenge would be more on increased local hiring. Such wage hikes may hit their margins initially but going forward they will have to rethink over more local hiring.
  • Apart from the visa curbs, the U.S. had also recently hiked the visa fee for certain categories of the H1-B and L1 visas which has had an impact on Indian companies.

Model Mains Question: Analyse the implication of H-1B Visa changes on Indian IT industry?


AI beats doctors at detecting early stage cervical cancer


Topic: Science and Technology

IN NEWS: Artificial intelligence may be poised to wipe out cervical cancer, a study showed that computer algorithms can detect pre-cancerous lesions far better than trained experts or conventional screening tests.

More on the Topic:

  • The AI technique, called automated visual evaluation, found precancerous cells with 91% accuracy.
  • Scientists are trying to find ways that are extremely cheap, extremely easy but very accurate, so that we can attack cervical cancer by vaccine and also a bit later through a simple technique that is cell-phone based or something like it.
  • Scientists built an algorithm from an archive of more than 60,000 cervical images collected.
  • The pictures were taken using just a speculum, small light and camera — no advanced imaging required.
  • In comparison, a human expert review found 69% of pre-cancers, while conventional lab tests like Pap smears found 71%.
  • Among women aged 25-49, who face the highest risk of cervical cancer, the AI algorithm was even more accurate, finding 97.7% of pre-cancerous cells.
  • The goal of the scientists is to roll out the technology in the next three to five years, enrolling more patients in clinical trials worldwide.

About Cervical cancer:

  • According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women with an estimated 570,000 new cases globally in 2018.
  • Despite major advances in screening and vaccination, which can prevent the spread of human papillomavirus which causes most cases of cervical cancer, those gains have mainly benefited women in rich nations.
  • Some 266,000 women died of cervical cancer globally in 2012, 90% of them in low-and middle-income nations, according to the WHO.

Source:The Hindu

GST Council


Topic: Indian Economy

In news: The GST Council in its recently held 32nd meeting took a slew of decisions aimed at reducing the tax and compliance burden on small and medium enterprises.

More on the Topic:

  • The annual turnover limit under which companies would be exempt from GST has been raised to ₹40 lakh for most States and ₹20 lakh for the North Eastern and hill states, from the earlier limit of ₹20 lakh and ₹10 lakh, respectively.
  • The limit for eligibility for the Composition Scheme is raised to an annual turnover of ₹1.5 crore from April 1, 2019. So far, only manufacturers and traders were eligible for this scheme. The Scheme now has been extended to small service providers with an annual turnover of up to ₹50 lakh, at a tax rate of 6%.
  • Kerala can levy a cess of up to 1% for up to two years on intra-State supplies to help finance the disaster relief efforts following the recent floods in the state.
  • These measures have been taken to help the small and medium companies. The revenue impact due to these will be minimal.
  • Increasing the GST threshold limit would allow about 10 lakh traders to be exempt from the compliance burden of GST, and increasing the Composition Scheme limit would benefit about 20 lakh small businesses that fall between the annual turnover brackets of ₹1 crore and ₹1.5 crore.

Members of GST Council:

  • The Union Finance Minister will be the Chairperson
  • As a member, the Union Minister of State will be in charge of Revenue of Finance
  • The Minister in charge of finance or taxation or any other Minister nominated by each State government, as members.

Model Mains Question:  Discuss the role of GST in strengthening the cooperative federalism of India.

Source: Hindu

The Economist’s Democracy Index 2018


Topic: Polity and Governance

In news:  The Economist’s Democracy Index has a positive outlook on global democracy, with significant improvement in women’s participation, people willing to engage in lawful demonstrations and voters getting more proactive than ever despite being disillusioned with democracy.

More on the Topic:

  • The annual index that has been produced by the London-headquartered newspaper since 2006, has noted that not much has changed in India.
  • India is ranked at 41 – a notch above last year.
  • It is still classified as a ‘flawed democracy’ according to the index.
  • India achieved a score of 7.23 on the index to maintain its position – the same it did last year. This is the lowest ever score attributed to India in the index ever since its publication.
  • India has been always classified as a flawed democracy. The report defines a flawed democracy as nations that “have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected
  • . However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.
  • India ranks below the US (ranked 25th in the index) and other so called ‘flawed democracies’ like Italy, France, Botswana and South Africa.
  • On expected lines, Scandinavian nations hogged were perched on top of the democracy pyramid.
  • Norway was the world’s most perfect democracy followed by Iceland and Sweden.

About the Index:

  • The Economist’s Democracy Index ranks nations on five parameters – electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties.
  • Among all these parameters India fared the worst when it came to political culture. The survey is carried out every year by asking a sample group of people a set of 60 questions.

Source: Business standard

Energy Conservation Buildings

Topic: Infrastructure Development

In News: Bureau of Energy Efficiency and CPWD sign MoU on promoting energy efficiency in buildings.

More on the Topic:

  • According to the MoU, BEE and CPWD will cooperate on promoting designs and construction of Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) compliant new buildings, star rating of CPWD managed buildings across the country with no registration or renewal fee, awareness on energy efficiency in building sector and support for capacity building of CPWD officials in ECBC.
  • The MoU will remain in force for five years unless rescinded by either party. This association of BEE, a statutory body under Ministry of Power which is mandated to implement policy and programmes in energy efficiency and conservation with CPWD, a premier construction agency of Govt. of India would establish new benchmarks for energy efficient buildings in the country and will support Government of India’s vision for achieving energy security, economic growth and environmental sustainability.

About Bureau of Energy Efficiency

  • The Bureau of Energy Efficiency is an agency of the Government of India, under the Ministry of Power created in March 2002 under the provisions of the nation’s 2001 Energy Conservation Act.
  • The agency’s function is to develop programs which will increase the conservation and efficient use of energy in India
  • The mission of Bureau of Energy Efficiency is to “institutionalise” energy efficiency services, enable delivery mechanisms in the country and provide leadership to energy efficiency in all sectors of the country. The primary objective would be to reduce energy intensity in the economy.
  • The Government of India has identified certain energy intensive industries labelled as ‘designated consumers’,and made it compulsory for them to conduct Energy Audits following the ‘Bureau of Energy Efficiency (Manner and Intervals of Time for Conduct of Energy Audit) Regulations, 2010.

Source: Hindu

Cabinet approves Bilateral Swap Arrangement between India and Japan

Topic: International Relations

In news:  The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the proposal for entering into an Agreement for Bilateral Swap Arrangement (BSA) between India and Japan and authorizing the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to sign the Agreement for Bilateral Swap Arrangement between the RBI and the Bank of Japan for a maximum amount of USD 75 billion.

 More on the Topic:

  • The swap arrangement is an agreement between India and Japan to essentially exchange and re-exchange a maximum amount of USD 75 Billion for domestic currency, for the purpose of maintaining an appropriate level of balance of payments for meeting short-term deficiency in foreign exchange.
  • The BSA is a very good example of mutual cooperation between India and Japan for strategic objective of assisting each other in times of difficulty and for restoring international confidence.
  • This facility will enable the agreed amount of Capital being available to India on tap for use.
  • Also, with this arrangement in place, prospects of Indian companies would improve in tapping foreign capital as there would be greater confidence in stability of country’s exchange rate.
  • Availability of such swap line to tide over difficulties arising out of Balance of Payment (BOP) would deter speculative attacks on the domestic currency and greatly enhance the RBI’s ability to manage exchange rate volatility.

About Currency Swap Agreement:

  • A swap that involves the exchange of principal and interest in one currency for the same in another currency. It is considered to be a foreign exchange transaction and is not required by law to be shown on a company’s balance sheet.

source: The Hindu

Gaganyaan project


Topic: Science and Technology

In news: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said work on ‘Gaganyaan’, the project to send a manned mission to space by 2022, would start soon at the newly created Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC).

 More on the Topic:

  • The Human Space Flight Centre [based in Bengaluru] will carry out all activities related to the human programme. Under it will function the Gaganyaan Project.
  • The heavy lift launch vehicle GSLV Mark III, which got operational in November after its second successive flight in a row, must be suitably certified or human-rated. It will have two non-crew flights in December 2020 and July 2021.
  • The actual flight with crew is targeted to happen by December 2021 — to meet the goal of August 2022, India’s 75th Independence anniversary.

About Gangayaan:

  • Gaganyaan (“Orbital Vehicle”) is an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft intended to be the basis of the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme.
  • The spacecraft is being designed to carry three people, and a planned upgraded version will be equipped with rendezvous and docking capability.
  • In its maiden crewed mission, Indian Space Research Organisation’s largely autonomous 7-tonne capsule will orbit the Earth at 400 km (250 mi) altitude for up to seven days with a three-person crew on board.
  • The space capsule will have life support and environmental control systems. It will be equipped with emergency mission abort and emergency escape that can be done at the first stage or second stage of the rocket burn.

source: The Hindu

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