National Current Affairs – UPSC/KAS Exams- 8th January 2019

Centre plans 10% quota for the poor

1

Topic: Economy

IN NEWS: The Union Cabinet approved a Constitution Amendment Bill to provide 10% reservation to the economically backward sections in the general category.

 More on the Topic:

  • The Bill will also cover those from the Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and other minority communities. The quota will be over and above the existing 50% reservation to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes (OBC).
  • The reservation is for those castes that now do not avail themselves of quota in any category.
  • Those who have an annual salary of less than Rs. 8 lakh per year and possess less than 5 acres of land will be able to avail themselves of reservation in educational institutions and jobs.

Legal Constraints:

  • A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case of 1992 specifically answered the question “whether backward classes can be identified only and exclusively with reference to the economic criterion.”
  • It categorically held that “a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion.”
  • The Indira Sawhney judgment declared 50% quota as the rule unless extraordinary situations “inherent in the great diversity of this country and the people” happen. Even then, extreme caution is to be exercised and a special case should be made out.
  • If the government proposes to bring a constitutional amendment to include the 10% quota for “unreserved economically weaker sections”, the 11-judge Kesavananda Bharati judgment may stand in the way.
  • The judgment held that constitutional amendments which offended the basic structure of the Constitution would be ultra vires .
  • Neither Parliament nor legislatures could transgress the basic feature of the Constitution, namely, the principle of equality enshrined in Article 14.
  • The government, it is reported, proposes to bring the 10% over and above the 49% quota — 7% for Scheduled Castes, 15% for Scheduled Tribes and 27% for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, including widows and orphans of any caste, which is permitted.
  • But a total 59% (49%+10%) quota would leave other candidates with just 41% government jobs or seats. This may amount to “sacrifice of merit” and violate Article 14.

 Source: The Hindu

Gas hydrates produced under ‘space’ condition

Topic: Science and Technology

IN NEWS: Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras have experimentally shown that methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) can exist as gas hydrates at temperatures and pressures seen in interstellar atmosphere.

More on the Topic:

  • Gas hydrates are formed when a gas such as methane gets trapped in well-defined cages of water molecules forming crystalline solids.
  • In terrestrial conditions, gas hydrates are formed naturally under the sea bed and glaciers under high pressure, low temperature conditions.
  • Methane hydrate is a potential source of natural gas.
  • The methane and CO2 hydrates were produced in the lab at very low pressures (ten thousand billionth of atmospheric pressure) and temperature (as low as -263 degree C) to simulate the conditions of deep space.

Application:

  • The carbon dioxide hydrate produced in the lab raises the possibility of sequestering or storing carbon dioxide as hydrates by taking advantage of ice existing in environmental conditions favourable for hydrate formation.
  • CO2 hydrate is thermodynamically more stable than methane hydrate. So if methane hydrate has remained stable for millions of years under the sea bed, it would be possible to sequester gaseous CO2 as solid hydrate under the sea bed

Source:The Hindu

‘Air pollution hampers work productivity’

Topic: Environment and Ecology

In news: Besides affecting health, prolonged exposure to air pollution can also reduce employee’s productivity, finds a study.

 More on the Topic:

  • The study showed that daily fluctuations in pollution did not immediately affect the productivity of workers.
  • However, a definite drop in output was witnessed when measured for more prolonged exposures of up to 30 days, the researchers said. In addition, working in a highly polluted setting for long periods could affect mood.
  • For the study, the team gathered information from textile factories in China.They compared how many pieces of fabric each worker produced each day.
  • An increase in PM2.5, by 10 micrograms per cubic metre sustained over 25 days, reduces daily output by one per cent, harming firms and workers.

Source: The Hindu

SC notice to EC on VVPAT verification

4

Topic: Polity and Governance

In news:  The Supreme Court  directed the Election Commission to respond to a plea that the counts from electronic voting machines and voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) units should be cross-verified in at least 30% randomly chosen polling stations in each Assembly and Lok Sabha constituency, especially in light of the Lok Sabha election in May.

More on the Topic:

  • The petition said the commission had chosen to conduct the cross-verification exercise in an “inexplicably minuscule” manner in the recent Assembly elections.
  • The fraction of polling stations chosen for such random cross-verification has been inexplicably minuscule (less than 1% of polling stations in each constituency). This is manifestly arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable and in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, the petition said.
  • It said the principle of elections not only need to be free and fair but also seen to be free and fair.
  • The petition sought that “in order to detect and deter any such mischief or bias in the EVM process, at least 30% of all polling stations in a constituency must be chosen randomly for EVM counts to be cross-verified with VVPAT counts.”

Subramanian Swamy versus ECI Case:

  • The Supreme Court in its judgment in Subramanian Swamy versus ECI , reported in 2013, had held that it was imperative that elections held through EVMs ought to implement a mechanism of voter verifiable paper audit trails so that the voter can satisfy himself that his vote was accurately recorded.
  • The court’s judgment and need for voter confidence and transparency in the election process led to the mechanism for random cross-verification of EVM and VVPAT counts. This was in order to detect any technological mischief or mal-programming of EVMs.

Source: The Hindu

National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP)

Topic: Government Policies

In News: Ministry of Commerce & Industry has implemented the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) since 2001

More on the Topic:

  • The promotion of exports of organic products is a continuous process. The newly introduced Agriculture Export Policy provides an assurance that no restrictions will be placed on export of organic products.
  • The Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), an autonomous organisation under the administrative control of Department of Commerce, has been mandated with the export promotion of organic products.
  • APEDA provides assistance to the exporters of organic products under various components of its export promotion scheme.

Objectives Of NPOP:

  • To provide the means of evaluation of certification programme for organic agriculture and products (including wild harvest, aquaculture, livestock products) as per the approved criteria.
  • To accredit certification programmes of Certification Bodies seeking accreditation.
  • To acilitate fcertification of organic products in conformity with the prescribed standards.
  • To facilitate certification of organic products in conformity with the importing countries organic standards as per equivalence agreement between the two countries or as per importing country requirements.
  • To encourage the development of organic farming and organic processing.

Source: The Hindu

NASA’s planet finder discovers new world and 6 exploding stars

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Topic: Science and Technology

In news: The new exoplanet, named HD 21749b, was discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which launched in April. The recently discovered world is categorized as a “sub-Neptune”, about three times larger than Earth but approximately 23 times as massive.

 More on the Topic:

  • Of the planets yet discovered, HD 21749b has the longest orbital period around its star, taking 36 days to perform a transit. At a cool 300 degrees Fahrenheit (~149 degrees Celsius), it’s also “relatively cool” for a planet orbiting so close to its star. It has a greater density than the Neptune of our solar system, but it is not expected to be rocky.
  • MIT researcher working on the TESS datasets, stated that TESS has confirmed the existence of eight new exoplanets, and that “there are probably 20 or 30” other potential discoveries “almost ready to be published”.

TESS:

  • The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a space telescope for NASA’s Explorers program, designed to search for exoplanets using the transit method in an area 400 times larger than that covered by the Kepler mission.
  • TESS looks for new planets by examining the light from about 200,000 stars and detecting any noticeable changes in brightness. If the light “dips”, momentarily decreasing in brightness, it suggests that a planet may be orbiting the star.
  • TESS has a suite of instruments that can seek out a number of other cosmic phenomena, including asteroids, comets and exploding stars or “supernovae”.
  • TESS has already identified six supernovae -a remarkable finding.

Source: The Hindu

Fast Tag

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Topic: Government Policies

In news:  A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for sale of FASTags through petrol pumps of leading Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) was signed  between Indian Highways Management Company (IMHCL) and OMCs like Bharat Petroleum (BPCL), Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL) and Indian Oil (IOCL). This will help expand the FASTag program’s distribution network which is presently active at selected bank branches said the government.

More on the Topic:

  • FASTag essentially is a device that uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology for making toll payments directly from the prepaid account linked to it. It is affixed on the vehicle windscreen and enables a smooth drive through toll plazas.
  • This is a bank-neutral FASTag which can be linked to the customers’ choice of bank accounts, which will not only provide flexibility and convenience to the FASTag users, but is claimed to be user friendly as there will be no requirement of fulfilling KYC (Know your customer) obligation
  • The government also launched two FASTag mobile apps – ‘My FASTag Customer’ app, which the government has said has the distinction of real-time recharge of any FASTag through UPI (unified payments interface), it links IHMCL FASTag with customer’s bank account and there will be no need to install multiple banks applications, and the government proposes to add wallet services in the near future.
  • In the ‘FASTag Point of Sales’ app, it is possible to create and manage distribution partners, along with the ability to allow sales at petrol pumps.
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