NATIONAL NEWS- APRIL 2017

Cabinet approves signing of Agreement for establishment CIRDAP Centre in Hyderabad

  • The government approved the establishment of a unit of the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific at national rural development institute for exchange of best practises with other countries in the areas of rural development.
  • The Union Cabinet, in its meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the signing of an agreement between the Rural Development Ministry and the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP).
  • As per the agreement a CIRDAP centre will be established at the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRD&PR), Hyderabad, according to an official statement.
  • The new centre will help NIRD&PR in networking with organisations specialised in rural development programmes, building institutional knowledge, exchanges of best practises with CIRDAP.
  • The faculty of the NIRD&PR and the Ministry officials would benefit from exchange visits to the best practises in the member countries of CIRDAP.
  • While at the same time, this agreement will help CIRDAP in implementing the integrated rural development particularly poverty alleviation programmes in its member countries.
  • The CIRDAP is a regional Inter – Governmental and autonomous institution which came into existence at the initiative of the countries of Asia Pacific region and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).

About CIRDAP

  • The CIRDAP is regional intergovernmental organization involved in rural development and poverty alleviation.
  • It was established in July 1979 at the initiative of the countries of the Asia-Pacific region and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN with support from several other UN bodies and donors.
  • Headquarters: Dhaka, Bangladesh. Mandate: Promote regional cooperation and act as a serving institution for its member countries for promotion of integrated rural development through research action, training, information dissemination etc.
  • Members: So far there are 16 members. They are Afghanistan, Bangladesh (Host State), India, Indonesia, Iran, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Fiji. India is one of key founder members of it.

Myanmar becomes 7th member of SASEC

  • Myanmar has become the seventh member of the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) partnership, opening up new markets and supply chain links for trade and business between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
  • “Myanmar’s participation in SASEC is expected to further promote and accelerate inter-subregional cooperation between South Asia and Southeast Asia and beyond, and will contribute significantly to achieving the future development goals of both sub-regions,” said Ronald Butiong, Director for Regional Cooperation for ADB’s South Asia Department,
  • SASEC countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka – coordinate the planning of projects and activities to increase economic growth by building transport connectivity, facilitating faster and more efficient trade, and promoting cross-border power trade.
  • Myanmar’s membership comes in advance of the first SASEC meeting of Finance Ministers that will be held in New Delhi on April 3, according to an ADB message UNB received here from Manila.
  • SASEC members will announce their vision for SASEC to accelerate and sustain the growth momentum in the region by unlocking their natural resources, industry, and infrastructure through sub-regional cooperation.
  • To date, SASEC members have invested more than $9 billion in development projects, which have connected markets and businesses over the last 15 years in the subregion. ADB serves as the SASEC Secretariat.
  •  “Myanmar’s membership in SASEC can offer a host of opportunities for realizing synergies from economic cooperation in the subregion,” said Shaktikanta Das, Secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs in India’s Ministry of Finance.
  • Road corridors in Myanmar provide the key links between South Asia and Southeast Asia, while ports in the country can provide alternate routes and gateways to the landlocked northeastern region of India.
  • Developing multimodal connectivity between India’s northeastern region, Bangladesh, and Myanmar has the potential to unleash significant economic potential and bring better livelihoods to millions in the region.
  • Transport linkages between South and Southeast Asia will also become more attractive to businesses once ongoing and planned motor vehicle agreements are finalized and implemented.
  • Negotiations are underway to allow passenger, personal, and cargo vehicles to cross international borders much faster and with fewer border formalities, saving time and money.

About South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC)

  • SASEC program is a project-based partnership to promote regional prosperity by improving cross-border connectivity, boosting trade among member countries and strengthening regional economic cooperation.
  • It was established in 2001 in response to the request of the four countries of South Asia – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal – from ADB to assist in facilitating economic cooperation among them. ADB is the secretariat and lead financier of the SASEC program.
  • So far, it has supported 46 projects worth $9.17 billion in transport, trade facilitation, energy and information and communications technology (ICT). Its seven members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Government launches PowerTex India scheme for powerlooms

  • Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani announced that the government has increased subsidy by 30 per cent for upgradation of powerloom sector and for the benefit of small weavers.
  • Irani launched PowerTex India, a comprehensive power- loom development scheme today in Bhiwandi district of Maharashtra.
  • On the occasion, Irani said, Bhiwandi will be known for resurgence in powerloom sector. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed us to start the scheme before March end so that people get the benefit from April, she said.
  • Textile Minister said the PowerTex India scheme will benefit the small powerloom weaver’s to survive. For upgradation of powerloom sector government has increased subsidy by 30 per cent.
  • The yarn bank issue has also been addressed and an assistance to the tune of Rs 2 crore will be given for the yarn bank created by 11 weavers.
  • A common facility centre will be started under this scheme. Under Mudra Yojana the government would give a soft loan.
  • With the help of Small Industries Development Bank of India (Sidbi) powerloom company can expand their business. Powerlooms using solar power would be granted 50 per cent subsidy, the Minister said.
  • On the occasion Irani and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis launched PowerTex India helpline for any assistance in this regard. PowerTex India van was also flagged off for publicity of PowerTex scheme across the country.
  • They interacted with office bearers of powerloom sector in remote locations like Malegaon, Ichalkaranji,Kolhapur in Maharashtra, Surat in Gujarat, Bhagalpur in Bihar, Erode in Tamilnadu, Bengaluru in Karnataka, Varansi in Uttar Pradesh and others through videolink as PowerTex India scheme launched nationwide.
  • This is the biggest scheme ever launched in power- loom sector in the country, Fadnavis said and hoped that powerloom centres in Maharashtra would be benefited.
  • As Maharashtra is an important powerloom cluster the Central government has chosen Bhiwandi  to launch this scheme.
  • The state government has increased the subsidy for power to be be supplied for the sector in the Budget in last couple of years.
  • Fadnavis also assured about giving subsidy in solar power for this sector.

Everything you need to know about H1-B visa & the Impacts

  • The Trump administration has tightened controls over new H-1B visa applicants. It is expected to hike fees, limited rights to work for H4 visa holders, and hiked salaries, thus making it difficult for employers to hire cheap foreign labor instead of hiring locally.
  • The new rules will impact businesses and careers of many IT professionals who were relying on the current H-1B season which opened on 3rd March.
  • Indian IT stocks are expected to fall further even as US President Donald Trump is expected to legislate further on skilled immigration control, which will impact the tech industry.
  • This comes even as a Democrat Senator Zoe Lofgren has tabled a bill – called The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017 which will raise minimum the salary of an H-1B worker to USD 130,000 from the USD 60,000 prescribed earlier.
  • A first step came at the end of March, when the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) department issued guidelines making it harder for companies to bring foreign technology workers to the US using the H-1B visa programme.

What’s the H-1B programme do?

  • It allows companies to recruit 85,000 employees from abroad each year for specialty positions in fields including technology, science, medicine, architecture—even fashion modelling.
  • It took less than a week for applicants to exhaust that allotment in 2016, and technology companies including Facebook Inc., Google Inc., Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. have sought to increase the number available. People from India receive more H-1B vis’s than any other nationality.

The Changes

  • For H-1B visas given out in the 2017 lottery beginning 3 April, the government now requires additional information for entry-level computer programmers, to prove the jobs are complicated and require advanced knowledge and experience. Computer programmers made up about 12% of all H-1B applications certified by the department of labour in 2015.
  • In March, the immigration department suspended a program that expedited visa processing for certain skilled workers who paid extra, which some analysts saw as a first step to dismantling the H-1B program altogether.

Only H-1B Visa?

  • Apart from the best-known H-1B visa, companies use a variety of visas to bring in workers from abroad, including the B-1 for temporary business visitors and the L-1 for managers, executives and specialized workers of international companies.

Why does the US have these programmes?

  • They were designed to allow US companies to hire temporary workers from other countries when they couldn’t find qualified people domestically.
  • These temporary visas were established under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
  • The programs have morphed over the years, and many of the visas now go to companies that pay foreign workers less than their American counterparts would receive.
  • The total number of visas issued for temporary employment-based admission to the US grew to more than 1 million in 2014 from just over 400,000 in 1994, according to the Congressional Research Service.
  • Those numbers included some unskilled and low-skilled workers, plus accompanying family members.

Do the programmes need reform?

  • It’s pretty clear the H-1B program and others have been used in ways that contradict their original intent.
  • There have been allegations of abuse and at least one big settlement: In 2013, a Bangalore-based outsourcing company, Infosys Ltd., agreed to pay a record fine of $34 million to settle US allegations that it sent employees to the US with B-1 visitor visas to sidestep the caps on H-1Bs.

Trump Proposal?

  • During his presidential campaign, he said the H-1B program is a “cheap labour program” that takes jobs from Americans.
  • He hasn’t yet detailed his ideas as president, but based on a draft executive order, his administration may push companies to try hiring American workers before turning to foreign ones—a step that isn’t necessary now.
  • He’s also asked that the programmes prioritize giving visas to the most highly paid workers from abroad.

Now who gets the priority?

  • Currently, H-1B visas are allocated by random lottery, with no priority given to companies that pay workers more.
  • The biggest recipients of the visas are outsourcing companies, including India’s Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Wipro Ltd. and Infosys.
  • They pay workers in the programme an average of about $65,000 a year, while Apple Inc., Google and Microsoft Corp. pay their H-1B employees more than $100,000.

Can Trump act on his own?

  • An executive order can begin the reform process, but Trump lacks the broad powers of Congress.
  • For example, he can’t change the number of H-1B visas that are given out each year, but he probably can change the way they’re allocated. So he could order that priority be given to higher-paid workers.

What might Congress do?

  • Congress has tried many times in the past decade to change the work visa programmes, with limited effect. Bills offered in the House by two California lawmakers, Republican Darrell Issa and Democrat Zoe Lofgren, aim to do so by raising the wages for some H-1B workers.
  • In Lofgren’s proposal, companies that are the heaviest users of the programme would have to pay salaries of at least $130,000, up from the current $60,000, or attest that they are not displacing American workers and making a good faith effort to recruit US workers if they pay less than that.
  • The legislative push has spooked India’s tech companies, weighing on their stocks. There’s also a bipartisan proposal in the Senate, long pushed by Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Richard Durbin, that would forbid replacing US workers with H-1B hires and prioritize visa applications from people who earned degrees at American colleges.

Will Silicon Valley be hurt by the changes?

  • It depends on the details, of course, but the US tech industry may well come out on top. Because so many H-1B visas go to outsourcing firms, American employers like Apple, Google, Microsoft Corp. and Facebook haven’t been able to get as many as they would like.
  • They could be benefit if outs-sourcers face more restrictions.

How does selection for H-1B take place?

  • Each year on April 1, a fresh cap for H-1B visa applications is opened by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Employment authorisations are granted on October 1. Applicant can legally apply for the allotment of H-1B visa earliest on the first weekday in April.
  • USCIS publishes a memo when enough cap-subject applications have been received, indicating the closure of application season. The applications are randomly selected. Thus it is often referred to as the H-1B lottery.

How much does a H-1B Visa Cost?

  • The filing fee for H-1B petition is paid by the employer/H1 Sponsor. The fee ranges from USD 1570 to USD 3075.
  • All petitioners have to pay a base filing fee of USD 325 plus a USD 750 for employers with 1 to 25 full-time employees and USD 1,500 for employers with 26 or more employees. A USD 500 fee is also to be submitted if the request is to change an employer.

How many H-1B visas are issued each year?

  • The H-1B quota has a statutory cap of 65,000 visas for each year. There is special master degree quota of 20,000 known as ‘master cap’ reserved just for master’s degree holders from US universities.
  • In 2016, there were 236,000 applications for just 65,000 available visas.

What is the breakup of allotment by countries?

  • There is no quota for any country but out of the above, a total of 6,800 is usually set aside for Singapore and Chile citizens as part of the free trade agreement between them.

Can spouses of H-1B workers live in the US?

  • Spouses of H-1B holders can live in the US on an H4 visa. However an H4 holder wasn’t allowed to work in US until 2015.
  • For this reason, an H4 visa was often referred to as a ‘Prisoner Visa’. Because the work permit is based on the spouse’s H-1B visa, the H-4 spouse can work as long as the H-1B visa is valid. The new H-1B bill is likely to restrict H4 work rights.

Cabinet approves setting up of Rail Development Authority

  • The Union government approved setting up Rail Development Authority (RDA), an independent regulator to recommend passenger and freight fares and set service level benchmarks.
  • The Authority, with an initial corpus of Rs. 50 crore, will have a Chairman along with three members with a fixed term of five years and it can engage experts from relevant areas.
  • The Chairman of the Authority can be from the private sector and will be selected by a committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, a Railway Ministry official said. The Authority will soon be set up through an executive order, the official added.
  • In Budget 2017, the National Democratic Alliance government made a record allocation of Rs1.3 trillion for the Indian Railways, with gross budgetary support of Rs55,000 crore.
  • Part of the radical rethinking on improving the transportation architecture, the government did away with the separate railway budget, merging it in the Union budget presented on 1 February.
  • The cabinet also approved a number of pacts to be signed between India and Bangladesh during the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina beginning Friday.
  • One of the pacts is to launch regular passenger river cruise services between India and Bangladesh, the government said in a statement.
  • A top Railway Ministry official said the RDA will only be a recommendatory body and the final decisions on setting fares will be made by the Railway Ministry.

Key Features

  1. Tariff Determination: RDA will frame principles, recommend tariffs, principles for classification of commodities, frame principles for social service obligation and guidelines for track access charges on dedicated freight corridors.
  2. Ensuring fair play:It will ensure level-playing field for all stakeholders. It will propose modifications and send suggestions or advisory notes on investment in railways. It will also make suggestions regarding policies for private investment to ensure reasonable safeguards to PPP investors to ensure level playing field and resolve disputes regarding future concession agreements.
  3. Setting standards: It will help to set efficiency and performance standards and disseminate information in line with global best practices and benchmarking. It will also collect, analyse and disseminate information and statistics concerning the rail sector. Composition: It will have a Chairman and three members with a fixed term of five years. Moreover, it will be allowed to engage experts from various fields.

India Signs Mega Missile Deal With Israel For 2 Billion Dollars

  • India has signed a weapons deal with Israel for nearly $2 billion in what’s being described as the “largest defence contract” ever signed by the military exporting giant.

About the Agreement

  • The deal will provide India with an advanced defence system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries said in a statement yesterday.
  • The “mega” missile agreement is “considered to be the largest defense contract in Israel’s defense industries’ history”, the company said, stressing that some components will be assembled in India, in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to reduce reliance on costly imports.
  • The Israeli firm will also supply a naval defence system including long-range surface-to-air missiles for India’s first aircraft carrier, which is still under construction.

India – Budget – Defence

  • PM Modi’s government has raised the limit on foreign investment in the defence sector and encouraged tie-ups between foreign and local companies under a ‘Make in India’ campaign.
  • India – the world’s largest defence importer – has been investing tens of billions in updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter regional rivals China and Pakistan.
  • Israel is a top weapons exporter, with sales last year surging to $ 6.5 billion. India is a top market for its arms, as New Delhi has turned increasingly away from traditional ally Russia for its military hardware.
  • President Reuven Rivlin, who is said to have discussed the deal with Indian leaders during his trip to India early this year, congratulated Weiss on the “historic” deal terming it truly “exceptional”.
  • Weiss responded calling it a “truly remarkable achievement” and “a wonderful gift for the upcoming festival (Passover)” to be celebrated next week.
  • Israel s willingness to share technology and form joint ventures with Indian companies to develop and manufacture military equipment supporting the “Make in India” initiative is said to have been well received in New Delhi.

About the Missile

  • In the case of MRSAM, an advanced air and missile defence system that provides protection against a variety of aerial threats, the technology is said to have been jointly developed by IAI and DRDO in collaboration with Rafael and IAI s Elta division.
  • Indian companies such as BEL and L&T are said to have also participated in the project.
  • MRSAM’s current version is operational with the Indian Air Force, Indian Navy and Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
  • The system includes an advanced phased-array radar, command and control, mobile launchers and missiles with advanced RF seekers.

Twenty Two Agreements Signed by India – Bangladesh

  • In a bid to give boost to their ties, India and Bangladesh on 8th April inked nearly two dozen pacts in strategic areas of defence and civil nuclear cooperation after “productive” talks between their Prime Ministers.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi held extensive discussions with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on ways to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.
  • He also announced a new line of concessional credit of $4.5 billion for the implementation of projects in Bangladesh.
  • Announcing an additional line of credit of $500 million to Bangladesh for military supplies, Mr. Modi said it will be driven by the requirement of that country.
  • However, much-delayed pact on the Teesta water sharing remained elusive for the two sides. Admitting that the pact was “important” for India-Bangladesh ties, Mr. Modi assured India’s commitment to the issue.
  • The Teesta deal was set to be signed during the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September, 2011 but was postponed at the last minute due to objections by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
  • Teesta water is crucial for Bangladesh especially in the leanest period from December to March when the water flow often temporarily comes down to less than 1,000 cusecs from 5,000 cusecs.

Cabinet approves closure of Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana

  • The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 5th April approved closure of the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana (MGPSY) which was set up in 2012 to address the social security-related issues of the Emigration Check Required (ECR)-category workers going abroad for employment to the ECR countries.
  • The subscription under the MGPSY was very low and no new subscription was received for more than a year.
  • Closure of the scheme will, therefore, obviate the avoidable recurring administrative and record-keeping expenditure.

Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana

  • Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana (MGPSY) was a special social security scheme for overseas Indian workers on a temporary work permit in the Emigration Check Required (ECR) countries.
  • This main motto of this scheme was helping the workers to save money for their retirement, their return to India and provides life insurance cover against natural death during the period of coverage.
  • The Scheme considers a co-contribution of Rs 1000 by Government to overseas Indian workers who save Rs 4000 per annum so that on return to India, an MGPSY subscriber could utilize these savings for return and resettlements purposes.
  • It provided home and a life insurance cover of Rs 1 Lakh for workers.
  • Indian Workers Resource Centre or IWRC was the support center fo Indian workers in the UAE while Bank of Baroda was the official banking partner of the scheme to enroll the workers.

Rajnath Singh to inaugurate the web portal “Bharat ke Veer”

  • The Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh will inaugurate the web portal and mobile application named “Bharat ke Veer”.
  • The portal is an IT based platform, with an objective to enable willing donors to contribute towards the family of a brave-heart who sacrificed his/her life in line of duty. The Minister of State for Home Affairs Shri Kiren Rijiju and actor Akshay Kumar will also participate in the function.
  • The site “Bharat ke Veer” will be available on web portal as well as mobile application.
  • The amount so donated will be credited to the account of ‘Next of Kin’ of those Central Armed Police Force/Central Para Military Force soldiers.
  • This domain allows anyone to financially support the brave-hearts of his/her choice or towards the “Bharat Ke Veer” corpus.
  • This website is technically supported by National Informatics Centre (NIC) and powered by State Bank of India.
  • To ensure maximum coverage, a cap of 15 lakh rupees is imposed and the donors would be alerted if the amount exceeds, so that they can choose to divert part of the donation to another braveheart account or to the “Bharat Ke Veer” corpus.
  • “Bharat Ke Veer” corpus would be managed by a committee made up of eminent persons of repute and senior Government officials,  who would decide to disburse the fund equitably to the brave-heart’s family on need basis.

AICTE all set to release model exam format

  • The All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has set the ball rolling for the provision of a model examination format to technical education institutions to test the students’ understanding of concepts and skills, as part of a slew of reforms finalised recently by the technical education regulator.
  • The final exams being conducted by the institutions shall test the understanding of the concepts and the skill — rather than the subject knowledge
  • A model exam format would be prepared and shared with the institutions and the technical universities for suitable adoption. This aspect would be reviewed at the time of approval.
  • Curricula will also be revised annually, the AICTE has resolved.
  • Every affiliating technical university shall constitute subject-wise industry consultation committee (ICC) with the mandate of examining the existing curriculum and for making suitable changes in the curriculum every year.
  • This process shall be completed in the month of December each year for the courses to be offered in the coming academic year.
  • Each institution, while applying for approval, shall certify completion of this process, which will be mandatory,” the resolution says.

Refresher Course

  • Teachers in technical institutions will also be required to mandatorily undergo an annual online refresher course to ensure better quality in teaching.
  • Heads of institutions will also have to undergo leadership training.
  • Every teacher in each of the technical education disciplines shall mandatorily undergo an annual refresher course delivered through SWAYAM portal, encapsulating all the major advances in the field of their study.
  • Online courses would also be prepared and delivered through the SWAYAM platform for improving the pedagogical techniques of the teachers.
  • The participation in the courses by at least 50% of the faculty would be a mandatory condition for approval of the institution
  • Similarly, there should be leadership training to the heads of the institutions once in 2 years. These trainings would also be hosted through the SWAYAM platform.
  • This apart, there will be compulsory student induction training to ensure the brushing up of fundamental concepts and required linguistic skills.

Possible Venus ‘twin’ discovered

  • Astronomers, using NASA’s Kepler space telescope, have discovered a Venus-like planet orbiting a dim star that is one-fifth the diameter of our Sun and is located 219 light years away from the earth.
  • The newly found planet is only slightly larger than Earth, and it tightly embraces its low-temperature star called Kepler-1649, encircling it every nine days.

Details

  • The tight orbit causes the flux of sunlight reaching the planet to be 2.3 times as great as the solar flux on Earth. For comparison, the solar flux on Venus is 1.9 times the terrestrial value.
  • The discovery will provide insight into the nature of planets around M dwarf stars, by far the most common type in the universe.
  • While such stars are redder and dimmer than the Sun, recent exoplanet discoveries have revealed instances in which Earth-sized worlds circle an M dwarf in orbits that would place them in their star’s habitable zone.
  • However, such worlds may not inevitably resemble Earth, with its salubrious climate. They could just as well be analogues of Venus, with thick atmospheres and scalding temperatures.

Importance

  • The study of planets similar to the Venus analogue Kepler 1649b is “becoming increasingly important in order to understand the habitable zone boundaries of M dwarfs
  • There are several factors, such as star variability and tidal effects, that make these planets different from Earth-sized planets around Sun-like stars
  • It is said that Venus is Earth’s sister planet, but in many ways it is not a close sibling.
  • Despite being the same size as Earth, and only 40% closer to the Sun, its atmosphere and surface temperature are wildly different from our own.
  • If we wish to find life on other Earth-sized worlds, we should get to know the territory.

India and Australia sign six pacts

  • A pact to significantly expand counter-terror cooperation was among six agreements India and Australia inked on Sunday as the two countries called for strong action against those financing and providing sanctuary to terror groups.
  • The agreements were signed after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull. The two leaders decided to significantly expand their ties in several key areas including defence, trade, energy and education.
  • The relaxed body language of the two Prime Ministers clearly reflecting the thaw in ties between the two nations. Australian PM Malcom Turnbull, who is on a four day visit to India, held hour long talks with PM Modi at the national capital’s Hyderabad House.
  • The discussions also veered around energy with Turnbull saying that Australia is ready to supply uranium to India as soon as possible.
  • The two countries had signed a civil nuclear cooperation three years ago but the actual supply has not yet commenced in the absence of any commercial contract.
  • Australia will support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and also for Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement, the two export control regimes.
  • Both countries agreed share common interests in ensuring maritime security and the safety of sea lines of communication.
  • They have also recognised importance of freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, resolving maritime disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS. Defence:
  • Both countries agreed to remain strongly committed to the breadth of their defence ties and recalled the Special Forces Bilateral Exercise conducted in October 2016.
  • They agreed that the bilateral maritime exercise first held in the Bay of Bengal in 2015 will be repeated off Western Australia in the first half of 2018.
  • They took decision for first bilateral Army-to-Army exercise to take place in 2018. They also agreed to look forward to the inaugural secretaries’ defence and foreign affairs dialogue in the ‘2+2’ format as a new mechanism to build on the deep strategic partnership.

The MoU’s signed by India and Australia

  • MoU on Cooperation in Sports.
  • MoU on Cooperation in the field of Health and Medicine.
  • MoU on Cooperation in the field of Environment, Climate and Wildlife.
  • MoU for Promotion and Development of Cooperation in Civil Aviation Security MoU on Cooperation in Combatting International Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime.
  • Implementation arrangement between ISRO and Geoscience Australia on Cooperation in Earth Observation and Satellite Navigation.

Malala Yousafzai made youngest UN Messenger of Peace

  • Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has been made the youngest ever UN Messenger of Peace.
  • The 19-year-old, who is doing her A-levels and has an offer from a top UK university, will take the role with a special focus on girls’ education.
  • In 2012 Ms Yousafzai was nearly killed by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ rights to education.
  • UN Messengers of Peace are selected from the fields of art, literature, science, entertainment, sports or other fields of public life.
  • Other messengers have included Muhammad Ali, George Clooney, Michael Douglas, Leonardo DiCaprio, Stevie Wonder and Charlize Theron.

United Nations Messenger of Peace

  • United Nations Messenger of Peaceis a title bestowed by the United Nations to “distinguished individuals, carefully selected from the fields of art, music, literature and sports, who have agreed to help focus worldwide attention on the work of the United Nations.”
  • The messengers are initially chosen for a period of three years; although three of the current twelve messengers, Michael Douglas, Jane Goodall, and Yo-Yo Ma have served for more than ten years.
  • The Messengers of Peace scheme was instigated in 1997 as a central addition to the system of UN goodwill ambassadors and honorary ambassadors, which has been run by the different UN agencies since 1954, when UNICEF appointed Danny Kaye as its first goodwill ambassador
  • Whilst the goodwill and honorary ambassadors mainly promote the work of the UN agency they are ambassador for, the messengers of peace are intended to promote the work of the United Nations in general and are appointed directly by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Lok Sabha passes bill for constitutional status to backward classes commission

  • The Lok Sabha on 10th April passed a constitutional amendment which introduces a National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in the Constitution, despite opposition parties claiming certain clauses affected the federal structure of the country.
  • The National Commission for Backward Classes Bill 2017 to repeal the 1993 law was also passed.
  • This is the first step towards making the backward classes commission a constitutional body.

The Amendment

  • The amendment envisages a five-member panel with several duties, including investigating and monitoring matters regarding safeguards provided for the socially and educationally backward classes, inquiring into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards, advising on their socio-economic development, and submitting reports on the working of the safeguards.
  • The constitutional amendment also empowers the President to specify communities which would fall under backward class for states and union territories, in consultation with the concerned governor.
  • Minister for social justice and empowerment T.C. Gehlot assured the lower house that there would not be any violation of the state commission’s powers. None of the powers of the commission are going to be taken away or weakened in anyway, he said.

President Pranab Mukherjee gives assent to 4 supporting legislations on GST

  • President Pranab Mukherjee has given assent to four key legislations on goods and services tax (GST), paving the way for the roll out of one-nation-one-tax regime from 1 July.
  • The legislations were: The Central GST Act, 2017, The Integrated GST Act, 2017, The GST (Compensation to States) Act, 2017, and The Union Territory GST Act, 2017, officials said on 13th April.
  • These bills were passed in Rajya Sabha on 6 April and by Lok Sabha on 29 March.
  • The GST, the biggest taxation reform since Independence, will subsume central excise, service tax, Value Added Tax (VAT) and other local levies to create an uniform market.
  • The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, provides for the levy of the Central Goods and Services Tax by the Centre on the supply of goods and services within the boundary of a state.
  • Whereas, the Integrated GST Act deals with the levy of Integrated Goods and Services Tax by the Centre on inter-state supply of goods and services.
  • The Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Act, provides for compensation to the states for the loss of revenue arising on account of implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.
  • The Union Territory GST Act makes a provision for levy and collection of tax on intra-state supply of goods, services or both by the Union Territories.
  • The GST rates are to be discussed by the GST Council headed by finance minister Arun Jaitley on 18-19 May.
  • Jaitley had in Rajya Sabha last week said that the GST Council, comprising finance ministers of Union and states, had agreed to take a decision on bringing real estate within the ambit of the new tax regime within a year of its roll out.
  • The GST Council will also take decisions regarding inclusion of petroleum products and alcohol in the GST network, one by one, in the foreseeable future.
  • As regards Jammu and Kashmir, the finance minister had said the law will not apply there because of Article 370 that gives special status to the state.
  • Jammu and Kashmir will have to legislate its own law and integrate with the GST regime, Jaitley had said.

Petrol, diesel prices to change every day from May 1, trial run in five cities

  • Petrol and diesel prices will change every day in sync with international rates, much like it happens in most advanced markets.
  • State-owned fuel retailers Indian Oil Corp (IOC), Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL), which own more than 95% of nearly the 58,000 petrol pumps in the country, will launch a pilot for daily price revision in five select cities from May 1 and gradually extend it across the country.
  • Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan indicated that the government has encouraged market-based pricing of fuels.
  • A pilot for daily revision of petrol and diesel price will be first implemented in Puducherry, Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, Udaipur in Rajasthan, Jamshedpur in Jharkhand and Chandigarh, he said.
  • State fuel retailers currently revise rates on the 1st and 16th of every month based on average international price of fuel in the preceding fortnight and currency exchange rate.
  • Instead of using fortnightly average, pump rates will reflect daily movement in international oil prices and rupee- US dollar fluctuations.
  • Daily price change will remove the big leaps in rates that need to be effected at the end of the fortnight and consumer will be more aligned to market dynamics.
  • While petrol price was freed from government control in June 2010, diesel rates were deregulated in October 2014. Technically, oil companies have freedom to revise rates but often they have been guided by political considerations.
  • Rates differ by only a few paise between pumps of the three state fuel retailers. Unbranded petrol at IOC pumps in Delhi costs Rs 66.29 per litre, while the same at BPCL pumps in the city is priced at Rs 66.37 a litre. HPCL pumps sell for Rs 66.48 per litre.
  • Unbranded diesel at IOC pumps in Delhi costs Rs 55.61, Rs 55.66 at BPCL outlets and Rs 55.69 a litre at HPCL pumps.
  • Petrol price was last revised downward by Rs 3.77 a litre on April 1 and diesel rates were cut by Rs 2.91. This was the first revision in two-and-half-months as oil firms did not change prices during assembly elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab

 Centre Clears 3,000 Crores For VVPATs, Vote Machines With Paper Receipts

  • The next general election in 2019 will be conducted entirely with new electronic voting machines that print a paper receipt for each vote cast.
  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced on 19th April that the centre is releasing 3174 crores for 16 lakh odd machines to BEL ECIL, and will be ready by September 2018, as needed by the Election Commission.
  • The decision comes as opposition parties have attacked the machines currently in use as being vulnerable to rigging.
  • In 2013, the Supreme Court said that the Election Commission must introduce the new machines called VVPATs (machines with Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail) in phases.
  • The court said that the 2019 national election must be run entirely with these upgraded machines, but the Election Commission has been warning that it is running out of time to place orders for VVPATs.
  • Last week, the Supreme Court asked the Election Commission and the centre to explain the delay in switching to VVPATs which function like this: when a button is pushed to choose a candidate on a voting machine, a slip of paper shows the party symbol of the candidate selected. The receipt is visible to the voter for a few seconds before it drops into a sealed box.

What happened in the past?

  • Opposition parties including Mayawati’s BSP have asked the top court to order that only VVPATs are used in all elections; if that is not feasible, they want India to return to using ballot papers.
  • Their case was filed after the BJP’s outsized victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in March, where they allege voting machines were gamed in favour of the BJP.
  • The Election Commission has firmly rejected the accusations and said that in May, it will hold a hackathon to prove that the voting machines in use cannot be manipulated.
  • Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who was the first opposition leader to suggest that machines had been rigged to help the BJP – he said this was the only explanation for his Aam Aadmi Party falling well short of winning February’s election in Punjab.
  • Mr Kejriwal said that next week’s municipal corporation election in Delhi should either be conducted with VVPATs or ballot paper, but was turned down by the Election Commission.

Modi bans red beacons for central govt ministers, officials

  • The Narendra Modi government on 19th April banned the use of red beacon on vehicles attached to dignitaries, including the central and state ministers and other VVIPs.
  • The prime minister banned the “lal batti culture” at the meeting of the cabinet ministers on Wednesday. The decision will be implemented from May 1.
  •  It is reported that five categories would be allowed to use the red beacon – President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and the Lok Sabha Speaker.
  • Gadkari, who has removed his own beacon, said that red beacon will be allowed only on emergency service vehicles from May 1.
  • The ban applies to union ministers, chief ministers, state cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and judges of the High Court and Supreme Court.
  • It was reported last week that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has called a meeting to discuss whether the red beacon should be discarded or restricted to certain dignitaries.
  • Captain Amarinder Singh and Yogi Adityanath, the new chief ministers of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, have already taken steps to either end or restrict VIP culture.
  • In its first cabinet meeting, chaired by Captain Amarinder, the newly formed Punjab Government decided to completely shun the VIP culture by removing the red, yellow and blue beacons from their official vehicles.

Donald Trump signs executive order for overhaul of H-1B visa system

  •  In a blow to Indian IT industry and professionals, US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order for tightening the rules of the H-1B visa programme to stop its “abuse” and ensure that the visas are given to the “most-skilled or highest paid” petitioners.
  • Acting on his ‘Buy American, Hire American’ pledge, Trump signed the order that calls for an overhaul of the programme at the Kenosha, Wisconsin, headquarters of tool-maker Snap-on Inc
  • He said the order sets in motion the first steps to initiate “long-overdue” reforms to end “visa abuses”.
  • “Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery, and that’s wrong. Instead, they should be given to the most skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans,” the US President asserted.
  • “No one can compete with American workers when they’re given a fair and level playing field, which has not happened for decades,” he said.
  • Trump said his administration is going to enforce ‘Hire American’ rules that are designed to protect jobs and wages of workers in the United States.
  • The executive order also declares that American projects should be made with American goods.
  • According to the executive order signed by Trump, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labour, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.
  • In a statement, the White House said H-1B visas are supposed to bring the highest skilled and paid labour to the United States.
  • But according to studies, 80 per cent of the approved applications were for the two lowest wage levels allowed.
  • India accounts for the highest pool of qualified IT professionals, whose services go a long way in making American companies globally competitive.
  • As mandated by the Congress, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) every year issues 65,000 H-1B visas and another 20,000 to those applicants having masters and higher degrees from a US educational institution.
  • This month USCIS received 199,000 H-1B visa petitions and as a result, the federal agency had to resort to a computerised draw of lots to decide the fate of successful applicant.

Layoffs Warned In Indian IT Sector Amid H-1B Visa Curbs, Rising Rupee

  • A tightening H-1B visa regime in the United States will force IT giants to create fundamental changes to their strategies in terms of hiring, salaries and jobs, which could impact employees in India too, industry body Assocham has warned.
  • “Indian IT companies are bound to face disruptions by way of higher costs and even some laying off work force back home, as the rising rupee is aggravating the situation further for the technology export firms,” Assocham said in a report.
  • As the cost pressure would increase, aggravated by rising rupee leading to lower realizations, Indian IT companies may be forced to displace workforce, Assocham said. “In that case, the chances of layoffs are real,” the industry body’s secretary general DS Rawat warned.
  • H-1B visa curbs could also have an adverse macro impact for the Indian external sector economy, Assoham warned.
  • Remittances from US would decline hurting the balance of payment. World Bank data showed the US was the second largest source of remittance for India in 2015 with $11 billion – nearly 16 per cent of the total inflows.
  • The Indian outsourcing industry should invest in near shore centres or facilities close to the US and focus on local hiring in America and to work virtually, which is becoming easier with the wider adoption of cloud services and greater digitisation, Assocham said.
  • On the other hand, IT industry’s top body Nasscom says it is too early to assess the impact from Mr Trump’s latest move.
  • The immediate impact of the move would be greater scrutiny of visa applications and deeper oversight from US agencies, Nasscom president R Chandrasekhar told NDTV Profit, adding that this could result in higher compliance cost for Indian IT companies.
  • However, he warned that the review of H-1B visa programme as ordered by the US President could come up with recommendations that could have “far reaching consequences”. Mr Chandrasekhar also said big changes in H-1B visa regime can only come through legislation’s and that might take some time.

Disabled People Exempted From Standing During National Anthem In Movie Halls

  • The Supreme Court has exempted six categories of disabled people from standing when the national anthem is played in theatres.
  • These include people suffering from cerebral palsy, Parkinson disease, muscular dystrophy and other categories of disability.
  • In November the Supreme Court had made it mandatory to play national anthem in movie halls before every screening with the image of the national flag displayed on the screen.
  • Delivering the order, the SC had observed that standing up for the national anthem in movie halls will “instil a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism” in people’s minds.
  • It had later clarified people need not stand up if the national anthem was played as part of the film. The verdict had however resulted in a number of people who refused to stand up for the national anthem being physically attacked by fellow movie goers.

First ever Global B2B Textile event to be held in India

  • Textiles India 2017 is a landmark global trade event for the Indian Textile and handicraft Sector that will showcase the entire range of textile products from ‘Fibre to Fashion’ and will be inaugurated by the Prime minister, Narendra Modi.
  • The aim is to make it one of the key annual destinations for International Buyers. Textiles India 2017 is scheduled to be held at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar from June 30 to July 2, 2017.
  • The Ministry of Textiles on 18th April presented a curtain raiser to ‘Textiles India 2017’ – positioned as the first ever global B2B Textile and handicrafts event in India, at the Crafts Museum in the national capital on same day.
  • The event was hosted by the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, under the leadership of the Union Textiles Minister, Smriti Zubin Irani and Minister of State, Ajay Tamta. Secretary, Textiles, Rashmi Verma and other senior officials too were present on the occasion.
  • The presentation was a celebration of the textiles and handicrafts of India, bringing to the fore the inspiring vision of the Prime Minister – “From Farm to Fibre, Fibre to Factory, Factory to Fashion, Fashion to Foreign.”
  • Textiles India 2017 holds the promise of becoming a landmark annual trade event for the Indian textiles and apparel industry at the global level. With this curtain raiser, she said the Ministry is celebrating the significant achievements of India’s textile industry and the enormous promise of spectacular growth over the next few years.
  • It shall have more than thousand stalls and will witness the presence of over 2500 discerning International buyers, agents, designers, retail chains from across the world, and 15000 domestic buyers.
  • The three day event will include global conference on the last day with six themes, to be chaired by concerned Union ministers and the Valedictory session presided over by the Union Finance Minister.
  • Over 33 round-tables will be held on issues of concern for the various segments of textiles and handicrafts on the second day i.e., 1st July, with prominent international speakers & industry leaders, informed minsitry.

BHIM-Aadhaar platform launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 14th April launched the BHIM-Aadhaar platform—a merchant interface linking the unique identification number to the Bharat Interface for Money mobile application—at Nagpur on the 126th birth anniversary of Dr B.R. Ambedkar.
  • The new interface will enable customers to make payments using a merchant’s biometric-enabled device. The merchant merely has to download the BHIM app on his smartphone and link the device to an Aadhaar biometric reader.
  • To avail of this service, a customer has to first link his bank account to his Aadhaar number.
  • To make a payment, all he has to do is select the bank’s name and enter the Aadhaar number.
  • His fingerprint will serve as the password to authenticate the transaction.
  • To start with, no transaction fee will be levied on either the merchants or customers to encourage adoption of the new digital payment service, especially in small towns and rural India.
  • The government statement said 27 major banks had already tied up with 300,000 merchants for accepting payments using BHIM-Aadhaar.
  • It went on to add that all public sector banks have been instructed to go live with Aadhaar Pay.
  • In his speech, Modi said that the time is not far when premise-less and paperless banking will become part of people’s lives. He announced two new incentive schemes for the BHIM app—cashback (for merchants) and referral bonus (for customers). The schemes will start from 14 April and end on 14 October, he added.
  • Under the referral bonus scheme, an individual will earn Rs10 for every new referral made—i.e., educating another person or merchant about the BHIM app and ensuring that they carry out three transactions using the same.
  • Under the cashback scheme, merchants can earn up to Rs300 per month for transactions made using BHIM.
  • An updated version of BHIM (version 1.3) is available on Android and ioS.
  • Several new features have been added to its interface such as new languages, the option to block unwanted collection requests and pay by scanning QR (quick response) codes.
  • Three new languages—Punjabi, Marathi and Assamese—have gone live on the app.
  • According to Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union minister for electronics and information technology, 20 million people have downloaded BHIM so far, and payments worth Rs823 crore have been made. The app was launched on 30 December.
  • It was one of several measures aimed at promoting digital transactions in the aftermath of the 8 November demonetization of high-value banknotes, which triggered a nationwide cash crunch.

ASCI lays down rules on celebrity endorsements

  • From now on, celebrities will be held responsible for the claims made in ads in which they appear.
  • The council puts the onus on the advertiser and the advertising agency to ensure that celebrity brand endorsers are aware of ASCI codes.
  • Magical charms and pseudoscience-based products that are the staples of teleshopping channels will almost certainly fall afoul of ASCI’s guidelines.
  • Some of these products are promoted by has-been Bollywood actors and TV actors.
  • Most of these ads violate the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, which prohibits the promotion of a charm of any kind alleged to possess miraculous powers for or in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease in human beings.
  • The Act also prohibits the promotion of products that claim to cure baldness and change skin colour.
  • Jitender Dabas, chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup India, agrees: “Teleshopping ads must stop because they sell all kind of absurd products and celebrities should not endorse them.”
  • Still, Dabas says it is unfair to expect a celebrity to know the technical details of a product.
  • Pan masala (mouth fresheners made from betel leaf, areca nut, and which sometimes include tobacco) ads came in for special attention from the regulator, which specifically said in the new guidelines that celebrities should refrain from promoting any product that by law requires a health warning on its packaging or advertisement.
  • Most pan masala brands are endorsed by popular Bollywood stars including Ajay Devgn (Vimal Pan Masala), Shah Rukh Khan (Pan Vilas), Govinda (Paan-E-Shahee) and Sunny Leone (Shilajeet pan masala). The future of endorsements for such products may now be in jeopardy.

 All-women battalion in Jammu and Kashmir to deal with stone pelters

  •  An all-women India Reserve Battalion will be raised in Jammu and Kashmir to primarily deal with incidents like stone pelting, a home ministry official said on 27th April.
  • The move comes days after girl students were seen fighting pitched battles with security forces at Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar on April 24, the day the educational institutions in the restive valley reopened after a five-day shutdown.
  • The exclusive contingent will be among the five IRBs the Centre has sanctioned for the state grappling with persistent violence.
  • The women battalion would also be assigned other law and order duties but its personnel will be primarily deployed for tackling protesters, the official said.
  • As many as 1,40,000 candidates have applied for 5,000 posts in the five IRBs. The home ministry decided to go for an all-women battalion after discovering that 6,000 applicants were women.
  • The issue was discussed today at a high-level meeting chaired by Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the Rs 80,000 crore development package announced for Jammu and Kashmir by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015.
  • The process of recruitment to the five IRBs has started. Nearly 40 per cent of the applicants are from the Kashmir valley.
  • The response is very encouraging with nearly 30 applicants against one post, the official said.
  •  The IRBs are being raised with an aim to provide jobs to the local youths. Sixty per cent of vacancies will be filled with candidates from the border districts.
  • The cost of raising each battalion is around Rs 61 crore, and 75 per cent of the expenditure will be borne by the Centre. Personnel of India Reserve Battalions (IRBs) are normally deployed in their respective states but they can be sent elsewhere if there is a requirement.
  • At present, there are 144 India Reserve Battalions in the country. In addition, four IRBs each are being raised in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, 12 in Maoist-hit states, besides the five in Jammu and Kashmir.

Bhubaneswar smart city plan gets USA global award

  • The American Planning Association has announced this year’s international excellence award for the Bhubaneswar smart city project.
  • The award called Pierre L’Enfant International Planning Excellence Award 2017 will be given on May 8 in New York city, according to a media release issued by the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC)
  • In a tweet message chief minister Naveen Patnaik welcomed the award. “Congratulate #SmartCityBhubaneswar on becoming 1st Indian city to win @APA Planning Pierre L’Enfant International Planning Excellence Award,” the chief minister said.
  • The APA annual award recognizes planning practices and efforts undertaken outside the USA to promote communities of lasting value.
  • Earlier, when the Union government initiated the smart city concept Bhubaneswar was adjudged as the best amongst entries from other states.
  • This is the first time in the 50 years history of APA’s annual award programme that an Indian city has been recognised for its planning efforts, the BMC release said. “The award is a recognition of the citizen-driven vision planned to ensure economic growth and improve the quality of life in Bhubaneswar city with the help of technology,” the release pointed out.

UDAN scheme: PM Narendra Modi flags off first Shimla-Delhi flight at a subsidised fare of Rs 2,036

  • PM Narendra Modi launched the Ude Desh ka Aam Anagrik (UDAN) regional connectivity scheme on 27th April with its first flight at a subsidised fare of Rs 2,036 between Shimla and New Delhi.
  • Shimla airport will get air connectivity after a gap of five years with this flight and will operate for five days in a week.
  • The country could make about 75 airports operational and we plan to make 30 airports operational in just a year the PM said. Modi also flagged off flights from Hyderabad connecting Nanded in Maharashtra and Kuddapa in Andhra Pradesh through video conferencing, which will be operated by Trujet.
  • Trujet is an airline promoted by Telugu actor Ram Charan, who is also the son on Telegu actor Chiranjeevi.
  • Industry analysts say the scheme will fuel growth: “The UDAN scheme by the government is a great initiative to fuel growth of travel industry and make air travel a way of life for people from tier 2 and 3 towns as well.
  • This scheme will not only help in phenomenally increasing regional air connectivity but also make air travel more affordable and convenient for Indian travellers,” said Simon Fiquet, GM, India & Southeast Asia, Expedia.
  • The flight between Shimla and Delhi will be operated by Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India with an ATR aircraft will not be able to fly these flights with full capacity. The maximum load factor on the Shimla-Delhi route will be 15, while between Delhi and Shimla the airline will be able to fill 35 seats out of 70.

Indian Oil to build new terminal at Motihari to supply fuel to Nepal

  • The Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) plans to build a new oil terminal at Motihari in Bihar to supply fuel to neighbour Nepal through the planned pipeline up to Amlekganj in Nepal.
  • The old terminal at Raxaul, also in the same Indian state, will be closed, according to an IOC official.In August 2015, the Indian and Nepalese governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a product pipeline, and subsequently IOC and Nepal Oil Corporation entered into a MoU for laying down of the pipeline by the Indian company. Initially, the plan was to lay the pipeline from Raxaul to Amlekganj, but it was later decided to extend it till Motihari.
  • The Raxaul terminal is a pre-OISD (Oil Industry Safety Directorate) terminal and it is not meeting the current OISD guidelines. IOC has taken a decision to shift the terminal to Motihari to meet the current safety guidelines.The terminal at Raxaul will be closed,
  • IOC. OISD is a technical directorate under the ministry of petroleum and natural gas which formulates the regulatory measures to enhance safety of the Indian oil and gas industry. The 69-km Motihari-Amlekganj pipeline will be built by IOC at an approved cost of `325 crore.
  • The Nepal government has accorded the pipeline project a national priority status and is looking to get clearances from various authorities.
  • Simultaneously, IOC has started the process of tendering for procuring mainline pipes.

UP cancels 15 govt holidays

  • The Uttar Pradesh government on Tuesday cancelled 15 public holidays marking the birth or death anniversaries of eminent personalities.
  • Instead, students in schools and colleges would now be taught about them on these days, the Cabinet decided today at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
  • “The Cabinet has cancelled 15 public holidays marking the anniversaries of great personalities. Students will now be taught on these days about these figures through various programmes,” Cabinet Minister Shrikant Sharma said.
  • He was briefing media persons after the Cabinet meeting.
  • Mr. Adityanath had in his address on the occasion of B. R. Ambedkar’s 126th birth anniversary here expressed concern over the shrinking academic session due to increased holidays.
  • “There should be no holidays in schools on birth anniversaries of great personalities. Instead, a special two- hour programme should be held to teach students about them.
  • The 220-day academic session has been reduced to only 120 days due to such holidays and if this tradition continues, there will be no day left for teaching in schools,” he had said.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, there are 42 public holidays of which at least 17 are related to the birth anniversaries of eminent personalities.
  • The previous Samajwadi Party government had declared holidays on the birth anniversaries of former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar (April 17), Maharishi Kashyap and Maharshi Nishadraj Jayanti (April 5), Hazrat Ajmeri Garib Nawaj Urs (April 26), Maharana Pratap Jayanti (May 9) besides on the death anniversary of Ambedkar (December 6).

Ministry comes up with model APMC Act to integrate agri markets

  • The Agriculture Ministry has come up with a new model Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act proposing single-point levy of market fee across a State and a united single trading licence for cost-effectiveness of transactions.
  • It has also suggested abolition of fragmentation of market with the State/Union Territory by removing the concept of notified market area insofar as enforcement of regulation by the Agricultural Produce and Livestock Market Committee (APLMC) is concerned.
  • So far, traditional markets had done well, but it was imperative for the mandis to adopt new marketing strategies to address the demands for marketing of increased and diversified agricultural marketable surplus.
  • To meet the marketing sector challenges, the Agriculture Ministry has formulated APMC Act 2017 and it is being shared with the States for implementation
  • The Centre has already asked States to modify their APMC Acts in order to have a single licence and single point of levy of market fee at the State level and then gradually move towards a single licence and single point of levy of market fee at the national level.
  • The idea is to remove disincentives for farmers and traders to trade across the country as they will not have to shell out more money.
  • States could then get integrated on the online platform e-NAM (e-National Agriculture Market) launched in April 2016 for online sale and purchase of commodities nationwide.
  • The Minister said that another important decision taken by the government is the formulation of the model contract farming law. It will help provide marketing infrastructure, developing marketing skills and in reducing risks associated with diversity of production.
  • Other proposals in the model APMC Act include promotion of national market for agriculture produce through provisioning of inter-State trading licence, grading and standardisation and quality certification, rationalisation of market fee and commission charges, provision for special commodity market yard and promotion of e-trading to increase transparency.
  • The model Act also calls for full democratisation of market committee and State/UT Marketing Board.

Soon, Aadhaar-like ID for cattle

  • All cows, their calves, oxen and bulls in the country will be tagged with a tamper-proof Unique Identification Number (UIN) to stop their smuggling, the Centre told the Supreme Court
  • Informing the court about the decision which was in the works since the NDA government took office in 2014, solicitor general Ranjit Kumar told a bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud that “each animal will be tagged with a UIN with proper records of identification details — age, breed, sex, lactation, height, body colour, horn type, tail switch and special marks.”
  • Kumar said, “The ministry of agriculture has devised a method of tamper-proof identification of cattle using polyurethane tags with a UIN sequence. It may be made mandatory for cows and their progeny throughout India.”
  • The Centre said, “Already mass tagging of cattle for insurance purpose is being done by livestock development boards and animal husbandry departments in states.
  • A state-level data bank may be uploaded on website to be linked with the national online database. Such cattle may be in a dairy, kanji house (shelter home) or dry dairy and a registration card has to be maintained by the owner of the cattle which may be transferred to the next owner, in case legitimate sale/transfer takes place.”
  • The committee had said that “barren cows or bulls or low-yielding animals are sold to organised smugglers or are abandoned on the roads from where they are captured and smuggled to international borders. Such sales and abandonment of cattle is rampant and without any onus or responsibility on cattle owners”.
  • In order to prevent smuggling of non-milking/retired cattle, measures may be taken to create sustainable housing models, dry dairies, in every block, which could be self-sustaining by linking its operations to production of manure and bio-gas, which may be sold at a minimum support price to the government.
  • This will reduce use of chemical fertilisers in agriculture
  • In an affidavit filed in the PIL by NGO “Akhil Bharat Krishi Goseva Sangh”, the Centre gave details of the causes behind large-scale cattle smuggling to Bangladesh.
  • It said in West Bengal alone, 1,28,440 cattle were impounded by BSF accounting for 76% of seized cattle in 2016. Assam with 33,619 seized cattle figured second in the list.

Legendary filmmaker K Viswanath gets Dadasaheb Phalke Award for 2016

  • The director who changed the face of Telugu cinema, Kasinathuni Viswanath, popularly known as Kalathapasvi Viswanath, has been honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for 2016. The government announced the award
  • This is the highest award in the field of cinema. His film Shankarabharanam changed Telugu cinema and took it into the international arena.
  • Viswanath started his career as a sound recordist with Vahini Pictures. Akkineni Nageswara Rao spotted his talent and asked him to join Annapurna Pictures. Viswanath worked as assistant director to Adurthi Subba Rao and debuted as director with Atma Goura-vam in 1965, with Nageswara Rao in the lead. He never looked back since then. Though he directed many stars, he always believed in his style of storytelling and the content of his film for success.
  •  There are no vulgar, double entendre dialogues in his films, which are pleasant, steeped in the local ethos, and with music, dance and traditional art forms.
  • His film Swathi Muthyam not only won a National Award, but was also India’s official entry to the 59th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film category.  His other films Sirivennela, Saptapadi, Sutradharulu, Sruthi-layalu, Swathikiranam, Su-bha Sankalpam, Swayam Krushi and Swarna Kamalam won national and state awards.
  • Viswanath chooses a simple and uncomplicated story and gives film lovers a pleasant treat. Most of his stories are related to the common man and what is happening in such homes or with their neighbours.

Dadasaheb Phalke Award

  • The Dadasaheb Phalke Award is India’s highest award in cinema. It is presented annually at the National Film Awards ceremony by the Directorate of Film Festivals, an organisation set up by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The recipient is honoured for their “outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema”and is selected by a committee consisting of eminent personalities from the Indian film industry.[
  • As of 2014, the award comprises a Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus) medallion, a shawl, and a cash prize of Rs 1,000,000 (US$15,000).
  • First presented in 1969, the award was introduced by the Government of India to commemorate Dadasaheb Phalke’s contribution to Indian cinema.
  • Phalke (1870–1944), who is popularly known as and often regarded as “the father of Indian cinema”, was an Indian film-maker who directed India’s first full-length feature film, Raja Harishchandra (1913).

India becomes world’s fifth largest military spender

  • India’s military expenditure grew around 8.5 per cent in 2016, making it the world’s fifth largest spender at $55.9 billion, figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) revealed
  • As per the figures, the US remains the world’s largest military spender registering a growth of 1.7 per cent between 2015 and 2016 to $611 billion.
  • Four others in the top 15 spenders include China, Japan, South Korea, Australia.
  • China is second on the list spending $215 billion, an increase of 5.4 per cent.
  • However, the growth rate was “much lower” than in the previous years, the SIPRI report said.
  • Russia increased its spending by 5.9 per cent to $69.2 billion, making it the third largest spender.
  • Saudi Arabia, the third largest spender in 2015, dropped to the fourth position in 2016 with its spending dropping by 30 per cent in 2016 to $63.7 billion, despite its continued involvement in regional wars.
  • Pakistan does not figure in the top 15 spenders, and spent $9.93 billion.
  • The growth in US military expenditure in 2016 may signal the end of a trend of decreases in spending, which resulted from the economic crisis and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Despite continuing legal restraints on the overall US budget, increases in military spending were agreed upon by Congress,” said Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) programme
  • Future spending patterns remain uncertain due to the changing political situation in the US.”
  • Military expenditure in Western Europe rose for the second consecutive year and was up by 2.6 per cent, while falling oil revenue and associated economic problems attached to the oil-price shock has forced many oil-exporting countries to reduce military spending.
  • Last year’s global military spending accounted for 2.2 per cent of the worldwide GDP.
  • Military spending as a share of GDP, was highest in the Middle East with an average of 6.0 per cent, while the lowest was in the Americas, with an average of 1.3 per cent.
  • However, data for all Middle Eastern countries was not available.
  • For countries where data is available, substantial increases were seen in Iran and Kuwait, while sizable decreases were noted in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, SIPRI said.
  • In Asia and Oceania, military expenditure rose by 4.6 per cent in 2016. Spending levels are related to the many tensions in the region such as over territorial rights in the South China Sea.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

  • Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is an international institute based in Sweden, dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament.
  • Established in 1966, SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public. SIPRI is based in Stockholm.
  • In the University of Pennsylvania’s 2013 Global Go To Think Tanks Report, SIPRI is ranked the fifth most influential think tank in the world, after the Brookings Institution, Chatham House, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  • IPRI has built its reputation and standing on competence, professional skills, and the collection of hard data and precise facts, rendering accessible impartial information on weapon developments, arms transfers and production, military expenditure, as well as on arms limitations, reductions and disarmament.
  • The task of the Institute is to conduct “scientific research on questions of conflict and cooperation of importance for international peace and security with the aim of contributing to an understanding of the conditions for peaceful solution of international conflicts and for a stable peace”.
  • The Swedish Riksdag decided that the Institute be established on 1 July 1966 with the legal status of an independent foundation. All SIPRI research is based exclusively on open sources.

World Bank to extend $375 mn loan for National Waterway-1 on Ganga

  • The World Bank has approved a loan of $375 million for capacity augmentation of National Waterway-1 (NW-1) on the river Ganga under the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP).
  • In a statement on Friday, the shipping ministry said the financial assistance from the World Bank would help to develop the Rs 5,369-crore NW-1 from Haldia to Varanasi.
  • The project will enable commercial navigation of vessels with capacity of 1,500-2,000 deadweight tonnes along a 1,390-km stretch.
  • NW-1 is a waterway of national significance passing through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, serving the cities of Allahabad, Varanasi, Ghazipur, Bhagalpur, Patna, Howrah, Haldia and Kolkata, and their industrial hinterland including several industries located in the Ganga basin.
  • The rail and road corridors in this region are already saturated.
  • The project entails the construction of terminals and development of ferry services. Inland Waterways Authority of India will set up a River Information Service System (like air-traffic control for airways) on NW-1, the first of its kind in India.
  • On the environmental implications of the project, the World Bank stresses that the project does not involve any abstraction or storage of water, nor will the navigation services planned affect the flow of the river.
  • Furthermore, IWAI has decided to accept the currently available natural depths of the river – ranging from 3 metres in the lower stretches to 2 metres further upstream – for its proposed navigation channel, thus minimising the need for dredging.
  • The project will also support the design and development of a new fleet of low-draft barges capable of carrying up to 2,000 tonnes of cargo in these shallower depths.
  • Where needed, temporary structures (bandals) made of natural materials such as bamboo will be erected to provide additional sailing depth. In addition, the project has introduced an innovative ‘assured depth’ contract framework to incentivise minimal dredging by agencies responsible for keeping the fairway open for navigation.
  • These strategies have helped reduce the need for dredging in the navigation channel to only about 1.5 per cent of the river’s annual silt load.
  • Even this limited dredging will only be done using modern, less intrusive technologies such as the water injection method, which has the additional advantage of ensuring that sediments remain within the river’s ecosystem.
  • The US$375 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has a 7-year grace period and a maturity of 17 years.

Inland Waterways Authority of India

  • Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is the statutory body in charge of the waterways in India. Its headquarters is located in Noida, UP. Its main function is to build the necessary infrastructure in the inland waterways, surveying the economic feasibility of new projects and also carrying out administration and regulation.

River Information system (RIS)

  • RIS is a combination of modern tracking equipment comprising of hardware and software designed to optimise transport and traffic processes in inland water navigation.
  • The system has the capability to enhance swift electronic data transfer between mobile vessels and Base stations through advance and real-time exchange of information.
  • It enables safe and efficient inland water transport by avoiding risks such as (i) Ship-to-Ship collisions. (ii) Ship-Bridge collisions. (iii) Groundings. Inland Waterway Authority of India (IWAI) is implementing the RIS in India.