National news – January 2017

POLITY AND GOVERNANCE

DBT beneficiary? Get your aadhaar done!

  • From April 1, workers in rural areas enrolled under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which mandates 100 days of work for a household a year, must have Aadhaar as a measure to prevent leakages of subsidies and ensure that the beneficiaries get their due.
  • The government has invoked Section 7 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
  • The Section mandates that when the government gives subsidy, benefit or service from the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI), an individual can be asked to undergo authentication or furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar. The expenditure for the MGNREGS is met from the CFI.

DBT scheme 

  • The DBT scheme, aimed at checking leakages of welfare funds, was launched on January 1, 2013 to cover 24 schemes of eight Ministries.
  • Under the DBT, all cash benefits are transferred to the beneficiary’s bank account.
  • The Employees’ Provident Fund Organization has also made it mandatory for 50 lakh pensioners and four crore subscribers to provide either the Aadhaar number or proof that they have applied for it to avoid leakages.

Sapphire hunt: Madagascar

Why in news?

  • Sapphire hunters are flocking Madagascar mines as the mining is not well regulated and the cost of acquiring this precious stone is much lower than the known markets.

Context:

  • Sapphires were first discovered in Madagascar in the late 1990s, and the Indian Ocean Island is one of the world’s largest producers of the precious stones. Its 250-kilometre-long deposit is among the biggest in the world and has sparked a sapphire rush.
  • Theoretically, the extraction of sapphires is regulated by Madagascar’s mining code, which insists on permits and the redistribution of a share of the taxes to benefit local municipalities.
  • In practice, the industry is largely unregulated, but it is a lucrative trade. A stone that fetches $300 in Sri Lanka costs him less than a tenth of the price to buy from a miner in Madagascar

Sapphire:

  • Sapphire is a gemstone variety of the mineral corundum, an aluminium oxide (α-Al2O3). It is typically blue in color, but natural “fancy” sapphires also occur in yellow, purple, orange, and green colors; “parti sapphires” show two or more colors. The only color which sapphire cannot be is red – as red colored corundum is called ruby, another corundum variety.
  • It Trace amounts of elements such as irontitaniumchromiumcopper, or magnesium that are responsible for the color of a sapphire.
  • Commonly, natural sapphires are cut and polished into gemstones and worn in jewelry. They also may be created synthetically in laboratories for industrial or decorative purposes in large crystal boules. Because of the remarkable hardness of sapphires – 9 on the Mohs scale (the third hardest mineral, after diamond at 10 and moissanite at 9.5) – sapphires are also used in some non-ornamental applications, such infrared optical components, high-durability windowswristwatch crystals and movement bearings; and very thin electronic wafers, which are used as the insulating substrates of very special-purpose solid-state electronics (especially integrated circuits and GaN-based LEDs).

Indigenous artillery gun excites Army

Why in news?

  • The Army has given the thumbs-up to a heavy artillery gun, Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), being developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation, in collaboration with the private sector.

Context:

  • This is significant step in indigenization as the Army and the DRDO had considerable differences on projects in the past.
  • ATAGS is a
    • 155-mm, 52-calibre,
    • range of 45 km depending on the type of ammunition used.
    • towed artillery gun being
    • developed in mission mode
    • for the Army’s artillery modernization program.
    • It has several significant features such as an all-electric drive, high mobility, quick deployability, auxiliary power mode, advanced communication system, and automated command and control system.
  • It was designed by the DRDO’s Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) in Pune, Bharat Forge Ltd. of the Kalyani Group, Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division and Mahindra Defence Naval System from the private sector are involved in a big way, along with the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB)

Online portal for migrant workers

  • The Centre has launched an online portal called e-Migrate and ‘MADAD’ platforms to address the grievances of migrant workers. The Ministry of External Affairs is creating a national repository, which will have details of educational qualifications of migrant workers that can be used by foreign officials to verify the credentials of the employee.

Relief to heirs of Indentured laborers

Why in news?

  • PIOs who migrated as indentured laborers long ago are unable to furnish documents and family tree to secure the OCI card.

Context:

  • Bringing joy to Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) living in countries where Indians had worked as indentured laborers new procedures and documents would be put in place to help them get the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card.
  • Indentured workers from India were taken to Suriname, Reunion Island, South Africa, Guyana, Mauritius, Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago to work in sugar cane plantations.Girmit is a corrupt form of the English word agreement, and Mahatma Gandhi had called himself the first Girmit. Girmitya countries are countries where PIOs took up employment on varied grounds.

Indentured laborers:

  • An indentured labor is an employee (indenturee) within a system of unfree labor who is bound by a contract (indenture) to work for a particular employer for a fixed period of time. The employer is often permitted to assign the labor of an indentured laborer to a third party. He usually enter into an indenture for a specific payment or other benefit or to meet a legal obligation, such as debt bondage. Upon completion of the contract, indentured servants were granted freedom or occasionally plots of land.

“Athithi devo bava” – Indian tourism sees a boom

Why in news?

  • India registered an 11 per cent increase in foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) for 2016 (calendar year) over 2015, with as many as nine million tourists visiting the country which excludes visits by non-resident Indians.

Context:

  • This increase was way above the projected 4.5 per cent growth. It also resulted in a 15 per cent growth in income from FTAs.
  • India’s e-tourist visas was one of the most liberal and 161 countries were being covered under the scheme. Also India is emerging as a popular destination for wedding tourism.
  • Circuit tourism: Among the plans to promote tourism in the country is developing 13 theme-wise circuits, including spiritual, heritage, wildlife, Buddhist, Ramayana, and Krishna. Set to be introduced in 12 to 18 months at a cost of Rs. 100 crore each, the Tourism Ministry is looking to expand the scope of tourist destinations as a pan-India concept.

Way forward:

  • Infrastructure boost: Admitting to a gap in demand and supply, the Ministry is also prioritizing homestays and involving homestay listing portals to plug the gap. The Tourism Ministry is also investing in amenities along highways, including toilets and interpretation centres.

SC reiterates on VVPAT implementation

Why in news?

  • SC has given a directive to EC to give deadline for implementing VVPAT for poll transparency.

Context:

  • The Supreme Court has reiterated the necessity to implement the Vote Verifier Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in electronic voting machines (EVMs) to ensure 100 per cent transparency in elections.
  • In the VVPAT system, when a voter presses the button for a candidate of his choice in the EVM, a paper ballot containing the serial number, name of the candidate and poll symbol would be printed for the voter.
  • The VVPAT is intended as an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their votes were cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.
  • This is the second time the Supreme Court is insisting on the implementation of VVPAT in EVMs. In 2013, the apex court had directed the Election Commission to introduce the paper trail in EVMs in a phased manner for the general elections in 2014.

Rational stent pricing – Much needed for Health sector

Why in news?

  • With the recent government notification to bring stents under the country’s Drug Prices Control Order, the prices of the life saving device will be regulated and capped by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA).
  • Considering the wider implications on healthcare technology providers, Healthcare Federation of India (NATHEALTH) has suggested that the government needs to form a health technology assessment board for standardizing and regulating stent quality in India.

Context:

  • Medical procedures in India are among the most affordable in the world, which is due to a combination of cost of devices and services. Any notification should be considered only if it can bring down the overall cost of treatment for the patient without denying them the options to avail the treatment of their choice. Such notifications significantly impact the ‘Make in India’ attractiveness of the country.
  • The recently announced formation of a Medical Technology Assessment Board (MTAB) by the government will go a long way in standardizing and regulating stent quality in India and usher in much-needed transparency, which will enable price standardization in a rational manner.
  • Last year, the Department of Pharmaceuticals, under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, notified that the Centre include Coronary Stents in the Drug Prices Control Order Schedule-1.

Lend an ear:

  • The Indian diaspora in Qatar has urged Indian government to create a separate registration cell with details of domestic workers being sent from various Indian States to Gulf Cooperation Council countries. There are more than 5 lakh Indian domestic workers in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Andaman: New ginger species with medicinal properties found

Why in news?

  • Scientists of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) have found a new species of Zingiber (commonly referred as ginger) from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Context:

  • The species Zingiber pseudosquarrosum, new to science, belonging to genus Zingiber, was already used by the local Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) of the Andamans for its medicinal values.
  • After collecting and systematically analyzing the species, scientists found that the new species indeed possesses ethno-medicinal uses. The fresh extract of tuberous roots is used to treat abdominal pain and anti-helminthic troubles by tribes.
  • This pseudo stem of the new species is predominantly red in colour. Flowers have a vermilion tinge and dehisced fruit [fully mature fruits] are lotus shaped. Inflorescence buds are urceolate in shape. The species has got tuberous root. The morphological features of this species makes it distinct from other species belonging to the genus Zingiber.
  • Like other species of gingers, this new species is edible and can be propagated vegetatively from the rhizome.

Gurugram bags E-governance award

Why in news?

  • The National e-Governance award will be conferred upon Gurugram district administration at the 20th national conference on e-Governance to be held in Jan.

Context:

  • The G-Triangulation project of Gurugram district administration has been awarded Gold under category VI innovative use of GIS Technology in e-Governance.
  • No other State in the country has done so many experiments in ‘used records management’ as Haryana has done.
  • The revenue estate of Manesar was taken up as a pilot for implementation of the project. The project aimed at providing complete spatial referencing of the land holdings across the district and further validating the land holding details in Manesar. This is expected to reduce errors in land records that crept in during the period 1957 to 2016.
  • Triangulation is a simple concept where at least three points are necessary to identify an area and hence 35 points of Survey of India were used to create infinite number of references.
  • Incidentally, a majority of these reference points established during Todarmal era had got vanished. In order to re-establish, a cluster of 24 satellites were used in tandem for further refining the reference point network.
  • These reference points were superimposed on high resolution digital maps with in—built tolerance for undulations. Further, cadastral maps or Musavis were also superimposed.
  • These maps are the most accurate maps of the country ever used in land records management, as on today.
  • This enables the district administration to do the geo-referencing at land holding or land parcel level which hitherto has been done for the first time.

Haryana launches ‘green Gurugram’ scheme

  • With a view to increase forest cover in Gurugram, where about 20 lakh saplings will be distributed in the city by Haryana Forest Department in February.

Lend an ear:

  • Assam to launch home-stay scheme to tap rural tourism. The Assam government will soon roll out a rural home-stay scheme that aims to tap tourism prospects in rural and semi-urban areas besides creating job opportunities. ‘Aamaar Aalohi (Our Guest) — Rural Home-stay Scheme’ will give a new dimension and thrust to comfortable home-stay facilities of standardized services to tourists and supplement the availability of accommodation in the rural tourist destinations.

Lend an ear:

  • Chinese Govt. is persuading its women to remove intrauterine device (IUD) which was fixed after the first child birth to contain the population growth. This is to enable them to have a second child, confronting the issues of ageing population and a shrinking workforce in China.

TReDing’ – Need of the hour

Why in news?

  • Delays in receivables from big clients due to demonetization hurt SMEs. TReDS, the Trade Receivables Discounting System, may ease the pain.

Context:

  • The government’s demonetisation exercise has had an impact on liquidity of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) in the country, according to a recent nationwide survey by the global analytical company CRISIL.
  • Every third MSME is facing delays in receivables from clients, which has curbed their ability to repay creditors, and pay salaries, on time.
  • The steel sector was the most impacted on this score, with nearly two-thirds of respondents admitting to problems, followed by textiles, logistics and construction sectors, CRISIL said.
  • There are about 51 million enterprises in the MSME segment in India. They have generated employment for about 117.1 million persons and accounted for 37.5 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to the MSME ministry.
  • As per the Federation of Indian MSMEs (or FISME), a majority of MSMEs conduct their transactions, including sales, purchase and payments of wages, in cash and therefore their businesses have come to a “grinding halt” following the government’s surprise announcement on November 8 to withdraw notes in the denomination of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 that accounted for 86 per cent of the currency in circulation in value terms in the country.
  • MSMEs are now unable to fall back on informal sources of affordable finance particularly for their working capital as such funds have dried up due to the cash crunch after the demonetisation drive.
  • Though the MSME Development Act addressed the issue of delayed payments to MSMEs by specifying that the buyer of goods or service will have to make payment to the (MSME) supplier within 45 days from the day of acceptance (or deemed acceptance), FISME sources said in reality this period stretches to an average of about 65 days and in some cases even up to 120-150 days.
  • About 90 per cent of MSMEs rely on informal sources for credit, as per government estimates.
  • As per provisional data for the period ended March 2016, total outstanding loan of the banking system to MSME sector stood at around Rs. 11.1 trillion in 20.6 million loan accounts. Contrast this to the estimated need of Rs. 26 trillion (or $520 billion of debt demand in the MSME sector) and the number of MSMEs at 51 million. There is a total finance requirement of Rs. 32.5 trillion ($650 billion) in the MSME sector – an amount comprising Rs. 26 trillion ($520 billion) of debt demand and Rs. 6.5 trillion ($130 billion) of equity demand.
  • The objective of TReDS is to create Electronic Bill Factoring Exchanges that could electronically accept and settle bills so that MSMEs could encash their receivables without delay.
  • In March 2014, the RBI had brought out a ‘concept paper’ on ‘Trade Receivables and Credit Exchange for Financing MSMEs’ which detailed the well-recognised model of the Mexican Development Bank that runs a programme based on reverse factoring to facilitate the liquidity and financing requirements for MSMEs in Mexico.
  • As per the paper, India has a similar initiative – the SIDBI-NSE Trade Receivable E-discounting Engine (NTREES), a web-based platform established in December 2009 for e-discounting of receivables of MSMEs.
  • After seeking comments on the draft TReDS guidelines in July 2014, the RBI, in December 2014 announced the final guidelines and said the TReDS would be an authorised payment system subject to the RBI’s oversight under the Payment & Settlement Systems Act, 2007.
  • Noting that the TReDS will give MSMEs greater access to finance and put greater discipline on corporates to pay their dues on time, the RBI in November 2015 granted in-principle nod to three applicants, NSE Strategic Investment Corp-SIDBI, Axis Bank and Mynd Solutions to establish and run TReDS.
  • Since the TReDS will not be allowed to assume any credit risk, its minimum paid up equity capital shall be Rs. 25 crore.

Way forward:

  • TReDS can be purposeful only if legislative backing is extended to it, making it necessary that the invoices are uploaded mandatorily and status of deemed acceptance is granted to them to convert them into negotiable financial instruments.
  • This will not only provide much needed liquidity to MSMEs but will also usher in financial discipline in corporates and PSUs which is equally important for the country’s financial system.
  • Banks that are stakeholders in the receivables exchange also account for a sizeable portion of the credit to the MSME sector, and have a good understanding of MSMEs.

BHIM – Bharat Interface for Money

  • BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) is a Mobile App developed by National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), based on Unified Payment Interface (UPI), launched by Prime Minister of India to facilitate e-payments directly through bank.
  • It was launched as part of the 2016 Indian banknote demonetization and Cashless transaction drive, at a Digi Dhan program at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi on December 30, 2016.
  • It has been named after Bhim Rao Ambedkar.
  • This UPI app supports all Indian banks which are live on UPI platform. UPI is built over the IMPS infrastructure and allows you to instantly transfer money between any two party’s bank accounts.
  • It can be used on all mobile devices, be it a smartphone or a feature phone with internet connection.

UPI – Unified Payments Interface

  • Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is a system that powers multiple bank accounts (of participating banks), several banking services features like fund transfer (P2P), and merchant payments in a single mobile application.
  • UPI was launched by National Payments Corporation of India with Reserve Bank of India‘s (RBI) vision of migrating towards a ‘less-cash’ and more digital society.
  • UPI has built on the Immediate Payment Service (IMPS) platform. UPI can be used for multiple common banking tasks.

Mini grids sufficient to power a rural economy

  • Mini grids can spur economic activity in rural areas and accelerate the process of expanding mobile phone network across the country due to their large capacities and the ability to connect to the national grid, according to Smart Power India.
  • A mini grid, as defined by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, is an off-grid power system with a generation capacity of between 10 KW and 500 KW.
  • There are a number of other solutions of smaller capacities that rural areas can use such as a solar lantern, a solar home solution, or even a community solution like a micro grid.
  • But a mini grid is the only alternative that provides the kind of electricity that can be used for business activities.
  • One of the deficiencies of the off-grid power solution models is that while these solutions are good in moving households away from kerosene and providing them with reliable and clean energy, they do not provide the energy required to fuel enterprise or commercial activity.
  • A mini grid is a larger system that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) and it provides safety as per REC and CEA standards. Usually, the power coming from the smaller off-grid solutions is DC energy. While it is good for lighting, it does not satisfy the community’s requirement to run any sort of business.
  • The power generated from a mini grid can be seamlessly transferred to the national grid since it is already going through a charge controller which manages the flow of energy and an inverter which converts the electricity from DC to AC. It also has a storage facility to meet night demand as well.
  • The power that comes out is regular and standard with no fluctuations.
  • A large part of the demand for mini grids came from telecom service providers for powering mobile towers.

India Development Foundation of Overseas Indians 

  • India Development Foundation of Overseas Indians (IDF-OI) is a not-for-profit Trust set-up by the Government of India to facilitate philanthropic contributions by Overseas Indians to social and development projects in India.
  • IDF-OI is chaired by External Affairs Minister.
  • Presently, IDF-OI is promoting flagship programmes of Government of India- Swachh Bharat Mission and National Mission for Clean Ganga; and projects identified by the State Govts, for funding by Overseas Indians.
  • Working with State Governments in areas such as sanitation; education; drinking water; women’s empowerment et/c, IDF-OI is offering projects for funding by Overseas Indians.
  • Overseas Indians can contribute as an individual, or a group of individuals or even through their respective Indian Associations.
  • IDF-OI does not recover any administrative cost from contributions received from Overseas Indians.
  • Also, there has to be credibility i.e. accountability, efficiency, and transparency in project implementation and fund utilization for achieving the goals of the organization.

SC: Resolve conflict between POSCO & IPC on ‘rape’ definition

Why in news?

A chink in the colonial-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) condoning sexual intercourse and exploitation of a 15-year-old child ‘wife’ has been brought to the Supreme Court’s attention to end this “statutorily-backed” crime against children.

Current scenario:

  • An estimated 47 per cent of children in India were married off before they turned 18, according to the United Nations. The IPC terms children as those aged under 15 years while POCSO terms children as those aged under 18.
  • POCSO has specific penal provisions against ‘penetrative sexual assault’ and ‘aggressive penetrative sexual assault’ on children below 18.
    • Section 6 of the POSCO Act enunciates the punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault as rigorous imprisonment of not less than 10 years to life imprisonment.
    • The benefit of POCSO is not afforded to children when they are in married relationship but over the age of 15. The illegal practice was a serious deterrence to the physical, social, psychological and moral well-being of children.
  • IPC accepts the rape of a 15-year-old by her husband despite the fact that the more recent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012 qualifies those aged below 18 as ‘children’.
    • IPC provides an exception to Section 375 (rape) where it allows a man to go scot-free despite having sex with his 15-year-old ‘wife’. This exception ensures that he will not be charged with rape even though child marriage is a crime.

Concerns:

  • Despite being a child by definition (under the age of 18), provisions of POCSO are not applied. The benefit of a Special Act (POCSO) is not afforded to children when they are in married relationship but over the age of 15. Therefore, a child’s status as a child till she attains the age of 18 is denied to her once she is forcefully or otherwise wed.

Haryana – 900:1000

  • Haryana achieved a sex ratio of 900 girls as against 1000 boys in 2016, Civil Registration System (CRS) data.
  • This is much in contrast to the statistics of 2011, when Haryana had the worst sex ratio of 834:1000 among all states in the country.
  • The State government had been making concerted efforts to improve the sex ratio, and now it has taken a leap forward by achieving marked improvement in the Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB)
ECONOMY

Export infrastructure scheme on the anvil

Why in news?

The Centre is trying to tie up with the States and roll-out a new scheme called ‘TIES’ — or Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme — to boost export infrastructure where the States must develop their own export strategy in alignment with the national foreign trade policy, as well as enhance co-operation with Central agencies to set up common facilities for testing, certification, trace-back, packaging and labelling.

Concerns the sector currently:

  • Indian roads carry nearly 65 per cent cargo against the global trend where railway is the major contributor. Therefore the States should focus on improving the last mile connectivity of major exporting hubs to Inland Container Depot/Ports. Quality of roads including their load bearing capacity may be upgraded for smooth transit of export goods.
  • About 150 Sanitary & Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) measures (or norms on food safety and animal & plant health standards) and a similar number of Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) notifications (including mandatory and voluntary standards) were being issued by World Trade Organisation-member countries each month where 50-60 per cent of these measures have the potential to impact India’s trade.
  • The States should cooperate with the Centre for setting up common facilities like testing labs and training institutes as well as to ensure packaging and storage support to the Indian industry.
  • So far only 17 States (of the 29 States and seven Union Territories in the country) have prepared their export strategy.
  • On services, IT and ITeS had an overwhelming predominance in India’s services exports but were largely restricted to the U.S. and EU markets and are therefore vulnerable to changes imposed by these two trading blocs.

Measures needed

  • There is a need to diversify our services exports in areas like medical tourism, nursing and healthcare, education, audio-visual media that have an excellent potential to be harnessed.
  • The Centre has decided to soon bring out a Logistics Performance Index to rank states on steps taken to facilitate trade and improve logistics.
  • Measures in the pipeline include expediting the proposal for a north east corridor to improve connectivity with South East Asian countries and exports to that region.