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International Union for Conservation of Nature

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

The ability to convene diverse stakeholders and provide the latest science, objective recommendations and on-the-ground expertise drives IUCN’s mission of informing and empowering conservation efforts worldwide. We provide a neutral forum in which governments, NGOs, scientists, businesses, local communities, indigenous peoples groups, faith-based organisations and others can work together to forge and implement solutions to environmental challenges.

By facilitating these solutions, IUCN provides governments and institutions at all levels with the impetus to achieve universal goals, including on biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development, which IUCN was instrumental in defining.

Combined, our knowledge base and diverse membership make IUCN an incubator and trusted repository of best practices, conservation tools, and international guidelines and standards. With its official United Nations Observer Status, IUCN ensures that nature conservation has a voice at the highest level of international governance.

IUCN’s expertise and extensive network provide a solid foundation for a large and diverse portfolio of conservation projects around the world. Combining the latest science with the traditional knowledge of local communities, these projects work to reverse habitat loss, restore ecosystems and improve people’s well-being. They also produce a wealth of data and information which feeds into IUCN’s analytical capacity.

Through their affiliation with IUCN, Member organisations are part of a democratic process, voting Resolutions which drive the global conservation agenda. They meet every four years at the IUCN World Conservation Congress to set priorities and agree on the Union’s work programme. IUCN congresses have produced several key international environmental agreements including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the World Heritage Convention, and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. We continue to help these conventions strengthen and evolve so that they can respond to emerging challenges.

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Article 239-AA(4)

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

Article 239AA of the Constitution of India granted Special Status to Delhi among Union Territories (UTs) in the year 1991 through 69th constitutional amendment by the Parliament, thereby providing Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers responsible to such Assembly with appropriate powers to deal with matters of concerns to common man. That’s when Delhi was named as National Capital Region (NCT) of Delhi.

There is no doubt that common men of Delhi are the sufferer on various counts; but we need to examine whether there is a role of Article 239AA of the Constitution in such suffering. What we see today, is it an outcome of Article 239AA? With no political axe to grind, relevant provisions of Article 239AA must be understood in true sense.

As per Article 239AA – Public Order, Police & Land in NCT of Delhi fall within the domain and control of Central Government which shall have the power to make laws on these matters. For remaining matters of State List or Concurrent List, in so far as any such matter is applicable to UTs, the Legislative Assembly shall have power to make laws for NCT of Delhi.

Further, for Offences against laws, Jurisdiction & powers of Courts (except SC) and Fees (except court fees) so far as they relate to Public Order, Police & Land in NCT of Delhi; Central Government would have power to make laws.

Further, the Council of Ministers (i.e. CM and his Ministers) are elected to aid and advise the LG in the exercise of his functions in relation to matters with respect to which the Legislative assembly has power to make law. Therefore, in respect of Public Order, Police & Land – LG would not need aid and advise from the Council of Ministers. For other matters enumerated in the State List, this arrangement would work.

On making analysis of the prevalent circumstances in Delhi and future possible potential abuse of powers, in derogation to other, along with the legal provisions contained in Article 239AA; I can say that arrangements of governance as provided under Article 239AA appears to have failed to fulfil the objective, i.e. “to deal with matters of concern to the common man”.

I am intentionally refraining myself from analysing the propositions, meaning and interpretation of Article 239AA for the same is pending decision by the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court (SC). Whatever interpretation SC could bring, my primary test would always be to see, “whether a law fulfils the purpose for which it is created?”

On the current scale of governance, Delhi is divided into 3 pieces and each piece is controlled by 3 different elected bodies.

First, areas under control of elected Central Government (through selected LG being the Administrator); Two, areas under the control of elected representatives (MLAs) in Delhi Assembly; & Three, areas falling under elected representatives (Mayor & Corporators) of municipal bodies, of which administrative control is in the hands Commissioners appointed by Central Government.

At the time of First Assembly Election of Delhi in 1993, Delhi had 58.5 lakh Voters. In the 2015 Elections, Delhi had 133.1 lakh Voters. So, an increase of 74.6 lakh voters (227%) in 22 years.

Today, the estimated population of Delhi is 2.5 Crore. Delhi has problems of high magnitudes – highest polluted air, water crisis, water borne diseases, sanitation, electricity, traffic, jams, roads, unauthorised construction, encroachments, lack of moral and civic sense, road rage, crime against women and children etc. and to tackle the menace, as Delhi is in today, we need a cohesive approach, best policy framework and advance & objective planning. If different legs of governance in Delhi would keep on fighting among themselves, Delhiites would be loser as ever.

In the past, problems, such are being faced today, were not that critical especially when same parties ruled at the Centre and in Delhi. However, different parties are at the helm today and they are at loggerheads, for each’s own political gains. But to my mind worst is yet to come. Now consider a situation, when 3 different political parties are in control at the Centre, Delhi State & MCDs. I bet that would be the worst ever time, Delhiites would ever imagine.

So I wonder should there be Article 239AA of Constitution of India, at all, as the same has failed to achieve the objective for which it was created and has only brought more mess than correcting a situation. And it appears to me, future stores ‘havoc’, when 3 different political parties would be elected at the helm of affairs, as aforesaid.

We need to model our laws as per our needs. Worldwide it is a usual phenomena that Capitals of countries are under the control of Central Government in a Federal Structure.

So be it, why to waste so much of money in electing 70 MLAs, their salaries, infrastructure expenses etc. They don’t need to be showcased for doing nothing or doing bizarre things. To govern the Capital of country in effective ways, either the State Government should be empowered fully or there should be no State Government, at all.

Being in Delhi for last two decades, I have seen different pictures of Delhi. When CNG buses & taxis were forced on the then Delhi Government by the Supreme Court in 2001, delhiites thought the pollution would be killed. But what we see today, is only more of it. So new measures are at place to deal with pollution hazards.

Though it is another question as to whether such measures would be able to arrest pollution, but at least an objectivity is attached to the whole process to see things as they are and finding new and effective solutions.

Similarly, Art.239AA appears to me as a failed experiment; which needs to be re-examined vis a vis need, and either suitable amendments should be incorporated in it to make it work fruitfully for Delhiites or it should be struck off. In its present form, it has only brought pain to the common man of Delhi.

 

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Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs)

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

A foreign portfolio investment is a grouping of assets such as stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents. Portfolio investments are held directly by an investor or managed by financial professionals. In economicsforeign portfolio investment is the entry of funds into a country where foreigners deposit money in a country's bank or make purchases in the country’s stock and bond markets, sometimes for speculation

Most foreign portfolio investments consist of securities and other foreign financial assets that are passively held by the foreign investor. This does not provide the foreign investor with direct ownership of the financial assets and can be relatively liquid depending on the volatility of the market that the investment takes place in. Foreign portfolio investments can be made by individuals, companies, or even governments in international countries. This type of investment is a way for investors to diversify their portfolio with an international advantage.

Foreign portfolio investment shows up in a country's capital account. It is also part of the balance of payments which measures the amount of money flowing in and out of a country over a given time period.

Foreign portfolio investment is similar, but differs from foreign direct investment. In foreign portfolio investment the investor purchases stocks, securities and other financial assets but does not actively manage the investments or the companies that are issuing the assets. So, in FPI the investor does not have direct control over the securities or businesses. This means that FPI tends to be more liquid and less risky than FDI. The relatively high liquidity of FPI's makes them much easier to sell than FDI's. Foreign portfolio investments also tend to have a shorter time frame for returns than foreign direct investments.

Some benefits that come to investors from utilizing foreign portfolio investments include

  1. Portfolio diversification: FPI gives investors a fairly simple way to diversify their portfolio internationally.
  2. International Credit: FPI gives investors a larger credit base because they are able to access credit in the foreign countries that they have large amounts of investment in.
  3. Benefits from the Exchange rates: If an investor has an FPI in a foreign country with a stronger currency than their own country the difference in exchange rates between the two countries can benefit the investor
  4. Access to a larger market: Often times markets may be larger and less competitive outside of ones home country. For example, the market is much more competitive in the United States of America than in other less developed economies. Investors can take advantage of the less competitive markets internationally by using these Foreign portfolio investments.

Portfolio investments typically involve transactions in securities that are highly liquid, i.e. they can be bought and sold very quickly. A portfolio investment is an investment made by an investor who is not involved in the management of a company. This is in contrast to direct investment, which allows an investor to exercise a certain degree of managerial control over a company. Equity investments where the owner holds less than 10% of a company's shares are classified as portfolio investment. These transactions are also referred to as "portfolio flows" and are recorded in the financial account of a country's balance of payments.

Portfolio flows arise through the transfer of ownership of securities from one country to another.  Foreign portfolio investment is positively influenced by high rates of return and reduction of risk through geographic diversification. The return on foreign portfolio investment is normally in the form of interest payments or non-voting dividends.

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Foreign Investment

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

What is Foreign Investment

Foreign investment involves capital flows from one country to another, granting extensive ownership stakes in domestic companies and assets. Foreign investment denotes that foreigners have an active role in management as a part of their investment. A modern trend leans toward globalization, where multinational firms have investments in a variety of countries.

BREAKING DOWN Foreign Investment

Foreign investment is largely seen as a catalyst for economic growth in the future.

Foreign investments can be made by individuals, but are most often endeavors pursued by companies and corporations with substantial assets looking to expand their reach. As globalization increases, more and more companies have branches in countries around the world. For some companies, opening new manufacturing and production plants in a different country is attractive because of the opportunities for cheaper production, labor and lower or fewer taxes.

Direct vs Indirect Foreign Investments

Foreign investments can be classified in one of two ways: direct and indirect. Foreign direct investments (FDIs) are the physical investments and purchases made by a company in a foreign country, typically by opening plants and buying buildings, machines, factories and other equipment in the foreign country. These types of investments find a far greater deal of favor, as they are generally considered long-term investments and help bolster the foreign country’s economy.

Foreign indirect investments involve corporations, financial institutions and private investors buying stakes or positions in foreign companies that trade on a foreign stock exchange. In general, this form of foreign investment is less favorable, as the domestic company can easily sell off their investment very quickly, sometimes within days of the purchase. This type of investment is also sometimes referred to as a foreign portfolio investment (FPI). Indirect investments include not only equity instruments such as stocks, but also debt instruments such as bonds.

Other Types of Foreign Investment

There are two additional types of foreign investments to be considered: commercial loans and official flows. Commercial loans are typically in the form of bank loans that are issued by a domestic bank to businesses in foreign countries or the governments of those countries. Official flows is a general term that refers to different forms of developmental assistance that developed or developing nations are given by a domestic country.

Commercial loans, up until the 1980s, were the largest source of foreign investment throughout developing countries and emerging markets. Following this period, commercial loan investments plateaued, and direct investments and portfolio investments increased significantly around the globe.


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Fossils show Kutch desert was once a forest

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

A team of Indian and French researchers have concluded that the hot arid desert of Kutch was once a humid sub-tropical forest with a variety of birds, freshwater fish and possibly giraffes and rhinos.

About:

  1. Their conclusions are based on the discovery of a tranche of vertebrate fossils from nearly 14 million years ago in a geological period known as the Miocene.
  2. The fossils, consisting mostly of ribs, and parts of teeth and bones, were unearthed from Palasava village of Rapar taluk in Kutch, Gujarat.
  3. Overall, the fossil finds from Palasava suggest that a rich diversity of fauna and flora sustained in warm, humid/wet, tropical to sub-tropical environmental conditions during the Middle Miocene (about 14 Mya).
  4. Geological changes eventually closed off the salt-flats’ connection to the sea and the region turned into a large lake, eventually becoming salty wetlands.
  5. The findings showed Kutch to be a potential treasure trove of mammal fossils with possible continuity to vertebrate fossils in the Siwalik, spanning Pakistan to Nepal.
  6. The findings point to clues on how mammals dispersed between Africa and the Indian subcontinent when part of India was in the Gondwanaland supercontinent that existed nearly 300 million years ago.
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The Biarritz Summit (G7 Summit) France

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

The Biarritz Summit (G7 Summit) will be held on 24–26 August 2019 in Biarritz, France.

The summit will gather the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, along with the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, to discuss global policy issues of high relevance on diplomatic agendas. To guide France's 2019 G7 Presidency, the five themes that France will advance include:

  1. Fighting inequality of opportunity, promoting in particular gender equality, access to education and high-quality health services
  2. Reducing environmental inequality by protecting our planet through climate finance and a fair ecological transition, preserving biodiversity and the oceans
  3. Strengthening of the social dimension of globalisation through more fair and equitable trade, tax and development policies
  4. Taking action for peace, against security threats and terrorism which weaken the foundations of our societies
  5. Tapping into the opportunities created by digital technology and artificial intelligence
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Neighbourhood First Policy

Wed, 21 Aug, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take office on May 30 with foreign dignitaries of a major regional bloc, the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and heads of governments of Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan, attending the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday evening.

In a carefully calibrated diplomatic move by inviting a host of foreign dignitaries, India has managed highlight India's "neighbourhood first" policy and also emphasise India's outreach towards Central Asian nations.

By inviting Mauritius and choosing Maldives as his first destination for a foreign tour, Prime Minister Modi has sent a strong message to Pakistan that India's neighbourhood policy for now does not include Islamabad.

Maldives, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only SAARC nations that are not part of BIMSTEC. Maldives has been covered and Afghanistan, a traditional partner of India, knows that the historic relations between the two nations would continue, leaving out Pakistan to introspect on the cost of inaction against terrorism.

Why BIMSTEC?

Ever since the terror attacks of 2015, India has been signalling towards strengthening other regional blocs such as BIMSTEC instead of working within SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation) that has not seen any momentum with Pakistan refusing to act against terror networks operating from its soil.

India's focus has shifted from SAARC to BIMSTEC in a major way in the Modi administration. Prime Minister Modi had hosted an outreach summit with BIMSTEC leaders on the sidelines the BRICS summit in Goa in 2016.

However, BIMSTEC cannot and should not be treated as a rebound regional bloc only focussed upon when SAARC seems to be failing. It is an important regional bloc that should grow irrespective of the existence and growth of SAARC.

Importance of the BIMSTEC

BIMSTEC is an important group of seven countries - Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan - in the South Asia and Southeast Asia region.

With one-fifth (around 1.5 billion people) of the world's population living here, the Bay of Bengal region has a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $2.5 trillion. With one-fourth of the world's traded goods crossing the Bay of Bengal every year and with massive untapped resources, the region has the potential of becoming a force to reckon with.

BIMSTEC is also working as a bridge between South and Southeast Asia with countries from SAARC and ASEAN being part of the grouping.

Neighbourhood First Policy

The fact that India has invited Mauritius along with BIMSTEC points towards India's emphasis on the importance of its neighbourhood first policy. Even as invitations were sent out, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, "Government of India has invited the leaders of the BIMSTEC member states for the swearing-in ceremony. This is in line with Government's focus on its 'Neighbourhood First' policy."

The addition of Mauritius was crucial to further Modi administration's plans for the region to create a secure maritime front. The statement also read, "The President of the Kyrgyz Republic, who is the current Chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Prime Minister of Mauritius, who was the Chief Guest at this year's Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, have also been invited".

India's Central Asia Outreach

India is planning to hold an India-Central Asia summit-level meeting on the sidelines of the SCO summit to be held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan around mid-June. To make India's Central Asia outreach a success, invitation has been extended to President of the Kyrgyz Republic, who is currently the chair of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Originally a Eurasian grouping, which had China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan as its members, later included India and Pakistan in the Astana summit of 2017.

India intends to tap into an entire region that is very critically placed in its geo-strategic position and is a wealth of natural resources. The forum also has an important body to fight terrorism, Regional Anti-terrorism Structure (RATS), which is where India would want the region to focus its energies on to combat terrorism in the region.

Bilateral Meetings

India will hold no bilateral meetings after the swearing-in ceremony with Myanmar and Thailand since the President of Myanmar is flying back the same night and the special envoy of Thailand will also be leaving in the wee hours of May 31.

May 31 will see some hectic diplomacy where PM Modi will engage the leaders of BIMSTEC, Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan.

Bilateral with Bangladesh

Bangladesh is being represented by President Abdul Hamid since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is on a four-nation tour. She was unable to attend PM Modi's swearing-in even in 2014 when SAARC leaders were attending PM Modi's oath-taking.

India and Bangladesh share a very strong relationship which did see some strains because of the Rohingya issue. India has assisted Bangladesh in providing aid to the refugees who are in Bangladesh.

When the two leaders meet, there would be discussion on security cooperation, connectivity, how to enhance cooperation in all aspects and also how to tackle the issue of Rohingya crisis.

Bilateral with Sri Lanka

President Maithripala Sirisena is visiting New Delhi after the dastardly terror attack that the country witnessed on Easter Sunday. India has been sharing intelligence and cooperation in investigations with Sri Lankan authorities. An NIA team is in Colombo to help with the investigations.

In the meeting between the two leaders, while all aspects of ties will be discussed, the issue of security cooperation and threat of rising Islamic terrorism would hold key importance during the talks.

Bilateral with Nepal

There are many aspects of economic cooperation and infrastructure projects that would be covered during the talks between the two Prime Ministers. There could be a visit to Kathmandu by Prime Minister Modi in the coming months.

Bilateral with Bhutan

With a new government in place in Thimphu, Prime Minister Modi and Bhutan PM Lotay Tshering will discuss ways to enhance cooperation. Invitation would be extended to PM Modi to visit Bhutan. Prime Minister Modi is expected to visit Bhutan soon. He was supposed to go there in 2018 to celebrate 50 years of establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations, which did not materialise. Bhutan would be top on the list of Modi's travels plans.

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Aadhaar-social media profile linking: Supreme Court concerned at dangers of dark web

Wed, 21 Aug, 2019

The Supreme Court on Tuesday stressed the need to find a balance between the right to online privacy and the right of the State to detect people who use the web to spread panic and commit crimes.
A Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Ghose expressed concern over the dangers of the dark web. “Though I do not know how to access it, I have heard about the dark goings-on in the dark web. It is worse than what happens [in the service web].
The Bench’s comments were in response to submissions made by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government along with advocate Balaji Srinivasan, about need to link the social media profiles of registered users with their Aadhaar numbers, and if required, have platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp to share the 12-digit unique identity with law enforcement agencies to help detect crimes.
The linking of social media profiles of the users with the Aadhaar is needed to check fake news, defamatory articles, pornographic materials, anti-national and terror contents in the online media.” He referred to how online game Blue Whale had not long ago terrorised parents and claimed several young lives in India.
He said the government found it a challenge to trace the 'originator' of such online content. The services of social media platforms, which were used to circulate such content, was the need of the hour.
Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Kapil Sibal, representing social media platforms, said they had moved the Supreme Court for the sole purpose of transferring the proceedings pending in High Courts to the apex court for adjudication.
Facebook contended that there were four petitions - two in the Madras High Court and one each in the Bombay and the Madhya Pradesh High Courts - on the issue.
Mr. Rohatgi said Mr. Venugopal was unnecessarily delving into the merits of the case and he should only argue on the question of transfer. The court, as the highest court in the country, and not the High Courts, should decide the issue that affected the privacy of an online user. A decision of the top court would cover the entire span of the country and would uniformly apply to all the States.
There was a risk that the different High Courts may arrive at conflicting decisions on the issue of Aadhaar linkage. It would be better to have the apex court take the final call. The Tamil Nadu police were saying that Aadhaar should be used for linking user profiles.
Both lawyers pointed out that a nine-judge Constitution Bench had declared privacy as a fundamental right associated with life and dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The court finally issued notice to the Centre and the States on the plea made by social media platforms for transferring the proceedings in High Courts to the apex court. It further scheduled the next hearing to September 13.
The Bench said the “hearing before the Madras High Court may go on but no effective order be passed till further orders.”

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India biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide

Tue, 20 Aug, 2019

A new report by Greenpeace India shows the country is the largest emitter of sulphur dioxide in the world, with more than 15% of all the anthropogenic sulphur dioxide hotspots detected by the NASA OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument) satellite. Almost all of these emissions in India are because of coal-burning.
The vast majority of coal-based power plants in India lack flue-gas desulphurisation technology to reduce air pollution.
The Singrauli, Neyveli, Talcher, Jharsuguda, Korba, Kutch, Chennai, Ramagundam, Chandrapur and Koradi thermal power plants or clusters are the major emission hotspots in India, the report says.
In a first step to combat pollution levels, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change introduced, for the first time, sulphur dioxide emission limits for coal-fired power plants in December 2015. But the deadline for the installation of flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) in power plants has been extended from 2017 to 2022.
The report also includes NASA data on the largest point sources of sulphur dioxide. The largest sulphur dioxide emission hotspots have been found in Russia, South Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Serbia.
Air pollutant emissions from power plants and other industries continue to increase in India, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the report says. In Russia, South Africa, Mexico and Turkey, emissions are currently not increasing — however, there is not a lot of progress in tackling them either.
Of the world’s major emitters, China and the United States have been able to reduce emissions rapidly. They have achieved this feat by switching to clean energy sources; China, in particular, has achieved success by dramatically improving emission standards and enforcement for sulphur dioxide control.

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Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Food Safety Act

Tue, 20 Aug, 2019

To strengthen enforcement of the ban on production and sale of electronic cigarettes, the State government has amended the Karnataka Poisons (Possession and Sale) Rules 2015, notifying nictoine as Class A poison under the rules.
Highly toxic chemicals, which even in very small quantities as gas or vapour in the air are dangerous to life (such as cyanogen, hydrocyanic acid, nitrogen peroxide, and phosgene), are notified under Class A. A gazette notification was published last month and the new rules are now called the Karnataka Poisons (Possession and Sale) Rules 2019.
Electronic cigarettes are small battery-operated devices that vapourise liquid nicotine to provide the same experience as smoking tobacco.
Although the Karnataka government had banned the sale and production of e-cigarettes in June 2016, illegal sale and smuggling of nicotine cartridges and e-cigarettes are rampant in the State. They are often marketed as a way to cut down or cut out cigarette smoking altogether, and sold as aids to quit smoking.
The ban was imposed after a study by the State Health Department and experts that showed that e-cigarettes encourage the younger generation to use conventional cigarettes. While use of two milligrams of nicotine is permitted only in chewable chocolates to help with de-addiction, e-cigarette manufacturers misuse this clause for their sale.
The ban — invoking sections of Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Food Safety Act — also ordered the suspension of all kinds of promotion of e-cigarettes, including online promotion.
Despite this, we find that illegal sale of e-cigarettes is rampant in the State. The Cybercrime police recently issued notices to e-commerce platforms cautioning them that they cannot sell e-cigarettes online. Also customs officials have been seizing nicotine cartridges and e-cigarettes from people flying into Karnataka from outside.

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The monk who shaped India’s secularism

Tue, 20 Aug, 2019

Has Indian nationalism turned utterly exclusivist? What would one of the icons of nationalism, Swami Vivekananda, have to say about this shift? Nationalism, after all, is a battle for the myths that create a nation.

The practice of Indian secularism, despite its pitfalls, has distinguished the country from many of its neighbours. India is the nation with the third-highest number of Muslims in the world. Its ability to consolidate democracy amidst unprecedented diversity could teach a lesson or two even to advanced industrial economies that have operated along the lines of a classic monocultural nation. The country’s secular ideals have their roots in its Constitution, promulgated by its people, a majority of whom are Hindus. Would this state of affairs change because a different morality, Hindu nationalism, has surreptitiously overtaken India’s tryst with secular nationalism?

Indian secularism has always attempted, however imperfectly, to respect the credo of sarva dharma sama bhava (all religions lead to the same goal), which translates to an equal respect for all religions. However, the early-day Hindu nationalists were clearly at odds with the idea. This was the reason Nathuram Godse assassinated one of its strongest proponents, Mahatma Gandhi.

For the likes of Godse, a corollary of the two-nation theory was that independent India was primarily a land for Hindus. More than 70 years after Independence, this notion has gained prominence as never before in India’s post-colonial history. This is evident when the Central government says it will consider all Hindus in neighbouring countries as potential Indian citizens. The most recent example of this is the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority State, into two Union Territories, with all special provisions taken away from the erstwhile State’s residents.

Not only were Kashmiris not consulted, they were made to suffer an information blackout. Does this kind of Hindu nationalism align with the cosmopolitan nature of India’s millennial traditions?

Another question that needs to be asked is: Is it fair to appropriate Swami Vivekananda, another follower of the sarva dharma sama bhava philosophy whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeps citing, as a Hindutva icon?

Here, it is necessary to understand what Vivekananda’s life and world view said about Indian nationalism. His Chicago lectures (1893) marked the beginning of a mission that would interpret India’s millennial tradition in order to reform it and he later spent about two years in New York, establishing the first Vedanta Society in 1894. He travelled widely across Europe and engaged Indologists such as Max Mueller and Paul Deussen. He even debated with eminent scientists such as Nicola Tesla before embarking on his reformist mission in India.

One of the key elements of his message, based on the experiments of his spiritual mentor Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, was that all religions lead to the same goal. Paramahansa is unique in the annals of mysticism as one whose spiritual practices reflect the belief that the ideas of personal god and that of an impersonal god as well as spiritual practices in Christianity and in Islam all lead to the same realisation.

While in Chicago, Vivekananda stressed three important and novel facets of Hindu life. First, he said that Indian tradition believed “not only in toleration” but in acceptance of “all religions as true”. Second, he stressed in no uncertain terms that Hinduism was incomplete without Buddhism, and vice versa.

Finally, at the last meeting he proclaimed: “[I]f anybody dreams [of] the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: ‘Help and not fight’; ‘Assimilation and not destruction’, and ‘Harmony and peace and not dissension’.

Religion and rationality

Vivekananda’s interpretation of India’s past was radical and, when he returned from the West, he had with him a large number of American and European followers. These women and men stood behind his project of establishing the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897.

Vivekananda emphasised that India needed to trade Indian spirituality for the West’s material and modern culture and was firmly behind India’s scientific modernisation. He supported Jagadish Chandra Bose’s scientific projects. In fact, Vivekananda’s American disciple Sara Bull helped patent Bose’s discoveries in the U.S. He also invited Irish teacher Margaret Noble, whom he rechristened ‘Sister Nivedita’, to help uplift the condition of Indian women. When she inaugurated a girls’ school in Calcutta, Vivekananda even requested his friends to send their girls to this school.

Vivekananda also inspired Jamsetji Tata to establish the Indian Institute of Science and the Tata Iron and Steel Company. India needed a secular monastery from where scientific and technological development would uplift India’s material conditions, for which his ideals provided a source of inspiration.

Influence on Gandhi, Nehru

Vivekananda made a remarkable impact on the makers of modern India, who later challenged the two-nation theory, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose. He used the term ‘Daridra Narayan’ to imply that ‘service to the poor is service to god’, many years before Gandhiji addressed the socially oppressed as ‘Harijan’ (children of god). The Mahatma in fact opined that his love for India grew thousandfold after reading Vivekananda.

It is for these reasons that the latter’s birthday was declared as the National Youth Day.

Was Vivekananda then a proponent of Hindutva or of the millennial traditions that have survived many an invasion and endured to teach the world both “toleration and universal acceptance”? Should Hindu nationalism take his name but forget his fiery modern spirit that rediscovered and reformed India’s past? And shouldn’t India’s secular nationalism also acknowledge its deeply spiritual roots in the beliefs of pioneers like the reformer?

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Rural service centres can fuel rural India’s growth, bridge the digital divide

Mon, 19 Aug, 2019

Data show that between 2014 and 2019, that the total number of transactions at Common Service Centres (CSCs) have grown from 4.5 crore to 17.4 crore and, in terms of value, they have gone up from Rs 1,560 crore to well over Rs 28,000 crore. Karishma Mehrotra caught up with Dinesh Tyagi, the CEO of CSC initiative to understand what has led to the growth in CSCs and what lies ahead.
Can you describe the basic structure of a CSC?
The CSCs were introduced to provide citizens access to services through a digital framework. Every CSC has a basic infrastructure, which is a computer, a webcam, a scanner, and a printer, and some facility for power and connectivity. In some places, the connectivity is through a landline, in others through the fibre, and some places still use data cards.
The connectivity is done by the entrepreneur themselves. BharatNet (world’s largest rural broadband project) came a little later, and BharatNet access to CSCs is still going on. The village-level entrepreneur who runs a CSC has some basic qualifications — Class 10 pass. He should have the interest to run an enterprise, the capital to make the initial investment, and he should be a risk-taking person.
What is the underlying business model?
Entrepreneurs make their living by delivering services and charging a service fee either from the citizen or the government (in case it is providing a service). But someone pays him an incentive to deliver the service. Government services are only enablers; they alone cannot create a sustainable business model because of the frequency in which the citizens use them.
It was very necessary to do B to C (Business to Consumer), which is based on the local demand. B to C was added in order to create a sustainable business model.
What type of services do citizens avail?
After 2014, many central government services were added. In addition, there are state government services. For example, in Haryana almost anything a citizen needs can be initiated at a CSC, including paying government taxes. That means a citizen doesn’t need to go to government offices at all and that is the objective of the entire framework.
In the B to C frame, financial inclusion, banking, insurance, pension are the major drivers. Railway ticketing is done, passport application is done. Also, if a person in a village wants to buy some product from ITC, Godrej, Patanjali, or IFFCO, or even a computer or phone, they can use the common service centre.
What are the most recent changes?
We have tied up with HDFC bank to give some new products to rural India. There is a card, called the HDFC card, which can be given to any small and medium enterprise based on one-year bank statement. At the backend, the bank will calculate the credit limit and give him a credit card.
You can benefit six crore small and medium business. They will be able to do more business and create more employment. This is going to redefine the way credit is extended to people across the country.
What are the focus areas in the future?
One is education. We want every citizen in the rural area should be able to access education facilities similar to what is available to citizens in urban areas. You can do a digital literacy program, a computer program, an MBA program, or even a law course sitting in a village through online courses.
You can give prepare for various exams such as the IIT entrance exams. We are introducing new courses on artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning for a very nominal fee.
Second is making every CSC a banking, insurance and pension service provider. Today, about half of them are not covering these areas. Our effort is to use every access point to deliver banking services. And of course, we are doing telemedicine, homoeopathy, ayurvedic, allopathy. We are using emerging technology for diagnostic tests as well.
We have got a mandate for managing BharatNet for the last mile for 1,20,000 panchayats. Our focus is to streamline the entire BharatNet network. It is proven that 10 per cent enhancement in internet usage will increase about two per cent of GDP. There will be phenomenal growth potential for the rural economy if we can try to maintain the BharatNet system.

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

Mon, 19 Aug, 2019

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed a year in service. It is part of NASA’s “Living With a Star” programme that explores different aspects of the Sun-Earth system. The probe seeks to gather information about the Sun’s atmosphere and NASA says that it “will revolutionise our understanding of the Sun”. It is also the closest a human-made object has ever gone to the Sun.
On August 16, the Parker Solar Probe turned on its four instrument suites. During the spacecraft’s first two solar encounters, the instruments were turned on when Parker was about 0.25 AU from the Sun and powered off again at the same distance on the outbound side of the orbit.
For this third solar encounter, the mission team turned on the instruments when the spacecraft was around 0.45 AU from the Sun on the inbound side of its orbit and will turn them off when the spacecraft is about 0.5 AU from the Sun on the outbound side.
The mission’s central aim is to trace how energy and heat move through the Sun’s corona and to study the source of the solar wind’s acceleration. The mission is likely to last for seven years during which it will complete 24 orbits.

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“bottom-up consultative process”

Mon, 19 Aug, 2019

The Finance Ministry has asked Public Sector Banks (PSBs) to initiate a month-long consultation process with officers at branch level to seek suggestions on streamlining banking sector to help the country achieve its target to become a 5 trillion dollar economy by 2024-25.

  1. The consultative process has been divided into three stages with the first being at the branch or regional level, followed by the state level. It will culminate with a national-level two-day brainstorming in Delhi.
  2. The suggestions emanating from a month-long campaign beginning 17th August, 2019 will be used as inputs to prepare a road map for the future growth of the banking sector.

Agenda of the Process

  1. Performance review and synchronisation of banking with region-specific issues.
  2. Finding solutions to the challenges faced by banks such as huge Non Performing Assets (NPAs), reduced profits etc.
  3. Making banks more responsive to customers.
  4. Analyzing the preparedness of the banks in areas such as cybersecurity and data analytics.
  5. Focus on raising credit offtake for supporting economic growth, credit support to infrastructure and role of the banking sector in doubling farmers' income and water conservation. 
    1. Supporting green economy, improving education loan and other sectors such as Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and exports.

Background

  1. The economy of the country has slowed to a 5-year low of 6.8%.
    1. The automobile sector is facing its worst crisis in two decades and reports suggest thousands of job losses in the auto and ancillary industry.
    2. In the real estate sector, the number of unsold homes has increased, while fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies have reported a decline in volume growth in the first quarter (April - June, 2019).
  2. Banks, facing the charge of not passing on the full extent of the easing of the policy rates. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had cut the repo rate by 75 basis points between February and June, 2019, but banks have reduced their interest rates on fresh rupee loans by 29 basis points only.
  3. Though lending by banks to industries has shown a significant jump from 0.9% in the June 2018 quarter to 6.6% in the corresponding period of 2019, the same to the job-creating MSME sector has slipped from 0.7% to 0.6% during the same period.
  4. However, there has been an improvement in non-performing assets of the banks. The total bad loans of commercial banks declined by Rs 1.02 lakh crore to Rs 9.34 lakh crore in 2018-19.
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Odisha to conserve two of its largest lakes

Mon, 19 Aug, 2019

The Odisha Wetland Authority has approved implementation of an integrated management plan for Chilika, country’s largest brackish water lagoon, and Ansupa, State’s largest freshwater lake, at an estimated investment of ₹180 crore.
The five-year management of lakes is intended at strengthening livelihood of thousands of fishermen relying on the two water-bodies. Besides, tourism promotion and conservation of ecology will be taken up.
During past two years, the Chilika Development Authority has managed to make 172 sq km free from encroachment which resulted in increase in fish catch by 20%.
Chilika is spread over 1,100 sq km. Lakhs of tourists visit the lake to watch endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and migratory birds during winter. About 151 villages carry out fishing, the principal livelihood for two lakh traditional fishermen. The government would spend ₹158 crore for the lake’s development.
Ansupa spread over almost 2 sq km is also the wintering ground for 32 species of migratory birds. Its calmness, scenic beauty and forest coverage behold the visitors. As many as 250 fishermen of two villages around the lake would be benefited by an investment of ₹21.23 crore.
Ansupa is famous for its sweet water fish, especially labeo bata locally known as pohala. According to the CDA, the situation has changed drastically. “The lake was sustaining from the freshwater supply during the rainy season from the Mahanadi river.
With reduced inflow over the years, the lake’s hydrology has undergone serious and visible changes. The water spread area has reduced and fishery resource is almost non-existent.”

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Why is the auto industry facing trouble?

Sun, 18 Aug, 2019

The story so far: In July, the sale of vehicles across categories in the country slumped 18.71% to about 18.25 lakh units, down from about 22.45 lakh units, a year ago in the same month. This has been the steepest fall in nearly 19 years. This data, by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), gives out wholesale figures — i.e. the number of vehicles despatched to dealers by vehicle manufacturers.
The pasenger vehicle segment, which comprises cars, utility vehicles and vans, has been one of the worst performing segments, registering its highest drop in sales since December 2000: almost 31%, to a little over two lakh units from nearly 2.91 lakh units in July 2018. This was also the ninth straight drop in monthly passenger vehicle sales.
In fact, barring a low single digit uptick in October 2018, segment sales have been falling for the past year. With the industry failing to arrest the downturn that started almost a year ago, despite deep discounts and new model launches, it has been forced to undertake production cuts. This has also led to the trimming of over 2.15 lakh jobs in the sector.
What has happened to the automobile sector?
The industry started off 2018-19 on a good note with vehicles sales across categories growing 18% to nearly 70 lakh units in the first quarter (April-June 2018). During the quarter, passenger vehicle sales were up nearly 20%, commercial vehicles sales were up 51.55%, and that of two-wheelers grew 16%.
However, domestic passenger vehicle sales declined for the first time after nine months in July 2018. In July 2017, vehicle sales spiked due to the benefits extended by the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). However, demand failed to pick up in August and September, after the floods in Kerala and heavy rainfall in several other States.
Why did inventory pile up?
In the ensuing months, consumer sentiment remained subdued as the total cost of vehicle ownership went up largely due to an increase in fuel prices, higher interest rates and a hike in vehicle insurance costs. In such an environment, the festive season too failed to boost demand, leading to a huge inventory pile-up with dealers.
To add to this, the IL&FS crisis late last year led to a severe liquidity crunch, almost drying up credit for dealers and customers. Nearly half the vehicles sold in rural markets — a segment that has been witnessing a higher growth rate in comparison to urban markets — are financed by non-banking financial companies (NBFCs). Being stuck with higher inventory due to a lacklustre festive season, dealers too needed more working capital.
As a result of all these factors, all vehicle categories, including commercial vehicles and two wheelers, began experiencing negative growth beginning December setting alarm bells ringing. The industry found some solace in the fact that historically, vehicle sales decline in the months preceding elections, and expressed the hope that demand following the elections would pick up. However, this did not happen.
Are people holding off on purchases?
There is also a possibility that some customers are waiting to buy the latest Bharat Stage (BS)-VI emission standard compliant vehicles or are waiting for more incentives from vehicle makers who will be looking to sell off their BS-IV compliant stocks before the April 1, 2020 deadline.
Many industry players have also expressed concern that too much focus on electric vehicles (EVs) by the government may also be encouraging buyers to postpone the purchase of petrol and diesel vehicles.
How many jobs have been lost?
The automobile sector is one of the largest employers in the country, employing about 37 million people, directly and indirectly. The prolonged demand slowdown has triggered production as well as job cuts in the sector.
According to the latest figures that are available, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have removed about 15,000 temporary workers in the past two to three months. A lack of working capital amid tepid demand has led to closure of nearly 300 dealerships across the country.
This has led to over two lakh people losing their jobs, according to the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA), the apex national body of automobile retail industry engaged in the sale, service and spares of two- and three-wheelers, passenger cars, utility vehicles, commercial vehicles (including buses and trucks) and tractors. Separately, the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA) warned in July that 10 lakh jobs were at risk and urgent action was needed to bring the industry back on track.
Why is the current slowdown different?
Edelweiss Research has pointed out that the current slowdown in the sector is very different from the ones that the industry has gone through earlier. First, the slowdown is driven by domestic factors, including the NBFC crisis, while the earlier ones were triggered by global events.
It also pointed out that over FY19-21, vehicle prices are estimated to jump 13-30% due to safety, insurance and emission-related compliance costs. For end consumers, such a steep price hike can prove a hurdle in growth recovery.
Meanwhile, growing competition from the pre-owned cars market is also pulling down sales of new vehicles. For example, in the passenger vehicles segment, while the new vehicles market grew 2% in FY19, the pre-owned market saw double-digit growth.
What does the auto industry want?
The auto industry has been unable to arrest plunging sales in spite of new launches and offers and has been demanding immediate government intervention. Pointing out that the industry’s turnover is close to half of the manufacturing GDP, accounting for about 11% of the entire GST revenues of the country, the auto sector is hoping that the government will come out with a revival package ahead of the festive season to yield benefits.
The industry’s demands include a reduction in GST to 18% from the current rate of 28%, which will help in an immediate price reduction. It could kick-start demand in the short term, particularly ahead of the coming festive season.
Besides, it has sought measures to handle the NBFC crisis to infuse liquidity into the system, and clarity on policy for electric vehicles and introduction of vehicle scrappage policy, which will also boost demand for new vehicles. These demands were also placed before the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, during a recent meeting.
How long will the slowdown last?
That is anyone’s guess. With BS-VI variants to be rolled out April 2020 onward, the prices of vehicles will go up. While the increase for petrol vehicles is likely to be in the range of ₹20,000-₹50,000, in the case of diesel vehicles it could well be between ₹ 1 lakh and ₹1.5 lakh. The transition could also trigger some demand for BS-IV compliant vehicles in the remaining part of the year, given the price difference.

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South Asia Satellite (SAS or GSAT-9)

Sun, 18 Aug, 2019

The SAS or GSAT-9 is a geosynchronous communications and meteorology satellite. It will provide significant capability to each of the participating countries in terms of DTH (direct-to-home), besides linking the countries for disaster information transfer. It will help them in better governance, better banking and education in remote areas, more predictable weather forecasting and efficient natural resource mapping, linking people with top-end medical services through telemedicine and quick response to natural disasters. Its benefits also include deeper IT connectivity and fostering people-to-people contact.

 The satellite has 12 Ku band transponders which the six nations can utilise to increase communications. Each South Asian country will get access to one transponder through which it will be able to beam its own programming, besides common “South Asian programming”. The countries will have to develop their own ground infrastructure. India is willing to extend assistance and knowhow.

 Tweeting immediately after the launch, the prime minister congratulated ISRO scientists on achieving a flawless lift-off. He said, “With this launch we have started a journey to build the most advanced frontier of our partnership. With its position high in the sky, this symbol of South Asian cooperation would meet the aspirations of economic progress of more than 1.5 billion people in our region and extend our close links into outer space.”

 Modi’s view was shared by leaders of six other countries of South Asia. They hailed India’s gesture as a new face of cooperation in space for common good of the neighbourhood.  In his remarks, Ashraf Ghani noted that South Asia was one of the least integrated regions in the world. “South Asia today has taken a giant step towards regional integration…If cooperation through land is not possible, we can be connected through space.”

 Sheikh Hasina said the new satellite would change the face of South Asia and expand connectivity from land and water to space.

 Tshering Tobgay described the launch as an “impressive milestone in the history of the world” with one country launching a satellite for the “free use of its neighbours”.

 Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom said it underlined India’s “neighbourhood first” foreign policy and showed its commitment to the development of the region.

 Pushpa Kamal Dahal said the satellite was a “testimony” to South Asia becoming self-reliant in space science. It would boost connectivity in the region that, in turn, would spur development.

 Maithripala Sirisena said the satellite would help alleviate poverty and improve the living standards of South Asians.

 The project cost India nearly RS 450 crore, with the satellite itself costing Rs 235 crore. This was GSLV’s 11th launch. The SAS is orbiting the Earth in its Geosynchronus Transfer Orbit (GTO). In the coming days, the satellite orbit will be raised to the final circular Geostationary Orbit (GSO) by firing the satellite's Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) in stages. It will be commissioned into service after the completion of orbit-raising operations and the satellite’s positioning in its designated slot in the GSO following in-orbit testing of its payloads.

 The successful run of India’s premier space agency, ISRO, continues. The launch has added yet another feather to ISRO’s cap. India created space history and broke record by launching 104 satellites from a single rocket in one go in mid-February, this year. So far, ISRO has ferried 226 satellites into orbit, including 180 from abroad. ISRO is attempting to increase its capacity to deliver by scaling up the frequency of launches to 12 per year from the seven, currently, by building more satellites and lowering the cost of access to space.

 India’s second moon landing mission Chandrayaan-2, a fully Indian affair, is slated to hit the skies in early 2018.

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Pradhan Mantri Laghu Vyapari Maan-Dhan scheme

Sun, 18 Aug, 2019

One of the priorities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in the first 100 days of its second term, pension scheme for small traders, is likely to have a soft launch on August 19 evening.
According to the Ministry’s 100-day plan, the Pradhan Mantri Laghu Vyapari Maan-Dhan scheme would target enrolling 25 lakh subscribers in 2019-2020 and 2 crore by 2023-2024. Apart from an online portal that would be launched, people would be able to apply for the scheme through the common service centres already in place for other schemes.
Modelled on the pension scheme for unorganised sector workers launched in the first term of the Modi government, the scheme for traders was among the BJP’s promises ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and was among the proposals passed by the Cabinet on May 31 in its first meeting after re-election. The scheme was notified by the Ministry on July 22, the date from which it would be considered applicable.
Traders aged between 18 and 40 who have an annual turnover of less than ₹1.5 crore are eligible. The subscribers will have to contribute a monthly amount, which will vary depending on the age at which they enter the scheme, that will be matched by the government. Upon turning 60, the subscribers will get ₹3,000 as monthly pension.

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India, Bhutan vow to strengthen ties, ink 10 MoUs

Sun, 18 Aug, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering held wide ranging talks on Saturday and discussed steps to further expand the bilateral partnership across several sectors. The two countries also signed 10 MoUs to infuse new energy in their ties.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering held wide ranging talks on Saturday and discussed steps to further expand the bilateral partnership across several sectors. The two countries also signed 10 MoUs to infuse new energy in their ties.
The two countries signed 10 MoUs in the fields of space research, aviation, IT, power and education. Mr. Modi also launched the RuPay Card in Bhutan by making a purchase at Simtokha Dzong, built in 1629 by Shabdrung Namgyal, which functions as a monastic and administrative centre and is one of the oldest dzongs in Bhutan.
This will further enhance our relationship in digital payments, and trade and tourism. Our shared spiritual heritage and strong people-to-people relationship are key of our relation. On increasing the currency swap limit for Bhutan under the SAARC currency swap framework, Modi said India’s approach is “positive“. He said an additional $100 million will be available to Bhutan under a standby swap arrangement to meet the foreign exchange requirement.
The two leaders also unveiled an e-plaque on the interconnection between India’s National Knowledge Network and Bhutan’s Druk Research and Education Network. It is a privilege for India to be a major partner in the development of Bhutan. India’s cooperation in Bhutan’s five-year plans will continue.
The two leaders jointly inaugurated the Ground Earth Station and SATCOM network, developed with assistance from ISRO for utilization of South Asia Satellite in Bhutan. Mr. Modi said India is committed to facilitating Bhutan’s development through the use of space technology.
He said the collaboration and relationship between Royal Bhutan University and IITs of India and some other top educational institutions are in line with today’s requirements for education and technology.

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Forex reserves at new life-time high of $430.57 bn

Sat, 17 Aug, 2019

India's foreign exchange reserves surged by $1.620 billion to $430.572 billion in the week to August 9 on rise in foreign currency assets, according to the latest RBI data released on August 16. In the previous reporting week ended on August 2, the reserves had declined by $697.2 million to $428.952 billion.
In the reporting week, foreign currency assets, a major component of the overall reserves, increased by $15.2 million to $398.739 billion, the apex bank said on August 16. Expressed in dollar terms, foreign currency assets include the effect of appreciation/depreciation of non-US units like the euro, pound and yen held in the reserves. The country's gold reserves surged by $1.591 billion to $26.754 billion, according to data.
Special drawing rights with the International Monetary Fund were up by $6.7 million to $1.441 billion. The country's reserve position with the fund rose by $7 million to $3.636 billion.

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Doctrine of NFU

Sat, 17 Aug, 2019

 

It refers to a pledge or a policy by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons as a means of warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons. Earlier, the concept had also been applied to chemical and biological warfare.

India first adopted a “No first use” policy after its second nuclear tests, Pokhran-II, in 1998. In August 1999, the Indian government released a draft of the doctrine which asserts that nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence and that India will pursue a policy of “retaliation only”.

The document also maintains that India “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear first strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail” and that decisions to authorise the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the Prime Minister or his ‘designated successor(s)’.

  1. Adopting a no-first use policy enables New Delhi to keep the nuclear threshold high, especially as Pakistan tries to lower the threshold by developing tactical nuclear weapons, the Hatf-9 with 60km range.
  2. It must also be noted that New Delhi is not bordered by just one nuclear weapon state. China adopts a no-first use policy and, in spite of calls for Beijing to revise its no-first use doctrine, it is unlikely to do so. Hence, if New Delhi gave up its no-first use doctrine, it could give Beijing a chance to adopt a first strike policy and shift blame on India.
  3. In fact, India’s adoption of a first strike policy would be an easy excuse for Beijing to give up its no-first use doctrine against the United States and Russia as well.
  4. Moreover, India has always promoted herself as a responsible nuclear weapon state. Hence, a first strike policy would severely damage India’s reputation as a responsible nuclear weapon state.
  5. Also, it is India’s no first use doctrine that has enabled both Pakistan and India to keep their nuclear arsenal in a de-mated posture rather than a ready deterrent posture. This means nuclear warheads are not mated with the delivery systems. This reduces the chances of nuclear terrorism in Pakistan and also reduces the likelihood of an accidental launch of a nuclear weapon. A first strike policy by India may not have allowed Pakistan to keep their nuclear arsenal in a de-mated posture.
  6. A first-strike policy, coupled with a ballistic missile defense system, could provoke Pakistan to launch a nuclear pre-emptive strike against India.
  7. By adopting a no-first use doctrine, New Delhi has also made it evident that nuclear weapons are indeed the weapons of last resort. Abandoning this doctrine would make it evident that India considers the option of using nuclear weapons in the initial phases of the conflict.

 

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No First Use’ nuclear policy depends on circumstances

Sat, 17 Aug, 2019

After his speech in Pokhran, Singh also issued a tweet: “Pokhran is the area which witnessed Atal Ji’s firm resolve to make India a nuclear power, and yet, remain firmly committed to the doctrine of ‘No First Use’. India has strictly adhered to this doctrine. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.” (‘Atal Ji’ is a reference to Atal Behari Vajpayee, India’s prime minister at the time of nuclear breakout in 1998.)

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the currently dominant national party in India, included a promise in its election manifesto to review India’s nuclear doctrine.

While the 2014 document promised to “revise, update India’s nuclear doctrine,” this pledge was dropped in the party’s 2019 manifesto, released earlier this year.

India’s pledge, called ‘no first use’, was codified in India’s 2003 nuclear doctrine. Following a pledge for India’s nuclear weapons to be used as a “credible minimum deterrent,” the 2003 doctrine continued on to no first use.

“A posture of ‘No First Use’: nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere,” the document noted.

Later in the doctrine, a caveat is added: “In the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.”

India’s 1999 draft nuclear doctrine, published a little more than one year after it broke out along with Pakistan in a series of May 1998 nuclear tests, noted that “no-first use of nuclear weapons is India’s basic commitment.”

“The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any State or entity against India, and its forces. India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail,” the 1999 doctrine states.

The draft doctrine had added that “every effort shall be made to persuade other States possessing nuclear weapons to join an international treaty banning first use.”

India, along with China, which has maintained a ‘no first use’ pledge since 1964, is one of just two nuclear powers that maintain such a pledge. Other countries have not ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons.

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Simla Agreement July 2, 1972

Sat, 17 Aug, 2019

The Simla Agreement signed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan on 2nd July 1972 was much more than a peace treaty seeking to reverse the consequences of the 1971 war (i.e. to bring about withdrawals of troops and an exchange of PoWs). It was a comprehensive blue print for good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan. Under the Simla Agreement both countries undertook to abjure conflict and confrontation which had marred relations in the past, and to work towards the establishment of durable peace, friendship and cooperation. 

The Simla Agreement contains a set of guiding principles, mutually agreed to by India and Pakistan, which both sides would adhere to while managing relations with each other. These emphasize: respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; respect for each others unity, political independence; sovereign equality; and abjuring hostile propaganda. The following principles of the Agreement are, however, particularly noteworthy:

  1. A mutual commitment to the peaceful resolution of all issues through direct bilateral approaches.
  2. To build the foundations of a cooperative relationship with special focus on people to people contacts.
  3. To uphold the inviolability of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, which is a most important CBM between India and Pakistan, and a key to durable peace.

India has faithfully observed the Simla Agreement in the conduct of its relations with Pakistan.

SIMLA AGREEMENT

Agreement on Bilateral Relations Between The Government of India and The Government of Pakistan

  1. The Government of India and the Government of Pakistan are resolved that the two countries put an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship and the establishment of durable peace in the sub-continent, so that both countries may henceforth devote their resources and energies to the pressing talk of advancing the welfare of their peoples. 

    In order to achieve this objective, the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan have agreed as follows:-
    1. That the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the two countries;
    2. That the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organization, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations;
    3. That the pre-requisite for reconciliation, good neighbourliness and durable peace between them is a commitment by both the countries to peaceful co-existence, respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, on the basis of equality and mutual benefit;
    4. That the basic issues and causes of conflict which have bedevilled the relations between the two countries for the last 25 years shall be resolved by peaceful means;
    5. That they shall always respect each other’s national unity, territorial integrity, political independence and sovereign equality;
    6. That in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations they will refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of each other.
  2. Both Governments will take all steps within their power to prevent hostile propaganda directed against each other. Both countries will encourage the dissemination of such information as would promote the development of friendly relations between them.
  3. In order progressively to restore and normalize relations between the two countries step by step, it was agreed that;
    1. Steps shall be taken to resume communications, postal, telegraphic, sea, land including border posts, and air links including overflights.
    2. Appropriate steps shall be taken to promote travel facilities for the nationals of the other country.
    3. Trade and co-operation in economic and other agreed fields will be resumed as far as possible.
    4. Exchange in the fields of science and culture will be promoted.
    In this connection delegations from the two countires will meet from time to time to work out the necessary details.
  4. In order to initiate the process of the establishment of durable peace, both the Governments agree that:
    1. Indian and Pakistani forces shall be withdrawn to their side of the international border.
    2. In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the cease-fire of December 17, 1971 shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognized position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this Line.
    3. The withdrawals shall commence upon entry into force of this Agreement and shall be completed within a period of 30 days thereof.
  5. This Agreement will be subject to ratification by both countries in accordance with their respective constitutional procedures, and will come into force with effect from the date on which the Instruments of Ratification are exchanged.
  6. Both Governments agree that their respective Heads will meet again at a mutually convenient time in the future and that, in the meanwhile, the representatives of the two sides will meet to discuss further the modalities and arrangements for the establishment of durable peace and normalization of relations, including the questions of repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian internees, a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir and the resumption of diplomatic relations.
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India’s space technology plays key role in variety of sectors

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

India has developed a sophisticated space technology system over the past few decades that plays a significant role in sectors ranging from agriculture to medicine.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has launched more than 70 satellites since the space programme was set up in 1969 “for various scientific and technological applications”, including “mobile communications, meteorological observations, telemedicine, tele-education, disaster warning, radio networking, search and rescue operations, remote sensing and scientific studies of the space”, it says.

India’s space programme now costs US$1 billion a year.

The Indian national satellite (Insat) system, commissioned in 1983, is a multipurpose satellite communications system used for a range of functions including television broadcasting and meteorological imaging. It plays a vital role in delivering cyclone warnings and is used in search and rescue operations.

The satellites are also used for “telemedicine”, connecting speciality hospitals in India’s major cities to hundreds of hospitals in rural and remote areas of the country, as well 18 mobile units with satellite dishes that link it up to the system.

“India has established space systems that form an important element of the national infrastructure,” the ISRO says.

It adds India also has “the world’s largest constellation of remote sensing satellites”.

“The data is used for several applications covering agriculture, water resources, urban development , mineral prospecting, environment, forestry, drought and flood forecasting, ocean resources and disaster management,” the ISRO says.

Susmita Mohanty, the co-founder and chief executive of Earth2Orbit, which is India’s first private sector space company, says while it is important the country continues with its development of such pragmatic uses of its space technology, it would need to privatise activities such as satellite and rocket building to be able to grow the industry more effectively and compete internationally.

“Last year, the ISRO chairman announced the government’s intention to outsource routine satellite manufacturing and the assembly of one of India’s two rockets – the mature, highly reliable Polar satellite launch vehicle – to the Indian industry by 2017,” says Ms Mohanty,

“I’d love to see this happen. It is an important step towards commercialising India’s space capabilities and eventually making it a global market player.”

India’s first spacecraft mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, was successfully launched on October 22, 2008. The mission resulted in the discovery of water molecules on the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbour. India was the fourth single country to send a probe to the Moon.

Through its first Mars mission, launched on November 5, India is hoping to gather data on the Red Planet’s weather systems as well as searching for methane.

“India has established a strong infrastructure for realising its space programme,” the ISOR says.

“They include facilities for the development of satellites and launch vehicles and their testing; launch infrastructure for sounding rockets and satellite launch vehicles; telemetry, tracking and command network; data reception and processing systems for remote sensing.

“A number of academic and research institutions as well as industries participate in the Indian space Programme. Several Indian industries have the expertise to undertake sophisticated jobs required for space systems.”

It seems the country is not merely shooting at the Moon.

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WTO to rule on India sugar export subsidies

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

The World Trade Organization (WTO) set up panels on Thursday to rule on complaints by Australia, Brazil and Guatemala against India's export subsidies for sugar and sugarcane producers which they assert are illegal, a Geneva trade official said.
The decision was automatic upon the complainants' second request at a closed-door meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body.
India will keep its sugar export subsidies despite complaints to the WTO from rival producers, though it will tweak how it provides them, four sources directly involved in the matter said told Reuters in Mumbai last month.

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Total Fertility Rate (TFR)

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

The graph is based on TFR data from the Sample Registration System (SRS) undertaken by the Office of the Registrar General of India. The SRS also looks at other indicators such as crude birth rate, general fertility rate, age specific/marital fertility rate, gross reproduction rate along with sex ratio at birth. While Census figures provide the total population every decade, the regular SRS estimates provide dynamic trends underlying the population growth.
After four successive years (2013-2016) when the TFR stagnated at 2.3 births per woman of child-bearing age, the latest SRS estimates (2017) show the TFR dropping to 2.2. This figure is only marginally higher than the fertility rate (2.1) required for replacement of the existing population.
SRS estimates over the last decade and more, meanwhile, show a declining trend across the country. Even the states that have a higher TFR — Uttar Pradesh (3.0), Bihar (3.2), MP (2.7), Rajasthan (2.6),
Assam (2.3), Chhattisgarh (2.4) and Jharkhand (2.5) — have been witnessing a declining trend in fertility rates. These seven states account for about 45 per cent of the total population in the 2011 Census.
Two more states, Gujarat and Haryana, recorded a TFR of 2.2, which is above the replacement rate but is equal to the national average. Taken together, these nine major states account for 52 per cent of the 2011 population.
This means that in the states barring these nine, and accounting for almost half the population, the replacement level is either 2.1 or has gone below it. These states with a lower TFR include Kerala (1.7), Tamil Nadu (1.6), Karnataka (1.7), Maharashtra (1.7), Andhra Pradesh (1.6), Telangana (1.7), West Bengal (1.6), Jammu and Kashmir (1.6) and Odisha (1.9).

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microplastic particles

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

Minute microplastic particles have been detected in the Arctic and the Alps, carried by the wind and later washed out in the snow, according to a study that called for urgent research to assess the health risks of inhalation.
Every year, several million tonnes of plastic litter course through rivers and out to the oceans, where they are gradually broken down into smaller fragments through the motion of waves and the ultraviolet light of the sun.
The new study, conducted by scientists at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute and Switzerland’s Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, found that microplastic particles can be transported tremendous distances through the atmosphere.
These particles, defined as shreds less than five millimeters in length, are later washed out of the air by precipitation, particularly snow.
Ms. Bergmann and her colleagues used an infrared imaging technique to analyse samples collected between 2015 and 2017 from floating ice in the Fram Strait off Greenland, visiting five floes by helicopters or dinghies.
They then compared these with samples taken from from remote Swiss Alps and Bremen in northwest Germany. Concentrations of the microparticles in the Arctic were significantly lower than in the European sites, but still substantial.
The team’s hypothesis for airborne transportation builds on past research conducted on pollen, where experts confirmed that pollen from near the equator ends up in the Arctic. Similarly, dust from the Sahara desert can cover thousands of kilometres and end up in northeast Europe.
Ms. Bergmann said little work had been done to determine the effects of exposure to these particles.
But once we’ve determined that large quantities of microplastic can also be transported by the air, it naturally raises the question as to whether and how much plastic we’re inhaling,” she said, stressing the need for urgent research into the effects on human and animal health.

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Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

The CDS is a high military office that oversees and coordinates the working of the three Services, and offers seamless tri-service views and single-point advice to the Executive (in India’s case, to the Prime Minister) on long-term defence planning and management, including manpower, equipment and strategy, and above all, “jointsmanship” in operations.
In most democracies, the CDS is seen as being above inter-Service rivalries and the immediate operational preoccupations of the individual military chiefs. The role of the CDS becomes critical in times of conflict.
Most countries with advanced militaries have such a post, albeit with varying degrees of power and authority. The United States Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), for example, is extremely powerful, with a legislated mandate and sharply delineated powers.
He is the most senior military officer and military adviser to the President, and his remit extends to the National Security Council, the Homeland Secuirty Council, and the Defence Secretary.
The Chiefs of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and National Guard too, are members of the JCSC. All, including the CJCSC, are four-star officers, but by statute only the CJCSC is designated as the “principal military adviser”. However, the CJCSC is barred from exercising any operational authority over combat commanders in varied theatres; this authority rests exclusively wit the US President.

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Article 371H

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

371H. Special provision with respect to the State of Arunachal Pradesh Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,

(a) the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh shall have special responsibility with respect to law and order in the State of Arunachal Pradesh and in the discharge of his functions in relation thereto, the Governor shall, after consulting the Council of Ministers, exercise his individual judgment as to the action to be taken: Provided that if any question arises whether any matter is or is not a matter as respects which the Governor is under this clause required to act in the exercise of his individual judgment, the decision of the Governor in his discretion shall be final, and the validity of anything done by the Governor shall not be called in question on the ground that he ought or ought not to have acted in the exercise of his individual judgment: Provided further that if the President on receipt of a report from the Governor or otherwise is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the Governor to have special responsibility with respect to law and order in the State of Arunachal Pradesh, he may by order direct that the Governor shall cease to have such responsibility with effect from such date as may be specified in the order;
(b) the Legislative Assembly of the State of Arunachal Pradesh shall consist of not less than thirty members
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Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

The Odisha government’s much-hyped Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme has gone haywire. The authorities are now facing a gigantic task of removing bogus beneficiaries who have already availed of the benefits.

A total of 51 lakh cultivators, loanee and non-loanee farmers, sharecroppers and landless agricultural labourers have been provided with financial assistance under the scheme so far. The authorities have now found out that all beneficiaries were not entitled to the benefits under the scheme and have asked the ineligible people to refund the money.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had launched the scheme ahead of the simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections held in April and May. He had assured that no eligible beneficiary would be left out of the scheme.

According to official sources, out of the 51 lakh existing beneficiaries, the verification of 13 lakh of them was completed till Tuesday and 70,000 were found to be ineligible. The number of bogus beneficiaries is likely to increase since more than one member of a family have managed to get assistance.

In a majority of blocks, the number of applicants have outnumbered the number of ration card-holding families. A total of 54,000 applications were received for inclusion under KALIA from one block in Jagatsinghpur district while the total number of ration cards issued in the block stood at 23,000 only.

An official of the Agriculture Department told The Hindu that the problem with KALIA is that people had applied individually instead of one member from a family seeking assistance under the scheme.

Simultaneously, the government is also verifying applications of people who had been left out of the scheme earlier.

The total number of applications received under KALIA stands at 1.25 crore against the targeted number of 75 lakh families, a surplus by 50 lakh.

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Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Bill

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019 by a voice vote. The Bill provides a mechanism for social, economic and educational empowerment of transgenders and was passed amid noisy protests by some Opposition parties over Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury not being allowed to speak on his adjournment notice. The protesters came into the well of the House and shouted slogans demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a statement about the Kashmir issue in the Lower House.

Meanwhile replying to suggestions and queries on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019, Minister of State for Social Justice Rattan Lal Kataria said the Bill makes provision for establishing a national authority for safeguarding rights of transgenders.

"According to the 2011 Census there are more than 4.80 lakh transgenders in the country. These people are often discriminated upon and humiliated in public for being transgender. The Bill also has provisions for penalty and punishment in cases of offences and sexual harassment against transgender persons," he said.

According to the Bill, a transgender is a person whose gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth and includes trans-man or trans-woman (whether or not such person has undergone sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy or laser therapy or such other therapy), person with inter-sex variations, gender-queer and person having such socio-cultural identities as ‘kinner’, ‘hijra’, ‘aravani’ and ‘jogta’.

Going by the Bill, a person would have the right to choose to be identified as a man, woman or transgender, irrespective of sex reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy. It also requires transgender persons to go through a district magistrate and district screening committee to get certified as a transperson.

A contentious provision that criminalised begging by transgender people has been removed from the Bill. The provision was part of the Bill when it was introduced by the previous government. The Bill had lapsed. 

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India’s renewable energy capacity

Thu, 15 Aug, 2019

Addressing the plenary session of the World Environment Day celebrations on June 5, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated, “We are engaged in a massive push towards renewable energy generation. We have targeted [the] generation of 175 GW of solar and wind energy by 2022. We are already the fifth-largest producer of solar energy in the world. Not only this, we are also the sixth largest producer of renewable energy.” Along with Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, Mr. Modi also won the Champions of the Earth Award last year.

True, the expansion of renewable energy capacity in India is a step in the right direction. There are benefits not only from an environmental perspective but also in terms of generating more employment opportunities. However, the question is whether the government has put forth enough efforts to take advantage of the extremely favourable cost conditions on renewable energy, especially solar photovoltaics and onshore winds. The costs of electricity generation from these sources have declined at a rapid pace over the years and generating power from these renewables now costs more or less the same as fossil fuels.

Taking advantage of these lower costs, other developing economies like China and Brazil have performed much better than India in renewable energy generation. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, these countries currently rank the first and third respectively in terms of production of renewable energy.

China way ahead

China is way ahead of India in its expansion. Over the 2014-17 period, China’s addition to its renewable energy capacity (207.2 GW) was nearly six times India’s (33.3 GW). Over the same period, China increased its installed capacity in solar energy by 105.5 GW, while India increased its capacity by only 14.3 GW — a mere one-seventh of the former. Advanced economies like the U.S. and Japan installed almost twice the amount of solar capacity over this period compared to India.

Despite the reduction in costs due to global technological advancement in the field of renewable energy, India has been unable to reap these benefits to their full extent. Further, the recent imposition of safeguard duty on imported solar photovoltaic cells, and the ongoing depreciation of the Indian rupee vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar, have only lessened some of these cost advantages. If the government is concerned enough about the deteriorating environment, there is an immediate need to spend more on the research and development of these renewable energy sources.

One of the primary objectives for advocating the use of renewable energy sources is to limit, and finally eliminate, the use of fossil fuels, especially coal. But, according to Reuters, India’s annual coal demand rose by 9.1% to nearly one billion tonnes during the year ending March 2019. Coal features among the top five imports of India, with total imports rising from 166.9 million tonnes in 2013-14 to 235.24 million tonnes in 2018-19.

More coal, more pollution

Coal is the dirtiest fuel — the carbon emissions from coal are almost double the emissions from natural gas, and also much higher than those from petroleum. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, shows that Indian coal-fired thermal power plants are considered the most inefficient and polluting in the world. More than 75% of these plants don’t comply with governmental regulations. With the passage of the Coal Mines (Special Provision) Act, 2015 and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, the expansion of domestic coal usage for power-generation has only worsened the existing problems of pollution.

A report published by the Centre for Financial Accountability in June 2018 showed that out of a total lending of ₹83,680 crore for 72 energy projects, 12 coal-fired power plants with a combined capacity of 17 GW obtained loans of ₹60,767 crore. The 60 renewable energy projects, with a combined capacity of 4.5 GW, were able to mobilise only ₹22,913 crore. The report also added that eight out of the top 10 lenders to these coal-fired power plants were public sector banks. Most of these coal-fired plants have been around for sometime, while the renewable plants are predominantly new and need more financial assistance. This apparent favouring of coal-fired plants is highly problematic; if the use of coal continues to expand, then even with an expansion of renewable energy sources, the increasing emission levels cannot be controlled.

 

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Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana

Thu, 15 Aug, 2019

1. Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in India, followed by breast cancer and oral cancers.
2. Ayushman Bharat Yojana- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) is the Central Government’s health insurance scheme.
3. It aims to give medical cover to over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families of approximately 50 crore beneficiaries.
4. It provides a coverage of up to ₹5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation.
5. The benefit cover includes pre and post hospitalisation expenses.

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Chilika faces oil spillage threat from stuck ship

Thu, 15 Aug, 2019

The Indian Coast Guard has issued a warning about possible oil spillage into the ecologically sensitive Chilika lake — the largest brackish water lagoon in the country — from a Malaysian cargo vessel which is stuck in the Bay of Bengal near the lake since August 7.

In an urgent message dispatched to the Odisha government, the Director General of Shipping and the State Pollution Control Board, the Deputy Inspector General of ICG (North Eastern), I.J. Singh, said: “The barge contains 30,000 litres of diesel, 1,000 litre of lube oil and 200 litres of hydraulic oil. Hence spillage of oil from the aground vessel cannot be ruled out.”

Under Section356 (J) 1(B) of Indian Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, all necessary measures should be undertaken to prevent any leakage of oil from the vessel causing pollution to the area, the ICG said.

The Coast Guard also advised to undertake action on priority basis either through a local agent or any professional salvor.

According to reports, a salvage team from Singapore-based Smit Salvage Pte limited had reached Odisha on Sunday.

The vessel — Jin Hwa 32 — with deadweight tonnage of 7,500 had sailed from Mongla Port on August 2 and was heading towards Visakhapatnam Port. It was caught in stormy waters and drifted towards Odisha.

“We have visited the spot where the vessel is stuck. Though the place is far from Chilika’s jurisdiction, it is apprehended that in the event of spillage, the oil could drift towards Chilika,” said Susanta Nanda, Chief Executive of Chilika Development Authority.

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Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing Committee (APLMC)

Wed, 14 Aug, 2019

i. Single State level market in place of notified market area with APMC as the regulatory agency. Thus no separate traders’ license shall be required for trading in separate APMCs. ii. Clear delineation of the powers and functions between Director of Agricultural Marketing and Managing Director of State/UT Agricultural Marketing Board. Former will have to carry out regulatory functions, while the later will be mandated with developmental responsibilities
iii. Create a conducive environment for setting up and operating of private wholesale markets and farmer consumer markets. It enables strong private markets with authority to fix their own market fees in consonance with the cap laid down in the Model Act.
iv. Model Act proposes to enable declaration of warehouses/ silos/ cold storages and other structures/ space as market sub yard to provide better access/ linkages to the farmers v. Promote e-trading to enhance transparency in trade operations and integration of markets across geographies.
vi. Single point levy of market fee across the State and rationalization of market fee & commission charges.
vii. National market for agriculture produce through provisioning of inter- State trading license, grading and standardization and quality certification

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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Wed, 14 Aug, 2019

India is the first country in the world to make corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandatory, following an amendment to The Company Act, 2013 in April 2014. Businesses can invest their profits in areas such as education, poverty, gender equality, and hunger.

The amendment notified in the Schedule VII of the Companies Act advocates that those companies with a net worth of US$73 million (Rs 4.96 billion) or more, or an annual turnover of US$146 million (Rs 9.92 billion) or more, or a net profit of US$732,654 (Rs 50 million) or more during a financial year, shall earmark 2 percent of average net profits of three years towards CSR.

In the draft Companies Bill, 2009, the CSR clause was voluntary, though it was mandatory for companies to disclose their CSR spending to shareholders. It is also mandatory that company boards should have at least one female member.

CSR has been defined under the CSR rules, which includes but is not limited to:

  • Projects related to activities specified in the Schedule; or
  • Projects related to activities taken by the company board as recommended by the CSR Committee, provided those activities cover items listed in the Schedule.

Corporate social responsibility: Examples in India

Tata Group

The Tata Group conglomerate in India carries out various CSR projects, most of which are community improvement and poverty alleviation programs. Through self-help groups, it is engaged in women empowerment activities, income generation, rural community development, and other social welfare programs. In the field of education, the Tata Group provides scholarships and endowments for numerous institutions.

The group also engages in healthcare projects such as facilitation of child education, immunization and creation of awareness of AIDS. Other areas include economic empowerment through agriculture programs, environment protection, providing sport scholarships, and infrastructure development such as hospitals, research centers, educational institutions, sports academy, and cultural centers. 

Ultratech Cement

Ultratech Cement, India’s biggest cement company is involved in social work across 407 villages in the country aiming to create sustainability and self-reliance. Its CSR activities focus on healthcare and family welfare programs, education, infrastructure, environment, social welfare, and sustainable livelihood.

The company has organized medical camps, immunization programs, sanitization programs, school enrollment, plantation drives, water conservation programs, industrial training, and organic farming programs.

Mahindra & Mahindra

Indian automobile manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) established the K. C. Mahindra Education Trust in 1954, followed by Mahindra Foundation in 1969 with the purpose of promoting education. The company primarily focuses on education programs to assist economically and socially disadvantaged communities. CSR programs invest in scholarships and grants, livelihood training, healthcare for remote areas, water conservation, and disaster relief programs. M&M runs programs such as Nanhi Kali focusing on girl education, Mahindra Pride Schools for industrial training, and Lifeline Express for healthcare services in remote areas.

ITC Group

ITC Group, a conglomerate with business interests across hotels, FMCG, agriculture, IT, and packaging sectors has been focusing on creating sustainable livelihood and environment protection programs. The company has been able to generate sustainable livelihood opportunities for six million people through its CSR activities. Their e-Choupal program, which aims to connect rural farmers through the internet for procuring agriculture products, covers 40,000 villages and over four million farmers. Its social and farm forestry program assists farmers in converting wasteland to pulpwood plantations. Social empowerment programs through micro-enterprises or loans have created sustainable livelihoods for over 40,000 rural women.

Methodology of corporate social responsibility

CSR is the procedure of assessing an organization’s impact on society and evaluating their responsibilities. It begins with an assessment of the following aspects of each business:

  • Customers;
  • Suppliers;
  • Environment;
  • Communities; and,
  • Employees.

The most effective CSR plans ensure that while organizations comply with legislation, their investments also respect the growth and development of marginalized communities and the environment. CSR should also be sustainable – involving activities that an organization can uphold without negatively affecting their business goals.

Organizations in India have been quite sensible in taking up CSR initiatives and integrating them into their business processes.

It has become progressively projected in the Indian corporate setting because organizations have recognized that besides growing their businesses, it is also important to shape responsible and supportable relationships with the community at large.

Companies now have specific departments and teams that develop specific policies, strategies, and goals for their CSR programs and set separate budgets to support them.

Most of the time, these programs are based on well-defined social beliefs or are carefully aligned with the companies’ business domain.

CSR trends in India

FY 2015-16 witnessed a 28 percent growth in CSR spending in comparison to the previous year.

Listed companies in India spent US$1.23 billion (Rs 83.45 billion) in various programs ranging from educational programs, skill development, social welfare, healthcare, and environment conservation. The Prime Minister’s Relief Fund saw an increase of 418 percent to US$103 million (Rs 7.01 billion) in comparison to US$24.5 million (Rs 1.68 billion) in 2014-15. The education sector received the maximum funding of US$300 million (Rs 20.42 billion) followed by healthcare at US$240.88 million (Rs 16.38 billion), while programs such as child mortality, maternal health, gender equality, and social projects saw negligible spend.

In terms of absolute spending, Reliance Industries spent the most followed by the government-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Oil & Natural Gas (ONGC). Projects implemented through foundations have gone up from 99 in FY 2015 to 153 in FY 2016, with an increasing number of companies setting up their own foundations rather than working with existing non-profits to have more control over their CSR spending.

2017 CSR spends further rose with corporate firms aligning their initiatives with new government programs such as Swachh Bharat (Clean India) and Digital India, in addition to education and healthcare, to foster inclusive growth.

 

 

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Automobile sales drop 18.71% in July

Wed, 14 Aug, 2019

Hit by poor consumer sentiment, the automobile industry saw its monthly sales decline 18.71% last month, the worst ever in nearly 19 years, forcing the industry to cut jobs. The sector reiterated its demand for a stimulus to arrest the downturn.

As per the data released by the industry body SIAM, vehicle sales across categories fell to 18.25 lakh units in July, down from over 22.45 lakh units a year earlier. Previously, the biggest slump of 21.81% was seen in December 2000.

The decline in July was led by the passenger vehicles segment, which saw sales plunge almost 31% to a little over 2,00,000 units.

GST Council  may discuss rate cut for auto

The government is likely todebate lowering the rates on certain categories of automobiles in the next GST Council meeting, according to a Finance Ministry official.

It is also likely to look at increasing the rate on premium real estate, but also restore the provision of input tax credit.

Sectoral representation

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week completed a number of consultation meetings with representatives of various sectors including banking, non-banking finance companies, auto, financial services, foreign portfolio investors, steel and real estate.

“The industries have all made their recommendations,” the official told The Hindu. “Some of these have to do with GST, and so the government cannot take a call on this. That is to do with the GST Council. The Finance Minister is looking into whether she will raise these issues with the council in the next meeting.”

“One of the things the industry requested and could be discussed in the council meeting is whether the tax rate on certain automobiles can be reduced from the current 28%, to encourage people to buy,” the official added.

“The other is to look into the demands of the real estate sector and see if ITC [input tax credits] can be restored for the premium housing sector.”

Real estate representatives who met Ms. Sitharaman on Sunday not only asked for an increase in the tax rate applicable to premium housing, but also restoration of the provision of input tax credits, which would effectively reduce their tax incidence compared to the current system.

The GST Council had, in its 33rd meeting in February, reduced the rates on the under-construction premium housing segment to 5% from the previous 12% but also removed the input tax credit provision.

14% rise

This, according to the industry, has meant that the effective tax rate on the sector had risen to about 14% as key inputs such as cement are taxed at 28% and the sector cannot avail of input tax credits for them.

 

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City Knowledge and Innovation Clusters.

Tue, 13 Aug, 2019

The Centre has identified six cities — Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Jodhpur, Pune, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad — for development as City Knowledge and Innovation Clusters.
These clusters are being planned to provide a connect between the existing research and knowledge at an institution and various industries that exist in the city or state.
The project is being spearheaded by the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) on a priority basis under its agenda for the first 100 days of the NDA government’s second term.
PSA officials said the concept notes for all cities are ready and consultative meetings in some cities have already been initiated. According to them, 20 national-level laboratories are already on Bhubaneswar’s roster and over 30 different business houses or industries have participated in various meetings in Pune.
“There is a huge amount of knowledge and fiscal resources, which exist within a city or region. If we can seamlessly connect these independent entities into a virtual platform, we will be able to optimise the resources, and various sectors will be able to work in partnership instead of in silos.
“For instance, if a particular industry has a problem that needs to be solved, which can be done by scientists or maybe even an instrument that one of the R&D labs have, today there is no access or even knowledge of the existence of this equipment or technical solution.
For this purpose, each city cluster will have a nodal office headed by a CEO, who will be selected by the stakeholders. “This could be an industrialist or a scientist or an academic.
Anyone that the stakeholders think is an appropriate appointment,” an official said. Government officials, such as municipal commissioners, will be a part of the city cluster.
Officials said the project will assist industries in gaining access to existing technology, and help academic institutions and R&D facilities commercialise this technology.
The nodal offices will be run and funded by the PSA’s office for the first three years, within which time the stakeholders will have to look at how to make the initiative independent of government funding and sustainable.
The government’s hopes are anchored in the experience of Chandigarh that has experimented with a version of the project called Chandigarh Region Innovation Knowledge Cluster (CRIKC) where the city has opened its laboratories to students of Panjab University.
The Chandigarh model has done so well that the Governor is looking at how to extend it to the rest of the state,” an official said.
Officials said the aim of the project is that over a period of time, city clusters will be able to bid for international projects and seek international funding from organisations like the World Bank.
Given how the project seeks to enhance collaboration of research and facilities in the clusters, the government is also planning to set up I-Stemm, a web portal which will function as a nationwide inventory of all public funded institutions — both academic and R&D as well as all scientific instruments and infrastructure.

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No harmful chemicals in PET bottles

Tue, 13 Aug, 2019

PET bottles are safe, a comprehensive evaluation by the CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore has determined.
For years there’s been a swirling debate internationally on whether PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles, which are the mainstay of plastic bottles and disposable food containers, leach harmful chemicals when exposed to high temperatures.
The CFRTI analysis, commissioned by an industry body, concluded that antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury, selenium and zinc “were below” their detection limits (BDL) of 0.001 mg/kg. Bisphenol-A was below its detection limit of 0.02 mg/kg.
For their analysis, the researchers collected four different kinds of PET containers and exposed them to different stimuli such as ethanol of varying concentrations, acetic acid and vegetable oil.
These were supposed to simulate the kind of chemicals contained in packaged food and drink that could trigger the leakage of metals or other secondary chemicals.
They tested these bottles when they were subject to 40C and 60C temperature as well as when test-chemicals were stored in them for 10 days. Along with metals, the scientists also measured terephthalic acid, Isophthalic acid, Ethylene Glycol, BPA (bis-phenol A) and phthalates.
BPA is a synthetic organic compound and used in the manufacture of PET bottles but is now phased out after research found a link between the presence of BPA and the disruption of hormone regulation, as well as breast cancer.
The CFTRI scientists found that the presence of metals, BPA and pthalates were “below detection limit” meaning that they were below the minimum levels required by the instruments and methods employed by the researchers to detect these chemicals.
They were also below the EU (European Union) regulation norms of the “specific migration limit”, which is the maximum amount of a substance that can migrate from a food packaging material or food container into food.
In most cases the EU standards are similar to the ones specified by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, except for BPA for which FSSAI has not specified standards and zinc, where FSSAI permits 25mg/kg as opposed to the EU’s 5 mg/kg.
The analysis found that no chemcials breached the EU-specified norms. The studies further confirmed that antimony does not leach out of PET bottles. These findings further establish that no endocrine disruption happens from the use of PET bottles.
The migration studies were at most stringent conditions of time, temperature and accelerated testing environment,” said a statement from Pet Packaging Association for Clean Environment (PACE), the industry body which commissioned the study.
Of the plastics, PET is a unique and universal packaging material for food, pharmaceuticals, water, edible oils, personal care products, etc...
This project is unique, as it investigated not only the leaching aspects, but also examined the composition/chemistry of PET and furthermore, even studied the endocrine disruption potential of PET. In this respect, the findings in these reports would be more relevant than those found in any standalone tests.
The scientists also studied water stored in PET bottles and checked whether it affected the hormone levels of rats and mice.
“The evaluation found that the experimental male and female rats exhibited comparable blood hormone levels in both cases. This conclusively proved that PET bottles did not cause any Endocrine Disruption activity if used to package water,” a study report concluded.

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ZONAL COUNCILS

Tue, 13 Aug, 2019

The idea of creation of Zonal Councils was mooted by the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1956 when during the course of debate on the report of the States Re-organisation Commission, he suggested that the States proposed to be reorganised may be grouped into four or five zones having an Advisory Council 'to develop the habit of cooperative working” among these States. This suggestion was made by Pandit Nehru at a time when linguistic hostilities and bitterness as a result of re-organisation of the States on linguistic pattern were threatening the very fabric of our nation. As an antidote to this situation, it was suggested that a high level advisory forum should be set up to minimise the impact of these hostilities and to create healthy inter-State and Centre-State environment with a view to solving inter-State problems and fostering balanced socio economic development of the respective zones.

COMPOSITION OF ZONAL COUNCILS

In the light of the vision of Pandit Nehru, five Zonal Councils were set up vide Part-III of the States Re-organisation Act, 1956. The present composition of each of these Zonal Councils is as under:

  1. The Northern Zonal Council, comprising the States of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, National Capital Territory of Delhi and Union Territory of Chandigarh;
  2. The Central Zonal Council, comprising the States of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh;
  3. The Eastern Zonal Council, comprising the States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Sikkim and West Bengal;
  4. The Western Zonal Council, comprising the States of Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra and the Union Territories of Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli;
  5. The Southern Zonal Council, comprising the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry.

The North Eastern States i.e. (i) Assam (ii) Arunachal Pradesh (iii) Manipur (iv) Tripura (v) Mizoram (vi) Meghalaya and (vii) Nagaland are not included in the Zonal Councils and their special problems are looked after by the North Eastern Council, set up under the North Eastern Council Act, 1972. The State of Sikkim has also been included in the North Eastern Council vide North Eastern Council (Amendment) Act, 2002 notified on 23rd December 2002. Consequently, action for exclusion of Sikkim as member of Eastern Zonal Council has been initiated by Ministry of Home Affairs.

COMMITTIEES OF ZONAL COUNCILS

Each Zonal Council has set up a Standing Committee consisting of Chief Secretaries of the member States of their respective Zonal Councils. These Standing Committees meet from time to time to resolve the issues or to do necessary ground work for further meetings of the Zonal Councils. Senior Officers of the Planning Commission and other Central Ministries are also associated with the meetings depending upon necessity. :

ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE OF ZONAL COUNCILS

  1. Chairman - The Union Home Minister is the Chairman of each of these Councils.
  2. Vice Chairman - The Chief Ministers of the States included in each zone act as Vice-Chairman of the Zonal Council for that zone by rotation, each holding office for a period of one year at a time.
  3. Members- Chief Minister and two other Ministers as nominated by the Governor from each of the States and two members from Union Territories included in the zone.
  4. Advisers- One person nominated by the Planning Commission for each of the Zonal Councils, Chief Secretaries and another officer/Development Commissioner nominated by each of the States included in the Zone

Union Ministers are also invited to participate in the meetings of Zonal Councils depending upon necessity.

ROLE AND OBJECTIVES OF THE ZONAL COUNCILS

The Zonal Councils provide an excellent forum where irritants between Centre and States and amongst States can be resolved through free and frank discussions and consultations. Being advisory bodies, there is full scope for free and frank exchange of views in their meetings. Though there are a large number of other fora like the National Development Council, Inter State Council, Governor’s/Chief Minister’s Conferences and other periodical high level conferences held under the auspices of the Union Government, the Zonal Councils are different, both in content and character. They are regional fora of cooperative endeavour for States linked with each other economically, politically and culturally. Being compact high level bodies, specially meant for looking after the interests of respective zones, they are capable of focusing attention on specific issues taking into account regional factors, while keeping the national perspective in view.

The main objectives of setting up of Zonal Councils are as under :

  1. Bringing out national integration;
  2. Arresting the growth of acute State consciousness, regionalism, linguism and particularistic tendencies;
  3. Enabling the Centre and the States to co-operate and exchange ideas and experiences;
  4. Establishing a climate of co-operation amongst the States for successful and speedy execution of development projects.

FUNCTIONS OF THE COUNCILS

Each Zonal Council is an advisory body and may discuss any matter in which some or all of the States represented in that Council, or the Union and one or more of the States represented in that Council, have a common interest and advise the Central Government and the Government of each State concerned as to the action to be taken on any such matter.

In particular, a Zonal Council may discuss, and make recommendations with regard to:

  1. any matter of common interest in the field of economic and social planning;
  2. any matter concerning border disputes, linguistic minorities or inter-State transport;
  3. any matter connected with or arising out of, the re-organization of the States under the States Reorganisation Act.

 

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“Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas”

Mon, 12 Aug, 2019

The Union government has decided to roll out its People’s Plan Campaign, also known as “Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas”, that aims to draw up a development plan for each Gram Panchayat (GP) in the country and place it on a website where anyone can see the status of the government’s flagship schemes such as Swachh Bharat Mission, Pradhan Mantri Sadak Gram Yojana, and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, etc.
After consultations with the representatives of 16 key ministries, the Union government, on July 23, decided to start this campaign in September. Between October 2 and December 31 last year, the government had conducted a similar exercise in 2.48 lakh GPs across the country.
The process of creating Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDPs) requires each GP being scored on an array of 48 indicators covering various aspects such as health and sanitation, education, agriculture, housing, roads, drinking water, electrification, poverty alleviation programmes, social welfare etc.
After each GP is scored out of 100 — with 30 marks for infrastructure, 30 marks for human development, and 40 marks for economic activity — the GPs will be ranked.
The data on the 48 indicators would come from Census 2011 (for physical infrastructure), Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 (for Household-level deprivation data), and fresh survey starting September that will be carried out by local facilitators.
The score for each GP will reflect the local needs and priorities. For instance, for a drought-prone area, water conservation would be accorded the highest priority. Within this ranking, households suffering the worst deprivations would be prioritised further.
This entire ranking exercise is meant to identify the gaps at the GP level, make an assessment of where it stands, and accordingly plan the interventions, “ said a government official.
Over the last one year, several GPs have improved vastly on many indicators while some have slipped. Last year’s data suggest that a majority of the GPs scored between 41 per cent and 50 per cent on a scale of 100, showing glaring deficiencies.
Merely 0.1 per cent and 0.6 per cent GPs fell in the high 91-100 and 81-90 score respectively. A comparison of the performance among the larger states shows that Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, in that order, were the top scorers, while GPs in Jharkhand were at the bottom of the pile followed by Assam, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh.
A study of 100 randomly chosen GPs by National Institute of Rural Development has shown that several reported improvements while others have slipped down over the past year. A fresh survey is, therefore, significant.

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NEWSPACE INDIA Limited (NSIL)

Mon, 12 Aug, 2019

NEWSPACE INDIA Limited (NSIL), the newly created second commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, has bagged its first contract.
A private US space services provider has booked ISRO’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), which is yet to be tested, for launching a spacecraft.
The US provider, Spaceflight, announced on August 8 that it has clinched a deal with NSIL for using the second developmental flight of the under-development SSLV rocket to launch a spacecraft for an “undisclosed US-based satellite constellation customer”.
SSLV is perfectly suited for launching multiple microsatellites at a time and supports multiple orbital drop-offs.

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DRDO focus on stealth weapons, drones

Mon, 12 Aug, 2019

Directed energy weapons or DEWs are among the next bunch of military technologies that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on, Organisation Chairman G. Satheesh Reddy said on Sunday.
Laser-based or microwave-based high-power DEWs can quietly disable enemy drones or missiles temporarily or permanently without leaving physical debris.
In contrast, the ASAT or anti-satellite missile that the DRDO tested on March 27, killed an orbiting Indian target satellite and left hundreds of small pieces as debris for a few months.
The world is moving towards them. In the country too, we are doing a lot of experiments. We have been working in this area for the past three to four years to develop 10-kW and 20-kW [weapons],” he said.
Hyderabad hub
The DRDO's Hyderabad-based lab, Centre for High Energy Systems and Sciences (CHESS) is the node for all related activities.
Dr. Reddy said technology planning for the military should start at least 10-20 years in advance. “If we also have to be a technology leader we need to lay our futuristic technologies roadmap clearly, put a good amount of resources into it and also work towards those technologies.
Otherwise we will remain just technology followers,” he said, delivering the 12th annual Air Chief Marshal L.M. Katre memorial lecture.
The talk was organised by the Air Force Association Karnataka in honour of the former air chief who also was the chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
Apart from its current fighter plane projects — the LCA and advanced medium combat aircraft or AMCA — India would look at pilotless hardware such combat drones or UCAVs (unmanned combat air vehicles), as well as swarm drones that fly in tandem for surveillance, attack or intelligence gathering. Any UCAV programme could also use the Kaveri as its engine.

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GRSE launches its 5th fast patrol vessel

Sun, 11 Aug, 2019

Miniratna Category 1 defence PSU and premier warship builder Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) on Saturday launched the Fifth Fast Patrol Vessel (FPV) for the Indian Coast Guard at Raja Bagan Dockyard Unit of GRSENSE 0.86 %, Kolkata.
This ship, to be commissioned as ICGS Kanaklata Barua, is the last in the series of Five FPVs built by GRSE. The ship is 50m long, 7.5m wide and has a displacement of around 308 tons.
These FPVs are designed for a maximum speed of 34 knots with an endurance of more than 1500 nautical miles and come with an efficient hull form developed in-house and proven after extensive model testing.
The FPV designs are an improvisation on the Inshore Patrol Vessels built by GRSE for the Indian Coast Guard in 2013 and are well suited for patrolling, anti-smuggling, anti-poaching, and rescue operations.
They come fitted with state-of-the-art main engines with advanced control systems and water jet units and an ‘integrated bridge system’ assimilating all communication and navigation systems.
The key armament of a 40/60 gun and improved habitability features with fully air-conditioned modular accommodation for 35 personnel are the other salient features of these ships.
Since inception in 1960, GRSE has developed an array of world-class platforms including frigates, missile corvettes, anti-submarine warfare corvettes and landing craft utility ships for the Indian Navy. It is the only shipyard in the country to have delivered 100 warships.
Today, GRSE is well-positioned to construct large warships harnessing advanced modular shipbuilding technology which is at par with the best in the world. The enhanced shipbuilding capacity enables GRSE to construct 20 ships concurrently.

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The Kajin Sara lake

Sun, 11 Aug, 2019

A newly-discovered lake in Nepal is likely to set a new record of being the world’s highest lake replacing Tilicho, which is situated at an altitude of 4,919 metres in the Himalayan nation and currently holding the title.
The Kajin Sara lake in Manang district was discovered about a few months ago by a team of mountaineers, the Himalayan Times reported. It is located at Singarkharka area of Chame rural municipality.
“As per the measurement of the lake taken by the team, it is located at an altitude of 5,200 metres, which is yet to be officially verified. It is estimated to be 1,500-metre-long and 600-metre-wide,” Chame rural municipality Chair Lokendra Ghale was quoted as saying by the report.
“The lake would be the world’s highest lake if its altitude of 5000-plus metres is officially verified,” he said. The Tilicho lake, situated at an altitude of 4,919 metres, is 4 km long, 1.2 km wide and around 200 metres deep.

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Certification of seeds to be made mandatory to step up farm output

Sun, 11 Aug, 2019

More than half of all seeds sold in India are not certified by any proper testing agency, and are often of poor quality.

The Centre now hopes to mandate uniform certification by pushing through a replacement to the Seeds Act, 1966, in the winter session of Parliament, and also by barcoding all seeds to ensure their traceability.

This could increase overall agricultural productivity by up to 25%, Agriculture Ministry officials say.

Definition changed

“The existing legislation that was enacted over half a century ago needs to be revised urgently. Technology has changed, farmers’ expectations have changed, even the very definition of what is a seed has changed. Planting materials such as cuttings, grafting and tissue culture — all that must also be brought under the ambit of the law,” said a senior official, who did not wish to be named.

The main aim of the new legislation, which is ready for submission to the Cabinet for approval, is to bring uniformity to the process of quality regulation. The 1966 Act starts with these words: “An Act to provide for regulating the quality of certain seeds for sale...” The new Bill removes the word “certain”, and aims to regulate the quality of all seeds sold in the country, as well as exported and imported seeds.

“Currently, about 30% of seeds are what the farmer himself saves from his crop. He may re-plant that or sell it locally,” said another senior official. He explained that of the remaining seeds which are bought and sold commercially, 45% come through the ICAR system and have gone through the mandated certification process.

“The other 55% are sold by private companies, most of which are not certified, but rather what we call ‘truthful label seeds’. That is, they are simply self-certified by the company. We want to remove that category with the new law and mandate certification through a proper lab process for all seeds,” he said.

“Truthful label seeds can be disastrous from the farmers’ point of view, and should be removed,” says Devinder Sharma, an agriculture and food policy expert. He has been engaging with the revised seeds legislation since it was originally proposed in 2004.

“The Bill has been pending for so long, but it is important that companies be held accountable for the quality of the seeds they sell, and the claims they make. If a seed fails at the germination, flowering or seed-setting process, the company which sold it must be held liable and made to provide compensation,” he said.

The new Bill will also raise the stakes by increasing penalties for non-compliance. “Currently, the fine ranges from 500 to 5,000. We intend to raise that to [a maximum of] ₹5 lakh,” said the second official.

The Centre also hopes to roll out a software to barcode seeds in order to ensure transparency and traceability. “The National Informatics Centre has been collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry for this 5 crore project and the first prototype will be ready by the end of the month. If we can use this to weed out poor quality seeds sold by some fly-by-night operators, it could increase productivity by 20 to 25%,” said the official. “We are in discussion with state governments to begin rolling out in two to three months. About 5,000 private seed companies have agreed to come on board if we can assure them that data on their seeds is not shared with their competitors.”

The software system will be able to track seeds through the testing, certification and manufacturing process. By connecting to a dealer licensing system, seeds will be tracked through the distribution process as well. “Once it is all in place in about two years or so, we will even be able to say how much of which seed is sold in which area,” said the senior official

 

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Rotavirus vaccine

Sat, 10 Aug, 2019

The government of India is set to launch a rotavirus vaccine drive across all states and Union territories by September 2019.

  1. The vaccine is currently being administered in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.
  2. The Rotavac has been introduced in India’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) including Inactivated Polio Vaccine(IPV), Measles, Rubella (MR) vaccine, Adult Japanese Encephalitis (JE) vaccine, Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Hepatitis B, Pneumonia and Meningitis due to Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib).

Rotavirus

  1. Rotavirus can cause diarrohea, which can lead to dehydration (not having enough water in the body).
  2. Rotavirus is a contagious disease that spreads easily from child to child.
  3. Rotavirus spreads when a person comes in contact with the feces of someone who has rotavirus and then touches their own mouth. For example, rotavirus can spread when a child with rotavirus doesn’t wash their hands properly after going to the bathroom and then touches food or other objects.
  4. Symptoms 
    1. Severe diarrhea
    2. Throwing up
    3. Dehydration
    4. Fever
    5. Stomach pain
  5. World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that the first dose of rotavirus vaccine be administered as soon as possible after 6 weeks of age, along with DTP vaccination (diptheria, tetanus and pertussis).
  6. WHO has recommended the inclusion of rotavirus vaccine in the National Schedules of the countries where under five mortality due to diarrhoeal diseases is more than 10%.
  7. Currently, two vaccines are available against rotavirus:
    • Rotarix (GlaxoSmithKline): is a monovalent vaccine recommended to be orally administered in two doses at 6-12 weeks.
    • Rota Teq (Merck) is a pentavalent vaccine recommended to be orally administered in three doses starting at 6-12 weeks of age.
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The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019

Sat, 10 Aug, 2019

Rajya Sabha passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 today. Union Minister for Home Affairs, Shri Amit Shah, replying to the debate on the Bill, appealed to the House to pass the bill unanimously to send a strong message to the world that terrorists are the enemies of humanity and India is committed to finish terror from its soil.

The Home Minister said that those who are opposing this bill now must remember that the original law was not brought by the current Government. “We have always supported a strong law against terrorism and have been committed to any amendment in this direction, in the past also. A tough law is required to uproot terrorism from India and we would always support that.”

In addition to this, Shri Shah said that terrorism has no religion and individuals of one religion must not be victimized. He further assured the House that Government is committed to protect the fundamental rights of all citizens.

Shri Shah further added that terrorist acts are committed not by organizations but by individuals.
Declaring an organization as a terrorist organization will not stop the individuals behind it. Not designating individuals as terrorists, would give them an opportunity to circumvent the law and they would simply gather under a different name and keep up their terror activities.

The Minister said that only those individuals who participate in terrorist activities, aid those indulging in such activities, propagate the ideology of terrorism and members of known terrorist organizations will be declared as terrorists after this amendment is passed. He added that terrorism is a global problem and the UN along with several other countries, have provisions in their laws to designate individuals as terrorists.

The Amendment gives powers to DG, NIA to attach properties acquired from proceeds of terrorism. On this issue, Shri Shah said that this law does not take away powers of the state police. When NIA takes up a case having international and inter-state ramifications, all the facts pertinent to the case are with the NIA, and not with the state police. Currently, the law requires that NIA take prior permission from the respective state DGP to attach the proceeds of terrorism. This delays the process as often such properties are in different states, the Minister added.

Praising the NIA’s efficiency, the Minister said during the debate that the NIA’s conviction rate is 91%, which is exceptional by global standards.
Earlier, officers of ranks DSP and above were empowered to investigate cases under UAPA as per Section 43. The Amendment seeks to empower officers with the rank of inspectors and above to do the same. Commenting on the issue, Shri Shah said that this would help solve the human resource crunch in the NIA. The inspector rank officers have, over time, acquired sufficient proficiency to investigate UAPA related cases. Shri Shah added that this move would quicken the delivery of justice in UAPA related cases, which are reviewed by senior officers at various levels.

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Fish metabolism

Sat, 10 Aug, 2019

There are three factors that result in mercury accumulation in fish – overfishing, which leads to dietary changes among marine animals, variations in the temperature of the sea water, which leads to changes in fish metabolism that gears towards survival rather than growth, and changes in the amounts of mercury found in sea water as a result of pollution. The researchers included all three factors in their modelling studies.
Using this understanding, the researchers also modelled the mercury levels found in the Atlantic BlueFin Tuna (ABFT). There was a decrease in tissue mercury levels in the ABFT between 1990 and 2012, and this was driven by a fall in sea temperature during that period.
However, continued warming in the Gulf of Maine would cause a reversal and the amount of mercury in ABFT could increase to almost 30% by 2030. This highlights the importance of sea temperature on mercury accumulation in the marine food chain.
Although this study was carried out in the Atlantic Ocean, mercury levels in fish in other seas and oceans are likely to have a similar relationship with sea temperature, fishing practices and mercury pollution levels

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‘Centre will not touch Article 371F’

Sat, 10 Aug, 2019

The amendment of Article 370 pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang, better known as P.S. Golay, assured the people that the Centre will not interfere with Article 371F which provides special status to the State.
Article 371F is a special feature for Sikkim and its people and there can be no question of its modification.
Mr. Golay also rejected any possibility of merger of Sikkim and Darjeeling hills, and said that Sikkim is protected by Article 371F of the Constitution, which is the result of the agreement in 1975 between the Union of India, the king of Sikkim and the State’s political parties.
‘No merger’
“Those demanding Gorkhaland for Darjeeling hills are doing so as per their constitutional right. It is for the Centre to decide on whether to agree with it or not. However, there is no question of its merger with Sikkim,” he said.
After the reorganisation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the political parties in Darjeeling hills have been demanding the status of a Union Territory.
He said that Article 371F is one of the key terms of the merger of Sikkim with India in 1975.

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National Disaster Response Force

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

  1. The National Disaster Response Force or the NDRF is a specialized force formed under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 with the objective of having a specialized response to an impending disaster situation or disaster.
  2. Its purpose is to direct and implement a specialized response to both man-made and natural disasters.
  3. It was constituted in 2006 and is headed by a Director-General, who is a senior IPS officer.
  4. The NDRF operates on the basis of ‘proactive availability’ and ‘pre-positioning’ to the states.
  5. Its parent ministry is the Ministry of Home Affairs.
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Bank Nationalisation - 50th Anniversary

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

  1. 14 private banks were nationalised on July 19, 1969.
  2. It was a watershed moment in the history of Indian banking.
  3. Another six private banks were nationalised in 1980.

Before 1969:

  1. At the time of Independence, India’s rural financial system was marked by the domination of landlords, traders and moneylenders.
  2. In 1951, 93% of the outstanding debt of a rural household came from non-institutional sources.
  3. The predominantly private banking system failed to meet the credit needs of the rural areas.

Banking for All:

  • India’s banking policy after 1969 followed a multi-agency approach towards expanding the geographical spread and functional reach of the formal banking system:
  1. New Branch Licensing Policy: Banks had to open four new branches in unbanked rural areas for every branch opened in a metropolitan or port area.
  2. Priority Sector Lending: All banks had to compulsorily set aside 40% of their net bank credit for agriculture, micro and small enterprises, housing, education and “weaker” sections.
  3. Differential Interest Rate Scheme (1974): Loans had to be provided at a low interest rate to the weakest among the weakest sections of the society.
  4. Lead Bank Scheme (1969): Each district was assigned to one bank, where they acted as “pace-setters” in providing integrated banking facilities.
  5. Regional Rural Banks (RRB; 1975): Enlarged the supply of institutional credit to the rural areas.
  6. National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD; 1982): Established to regulate and supervise the functions of cooperative banks and RRBs.
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CITES

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

  1. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals.
  2. It was drafted to ensure that the trade in wild animals and plants do not threaten their survival.
  3. It was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
  4. The convention was opened for signature in 1973 and CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975.
  5. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants should not threaten their survival.
  6. CITES is legally binding on the state parties who are obliged to adopt their own domestic legislation to implement their goals.
  7. CITES classifies plants and animals into three categories, based on how threatened they are and the degree of protection they require.
    1. Appendix I lists species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plant.
    2. Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. It also includes so-called “look-alike species”, i.e. species whose specimens in trade look like those of species listed for conservation reasons.
    3. Appendix III is a list of species included at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation
  8. Roughly 5,600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants are protected by CITES against over exploitation through international trade
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BrahMos

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

  1. BrahMos was jointly developed by India and Russia and has been inducted into the the Army and the Navy.
  2. It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) who together have formed BrahMos Aerospace.
  3. The name BrahMos is a portmanteau formed from the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.
  4. The BrahMos is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile.
  5. It can be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft, or land.
  6. It is the fastest supersonic cruise missile in the world and the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation.
  7. The missile travels at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0,which is being upgraded to Mach 5.0
  8. In 2019, India upgraded the missile with a new range of 500 km.
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National Deworming Programme (NDP)

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

 

  1. National Deworming Programme makes targeted investments, so they can conduct high-quality, cost-effective, school-based deworming programmes to reach 75% of children.
  2. National Deworming Day is observed bi-annually on 10th February and 10th Augustin all states and UTs followed by mop-up activities. In 2019, the NDD is being conducted on 8th February and mop up day on the 14th February.
  3. Deworming with Albendazole tablet is an evidence-based, globally-accepted, and effective solution to controlling worm infections.
  4. Evidence shows that preventive chemotherapy (deworming), or the periodic large-scale administration of anthelminthic medicines to populations at risk, can dramatically reduce the burden of worms caused by soil-transmitted helminth infections.
  5. Hence, the National Deworming Day has been designed to reach all children.

Concerns:

  1. India has the greatest number of children with Soil Transmitted Helminths (STH) infections in the world – more than 220 million. This means India accounts for over one quarter of the world’s infected children.
  2. Soil-transmitted helminth infections are among the most common infections in humans, caused by a group of parasites commonly referred to as worms, including roundworms, whipworms and hookworms. Those living in poverty are most vulnerable to infection.
  3. Soil Transmitted Helminths (STH) or worm infestation in children is a leading cause of anaemia and impaired mental and physical development.
  4. The situation of undernutrition and anaemia which is linked to STH also pose a serious threat to children’s education and productivity later in life.
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National Investment and infrastructure fund (NIIF)

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

India’s first sovereign wealth fund + create long-term value for domestic and international investors + investment in Greenfield, Brownfield and Stalled infrastructure projects. This fund will invest only in commercially viable projects, which can pay back returns + corpus of RS. 40000 crore + quasi-sovereign wealth fund, where 49 percent stake is with the Government and the rest held by marquee foreign and domestic investors such as Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Temasek and HDFC Group + It is run as a professional body with a full time CEO. But, Governing Council headed by Finance Minister oversees the activities.

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Even in cities, natural signs can warn of flood

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

Indigenous knowledge about how to spot flood risks ahead of time could save lives in cities, as climate change and population growth put millions of people at risk of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.
Understanding changes in natural indicators - such as plants, birds and temperatures - could be used to alert urban residents to extreme weather where forecasts are seen as unreliable. There are knowledge transfers that can be made between rural and peri-urban spaces that could save lives and livelihoods around the world.
The study interviewed 1,050 people in 21 rural and urban communities in Ghana, including the capital city Accra and the main city of Tamale in its Northern Region. Researchers documented natural indicators used by indigenous communities to predict floods, droughts and temperature changes.
Those include links between rainfall patterns and ant behavior, appearances by certain birds, flowering of baobab trees and observations of heat intensity, passed down between generations.
Knowles said not all rural indicators could be transferred to urban spaces, but some are relevant for both environments, such as clouds, heat, insects and trees.
Promoting tree-planting in urban areas could offer further opportunities to apply indigenous knowledge on flora in cities. Over 3 million urban dwellers could be at risk of flooding from extreme rainfall by 2050 as climate change brings more unpredictable weather hazards, the study said.
Extreme heat and power blackouts, alongside food and water shortages, are other threats if climate-changing emissions are not curbed, a 2018 report for the C-40 cities network found.
As floods become more sudden and hard to predict, the inclusion of indigenous knowledge in science-based warning systems should be prioritized, researchers said this week.
We have seen the use of indigenous knowledge for climate adaptation all over the world. Indigenous people in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Ethiopia, for example, use their knowledge to observe and mitigate impacts of extreme climate events such as flooding and droughts.
Dialogue is needed between indigenous groups and climate researchers as “both can learn from one another. Indigenous knowledge can be used as an “added layer” to scientific research in designing early warning systems for floods, Kasei said.
More work is needed to document traditional knowledge at risk of being lost as the natural environments in which indigenous peoples live become more threatened by climate-related disasters, the study noted.

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Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF)

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

The Environment Ministry has unveiled a draft plan that will dictate how prospective infrastructure projects situated along the coast ought to be assessed before they can apply for clearance. The draft Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF) is part of a World Bank-funded project.
The document lays out guidelines out for coastal States to adopt when they approve and regulate projects in coastal zones.
The project seeks to assist the Government of India in enhancing coastal resource efficiency and resilience, by building collective capacity (including communities and decentralised governance) for adopting and implementing integrated coastal management approaches,” the introduction to the report notes. The document was prepared by the Society for Integrated Coastal Management, a Ministry-affiliated body.
Integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) has to be a continuous process rather than a “one-off” investment action. So far three coastal States, namely Gujarat, Odisha and West Bengal, have prepared Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plans with support from the World Bank. Such plans would be prepared for the selected coastal stretches in other States/UT, the project notes.
The key activities proposed for coastal zone development that consist of investments by States include: mangrove afforestation/shelter beds, habitat conservation activities such as restoration of sea-grass meadows, eco-restoration of sacred groves, development of hatcheries, rearing/rescue centres for turtles and other marine animals, creation of infrastructure for tourism, restoration and recharge of water bodies, beach cleaning and development, and other small infrastructure facilities.
Livelihood improvement projects include demonstration of climate resilient or salinity resistant agriculture, water harvesting and recharge/storage, creation of infrastructure and facilities to support eco-tourism, community-based small-scale mariculture, seaweed cultivation, aquaponics, and value addition to other livelihood activities.
The plan describes how “environmental and social aspects” ought to be integrated into the planning, design, implementation of projects.
Projects should strive to avoid or minimise impacts on cultural properties and natural habitats, compensate any loss of livelihood or assets, adopt higher work safety standards, occupational and community health and safety.
Inadequate planning has often obstructed coastal zone development projects. On June 16 the Bombay high court struck down the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance for its ₹14,000-crore Coastal Road,
which is part of the Eastern Freeway to be constructed to provide an alternate speedy connect between South Mumbai and Western suburbs. This was on the grounds of an inadequate scientific study by the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management and lapses by the Union environment ministry which had overlooked these lacunae.

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Online content can’t be regulated under Cinematograph Act

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday held that the films, serials and other multimedia contents transmitted, broadcast or exhibited through internet platforms, like YouTube, Google India, online streaming platforms like Hotstar, Amazon Prime, Netflix and Alt Digital, cannot be regulated under the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Mohammad Nawaz passed the order while rejecting a plea made in a PIL petition filed Padmanabh Shankar, a resident of Bengaluru.
While pointing out that children were being affected due to unregulated content transmitted through online platforms, the petitioner had sought a declaration from the court that films, serials, and other multimedia content transmitted through online platforms require certification under the Cinematograph Act till a suitable legislation is made to regulate them.
It was also contended in the petition that the Cinematographic Act, 1952 and the Cable Television Network Regulation Ac, 1995 are silent with regard to broadcast or transmission of films, cinema, serials and other multimedia contents through the internet.
The bench said that going by the concept of internet and its operation, the act of exhibition of films, serials and other content perhaps amounts to transfer of files based on requests by users, and hence it is not possible to accept that transfer of files or films, serials through the internet comes under the purview of Cinematograph Act.
However, the bench observed that the anxiety of the petitioner, who is a senior citizen, that films, serials and other multimedia content transmitted through internet platforms will have an adverse impact on children can be well understood.
While observing that the concern expressed by the petitioner merits consideration by the Union government, the bench said that it hopes that the Union government, considering a larger public interest, will find a solution within the four corners of the law if the petitioner submits a representation seeking regulation of content of online streaming platforms.

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RBI takes offbeat tack to help reverse growth slowdown

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

The Reserve Bank of India on Wednesday opted to break with convention by reducing the key policy rate, the repo rate, by 35 basis points (bps) to 5.4% as it focused monetary policy measures on helping revive demand to tackle a deepening economic slowdown. While central banks typically cut or raise interest rates in increments of a quarter percentage point or multiples.
The extent of cut was determined by the situation, he said. This is the first time the RBI has moved rates by a figure that is not a multiple of 25 bps. A percentage point comprises 100 bps.
Given the evolving economic situation, the assessment of MPC, based on demand conditions etc., 25 bps cut was inadequate, while a 50 bps rate cut was excessive, especially after taking into account the actions already undertaken.
While all six members of the monetary policy committee (MPC) voted to cut rates, two members backed a 25 bps cut. With the GDP growth forecast for the year pared to 6.9%, the policy stance was kept accommodative.
RBI revised the growth forecast to 6.9% for FY20, from 7% predicted during the June policy while the first quarter of 2020-21, growth rate is expected to be 7.4%. Consumer price index based inflation is projected slightly higher at 3.5-3.7% for the second half of the current financial year and 3.6% for the first quarter of next fiscal. With this rate cut, RBI has now reduced the repo rate by 110 bps in 2019.
RBI has painted a reasonably gloomy picture for the economy and the 35 bps cut seems to suggest that it concedes the fact that the extent of the slowdown is sharper than it had projected earlier although it does not see the need to push the panic button (that a 50 bps might have been interpreted as.
Though banks have been reluctant to to cut rates in response to the previous 75 bps repo rate cut, as their benchmark lending rate only declines by 29 bps, but after Wednesday’s rate cut, SBI was quick to response with a 15 bps cut in marginal cost of fund based lending rate. Other banks are expected to follow suit.
Apart from rate cut, RBI has reduced the risk weight for consumer loans, except credit cards, from 125% to 100% - a step to address falling consumer demand in segments such as individual vehicle loans and personal loans. The NBFC sector which is facing cash crunch also saw measures which will increase banks’ headroom to lend to these lenders.
Commenting RBI steps as bazooka measures, SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar said, “The RBI has unveiled a host of bazooka measures to arrest the recent growth pangs even as it has marginally lowered its growth forecast for FY20.”
HSBC India Chief Economist Pranjul Bhandari who thinks growth for FY 20 will be much lower at 6.4%, said they expect two more rate of 25 bps over the fourth quarter of current fiscal and first quarter of the next fiscal.
The RBI's explicit emphasis on prioritizing a growth recovery and expectations of one-year ahead inflation remaining well below 4%, gives us further confidence in our call. Stock markets were disappointed as they expecting a 50 bps rate cut.
Equities lost ground with the benchmark Sensex shedding 286.35 points or 0.77% to close at 36,690.50. Earlier in the day, it touched a high of 37,104.79 but could not sustain the level amidst selling pressure.
Nearly 1,400 stocks lost ground, as against 1,114 gainers on BSE. The Sensex pack saw 22 stocks end in the red with heavyweights like State Bank of India, Tata Motors, Vedanta, Tata Steel and M&M all losing over 3% each. The broader Nifty closed at 10,855.50, down 92.75 points or 0.85%.
"While we were hoping 50 bps rate cut, the RBI has chosen unconventional cut of 35bps which is mildly positive for the market. However, RBI cutting its estimation of GDP growth rate below 7%, while widely expected, may not go down well with the market in short term.

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1/4 of world’s population faces huge water stress

Tue, 06 Aug, 2019

One-quarter of the world’s population faces “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress, which means that irrigated agriculture, industries, and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year, new data from the World Resources Institute (WRI) show.
India is 13th among these 17 countries. India has more than three times the population of the other 16 extremely highly stressed countries combined, the WRI noted. This implies that more than three-quarters of these populations facing extremely high water stress live in India.
India’s water challenges extend beyond Chennai, which was recently reported to have “run out of water”. The WRI noted that last year, NITI Aayog declared that the country is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat”.
In addition to rivers, lakes and streams, India’s groundwater resources are severely overdrawn, largely to provide water for irrigation. Groundwater tables in some northern aquifers declined at a rate of more than 8 cm per year between 1990 and 2014.
The WRI took note of steps India has taken to mitigate water stress, including setting up the Jal Shakti Ministry. Other solutions India could pursue, the WRI suggested, include more efficient irrigation; conserving and restoring lakes, floodplains, and groundwater recharge areas; and collecting and storing rainwater.
Globally, water withdrawals have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand. Apart from the 17 countries facing withdrawals of 80% or more from available supply, 44 countries (home to one-third of the world) face “high” levels of stress, where on average more than 40% of available supply is withdrawn every year.
Twelve out of the 17 most water-stressed countries are in the Middle East and North Africa. The region is hot and dry, so water supply is low to begin with, but growing demands have pushed countries further into extreme stress.
The WRI said climate change is set to complicate matters further: The World Bank found that this region has the greatest expected economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at 6%-14% of GDP by 2050.
Even in countries with low overall water stress, communities may still be experiencing extremely stressed conditions. The WRI cited the examples of South Africa and the United States, which rank 48 and 71 on the list, respectively, yet the Western Cape (SA) and New Mexico (US) experience extremely high stress levels.

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Consumer Protection Bill gets RS green light

Tue, 06 Aug, 2019

The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 that provides for the establishment of authorities for the timely and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes.
The Bill, which has already been passed by the Lok Sabha, seeks to strengthen the rights of consumers and provides a mechanism for redressal of complaints regarding defects in goods and deficiency in services.
Moving the Bill for consideration and passing, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said it is a long-pending legislation, and except five, all recommendations of a Parliamentary Standing Committee have been included in the Bill.
The Bill will replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Mr. Paswan said the government had dropped healthcare from the bill as several members had objected to it.
The Upper House also passed the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Bill, 2019 for speedy eviction of unauthorised occupants of government residential accommodation

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Article 370

Tue, 06 Aug, 2019

  1. Included in the Constitution on October 17, 1949, Article 370 exempts J&K from the Indian Constitution (except Article 1 and Article 370 itself) and permits the state to draft its own Constitution.
  2. It restricts Parliament’s legislative powers in respect of J&K.
  3. The provision was incorporated in Part XXI of the Constitution: Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions.
  4. As evident from the title of the Part, it was supposed to be a temporary provision and its applicability was projected to last till the formulation and adoption of the State’s constitution.
  5. However, the State’s constituent assembly dissolved itself on 25 January 1957 without recommending either abrogation or amendment of the Article 370, leaving the status of the provision on a cliffhanger.
  6. The provision was later held to have acquired permanent status by way of rulings of the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir.
  7. This implied that to apply a central law to the state on subjects included in the Instrument of Accession, mere “consultation” with the state government is required.
  8. However, to apply a central legislation to matters other than defence, foreign affairs and communications, ‘concurrence” of the state government was mandatory.
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Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill

Mon, 05 Aug, 2019

  1. There is also a provision for constituting a National Surrogacy Board, State Surrogacy Boards, and the appointment of appropriate authorities for the regulation of the practice and process of surrogacy.
  2. The Bill is aimed at ending the exploitation of women who are lending their womb for surrogacy and protecting the rights of children born through this.
  3. The Bill also ensure the couples that opt for surrogacy that there are laws protecting them against exploitation by clinics.
  4. The bill adds that the couple intending to commission a surrogacy arrangement must be a close relative of the surrogate mother.
  5. In addition, the couple has to be Indian citizens who have been married for at least five years and are in the age group of 23-50 years (female partner) and 26-55 years (male partner).
  6. It also requires the couple to secure a medical certificate stating that either or both partners are infertile.
  7. The couple also should not have any surviving child (whether biological, adopted or surrogate), except if the surviving child is mentally or physically challenged or suffers from a fatal illness, among other provisions.
  8. The surrogate mother, apart from proving that she is a close relative of the couple intending the surrogacy, has to be married with a child of her own, in the age bracket of 25 to 35 years old, and should not have been a surrogate mother before.
  9. The Bill also states that any child born out of a surrogacy procedure shall be the biological child of the intending couple and will be entitled to all rights and privileges that are available to a natural child.
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Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM)

Sun, 04 Aug, 2019

  1. The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) on Sunday successfully test-fired the indigenously developed Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM) from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur.
  2. Two missiles have been tested against two live targets meeting complete mission objectives of engaging the targets.
  3. The systems have been tested in final configuration with radar mounted on a vehicle and missiles on the launcher.
  4. The missiles with many state-of-the-art technologies engaged the targets at different ranges and altitudes.
  5. The system is being developed for the Army with search and track on move capability with very short reaction time.
  6. The systems are equipped with indigenously developed phased array radar, inertial navigation system, data link and radio frequency seeker.
  7. The entire mission was captured by various electro-optical tracking systems, radar systems and telemetry systems at ITR Chandipur.
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The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

Sat, 03 Aug, 2019

  1. It was launched on April 18, 2018 atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
  2. TESS may have found the first potentially habitable world.
  3. The super-Earth exo planet is named Gj 357 d, which is only 31 light years away.
  4. The exo planet orbits a diminutive dwarf star and is 22% larger than the Earth.
  5. There are two other exo planets in the system.
  6. The super earth has a thick atmosphere and may possess water.
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Mineral Resources in the Deep Ocean

Sat, 03 Aug, 2019

  1. Exploration and extraction of polymetallic nodules will be one of the main aims of the mission.
  2. Polymetallic nodules are small potato-like rounded accretions composed of minerals such as manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and iron hydroxide.
  3. They lie scattered on the Indian Ocean floor at depths of about 6,000 m and the size can vary from a few millimetres to centimetres.
  4. Uses: In electronic devices, smartphones, batteries, solar panels, etc.

Location for Mining:

  1. The ‘area’ for deep-sea mining is allotted by The International Seabed Authority (ISA).
  2. It is an autonomous international organisation established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  3. India was the first country to receive the status of a ‘Pioneer Investor‘ in 1987 and was given an area of about 1.5 lakh km2 in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) for nodule exploration.
  4. In 2002, India signed a contract with the ISA.
  5. India surrendered 50% of the area and retained an area of 75,000 km2, after the resource analysis of the seabed was completed.
  6. The estimated polymetallic nodule resource potential in this area is 380 million tonnes.
  7. Further studies have helped narrow the mining area to 18,000 km2 which will be the ‘First Generation Mine-site’.
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Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, 1987

Fri, 02 Aug, 2019

  1. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty limited the use of medium-range missiles, both conventional and nuclear.
  2. It was signed in 1987 by US and Soviet Union leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
  3. The INF treaty was meant to eliminate the presence of land-based nuclear missiles and medium-range arsenals between 500km to 5,500km from Europe.
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Kaziranga tigers

Fri, 02 Aug, 2019

An evaluation report on India’s tiger reserves has put the spotlight on an alleged nexus between some officials of Kaziranga National Park and poachers. Kaziranga, a World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO, is more popular as the world’s best address for the one-horned rhino. It is also been a major tiger reserve covering an area of 1,080 sq km.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier this week released the management effectiveness evaluation reports for tiger reserves across the country, including Kaziranga.
The report says that some staff of Kaziranga Tiger Reserve may sometimes get involved in poaching by helping the poachers. To drive home the point, the report cites the poaching of three rhinos in as many days in November 2017 close to the Tunikati anti-poaching camp under the Burapahar Range.
“When there are 178 anti-poaching camps in a 911-sq-km area, each camp has to protect 5 sq km. Given the resources at the command of the personnel, it should not be difficult to guard the area effectively. Such poaching close to the camps leads to the suspicion of the involvement of officials.
The report also notes Kaziranga’s management weakness in coordinating with forest officials of Karbi Anglong, which runs along the southern boundary of the tiger reserve. This is because the forest officials of Karbi Anglong, an autonomous tribal council, are not answerable to the heads of Assam’s Forest Department.

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Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Thu, 01 Aug, 2019

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a Bill that promises faster redressal of water disputes between States by putting in place a new architecture for tribunals that handle inter-State water disputes.
Moving the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019, for passage in the Lok Sabha, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the existing tribunals constituted to resolve river water disputes had failed and in some cases, even after 33 years, the tribunals are yet to give an award.
The Minister said though the original Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, enacted in 1956, was amended 17 years ago to make five years the maximum period within which river water disputes need to be resolved, the reality has been different.
The new Bill proposes that the final award will be delivered in two years and whenever it gives the order, the verdict will be notified automatically. Mr. Shekhawat also said that any law passed now should factor in the water scenario that may arise in a few decades.
When we think of the water issue we have to do so keeping in mind the situation of 30 years from now. Water is a resource that we have to conserve and use judiciously; otherwise there will come a time when laws alone will not work. We have to rise above regions and States and rivers and see this resource and problem in its totality.

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Cryptocurrency

Thu, 01 Aug, 2019

  1. virtual currency is a digital representation of value that can be digitally traded and functions as (a) a medium of exchange, and/ or (b) a unit of account, and/or (c) a store of value, but, unlike fiat currency like the rupee, it is not legal tender and does not have the backing of a government.
  2. cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security and is generally based on blockchain technology, a distributed ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers.
    • Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency in the world.
  3. Given the high chances of cryptocurrencies being misused for money laundering, various government bodies such as the Income Tax Department and the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) had endorsed banning of cryptocurrency
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“induced pluripotent stem” (iPS) cells

Thu, 01 Aug, 2019

  • The cutting-edge, but controversial research involves implanting modified animal embryos with human “induced pluripotent stem” (iPS) cells that can be coaxed into forming the building blocks of any part of the body.
  • It is the first step in what researchers caution is a very long path towards a future where human organs for transplant could be grown inside animals.
  • The research involves generating animal embryos — mice, rats or pigs — that lack a particular organ such as a pancreas.
  • The modified embryos are then implanted with human iPS cells that can grow into the missing pancreas. The embryos would be transplanted into wombs where they could theoretically be carried to term with a functioning human pancreas.

Significance:

  1. It is the first step in what researchers caution is a very long path towards a future where human organs for transplant could be grown inside animals.
  2. The technique involves genetically modifying sheep or pig embryos so they cannot grow a specific organ.
  3. Human stem cells are then injected into the embryo in the hope that the DNA will fill in the missing code.
  4. The hybrid embryos would then be implanted back into the original animal or a surrogate, and the baby animal would be born with a human organ.
  5. If successful, it could mean an unlimited supply of organs for transplants or even a cure for Type 1 diabetes, if an entirely new pancreas could be created.

Concerns:

  1. Implanting animal embryos with human cells creates what is known as a chimera – an entity with both animal and human cells.
  2. The process throws up complex ethical issues, particularly over concerns that it may not be possible to completely control which organs are formed in the animal by the human iPS cells.
  3. Rules on the process differ by country: the US has no federal restrictions on creating chimeras, while other countries prohibit chimeras being kept alive behind two weeks.
  4. Ethicists fear that chimeras with human brain or reproductive cells would pose serious questions about the nature of the animal being tested.
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Lok Sabha passes Bill for death for rape of minors

Wed, 31 Jul, 2019

The amendment bill has a number of provisions to safeguard children from offences of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

  • The bill aims at making offences against children gender-neutral.
  • The definition of ‘Sexual Assault’ has been extended to incorporate administration of hormones or chemical substances to children to attain early sexual maturity for the purpose of penetrative sexual assault.
  • The bill is critical because it clearly defines child pornography and makes it punishable.
    1. The Bill defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child including photograph, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child.
    2. The amendments also penalize the transmitting of pornographic material to children and propose to synchronise it with the Information Technology Act.
  • The bill seeks to enhance punishment for sexual offences against children, with a provision of death penalty.
    1. According to the amendment bill, those committing penetrative sexual assaults on a child below 16 years of age would be punished with imprisonment up to 20 years, which might extend to life imprisonment as well as fine.
    2. In case of aggravated penetrative sexual assault, the bill increases the minimum punishment from ten years to 20 years, and the maximum punishment to death penalty.
  • To curb child pornography, the Bill provides that those who use a child for pornographic purposes should be punished with imprisonment up to five years and fine.
  • However, in the event of second or subsequent conviction, the punishment would be up to seven years and fine.

The government has also sanctioned over one thousand fast track courts for speedy disposal of pending cases under POCSO.

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RoboBee X-Wing

Tue, 30 Jul, 2019

 

Going back to the time of Leonardo da Vinci, animal flight has inspired human enquiry, and we have sought to emulate nature by building machines that attempt to fly using flapping wings. In a report a key step towards the emulation of insect flight with what they claim to be the lightest insect-scale aerial vehicle so far to have achieved sustained, untethered flight.

 

Apart from the aesthetic joy of mimicking nature, flapping-wing robots have several potential advantages over the fixed-wing drones and quadcopters (four-rotor helicopters) that have become so popular in commercial and recreational applications. Flapping wings make animals and machines highly agile and manoeuvrable — for example, bats can fly with ease through basements, caves and dense forests. Moreover, flapping wings typically move with lower tip speeds than do propellers, and are therefore quieter and inflict less damage if they come into contact with people or property.

In addition, biologists can use flapping-wing robots to address fundamental questions about the evolution of flight and the mechanical basis of natural selection. For all these reasons, bio-inspired flapping-wing flight has been an area of intense interest, particularly over the past couple of decades. As a result, there have been impressive advances in our understanding of the aerodynamics and control of bio-inspired robotic flyers as well as several examples of engineered autonomous flapping robots

Achieving robotic flight at the insect scale presents three specific challenges. First, the materials used to build the robot must be strong, yet lightweight. Second, human-engineered actuators (devices that convert energy into movement) and batteries are still far from realizing the power and energy densities, respectively, of biological tissue. And third, the sensing and control algorithms that animals routinely use to maintain steady flight and to manoeuvre are mind-bogglingly complex. These algorithms have proved difficult to mimic even with the use of a supercomputer, despite the fact that a typical insect brain has only about a million neurons — which is orders of magnitude less than the number of components in the processing system of a supercomputer.

Jafferis and colleagues’ work builds on several years of impressive research and development. The authors combine a multitude of diverse technologies in a tour de force of system design and engineering to achieve the sustained flight of an insect-sized robot dubbed the RoboBee X-Wing (Fig. 1). Sustained, powered flight is an energetically demanding mode of transport, and existing battery technology lags far behind nature in its ability to provide a lightweight power source. Previous insect-sized robotic flyers have relied on an electrical ‘tether’ to supply the flight system with the necessary energy.


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India’s fertilizer industry

Tue, 30 Jul, 2019

The Indian fertilizer market was worth INR 5,437 Billion in 2018. Looking forward, the market is projected to reach INR 11,116 Billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 12.3% during 2019-2024. Fertilizers have played a key role in the success of India's green revolution and subsequent self-reliance in food-grain production. The increase in fertilizer consumption has contributed significantly to sustainable production of food grains in the country. As a result, the demand of fertilizers has witnessed double digit growth rates over the past several years.

Despite a strong growth in recent years, the average intensity of fertilizer use in India remains much lower than most of the developed and emerging countries around the world. The usage of fertilizers is also highly skewed, with wide inter-regional, inter-state and inter-district variations.

Indian Fertilizer Market: Drivers

  1. Catalyzed by a strong growth in the country’s population over the next five years, food demand is also expected to exhibit a strong growth. Conversely, as a result of increasing urbanisation levels, available arable land is expected to decrease. We expect fertilizers to play a key role in increasing the average crop yields per hectare.
  2. Despite strong historical growth, fertilizer consumption in India remains highly skewed. There are currently a number of states in India which still have a very low penetration of fertilizers. This leaves a lot of room for future growth.
  3. We expect a number of government and non-government awareness campaigns to educate farmers on the benefits of fertilizers. Promotion of fertilizers through television, radio and customized rural workshops are also anticipated to increase the consumption of fertilizers in the coming years.
  4. Increasing rural incomes, coupled by easy availability of credit, are also likely to create a positive impact on fertilizer usage in the country.
  5. Contract farming, where inputs in terms of technology and training are expected to be provided to the farmer from the food processor (contractor), is also expected to create a positive impact on fertilizer usage.


Market Summary:

  1. Based on the product type, the market has been segmented as chemical fertilizers and biofertilizers. Currently, chemical fertilizers dominate the market, holding the largest share.
  2. Based on the segment, the market has been segmented as complex fertilizers, DAP, MOP, urea and SSP. Currently urea represents the largest type accouting for the majority of the market share.
  3. On the basis of formulation, the market has been segmented as liquid and dry. Dry fertilizers represent the leading segment holding the majority of the market share.
  4. Based on the application, the market has been segmented as farming and gardening. The farming appliactions currently dominate the market.
  5. On the basis of region, the market has been segmented as North India, South India, East India and West India. North India holds the leading position in the Indian fertilizer market.
  6. The competitive landscape of the market has also been examined in the report and the profiles of key players have also been provided.



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Nearly 3,000 tigers in India

Tue, 30 Jul, 2019

India has 2,967 tigers, a third more than in 2014, according to results of a tiger census made public on July 29 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of tigers at 526, closely followed by Karnataka (524) and Uttarakhand (442). Chhattisgarh and Mizoram saw a decline in tiger population and all other States saw a “positive” increase.
The survey, the fourth such since 2006, is a gargantuan exercise and conducted once in four years. The latest survey is the culmination of 15 months of forest officials surveying 381,400 square kilometres of forested habitat, installing 26,760 camera traps and wildlife biologists ferreting through 35 million images of wildlife — 76,523 of which were tigers (there can be multiple images of the same tiger). Nearly 83% of the estimated tiger population was captured in these images.
While Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest number of tigers, Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu registered the “maximum improvement” since 2014.

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Vishaka guidelines must be applicable to judiciary

Mon, 29 Jul, 2019

Former chief justice of Delhi High Court, Justice A.P. Shah, said there is a need to engage in how the Vishaka guidelines, which deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, should be made applicable to the judiciary.
Justice Shah’s comments came while delivering the 27th Rosalind Wilson Memorial Lecture on Sunday on the subject ‘Judging the Judges, Need for transparency and accountability’.
The former chief justice said the “immediate trigger” for his choice of subject for the speech was the sexual harassment allegations raised by a Supreme Court employee against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
Justice Shah said he did not want to pass judgment on the truth or falsity of the sexual harassment allegations, but he added they were “certain stark facts that stand out which demand consideration”.
The former judge said the complainant, a permanent employee of the Supreme Court, was removed from her post on the flimsy allegation of her having taken a half-day casual leave, and protesting against her seating arrangement. An “unusual hearing” was held on April 20 without a petition having been moved, Justice Shah said.
“In what was termed as a “Matter of Great Public Importance Touching Upon the Independence of the Judiciary”, the person holding the highest judicial office in the land sat as a judge in his own cause.
“Three judges attended that hearing, but the order that emerged was surprisingly signed only by two out of those three, with the Chief Justice choosing to abstain,” Justice Shah said.
The former chief justice termed the “process of inquiry” conducted by the Justice S.A. Bobde Committee into the allegations as “questionable”. The complainant had withdrawn from the inquiry. Shortly after, the panel concluded that the allegations against the CJI were without substance.
Justice Shah said “conspiracy rumours” came even as the allegations were denied from various quarters of the Supreme Court officialdom.
On the in-house mechanism dealing with complaints against judges, Justice Shah said it has no statutory basis and certainly no constitutional blessing. He suggested that a permanent disciplinary committee with a secretariat be set up at the central level to deal with complaints against judges, and the government should have no part in this.

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Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)

Sun, 28 Jul, 2019

  1. In the 1990s, Maharashtrian agriculturist and Padmashri recipient Subhash Palekar introduced the method.
  2. It was suggested as an alternative to the Green Revolution which involved chemical fertilizers and pesticides and intensive irrigation.
  3. Intensive methods in Green Revolution have allegedly lead to indebtedness of farmers and degradation of soil.
  4. The first Budget speech of the 17th Lok Sabha recognised ZBNF as a “back to the basics” approach.
  5. It is already being practiced in few States such as Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
  6. A limited 2017 study in Andhra Pradesh claimed a sharp decline in input costs and improvement in yields.
  7. It is believed to help doubling our farmers’ income by 2022.

Jeevamrutha:

  1. It promotes the application of ‘Jeevamrutha’ on soil, instead of chemical inputs.
  2. Jeevamrutha is a mixture of fresh desi cow dung, aged desi cow urine, jaggery, pulse flour, water and soil, essentially making it a fermented microbial culture.
  3. It adds nutrients to the soil, and acts as a catalytic agent to promote the activity of microorganisms and earthworms in the soil.
  4. About 200 litres of the mixture should be sprayed twice a month per acre of land.
  5. After three years, the system becomes self-sustaining.
  6. A single cow of Indian breed is sufficient for 30 acres of land.

Bijamrita

  1. It is similar mixture used to treat seeds against insect and pest attack.
  2. It is a concoction made of neem leaves and pulp or tobacco and green chillis.
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Bharat Stage VI

Sun, 28 Jul, 2019

What is BS VI Standards?

  1. Sulphur content is reduced to 10 mg/kg max in BSVI from 50 mg/kg under BSIV.
  2. It follows the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) norms for upgraded fuels (IS: 2796 for petrol and IS: 1460 for diesel).
  3. There are lower limits for hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in diesel engines and lower Particulate Matter limits for both petrol and diesel engines.
  4. The reduction in sulphur makes it possible to equip vehicles with better catalytic converters that capture pollutants.
  5. It will have limit set on Particle Number (PN) for engines, a reference to direct injection engines that emit more particulates but are more efficient and release less carbon dioxide.
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El Nino and Antarctic Oscillation

Sat, 27 Jul, 2019

El Nino:

  1. El Nino is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific
  2. It is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific.
  3. India is affected with lower levels of monsoon rainfall in El Nino years.

Antarctic Oscillation:

  1. The Antarctic Oscillation or the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) is a belt of westerly windsor low pressure surrounding Antarctica which moves north or south as its modes vary.
  2. In its positive phase, the westerly wind belt that drives the Antarctic Circumpolar Current intensifies and contracts towards
  3. In its negative phase, the belt moving towards the Equator.
  4. Winds associated with the Southern Annular Mode cause oceanic upwelling of warm circumpolar deep water along the Antarctic continental shelf which has been linked to ice shelf basal melt.
  5. The Antarctic Oscillation does not directly influence Indian climate but affects the Indian Ocean Meridional Dipole which in turn plays a role in our climatic conditions
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water-guzzling thermal plants

Fri, 26 Jul, 2019

The advancing monsoon has brought relief to many parts of India, but its progress has been slower than average and the country is still in the midst of a rainfall deficit, with millions facing an acute water shortage. Water is essential for human survival, and for agriculture and industry. It is important that India — which has only 4% of the world’s renewable water resources but about 18% of the world’s population — consumes water more sensibly.

In India’s pursuit of 100% electrification goal, the country’s installed power capacity will need to be doubled. Even with the growth of renewable energy (RE), coal has been projected to be the backbone of the electricity sector till 2030 and beyond. Managing the electricity needs of a country that’s already dealing with water scarcity will be a challenge.

Located in water-scarce areas

Thermal power plants (TPPs) consume significant amounts of water during the electricity generation process. Most of India’s TPPs are located in water-stressed areas, and water shortages have led to electricity-generation disruptions and significant revenue losses to the economy.

In December 2015, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued a notification setting limits for water consumption by TPPs. However, the amended Environment Protection (EP) Rules codified in June 2018 ended up permitting TPPs to use more water than what was initially specified. There are certain mechanisms that need to be strengthened to make these regulations more effective.

The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) recently released the format for TPPs to report on their annual water consumption. The power plants were asked to specify both metered and un-metered usage, report on the source (like river, canal or sea), and state the percentage of deviation from the water norms, along with the reasons and the corrective measures undertaken.

These guidelines can be strengthened by including other relevant inputs. First, TPPs should disclose the amount of water consumed by them in previous years, so that a baseline for water consumption per TPP can be established, and subsequent reductions in water consumption can be quantified. Second, these reporting requirements — currently in the form of an Excel sheet on the CEA website — must be added to the EP Rules, to accord the disclosure process greater transparency and enforceability. Third, TPPs should also be required to submit verifiable evidence (for example, water bills) to support and substantiate the disclosures. Without these, the self-reporting guidelines will remain weak.

Finally, the data supplied by TPPs should be placed in the public domain, so that the parameters disclosed can be studied in the context of region-specific water shortages, outages in the plants, and future research and analysis in this field.

Specifying penalties

Section 15 of the EP Act provides for a blanket penalty for contravention of any provisions of the Environment Protection Act or EP Rules: up to five years of imprisonment and/or up to 1 lakh fine along with additional daily fines for continuing offences. However, the Act does not stipulate specific penalties for specific offences. Perhaps this is an area for review by the government, so that we have a more nuanced framework for enforcement and penalties.

Further, the relevant officials in charge of enforcement, across the Ministry and the CEA, should be identified, and their roles clearly defined. The implementation of these norms should include milestones and time-based targets, and periodic monitoring of the progress of TPPs in making improvements.

In addition to reducing the stress caused by TPPs, shifting to a more aggressive RE pathway will help India achieve its global climate targets. However, this will need further work — particularly to regulate water consumption by specific RE technologies. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has taken a first step by issuing a notice to State governments on reducing water use for cleaning solar panels and to explore alternative mechanisms to ensure that solar panels remain efficient.

India will need to balance the needs of its growing economy with its heightening water stress. Stringent implementation of standards for judicious water use by TPPs, combined with the promotion of RE and energy efficiency, will offer pathways for achieving these goals.

 

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United Nations Climate Summit in New York

Thu, 25 Jul, 2019

Climate change is the defining issue of our time and now is the defining moment to do something about it. There is still time to tackle climate change, but it will require an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society. To boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will host the 2019 Climate Action Summit on 23 September to meet the climate challenge. The Summit will showcase a leap in collective national political ambition and it will demonstrate massive movements in the real economy in support of the agenda. Together, these developments will send strong market and political signals and inject momentum in the “race to the top” among countries, companies, cities and civil society that is needed to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

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The IMF’s World Economic Outlook

Thu, 25 Jul, 2019

  1. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook July update also cut India’s growth forecast in 2020-21 to 7.2% from the previous estimate of 7.5%.
  2. The forecast was revised owing to poor demand conditions.
  3. The downward revision of 0.3 percentage points for both years reflects a weaker-than-expected outlook for domestic demand.
  4. Latest cut in the forecast follows a series of cuts by the IMF in its previous updates.
  5. The 7% forecast for 2019-20, however, is in line with those made by the Reserve Bank of India, Chief Economic Adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian and the Asian Development Bank.
  6. The broad-based slowdown in consumption and investment demand in India was partly a reflection of the uncertainties associated with the just concluded general elections in India, as well as tightening of borrowing conditions for small and medium enterprises
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The National Register of Citizens (NRC)

Wed, 24 Jul, 2019

  • The purpose of the NRC update (happening only for Assam) is to identify illegal immigrants in Assam, many of whom migrated to Assam from Bangladesh during the 1971 war with Pakistan.
  • In Assam, the NRC was first prepared in 1951 — the current exercise is a bid to update the 1951 register, and in the process, determine who is a legal Indian citizen based on a cut-off date: March 24, 1971.
  • The process is undertaken by Registrar General of India and monitored by Supreme Court.
    1. The NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela had requested an extension of the deadline in light of the recent floods that ravaged Assam.
    2. He had also sought time for his officials to write out the final orders.
    3. The Assam government and the Centre, too, had requested an extension based on a plea to carry out a sample re-verification of 20 per cent names in the districts bordering Bangladesh, and a 10 per cent re-verification in the remaining districts.
    4. The government’s reasoning was that there had been many wrongful inclusions and exclusions in the updation of the NRC, and a re-verificaiton was needed to dispel doubts.
    5. However, in a report submitted by Hajela to the Court, he said that 27% (which accounts for 80 lakh names) re-verification had already happened during the hearings for fresh claims and objections.
    6. Based on this, the CJI-led Bench declined the government’s re-verification plea on Tuesday, while allowing a month-long deadline extension.
    7. Both the Central and State government, in identical but separate applications to the court, said many names have been wrongly included and excluded from the draft NRC, and a sample reverification had become necessary to quell the “growing perception” that lakhs of illegal immigrants may have infiltrated the list, especially in districts bordering Bangladesh.
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Polavaram Irrigation Project

Tue, 23 Jul, 2019

  1. This project is located in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, which will also interlink several rivers in the state.
  2. It has been accorded national project status by the Centre. Its implementation is monitored by the Central Water Commission.
  3. The project involves relocation of about 50,000 families especially in Khammam, East Godavari and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh, besides 2,000 families in Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

Aim of the Project

  1. Purpose of this multi-purpose project is to facilitate irrigation and it will also help in the supply of drinking water to Visakhapatnam and water for industrial purposes.
  2. It also endeavours hydropower to regions of East Godavari, Vishakhapatnam, Krishna and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh.
  3. It seeks to address the challenges of flooding and droughts witnessed in the respective basins.
  4. The project also aims to help the Rayalaseema region (comprising Anantapur, Chittoor, Kadapah and Kurnool districts out of the total 13 districts) get more water.
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'Meri Fasal Mera Byora'

Mon, 22 Jul, 2019

  1. It is a multi-level transparent system and this initiative is a step forward towards doubling of farmer’s income by 2022.
  2. This simple system will enable farmers to self-report their land and crop details and help them receive benefits of several government schemes directly.
  3. The portal, fasalhry.in , has brought the departments of agriculture and farmer’s welfare, revenue, food civil supplies and consumer affairs and science and technology on a single platform for the betterment of the farmers.
  4. The portal has been designed to ensure that the farmers get the benefits offered by the State Government including insurance cover, compensation on account of crop damage due to natural calamities and other financial assistance under different schemes.
  5. Through the portal, the government will also get the accurate data of area and name of crop cultivated in various parts of the state.
  6. The farmers will be required to upload information like the name of crop sown, area under cultivation, cropping month, bank account number and mobile number on the portal at the nearby Common Service Centres (CSCs) or Atal Seva Kendraswith the help of Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) by July 31.
  7. The farmer would also be required to fill the details about the non-cultivated land in case he has not sown any crop yet.
  8. E-girdawari (harvest inspection) would be conducted under this system and while conducting girdawari, the concerned officer or official would have to remain physically present at the field.
  9. Thereafter, the registration would be done by the departments.
  10. When the crop is ready for harvesting, satellite photography of the field would be conducted by the Science and Technology Department. These images would also be enclosed with their registration. In case any discrepancy is found in the girdawari, a special girdawari would be got conducted by the Deputy Commissioner concerned
  11. Financial incentive of Rs 10 per acre or part thereof, subject to minimum of Rs 20 and maximum of Rs 50, would be provided to each farmer for registering on the portal.
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FOOD AND NUTRITION SECURITY

Sun, 21 Jul, 2019

  • The report shows the poorest sections of society caught in a trap of poverty and malnutrition, which is being passed on from generation to generation.
    1. Malnutrition: The proportion of children with chronic malnutrition decreased from 48% percent in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16.
    2. Underweight: The percentage of underweight children decreased from 42.5% to 35.7% over the same period.
    3. Anaemia: Anaemia in young children decreased from 69.5% to 58.5% during this period.
    4. Stunting: In India over 40% of children from Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes are stunted. Close to 40% of children from the Other Backward Classes are stunted.

Lacunas in Government Initiatives

  • The government’s National Nutrition Mission (renamed as Poshan Abhiyaan) aims to -
    1. reduce stunting ( height below the norm for age) by 2% a year
    2. bring down the proportion of stunted children in the population to 25% by 2022
    3. But even this modest target will require doubling the current annual rate of reduction in stunting.
    4. The minutes of recent meetings of the Executive Committee of Poshan Abhiyaan do not inspire much confidence about whether this can be achieved.
    5. A year after it was launched, State and Union Territory governments have only used 16% of the funds allocated to them.
    6. Fortified rice and milk were to be introduced in one district per State by March this year, but officials in charge of public distribution had not yet got their act together.
    7. The matter is under active consideration of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution”.

Impact of Malnutrition

  1. Mothers who are hungry and malnourished produce children who are stunted, underweight and unlikely to develop to achieve their full human potential.
  2. The effects of malnourishment in a small child are not merely physical.
  3. A developing brain that is deprived of nutrients does not reach its full mental potential.
  4. Under nutrition can affect cognitive development by causing direct structural damage to the brain and by impairing infant motor development.
  5. This in turn affects the child’s ability to learn at school, leading to a lifetime of poverty and lack of opportunity.
  6. These disadvantaged children are likely to do poorly in school and subsequently have low incomes, high fertility, and provide poor care for their children, thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
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AFRICA CONTINENTAL FREE TRADE AGREEMENT AND INDIA’S INTEREST IN IT

Sun, 21 Jul, 2019

  1. The African countries are set to launch the African Continental Free Trade Area or AfCFTA, the biggest free trade agreement in the world since the World Trade Organization was created in the 1990s.
  2. The first step towards continental integration was the establishment of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1958.
  3. The vision of “pan-Africanism” and “collective self-reliance” has long been an integral component of attempts by African leaders and policymakers to find Africa-driven solutions to African problems. 
  4. However, due to weak political, economic and governance structures, these attempts have largely failed to facilitate a structural transformation of the continent and today, the African nations continue to be fragmented economies working in isolation.
  5. In order to achieve an African resurgence, virtually all the African countries have embraced the notion of “regionalism” and “regional integration” as part of their broader aspirations towards continental integration.
  6. Over the years, various pan-African organisations have been working towards deepening economic, social and political integration in Africa.
  7. One such attempt was made at the 18thordinary session of the African Union (AU), held in Addis Ababa in January 2012, with a decision to launch a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2017.
  8. A major breakthrough was achieved in 2018 when leaders from 44 African countries met in Kigali, Rwanda, and signed a framework agreement to establish what is being called one of the world’s largest trade blocs.
  9. The agreement declared that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would “come into effect 30 days after ratification by the parliaments of at least 22 countries. Each country has 120 days after signing the framework to ratify the agreement

 Analysis and hurdles been faced by the continent

  1. The African continent has a relatively small share of world output and an even smaller one of world exports and global foreign direct investment (FDI) net flows
  2. the continent was among the fastest growing region in the world in 2013, closely followed by Asia and the Pacific
  3. It is the fourth regional cluster in terms of output volume, smaller than Asia and the Pacific, North America and Europe
  4. Africa is a vast continent indeed. It has an expanse representing 1/5 of the planet’s landmass, roughly equivalent to three times the size of Europe, with a formidable variety of geographies, cultures, languages, traditions, and historical trajectories
  5. Africa has the world’s largest concentration of least developed countries, low human development index and low income and lower middle-income countries.
  6. Political instability and at times armed conflicts have reduced the health, education, public services, justice and security systems of some African countries.
  7. These realities serve as a warning that no single, off-the-rack solution will prove effective for socioeconomic development in all jurisdictions.
  8. Most of the 54 African Union member countries are members of more than one regional trade bloc and intergovernmental organization, setting out conflicting disciplines and benefits
  9. Africa is still heavily reliant on commodity and agricultural exports while importing capital goods or food products predominantly from outside the continent.
  10. With a global trade share of less than 3 per cent, export diversification has yet to be achieved, as many African countries still rely on rents from extractive exports, whilst falling behind on industrialisation efforts.

 Aims and objectives of AfCFTA along with its core idea

  1. The CFTA is an attempt by the African governments to “unlock Africa’s tremendous potential” to deliver prosperity to all Africans.
  2. It seeks to create a single continental market for goods and services with free movement of business people and investments.
  3. By 2030, the African market size is expected to reach 1.7 billion people, with a combined and cumulative consumer and business spending of US$6.7 trillion.
  4. The CFTA aims to expand intra-African trade through better harmonisation and coordination of trade liberalisation and facilitation regimes and instruments across subregions (RECs) and at the continental level.
  5. As part of the agreement, “countries have committed to remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods with the remaining 10 percent of items to be phased in at a later stage
  6. A study by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that successful completion and implementation of the CFTA agreement – complemented with efforts to improve trade-related infrastructure, reduced import duties and transit costs could lead to a 52.3 percent increase in intra-African trade by 2022, from the 2010 levels.
  7. An increase in intra-African trade will “drive the structural transformation of economies from low productivity and labour intensive activities to higher productivity and skills intensive industrial and service activities
  8. This will subsequently help in generating better paid jobs, leading to poverty alleviation.
  9. The AfCFTA also seeks to “foster a competitive manufacturing sector and promote economic diversification
  10. the continental free trade area is expected to offer substantial opportunities for industrialisation, diversification and high skilled employment
  11. It is an opportunity to accelerate the manufacture and intra-African trade of value-added products, moving from commodity based economies and exports to economic diversification and high-valued exports

 Intra-African Trade Initiatives

  1. New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD): The New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) is an example of an African initiative with a continent-wide focus. It was ratified by the AU in 2002 and provides a comprehensive integrated development strategy to bring about a holistic socio-economic development of Africa.
  2. The African Free trade Zone (AFTZ)The African Free Trade Zone (AFTZ), also known as the African Free Trade Area, was announced at the EAC-SADC-COMESA Summit in October 2008. The agreement marked a milestone in Africa’s journey towards regional and continental integration as, for the first time a truly transcontinental union from north to south was established.
  3. Minimum Integration Programme (MIP): In 2009, the AUC along with the RECs signed the Minimum Integration Programme (MIP) as a mechanism for convergence among the RECs to focus on key areas of concern, both at the regional and continental levels. The MIP “embodies the activities of the project and the programmes which require quick implementation in order to speed up and ensure the successful completion of regional and continental integration process
  4. Boosting Intra-African Trade (BITA): The African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government Summit, held in January 2011, decided to hold the next summit in 2012 under the theme of “boosting intra-African trade” to deepen Africa’s market integration and significantly increase the volume of intra-African trade. An action plan was drafted to “enhance the levels of intra-African trade from current levels of 10-13 percent to 25 percent or above within the next decade
  5. Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA): Its launch demonstrated the possibility of a collective action among several heterogeneous nations and showcased the feasibility of harmonising three different preferential trade regimes into one unified scheme.
  6. South African Customs Union (SACU): The SACU is one of world’s oldest customs unions. It lasted till 1969, agreed on a “Common External Tariff (CET) on all goods imported into the union from the rest of the world and a common pool of customs duties. It also included provisions for free movement of SACU manufactured products within SACU and revenue-sharing formula (RSF) for the distribution of customs and excise revenues.
  7. Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM): The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), a ‘flagship project of AU under Agenda 2063’ aims at “creating a single unified air transport market in Africa and liberalise civil aviation in Africa.

 India-Africa and AfCFTA

  1. Africa is already an important economic partner for India with total annual merchandise trade estimated at $70 billion or nearly a tenth of our global trade.
  2. India’s engagement with African nations remains at three levels: Bilateral, Regional and Multilateral.
  3. India is Africa’s third largest trading partner.
  4. Africa still has unfulfilled demand for Indian commodities, especially foodstuff, finished products (automobiles, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods) and services such as IT/IT-Enabled Service, health care and education, skilling, expertise in management and banking, financial services and insurance.
  5. Africa is a continent which receives nearly 20% of our pharmaceuticals. Many of our Pharma companies have established units in various parts of Africa, including Ethiopia, Uganda, DRC, Zambia and Ghana. 
  6. Our medicines and medical equipment such as Bhabhatrons and phototherapy machines are saving lives in Africa. Many of our hospitals have entered into joint ventures for establishing health care facilities.
  7. India is also helping the African countries to bridge the digital divide. “We have launched 2nd phase of the Pan Africa e-Network project – e-VidhyaBharati and e-ArogyaBharati Network Project (E-VBAB), which aims to provide 5 years free tele-education to students, free medical education to doctors/nurses/paramedics and free medical consultancy.
  8. During the Third India-Africa Forum Summit, India offered USD 10 billion for development projects over the next five years.

 Conclusion

 The AfCFTA agreement represents a historic development in Africa’s journey towards creating a single, common and integrated market for the continent. To achieve this goal, it is imperative that the African countries develop the ability to produce and manufacture goods on their own, which will subsequently increase intra-African trade.

 

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DAM SAFETY IN INDIA

Sat, 20 Jul, 2019

Types of dam in India

  1. Earth dam: Earthen dam utilizes natural materials with a minimum of processing. In India most of the dams are earthen dam.
  2. Gravity dam: A gravity dam is a dam constructed from concrete or stone masonry and designed to hold back water by primarily utilizing the weight of the material. Gravity dams provide some advantages over embankment dams.
  3. Composite dam: It is an earthen dam which is provided with a stone masonry or concrete overflow (spillway) section.

Dam Safety Framework in India

  1. National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS)
  2. Constituted by Govt. of India in 1987.
  3. Chaired by Chairman, CWC and is represented by all the States having significant number of large dams and other dam owning organizations.
  4. Suggest ways to bring dam safety activities in line with the latest state-of-art consistent with the Indian conditions.
  5. Acts as a forum for exchange of views on techniques adopted for remedial measures to relieve distress in old dams.
  6. Central Dam Safety Organization (CDSO)
  7. Central Dam Safety Organization was established in CWC, in 1979
  8. The objective of Central DSO was to:
    • Assist in identifying causes of potential distress;
    • Perform a coordinative and advisory role for the State Governments;
    • Lay down guidelines, compile technical literature, organize trainings, etc.; and create awareness in the states about dam safety.
  9. State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO)-
    • DSO/Cell established in 18 States and 5 dam owning organizations
  10. Routine Periodic Inspection
  11. Done by trained and experienced engineers from DSO
  12. At least twice a year : pre monsoon and post monsoon
  13. Examination of general health of the dam and appurtenant works
  14. Preparedness of dam and hydro mechanical structures for handling expected floods
  15. Comprehensive Dam Safety Evaluation
  16. Once in a 10 year
  17. More comprehensive examination
  18. Multi-disciplinary team for holistic view
  19. May order additional field and laboratory investigations as well as numerical simulations
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“Auntie Amby”(soft “empathetic” diplomacy)

Fri, 19 Jul, 2019

Terming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh a “mass movement” in India, German Ambassador Walter Lindner said his visit to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur was part of his attempt to understand the “Indian mosaic”.
Speaking to The Hindu about the criticism he has faced over the visit, including one online petition that is calling for his resignation or recall, Mr. Lindner said he had visited Nagpur to review progress in the city’s Metro project which Germany has helped finance, and decided to also meet with RSS Sarsanghchalak (chief) Mohan Bhagwat.
In a tweet about his meeting, Mr. Lindner had written that the RSS, “Founded [in] 1925, it is [the] world’s largest voluntary organization — though not uncontroversially perceived throughout its history.”
Explaining the comment, Mr. Lindner said that as a German, he was conscious of the organisation’s history during the 1930-40s, including the inspiration some of its leaders had drawn from Germany’s Nazi movement and had discussed that with Mr. Bhagwat.
The Ambassador’s visit to Nagpur is part of a India-wide tour to various cities to discuss bilateral ties ahead of the biannual India-Germany summit expected in October or November this year, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Delhi.
At the top of the bilateral agenda is trade, and reviving the India-European Union (EU) talks on a Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), which has made very little progress since 2013, despite several attempts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ms. Merkel to give it a fillip.
India and Germany believe in rules-based free trade, and we have an interest in making the agreement work. I think the new leadership at the European Union will help kickstart the process of the BTIA.
Germany is India’s most important trading partner in the EU and its sixth most important trading partner worldwide. As a result of the impasse on BTIA talks, India-Germany trade has been pegged around $20 billion despite the potential for more, say officials, with about 1,700 German companies active in India, about 200 Indian companies active in Germany and more than 600 Indo-German joint ventures in operation.

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The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill 2019

Fri, 19 Jul, 2019

Parliament has passed the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019 with Rajya Sabha approving it today. 

The Lok Sabha has already passed the Bill. The Bill amends the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

 The bill provides for a reduction in the tenure of Chairpersons of National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commissions to three years from the current five years. 

The bill also states that besides the former Chief Justice of India, as is the current requirement, a former Supreme Court Judge can also become the NHRC Chairperson. 

Similarly, a former High Court Judge can also become a State Human Rights Commission Chairperson besides a High Court Chief Justice. Replying to the debate on this bill, Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai reiterated the NDA Government’s commitment to protecting the Human rights and autonomy of Human rights bodies.

Earlier, participating in the debate,  Elamaram Kareem of CPI(M) demanded to send the bill to Select committee for further discussion. Prof Ram Gopal Yadav of Samajwadi Party said that provision of reappointment of NHRC members does not exist anywhere in the world and that they should have a fixed tenure.  

Prabhat Jha of BJP also talked about the human rights issue. Vivek Tankha of Congress, Manoj Jha of RJD, Prasanna Acharya of BJD and others also expressed their views.

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Bills to help transgenders

Thu, 18 Jul, 2019

A new Bill that seeks to empower the transgender community and another legislation to crack down on Ponzi schemes were introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday amid protests from Opposition members over the Karnataka political turmoil.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, introduced by Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot, provides a mechanism to empower the transgender community socially and economically, along with their educational advancement.
Though Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla called out the name of the Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, he could not speak as members from his party were protesting over the Karnataka political crisis. The Transgender Persons Bill gives a person the right to choose to be identified as a man, woman or transgender, irrespective of sex reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy.
While the legislation provides for a person to go through a district screening committee and the district magistrate to get certified as a transgender, a contentious provision that criminalised begging by transgenders has been dropped. The Transgender Bill had been introduced in the 16th Lok Sabha but had lapsed.
The Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2019, will replace an ordinance. It seeks to help crack down on illicit deposit taking activities exploiting regulatory gaps and lack of strict measures to dupe poor and gullible people.

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The National Policy on Biofuels, 2018

Wed, 17 Jul, 2019

Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) will set up Maharashtra’s first ever ethanol biorefienry in Vidarbha’s Bhandara district at a cost of nearly ₹1,500 crore.
The State government has finalised the location along with BPCL and it will be set up in Bhandara’s Makardhokda village. The plant will manufacture ethanol from rice straw and will be set up on 46 hectares of land that is currently with the Revenue Department.
The project will utilise 2 lakh tonne of rice straw annually and has a capacity to produce 700 tonne of biofuel. This project is one among 12 such refineries planned in different States.
Bhandara and Gondia districts annually produce 3.62 lakh and 3.87 lakh rice straw annually. The supply of raw material won’t be a problem. This project is likely to create around 10,000 jobs directly or indirectly. The rice straw will be collected, chopped and dried and then supplied to the refinery.
The Revenue Department holds 146 hectares at the site, out of which 46 hectares will be used for this project. The government plans to set up allied industries in the remaining land. The process to hand over the land to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation has begun and once complete, the land will be notified as industrial. After this, it will be handed over to BPCL.
We expect to initiate the project within a year. BPCL will ensure environmental clearances. We will be charging BPCL a nominal fee of up to ₹3 crore for the land.
The National Policy on Biofuels, 2018, aims to increase the percentage of ethanol in petrol and diesel. Currently, it is at nearly 2% in petrol, while in diesel, biofuel is less than 0.1%. An indicative target of 20% of ethanol in petrol and 5% of biodiesel in diesel is proposed by 2030.

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Govt. has ignored benefits of cannabis

Tue, 16 Jul, 2019

There is not a single document which shows that cannabis is lethal to human, a social cause litigation has claimed before the Delhi High Court in its pursuit to bring an end to various existing laws in India that prohibit and criminalise its use.
Bangalore-based cannabis advocacy group Great Legalisation Movement India, in its petition, has challenged various sections of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and Rules that criminalise the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis.
The advocacy group, represented by senior counsel Arvind Datar and advocate J. Sai Deepak, said that the prohibition on cannabis in India happened in 1985, after the passing of the NDPS Act. The treatment of cannabis at par with other harmful and lethal chemicals is arbitrary, unscientific, unreasonable and hence unconstitutional.
It argued that various scientific research papers published by the World Health Organisation and the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission (IHDC) (1894) establish its medicinal benefits. The IHDC had concluded that the total prohibition of the cultivation of the hemp plant and manufacture of drugs derived from it was not necessary.

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Orchids

Mon, 15 Jul, 2019

Orchids have complex floral structure that facilitates biotic cross-pollination and makes them evolutionarily superior to the other plant groups. The entire orchid family is listed under appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and hence any trade of wild orchid is banned globally.

  1. Epiphytic – plants growing on another plants including those growing on rock boulders and often termed lithophyte. These are abundant up to 1800 m above the sea level and their occurrence decreases with the increase in altitude.
  2. Terrestrial – plants growing on land and climbers. They grow directly on soil, are found in large numbers in temperate and alpine region.
  3. Mycoheterotrophic – plants which derive nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that are attached to the roots of a vascular plant. About 60% of all orchids found in India, which is 757 species, are epiphytic, 447 are terrestrial and 43 are mycoheterotrophic. They are mostly associated with ectomycorrhizal fungi, are found in temperate regions, or are found growing with parasites in tropical regions.

Details:

  1. A State-wise distribution of orchid species point out that the Himalayas, North-East parts of the country and Western Ghats are the hot-spots of orchid plants.
  2. The highest number of orchid species is recorded from Arunachal Pradesh with 612 species, followed by Sikkim 560 species and West Bengal.
  3. Darjeeling Himalayas have also high species concentration, with 479 species.
  4. While north-east India rank at the top in species concentration, the Western Ghats have high endemism of orchids.
  5. There are 388 species of orchids, which are endemic to India of which about one-third (128) endemic species are found in Western Ghats.
  6. The publication points out that Kerala has 111 of these endemic species while Tamil Nadu has 92.
  7. Among the 10 bio geographic zones of India, the Himalayan zone is the richest in terms of orchid species followed by Northeast, Western Ghats, Deccan plateau and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
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The Law Commission of India

Sun, 14 Jul, 2019

  1. The Law Commission of India is an executive body formed by an order of the government.
  2. Its chief mandate is to bring about reforms in the legal domain in the country. The commission is chiefly composed of legal experts.
  3. The Law Commission is formed for a fixed term.
  4. It functions as an advisory body to the Law and Justice Ministry.
  5. The first ever Law Commission was created in 1834 via the 1833 Charter Act, under the chairmanship of Macaulay.
  6. There were three more law commissions during the British Raj before independence.
  7. The Indian Contract Act, The Indian Code of Civil Procedure the Indian Evidence Act, the Transfer of Property Act. etc. are the outcomes of the first four Law Commissions.
  8. The Government of India established the First Law Commission of Independent India in 1955 and is reconstituted every three years.
  9. The recent one is the 21stLaw Commission is in function and its tenure is from 2015 to 2018.
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Kartarpur Sahib

Sat, 13 Jul, 2019

  1. The Kartarpur shrine in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the river Ravi is where Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, spent his final days.
  2. The shrine is highly revered by the Sikh community.
  3. It is about 4 km from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur.
  4. The Kartarpur Corridor was first proposed in early 1999 by the prime ministers of Pakistan and India, Nawaz Sharif and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, respectively, as part of the Delhi–Lahore Bus diplomacy.
  5. In 2018, the foundation stone for the Kartarpur corridor was laid down on the Indian side. Two days later the foundation stone for the corridor was laid down on the Pakistani side. The corridor was initially intended to be completed before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019.
  6. The project is seen as a help in easing tensions between the two countries.
  7. Currently, pilgrims from India have to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur, which is a 125 km journey, despite the fact that people on the Indian side of the border can physically see Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistani side.
  8. An elevated platform has also been constructed for the same on the Indian side, where people use binoculars to get a good view.
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Court relaxes rules for woman to abort foetus suffering from congenital anomaly

Fri, 12 Jul, 2019

Issues:

  1. The MTP Act does not have a definition of termination of pregnancy. For this purpose, it has been recommended to include a definition for termination of pregnancy.
  2. It has been recommended to replace the term “registered medical practitioner” with “registered health care provider”. This would cover the expanded provider base being suggested, by bringing in Nurses and ANMs as well as Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopath practitioners as legitimate providers of abortion service.
  3. The MTP Act 1971 provides the legal framework for provision of induced abortion services in India. However, to ensure effective roll-out of services there is a need for standards, guidelines and standard operating procedures.

    1. Before 1971, abortion was criminalized under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
    2. Except in cases where abortion was carried out to save the life of the woman, it was a punishable offense and criminalized women/providers, with whoever voluntarily caused a woman with child to miscarry facing three years in prison and/or a fine, and the woman availing of the service facing seven years in prison and/or a fine.
    3. Government of India instated a Committee in 1964 led by Shantilal Shah to come up with suggestions to draft the abortion law for India. The recommendations were accepted in 1970 and introduced in the Parliament as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill. This bill was passed in August 1971 as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.
    4. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 provides the legal framework for making Comprehensive Abortion Care (CAC) services available in India. Termination of pregnancy is permitted for a broad range of conditions up to 20 weeks of gestation.
    5. As per the provisions of the MTP Act, only the consent of woman whose pregnancy is being terminated is required. However, in case of a minor i.e. below the age of 18 years, or a mentally ill woman, consent of guardian is required.
    6. The MTP Act 1971, was amended in 2002 to facilitate better implementation and increase access for women especially in the private health sector.
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Revision of World Population Prospects 2019

Thu, 11 Jul, 2019

Recently, the United Nations released the 26th revision of World Population Prospects and forecast that India will overtake China as the most populous country by 2027.

UN Population Projections  

  1. It is important to note that the UN revises its population projections every two years.
  2. As a matter of fact, in 2015, it was predicted that India would overtake China in 2022, but in the 2019 projections it is 2027.
  3. The UN has revised India’s expected population size in 2050 downward from 1,705 million in 2015 projections to 1,639 million in 2019 projections.
  4. This is due to faster than expected fertility decline, which is good news by all counts.
  5. India will reign as the most populous country throughout most of the 21st century.
  6. Experts opine that whether the government adjusts to this demographic destiny in a way that contributes to the long-term welfare of the nation or not depends on how it deals with three critical issues.

Population and policy

  1. Thirdly, we must change our mindset about how population is incorporated in broader development policies.
  2. Population growth in the north and central parts of India is far greater than that in south India.
  3. What should we do about the old policies aimed at not rewarding States that fail to control population growth?
  4. These policies include using the 1971 population to allocate seats for the Lok Sabha and for Centre-State allocation under various Finance Commissions.
  5. In a departure from this practice, the 15th Finance Commission is expected to use the 2011 Census for making its recommendations. This has led to vociferous protests from the southern States as the feeling is that they are being penalised for better performance in reducing fertility.
  6. There is reason for their concern. As a matter of fact, between the 1971 and 2011 Censuses, the population of Kerala grew by 56% compared to about 140% growth for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. A move to use the 2011 Census for funds allocation will favour the north-central States compared to Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
  7. Having said this, continuing to stay with a 1971 Census-based allocation would be a mistake. Cross-State subsidies come in many forms; Centre-State transfers is but one.
  8. Incomes generated by workers in one State may also provide the tax revenues that support residents in another State.
  9. Further, the varying pace of onset and end of demographic transition creates intricate links between workers in Haryana today and retirees in Kerala and between future workers in Uttar Pradesh and children in Tamil Nadu.
  10. It is important to note that the demographic dividend provided by the increasing share of working age adults is a temporary phase during which child dependency ratio is falling and old-age dependency ratio is still low. But this opportunity only lasts for 20 to 30 years. For States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu which experienced fertility decline early, this window of opportunity is already past.
  11. As the United Nations Population Fund estimates, over the next 20 years, the window of opportunity will be open for moderate achievers such as Karnataka, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir. As the demographic window of opportunity closes for these States, it will open for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other States that are the last to enter fertility transition. This suggests that workers of Bihar will be supporting the ageing population of Kerala in 20 years.

 

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Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Thu, 11 Jul, 2019

  1. The Bill seeks to amend the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 to streamline the adjudication of inter-state river water disputes.
  2. A key feature of the bill is the constitution of a single tribunal with different Benches, and the setting of strict timelines for adjudication.
  3. Central Government has constituted the Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute, as it is often opined by the Central government that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations when any request under the Act is received from any State Government in respect of any water dispute on the inter-State rivers.
  4. The single tribunal so envisaged will have a permanent establishment and permanent office space and infrastructure so as to obviate with the need to set up a separate Tribunal for each water dispute making it a time consuming process.
  5. The Bill also proposes a Dispute Resolution Committee set up by the Central Government for amicably resolving inter-State water disputes within 18 months.
  6. Any dispute that cannot be settled by negotiations would be referred to the tribunal for its adjudication.
  7. The dispute so referred to the tribunal shall be assigned by the chairperson of the tribunal to a Bench of the tribunal for adjudication.
  8. The Bill can also affect the composition of the members of various tribunals, and has a provision to have a technical expert as the head of the tribunal.
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National Investigation Agency

Thu, 11 Jul, 2019

  1. The NIA is an agency under the central government in India established to fight terrorism in the country.
  2. It is the central counter-terrorism law enforcement agency.
  3. The NIA has powers to tackle crimes associated with terrorism across all states without any prior authorization from the states.
  4. The NIA investigates and prosecutes those offences which are listed in the NIA Act which was passed by the Parliament in December 2008.
  5. The government has notified Special Courts to conduct trials of the cases that have been registered in the NIA police stations.
  6. The NIA functions under the Home Ministry. It is headquartered in New Delhi
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Article 370

Thu, 11 Jul, 2019

  1. Article 370 of the Indian constitution is an article that gives autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  2. The article is drafted in Part XXI of the Constitution: Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions.
  3. The Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, after its establishment, was empowered to recommend the articles of the Indian constitution that should be applied to the state or to abrogate the Article 370 altogether.
  4. After the J&K Constituent Assembly later created the state’s constitution and dissolved itself without recommending the abrogation of Article 370, the article was deemed to have become a permanent feature of the Indian Constitution.
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African Union (AU)

Wed, 10 Jul, 2019

  1. The African Union (AU) is a continental body consisting of the 55 member states that make up the countries of the African Continent.
  2. It was officially launched in 2002 as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity.
  3. In May 1963, 32 Heads of independent African States met in Addis Ababa Ethiopia to sign the Charter creating Africa’s first post-independence continental institution, The Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
  4. The OAU was the manifestation of the pan-African vision for an Africa that was united, free and in control of its own destiny and this was solemnised in the OAU Charter in which the founding fathers recognised that freedom, equality, justice and dignity were essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples and that there was a need to promote understanding among Africa’s peoples and foster cooperation among African states in response to the aspirations of Africans for brother-hood and solidarity, in a larger unity transcending ethnic and national differences.
  5. The guiding philosophy was that of Pan-Africanism which centred on African socialism and promoted African unity, the communal characteristic and practices of African communities, and a drive to embrace Africa’s culture and common heritage.
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‘Utkarsh 2022’

Tue, 09 Jul, 2019

  1. The medium term strategy named Utkarsh 2022 is in line with the global central banks’ plan to strengthen the regulatory and supervisory mechanism.
  2. An internal committee was formed, which was headed by outgoing Deputy Governor Viral Acharya, to identify issues that needed to be addressed over the next three years.
  3. While around a dozen areas were identified by the committee, some board members felt that areas could be filtered and lesser number of areas can be identified for implementation in the next three years.
  4. The idea is that the central bank plays a proactive role and takes pre-emptive action to avoid any crisis like IL&FS debt default issue and the crisis of confidence the non-banking financial sector.
  5. The board also approved the RBI’s budget for the July 2019—June 2020 period, and discussed other matters relating to currency management and payment systems.
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Uniform Civil Code

Mon, 08 Jul, 2019

  1. The issue of Uniform Civil Code will be placed before the 22nd Law Commission for consideration once it is constituted.
  2. The High Court was hearing a plea contending that the government has “failed” to put in place a Uniform Civil Code, as provided under Article 44 of the Constitution.
  3. The petition stated that Goa has a common civil code since 1965, which is applicable to all of its residents, and it is the only state to have it as of now.

What is a Uniform Civil Code?

  • Uniform civil code is the proposal to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in India with a common set governing every citizen.
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“Indo-Pacific Region”

Sun, 07 Jul, 2019

  1. At a time when the geopolitical disputes between China and the United States are escalating, it has become imperative for the ASEAN to reclaim the strategic narrative in its favour in order to highlight its centrality in the emerging regional order.
  2. The document underlines the need for an inclusive and rules-based framework to help to generate momentum for building strategic trust and win-win cooperation in the region.
  3. An awareness of the emergence of a great power contest around its vicinity flows through the document as it argues that the rise of material powers, i.e. economic and military, requires avoiding the deepening of mistrust, miscalculation and patterns of behaviour based on a zero-sum game.
  4. Despite individual differences and bilateral engagements ASEAN member states have with the U.S. and China, it can now claim to have a common approach as far as the Indo-Pacific region is concerned.
  5. However, the approach should also complement existing frameworks of cooperation at the regional and sub-regional levels and generate tangible and concrete deliverables for the benefit of the region’s peoples.
  6. Japan had already unveiled its Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept in 2016, while Australiareleased its Foreign Policy White Paper in 2017, detailing its Indo-Pacific vision centred around security, openness and prosperity.
  7. Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated India’s Indo-Pacific vision at the Shangri-la Dialogue in 2018, with India even setting up an Indo-Pacific wing in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) earlier this year(2019).
  8. The release of the U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy report in June focusses on preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of a more assertive China.
  9. This was perhaps the final push that was needed to bring the ASEAN discussion on the subject to a close.
  10. The final outlook that the ASEAN has come up with effectively seeks to take its own position rather than following any one power’s lead.
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“Miyawaki”

Sat, 06 Jul, 2019

The Forest department has introduced the famous Japanese “Miyawaki” method of afforestation in the Velugumatla urban park on a pilot basis to supplement the green drive, Telangana Ku Haritha Haram (TKHH).

  1. The forest department is entrusted with the huge task of planting around 3.29 crore saplings under the fifth phase of TKHH.
  2. The Miyawaki method, that has revolutionised the concept of urban afforestation by turning backyards into mini-forests is considered for Velugumatla urban park.
  3. The method is named after the Japanese botanist and plant ecologist Akira Miyawaki.
  4. By promoting natural vegetation on land destroyed by natural calamities and man-induced mistakes, Miyawaki managed to raise mini forests along the coastline of Japan.
  5. Using this, it’s possible to grow a variety of native species in as little a space as 600 sq.ft.
  6. As a side benefit, these forests serve as a natural bulwark against soil erosion and Tsunami.
  7. The recent move is aimed at creating natural green spaces by gradually extending the method, well-known for growing mini urban forests in limited spaces in a relatively less time.

Telangana Ku Haritha Haram:

  1. Telangana Ku Haritha Haram or Haritha Haram is a large-scale tree-planting program implemented by the Government of Telangana to increase the amount of tree cover in the state from 24% to 33%.
  2. It is one of the Telangana Flagship programmes to rejuvenate degraded forests, protecting these forests from threats such as smuggling, encroachment, fire and grazing.
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volcano on the Sicilian island of Stromboli

Fri, 05 Jul, 2019

  1. Stromboli is a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north coast of Sicily.
  2. It contains one of the three active volcanoes in Italy.
  3. It is one of the eight Aeolian Islands, a volcanic arc north of Sicily.
  4. The volcano at Stromboli has erupted many times and is constantly active with minor eruptions, often visible from many points on the island and from the surrounding sea, giving rise to the island’s nickname “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”
  5. The volcano is one of the most active on the planet and has been under a regular state of eruption since 1932.
  6. The last erruption was in 2007.
  7. Ash and lapilli [rock fragments] were shot up to two kilometres high before landing on the ground and hitting the sides of the mountain.

Strombolian Eruption:

  1. Strombolian eruptionsare relatively mild blasts.
  2. They are named for the Italianvolcano Stromboli.
  3. Strombolian eruptions consist of ejection of incandescent cinder, lapilli, and lava bombs, to altitudes of tens to a few hundreds of metres.
  4. The eruptions are small to medium in volume, with sporadic violence.
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Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017

Thu, 04 Jul, 2019

  1. The rules’ existence has emboldened anti-social elements to take matters into their own hands and loot cattle traders.
  2. It has become a cause for polarisation of society.
  3. Such incidents are acting as triggers for communal polarisation of society, and if not halted effectively and immediately, will have disastrous consequences on the social fabric of the country.
  4. The association said the 2017 rules have travelled beyond the boundaries of the 1960 Act.
  5. Under Section 29 of the Act, private cattle can be forfeited only after the owner is convicted and had faced a previous conviction. The other situations include the probability of further cruelty from the owner if the cattle is left with him.
  6. The Act says that an animal should be admitted to a shelter, etc., only if it is injured and requires treatment. The animal has to be returned to the owner after treatment.
  7. Besides, Section 38A of the PCA Act required any rule made under the 1960 Act to be laid before the Parliament, which has not been done with the 2017 Rules
  8. A petition by the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association said that they were being forcibly deprived of their cattle, which are then sent to gaushalas.
  9. The authorities can further give such animals for “adoption”. In short, a farmer or a traders loses his cattle even before he is adjudged guilty of cruelty under the 1960 Act.
  10. On the strength of the 2017 rules against animal cruelty and cattle slaughter, cattle which is a means of livelihood for many families, is being seized and forfeited from their rightful owners.
  11. Two years ago, the Centre had promised the top court that it would amend and re-notify these rules.
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State of the Education Report for India 2019: Children with Disabilities.

Wed, 03 Jul, 2019

 

  1. Nearly three-fourths of five-year-old children and one-fourths of kids aged between 5 and 19 with disabilities in India are out of school.
  2. Analysis of the current situation indicated that an estimated 7.8 million children aged under 19 lived with disabilities in India.
  3. Only 61 per cent of CWDs aged between 5 and 19 were attending an educational institution compared to the overall figure of 71 per cent when all children are considered. About 12% had dropped out, while 27% had never been to school at all.
  4. The number of children enrolled in school drops significantly with each successive level of schooling and that there are fewer girls with disabilities in schools than boys.
  5. Large number of children with disabilities do not go to regular schools but are enrolled at the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).
  6. National estimates of the proportion of the population with disabilities is much lower than international estimates leading to questions about the disability measures used In the census.
  7. The report talks in detail about challenges such as inadequate allocations, delays in releasing funds and under-utilisation of allocation.
  8. Inclusive education (IE), wherein children with disabilities go to mainstream schools rather than special schools, under the Centre’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) continues to remain a distant dream.
  9. The report, called for policy interventions to improve the situation.
  10. The vision of an inclusive and non-discriminatory education system for children with disabilities has to explicitly state the need for focusing on the education of girls with disabilities.
  11. The attitude of parents and teachers towards including CWDs into mainstream education is also crucial to accomplish the goal of inclusive education besides accessibility to physical infrastructure, processes in the school, assistive and ICT technology and devices being essential resources.
  12. The Right to Education Act mandates enrolment, but not the provision of resources needed for the actual education of a child with disabilities. The report recommended amending the Right To Education (RTE) Act to better align with the Right of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act by including specific concerns of education of such children.
  13. Further measures are needed to ensure quality education for every child to achieve the goals and targets of agenda 2030 and more specifically Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education).
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National Education Policy 2019

Tue, 02 Jul, 2019

  1. Subsequently, the reference to Hindi was dropped by the committee. It reworked the sentence to the effect that students could change their language preference in Grades 6 or 7, so long as they are able to still demonstrate proficiency in three languages (one at the literature level) in their modular Board examination some time during secondary school.
  2. The Centre sought to defuse the situation by first reminding them that it was only a draft, and that the policy was yet to be finalised.
  3. It is important to note that the State had witnessed massive protests against earlier attempts to impose Hindi in 1937 and 1965.
  4. Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam president M.K. Stalin warned that his party would be forced to launch another agitation against Hindi imposition.
  5. The draft evoked a hostile response from political leaders in Tamil Nadu, who were quick to dub the proposal as an attempt to impose Hindi on the unwilling State.
  6. The Central government recently released a draft National Education Policy 2019, a report prepared by a committee headed by space scientist K. Kasturirangan.
  7. Its reference to mandatory teaching of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking States set off a political storm in Tamil Nadu, which is traditionally opposed to the compulsory study of Hindi.
  8. The draft had a sentence on flexibility on choice of language for school students. Those who wished to change the three languages may do so in Grade 6, it said. However, this could be done so long as the study of three languages by students in Hindi-speaking States would continue to include Hindi and English, and one of the modern Indian languages from other parts of India, while the study of languages by students in the non-Hindi-speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English.
  9. It is important to note that the State of Tamil Nadu has been traditionally opposed to any attempt to introduce Hindi as a compulsory language of learning or administration.
  10. The origin of the linguistic row, however, goes back to the debate on official language.
  11. In the Constituent Assembly, Hindi was voted as the official language by a single vote.
  12. However, it added that English would continue to be used as an associate official language for 15 years.
  13. The Official Languages Act came into effect on the expiry of this 15-year period in 1965.
  14. This was the background in which the anti-Hindi agitation took place. However, as early as in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru had given an assurance in Parliament that English would continue to be in use as long as non-Hindi speaking people wanted it.
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G 20 Summit

Mon, 01 Jul, 2019

  1. The G20 is an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 19 countries and the European Union (EU).
  2. Founded in 1999 with the aim to discuss policy pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability.
  3. Membership of the G20 consists of 19 individual countries plus the European Union.
  4. The G20 economies account for around 90% of the gross world product (GWP), 85% of the world’s nominal GDP, 80% of world trade, two-thirds of the world population, and approximately half of the world land area.
  5. India is a member of G20.
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Kaziranga National Park

Sun, 30 Jun, 2019

  1. Kaziranga National Park is a national park in the state of Assam.
  2. The sanctuary hosts two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceroses.
  3. The greater One horned Rhinos are native to Indian Subcontinent and are listed as Vulnerable in IUCN Red List.
  4. Kaziranga National Park has been declared a World Heritage Site for its unique natural environment.
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International Whaling Commission (IWC)

Sat, 29 Jun, 2019

Japanese fishermen have set sail to hunt whales commercially for the first time in more than three decades, following Tokyo’s controversial decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

  1. The decision had sparked global condemnation and fears for the worlds whales.
  2. Japan announced last year that it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and would resume commercial whaling.
  3. Travelling as far as the North Atlantic or even to the Antarctic, home to the world’s largest populations of whales, Japanese fleets killed about 500 whales last year.
  4. Even after the International Court of Justice in 2014 declared the killing of whales in the name of science illegal, Japan continued whaling.
  5. Introduced by the IWC in 1986 to protect the world’s last remaining whales, the ban on commercial whaling allowed Japan an annual whale quota for “scientific reasons.”
  6. With the resumption of commercial whaling, Japanese boats will not be allowed to venture further than 200 miles (321km) off the country’s Pacific coast. But some environmentalists are still concerned because of the low whale stocks in Japan’s coastal waters.
  7. The hunt will be confined to Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
  8. Japan has long maintained that eating whale is an important part of its culture and that most species are not endangered.
  9. Domestic consumption of whale meat was around 200,000 tons a year in the 1960s, when it was an important source of protein in the postwar years, but has slumped to less than 5,000 tons annually in recent years, according to government data. 
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UNSC non-permanent seat

Fri, 28 Jun, 2019

The 55-member Asia-Pacific Group has unanimously supported India at the bid for non-permanent seat at UNSC for a two-year term (2021-22).

  1. The Asia-Pacific Group gets to nominate one of its members for the June 2020 elections to a non-permanent seat on the UNSC.
  2. Estonia, Niger, Tunisia, Vietnam and St. Vincent and the Grenadines were elected earlier this month.
  3. Vote of two-thirds of the UN General Assembly’s 193 members will be needed for India to win a non-permanent seat on the UNSC.
  4. India has already held a non-permanent seat on the UNSC for seven terms.

The development is significant for two major reasons:

  1. The 55 countries that have supported India’s candidature, include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkey, UAE and Vietnam.
  2. Pakistan and China have supported this move. This is particularly significant as India has had diplomatic challenges with both countries at the UN.
  3. In 2013, when India announced its candidature for the 2021-22 UNSC non-permanent seat, Afghanistan, a potential contender, had withdrawn its nomination to accommodate India’s candidacy. The gesture was based on the long-standing, close and friendly relations between the two countries.
  4. Majority of the UN members support the need for expansion of the permanent and non-permanent membership of the Security Council.
  5. Also, India is at the forefront of efforts at the UN to push for the long-pending reform of the Security Council, emphasising that it rightly deserves a place at the UN high table as a permanent member.
  6. The Asia Pacific group faces daunting challenges in seeking to be represented equitably. Asia-Pacific group is vying for 2 non-permanent seats, while in the West European & Other Group states there are 25 members in the pool vying for 2 seats.

United Nations Security Council:

  1. UNSC is a 15-nation Council with 5 Permanent Members and 10 Non-permanent Members.
  2. The five permanent members of the Council are China, France, Russia, UK and the US.
  3. The 10 non-permanent seats are distributed on a regional basis: five for African and Asian States; one for Eastern European States; two for the Latin American and Caribbean States; and two for Western European and other States.
  4. Each year the 193-member General Assembly elects five non-permanent members for a two-year term at the UN high-table.
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SEZ Bill

Thu, 27 Jun, 2019

The Lok Sabha passed the Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019The bill amends the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 and replaces an Ordinance that was promulgated on March 2, 2019.

Details:

  1. The Act provides for the establishment, development and management of Special Economic Zones for the promotion of exports.
  2. Definition of person: Under the Act, the definition of a person includes an individual, a Hindu undivided family, a company, a co-operative society, a firm, or an association of persons.
    • The Bill adds two more categories to this definition by including a trust, or any other entity which may be notified by the central government.
  3. The amendment seeks to provide flexibility to the central government to include trusts in the definition of a ‘person’ in a bid to facilitate investments in these zones.
  4. The amendment aims at improving and encouraging more investments and introducing features including single-window clearance and to ease imports and exports.
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Methane spike on Mars

Wed, 26 Jun, 2019

  1. NASA Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) has detected the highest ever levels of methane in the course of its mission on Mars.
  2. The discovery could point to the existence of microbial life on the planet.
  3. Methane, if it is there in the thin Martian air, is significant, because sunlight and chemical reactions would break up the molecules within a few centuries. Thus any methane detected now must have been released recently.
  4. One leading theory is that the methane is being released from underground reservoirs created by ancient life forms.
  5. Though Mars has no active volcanoes like on Earth, it is possible that methane is being released from geological processes, involving reactions of carbon from carbonate rocks or carbon dioxide, with hydrogen from liquid water.
  6. There is a possibility that the methane could also be produced as a result of interactions between rocks and water.
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Devoid of principle

Tue, 25 Jun, 2019

What is the anti-defection law?

  1. It is important to note that ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’ was a phrase that became popular in Indian politics after a Haryana MLA Gaya Lal changed his party thrice within the same day in 1967.
  2. The anti-defection law sought to prevent such political defections which may be due to reward of office or other similar considerations.
  3. The Tenth Schedule was inserted in the Constitution of India in 1985.
  4. It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House.
  5. A legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote.
  6. This implies that a legislator defying (abstaining or voting against) the party whip on any issue can lose his membership of the House.
  7. The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.

 Are there any exceptions under the law?

  1. Yes, legislators may change their party without the risk of disqualification in certain circumstances.
  2. The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favour of the merger.
  3. In such a scenario, neither the members who decide to merge, nor the ones who stay with the original party will face disqualification.
  4. Various expert committees have recommended that rather than the Presiding Officer, the decision to disqualify a member should be made by the President (in case of MPs) or the Governor (in case of MLAs) on the advice of the Election Commission.
  5. This would be similar to the process followed for disqualification in case the person holds an office of profit (i.e. the person holds an office under the central or state government which carries a remuneration, and has not been excluded in a list made by the legislature).

How has the law been interpreted by the Courts while deciding on related matters?

The Supreme Court of India has interpreted different provisions of the law.  The following paragraphs attempts at discussing a few of them.

  1. The phrase ‘Voluntarily gives up his membership’ has a wider connotation than resignation.
  2. The law provides for a member to be disqualified if he ‘voluntarily gives up his membership’. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted that in the absence of a formal resignation by the member, the giving up of membership can be inferred by his conduct.
  3. In other judgments, members who have publicly expressed opposition to their party or support for another party were deemed to have resigned.

Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review:

  1. The law initially stated that the decision of the Presiding Officer is not subject to judicial review. This condition was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1992, thereby allowing appeals against the Presiding Officer’s decision in the High Court and Supreme Court.
  2. However, it held that there may not be any judicial intervention until the Presiding Officer gives his order.
  3. In 2015, the Hyderabad High Court, refused to intervene after hearing a petition which alleged that there had been delay by the Telangana Assembly Speaker in acting against a member under the anti-defection law.

Is there a time limit within which the Presiding Officer has to decide?

  1. The law does not specify a time-period for the Presiding Officer to decide on a disqualification plea. Given that courts can intervene only after the Presiding Officer has decided on the matter, the petitioner seeking disqualification has no option but to wait for this decision to be made.
  2. Importantly, there have been several cases where the Courts have expressed concern about the unnecessary delay in deciding such petitions.
  3. In some cases this delay in decision making has resulted in members, who have defected from their parties, continuing to be members of the House.
  4. There have also been instances where opposition members have been appointed ministers in the government while still retaining the membership of their original parties in the legislature.
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Special Category Status (SCS).

Mon, 24 Jun, 2019

  1. In the present circumstances, it is believed that no more states can be given the status of a Special Category state.
  2. Confirming that the centre has been receiving requests with respect to the grant Special Category Status to the states, Union Finance Minister ruled out the possibility of granting the SCS to these states.
  3. Recognizing that some regions in the country were historically disadvantaged in contrast to the others, the 5th Finance Commission in 1969 introduced the concept of Special Category Status.
  4. The SCS for plan assistance was granted in the past by the National Development Council (NDC) to some States characterised by a number of features necessitating a special consideration.
  5. These features included: hilly and difficult terrain, low population density and/or sizeable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries, economic and infrastructural backwardness and non-viable nature of State finances.
  6. The Constitution of India does not include any provision for the categorization of any state in India as a Special Category State.
  7. The Finance Minister also made it clear that there is no link between SCS and industries and that SCS would not provide for any specific measure for growth of industries.

Benefits of a Special Category Status:

  1. Preferential treatment in getting central funds and tax breaks
  2. Concession on excise duty to attract industries to the state
  3. 30% of the Centre’s gross budget goes to special category states
  4. These states can avail the benefit of debt-swapping and debt relief schemes
  5. In the case of Centrally Sponsored Schemes and external aid, Special Category States get it in the ratio of 90% as grant, and 10% as loans. Other states, however, get 30% of their funds as grants
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National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)

Sun, 23 Jun, 2019

  • NCRB is an Indian government agency responsible for collecting and analysing crime data as defined by the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special and Local Laws (SLL).
  • It is a part of the Ministry of Home Affairs and is headquartered in Delhi.
  • Its primary objective is to create and maintain secure sharable National Databases on crimes and criminals for law enforcement agencies and promote their use for public service delivery.

Issue:

  • The annual ‘Crime in India’ report for the year 2016 was last released in 2017.
  • The reports of 2017 and 2018 are yet to be published.
  • The leader also accused the government of not publishing reports such as the NCRB Report and the NSSO report that highlighted the unemployment rate in India at a 45-year-high.

Reasons for the delay:

  • The government officials informed that 2 states had not sent requisite data for the compilation of the 2017 report while 27 others had sent.
  • It was said that the lackadaisical repsonse by West Bengal and Bihar in sending crime data were also the contributing factors to the indefinite delay in final publication of the report.
  • A status report maintained by the NCRB said that there were  several inconsistencies and errors provided by States and Union Territories and they were requested to send correct data.
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The Cyber Prevention Awareness and Detection (CyPAD)

Sat, 22 Jun, 2019

The Cyber Prevention Awareness and Detection (CyPAD) unit of the Delhi Police is facing challenges due to tech giants not sharing information on time and manpower crunch.
The CyPAD was inaugurated by former Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in February this year. Cyber crime unit was earlier under the Economic Offences Wing and the cases taken up by the unit mostly pertained to financial irregularities.
Sources claimed that tech giants like Twitter and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service providers don’t share information easily through Google and Facebook. But Yahoo has been cooperative with law enforcement agencies.
“WhatsApp has recently submitted an affidavit in a city court that its encryption software is such that it cannot share information. There are websites, applications and service providers that give VoIP numbers and they don’t share information with us as well,” the officer said.
VoIP is a software which enables people to use Internet as transmission medium wherein the caller can use an Indian number but it will show as an international number.
Time consuming
Sources said that the formal procedure to get the information is through Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) and various provisions under Information Technology Act, but they are time consuming. “By the time we get the required information, it becomes useless as substantial amount of time lapses by then.
So far, the police have been able to extract information from tech giants who “don’t cooperate” by mutual understanding and by getting in touch with their representatives. Appropriate legal action can be taken against the companies but we are trying to resolve it mutually.
Tech giants are legally bound to share information with the law enforcement agencies in India under Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Code. “If they don’t comply with this, the CrPC further defines that criminal penalties may be instituted against the online platforms.
Why the social media platforms fail to share information on time, that there are three reasons for the same.
1. First, the department sometimes sends notice that is vague or not even available with the platform.
2. Second, the platforms have based their compliance teams not in India but abroad so it takes time to process.
3. Third, it takes time for the compliance team to turn the information to a law enforcement agency given the impact it may have on the privacy of its user.
Another problem that the unit is facing is manpower crunch. Sources said that the unit has about 150 officers in total, out of which only 10%-20% are technically sound.
Lack of manpower
“Under the IT Act, only an inspector-rank officer can investigate such cases and we have about 12-13 inspectors who have about 15 cases each,” the officer said.
However, 50 constables, fresh out of academy, are recently deployed in the unit and are being trained from scratch. The officer said that the unit has a strong technical team of about 10 officers headed by an inspector who conducts in-house training sessions.
The unit has access to some of the latest technology, including retrieving data from a damaged hard disk or mobile phone. They are in the process of acquiring more, including sophisticated software for social media analysis.

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SAFAR

Fri, 31 May, 2019

With rising temperatures, surface ozone pollution is expected to increase in Delhi in the next three days, according to a forecast by the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR).
Surface ozone can lead to cough, shortness of breath, throat pain in short term and cause corrosion of linings of lungs and make lungs vulnerable to further infections in case of long-term exposure,” said Vivek Chattopadhyaya, senior programme manager of Clean Air Programme at Centre for Science and Environment, here.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) on Tuesday was in the ‘moderate’ category and is expected to slowly deteriorate to the higher end of moderate category in the next two days with ozone as a lead pollutant, according to SAFAR, a wing of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
Maximum temperatures are likely to rise gradually by 2-3 degrees Celsius during the next three days which will increase the production of surface ozone. A significant increase in ozone pollution is predicted.
What is surface ozone?
Surface ozone is not a primary pollutant and it is produced due to chemical reactions of NOx (nitrogen oxides), CO (carbon monoxide) in the presence of sunlight.
“When temperature increases, the rate of production of ozone also increases. It can cause fatigue, breathlessness, and asthma,” a SAFAR official said. “The levels will be still in moderate category [50-90 parts per billion].”

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BIMSTEC

Thu, 30 May, 2019

BIMSTEC comprises seven states; five from South Asia — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka — and two, Myanmar and Thailand, from Southeast Asia. Five of its member-states are rim countries of the Bay of Bengal and two (Bhutan and Nepal) are landlocked countries, which nevertheless depend on the Bay of Bengal for access to maritime trade. Importantly, with the exception of India and Bhutan, the other BIMSTEC members are participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

By inviting BIMSTEC leaders to the swearing-in, India has signaled that Modi’s second term as prime minister will see India pivoting from its focus on the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to BIMSTEC. Set up in 1997, BIMSTEC has made little progress. It has suffered from neglect and lack of commitment from its members. So why is India eyeing BIMSTEC now?

Five years ago, when Modi first took his oath as prime minister, India invited the leaders of SAARC’s member states. The leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka attended the event. Their presence signaled the priority the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government intended on giving its neighbors and SAARC.

Modi’s engagement of India’s neighbors began early; the day after his swearing-in he held talks individually with each of the visiting leaders. He visited Bhutan in June 2014, making it the destination of his first state visit and followed that up with a visit to Nepal in August. In November, he participated in the 18th SAARC summit at Kathmandu.

The first 18 months of Modi’s first term witnessed an upturn in India-Pakistan relations. Although Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were only seen to have shaken hands at the SAARC summit at Kathmandu, it emerged subsequently that they had met “secretly” for at least an hour on the sidelines of the summit. The two prime ministers met again on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit at Ufa in Russia in July 2015 and in December 2015, the Indian and Pakistani national security advisers met at Bangkok and discussed a range of issues including terror and Kashmir. A few days later, the two foreign ministers met at Islamabad and announced the start of comprehensive bilateral dialogue on all issues of disagreement. Bilateral bonhomie touched a high on December 25, 2015 when Modi dropped in to greet Sharifat his home in Lahore on the occasion of his birthday.

Throughout this period of overt cordiality, tensions were simmering, however. As early as August 2014, for instance, India called off foreign secretary talks as the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi was meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders. Pakistan’s continuing support to anti-India terror groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) drew Delhi’s ire, especially as the Pakistan-based group carried out several attacks on Indian soil, including the attacks on an Indian Air Force (IAF) Station at Pathankot in January 2016, an Indian Army camp at Uri in September 2016, and an Indian paramilitary convoy at Pulwama in Kashmir in February this year.

This refusal on the part of Pakistan to “abandon the use of cross-border terrorism” against several SAARC members — including India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh — as well as its obstruction of meaningful cooperation among SAARC members deepened India’s frustration with the regional grouping, S.D. Muni and Rahul Mishra point out in their recent book India’s Eastward Engagement: From Antiquity to Act East Policy.

The last straw on the proverbial camel’s back was Pakistan’s obstructive attitude at the SAARC summit at Kathmandu. It vetoed agreements on regional connectivity projects, which all the other SAARC countries were willing to sign. Pakistan’s intransigence stems from its insecurities over Indian goods flooding its markets and apprehensions over allowing India-Afghanistan overland trade and connectivity via its territory.

Such obstructionist conduct is not new in SAARC. Consider this: SAARC members signed the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement in 2004. And although India extended Most-Favored Nation status to Pakistan as early as 1996 (Delhi withdrew this after the Pulwama attack), Islamabad never reciprocated. Consequently, although SAFTA came into effect in 2006, intraregional trade continues to stand at a meager 5 percent.

In 2016, SAARC suffered another setback. In the wake of the JeM attack at Uri, India and other SAARC members pulled out of the 19th Summit that Islamabad was to host. The grouping has remained in limbo ever since. Given the deep conflicts within SAARC, mutual suspicion, and the need for consensus for decision making within the organization, SAARC has few concrete achievements to speak of in the 30 years of its existence.

With SAARC proving to be a “dysfunctional” grouping, India began to look for other “multilateral regional/subregional organizations that are devoid of Pakistan,” write Muni and Mishra. BIMSTEC fit the bill and India started “trying to energize and develop” BIMSTEC “as almost a parallel to SAARC.”

At the BRICS summit at Goa in 2016, India provided BIMSTEC with a shot in the arm by inviting its leaders to BRICS’ regional outreach meeting. In doing so it sent out the message that if SAARC wasn’t ready to deliver, India had BIMSTEC to turn to. With his invitation to BIMSTEC leaders to participate in his government’s recent inaugural, Modi has reiterated that message. The Indian prime minister has also engaged BIMSTEC leaders in bilateral meetings.

While some analysts have interpreted India’s intensified engagement of BIMSTEC as aimed at isolating Pakistan, this would be a flawed reading of India’s foreign policy. BIMSTEC is not just about isolating Pakistan. It is much more. It should be seen in the context of India’s heightened interest and commitment to its “Act East” policy. Without a strong outreach to BIMSTEC member states, India’s attempts at achieving its Act East policy goals will lack momentum. Likewise, BIMSTEC will boost Thailand’s Look West policy. Smaller members too stand to benefit from the opening up of markets in India and Thailand.

There are strategic motivations as well behind India’s growing interest in BIMSTEC. China’s influence and presence in India’s neighborhood has grown enormously on account of BRI initiatives. Debt burdens have forced India’s neighbors to hand over assets to China.

Unable to pay back its huge debt owed to China, Sri Lanka handed over the strategic Hambantota deep-sea port to the Chinese. Understandably this has worried India. Will such debt traps culminate in Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean littorals handing over their port infrastructure for China’s military use? Would China’s likely development of Kyaukpyu port in Myanmar result in Chinese naval vessels docking here? This would mean a larger Chinese military presence in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. It would have serious implications for India’s security. India will be hoping that its economic engagement with Bay of Bengal littoral states will restrict Chinese influence in these countries.

India is likely to find that focusing its diplomatic energies on BIMSTEC member states could be rewarding. For one, relationships among BIMSTEC members are generally cordial, unlike the strained India-Pakistan relationship, which repeatedly tripped up SAARC.

However, BIMSTEC is not without its share of problems. India will need to convince other BIMSTEC members that its new outreach to them is not a “rebound relationship,” a short-term one to thumb its nose at Pakistan. Plus, BIMSTEC suffers from a lack of human and financial resources. India needs to allocate more resources to its BIMSTEC budget and should take an informal leadership role to provide BIMSTEC with momentum.

Importantly, India needs to do some soul searching. It cannot blame Pakistan alone for SAARC’s underperformance. New Delhi’s own intransigence on issues, deep suspicion that its neighbors were “ganging up” against it, and its tendency to be a bit of a bullying brother to them eroded South Asian countries’ confidence in India. India should not repeat these mistakes in engaging BIMSTEC.

 

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Akash Missile

Wed, 29 May, 2019

The DRDO on Monday successfully test-fired the new version of the Akash surface-to-air defence missile system with a new indigenously-developed seeker in Balasore off the Odisha coast. This is the second successful test of the missile following another on Saturday.
The medium range multi-target engagement capable missile was developed as part of the Integrated Guided-Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) other than Nag, Agni, Trishul, and Prithvi missiles. The supersonic missile has a range of around 25 km and up to the altitude of 18,000 metres.
The missile uses high-energy solid propellant for the booster and ramjet-rocket propulsion for the sustainer phase. The missile system is said to be highly mobile.
Several variants of the missile — Akash MK1, Akash-MK2 — with improved accuracy and higher ranges are under development by the DRDO.
In September that year, the Defence Acquisition Council cleared seven additional squadrons of the missile for the IAF. However, it had been bogged in controversies with a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report in 2017 stating that 30% of the missiles failed when tested. The Army too had said in 2017 that the missile did not meet its operational requirements due to higher reaction time.

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Special Status For The State

Tue, 28 May, 2019

Indian constitution ensures right to equality that extends to individuals, communities, religions, regions and all social and political institutions. The right to equality does not only ensure non-discrimination on basis of the religion, caste, region or any other social and political sub-categories but also ensures absence of any special privileges on its basis.

However, due to certain historical disadvantages to certain regions and states Indian constitution grants Special Status to certain states.

Special category’ status is a classification given by centre to assist in development of those states that face geographical and socio-economic disadvantages like hilly terrains, strategic international borders, economic and infrastructural backwardness and non-viable state finances.
It allows certain autonomy and privileges to states like establishing special development boards, reservation in local government jobs, educational institutions etc.
It also ensured that the states with special status states gets 30 percent of planned expenditure (central budget) and these states are extremely benefited because of normal central assistance (NCA) which is tilted favour of these states.

These states get more funds in terms of NCA and most part of these funds are in the form of grants rather than loans.
Article 371 D provided Special Status to the state of Andhra Pradesh, However, the policy of granting special category status was discontinued following the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission.

The 14th Finance Commission recommended a record 10% increase in the states' share in the Union taxes to 42%, which was accepted by the Centre. Following which the finance commission suggested that granting special status does not make sense which was accepted by the government.
Following the bifurcation of Andhara Pradesh in 2014 Telangana, former has to suffer major revenue loss due to Hyderabad remaining the capital of Telangana. This was the major reason for demanding the special status for Andhara Pradesh.

The precursor to the demand is a promise made by the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who in Rajya Sabha (during a debate on the Andhara Pradesh Reorganisation Act) on February 20, 2014, had said that special status will be extended to the successor State of Andhra Pradesh for a period of five years.
Currently 11 states have Special Status, namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

Apart from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha has also demanded special status but they have not been granted the same as they did not meet the criteria.
 

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NuGen Mobility Summit 2019

Tue, 28 May, 2019

1.The objective of the Summit is to share new ideas, learnings, global experiences, innovations and future technology trends for faster adoption, assimilation and development of advanced automotive technologies for a smarter and greener future.
2. This event will help in building a platform for bringing together all stakeholders in the automotive industry to understand global advancements in technologies.
3. Experts working with leading international scientifi c and research organizations and testing laboratories from various countries like USA, Europe, Japan and other Asian countries will also participate in the event and share their experiences and knowledge on development of smart and green technologies and the challenges that the industry needs to overcome.
4. The event aims to bring together the automotive OEMs, professionals, researchers, academic experts, vehicle system suppliers, test equipment supplier, quality managers, product planners, component developers, SAE members and students from all over the world.
5. ICAT Centre-II is under brisk renovation to create a world-class state-of-the-art facility for organizing such signifi cant and sizeable events for the automotive fraternity. Several kinds of tracks such as coast down track, oval track, abs track, hill track and fl ood track will be available for demonstrations and events.
6. ICAT Manesar is a division of NATRIP Implementation Society (NATIS) under the Department of Heavy Industries, Government of India. It provides services for testing, validation, design and homologation of all categories of vehicles and has a mission to assist the automotive industry in adopting cutting edge technologies in vehicle evaluation and component development to ensure reliability, durability and compliance to the current and future regulations in new generation mobility solutions.

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AUSINDEX-19

Mon, 27 May, 2019

1.The fl eet of Royal Australian Navy includes a Landing Helicopter Dock HMAS Canberra (L02), frigates HMAS New Castle (06) and HMAS Paramatta (154); conventional submarine HMAS Collins, and Durance-class multi-product replenishment oiler HMAS Success (OR 304).
2. The exercise seeks to ‘strengthen and enhance mutual cooperation and interoperability between the Indian Navy and Royal Australian Navy, providing opportunities for interaction and exchange of professional views between the personnel of the two navies’.
3. The third edition would involve exercises in all three dimensions with focus on Anti-Submarine Warfare Systems (ASW).
4. This year, the number of participating units of both the navies in the bilateral exercise is the highest till date. This increased scale of participation signifi es the importance attached to the exercise.
5. The exercise emphasises on India’s vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and shared objectives of the two countries towards ensuring good order in the maritime domain.

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LOCAL INDIAN OCEAN PHENOMENON MAY BRING BETTER RAINFALL DESPITE EL NINO

Sun, 26 May, 2019

 El Nino:

  1. El Nino refers to the warming of the equatorial Pacific, which weakens the flow of wind and consequently the monsoon system. In some other parts of the world, it leads to heavy rainfall but in India it weakens rain.
  2. In this phenomenon, sea-surface temperatures rise over a threshold of +0.5 degree Celsius (and cools by the same margin during La Nina).
  3. There are a few other key atmospheric indices which one comes across while tracking El Nino. For instance, the Southern Oscillation Index(SOI) that gives an indication of the development and intensity of El Nino or La Nina. The SOI is calculated on the basis of the atmospheric pressure differences between Tahiti (South Pacific Ocean) and Darwin (Australia). Sustained positive SOI values are indicative of La Nina conditions while negative values suggest El Nino conditions.
  4. Another atmospheric indices is the ENSO(El Nino Southern Oscillation) which refers to the oscillation between the El Nino and the La Nina. ENSO shifts irregularly back and forth between El Nino and La Nina every two to seven years.
  5. Each phase led to disruptions of temperature, precipitation and winds.
  6. The warmer area of the ocean is also a source for convection and is associated with cloudiness and rainfall.

Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)

  1. The negative impact of weak El Nino will be compensated by positive Indian Ocean Dipole. El Nino phenomenon is getting weak and IOD is moving from neutral to positive. This will help rains in the country. The monsoon would be near normal.
  2. The phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) refers to the temperature difference between the eastern and western parts of the water body.
  3. El Nino has been generally known to suppress monsoon rainfall in India while La Nina increases it. El Nino years tend to be drier than average, but one of the strongest El Nino of the century (1997-98) produced a monsoon season with above-average rainfall for India.
  4. Anomalous warming in the Central and East Pacific could have a more profound adverse impact on the monsoon than when the warming shifts to the adjoining Far East Pacific.
  5. Last but not the least is the ‘dipole’ effect, wherein the Indian Ocean mimics El Nino-La Nina in which the western and eastern basins warm up relative to each other every few years with associated impact on the monsoon. Warming up of the West Indian Ocean boosts a prevailing monsoon, and vice-versa. International and domestic weather agencies expect that this year, the Indian Ocean dipole could be either ‘neutral’ or weakly positive.
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DROUGHTS IN INDIA

Sat, 25 May, 2019

  1. Maharashtra is currently facing unprecedented drought with dams left with only 16% water stocks. 15 talukas have already been declared drought-hit and total of 136 out of 355 talukas in the state are reeling under drought. They have received rainfall that is less than 50 per cent of average in the state.
  2. Gujarat too is facing a massive water crisis. The scarcity is particularly acute in the Saurashtra region, Kutch, North Gujarat and parts of tribal pockets in central and South Gujarat.
  3. National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) undertook the study jointly with Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) to understand the drought patterns and differential role of mitigation strategies in Bundelkhand in order to suggest strategies for future.

Analysis

Causes of drought in Maharashtra:

  1. The state is under the influence of southwest monsoon. When southwest monsoon reaches in western coast in the month of June, massive rainfall occurs in the western coast. Rainfall decreases from west to east. When it reaches Marathwada region, the average rainfall becomes 750 mm. A deficit in rainfall adversely affects agriculture resulting in poor output of crop, which in turn affects the financial condition of farmers.
  2. Marathwada is a landlocked region. The entire region is drained by the Godavari River and its tributaries such as Purna, Shivna, Dudhna, Vedganga, Sindhphana, Bindusara are the main rivers in the region. Except Godavari, no other is a perennial river. These rivers carry very little water as the summer approaches.
  3. Besides insufficient rainfall, poor selection of crops, inefficient methods of irrigation and imbalanced use of ground and stored water also lead to drought-now commonly known as ‘man-made drought’.
  4. The Maharashtra government encouraged production of water-guzzling sugarcane. The State accounts for almost 40 percent of the sugar production of India. It takes an average of 2,068 litres of water, a very large amount, for cultivating the sugarcane crop and an additional amount for the mills to produce a kilo of sugar. Almost 72 percent of available irrigation and well water is directed to the production of sugarcane, leaving little water for cultivation of other crops.

Causes of drought in Gujarat:

  1. Scanty rainfall with wide aberrations in its distribution has led to chronic drought in the state in 2001.
  2. The gradual disappearance of forest cover in the state has further aggravated the drought situation. This has led to large-scale erosion of the topsoil, particularly near the riverside.
  3. In addition, groundwater resources are overexploited in the state, with the water table going down nearly 4 m per year, particularly in the premonsoon season.
  4. The more permanent and hence reliable sources of water are - Narmada and Tapi. But water from the Narmada Valley Project goes to industries and cities instead of farm lands.

Causes of drought in Bundelkhand:

  1. The usual cause is that first the meteorological drought—rainfall much below average—happens. It leads to agricultural drought in the same year because the region depends on monsoons for agricultural production.
  2. If the meteorological drought continues for the second consecutive year, then the hydrological drought—below average water availability—occurs.
  3. After the revolt of 1857, which primarily covered this region, the British neglected development of the region as a punishment to the people. Even after Independence, the region had a number of dacoits which hampered development.

Measures taken by the government:

  1. Maharashtra government has demanded 3 tmcft water from Karnataka. This water will be distributed in the Maharashtra villages bordering Karnataka, where the State is unable to supply tankers.
  2. Maharashtra in turn will supply two tmcft of water from the Koyna or the Warna into the Krishna and two tmcft of water from Ujjani dam into the Bhima to help the dry districts of north Karnataka.
  3. The state government has announced a 33 per cent waiver on electricity bills for water pumps and 100 per cent waiver of examination fee for school-going students as relief measures in the affected areas.
  4. Gujarat Chief Minister assured that drinking water will be provided to every village. Except the Narmada, all other water bodies and dams have negligible water. State government asked the district administrations to start plying tankers in villages where water was not available.
  5. After a review and reports from local authorities, Government has decided to provide drinking water to villages located in different districts by tankers so that people don’t face any shortage.
  6. According to officials, the number of villages needing water tankers will only rise due to high temperatures that push the demand.
  7. Land-resources and land-use management is key to socio-economic sustainability. There is a need to develop a locally relevant policy for sustainable development to be drawn using bottom-up consultations along with expert and research inputs, covering aspects of livelihood, integrated land-water management with agricultural diversification, ecosystem services and sustainability, industrial growth, socio-political uplifting and locally relevant skill-oriented education.
  8. An audit mechanism to evaluate various schemes and programmes of the government on spatial and temporal background needs to be established to examine their social and environmental implications – scale of benefits and sections of beneficiaries distribution. An approach called ‘mitigation analysis’ as a simple approach can be enforced.
  9. Local level integrated planning leading to districting level planning can prove directly beneficial. Strategy and action plan for water, environment and natural resources must be integrated for smooth and effective implementation.

Drought and poverty:

  1. Drought has class biases; it impacts the poorest the hardest. It has been well documented that a poor farmer takes three to four years to recover from a drought, depending on the severity. As has been the trend, a severe drought strikes every eight to nine years in India. So, it is a major reason for perpetuating poverty.
  2. A study undertaken by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences, in association with research organisations of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha, shows that drought is a major factor for keeping people below the poverty line forever.

Farmer’s suicide:

  1. At present it can be seen that Bundelkhand is competing with Vidarbha, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala in the digit of farmers’ suicides.
  2. Bundelkhand, sandwiched between the northern plains and the rocky soil of the Vindhya ranges, unfit for agriculture and industry both, is facing this crisis expect the area of Jalaun district which is partially suitable for water consuming crops.
  3. Thus in this geographical location, situation is further worsen by activities like practicing cash crops, mining, deforestation and therefore people of the marginalized community of Bundelkhand are now starving from hunger and are migrating from rural areas. This called the need for special package called Bundelkhand Relief Package- assistance from Government of India as a special package.
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AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS

Fri, 24 May, 2019

  1. Afghanistan’s High Peace Council Secretary and President Ashraf Ghani’s Special Envoy Mohammad Umer Daudzai recently visited India.
  2. Speaking at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), Daudzai said that India’s role is ‘key’ to the peace in Afghanistan.
  3. Also, India recently handed over two Mi-24 attack helicopters to Afghanistan. These helicopters are a replacement for the four attack helicopters gifted by India to Afghanistan in 2015.

About: Background:

  1. There has been a continued 25 years of civil war in Afghanistan. An Afghanistan force and Taliban conflict has been sustained during this long time and damage social and economic life make peace elusive for Afghanistan.
  2. International efforts especially by US and NATO countries have been failed. They have spent hundreds of billion dollar and army services but no avail.
  3. However, today progress towards a peace process is increasingly seen as central to securing a just and stable future. At reconciliation meet in November 2018 by afghan authorities, India was present and the first time all stakeholders were present in the same room.

Analysis

Role of USA in Afghan Peace Process:

  1. S. and Taliban negotiators have concluded a draft peace framework. This draft framework was built on years of direct and indirect talks between the two parties.
  2. Under the framework, the Taliban would be required to deny safe haven to international terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State, has to enter into direct talks with Afghan government and also agree to declare ceasefire.
  3. In exchange, the United States would withdraw forces from Afghanistan within eighteen months of a final agreement.

Contribution of other countries in the process:

  1. The effort to achieve this draft peace framework was made possible with the help of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar at various stages.
  2. Yet the framework does not make clear what role regional states will play in achieving a final settlement.
  3. Just as regional competition fuelled Afghanistan’s long war, regional states have a role to play in resolving it.

Pakistan:

  1. Pakistan has been a central participant in all phases of Afghanistan’s long war.
  2. The US promised to pursue a pressure strategy aimed at punishing Pakistan for its malign behaviour, including by allowing Taliban leaders and fighters to freely live and organize from its territory.
  3. But Pakistani civilian and military leaders feel optimistic about the current draft framework, as its pursuit delayed the escalation of this pressure campaign.
  4. The best-case scenario for Pakistan is likely a narrow agreement that does not force it to take responsibility for its past actions in Afghanistan.

China:

  1. China’s interests in Afghanistan are most closely aligned with Pakistan, although Beijing’s concerns about violent extremism and terrorism are out of step with Pakistani behaviour.
  2. S. and Chinese diplomats have worked together to support an Afghan peace process, and Beijing will want to be involved enough to account for its counterterrorism and border security concerns.
  3. China has much to offer in terms of inducements to support a peace agreement in Afghanistan, particularly economically through Belt and Road Initiative investments in Pakistan (the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) or Central Asia (the Silk Road Economic Belt).

Russia

  1. Russia hosted a second round of Taliban talks in February 2019 without participation of Afghan government.
  2. These talks risk easing pressure on the Taliban and further bolstering its standing, but could be leveraged to help the U.S. diplomatic effort.
  3. The U.S. and Afghan governments should find ways to take advantage of Moscow’s efforts and show up to any Russia-hosted talks, even if only to deny the Taliban an uncontested boon.

India

  1. With limited options of intervention in Afghanistan, India is playing a role of a responsible democratic country and a true friend and neighbour to the Afghanistan.
  2. Indian is engaged with Afghanistan by following ways:
    • Developing social infrastructure as hospitals, schools;
    • Public infrastructure such as Salma dam, and parliament building ;
    • Humanitarian assistance such as medical missions;
    • Training of military officer and soldiers;
    • Military warfare such as military helicopters and repairing the old soviet era helicopters.
  3. India is likely concerned that any deal that could introduce the Taliban back into the Afghan government could dilute its political influence in Afghanistan.
  4. India’s hedge toward Iran, by investing in the construction of the Chabahar port (the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean), could pave the way for a continuing economic role.
  5. But India would probably see a peace agreement, particularly one championed by Pakistan, as a short-term setback to its interests in Afghanistan.

Afghan as an elusive benefit for India:

  1. Afghanistan is a gateway for the north-south corridor for India.
  2. Afghan have a rich source of oil can help India to full fill their demand.
  3. India developed Chahbar port to increase import and export with Afghan and counter Pakistan in West Sea.
  4. Elusive peace in afghan can help India project of TAPI.
  5. Help India to overcome china one-road-one-belt initiatives.

Effect on India if Taliban comes to power:

  1. Pakistan will gain huge strategic influence and India will lose the same.
  2. India's access to central India will get affected.
  3. After conquering Afghanistan Taliban may turn towards India to increase terror activities.
  4. Pakistan will then focus on Indian border only.
  5. As China has also raised its stakes it will use it against India.

Reasons for India to be part of reconciliation process with the Taliban:

  1. Regional Stability: Security and Stability are foundations over which development can be built on. Peaceful neighbourhood and trouble free regional climate will provide space for the regimes to focus more on development as threats of violence by Taliban’s in the region will be minimized.
  2. Counter China and Pakistan's vested interests: India should play a considerable role through Quadrilateral group plus 2 talks to thwart the efforts of china to place puppet regimes which can play according to their own vested interests. This can be counterproductive for India's aspirations and concerns.
  3. Connectivity with Central Asia: India's trade with Central Asia and reaping benefits from the enhanced connectivity will be largely dependent on Afghanistan's domestic environment. A peaceful and cooperative Afghanistan will be a key pin in India's central Asia policy. The latest trilateral transit agreement between India. Iran and Afghanistan is a significant step in this direction.
  4. TAPI for Energy security: Violence free Afghanistan is desideratum for finishing the project of TAPI and sustaining the benefits from it through energy supplies from Turkmenistan.
  5. Gateway to "Link west" policy: Afghanistan will act as a gateway to India's increasing rigour on its west Asia policy.
  6. Minerals of Afghanistan: The cost of access to minerals will be minimum and helpful in expanding the production of Indian Industries.

Way forward:

  1. India needs to make stands tougher on Afghan issues. India needs to take other stake holders such as Russia and Iran together and make their stand clear.
  2. India should be more vocal to USA that leaving Taliban unfinished will leave the region in same or even worse state as it was earlier. Complete surrender of Taliban is good for USA’s and region security.
  3. India needs to use soft Image as weapon and it should highlight that Afghan people voice is most important so instead of handing power to any form of government US should try to stabilise region.
  4. It is a truth of U.S. policy on Afghanistan that there is no military solution to the conflict. But instead of putting the full power and resources of the United States behind a diplomatic push, successive administrations have chosen to put the military mission first. They have often deployed just enough resources to have an effect on the ground, while minimizing attention from increasingly weary constituents in the United States. It is long past time for a different approach.
  5. The U.S.-Taliban draft framework is exactly the type of high-stakes diplomacy needed to end Afghanistan’s long war, or even just the U.S. period of that conflict, which is the longest war in U.S. history.

 

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DISPUTE SETTLEMENT MECHANISM OF WTO

Fri, 24 May, 2019

  1. The World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) dispute settlement mechanism is going through a “crisis”: the body is struggling to appoint new members to its understaffed Appellate Body that hears appeals in trade.
  2. Unless the issue is resolved, the body could become defunct, and countries locked in international trade disputes will be left with no forum for recourse.

About: Recent issues in WTO

  1. Over the last few years, the membership of the body has shrivelled to just three persons instead of the required seven.
  2. Many analysts have said that Buenos Aires summit has highlighted the existential crisis faced by WTO especially during a time when emerging economies have adopted assertive and developed economies have adopted protectionist attitude.
  3. This is because the United States, which believes the WTO is biased against it, has been blocking appointments of new members and reappointments of some members who have completed their four-year tenure.
  4. Two members will complete their tenures in December 2019, leaving the body with just one member.
  5. At least three people are required to preside over an appeal, and if new members are not appointed to replace the two retiring ones, the body will cease to be relevant.
  6. The understaffed appeals body has been unable to stick to its 3 month deadline for appeals filed in the last few years, and the backlog of cases has prevented it from initiating proceedings in appeals that have been filed in the last year.

WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism

  1. The Appellate Body, set up in 1995, is a standing committee of seven members that presides over appeals against judgments passed in trade-related disputes brought by WTO members.
  2. With over 500 international disputes brought to the WTO and over 350 rulings issued since 1995, the organisation’s dispute settlement mechanism is one of the most active in the world, and is the highest authority in these matters.
  3. Countries involved in a dispute over measures purported to break a WTO agreement or obligation can approach the Appellate Body if they feel the report of the panel set up to examine the issue needs to be reviewed on points of law.
  4. It can uphold, modify, or reverse the legal findings of the panel that heard the dispute.
  5. The WTO’s dispute settlement procedure is seen as being vital to ensuring smooth international trade flows. It has so far issued 152 reports. The reports, once adopted by the WTO’s disputes settlement body, are final and binding on the parties.
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'Elephant Bonds'

Thu, 23 May, 2019

A government-appointed advisory group has suggested issuance of 'Elephant Bonds' wherein people declaring undisclosed income will have to mandatorily invest half of that amount in these securities. The high-level panel also recommended a host of other measures that include a road map for doubling India's exports of goods and services to over USD 1,000 billion by 2025. These recommendations are part of a report prepared by the 12-member group, set up by the commerce ministry in September last year. Suggesting amnesty-like scheme, the panel asked the government to create "Elephant Bonds" (25-year sovereign bonds) in which people declaring undisclosed income will be bound to invest 50 per cent.

The fund will be utilised only for infrastructure projects, the report said.

The other key recommendations include lowering effective corporate tax rate, bringing down cost of capital and simplifying regulatory and tax framework for foreign investment funds. These are aimed at increasing India's exports of goods and services from USD 500 billion in 2018 to over USD 1000 billion in 2025.

The report argued that India's competitors have less than 20 per cent effective tax rates.

Besides, the group recommended increasing capital base of by another Rs 20,000 crore by 2022, setting up of empowered investment promotion agency and seeking inputs from industry and MSMEs before signing free trade agreements (FTAs) and sensitising them of its benefits.

It said there is a need for an in-depth assessment of the existing agreements and their impact on the competitiveness of the Indian industry; remedial measures, if any, to be considered for future FTA negotiations and maintaining a database based on such assessment.

The nine non-industry specific recommendations also include building a comprehensive export strategy and rationalise tariff structure.

"State governments need to be closely involved in improving the competitiveness of exports by providing support measures in a WTO (World Trade Organisation) consistent manner," the report said.

Further, the seven industry specific suggestion include separate regulation for medical devices and a single ministry for the sector.

For textiles and garments sector, it suggested modification in labour laws (like the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947) to remove limitation on firm size and allow to grow.

To promote tourism and medical value tourism, the group recommended simplification in medical visa regime, setting up of a pan-tourism board.

Similarly, to promote agriculture exports, it has asked for abolishing Essential Commodities Act and the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee).

The panel was headed by  The other members include Principal Sanjeev Sanyal, former and Quality Council of 

Since 2011-12, India's goods exports have been hovering at around USD 300 billion. During 2018-19, the shipments grew by 9 per cent to USD 331 billion. services during April-February 2018-19 stood at USD 204 billion.

Promoting exports helps a country to create jobs, and earn more foreign exchange.

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A blueprint for a national security strategy

Thu, 23 May, 2019

There are some major shortcomings in India’s national security architecture that must be addressed. There is a need to take a relook at some of our key national security institutions and revamp their functioning. The National Security Council (NSC) set up in 1998 almost never meets, primarily because it is an advisory body, with the Cabinet Committee on Security being the executive body. If the NSC is to be made more useful, the government’s allocation of business rules should be amended to give more powers to the NSC and its subordinate organisations, such as the Strategic Policy Group.

Second, the job of the National Security Adviser needs to be reimagined. Even though the NSA plays a vital role in national security, he has no legal powers as per the government’s allocation of business rules. The K.C. Pant Task Force in the late 1990s had recommended the creation of an NSA with the rank of a Cabinet Minister. Over the years, the NSA’s powers have increased, even though he is not accountable to Parliament. The institution of the NSA today requires more accountability and legal formality.

More national security organisations are not the answer; fundamental structural reforms in national security planning are needed. Take the case of the recently constituted Defence Planning Committee (DPC) tasked to recommend policy measures to improve India’s defence capability and preparedness, and national security in general. Not only does the DPC have too many responsibilities on its plate, it is also an advisory body. More worryingly, there is a feeling among the armed forces that by having the NSA chair the DPC, the government may have scuttled the demands to appoint a Chief of the Defence Staff, an issue the Hooda document highlights.

The Congress promised Gen. Hooda that it would adopt his national security strategy document after internal consultations. The document was prepared in less than two months and in consultation with six key core group members and many domain experts. The guiding philosophy of the document is enshrined in the following sentence: “This strategy recognises the centrality of our people. We cannot achieve true security if large sections of our population are faced with discrimination, inequality, lack of opportunities, and buffeted by the risks of climate change, technology disruption, and water and energy scarcity.”

This is by far the most comprehensive treatment of national security in the Indian context. The document offers a comprehensive definition of national security ranging from challenges posed by new technologies to social unrest to inequality. At a time when national security is referred to in strictly military terms, it is heartening to see that a strategy document written by a former Army general, the man behind the 2016 surgical strikes, defines security in an out-of-the box and inclusive manner. A glance at the key themes shows how well-designed the document is: “assuming our rightful place in global affairs”, “achieving a secure neighbourhood”, “peaceful resolution of internal conflicts”, “protecting our people” and “strengthening our capabilities”.

The key recommendations in the document are both timely and well-thought-out. On the issue of military jointmanship, it recommends that “the three services should undertake a comprehensive review of their current and future force structures to transform the army, navy and air force into an integrated warfighting force.” It argues that it would take “a cultural change in the way the DRDO is currently operating” to improve domestic defence production.

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Carbon dioxide in atmosphere hits a high: how it relates to global warming

Wed, 22 May, 2019

global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was measured to have crossed the 415 parts per million (ppm) mark for the first time. On every subsequent day thereafter, the daily average atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has remained over that level, touching 415.7 ppm on May 15. On May 18, the daily average carbon dioxide concentration, as measured by sensors at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, was 415.02 ppm.

The rapidly rising concentration, as measured from Mauna Loa and other observatories, is one of the best indicators of the manner in which the planet has been warming up. The higher the concentration of carbon dioxide, the greater the greenhouse gas effect that causes the Earth’s atmosphere to heat up.

For several thousand years, the carbon dioxide concentration remained constant around 270-280 ppm, before the industrial revolution began to slowly push it up. When direct measurements began at the Mouna Loa observatory in 1958, concentrations were around 315 ppm. It took nearly 50 years for it to reach 380 ppm, a mark first breached in 2004, but thereafter the growth has been rapid.

The first full-day average of more than 400 ppm was achieved on May 9, 2013; two years later, in 2015, even the annual average exceeded 400 ppm. Currently, the carbon dioxide concentration is growing at more than 2 ppm per year, and scientists say the growth rate is likely to reach 3 ppm a year from this year.

Carbon dioxide’s long life

The increase in atmospheric concentrations is caused by the carbon dioxide being constantly emitted in different, mostly man-made, processes. In recent years, the growth in global carbon dioxide emissions has slowed down considerably. It remained almost flat between 2014 and 2016, and increased by 1.6% in 2017 and about 2.7% in 2018. In 2018, the global emission of carbon dioxide was estimated at 37.2 billion tonnes.

The rapid rise in the atmospheric concentrations, however, is due to the fact that carbon dioxide has a very long lifespan in the atmosphere, between 100 and 300 years. So, even if the emissions were to miraculously reduce to zero all of a sudden, it would have no impact on the atmospheric concentrations in the near term.

About half of emitted carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants and oceans, leaving the other half to go into the atmosphere. An addition of about 7.5 billion tonnes carbon dioxide to the atmosphere leads to a 1 ppm rise in its atmospheric concentration. So, in 2018, for example, half the total emissions, or about 18.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, would have been added to the atmosphere, leading to rise of 2.48 ppm in atmospheric concentrations.

The absorption of carbon dioxide by plants follows a predictable seasonal variability. Plants absorb more carbon dioxide during the summer, with the result that a lower amount of carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere in the summer months of the northern hemisphere, which has considerably more vegetation than southern hemisphere. This variability gets captured in the very rhythmic seasonal fluctuation of atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide.

The temperature equivalence

 The global goal in the fight against climate change has been defined in terms of temperature targets, not carbon dioxide concentrations. The stated effort of the global community is to keep the rise in average surface temperatures below 2ºC higher than during pre-industrial times, and if possible below 1.5°C.

The carbon dioxide concentration level corresponding to a 2ºC rise in global temperatures is generally understood to be 450 ppm. At current rates of growth, that level would be reached in less than 12 years, that is by 2030. Until a few years ago, it used to be understood that this milestone would not be reached till at least 2035. The corresponding carbon dioxide level for a 1.5ºC rise is not very clearly defined.

A special report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year said the world needed to achieve net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide, by 2050 to keep alive any realistic chances of restraining the temperature rise to within 1.5ºC. The net zero needs to be achieved by 2075 to attain the 2ºC target.

Net zero is achieved when the total emissions is neutralised by absorption of carbon dioxide through natural sinks like forests, or removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through technological interventions.

 

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Time to rebuild India’s secularism

Wed, 22 May, 2019

The central idea of the Republic, that the country belongs to all equally, is in tatters today

There is much that lies badly broken in India today. The economy desperately needs to be repaired, as do rural distress, the job crisis and the free-falling rupee. The country’s institutions demand urgently to be rebuilt — the media, police, judiciary, universities, the planning process, the Election Commission of India. But above all, if there is one thing that stands most dangerously damaged, it is our constitutional pledge of a secular democracy. What are the prospects of rebuilding this?

Listen carefully to the speeches in the shrill summer election campaign which has just come to a halt. From their podiums, Opposition leaders spoke of everything else — the agony of farmers, unemployed youth, suspect defence deals, crony capitalism and indeed crony institutions. But rarely did they speak of lynching, of violence against Muslims, Christians and Dalits, of the fear which has become normalised in their daily lives, of our wrecked social contract of equality and harmony. And never did they speak of secularism.

The imagination of secularism in the Indian Republic was rooted in its singularly pluralist civilisational ethos, in the lives and work of Ashoka and Akbar, in the teachings of Buddha, Kabir and Nanak. It was illuminated by our struggle for freedom, in the humanist and egalitarian convictions of Gandhi and Ambedkar, Maulana Azad and Nehru. It was the central iridescent idea: that this newly-freed country would belong equally to all its people. People of no religion, no language, no caste, no ethnicity, no gender, no class would be entitled to lay claim to the country more than any other.

Secularism is the soul of India’s Constitution. Today the letter of this Constitution still remains unaltered, but its soul is mangled and choked. Not just the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); even Opposition parties seem to have accepted that India is no longer the secular country born of the legacy of India’s freedom struggle, but a majoritarian Hindu country. In this new India, people of minority religions, castes and gender are second-class. Their safety and well-being are dependent now on the consent and will of the majority upper-caste, patriarchal Hindu, and the dictates of this Hindu are interpreted and violently mediated by the ideology of Hindutva.

It is a grave mistake to frame the 2019 general election as a battle of Narendra Modi against the rest. This is how Prime Minister Modi, referring to himself repeatedly in the third person, has framed this bitter electoral contest. This is how the Opposition has fought the electoral battle, of Mr. Modi versus the rest. This is how the majority of Indian voters view this combat.

However, the electoral battle waged around the country is truly a different one. On one side stands the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and on the other is the secular idea of the Indian Constitution. Mr. Modi is a formidable, pugnacious, tireless and immensely popular mascot of the Hindu supremacist ideology of the RSS; and his image is powerfully buttressed by a pliant corporate media and dizzying levels of spending on a public relations blitz to manufacture consent. But the central danger to secular India is not the personality of Mr. Modi. It is the penetration of the RSS into every institution of the country, into every political party, the media, the university, the judiciary, the civil services, and most dangerously into mainstream everyday social life of every ordinary Indian.

In the RSS worldview, Muslims and Christians are not authentically Indian, their loyalty to the Indian nation is and will always remain suspect; therefore, they need to be tamed, to be continuously shown their subordinate status in the Indian polity and society. It is for this reason that virulent hate speech was so central to this election campaign, with Mr. Modi mocking his rival, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, for seeking election in a constituency in which he would have to depend in part on Muslim and Christian voters; and other BJP leaders and candidates raging against the threats of the ‘green virus’ and ‘termites’. It is for this reason that BJP president Amit Shah pledges to extend the National Register of Citizens to all parts of India, while ensuring citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists from other parts of the subcontinent; in this way brazenly turning on its head the core constitutional idea that a person’s religion is irrelevant to her rights to equal citizenship. And it is for this reason that lynching of Muslims and attacks on Christian places of worship, openly valorised by ruling party leaders, became the overarching symbols of the newly forged relationship of the majoritarian Hindu state with its now inferior religious minorities.

If Mr. Modi is returned with an emphatic majority when ballots are counted on May 23, as many exit polls predict, this will herald that India has fallen deep into a cold hard place of hate and fear. It will signal that a significant majority of Hindus endorse the Hindu supremacist ideology of the RSS. It will indicate the popular abandonment of the secular and humane vision of India’s Constitution, and its replacement by a violent and chauvinist majoritarian Hindu nationalism, which is suspicious and hateful in its relations with people who follow minority religious faiths. This outcome would also further imperil all left, liberal and democratic dissenting voices, in civil society, in the media, in universities, and in letters and the arts.

A second scenario, anticipated by a much smaller number of political commentators, is of reduced support for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), its tally falling short of the half-way mark. In such a situation, they anticipate the possibility that many regional parties could be persuaded to support an NDA government only if it is led by a less belligerent leader than Mr. Modi, possibly Nitin Gadkari or Rajnath Singh. Many are relieved by the possibility of such an outcome: anyone other than Mr. Modi would be welcome, they reason. But it would be a dangerous mistake to believe that such a choice would pull India out of the dark abyss into which it has slipped. Even with a more acceptable face, as with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the RSS would use political power to further penetrate all institutions, and enfeeble what survives of secular practice.

The least expected scenario, of the victory of the United Progressive Alliance or a federal front of regional parties, cannot be ruled out yet. After all, the BJP has lost no exit polls since 2004, but it lost many elections. However, even with such an outcome, the crusade against secular democracy waged with such vigour by the RSS will not be won. The appetite and moral courage to fight majoritarian politics head-on stands perilously weakened among Opposition political parties. Whatever the final outcome, this fight to salvage, defend and fortify secularism will have to be fought by the Indian people. India is today a wasteland of compassion. It will take generations to clean out the toxins of hate from Indian society. It is a battle that must be waged with courage, with perseverance and with love. History in the end is on our side.

 

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Power under pressure

Wed, 22 May, 2019

Launched in November 2015, the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) was designed to turn around the precarious financial position of state distribution companies. Broadly, the scheme had three critical components. Takeover of discom debt by state governments, reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, timely tariff revisions and elimination of the gap between the average per unit cost of supply (ACS) and average revenue realised (ARR) by FY19. But as the NDA government ends its term, indications are that the turnaround hasn’t materialised, with several targets being missed.

Apart from these, there are several other operational efficiency targets under UDAY, such as feeder metering, smart metering and feeder segregation. Progress on these is mixed. For instance, not much progress has been made in the case of smart metering above 200 and upto 500 kwh and above 500 kwh. These issues need to be addressed quickly or else discom losses will rise further to levels where talks of another bailout are likely to surface. The only difference being that, this time around, state governments have little fiscal space to offer support.

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India, Pakistan to attend SCO meet

Tue, 21 May, 2019

For the first time, since the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot airstrikes, Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers will together attend a ministerial meeting under the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, on May 21-22.

The meeting will be attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, along with the Foreign Ministers of SCO member states, including Pakistan.

In keeping with the evolving developments, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister told the media on Monday that career diplomat Moinul Haq will be the new High Commissioner of Pakistan to India. Pakistan had not appointed a new envoy since the tenure of the previous incumbent Sohail Mahmood ended in mid-April.

At the meeting in Bishkek, Ms. Swaraj is expected to take up cross-border terror attacks from Pakistan and India’s response to it including the Balakot airstrikes.

This is also the first meeting since India successfully ensured a global blacklisting of Jaish-e-Mohammed head Masood Azhar. India had blamed JeM for being behind the Pulwama attack.

The meeting is expected to discuss the latest attack by the Islamic State in Sri Lanka, which claimed at least 253 lives and injured hundreds.

The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of SCO has emerged in the last few years as an important platform where terrorism and security-related problems are discussed among member countries. India and Pakistan have participated in the multilateral military exercises.

The meeting acquires significance as it comes in the backdrop of an expanding U.S.-China trade war and the energy shock to several of the member countries after the U.S. administration ended waiver for energy trade with Iran.

The Ministry of External Affairs said in an official press release that the Foreign Minister-level meeting will review preparation for the forthcoming SCO summit in Bishkek on June 13-14.

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Eye on the monsoon

Mon, 20 May, 2019

As India awaits the arrival of the annual summer monsoon, hopes are particularly high for normal rainfall that is so vital for agriculture, the health of forests, rivers and wetlands. The India Meteorological Department has forecast normal rainfall of 96% of the long period average of 89 cm rain, with an onset date in the first week of June in Kerala. It has also signalled a significant possibility of a deficit. The monsoon bounty is crucial for the 60% of gross cropped area in farming that is rain-fed, and represents, in the assessment of the National Commission on Farmers, 45% of agricultural output. Given the erratic patterns of rainfall witnessed over the past few decades and their possible connection to atmospheric changes caused by a variety of pollutants, the distribution of monsoon 2019 will add to the insights. The southwest monsoon is a determinant of India’s overall prosperity, and sustained efforts to make the best use of rainfall are absolutely important for farms, cities and industry. Considering that there has been a 52% decline in groundwater levels based on tests conducted last year over the previous decadal average, State governments should have pursued the setting up of new recharging wells and made improvements to existing ones on a war footing. They also have lagged in building structures to harvest surface water and helping farmers raise the efficiency of irrigation. The approach to the farming sector, however, has been influenced more by the imperatives of an election year, and the Centre’s biggest intervention was to announce a cash handout to specified categories of small farmers.

A normal summer monsoon over the subcontinent brings widespread prosperity, but does not guarantee a uniform spread. This, as scientists point out, may be due to the effect of particulates released through various industrial and agricultural processes. Some of these aerosols suppress the rainfall and disperse it across the land, causing long breaks in precipitation, while others absorb heat and lead to a convection phenomenon that increases rainfall in some places. Such evidence points to the need for India to clean up its act on rising industrial emissions, and burning of fossil fuels and biomass in order to improve the stability of the monsoon. An equally key area of concern is freshwater availability for households, which, NITI Aayog says, account for 4% of available supplies, besides 12% used by industry. Urbanisation trends and the severe water stress that residents experience underscore the need for mandatory rainwater harvesting policies and augmented efforts by States to preserve surface water by building new reservoirs. Yet, governments are adopting a commodity approach to the vital resource, displaying deplorable indifference to the pollution and loss of rivers, wetlands and lakes that hold precious waters. This is no way to treat a life-giving resource.

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WTO’s Appellate Body

Mon, 20 May, 2019

The Appellate Body, set up in 1995, is a standing committee of seven members that presides over appeals against judgments passed in trade-related disputes brought by WTO members.
With over 500 international disputes brought to the WTO and over 350 rulings issued since 1995, the organisation’s dispute settlement mechanism is one of the most active in the world, and the Appellate Body is the highest authority in these matters.
Countries involved in a dispute over measures purported to break a WTO agreement or obligation can approach the Appellate Body if they feel the report of the panel set up to examine the issue needs to be reviewed on points of law. Existing evidence is not re-examined; legal interpretations are reviewed.
The Appellate Body can uphold, modify, or reverse the legal findings of the panel that heard the dispute. Countries on either or both sides of the dispute can appeal.
The WTO’s dispute settlement procedure is seen as being vital to ensuring smooth international trade flows. The Appellate Body has so far issued 152 reports. The reports, once adopted by the WTO’s disputes settlement body, are final and binding on the parties.

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RISAT-2B

Sun, 19 May, 2019

RISAT-2B, the satellite due to be launched before dawn on May 22 from Sriharikota, will mark the resumption of a vital ring of Indian all-seeing radar imaging satellites after seven years.

At least a half-dozen could be foreseen in the near future, mainly to add to the reconnaissance capability from about 500 km in space. A constellation of such space-based radars means a comprehensive vigil over the country.

In a recent conversation with The Hindu,Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman K. Sivan had said many RISATs were planned. RISAT-2B is to be followed by RISAT-2BR1, 2BR2, RISAT-1A, 1B, 2A and so on. If ISRO orbited its first two radar satellites in 2009 and 2012, it plans to deploy four or five of them in 2019 alone.

When it is cloudy or dark, ‘regular’ remote-sensing or optical imaging satellites — which work like a light-dependent camera — cannot perceive hidden or surreptitious objects on the ground. Satellites that are equipped with an active sensor, the synthetic aperture radar (SAR), can sense or ‘observe’ Earth in a special way from space day and night, rain or cloud. This all-weather seeing feature is what makes them special for security forces and disaster relief agencies.

A radar imaging satellite is complex to assemble. Interpreting its images is equally complex. ISRO took almost 10 years to realise RISAT-1, said an another expert who did not wish to be named. It sends much heavier data than plain remote sensing satellites.

India has almost kept pace with the world with radar sats, said Arup Das Gupta, former Deputy Director, ISRO’s Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, currently managing editor of Geospatial World. Radar imaging satellites pick up structures, new bunkers very well, and sometimes help to count them, too.

“In India we also use radar imaging for crop estimation because our main crop growing season of kharif is in May-September when it rains and gets cloudy. We have used this data extensively for forestry, soil, land use, geology and during floods and cyclone.”

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United Nations not a State under Article 12

Sun, 19 May, 2019

The Delhi High Court has ruled that the United Nations is not a State under Article 12 of the Constitution of India and is not amenable to its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. Justice Suresh Kumar Kait gave the decision while adjudicating a plea filed by a former UNO employee who was found guilty of misconduct.
Sanjaya Bahel, convicted by a US Federal Court and sentenced to 97 months of imprisonment and two years of mandatory probation, was released and deported to India in May 2014. In his petition, he claimed that due process was not followed in his case.
He had in November 2018, written a letter to the Ministry of External Affairs seeking a grant of permission to initiate legal action against the United Nations Organization (UNO) under section 86 of Civil Procedure Code, 1908. The provision provides that a foreign State may be sued in any Court with the consent of the Central government.
The Ministry replied that the consent of the Government of India is not required to initiate a legal suit against UNO as it is not a foreign state and is only an Internal Organization.
It, however, said UNO and its officials enjoy immunity under the United Nations (Privileges and Immunities) Act, 1947. It also said as per Section 2 of Article II of the Schedule of Act, 1947, UNO has immunity from every form of legal process except insofar as in any particular case it has expressly waived its immunity.
“…the immunity granted is all comprehensive and applicability of any national laws are subject to the waiver of the immunity by respondent no.2 (UNO). As respondent no. 2 has not waived the said immunity, the clause relating to the observance of national laws will be of no help to the petitioner herein.

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Iswarchandra Vidyasagar

Sat, 18 May, 2019

  1. He was the 19th century intellectual.
  2. He was perhaps the first Indian reformer to put forward the issues of women.
  3. His Bengali primer, Borno Porichoy, remains, more than 125 years after his death in 1891, the introduction to the alphabet for nearly all Bengali children.
  4. He was a polymath who reconstructed the modern Bengali alphabet and initiated pathbreaking reform in traditional upper caste Hindu society.
  5. He studied Sanskrit grammar, literature, Vedanta philosophy, logic, astronomy, and Hindu law for more than 12 years at Sanskrit College in Calcutta, and received the title of Vidyasagar — Ocean of Learning — at the age of just 21.
  6. Privately, he studied English literature and philosophy and was appointed principal of Sanskrit College on January 22, 1851.

 

Reforms by Ishwar Chandra:

  1. The focus of his social reform was women — and he spent his life’s energies trying to ensure an end to the practice of child marriage and initiate widow remarriage. He argued, on the basis of scriptures and old commentaries, in favour of the remarriage of widows in the same way as Roy did for the abolition of Sati.
  2. He launched a powerful attack on the practice of marrying off girls aged 10 or even younger, pointing to social, ethical, and hygiene issues, and rejecting the validity of the Dharma Shastras that advocated it. He showed that there was no prohibition on widows remarrying in the entire body of ‘Smriti’ literature (the Sutras and the Shastras).
  3. He campaigned against polygamy.
  4. On October 14, 1855, Vidyasagar presented a petition to the Government of India praying for early passing a law to remove all obstacles to the marriage of Hindu widows and to declare the issue of all such marriages to be legitimate.
  5. On July 16, 1856, The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, known as Act XV, was passed.

 

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Article 324 and role of Election Commission

Sat, 18 May, 2019

The Election Commission of India passed an unprecedented order Wednesday, ending the campaign in West Bengal at 10 pm the following day instead of 5 pm on May 17 as was notified earlier, and is the norm. It also removed the state’s Home Secretary, and a senior police officer.
The decisions were taken under Article 324 of the Constitution, in response to street violence in Kolkata between cadres of the BJP and Trinamool Congress.
Just a month earlier, on April 15, the ECI had told the Supreme Court that its powers to discipline politicians who sought votes in the name of caste or religion were “very limited” — only to turn around and crack the whip on Yogi Adityanath, Maneka Gandhi, Mayawati, and Azam Khan after being scolded by the court, which also said it would examine the ambit of the Commission’s powers.
ECI’s freedom, responsibility
There are just five Articles in Part XV (Elections) of the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly was concerned mainly with ensuring the independence of the Election Commission.
Babasaheb Ambedkar introduced this Article on June 15, 1949, saying “the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central Election Commission, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others”.
Article 324 vests “in an Election Commission” the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”. Parliament enacted The Representation of the People Act, 1950 and The Representation of the People Act, 1951 to define and enlarge the powers of the Commission.
The Supreme Court in Mohinder Singh Gill & Anr vs The Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi and Ors (1977) held that Article 324 “operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation and the words
‘superintendence, direction and control’ as well as ‘conduct of all elections’ are the broadest terms”. The Constitution has not defined these terms.
Article 324, the court said, “is a plenary provision vesting the whole responsibility for national and State elections” in the ECI “and, therefore, the necessary powers to discharge that function”.
The framers of the Constitution, the court said, had left “scope for exercise of residuary power by the Commission, in its own right, as a creature of the Constitution, in the infinite variety of situations that may emerge from time to time…”
Importantly, however, the court, while observing that “legislators are not prophets but pragmatists”, and that the “comprehensive provision in Art. 324 (is) to take care of surprise situations”, underlined that “that power itself has to be exercised, not mindlessly nor mala fide, nor arbitrarily nor with partiality but in keeping with the guidelines of the rule of law and not stultifying the Presidential notification nor existing legislation.”
The court observed: “No one is an imperium in imperio in our constitutional order. It is reasonable to hold that the Commissioner cannot defy the law armed by Art. 324. Likewise, his functions are subject to the norms of fairness and he cannot act arbitrarily. Unchecked power is alien to our system.”
ECI’s role in West Bengal
The Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1988 (Act 1 of 1989) introduced Section 28A in the RP Act of 1951, which said that all officers deployed for the conduct of an election “shall be deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission” from the notification of the election to the declaration of the results, and “such officers shall, during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the Election Commission”.
The situation in West Bengal — of some violence and vandalism, which was neither new nor alarming and critical — is covered by existing laws, and there was no need to invoke the residuary power granted to the ECI by Article 324. The ECI took action against officers for failing in their duties — nothing more was required, except the ordering of a probe. It does seem that the ECI did not take adequate precautions in West Bengal in spite of violence in the first six phases.
In N P Ponnuswami (1952), the Supreme Court held that even courts do not have the power to interfere with the electoral process, a view that it reiterated in Special Reference No. 1 (2002). Last week, the court rejected a plea seeking a direction to the ECI to advance the timing of voting to 5.30 am for the last phase of the election in view of the heat and the fasting of Muslims during the month of Ramzan, saying “We cannot get into poll times. It is the Election Commission’s call.”
The ECI’s credibility has suffered during these elections.
It had no convincing logic for a seven-phase election in West Bengal or a three-phase vote in a single constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, and gave no reason for not holding simultaneous Assembly elections in J&K and by-elections in Tamil Nadu. In taking action on complaints of violations of the Model
Code of Conduct, it has been selective. As the Supreme Court has underlined, absolute power is the antithesis of constitutionalism. Article 324 protects the ECI, but does not allow it to become a law unto itself.

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Basel Convention

Fri, 17 May, 2019

Basel Convention —  Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal:

  • opened for signature on 22 March 1989
  • entered into force on 5 May 1992
  • Parties — 187.
  • Haiti and the United States have signed the Convention but not ratified.
  • It is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries (LDCs).
  • It does not address the movement of radioactive waste.
  • The Convention is also intended to minimize the amount and toxicity of wastes generated, to ensure their environmentally sound management and to assist LDCs in environmentally sound management of the hazardous and other wastes they generate.

 

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RWBCIS [Restructured Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme]

Fri, 17 May, 2019

The RWBCIS was launched on 18th February 2016 by Hon’ble Prime Minister 12 states implemented the scheme in Kharif 2016 whereas 9 states have implemented the scheme in Rabi 2016-17. Approximately 15 lakhs farmers have been insured in the Kharif 2016 for 16.95 lakh ha of land at premium of Rs983.96 crore for a sum insured of Rs8536.53 crore as per figures available on 31.03.2017.

Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS) aims to mitigate the hardship of the insured farmers against the likelihood of financial loss on account of anticipated crop loss resulting from adverse weather conditions relating to rainfall, temperature, wind, humidity etc. WBCIS uses weather parameters as “proxy‟ for crop yields in compensating the cultivators for deemed crop losses. Pay-out structures are developed to the extent of losses deemed to have been suffered using the weather triggers.

Weather Station (RWS) or Backup Weather Station (BWS) as the case may be, and the claims process shall commence once the weather data is received. Claims processing are strictly as per the insurance term sheets, payout structure and the Scheme provisions. All standard Claims are processed and paid within 45 days from the end of the risk period. The scheme is being administered by Ministry of Agriculture.

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Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994

Thu, 16 May, 2019

The Hindu reported that National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organization (NOTTO) give priority to foreign patients over Indian patients waiting for a donor heart transplant.

What is organ donation?

  • Organ donation is the donation of biological tissue or an organ of the human body, from a living or dead person to a living recipient in need of a transplantation.
  • Transplant: A transplant is a medical procedure where one person’s dysfunctional organ or tissue is replaced by that of a healthy person, thus restoring its function.

Different types of organ donation:

Living Donation:

  • Living donation takes place when a living person donates an organ (or part of an organ) for transplantation to another person.

Deceased Cadaver Donation:

  • An organ or part of an organ given at the time of donor’s death. (Cadaver means corpse)
  • Donated after the donor is declared brain dead.
  • Brain death is the total and irreversible loss of all brain functions.
  • Brain dead persons are kept on ventilators (artificial support) to ensure all organs remain oxygenated and healthy until they are harvested.
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WTO issue with India

Thu, 16 May, 2019

India is trying to rally the support of other developing countries in the World Trade Organisation to reform the “biased” system of assessing a country’s services trade policies, according to an official closely associated with the development.
The existing system, developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has significant quantitative and qualitative flaws. Further, it is biased towards developed countries, he said. The study also found that the OECD method resulted in several counter-intuitive results as compared with the real policies implemented by the countries in question, such as ranking India very high in terms of restrictiveness.
India has come up with a “better and more reliable” mechanism to measure restrictiveness in the services trade, and has approached China, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa to highlight the importance of the new system.
Not only does the alternative indicator satisfy all the statistical properties, but it is also shown to be correct for most of the limitations of the OECD methodology, and hence, can be used as a better indicator of the true [policy] position of an economy.

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India relations with Iran

Wed, 15 May, 2019

India will take a call on the purchase of Iranian energy after the general elections. The discussions come in the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Gulf after the U.S. waivers for supply of Iranian energy ended on May 2, prompting Tehran to declare that it would no longer be bound by the 2015 nuclear deal.
On purchase of oil from Iran, External Affairs Minister reiterated the position that a decision will be taken after the elections keeping in mind our commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests.
The Indian side said the visit of the Foreign Minister was undertaken “at his own initiative” to update about the developments in the Gulf region where tension escalated over the weekend as incidents of sabotage were reported in Saudi Arabia.
Tehran, meanwhile, indicated that it would leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was agreed upon during the second tenure of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Those who actually live in our fragile neighbourhood have a real national security interest in promoting peace, stability, cooperation and connectivity. Iran remains a most accessible, sustainable and secure partner.
The two sides have designed a special financial system to augment trade and economic cooperation. The visiting minister also informed India that as per the announcement of President Hassan Rouhani, Iran has given a 60-day timeline to the EU-3 and other parties to the nuclear deal for restoring oil and banking channels.
Ms. Swaraj conveyed India’s position on the critical nuclear deal that had restored banking and trade rights to Tehran after decades, and urged the stakeholders to resolve differences peacefully. India would like all parties to the agreement to continue to fulfill their commitments and all parties should engage constructively and resolve all issues peacefully and through dialogue.

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Payment Systems Vision 2021

Wed, 15 May, 2019

The Reserve Bank of India has today placed on its website the “Payment and Settlement Systems in India: Vision 2019 – 2021”. The Payment Systems Vision 2021 with its core theme of ‘Empowering Exceptional (E)payment Experience’ aims at empowering every Indian with access to a bouquet of e-payment options that is safe, secure, convenient, quick and affordable.

The Payment Systems Vision 2021 has been formalised based on inputs from various stakeholders and guidance of the Board for Payment and Settlement Systems (BPSS). It envisages to achieve a ‘highly digital’ and ‘cash-lite’ society through the goal posts of Competition, Cost effectiveness, Convenience and Confidence (4Cs).

With concerted efforts and involvement of all stake holders, the Payment Systems Vision 2021, with its 36 specific action points and 12 specific outcomes, aspires to (a) enhance Customer experience, including robust grievance redressal; (b) empower payment System Operators and Service Providers; (c) enable the payments Eco-system and Infrastructure; (d) put in place Forward-looking Regulations; and (e) undertake Risk-focused Supervision. The ‘no-compromise’ approach towards safety and security of payment systems remains a hallmark of the Vision.

The payment systems landscape will continue to change with further innovation and entry of more players which is expected to ensure optimal cost to the customers and freer access to multiple payment system options.

The Reserve Bank of India will implement the approach outlined in this Vision during the period 2019 – 2021. The previous Vision document covered the period 2016-2018.

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Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)

Tue, 14 May, 2019

Structure

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) itself includes a Protocol in three parts: Part I detailing the International Monitoring System (IMS); Part II on On-Site Inspections (OSI); and Part III on Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs). There are also two Annexes to the Protocol: Annex 1 detailing the location of various Treaty monitoring assets associated with the IMS; and Annex 2 detailing the parameters for screening events.

Basic Obligations

The CTBT bans any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion (i.e., true zero yield).

The CTBT is frequently associated with another key element in the process of nuclear disarmament: a ban on the production of fissile material for anything other than verified peaceful use. Such a ban would impose a quantitative limit on the amount of nuclear material available for weapons use. That objective is the basis for an initiative at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to negotiate a treaty banning further production of fissile material for weapons purposes — the draft Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). Taken together, the CTBT and the FMCT are integral components of the nuclear control regime and provide the foundation for eventual nuclear disarmament.

Organization

The Treaty establishes a CTBT Organization (CTBTO), located in Vienna, to ensure the implementation of its provisions, including those provisions for international verification measures.

Verification and Compliance

Verification

The Treaty's verification regime includes the International Monitoring System (IMS) composed of seismological, radionuclide (16 laboratories), hydroacoustic and infrasound monitoring; consultation and clarification; on-site inspections; and confidence-building measures. When fully operational, the IMS will consist of 321 monitoring stations alongside the existing 16 radionuclide laboratories. The use of national technical means, vital for the Treaty's verification regime, is explicitly provided for. Requests for on-site inspections must be approved by at least 30 affirmative votes of members of the Treaty's 51-member Executive Council. The Executive Council must act within 96 hours of receiving a request for an inspection.

Compliance

The Treaty provides for measures to redress a violation of the Treaty and to ensure compliance, including sanctions, and for settlement of disputes. If the Conference or Executive Council determines that a case is of particular gravity, it can bring the issue to the attention of the United Nations (Article V of Treaty).

Amendments

Any State Party to the Treaty may propose an amendment to the Treaty, the Protocol, or the Annexes to the Protocol. Amendments shall be considered by an Amendment Conference and shall be adopted by a positive vote of a majority of the States Parties if no State Party casts a negative vote.

Withdrawal

Each State Party has the right to withdraw from the CTBT if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of the Treaty have jeopardized the State Party's supreme national interests.

Entry into Force

The Treaty will enter into force 180 days after the date of deposit of the instruments of ratification by all States listed in Annex 2 to the Treaty, but no earlier than two years after its opening for signature. Annex 2 lists the following 44 States, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Vietnam. The aforementioned States are members of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) with nuclear power and/or research reactors. If the Treaty has not entered into force three years after the date of its opening for signature, a conference of the States that have already deposited their instruments of ratification may convene annually to consider and decide by consensus what measures, consistent with international law, may be undertaken to accelerate the ratification process in order to facilitate the early entry into force of this Treaty.

Of the 44 States included in Annex 2 required for entry into force of the CTBT, all have signed with the exceptions of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), India, and Pakistan. Five of the 44 Annex 2 States have signed but not ratified the CTBT; they are China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States. The United States and China are the only remaining NPT Nuclear Weapon States that have not ratified the CTBT.

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FCRA licence

Tue, 14 May, 2019

What is FCRA licence? Why was it necessary? 
FCRA licence gives an NGO to receive foreign funds and any NGO that is getting such grant have to mandatorily register based on the FCRA guidelines. FCRA registration also means that an NGO needs to file their numbers on annual income and expenditure with the Home Ministry. 
What prompted Infosys Foundation to push for de-registration? 
Infosys Foundation in June 2016 wrote to the Home Ministry requesting cancellation of its license under FCRA. 
In fact, the Foundation was registered under the FCRA Act in January 2016 and in May 2016, the Government amended the FCRA Act in the Finance Bill with retrospective effect from 2010. And as a result the Foundation no longer came under the purview of the FCRA Act. 

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The US-China trade war, and its impact on India

Mon, 13 May, 2019

The United States decision to raise tariffs to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods took effect — a move that potentially impacted goods trade in more than 5,700 product categories, and sparked another round of tariff wars between the world’s two largest economies.
On Saturday, Washington slapped a new round of tariffs on almost all of China’s remaining imports. These tariffs applied to an even broader range of traded goods — estimated at about $300 billion.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement that President Donald Trump had “ordered us to begin the process of raising tariffs on essentially all remaining imports from China”. Trump had said Friday that the two sides were close to reaching a deal, but China had attempted to renegotiate.
The Chinese side continued to sound hopeful. “Negotiations have not broken down,” Vice Premier Liu He, China’s chief negotiator in the talks, said Saturday. “…I think small setbacks are normal and inevitable during the negotiations of both countries. Looking forward, we are still cautiously optimistic,” Liu said.
In contrast, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC that there were currently no trade talks scheduled with Beijing.
Origin of the US-China dispute
The US and China have been slugging it out since Trump slapped heavy tariffs on imported steel and aluminium items from China in March last year, and China responded by imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of dollars worth of American imports.
The dispute escalated after Washington demanded that China reduce its $375 billion trade deficit with the US, and introduce “verifiable measures” for protection of Intellectual Property Rights, technology transfer, and more access to American goods in Chinese markets.
In a report earlier this year, the IMF noted that the US-China trade tension was one factor that contributed to a “significantly weakened global expansion” late last year, as it cut its global growth forecast for 2019.
Impact of latest move
The biggest Chinese import sector impacted by the fresh round of tariff hikes is the $20 billion-plus category of Internet modems, routers, and other data transmission devices segment, alongside printed circuit boards used in a number of US-made products. Furniture, lighting products, auto parts, vacuum cleaners, and building materials also face higher levies.
Analysts say the tariffs could hamper the rebound in the US economy, with consumption likely to be hit, as these tariffs would be paid by American consumers and businesses. Also, this exacerbates the uncertainty in the global trading environment, affects global sentiment negatively, and adds to risk aversion globally.
The higher tariffs could lead to the repricing of risk assets globally, tighter financing conditions, and slower growth. The trade tensions could result in an increasingly fragmented global trading framework, weakening the rules-based system that has underpinned global growth, particularly in Asia, over the past several decades.
While there is still hope that the two countries will ultimately sort out their issues, the risk of a complete breakdown in trade talks has increased after Saturday.
How India is impacted by US-China trade war
There could be a short-term impact on the stock markets. The benchmark Sensex at the Bombay Stock Exchange has been falling in line with global markets that have been spooked by the escalating trade war between the US and China.
In the longer run, while a slowdown in the US economy does not augur well for emerging markets, the trade war could have a silver lining for some countries. India is among a handful of economies that stand to benefit from the trade tensions between the world’s top two economies, the United Nations has said in a report.
Of the $300 billion in Chinese exports that are subject to US tariffs, only about 6% will be picked up by firms in the US, according to a report released in February by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). EU members are expected to benefit the most, as exports in the bloc are likely to grow by $70 billion; and Japan and Canada will see exports increase by more than $20 billion each
Other countries set to benefit from the trade tensions include Vietnam, with 5% export gains, Australia (4.6%), Brazil (3.8%), India (3.5%), and Philippines (3.2%), the UNCTAD study said.
Could it go to WTO?
While it is not clear yet whether the matter would go to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), data show that the US generally wins trade disputes, particularly against China, before the global trade arbitrator. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economies, in the last 16 years, the US has challenged Chinese practices 23 times in the WTO, with a win-loss record of 19-0 — with four cases pending.
In the most recent decision, the WTO panel found that China’s agricultural subsidies were inconsistent with WTO rules, and upheld US claims.
For China, the higher tariffs will have a significant negative effect on exports, against the backdrop of a slowing economy. Further policy easing will mitigate only some of the impact, and increased uncertainty and weaker business sentiment will hinder private investment decisions.
According to Michael Taylor, Managing Director, Credit Strategy, Moody’s Investors Service, the Chinese advanced technology sector will also likely be adversely affected, as the US intensifies restrictions on that sector. And for the rest of Asia’s export-dependent economies, a slowdown in China will dampen growth rates.
US-China Trade and Investment Facts
–US GOODS & SERVICES trade with China totalled an estimated $737.1 billion in 2018. Exports: $179.3 billion; imports: $557.9 billion; deficit: $378.6 billion
–CHINA IS CURRENTLY the US’s largest goods trading partner with $659.8 billion in total (two-way) goods trade in 2018. Exports: $120.3 billion; imports: $539.5 billion; US goods trade deficit: $419.2 billion
–TRADE IN SERVICES with China (exports and imports) totalled an estimated $77.3 billion in 2018. Exports: $58.9 billion; imports: $18.4 billion; US services trade surplus: $40.5 billion
–911,000 JOBS (estimated) were supported by US exports of goods and services to China in 2015 (latest data available), according to the US Department of Commerce; 601,000 supported by goods exports; 309,000 by services exports
–US FDI IN CHINA (stock) was $107.6 billion in 2017, a 10.6% increase from 2016. US direct investment in China is led by manufacturing, wholesale trade, finance and insurance
–CHINA FDI IN THE US (stock) was $39.5 billion in 2017, down 2.3% from 2016. China’s direct investment in the US is led by manufacturing, real estate, depository institutions
–SALES OF SERVICES in China by majority US-owned affiliates was $55.1 billion in 2016 (latest data available); sales of services in the US by majority China-owned firms: $8.3 billion Source: USTR

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IPEN Umbrella group

Sun, 12 May, 2019

Around 180 governments on Friday agreed on a new UN accord to regulate the export of plastic waste, some eight million tonnes of which ends up in the oceans each year, organisers said.

The 1,400 representatives, meeting in Geneva reached the agreement after 12 days’ discussion on what Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) called “one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues”.

Basel Convention

The Geneva meeting amended the 1989 Basel Convention on the control of hazardous wastes to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework.

“I’m proud that this week in Geneva, Parties to the Basel Convention have reached agreement on a legally-binding, globally-reaching mechanism for managing plastic waste,” said Mr. Payet.

The IPEN umbrella group seeking to eliminate hazardous and toxic chemicals said the new amendment would empower developing countries to refuse “dumping plastic waste” by others.

“For far too long developed countries like the US and Canada have been exporting their mixed toxic plastic wastes to developing Asian countries claiming it would be recycled in the receiving country

“Instead, much of this contaminated mixed waste cannot be recycled and is instead dumped or burned, or finds its way into the ocean,” said IPEN science adviser Sara Brosche. Plastic waste pollution has reached “epidemic proportions” with an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans.

The a meeting also undertook to eliminate two toxic chemical groups — Dicofol and Perfluorooctanoic Acid, plus related compounds. The latter has been used in a wide variety of industrial and domestic applications including non-stick cookware and food processing equipment, as well as carpets, paper and paints.

Even though the U.S. and a few others have not signed the accord, they cannot ship plastic waste to countries that are on board with the deal.

 

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Arsenic bioremediation using two soil bacteria

Sun, 12 May, 2019

The bacteria increase bioavailability of metals, facilitate plant growth

Using two indigenous strains of bacterium isolated from arsenic-contaminated field, researchers from CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute (CSIR-NBRI), Lucknow and the University of Lucknow have shown that arsenic can be effectively removed from contaminated soil with the help of microbes. What adds value to these strains (Bacillus flexus and Acinetobacter junii) is the fact that they can promote plant growth too.

Different forms of arsenic

Several studies have pointed out that using arsenic-contaminated water for agricultural purposes can lead to increased concentration of arsenic in fruits and grains, proving toxic to humans.

 The researchers studied the two bacteria under different concentrations of arsenate and arsenite, the toxic forms of heavy metal. Arsenic treatment did not stunt or delay the growth of both the bacterial strains. flexusexhibited resistance to high levels (150 mmol per litre) of arsenate and A. juniito about 70 mmol per litre of arsenite. This is higher than previously reported arsenic tolerant bacteria and so were regarded as hyper-tolerant strains.

Further gene detection studies pointed out that both the bacteria have a special ars C gene, which aids in arsenic detoxification.

The bacterial strains were further scrutinised to understand if they can help in plant growth too. In studies carried out in the lab, both the bacteria were able to solubilise phosphorus. Phosphate solubilising bacteria have been reported to increase phytoavailability of phosphate, thus facilitating plant growth.

These two bacterial strains were also found to produce siderophores and ACC deaminase enzyme. Siderophore increase the bioavailability of iron and other metal ions in polluted soil environment and ACC deaminase is a well known plant growth promoting enzyme.

These bacteria can live symbiotically in the roots of plants in arsenic- contaminated soils and help them uptake the required nutrients without causing toxicity.

The paper published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology notes that these indigenous strains demonstrated the “potential to accumulate arsenic within the cells and transform it into less phytotoxic forms, making the strains more proficient candidate for bioremediation”.

 

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Indo-Pacific cooperation

Sat, 11 May, 2019

For over five decades, countries in Southeast Asia and its surroundings in Asia, the Pacific Ocean and Pacific Rim have enjoyed peace and stability, upon which economic growth and welfare have accumulated. The marvel of uninterrupted development has transformed them into a group of countries that are part of the engines of global economic growth. Moreover, through decades of intensive interactions and the habit of dialogue, many important regional institutions and mechanisms have been formed, in which ASEAN has played a pivotal role. As a country strategically located between the Pacific and Indian oceans, Indonesia places a high premium on ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in both regions. For centuries, the two great oceans have been among the world’s most important trade routes, hence one of the main sources of global growth.

As they are closely interlinked and interconnected by oceans, the maritime domain has been and will continue increasingly to become a common interest among the nations. Consequently, countries in the region must work together to maintain peace and stability at sea. Otherwise, the maritime domain will become the source of friction in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Unresolved maritime boundaries remain in place. Moreover, countries face rapidly depleted marine resources, including fish as our source of nutrients. Moreover, climate change and maritime pollution pose serious problems for coastal communities. The sea-level rise threatening the survival of many island nations is not a myth.

As a maritime and archipelagic nation, Indonesia is also facing all these challenges. Yet, Indonesia fully realizes that no country alone can cope with these perennial challenges. It will require regional and global maritime cooperation based on common interests. Every nation is responsible for being part of concerted steps to address such common concerns. Today, the newly accumulated wealth and welfare of countries in Asia, the Pacific and Africa present us with enormous opportunities to work together. It is vital for these countries to ensure that rapid developments in the past five decades will not spur strategic rivalry or conflicts.

This is a strategic challenge that has long been anticipated. As such, Indonesia and ASEAN have taken many initiatives to develop and strengthen regional cooperation and mechanisms. Assessing developments in both the Indian and Pacific oceans, Indonesia views it as high time for all countries in both oceans to redouble efforts in strengthening regional cooperation. All countries concerned must ensure that both oceans remain a region of peace and cooperation, not that of rivalry and conflict.

Essentially, countries must together develop a framework of cooperation in Indo-Pacific. Various countries have already proposed initiatives of Indo-Pacific cooperation. While all views are important and can enrich regional cooperation, Indonesia is of the view that the initiatives have created a rare opportunity for synergy. In implementing its vision, Indonesia has also promoted several inherent key principles for Indo-Pacific cooperation. They include an emphasis on ASEAN centrality, openness, transparency, inclusivity and respect for international law, to enhance mutual trust, respect and benefit. The realization of such a vision is undertaken through a two-pronged approach.

First, we must continue strengthening ASEAN-led mechanisms — particularly the East Asia Summit (EAS). Second, we will continue to bridge and connect these mechanisms with other non-ASEAN regional mechanisms in the Indo-Pacific region. Potential cooperation between EAS and other mechanisms in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions on common concerns and interests will build partnership through a win-win paradigm and mindset, to create an avenue to reduce potential rivalry and competition in the region.

Additionally, the cooperation will open new opportunities for all nations to achieve economic growth and become a new center and engine for the global economy. Positive contributions and engagements from all countries will allow the achievement of peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian and Pacific oceans. To continue facilitating discussions on such a vision, Indonesia will convene an event called the “High-Level Dialogue on Indo-Pacific Cooperation: Toward a Peaceful, Prosperous and Inclusive Region” on March 20 in Jakarta.

This dialogue will serve as a dynamic and interactive platform to share each and everyone’s view on Indo-Pacific cooperation. This forum will not only build trust among countries but will also nurture the seed of long-term and inclusive cooperation among countries in Asia-Pacific and around the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the dialogue will also provide an opportunity to promote concrete collaboration among stakeholders in the region in the areas of maritime cooperation; infrastructure and connectivity; and sustainable development goals.

This meeting in Jakarta is an opportunity for those countries to have an open discussion and identify real and potential cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Although countries may have varying interpretations on the meaning or the implications of any form of cooperation, clearly this region has been peaceful and thus should be the focal point for greater world peace, stability and prosperity. By recognizing the available and potential opportunities for regional cooperation, we can dismiss unnecessary suspicion and mistrust that cloud the Indo-Pacific discourse. Instead, opportunities will guide us into a greater sense of hope and faith for stronger and lasting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. In my very humble opinion, this is something all countries in the region should be able to agree upon and even act upon.

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What are GVA and GDP in growth calculation?

Sat, 11 May, 2019

With the industrial output and consumer price numbers released, all eyes are now set on the growth numbers that would be released on Wednesday. After following gross domestic product (GDP) for many years, policy makers have now also started looking at gross value added (GVA) to analyse growth. ET explains:

1.What is gross value added?
Put simply, it is a measure of total output and income in the economy. It provides the rupee value for the amount of goods and services produced in an economy after deducting the cost of inputs and raw materials that have gone into the production of those goods and services. It also gives sector-specific picture like what is the growth in an area, industry or sector of an economy.

2.How is it measured?
At the macro level, from national accounting perspective, it is the sum of a country’s GDP and net of subsidies and taxes in the economy. When measured from the production side, it is a balancing item of the national accounts.

3.What is GDP?
It gives the economic output from the consumers’ side. It is the sum of private consumption, gross investment in the economy, government investment, government spending and net foreign trade (difference between exports and imports).

4.What is the difference between the two?

While GVA gives a picture of the state of economic activity from the producers’ side or supply side, the GDP gives the picture from the consumers’ side or demand perspective. Both measures need not match because of the difference in treatment of net taxes. This is one of the reasons that in the first quarter of 2015, GDP growth was stronger at 7.5%, while GVA growth was 6.1%.

5.Why did policy makers decide to also give weight to GVA?
A sector-wise breakdown provided by the GVA measure can better help the policymakers to decide which sectors need incentives/stimulus or vice versa. Some consider GVA as a better gauge of the economy because a sharp increase in the output, only due to higher tax collections which could be on account of better compliance or coverage, may distort the real output situation.

6.Which of the two measures is considered more appropriate gauge of the economy?
A sector-wise breakdown provided by the GVA measure helps policymakers decide which sectors need incentives or stimulus and accordingly formulate sectorspecific policies. But GDP is a key measure when it comes to making cross-country analysis and comparing the incomes of different economies.

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Chilika lake

Sat, 11 May, 2019

The extremely severe cyclone Fani has created four new mouths in Chilika Lake, Asia’s largest brackish water lake, connecting to the Bay of Bengal. Chilika Development Authority (CDA) officials have started studying the impact of saline ingression into the lake.
Chilika lagoon had only two active mouths — the point where it meets the sea before Fani hit the Odisha coast on May 3. Four new mouths have opened due to wave energy with high tidal prism.
In the meantime, a lot of sea water is entering Chilika Lake. We are now monitoring its salinity level at different stations. If sea water ingression goes up, fish migration will increase and the biodiversity will get richer. But its long term impact is something we will have to keep a watch on.
When asked if the rise in salinity would alter Chilika’s ecosystem, he said: “Three of the four sectors are more or less marine ecosystems. The rise in salinity will lead to increase in productivity. Chilika Lake is a mixture of saline and fresh water. We will keep observing and consulting with experts.

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South China Sea disputes

Fri, 10 May, 2019

The  South China Sea , one of the world’s busiest waterways, is subject to several overlapping territorial disputes involving China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. The conflict has remained unresolved for decades but has emerged as a flashpoint in China-US relations in Asia.
 
 What is the conflict about?

The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia hold different, sometimes overlapping, territorial claims over the sea, based on various accounts of history and geography. China claims more than 80 per cent, while Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. The Philippines asserts ownership of the Spratly archipelago and the Scarborough Shoal, while Brunei and Malaysia have claimed sovereignty over southern parts of the sea and some of Spratly Islands.

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WATER IN CRISIS - INDIA

Fri, 10 May, 2019

With a diverse population that is three times the size of the United States but one-third the physical size, India has the second largest population in the world. According to the World Bank, India has taken significant steps to reduce poverty but the number of people who live in poverty is still highly disproportionate to the number of people who are middle-income, with a combined rate of over 52% of both rural and urban poor.

Although India has made improvements over the past decades to both the availability and quality of municipal drinking water systems, its large population has stressed planned water resources and rural areas are left out. In addition, rapid growth in India's urban areas has stretched government solutions, which have been compromised by over-privatization.

Regardless of improvements to drinking water, many other water sources are contaminated with both bio and chemical pollutants, and over 21% of the country's diseases are water-related. Furthermore, only 33% of the country has access to traditional sanitation.

One concern is that India may lack overall long-term availability of replenishable water resources. While India's aquifers are currently associated with replenishing sources, the country is also a major grain producer with a great need for water to support the commodity. As with all countries with large agricultural output, excess water consumption for food production depletes the overall water table.

Many rural communities in India who are situated on the outskirts of urban sprawl also have little choice but to drill wells to access groundwater sources. However, any water system adds to the overall depletion of water. There is no easy answer for India which must tap into water sources for food and human sustenance, but India's overall water availability is running dry.

India's water crisis is often attributed to lack of government planning, increased corporate privatization, industrial and human waste and government corruption. In addition, water scarcity in India is expected to worsen as the overall population is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by year 2050. To that end, global water scarcity is expected to become a leading cause of national political conflict in the future, and the prognosis for India is no different.

On a positive note, some areas of India are fortunate to have a relatively wet climate, even in the most arid regions. However, with no rain catchment programs in place, most of the water is displaced or dried up instead of used. In these areas, rain harvesting could be one solution for water collection. Collected water can be immediately used for agriculture, and with improved filtration practices to reduce water-borne pathogens, also quickly available for human consumption.

Whatever the means, India needs solutions now. Children in 100 million homes in the country lack water, and one out of every two children are malnourished. Environmental justice needs to be restored to India so that families can raise their children with dignity, and providing water to communities is one such way to best ensure that chance.

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15th Finance Commission

Thu, 09 May, 2019

Finance Commission is a Constitutional body created in every five years to transfer financial resources from the centre to the states. Origin of Finance Commission lies with Article 280 of the Constitution.

The article (280) prescribes that the President of India shall constitute a Finance Commission in every five years to give recommendations to him about the transfer of central revenues (tax) to the states and its allocation among them (states) and other matters assigned to it.

There are three core areas for FCs to make recommendations traditionally:

(1) resource transfer to the states and the criteria for the allocation of such resources among the states, the (2) principle that should guide the allocation of grants in aid to the sates out of the center’s Consolidated Fund and the (3) measures to support finances of the local bodies are to be suggested by the FC.

Besides these traditional core resource transfer recommendations, Finance Commissions have to make some expertise functions assigned by the President from time to time (like to study the fiscal situation of both the centre and states). Such responsibilities are mentioned under Section 3 (d) of Article 280.

What is there in the Terms of Reference of the Fifteenth Finance Commission?

The Terms of Reference for the Fifteenth Finance Commission has been given under eight (1 to 8) guidelines. The first one which is added below contains the traditional three recommendatory functions of the finance commission. Here:

(1) the Fifteenth Finance Commission has to make recommendations on:

(i) The distribution between the Union and the States of the net proceeds of taxes which are to be, or may be, divided between them under and the allocation between the States of the respective shares of such proceeds;

(ii) The principles which should govern the grants-in-aid of the revenues of the States out of the Consolidated Fund of India and the sums to be paid to the States by way of grants-in-aid of their revenues under Article 275 of the Constitution for purposes other than those specified in the provisos to clause (1) of that article; and

(iii) The measures needed to augment the Consolidated Fund of a State to supplement the resources of the Panchayats and Municipalities in the State on the basis of the recommendations made by the Finance Commission of the State.

After this core responsibility incorporated under item (1) of the ToR, the XV FC has been asked to make some customized reference topics that are incorporated from item 2 to item 8.

(2) Asks the FC to consider the finances of the centre and states, fiscal consolidation map etc.

But under this head, the ToR specifically asks that “The Commission may also examine whether revenue deficit grants be provided at all.”

(3) Here, the FC is asked to consider six ((i) to (vi)) federal finance aspects while making its recommendations. Some of these are:

(i) The demand on the resources of the Central Government particularly on account of defence, internal security, infrastructure, railways, climate change, commitments towards administration of UTs without legislature, and other committed expenditure and liabilities; (this consideration is from the center’s angle).

(ii)The demand on the resources of the State Governments, particularly on account of financing socioeconomic development and critical infrastructure, assets maintenance expenditure, balanced regional development and impact of the debt and liabilities of their public utilities; (this is made from the states’ angle).

(iii) The impact on the fiscal situation of the Union Government of substantially enhanced tax devolution to States following recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, coupled with the continuing imperative of the national development programme including New India – 2022; (this aspect gives the idea that after the 14th FC, states got tremendous revenue whereas centre is facing shortages).

(iv) The impact of the GST, including payment of compensation for possible loss of revenues for 5 years, and abolition of a number of cesses, the compensation to states etc., on the finances of Centre and States;

(v) On article (293), that is about the conditions that can be set by the centreon states’ borrowings.

Now, besides these aspects, the ToR contains nine measurable performance-based incentives for states that can be considered by the FC for making a proposal on them. These nine incentives are attached under item (4) of the ToR.

(4) Commission may consider proposing measurable performance-based incentives for States, at the appropriate level of government, in following areas ( briefly mentioned and only the important ones are mentioned in this article).

(i) Efforts made by the States in expansion and deepening of tax net under GST;

(ii) Efforts and Progress made in moving towards replacement rate of population growth;

(iii) Achievements in implementation of flagship schemes of Government of India, disaster resilient infrastructure, sustainable development goals, and quality of expenditure;

(iv) Progress made in increasing capital expenditureeliminating losses of power sector

(v) Progress made in increasing tax/non-tax revenues, promoting savings by adoption of Direct Benefit Transfers and Public Finance Management System, promoting digital economy and removing layers between the government and the beneficiaries;

(vi) Progress made in promoting ease of doing business.

(vii) Provision of grants in aid to local bodies for basic services and other incentives.

(viii) Control or lack of it in incurring expenditure on populist measures.

(ix) Progress made in sanitation, solid waste management and open defecation.

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Pattachitra

Thu, 09 May, 2019

Rarely has artist Bijoy Mohapatra, 40, remained idle in recent memory. But with Cyclone Fani tearing down this artists’ village, part of the coastal district of Puri, Mr. Mohapatra and his ilk is struggling to come to terms with the damage.
We found ourselves helpless before the intensity of the storm. Instead of shifting the ‘Pattachitra’ to a safer place, our priority was to save our own lives.
One rain-defaced 5ft x 3ft sized Pattachitra, a traditional cloth-based scroll painting, narrated the Krishna Leela while another told the story of Ganesha. It had taken six months each for Mr. Mohapatra and his father, Banamali Mohapatra, a master craftsman, to complete them. The two damaged Pattachitras could have fetched them more than Rs. 20,000 each.
The Pattachitras are known for its intricate designs. Once torn, one can neither mend it nor sell it. Raghurajpur has been identified as a heritage village because of the traditional works ranging from Pattachitra to paper mask and wooden carvings to dolls. The village, which usually witnesses an overflow of tourists who queue up to buy the artwork, has not see a single tourist since the day Fani struck.

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‘Fall Army Worm’ (FAW)

Wed, 08 May, 2019

The Mizoram government has informed the Centre about an estimated crop loss of Rs. 20 crore caused by an outbreak of the ‘Fall Army Worm’ (FAW) in the State. The outbreak caused by Spodoptera Frugiperda, an insect, has affected maize cultivation in 1,747.9 hectares in 122 villages.
The State government has constituted a Rapid Response Team to monitor the outbreak and take measures to mitigate the loss of crops. State Agriculture Department director Rohmingthanga Colney said that chemical pesticides and organic ones were being used to kill the worm in maize fields.
The FAW outbreak was reported in neighbouring Bangladesh and Myanmar early this year. Being a nocturnal pest, the FAW hides under maize leaves at day time and is difficult to detect.
Agriculture scientists and environmentalists predict that the deadly pest Fall Armyworm (FAW) could turn out to be a scourge of farmers in former undivided Adilabad district in the coming crop seasons. The pestilence, which had primarily attacked maize crop in Nirmal and Adilabad districts, had damaged crop to the extent of 90% in some cases and is expected to attack even cotton and soyabean crops.
The scientist also suggested sowing of treated maize seeds and inter-cropping with red gram and use of pheromone traps. “Monitoring of the crop also helps in early detection of pestilence and taking of remedial measures.

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Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

Tue, 07 May, 2019

Relentless pursuit of economic growth, twinned with the impact of climate change, has put an ”unprecedented” one million species at risk of extinction, scientists said in a landmark report on the damage done by modern civilisation to the natural world.
Only a wide-ranging transformation of the global economic and financial system could pull ecosystems that are vital to the future of human communities worldwide back from the brink of collapse, concluded the report, which was endorsed by 130 countries, including the U.S., Russia and China.
“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed, launched in Paris by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”
Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, the study is a cornerstone of an emerging body of research that suggests the world may need to embrace a new “post-growth” form of economics if it is to avert the existential risks posed by the mutually-reinforcing consequences of pollution, habitat destruction and carbon emissions.
Known as the Global Assessment, the report found that up to one million of Earth’s estimated eight million plant, insect and animal species is at risk of extinction, many within decades.
The authors identified industrial farming and fishing as major drivers with the current rate of species extinction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years. Climate change caused by burning the coal, oil and gas produced by the fossil fuel industry is exacerbating the losses, the report found.
Robert Watson, a British environmental scientist who chairs the IPBES, said it would be possible to start conserving, restoring and using nature sustainably only if societies were prepared to confront “vested interests” committed to preserving the status quo.
The report’s blunt language echoed the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said in October that profound economic and social changes would be needed to curb greenhouse gases quickly enough to avert the most devastating consequences of a warming world.
The findings will also add to pressure for countries to agree bold action to protect wildlife at a major conference on biodiversity due to take place in China towards the end of next year.
The Global Assessment contained a litany of estimates made after a three-year review of some 15,000 scientific papers that showed the profound impact of the rise of a globalised industrial society on the planet over the past half century.
Combining wide-ranging disciplines to measure how the loss of the natural world affects human societies, the report identified a range of risks, from the disappearance of insects vital for pollinating food crops, to the destruction of coral reefs that support fish populations that sustain coastal communities, or the loss of medicinal plants.
The report found that the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900.
The threatened list includes more than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals. The picture was less clear for insect species, but a tentative estimate suggests 10% are at risk of extinction

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The grizzled giant squirrel

Tue, 07 May, 2019

The grizzled giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura) is a large tree squirrel in the genus Ratufa found in the highlands of the Central and Uva provinces of Sri Lanka, and in patches of riparian forest along the Kaveri River and in the hill forests of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala states of southern India.

Species‎: ‎R. macroura
Order‎: ‎Rodentia

 

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Anti-dumping duty

Mon, 06 May, 2019

An anti-dumping duty is a protectionist tariff that a domestic government imposes on foreign imports that it believes are priced below fair market value. Dumping is a process where a company exports a product at a price lower than the price it normally charges in its own home market.
country subsidizes the exporting business to enable them to sell below cost. Thecountry is willing to take a loss on the product to increase its market share in that industry. It may do this because it wants to create jobs for its residents. It often usesdumping as an attack on the other country's industry.
If the domestic industry is able to establish that it is being injured by the dumping, then anti-dumping duties are imposed on goods imported from the dumpers'country at a percentage rate calculated to counteract the dumping margin. Related to anti-dumping duties are "countervailing duties"
An anti-dumping duty is a protectionist tariff that a domestic government imposes on foreign imports that it believes are priced below fair market value. The World Trade Organization does not regulate the actions of companies engaged indumping, but instead focuses on how governments can—or cannot—react todumping.

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Why is northeast India drying up rapidly?

Sun, 05 May, 2019

Northeast India, one of the wettest places on the Earth has been experiencing rapid drying, especially in the last 30 years. Some places which used to get as high as 3,000 mm of rain during the monsoon season have seen a drop of about 25-30%.
A team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, and Assam University set out to understand whether this decline is caused by anthropogenic activity or is it part of natural changes.
We found that changes in the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) — a pattern of fluctuations in the ocean, particularly over the north Pacific basin — are mainly associated with this declined rainfall.
Just like El Nino/La Nina in the tropical Pacific, PDO has a signature for a longer time (on the decadal scale) in the sea surface temperatures and its interaction with the atmosphere, which in turn affects the northeast Indian summer monsoon.
The team used observed rainfall and sea surface temperature data for the period 1901-2014 for the study. The results show out that the reduction in rainfall during a major part of the last 114 years may be associated with global man-made factors, while the trend during the last 36 years is associated with natural phenomena.
Only about 7% of the rainfall in this region is associated with local moisture recycling, which means that anthropogenic activities can affect only this small percentage. So we concluded that the recent rapid drying is a part of interdecadal variability of monsoonal rainfall which is strongly associated with the PDO.
The researchers note that this study can be used to predict the monsoon rainfall over the northeast region on a decadal time scale using Pacific Ocean region data.
Previous studies have found that a dry spell may be preceded by a wet spell, so the researchers warn that “change in land cover and deforestation could potentially result in more natural disasters, for example, flash flood, landslides from torrential rains, and damage to crops and biodiversity”.
Policymakers should take these long-term predictions into account while planning construction of dams, power plants, etc. to prevent loss of property.

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Rebuild Kerala Initiative

Sun, 05 May, 2019

The ground is set for the State to receive the first tranche of €90 million of the €170-million financial support being extended by Germany to the Rebuild Kerala Initiative (RKI). The aid will reach the State through the German Development Bank KfW on the basis of an agreement to be signed between India and Germany. Of the financial assistance, €90 million (Rs. 720 crore) will be a reduced-interest loan to promote climate-resilient reconstruction of transport infrastructure, including bridges and roads.
The paperwork for the second tranche of €80 million (Rs. 640 crore) is on at the State-level and the Centre and the funds may be released to the State in December.
The loan has been based on a report of a team from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation that visited the State in August last year. Rebuild Kerala is a government initiative for crowd funding of projects envisaged for rebuilding Kerala ravaged by the floods.

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Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994

Sat, 04 May, 2019

In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court upheld provisions in the anti-pre-natal sex determination law which ‘criminalises’ non-maintenance of medical records by obstetricians and gynaecologists and suspend their medical licence indefinitely.
A Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran held that the particular provisions in the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994 were necessary to prevent female foeticide in the country.
There are only 586 convictions out of 4202 cases registered even after 24 years of existence. It reflects the challenges being faced in implementing this social legislation, the court observed. The main purpose of the Act is to ban the use of sex selection and misuse of pre-natal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortions and to regulate such techniques.
The court dismissed averments made by doctors that the provisions in the law criminalise even the smallest anomaly in paperwork which is in fact an inadvertent and unintentional error. The sections have made obstetricians and gynaecologists vulnerable to prosecution all over the country.
“It is a responsible job of the person who is undertaking such a test i.e., the gynaecologist/medical geneticist/radiologist/ paediatrician/director of the clinic/centre/laboratory to fill the requisite information. In case he keeps it vague, he knows fully well that he is violating the provisions of the Act

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Chandrayaan-2

Fri, 03 May, 2019

India’s second moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, will be historic for the scientific community as the country’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), attempts to land a rover on the lunar South Pole, a region on the moon to which no one has gone till now.
ISRO said it had fixed a launch window between July 5 and July 16 to launch the moon mission on board a GSLV-MkIII, with an aim to land on the moon around September 6. If ISRO manages to successfully execute this, India will be the first country to land a rover on the moon’s South Pole.

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WAMAN (Wave Monitoring Along Near-shore)

Thu, 02 May, 2019

The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) here, which is closely monitoring the Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm "Fani" round the clock, has warned of likely damage to locations even far away along the east coast due to sustained high winds, storm surges and swell waves. 

Its Ocean State Forecast Operations Centre is issuing warnings to approximately three lakh users, mainly fishermen, along the east coast - Odisha, West Bengal and Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh, regarding wave regime likely near the coast as well as offshore, according to Balakrishnan Nair, Head, Ocean Information and Forecast Services Group.

The cyclonic system has already crossed the deep sea buoy BD14, where wave heights went up to 3.9 metres, when the system crossed and as of now reduced (less than 2.5m). Deep sea buoy BD11 showed a maximum wave height of 6.8 m (forecast 7.7 m), this is likely to go up further on Wednesday. Deep sea buoy BD08 is also showing a distinct upward trend, so waves can go upto nearly 6m, in the next two days.  

An upward trend in higher waves long the coastline has started registering at Visakhaptnam and Gopalpur. The nearshore waves are being measured using WAMAN (Wave Monitoring Along Near-shore) buoy network, with real-time communication of the data, deployed at Puducherry, Krishnapatnam, Visakhapatnam, Gopalpur and Digha, he said.   
"Higher waves are likely to be experienced along the north AP coast, Odisha and West Bengal coast with maximum waves being along the Odisha coast. At Visakhapatnam, maximum wave height of around 5.8m is likely during early hours on May 2; at Gopalpur, around 8.7m, early afternoon of May 3 and at Digha around 5.4m, early morning of May 4. This is for locations where Wave Rider Buoys have been deployed," explained Mr. Nair.  

The system is likely to move northwestwards during next 12 hours and recurve north-northeastwards and cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, to the south of Puri around May 3 afternoon with maximum sustained wind of speed 175-185 kmph gusting to 205 kmph. The observations and forecast model outputs are in good agreement in the open ocean and near-shore. This suggests maximum caution to be exercised by Odisha, AP and West Bengal coasts, he maintained.   

Warnings to fishermen in deep sea is being given through NAVIC gadget, developed by ISRO and INCOIS. Ships even 1500 km away can receive messages on cyclones and tsunamis, as well as information on high wave alerts and potential fishing zone advisories through this gadget unlike other modes of communication restricted to few tens of kilometers.

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Art 239A & 239AA

Wed, 01 May, 2019

Article 239A of Constitution of India "Creation of local Legislatures or Council of Ministers or both for certain Union Territories"

(1) Parliament may by law create for the Union territory of Pondicherry -

(a) a body, whether elected or partly nominated and partly elected, to function as a Legislature for the Union territory, or

(b) a Council of Ministers, or both with such constitution, powers and functions, in each case, as may be specified in the law.

(2)Any such law as is referred to in clause (1) shall not be deemed to be an amendment of this Constitution for the purposes of Article 368 notwithstanding that it contains any provision which amends or has the effect of amending this Constitution.

Article 239AA of the Constitution of India granted Special Status to Delhi among Union Territories (UTs) in the year 1991 through 69th constitutional amendment by the Parliament, thereby providing Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers responsible to such Assembly with appropriate powers to deal with matters of concerns to common man. That’s when Delhi was named as National Capital Region (NCT) of Delhi.

There is no doubt that common men of Delhi are the sufferer on various counts; but we need to examine whether there is a role of Article 239AA of the Constitution in such suffering. What we see today, is it an outcome of Article 239AA? With no political axe to grind, relevant provisions of Article 239AA must be understood in true sense.

As per Article 239AA – Public Order, Police & Land in NCT of Delhi fall within the domain and control of Central Government which shall have the power to make laws on these matters. For remaining matters of State List or Concurrent List, in so far as any such matter is applicable to UTs, the Legislative Assembly shall have power to make laws for NCT of Delhi.

Further, for Offences against laws, Jurisdiction & powers of Courts (except SC) and Fees (except court fees) so far as they relate to Public Order, Police & Land in NCT of Delhi; Central Government would have power to make laws.

Further, the Council of Ministers (i.e. CM and his Ministers) are elected to aid and advise the LG in the exercise of his functions in relation to matters with respect to which the Legislative assembly has power to make law. Therefore, in respect of Public Order, Police & Land – LG would not need aid and advise from the Council of Ministers. For other matters enumerated in the State List, this arrangement would work.

On making analysis of the prevalent circumstances in Delhi and future possible potential abuse of powers, in derogation to other, along with the legal provisions contained in Article 239AA; I can say that arrangements of governance as provided under Article 239AA appears to have failed to fulfil the objective, i.e. “to deal with matters of concern to the common man”.

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Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile

Wed, 01 May, 2019

Stating that defence and offensive space technologies are being developed with various aims of spying, gaining control, deactivating service and destroying, French Envoy in India Alexandre Ziegler has supported India’s Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test as a response to these growing threats.
India shared the same observation and desire to act, which is actually reflected in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the ASAT missile test on March 27 this year. It is obvious that it was a clear response to an assessment of growing threats in the outer space.
At the same time, he said there was common concern on space debris. Satellites today have to avoid almost 6,00,000 debris of over 1cm travelling at speed faster than a bullet, he stated.
On March 27, India shot down a live satellite in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) of 300 km using a modified interceptor of the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system. Officials had stated that the LEO was particularly chosen to minimise space debris.
India and France, which have been cooperating in the area of space for several decades, had announced the setting up of a constellation of satellites for maritime surveillance of the Indian Ocean. Mr. Ziegler said as part of this, the two countries are co-developing a constellation 10-15 satellites that could help “monitor the maritime traffic in the Indian Ocean.
As space gets increasingly crowded, Mr. Ziegler also called for the need to regulate space traffic on the lines of air traffic or railways. He said France shares India’s view on the use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

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Harappa culture

Wed, 01 May, 2019

  • The Indus River Valley Civilization, also known as Harappan civilization, developed the first accurate system of standardized weights and measures, some as accurate as to 1.6 mm.
  • Harappans created sculpture, seals, pottery, and jewelry from materials, such as terracotta, metal, and stone.
  • Evidence shows Harappans participated in a vast maritime trade network extending from Central Asia to modern-day Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and Syria.
  • The Indus Script remains indecipherable without any comparable symbols, and is thought to have evolved independently of the writing in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.
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Spike-LR Anti-tank missile & VSHORAD deal

Tue, 30 Apr, 2019

The deal for VSHORAD, to replace the legacy Igla systems in service, began in 2010 and has since seen several trials and re-trials with three contenders in the fray — MBDA of France, Rosoboronexport of Russia and SAAB of Sweden. Eventually, all three were declared technically complaint last year.
While the benchmark price determined was just over $2 bn, Rosoboronexport’s bid was much lower at around $1.47 bn, SAAB at about $2.6 bn and MBDA around $3.68 bn. This led to a division within the Ministry on how to proceed given such low bid from the Russians compared to the benchmark price, but eventually Igla-S was declared the winner.
The other two vendors had lodged protests and wrote a series of letters to the Defence Ministry alleging procedural violations favouring Igla-S which have been rejected.

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Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Mon, 29 Apr, 2019

India’s decision to skip the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) may have led to the exclusion of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor from the list of projects covered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) umbrella.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry website has not listed the BCIM as a project covered by the BRI — the giant connectivity initiative speared by China to revive the ancient Silk Road across Eurasia and Africa.
Instead, South Asia is covered by three major undertakings — the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC); the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, including Nepal-China cross-border railway; and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Citing “sovereignty” concerns, India, for the second time, did not participate in the BRF, as the CPEC passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The 2,800-km BCIM corridor proposes to link Kunming in China’s Yunnan province with Kolkata, passing though nodes such as Mandalay in Myanmar and Dhaka in Bangladesh before heading to Kolkata.
Last September, the BRI had got a high octane boost when Myanmar inked an agreement with China to establish the CMEC. The 1,700-km corridor provides China yet another node to access the Indian Ocean.
The CMEC will run from Yunnan Province of China to Mandalay in Central Myanmar. From there it will head towards Yangon, before terminating at the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the Bay of Bengal.

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Cyclone Fani

Mon, 29 Apr, 2019

Cyclone Fani will not hit the Tamil Nadu coast. The cyclone will not make landfall in Tamil Nadu. We will not have any direct impact because of this. But we may get some moderate rainfall in northern parts of the State when it nears the coast of northern Tamil Nadu.
While the maximum will be around 36 degree Celsius, the minimum temperature is likely to be 28 degree Celsius. The storm now lies about 910 km off the coast and it is likely to bring in only moderate rains to some parts of northern Tamil Nadu.
Cyclone Fani is likely to turn into a ‘severe cyclonic storm’. This may develop into an ‘extremely severe cyclone storm. Fishermen are advised not to venture into the sea from April 29 to May 1

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Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013

Sun, 28 Apr, 2019

Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 came into force on 6 December 2013 across India except Jammu and Kashmir. The law prohibits the employment of manual scavengers, the manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment and the construction of insanitary latrines.
The law also provides rehabilitation of manual scavengers and alternative employment to them within the time bound manner. From now onwards, the construction and maintenance of the insanity latrines has became an offence, therefore no one can be employed or engaged as the manual scavenger.

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The world's second-largest emperor penguin colony has nearly disappeared

Sat, 27 Apr, 2019

The world's second-largest emperor penguin colony has almost disappeared, according to a new report, raising fears about the effects of climate change on the species.
Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) say in the report that thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned when sea ice in Antarctica's Weddell Sea, on the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf, was destroyed by storms in 2016.
Emperor penguins need stable sea ice on which to breed and this icy platform must last from April, when the birds arrive, until December, when their chicks fledge.
The storms recurred in 2017 and again in 2018 and led to the death of almost all the chicks at the site each season.
The BAS study reports that for the last 60 years, the sea ice conditions in the Halley Bay site had been stable and reliable. Until recently, the colony's breeding pairs numbered each year between 14,000 and 25,000, around 5-9% of the global emperor penguin population It is impossible to say whether the changes in sea-ice conditions at Halley Bay are specifically related to climate change, but such a complete failure to breed successfully is unprecedented at this site.
The BAS team, which has tracked the population of this and other colonies in the region for the last decade, used high-resolution satellite imagery to estimate the group's numbers after the 2016 storm, which Fretwell said was associated with the worst El Niño event witnessed in the area.
"Why the sea ice regime has not gone back to the way it was before is more difficult to understand," he added. "It could be that the storm changed a delicate balance of sea ice in the region, or the shape of the ice shelf could have changed, or it could be that the local conditions could have flipped to a new normal."
Over the longer term Antarctic sea ice extent is predicted to both decrease and show more variability, thus one can expect similar threats to colonies to exist across large parts of the species' range. He added that a combination of warming and more damaging storms is what is likely to be behind the changes in sea ice seen in this area.
This adds to concern about sea ice and populations of emperor penguins. However, sea ice is ephemeral. We know that sea ice features come and go and emperors are to some degree adapted to deal with this. The concern in Antarctica is the rate of change, which is beyond what they have experienced in the past."

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SC gives final warning to RBI on disclosure rules that deflect RTI queries

Sat, 27 Apr, 2019

The Supreme Court has asked the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to disclose certain information regarding annual inspection reports of private banks and non-performing assets under Right to Information (RTI) Act by making changes in its 'disclosure policy'. The SC has given the RBI one "last opportunity" to withdraw rules blocking the disclosure of inspection reports of private banks and ordered it to divulge all information sought by petitioners. "We could have taken a serious view of the continued violation but giving a last opportunity to the RBI to withdraw (disclosure) policy," the SC said on Friday.

Rendering its judgement in the case, a bench head by Justice L Nageswara Rao also asked the central bank to review its policy to disclose information relating to banks under RTI, and said it was "duty bound under the law". However, the bench didn't go ahead with contempt proceedings against the RBI. The bench said it would have taken a serious view to the refusal of RBI to part with information under RTI. "Any further violation shall be viewed seriously," the bench said.

The SC's latest decision comes after its contempt notice to the RBI in January as it failed to disclose information related to the annual inspection report of banks under the RTI. While hearing the contempt petition filed by RTI activist SC Agrawal, the apex court said the RBI couldn't deny information under the transparency law unless the material was exempted from disclosure under the law. The Central Information Commission (CIC) had also issued a similar decision regarding the RBI withholding information related to banks. The RBI, in its defence, said the information related to banks couldn't be shared as it contained "fiduciary" information as defined under the transparency law.

This is the second time in April that the SC has hauled up the RBI. On April 2, the SC had declared the February 12 (2018) circular of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) unconstitutional, which was a big blow to the insolvency and bankruptcy law. The court said the RBI circular issued on February 12, 2018, was beyond the scope of its powers and therefore, would be declared to be of no effect. It also said all actions were taken under the circular, including actions by which the insolvency code had been triggered, must fall along with the circular. As per the circular, the banks would have to seek resolution under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) if a borrower failed to pay the due amount within a period of 180 days. The circular was applicable on loans of Rs 2,000 crore or more.

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Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB)

Fri, 26 Apr, 2019

In what could be a boost for cell-based meat in India, the Centre has approved a Rs. 4.5 crore grant to two premier Hyderabad-based institutions for research into technology that involves growing animal cells in a laboratory to produce slaughter-free meat.
The grant, from the Department of Biotechnology, is for an 18-month project, which will look into developing methods to cultivate stem cells from tissue samples of sheep, to produce mutton.
The project will be carried out jointly by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), which operates under the aegis of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and the National Research Centre on Meat (NRCM), which was set up by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
Announcing the development on Thursday, CCMB director Rakesh Mishra said that the funding was among the highest by any government in the short history of cell-based meat. “This funding has been given to CCMB to develop technology to take laboratory cell culture process to cell-based meat production. “This funding is one of the major initiatives by any government body across the world.”
Proponents of cell-based meat claim that it is healthier for the planet — by reducing land and water usage — as well as for consumers. It could potentially do away with the need for modern factory-farming and issues such as animal cruelty, salmonella and e-coli infections and antibiotic-laced meat.

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NASA Insight lander

Thu, 25 Apr, 2019

NASA’s InSight lander has picked up a gentle rumble at Mars, believed to be the first marsquake ever detected. InSight’s quake monitor recorded and measured the faint signal April 6, and scientists announced the finding late.
Philippe Lognonne from the Paris Institute of Earth Physics said that it was exciting to finally have proof that Mars was still seismically active. Mars is not nearly as geologically active as Earth and, like our moon, lacks tectonic plates.
Researchers are still analysing the data, as well as three other even fainter seismic signals detected since mid-March. By analysing marsquakes, scientists hope to learn more about how rocky planets are formed.

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National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT)

Thu, 25 Apr, 2019

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has asked banks and financial institutions to disclose the non-performing assets (NPA) stemming from their exposure to troubled infrastructure conglomerate Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS) and its group entities in their upcoming results announcements.
In a notification, the central bank said the new directions are as per a February 25 order of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), which asked banks not to declare their loans to the company and group as NPAs.
No financial institution will declare the accounts of ‘Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited’ or its entities as ‘NPA’ without prior permission of this Appellate Tribunal.
The banking regulator has, therefore, asked the lenders to disclose details such as the provisions required for such NPAs and also the actual provisions made, in their Notes to Accounts in the financial results. It has prescribed a disclosure format for this purpose.
An account becomes non-performing if repayment is due for more than 90 days. Banks have to set aside capital as provisions for NPAs. Banks and financial institutions have to disclose the information in a particular format as prescribed by the banking regulator. Most lenders are finalising their earnings for Jan.-March and FY 2018-19.

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The London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor)

Thu, 25 Apr, 2019

The London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) transition opens up a sizeable business opportunity for large consulting firms such as PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte and also for global IT firms, including leading players in India.
Individual banks, financial institutions and lending houses are expected to spend anything from $50 million to upwards of $100 million a year for the next two years until the migration is completed by the end of 2021. Analysts say IT will be 50% of this opportunity.
Regulators globally have asked firms to move away from Libor to other alternate, risk-free rates (RFRs). Derivatives, bonds, mortgages, loans, mutual funds, securities, underwriting, deposits, advances, pension funds and contracts, worth $370 trillion, are currently linked to the scam-hit Libor.
Opportunities around the migration include assessment of current exposure to Libor, design, development and implementation of new products based on new rates, creation of new valuation models, creation of fresh legal documents and policy frameworks. The transition involves a code replacement towards new benchmark rate.
According to Sreedhar Vegesna, Partner & Leader - Financial Advisory at PwC, the Libor marketplace is very large and it comprises of banks and all large lending agencies, including country lending from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.
“We work with regulators on the impact of the migration on customers and banks. Our involvement will also include laying the migration road map, remediation, redrafting the contracts, planning for tax implications and offering technology support As far as the business opportunities are concerned, all financial products that are currently linked to Libor would be moved to an optimum benchmark. This would require remodelling, predicting tax implications, contractual changes and system infrastructure including processes and controls. The change would also involve designing new products or remodelling existing products.
Large consulting firms like us have multi-faceted capabilities and teams for planning, monitoring, stakeholder management, risk assessment, technology changes, communication and change management. Libor transition is about methodology and approach towards migration.
For technology companies, Libor transition is like another Y2K wave and it involves creating new systems, processes and platforms to support the entire migration. Libor conversion would provide opportunity in systems integration, compliance, customization of packaged apps for meeting reporting needs and related consulting in the short term.
Libor involves a seismic change and it provides an opportunity for consulting organisations to bring into play the entire range of their capabilities. Majority of large banks and trading houses, including Bank of America, Bank of England, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Japanese banks have started working on Libor transition.

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Iran and India’s oil basket

Wed, 24 Apr, 2019

India, the world’s third-biggest oil consumer, meets more than 80% of its crude oil requirements and around 40% of its natural gas needs through imports. Domestic oil and natural gas production has been declining for the last few years, even as the energy needs of the economy have grown.
India is Iran’s top oil buyer after China. In 2018-19, it imported 23.5 million tonnes from Iran; in the previous year, almost 10% of its total 220.4 million tonnes of crude imports was from Iran.
In 2018-19 (first 11 months), of India’s total $128.7 billion import of Petroleum, Oil & Lubricants (POL), Iran accounted for 9%, according to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data compiled by rating agency CARE.
Iran was the fourth largest supplier of oil to India in 2018-19, and other suppliers may not provide the same benefits in the form of price and credit facilities. The US move comes at a time when the price of the Indian crude basket — an average of the Dubai, Oman and Brent crude benchmarks — has been rising, and the country is in the middle of Lok Sabha elections.
Analysts expect that India and China could show a degree of defiance while cutting back on their exposure to Iranian crude. The Eurasia Group said in a research note that “New Delhi will cut imports substantially, but probably maintain approximately 100,000 bpd (barrels per day) of Iranian imports paid for using a rupee payment system.
This is less an energy security decision than a political one… In the past several months India has worked hard to significantly diversify its energy sources in preparation for this situation. But India’s ties with Iran are significant and historic, and New Delhi will work hard to maintain some links.

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Yellow weather

Wed, 24 Apr, 2019

The Meteorological Department has issued a fresh yellow weather warning for thunderstorm in Himachal Pradesh on April 24. The Shimla Met centre forecast thunderstorm accompanied with hailstorm at isolated places in high and low hills of the State on Wednesday.
The Met office issues colour-coded warnings to alert people ahead of severe or hazardous weather which has the potential to cause “damage, widespread disruption or danger to life”. Yellow is the least dangerous out of the weather warnings — it indicates the possibility of severe weather over the next few days.

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Aegean Sea

Tue, 23 Apr, 2019

In an experiment to detect marine litter using satellites, a team of Greek University students deposited wall-sized PVC frames on the surface of Aegean sea.
The team gathered some 2,000 plastic bottles and lashed them to the frames. Other targets were crafted with plastic bags, as these are even harder to spot in the water and usually constitute the deadliest threat to Aegean marine life such as dolphins, turtles and seals.
In theory, then, the satellites should be able to detect the floating rafts of plastic the team pushed out to sea. The results of the experiment — “Satellite Testing and Drone Mapping for Marine Plastics on the Aegean Sea” — will be presented at a European Space Agency symposium in Milan in May. Marine litter is a global problem that affects all the oceans of the world.

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Biopharma and agro-economy set for boom in India

Tue, 23 Apr, 2019

Participants in these segments, including farmers, are increasingly realising the value of data they are generating on a daily basis. Intelligent data mining will lead to knowledge creation, product innovations, accurate diagnostics and cost-effective healthcare, addressing a session on “India’s Growing Bio Economy.”
Ms. Shaw said the country’s bio-economy sector was set to touch $200 billion by 2030.
Pointing out that in India, the investment in research and development was less than 1% of GDP, she said, “We must invest at least 2% of our GDP in science, technology (S&T) and research. We have to up our investments in basic research, applied research and translational research.
America has increased is focus on S&T, Brazil spends 2.5% of its GDP and Russia spends upwards of 2%. Ms. Shaw said that India’s education system must embrace research culture and leverage the powerful tool of scientists and engineers available in the country.
Gene sequencing cost has come down substantially, which can be utilised for diagnosis of critical disease and in other areas — Indian companies can hugely benefit from gene sequencing. Farmers generate a large amount of data and this opens up opportunity for data analytics and big data firms in the country. Interestingly, India has 15 agro-climatic zones.

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Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or “ Iran deal”

Tue, 23 Apr, 2019

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned nations against interacting with Iran in violation of the sanctions. “Any nation or entity interacting with Iran should do its diligence and err on the side of caution. The risks are simply not going to be worth the benefits.
Earlier in April, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), had said that India and the U.S. were “continually engaged” on the issue of India’s oil imports from Iran since sanctions kicked in last November.
Oil exports from Iran hit a low of 1.0 to 1.0 million bpd in March this year – down from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018. The U.S. announced that it would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or “ Iran deal” in May.
The U.S. has tried to allay fears that oil markets will be impacted following the decision to stop exemptions. Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the global oil cartel led by Saudi Arabia, has been coordinating with Russia to cut oil supply since January. Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC will more than make up the Oil Flow difference in our now Full Sanctions on Iranian Oil.

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human genes and embryos

Mon, 22 Apr, 2019

China’s top legislature will consider tougher rules on research involving human genes and embryos, the first such move since a Chinese scientist sparked controversy last year by announcing he had made the world’s first “gene-edited” babies.
He Jiankui, associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, attracted condemnation from the global scientific community when he said he had used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in November.
Chinese authorities launched an investigation into Mr. He’s work and said they had halted the kind of research he was undertaking.
Under the draft laws sent to China’s legislature for review on Saturday, medical and human trials would face closer scrutiny and stricter requirements, such as ensuring human subjects are properly briefed, State media outlet Xinhua reported.
The rules would also require all future trials to be approved by administrative authorities as well as ethical committees. The report did not specify a timeline for the approval of the regulations, or make specific mention of Mr. He’s research.
In videos posted online and at the November 2018 conference, where Mr. He made his controversial presentation, the Chinese scientist said that he believed his gene editing would help protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Chinese authorities and institutions, as well as hundreds of international scientists, condemned him and said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was against the law and medical ethics of China.

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The Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits (SAECK)

Mon, 22 Apr, 2019

Over 3,100 special kits for collecting blood and semen samples, besides other evidence, to carry out immediate investigation into sexual assault cases have been distributed among the States and Union Territories by the Ministry of Home Affairs, officials said on Sunday.
The Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits (SAECK) or ‘rape investigation kits’ are designed to carry out immediate medico-legal investigation and aid in furnishing evidence in sexual assault and rape cases. The MHA has procured 3,120 SAECK and distributed to the States and Union Territories.
Each kit comprises essential items that will aid in furnishing evidence such as blood and semen samples in sexual assault and rape cases, helping the prosecution to gather evidence.
The kits are expected to help law enforcement agencies to ensure effective probe in a timely manner for better prosecution and conviction in sexual assault cases, the official said. The kits contain instructions on collection of evidence from the crime scene.

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Indoor emissions affect air-quality standards

Sun, 21 Apr, 2019

India can achieve its air quality goals if it completely eliminates emissions from household sources. A recent study has pointed out that the use of firewood, kerosene and coal in the households contributed to about 40% of the PM 2.5 pollution in the Gangetic basin districts. This number varied across the country but household emissions remained one of the major culprits behind air pollution.
The results showed that by eliminating household emissions the average outdoor air pollution levels could be reduced and brought within the national ambient air quality standards. At the national scale, mitigating household emissions is also expected to bring large health benefits.
Using satellite data and chemical transport model simulations, the researchers pointed out that complete mitigation would bring down the country's average annual PM 2.5 air pollution to 38 microgram/cubic metre.
Surprisingly, this is below India's national ambient air quality standard of 40 microgram/cubic metre and slightly above the World Health Organization (interim target 1) standards of 35 microgram/cubic metre.
In Delhi NCR, stubble burning, industrial and power plant emission, brick kilns and vehicular emissions are the major contributors. Even after mitigating household emissions, Delhi NCR would remain out of attainment.
But India’s pollution problem is much bigger than often perceived. Our study has demonstrated that mitigating at a household level is the easiest and more practical way out for the government to reduce not only the household pollution but also outdoor air pollution at the national scale.

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Fixed Maturity Plans

Sun, 21 Apr, 2019

Debt mutual funds, unlike equity MFs, invest in debt securities issued by companies (both publicly listed and privately held) and governments. FMPs, in turn, are a class of debt funds that are close-ended: one can only invest in them at the time of a new fund offer and they come with a specified maturity date, much like a fixed deposit (FD).
However, in contrast to deposits, FMPs don’t offer a guaranteed return but only pitch an indicative yield that the investor then takes a bet on. What the investor forgoes in terms of liquidity compared with an FD, she hopes to make good via the marginally higher returns that the fund’s investments in higher-yield debt instruments such as commercial paper, corporate bonds and non-convertible debentures (NCDs) could potentially earn it.
Additionally, investments in FMPs are more tax-efficient, since there are indexation benefits linked to capital gains, as opposed to tax on interest income in the case of an FD. FMPs, however, like other debt funds come with their own set of risks: the most significant ones are interest rate risk and credit risk.

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Notre-Dame de Paris

Sun, 21 Apr, 2019

It took 182 years to complete the construction of the Notre-Dame de Paris. According to the official cathedral history, Paris Bishop Maurice de Sully started the construction of the cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1163. The church had been a centre of attraction for pilgrims for centuries as it had priceless artefacts in its possession such as the Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus before the crucifixion, a piece of the “True Cross” upon which he was said to be crucified, and a nail from the crucifixion. It’s believed that King Louis IX of France, who was later venerated as a saint, brought the Crown of Thorns and the fragment of the cross from the Latin Empire of Constantinople to Paris in the 13th century.
Notre-Dame, which housed several statues of kings, had attracted the anger of protesters during the French Revolution in 1789. They ransacked the cathedral, destroyed the royal statues and brought down the original spire. When Catholicism was banned in France during the Revolution, Notre-Dame was turned into a Temple of Reason.
But in 1801, after a reconciliation agreement was signed between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII, the cathedral was returned to the Catholic Church. Napoleon chose the damaged church for his coronation as Emperor of France in 1804. The crumbling cathedral remained a venue for imperial events for years.
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the 1831 classic by Victor Hugo, in which the protagonist — the one-eyed and deaf Quasimodo — is the bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, rekindled the interest of Paris’s elite in the dying Gothic building. In 1844, King Louis Philippe ordered its renovation. Architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and his team started the ambitious project and in 20 years, he restored it, with a new spire. The church Viollet-le-Duc rebuilt would survive till this month’s inferno.

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Olive Ridley turtles

Sun, 21 Apr, 2019

The idyllic Kalam Island off the Odisha coast has become lively with lakhs of baby Olive Ridley turtles crawling towards the Bay of Bengal after emerging from eggshells. The Odisha Forest and Environment Department said baby turtles had emerged from approximately 1.25 lakh nests. Eggs started hatching from Thursday night.
“We are expecting the process to continue for another two days as 4.5 lakh turtles had arrived at beaches under Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary to lay eggs this year. We hope millions of baby turtles would make their way into the sea in the next two days.
The unmanned island, located close to the Wheeler’s Island defence test range centre, a prohibited territory, is one of the largest rookeries in the world. Except forest department officials, no one has had the chance to witness the spectacular sight.
After breaking the eggshells, the baby turtles crawled seawards almost immediately without their mothers. Eggs laid by turtles in March were incubated under natural process.

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Cases of measles show alarming rise, warns WHO

Sat, 20 Apr, 2019

The number of cases of measles — one of the world’s most contagious diseases — is climbing, warned the World Health Organisation (WHO), stating that preliminary global data shows that reported cases rose by 300% in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018.
In 2017, the most recent year for which estimates are available, it caused close to 1,10,000 deaths. Worse, in recent months, spikes in case numbers have also occurred in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States of America as well as Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia, as the disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people.
“Measles has the potential to be extremely severe. Even in high-income countries, complications result in hospitalisation in up to a quarter of cases, and can lead to lifelong disability, from brain damage and blindness to hearing loss,” said WHO.
It added that while data released currently was “provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend”.
“The actual numbers of cases — captured in global estimates — will also be considerably higher than those reported. We estimate that less than 1 in 10 cases are reported globally, with variations by region. With this as the background to date, 2019 has seen 170 countries report 1,12,163 measles cases to WHO.
As of this time last year, there were 28,124 measles cases from 163 countries. Globally, this is almost a 300% increase,” noted WHO. Countries with the most reported cases include Madagascar, Ukraine, India, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Chad, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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“Wuhan spirit”

Sat, 20 Apr, 2019

China said its ties with India had a “bright future” and they were preparing for a summit between their leaders as a follow-up to last year’s two-day across-the board Wuhan informal summit between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At a press conference on a three-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that begins on May 25, Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi was emphatic that ties between India and China were insulated from their differences on the Beijing-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Thirty-seven heads of state or heads of government, including leaders from Russia, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as high-level representatives from France, Germany, U.K., Spain, the European Union and Republic of Korea, will attend the mega event.
Mr. Wang said, “The two leaders [President Xi and Prime Minister Modi] had a very successful meeting in Wuhan. Particularly, they established mutual trust and they jointly planned for the future of improvement and the strengthening of the China-India relationship. After the Wuhan summit, we see progress in all areas of cooperation.”

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Bubble Boy disease

Fri, 19 Apr, 2019

They were born without a working germ-fighting system, every infection a threat to their lives. Now eight babies with “bubble boy disease” have had it fixed by a gene therapy made from one of the immune system’s worst enemies HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A study out on Wednesday details how scientists turned this enemy virus into a saviour, altering it so it couldn’t cause disease and then using it to deliver a gene the boys lacked.
SCID is caused by a genetic flaw that keeps the bone marrow from making effective versions of blood cells that comprise the immune system. It affects 1 in 2,00,000 newborns, almost exclusively males. Without treatment, it often kills in the first year or two of life.
A simple infection like the common cold could be fatal. The nickname “bubble boy disease” comes from a famous case in the 1970s a Texas boy who lived for 12 years in a protective plastic bubble to isolate him from germs.

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NSSO Survey on Employment & Unemployment

Thu, 18 Apr, 2019

Unemployment rate in India has doubled in eight years to 2018 as 50 lakh lost jobs in last two years beginning with demonetisation in November 2016, a new research by a privately run university said.
A report by Azim Premji University researchers led by Amit Basole said with the government not releasing results of the new high-frequency Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), they used data from the Consumer Pyramids Survey of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIC-CPDX) to understand the employment situation between 2016 and 2018.
“Unemployment, in general, has risen steadily post 2011. Both the PLFS and the CMIE-CPDX report the overall unemployment rate to be around 6 per cent in 2018, double of what it was in the decade from 2000 to 2011. India’s unemployed, it said, were mostly the higher educated and the young.
“Our analysis of CMIE-CPDX reveals that five million men lost their jobs between 2016 and 2018, the beginning of the decline in jobs coinciding with demonetisation in November 2016, although no direct causal relationship can be established based only on these trends,” it said.
A leaked report of the periodic labour force survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) had shown unemployment at a 45-year high of more than 6 per cent in 2017-18 but the government has officially not yet released the report, saying the version reported in the media was not final.
The Azim Premji University research report said among urban women, graduates are 10 per cent of the working age population but 34 per cent of the unemployed.
The age group 20-24 years is hugely over-represented among the unemployed. Among urban men, for example, this age group accounts for 13.5 per cent of the working age population but 60 per cent of the unemployed.
“In addition to rising open unemployment among the higher educated, the less educated (and likely, informal) workers have also seen job losses and reduced work opportunities since 2016,” it said. “In general, women are much worse affected than men. They have higher unemployment rates as well as lower labour force participation rates“. The report said India’s labour statistics system is in transition.
The five-yearly employment-unemployment surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSS-EUS), the last of which was in 2011-12, have been discontinued. The annual surveys conducted by the Labour Bureau (LB-EUS) have also been discontinued. The last available survey in this series is from 2015.
“The government has not released the results of the new high-frequency Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) conducted by the NSSO,” it said adding in the absence of official survey data, numbers from the Consumer Pyramids Survey of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE-CPDX) was used to understand the employment situation between 2016 and 2018.
“CMIE-CPDX is a nationally representative survey that covers about 1,60,000 households and 5,22,000 individuals and is conducted in three ‘waves’, each spanning four months, beginning from January of every year. An employment-unemployment module was added to this survey in 2016,” the report said.
“We find that the CMIE-CPDX estimates of the labour force participation rate (LFPR) and the workforce participation rate (WPR) for men are comparable to those from the LB-EUS survey, as well as the NSS-EUS. For women, these rates differ substantially across surveys.”

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Indian Forest Act, 1927

Thu, 18 Apr, 2019

1.The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was largely based on previous Indian Forest Acts implemented under the British. The most famous one was the Indian Forest Act of 1878.
2.Both the 1878 act and the 1927 one sought to consolidate and reserve the areas having forest cover, or significant wildlife, to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
3.It also defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest or a Village Forest.
4.It defines what a forest offence is, what are the acts prohibited inside a Reserved Forest, and penalties leviable on violation of the provisions of the Act.

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Zinc deficiency and its effects

Thu, 18 Apr, 2019

Rising carbon dioxide levels can accelerate zinc deficiency in crops and thus in human consumption, cautions a new study titled ‘Inadequate zinc intake in India: past, present and future’ by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The study states that inadequate zinc intake has been rising in India for decades, causing tens of millions of people to become newly deficient in it. The study added that the highest rate of inadequate zinc intake was concentrated mainly in the southern and northeastern States with rice-dominated diets: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur and Meghalaya.
National grain fortification programmes, increased dietary diversity, bio-fortified crops, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions could all make a difference to slow or reverse the course.
Inadequate zinc intake can have serious health consequences, particularly for young children, who are more susceptible to contracting malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, when suffering from zinc deficiency. The presence of zinc plays a critical role in human immune systems.
Rice is poor in [the presence of] zinc, causing higher rates of zinc inadequacy in diets that rely heavily upon it. Overall urban populations, and wealthier urban groups in particular, showed higher rates of inadequate intake as well, due to a higher proportion of nutrient-poor fats and sugars in the diet.

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Exercise SEA VIGIL

Thu, 18 Apr, 2019

The maiden national level Coastal Defence Exercise SEA VIGIL was conducted recently by the Indian Navy.

  • The exercise witnessed the simultaneous activation of the coastal security apparatus across the country involving maritime stakeholders at the Centre and all the 13 Coastal States and Union Territories.
  • Key takeaways from the exercise debrief were deliberated and disseminated to all for further action/ follow-up. The feedback from the exercise and the deliberations would be presented at the next meeting of the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS).

 

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Western Disturbances

Thu, 18 Apr, 2019

Western Disturbance is an extratropical storm originating in the Mediterranean region that brings sudden winter rain to the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent. It is a non-monsoonal precipitation pattern driven by the westerlies.

Formation:

Western Disturbance originates in the Mediterranean Sea as extra-tropical cyclones. A high-pressure area over Ukraine and neighbourhood consolidates, causing the intrusion of cold air from Polar Regions towards an area of relatively warmer air with high moisture. This generates favourable conditions for cyclogenesis in the upper atmosphere, which promotes the formation of an eastward-moving extratropical depression. They gradually travel across the middle-east from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to enter the Indian sub-continent.

 Impact:

  • Plays important role in bringing moderate to heavy rain in low-lying areas and heavy snow to mountainous areas of the Indian Subcontinent.
  • This disturbance is usually associated with cloudy sky, higher night temperatures and unusual rain. This precipitation has great importance in agriculture, particularly for the Rabi crops. Wheat among them is one of the most important crops, which helps to meet India’s food security.
  • Excessive precipitation due to this disturbance can cause crop damage, landslides, floods and avalanches. Over the Indo-Gangetic plains, it occasionally bring cold wave conditions and dense fog. These conditions remain stable until disturbed by another western disturbance. When western disturbances move across northwest India before the onset of monsoon, a temporary advancement of monsoon current appears over the region.
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Haemophilia

Wed, 17 Apr, 2019

Haemophilia is a medical condition, mostly inherited, in which the ability of blood to clot is severely reduced, so that even a minor injury can cause severe bleeding. Because of the genetics involved in the way the sex of a child is determined, men are more vulnerable to haemophilia than women.
Boys and girls
The sex of an individual is determined by a pair of “sex chromosomes” (a chromosome is a DNA molecule that contains genetic information). Females are identified with an XX pair of sex chromosomes, and males with an XY pair. When an X chromosome from the mother pairs up with the father’s X chromosome, the offspring is XX (female); when an X chromosome from the mother pairs up with the father’s Y chromosome, the offspring in XY (male).
Haemophilia is caused by a defect in the X chromosome. If a girl is born with one defective X chromosome, her other X chromosome can compensate for it. In such a case, she is a carrier of haemophilia but will not suffer from the condition herself. Only if both her X chromosomes are defective will she suffer from haemophilia herself. On the other hand, if a boy is born with a defective X chromosome, he does not have the second X chromosome to compensate for it, and will suffer from haemophilia. That is the reason haemophilia is more common among men.
‘Royal disease
Britain’s Queen Victoria (1819-1901) is the world’s most widely known carrier of haemophilia. From her, the condition spread among a number of European royal families, which is why haemophilia was once known as the “royal disease”.
Victoria passed on a defective X chromosome to three of her children. Her son Prince Leopold died at age 30 as a result of loss of blood after injury. Leopold’s daughter, Princess Alice of Albany, was a carrier whose son inherited haemophilia and died at age 21.
Among Victoria’s children, the other two who inherited a defective X chromosome were daughters. Both Princesses Alice and Beatrice were carriers who passed on haemophilia to several other royal families, notably those of Spain and Russia.
One of these cases — that of Alice’s grandson Prince Alexei (1904-18) of Russia — changed the course of history. Alexei’s mother Alexandra relied on the monk Rasputin to cure her son, and many historians believe that Rasputin’s closeness to the royal family hastened the Russian revolution of 1917. Alexei did
not die of haemophilia but was executed along with others of his family. A study of his remains, published in Science magazine in 2006, established that the young prince did suffer from haemophilia.
Haemophilia in India
It is a rare disorder worldwide — one type, called Haemophilia A, occurs in about 1 in 5,000 births, while Haemophilia B is even rarer at about 1 in about 20,000 births. A vast number of cases, however, are believed to go unreported, particularly in India.
According to the World Federation of Haemophilia’s Annual Global Survey 2017, released in October 2018, there were over 1.96 lakh persons living with haemophilia across the world in 2017. In the country-wise data, India emerges with the highest count at nearly 19,000. On Tuesday, experts quoted by PTI estimated that 80% cases go unregistered, so that the actual count is close to 2 lakh.

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Microplastics

Wed, 17 Apr, 2019

A secluded mountain region thought to be free of plastic pollution is in fact blanketed by airborne microplastics on a scale comparable to a major city such as Paris, researchers have found. Over a five-month period in 2017-2018, an average of 365 tiny bits of plastic settled every day on each square metre of an uninhabited, high-altitude area in the Pyrenees straddling France and Spain.
The study focussed on microplastics mostly between 10 and 150 micrometres across, including fragments, fibres and sheet-like pieces of film. By comparison, a human hair is, on average, about 70 micrometres in width.
Our most significant finding is that microplastics are transported through the atmosphere and deposited in a remote, high-altitude mountain location far from any major city. “This means that microplastics are an atmospheric pollutant.”
Researchers used two monitoring devices to independently measure particle concentration in an area long considered to be among the most pristine in western Europe. The nearest village is 7km away, and the nearest city, Toulouse, is more than 100 km away. While the scientists were able to identify the types of plastic, they could not say with certainty where they came from or how far they had drifted.
Analysing the pattern of air flows, they surmised that some particles had travelled at least 100 km. Samples — transported by wind, snow and rain — were collected at the meteorological station of Bernadouze at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres.

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National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT)

Wed, 17 Apr, 2019

The RBI told the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) that banks would have to classify the accounts of debt-ridden IL&FS and its group companies as NPAs in terms of its master circular and the Supreme Court’s judgment.
It is the obligation of the banks to mark any loan as NPA after a default of 90 days, and they cannot be relieved from doing that, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said, adding that this was a process every bank had to follow.
The whole thing is to have a transparent and fair accounting system, so that the health of the institution is not affected. And whatever process, you are having for resolution in IL&FS, we are not on recovery and the resolution process, we are only saying banks have to record the position of NPAs in terms of the master circular and the Supreme Court judgment, which recognises NPAs in the circular.

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SC to decide on entry of women into mosques

Wed, 17 Apr, 2019

The Supreme Court on Tuesday admitted for consideration a plea by a Muslim couple to lift the ban on Muslim women’s entry into all mosques across the country. The only reason we may hear you is because of our judgment on the Sabarimala temple issue.
In September last, a Constitution Bench of the court lifted the age-old ban on women of menstrual age, between 10 and 50 years, entering the famed Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The decision created an uproar. The Supreme Court had held that the Sabarimala ban amounted to discrimination.
Justice Bobde asked whether a petition seeking right to equality can be filed against individuals and non-state actors like people who pray in and manage mosques. The Pune-based couple, Yasmeen Zuber Ahmad and Zuber Ahmad, told the court that the ban was illegal, unconstitutional and a violation of their dignity.

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Wholesale price inflation spikes to 3.18%

Tue, 16 Apr, 2019

Wholesale price inflation rose to a three-month high of 3.18% in March on costlier food and fuel.
The Wholesale Price Index (WPI)-based inflation was at 2.93% and 2.76% in February and January this year, respectively, and 3.46% in December 2018. It was 2.74% in March last year.
Inflation in the ‘food articles’ basket hardened to 5.68% during March 2019 as against 4.28% in February, as prices of vegetables skyrocketed. Vegetable inflation was at 28.13% in March, up from 6.82% in the previous month. However, inflation in potato cooled substantially to 1.30%, from 23.40% in February.
Pulses and wheat witnessed some cooling in inflation at 10.63% and 10.13%, respectively. Also protein rich items such as ‘egg, meat and fish’ saw inflation fall to 5.86% during March.
Deflation in onion was 31.34%, while the same in fruits was 7.62% during the month. Wholesale inflation in the ‘fuel and power’ category, however, spiked to 5.41%, from 2.23% in February. Inflation in diesel shot up to 7.33% during the month from 3.72% in February. In petrol, inflation was 1.78% in March, as against a deflation of 2.93% in the previous month.
The Reserve Bank of India, which mainly factors in retail inflation for monetary policy decision, had, earlier this month, cut interest rates by 0.25% to 6%, while projecting retail inflation to be at 2.9-3%, mainly due to lower food and fuel prices as well as normal monsoon.
Data released last week showed retail inflation accelerated to 2.86% in March from 2.57% a month ago.

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GSLV- Phase 4

Tue, 16 Apr, 2019

The Union Cabinet on Monday approved five more GSLV satellite launch vehicles for the period 2021-24 under the next phase 4 of the ongoing GSLV continuation programme. One of them could be used for the second Mars mission which is being considered.
The Indian Space Research Organisation uses the GSLV, the second of its three launchers, to put 2,000-kg class of communication and other satellites to a GEO (or geosynchronous) orbit about 36,000 km away.
The GSLV Continuation Programme - Phase 4 will meet the launch requirement of satellites for providing critical satellite navigation services, data relay communication for supporting the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme and the next interplanetary mission to Mars. This will also ensure the continuity of production in Indian industry.

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Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary

Tue, 16 Apr, 2019

With the number of tigers steadily on the rise at Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttarakhand, the authorities feel upgrading it to a tiger reserve is necessary for the conservation of tigers at the facility. The number of tigers at the sanctuary when it came into being in 2012 was nine which rose to 27 in 2018. The number is set to cross 32 this year.
Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary is situated close to the Nandhaur river in Kumaon region of the State and spread over an area of 269.5 square km.
The official said the steady rise in tiger population at the sanctuary over the years and the growing trend indicate that the sanctuary with the limited resources at its disposal may not be able to efficiently handle its responsibilities for long.

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Mariana Trench

Mon, 15 Apr, 2019

Scientists have discovered a unique oil eating bacteria in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the earth’s oceans, a finding that may pave way for sustainable ways to clean up oils spills.
In an expedition, organised by marine explorer and film director James Cameron, researchers collected samples from the trench. In the samples, they found microorganisms that eat compounds similar to those in oil and then use it for fuel.

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Mojave desert

Mon, 15 Apr, 2019

The world’s largest aeroplane — with two fuselages and six Boeing 747 engines — made its first test flight on Saturday in California. The mega jet, called Stratolaunch, carried out its maiden voyage over the Mojave desert.
It is designed to carry into space, and drop, a rocket that would in turn ignite to deploy satellites. It is supposed to provide a more flexible way to deploy satellites than vertical takeoff rockets because this way all that is needed is a long runway for takeoff.
The aircraft is so big that its wing span is longer than a football field, or about 1.5 times that of an Airbus A380. Specifically, the wing span is 117 metres while it is just under 80 metres for an Airbus A380.
The plane flew for about two-and-a-half hours, the company said. Until now, it had just carried out tests on the ground. It hit a top speed of 304 km per hour and reached an altitude of 17,000 feet (5,182 metres).

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Will the El Nino factor impact the monsoon?

Sun, 14 Apr, 2019

The story so far: The forecast of a below average monsoon in 2019 on the back of a prospective El Nino that is often associated with less rainfall has come from a private agency, Skymet. Its managing director Jatin Singh says the Pacific Ocean has become strongly warmer than average. Even as things may get clearer after the India Meteorological Department’s forecast, we look into the weather phenomenon called El Nino and its impact on the monsoon.
What is it?
El Nino is synonymous with the Pacific Ocean that covers as much as one-third of the planet. There is no bigger stage for it to unfold in which the vast ocean and the atmosphere combine perfectly, only to send out associated bad tidings half a world away and even beyond.
El Nino is a phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific, in which sea-surface temperatures rise over a threshold of +0.5 degree Celsius (and cools by the same margin during alter ego La Nina). These are averaged over five, three-month sessions on a trot across a stretch of water designated as the Nino 3.4 region (see graphic) to arrive at the Oceanic Nino Index (ONI). There are a few other acronyms which one comes across while tracking El Nino.
For instance, the Southern Oscillation Index, or SOI, that gives an indication of the development and intensity of El Nino or La Nina. The SOI is calculated on the basis of the atmospheric pressure differences between Tahiti (South Pacific Ocean) and Darwin (Australia), separated by 8,569 km. Sustained positive SOI values are indicative of La Nina conditions while negative values suggest El Nino conditions.
Another acronym is the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) which refers to the oscillation between the El Nino and the La Nina. ENSO shifts irregularly back and forth between El Nino and La Niña every two to seven years. Each phase triggers predictable disruptions of temperature, precipitation, and winds disrupting large-scale air movements in the tropics, triggering a cascade of global side effects.
Under ‘normal’ conditions, though, the west tropical Pacific is warmer than its eastern basin. The warmer area of the ocean is also a source for convection and is associated with cloudiness and rainfall. During El Nino years, the warmth shifts to Central and East Tropical Pacific (Nino 3.4 region), and along with it, cloudiness and rainfall.
How did it come about?
El Nino was observed as far back as in the late 1800s when South American fishermen noticed the warming up of coastal waters around Christmas. They referred to it as “El Nino” (Spanish for the boy child), since it appeared around Christmas.
Sir Gilbert Walker, a British mathematician, discovered the Southern Oscillation (SO), or large-scale changes in sea level pressure across Indonesia and the tropical Pacific. However, he did not recognise that it was linked to changes in the Pacific Ocean or El Nino.
It wasn’t until the late 1960s that Norwegian-American meteorologist Jacob Bjerknes and others realised that the changes in the ocean and the atmosphere were connected. This was how the coinage ‘ENSO’ came into existence.
As already mentioned, El Nino has been found to impact almost half the world triggering droughts in Australia, India, southern Africa and floods in Peru, Ecuador, the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Colorado River basin.
If Sir Gilbert found in the 1920s that many global climate variations, including monsoon rains in India, were correlated with the SO, the credit of linking it with El Nino as part of ENSO involving both the ocean and atmosphere, goes to Bjerknes. But it took until the 1980s or later for ‘La Nina’ or even the ‘neutral phase’ (neither El Nino or La Nina) to gain currency.
Why does it matter?
India has not had a particularly productive monsoon since 2014 (save a tolerable 2017), with weak El Nino events unfolding on either side of the strong 2015-16 El Nino, a trend forecast to continue into this year.
This comes on the back of a deficient post-monsoon season last year. After all, the south-west monsoon (June-September) accounts for over 70% of the country’s annual rainfall and irrigates over half of the crop land. The rain-fed kharif crops are heavily dependent on the monsoon and the quantity of rainfall determines agricultural production.
Agriculture accounts for around 15% of the GDP and normal rains rejuvenate the farm sector and help the government deal with rural stress. Normal rains can boost sentiments, raise farm production, perk up rural demand, and tame inflation to some extent.
But what perplexes scientists and researchers is that no direct correlation between the ENSO events and the monsoon has been established yet. From 1950 to 2012, there were 16 La Nina years, with the monsoon rains ending up above or around average nearly every time.
El Nino brought in five droughts during this period but on 14 other occasions, monsoon performance ranged from being well below-average, average, or even above-average. To top it all, the 1997-98 El Nino, among the century’s strongest, went on to stand conventional logic on its head; far from heralding a drought, it generated above-average rain.
Likewise, 2002 proved to be one of the driest monsoons despite it being a weak to moderate El Nino year. It only helped bust another myth: the strength of an individual El Nino event may not necessarily have its imprint on monsoon performance.
What lies ahead?
El Nino has been generally known to suppress monsoon rainfall in India while La Nina increases it. El Niño years tend to be drier than average, but one of the strongest El Nino of the century (1997-98) produced a monsoon season with above-average rainfall for India (see table).
Researchers also believe that even the location of the warming in the Pacific may possibly have an influence on the monsoon. Anomalous warming in the Central and East Pacific (Nino 3.4 region) could have a more profound adverse impact on the monsoon than when the warming shifts to the adjoining far east Pacific (Nino 3. region).
Current conditions (March, 2019) suggest that the warming is pronounced (+0.98 degree Celsius) in the Nino 3.4 region than the far east Pacific (+0.74 degree Celsius), which could suggest a weaker monsoon this year. Already, a couple of private forecasters as well as a few international agencies have sounded out the possibility.
The official forecast from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is eagerly awaited. Scientists claim there may be other factors that combine with the prevailing Pacific conditions to decide the fate of the monsoon. Progressive heating of the land during April-May-June is one. The extent of the Himalayan/Eurasian snow cover is another.
Less snow cover means a warmer subcontinent, which can help to intensify the monsoon circulation and bring more rain. It is worthwhile in this context to recall that north India has had an extended winter earlier this year. Last but not the least is the ‘dipole’ effect nearer home, wherein the Indian Ocean mimics El Nino-La Nina in which the western and eastern basins warm up relative to each other every few years with associated impact on the monsoon.
Warming up of the west Indian Ocean boosts a prevailing monsoon, and vice-versa. International and domestic weather agencies expect that this year, the Indian Ocean dipole could be either ‘neutral’ or weakly positive. It remains to be seen how this could reflect in the monsoon’s performance.

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Cyber Security issues in India (Ransomware)

Sun, 14 Apr, 2019

The past year-and-a-half has been an inflection point in cybersecurity with the battle against lack of awareness among businesses and the public sector largely being won, mainly following the two global ransomware attacks — WannaCry and NotPetya.
He added that with ‘softwarisation, digitisation’ and rapid adoption of IoT, cybersecurity has become very core to business strategy. “Those who ignored security in last 2-3 years have paid for it with all these ransom attacks.
Asked if the increase in awareness has also pushed up the security budgets, Mr. Singh replied in the affirmative.
The numbers really do the talking here.” He explained that about three years ago, the security budget in an IT investment project — be it an upgrade project or a client building a new data centre or application — security would consume less than 5% of about $100 spent on the project.
“Today, that spend is on a lower-end at about 9% and upper-end at about 14-15%, so there is 3-4 fold increase and we can see this across the world... in Asia, Europe, America, it is a universal trend, where we see a dramatic change in budget composition.”
There are two things we did as a business strategy: we carved out security and amalgamated a lot of our businesses together to create a much larger business for security about three years ago… we ensured that across our infrastructure, application, engineering, BPO business there is one big security umbrella, and that will bring domain expertise.
As part of additional investments in the space, HCL Technologies is also looking at adding a new Cyber Security Fusion Center — which monitors networks on real-time basis to detect threats faster and respond better — in Australia.
The company currently has two centres in India — Noida and Chennai — one in Dallas, U.S. and one in Gothenburg, Sweden. According to industry estimates, the size of the cybersecurity services and products market is pegged at about $120 billion with a forecast of growing to $200 billion in the next 3-4 years.

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India becomes net steel importer in 2018-19

Sun, 14 Apr, 2019

India was a net importer of steel during the 2018-19 fiscal year, the first time in three years, as the country lost market share among its traditional steel buyers and imports jumped on demand for higher-quality steel domestically.
The country's finished steel exports fell by 34% in the fiscal year that ended in March to 6.36 million tonnes, according to preliminary government data given to Reuters on Friday. During the same period, finished steel imports rose 4.7% to 7.84 million tonnes.
India's exports during the fiscal year declined after rival steelmakers in China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, blocked from markets in the United States and Europe by tariffs and other protectionist measures, ate away at the country's markets in the Middle East and Africa, according to an Indian government official with close knowledge of the matter.
Imports from the four Asian countries also climbed as they diverted supply into India. Imports of value-added steel, primarily for the auto sector and high-end electrical steel were the biggest source of imports.
"The imports for producing value-added steel for the auto sector is mainly by foreign steelmakers like POSCO," the source said, declining to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
India's Ministry of Steel has urged local automakers to cut Japanese and South Korean imports to support domestic producers but the automakers say they cannot get the quality of steel they need locally. Indian steel companies have also sought imposition of higher duties on imports.

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The National Green Tribunal (NGT)

Sun, 14 Apr, 2019

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Central Pollution Control Board to submit a report on the environmental damage caused due to illegal mining in Uttar Pradesh.
An NGT-appointed joint committee comprising members from the apex pollution monitoring body and the Union Environment Ministry in its report had revealed environmental damage caused due to illegal mining.
A perusal of the [report] reveals the excavation done by mining beyond permissible depth, in stream mining and the damage caused due to mining done by using machines.
We have been informed that both the mining leases had expired in the month of December 2017 and January 2018. Therefore, we direct CPCB to submit a report with regard to the environmental damage caused due to illegal mining and the excessive minerals which had been extracted.
The directions came when the green panel was hearing a plea alleging illegal mining in the Rampur district of Uttar Pradesh.
Following the plea, the NGT had constituted a joint committee of the CPCB and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to “verify whether illegal mining with the help of machines was going on”. The committee was directed to submit a report on the environmental damage caused due to such activity.

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5G technology

Sat, 13 Apr, 2019

They may look like regular cows, but a herd of Friesian dairy cattle at a British farm are internet pioneers and they are enjoying the benefits of 5G connectivity before you.
Cisco Systems Inc, which is developing network infrastructure for the emerging technology, has set up 5G testbeds to trial wireless and mobile connectivity in three rural locations in U.K.
5G promises super-fast connections, which is poised transform the way we live our lives, enabling everything from self-driving cars to augmented-reality glasses and downloading a feature-length film to your phone in seconds.
For the cows, among the 5G-connected gadgets they are wearing is a collar that controls a robotic milking system. When the cow feels ready to be milked it will approach machine gates that will automatically open. The device recognises the individual to precisely latch on to its teats for milking, while the cow munches on a food reward.
At the government-funded Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI Centre) in Shepton Mallet, around 50 of the 180-strong herd is fitted with the 5G smart collars and health-monitoring ear tags. The gadgets do not harm the cows and the monitoring allows handlers to see any signs of distress.

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“Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First,”

Sat, 13 Apr, 2019

Russia announced that President Vladimir Putin will confer its highest civilian award, the “Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First,” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his work on bilateral ties.
The order was presented to the Prime Minister of India for his distinguished contribution to the development of a privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India and friendly ties between the Russian and Indian peoples.
Thanking Mr. Putin for the honour, Mr. Modi said cooperation between India and Russia had led to “to extraordinary outcomes for our citizens. President Putin remains a source of great strength for the India-Russia friendship. Under his visionary leadership, bilateral and multilateral cooperation between our nations has scaled new heights.

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7 common antibiotics’

Sat, 13 Apr, 2019

Alerted by the Union Health Ministry’s pharmaceutical watchdog, the National Co-ordination Centre of the Pharmacovigilance Programme of India (PvPI), on adverse reactions that were being reported from some commonly-used antibiotics, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has now asked manufacturers to ensure that this information be made available to the general public.
CDSCO has written to drug manufacturers, to mention in leaflets inserted into drug packets or on promotional literature, information about the adverse reactions of these medicines.
All of the seven formulations — antibiotics Cefotaxime, Ofloxacin and Cefixime; Tranexamic Acid, used to control bleeding; antipsychotic drug Quetiapine; anti-rheumatoid drug Sulfasalazine and the anti-epileptic medicine Sodium Valproate — have been instructed to warn patients of the “new” side effects.
Speaking about the decision, Eswara Reddy, the Drug Controller General of India and head of the CDSCO said: “We were alerted to this adverse reaction last year and, after talks with the Ministry and the PvPI, the decision was taken to write to all State authorities to ask manufactures to include this information on the packaging itself. The idea is to ensure that doctors and users are aware of the adverse reactions.”

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United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Fri, 12 Apr, 2019

India accounts for over one-sixth of the world’s population in 2019 (1.37 billion out of 7.71 billion) and has grown at an rate (1.2% per year between 2010 and 2019) that is just over the world growth rate (1.2%), according to State of the World Population 2019, the flagship report of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
While India’s life expectancy at birth is lower than the world’s (69 years to 72), it scores higher than the global average in terms of access to healthcare during childbirth, and also has a much lower adolescent birth rate. Between 2006 and 2107, 86% of births in India were attended by skilled health personnel, as compared to 79% across the world.
India’s maternal mortality ratio in 2015 was 174 deaths per lakh live births (down from 448 in 1994) while the global MMR in 2015 was 216. And while 28 of every 1,000 Indian adolescent women (age 15- 19) gave birth between 2006 and 2017, the global adolescent birth rate was over one-and-a-half times that of India, at 44 per 1,000. India’s fertility rate in 2019 is 2.3 births per woman, compared to 2.5 worldwide.
Early marriage continues to present a major cultural obstacle to female empowerment and better reproductive rights, the UNFPA report said. “A girl who marries when she is 10 will probably leave school. And because she leaves school, she won’t get the negotiating skills, and she won’t get the specific skills which will allow her to then get a better-paid job.
China, the world’s most populous country at 1.42 billion, has a population growth rate of 0.5% per year between 2010 and 2019, which is less than half of that in India or in the world.
Concerns and challenges
The report includes, for the first time, data on women’s ability to make decisions over three key areas – sexual intercourse with their partner, contraception use and health care. According to the analysis, the absence of reproductive and sexual rights has a major and negative repercussions on women’s education, income and safety, leaving them “unable to shape their own futures”.
Despite concerns, the UNFPA report highlights that “untold millions” have enjoyed healthier and more productive lives in the 50 years since the agency was founded, thanks to pressure from civil society and governments to dramatically reduce unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths.
Looking ahead to future challenges, the UN agency highlights the threat to women’s and girls’ reproductive rights posed by emergencies caused by conflict or climate disasters. About 35 million women, girls and young people will need life-saving sexual and reproductive health services this year, as well as services to address gender-based violence, in humanitarian settings, it warns.

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Rowlatt Act (Jallianwala Bagh)

Fri, 12 Apr, 2019

A hundred years on, it is all about making sure we never forget, reminds a documentary in Malayalam which pays homage to the hundreds gunned down by Colonel Reginald Dyer’s troops at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919.
As the nation prepares to observe the 100th anniversary of the colonial-era savagery on Saturday, Jallianwala Bagh: Oru Ormapeduthal revisits the horror through the eyes of Kavadiyar Ramachandran, a former professor in Malayalam.
Jallianwala Bagh: Oru Ormapeduthal leads audience through the bustle of modern-day Amritsar to the 6.5-acre park, the venue of the terrible massacre that survives as a grim reminder and an oft-visited memorial of the innocent civilian victims.
The documentary touches on immediate events such as the Rowlatt Act that led to the April 13 firing. The actual incident itself is portrayed with graphics. Graphics are also used to depict the 1940 Caxton Hall assassination of Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre, by Udham Singh.

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India stares at a pile of solar e-waste

Fri, 12 Apr, 2019

By 2050, India will likely stare at a pile of a new category of electronic waste, namely solar e-waste, says a study made public on Thursday. Currently, India’s e-waste rules have no laws mandating solar cell manufacturers to recycle or dispose waste from this sector. India’s PV (photovoltaic) waste volume is estimated to grow to 200,000 tonnes by 2030 and around 1.8 million tonnes by 2050.
India is among the leading markets for solar cells in the world, buoyed by the government’s commitment to install 100 GW of solar power by 2022. So far, India has installed solar cells for about 28 GW and this is largely from imported solar PV cells.
Solar cell modules are made by processing sand to make silicon, casting silicon ingots, using wafers to create cells and then assembling them to make modules. India’s domestic manufacturers are largely involved in assembling cells and modules.
These modules are 80% glass and aluminium, and non-hazardous. Other materials used, including polymers, metals, metallic compounds and alloys, and are classified as potentially hazardous.
India is poorly positioned to handle PV waste as it doesn’t yet have policy guidelines on the same…a lack of a policy framework is coupled with the fact that even basic recycling facilities for laminated glass and e-waste are unavailable.
Despite the e-waste regulation being in place for over seven years, only less than 4% of estimated e-waste is recycled in the organised sector as per the latest estimates from the Central Pollution Control Board. While the solar sector continues to grow robustly, there is no clarity on solar waste management in India.

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Mission Indradhanush of banking sector

Thu, 11 Apr, 2019

The Banks Board Bureau (BBB) — set up by the government for selection of top management personnel and to recommend measures to improve the performance of public sector banks — has proposed incentives like Employee Stock Option Scheme (ESOS) to the employees and empowerment of PSU banks by giving complete autonomy to boards to decide the organisational structure.
BBB has also identified 75 personnel for intensive leadership development, in order to create a leadership pipeline.
In its activity report released, the Bureau has recommended incentivising “maximisation of risk adjusted income and disincentivise operational inefficiencies by aligning compensation with right performance metrics through the introduction of ‘Performance based compensation’ through ESOS, which is different from Employee Share Purchase Scheme (ESPS) and Performance Linked Incentives (PLIs).
BBB has also proposed empowering the non-official directors, including non-executive chairmen, to play the role of “independent directors”. “Boards should be allowed to recommend personages to the government who could be considered for appointments to address specific competency gaps on the boards.
The BBB has recommended revamping of credit governance architecture in nationalised banks to reinforce efforts to minimise credit costs and enhance efficiency of credit allocation.
It has proposed improvement in “the operating environment as well as the process for search and selection of directors to nudge and attract the best board level talent”. “Performance assessment of WTDs (whole-time directors) and senior management personnel should be undertaken by the Board.
On filling up top vacanacies in PSU banks, BBB said the vacancies which came up during the last six monthly period were filled up without delay. The only vacancy which could not be filled up on time was that of MD and CEO in Canara Bank for which candidates outside the public sector universe are also eligible.
The Bureau made the recommendation for filling up of the vacancy on January 31, 2019. The Bureau has separately recommended to the Government the measures which may improve the pool of talent for filling up such vacancies.
To help nationalised banks take on the present and emerging challenges as well as help create a leadership pipeline, the Bureau has identified 75 personnel from a pool of 450 senior management personnel across nationalised banks. “They are presently undergoing deeper assessments after which individual development plans will be generated.
Shortly, a globally ranked Indian institution will be identified where every year the identified personnel will undergo intensive leadership development journey, the BBB report said.
The tenure, reappointment and cooling off period of a non-executive director should be aligned with the extant Banking Regulation Act/Companies Act provisions. During the cooling off period, a non-executive director should not be appointed on the Board of any other PSB.

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Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS)

Thu, 11 Apr, 2019

The commerce ministry has asked its health counterpart to frame law banning manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes in the country as in the absence of a domestic legislation, it would not be possible to put a blanket ban on its imports.
The health ministry had asked the commerce ministry to issue a notification banning import of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), including e-cigarettes and flavoured hookah. Without banning domestic sale and manufacturing of ENDS through a law, it will be an infringement of global trade norms to put an import ban.
In August last year, the health ministry had issued an advisory to all states and Union Territories (UTs) to stop the manufacture, sale and import of ENDS after the Delhi High Court took strong exception to the Centre for delay in coming up with appropriate measures to tackle the "new emerging threat" of e-cigarettes in the country.
In March, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization also directed all drug controllers in states and UTs not to allow the manufacture, sale, import and advertisement of ENDS, including e-cigarettes and flavoured hookah, in their jurisdictions.

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Event Horizon Telescope

Thu, 11 Apr, 2019

Astronomers announced on Wednesday that at last they had seen the unseeable: a black hole, a cosmic abyss so deep and dense that not even light can escape it.
The image, of a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of the galaxy known as Messier 87, some 55 million light-years away from here, resembled the Eye of Sauron, a reminder yet again of the power and malevolence of nature. It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity.
To capture the image, astronomers reached across intergalactic space to a giant galaxy known as Messier 87, in the constellation Virgo. There, a black hole about seven billion times more massive than the sun is unleashing a violent jet of energy some 5,000 light years into space.
The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap, a black hole. Here, according to Einstein’s theory, matter, space and time come to an end and vanish like a dream.
The image emerged from two years of computer analysis of observations from a network of radio antennas called the Event Horizon Telescope. In all, eight radio observatories on six mountains and four continents observed the galaxy in Virgo on and off for 10 days in April 2017.
The telescope array also monitored a dim source of radio noise called Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius A-star), at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy. There, 26,000 light-years from Earth, and buried in the depths of interstellar dust and gas, another black hole, with a mass of 4.1 million suns, almost certainly lurks.
The network is named after the edge of a black hole, the point of no return; beyond the event horizon, not even light can escape the black hole’s gravitational pull.
For some years now, the scientific literature, news media and films such as Interstellar and the newly released High Life have featured remarkably sophisticated and highly academic computer simulations of black holes.
But the real thing looked different. For starters, the black holes in movies typically are not surrounded by fiery accretion disks of swirling, doomed matter, as are the black holes in Virgo and Sagittarius.
Perhaps even more important, the images provide astrophysicists with the first look at the innards of a black hole. The energy within is thought to be powerful enough to power quasars and other violent phenomena from the nuclei of galaxies, including the jets of intense radiation that spew 5,000 light years from the galaxy M87.
As hot, dense gas swirls around the black hole, like water headed down a drain, the intense pressures and magnetic fields cause energy to squirt from either side. As a paradoxical result, supermassive black holes, which lurk in the centres of galaxies, can be the most luminous objects in the universe.

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Financial Sector Assessment Program (Global Bond index)

Thu, 11 Apr, 2019

There continues to be a high stock of non-performing assets (NPAs) in India, and there has been some progression. Mr. Adrian made these remarks at the release of the multilateral institution’s April 2019 Global Financial Stability Report (GFSR) as part of the World Bank IMF Spring Meetings.
The GFSR provides an assessment of balance sheet vulnerabilities across financial and non-financial sectors in advanced and emerging market economies.
The level of capitalisation of some banks, particularly government-owned banks should be bolstered. This is also one of the recommendations of the Financial Sector Assessment Program for India that took place fairly recently.
There were some steps taken by the authorities to boost capital buffers in banks and also governments in state-owned banks, which have had some positive impact.
Portfolio flows to emerging markets are influenced by benchmark-driven investors — 70% of country allocations of investment funds are impacted by benchmark indices.
This category of investors are more sensitive to global financial conditions and as they command increasing shares of portfolio flows, external shocks may propagate to medium-size, and frontier market economies faster than they did in the past.
China is likely to become more important for other emerging markets as it gets included in benchmark indices. Portfolio flows to China are expected to increase by $150 billion by 2020 due to its inclusion in a global bond index.
Financial vulnerabilities in China remain high, and the authorities face a difficult trade-off between supporting near-term growth, countering adverse external shock, and containing leverage through regulatory tightening.

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Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007

Thu, 11 Apr, 2019

The Delhi High Court asked the Reserve Bank of India how could Google’s mobile payment app, Google Pay, operate in India as a payment transaction system without the requisite authorisation.
A Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice A.J. Bhambhani issued notice to the RBI and Google India on a petition seeking direction to the tech giant to immediately stop Google Pay services in India.
It pointed out that the RBI’s April 2018 Master Circular on Storage of Payment System Data mandated that “all system providers shall ensure that the entire data relating to payment systems operated by them are stored in a system only in India.”
Google Pay, being an unregistered entity to the Payment and Settlement Systems Act 2007, is not in compliance with the requirements and the RBI’s Master Circular.
The petition said Google Pay was using NPCI’s (National Payments Corporation of India) BHIM unified payments Interface (BHIM UPI) for money transfers. Google Pay by the virtue of unauthorised access to the BHIM – Unified Payments Interface – can have serious effect on the privacy and personal liberty of Indian citizens as the data might be stored in servers located outside India.
The petition said Google India was doing “business as Google Pay though its unauthorised operation in India as Payment and Settlement Systems has unmonitored and unauthorised access to the personal information such as Aadhaar, PAN, transaction etc. of the public.”
The petition has asked the court for a direction to conduct a comprehensive compliance audit of the Google India Digital Services Private Limited for its alleged “unauthorised operation in India as Payment and Settlement Systems under the provisions of the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007.”

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Appointment of High Court Judges

Wed, 10 Apr, 2019

The Supreme Court Collegium has recommended names of five judges for appointment as the Chief Justices in Rajasthan, Kerala, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh High Courts.
The Collegium recommended the appointment of Justice Bhat after noting that the office of the Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court has fallen vacant after the recent transfer of Justice Pradeep Nandrajog to the Bombay High Court.
While making the above recommendation, the Collegium is conscious of the fact that consequent upon the proposed appointment, there will be three Chief Justices from Delhi High Court, which has the special distinction of being the High Court for the National Capital.

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US criticises India's draft e-com policy

Tue, 09 Apr, 2019

The US has criticised India's data localisation norms and draft e-commerce policy terming certain proposals as "most discriminatory and trade-distortive".
India has recently promulgated a number of data localisation requirements that would serve as significant barriers to digital trade between the US and India," the US Trade Representative's 2019 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers said.
It said these requirements raise costs for suppliers of data-intensive services by forcing the construction of unnecessary, redundant data centres and prevent local firms from taking advantage of the best global services available.
The report also said the proposals of India's draft national e-commerce policy such as data localisation requirements and restrictions on cross-border data flows are "discriminatory in nature".
India is currently developing a new electronic commerce policy, early drafts of which have contemplated broad-based data localisation requirements and restrictions on cross-border data flows, expanded grounds for forced transfer of intellectual property and proprietary source code, preferential treatment for domestic digital products, and other discriminatory policies.
The US strongly encourages India to reconsider the most discriminatory and trade-distortive aspects of this draft policy and the other measures described above,"

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Exercise Mitra Shakti

Tue, 09 Apr, 2019

Sri Lanka has sought enhanced military training from India, according to President Maithripala Sirisena’s office. Visiting Indian Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra called on Mr. Sirisena on Monday, and wide-ranging matters, including bilateral defence cooperation between the neighbouring countries and regional security, were discussed.
India and Sri Lanka agreed to increase cooperation in security and defence spheres in several areas, including regional security, curbing drug smuggling and human trafficking and training of members of the security forces.
The Indian Defence Secretary agreed to look into the possibility of enhancing training facilities. Currently, over 60% of Sri Lanka’s military personnel pursue their young officers’ course, junior and senior command courses in India, according to defence sources in Colombo.

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Dhanush

Tue, 09 Apr, 2019

The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) on Monday handed over the first batch of six Dhanush artillery guns to the Army. Dhanush is the indigenously upgraded version of the Swedish Bofors gun procured in the 1980s. Indigenisation to the extent of about 81%, has already been achieved. By the end of 2019, the indigenisation level of the gun will go up to 91%.
Six guns were handed over at a ceremony at Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur. The first Dhanush regiment with 18 guns is expected to be ready by the end of next year,” an Army source said. The GCF received the Bulk Production Clearance (BPC) to manufacture 114 guns from the Army on February 18, 2019.
Dhanush is a 155 mm, 45-calibre towed artillery gun with a range of 36 km and has demonstrated a range of 38 km with specialised ammunition. It is an upgrade of the existing 155m, 39 calibre Bofors FH 77 gun. It is compatible with all North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) 155 mm ammunition system.
The first phase of trials were conducted between July and September 2016 at Pokhran and Babina ranges and the second phase was held between October and December 2016 at the Siachen base camp with three guns. The last round of user exploitation trials were completed with six guns in June last year.
The gun is fitted with inertial navigation system with global positioning system- (GPS) based gun recording and auto-laying, an enhanced tactical computer for onboard ballistic computations, an onboard muzzle velocity recording, an automated gun sighting system equipped with camera, thermal imaging and laser range finder.

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Eutrophication (Periyar river)

Mon, 08 Apr, 2019

Discolouration of water continued in the Periyar on Sunday. It was near the Pathalam regulator-cum-bridge that the change in colour was visible on the day. While water turned pitch black in one stream, it was milky near the regulator.
The change in colour, which was first noticed in the morning hours, continued till 2 p.m. Despite being alerted, officials of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) did not pay much attention to the matter.
The discolouration of the river system, which provides drinking water to Kochi city and adjoining areas, has been a cause for worry for residents. Moreover, environmental activists have been protesting against the pollution of the river and demanding steps for its protection. For the record, the pollution of the river system had earlier led to violent protests in the region.
Discolouration was due to the poor quality of water as a result of eutrophication. When excessive nutrients reach the waterbody, it will lead to algal bloom. A few days later, algae will die and decay, resulting in a foul smell and discolouration of water. Water in some reaches of the river system has been stagnant. Reduced water flow in the system has added to the deteriorating water quality According to her, huge quantities of organic load in the form of sewage from nearby townships are regularly reaching the river system.

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PM Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY)

Mon, 08 Apr, 2019

The hidden truth of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna (PMUY), being touted in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election campaigning as one of the big successes of the incumbent government, is that most rural households with LPG (liquiefied petroleum gas) connections still use chulha s with firewood or dung cakes, to the detriment of rural health.
A new study from the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e) shows that 85% of Ujjwala beneficiaries in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh still use solid fuels for cooking, due to financial reasons as well as gender inequalities.
The resultant indoor air pollution can lead to infant deaths and harm child development, as well as contribute to heart and lung disease among adults, especially the women, cooking on these chulhas.
The survey, conducted in late 2018, covered a random sample of 1,550 households in 11 districts of the four States, which collectively have two-fifths of the country’s rural population.
The Ujjwala Yojna, launched in 2016, subsidises LPG connections for rural households by providing a free gas cylinder, regulator and pipe. Central government data shows that more than six crore households have received a connection through the scheme. The r.i.c.e study shows that in the four States surveyed, there has indeed been a substantial increase in LPG ownership due to the scheme, with 76% of households now owning an LPG connection.

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IMF- WEO

Sun, 07 Apr, 2019

The European Union will tell a meeting of finance leaders from the world’s 20 biggest economies next week that they must all tackle the root causes of global trade tensions because they are putting global growth at risk.
Finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies are to meet in Washington on April 11-12 to discuss the main challenges to the world economy.
The United States and China are engaged in intense negotiations to end a months-long trade war that has rattled global markets. Hopes of a resolution soared after both sides expressed optimism following talks in Beijing last week.
The International Monetary Fund said in its April World Economic Outlook this week that an escalation of the U.S.-China trade war could reduce U.S. growth by up to 0.6 percent and China’s by up to 1.5 percent.
The international community has to tackle the root causes of the ongoing trade tensions by ensuring a level playing field for open and free trade in goods and services, investment and intellectual property rights.
The United States is also in talks with the European Union on a trade deal after imposing tariffs on European steel and aluminum last year and threatening to impose tariffs on European cars.
Washington has reservations about the WTO which it believes is unable to tackle modern trade challenges and issues such as intellectual property theft. The EU believes the WTO is the best way to deal with trade disputes but that it should be reformed to address U.S. and its own concerns.

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Neelakurinji flower - Kurinji Sanctuary

Sun, 07 Apr, 2019

Next season, the Neelakurinji blossoms may not carpet the hillocks on the western side of the Western Ghats in a ravishing purple.
Wildlife experts say the recent large-scale wildfires on the grasslands where Neelakurinji ( Strobilanthes kunthiiana ) blossomed widely last year after a period of 12 years could have wiped out all the seeds of the endemic flowers from the area.
The Forest Department suspects that the recent wildfires were man-made. Some areas are still engulfed in flames in the Munnar region. About 1,000 ha of forestland, grantis and eucalyptus plantations and grasslands have been destroyed in the fire.
There are allegations that the areas coming under the proposed Kurinji sanctuary were set on fire with a motive to destroy the germination of Neelakurinji seeds, immediately after the flowering season, so that the area would not come under the sanctuary.
As a habitat, the Western Ghats is known for its rare collection of flora and fauna. There are some rare orchids in the area and even a flash of fire could destroy the seeds. The grasslands are important agents for protecting the biodiversity, both for plants and animal species.
A massive fire could wipe out an entire habitat and there are many rare plants in the Western Ghats which are yet to be studied. All these and insects endemic to the area might face extinction in a massive fire.
The area was widely covered with flowers in the last season. The seeds, so small, usually are distributed in the soil by January after the flowering season and by February they would get a soil cover through the summer rain. However, this season was noted for its absence of rain in February. Only after a serious study, it would be known how much the fires have affected the Neelakurinji.

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Hayabusa2

Sat, 06 Apr, 2019

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, on Friday launched an explosive device at an asteroid, aiming to blast a crater in the surface and scoop up material that could shed light on how the solar system evolved. The mission was risky as the spacecraft had to immediately move away so as to avoid getting hit by flying shards from the blast.
Hayabusa2 successfully released the so-called “small carry-on impactor” — a cone-shaped device capped with a copper bottom — as scheduled, as the probe hovered just 500 metres above the asteroid Ryugu.
The impactor was programmed to explode 40 minutes later, propelling the copper bottom towards Ryugu, where it should gouge a crater into the surface of the asteroid that spins 300 million kilometres from Earth.
Hayabusa2 moved smartly away from the area to avoid being damaged by debris from the explosion or colliding with Ryugu.

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Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)

Fri, 05 Apr, 2019

The way we are producing food today is causing increased emission of greenhouse gases, depleting fresh water supply, compromising land use, exhausting the nitrogen and phosphorous cycle, and endangering biodiversity.
The EAT-Lancet Commission’s report, for the first time proposes scientific targets for what constitutes a healthy diet derived from a sustainable food system.
With 1.35 billion people, that is, 1 out of 6 people globally here in India, India would soon surpass China to become the most populated nation in the world, and that too on one-third of the landmass of China. Feeding all our people a healthy diet in a sustainable manner without compromising on our ecology and environment is going to be the most important challenge for us in the coming decades.
If we don’t fix the food system, we cannot achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The great thing that FSSAI is doing is beginning this conversation in India.
Presenting some key steps required for the ‘great food transformation’, Lawrence Haddad, executive director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations in 2012, said: “Taxes on unhealthy foods, subsidies for healthier food options, strong leadership in the public and private sectors and strong civil society movements, is the need of the hour.’’

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Marginal Cost of Fund based Lending Rate (MCLR)

Fri, 05 Apr, 2019

The proposal to link small floating rate loans with an external benchmark for improving monetary transmission seems to have taken a back seat, with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) deciding to hold further consultation with stakeholders before implementing such a scheme.
“Taking into account the feedback received during discussions held with stakeholders on issues such as management of interest rate risk by banks — from fixed interest rate linked liabilities against floating interest rate linked assets — and the related difficulties, and the lead time required for IT system upgradation, it has been decided to hold further consultations with stakeholders and work out an effective mechanism for transmission of rates.
During the December review of monetary policy, the RBI had proposed to implement the system of linking floating rate personal or retail loans, and floating rate loans to Micro and Small Enterprises, to an external benchmark from April 1, 2019.
At present, all loans are linked to the Marginal Cost of Fund based Lending Rate (MCLR). Banks opposed the move to link loan rate to an external benchmark on the grounds that lending rates are a function of cost of funds and change in an external benchmark like repo rate does not have much impact on their cost of funds.

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Bleaching hits world’s southernmost coral reef

Thu, 04 Apr, 2019

The world’s southernmost coral reef has been hit by bleaching this summer, Australian scientists said, as they warned rising sea temperatures from climate change were affecting even the most isolated ecosystems.
The corals off Lord Howe Island — some 600 km offshore from Sydney — were affected by elevated temperatures this summer, despite escaping severe bleaching that damaged the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017.
It’s just another indicator that climate change is affecting everywhere around the world. Here is a reef that is 600 km from the mainland and we are seeing bleaching there in a lovely, beautiful ecosystem.
Mr. Leggat and other scientists from several Australian universities and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found severe bleaching of up to 90% at Lord Howe’s inshore, shallow lagoon reefs.
Deeper-water corals in the marine park, which contains species not found anywhere else and like the Barrier Reef is a World Heritage site, were still “looking quite healthy” having mostly escaped the bleaching.
Mr. Leggat said increasing baseline temperatures caused by climate change, and local factors such as elevated temperatures in the area this summer, caused the bleaching to occur. The scientists are set to return to Lord Howe in the next few months to find out if some corals have been so severely bleached they can’t recover.
Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their colour.

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New National Clean Air Programme

Thu, 04 Apr, 2019

The current high level of air pollution has shortened the average lifespan of a South Asian child by two-and-a- half years while globally the reduction stands at 20 months.
State of Global Air 2019, published by Health Effects Institute (HEI), said exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to over 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017. The report added that worldwide, air pollution was responsible for more deaths than many better-known risk factors such as malnutrition, alcohol abuse and physical inactivity.
In India, air pollution is the third highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking just above smoking; each year, more people globally die from air pollution-related diseases than from road traffic injuries or malaria.
The study found that China and India together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths, with each country facing over 1.2 million deaths from air pollution in 2017. China has made initial progress, and is beginning to achieve a decline in air pollution.
Overall, long-term exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to nearly 5 million deaths due to stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer, and chronic lung disease in 2017.
Out of these, 3 million deaths were directly attributed to PM2.5, half of which were from India and China together. South Asian countries — Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan — led the world as the most polluted region, accounting for over 1.5 million air-pollution related deaths.
“At the same time, India has initiated major steps to address pollution sources: the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Household LPG programme, accelerated Bharat Stage VI clean vehicle standards, and the new National Clean Air Programme. These and future initiatives have the potential — if fully implemented as part of a sustained commitment to air quality — to result in significant health benefits in coming years.
Worldwide, air pollution reduced life expectancy by an average 20 months in 2017, a global impact rivaling that of smoking; this means a child born today will die 20 months sooner, on average, than would be expected without air pollution.
The report also highlighted that nearly half of the world’s population — a total of 3.6 billion people — were exposed to household air pollution in 2017. Globally, there has been progress: the proportion of people cooking with solid fuels has declined as economies develop.
But in India, 60% of the population still used solid fuels; in Bangladesh that number rose to 79%, underscoring the importance of achieving success in government initiatives to address the problem.
The State of Global Air 2019 annual report and accompanying interactive website are designed and implemented by the Health Effects Institute in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Texas - Austin.

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Indian Ocean Dipole (El Nino)

Thu, 04 Apr, 2019

A month after ruling out a drought, private weather forecaster Skymet said it expects the coming monsoon rains to be “below normal” and about 7% short of the 89 cm the country usually gets from June to September. Not only is the monsoon expected to begin sluggishly but rain in July — a key month for agriculture — is expected to be nearly 9% short.
In terms of geographical risk, Skymet expects that eastern India, along with a major portion of Central India, is likely to be at a higher risk of being rain deficient, especially during the first half of the season.
The onset month of June is going to have a very sluggish start and deficit rains are likely to spill into July. The second half of the season would see better rainfall wherein August is expected to be a shade better than September.
There is a 15% chance of a drought (seasonal rainfall less than 90% of the average), 30% chance of normal (seasonal rainfall that is between 96%-104% of the long period average or LPA), and 55% chance of below normal (seasonal rainfall that is between 90%-95% of LPA). June was likely to post only 77% of its historical average of 164mm, July 91% of its average, according to Skymet.
The key culprit, according to Jatin Singh, Managing Director, Skymet, was the El Niño — the warming of the central Pacific Ocean that’s frequently associated with drying monsoon rains.
The Pacific Ocean has become strongly warmer than average. The model projections call for 80% chance of El Niño during March-May, dropping to 60% for June to August. The consensus, as of March among global meteorologists, is that the El Niño would form from March to May and there was a “less than 50% chance” of a strong El Niño from June-August.
An El Niño is declared when three straight months register a 0.5-1 degree C rise in sea surface temperatures in the Central Pacific. In February, Skymet had predicted normal rain on the back of projections that the El Niño was fading rapidly.
However, the scenario changed completely in February and presently, moderate El Niño conditions are prevailing over the Pacific Ocean. In fact, El Niño could be declared anytime now. By May-June-July, there is a 66% chance of El Niño.
Officials from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) refused to comment on Skymet’s forecast. The agency, which is expected to announce its forecast on April 15, said on April 1 that it expects “weak El Niño conditions” (a heating of around 0.5 C) to prevail during May-June. Any forecast of El Niño beyond that is premature.
The IMD was still factoring in sea surface temperature data in their forecast models and, with the Model Code of Conduct in effect for the Lok Sabha elections, required certain clearances before publicising the forecast.
Skymet said that another key parameter — the Indian Ocean Dipole, when the western Indian ocean is warmer and has more rain clouds than the east — appeared favourable to the Indian monsoon. In 2018, both Skymet and the IMD over-estimated monsoon rainfall in April, and India ended up with below normal rainfall of 91% of what it typically gets in a normal monsoon year.

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EU drags India to WTO over import duties on ICT products

Wed, 03 Apr, 2019

The European Union (EU) said it has dragged India into WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism over imposition of import duties on certain ICT product, including mobile phones, alleging breach of global trade norms.
The EU is challenging the introduction of import duties on a wide range of ICT products, for instance mobile phones and components, base stations, integrated circuits and optical instruments.
It has requested consultations with the Indian government under WTO rules governing the settlement of disputes with regard to the tariff treatment that the country accords to certain goods in the information and communications technology sector.
Despite its (India) earlier legally binding commitment in the WTO not to charge any duties on these products, India has been applying duties ranging from 7.5 per cent to 20 per cent.
These import duties are therefore in clear breach by India of WTO rules. The levies affect EU exports worth Euro 600 million per year. There is a significant economic interest and important legal principles at stake for the EU.
Today, the EU has brought two disputes in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against India and Turkey, respectively targeting unlawful import duties on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products and unlawful measures on pharmaceuticals.
Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom said that India must abide by its own commitment to allow duty free trade in ICT products. Technological innovation keeps our companies competitive in the global market and supports hundreds of thousands of high value jobs across Europe.
In October last year, India hiked import duty on certain communication items, including base stations, to up to 20 per cent as part of efforts to check a widening current account deficit by curbing imports. Seeking consultation is the first step of dispute settlement process as per WTO rules.
If the consultations requested with both India do not result in a satisfactory solution, the EU can request that the WTO set up a panel in the case to rule on the issue raised.

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Microsat-R and EMISAT

Wed, 03 Apr, 2019

Between now and early 2020, the space above India looks set to see an unprecedented rush of satellites meant solely or mainly for the country’s military.
Starting May, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to send up at least eight earth observation (EO) satellites of varied hues and at the rate of almost one a month.
Communication satellite GSAT-32 is also in the offing next year to replace GSAT-6A, which was lost in a failed launch and was meant to mainly serve the ground forces. Until now, such defence-use satellites were spaced out over a few years; or were put up only once a year as in the case of the Cartosat-2 series high-resolution imaging satellites.
Looking at the last three launches, we could even say the train has already started. HysIS, launched in November; Microsat-R in January; and the EMISAT sent into orbit on April 1 are all for what is called “strategic use”.
While traditionally, payloads for ISRO’s satellites come from the Space Applications Centre, the payloads of the Microsat-R and EMISAT were from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), said officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Soon after EMISAT’s launch, ISRO Chairman and Secretary, Department of Space, K.Sivan, announced that the next mission would be the radar imaging satellite RISAT-2B, followed by a high resolution mapping satellite Cartosat-3. Both are understood to be useful militarily and seen as overdue assets.

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Bacteria and its uses and effects

Tue, 02 Apr, 2019

Scientists at the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) have discovered a new enzyme which helps in breaking cell walls of bacteria and hence, offers a potential for a new drug delivery route to arrest the anti-bacterial resistance through existing antibiotic drugs.
Scientists all over the world are trying to understand this phenomenon and the lab of Dr. Reddy has been working on how e. coli bacteria cells function, divide and grow to understand diseases like cholera, leprosy, tuberculosis and so on for the past decade.
Dr. Reddy and her research scholar Ch. Pavan Kumar have been working on how the cell governs the synthetic machinery to build the cell wall in the first place, identified the principal players behind the process and discovered the new mechanism or enzyme through which the cell regulates growth of its wall.
Other bacteria, too, have the same enzyme working on cell division as the cell wall is fundamental for bacterial growth and division.
Therefore, by blocking this ‘scissors enzyme’ from functioning, new ways to target microbes could be found, leading to a new wave of antibiotic drugs. In contrast, the classical antibiotic drugs target the last stage of cell synthesis to prevent cell growth like penicillin that hits the machinery that creates the cell wall — a mesh-like structure of cross-linked sugars and peptides.
The next step is to find out the molecule of the enzyme endo-pepcidine and it has to be followed by the drug trials to unravel a new combination of drugs to replace existing antibiotics though it is difficult to forecast a time frame.

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RBI circular to banks on loan defaulters quashed

Tue, 02 Apr, 2019

The Supreme Court struck down a February 2018 Reserve Bank of India (RBI) circular giving lender banks six months to resolve their stressed assets or move under the Insolvency Code against private entities who have defaulted in loans worth over Rs. 2000 crore.
The 84-page judgment by a Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Vineet Saran spells relief across sectors, ranging from power to telecom to steel, infrastructure, sugar and fertiliser. All insolvency proceedings initiated against debtors under the circular have been declared non est . The RBI countered the petitioner-companies’ claim that its February 12, 2018 circular was “manifestly arbitrary”.
On the contrary, the central banker said, the circular was in the public interest and “in the interest of the national economy to see that evergreening of debts does not carry on indefinitely”. The RBI argued that “these huge amounts that are due should come back into the economy for further productive use”.
But the court found favour with the arguments made by the companies that a general direction by the RBI, applying the 180-day limit to all sectors, without going into the special problems faced by each sector, would “treat unequals equally”.
The companies argued that the circular was arbitrary and discriminatory, and therefore, violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

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RTI, CIC and IC

Mon, 01 Apr, 2019

In what is being seen by the Central Information Commission as an attempt to erode its independence and undermine its role as per the Right To Information (RTI) law, the government has proposed setting up bureaucrat-led committees that would sit and decide on complaints against the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs).
For the former, the committee is proposed to include the Cabinet Secretary; Secretary, DoPT; and a retired CIC. For ICs, the committee will include Secretary (Coordination) in the Cabinet Secretariat; Secretary, DoPT; and a retired IC. Clearly, in both the committees, government officers will be in a majority.
This proposal is an attempt by the political dispensation to influence the working of the ICs. This will take away the independence of an institution that has served the citizen’s demand for more transparency in the government. “It will make the Commission more vulnerable to government pressure.
As of now, when there is a complaint against any Information Commissioner, the convention is to place it in the Commission’s meeting. It has been the practice that the CIC attends to complaints against ICs and if there is a complaint against the CIC, it is attended to by the sitting Information Commissioners.
The Information Commissioners, including the CIC, carry the same status as judges of the Supreme Court and are appointed by the President of India based on recommendations of a committee chaired by the Prime Minister and including the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM.
Section 14 (1) of the RTI Act states that Commissioners can be removed only by the President on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity after the Supreme Court, on a reference made to it by the President, has, on inquiry, reported that the CIC or any IC ought on such ground be removed.
Section 14 (3) states the President may remove a Commissioner if he/she is adjudged an insolvent, has been convicted of an offence which involves moral turpitude, engages during his/her term of office in any paid employment outside, is unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body; or has acquired such financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially his functions as the CIC or an IC.

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PSLV C45

Tue, 02 Apr, 2019

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the country’s first electronic surveillance satellite, EMISAT, from Sriharikota in coastal Andhra Pradesh. As many as 28 small satellites of international customers were also put in space as secondary riders.
Space-based electronic intelligence or ELINT from the 436-kg spacecraft will add teeth to situational awareness of the armed forces as it will provide location and information of hostile radars placed at the borders; this will be another dimension to the current land or aircraft-based ELINT, according to defence experts who did not wish to be named. ISRO, which is said to have built the satellite body for the DRDO payload, merely said the spacecraft would measure the electromagnetic spectrum.
PSLV-C45 has successfully injected the ISRO-made EMISAT in a 748-km orbit as well as 28 customer satellites in a 504-km orbit as sought by the customers. The ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network at Bengaluru assumed control of the satellite. In the coming days, the satellite will be brought to its final operational configuration.

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salt pans of Mumbai

Mon, 01 Apr, 2019

It’s 89 years since the famous salt satyagraha led by Mahatma Gandhi, who marched 241 miles to Dandi along with 80 people to break the salt law imposed by the British. In Mumbai, a group of enthusiasts recently relived a part of history by participating in a salt pan walk at Wadala organised by the Asiatic Society of Mumbai.
The city’s salt pans are spread from Wadala to Mahul, Kanjurmarg to Vikhroli and Goregaon to Bhayander. On the eastern side, the British had built a narrow-gauge railway between Mahul and Wadala and from Vikhroli towards Thane to collect and transport salt.
Remains of these tracks are visible in some places. During Gandhi’s salt satyagraha in 1930, many locations in Mumbai witnessed the civil disobedience movement, but the satyagraha at Wadala salt pan was the most prominent. Thousands of satyagrahis would gather at the Wadala salt pans and often face brutal lathi charge.
Salt pans have different species of birds and insects thriving on them. They have an enormous water-holding capacity that helps in flood control. The communities that work on salt pans have their own songs revolving around them.
There is a lack of awareness about salt pans, he said. With the government’s plan to use the salt pans for affordable housing projects, they now face a threat of extinction.

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Bombay Natural History Society

Sun, 31 Mar, 2019

At least 37 vultures belonging to three endangered species died in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar district on Friday evening after feeding on pesticide-laced cattle carcass. Most of the 37 vultures that died are Himalayan griffon. A few are oriental white-backed and slender-billed vultures. Thankfully, our team was able to rescue 37 more, but we are not sure how much the poison has taken effect.
They need treatment and observation at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation at Kaziranga for at least 10 days. A study by the Bombay Natural History Society and other organisations in the 1990s found that the population of the Gyps group — Himalayan griffon, white-backed and slender-billed are among its members — in India and Nepal declined from about 40 million by 99.9% in just two decades.

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International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Sun, 31 Mar, 2019

Telangana might get its first Unesco World Heritage Site, but it is going to be the Ramappa temple at Palampet near Warangal than any of the Qutb Shahi era sites in Hyderabad.
While the Qutb Shahi monuments of Hyderabad, Golconda Fort, Qutb Shahi Tombs and Charminar have been on the tentative list of the world heritage sites from September 2010, the Ramappa temple’s application filed as ‘The Glorious Kakatiya Temples and Gateways’ has been fast-tracked from April 2014.
Earlier, the Ramappa temple was part of a serial nomination along with the Thousand Pillar temple, Swayambhu temple and Keerti Thoranas of Warangal Fort. But now, thanks to a small tweak, the Ramappa temple is in the reckoning as a standalone world heritage site.
The Shiva temple is perhaps the only one in the country that is known by the name of the architect rather than the king who commissioned it or the presiding deity of the temple.
The stunning dance sculptures and friezes of the temple appear as if they have been machined into shape on the black dolomite rather than being chiselled. The temple is built on a valley and it rests on bricks that are scientifically shown to float in water.
The world heritage site/city status appear like a bunch of hoops in a circus which the country and the site owners have to jump to get it. The first step involves creating a dossier in great detail showing the outstanding universal value of the heritage site, besides the site meeting a few other criteria.
Once the documentation is complete, it requires a push by the State party or the country where the site/city is located. The nominated property is then evaluated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) then provides the committee with advice on conservation of cultural sites, as well as on training activities.
After these steps, the World Heritage Committee evaluates the site and decides to inscribe it or send back the nomination. It remains to be seen whether the Ramappa temple clears all the hoops at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee meeting at Azerbaijan in the first week of July and gets the prized inscription of world heritage site.

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EMISAT & ELINT(Cubesats)

Sun, 31 Mar, 2019

Monday's PSLV mission carrying EMISAT — the country's first satellite for gathering electronic intelligence (ELINT) to locate hostile radars for the military — will also be the longest flight for the Indian polar launch vehicle.
The April 1 mission is numbered C-45 and carries 28 small, foreign customer satellites from four countries. The satellites together weigh 220 kg. The launch is scheduled for 9.30 a.m. from Sriharikota. It will last 180 minutes from take-off at the Sriharikota launch pad until the PSLV rocket’s last stage (called the PS4) is put into its orbit.
The 436-kg EMISAT will be released 17 minutes into launch in its designated orbit 749 km away from earth. The 28 small foreign customer satellites will be released almost an hour later at a lower orbit of 504 km.
All of them will be out within five minutes, according to pre-launch information put out by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO.) Later PS4 will be fired thrice and eventually put into an orbit at 485 km. This is the third consecutive PSLV mission in which ISRO will re-use its fourth stage as a space testbed. Earlier, the stages wasted away as floating debris once they released the satellites.
We are doing a three-orbit mission for the first time. We earlier did two-orbit launches. Such a multi-orbit capability is beneficial when there are different launch customers who need to put their satellites in different orbits.
In this mission, PS4 will carry three minor payloads or experiments. ISRO said it had equipped the stage with power-generating solar panels for the first time.
The 20 Flock 4a Dove satellites are part of Planet’s earth observation network. Since 2016, the company has used the PSLV four times to put more than 100 of its small “cubesats” in space.
In February 2017, when the PSLV-C37 rocket lifted up a record 104 small satellites to space, 88 of them belonged to Planet. Four small LEMUR satellites from another U.S. customer are for monitoring maritime traffic or automatic identification system. One satellite each from Spain, Switzerland and Lithuania are also part of the payload.

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Russia develops washing machine for space

Sat, 30 Mar, 2019

The days of astronauts packing enough clean clothes to last a whole mission could soon be over as Russia said on Friday that it is developing a washing machine for space. By the way, for future lunar expeditions and other interplanetary crafts, RKK Energiya has started developing a special space washing machine.
Currently, astronauts — who live on the International Space Station (ISS) for stints of some six months — cannot wash their clothes in any way and simply put on new outfits when their clothes get dirty. Astronauts usually wear the same outfit for three to four days and then throw them away with other rubbish.
For a two-year flight to Mars with six crew members this could increase to three tonnes, the authors warned. Researchers proposed using not water, which would be wasteful and require extra storage, but carbon dioxide that is produced by humans’ breathing and can be turned into a liquid under pressure.

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Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary

Sat, 30 Mar, 2019

The services of Alemba Yimchunger, a forest guard at the Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary in Nagaland’s Kiphire district, have been recognised with Earth Day Network Star, an award by a U.S.-based international environment organisation that engages with green groups in 195 countries.

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Finance Bill, 2017 certified as Money Bill by Speaker, court can't interfere

Fri, 29 Mar, 2019

The Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that Finance Bill of 2017 was certified as a Money Bill by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and judicial review of that decision cannot be done. The government said the court cannot question the speaker's decision of certifying a bill as a Money Bill and it is a well settled law.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was told by Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that petitioners' contention that certification of Finance Bill of 2017 as Money Bill was not right cannot be a ground for a challenge to the Bill.
The Act of 2017 deals with various aspects of finance. Speaker of the House gave the certification that Finance Act was a Money Bill. Finance Act of 2017 was passed by the Parliament as a Money Bill irrespective of the objections in Rajya Sabha.
This aspect is consistent with the broad parameters of separation of powers given in the Constitution. Similarly, Parliament cannot interfere with the affairs of judiciary.
The Attorney General countered the contention of petitioners that Finance Act of 2017 cannot be certified as a Money Bill saying, "Certification of a particular Act as a Money Bill is an internal functions of the Parliament. If there is any dispute, the Speaker can applies his mind and takes a decision. No one can questions the bonafide of the Speaker and all members abide by the decision."
He said Finance Bill comprises of amendments to several Acts and statutes and the petitioners have challenged only one particular aspect saying it cannot be termed as Money Bill. The certification of Money Bill is for the whole Finance Bill and saying that a part of the Bill does not qualify for the Money Bill cannot be held to be correct.
On March 27, the apex court had sought centre's view on bringing all the tribunals under one central umbrella body for ensuring "efficient functioning" and "streamlining the working" of quasi-judicial bodies.
The top court had said it would not like to be bogged down with what is right or wrong and all it wants was that "the tribunals work efficiently and independently".
The court had said it is tentatively of the view that directions given by the apex court in its two verdicts of 1997 and 2010 for bringing all the tribunals of the country under one nodal agency should have been "implemented long back".

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Mount Sodom

Fri, 29 Mar, 2019

Israeli researchers say they have discovered the world’s longest salt cave near the desert site where, according to the Bible, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. The 10-km long warren of underground passages and chambers in Mount Sodom, overlooking the Dead Sea, was mapped out over two years by cavers from nine countries. The cave is called Malham.

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Article 35A

Fri, 29 Mar, 2019

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday said Article 35A was a piece of legislation that was “constitutionally vulnerable” and coming in the way of economic development of Jammu and Kashmir.
Giving a background of Article 35A, a legislation that places restrictions on non-permanent residents buying property in Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Jaitley alleged said the act had been “surreptitiously” included by a presidential notification in the Constitution in 1954.
Article 35A, he said, was neither a part of the original Constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly, nor did it come as a Constitutional Amendment under Article 368 of the Constitution which requires an approval by two-third majority of both Houses of Parliament.

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ecotourism centres closed in Wayanad

Fri, 29 Mar, 2019

The entry of tourists to four major ecotourism centres under the South Wayanad Forest Division in Wayanad district has been closed as per a directive of the Kerala High Court.
The Soochipara waterfalls under the Meppadi forest range, Kuruva islets on the Kabani under the Chethalayath forest range, Chembra peak under the Meppadi forest range, and the Meenmutty waterfalls at Padinharethara, under the Kalpetta forest range, had been closed as per the court directive.
The other ecotourism centres in the district, including Muthanga and Tholpetty under the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, had already been closed to avoid fire risk and ensure free movement of wildlife during the summer.

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Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS)

Thu, 28 Mar, 2019

India assured the world that it did not violate any international treaty or understanding with the anti-satellite (A-SAT) missile testing.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said India believes in peaceful use of the common outer space that belongs to humanity. “India is not in violation of any international law or treaty to which it is a party or any national obligation.
A-SAT test was not directed against any country and that India plans to play a role in future in drafting global laws on prevention of arms race in outer space.. MEA reiterated India’s support of Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) in the Conference on Disarmament “where it has been on the agenda since 1982.”

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Electoral Bonds

Thu, 28 Mar, 2019

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has told the Supreme Court that electoral bonds, contrary to government claims, wreck transparency in political funding. Coupled with the removal of cap on foreign funding, they invite foreign corporate powers to impact Indian politics.
The ECI ripped apart amendments made to various key statutes through the two consecutive Finance Acts of 2016 and 2017.
It said these amendments would pump in black money for political funding through shell companies and allow “unchecked foreign funding of political parties in India which could lead to Indian politics being influenced by foreign companies.
The poll body said it had, way back in May 2017, warned the Ministry of Law and Justice that these amendments “will have serious repercussions/impact on the transparency of political finance/funding of political parties.
The Election Commission of India has time and again voiced the importance of declaration of donations received by political parties and also about the manner in which those funds are expended by them for better transparency and accountability in the election process

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Mission Shakti (ASAT)

Thu, 28 Mar, 2019

In an incremental advance, India successfully conducted an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test, named Mission Shakti, becoming the fourth country in the world to demonstrate the capability to shoot down satellites in orbit. So far, only the United States, Russia and China have this prowess.
A short while back, our scientists have shot down a live satellite in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at 300 km in space. The satellite downed by the ASAT missile was Microsat-R, an imaging satellite which was launched into orbit on January 24, 2019 using a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
India has built the broad capabilities and building blocks to develop ASAT missiles for some time as part of its Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) programme. A BMD interceptor missile successfully engaged an Indian orbiting target satellite in LEO in a ‘hit to kill’ mode’
A DRDO official claimed that the ASAT missile was a modified exo-atmospheric interceptor missile of the BMD. A LEO of 300 km was chosen to “minimise” debris and it also won’t last more than a few months.
Anti-satellite weapons provide the capability to shoot down enemy satellites in orbit thereby disrupting critical communications and surveillance capabilities. ASAT missiles also act as a space deterrent in dissuading adversaries from targeting the country’s satellite network.

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India’s carbon dioxide emissions up 5%

Wed, 27 Mar, 2019

India emitted 2,299 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018, a 4.8% rise from last year, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). India’s emissions growth this year was higher than that of the United States and China — the two biggest emitters in the world — and this was primarily due to a rise in coal consumption. China, the United States, and India together accounted for nearly 70% of the rise in energy demand.
India’s per capita emissions were about 40% of the global average and contributed 7% to the global carbon dioxide burden. The United States, the largest emitter, was responsible for 14%.
As per its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India has promised to reduce the emissions intensity of its economy by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. It has also committed to having 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and, as part of this, install 100 GW of solar power by 2022.
However the IEA report, made public on Tuesday, showed that India’s energy intensity improvement declined 3% from last year even as its renewable energy installations increased 10.6% from last year.
Global energy consumption in 2018 increased at nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010, driven by a robust global economy and higher heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world. Demand for all fuels increased, led by natural gas, even as solar and wind posted double digit growth.
Higher electricity demand was responsible for over half of the growth in energy needs. Energy efficiency saw lacklustre improvement. As a result of higher energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.7% last year and hit a new record, the authors of the report said in a press statement.
The United States had the largest increase in oil and gas demand worldwide. Gas consumption jumped 10% from the previous year, the fastest increase since the beginning of IEA records in 1971.
India says it will cost at least $2.5trillion (Rs. 150 trillion approx.) to implement its climate pledge, around 71% of the combined required spending for all developing country pledges.

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Guatemala initiates WTO dispute complaint against Indian sugar subsidies

Tue, 26 Mar, 2019

Guatemala claims that the domestic support measures are inconsistent with India’s obligations under the WTO's Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), while the alleged export subsidies are inconsistent with India's obligations under the AoA and the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM Agreement).
What is a request for consultations?
The request for consultations formally initiates a dispute in the WTO. Consultations give the parties an opportunity to discuss the matter and to find a satisfactory solution without proceeding further with litigation. After 60 days, if consultations have failed to resolve the dispute, the complainant may request adjudication by a panel.

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Food Inflation

Tue, 26 Mar, 2019

Food inflation in the country is likely to go up to 2% in fiscal year 2019-20 from the 0.7% estimated for FY19. It can be noted that low food prices had been one of the prime factors which had aided the RBI to be more accommodative in its rate setting recently.
In its report, foreign brokerage Goldman Sachs attributed the low food prices in the last few months to the prices of cereals and vegetables which had remained low for some time. Deregulation of markets, which saw delisting of vegetables from the Agriculture Produce and Marketing Committee Act in 14 States, had helped keep vegetable prices low.

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Chinook CH-47F

Tue, 26 Mar, 2019

The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Monday inducted the first batch of four Chinook CH-47F(I) heavy-lift helicopters, which will significantly improve airlift to high-altitude areas.
“The induction of Chinook will be a game changer.. This modern, multi-mission-capable, heavy-lift transport helicopter will enhance our heli-lift capability across all types of terrain to the full effect. The service ceiling of 20,000 feet would redefine heavy lift not just in operations but also for inter-valley transport and the artillery.

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Rushikulya waits for Olive Ridleys

Mon, 25 Mar, 2019

Even after waiting for almost a month, Olive Ridley turtles have not yet arrived for mass nesting at Odisha’s Rushikulya rookery and Devi river mouth. The reasons are not fully understood yet. Mass nesting has already occurred at the Gahirmatha coast of the State.
Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII) scientist Bivash Pandav said it could not be said for sure whether mass nesting would occur or not at the Rushikulya rookery this year. According to Mr. Pandav, who has studied mass nesting along the Odisha coast over the past decades, mass nesting of Olive Ridleys can occur up to any time till the end of April.
Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Ashis Behera said that, till now, lakhs of impregnated female Olive Ridleys are continuing to congregate in the sea near the Rushikulya rookery, but they aren’t approaching the beach for mass nesting. “Sporadic nesting is continuing at this coast since February.
The Forest Department has readied six artificial hatcheries to incubate eggs resulting from sporadic nesting. The beach has been cleaned up. A metal net fences a stretch of over five kilometres from Gokharkuda to Prayagi — this fencing is expected to protect Olive Ridleys and their eggs from predators and human intervention. CCTV cameras continue to keep a watch on the nesting beach.
This year, the Forest Department also prepared a three-km-long coast near the Bahuda river mouth, from Sunapur to Anantpur, as an alternative mass nesting site, about 20 km to the south of Rushikulya. However, except for few occurrences of sporadic nesting, mass nesting has yet not occurred at this new beach.

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Vitamin deficiency high among urban adults, says NIN study

Sun, 24 Mar, 2019

When scientists at the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) led by G. Bhanuprakash Reddy screened the sub-clinical status of vitamins — A, D, B1, B2, B6, B12 and folate — among urban adults in the twin cities, they found several vitamin deficiencies and dietary inadequacies hidden under their apparently healthy exterior.
It has, for the first time, explored the blood levels of major vitamins along with dietary intakes of urban adults and explored the homocysteine levels which amplify the chances of non-communicable diseases like heart diseases.
Screened participants showed vitamin deficiencies to an extent of 50% of B2, 46% of B6, 46% of B12, 29% of D and 32% of folate. In terms of diet intake, nutrient inadequacy was found in diets of 72% of the study population while additionally high homocysteine levels were prevalent in 52% of them.
Vitamins are micronutrients essential for normal cellular and molecular functions, growth and maintenance of body issues. Their deficiencies are major risk factors for disease burden in countries like India.
Despite physiological significance of all the vitamins, only a few like folate, Vitamin B12 and D have received considerable attention globally. It is now known that deficiency of any vitamin, either independently or in combination, results in deleterious consequences as even a mild form of deficiency can result in adverse results.
The study highlighted the widespread prevalence of vitamin deficiency and dietary inadequacies with women being at particular risk while high homocysteine levels have been observed mostly among men. High deficiencies of B2, B6 was noticed in addition to the commonly reported vitamins of B12, D and folate.
It has recommended screening of vitamin levels regularly and calls for necessity of a nationally representative data to direct the improvement of nutrition intervention and public health programme such as multiple micronutrient fortifications, dietary diversification and supplementation to achieve sustainable development goals.

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Baghouz

Sun, 24 Mar, 2019

Kurdish-led forces declared victory over the Islamic State (IS) in Syria after liberating the last pocket of the territory held by the militants. This marks the end of a brutal self-styled caliphate the IS created in large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The nearly five-year war that has devastated cities and towns across north Syria and Iraq ended in Baghouz, a minor border village where the cornered militants made their last stand, under a grueling siege for weeks.
On Saturday, the U.S.-led Syrian Democratic Forces raised their bright yellow banner from a shell-pocked house where the militants once flew their notorious black flag.

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Golan Heights

Sat, 23 Mar, 2019

A United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is stationed in camps and observation posts along the Golan, supported by military observers of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
Between the Israeli and Syrian armies is a 400-square-km (155-square-mile) “Area of Separation” – often called a demilitarized zone – in which the two countries’ military forces are not permitted under the ceasefire arrangement.
The Separation of Forces Agreement of May 31, 1974 created an Alpha Line to the west of the area of separation, behind which Israeli military forces must remain, and a Bravo Line to the east behind which Syrian military forces must remain.
Extending 25 km beyond the “Area of Separation” on both sides is an “Area of Limitation” in which there are restrictions on the number of troops and number and kinds of weapons that both sides can have there.
There is one crossing point between the Israeli and Syrian sides, which until the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 was used mainly by United Nations forces, a limited number of Druze civilians and for the transportation of agricultural produce.

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WHAT IS INDELIBLE INK?

Fri, 22 Mar, 2019

This refers to the violet-coloured ink in India that is applied on a voter’s forefinger after she exercises her vote. In 1962, the Election Commission in collaboration with the Law Ministry, the National Physical Laboratory of India and the National Research Development Corporation made an agreement with Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd. to manufacture ink that couldn't be wiped off easily. Mysore Paints was founded in 1937 by Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV. The company is the sole supplier of indelible ink for civic body, Assembly and Parliamentary polls. It also supplies ink to about 25 countries. Indelible ink remains bright for about 10 days, after which it starts fading. It is known to contain silver nitrate and is manufactured in secrecy.

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Genetic diversity

Thu, 21 Mar, 2019

A study on the nesting habits of the house sparrow in the Nilgiris has highlighted certain interesting behavioural changes among the birds, and also outlined a few causes of concern for their future conservation.
In a study designed to ascertain the type of nests that house sparrows most prefer to nest in, research scholars Samson Arockianathan and A. Jayaraman from the department of wildlife biology at the Government Arts College in Udhagamandalam, placed different types of nests, made of PVC pipes, wooden boxes, bamboo pieces, shoe boxes, mud pots and also tailor-made bird boxes in three different locations where the birds were found in Udhagamandalam.
The researchers discovered that even though the nests kept in the market area had higher footfall from humans, and was busier, the birds preferred to nest in these areas, populating the nests in around 3-4 days after they were first kept there.
In comparison, it took the sparrows longer to adopt nests that were placed in residential areas, while they only populated nests in educational institutions located near canteens, while avoiding most altogether.
The researchers said that the findings seemed to indicate that the birds preferred to nest in the market area because of the availability of food. “We have noticed that the diet of sparrows consists of grains and they also prefer a high-protein diet to raise their chicks, which they source from insects and flies, and also from meat from stalls in the market,
This concentration of the sparrow population in a few pockets could be problematic in the long-run, said Mr. Samson Arockianathan, who said that in-breeding, and a lack of genetic diversity among the population was already manifesting itself in the sparrows being monitored in the market area.
On International Sparrow Day, the researchers urged the public to adopt strategies which will allow more sparrows to thrive in residential areas, ensuring that there are more chances of breeding among the different populations and more genetic diversity among the birds.
If each individual house can keep a small pot of water for the birds during the summer, and some grains for them to feed on, it will be quite useful in ensuring the survival of the birds, who said that concrete buildings had also led to chances for sparrows nesting in residential areas diminishing.
“If housing plans too can incorporate small designs to allow sparrows to nest in the buildings, each household can ensure the survival of at least two to three pairs of house sparrows.

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PM- KISAN scheme

Thu, 21 Mar, 2019

For PM-KISAN, the Centre left it to States to identify beneficiaries using their own land records.
 The first stage of validation is to check the State-submitted database and ensure that data entry is complete with all mandatory details filled in;
 the second stage involves verification of the bank account number and IFSC code;
 In the third stage, banks verify if the name on the account actually matches the beneficiary’s name. If a proposed beneficiary trips up at any of these stages, the details are sent back to the States for on-the-ground manual verification, a process that has become slower as State governments have shifted their focus to poll preparation.

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Cyclone Ockhi

Thu, 21 Mar, 2019

In the aftermath of Cyclone Ockhi, one question that rattled fishermen was this; how safe are our fishing boats Perhaps, Sea Dragon-44 is the cost-effective solution everyone has been searching for. Sea Dragon-44 is the new, and reportedly safer, fishing boat model built by the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS) with help from TAFE Motors and Tractors Ltd (TMTL). The model is 44 metres long and its below-deck spaces have been packed with polyurethane foam to improve buoyancy.
After Cyclone Ockhi, fishermen had complained about the safety of their fibreglass boats. The new model has polyurethane foam packed below the deck, while ensuring adequate storage space for the catch and fishing nets. The safety features increases buoyancy.
The boat has a 200-watt-capacity solar power unit which powers the life-saving equipment, fish finder and the lighting and navigation systems. We’ve used material used to pack boat engines and generators. It is usually discarded after unpacking the contents.

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Threats to Bumphead Parrot Fish in Andaman

Wed, 20 Mar, 2019

Protection of coral cover along the existing protected marine areas in the Andaman and Nicobar islands is necessary for the conservation of the endang.Large body size, aggregating behaviour and limited activity at night make Bumphead Parrotfish an easy target for spear-fishers.Further slow growth and low replacement rates have resulted in population declines across the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea regions.Bumphead Parrotfish occurs unevenly, with most sightings from only two islands, and with an apparently very small density.
Scientific Name: Bolbometopon Muricatum
IUCN Status: Vulnerable. 





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Honey as a pollution detector?

Wed, 20 Mar, 2019

Tree rings can tell scientists what the atmosphere was like when the tree was young. Lichens can reveal local air pollution levels. Now, scientists in Canada report that honey carries a message, too.
A survey of urban beehives around Vancouver, which was published recently in Nature Sustainability , showed that the hives’ honey contained minute levels of lead, especially downtown and near the city’s port. The readings suggest that honey can be a sensitive indicator of air quality.
The project began when Hives for Humanity, a nonprofit, asked Dominique Weis, a co-author of the paper, to check the honey for lead and other substances. Bees are known to pick up trace amounts of metals, which settle on leaves and flowers from the air, as they forage for pollen. The results showed very small levels of lead, and traces of iron and zinc.
Going forward, scientists may be able to track improvements or declines in air quality by monitoring the beehives and analysing the honey.

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World Press Freedom Index

Wed, 20 Mar, 2019

The 2018 India report covers a range of issues including press and media freedoms, forced disappearances, custodial deaths and the NGO clampdown — which became an issue between the U.S. and India, after the NDA government cancelled licenses of some 15,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act.
The government imposed restrictions on foreign funding of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those with views the government stated were not in the “national interest,” thereby curtailing the work of these NGO.
In terms of custodial deaths, the Report cites official (Indian) figures of 1,674 cases of such death between August 2017 and February 2018, with 1,530 occurring in judicial custody and 144 in police custody.
The report, in a separate section, Role of the Police and Security Apparatus , says, “Police continue to be overpaid, underworked, and subject to political pressure, in some cases contributing to corruption.”
Regarding press freedom and the safety of journalists, the report says , “There were numerous instances of journalists and members of media being threatened or killed in response to their reporting. Police rarely identified suspects involved in the killing of journalists.” It cites a 2017 Press Council of India report saying at least 80 journalists were killed since 1990 but only one conviction had occurred thus far.
The report quotes the 2018 World Press Freedom Index as saying online trolling and attacks on journalists was a major issue.

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Tropical Cyclone Idai

Wed, 20 Mar, 2019

The Indian Navy had launched a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operation in coordination with local officials to evacuate about 5,000 people stranded at Buzi near Port Beira in Mozambique. The African nation has been devastated by tropical cyclone Idai.
Large fishing boats provided by Mozambique acted as anchor midway across the channel. Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) and Gemini boats on our ships will transport personnel from shore to the fishing boats to be transported to the Beira side.
The smaller RHIB and Gemini boats were employed as the Navy ships and local fishing boats could not enter the channel due to depth restrictions. Helicopter operations were also planned to assist the rescue efforts.
Ships of First Training squadron of Indian Navy, Sujata, Sarathi and Shardul, operating in Southern Indian Ocean were diverted to Port Beira in Mozambique based on the request of the Government of Mozambique.
Navy ships provided food, clothes, medicine and potable water to the affected people. The ships also have three medical practitioners and five nurses to provide immediate medical help. The helicopter on INS Shardul is operating from the local airport for recce and search and rescue.

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Rupee jumps to seven-month high on sustained inflow of foreign funds

Tue, 19 Mar, 2019

Aided by sustained foreign fund inflows, the Indian rupee on Monday surged by 57 paise to close at an over seven-month high of 68.53 against the US dollar, marking the currency’s sixth straight session of gains.
The rupee has appreciated by 161 paise in the last six trading sessions due to strong capital inflows. Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) have pumped over Rs 21,000 crore in March so far. In February, FPIs brought in Rs 17,220 crore, taking the total inflows since February 1 to over Rs 38,000 crore.
According to analysts, narrowing trade deficit, weakness in the dollar against major global currencies and the bullish stock markets aided the forex market. The dollar index, which gauges the greenback’s strength against a basket of six currencies, fell 0.20 per cent to 96.40.
The rupee continued advancing for the sixth day in a row, making it the best performer among the Asian currencies in today’s trade amid better than expected trade data and foreign fund flows.
According to data released by the Commerce Ministry, the marginal 2.44 per cent rise in exports as well as lower imports of gold and petroleum products in February significantly narrowed the country’s trade deficit to $ 9.6 billion. This augurs well on the external front as current account deficit (CAD) is expected to come down significantly in the ongoing quarter.

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Dry eye disease

Tue, 19 Mar, 2019

Dry eye disease could occur due to inadequate tear production (aqueous deficient), tear film instability due to evaporation or mixed type. Over 20.5% had dry eye disease caused by inadequate tear production, 35.5% due to tear film instability (evaporative) and 40% being mixed. As tears are not produced sufficiently in people who are aqueous deficient, it is a more dangerous from of dry eye disease. They have severe clinical disease.
Testing the tear volume is mandatory for patients with the disease. Only this test will tell if the disease is evaporative [tear film instability], aqueous deficient or mixed.

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Neighbourhood First Policy

Tue, 19 Mar, 2019

Requests for a cricket stadium, renewable energy projects and a thousand additional slots for Maldivian students in Indian courses were the highlights of the discussions during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to the Maldives, as the island nation reaffirmed its “India first” policy.
Three agreements were signed during the visit, which officials called the first “full-fledged substantive bilateral” engagement at a political level with the new government in Male. One of the agreements is for visa exemption for diplomats and another for MoUs for development projects.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the swearing-in of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in November and announced $1.4 billion in grants and lines of credit to the Maldives. Mr. Solih visited Delhi in December. Ms. Swaraj’s visit is seen as an occasion to discuss follow-up measures on announcements made during those visits.
He also reiterated that the Government of Maldives would remain sensitive towards India’s security and strategic concerns. The words indicate a stark contrast with the frosty relationship between the two countries last year, under previous President Abdullah Yameen’s tenure. New Delhi, in turn, expressed its full support to the Maldives in line with its “Neighbourhood First” policy.
While India has agreed to consider a request to build a cricket stadium, it has accepted an offer of reclaimed land for the new Indian Embassy in the suburban island of Hulhumale, which has been developed by Chinese companies.

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Simla Accord of 1972

Tue, 19 Mar, 2019

In an announcement that goes against India’s steady official narrative, the envoy of the United Arab Emirates declared that his country has played a major role in de-escalating tension between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama terror attack and Balakot strike.
The envoy’s declaration regarding the Crown Prince’s conversations with PM Modi is at variance with India’s statements on the issue. An official statement issued on March 11 had no mention of the UAE’s role to help with the de-escalation process.
This is also a first major public admission of a negotiating role by a third country in India-Pakistan crisis. India had traditionally denied the space for third party role in the conflict with Pakistan. This consistent position is rooted in the Simla Accord of 1972.
The envoy pointed out that the role of UAE was not in the nature of mediation but more in the nature of reducing an emergent crisis that grew out of “escalation of tension” following the Pulwama terror attack and India’s Balakot strike.

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Scorpene class submarine

Mon, 18 Mar, 2019

The Navy is set to induct the second Scorpene submarine Khanderi by early May. The remaining submarines in the series are in advanced stages of manufacturing and trials. Khanderi has completed all trials and is in the final stages of acceptance. It is expected to be commissioned into the Navy by end April or early May.
Another source stated that the fourth submarine Vela is ready to be launched into water for trials around the same time depending on the ocean tide.
Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai, is manufacturing six Scorpene submarines under technology transfer from Naval Group of France under a 2005 contract worth $3.75 bn. After a series of delays in the project, the first submarine of the class Kalvari joined service in December 2017. The entire project is expected to be completed by 2020.
The third in the Scorpene series Karanj which was launched in January last year is in advanced stage of trials and could be ready for induction by year end.
The last two submarines Vagir and Vagsheer are in advanced stages of manufacturing on the assembly line. The fifth submarine is in the final stages of being booted together. The ‘Boot Together’ is where the five separate sections are welded together to form the submarine.
Kalvari is the first modern conventional submarine inducted by the Navy in almost two decades. In addition, the Navy currently operates four German HDW class submarines and nine Russian Kilo class submarines.
The Navy had last inducted a conventional diesel-electric submarine, INS Sindhushastra , procured from Russia in July 2000.

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Theatre Level Operational Readiness Exercise (TROPEX 19)

Mon, 18 Mar, 2019

The deployment came amid the largest war game of the Navy, Theatre Level Operational Readiness Exercise (TROPEX 19), which began on January 7 and which was planned to be concluded by March 10. However, the terror attack in Pulwama on February 14 “led to the rapid redeployment of the Navy for operations in the North Arabian Sea.
The announcement is in contrast to the assertions of senior government officials that India did not undertake any escalatory mobilisation after the Balakot strikes. They had consistently referred to the strikes as “non-military pre-emptive counter-terror strikes” and had accused Pakistan’s government of whipping up “war hysteria” in order to mislead the international community.
At the briefings held on February 28 and March 4 and 16, the officials stressed that the Indian military had carried out no military operation post February 27, and denied reports from Pakistan that an Indian submarine had been deployed in the Arabian Sea near Pakistan.
The Navy said the availability of a large number of combat-ready assets in the theatre of operations for TROPEX allowed it to “expeditiously respond to the developing situation in synergy with the three services.” “The overwhelming superiority of the Indian Navy in all three dimensions forced the Pakistan Navy to remain deployed close to the Makran coast and not venture out in the open ocean.
About 60 ships of the Navy, 12 ships of the Coast Guard and 60 aircraft had taken part in the exercise. It began with a tri-service amphibious exercise in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This was followed by the largest coastal defence exercise, ‘Sea Vigil,’ on January 22 and 23, with the participation of all 13 coastal States and UTs along with all maritime stakeholders.

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The sea trials of India’s first and most prestigious missile

Mon, 18 Mar, 2019

The sea trials of India’s first and most prestigious missile tracking ocean surveillance ship built at the Ministry of Defence-owned Hindustan Shipyard Limited have received an encouraging response.
Sources told The Hindu that after successful harbour trials, HSL is now conducting a series of sea trials to prove the ship’s resilience for any type of situation. It will be handed over to the Ministry of Defence shortly, the sources said, declining to specify a timeline.
The ship, being built under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Security Adviser, is being referred to as yard number VC 11184.
The ship, a highly confidential project, was taken out of the covered dock for harbour trials during the weekend. The hull for the ship, which will provide a shot in the arm to the strategic weapons programme including Indian Ballistic Missile Development Programme, was laid on June 30, 2014. The ship was built at an estimated cost of over $231 million.
It has a displacement capacity of over 10,000 tonnes with carrying capacity for a complement of 300 crew members and a helicopter. It has a primary X-band and two secondary S-band scanned array and missile tracking antennas.
HSL, set up in 1941, has achieved a turnaround. The yard is all set to record a net profit for four year in a row.
It is now in the process of finding out a consultant for construction of five Fleet Support Ships at a cost of Rs. 9,500 crore. Meanwhile, it has also started the process of designing two Diving Support Vessels for submarine support. The project will cost Rs. 2,050 crore.
Visakhapatnam is the headquarters of the submarine arm of the Navy, Marine Commandos. A Naval Alternate Operational Base is under development at Rambilli near here to dock Arihant-class nuclear-powered submarines being built at the Ship Building Centre, also located in the city.

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Pinaki Chandra Ghose set to be India’s first Lokpal

Mon, 18 Mar, 2019

Former Supreme Court judge and current member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Pinaki Chandra Ghose, is likely to be India’s first anti-corruption ombudsman, or Lokpal, after his name was cleared and recommended by the high-level selection committee chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The government was prompted to make the selection after the Supreme Court set the February-end deadline.
The Lokpal Act, which was passed in 2013 after a nationwide anti-corruption movement, provides for setting up of Lokpal at the centre and Lokayuktas in the States to probe corruption complaints against top functionaries and public servants, including the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers.
Mr. Ghose was appointed as judge of the Calcutta High Court in 1997 and went on to become Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh before his elevation to the Supreme Court in 2013. The government was prompted to make the selection after the Supreme Court set the February-end deadline.
The Lokpal Act, which was passed in 2013 after a nationwide anti-corruption movement, provides for setting up of Lokpal at the centre and Lokayuktas in the States to probe corruption complaints against top functionaries and public servants, including the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers. Mr. Ghose was appointed as judge of the Calcutta High Court in 1997 and went on to become Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh before his elevation to the Supreme Court in 2013.

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Critically endangered vaquita porpoise

Sun, 17 Mar, 2019

A vaquita marina, a critically endangered porpoise of which about 20 are believed to remain, was found dead in a fish net off the coast of Mexico. Two patrol ships from the environmental group Sea Shepherd found the vaquita’s badly decayed carcass Tuesday, trapped in a gill net in a protected marine reserve in the Gulf of California, in northwestern Mexico.
Environmentalists say the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, has been nearly wiped out by such nets, which are used to fish for another species, the also-endangered totoaba fish, which is about the same size. The totoaba’s swim bladder sell for up to $20,000 on the black market.

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“solar dynamo”

Sun, 17 Mar, 2019

A naturally occurring generator which produces electric and magnetic fields in the sun — is linked to the production of sunspots. What kick-starts the 11-year sunspot cycle is not known. Now, a group of solar physicists suggests that a “solar tsunami” is at work that triggers the new sunspot cycle, after the old one ends.
The extreme temperature and pressure conditions that prevail some 20,000 km below the sun’s surface cause its material to form a plasma consisting primarily of hydrogen and helium in a highly ionised state. The plasma is confined with huge magnetic fields inside the sun.
The [sun’s] toroidal magnetic field, from which sunspots get generated, wraps around the sun in the east-west direction.”

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A Central Pollution Control Board

Sun, 17 Mar, 2019

An ambitious resolution piloted by India to phase out single-use plastics by 2025, was watered down at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) that concluded on Friday in Nairobi.
At the World Environment Day summit on June 5, 2018 here, Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had pledged to eliminate single-use plastics from India by 2022.
This pushed several States — notably Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh — to enforce previous commitments to ban plastic bags and similar disposables.
Ahead of the UNEA, the UN secretariat had invited inputs from member states to forge a common declaration regarding addressing a host of environmental challenges. India’s inputs on the February 16 read:
“We will decisively address the damage to our ecosystems caused by the unsustainable use and disposal of single-use plastic products, including by phasing-out most problematic single-use plastic products as early as 2025, and we encourage the private sector to find affordable and eco-friendly alternatives…”
The UNEA, however, lauded India for playing a key role in advocating a time-bound ban on single use plastic. Along with plastic, India also piloted a resolution on curbing nitrogen pollution.
“The global nitrogen-use efficiency is low, resulting in pollution by reactive nitrogen which threatens human health, ecosystem services, contributes to climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion.
Only a small proportion of the plastics produced globally are recycled, with most of it damaging the environment and aquatic bio-diversity. Both these are global challenges and the resolutions piloted by India at the UNEA are vital first steps towards addressing these issues and attracting focus of the global community.
A Central Pollution Control Board estimate in 2015 says that Indian cities generate 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily and about 70% of the plastic produced in the country ends up as waste. Seventeen States have plastic bans, on paper. Experts have rued the inadequacy of collection and recycling systems to address the burgeoning plastic waste problem.

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Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)

Sat, 16 Mar, 2019

It was formed in 1969, headquartered in the city of Bengaluru.
 ISRO superseded the erstwhile Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) established in 1962.
 It is managed by the Department of Space, which reports to the Prime Minister of India.
 It built India’s fi rst satellite, Aryabhata, which was launched by the Soviet Union on 19 April 1975.
 In 1980, Rohini became the fi rst satellite to be placed in orbit by an Indian-made launch vehicle, SLV-3.
 ISRO sent a lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, on 22 October 2008 and a Mars orbiter, Mars Orbiter Mission, on 5 November 2013, , making India the fi rst nation to succeed on its fi rst attempt to Mars, and ISRO is the fourth space agency in the world as well as the fi rst space agency in Asia to reach Mars orbit
 In January 2014, ISRO used an indigenous cryogenic engine in a GSLV-D5 launch of the GSAT-14.
 On 18 June 2016, ISRO set a record with a launch of twenty satellites in a single payload, one being a satellite from Google.
On 15 February 2017, ISRO launched one hundred and four satellites in a single rocket (PSLVC37) and created a world record.
 ISRO launched its heaviest rocket, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV-Mk III), on 5 June 2017 and placed a communications satellite GSAT-19 in orbit. With this launch, ISRO became capable of launching 4-ton heavy satellites into GTO.

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Exports rise 2.44%; trade deficit narrows

Sat, 16 Mar, 2019

A marginal 2.44% increase in exports as well as lower imports of gold and petroleum products in February, significantly narrowed the country’s trade deficit to $9.6 billion. India’s merchandise exports rose to $26.67 billion in February from $26.03 in the year-ago month mainly on account of higher shipments in sectors such as pharmaceutical, engineering and electronics.
Imports declined by 5.4% to $36.26 billion in the last month, narrowing the trade deficit to $9.6 billion. The gap between imports and exports was $12.3 billion in February 2018, and $14.73 billion in January 2019.
As per the data, the drop in imports was mainly on account of sharp decline in inward shipments of gold and petroleum products.
While the import of gold fell by about 11% to $2.58 billion in February, as against $2.89 billion in the corresponding month last fiscal, inward shipments of petroleum products were down by nearly 8% to $9.37 billion.
During the April-February period of the current fiscal year, exports grew 8.85% to $298.47 billion, while imports rose by 9.75% to $464 billion. The trade deficit has widened to $165.52 billion during the 11 months of the current fiscal from $148.55 billion compared to the year-ago period Non-petroleum and non-gems and jewellery exports in February 2019 stood at $19.87 billion, as compared to $18.90 billion in the year-ago month. Non-petroleum and non-gems and jewellery exports in April-February 2018-19 were $217.43 billion, as against $201.95 billion in the comparative period last fiscal.

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Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project

Sat, 16 Mar, 2019

A deep water port built in Myanmar’s Sittwe by India is ready to be commissioned. Thus, open Kolkata-Mizoram trade route via Myanmar. The Sittwe port is starting point for the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project in Myanmar. Once shipments arrive at Sittwe port from Kolkata they will be transferred to smaller freight carriers which would sail upstream into Mizoram 
Significance 
1.Provides alternative route to India to ship goods to the landlocked north-eastern States. 
2.Significantly lower the cost and distance of movement from Kolkata to Mizoram and beyond
3.Reduces dependency on only route narrow strip dubbed as the Chicken’s Neck in West Bengal, sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh 
4.India has piped post Chinese endeavour to create a deep-sea berthing infrastructure and SEZ at Kyaukphyu in Rakhine 











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Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC)

Fri, 15 Mar, 2019

The Sub-Committee of the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC), headed by Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das, discussed ways to address challenges pertaining to the quality of credit ratings in the wake of the IL&FS defaults crisis.
Credit rating firms, currently regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), had come under sharp criticism from the RBI recently for failing to identify financial troubles in various companies, especially in the case of IL&FS, which commanded AAA rating just before it started defaulting.
The FSDC panel also discussed interlinkages between housing finance companies and housing developers.
Mortgage sector regulator National Housing Bank (NHB) had recently proposed to increase the capital adequacy ratio (CAR) of housing finance companies (HFCs) to 15 per cent in a phased manner in order to protect them from “untoward events which arise as a result of liquidity risk as well as the credit risk that the HFCs are exposed to in the normal course of their business”.
NHB also proposed to bring down public borrowings to 12 times by March 2022 in a gradual manner from the existing 16 times of the net owned fund.
The FSDC sub-committee also deliberated on interlinking of various regulatory databases and National Strategy for Financial Inclusion (NSFI).
Further, the panel reviewed the functioning of State Level Coordination Committees (SLCCs) in various States and Union Territories (UTs), activities of its various technical groups, and a thematic study on financial inclusion and financial stability. The panel also reviewed the major developments on the global and domestic fronts that impinge on the financial stability of the country.

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Electoral bonds

Fri, 15 Mar, 2019

Electoral bonds have been introduced to promote transparency in funding and donation received by political parties. They [bonds] can be encashed by an eligible political party only through their accounts with authorised banks.
The bonds do not have the name of the donor or the receiving political party and only carry unique hidden alphanumeric serial numbers as an in-built security feature. The government described the scheme, introduced on January 2 last year, as an “electoral reform” in a country moving towards a “cashless-digital economy.”
The government was responding to a petition filed by the CPI(M) and party secretary general Sitaram Yechury to strike down the ‘Electoral Bond Scheme 2018’ and amendments in the Finance Act, 2017, which allow for “unlimited donations from individuals and foreign companies to political parties without any record of the sources of funding.”
Denying the charge, the government said “the scheme envisages building a transparent system of acquiring bonds with validated KYC and an audit trail.” It said a limited window and a very short maturity period would make misuse improbable.
The electoral bonds will prompt donors to take the banking route to donate, with their identity captured by the issuing authority. This will ensure transparency and accountability and is a big step towards electoral reform.
The electoral bond, a bearer instrument, can be bought for any value and has a life of only 15 days. Bonds will be available for purchase only for 10 days in designated months.

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Bannerghatta National Park’s Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ)

Fri, 15 Mar, 2019

Bannerghatta National Park’s Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ), which provides a regulated buffer zone around protected areas, will remain at 168.84 sq.km. despite thousands of citizens formally objecting to the reduction of nearly 100 sq. km. as compared to the original proposal.
In the 33rd ESZ Expert Committee meeting of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) held on February 28, members recommended finalisation after ‘detailed deliberations’ of the November 5 draft notification which declared an ESZ area of 168.84 sq.km. around BNP.
The new ESZ will range from 100 metres (towards Bengaluru) to 1 kilometre (in Ramanagaram district) from the periphery of the protected area. The ESZ Committee estimates that between 150 and 200 elephants were observed at BNP.
During the meeting, members of the expert committee discussed extending the area of the proposed ESZ towards Bengaluru city. “However, representative of the State cited that it will be difficult to further expand ESZ due to thick habitation in the adjoining areas.
There is a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting quarrying and mining activities within 1km of a protected areas irrespective of the ESZ distance. Since this safe zone is applicable, the objections couldn’t hold.
MoEF accepted the State government’s position, which is derived from a cabinet sub-committee formed to look into delineation of ESZs in 31 protected areas of the State. In 2015, the State government approved the sub-committee report that reduced ESZ in multiple areas as it ‘may hinder developmental activity’ and was ‘opposed by locals’.

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EVM & VVPAT

Fri, 15 Mar, 2019

In a major show of pre-poll strength, 23 Opposition parties moved the Supreme Court, demanding the random verification of at least 50% Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) using Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in every Assembly segment or constituency.
They further sought to quash an Election Commission guideline that Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) should be conducted “only for VVPAT paper slips of one randomly selected polling station of an
Assembly constituency in case of election to State Legislative Assembly and each Assembly segment in case of election to the House of the People.”
The petition, led by presidents and leaders of 23 different national and regional political parties — six out of the seven national parties, and 17 regional parties — said they electorally represent about 70%-75% of the people of India.
The petition said free and fair elections was part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. It quoted the apex court’s judgment in the Dr. Subramanian Swamy case in 2013, which held that the paper trail for EVMs was an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections, thereby making VVPAT inherent in and intrinsic to the very basic structure.

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RBI to inject liquidity via forex swaps

Thu, 14 Mar, 2019

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to inject rupee liquidity into the system through long-term foreign exchange buy/sell swap — a first-of-its-kind instrument used for liquidity management.
The RBI would conduct dollar-rupee buy/sell swap auction of $5 billion for a three-year tenor on March 26. “In order to meet the durable liquidity needs of the system, the Reserve Bank has decided to augment its liquidity management toolkit and inject rupee liquidity for longer duration through long-term foreign exchange buy/sell swap.
The U.S. dollar amount mobilised through this auction would also reflect in RBI’s foreign exchange reserves for the tenor of the swap while also reflecting in RBI’s forward liabilities.
According to bankers, the move is seen to lower the dependence on open market operations which have been a significant amount of the overall borrowing. “Higher OMOs can distort the rates curve,” said a banker. The move would boost RBI’s foreign exchange reserves which were at $401.7 billion for the week ended March 1.
Market participants would be required to place their bids in terms of the premium that they were willing to pay to the RBI for the tenor of the swap. RBI said the auction cut-off would be based on the premium and the auction would be a multiple-price based auction.

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Transports Internationaux Routiers’

Thu, 14 Mar, 2019

India on Monday became the 71st country to ratify the United Nations TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) Convention, a move that will help boost trade through smoother movement of goods across territories.
The ratification is a part of India’s multi-modal transport strategy that aims to integrate the economy with global and regional production networks through better connectivity.
“India’s decision to implement the TIR system will have far reaching benefits for trade and will save significant time and money by streamlining procedures at borders, reducing administration and cutting border waiting times,” Boris Blanche, Chief Operations Officer at International Road Transport Union said.
The TIR Convention will also facilitate India’s current national and multilateral connectivity-related initiatives to improve cross border road transport, facilitating overland trade integration with both eastern and western neighbours. It will also help India in implementing the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, which entered into force this year.
The Union Cabinet had approved India's accession to the Customs Convention on International Transport of Goods under cover of TIR Carnets (TIR Convention) in March this year.
“The Convention will help Indian traders to have access to fast, easy, reliable and hassle free international system for movement of goods by road or multi- modal means across the territories of other contracting parties,” an official statement had said in March. By joining the convention, the need for inspection of goods at intermediate borders as well as physical escorts en route shall be obviated due to reciprocal recognition of Customs controls, it had added.EOM

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Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) - United Nations Environment Programme.

Thu, 14 Mar, 2019

India could save at least $3 trillion (Rs. 210 trillion approx.) in healthcare costs if it implemented policy initiatives consistent with ensuring that the globe didn’t heat up beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century, says the sixth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO), prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme.
Damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken….Unless environmental protections were drastically scaled up, cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century.
India’s stated commitment is to lower emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% compared to 2005 levels by 2030; increase total cumulative electricity generation from fossil free energy sources to 40% by 2030, and create additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons through additional forest and tree cover.
India is on track to achieve two of these goals — of emissions intensity and electricity generation. However these actions are only enough — and provided other countries too live up to their commitments — to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees.
For India to leapfrog onto a 1.5-degree pathway it would have to “abandon plans to build new coal-fired power plants,” said Climate Tracker’s most updated analysis as of Dec 2018.

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West Nile fever

Thu, 14 Mar, 2019

West Nile virus (WNV) is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States.  It is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. Cases of WNV occur during mosquito season, which starts in the summer and continues through fall. There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat WNV in people. Fortunately, most people infected with WNV do not feel sick. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. About 1 out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness. You can reduce your risk of WNV by using insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to prevent mosquito bites.
No symptoms in most people. Most people  (8 out of 10) infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms.
Febrile illness (fever) in some people. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.
Serious symptoms in a few people. About 1 in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).

  • Symptoms of severe illness include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.
  • Severe illness can occur in people of any age; however, people over 60 years of age are at greater risk. People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and people who have received organ transplants, are also at greater risk.
  • Recovery from severe illness might take several weeks or months. Some effects to the central nervous system might be permanent.
  • About 1 out of 10  people who develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system die.
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National Mission for Clean Ganga

Thu, 14 Mar, 2019

National Mission for Clean Ganga(NMCG) was registered as a society on 12th August 2011 under the Societies Registration Act 1860.It acted as implementation arm of National Ganga River Basin Authority(NGRBA) which was constituted under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA),1986. NGRBA has since been dissolved with effect from the 7th October 2016, consequent to constitution of National Council for Rejuvenation, Protection and Management of River Ganga (referred as National Ganga Council)
The Act envisages five tier structure at national, state and district level to take measures for prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution in river Ganga and to ensure continuous adequate flow of water so as to rejuvenate the river Ganga as below; 

1. National Ganga Council under chairmanship of Hon’ble Prime Minister of India. 
2. Empowered Task Force (ETF) on river Ganga under chairmanship of Hon’ble Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation. 
3. National Mission for Clean Ganga(NMCG). 
4. State Ganga Committees and 
5. District Ganga Committees in every specified district abutting river Ganga and its tributaries in the states.
 

  NMCG has a two tier management structure and comprises of Governing Council and Executive Committee. Both of them are headed by Director General, NMCG. Executive Committee has been authorized to accord approval for all projects up to Rs.1000 crore. Similar to structure at national level, State Programme Management Groups (SPMGs) acts as implementing arm of State Ganga Committees. Thus the newly created structure attempts to bring all stakeholders on one platform to take a holistic approach towards the task of Ganga cleaning and rejuvenation. 

     The Director General(DG) of NMCG is a Additional Secretary in Government of India. For effective implementation of the projects under the overall supervision of NMCG, the State Level Program Management Groups (SPMGs) are, also headed by senior officers of the concerned States.

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India’s biodiversity-rich zones also ‘hotspots’ of human impacts

Wed, 13 Mar, 2019

Human impacts on species occur across 84% of the earth’s surface. Southeast Asian tropical forests — including India’s biodiversity-rich Western Ghats, Himalaya and the north-east — also fall in this category; India ranks 16th in such human impacts, with 35 species impacted on average.
A team of scientists led by James Allan (University of Queensland) found this when they mapped the distribution of eight human activities — including hunting and conversion of natural habitats for agriculture — in areas occupied by 5,457 threatened birds, mammals and amphibians worldwide.
Using sources, including the recently-updated Human Footprint data, they found that a staggering 1,237 species are impacted by threats in more than 90% of their habitat; 395 species are affected by threats across their entire range. While the impact of roads is highest (affecting 72% of terrestrial areas), crop lands affect the highest number of threatened species: 3,834.
Malaysia ranks first among the countries with the highest number of impacted species (125). India ranks 16th (35 threatened species affected on average). Southeast Asian tropical forests — including those in India’s Western Ghats, Himalaya and north-east — are among the ‘hotspots’ of threatened species.
For instance, the average number of species impacted in the South Western Ghats montane rainforests is 60 and in the Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, 53. The maps show that roads and croplands are extensive in India and conversion of habitat for such activities could be a main threat.
However, these very areas are also ‘cool-spots’ (the world’s last refuges where high numbers of threatened species still persist). Cool-spots could be the result of protection or because of intact habitat that has not been cleared yet, said Dr. Allan, adding that India still has crucial refuges that need protecting.
Identifying such areas could aid conservation and development planning for countries. However, these refugia do not necessarily have to be off-limits to human development, just free of the actions that directly threaten species there, add the scientists.
Similarly, if wildlife-friendly cropping patterns lead to conservation of wildlife, that would be a victory too, he said. For instance, agricultural crops such as pulses have supported the conservation of the critically endangered great Indian bustard.

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IIP growth slows to 1.7%, retail inflation rises to 2.57%

Wed, 13 Mar, 2019

Industrial activity slowed in January 2019 growing by just 1.7% due in large part to a deceleration in the manufacturing, electricity, and capital goods sectors. In a separate release, government data showed that retail inflation in February snapped a four-month declining trend by rising to 2.57%.
The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) saw growth slip below the 2% for the second time in three months in January, with the previous occurrence being the 0.32% growth seen in November 2018. Growth in the IIP was at 2.6 in December.
Within the IIP, the mining and quarrying sector was one of the only major sectors that saw growth accelerating, from a contraction of 0.39% in December to a growth of 3.9% in January.
The slowdown in the IIP only confirms the national income data which also indicated a continuing slowdown. “The sectors where the slowdown is happening are manufacturing and industry. Apart from services, all the sectors seem to be slowing.”
The manufacturing sector saw growth slowing to 1.3% in January from 2.65% in December. The electricity sector saw growth slowing to 0.8% from 4.45% over the same period. The capital goods sector contracted 3.2% in January, down from a growth of 5.9% in the previous month.
The construction sector witnessed the strongest growth of all the major sectors, of 7.9%, but this was still significantly slower than the 10% seen in December.
The consumer sector also saw growth slowing, with growth in the consumer durables sector slowing to 1.8% and in the consumer non-durables sector to 3.8% in January, from 2.93% and 5.35%, respectively, in the previous month.
“By March, government spending usually expands, but this time the signs of that are not very prominent because they are trying to cut down on capital expenditure to meet the revised fiscal deficit target.
Retail inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI),quickened for the first time in five months in February to 2.57% from 1.97% in January, mainly due to firming food prices, official data showed.
Inflation in food and beverages sector stood at -0.07% in February compared with -1.29% in January. “The upward movement was driven primarily by a sequential rise seen in various food groups, except in vegetables.
Core inflation moved down slightly as expected, reflecting easing of input costs, pricing powers and growing slack in the economy. The earlier spikes seen in rural health and education seem to have stabilised.
With inflation remaining below RBI’s target, inflationary expectations declining and growth profile weakening, RBI may front-load its monetary easing in the beginning of FY20.

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The firecracker industry

Wed, 13 Mar, 2019

The Supreme Court cannot kill the jobs of thousands of poor people working in the firecracker industry, driving them to starvation. If the court cannot generate jobs, its orders should not extinguish their livelihood, Justice Bobde observed. The court asked how it can possibly feel empowered to put the shutters down on an occupation which is both legal and licensed. This is a veritable u-turn from the apex court's October 23 ban on the manufacture, sale and use of loud and toxic firecrackers while allowing only green and improved crackers. However, there has been no consensus so far on what composes green crackers despite all these months after the October order of the apex court. The factories have remained shut, especially in Sivakasi district in Tamil Nadu, which is the hub for cracker manufacturing. The October ban was based on petitions filed by a six-month-old and a 14-month-old, through their fathers in 2015. They had said the air pollution caused by various factors, especially firecrackers, has made Delhi a gas chamber. They pleaded for their right to lif

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National Register of Citizens (NRC)

Wed, 13 Mar, 2019

The Citizenship Act, 1955 provides for  compulsorily registration of every citizen of India and issuance of National Identity Card to him. The Citizenship Rules, 2003 framed under the Citizenship Act, 1955 prescribe the manner of preparation of the National Register of Citizens.  There is a special provision under the Rules to prepare National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam which is application based and distinct from the rest of India where the process is enumeration based. The applications for preparation of NRC in Assam were invited in May-August, 2015 and after necessary scrutiny & verification, the draft NRC has been published on 30thJuly, 2018. After the publication of draft NRC, the process of filing claims & objections on the draft NRC has started on 25.09.2018 and will remain open upto 31.12.2018 whereafter the verification process will  commence from  15.02.2019 in accordance with the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.  Any person, who does not find his/her name in the draft NRC may file the claims. Similarly, any person can file objections in respect of inclusion of any name in the draft NRC list. Total number of persons included in the draft NRC is 2,89,83,677 out of 3.30 crore.  Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is monitoring the NRC process in the State of Assam.

 

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WHO strategy to fight flu pandemics

Tue, 12 Mar, 2019

The World Health Organization on Monday launched a strategy to protect people worldwide over the next decade against the threat of influenza, warning that new pandemics are “inevitable”.
Influenza epidemics, largely seasonal, affect around one billion people and kill hundreds of thousands annually, according to WHO, which describes it as one of the world’s greatest public health challenges.
WHO’s new strategy, for 2019 through 2030, aims to prevent seasonal influenza, control the virus’s spread from animals to humans and prepare for the next pandemic.
The new strategy called for every country to strengthen routine health programmes and to develop tailor-made influenza programmes that strengthen disease surveillance, response, prevention, control, and preparedness.
WHO recommends annual flu vaccines as the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease, especially for healthcare workers and people at higher risk of influenza complications. It also called for the development of more effective and more accessible vaccines and antiviral treatments.
Due to its mutating strains, vaccine formulas must be regularly updated and only offer limited protection currently.

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One Planet Summit

Tue, 12 Mar, 2019

Countries from around the world set their sights Monday on a pivotal deal to curb plastic waste, a source of long-term pollution and worsening contamination of the ocean’s food chain.
The UN wants individual countries to sign up to “significantly” reduce plastic production, including a phasing out of single-use plastics by 2030 — a goal inspired by the 2015 Paris Agreement on voluntary reductions of carbon emissions.
In the field of (plastic) pollution we don’t have such agreements. This is the first time (we have) to convince member states to make international commitments. A landmark report due to be out this week is expected to ram home the warning of the threat to ecosystems from rampant plastic and chemical waste.
The world currently produces more than 300 million tonnes of plastics annually, and there are at least five trillion plastic pieces floating in our oceans. Microplastics have been found in the deepest sea trenches and high up the earth’s tallest peaks, and plastic consumption is growing year-on-year.
The Nairobi meeting comes against the backdrop of series of UN reports outlining in stark terms the damage mankind is doing to the planet, much of it due to reckless consumption. These things are all linked: climate, the environment, waste.
One briefing said the cost of ecosystems loss through agriculture, deforestation and pollution was a much as $20 trillion since 1995.
The One Planet Summit on Thursday will bring together heads of State, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta to lend political clout to the process.

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India is world’s 2nd largest arms importer

Tue, 12 Mar, 2019

India was the world’s second largest arms importer from 2014-18, ceding the long-held tag as largest importer to Saudi Arabia, which accounted for 12% of the total imports during the period. India was the world’s second largest importer of major arms in 2014–18 and accounted for 9.5% of the global total.
However, Indian imports decreased by 24% between 2009-13 and 2014-18, partly due to delays in deliveries of arms produced under licence from foreign suppliers, such as combat aircraft ordered from Russia in 2001 and submarines ordered from France in 2008.
Russia accounted for 58% of Indian arms imports in 2014–18, compared with 76% in 2009-13. Israel, the U.S. and France all increased their arms exports to India in 2014-18. However, the Russian share in Indian imports is likely to sharply go up for the next five-year period as India signed several big-ticket deals recently, and more are in the pipeline. These include S-400 air defence systems, four stealth frigates, AK-203 assault rifles, a second nuclear attack submarine on lease, and deals for Kamov-226T utility helicopters, Mi-17 helicopters and short-range air defence systems.
The report noted that despite the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan, arms imports decreased for both countries in 2014-18 compared with 2009-13.

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Scientists rediscover wood snake last seen in 1878

Tue, 12 Mar, 2019

A species of wood snake that wasn’t seen for 140 years has resurfaced in a survey conducted by scientists in the Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary. The species, endemic to the Meghamalai forests and the Periyar Tiger Reserve landscape.
The local population of wood snakes was last spotted and recorded by British military officer and naturalist Colonel Richard Henry Beddome in 1878, who went on to describe it as a new species, Xylophis indicus.
In their research paper, the scientists also mention their rediscovery of Xylophis indicus needs to be validated by both morphological and genetic data. While the morphological aspect has been done, the genetic data is pending.
Meghamalai has a range of snakes, butterflies and ants, apart from the large mammals that we know of. Establishing a tiger reserve here will ensure that there is proper protection of this landscape. It will also help in the restoration of the Vaigai river.”

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SC may send plea challenging quota Bill to Constitution Bench

Tue, 12 Mar, 2019

The Supreme Court decided to consider the question of whether the challenge to the 10% economic reservation law should be heard by a Constitution Bench.
The court, however, refused to pass any interim order to stay or hamper the implementation of the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act that provides for 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions to the economically backward in the unreserved category.
The issue arose when senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan pointed out that the 50% quota limit was part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution, and the new amendment tinkered with it.
The Act amends Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution, adding clauses empowering the government to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness.
The petitions, mainly one filed by activist Tehseen Poonawala, said the Act violated the basic features of the Constitution. The petitioners argued that the 50% ceiling was “engrafted as a part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution’s equality code” by the court.
One of the petitions, filed by Youth For Equality, represented by advocate Senthil Jagadeesan and settled by advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, contended that the court, in a nine-judge Bench
judgment in the Indra Sawhney case, had settled the law that economic backwardness could not be the sole basis for reservation. The petition argued that the Act was “vulnerable” and negated a binding judgment of the Supreme Court.
The petitioners contended that the amendments excluded the OBCs and the SCs/STs from the scope of the reservation.
This, it said, “essentially implies that only those who are poor from the general categories would avail themselves of the benefits of the quotas.” It said the high creamy layer limit of Rs. 8 lakh a year meant the elite would capture the benefits.
Further, the petitioners contended that the court had already settled the law that the “state’s reservation policy cannot be imposed on unaided educational institutions, and as they are not receiving any aid from the State, they can have their own admission if they are fair, transparent, non-exploitative and based on merit.”
“While the impugned amendment attempts to overcome the applicability of Articles 19(1)(g) and 29(2), it remains silent on Article 14, which protects the citizens from manifestly arbitrary State action,” the petition said.
The petition also contended that the term ‘economically weaker sections’ remained undefined in the Act, along with the “ambiguous” term of ‘State’. The question of reference came up even as the Centre sought more time to file its counter.

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India asks Saudi to invest in strategic oil storage

Mon, 11 Mar, 2019

India invited Saudi Arabia to invest in its strategic oil storage even as it looks to resurrect a $44 billion (Rs. 3.08 lakh crore) refinery project with the world’s largest oil producer after the Maharashtra government denied land at the initial site.
Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al Falih, on his second visit to India in three weeks, discussed with his Indian counterpart Dharmendra Pradhan the 60-million-tonne (MT)-a-year mega oil refinery-cum-petrochemical complex.
The [two] Ministers reviewed various Saudi investment proposals in the Indian oil and gas sector, including the urgent steps to be taken to expedite the implementation of the first joint venture West Coast Refinery and Petrochemical Project in Maharashtra, estimated to cost $44 billion, which will be the largest greenfield refinery in the world.
India has built 5.33 MT of emergency storage, enough to meet its oil needs for 9.5 days, in underground rock caverns in Mangalore and Padur in Karnataka and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

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Cloud Seeding Project (Project Varshadhare)

Mon, 11 Mar, 2019

As 176 taluks reel under drought, the State government is hoping to influence the upcoming monsoon and capture as much water as possible from the rain clouds.
On March 8, the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department pushed a tender call for cloud seeding operations to enhance rainfall during the monsoons of 2019 and 2020. The project is expected to cost Rs. 50 crore each year.
Cloud seeding uses planes to spray clouds with chemicals to condense smaller particles into larger rain drople.
However, the department managed to get the required approvals and sanction for work before the enforcement of model code of conduct. It takes about two and a half months for the work order, after which another 45 days may be needed for various approvals.
The department is aiming to replicate the Rs. 35-crore ‘Varshadhare’ project two years ago that was called a success by an independent evaluation committee. Its report, submitted to the State government in 2018, estimated that rainfall was enhanced by 27.9% and there was an extra inflow of 2.5 tmcft into Linganamakki reservoir.
Moreover, two key recommendations of the evaluation committee — that the State government should purchase three Doppler radars worth Rs. 10 crore each and that it should establish a division for cloud seeding — have seen no progress.

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Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary

Sun, 10 Mar, 2019

The ‘arribada’ is about to begin: this is when thousands of olive ridley turtles will emerge from the sea, clamber up the beach, dig nesting holes in the sand, lay eggs en masse, and then vanish into the waters as suddenly as they appeared. Some 45-60 days later, the hatchlings will emerge and make their way uncannily towards the sea, hazarding predators and poachers.
Security is tight. We are cautioned not to use any kind of light, even the light on our mobile phone screens could be a disturbance The 5-km-long fence is to protect the ridleys and eggs from predators like dogs and jackals.
But the real arribada is taking place at Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in northern Odisha, where more that 4 lakh turtles have arrived since February 27. This is the world’s biggest nesting beach for ridleys. Much has been done to protect these Schedule 1 animals during nesting season, but they are still up against several odds.
Some 50 years ago, ridleys nested en masse on the Odisha coast in winter, between November and December. This has gradually shifted to February and March and no one is quite sure why. There have been speculations about climate change impacting their breeding and nesting, but no studies have been done yet to confirm this theory.
One nesting site, at the Devi river mouth, has been all but abandoned by the ridleys because mechanised fishing poses a huge threat to them.
Unplanned coastal development along the coastline has taken a toll on the turtles, with sea erosion also reducing the nesting beach stretch at Gahirmatha from 3.2 km in 1993-94 to less than a kilometre today.
The government needs to regularly assess nesting beaches. A proper illumination policy is needed to keep a check on light pollution, and we need trawlers fitted with turtle excluder devices.
A deep-water sea port and a township near Dhamra, and a missile testing centre are not far from Gahirmatha, he says. The scientist is also critical of casuarina plantations planted along the beach since nesting beaches need to be kept open.
What are the steps taken to conserve?
But some important measures have been taken. The government has been trying to keep the beach pollution-free, and mechanised fishing has been banned from November to May. There’s regular patrolling as well against predators who destroy eggs or hunt the hatchlings.
This year, the forest department is preparing to protect a 3-km stretch near the Bahuda river, south of the Rushikulya rookery, as an alternative nesting site. As for tourists, anyone taking selfies with ridleys or trying to touch them may now face legal action.
A special weather station has been set up at Gokharkuda in the Rushikulya rookery to study the impact of weather on mass nesting. And on the anvil is a sea turtle research centre.
Meanwhile, in Gahirmatha, the forest department is hoping for a second nesting by the end of next month. Vast stretches of beach were lost to erosion here. Then last year, Nasi-II Island’s nesting beach, which had becomes less than a kilometre long, grew by 500 metres due to accretion. And this year, it’s become 2,600 metres long.

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Wetland of International Importance’

Sun, 10 Mar, 2019

These Ramsar Sites acquire a new national and international status. They are recognized as being of significant value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole.  There are currently over 2,200 Ramsar Sites around the world. They cover over 2.1 million square kilometres, an area larger than Mexico. Parties continue to designate wetlands for inclusion in the List. They select suitable wetlands for designation by referring to the Criteria for identifying Wetlands of International Importance. The Convention has provided guidance to Contracting Parties on the management of Ramsar Sites, in addition to its guidance on the wise use of all wetlands. The inclusion of a wetland in the List embodies the government’s commitment to take the steps necessary to ensure that its ecological character is maintained. The Convention includes various measures to respond to threats to the ecological character of Sites

On January 30, the Indian Sundarban was accorded the status of ‘Wetland of International Importance’ under the Ramsar Convention. The Sundarbans comprises hundreds of islands and a network of rivers, tributaries and creeks in the delta of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal in India and Bangladesh.
Located on the southwestern part of the delta, the Indian Sundarban constitutes over 60% of the country’s total mangrove forest area. It is the 27th Ramsar Site in India, and with an area of 4,23,000 hectares is now the largest protected wetland in the country.
Why is this important?
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, better known as the Ramsar Convention, is an international agreement promoting the conservation and wise use of wetlands. It is the only global treaty to focus on a single ecosystem. The convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975.
Traditionally viewed as a wasteland or breeding ground of disease, wetlands actually provide freshwater and food, and serve as nature’s shock absorber. Wetlands, critical for biodiversity, are disappearing rapidly, with recent estimates showing that 64% or more of the world’s wetlands have vanished since 1900.
Major changes in land use for agriculture and grazing, water diversion for dams and canals and infrastructure development are considered to be some of the main causes of loss and degradation of wetlands.
How did it qualify?
The Indian Sundarban met four of the nine criteria required for the status of ‘Wetland of International Importance’ — presence of rare species and threatened ecological communities, biological diversity, significant and representative fish and fish spawning ground and migration path. The Indian Sundarban, also a UNESCO world heritage site, is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.
The Ramsar website points out that the Indian Sundarban is also home to a large number of “rare and globally threatened species, such as the critically endangered northern river terrapin (Batagur baska), the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the vulnerable fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).”
Two of the world’s four horseshoe crab species, and eight of India’s 12 species of kingfisher are also found here. Recent studies claim that the Indian Sundarban is home to 2,626 faunal species and 90% of the country’s mangrove varieties.
Will the status help?
Environmentalists and forest officials say the Ramsar status will help to highlight conservation issues of the Sundarbans at the international level. The part of the Sundarban delta, which lies in Bangladesh, was accorded the status of a Ramsar site in 1992, and with Indian Sundarban getting it too, international cooperation between the two countries for the protection of this unique ecosystem will increase.
This could lead to a better conservation strategy for flagship species such as the tiger and the northern river terrapin.
What are the threats?
While the Indian Sundarban is a biodiverse preserve, over four million people live on its northern and northwestern periphery, putting pressure on the ecosystem. Concerns have been raised about natural ecosystems being changed for cultivation of shrimp, crab, molluscs and fish.
The Ramsar Information Sheet lists fishing and harvesting of aquatic resources as a “high impact” actual threat to the wetland. The other threats are from dredging, oil and gas drilling, logging and wood harvesting, hunting and collecting terrestrial animals.
Salinity has been categorised as a medium and tourism as a low impact actual threat in the region. Experts believe that while the Ramsar status may bring in international recognition to the Indian Sundarban, the wetland, which along with anthropogenic pressures, is also vulnerable to climate change and requires better management and conservation practices.

 

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Why is GSP vital to India-U.S. trade ties?

Sun, 10 Mar, 2019

The Generalized System of Preferences is the largest and oldest United States trade preference programme. The U.S. intended it to promote economic development by eliminating duties on some products it imports from the 120 countries designated as beneficiaries.
It was established by the Trade Act of 1974. According to the website of the U.S. Trade Representative, the GSP helps spur sustainable development in beneficiary countries by helping them increase and diversify their trade with the U.S.
The U.S. also believes that moving GSP imports from the docks to U.S. consumers, farmers, and manufacturers supports tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S. The other benefit is that “GSP boosts American competitiveness by reducing the costs of imported inputs used by U.S. companies to manufacture goods in the United States.” The Trade Representative says the GSP is important to U.S. small businesses, many of which rely on the programmes’ duty savings to stay competitive.
Why is it important for India?
The Indian export industry may not feel the pinch of the GSP removal for India by the U.S. The loss for the industry amounts to about $190 million on exports of $5.6 billion falling under the GSP category. But specific sectors, such as gem and jewellery, leather and processed foods will lose the benefits of the programme.
A producer may be able to bear 2-3% of the loss from the change, but not more. The loss, in export of some kinds of rice for example, may even exceed 10%. The landed price of goods from India has to be the same as it was before the GSP was removed.
If not, consumers of those products in the U.S. would gravitate to producers that enjoy the GSP benefits and hence are able to offer lower prices. Obviously, it is difficult to get back a customer that a competitor takes away.
Why is India in the cross-hairs?
The U.S. conducts periodic reviews of the programme. The review for India, taken up last year, focussed on ‘whether it is meeting the eligibility criterion that requires a GSP beneficiary country to assure the U.S. that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its market.’
The Trade Representative accepted two petitions asserting that India did not meet the criterion: one from the National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and the other from the Advanced Medical Technology Association. India wants dairy products, which could form part of religious worship, certified that they were was only derived from animals that have not been fed food containing internal organs.
Other exporters such as EU nations and New Zealand certify their products, but the U.S. has so far not done so. Second, India has recently placed a cap on the prices of medical devices, like stents, that impacts U.S. exports of such devices.
What can the Indian government do?
The government must offer fiscal help to the affected sectors. But the obvious question is: what can India do if it has to be compliant with World Trade Organisation rules that protect all its members equally from undue sops given to exporters? A wry answer is that if the U.S. is not playing by WTO rules, other countries too need to be able to protect their industries.
But it is possible to offer some breather to producers suffering losses from the GSP removal, even while being WTO-compliant. The Centre could consider refund of taxes for goods not under GST. Use of electricity or petrol in the manufacture of such goods but for which an input credit is not available could qualify here. Helping such sectors would also protect jobs; especially when job creation is at a low.

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Coastal Regulation Zone

Sun, 10 Mar, 2019

  • The draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), 2018, which was released by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), has the potential to change the way coastal stretches in India are governed. India’s coastline runs over 7,500 kilometres.
  • The new draft if implemented will not only have an effect on how common areas used by fisher folk are managed, but also bifurcate coastal zones along rural areas based on population density.
  • Environmentalists claim that the draft has opened up fragile inter-tidal areas to real estate agents, and framed with an intent to favour large-scale industry at the cost of fishing communities.
  • The new draft aims to “conserve and protect the unique environment of coastal stretches and marine areas, besides livelihood security to the fisher communities and other local communities in the coastal areas and to promote sustainable development based on scientific principles taking into account the dangers of natural hazards, sea level rise due to global warming….”

Committee headed by Shailesh Nayak, former Secretary, has framed a report to reconsider the limits of the existing Coastal Zone Regulations.

New Coastal Regulation Zone Rules Proposed

  1. Eco-tourism activities such as mangrove walks, tree huts and nature trails in identified stretches, subject to permissions.
  2. There are several sub-divisions within 4 regions, for example CRZ-I is split into CRZ-I A and CRZ-I B and CRZ-III into III A and III B.
  3. CRZ shall apply to the land area between high tide line to 50 mts on the landward side of creeks, estuaries, backwaters and rivers.
  4. 50 metre limit after approval of State.

 The salient features of the draft CRZ Notification, 2018 and changes with respect to CRZ Notification, 2011, are as under:-

 (i) The High Tide Line (HTL) has been demarcated by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) and shall be reckoned as a universal standard for the HTL for all regulatory purposes.

(ii) Hazard line mapping has also been carried out by Survey of India. The Hazard Line has, however, been delinked from the CRZ regulatory regime and shall be used only as a tool for Disaster Management and planning of adaptive and mitigation measures.

(iii) CRZ limits on land along the tidal influenced water bodies has been proposed to be reduced from 100 meters or the width of the creek, whichever is less, to 50 meters or the width of the creek, whichever is less.

(iv) A No Development Zone (NDZ) of 20 meters has been proposed to be stipulated for all Islands close to the main land coast and for all Backwater Islands in the main land.

(v) For CRZ-III areas, two separate categories have been proposed viz.:

  • CRZ-III A – Densely populated rural areas with a population density of 2161 per square kilometre as per 2011 Census. Such areas shall have an NDZ of 50 meters from the HTL as against 200 meters from the HTL stipulated in the CRZ Notification, 2011.
  • CRZ-III B – Rural areas with population density of below 2161 per square kilometre as per 2011 Census. Such areas shall continue to have an NDZ of 200 meters from the HTL.

(vi) Projects/activities, which are located in the CRZ-I & IV areas, shall be dealt with for CRZ clearance by the MoEF&CC. For all other project activities located in CRZ-II/III areas, CRZ clearance shall be considered at the level of the CZMA.

(vii) As per CRZ, 2011 Notification, for CRZ-II areas, Floor Space Index (FSI) or the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) had been frozen at 1991 Development Control Regulation (DCR) levels. In the Draft CRZ, 2018 Notification, it has been proposed to de-freeze the same and permit FSI for construction projects, as prevailing on the date of the new Notification.

(viii) Temporary tourism facilities such as shacks, toilet blocks, change rooms, drinking water facilities etc. have been proposed in Beaches. Such temporary tourism facilities are also proposed to be permissible in the No Development Zone (NDZ) of the CRZ-III areas.

(ix) Wherever there is a National or State Level Highway passing through the NDZ in CRZ-III areas, temporary tourism facilities have been proposed to be taken up on the seaward site of the roads. On the landward side of such roads in the NDZ, Resorts/Hotels and other tourism facilities have also been proposed to be permitted subject to the extant regulations of the concerned State.

(x) Regulated limestone mining is proposed to be permitted, subject to strict Environmental safeguards, in areas adequately above the height of HTL, based on recommendations of reputed National Institutes in the Mining field.

 Projects that require MoEF’s approval

  • Only those projects located in CRZ-I (environmentally most critical) and CRZ-IV (water and seabed areas)shall require MoEF clearance. All other projects shall be considered by Coastal Zone Management Authorities (CZMAs) in the states and union territories.
  • The draft also allows for construction of roads and roads on stilts, “by way of reclamation in CRZ-1 areas”, only in exceptional cases for “defence, strategic purposes and public utilities,” to be recommended by the CZMA and approved by the Ministry. However, it does not explicitly state what strategic projects are.

The Draft Empowered CZMAs at the State Level:

  1. The idea is to complete the process of drawing up plans in consultation with coastal dwellers.
  2. Land and sea are constantly merging. As a result, this cannot be done through satellite images.
  3. The relaxations/ amendment proposed in the CRZ notification, shall come into effect only after respective CZMPs that were to be framed under the previous CRZ notification, have been revised or updated by the states/UTs and approved by the Ministry.

BENEFITS

  • Economic Growth: The new proposal will make India’s coast more accessible to tourism and industrial infrastructure, which will lead to a boost to economic growth.
  • ‘State’- Deciding authority: Moreover, it will also give individual states the power to decide on their own about any development in the region.

 

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Official Secrets Act 1923

Sun, 10 Mar, 2019

The Official Secrets Act was first enacted in 1923 and was retained after Independence. The law, applicable to government servants and citizens, provides the framework for dealing with espionage, sedition, and other potential threats to the integrity of the nation. The law makes spying, sharing ‘secret’ information, unauthorised use of uniforms, withholding information, interference with the armed forces in prohibited/restricted areas, among others, punishable offences. If guilty, a person may get up to 14 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.
The information could be any reference to a place belonging to or occupied by the government, documents, photographs, sketches, maps, plans, models, official codes or passwords.

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Sonic boom

Sat, 09 Mar, 2019

sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves created whenever an object travelling through the air travels faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms generate enormous amounts of sound energy, sounding similar to an explosion or a thunderclap to the human ear. The crack of a supersonic bullet passing overhead or the crack of a bullwhip are examples of a sonic boom in miniature.
Sonic booms due to large supersonic aircraft can be particularly loud and startling, tend to awaken people, and may cause minor damage to some structures. They led to prohibition of routine supersonic flight over land. Although they cannot be completely prevented, research suggests that with careful shaping of the vehicle the nuisance due to them may be reduced to the point that overland supersonic flight may become a practical option.
A sonic boom does not occur only at the moment an object crosses the speed of sound; and neither is it heard in all directions emanating from the speeding object. Rather the boom is a continuous effect that occurs while the object is travelling at supersonic speeds. But it only affects observers that are positioned at a point that intersects a region in the shape of a geometrical cone behind the object. As the object moves, this conical region also moves behind it and when the cone passes over the observer, they will briefly experience the boom.

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NASA captures images of supersonic shockwaves

Sat, 09 Mar, 2019

NASA has captured unprecedented photos of the interaction of shockwaves from two supersonic aircraft, part of its research into developing planes that can fly faster than sound without thunderous “sonic booms”.
When an aircraft crosses that threshold — around 1,225 km per hour at sea level — it produces waves from the pressure it puts on the air around it, which merge to cause the ear-splitting sound.
In an intricate manoeuvre by pilots at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, two supersonic T-38 jets flew just 30 feet apart below another plane waiting to photograph them with an advanced, high-speed camera.
The rendezvous — at an altitude of around 30,000 feet — yielded mesmerising images of the shockwaves emanating from both planes. This data is really going to help us advance our understanding of how these shocks interact.
Sonic booms can be a major nuisance, capable of not just startling people on the ground but also causing damage — like shattered windows — and this has led to strong restrictions on supersonic flight over land in jurisdictions like the United States.

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Bring in constitutional amendment on GST revenue-sharing proportion

Sat, 09 Mar, 2019

The Centre should bring in a constitutional amendment to fix the proportion of devolution of Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection between the Central and the State Governments.
Some States bemoan the loss of sovereignty. This is not true. The GST Council comprising all State Finance Ministers and the Union Finance Minister take the decisions on rates and several associated features. The Centre is also bound by it.
Committee could be appointed specifically to fix the GST revenue-sharing proportion, before bringing in a constitutional amendment to give effect to that. The 14th Finance Commission, he said, had broken a new path in terms of allocation of resources.
One of the major recommendations had been to increase the share of tax devolution to 42% of the divisible pool. This was a substantial increase by almost 10%
The balance in fiscal space thus remains broadly the same in quantitative terms, but tilts in favour of States in qualitative terms through compositional shift in favour of devolution and, hence, fiscal autonomy.
Dr. Rangarajan pointed out that the Indian Constitution had laid down the functions as well as taxation powers of the Centre and States.

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Cancer drugs 87% cheaper after trade margin cap

Sat, 09 Mar, 2019

After the trade margin on 42 anti-cancer drugs was capped to 30%, prices of nearly 390 cancer medications have fallen by 87%. The new MRPs came into effect from Friday. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has put out the list on 390 drugs on their website.
On 27 February, 2019, NPPA had put 42 anti-cancer drugs under the 30% trade margin cap. Manufacturers and hospitals were directed to convey revised MRP, to be effective from 8th March based on the Trade Margin (TM) formula; 390 brands i.e. 91% of the 426 brands reported by manufacturers, showed downward price movement.

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India State of Forest Report (SFR) 2017

Sat, 09 Mar, 2019

A high-power committee constituted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has recommended that forest surveys — the biennial exercise by the government to estimate forest cover — explicitly demarcate trees grown in forests from those grown outside, that is, in plantations and private lands.
Currently, the government counts both towards estimating the portion of India’s geographical area covered by forest. Independent critics have for long pointed out that including both isn’t an ecologically sound principle but this is a first instance of government-constituted committee recommending so.
India posted a marginal 0.21% rise in the area under forest between 2015 and 2017, according to the India State of Forest Report (SFR) 2017. The document says that India has about 7,08,273 sq. km. of forest, which is 21.53% of the geographic area of the country (32,87,569 sq. km.).
Getting India to have at least 33% of its area under forest has been a long-standing goal of the government since 1988.
Various editions of the SFR have over the years reported the area under forests as hovering around 21%. So the government also includes substantial patches of trees outside areas designated as forests, such as plantations or greenlands, in its assessment.
The total tree cover, according to this assessment, was 93,815 sq. km. or a 2% rise from the approximately 92,500 sq. km. in 2015.

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Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME)

Sat, 09 Mar, 2019

The number of net jobs created in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector in the last four years stood at just 3,32,394, which is 13.9% higher than the base four years ago, according to a CII survey of more than one lakh companies.
The findings for the four-year period — beginning 2015-16 — pale in comparison with that from the government’s Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises for an earlier period, which shows 11,54,293 MSME jobs were created in the three years ended 2014-15.
The survey shows just three States — Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Telangana — accounted for over 50% of the jobs created in this period (2015-16 to 2018-19). It also shows that 73% of the jobs were created by micro enterprises.
On the whole, nearly two-thirds of the respondents witnessed an increase in hiring activity over the last four years, while 17% witnessed no change. According to the survey, micro enterprises were the largest job generators, having created 2,40,713 jobs or 73% of the net jobs created in the last four years.

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Cabinet clears new coal linkage rules

Fri, 08 Mar, 2019

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Thursday approved new rules that will provide greater coal availability to stressed thermal power projects, based on the recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted to look into the issue.

“One of the reasons for the stress was the [non] availability of coal and that thermal projects without medium to long-term power purchase agreements (PPA) would not get coal supply,” Power Minister R.K. Singh said at a press conference.

“The new pol