Enquire Now

Daily Current Updates


'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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.”

Share

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.

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

Share

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.
Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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. 

Share

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

Share

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.

 

Share

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”.

 

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

‘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.

Share

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

Share

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

 

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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”.

Share

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.

Share

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.
Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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.

Share

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."

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

“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.”

Share

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.

Share

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.”

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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).

 

Share

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.
Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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).

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

“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.

Share

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.”

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.”

Share

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.

Share

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,"

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.’’

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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".

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.”

Share

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

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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. 





Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

“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.”

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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 











Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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’.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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.

Share

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.
Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.”

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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 policy says that coal linkages can be given even without an existing PPA. These projects can generate power and sell it on the market or through short-term PPAs.”

The Government of India had constituted a high-level empowered committee (HLEC) under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary to address the issues of stressed thermal power projects. This committee made its recommendations and submitted its report in November 2018, following which the government constituted a GoM to examine the recommendations and make their comments. The GoM approved most of the HLEC’s recommendations, which have now been approved by the Union Cabinet.

“With the implementation of these recommendations, many of the issues affecting the thermal power sector are likely to get resolved,” the government said in a release.

In a separate decision, the Cabinet also approved the investment approval for the 2x660 MW Khurja Super Thermal Power Plant (STPP) in the Bulandshahar district of Uttar Pradesh at an estimated cost of 11,089.42 crore, and the Amelia Coal Mine in Singraulli district of Madhya Pradesh, at an estimated cost of 1,587.16 crore.

The Khurja STPP is expected to improve the deficit power scenario of the northern region and particularly of Uttar Pradesh, the government said. Environmental activists, however, have protested this decision, saying that it would have a massive detrimental impact on the environment.

“This investment is going to be a disaster in multiple ways — located in the most polluted region in the world, destroy one of the oldest forests in the country, displace vulnerable communities dependent on the forest, put enormous pressure on the stressed coal power sector and increase cost of power purchase for struggling distribution companies,” Pujarini Sen, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace India, said in a note.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs also gave its approval for the investment approval for the 2x660 MW Buxar Thermal Power Project (Buxar TPP) in Buxar district of Bihar at an estimated cost of 10,439.09 crore.

Share

India, Russia sign deal on nuclear submarine

Fri, 08 Mar, 2019

India sealed a $3-billion deal with Russia for leasing a nuclear-powered attack submarine for the Indian Navy for a period of 10 years.
The two countries signed an inter-governmental agreement capping months of negotiations on price and other aspects of the deal. Under the pact, Russia will have to deliver the Akula class submarine, to be known as Chakra III, to the Indian Navy by 2025. It will be the third Russian submarine to be leased to the Navy.
India has been significantly bolstering its naval prowess in the backdrop of China’s attempts to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Share

Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS)

Fri, 08 Mar, 2019

The Cabinet approved the grant of Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) facilities to Second World War veterans, Emergency Commissioned Officers, Short Service Commissioned Officers and premature retirees. This would benefit over 43,000 individuals who were so far not covered under the ECHS.
The facility allows them to get cashless medical treatment through a network of over 425 ECHS polyclinics, 2,500 empanelled private hospitals and all government hospitalsthroughout the country, subject to certain conditions.
Also, as a special dispensation, war-widows will be exempt from one-time contribution to join the ECHS.
Launched by the NDA government in April 2003, the facility provides quality medicare to 54 lakh ex-servicemen pensioners, their dependants and a few other categories.

Share

Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India

Thu, 07 Mar, 2019

A joint working group (JWG) comprising senior officials from IRDAI and National Health Authority (NHA) has been formed to recommend measures to help improve the implementation of the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) or the health insurance scheme for the poor.
The 11-member group, with NHA Deputy CEO Dinesh Arora as the chair and lRDAl Executive Director Suresh Mathur as the co-chair, would submit a report on various aspects pertaining to network hospitals’ management; data standardisation and exchange; fraud abuse and control; and common IT infrastructure for health insurance claims management.
The JWG would define hospital infrastructure and facility audits to understand capacity of hospitals as well as specialists availability and chalk out a roadmap for one common list of accredited verified hospitals for the entire industry, including ROHINl, NHRR, NIN and PMJAY databases.
It would undertake a comparative study of packages and their rates and mapping to uniform codes; and define standards and indicators for safe and quality healthcare.
In three months, the group will submit a report on data standardisation and exchange from a perspective of creating standard data formats across health insurance payers for analysis and policy making; developing standardised data tables to capture and report data, identifying data elements common with IRDAI and PMJAY; and setting up a framework for capturing and exchanging data.
Under the fraud and abuse control component, the JWG would make recommendations in six months to help detect and deter frauds through a common repository and capacity-building.

Share

Wind energy capacity expansion to slow in next five years: Crisil

Thu, 07 Mar, 2019

Capacity addition in the wind energy sector will slow down over fiscal 2019 to 2023, with only 14-16 GW being added due to a decline in bid responses and profitability of original equipment manufacturers. Crisil Research expects capacity addition to grow slowly over the next five years, driven by the allotment of central transmission utility’s (CTU) grid connected capacities.
The shift to a competitive bidding mechanism has slowed industry growth due to a significant fall in tariffs, triggering a decline in both bid response and profitability for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
According to Crisil, such low realisations are unviable for the entire value chain at current capital costs of Rs. 6.8-7.2 crore per MW. Crisil Research expects capacity addition of 14-16 GW over fiscal 2019 to 2023, entailing investments of about Rs. 1,10,000 crore.
Capacity additions will primarily be driven by central government allocations with relatively stronger counterparties such as Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) and PTC India, reducing risk compared with direct exposure to state discoms.
State auctioning, on the other hand, has slowed as several States have signed power supply agreements (PSAs) with PTC and SECI to procure wind power under the schemes auctioned by them, to help fulfill their non-solar renewable purchase obligations (RPO) targets

Share

Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)

Thu, 07 Mar, 2019

Anganwadi services have a poor reach among key beneficiaries – the poorest of the poor and uneducated mothers – according to a paper published in a WHO bulletin recently.
The government’s Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) provides a package of six services at anganwadi or child-care centres to young children and pregnant women and lactating mothers. These services include supplementary nutrition, referral services, immunisation, health check-up, pre-school non-formal education and health and nutrition education.
The study analyses the findings of the National Family Health Survey 2005-2006 and 2015-2016 to compare the coverage of ICDS over a 10-year period.
During this time, the average respondents benefiting from these services increased from 9.6% to 37.9% for supplementary food, 3.2% to 21% for health and nutrition education, 4.5% to 28% for health check-ups and 10.4% to 24.2% for child-specific services over a period of 10 years.
At the same time, the poorest of the poor or quintile 1, who were the largest beneficiaries in 2006, got left behind quintile 2 and quintile 3 by 2016 for all four indicators such as supplementary food, counselling on nutrition, health check-ups and early childhood services
For example, supply of food supplements in 2006 was the highest for the poorest quintile (11.7%). However, by 2016, they accounted for 34.8% of the respondents, behind quintile 2 (41.7%), 3 (45.5%) and 4 (39.7%).
The study also said that mothers without any schooling were the lowest beneficiaries as compared to those with primary and secondary schooling in 2006, and they continued to be so in 2016.

Share

ISRO, French agency to set up maritime surveillance system

Thu, 07 Mar, 2019

National space agency ISRO and its French counterpart CNES sealed an agreement to set up a joint maritime surveillance system in the country in May.
The two nations will explore putting up a constellation of low-Earth orbiting satellites that will identify and track movement of ships globally – and in particular those moving in the Indian Ocean region where France has its Reunion Islands.
Before that, they will initially share data from their present space systems and develop new algorithms to analyse them, according to the Paris based National Centre for Space Studies.
The CNES-ISRO agreement [intends] to supply an operational system for detecting, identifying and tracking ships in the Indian Ocean. [It] provides for a maritime surveillance centre to be set up in India in May this year; sharing of capacity to process existing satellite data and joint development of associated algorithms.
The two agencies have put up two climate and ocean weather monitoring satellites Megha-Tropiques (of 2011) and SARAL-AltiKa (2013) that are considered a model. This fleet will be augmented with the launch of Oceansat-3-Argos mission in 2020 along with a joint infrared Earth-observation satellite.

Share

Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019.

Thu, 07 Mar, 2019

The government has plugged a loophole that allowed the import of plastic waste into India for processing.
Solid plastic waste has been prohibited from import into the country including in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and by Export Oriented Units (EOU). The change in law was part of the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019.
India, in spite of having a significant plastic pollution load of its own, and a ban on plastic waste imports, imported PET bottles from abroad for processing in Special Economic Zones (SEZ).
Indian firms are importing plastic scrap from China, Italy, Japan and Malawi for recycling and the imports of PET bottle scrap & flakes has increased from 12,000 tonnes in FY 16-17 to 48,000 tonnes in FY 17-18 growing @ 290%. India has already imported 25,000 MT in the first 3 months of FY 18-19.
India consumes about 13 million tonnes of plastic and recycles only about 4 million tonnes. To incentivise domestic plastic recycling units, the government had banned the import of plastic waste, particularly PET bottles, in 2015. In 2016, an amendment allowed such imports as long as they were carried out by agencies situated in SEZs.
Lack of an efficient waste collection and segregation system is the root cause for much of the plastic not making to recycling centres.

Share

The Indian museum of natural history

Thu, 07 Mar, 2019

From dinosaur fossils to pre-human skulls, India is home to a vast treasury of geological and palaeontological specimens that contain a wealth of scientific information about the planet and its history.
But these rare specimens are scattered in different labs all over the country. So, to better conserve this prehistoric heritage, the government is planning to house them in one place — an ‘Earth Museum’.
Another concern, he added, was that several collections of fossils and important geological specimens weren’t properly organised, and they survived only due to the efforts of individual researchers who maintained them within their labs. A single site, accessible to the public as well as researchers wanting to investigate rare and important finds, was necessary.
The PSA led a meeting of the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC) last November, where the need for such a museum was endorsed. A meeting of experts from the U.S., the U.K, and South Korea to discuss the practical aspects of developing and maintaining such a museum is scheduled to be held in Delhi in the first week of April.
India has a rich geological history and fossils dating back to the breaking up of the Gondwanaland super-continent nearly 150 million years ago. Prominent fossils include the jaw of an extinct ape, Gigantopithecus bilaspurensi, dinosaur eggs so large they were mistaken for cannon balls, and the skeleton of a horned carnivore, Rajasaurus narmadensis, or the royal Narmada dinosaur.

Share

Artificial Sun

Wed, 06 Mar, 2019

China plans to complete the construction of the artificial sun this year, achieving an ion temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius.
The HL-2M Tokamak device is designed to replicate the nuclear fusion process that occurs naturally in the sun and stars to provide almost infinite clean energy through controlled nuclear fusion, which is often dubbed as the "artificial sun."
Achieving an ion temperature above 100 million degrees Celsius is one of the three challenges to reach the goal of harnessing the nuclear fusion, and the core of the sun is widely believed to be 15 million degree Celsius, meaning that the ion at the device's core will be seven times higher than that of the Sun
The other two challenges are containing the fusion within a limited space in the long term, and providing a sufficiently high density profile.
The artificial sun's plasma is mainly composed of electrons and ions, and the country's existing Tokamak devices have achieved an electron temperature of over 100 million degrees Celsius in its core plasma, and an ion temperature of 50 million degrees Celsius, and it is the ion that generates energy in the device.
To bring up the ion temperature to over 100 million degree Celsius, we need higher device parameters, injects and absorbs more energy, and operates with a more advanced working mode.
The new HL-2M device will possess such capabilities, and hopefully will elevate the current device's plasma electric current level which shall greatly enhance the plasma's parameters providing a main technical support for China's participation in the experiment and operation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).
The ITER is a large international scientific project that is a global collaboration of 35 countries, including China, Russia and the US.

Share

What the US trade rap means

Wed, 06 Mar, 2019

The US has announced that it intends to “terminate” India’s designation as a beneficiary of its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). This could impact India’s competitiveness in items groups such as raw materials in the organic chemicals sector and intermediary goods in the US market, alongside items such as iron or steel, furniture, aluminum and electrical machinery.
India’s exports of organic chemicals to the US stood at $1.4 billion in 2017, US Census data showed. According to the Commerce Ministry, about 1,900-odd products exported to US with GSP may be impacted.
GSP programme
The GSP, the largest and oldest US trade preference programme, allows duty-free entry for over 3,000 products from designated beneficiary countries. It was instituted on January 1, 1976, and authorised under the US Trade Act of 1974. India has been the biggest beneficiary of the GSP regime and accounted for over a quarter of the goods that got duty-free access into the US in 2017.
Exports to the US from India under GSP — at $5.58 billion — were over 12% of India’s total goods exports of $45.2 billion to the US that year. The US goods trade deficit with India was $22.9 billion in 2017.
Curbing of benefits
“At the direction of President Donald J Trump, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced today that the United States intends to terminate India’s and Turkey’s designations as beneficiary developing countries under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program because they no longer comply with the statutory eligibility criteria.
The move came two days after Trump’s reference to India as a “very-high tariff nation” and his demand for a “reciprocal tax” on goods from India is in keeping with Washington’s concerted attacks on India’s trade stance.
In his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC Saturday, Trump went back to his often-cited example of Harley-Davidson motorcycles to substantiate his point about India, which came at a time when the US and China have managed a temporary truce over tariffs.
India’s tariff structure
India’s tariffs used to be high until about the late 1990s, with the peak customs duty — the highest of the normal rates — on non-agriculture products steadily coming down from 150% in 1991-92 to 40% in 1997-98 and subsequently, to 20% in 2004-05 and 10 per cent in 2007-08.
According to WTO data, India’s average applied tariff is around 13% and it plans to move toward the ASEAN tariff rates progressively (approximately 5% on average). There has, however, been a move to increase duties on a number of items by the government over the last five years.
Eligibility review
The US had launched an eligibility review of India’s compliance with the GSP market access criterion in April 2018, following concerns raised by its medical devices and dairy industry. The Indian government’s attempts to arrive at a “balanced” package that would address the US’s concerns and protect the Indian public’s welfare were not successful.
In 2017, India had capped prices of cardiac stents and knee implants, slashing these over 70% and 60% respectively. The move impacted US giants like Abbott, Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Stryker.
India had also said its requirement that the source animal of dairy products had never been fed animal-derived blood meals was “non-negotiable” from a cultural standpoint and it could not dilute this requirement in its certification procedure.
India has implemented a wide array of trade barriers that create serious negative effects on United States commerce. Despite intensive engagement, India has failed to take the necessary steps to meet the GSP criterion.
Possible impact
India’s Department of Commerce feels the impact is “minimal”, given that Indian exporters were only receiving duty-free benefits of $190 million on the country’s overall GSP-related trade of $5.6 billion.
Some experts feel the move will not have a major impact on India also because it has been diversifying its market in the Latin American and the African region and its trade with countries of the Global South has also been expanding at a “very competitive pace”.
At the same time, the move could hit Indian exporters if it gives an edge to competitors in its top export categories to the US.
“The amount of price advantage India has versus competitor countries and what happens to their GSP privileges will determine the extent to which India’s exports will be impacted,” said Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, former ambassador to the UK who also worked in the World Bank.
What next
These changes announced may not take effect until at least 60 days after the notifications are sent to the US Congress and the governments of India, and will be enacted by a Presidential Proclamation.
India, in June 2018, had intended to impose higher tariffs on 29 goods imported from the US in retaliation to the country’s decision to impose hefty tariffs on imported steel and aluminum products. The move, which could potentially impact products like walnuts, almonds and chickpeas, has been deferred several times.
Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhwan indicated that the government would continue to engage in “internal” discussions on these issues and that the “door for discussions” with the US was “always open”.

Share

Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandhan (PM-SYM) Yojana

Wed, 06 Mar, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandhan (PM-SYM) Yojana. The national pension scheme for workers and labourers of the unorganised sector was announced in the interim Budget in February this year. It provides for a monthly pension of Rs. 3,000 to the employees of the unorganised sector after 60 years of age.
During the national launch from Ahmedabad, Mr. Modi also distributed the PM-SYM pension cards to select beneficiaries and claimed that for the first time in independent India, workers of the unorganised sector would be entitled to monthly pension.
He said the new scheme is the extension of various social security schemes implemented during the last five years of the NDA government. According to him, 42 crore workers from the unorganised sector are eligible for this pension by contributing Rs. 55 to Rs. 200 monthly.
“This scheme is aimed at uplift of the section of society which has been ignored and left at the mercy of God,” he said, adding that the “they (Congress) only gave slogans for Garibi Hatao (remove poverty).

Share

BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique)

Wed, 06 Mar, 2019

A digital ‘barrier’ has finally filled a 61 km gap on the 4,096.7 km India-Bangladesh border fence three decades after the project kickstarted.
Assam shares a 263 km border with Bangladesh. Much of the border was fenced, but a 61 km stretch in Dhubri district remained open owing to the terrain dictated by the Brahmaputra.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an electronic surveillance system that “is expected to diminish challenges faced by the Border Security Force in manning this stretch against cross-border crimes.”
Comprising microwave communication, optical fibre cables, cameras, and an intrusion detection device, this system is called BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique) and was established under the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System.

Share

Fifteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India

Wed, 06 Mar, 2019

Fifteen of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in India, according to an analysis of air quality in several cities around the world.
Gurugram, in Haryana, topped the list with an average annual particulate matter (PM 2.5) quality of 135 micrograms/cubic metre, in 2018. Delhi — a frequent fixture on global pollution hotspots — was only the 11th most noxious city behind Lahore, Pakistan (10th) and Hotan, China (8th). The other cities in India that made the list of 20 were Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Bhiwadi, Noida, Patna, Lucknow, Jodhpur, Muzaffarpur, Varanasi, Moradabad, Agra, Gaya and Jind.
When ranked by country, Bangladesh emerged as the most polluted followed by Pakistan and India respectively.
Of the cities analysed, 64% exceeded the WHO’s annual exposure guideline (10 micrograms/cubic metre) for fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5. India’s annual guidelines range from 40-60 g/m3, depending on whether they are residential or industrial areas.
Every single one of measured cities with data in the Middle East and Africa exceeded the WHO guideline, while 99% of cities in South Asia, 95% of cities in Southeast Asia and 89% of cities in East Asia breached this level.

Share

GSP programme

Wed, 06 Mar, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump has announced that he intends to end preferential trade terms for India under the U.S.’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme. His intent was conveyed in a letter sent to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and President of the Senate.
The GSP programme, which sets zero tariffs for certain goods from a set of 121 developing countries to foster their trade and economic development, accounts for some $5.6 billion of India’s exports to the U.S., making India the largest GSP beneficiary. Chemicals, gems and jewellery, engineering and textiles are among the Indian industrial sectors that benefit from GSP.
From the U.S. perspective, a total of about $21 billion in imports entered the U.S. duty-free under GSP in 2017, of a total of $2.3 trillion in imports, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Share

SCO

Tue, 05 Mar, 2019

China reiterated that it would continue to play a “constructive role in its own way” to ease tensions between India and Pakistan.
The Chinese foreign ministry also backed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s advocacy of utilising the counter-terrorism mechanism of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to defuse ongoing military tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Chinese special envoy would be visiting Pakistan and India to help defuse the crisis, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China has maintained “close communication” between the two countries.
As long as it is conducive to the relaxation of the situation on both sides and is conducive to peace and stability in the region, China will continue to play a constructive role in its own way.”
Referring to Mr. Lavrov’s suggestion on the SCO’s possible involvement, Mr. Lu said that “(Russian) Foreign Minister Lavrov said he could consider using the relevant mechanism of the SCO to do some work.
China’s principled position is that we encourage the relevant parties in the international community to make all constructive efforts that are conducive to promoting the relaxation of the regional situation and maintaining peace and stability in the region.”

Share

The New Delhi Declaration on Asian Rhinos 2019’

Tue, 05 Mar, 2019

India will collaborate with Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia and Malaysia to increase the population of three species of Asian rhinos, including the Greater one-horned rhinoceros found in the Indian sub-continent. The five rhino range nations signed a declaration ‘The New Delhi Declaration on Asian Rhinos 2019’ for the conservation and protection of the species at the recently held Second Asian Rhino Range Countries meeting.
The declaration was signed to conserve and review the population of the Greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran rhinos every four years to reassess the need for joint actions to secure their future. The national strategy will pave the path for long-term conservation of the Greater one-horned rhinos in India.
The declaration includes
1. Undertaking studies on health issues of the rhinos,
2. Their potential diseases and taking necessary steps;
3. Collaborating and strengthening wildlife forensics and strengthening of transboundary collaboration among India, Nepal and Bhutan for conservation of the Greater one-horned rhino.

Share

Crop burning raises risk of respiratory illness threefold

Tue, 05 Mar, 2019

The findings were based on a study of the health records of 250,000 people in Haryana (which sees a spike in crop burning episodes in winter), and Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which don’t see similar burning episodes.
 The satellite data was for crop-burning fires detected by the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Terra satellite, managed by the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA).
 We found that living in an area where crop burning is practised was a leading risk factor for respiratory disease in northern India.
 Whereas the total burden of diseases from air pollution declined between 1990 and 2016 due to efforts to reduce the burning of solid fuel for household use, outdoor air pollution increased by 16.6%.
 In Haryana, 5.4% of surveyed individuals reported suffering from ARI (Acute Respiratory Infection) whereas the reported ARI symptoms in southern States was only 0.1%.
 Whereas high-intensity fire exposure was virtually absent in south India, 17.5% of individuals in Haryana lived in a district where 100 or more fires per day were observed by the satellite.
 Living in a district that saw 100 fires a day was the “leading risk factor” for ARI. These trumped factors such as cracker burning in Diwali, being a child below 5 years of age and, living in a district with high motor vehicle congestion
 Our study shows that it is not only the residents of Delhi, but also women, children and men of rural Haryana who are the first victims of crop residue burning
In 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued a directive to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, asking them to ban stubble burning.
The Environment Ministers of these States as well as top officials at the Centre declared a “zero tolerance” policy on the burning of stubble, which has been estimated to contribute anywhere from 7% to 78% of the particulate matter-emission load in Delhi during winter.

Share

Art 35A and 370

Tue, 05 Mar, 2019

Several political parties from Jammu and Kashmir met an Election Commission of India team, which is on a two-day visit to the State, and called for “simultaneous” Assembly and parliamentary elections there.
The ECI team, comprising Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, Election Commissioners Sushil Chandra and Ashok Lavasa, also held discussions with senior police and administration officers “to get first-hand information on the ground situation” in the State which has witnessed several rounds of street and militancy-related violence since 2014.
NC general secretary Ali Muhammad Sagar told the EC team that the situation in Kashmir is very fragile and an elected government is the only way bring normality. “The ECI should not wait to announce dates for holding both Lok Sabha and Assembly polls together.
ECI team that “prevailing alienation and unpredictable situation in J&K can only be handled by an elected government”. AIP chief Engineer Rashid said early elections were important to allow the local government to “deal with the issues of Article 35A and Article 370”.

Share

Trend of recycling gold by retail users on the rise

Mon, 04 Mar, 2019

The quantum of recycled gold in the system is on the rise in India on account of an increase in gold prices and some players ensuring transparency in evaluation and pricing, said jewellers and gold loan companies.
This trend is also helping curb imports, thus saving foreign exchange. India is the second-largest consumer of gold and the largest importer of the yellow metal, importing about 700-800 tonnes annually.
This has a bearing on India’s current account deficit (CAD). In 2017-18, India’s gold imports increased by 22.3% to $33.65 billion and the CAD jumped to $48.7 billion, or 1.9% of the GDP.
While gold imports have not shown a declining trend, jewellers said that had it not been for gold being recycled, recent imports would have shown a higher spike.
According to estimates, temples and households in India have more than 24,000 tonnes of gold, large parts of which are stored in vaults and used on a need basis.
Generally, people hesitate to sell gold. Goldsmiths and jewellers tend to use opaque and unreliable methods such as rubbing ornaments on a black stone, immersing them in some solution and conducting the entire process of gold evaluation out of sight of the seller, often resulting in inaccurate assessment of quality and quantity. This creates a deficit of trust among retail sellers. Now, some players offer transparent and scientific processes to evaluate gold thereby ensuring best value to sellers.
Recycling of family gold is a great idea and can unlock tonnes of gold, subject to proper involvement and support of key stakeholders. Reduction in outflow of forex is great for the country and we hope the government reduces import duty from 10% to 4% as a consequence.” Reducing import duties, it is learnt, will help importers who use the gold, in turn, in jewellery meant for exports.

Share

Odisha shelter homes to have lightning protection system

Mon, 04 Mar, 2019

The Odisha government has decided to have lightning protection system in multipurpose shelters across 25 districts as lightning has emerged as the leading cause behind natural deaths across the State.
Multipurpose shelters operating in 25 districts would be retrofitted with lightning protection system. In the first phase, 640 shelters would be taken up with funding support from the World Bank under the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project.
The OSDMA in collaboration with the US-based Earth Networks has installed six lightning detection sensors in different parts of the State. The system gives prediction of lightning about 30 to 45 minutes in advance. Moreover, more map-based lightning alerts are being provided.
The government will install more alert systems in 14 most lighting-prone blocks of the State on a pilot basis. The system would specify the exact location of the lightning and storm and provide automatic warning through sirens. The siren would be audible at a one-kilometre radius.
The total number of reported deaths due to lightning during the last three years from 2015-16 to 2017-18 is 1,256, which accounts for about 27% of total number of disaster deaths.

Share

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services

Mon, 04 Mar, 2019

A forensic audit report of IL&FS has found serious lapses in the manner in which huge loans were extended to certain entities even after internal risk assessment clearly showed that the borrowers were under financial stress.
Further, various instances have been found wherein the committee of directors of the infrastructure financing company extended loans at a negative spread to borrowers facing liquidity issues.
(A negative spread occurs when interest rates charged on amounts lent are lower than interest rates paid on borrowed sums.)
Among other observations, the report said the forensic audit “identified 18 instances where the Committee of Directors (CoD) ultimately approved loans to those borrowers who appeared to be in potential stress on the basis of media reports/articles in the public domain and in spite of a negative assessment by the risk team” while pegging the quantum of such loans at about Rs. 2,400 crore.
Meanwhile, another 16 instances with a cumulative loan amount of Rs. 1,922 crore were found wherein the CoD sanctioned loans at a negative spread or limited spread, for those companies, which clearly were under stress.
Of such instances, seven loans have either been written off or are related parties of the companies for whom loans were written off, while in five instances, the CoD ultimately approved loans even after a negative assessment by the risk team, as per the report.
Separately, the audit found 29 instances of loans collectively worth over Rs. 2,500 crore that were given to entities that used the money to repay existing loans taken from IL&FS Financial Services, a 100% subsidiary of IL&FS and a Systemically Important Non-Deposit Taking Non-Banking Finance Company.
Unapproved board minutes appear to suggest that the board of directors — specifically members of the board who are also a part of the CoD — were potentially aware that the loans provided to third parties were further forwarded/lent to IL&FS group companies

Share

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Sun, 03 Mar, 2019

Countries in East Asia region have thriving trade and economic relations with each other through free trade agreements. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has free trade agreements with six partners namely People’s Republic of China (ACFTA), Republic of Korea (AKFTA), Japan (AJCEP), India (AIFTA) as well as Australia and New Zealand (AANZFTA).

In order to broaden and deepen the engagement among parties and to enhance parties’ participation in economic development of the region, the leaders of 16 participating countries established the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP was built upon the existing ASEAN+1 FTAs with the spirit to strengthen economic linkages and to enhance trade and investment related activities as well as to contribute to minimising development gap among the parties.

In August 2012, the 16 Economic Ministers endorsed the Guiding Principles and Objectives for Negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The RCEP negotiations were launched by Leaders from 10 ASEAN Member States (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam) and six ASEAN FTA partners (Australia, People’s Republic of China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and New Zealand) during the 21st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in November 2012.

The objective of launching RCEP negotiations is to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement among the ASEAN Member States and ASEAN’s FTA partners. The RCEP negotiations commenced in early 2013.

COVERAGE AREAS

The RCEP negotiation includes: trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and other issues.

WHAT RCEP MEANS FOR BUSINESSES

RCEP has the potential to deliver significant opportunities for businesses in the East Asia region, given the fact that the 16 RCEP participating countries account for almost half of the world’s population; contribute about 30 per cent of global GDP and over a quarter of world exports. RCEP will provide a framework aimed at lowering trade barriers and securing improved market access for goods and services for businesses in the region, through:

1.Recognition to ASEAN Centrality in the emerging regional economic architecture and the interests of ASEAN’s FTA partners in enhancing economic integration and strengthening economic cooperation among the participating countries;

2.Facilitation of trade and investment and enhanced transparency in trade and investment relations between the participating countries, as well as facilitation of SMEs’ engagements in global and regional supply chains; and

3.Broaden and deepen ASEAN’s economic engagements with its FTA partners.

RCEP recognises the importance of being inclusive, especially to enable SMEs leverage on the agreement and cope with challenges arising from globalisation and trade liberalisation. SMEs (including micro-enterprises) make up more than 90% of business establishments across all RCEP participating countries and are important to every country’s endogenous development of their respective economy. At the same time, RCEP is committed to provide fair regional economic policies that mutually benefit both ASEAN and its FTA partners.

Share

Artificial canals in Kerala to fill gaps in National Waterway

Sun, 03 Mar, 2019

Artificial canals will be created in three uncut portions along the 57-km Mahe-Valapattanam stretch of the West Coast Canal (WCC), the arterial inland waterway of the State, which is being developed to National Waterway (NW) standards.
Around 26 km of artificial canals are being constructed to provide waterway connectivity in Trippangottur, Peringalam, Panoor, Mokeri, Payyannur and Thalassery villages and to link the Ancharakandy river to the Valapattanam river in Kannur district.
The developed 26-km Mahe-Valapattanam stretch of the WCC needs to be linked to the Ancharakandy river to ensure water connectivity to the newly commissioned Kannur international airport.
The KWIL has found that the 26-km uncut portion of the 57-km Mahe-Valapattanam corridor is the biggest challenge. Artificial link canal on a 60-m-wide corridor has to be built to connect the Mahe and Valapattanam rivers.

Share

Brazil, Aus lodge complaint in WTO over India's sugar subsidies

Sat, 02 Mar, 2019

Brazil has joined Australia to lodge a formal complaint against India, the world's second-largest sugar producer, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), alleging that India's continued sugar subsidies to farmers have led to a "glut" and "depressed" global prices.
India’s sugar subsidy regime was inconsistent with WTO rules and had helped create a glut in the global sugar market. The Liberal-National Government continues to stand side-by-side with our sugar industry on this matter.
Australia respects the rights of WTO members to support their farmers and agricultural industries, this support must be consistent with WTO rules and provide a level playing field.
Australia maintains a very good relationship with India, both economically and strategically, and it is perfectly normal for even close friends and partners to avail themselves of WTO mechanisms from time-to-time to resolve trade issues.
This action being taken by the Government demonstrates our commitment to protecting the interests of our hard-working cane growers and sugar millers, and to the rules-based international trading system that underpins the viability of our vital export industries

Share

Indian exporters need to tap African countries more, says Exim Bank MD

Sat, 02 Mar, 2019

Indian exporters need to increasingly tap African countries that have an almost “unlimited market. Pointing out that expanding geographical range and product diversification were critical for Indian exporters, he said in 2018-19, exports were expected to surpass the $304-billion figure of 2017-18.
Referring to Africa, he said that India’s exports to this continent had increased from 7.5% in 2009-10 to 8% in 2017-18. Of the 54 African countries, there was significant trade with 47. Many of these countries ranked high in terms of ease of business.
On the issue of the competition being faced by Indian textile exporters from Bangladesh and Vietnam, he highlighted the need to scale up business to combat cost pressures.
On the changing role of finance, he said that the banking sector’s health was now improving through various measures, especially through the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. He shared his concern on LIBOR as a benchmark rate, noting that its trustworthiness had now come under the scanner.
While a new benchmark dollar interest rate had been created (Secured Overnight Financing Rate), the change from LIBOR is not easy as it is tied to all kinds of financial instruments

Share

Hydrocarbon Vision 2030

Sat, 02 Mar, 2019

      The Minister of State (IC) for Petroleum and Natural Gas Shri Dharmendra Pradhan today released the Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 for north-east India, outlining steps to leverage the hydrocarbon sector for development of the region in Guwahati. Ministry of Petroleum and Natural gas (MoPNG) has consciously and constantly focused efforts towards making hydrocarbons a tool to enable social and economic development. One such initiative has been the Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 for North East Region.

            The Vision Document has been a focused and consultative exercise to develop a common and shared aspiration for benefiting people of the north east region.  With involvement and inputs of various stakeholders, industry players and state governments, the Vision document not only includes the ambition for the region but also an actionable roadmap. CRISIL Infrastructure Advisory has been the Knowledge Partner to develop this Vision report.

 The objectives of the plan are to leverage the region’s hydrocarbon potential, enhance access to clean fuels, improve availability of petroleum products, facilitate economic development and to link common people to the economic activities in this sector. The states covered include Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. The Ministry also undertook series of consultations with the state governments while drafting the vision document.

   The Vision rests on five pillars: People, Policy, Partnership, Projects and Production. For people, it foresees clean fuel access to households alongside fostering skill development and involvement of the local community. The policy focus areas include moderation in light of specific terrain and weather conditions of the region coupled with ensuring fund planning for new projects. As for partnership, the stress is on greater involvement of state governments in planning and implementation, and on boosting trade with neighbouring nations. In projects, the focus is on pipeline connectivity for carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), natural gas, and petroleum products, oil and lubricants (POL); building refineries and import links; and development of compressed natural gas (CNG) highways and city gas distribution network. The production side emphases include production enhancement contracts, technology deployment and fast-track clearance, and development of service provider hubs.

   Beyond production, the focus areas include exploring hydrocarbon linkages and trade opportunities with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal & Bhutan; implementation of ‘Make In India’ in the region; development of health & medical facilities; industrial policy & infrastructure related action points; focus on skill development; and employment generation requirement in the region. The vision statement lays out a detailed roadmap for the entire hydrocarbons value chain, covering upstream, midstream and downstream segments. This report includes an action plan – of immediate, medium-term and long-term initiatives – to help achieve the objectives.

     The Vision aims at doubling Oil & Gas production by 2030, making clean fuels accessible, fast tracking projects, generating employment opportunities and promoting cooperation with neighbouring countries. 

Share

Order on surveillance meant to protect privacy, govt. tells SC

Sat, 02 Mar, 2019

The Centre told the Supreme Court that its December 20, 2018 notification allowing 10 central agencies to snoop on people is in fact a measure to protect citizens’ privacy.
The government was responding to a PIL filed by advocate M.L. Sharma, challenging the December 20 notification as a violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
The order allows central agencies, from the Intelligence Bureau to the Central Board of Direct Taxes to the Cabinet Secretariat (RAW) to the Commissioner of Delhi Police, to intercept, monitor and de-crypt “any information” generated, transmitted, received or stored in “any computer resource”.
The order is based on Section 69 (1) of the Information Technology Act of 2000 and Rule 4 of the Information Technology 2009 Rules (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.
Turning the argument on its head, the Centre said the order, in fact, limits the power of surveillance to these 10 central agencies and none other.
What has been done under the December 20 order is in fact restricting the exercise of powers, removing a possible vagueness and specifying the agencies/organisations who only would have the powers to utilise the powers of section 69 of the Act.

Share

WTO Rules China Over-Subsidized Farmers

Fri, 01 Mar, 2019

The United States won a World Trade Organization ruling that China subsidized its wheat and rice producers too much in recent years.
The WTO in Geneva agreed with the U.S. position that Beijing paid its farmers excessive amounts for growing wheat, Indica rice and Japonica rice from 2012 to 2015, but said the dispute over a corn subsidy had already expired.
The ruling came in a U.S. complaint filed in 2016 during the final months of the last U.S. administration of former president Barack Obama. The decision can be appealed, but current U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer praised the ruling.
"China's excessive support limits opportunities for U.S. farmers to export their world-class products to China. "We expect China to quickly come into compliance with its WTO obligations." The U.S. claimed that China paid its farmers nearly $100 billion more than WTO rules allow, creating an incentive to grow more wheat and rice, thus undercutting global prices for the grains.
The ruling could have ramifications for India, which has calculated its price supports in a similar way as China. The WTO decision comes amid intense trade talks between Washington and Beijing, with President Donald Trump expressing optimism a deal can be reached.
The United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, have been negotiating for months on a new agreement, even as they have imposed hefty new tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s exports.

Share

El Nino rising : Will it affect Indian monsoon?

Fri, 01 Mar, 2019

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States recently announced the development of a weak El Niño in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that was expected to continue for a few months at least. The status of El Niño at this time of the year is usually the first indication of the kind of rainfall that is to be expected during the monsoon season later in the year.
El Niño is a phenomenon in which surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean see an unusual rise. Over the years, it has been found to have a strong bearing on monsoon rainfall in India. While warmer temperatures are known to suppress monsoon rainfall, the opposite phenomenon of La Niña has been found to be helpful in bringing good rainfall.
In its announcement on February 14, NOAA said weak El Niño conditions had already built up in January and were likely to continue (with 55% probability) until the spring season in the northern hemisphere (mid-March to mid-June).
It said that the probability of El Niño persisting into the summer was “50 per cent or less”. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology, meanwhile, said in a February 19 bulletin that the development of El Niño could continue until at least July.
More relevant to the Indian monsoon, the warming in the Niño 3.4 region of the Pacific Ocean, the region whose sea surface temperature is seen as be the best marker for the impact on India’s rainfall, has been forecast to remain in excess of 0.5°C above normal.
Dr Arindam Chakraborty of the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at IISc Bangalore said data for the last 100 years showed that if the SST in Niño 3.4 was over 0.5°C above normal in the four-month monsoon season, rainfall over India gets affected.
“If El Niño 3.4 is greater than 0.5, it is likely to decrease rainfall. But we need to wait for a better prediction at this point because prediction through the northern spring season has higher degree of uncertainty,” 
He also pointed to other evidence to suggest that the impact on the Indian monsoon might not be very large. “Even if we get El Niño in the monsoon months, its impact, statistically speaking, is not as high as when it is preceded by a La Niña in the winter. In this winter, sea surface temperatures were above normal, almost close to El Niño.
More frequent El Niño events repeat themselves in a two- to seven-year cycle, with a strong El Niño expected every 10-15 years. However, since 2000, five El Niño events have already happened, and this year could witness a sixth one.
New scientific research is pointing to increased frequency of extreme El Niños due to climate change. A paper published in Nature Climate Change in July 2017 had suggested that such extreme events could happen twice as often as today if the average annual global temperatures reached 1.5°C above pre-industrial times.
Murtuggude, however, said that the increasing frequency could be because of other reasons as well. “This cannot yet be claimed to be in response to global warming with great confidence. It is related with the fact that trade winds got stronger and the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean has remained colder since 1998. That makes El Niño more active. The stronger trade winds are not easily explained by global warming. So the story is much more complicated.

Share

By 2040, Arctic summers may turn ice-free

Fri, 01 Mar, 2019

The Arctic Ocean could experience ice-free summers within the next 20 years — much earlier than previously predicted — unless human greenhouse gas emissions are greatly reduced. Computer models predict climate change will cause the Arctic to be nearly free of sea ice during the summer by the middle of this century.
However, a closer examination of long-term temperature cycles in the tropical Pacific points towards an ice-free Arctic in September, the month with the least sea ice, on the earlier side of forecasts.

Share

GDP growth slows again in third quarter

Fri, 01 Mar, 2019

GDP growth slowed for the third consecutive quarter in the October-December 2018 period, according to data released. Growth fell to 6.6% in the third quarter, the lowest in the last six quarters. The slowdown was led by agriculture, which is estimated to grow at 2.7%, against the earlier estimate of 3.8%.
Data showed that the GDP growth slowed for the third consecutive quarter in the quarter ended December 2018 to 6.6% — a six-quarter low — from 7% in the second quarter and 8% in the first quarter of this financial year.
The slowdown in 2018-19 is due to a lowering in the growth estimate of the agriculture sector to 2.7% as per the latest data compared with the 3.8% estimated earlier. The manufacturing sector, too, is estimated to grow at a marginally lower 8.1% compared with the previously predicted 8.3%.
The primary reason for this is the upwards revision in FY18 GDP growth rate in the first revised estimate [released on January 31, 2019] to 7.2% from 6.7% earlier.
The two notable divergences between the second estimate and the first are that private final consumption expenditure growth has been revised upwards to 8.3% from 6.4% and investment growth was revised lower to 10% from the earlier estimate of 12.2%.
The government revised downwards its estimate for GDP growth in the 2018-19 financial year to 7% from the 7.2% estimated in the first estimate for the year released in January.
On a quarterly basis, the agriculture sector is estimated to have grown at 2.7% in the third quarter of this financial year, compared with a 4.6% growth in the same quarter of the previous year.
The manufacturing sector grew at 6.7% in the third quarter, down from 8.6% in the December quarter of 2017-18. The mining sector, too, saw growth slowing in the third quarter to 1.3% compared with 4.5% in the third quarter of the previous year.
“[The] FY19 GDP growth at 7% is the lowest in last five years and the third quarter FY19 growth at 6.6% is a six-quarter low.
“This indicates that the economy is losing steam. Based on the revised first three quarters and annual numbers, Ind-Ra’s calculation shows that the GDP growth in Q4 has to be 6.5% to attain overall 7.0% growth in FY19.

Share

software product policy

Fri, 01 Mar, 2019

The Union Cabinet approved the National Policy on Software Products 2019 that aims to help the industry grow at CAGR of 40% to reach $70-80 billion by 2025, while creating employment opportunities for 3.5 million people. The policy aims to adopt a shift in strategy so that IT products also contribute equitably and significantly to the industry along with IT services.
In a statement, the government said that initially an outlay of 1,500 crore is being planned for various schemes under in policy in the next seven years.
Further, the policy proposes to create a 5,000-crore fund with industry participation to promote emerging technology such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Big Data and robotics. Of this, government contribution will be 1,000 crore.
Software Product Development Fund’ will participate in venture funds having objectives aligned to this policy and so can leverage private investments targeted to promote software product ecosystem.
The SPDF will be financially managed by a professional financial institution. Presently, total revenue of IT-ITeS industry in India is pegged at about $168 billion (including e-commerce), with revenue of about $7.1 billion from software product industry, of which $2.3 billion is from exports.
The policy, which aims to increase share of Indian software products in global market by tenfold, pitches for nurturing of 10,000 technology start-ups in software product industry, including 1,000 such start-ups in tier-II and tier-III towns.
It also proposes up-skilling of 10 lakh IT professionals as well specialise 10,000 professionals to “provide leadership.”
The policy also proposes a programme to encourage innovation to solving societal challenges. “The objective of the programme will be to promote IP driven software product entrepreneurship. The programme with a budgetary outlay of 500 crore will provide financial support to MSMEs and will have matching contribution from the government and the industry.
In a separate decision, the Cabinet Committe of Economic Affairs approved foreign investment of more than 5,000 crore and up to 25,000 crore in the recently merged Vodafone Idea Limited as part of a proposed equity fund raising thorough a rights issue.

Share

National Mineral Policy 2019

Fri, 01 Mar, 2019

The Union Cabinet approved the National Mineral Policy 2019. The policy is aimed at bringing about more effective regulation to the sector as well as a more sustainable approach while addressing the issues of those affected by mining.
The aim of [the] National Mineral Policy 2019 is to have a more effective, meaningful and implementable policy that brings in further transparency, better regulation and enforcement, balanced social and economic growth as well as sustainable mining practices.
Some of the features in the policy include the introduction of the right of first refusal for the reconnaissance permit (RP) and prospecting license holders, encouraging the private sector to take up exploration and the auctioning of virgin areas on a revenue- sharing basis.
Union Cabinet gave its ex-post facto approval for the creation of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for the disinvestment of Air India and its subsidiaries and joint ventures.

Share

Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006

Fri, 01 Mar, 2019

The Supreme Court stayed its controversial February 13 order directing the eviction of lakhs of Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims for forest land rights have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.
The Bench acknowledged the need to further delve into whether due process was followed by gram sabhas and States' authorities under the FRA before the claims for forest rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) were finally rejected.
The apex court has now given the States four months' time to file affidavits responding to allegations that there was a high rate of rejection of claims, non-communication of rejection orders, unrealistic timelines in deciding claims, irregular holding of State Level Monitoring Committee meetings, lack of support from the district administrations concerned in providing revenue or forest maps, rejection of claims despite incomplete or insufficient evidence, etc.
In fact, the court wants to know whether tribals and OTFDs were ousted from forest lands on the basis of sketchy, incomplete information and data.
The government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, submitted the order has affected a "large number of families". The Centre said the States should first file proper affidavits on the procedure followed in the verification of forest rights claims before any such eviction.
To this, initially, Justice Mishra asked whether the Centre was in a "slumber for the past three years". Justice Mishra observed that the February 13 order was only a follow-up of the court's order on January 29, 2016, which had also directed the eviction of encroachers into forest lands. The court asked why there were no mechanism in place in the States or in the Centre to review the rejection orders.
Justice Sinha said the Rules under the 2006 Act comprehensively cover every stage of the process of verification of claims and the provisions were self-explanatory. The Centre argued that the 2006 Act is a beneficial legislation which should be liberally construed in favour of the poor.

Share

How a Prisoner of War must be treated

Thu, 28 Feb, 2019

India has demanded the immediate return of Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, captured by Pakistan after his Mi-21 fighter aircraft was shot down in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir during a dogfight with Pakistani fighter jets on Wednesday.
India has also lashed out at the “vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention”. A look at the provisions of the Geneva Conventions:
What are the Geneva Conventions?
The 1949 Geneva Conventions are a set of international treaties that ensure that warring parties conduct themselves in a humane way with non-combatants such as civilians and medical personnel, as well as with combatants no longer actively engaged in fighting, such as prisoners of war, and wounded or sick soldiers. All countries are signatories to the Geneva Conventions. There are four conventions, with three protocols added on since 1949.
Does the captured pilot count as a prisoner of war?
The provisions of the conventions apply in peacetime situations, in declared wars, and in conflicts that are not recognised as war by one or more of the parties. Even though India and Pakistan have been careful not to use the ‘w’ word for the operations each has conducted on the other’s territory over two successive days — India has said its airstrikes were a “non-military” intelligence-led operation — both sides are bound by the Geneva Conventions.
This means the IAF officer is a prisoner of war, and his treatment has to be in accordance with the provisions for PoWs under the Geneva Conventions.
What are the provisions for PoWs?
The treatment of prisoners of war is dealt with by the Third Convention or treaty. Its 143 articles spread over five sections and annexures are exhaustive, and deal with every kind of situation that may arise for a captive and captor, including the place of internment, religious needs, recreation, financial resources, the kinds of work that captors can make PoWs do, the treatment of captured officers, and the repatriation of prisoners.
The Third Convention is unambiguous about how prisoners must be treated: “humanely”. And the responsibility for this lies with the detaining power, not just the individuals who captured the PoW.
“Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention.
In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.
Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited,” says Article 13 of the Convention.
In this sense, the wide publicity given to the video recording of a blindfolded Wing Commander Abhinandan identifying himself to his captives could be held as a violation of the Geneva Conventions, although in a second clip he is heard saying, in response to a question, that he is being treated well. A third clip shows him being beaten by people in civilian clothes as he lies in a small stream.
What rights is a PoW entitled to?
Article 14 of the Convention lays down that PoWs are “entitled to in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour”. In captivity, a PoW must not be forced to provide information of any kind under “physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion”. Refusal to answer questions should not invite punishment.
A PoW must be protected from exposure to fighting. Use of PoWs as hostages or human shields is prohibited, and a PoW has to be given the same access to safety and evacuation facilities as those affiliated to the detaining power.
Access to health facilities, prayer, recreation and exercise are also written into the Convention. The detaining power has to facilitate correspondence between the PoW and his family, and must ensure that this is done without delays. A PoW is also entitled to receive books or care packages from the outside world.
What do the provisions say about the release of prisoners?
Parties to the conflict “are bound to send back” or repatriate PoWs, regardless of rank, who are seriously wounded or sick, after having cared for them until they are fit to travel”.
The conflicting parties are expected to write into any agreement they may reach to end hostilities the expeditious return of PoWs. Parties to the conflict can also arrive at special arrangements for the improvement of the conditions of internment of PoWs, or for their release and repatriation.
At the end of the 1971 war, India had more than 80,000 Pakistani troops who had surrendered to the Indian Army after the liberation of Dhaka. India agreed to release them under the Shimla Agreement of 1972. Pakistan can decide to send Wing Commander Abhinandan unilaterally, or negotiate his release with India.
In such situations, who monitors whether the Geneva Conventions are being followed?
The Geneva Conventions have a system of “Protecting Powers” who ensure that the provisions of the conventions are being followed by the parties in a conflict. In theory, each side must designate states that are not party to the conflict as their “Protecting Powers”. In practice, the International Committee of the Red Cross usually plays this role.
During the Kargil War, Pakistan returned Flt Lt Nachiketa, who was captured after ejecting from his burning Mi27, after keeping him for eight days. This was after intense diplomatic efforts by the Vajpayee government and by ICRC. Another PoW, Squadron Ldr Ajay Ahuja, was killed in captivity.

Share

Centre brings 42 non-scheduled cancer drugs under price control

Thu, 28 Feb, 2019

The government said it had brought 42 non-scheduled anti-cancer drugs under price control, capping trade margin at 30%, which would reduce their retail prices by up to 85%.
The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has invoked extraordinary powers in public interest, under Para 19 of the Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013 to bring 42 non-scheduled anti-cancer drugs under price control through trade margin rationalisation.
“Invoking paragraph 19 of DPCO, 2013, the government hereby puts a cap on trade margin of 30% and directs manufacturers to fix their retail price based on price at first point of sale of product... of the non-scheduled formulations containing any of the 42 drugs.
As per data available with NPPA, the MRP for 105 brands will be reduced up to 85%, entailing minimum savings of Rs. 105 crore to consumers, it added. Currently, 57 anti-cancer drugs are under price control as scheduled formulations. Now, 42 non-scheduled anti-cancer medicines have been selected for price regulation by restricting trade margin on the selling price (MRP) up to 30%.
The drug manufacturers have been given seven days to recalculate the prices and inform the NPPA, state drug controllers, stockists and retailers, it said. The revised prices shall come into effect from March, 8.
The NPPA currently fixes prices of drugs placed in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) under Schedule-I of the DPCO. So far, around 1,000 drugs have been brought under price control under the initiative.
Non-scheduled drugs are allowed an increase of up to 10% in prices every year, which is monitored by the NPPA.

Share

RBI pay norms may make private bank CEOs more accountable

Thu, 28 Feb, 2019

The norms proposed by the RBI for compensation of chief executives and board members of private sector banks has been viewed as an effort to improve transparency and accountability of the banking system.
RBI had proposed that 50% of the compensation should be variable and that employee stock options (ESOPs) should be a part of the variable pay. The new norms propose variable pay to be capped at 200% of fixed pay, compared with the 70% now. Also, ESOPs are not a part of variable pay now.
RBI had also proposed that if there is divergence in a bank’s asset classification or provisioning from the central bank’s norms that exceeds the prescribed threshold for public disclosure, the lender shall not pay the unvested portion of the variable compensation for the assessment year.
Welcoming the proposed norms, bankers said these were part of a global trend where the banking regulator was imposing stringent norms for compensation of chief executives. “This makes the chief executives more accountable.

Share

Drug (Prices Control) Order (DPCO)

Thu, 28 Feb, 2019

The largest share of out-of-pocket expenditure on health is due to medicines (approximately 70%, according to the NSSO). This is a major access barrier to healthcare, especially for the poor. Health experts have criticised the Drug (Prices Control) Order (DPCO), 2013 for doing little to increase the affordability of medicines. Data from the Department of Pharmaceuticals show that the majority of medicines have price reductions of 20% or less.
The DPCO controls the prices of all essential medicines by fixing ceiling prices, limiting the highest prices companies can charge. The National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) is drawn up to include essential medicines that satisfy the priority health needs of the population.
The list is made with considerations of safety, efficacy, disease prevalence and the comparative cost-effectiveness of medicines, and is updated periodically by an expert panel set up for this purpose under the aegis of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. This list forms the basis of price controls under the DPCO.
The NLEM 2015 contains 376 medicines on the basis of which the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has fixed prices of over 800 formulations using the provisions of the DPCO. However, these formulations cover less than 10% of the total pharmaceutical market.
The DPCO follows a market-based pricing mechanism. The ceiling price is worked out on the basis of the simple average price of all brands having at least 1% market share of the total market turnover of that medicine.
Prior to 2013, the DPCO followed a cost-based pricing mechanism that was based on the costs involved in manufacturing a medicine along with reasonable profit margins. Health experts have argued that this policy resulted in comparatively lower prices than the current market-based policy.
Since the implementation of the DPCO, 2013, the NPPA has made certain departures from the market-based pricing mechanism, which was found to be insufficient for ensuring affordability.
This has been done through the use of special powers to act in public interest under Paragraph 19 of the DPCO, to regulate the prices of cardiac stents and knee implants. These moves have brought about dramatic price reductions: 85% in the case of stents and 65% in the case of knee implants.
“The government is planning to cap the trade margins for highly priced drugs for cancer and rare diseases to bring down their prices,” says Malini Aisola, health researcher and co-convenor of the All India Drug Action Network.
She explains that this move is in the wake of recent amendments to the DPCO that exempted patented medicines and rare disease drugs from price controls. But Ms. Aisola claims that the trade margin capping will not sufficiently bring down prices.
We urge the government to take serious policy measures to ensure true affordability such as through price controls, implementation of the national rare disease policy and the use of legal flexibilities under patent law.

Share

Modify forest dwellers’ eviction order

Thu, 28 Feb, 2019

The Centre filed an application on Wednesday urging the Supreme Court to modify its February 13 order directing the eviction of thousands of Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other traditional forest dwellers whose claims for forest land rights have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act of 2006.
In its application, the Centre said the claims of lakhs of forest-dwelling STs and other traditional forest dwellers had been rejected by the States without observing due process of law.
Referring to its letter of September 12, 2014, which speaks of the various injustices meted out to the tribal populations and forest dwellers in States hit by left wing extremism, the Centre said such States also have high tribal populations.
The forest land claims of these tribes and forest dwellers, who live off the forest, are mostly rejected by the States. Being poor and illiterate people who live in remote areas, they do not know the appropriate procedure for filing claims.
The gram sabhas, which initiate the verification of their claims, are low on awareness about how to deal with these claims and rejection orders are not even communicated to the forest-dwelling STs and communities.
The Centre said the 2014 letter had not produced any change on the ground and had been followed by a series of letters in 2015 highlighting issues like “high rate of rejection of claims, non-communication of rejection order, unrealistic timelines in deciding claims, irregular holding of State Level Monitoring Committee meetings, lack of support from the district administration concerned in providing revenue or forest maps, rejection of claims despite incomplete or insufficient evidence, etc.
It was requested that technology such as satellite imagery may be used for consideration of claims. But no efforts seem to have been taken by the State governments to remedy the situation to effectively implement the 2006 Act, the Centre indicated.

Share

Indian credit rating agencies (CRAs)

Wed, 27 Feb, 2019

In the wake of criticism that Indian credit rating agencies (CRAs) are liberal in assigning AAA ratings, rating agency Crisil Ltd. said global and Indian AAA ratings were not comparable.
“Comparing the 276 AAA ratings that Indian CRAs have assigned with nine by S&P Global Ratings or 53 by Moody’s is erroneous. It tantamount to equating differing scales such as Celsius and Fahrenheit.
If the 32,500 rated Indian firms were to be assessed on the global scale, their ratings will be boxed into a far more narrow-bound between BBB and D on the global scale, because India’s sovereign rating (in the BBB category) will usually serve as a ceiling.
A national rating scale affords granular benchmarking of domestic issuers on a 20-point scale (AAA to D) and the sovereign, which has the flexibility to print local currency, is pegged at AAA on this scale.

Share

RBI takes 3 banks off prompt corrective action framework

Wed, 27 Feb, 2019

Three more banks — Allahabad Bank and Corporation Bank, from the public sector, and Dhanlaxmi Bank from the private sector — are now out of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) prompt and corrective action (PCA) framework.
There are another six banks that are still under PCA framework.
While lifting the restrictions on the State-run lenders, RBI said the Board for Financial Supervision (BFS) reviewed the performance of the banks under PCA and noted that these two banks had received capital infusion from the government.
This has shored up their capital funds and also increased their loan loss provision to ensure that the PCA parameters were complied with.
As on December 31, Allahabad Bank had a capital adequacy ratio of 10.42% and net NPA ratio of 7.7%, while Corporation Bank’s CAR was at 11.12% and net NPA 11.47%.
The two banks have also made the necessary disclosures to the stock exchange that post infusion of capital, the CRAR, CET1, Net NPA and leverage ratios are no longer in breach of the PCA thresholds. According to norms, PCA framework gets triggered when a bank breaches one of the three risk thresholds. Crossing 6% net NPA is one of them.
RBI also decided to take Dhanlaxmi Bank out of PCA , as the bank was found not to be breaching any of the risk thresholds of the framework.

Share

Nagaland Assembly rejects citizenship Bill

Wed, 27 Feb, 2019

The Nagaland Assembly has passed a resolution rejecting the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, amid a walkout by 26 Opposition MLAs. The resolution, passed on Monday, denounced the proposed Bill stating that it cannot be implemented in Nagaland as it will impact the “unique history and status of the Nagas under the Constitution”.
The resolution also expressed solidarity with the States and communities of the Northeast in opposing the Bill, as it has the potential of “changing the demographic profile, which will be against the interest of indigenous tribes and can divest them of their constitutionally guaranteed political, cultural and economic rights”.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, passed in Lok Sabha on January 8, seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after six years of residence in India.

Share

India gets support from Australia, France

Wed, 27 Feb, 2019

India received support for its air strikes from several countries, including Australia and France. France recognises India’s legitimacy to ensure its security against cross-border terrorism and asks Pakistan to put an end to operations of terrorist groups established on its territory.
However, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation condemned “the Indian incursion and aerial violation.” The criticism comes four days ahead of Ms. Swaraj’s speech at the OIC inaugural address in the UAE, which will be India’s first appearance at the 57-nation grouping.

Share

UK must end administration in Chagos

Tue, 26 Feb, 2019

The Chagos Islands are home to the US military base of Diego Garcia, under lease from the United Kingdom since the 1960s.
Britain has an obligation to end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago — home to the US military base of Diego Garcia — and complete the process of decolonisation of Mauritius, said the International Court of Justice in the Hague in an advisory opinion, in a significant legal victory for Mauritius and other nations – including India – that supported its case.
Delivering the opinion, ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said the judges had rejected the contention that the issue did not fall within its jurisdiction, because it was a bilateral matter for the two countries, and concluded that the decolonisation of Mauritius was not lawfully completed, as a result of Britain’s continued administration of the Chagos Islands, despite a pre-independence agreement between the UK and Mauritius in 1965.
He found that the continued administration of the territory by the UK amounted to a “wrongful act,” that was not consistent with the right to the people of “self determination.” The judges concluded that any detachment of part of a colony (referred to as a non-self governing territory) had to be based on the “freely expressed and genuine will” of the people.

Share

‘hothouse’

Tue, 26 Feb, 2019

Marine clouds that protect us from hothouse Earth conditions by reflecting sunlight back into space could break up and vanish if CO2 in the atmosphere triples. Our results show that there are dangerous climate change thresholds of which we were unaware.
So-called stratocumulus clouds cover about 20% of subtropical oceans, mostly near western seaboards such as the coasts of California, Mexico and Peru.
When they disappear, Earth warms dramatically, by about eight degrees Celsius — in addition to the global warming that comes from enhanced greenhouse concentrations alone. A temperature increase of that magnitude would melt polar ice and lift sea levels tens of metres.
The last time the planet was that hot, some 50 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch, crocodiles roamed the Arctic. Even half that much warming would overwhelm humanity's capacity to adapt.
A barely one-degree increase since the mid-19th century — mostly in the last 50 years — has been enough to worsen heatwaves, droughts, and flooding, along with cyclones engorged by rising seas.
The 2015 Paris climate treaty enjoins nations to cap the rise in temperatures at “well below” 2C. A major UN report published in October, however, showed that even a 2C hike over the preindustrial benchmark will have dire impacts, such as the demise of shallow-water coral reefs that sustain a quarter of marine biodiversity.
Since manmade global warming began, CO2 concentration in the air has gone up nearly 45%, from 285 to 410 parts per million (ppm).
Using an innovative approach to modelling the behaviour of the stratus clouds, Mr. Schneider and his colleagues calculated that protective cloud cover could break up if CO2 levels reached 1200 ppm, though the “tipping point” might be somewhat higher. Passing that threshold may not be as far-fetched as it seems, scientists caution.

Share

Banks may set repo rate as benchmark

Tue, 26 Feb, 2019

Most commercial banks in India are likely to select RBI’s repo rate as the external benchmark to decide their lending rates, from April 1. The repo rate is the key policy rate of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
The banking regulator had asked the banks to move to an external benchmark for loan pricing from April 1, a move expected to improve monetary transmission as lenders had, in the past, been found reluctant to reduce lending rate.
Banks had four options from which to choose the external benchmark: the repo rate, the 91-day treasury bill, the 182-day T-bill or any other benchmark interest rate produced by the Financial Benchmarks India Private Ltd (FBIL).
The marginal cost of fund based lending rate (MCLR) is currently the benchmark for all loan rates. Banks typically add a spread to the MCLR while pricing loans for homes and automobiles.
For the new benchmark, the central bank has mandated that the spread over the benchmark rate — to be decided by banks at the inception of the loan — should remain unchanged through the life of the loan, unless the borrower’s credit assessment undergoes a substantial change and as agreed upon in the loan contract.
If the lending rates are linked to the repo rate, any change in the repo rate will immediately impact the home and auto loan rates, since RBI has mandated the spread to remain fixed over the life of the loan.
Many banks have opposed the move to shift to a new external benchmark for loan pricing on grounds that their cost of funds are not linked to these benchmarks and that without a fall in the costs, it would not be possible to change the rates.
However, banks are not hopeful that the central bank will defer the introduction of the new benchmark. When the Indian Banks’ Association met RBI officials some time ago, the message we got is that the central bank is keen to see the new regime kicking in as scheduled.”

Share

Drought less probable this year

Tue, 26 Feb, 2019

There’s unlikely to be a drought in 2019 as the El Nino — a climate phenomenon linked to poor monsoon in India — is likely to peter out by the beginning of the season.
The El Nino conditions were on the rise in the Pacific Ocean till December last. The temperatures are now declining, and the probability of El Nino is also falling. This will reduce to about 50% by the time monsoon arrives with a gradual decline thereafter as well. This means it is going to be a devolving El Nino year.
An El Nino refers to a half-to-one-degree rise in temperatures in the Central equatorial Pacific and is linked to a reduction in rains over key monsoon belts.
Earlier this month, the U.S. National Climate Centre issued a forecast that an El Nino had formed, was likely to persist until spring but there was only a 50% chance that it would persist beyond spring (March-April). “Because forecasts through the spring tend to be more uncertain and/or less accurate, the predicted chance that El Nino will persist beyond spring is 50% or less.
Skymet defines ‘normal rains’ as that in a 4% window of 88 cm between June and September; 88 cm means ‘100%’ rainfall. Anything from 90% to 96% of the normal is ‘below normal’ and less than 90% constitutes a drought. Mr. Singh said that while the chances of a normal monsoon were the highest, about 50%, the next highest odds were those of ‘below normal’ rains.
However the organisation’s weather models as well as those of several other institutes, for now, agreed that the odds of a major El Nino (a temperature rise greater than a degree) were unlikely.

Share

The Indian Air Force (IAF)

Mon, 25 Feb, 2019

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has commissioned the development of an aerial surveillance system for monitoring suspicious movements under dense foliage cover along the international border and some parts within the country. This hyper spectral imagery programme, a first for the country, seeks to locate and identify suspicious movements and is expected to be operational in the next two years.
What the programme would mean is that the data gathered from aerial sources would be processed within minutes, and researchers would be able to tell security forces on the ground of “unwanted” human presence in the area, their numbers and locations, among other inputs.
This is a unique patent application, which will help identify the presence of a human below trees, dense foliage, shrubs or inside a structure, whether it is day or night. It can detect human presence from air even if there a cloud cover, dense fog or snow cover.
Data/images will be captured through optical and infra red sensors — to be most likely mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle — and processed through deep learning algorithms.

Share

hepatitis B and C virus

Mon, 25 Feb, 2019

Patients infected with hepatitis B and C virus, will soon be able to avail free treatment. Eight model treatment centres in Maharashtra, including the Sion Hospital, Mumbai, will roll out free treatment for hepatitis C from March while that for hepatitis B will be rolled out from July.
Viral hepatitis is a global public health problem that kills nearly 2.72 lakh people annually. It is an inflammatory condition of the liver caused by five known hepatitis viruses — A, B,C,D and E. Of these, B and C are known to cause 96% mortality.
While hepatitis B requires life-long treatment which costs around Rs. 2,500 per month, hepatitis C requires a 84-day long course costing nearly Rs. 40,000. According to the action plan, one model hepatitis treatment centre will be established in each State in a government institution in the first year.
While the number of model centres will be increased gradually, by the end of the second year, efforts will be made to establish one such centre at district level. Setting up a national reference laboratory and State-level reference laboratories is also under planning.

Share

GST on under-construction houses cut

Mon, 25 Feb, 2019

The Goods and Services Tax Council on Sunday decided to reduce tax rates on the sale of under-construction residential properties from April 1. The Council decided that the rate for normal residential properties would be 5% without the option of availing input tax credits.
In the affordable housing segment, the rate has been reduced to a nominal 1% without input tax credits. The previous rates were 12% for the affordable housing segment and 18% for the normal housing segment, both with the option to avail input tax credits.
It was found that the case of under-construction houses was the same as what was seen for restaurants, which set the precedent. The price of under-construction houses should have been reduced by the amount of input tax credits available.
The Group of Ministers set up to look into the issue recommended reducing the rates to 5% for normal housing and 3% or below for affordable housing.

Share

Credit Cooperative Societies in India

Sun, 24 Feb, 2019

A credit union is a member-owned financial cooperative, democratically controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, arranging credit at competitive rates, and providing so many other financial services to its members.

The Co-operative Credit Institutions in India can be classified as under a three-tier structure.

(i) Primary Credit Societies at the bottom

(ii) Central Co-operative Bank at the middle

(iii) State Co-operative Bank at the top

The primary societies are functioning in the various towns and villages, the Central Banks at the district headquarters and the State Co-operative Banks at the state capitals forming the apex of the system.

The Reserve Bank of India assists the co-operative structure by providing concessional finance through NABARD in the form of General Lines of Credit for lending to agricultural & allied activities. Thus, the whole system is integrated with the Banking structure of the country.

Let us have a discussion about these institutions one by one.

(i) The Primary Agricultural Credit Societies:

A primary society is an association of borrowers and non-borrowers residing in a particular locality and taking interest in the business affairs of one another. As membership is practically open to all inhabitants of a locality, people of different status are brought together into the common organization.

(ii) Central Co-operative Banks:

A Central Co-operative Bank is a federation of primary societies in a specified area. Where membership of a Central Co-operative Bank is restricted to primary societies only, it is known as a 'banking union'. Nowadays, individuals are also admitted as members of almost all Central Co-operative Banks.

(iii) State Co-operative Banks:

At the top of the co-operative banking, there are State Co¬operative Banks, organized with the object of attracting deposits from the rich urban classes. These Banks are also more suitably equipped to serve as channel between the co-operative movement and the joint stock banks.

Cooperative Credit: An Evaluation

The major deficiencies in the working of the cooperative societies are as follows:

• The essence or basic features of cooperative banking system must be a larger reliance on resources mobilised locally and a lesser and lesser dependence on higher credit institutions. However, many PACSs are at present dependent on CCBs and have failed miserably in mobilising rural savings. Heavy dependence on outside funds has, on the one hand, made the members less vigilant not treating these funds as their own and on the other led to greater outside interference and control. Overall, this has made the cooperatives a "mediocre, inefficient and static system".

• The cooperative credit institutions are plagued by the problem of high level of over-dues. These over-dues have clogged the process of credit recycling since they have substantially reduced the capacity of cooperatives to grant loans.

• The rural cooperative institutions have a high level of NPAs

• A large number of rural cooperative credit institutions have incurred substantial losses.

• The Primary Agricultural Credit Societies is the most important link in the short-term cooperative credit structure. However, most of them are too small in size to be economical and viable. Besides, several of them are also dormant while some are defunct.

• Because of their strong socio-economic position and grip over the rural economy, big landowners have cornered greater benefits from cooperatives. This is the opposite of what the planners intended.

• There are considerable regional disparities in the distribution of credit by cooperative societies with six States (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu) accounting for 70 per cent of the short- term loans provided by the PACSs as of end-March 2010.

• The powers which vest in the government under the cooperative laws and rules are all-pervasive. Over the years, State has come to gain almost total financial and administrative control over the cooperatives, in the process stifling their growth. Instead of strengthening the base, a weak base was vastly expanded as per plan targets and an immense governmental and semi-governmental superstructure was created.

Share

The Thottappally ‘pozhi’ (estuary)

Sun, 24 Feb, 2019

The move to remove mineral-rich sand from the Thottappally ‘pozhi’ (estuary) has met with opposition. The State government last month decided to extract sand from the estuary and dredge the leading channel to ensure smooth flow of water from the Kuttanad region through the Thottappally spillway.
However, environmentalists and local residents say the move is aimed at extending the mineral-sand mining along the Thottappally coast. The Thottappally coast is one of the prime locations for egg-laying Olive ridley turtles in the State.
To remove sand, they will have to cut more than 350 casuarina trees. Besides, the area is also home to several species of reptiles, migratory birds, and a large number of butterflies. Mr. Jayamohan says the removal of sand from the estuary will not help prevent flooding in the Kuttanad region.
To ensure the flow of water, the government should only dredge the leading channel and operate shutters of the Thottappally spillway more efficiently.
Removal of sand from the estuary will result in the intrusion of salt water into Kuttanad. Instead of removing sand from the estuary, the government should initiate measures to develop the area as an ecotourism spot and protect the environment.
The move to remove sand from the estuary comes at a time when local residents are up in arms against the ‘never-ending’ dredging and mineral-sand mining at the Thottappally harbour.
The State government, a few years ago, allowed dredging of the harbour in the name of its development. Residents say it has already turned out to be a disaster for them and Olive ridley turtles that come to the coast for nesting.
The turtles used to nest in an area of around 800 m along the Thottappally coast. Their natural habitat was damaged in Cyclone Ockhi in 2017. Residents say the opening of a new mining site at the estuary, along with the ongoing dredging at the harbour, will force Olive ridleys to totally abandon the coast.
The Purakkad panchayat authorities say that they were not consulted by the government before taking the decision to remove sand from the estuary.
In the case of the ongoing harbour dredging and recent decision to extract sand from the estuary, the local panchayat has been totally sidelined. The decision to take sand from the estuary in the name of floods is nothing but a blatant looting of rich mineral-sand deposits. We will stand with the people of the region and will not allow the government to remove sand.

Share

Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

Sun, 24 Feb, 2019

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is an international organization founded in 1969, consisting of 57 member states, with a collective population of over 1.8 billion as of 2015 with 40 countries being Muslim Majority countries.
 
Official languagesArabic; English; French
Founded25 September 1969
Membership57 member states
GDP (PPP)2019 estimate
Share

Ganga basin States stare at three-fold rise in crop failures by 2040

Sun, 24 Feb, 2019

The Ganga river basin could see crop failures rise three-fold and drinking water shortage go up by as much as 39% in some States between now and 2040.
If there is no intervention, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are likely to see a deficit in irrigation water of 28%, 10%, 10% and 15% respectively in 2040 as compared to the current levels. Madhya Pradesh would see a 39%, Delhi 22% and Uttar Pradesh a 25% deficit in drinking water during the same period.
The basin provides over a third of India’s available surface water and contributes more than half the national water use, of which 90% is for irrigation.
The volume of extracted groundwater is expected to more than double, leading to an increase in the critical blocks. Low flow values in the rivers are predicted to decline compared to present levels…Water quality and environmental flow conditions already critical will deteriorate further.
The report is based on a modelling study that simulates river flow, water quality and groundwater levels in the different States and regions within the Ganga river basin.
To extrapolate, the model considered land use, infrastructure, population, industry and agriculture settings as well as the precipitation and temperature settings.
The aim of the report was to strengthen the “capacity for strategic basin planning, develop a set of scenarios for the development of the Ganga basin and build a strong and accessible knowledge base.
The report on the future of the Ganga basin comes at a time when experts have raised concerns over the lack of adequate safeguards to ensure the river’s health. The government has committed to reduce pollution in the Ganga by 70% by March 2019.
There aren’t any easy solutions, the report cautioned, pointing out that there is no ‘silver bullet’ intervention that can solve all problems. Combinations of different interventions such as increasing water use efficiency and implementing a ‘more job per drop’ rather than striving for wholesale crop production are needed.

Share

The Unregulated Deposit Scheme Ordinance

Sat, 23 Feb, 2019

The Unregulated Deposit Scheme Ordinance promulgated by the President will help put a check on illicit deposit taking activities that dupe poor and the financially illiterate of their hard earned savings. It will help create a central repository of all registered entities which can take deposits. He said credit growth is picking up in the economy and recovery by public sector banks is gaining pace.
The Ordinance makes it absolutely necessary for everyone to register before taking a deposit and creating a central repository of all the registered entities which can take deposits. So whosoever are not registered is not a regulated entities.
From now on there is a complete ban on unregulated deposit and anyone promoting this will be punishable, he said. “It also says you cannot dupe anybody as an agent or even as advertisement you cannot give face to that scheme which is not regulated by any agencies.
The legislation contains a substantive banning clause which bans deposit takers from promoting, operating, issuing advertisements or accepting deposits in any unregulated deposit scheme. “No deposit taker shall directly or indirectly promote, operate issue any advertisement soliciting participation or enrollment in or accept deposits in pursuance of an unregulated deposit scheme.
The law also proposes to create three different types of offences — running of unregulated deposit schemes, fraudulent default in regulated deposit schemes, and wrongful inducement in relation to unregulated deposit schemes.
The Ordinance also provides for severe punishment ranging from 1 year to 10 years and pecuniary fines ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 50 crore to act as deterrent. It has provisions for disgorgement or repayment of deposits in cases where such schemes nonetheless manage to raise deposits illegally.
Kumar added that the credit to Gross Domestic Product ratio is improving in the economy and the public sector banks are now on a stronger footing post capital infusion. Banks have completed recognition of stressed assets and have made enough provisions, while recovery of bad loans is gaining pace, he said.
Banks have recovered around Rs 1.2 lakh crore in first three quarters of the current financial year. Their provision coverage ratio is nearing 70 per cent.

Share

Declining biodiversity threatens food supply’

Sat, 23 Feb, 2019

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Friday warned about the threat to the future of the world's food production from a lack of biodiversity in the environment.
In a report, the UN agency said there was “mounting evidence that the biodiversity that underpins our food systems, at all levels, is declining around the world.”
Biodiversity enables agriculture systems to be more resilient to shocks such as disease and pest outbreaks, as well as coping with climate change. The FAO says the drivers for biodiversity loss include changes in land and water use and management, pollution and overharvesting.
The agency says countries are adopting biodiversity-friendly practices from sustainable forest management to an ecosystem approach to fisheries and organic agriculture — but more needs to be done.

Share

Seoul Peace Prize

Sat, 23 Feb, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was given the Seoul Peace Prize for 2018 for his contribution to international cooperation and fostering global economic growth. The Prime Minister dedicated the $200,000 (Rs. 1.42 crore) prize money to the Namami Gange programme that seeks to stop pollution in the Ganga and rejuvenate the river.
Mr. Modi expressed concern over terrorism, and recalled that a few weeks before the Seoul Olympics in 1988, an organisation called the Al-Qaeda was formed. As South Korea, India also suffered the pain of cross-border strife.

Share

Centre lists projects to stop flow of India’s share of water to Pak.

Sat, 23 Feb, 2019

A day after Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said India had decided to “stop” the flow of its share of river water to Pakistan, the Water Resources Ministry on Friday issued details of various projects being implemented for the same.
The Indus system comprises the rivers Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The basin is mainly shared between India and Pakistan with a small share for China and Afghanistan.
Under the Indus Water Treaty signed by India and Pakistan in 1960, the waters of three rivers — Ravi, Sutlej and Beas (eastern rivers) of about 33 million acre feet (MAF) were allocated to India for exclusive use.
About 2 MAF of water annually from the Ravi is reported to be still flowing unutilised to Pakistan below Madhopur.
Among India’s various schemes is the Shahpurkandi project that will help in utilising the water from the Thein dam to irrigate 37,000 hectares of land in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, and generate 206 MW of power, the statement said.
Another facility is the Ujh multipurpose project that will create a storage of about 781 million cubic metre of water on river Ujh , a tributary of Ravi. The third project is the second Ravi-Beas link below Ujh.

Share

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)

Sat, 23 Feb, 2019

Your used cooking oil could help fly a jet in the near future. Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Petroleum has successfully finished a pilot test to convert used cooking oil into bio-aviation turbine fuel (Bio-ATF), which can be blended with conventional ATF and used as aircraft fuel.
The Institute collected used cooking oil from caterers and hotels in Dehradun for the pilot, which has now set the platform for commercial use of the technology. “The chemical composition of the used cooking oil is identical to other plant-based oils that have been converted to Bio-ATF. We have shown that Bio-ATF production is possible from used cooking oil.
The test assumes importance as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has launched the Repurpose Cooking Oil (RUCO) initiative to collect and convert used cooking oil into bio-fuel. The food safety body says that by 2020, it should be possible to recover about 220 crore litres of used cooking oil for conversion into bio-fuel.
Reducing the re-use of cooking oil in the food industry will have positive public health outcomes and its conversion into Bio-ATF will help the aviation sector reduce its carbon footprint.
A source in the Air War Strategy Cell of the Indian Air Force said the IAF and the civil aviation sector consume about 100 crore litres and 900 crore litres of ATF per annum, suggesting a huge potential market for Bio-ATF.

Share

India-KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

Fri, 22 Feb, 2019

Saudi crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman showed “considerable sensitivity to India’s terror concerns” during his one-day visit to Delhi.
Among the highlights of the Crown Prince’s visit, they said, was the structure it gave the India-KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) strategic partnership signed in 2010, substantial enhancement of cooperation on maritime security and intelligence sharing, and a commitment to invest in projects of up to $100 billion in India.
Both sides called on all states to reject the use of terrorism against other countries; dismantle terrorism infrastructures where they happen to exist and to cut off any kind of support and financing to the terrorists perpetrating terrorism from all territories against other states; and bring perpetrators of acts of terrorism to justice,” the statement added, with a new reference on condemning “state sponsorship of terror.
According to the new structures agreed upon, three Ministerial groups will now be set up between the two governments and will meet regularly as a part of the new Strategic Partnership Council.

Share

Lakhs of forest dwellers face eviction

Fri, 22 Feb, 2019

A recent Supreme Court order may lead to the eviction of lakhs of persons belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) categories across 21 States — their claim as forest dwellers have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act of 2006.
A three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee on February 13 had ordered the Chief Secretaries of many of these States to evict those whose claims as forest dwellers have been finally rejected under the law.
The court ordered the States’ Chief Secretaries to also file affidavits by July 12, explaining why the rejected claimants were not evicted even after their claims were junked.
The court ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the “encroachment positions.” It directed FSI to also place on record the position “after the eviction as far as possible.”
Section 6 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 shows a multi-layered and hierarchical procedure for recognition or rejection of forest-dweller claims starting at the gram sabha level with multiple appellate committees at the State level.
The Act is intended to provide a framework to “recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded.”
Likewise in Assam, 22,398 claims of STs and 5,136 claims of OTFDs across 10,128 hectares and 561.4 hectares, respectively, were rejected.
In Tamil Nadu, 7,148 claims of STs and 1,881 claims of OTFDs were rejected. In Karnataka, the number of rejected claims of OTFDs far surpass that of STs at 1.42 lakh to 35,521. Over 82,000 claims of STs were rejected in Telangana alone.
Kerala’s statistics show that out of 39,999 claims, 894 were rejected. West Bengal records the rejection of 50,288 claims of STs and 35,856 claims of OTFDs. Other States under the spotlight are Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Gujarat.

Share

UN Security Council condemns Pulwama attack

Thu, 21 Feb, 2019

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued a statement, condemning the Pulwama attack and underlining the need to hold those responsible accountable. Significantly Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has been named on the statement as having taken responsibility for the attack.
The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in over 40 Indian paramilitary forces dead and dozens wounded on February 14, 2019, for which Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility.
China had wanted additional time to think it through as it had some concerns, they said. France is also working, in parallel, to sanction JeM chief Masood Azhar at the UNSC.
Similar action against Azhar in 2017 was blocked by China (India had moved the 1267 Sanctions Committee to ban Azhar twice before in 2009 and 2016). On Tuesday, UN Secretary General António Guterres had called on India and Pakistan to defuse tensions and for “meaningful mutual engagement.
Condemning terrorism in all its forms as one of the most serious threats to international peace, the UNSC offered its condolences to those impacted by the attack.
The members of the Security Council underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice, and urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Government of India and all other relevant authorities in this regard.
It also called terrorism “unjustifiable” regardless of the motivation.
“The members of the Security Council reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.
They reaffirmed the need for all States to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.

Share

Deadlier version of BrahMos to be tested in three years

Thu, 21 Feb, 2019

A sleeker, more lethal version of the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos is under development and the prototype should be ready for testing in about three years. The idea is to have a smaller missile with the same capabilities. So the missile will fly at 3.5 times the speed of sound instead of 2.8 Mach. The range will remain at 300 km.
BrahMos is a joint venture between India and Russia and named after Brahmaputra and Moscowa rivers. It is capable of being launched from land, sea, sub-sea and air against surface and sea-based targets. The development trials of an anti-shipping variant began in 2003 and combat trials began in 2005.
The reduced weight enables the NG variant to be carried by the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). An LCA can carry two missiles while a Su-30MKI can carry five of them. The land and sea variants of BrahMos are already operational with the Army and Navy and the air-launched version is under development.

Share

Aussie mammal the first ‘climate change extinction’

Wed, 20 Feb, 2019

Australia officially declared a Great Barrier Reef rodent extinct on Tuesday, making it the first mammal believed to have been killed off by human-induced climate change. The rat-like Bramble Cay melomys — whose only known habitat was a small sandy island in far northern Australia — has not been spotted in a decade.
Researchers from Queensland determined a key factor in its disappearance was “almost certainly” repeated ocean inundation of the cay — a low-lying island on a coral reef — over the last decade, which had resulted in dramatic habitat loss. Australia’s environment ministry said it had officially transferred the animal to the “extinct” list.
Available data on sea-level rise and weather events in the Torres Strait region “point to human-induced climate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys”. The Melomys rubicola, considered the Great Barrier Reef’s only endemic mammal species, was first discovered on the cay in 1845 by Europeans who shot the “large rats” for sport.

Share

‘Middle Strait Bridge’

Wed, 20 Feb, 2019

Four islands in the Andamans and three in Lakshadweep have been identified for seaplane operations, while private sector participation has been invited for tourism-based projects.
Swaraj Dweep, Shaheed Dweep, Hutbay and Long Island in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Kavaratti, Agatti and Minicoy in Lakshadweep have been identified for seaplane operations.
Key infrastructure projects such as operationalisation of the Diglipur airport for civilian aircraft and the construction of a new airport on Minicoy Island have been accorded high priority by the government, while Coastal Regulation Zone clearance (CRZ) has been accorded for ‘Middle Strait Bridge’ on Andaman Trunk Road.
Bids for private sector participation in three tourism-based projects have already been invited by the Andaman & Nicobar Administration. They include eco-tourism projects on Smith Island and Long Island and a tent city project on Aves Island. Bids will be invited shortly for one more project on Neil Island.
Three projects in Lakshadweep have been identified for issue of bids. These include tourism projects in the islands of Kadmat, Minicoy and Suheli Cheriyakara. Environmental Clearance (EC), CRZ clearance and all other clearances required for these projects are being obtained upfront, on priority, to attract more number of reputed bidders.
The Ministry of Commerce has issued a notification extending tax incentives for investments made in the manufacturing and service sector in the islands of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep.
In order to sustainably utilise the potential of Tuna fish, 10 deep-sea modern fishing vessels are being procured by the Lakshadweep administration from Cochin Shipyard Limited.
The Home Minister expressed satisfaction at the progress made since the last meeting held on June 30, 2018, when directions were given to focus on creation of recreational facilities along with tourism infrastructure, implementation of renewable energy projects, incentives for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and the development of a film city.

Share

New National Electronics Policy 2019

Wed, 20 Feb, 2019

The Union Cabinet approved the new National Electronics Policy 2019 that aims to achieve a turnover of $400 billion (about Rs. 26 lakh crore) for the electronics system design and manufacturing (ESDM) sector by 2025, while generating employment opportunities for one crore people.
The policy will enable flow of investment and technology, leading to higher value addition in the domestically manufactured electronic products and increased manufacturing of electronics hardware for local use as well as exports.
The policy has introduced new “easier to implement” incentive schemes, including interest subvention scheme and credit default guarantee, to replace some of the existing ones under the National Electronics Policy 2012.
The new policy proposes to provide interest subsidy of 4% on loans up to Rs. 1,000 crore on plant and machinery, adding that in case of larger loans, the subsidy will be limited to Rs. 1,000 crore.
The government also proposes to create a fund to provide default guarantee of up to 75% to the banks for plant and machine loans of up to Rs. 100 crore. “This will eliminate the need for small and new investors to provide third party collateral… the scheme will be on the pattern of credit guarantee being provided by SIDBI for SME sector.
However, for both these schemes the consultations are on with the Department of Expenditure.
To promote creation of an ecosystem, the NEP 2019 has pitched for 2.0 version of the Electronics Manufacturing Cluster scheme, under which infrastructure support will be provided for a group of industries that are part of the product supply chain rather than individual industries.
The NPE 2019 has also proposed creating a Sovereign Patent Fund to acquire intellectual property for chips and chip components.

Share

Social Accountability Bill

Tue, 19 Feb, 2019

After a protracted campaign of civil rights groups, the Congress government in Rajasthan has started the process for bringing the legislation on social accountability, which will make officials accountable for timely delivery of public goods and services as citizens’ entitlement. The Bill will also set up a grievance redressal mechanism starting from village panchayats.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had recently assured that the new accountability law would incorporate the provisions of the Guaranteed Delivery of Public Services Act and the Right to Hearing Act.
Through the Rajasthan Social Accountability Bill, the government intends to ensure the right of every person or group of persons to get time-bound delivery of goods and services and be entitled for redressal of complaints, with the provision for penalty on erring officials and compensation to the public.
The official draft has incorporated the suggested provisions for transparency in governance, citizens’ participation, accountability in delivery of services, decentralisation of the process and establishment of an independent grievance redressal structure.

Share

States allocation: panel sticks to 2011 census

Mon, 18 Feb, 2019

The 15th Finance Commission will not alter its approach on solely using the 2011 Census for population figures in its calculations for allocations to States. However, he added that other measures would be included that would ensure that States that have performed well by controlling population growth would not be penalised.
The final decision is that, as far as we are concerned, the Commission is a recipient of the Terms of Reference (ToR). Having received the Presidential Order, we are obligated by the Constitution to act on the basis of the Presidential Order. It is very clear that wherever population has to be used as a criterion, that population should be what is in the Census of 2011.
He said that the recommendations of the Commission, especially to do with the quantum of devolution to the States, will have a bearing on not only the Central Budget but also those presented by the States for the year 2020-21.
The Chairman, however, said the Commission had not yet finalised whether it would be altering the previous Commission’s recommendation that 42% of the Centre’s tax revenue be shared with the States.

Share

Rainfed Agriculture

Mon, 18 Feb, 2019

Three out of five farmers in India grow their crops using rainwater, instead of irrigation. However, per hectare government investment on their lands may be 20 times lower, procurement of their crops is a fraction of major irrigated land crops, and many of the flagship agriculture schemes are not tailored to benefit them.
A new rainfed agriculture atlas released this week not only maps the agro biodiversity and socio-economic conditions prevailing in such areas, but also attempts to document the policy biases that are making farming unviable for many in these areas.
Speaking on the sidelines of a conference on revitalising agriculture in rainfed areas, he said farmers in such areas are receiving 40% less of their income from agriculture in comparison to those in irrigated areas.
Lands irrigated through big dams and canal networks get a per hectare investment of Rs. 5 lakh. Watershed management spending in rainfed lands is only Rs. 18,000-25,000.
When it comes to procurement, over the decade between 2001-02 and 2011-12, the government spent Rs. 5.4 lakh crore on wheat and rice. Coarse cereals, which are grown in rainfed areas, only had Rs. 3,200 crore worth of procurement in the same period.
Flagship government schemes, such as seed and fertiliser subsidies and soil health cards, are designed for irrigated areas and simply extended to rainfed farmers without taking their needs into consideration.
For example, many hybrid seeds notified by the government scheme need plenty of water, fertilizer and pesticides to give high yields and are thus not useful to most rainfed farmers. Commercial fertilizers will simply burn out the soil without sufficient water.

Share

Mariculture is as important for India as agriculture

Sun, 17 Feb, 2019

About 37% of the area of the entire world is agricultural land, a third of which (about 11%) is used for crops. And as the population of the world rises to 9.7 billion people in 30 years, the land available for crops will reduce.
Thus, there is an immediate need to try and improve the efficiency of food production. Experts predict that agricultural yield must increase by 50% between now and 2050. How to do this is the question facing agricultural scientists across the world.
Plants use sunlight to produce energy for their metabolism and food production. This is referred to as photosynthesis (wherein sunlight is used to make energy-rich molecules needed for producing food molecules).
However, the efficiency of photosynthesis is rather low, just about 5% in most land crops. The most efficient land crop with 8% average is sugarcane, which is not all that edible, except for the sugar in it. If only we can increase the efficiency of crops such as wheat, rice and other grains!
One such attempt is through the project RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency), undertaken by a group of scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (for some details, access Katherine Bourzac, in MIT Technology Review, August 14, 2017 issue).
Genetic engineering
One way of achieving it has been shown in the model plant tobacco where the scientists could “engineer photosynthesis” by increasing the expression of three genes involved in processing light. This increases the tobacco yield by 20%.
The team is trying to do the same genetic engineering method in other plants. One such plant is cassava (also called tapioca, sago or sabudana) whose roots are carbohydrate-rich , and eaten by over half a billion people in Latin America and parts of Africa; indeed it is eaten as staple food in parts of Andhra, Kerala and the hilly areas of Assam. Genetic engineering of this plant was done, just as in tobacco, and appears to work.
Another way that some other scientists are trying is to reduce what is called photorespiration in plants. Here the energy and oxygen produced in the ‘light reaction’ of photosynthesis is drained by the plant to make “wasteful” products in the ‘dark reaction’, and not just carbohydrates and other food material, particularly when the plant’s leaves close in order to reduce water loss by evaporation. If we can find ways to reduce this photorespiration, edible food yields can go up.
Many of these research attempts involve the introduction of external genes and gene products into food crops, and these are opposed by group of people who do not want genetic engineering and genetically modified plants.
This is a curious situation where science finds ways to deal with genes so as to improve yields while sociology opposes it based on worries about safety, as well as monopolistic control of food material through exclusive patents and other factors. A via media solution needs to be found, failing which food production may not increase all to feed the ever growing population of the world.
Include seaweeds in our diet
The most efficient use of photosynthesis is actually not by land plants but by micro and macro algae, such as seaweeds. These are the champions, contributing to about 50% of all photosynthesis in the world. And many of them, notably those with dark green, red and brown colour, are edible.
They are low-calorie and nutrient-dense food items and eaten by people in most parts of South East Asia – Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Korea and Japan, and also in some in coastal Atlantic region. A site called “The definitive guide to edible seaweed” (foodrepublic.com) gives the details about several of these food items.
Seaweed research
About 844 seaweed species are reported from India, a country with a coast line of 7,500 km. Peninsular India from Gujarat all way to Odisha and West Bengal has a coast line of 5,200 km, and Andaman and Nicobar together have a coast line of 2,500 km.
Thus, while we have 63% of our land area for crop agriculture, we should not forget this vast coastal area, much of which breeds seaweeds. Research in the area of edible seaweeds in India has been going on for over 40 years. The Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) at Bhavnagar, Gujarat has done pioneering work in the area.
Over 20 scientists there have been involved for decades in research and propagation of seaweeds as potential of foods for people, as well as for isolating important chemicals of technological importance and crop biostimulant purposes.
Among the seaweeds found in plenty, Ulva, Pyropia, Porphyra and Kappaphycus are edible and that it will be good to cultivate them in large scale, as is done in countries like Japan.
Out Of the 306 seaweeds in the Gulf of Mannar, 252 are edible. Thus India should embark on Mariculture as vigorously as Agriculture, given its 7,500 km-long coastal line. Further, it does not require pesticides, fertilizers and water for irrigation, which is an added advantage.
Seaweeds are rich sources of vitamins A and C, and minerals such as Ca, Mg, Zn, Se and Fe. They also have a high level of vegetable proteins and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Best of all, they are vegetarian, indeed vegan, and do not have any fishy smell, thus good and acceptable.
For all for those who worry about this “new” introduction, let us recall that India took quickly to imports like potatoes, tea and most recently to soyabean.

Share

Decoding how leptospirosis bacteria interact with human proteins

Sun, 17 Feb, 2019

By studying proteins from leptospirosis-causing bacteria and the human body, researchers have identified the key pathogen-host protein interactions that are responsible for the development of the disease
By using a wide range of advanced bioinformatics and mathematical models, the team was able to narrow down to 35 interactions between 13 bacterial and 35 human proteins that may hold potential for vaccine development.
A total of 145 well-characterized proteins from the bacteria and 493 proteins from the human body were analysed to draw the conclusion.
Leptospirosis is one of the emerging zoonotic diseases and causes almost 60,000 deaths every year as there is currently no preventive vaccine for humans. The researchers studied the proteome (entire protein set) of Leptospira interrogans — the most vulnerable species — and the proteome of human beings.
They analysed the inter-species and intra-species protein interactions and constructed a pathogen-host interaction network which was further studied using mathematical models to identify the key interactions.
Out of the 586 pathogen-host protein interactions, 35 were identified as key interactions.
Also, two outer membrane proteins and two periplasmic proteins of the bacteria which take part in the interactions were found conserved. These proteins target human proteins involved in functions such as signal transduction, antibacterial humoral response, cell cycle and cell division.
This signifies that these proteins can be explored further for effective and novel therapeutics and vaccine development.

Share

Great Indian hornbills

Sun, 17 Feb, 2019

Amid a changing environment, with natural homes of birds getting depleted as natural forests make way for plantations and other such modified terrain, comes the good news of how the great Indian hornbill (Buceros bicornis) adapts to such change.
A group of researchers from NCBS-TIFR in Bengaluru and Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysuru observed eight hornbill nests, three located in contiguous forests and five located in modified habitats such as coffee plantations.
They found that the birds followed similar nesting behaviour but adapted to the changed environment. The study is published in the journal Ornithological Science.
The team chose to study the great Indian hornbills nesting in the Anamalai hills. For comparison, the researchers located the study in the modified habitat in the Valparai plateau and the contiguous forests in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve and the Vazhachal Reserve forests. The modified habitat included tea, coffee and cardamom plantations and tribal settlements.
Nesting habits
Hornbills are secondary cavity nesters and choose cavities formed in large trees for nesting. Also they are monogamous, and the female, after copulation, seals herself in the hole until the initial breeding period of two-four months is over.
During this time, the female and the young ones are fed by the male bird, with fruit such as figs and animal matter. So, in principle, along with other threats such as hunting, modified land use, ensuing forest fragmentation, felling of large trees with the potential for nesting, the loss of fruit bearing trees could also affect hornbill nesting habits.
Great hornbills may adapt to habitat modification provided that their key requirements for food and nesting are fulfilled in the habitats like coffee and forest fragments.

Share

The last of the elusive pangolins

Sun, 17 Feb, 2019

Obsession for its supposedly medicinal scales in China is believed to have made the ant-eating Chinese Pangolin, one of two species found in South Asia, extinct in India.
The pangolin is the most trafficked mammal in the world. Though hunted for its meat across the northeastern States and in central India, the demand for its scales in China has made it the most critically endangered animal in less than a decade.
On World Pangolin Day, wildlife experts mourned the “possible extinction” of the Chinese Pangolin in the northeast and the likelihood of the Indian Pangolin – found elsewhere in India – of being wiped out in a decade or so. The third Saturday of February is observed as the day of the scaly nocturnal ant-eater, which activists say is an animal very few – even forest officials – know about.
The Chinese Pangolin was officially categorised as critically endangered in 2014, but I think it is extinct today. The Indian Pangolin, marked endangered that year, is now critically endangered and disappearing fast.
The STF had busted one of the biggest international gangs of wildlife body parts smugglers. It arrested 159 people across 14 States and registered 12 cases, mostly for pangolin scale smuggling.
Northeastern gateway
Investigations by wildlife crime sleuths have revealed that almost 90% of smuggling of pangolin and pangolin scales is through the northeast.
From elsewhere in India, the scales are smuggled out to China via Myanmar at Moreh in Manipur and Champhai in Mizoram. But there are numerous gateways along the border with Myanmar. This is why checking the smuggling network in the northeast is crucial for the survival of the last of the pangolins.
Smaller animals like pangolins get indirect benefit of the focus on larger ones such as rhino, tiger, and elephant.

Share

Power Ministry proposes over $12 bn in sops to reduce pollution

Sun, 17 Feb, 2019

India has proposed incentives worth 885 billion ($12.4 billion) to encourage power plants to install equipment to curb emissions and to develop infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs), a government statement said.
The bulk of the money, 835 billion, would be aimed at curbing sulphur emissions from power plants, with the rest devoted to development of EV infrastructure in 70 cities over five years ending 2025.
The proposal by the Power Ministry to its finance commission is in addition to an existing proposal that envisages installation costs for emission-cutting equipment to be passed on to consumers.
The Ministry’s plans come against the backdrop of a utilities sector under financial stress, with loans from mostly state-run lenders turning sour or requiring restructuring, according to an Assocham-Grant Thorton report this month.
The Association of Power Producers, an industry group that represents private companies such as Reliance Power and Adani Power as well as state-run NTPC, had been lobbying for incentives for the past two years.
India has already extended a December 2017 deadline for utilities to meet emissions standards by up to six years as power producers struggle to comply with stringent rules set out by the Environment Ministry in 2015 to cut emissions that cause lung diseases, acid rain and smog.
Thermal power companies account for 80% of all industrial emissions of particulate matter, sulphur and nitrous oxides in India.

Share

Antibiotic-resistant NDM-1 gene found in pristine Arctic

Sat, 16 Feb, 2019

The recent detection of the antibiotic resistant (AR) gene NDM-1, first isolated in India, in the Arctic region is a further indication of the globalisation of antimicrobial resistance, said a study.
The research was conducted in the High Arctic zone (Kongsfjorden region of Svalbard) and scientists were surprised to find a rather robust presence of NDM-1, according to Clare McCann, principal author of the study. Answering questions from In essence, AR is a natural phenomenon. Most antibiotics are produced by soil microorganisms and over time they have evolved to become resistant to the compounds which they excrete to survive. However, finding NDM-1 in 2013 was a surprise.
Researchers noted in their paper, in the peer reviewed journal Environment International, that it was detected in five out of the eight clusters studied. NDM-1 was first reported in 2007 in a patient admitted to a hospital in New Delhi, but was reported to be present in Germany, the same year.
The first finding of NDM-1 in the environment, rather than a clinic setting, was in surface waters of Delhi, in 2010. So finding NDM-1 in the High Arctic three years after the first report of its presence in the environment was very intriguing. The results show how far reaching and fast resistance can move around the globe.
The NDM-1 gene is present in highest concentrations near fresh water sources where wildlife tend to congregate. Additionally, we discovered levels of mobile genetic elements (MGEs), the mechanism by which bacteria ‘trade’ AR, to mirror NDM-1.
MGEs are noteworthy here because they are often associated with ‘acquired’ resistance and are found at higher levels in human, or animal waste-impacted environments.
The findings point towards the involvement of migratory birds, who could carry the resistance in the gut and transfer it to the Arctic soil through faecal matter.

Share

India revoked the Most Favoured Nation (status) to Pakistan

Sat, 16 Feb, 2019

India revoked the Most Favoured Nation (status) to Pakistan, advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister on Trade Abdul Razzak Dawood told PTI they won’t make any “emotional decision” and will respond to the move after due deliberation.
The Centre withdrew the status to Pakistan after 40 CRPF personnel were killed in a terror attack in south Kashmir’s Pulwama yesterday. Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister on Trade Abdul Razzak Dawood said that a response to India’s decision would come after due deliberation. “India has removed us from the list of MFN nations but we will not make any emotional decision and will issue a response after making due thinking.
Most Favoured Nation is a treatment accorded to a trade partner to ensure non-discriminatory trade between two countries vis-a-vis other trade partners. The importance of MFN is shown in the fact that it is the first clause in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
Under WTO rules, a member country cannot discriminate between its trade partners. If a special status is granted to a trade partner, it must be extended to all members of the WTO.
“The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will initiate all possible diplomatic steps which are to be taken to ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan of which incontrovertible is available of having a direct hand in this act,” Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said earlier in the day.
The withdrawal of the MFN status would significantly hit Pakistan’s exports to India, which stood at USD 488.5 million (around Rs 3,482.3 crore) in 2017-18. However, a finance ministry official from the neighbouring country told the impact of India’s decision will be marginal.
As the trade between the two countries was just over USD 2 billion dollars and Pakistan’s exports were a fourth of it. So, Pakistan is not going to lose much in terms of money in the short term,”

Share

India signs defence pacts with Germany and Sweden

Fri, 15 Feb, 2019

India concluded defence cooperation and security protection agreements with Germany and Sweden during the ongoing visit of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman there.
Classified information
The agreement will enable both the countries to share classified information with each other, a Swedish Embassy release said.
India and Sweden have had a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the area of defence since 2009.
Earlier in Germany, signed an implementing arrangement on enhanced defence and defence industry cooperation to strengthen military to military engagement as well as defence industry and research and development linkages.
Both Germany and Sweden are important suppliers of defence equipment to India and their companies are currently in the race for multi-billion tenders to supply submarines and fighter aircraft.

Share

Cabinet approves Introduction of Registration of Marriage of NRI Bill 2019

Fri, 15 Feb, 2019

The Union Cabinet has approved the introduction of Registration of Marriage of Non- Resident Indian (NRI) Bill, 2019, for creating more accountability and offering more protection against exploitation of Indian citizens, mostly women by their NRI spouses.
The Bill provides for amendment of the legal framework to act as a deterrent to the erring NRI spouses and creating more accountability and offer protection against exploitation of Indian Citizens married to NRIs.
Once the Bill is passed, marriages performed by NRIs would be registered in India or Indian Missions & Posts abroad, and necessary changes would be carried out in the:
1. Passports Act, 1967; and
2. Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 by insertion of Section 86A.
Major Impact:
Serving Judicial summons for Court proceedings in India is a major problem, which would be taken care of by this Bill by amending the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Thus, the Bill would offer great protection to Indian citizens married to NRIs and serve as a deterrent to NRIs against harassment of their spouses. This Bill would benefit Indian women married to NRIs worldwide.

Share

US Warns India, Others over Oil Export Sanctions on Venezuela

Thu, 14 Feb, 2019

The hardline US National Security Adviser John Bolton has issued a warning to India against buying Venezuelan oil, saying it "will not be forgotten" and that Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Alberto Arreaza has countered that it was an attempt to impose Washington's global "dictatorship".
Nations and firms that support (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro's theft of Venezuelan resources will not be forgotten", and displayed with it a news story about Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo visiting India to sell more oil.
President Donald Trump's administration and its allies have recognized opposition leader and National Assembly President Juan Guaido as the Latin American nation's President and have called on Maduro to quit.
The US does not consider that Maduro's government has the right to sell the country's oil -- and hence, calls the oil exports "theft".
Bolton made a similar threat against India buying oil from Iran when Trump placed a more stringent international trade embargo on Tehran last year after withdrawing from a nuclear disarmament agreement made with it and five other countries.
However, Trump gave India a temporary exemption from the embargo, which carried economic penalties for violations.
Facing an embargo on its oil exports by the US and most western countries, Venezuela is trying to increase sales to India and other countries.
Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo, who is in New Delhi to attend the Petrotech 2019 trade event, told reporters there on Monday that his country wanted to double the current oil exports of 340,000 barrels per day to India.
Venezuela is the third largest supplier of oil to India. Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy are its biggest customers.
Venezuela has the world's largest known reserves of oil estimated at more than 300 billion barrels - bigger than Saudi Arabia's 266 billion barrels.
India, which is wary of foreign interference in internal affairs, has refused to go along with the US and recognize Guaido as the President and stop dealing with Maduro's administration. India and Venezuela enjoy close and cordial relations.
The simmering dispute over the May 2018 presidential elections, which the US and the Venezuelan opposition say was not fair, erupted into a crisis when the National Assembly on January 10 declared it invalid and Guaido proclaimed himself as the interim President.
Since then there have been massive protests by supporters of both the government and violence has claimed more than 40 lives, according to the UN. The oil-rich country is also facing a humanitarian crisis with severe shortages of food and medicines.
Trump has ratcheted up Venezuela to his top foreign policy issue and said that US military intervention was an option. One of the problems for Venezuela's trade is that international banks are coming under increasing international pressure from the US.

Share

‘Only 84% rural households have electricity in four States’

Thu, 14 Feb, 2019

Only 84% of rural households have electricity connection in the four States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and Rajasthan, a comprehensive private sector survey of 10,000 households has found.
This is in contrast to the government’s Saubhagya Scheme data, which shows that 100% household electrification has been achieved in U.P., Bihar and Odisha; and 99.9% in Rajasthan.
According to the data in the survey report by Smart Power, the 84% figure for households with electricity connections could actually be even lower. The report said that 90% of the households surveyed had an electric connection or “electric pole within 50 m distance”.
Within this figure, 84% of the households were the ones with an actual electricity connection. The report also found that only 75% of all households used electricity from the grid, suggesting that there were several households that relied on off-grid sources of electricity despite having a connection.
“Despite the increasing footprint of grid-electricity, this study finds that several non-grid sources are in use; these include, primarily, solar home systems, followed by rechargeable batteries, mini-grid electricity, and diesel generators,” the report said.
“Overall 16% of households use non-grid-electricity sources, half of which also have grid connections.”
“This is an important finding, as there is an assumption that non-grid sources are popular only among un-electrified households,” the report added.
This is probably best explained by the finding that 80% of the households with electricity infrastructure within 50 m said they did not make use of an electricity connection because they could not afford one. Other reasons for choosing off-grid sources included unreliable supply of electricity, inadequate supply of electricity and lack of residence proof.

Share

NATIONAL BOARD FOR WILDLIFE (NBWL)

Thu, 14 Feb, 2019

  1. It is a “Statutory Organization” constituted under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  2. Its roles is “advisory” in nature and advises the Central Government on framing policies and measures for conservation of wildlife in the country.
  3. Primary function of the Board is to promote the conservation and development of wildlife and forests.
  4. It has power to review all wildlife-related matters and approve projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries.
  5. No alternation of boundaries in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries can be done without approval of the NBWL.
  6. Composition: The NBWL is chaired by the Prime Minister. It has 47 members including the Prime Minister. Among these, 19 members are ex-officio members. Other members include three Members of Parliament (two from Lok Sabha and one from Rajya Sabha), five NGOs and 10 eminent ecologists, conservationists and environmentalists.
Share

Kerala takes the lead in tackling trans fat hazard

Thu, 14 Feb, 2019

“The food industry is willing to ditch partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVOs, one of the main sources of TFA in industrially produced food ) and switch to TFA-free margarine or shortening to produce baked goods. But we have to provide them alternative technologies and know-how on re-adjusting their recipes to maintain the taste and texture of their products.

The pickle industry is in agreement that good hygienic and manufacturing practices and low sodium options can reduce the salt content in their products,” a senior health official said.

The department is being supported in this initiative by Vital Strategies, the nutrition wing of the World Bank, WHO, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), and the State Food Safety wing, which will be in charge of enforcement.

An experts’ group has been constituted for the implementation of the guidelines on TFA and salt reduction.

The action plan has been drawn up after high profile meetings involving health experts and FBOs.

Share

Rafale cost is 2.86% lower, but Dassault benefited without bank guarantee: CAG

Thu, 14 Feb, 2019

    • The 2016 deal for 36 jets through IGA is 2.86% cheaper than the UPA deal.
    • Savings of 17% in India Specific Enhancements in present deal. However, four ISEs were not required and constitute of 14% of the estimated ISE value.
    • Savings to the by not having to pay these Bank Charges should have been passed on to Ministry.
    • In terms of faster deliveries, improvement of only one month in the 2016 contract compared to earlier.
    • Government could have used the unsolicited offer by Eurofighter to determine a better price with Dassault Aviation.
    • In case of a breach of agreement Indian would have to first settle it through arbitration directly with the French vendors. French government would intervene only after all legal options are exhausted.
    • CAG has redacted prices in the report based on the insistence of the Ministry of Defence citing the Indo-French Agreement of 2008 and the provisions of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA).
    • Unrealistic estimation of the benchmark price by the Indian Negotiation Team (INT). The benchmark price estimated by INT was 57% lower than the initial officer of French team.
    • On the original Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal, CAG pulled up IAF for not defining the Air Staff Quality Requirements (ASQR) properly.
Share

The shape of job crisis

Wed, 13 Feb, 2019

Open unemployment rate (doesn't measure disguised unemployment and informal poor quality jobs that abound in the economy) has jumped to 6.1% in 2017-18. ( Between 1977-2012, it had never gone above 2.6%)
Rise in tertiary education enrolment to from 11% in 2006 to 26% in 2017-18; secondary enrolment- 58% (2010) to 90% (2016).-> facing unemployment.
Fall in labour force participation.
Rise in the share of regular wage jobs, esp in urban and rural areas far less than the number of educated youth entering the workforce.
India's development suffering with structural retrogression that is returning back to an increase of agricultural workforce-> something highly undesired by the educated youth.
Major fall in manufacturing jobs. (58.9 million in 2011-12 to 48.3 million in 2015-16)
Slowing growth in IIP consisting of manufacturing, mining and electricity.
Fall in investment-to-GDP ratio since 2013; still not recovered to 2013 levels.
Growing number of NEET i.e persons who are Not in Education, Employment, or Training, currently 5 million per annum- have been converted from a source of demographic dividend into a demographic drag.
Need for India to have a proper industrial policy and employment strategy-> China's model can be used as an example.

Share

There needs to be a review of how biodiversity and natural resources are governed

Wed, 13 Feb, 2019

When 196 countries met at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, last November for the 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a key question on top of the agenda was how to govern biological resources (or biodiversity) at different levels for the world’s sustainable future.

The meeting had come at a significant time: it was the CBD’s 25th year of implementation, countries had approximately 350 days to meet global biodiversity targets, and there was the backdrop of a damning report that humans have mismanaged biodiversity so badly that we have lost 60% of resources (which can never be recouped). Finally, there was growing concern on how the Convention’s objectives of conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits were being compromised, including by the parties themselves.

For thousands of years, humans have considered natural resources and the environment as a global public good, with communities having diligently managed these resources using the principle of ‘Commons’.

In simple terms, these are a set of resources such as air, land, water and biodiversity that do not belong to one community or individual, but to humanity. All developments we see in the establishment of civilisations across the world as well as agricultural development feeding the world today are a result of such ‘Commons’ being managed by communities for centuries.

Then came the urge of those with money and power to privatise these resources for individual prosperity in the form of property management principles, intellectual property rights and others. In one form the CBD — a multi-lateral environmental agreement that has provided legal certainty to countries through the principle of sovereign rights over biodiversity — also contributed to states now owning the resources, including their rights on use and management.

Today, states control and manage biodiversity with strict oversight of who can use what and how. The intent of the CBD and having sovereign rights was to manage resources better. But the results of such management have been questionable. A key reason cited is that ‘Commons’ and common property resource management principles and approaches are ignored and compromised.

Why ‘Commons’?

According to estimates, a third of the global population depends on ‘Commons’ for their survival; 65% of global land area is under ‘Commons’, in different forms. At least 293,061 million metric tonnes of carbon (MtC) are stored in the collective forestlands of indigenous peoples and local communities. This is 33 times the global energy emissions in 2017. The significance of ‘Commons’ in supporting pollination (the cost estimated to be worth $224 billion annually at global levels) cannot be overlooked.

In India, the extent of ‘Common’ land ranges between 48.69 million and 84.2 million hectares, constituting 15-25% of its total geographical area. ‘Common’-pool resources contribute $5 billion a year to the incomes of poor Indian households. Around 77% of India’s livestock is kept in grazing-based or extensive systems and dependent on ‘Commons’ pool resources. And 53% of India’s milk and 74% of its meat requirements are met from livestock kept in extensive ‘Common’ systems.

Despite their significance, ‘Commons’ in India have suffered continued decline and degradation. National Sample Survey Office data show a 1.9% quinquennial rate of decline in the area of ‘Common’ lands, though microstudies show a much more rapid decline of 31-55% over 50 years, jeopardising the health of systemic drivers such as soil, moisture, nutrient, biomass and biodiversity, in turn aggravating food, fodder and water crises. As of 2013, India’s annual cost of environmental degradation has been estimated to be 3.75 trillion per year, i.e. 5.7% of GDP according to the World Bank.

Why the concern?

Commons’ becoming uncommon is a major socio-political, economic and environmental problem. While the state can have oversight over resource management, keeping people away from using and managing ‘Commons’ is against effective governance of ‘Commons’.

The sovereign rights provided for, legally, under the CBD should not be misunderstood by the state as a handle to do away with ‘Commons’-based approaches to managing biodiversity, land, water and other resources.

Current discussions under the United Nations should focus on how and why ‘Commons’ have been negatively impacted by progressive pronouncements to save the earth and people.

Another key concern is the changing socio-political impact of migration. Gone are the days when we can consider ‘Commons’ as resources relevant only for rural communities. ‘Commons’ are now a major provider of livelihood options for both urban and peri-urban populations. The relevance of ‘Commons’ impacting urban dwellers cannot be overlooked with more urbanisation happening.

Approaches for the future

There needs to be a review of current governance of biodiversity and natural resources. After 18 years of action to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity, it is very likely that the same 196 countries will meet in 2020 to apologise to the world for having failed to meet the objectives of the convention.

In addition to seeking more money, time and capacities to deal with biodiversity and natural resource management, we need to focus on three specific approaches: one, to re-introduce more strongly, the management and governance principles of ‘Commons’ approaches into decision-making and implementation of conservation, use and benefit sharing action; two, to use Joseph Schumpeter’s approach of creative destruction to put resource management in the hands of the people; and three, to re-look at Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize winning principles of dealing with ‘Commons’.

Share

95% of the registered realty firms have no PAN

Wed, 13 Feb, 2019

In an audit of assessments made by the Income Tax Department on the real estate sector, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that a whopping 95% of the companies registered with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) did not have a permanent account number (PAN).

In an analysis of the data of the RoCs in 12 States, the CAG also noted that there were several companies that the tax net had failed to capture and that the department had no mechanism to ensure that all the registered companies had PAN or that they filed their income tax returns (ITR) regularly.

“RoCs did not have information about PAN in respect of 51,670 (95%) of a total of 54,578 companies for which data was made available to audit,” the report said. “It was difficult for Audit to ascertain from the information obtained from RoCs whether these companies were in the tax net of the ITD or not.”

The CAG said that it forwarded the information received from the RoCs regarding the companies without PAN to the Income Tax Department, but received no reply. “Audit attempted to ascertain whether the companies in RoC data with PAN were regular in filing their ITRs,” the report added.

“In respect of 840 companies with PAN coming under selected assessment charges, we noticed that 159 companies [19%] were not filing their ITRs.”

“From the above, it can be concluded that there is no mechanism with the Income Tax Department to ensure that all the registered companies have PAN and are filing their ITRs regularly,” the CAG said. In order to rectify this, the CAG recommended that the Central Board of Direct Taxes and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs set up an inter-ministerial arrangement so that when a company is registered with the RoC, the application for a PAN is automatically submitted to the tax department.

Share

NCLAT allows 22 IL&FS firms to pay debt

Tue, 12 Feb, 2019

IL&FS Group companies classified u/d 3 groups-
Green categories- Those countries which will continue to meet their payment obligations.
Amber Categories- Co. which can't meet their obligations but can meet only operational payment obligations to senior secured financial creditors.
Red category- Entities which can't meet their payment obligations towards even senior secured financial creditors.
NCLAT allowed 22 companies u/d green card category to service their debt obligations.

Share

H-1B holders from India rally for reform

Tue, 12 Feb, 2019

Demands
immigration law reforms to benefit those in the country legally.
clear green card backlog with a waiting period of 1-5 years,
allow legal childhood arrivals (LCAs) to receive benefits received by the Dreamers.
grant Green cards to H4 children-> allowing them to remain in the U.S after they turn 21 w/o
having switched to another visa-category.
remove country-caps for green caps allotment. (currently capped at 7%)
Introduction of Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019.

Share

SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018 by NITI Aayog

Tue, 12 Feb, 2019

Inter-state comparison on SDG progress.
SDG period- 2015- 2030; 17 goals; scale: 0-100.
4 categories of States-
Achievers- States which have already accomplished the targets.
Front runners- States close to realising their targets.
Performers- Most States falling u/d this.
Aspirants- Those lagging behind.
Many States fall into the aspirant category w.r.t. SDG-5(gender equality), SDG-9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and SDG-11 (Sustainable cities and communities).
Issue :
Arbitrariness in classification of States-> A mere difference of a single point can change the category of State.-> Need for a better scientific approach.
Variation of scores across different goals.
Averaging scores despite variations across goals hinders accuracy.

Share

Central Adoption Resource Authority

Tue, 12 Feb, 2019

Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) is a statutory body of Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India. It functions as the nodal body for adoption of Indian children and is mandated to monitor and regulate in-country and inter-country adoptions. CARA is designated as the Central Authority to deal with inter-country adoptions in accordance with the provisions of the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption, 1993, ratified by Government of India in 2003. 
CARA primarily deals with adoption of orphan, abandoned and surrendered children through its associated /recognised adoption agencies.

 
 
 
Share

Bill Passed To Scrap Minimum Education Qualification For Civic Polls In Rajasthan

Tue, 12 Feb, 2019

The Rajasthan Assembly on Monday passed two bills which seek to end the minimum education criterion for panchayat and civic polls candidates.

The House passed by voice vote the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and the Rajasthan Municipality (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

The previous Vasundhara Raje led government had introduced education criterion in 2015 which required a candidate to pass class 10 for contesting zila parishad, panchayat samiti and municipal elections.

For contesting elections for Sarpanch of a panchayat in scheduled and other than scheduled areas, it was mandatory to pass class 5 and 8, respectively.

Replying to the debate on the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Amendment Bill, 2019, Panchayati Raj minister Sachin Pilot said that the present government is committed for development of every section of the society.

"Sarpanches awarded by President, Vice President were declared ineligible due to the provisions in the previous Act. The Act was against the basics of the Constitution. Society cannot be divided on the basis of education," Mr Pilot said.

 He said that education criterion should first be introduced for contesting Assembly and parliamentary elections.

Local Self Government minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal presented the Rajasthan Municipality (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

In reply to the debate on the Bill, Mr Dhariwal said the Congress in its election manifesto had promised to scrap education criterion for contesting municipality election.

"Several cases had come where people contested election on the basis of fake certificates. Two sections were created due to educational criteria. Illiterate people had started feeling inferior. But, common sense is more important," he said.

 
Share

MGNREGA vs. PM-KISAN

Mon, 11 Feb, 2019

MGNREGA's Monthly wage > PM-KISAN annual income support
MGNREGA : Universal programme ; PM-KISAN: targeted cash transfer
MGNREGA : any rural household willing to do manual work eligible; PM-KISAN: landless excluded,
no clarity on tenant farmers (w/o titles) and women farmers.
Universal schemes less prone to corruption; targeted schemes at times leave out genuine beneficiaries too.
Fund transfer u/d PM-KISAN similar to MGNREGA : electronically t/f to beneficiary's bank a/c.
Issues surrounding MGNREGA too
delayed payments.
diversion, rejection of funds
technical errors like incorrect a/c numbers /faulty Aadhaar mapping
continued crisis in the scheme-> lower allocation for the funds in the Interim budget 2019-20.
Needs effective implementation as the programme has strong multiplier effects.
work demanded 33% more than employment provided.

Share

Wahhabi influence and Hindu nationalism

Mon, 11 Feb, 2019

Factors influencing the Muslim youth-
Influence of Saudi Wahhabism & related forms of Salafism on Islam in India attributed to increased employment opportunities in West-Asian countries post the oil-boom of the 1970s.
Socio-cultural impact of fundamental form of Islam of S.Arabia on Indian Muslims,
Impact of Wahhabism on the mindset of those who returned back to India-> started affecting the most liberal Islamic school of Hanafi sect.
Note that Indian Islam has been greatly influenced by the tolerant teachings of the Sufi sect; thereby being tolerant to all religions.
Wahhabism/Salafism- extremist nature.
Rise of Hindutva from 1990s, inter-religious riots recently.
All these extremist factors affecting the minds of muslim youth; who end up being inclined to Wahhabism and extreme form of Islamic fundamentalism.

Share

Only 4 UDAN routes in northeast operational

Mon, 11 Feb, 2019

Out of the 20 bi-directional routes awarded u/d UDAN Scheme, only 4 operational.
UDAN Scheme-
Subsidy provided by the govt to airlines, to cap airfares for 50% of the total seats at Rs. 2500 per hour of flight.

Share

IGIB: TB bacteria use a new way to subvert host defence

Sun, 10 Feb, 2019

It is well known that TB bacteria can actively manipulate the degradative pathway of macrophages (cells responsible for detecting, engulfing and destroying pathogens) such that instead of getting destroyed, the TB bacteria can actually multiply inside the macrophages. Now, researches at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), Delhi have for the first time found that TB bacteria actively manipulate an organelle other than those involved in the degradative pathways. They found that protein composition of lipid droplets is actively manipulated by TB bacteria.

Lipid droplets are storehouses of lipids inside the host cells but can be decorated with specific proteins. Previous studies have shown how the composition of proteins in lipid droplets gets altered during different physiological conditions. So understanding how the protein composition of macrophage lipid droplets changes in response to TB infection may help in shedding light about a new mechanism through which the TB bacteria subvert the host defences.

It is already known that TB bacteria utilise lipids from the host cells and compete with the host cell for nutrients stored inside the cells. So the team led Dr. Sheetal Gandotra from IGIB set to study how the lipid droplet organelle gets actively modified by live TB bacteria leading to changes in the protein composition

Share

Moving continents created new centipede species

Sun, 10 Feb, 2019

Fossils and advanced genetic methods to study relationships between species now tell an intriguing story about a group of tropical centipedes. Continental drift (the moving apart of continents) almost 100 million years ago created many species of Ethmostigmus centipedes in the world's tropics. In the Indian peninsula, these centipedes first originated in the southern and central Western Ghats, and then spread across the ranges here, finds a study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Diversity of species

India is home to six, fairly large Ethmostigmus centipedes: four dwell in the Western Ghats, one in the Eastern Ghats and one in north-east India. Africa, south-east Asia and Australia are also home to other species of Ethmostigmuscentipedes. What explains its distribution across continents and the diversity of species in peninsular India?

To find out, scientists Jahnavi Joshi and Gregory Edgecombe of the Natural History Museum (London, United Kingdom) turned to genetics. Using genetic data of 398 Ethmostigmus centipedes from published studies, they constructed a species ‘time-tree’ — a network that reveals how species are related to each other and when new species emerged — of nine species (across peninsular India, Africa, Australia and southeast Asia). They used three fossil centipedes to calibrate the DNA tree, which gave them the approximate times that the species originated in the past.

Common ancestor

The results suggest that a single ancestor gave rise to all Ethmostigmuscentipedes in the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana (continents including Australia, Africa and peninsular India comprised this single landmass then). The subsequent breakup of Gondwana and the drifting away of different landmasses shaped the early evolutionary history of Ethmostigmus. And the Ethmostigmus in peninsular India are very unique, says co-author Joshi.

“They started evolving at a time when peninsular India was moving towards south Asia,” she says. This started around 72 million years ago, in the southern and central Western Ghats. Following this, the Ethmostigmus here dispersed to the Eastern Ghats (now home to E. tristis).

From there, Ethmostigmus dispersed to the southern Western Ghats. Ethmostigmus centipedes also reached the northern Ghats from the south-central Ghats too, and later dispersed back to the central Ghats again from there.

The formation of wet forests in these areas during this time could have aided this dispersal (for all existing peninsular Indian Ethmostigmus centipedes now dwell only in wet forests), write the authors in the paper.

Share

IIT Madras identifies unique pathways of eye cancer

Sun, 10 Feb, 2019

Retinoblastoma-
Childhood tumour, affects single/both eyes.
High mortality rate in Asian & African countries.
Current treatments- chemotherapy & enucleation -> severe disabilities.
Findings-
Tumour tissue preferentially uses amino acids as a source of energy, unlike health cells which use carbohydrate for energy & survival.
Retinoblastoma tissue under-utilizes cholesterol synthesis.
Tumour tissue uses long or very long chain fatty acids for its survival.

Share

As new cases rise, leprosy in spotlight

Sun, 10 Feb, 2019

The rise in the number of recorded leprosy cases from 86,147 (in 2013-14) to 90,709 (2017-18), reported a decade and a half after India was declared leprosy-free in 2005, has turned the spotlight on the hotspots for the disease.

 The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set the goal of zero children with leprosy and deformities by 2020, and less than one patient per million for other     newly diagnosed patients.

Today, though, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra remain the ‘hotspots’ from which maximum prevalence was detected last year. High population density, poor sanitation and inadequate access to nutrition are among the reasons for the number remaining high. The Centre says a more aggressive detection campaign is being carried out, explaining the numbers.

The Leprosy Case Detection Campaign has shown that 34,730 cases were detected in 2016, 32,147 in 2017, and 16,097 in 2018. “We welcome the rise. It means we are catching these cases and putting the patients on treatment. But what the department is looking at is the new cases detected, the existing cases with leprosy-related handicap, and new cases in children. They are our actual ground check. The three parameters have shown a downward trend,” said Anil Kumar, Deputy Director-General (Leprosy), Union Health Ministry.

Moreover, he clarified, “The figures don’t tell us the actual story,” adding that that India’s leprosy management programme is running in a very aggressive sweep mode, after the “relaxed period” of 2005.

The number of cases reported fell after 2005-06, when India was declared leprosy-free — the prevalence rate at the time was 0.84%. “It was only at the end of 2011 that we realised leprosy is very much around — when people started reporting in with leprosy-related disabilities — and we refreshed our strategy to find and treat new cases,” Dr. Kumar said.

 Social stigma

Disease management efforts now include going down to the village level in what is called the “active seeking mode” for cases, where health workers go from house to house and physically examine people for a leprosy patch. “We were earlier missing many cases because people weren’t reporting due to fear, social stigma and lack of awareness,” said Dr. Kumar.

Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae, which multiplies slowly. The incubation period of the disease, on average, is five years. In some cases, symptoms may occur within one year but can also take as long as 20 years to occur. “This is exactly the trouble with the elimination of leprosy. The long incubation period, and the social stigma attached to it, makes it a tough disease to eliminate,” said Dr. Kumar.

Leprosy mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and also the eyes. The disease is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases. Untreated leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. It is curable with multi-drug therapy (MDT).

Focus on children

There has been a change in the percentage of new child cases from 9.49% in 2013-14 to 8.15% in 2017-18, with the level having remained almost stagnant at 8.94% in 2015-16 and 8.69 % in 2016-17. “Our special emphasis is on children, for whom we have brought in active detection intervention, with primary health workers educating them from the school-level onward. We are working at developing a positive attitude towards detection and treatment,” said Dr. Kumar.

In 2016-17, the proportion of new child cases was more than 10% of the new cases detected in 10 States.

Children are not predisposed to leprosy, but there is an element of risk in late detection, with parents hiding the disease, especially in the case of girls till the handicap sets in. Also, disability in children has a longer lifespan, which can hamper their quality of life.

Share

Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary (MP)

Sat, 09 Feb, 2019

Selected as a possible site for the implementation of Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project.
part of Kathiawar-Gir dry deciduous forests ecoregion.
Gujarat govt. envisaging a 'Greater Gir' that includes Gir National Park, Sanctuaries in Girnar, Pania, Mitiyala.

Share

Measurement of unemployment

Sat, 09 Feb, 2019

Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) of the IMFIndia is a signatory.
Established in 1996.
Helps countries access the international capital markets by providing economic & financial info. publicly.
requires monthly measurement of unemployment data.
India hasn't fulfilled the requirement of measurement of unemployment.
Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) by Centre for Monitoring India Economy (CMIE)-
Sample size & frequency a little larger than NSSO.
More comprehensive
Conducted every 4 months, surveys till the last day; more accurate.
Face-to-face interviews using GPS-enabled smartphones.
Validations conducted on real-time basis.
4 factors taken into a/c
unemployed willing to work and actively looking for a job;
unemployed willing to work but not actively looking for a job, and
unemployed but neither willing nor looking for a job.
Findings of the survey-
India's labour participation very low by world standards; especially post-demonetisation,
Lack of people's willingness to work- unemployed stopped seeking jobs.
Fall in unemployment rate mainly due to the fall in the labour participation rate- hence falling rate here was misleading.
Loss of jobs due to GST-> driving away small enterprises
employment rate shrunk by 11 mn in 2018.
Low female labour participation due to
rising household incomes
increased women enrolment in higher education
security factors
employers biased against hiring women.

Share

Bills introduced to remove per-country limits on green card

Sat, 09 Feb, 2019

Introduced in the U.S.
Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act-
To remove the per-country cap for employment-based green cards.
would benefit Indian professionals on H-1B visas
Existing law-
Not more than 7% of the green cards can go to nationals of one country.
Disadvantageous for countries with larger population.

Share

U.S. may end end zero-tariffs for India

Sat, 09 Feb, 2019

Proposal- To withdraw Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) from India.
GSP - 
in force since 1970s,
India among the largest beneficiary- enjoys zero tariffs on $5.6 billion of exports to the U.S.
Reasons for proposals of withdrawalto
reduce U.S. deficit with large economies.
high tariff rates in India
calling U.S manufacturing hubs back home to boost Trump's campaign of Make America Great Again.
India's new e-commerce rules that have restricted Amazon and Flipkart's business conduct.

Share

NCLT bars auditor for issuing 'false' certificate

Sat, 09 Feb, 2019

Auditor Mukesh Choksi barred for auditing companies for 5 years on grounds of granting false audit certificate w/o examining & verifying the book of accounts. Shall be liable for action u/d Sec 447 of the Companies Act, 2013.
National Company Law Tribunalquasi-
judicial body to hear appeals against Companies u/d Companies Act.
National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA)-
Independent regulator for the auditing profession.
would cover all listed companies & large unlisted companies.
smaller unlisted companies- audited by the ICAI.
Section 132 of the Companies Act, 2913 grants NFRA the powers to impose a fine of not less than Rs. 1 lakh.
the amount can extend upto 5 times of the fees received in case of individuals.

Share

Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM)

Fri, 08 Feb, 2019

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency of the United States notified Congress that the State Department has approved a possible foreign military sale to India — two 777 Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) Self-Protection Suites (SPS), for an estimated $190 million.
These systems will protect two Boeing-777 Head-of-State aircraft. According to a PTI report, this would bring the security of Air India One at par with that of Air Force One, the aircraft used by the American President.
LAIRCM is a programme meant to protect large aircraft from man-portable missiles. It increases crew-warning time, decreases false alarm rates and automatically counters advanced infrared missile systems.
In a 2016 document, the Defense Technical Information Centre of the US Defense Department explained that LAIRCM consists of missile warning sensors (MWS), a laser transmitter assembly, control interface unit (CIU) and processors to detect, track, jam and counter incoming infrared missiles. The number of sensors and transmitter assemblies per aircraft is determined by the size and signature of the aircraft.
The components of the potential sale were listed in a US Defense Security Agency news release: 12 Guardian Laser Transmitter Assemblies (6 installed and 6 spares); 8 LAIRCM System Processor Replacements (2 installed and 6 spares); 23 Missile Warning Sensors (12 installed and 11 spares); 5 Counter-Measures Dispensing System (2 installed and 3 spares); and various others.

Share

Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL)

Fri, 08 Feb, 2019

A 10.7-km railway line, including a 9.02-km tunnel, has been proposed to connect the upcoming Vizhinjam International Multipurpose Deepwater Seaport to the railway network.
The 9.02-km tunnel, mooted by Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd (KRCL) from near the Balaramapuram station on the Kanyakumari-Thiruvananthapuram railway line, will be the second longest railway tunnel of the country on completion.
The KRCL, in its draft Detailed Project Report (DPR) submitted to Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL) — a special purpose company supervising the execution of the seaport project — has favoured the railway tunnel from Balaramapuram in view of the 35-metre level difference between the port and the highest ground level, undulating terrain, and local population.
The proposed railway line from Balaramapuram to Vizhinjam will be a single line and will be sufficient for the movement of 9 to 10 rakes daily through the corridor for the next 20 years, according to KRCL.
As much as 6.57 hectares will have to be acquired on the Balaramapuram-Vizhinjam stretch for laying the line.

Share

statue of Guru Padmasambhava

Fri, 08 Feb, 2019

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik unveiled a 19-foot-high statue of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, at Jirang in Gajapati district.
This 29 tonne stone statue is placed in the middle of ‘Padma Sarovar’, a large tank near Padmasambhava Mahavihara, the largest Buddhist monastery in eastern India. The Dalai Lama had inaugurated this monastery in 2010. Tibetan refugees settled in this region over six decades ago.
Historians claim that Guru Padmasambhava, also known as second Buddha, was born and brought up in Odisha before he left for Tibet.
A large gathering of Tibetan settlers along with their religious and administrative leaders were present at the function. The statue of Guru Padmasambhava has been sculpted by noted sculptor Padmashri Prabhakar Moharana.
Odisha was once a major centre of learning and practice of Buddhism. It is evident form Buddhist archaeological sites in the State. It is the land that transformed Emperor Ashoka to a benevolent king. Tibetan people of Jirang have become an integral part of Odisha’s socio-economic and cultural life.

Share

"Members' fiduciary responsibility with RBI"

Thu, 07 Feb, 2019

Members' fiduciary responsibility to lie with the RBI even if the govt. has nominated the members to the board.
Boards present composition-
RBI Governor
4 Deputy Governors.
11 members expert in their field nominated by govt.
2 govt officials- The Secretary of Economic Affairs & Secretary of Financial Services.
Function of the board-
Provides broader vision to the RBI
NOT involved in monetary policy making or making policy-related issues.

Share

International Financial Services Centres (IFSCs)

Thu, 07 Feb, 2019

Regulation of all International Financial Services Centres (IFSCs) to be done through the Financial Services Centres Authority Bill, 2019.
IFSC's aim-
To encourage Indian Co. conducting business in foreign financial centres.
To attract business by providing global-standard regulatory & business environment.
Easier access of Indian corporates to global financial markets.

Share

Pradhan Mantri ShramYogi Mandhan Yojana

Thu, 07 Feb, 2019

Pradhan Mantri ShramYogi Maandhan Yojana-
For those earning =<Rs. 15000/month
Would be eligible for a reworked pension scheme of Rs. 3000/month from the age of 60.
Contribution- Rs. 55 a month (if they join at the age of 18 years), or Rs. 100 a month (if they join at the age of 29 years)
Cap on age of joining the scheme- at the age of 40.
Corpus- Rs. 500 crore.

Share

Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2018

Thu, 07 Feb, 2019

Cabinet has approved amendments to the 'Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2018'.
Classifies 'deposit schemes' not registered with the govt as an offence-> bans it; protects interest of depositors.
amendments to efficiently deal with illicit deposit-taking activities.
bans deposit-takers from promoting, issuing advertisements or acccepting deposits in any unregulated scheme.
Definitions-
Deposit- an amount of money received through an advance, a loan, or in any other form, with a promise to be returned with or without interest.
Unregulated Deposit-Scheme- one that is not registered with the regulators listed (like RBI, SEBI, MoCA etc. ) in the Bill.

Share

Bench reserves orders on Sabarimala Review petitions

Thu, 07 Feb, 2019

SC's Sabarimala Judgement-
Exclusion of menstruating women b/w the age of 10-50 was similar to treating them as the children of a ''lesser God'' amounting to gender discrimination.
Exclusion on the basis of biological attribute -> untouchability.
Exclusion violated Articles 14, 15, 19 and 25 of the Constitution.
Other justifications to support SC Judgement-
Art 51A(h) Fundamental duty of citizens to“develop scientific temper, humanism, spirit of enquiry and reform.”
Issue- 65 petitions challenged court's authority.
SC may curb advocates from speaking on cases-
Lawyers should curb their desires to speak on cases & petitions in front of media.
SC might impose restrictions on advocates from airing their views; says freedom carries with it a responsibility; lawyers should protect the judiciary rather than destroying people's faith in it.

Share

On start-up tax

Wed, 06 Feb, 2019

Start-ups troubled by the so-called angel tax may soon receive some concession from the government. On Monday, the Centre set up a five-member working committee to look into revising the norms of the angel tax imposed on start-ups. The tax, which was first introduced in 2012 to curb money-laundering through the sale of shares of private unlisted companies at bloated prices, has caused a lot of anguish among start-up investors in the country. Start-up owners have complained that income tax officials have asked many start-ups to cough up money when they try to attract capital into their entities by issuing new shares. For its part, the IT department fears that start-ups may be used as convenient tools to launder illegally acquired money, so a tax on investments beyond a certain threshold is necessary to deter such shady operations. But while the intent of such an angel tax may be justifiable, the arbitrary nature of it means the cost of unintended consequences could be larger than the supposed benefits. In trying to curb money-laundering, Section 56(2)(viib) of the Indian Income Tax Act, 1961 gives income tax officials a free hand to harass even genuine start-ups looking to raise investments for their growth. Under the Act, the IT department is free to arbitrarily decide the fair value of a company’s share and tax start-ups if the price at which their new shares are sold to investors is higher than the fair value of these shares. The broad-brush tax on all investments means an unnecessary cost is imposed on the wider start-up community simply because of the lack of better means at the government’s disposal to tackle black money.

The committee set up by the government will, among other things, consider raising the threshold beyond which new investments into start-ups will be taxed. It is expected that start-ups with aggregate paid-up share capital and share premium of less than 25 crore, against the previous threshold of only 10 crore, will not be taxed while attracting new investment. This would definitely make life easier to a certain extent for angel investors and start-ups. But it will not address the real problem with the angel tax, which has to do with the unbridled power that it vests in the hands of the income tax authorities. Investors, foreign or domestic, may become wary of investing in new ideas when they are taxed while risking money on untested ventures. So the government should look to withdraw the angel tax and focus instead on building the capability to better identify and rein in illegal wealth. Otherwise it risks killing the nascent start-up ecosystem in the country.

Share

India's 40th communication satellite - GSAT-31

Wed, 06 Feb, 2019

The satellite derives its heritage from ISROs earlier INSAT/GSAT satellite series, the space agency said, adding that it will provide communication services to Indian mainland and islands.

GSAT-31 is the country’s 40th communication satellite which is configured on ISRO’s enhanced ‘I-2K Bus’, utilising the maximum “bus capabilities” of this type.

This satellite will augment the Ku-band transponder capacity in Geostationary Orbit, ISRO said. With a mission life of around 15 years, GSAT-31 will be used for supporting VSAT networks, Television uplinks, Digital Satellite News Gathering, DTH-television services, cellular backhaul connectivity and many such applications.

It will also provide wide beam coverage to facilitate communication over large oceanic region, comprising large parts of Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean, using a wide band transponder.

According to ISRO, two Ku-band beacon down link signals are transmitted by the satellite for ground tracking purpose.

“GSAT-31 has a unique configuration of providing flexible frequency segments and flexible coverage,” ISRO chairman K. Sivan said.

“GSAT-31 will provide DTH Television Services, connectivity to VSATs for ATM, Stock-exchange, Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) and e-governance applications. The satellite will also be used for bulk data transfer for a host of emerging telecommunication applications,” he said in a release.

Riding in Ariane-5’s upper position, HS-4/SGS-1 was released first in the flight sequence, with its separation occurring about 27 minutes after liftoff.

Comprising two payloads, Saudi Geostationary Satellite 1/Hellas Sat 4, also called HS- 4/SGS-1, is a geostationary condosat for KACST (King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology Saudi Arabia) and Hellas Sat (Greece Cyprus).

HS- 4/SGS-1 will provide telecommunication capabilities, including television, Internet, telephone and secure communications in the Middle East, South Africa and Europe, Arianespace said on its website.

GSAT-30 is another geostationary satellite to be lofted soon by Arianespace for ISRO.

Share

Govt. subsidy spend on the rise again

Wed, 06 Feb, 2019

Govt's total subsidy expenditure- 9.83% of its total expenditure overall in 2019-20 according to Budget Estimates (up from the 9.65% in the Revised Estimate for 2018-19) Sharp rise in food subsidy (due to increase in MSP) & petroleum subsidy (due to increased allocation for DBT Scheme for LPG).
2 major schemes in LPG sector-
PAHAL scheme- Direct cash transfers to LPG customers for twelve 14.2kg cylinders per year.
Ujjwala Yojana- free LPG connections to poor households- allocation for the scheme has fallen nearly 15% in 2019-20 compared to previous year.

Share

Russia to develop new missile systems by 2021

Wed, 06 Feb, 2019

U.S. withdrawal from the IMF treaty;Russia's made similar announcement to withdraw from the treaty and would begin to engage in new types of weapons.
Russia planning to develop two new missile systems- Land-based version of the seaborne Kalibr system equipped with a long-range cruise missile. land-based missile system with a long-range hypersonic missile.

Share

United Nation's World Economic Situation and Prospects for 2019 report.

Wed, 06 Feb, 2019

Major findings of the report-
Global economy- to grow at a steady pace of around 3 per cent in 2019 and 2020.
Uneven economic growth, failing to reach those who want it the most.
Economic activity to be mainly led by core industrial & urban regions; rural & peripheral regions to be left behind.
Incomes to grow marginally in Africa, Western Asia, Latin America & the Caribbean.
Poverty elimination would require sharp reduction in economic inequalities.
Risks hindering long-term developmental goals decreasing support for multilateral approaches.
escalation of trade policy disputes; financial instabilities linked to elevated levels of debt; and rising climate risks might hinder long-term developmental goals.

Share

Bullet train gets green light via flamingo haven

Wed, 06 Feb, 2019

Wildlife clearance given to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed train corridor.Encroaches upon Thane Creek Flamingo Wildlife Sanctuary, Sanjay Gandhi National ParkTungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary Train project to be completed in 3 years.
Funding- 80% loan from Japan
Thane Creek Wildlife Sanctuary- Declared as a Flamingo Sanctuary in 2015.
MH's second marine sanctuary after Malvan Wildlife Sanctuary which was declared in 1987.
Eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) declared on the areas adjoining either side of the creek & notified as reserved forests.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park- Protected area near Mumbai.Formerly known as Borivali National Park.
Part of Western ghats biodiversity. Comprises Kanheri Caves - an archaeological site of buddhist learning.
Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary- Declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2003.
Forms a corridor b/w Sanjay Gandhi National Park & Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary.

Share

Angel Tax

Tue, 05 Feb, 2019

introduced in budget 2012.
Angel investors - those who investments in start ups/ entrepreneurial companies which are generally not able to receive funds.
Angel tax raised on excess capital (treated as income) raised by an unlisted Co. through issue of shares over & above the market value of those shares.
What are the new norms u/d process?
Limit of paid-up share capital & share premium being raised to Rs. 25 crore for tax exemption. Amend the definition of start-ups to include Companies that have been in operation for upto 10 years. (Earlier, it was 7 years). Angel investors should have filed IT returns of atleast Rs. 25 lakh and have a net worth of Rs. 1 crore.

Share

On human rights & deportation of the Rohingyas.

Tue, 05 Feb, 2019

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention but it should be noted that this convention is based on Art 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which India is a signatory.
Therefore, refugee law is a part of international human rights law. 1951 Convention: Principle of non-refoulment i.e. States cannot expel/ return a refugee to territories which threaten his life/ freedom on several accounts- it is this provision lying at the centre of the debate which is binding even on non-parties to the 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol.
Related laws-
Article 14 of UDHR- right to seek & enjoy in other countries asylum from prosecution.
Article 51 of the Indian Constitution- State to promote international peace & Security.
Art 51 (c) of the Indian Constitution- Promotion of respect for international law & treaty obligations.
Fundamental Rights- Even foreign citizens entitled to right to equality(Art 14) & right to life (Art 21).
Loopholes-
Lack of a specific legislation to address refugee-problem in India.
Failure of Foreigners Act, 1946 to address problems faced by refugees as a class- power given to Central Govt to deport any foreign citizen.
Exclusion of muslims from the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2019- note that majority of Rohingyas are muslims.
Need for a proper refugee law; nations should be accommodative & understand that it's their moral obligation to protect these refugees.

Share

A national register of exclusion

Tue, 05 Feb, 2019

Many names dropped due to just minor differences in the spelling of Bengali names in English. Long-list of documentation difficult for the poor to understand; failure to prove their citizenship. lack of knowledge among rural poor about their exact date of birth. women often with no birth certificates; difference in their surnames before & after their marriages. labelling impoverished workers as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and hence excluding them. Similar process taken in 1990s by the then Election Commissioner who directed officials to identify doubtful voters by marking a "D" against their names on the voter's list until completion of inquiry - Letter D now a reason for their exclusion from NRC since no inquiry performed. Power in the hands of Assam police to identify anyone it suspects to be a 'foreigner'.
These cases heard by Foreign Tribunals with retired judges- FT's often not declaring these as\ Indian citizens; Police can refer a person to FT even after his/her name appears in the NRC. Violation of Art 20 of the constitution- no punishment for same offence more than once.

Share

67% cancer patients in SE Asia die before 70: WHO

Tue, 05 Feb, 2019

18.1 million new cancer-cases worldwide.
Death of 9.6 million from cancer 70% deaths in low & middle-income countries. 67% cancer patients in South East Asia die before the age of 70. Cancer treatment services in low income countries is only 30%. & pathology services in only 26% low-income countries.
Major causes of death- cervical cancer, breast cancer, tobacco-releated diseases.

Share

96 elephant corridors

Tue, 05 Feb, 2019

Asian Elephant Alliance - umbrella initiative by five NGOs to raise funds to secure 96 (4 already secured) new & old elephant corridors in the next 10 years.
NGOs involved-
Elephant Family,
International Fund for Animal Welfare
IUCN Netherlands
World Land Trust
Wildlife Trust of India.
Asian Elephants- Endangered u/d IUCN,

Share

Emission levels rising faster in Indian cities than in China

Tue, 05 Feb, 2019

Findings on Greenhouse gas emissions-
Average emission by an Indian- 20 kg per capita while commuting. Emission highest for Gurugram, lowest in Shrawasti district, UP.
India-4th largest CO2 emitter- 4.6% IN 2017; World average- 4.2%. Developed countries- lesser emissions since greater urbanisation reduces distance b/w home & workplace- preference for public transport. 1% increase in urbanisation led to a 0.12% increase in CO2 emissions in China & 0.24% in case of India.
Environmental Research Letters- quarterly peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal published by IOP Publishing.

Share

Entire Aravalli area is devastated: SC

Tue, 05 Feb, 2019

Issue of indiscriminate illegal miners in the region & State's failure to curb it.
Aravalli's conservation-
Aravalli range covered u/d National Conservation Zone (NCZ) as per Delhi NCR Regional Plan 2021. Construction allowed on only 0.5% of the area, mainly for parks & sanctuaries u/d NCZConstruction banned for real estate, tourism, commerce, & residence.

Share

A ‘pink revolution’

Mon, 04 Feb, 2019

A ‘pink revolution’ is quietly taking shape in Maharashtra. The objective is to breed imported pigs to address the problem of protein deficiency in a sizeable section of the population that has been deprived of access to affordable meat besides providing livelihood to farmers.
Mumbai-based Gargi Genetics Pvt. Ltd., supported by the Maharashtra government’s policy, is gearing up to create an ecosystem for supply of high quality pork.
The company is planning to partner with farmers by supplying them pigs imported from Canada. They would be bred under hygienic conditions for production of high quality meat.
Many consumers stay away from consuming pork as local pigs are mostly bred under unhygienic conditions.
Gargi Genetics is planning to address this concern through supply of hygienic pork produced from imported breeds in clean environment and is launching an education campaign.
The company plans to build a fully-equipped international-standard piggery that would support animal husbandry, food and medical industry.
While it would create a comprehensive value chain for pork production, it would also supply high quality animals for medical and research industry (organ transplant and insulin), top officials said.
In five years, over 1,000 Maharashtra farmers, in a cooperative format, are expected to learn about commercial animal farming with international best practices. Other States such as Punjab, Kerala and North Eastern States do have pig-related policies but Maharashtra’s policy supports international imported pig breeding for maximising output.

Share

Millet Village scheme

Mon, 04 Feb, 2019

With ‘superfood’ and ‘eat smart’ strategies forming the main ingredients of the latest dietary mantras, the State Agriculture Department is earmarking farm space in more districts for growing nutrient-rich millets.
Satisfied with its trial run — the Millet Village scheme at Attappady in Palakkad district — the department was planning to expand cultivation to Idukki, Wayanad and other parts of Palakkad, including more tribal villages at Attappady. The department had sought Central support under the national-level mission for promoting millets, Mr. Sunil Kumar said.
The government’s intention to popularise the cultivation of these climate-smart crops.
Under the Millet Village scheme, the department had harvested ragi (finger millet), thina (foxtail millet), cholam (sorghum) and kuthiravaali (barnyard millet) in 1,200 acres.
Additionally, a pilot scheme for cultivating Chia, a Central American plant, which is gaining popularity in India as yet another superfood, was progressing at Attappady.
A happy combination of factors such as high protein content, short growing season, climate change resilience and low water requirement make millets an ideal crop for the State.

Share

‘Microplastics found in dolphins’

Sun, 03 Feb, 2019

Microplastics have been found in the guts of every marine mammal examined in a study of animals washed up on Britain’s shores, scientists say.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) in the U.K. examined 50 animals from 10 species of dolphins, seals and whales — and found microplastics in them all.
Most of the particles (84%) were synthetic fibres — which can come from sources, including clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes — while the rest were fragments, whose possible sources include food packaging and plastic bottles.
“It’s shocking, but not surprising that every animal had ingested microplastics. The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal), suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated.
“More research is needed to better understand the potential impacts on animal health.
Though the animals in the study died of a variety of causes, those that died due to infectious diseases had a slightly higher number of particles than those that died of injuries or other causes.
Effects the food chain
Marine mammals are ideal sentinels of our impacts on the marine environment, as they are generally live long and many feed high up in the food chain.
In total, 26 species of marine mammal are known to inhabit or pass through British waters. The species in this study included Atlantic white-sided dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, grey seal, harbour porpoise, harbour seal, pygmy sperm whale, Risso’s dolphin, striped dolphin and white-beaked dolphin.

Share

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs)

Sun, 03 Feb, 2019

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are fast emerging as an option for several specific requirements. Now, a startup, JSP Enviro, aims to use this technology to process textile wastewater and additionally generate electricity that will render this exercise energy-efficient.
Initiated by Suresh Paul Jones, the startup is in the process of joining the bioincubator at IIT Madras, where it’s other members V.T Fidal Kumar and Priyadharshini Mani will expand the research they have done so far.
Now working at the Biotechnology Department of IIT Madras with a prototype of about 200 litre capacity, the team plans to increase it to 1,000 litre capacity by 2020. “Though we have developed the technology for processing wastewater from the textile industry, it can be used with any other industrial wastewater. The team is also working on the restoration of a lake attached to the Integral Coach factory at Villivakkam in Chennai.

Share

Nilavembu kudineer (a Siddha medicine)

Sun, 03 Feb, 2019

Under in vitro conditions, nilavembu kudineer (a Siddha medicine) was found to provide protection against chikungunya virus while it was effective as a treatment during acute phase of dengue infection.
Dengue subtype-2, which is the most prevalent subtype in India, was used for testing the formulation. There was significant antiviral activity of the formulation at 3% of human dose onwards. Currently, there is no treatment for dengue and chikungunya.
The Tamil Nadu government had distributed nilavembu kudineer concoction to treat people infected with dengue during the outbreak in late 2017.
Mode of action
A team of researchers led by Sujatha Sunil from the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Delhi found that the nilavembu kudineer formulation was modulating the host response in the case of both chikungunya and dengue virus but in a different manner.
The mode of action of the concoction is antiviral in the case of dengue while immuno-modulatory in chikungunya infection.
The formulation is immuno-modulatory is because of the way nilavembu kudineer acts upon viral infections in different types of cells. However, the mode of action of the formulation on immuno-modulation is yet to be understood.
To study the antiviral activity, the researchers tested the formulation on monocytes and macrophages in the case of dengue and epithelial kidney cells for chikungunya virus.
The monocytes and macrophages are the primary sites of infection in the case of dengue. And kidney is the secondary site of infection by chikungunya virus. The primary site of infection of chikungunya virus is fibroblasts before the virus enters the blood stream and then to different organs.
The joints are the worst affected due to chikungunya virus infection. But we don’t have primary joint cell lines to test the formulation at this point.

Share

Pradhan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandhan

Sat, 02 Feb, 2019

The Centre has allocated Rs. 500 crore for a new pension scheme for workers in the unorganised sector, even while reducing its allocation for an existing pension scheme by Rs. 775 crore.
The new scheme, to be called the Pradhan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandhan, will benefit unorganised sector workers who have a monthly income up to Rs. 15,000. It will provide them a monthly pension of Rs. 3,000 from the age of 60.
Workers will contribute an amount ranging from Rs. 55 to Rs. 100 each month, depending on their age, at the time of joining the scheme, while the government will deposit a matching contribution. The Centre expects 10 crore workers to get the benefit within the next five years.
“Half of India’s GDP comes from the sweat and toil of 42 crore workers in the unorganised sector. However, the Budget documents show that an existing pension scheme, which already benefits more than 3 crore poor people who are senior citizens, disabled or widows, has had its allocation slashed.
The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP), a pension scheme administered by the Ministry of Rural Development, had originally been allocated Rs. 9,975 crore in the 2018-19 Budget. For 2019-20, the scheme’s allocation has been cut to Rs. 9,200 crore, a drop of Rs. 775 crore.

Share

CENTRE FOR WILDLIFE REHABILITATION AND CONSERVATION (CWRC)

Sat, 02 Feb, 2019

CWRC IS THE ONLY FACILITY IN INDIA where orphaned and/or injured wild animals of several species are hand-raised and/or treated and subsequently returned to the wild. Strategically located in Borjuri village adjacent to the Panbari Reserve Forest near Kaziranga National Park in Assam, the centre attends to a wide range of wildlife emergencies resulting from natural or anthropogenic causes. Since it was launched in 2002, the centre has handled close to 4500 animal cases, with nearly 60 percent released back to the wild.

Kaziranga National Park in the northeast Indian state of Assam is a world heritage site, notified by the UNESCO in 1985. The park holds the world’s largest population of the greater one-horned rhinoceros and provides refuge to a large number of wild animals including the endangered Royal Bengal tiger and the Asian elephant.

Flanked by the Brahmaputra river towards its north, Kaziranga lies in the river’s flood plain and experiences annual flooding during monsoon. Although, these annual inundations play a significant role in maintaining the fertility of the habitat, they also regularly cause large scale temporary displacement of wild animals.

With an average altitude of 60m, the park offers very little escape for animals during the floods. Although man-made highlands offer some relief to animals, many get washed away. Animals also get displaced in their attempt to escape to higher ground, with young ones who are unable to keep pace with their parents often getting left behind.

Beyond the park boundary, displaced animals are susceptible to conflict with humans and sometimes fall prey to poachers. Many also fall victims to road accidents, especially along NH37 that separates Kaziranga’s low-lying flooded grasslands from the wooded highlands of the Karbi Anglong hills to the south. Displacements also arise due to conflict with humans and animals being stranded in human-modified environment.

CWRC was established in August 2002 with a primary aim to stablise displaced animals and release them back into the wild, as close to the site of rescue as possible, following necessary treatment. The centre follows accepted international protocols and guidelines during rescue, treatment and rehabilitation of displaced or distressed animals.

While most animals brought to CWRC are temporarily displaced, a number of them require long-term acclimatisation for rehabilitation, or even lifetime care. This category includes young individuals which are hand-raised for several years at CWRC and relocated to a suitable site for acclimatisation and subsequent release into the wild.

As a rule, with young individuals, attempts (some lasting for weeks) are made to reunite them with their mothers, before they are considered subjects for long-term rehabilitation. Several displaced elephant calves have been reunited with their natal herds soon after separation. CWRC has played host to a number of young animals notably orphaned rhinos, elephants, tigers, leopards, Asiatic black bears, badgers, jungle cats, leopard cats, owls etc. A number of these animals have been successfully hand-raised and rehabilitated back in the wild. Post-release monitoring of rehabilitated individuals belonging to key species is facilitated by radio-transmitters fitted on collars.

A joint venture between Wildlife Trust of India, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Assam Forest Department, CWRC was constructed with the support of the Animal Welfare Division, Government of India. It is recognized by the Centre Zoo Authority (CZA).

 

Share

Aber- the new digital currency

Fri, 01 Feb, 2019

 The central banks of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia have launched a common digital currency called ‘Aber’, which will be used in financial settlements between the two countries through Blockchains and Distributed Ledgers technologies. The use of the currency will be restricted to a limited number of banks in each state. In case that no technical obstacles are encountered, economic and legal requirements for future uses will be considered.

 

Share

UNESCO has launched the International Year Of The Periodic Table.

Fri, 01 Feb, 2019

Russian scientist Dmitry Mendeleev published the first periodic such table in 1969.

  • The table organizes all chemical elements by the number of protons in a given atom and other properties.
  • There are seven rows, called periods, and 18 columns, called groups, in the table.
  • Elements in the same group share similar properties. Those in the same period have the same number of atomic orbitals.
  • Most elements on the table are metals divided into six broad categories – alkali metals, alkaline earths, basic metals, transition metals, lanthanides and actinides. They are located on the left, separated from the non-metals on the right by a zig-zag line.
  • Lanthanides and actinides, often called “inner transition metals”, are commonly hived off as a separate section under the main table as including all 30 – including Uranium – would make the table too wide.
  • The table is a useful tool for people to derive relationships between the different properties of the elements. It can also help predict the properties of new elements that have yet to be discovered or created.

The International Union of Pure Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is responsible for maintaining the periodic table.

  • IUPAC is an international federation of National Adhering Organizations that represents chemists in individual countries. It is a member of the International Council for Science (ICSU).
  • Headquarters of IUPAC is in Zürich, Switzerland.
  • Established in 1919 as the successor of the International Congress of Applied Chemistry for the advancement of chemistry.
  • Its members, the National Adhering Organizations, can be national chemistry societies, national academies of sciences, or other bodies representing chemists.
  • The IUPAC’s Inter-divisional Committee on Nomenclature and Symbols (IUPAC nomenclature) is the recognized world authority in developing standards for the naming of the chemical elements and compounds.

 

Share

BEVERIDGE CURVE

Thu, 31 Jan, 2019

This refers to a graphical representation that shows the relationship between the unemployment rate (on the horizontal axis) and the job vacancy rate (on the vertical axis) in an economy. It is named after British economist William Beveridge. The Beveridge curve usually slopes downwards because times when there is high job vacancy in an economy are also marked by relatively low unemployment since companies may actually be actively looking to hire new people. By the same logic, a low job vacancy rate usually corresponds with high unemployment as companies may not be looking to hire many people in new jobs.

Share

The Arctic polar vortex

Thu, 31 Jan, 2019

polar vortex is an upper level low-pressure area lying near the Earth's poles. There are two polar vortices in the Earth's atmosphere, overlying the North and South Poles. Each polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale, low-pressure zone that rotates counter-clockwise at the North Pole (called a cyclone) and clockwise at the South Pole, i.e., both polar vortices rotate eastward around the poles. The bases of the two polar vortices are located in the middle and upper troposphere and extend into the stratosphere. Beneath that lies a large mass of cold, dense Arctic air.

The interface between the cold dry air mass of the pole and the warm moist air mass farther south defines the location of the polar front. The polar front is centered, roughly at 60° latitude. A polar vortex strengthens in the winter and weakens in the summer due to its dependence on the temperature difference between the equator and the poles. The vortices span less than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in diameter, within which they rotate counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and in a clockwise fashion in the Southern Hemisphere. As with other cyclones, their rotation is driven by the Coriolis effect.

The vortices weaken and strengthen from year to year. When the vortex of the Arctic is strong, it is well defined, there is a single vortex, and the Arctic air is well contained; when weaker, which it generally is, it will break into two or more vortices; when very weak, the flow of Arctic air becomes more disorganized, and masses of cold Arctic air can push equator ward, bringing with it a rapid and sharp temperature drop. When the polar vortex is strong, there is a single vortex with a jet stream that is "well constrained" near the polar front. When the northern vortex weakens, it separates into two or more vortices, the strongest of which are near Baffin Island, Canada and the other over northeast Siberia.

The Antarctic vortex of the Southern Hemisphere is a single low-pressure zone that is found near the edge of the Ross ice shelf, near 160 west longitude. When the polar vortex is strong, the mid-latitude Westerlies (winds at the surface level between 30° and 60° latitude from the west) increase in strength and are persistent. When the polar vortex is weak, high-pressure zones of the mid-latitudes may push poleward, moving the polar vortex, jet stream, and polar front equatorward. The jet stream is seen to "buckle" and deviate south. This rapidly brings cold dry air into contact with the warm, moist air of the mid-latitudes, resulting in a rapid and dramatic change of weather known as a "cold snap".

Ozone depletion occurs within the polar vortices – particularly over the Southern Hemisphere – reaching a maximum depletion in the spring.

Share

Kundakulam nuclear plant

Thu, 31 Jan, 2019

The S-400 missile defence system, which India is acquiring from Russia in a multi-billion dollar deal, is a proof of the special nature of the partnership between the two countries. The deal was on track, and the first batch of delivery was expected in 2020.
Last year, India and Russia signed the $5.2-billion deal for the S-400 system despite pressure from the U.S. and threats of sanctions. The S-400 is a highly advanced surface-to-air missile defence system that can shoot down hostile jets and missiles.
Asked if American sanctions would create hurdles for the payment of the system, Mr. Kudashev said both India and Russia recently came together to develop a practical solution, involving banks of two sides and national currencies, to overcome this challenge. Russia’s partnership with India and its ties with Pakistan were incomparable.
He added that the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu was being developed successfully. “Block one and two are very much on. Three and four, construction activity started. For five and six, the legal issues are settled. We are looking for a second site — six more blocks.

Share

Biopolymer

Thu, 31 Jan, 2019

Rajasthan is promoting research in the biopolymer sector with an emphasis on fabrication of new products and generation of more employment opportunities. The initiative will also be linked with the handicraft industry for extending the benefits to both of them.
State Industries Commissioner Krishna Kant Pathak said here earlier this week that institutions such as the Centre for Skilling and Technical Support in Jaipur and the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Jodhpur could play a significant role in developing the technology and break the monopoly of some countries.
NIFT will establish a gallery exhibiting the textile industry’s progress from handlooms to hi-tech machines and development of designs from medieval to modern period. Mr. Pathak said that a testing laboratory for plastic products would be set up and an awareness campaign launched on their utility and standard norms.

Share

Model Code of Conduct

Thu, 31 Jan, 2019

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has rebuked Union Ministries for violating protocols while seeking approval for decisions to be announced after the Model Code of Conduct kicks in.
In a letter to Cabinet Secretary P.K. Sinha, the EC has indicated that requests to the EC for grant of ‘No Objection’ for specific decisions would simply be returned without consideration if the Ministries’ communications to the Constitutional body did not follow procedure.
The Commission had returned such requests in several cases during the recent State Assembly elections and has cited some examples from the polls held in five States last year, and the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections of December 2017.
The Commission has taken “a serious note of the way in which officers of various Central government departments are sending references” without following due procedure, and urged the Cabinet Secretary to ensure strict compliance.
References to Constitutional and statutory bodies like the EC have to be done in the form of a letter to its Secretary, Principal Secretary or Deputy Election Commissioner (Deputy EC). Simply sending an office memorandum from junior officials to the EC is not acceptable.

Share

The golden langur ( Trachypithecus geei )

Wed, 30 Jan, 2019

Assam Environment and Forest Minister Parimal Shuklabaidya announced the success of the Golden Langur Conservation Breeding Programme in the State. The golden langur conservation project was undertaken at the Assam State Zoo in Guwahati during the 2011-12 fiscal.
Funded by the Central Zoo Authority, an isolated and undisturbed site within the zoo was chosen to provide a natural habitat for the primates with a golden coat endemic to Assam. In April 2018, the zoo authorities shifted a pair of golden langurs — Bolin and Lovely — from the display enclosure to the isolated site.
The golden langur ( Trachypithecus geei ) is currently endangered. Apart from a 60 square mile area in north-western Assam, small populations are found in Bhutan and Tripura.

Share

National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)

Wed, 30 Jan, 2019

There are 139 Indian cities that breach air pollution standards but are not included in the Centre's National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).
The NCAP was launched by the government earlier this month and is a Rs. 300 crore initiative to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution by 20-30% in at least 102 cities by 2024. Airpocalypse III, as the Greenpeace report is titled, analyses air pollution data of 313 cities and towns for the year 2017.
Of these 313 cities, 241 (77%) had PM10 levels beyond the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). These specify upper limits to a range of airborne chemicals and compounds. While 102 of these cities were included in the NCAP, the remaining 139 cities were left out.
Even if the NCAP were to able to reduce pollution by 30% by 2024, 153 cities would still be left with pollution levels exceeding the NAAQS.
Of the 139 cities that have not been included in the non-attainment list under the NCAP, there are several cities that have a population of more than 1 million, and PM levels (recorded in 2017) above NAAQS.
These include: Ranchi, Dhanbad (Jharkhand); Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh); Chennai, Madurai (Tamil Nadu); Meerut (Uttar Pradesh); Pimpri-Chindwar, Thane, (Maharashtra); Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara (Gujarat); and Howrah (West Bengal).
Since the data for 2017 was available when NCAP was finalised, it would have made more sense to update the non-attainment list to include all such cities in the final NCAP.

Share

Effect on Indian economy due to rise of Gold price

Wed, 30 Jan, 2019

Gold prices in India hovered near record levels as a combination of factors including an increase in global demand, especially from central banks, and a fall in the quantum of mining of the precious metal pushed up prices in the domestic market.
Central banks of many countries like Russia, Turkey, along with a few other smaller economies that have seen currency issues, are buying gold, thereby pushing up the demand. A reduction in the quantum of mining is adding to price pressures.
While the Indian market is influenced by the global prices — currently close to a seven-month high of about $1,300 per ounce — the addition of import duties makes the yellow metal more expensive than the global benchmark price in rupee terms. Analysts expect global gold prices also to increase in the near future.

Share

India replaces Japan as 2nd top steel producer

Tue, 29 Jan, 2019

India has replaced Japan as the world's second-largest steel producing country, according to a report by World Steel Association (worldsteel). India's crude steel production for 2018 was 106.5 million tonnes (Mt), up by 4.9% on 2017, the report observed. China retained its spot as the largest producer of crude steel accounting for more than 51% of production.

Share

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Tue, 29 Jan, 2019

CONFIRMING INDIA’s participation in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2021, the HRD Ministry signed an agreement with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD).
PISA — introduced in 2000 by OECD — tests the learning levels of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science. The test is conducted every three years. India stayed away from PISA in 2012 and 2015 on account of its dismal performance in 2009, when it was placed 72nd among the 74 participating countries.
The Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), at the government’s behest, set up a committee to review the matter and its report, submitted in December 2016, recommended that the country participate in the 2018 test cycle.
A similar recommendation was made in 2017 by the group of secretaries on education constituted by PM Narendra Modi. By then, however, India had missed the application deadline for the 2018 cycle and hence, a decision was taken to participate in the 2021 cycle.

Share

NDM-1 (called New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1)

Tue, 29 Jan, 2019

In a significant find in the global spread of multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria, scientists have found a “superbug” gene — first detected in New Delhi over a decade back — in one of the last “pristine” places on Earth that is some 12,870 km away.
Soil samples taken in Svalbard — a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole — have now confirmed the spread of blaNDM-1 (called New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1) into the High Arctic.
This Antibiotic-Resistant Gene (ARG), originally found in Indian clinical settings, conditionally provides multi-drug resistance (MDR) in microorganisms.
British scientists later found the “superbug” in New Delhi’s public water supply. Since then, the resistant gene has been found in over 100 countries, including new variants.
Carried in the gut of animals and people, the new research said that blaNDM-1 and other ARGs were found in Arctic soils that were likely spread through the faecal matter of birds, other wildlife and human visitors to the area.

Share

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

Tue, 29 Jan, 2019

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — mainly cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and cancer — continue to be the top killers in the South-East Asia Region, claiming 8.5 million lives each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Containing the NCDs has been listed by the WHO as its health goal for this year along with reducing mortality related to air pollution and climate change, global influenza pandemic etc.
One third of these deaths are premature and occur before the age of 70, affecting economically productive individuals.
The four ‘major’ NCDs are caused, to a large extent, by four modifiable behavioural risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity and harmful use of alcohol. The NCDs disproportionately affect the poor, impoverish families, and place a growing burden on health care systems.
Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, are collectively responsible for over 70% of all deaths worldwide, or 41 million people. These include 15 million people dying prematurely, aged between 30 and 69.
A study conducted world-wide has noted that consuming fibre and whole grains can reduce health risks from non-communicable diseases such as heart disease.
The paper published in The Lancet indicates that eating fibre-rich foods reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer by 16% to 24%. A higher fibre intake is also associated with lower bodyweight, systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol when compared with lower intake.
Doctors then recommend — eat less and enjoy your food by eating slowly, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, avoid oversized portions which causes weight gain, at least half of your grains should be whole grains, limit consumption of food high in trans fats.

Share

sickle-cell

Mon, 28 Jan, 2019

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited form of anemia — a condition in which there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout your body. Normally, your red blood cells are flexible and round, moving easily through your blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia, the red blood cells become rigid and sticky and are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. These irregularly shaped cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body.  There's no cure for most people with sickle cell anemia. But treatments can relieve pain and help prevent problems associated with the disease.

 Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia, which vary from person to person and change over time, include:

  • Anemia. Sickle cells break apart easily and die, leaving you without enough red blood cells. Red blood cells usually live for about 120 days before they need to be replaced. But sickle cells usually die in 10 to 20 days, leaving a shortage of red blood cells (anemia). Without enough red blood cells, your body can't get the oxygen it needs to feel energized, causing fatigue.

  • Episodes of pain. Periodic episodes of pain, called crises, are a major symptom of sickle cell anemia. Pain develops when sickle-shaped red blood cells block blood flow through tiny blood vessels to your chest, abdomen and joints. Pain can also occur in your bones. The pain varies in intensity and can last for a few hours to a few weeks. Some people have only a few pain episodes. Others have a dozen or more crises a year. If a crisis is severe enough, you might need to be hospitalized. Some adolescents and adults with sickle cell anemia also have chronic pain, which can result from bone and joint damage, ulcers and other causes.

  • Painful swelling of hands and feet. The swelling is caused by sickle-shaped red blood cells blocking blood flow to the hands and feet.
  • Frequent infections. Sickle cells can damage an organ that fights infection (spleen), leaving you more vulnerable to infections. Doctors commonly give infants and children with sickle cell anemia vaccinations and antibiotics to prevent potentially life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia.
  • Delayed growth. Red blood cells provide your body with the oxygen and nutrients you need for growth. A shortage of healthy red blood cells can slow growth in infants and children and delay puberty in teenagers.
  • Vision problems. Tiny blood vessels that supply your eyes may become plugged with sickle cells. This can damage the retina — the portion of the eye that processes visual images, leading to vision problems.
Share

"Towards India’s new fiscal federalism"

Mon, 28 Jan, 2019

Former Finance Commission Chairman Vijay Kelkar has pitched for setting up of a ‘new NITI Aayog’ and giving it the responsibility for allocating capital and revenue grants to the States.
Mr. Kelkar, in a paper titled ‘Towards India’s new fiscal federalism,’ said it was desirable that a functionally-distinct entity such as the new NITI Aayog be put to use to do the job at hand related to the structural issues, including removal of regional imbalances in the economy.
Mr. Kelkar argued that replacing the Planning Commission, which was promoting regionally-balanced growth in India, with the NITI Aayog, a think tank, has reduced the government’s policy reach.
Allowing it to handle structural issues “...would mean that the new NITI Aayog or NITI Aayog 2.0 will be responsible for allocating development or transformational capital or revenue grants to States,”

Share

Sufism, Bhakti Movement or Wahhabism

Mon, 28 Jan, 2019

The puritanical Islamic doctrine of Wahhabism was incapable of taking roots in India because of diverse traditions in the Muslim community influenced by the country's composite culture.
Sufism and the Bhakti movement have had an impact on the beliefs and thoughts of Muslims since the medieval period, the experts said, adding that Islam practised in India was “vastly different” from that in West Asian countries.
The speakers also focused on the issues faced by Muslims living in secular societies, dilemmas created by technological advancements and the challenge of finding a unitary voice for the entire community.
In that sense, Wahhabism, which is very different from Sufi Islam, cannot find a place in our country,” he said, and added that Indian Muslims had already repudiated the two-nation theory of Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
Sufism had a special place in India’s history, as Sufi mystics such as Nizamuddin Auliya and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti would sit and discuss Islam and understood it as a service to the people. In the secular domain, no one could stop non-Muslims from speaking up for Muslims’ rights

Share

PAHAL & Ujjwala scheme

Mon, 28 Jan, 2019

The Ujjwala scheme of providing LPG connections to the poor was the realisation of the childhood dream of providing healthy kitchens to mothers and sisters of India who were struggling with firewood stoves in kitchens.
Dedicating Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd.’s Integrated Refinery Expansion Complex here, Mr. Modi said nearly six crore such connections were provided to the poor since May 2016 under the scheme. The Kochi Refinery was making great contribution towards Ujjwala scheme by doubling the LPG production.
More than 23 crore LPG consumers had joined the Pahal scheme that had helped identify ghost, multiple, and inactive accounts. The scheme had also entered the Guinness World Records as the largest direct benefit transfer scheme in the world. Over one crore customers have given up LPG subsidy under the ‘Give it up’ initiative.
Mr. Modi urged the Kochi Refinery to lead a petrochemical revolution in south India. The Prime Minister also laid the foundation stones of the petrochemical complex in Kochi and the second campus of the Skill Development Institute at Ettumanoor.
He dedicated the Mounded LPG Storage Facility of the Indian Oil Corporation at its Kochi bottling plant in Udayamperoor.

Share

SC: respond to plea against wire-tapping

Mon, 28 Jan, 2019

The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to respond to a petition challenging laws that allow the government to conduct electronic surveillance of private individuals.
The petition, filed by the PUCL, represented by advocate Sanjay Paeikh, has sought urgent safeguards and judicial oversight of government surveillance. It has challenged Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, read with Rule 419-A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951, as well as Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, together with the Information Technology (Procedure for Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.

Share

Satavahana period

Mon, 28 Jan, 2019

The Department of Archaeology and Museums has found Buddhist remains under the ‘garbhagriha’ (sanctum sanctorum) of Sivalayam at Kondaveedu fort. The remains date back to later Satavahana period--1st to 2nd century A.D.
The department has taken up conservation and restoration of two temples — Sivalayam and Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple — in the fort recently. The department officials found the remains during the process of dismantling the temple for reconstruction. A petal design on railing piece, stupa, pillar etc were unearthed from the site.
The study and conservation of the ‘Buddhist remains’ are under way. Much more interesting facts would come to light when the exercise was done. The department would construct Sivalayam separately and conserve the ‘stupa.’
The restoration works were being done with an expenditure of about Rs. 80 lakh, she said. A few freelance archaeologists recently said that the stupa was built during the Ikshvaku period, that is the third century A.D.
But, the department officials, however, concluded that the remains were much older. “Based on the architectural remains and inscriptional evidence it belongs to Satavahana period and the existence of Buddhism on Kondaveedu fort area.
One small fragment of Brahmi inscription was found in the stupa remains. Based on this inscriptional evidence, it emphasises that Buddhism existed on Kondaveedu fort from Satavahana period. It has eight letters i.e.. ‘gha ra kha tha sa a thae vaa.’
Small Buddhist stupa in circular shape built with limestones with inner diameter of 13 feet was found after dismantling garbhagriha.
One part of Ayaka pillar, which is octagonal shape, was found near the stupa. Railing panel having man riding a bull and a horse, with lotus designs, tiny floral motif, railing piece man raiding Bull and horse, floral design in between, half lotus medallion, groove on railing pillar, tiny floral motif were some of the remains that were unearthed from the site.

Share

Antarctica's krill

Sun, 27 Jan, 2019

Krill are shifting south towards Antarctica as the oceans warm, disrupting stocks that are eaten by penguins and whales and caught by industrial trawlers. The climate is becoming increasingly unhealthy for krill to reproduce.
Almost 200 nations promised in 2015 under the Paris climate agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Waters in the southwest Atlantic, home to most krill, have warmed 1 degree Celsius over the past 90 years, and krill are concentrating into a narrowing band towards the coast of Antarctica.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reckons krill are among the most abundant creatures on Earth with an estimated total of 780 trillion, excluding larvae and eggs. Krill are food for whales, seals, penguins and other predators.
The study, based on catch data from 1926-2016, also said the average krill was getting bigger, apparently because young krill were less likely to survive. Krill can live for about 6 years in waters around the frozen continent.
Our analysis reveals a species facing increasing difficulty in replenishing itself and maintaining high numbers at the northern edge of the Southern Ocean.
ARK members include Aker's unit Aker Biomarine in Norway, South Korea's Insung, China National Fisheries Corporation and Pesca Chile. From 2019, for instance, krill companies have agreed to ban all fishing near penguin colonies.

Share

Climate Justice

Sun, 27 Jan, 2019

India has questioned the rush at the UN to declare climate change an international security issue, potentially giving the Security Council the right to take action on it, and pointed to the pitfalls in the approach.
A “mere decision of the Council” to take over enforcement of climate change action will disrupt the Paris Agreement and multilateral efforts to find solutions.
Taking aim at the composition of the Council that does not reflect the contemporary world, Mr. Akbaruddin asked: “Can the needs of climate justice be served by shifting climate law-making from the inclusive UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) to decision-making by a structurally unrepresentative institution with an exclusionary approach decided in secretive deliberations.”
He said the main point of contention “is about what manner, which aspects and which global governance mechanisms are best suited to tackle these phenomena” and India favoured a cautious approach.
Trends of heat waves, heavier rains, higher sea levels and severe damage to agriculture “represent a security risk for the entire world.” “The relationship between climate-related risks and conflict is complex and often intersects with political, social, economic and demographic factors,”

Share

Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-6)

Sun, 27 Jan, 2019

India is all set to sign a revamped extradition treaty with Australia that would enable both countries to exchange information on spies, terrorism and human traffickers.
India and Australia signed an extradition treaty in 2008, but it came into force only in 2011. Under this treaty, both countries decided to recognise extraditable offences which are punishable by an imprisonment of at least one year or severe penalty.
The extradition treaty signed with Australia earlier was general in nature. This one will be more crime specific. It will focus on narcotics, human trafficking, spies and terrorism. Australia has been keen on seeking information on terror suspects arrested here and the revamped pact will pave the way for sharing similar information.
It may be recalled that India had refused to sign the Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-6), which is an agreement for exchange of terrorist screening information between the Terrorist Screening Centre (TSC) of the U.S. and a selected Indian security agency.

Share

Zearalenone - fungal toxin

Sun, 27 Jan, 2019

Zearalenone is a fungal toxin infesting cereals such as wheat, maize and barley. It attacks crops while they are growing, but can also develop when cereals are stored without being dried fully. While numerous studies document this toxin in cereals across the world, no data existed for India until now. This month, a Journal of Food Science study detected zearalenone in wheat, rice, corn and oats from markets in Uttar Pradesh.
The study, by researchers from Lucknow’s Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), found the substance in 70 of the 117 samples tested. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India does not impose maximum limits for zearalenone, though the European Union (EU) does.
Twenty-four of the U.P. samples exceeded the EU regulatory limits of 100-200 mcg/kg of cereals. Based on this, the authors say India should set limits on zearalenone in cereals. “It is definitely a worry,” Mukul Das, a food toxicologist at the IITR and an author of the study, told The Hindu .
Fungal toxins are commonly found in food, and can be a public health concern, says Vasanthi Siriguri, a researcher at Hyderabad’s National Institute of Nutrition, who was not involved in the study. India regulates the levels of some of these, including aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol, ergot and patulin.
The first three infest cereals, while patulin is found in apples. Each of these toxins has been associated with disease outbreaks. For example, in 1974, a hepatitis outbreak in Rajasthan and Gujarat, which made 398 people sick and killed 106, was linked to aflatoxin in wheat. Meanwhile, chronic aflatoxin consumption has been shown to cause liver cancer.
Given this, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies aflatoxin as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is enough evidence for its carcinogenicity. In zearalenone’s case, there is no strong evidence of toxicity in humans so far, though several research groups are investigating, says Dr. Siriguri. As a result, the IARC classifies it as a Group 3 carcinogen, which means evidence is not sufficient for an evaluation yet.
Zearalenone behaves like oestrogen, the female sex hormone, and could cause endocrine disturbances in humans. Its nasty effects in animals, such as pigs, are documented. When fed with mouldy corn, pigs develop inflamed vaginas, infertility and other symptoms. This is why countries like Brazil regulate zearalenone levels in animal feed.
In humans, the data are fuzzier. It is probably dangerous to humans too, but to be certain, we need to know how much humans consume, how it is metabolised, and how exposure is correlated with disease. Some experiments suggest its ill-effects: in one, when oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells were exposed to the chemical in a lab, they proliferated.

Share

Indian National Army (INA)

Sun, 27 Jan, 2019

In a recognition of the role of the Indian National Army (INA), led by Subhas Chandra Bose, in India’s history, four of its veterans featured in the parade during the 70th Republic Day celebrations.
An all-woman contingent of the Assam Rifles made its debut. So did the Army’s newly inducted K-9 Vajra and M777 howitzers in the military display. An Indian Air Force An-32 aircraft powered by biodiesel flew in the flypast.
INA veterans Parmanand, Lalti Ram, Hira Singh and Bhagmal, all aged above 90, rode in open jeeps. Also for the first time was a marching contingent of the Gurkha Brigade, comprising all seven Gurkha regiments, led by Captain Abhaysheraz Singh Sandhu.
The K-9 Vajra tracked self-propelled artillery gun from South Korea and the M777 ultra-light howitzer from the U.S. are the Army’s new artillery inductions after three decades. The parade also featured the T-90 Bhishma main battle tank, infantry combat vehicle BMP-II, surface mine clearing system, transportable satellite terminal and Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) displayed the medium-range SAM and an Arjun armoured recovery and repair vehicle.
The IAF contingent comprising 144 air warriors led by Flight Lieutenant Shrikant Sharma was followed by a tableau titled “Indian Air Force — encouraging indigenisation” showcasing several scaled-down models of indigenous weapon systems.

Share

The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC-PM)

Sat, 26 Jan, 2019

The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC-PM) said that the agriculture sector should be bolstered through increased credit flows and schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The Council also added that it strongly felt that the government should not deviate from its fiscal consolidation path.
“While the prospects for world economic growth does not look very promising, particularly in the advanced economics, there is sufficient amount of growth momentum in emerging market economies.
India’s growth is expected to be in the 7-7.5% range in the next few years; one of the fastest in the world.
However, it added that with reforms designed to address the structural problems, growth rates can “easily be enhanced by at least 1%”.
Among the issues discussed by the EAC-PM were agricultural problems, investment trends (including investments by States consequent to the 14th Finance Commission devolution), fiscal consolidation, interest rate management and credit and financial market issues.
The Council felt that the exchange rate management of the rupee by the RBI has been sound despite the volatility in the price of crude oil. The good news is that oil intensity (use of fossil as a percentage of GDP) is showing a declining trend.
The EAC-PM said that it felt that the challenge of insularity being seen in external trade should be reversed through supportive policy interventions because there is a positive turn in exports that is now visible. The challenges in the agricultural sector should be addressed by looking at credit flows and support to employment programmes such MNREGA.
The EAC-PM strongly feels that there should be no deviation from the fiscal consolidation target and but there must be continued emphasis on social sector intervention.

Share

India- South Africa relations

Sat, 26 Jan, 2019

India and South Africa agreed on a three-year strategic partnership agreement to boost relations. The agreement, signed during the visit of President Cyril Ramaphosa, will cover defence and security, blue economy cooperation and sustainable development.
At the end of the delegation-level talks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the scope for cooperation. We have strong partnership in platforms such as the BRICS, the G-20, the Indian Ocean Region Association and the IBSA Dialogue Forum.
India also invited South Africa to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and congratulated it on securing the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for 2019-20. A joint statement acknowledged the growing interaction between the Navies of the two countries, and the Indian leader welcomed the South African participation in the India-Africa Field Training Exercise.
The statement reiterated the role of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) that ensures freedom of navigation by keeping sea lanes free and secure. Mr. Ramaphosa highlighted the common heritage of struggle and the common aspiration of non-discriminatory national and international politics.

Share

“South Asia: Walls and Bridges”

Sat, 26 Jan, 2019

The conundrum of South Asian identity, involving the challenges posed by the 1947 Partition, internal politics of each country and meddling by the U.S. and China, could be resolved if the “negative discourse” on the region was driven out of the public domain and the borders were rendered irrelevant.
The experts said in the JLF session on “South Asia: Walls and Bridges” that the region’s future lay in cooperation among the eight SAARC nations and strengthening of bonds with emphasis on common ethnicity, culture, traditions, languages and religions. The panel felt the focus of South Asian discourse needed to shift away from the perception of India's dominance in the region.
The SAARC could play a meaningful role, as there were no security or financial dilemmas among the member countries, except between India and Pakistan, he said, and added that there was no need to panic on interference by countries such as China and the U.S.
Ms. Thapa pointed out that when Nepal looked towards India with an “emotional response” for emulating the values of secularism, institutional independence and women's empowerment, the new trends of majoritarianism were sending across confusing signals. “The 2015 Constitution has declared Nepal [to be] a secular State.
Ms. Haidar made observations about the role of SAARC in the changing geo-political scenario and stressed the need to go a step ahead of the use of “soft power” and bring the South Asian nations together to ensure regional cooperation.

Share

Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC)

Sat, 26 Jan, 2019

In a whoop of victory for credits markets and entrepreneurship, the Supreme Court on Friday upheld the constitutionality of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), saying the law sends a clear message that India is no longer “the defaulter’s paradise”.
The Code consolidates disparate bankruptcy and insolvency laws of the past under one umbrella.
The IBC, on the other hand, adopts a two-pronged approach. It provides a time-bound resolution mechanism, aimed at protecting the maximum value of the assets of the corporate debtor. It also, while doing so, promotes entrepreneurship and credit markets.
The court noted that the working of the Code is being monitored by the Centre through expert committees. The Code is constantly evolving, bettering itself.
Approximately 3,300 cases have been disposed of by the adjudicating authority based on out-of-court settlements between corporate debtors and creditors which themselves involved claims amounting to over Rs. 1,20,390 crore
It said the liquidation value of 63 of the 80 cases resolved through the acceptance of resolution plans was Rs. 29,788.07 crore. But the amount realised from the resolution process was Rs. 60,000 crore, that is, 202% higher than the liquidation value.
The court noted that IBC has witnessed an improvement in the total flow of resources to the commercial sector, both bank and non-bank, and domestic and foreign (relatable to the non-food sector), has gone up from a total of Rs. 14,530.47 crore in 2016-2017 to Rs. 18,469.25 crore in 2017- 2018 to Rs. 18,798.20 crore in the first six months of 2018-2019.

Share

The Malabar Naval Exercises.

Fri, 25 Jan, 2019

India has once again decided to reject Australia’s participation in the Malabar naval exercises. Japan became a permanent member of these exercises in 2015. After the resumption of the quadrilateral dialogue, or the Quad, between India, the US, Japan and Australia in 2017, most analysts had assumed that Australia would be allowed in the Malabar exercises too. But Canberra has found it tough to woo New Delhi despite Tokyo and Washington backing Australia’s entry. India has also rebuffed suggestions from the US to elevate the Quad dialogue to foreign secretary level from the current setup of joint secretary level talks. Curiously, India sees the Malabar exercises separately from the Quad. It also draws a clear line between the Quad and the Indo-Pacific strategy.
It is no surprise that India is now increasingly being considered the weakest link in the Quad. Ironically, one of the reasons India has been refusing Australia’s participation in the Malabar exercises has to do with its own perception of Australia-China relations. New Delhi is not sure that the current tensions between Australia and China will outlast the stint of a Labor government in Canberra. It was, after all, Kevin Rudd, a Labor prime minister, who had pulled Australia out of the Quad in 2008. It is also believed that India fears that quadrilateral naval exercises will invite reprisals from China. As a country which shares a long and disputed border with China, India would be most vulnerable to such hostilities.
However, it has been proven time and again that respecting China’s sensitivities is a one-way street; Beijing doesn’t respect New Delhi’s sensitivities in return. Indeed, a quadrilateral exercise will send out a political message to China. But it will also send a much needed message to other countries in Southeast Asia which are afraid to confront China on their own. Moreover, these exercises aren’t merely about messaging. They are about building joint procedures to work together in crisis situations. A crisis need not be triggered only by China’s activities but could well be the result of a tinpot dictator in the region or due to some natural disaster in the shared maritime space. The idea of Quad, one should recall, owes itself to the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It is high time India stopped dragging its feet on Australian participation in the Malabar exercises. Elevating the level of engagement in the Quad should be the next logical step.

Share

A Public Credit Registry (PCR)

Fri, 25 Jan, 2019

A Public Credit Registry (PCR) could well turn out to be the panacea for the ills of poor credit flow to numerous individual borrowers without credit history and to tiny enterprises which depend on money lenders. "The PCR could supply the missing link, which is the complete ‘360-degree view’- information of the borrower or prospective borrower," deputy governor Viral Acharya told an audience at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai. "This will allow lenders to assess the borrower’s credit risk keeping in view the viability of cash flows, ask the relevant questions, and price the loan terms without compromising on due diligence."
The Reserve Bank of India has been instrumental in building a PCR for better data collection and make it available to lenders. It would not just house data from financial intermediaries like banks like the credit information bureaus, it would also include data from utilities, other regulators and even from ministries.
"PCR will vastly simplify and reduce the reporting burdens on the lenders," said Acharya. "Other entities including regulators and supervisors will be able to access it for core credit information and supplement it with only the incremental part as per their requirement."

Share

South Asian Nitrogen Hub (SANH)

Fri, 25 Jan, 2019

Eighteen research institutions in India are among a group of 50 institutions — called the South Asian Nitrogen Hub (SANH) — in the United Kingdom and South Asia that have secured £20 million (about 200 crore) from the U.K. government to assess and study the quantum and impact of “nitrogen pollution” in South Asia.
While nitrogen is the dominant gas in the atmosphere, it is inert and doesn’t react. However, when it is released as part of compounds from agriculture, sewage and biological waste, nitrogen is considered “reactive”, and it may be polluting and even exert a potent greenhouse gas (heat trapping) effect.
“So far, we have focussed on carbon dioxide and its impact on global warming. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide but isn’t as prevalent in the atmosphere. However, this is poised to grow,” said N. Raghuram, Chairman, International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) and Professor of Biotechnology at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi.
“In the future, reactive nitrogen pollution will be a matter of significant global discussion and, unlike carbon, India and South Asia cannot wake up at the last minute, realising that it has no updated, scientific assessment of its inventory.” Other than air pollution, nitrogen is also linked to the loss of biodiversity, the pollution of rivers and seas, ozone depletion, health, economy, and livelihoods. Nitrogen pollution is caused, for example, by emissions from chemical fertilisers, livestock manure and burning fossil fuels. Gases such as ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) contribute to poor air quality and can aggravate respiratory and heart conditions, leading to millions of premature deaths across the world. Nitrate from chemical fertilisers, manure and industry pollutes the rivers and seas, posing a health risk for humans, fish, coral and plant life.

Share

Oral mentioning

Thu, 24 Jan, 2019

Oral mentioning is a convention by which lawyers short-circuit the long-winded filing procedures and make a direct appeal to the CJI, who is the court's administrative head and master of roster, for early hearing.

The CJI takes a call on the spot, after glancing through the case papers, whether the case deserves to be heard out-of-turn. Hearing a case out-of-turn would mean pushing other cases off the list.

It was the oral mentioning of the Lucknow medical College scam case before Justice (now retired) J.S. Chelameswar that triggered the row about the CJI's powers as 'master of roster'.

Supreme Court is gradually doing away with oral mentioning practice.

Share

Exercise Sea Vigil

Thu, 24 Jan, 2019

India conducted its largest coastal defence drill, Exercise Sea Vigil, to test its preparedness along the entire 7,516.6 km-long-coastline and exclusive economic zone of the country.
Exercise Sea Vigil aims to comprehensively and holistically validate the efficacy of the measures taken since 26/11. It aims to simultaneously activate the coastal security mechanism across all 13 coastal States and Union Territories.
This involves the evaluation of critical areas and processes, including inter-agency coordination, information sharing and technical surveillance. “Multi agency audit and identification of gaps, shortfalls and incorporation of lessons learnt into Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are also the desired outcomes.

Share

Military Imaging Satellite - Microsat-R.

Thu, 24 Jan, 2019

Indian Space Research Organisation's first mission of 2019 will put into space a 130-kg military imaging satellite, Microsat-R.
ISRO has shied away from sharing details of the spacecraft or its uses as it does routinely each time during its missions; except to say the satellite would be placed within 15 minutes after take-off in a polar orbit 274 km away from Earth.
According to information obtained from different sources Microsat-R and its payload come assembled from a handful of laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and is meant for military use. The satellite was “assembled outside and ISRO only interfaced it” with its own systems and the launch vehicle, just as it treats any customer satellite.
Kalamsat, a small student payload, will be the first to use PS4 as an orbital platform. Amid the 28-hour countdown for the launch, ISRO Chairman K.Sivan said the PS4-Kalamsat experiment would be short-lived.

Share

Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM), Multi-Purpose Worker (MPW)

Thu, 24 Jan, 2019

At least 64 Primary Health Centres (PHCs) across the State have been upgraded as Health and Wellness Centres (HCWs) under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), popularly known as Ayushman Bharat. State officials say these centres have undergone minor repairs, painting and branding as HCWs along with strengthening of laboratory services and information technology support.
In a rural setup, a SC is the first level health care facility followed by a PHC and then a rural hospital. Each PHC has around seven to eight SCs under its jurisdiction.
While a PHC has an MBBS and an Ayurveda practitioner along with a staff of around 15 people including Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM), Multi-Purpose Worker (MPW), health assistant, lab technician etc, an SC only has two people — an ANM and a MPW.
Altogether 1,264 Ayurveda practitioners are currently undergoing a six-month course designed by Maharashtra University of Health Sciences.
They are being trained under 12 different categories which include pregnancy care and child birth, neonatal and infant care, family planning, contraception and other reproductive health issues, management of communicable diseases, basic oral health care, general out patient care for acute simple illnesses and minor ailments, screening and prevention of chronic diseases like tuberculosis, leprosy etc.

Share

Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust : 28th rank

Wed, 23 Jan, 2019

The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), India’s premiere container port got listed amongst the top 30 container ports globally, as per the latest Lloyds Report. JNPT notched up five spots, to be 28th on the list, compared to its previous ranking. Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust is situated along coast of Mumbai.

Performance in trade
India’s ranking in World Bank’s trading across the borders report has improved to 80. In 2018, JNPT crossed the 5 Million TEUs traffic milestone and in December 2018 alone JNPT handled 4.45 Lakh TEUs.TEU stands for twenty-foot equivalent unit. It is inexact unit of cargo capacity of container ships and terminals.

Share

Mekedatu Project - Cauvery Tribunal

Wed, 23 Jan, 2019

The proposed construction of the Mekedatu reservoir on the Cauvery river by Karnataka is an attempt to impound the uncontrolled flows in the intermediate catchment areas, and is violative of the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Cauvery Tribunal, Tamil Nadu told the Supreme Court.
This is part of the rejoinder filed by the T.N. government against the Centre’s claim that conditional clearance given to Karnataka for preparing a detailed project report (DPR) on the Mekedatu balancing reservoir-cum-drinking water project was subject to the amicable resolution of connected inter-State matters.
The State, referring to the Guidelines of Submission, Appraisal and Acceptance of Irrigation and Multipurpose Project of 2017, argued that inter-State aspects had to be dealt with even at the stage of preparing the pre-feasibility report on the project.
The Centre had failed to realise that even an “in-principle clearance” from its side to a detailed project report would require prior examination on whether the interests of the co-basin States like T.N. and Puducherry were protected under the 2017 Guidelines.
“The Central agencies are duty-bound to act fairly and seem to have consciously ignored these guidelines while granting the permission to proceed for the preparation of DPR, which is wholly illegal and untenable.
Tamil Nadu contended that the Centre should have first placed the entire issue before the Cauvery Water Management Authority.

Share

“Bal Sabha” (Children’s Assembly)

Wed, 23 Jan, 2019

A new initiative launched by the Congress government in Rajasthan for identifying and resolving issues in upper primary schools situated in the rural areas through “Bal Sabha” (Children’s Assembly) is set to bring about qualitative changes in education. Besides students, the Sabhas will be attended by parents, teachers and village elders.
The schoolchildren, who presented songs and delivered short speeches in Hindi and English, also spoke about the problems faced by them in school. Students Seema Sharma and Pooja, who led the proceedings, said they would like the village elders to play an active role in the school’s affairs and guide them in their career choices.
Mr. Dotasra said that the novel concept would ensure the participation of all stakeholders and significantly improve the quality of education in government schools.

Share

The Central Information Commission (CIC)

Wed, 23 Jan, 2019

The government on Tuesday handed over a status report to the Supreme Court on the progress made in the appointment process to the Central Information Commission (CIC) even as PIL petitioners alleged that the procedure followed was arbitrary in nature.
During the hearing, the petitioners submitted that the appointment process of Information Commissioners to the Central Information Commission happened in an “arbitrary manner as the search committee, had in violation of its mandate, short-listed persons who had not even applied for the post in response to advertisements”.
They argued, through Mr. Bhushan, that the “minutes of the search committee revealed that no rational criteria were adopted on the basis of which the short-listing was done.” Further, the minutes showed “the completely ad hoc manner of functioning of the search committee.

Share

Department of Official language

Tue, 22 Jan, 2019

The Union Home Minister chaired the first review meeting of the Department of Official Language to discuss the functioning and issues related to implementation of Hindi language in official work.
1. Article 351 of the Constitution deals with the directive to promote the use of Hindi for the official purposes of the Union, hence the Department of Official Language was set up in 1975 as an independent Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs to accelerate the progressive use of Hindi for the official purposes of the Union.
2. The department has developed a computer software called “Kanthasth” for translating the all kinds of official files from English to Hindi and vice versa to make the translation work simpler and quicker.
3. Lila Mobile App has been developed for making the learning of Hindi language easier, which was launched on the occasion of Hindi Diwas on 14th September .

Share

19 amphibian species are critically endangered

Tue, 22 Jan, 2019

Nineteen amphibian species are critically endangered and 33 species are endangered, according to the updated checklist released by Zoological Survey of India. The list, released last week, also highlights 19 per cent of amphibians as data deficient species and about 39 per cent as not assessed by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to IUCN, critically endangered species are the ones that are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. The IUCN Red List is an indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity. According to IUCN, around 40 per cent amphibians across the globe are threatened with extinction.

Since 2009, the Zoological Survey of India in collaboration with other institutes has been updating the Indian amphibian checklist periodically. In 2009 the total number of species was 284. Around 148 species have been added to the list since the year 2009. The number of species in 2018 was pegged at 432.

The list also includes the IUCN conservation status of the species and their year of discovery, available till December 2018. The nomenclature followed is after Amphibian Species of the World database.

Share

90–90–90

Tue, 22 Jan, 2019

It is an ambitious treatment target by UNAIDS to help end the AIDS epidemic.
1. By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status.
2. By 2020, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy.
3. By 2020, 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
 Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) are medications that treat HIV. The drugs do not kill or cure the virus rather it inhibits the virus and limits it spread between people.

Share

Second Judges Case 1993 and 1998

Tue, 22 Jan, 2019

In the backdrop of the controversy over the appointment of Justice Sanjiv Khanna, a 1998 opinion by the Supreme Court may shed light on the questions raised by the episode. The objections against are not merely over seniority, but extends to questions about the Collegium dropping the names of two judges considered earlier and the reasons given for changing its decision.
As Justice Khanna shared the Bench with the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Monday, a section of legal experts condemned the controversy as a “selective” outcry.
They cited the recent example of the Collegium recommending Justice K.M. Joseph for appointment to the Supreme Court over many other judges senior to him. Why cannot the same happen to Justice Khanna, who was ranked 33 in the all-India high court judges’ seniority list.
SRC 1998 case?
A nine-judge Bench in the ‘Special Reference Case’ of 1998 had ruled that “merit is the pre-dominant consideration for the purposes of appointment to the Supreme Court”.
Where there is outstanding merit, the possessor thereof deserves to be appointed regardless of the fact that he may not stand high in the all-India seniority list or in his own High Court,” the court had held in its opinion on the 1998 Presidential Reference on the intricacies of the Collegium system.
The former CJIs had asked why judges like Justices Gita Mittal and Ravindra Bhat, both from the Delhi High Court, too, did not figure in the recommendation.
These include unauthorised media leaks, “additional materials”, intervening Winter vacation and subsequent change in the composition of the Collegium on the retirement of Justice Madan B. Lokur.
Finally, it has been reported that the CJI has the last word in recommendations for appointment to the Supreme Court.
The 1998 Special Reference case explains that when a Collegium judge retires in the midst of an appointment process and reasons are later made available for the non-appointment of the person under consideration, such reasons should be placed before the newly constituted Collegium.
Further, the Second Judges Case (Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association versus Union of India) judgment in October 1993, and later the court’s opinion in the 1998 Special Reference, confirm that “strong cogent reasons” should be the basis for appointing a judge to the Supreme Court by superseding others senior to him.
Finally, both the 1993 judgment and 1998 opinion have held that the CJI’s “final opinion” is not merely his individual opinion. The CJI’s opinion “must necessarily have the element of plurality in its formation”.
The CJI’s view on a prospective judicial appointment has primacy because it ‘symbolises’ the opinion of the judiciary itself.

Share

Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture

Tue, 22 Jan, 2019

GACSA is an inclusive, voluntary and action-oriented multi-stakeholder platform on Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA).  Its vision is to improve food security, nutrition and resilience in the face of climate change. GACSA aims to catalyse and help create transformational partnerships to encourage actions that reflect an integrated approach to the three pillars of CSA. GACSA works towards three aspirational outcomes to: 1. Improve farmers’ agricultural productivity and incomes in a sustainable way;  2.Build farmers’ resilience to extreme weather and changing climate; 3. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, when possible. Context specific priorities and solutions need to be aligned with national policies and priorities. GACSA aims to catalyze and help create transformational partnerships to encourage the three pillars of Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) – productivity, adaptation and mitigation.

Share

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Tue, 22 Jan, 2019

 The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. It is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean.  Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water.  GPGP is almost entirely made up of tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics which are non-biodegradable and harmful for marine life and human beings as well.

Share

National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP)

Tue, 22 Jan, 2019

Ahead of the 2019 election, the Rural Development Ministry has proposed that the monthly pensions of the elderly poor, disabled and widows be increased from the current Rs. 200 to Rs. 800. For those above the age of 80, the proposal is to increase the pension from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,200 a month.
The Ministry has submitted the proposal, which would have an additional annual cost implication of Rs. 18,000 crore, to the Finance Ministry to be considered for inclusion in the interim Budget to be presented on February 1.
“The proposal is being scrutinised for the possibility of inclusion in the Budget speech,” said a senior official of the Rural Development Ministry, which administers the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP).
If the proposal is announced, the Ministry will then move the Cabinet to approve the increase in pensions. Separately, a study has been launched to consider doubling the number of people covered by the scheme, a promise originally made in last year’s Budget.
Discussions are also being held with the State governments on a proposal to merge the Central and State pension schemes. The BJP’s defeat in the recent Assembly elections has forced the Centre to consider sops for rural India.

Share

Krishonnati Yojana

Mon, 21 Jan, 2019

           The Umbrella scheme comprises of 11 Schemes/Missions. These schemes look to develop the agriculture and allied sector in a holistic and scientific manner to increase the income of farmers by enhancing production, productivity and better returns on produce.                                                                                                                                    The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has given its approval for the Umbrella Scheme, “Green Revolution – Krishonnati Yojana” in agriculture sector beyond 12th Five Year Plan for the period from 2017-18 to 2019-20.

Share

SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active–Learning for Young Aspiring Minds)

Mon, 21 Jan, 2019

SWAYAM is a programme initiated by Government of India and designed to achieve the three cardinal principles of Education Policy viz., access, equity and quality.
 The objective of this effort is to take the best teaching learning resources to all, including the most disadvantaged.

Share

National Solar Energy Federation of India (NSEFI)

Mon, 21 Jan, 2019

National Solar Energy Federation of India (NSEFI), a non-profit organisation, has written to the Prime Minister’s Office requesting to direct the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to rationalise the new ECB framework suitably, excluding repayment of rupee loans from the negative list.
“NSEFI apprises you that till date, RBI allowed the external borrowing in the form of security bond/loan in U.S. dollars to replace the Indian rupee loans having tenure of 10 years or more given by domestic banks/financing institutions.
As per this notification, erstwhile tracks I and II are merged as ‘foreign currency denominated ECB’ and track III and rupee denominated bonds framework are combined as ‘rupee denominated ECB’ to replace the current four-tiered structure.
However, the existing permissible end use of repayment /refinancing of rupee loan availed under track-II of ECB has not been considered in the merged foreign currency ECB framework in any form.
NSEFI requests your good offices to intervene in the matter and provide suitable direction/advice to the Reserve Bank of India to carve out a special category like erstwhile track-II with ECB having minimum average maturity period of five years and above within the new merged foreign currency ECB category to permit solar/wind project developers for repayment of their rupee loans to domestic lenders from ECB proceeds.
NSEFI was founded in 2013 by solar energy industry leaders with a vision to promote solar energy.

Share

Samagra Shiksha - an Integrated Scheme for School Education