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Why monsoon isn’t over yet

Sat, 05 Oct, 2019

One week after the monsoon season officially came to an end, it is still raining in many parts of the country. Patna and Pune, for example, have witnessed uncharacteristic flooding for September with the process of withdrawal of the monsoon having not even begun yet. But that is only one of the reasons why this year’s monsoon has been one of the most unusual in recent decades.
Rainfall trends
After an extremely dry June, which saw a rain deficiency of 33 per cent, the monsoon brought generous rainfall in July, August and September, each subsequent month exceeding the normal by a higher deviation.
In fact, September produced rainfall that was 152 per cent of normal, and this was the second highest rainfall ever recorded in this month. The only higher deviation during September was way back in 1917, when the rainfall was 165 per cent of the then normal for the month.
August and September together produced 130 per cent of normal rainfall, and this was the highest since 1983. And this was the first time since 1931 that the monsoon ended up producing more than 100 per cent rainfall after having a 30 per cent or more deficiency at the end of the first month.
“Just so much has been written about the monsoon and its variabilities, but it seems it still has much more to show us. Just about everything about the monsoon seems to be in chaos – the onset, the withdrawal, the length of the rainy season, active/break periods, north-south and east-west patterns, floods and droughts,” said Raghu Murtugudde, and Earth system scientist at the University of Maryland.
Extreme rainfall events
The season was characterised by a number of extreme rainfall events, particularly in the months of August and September, that caused flooding in many parts of the country. Heavy downpours lasting for several days were witnessed in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, MP, Gujarat, and most recently in Bihar.
There is no standard definition of an extreme rainfall event. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) uses different expressions to classify rainfall according to its intensity. More than 12 cm rainfall within a 24-hour period is classified as very heavy rainfall while rainfall in excess of 25 cm within 24 hours is categorised as extremely heavy.
IMD has recorded more than 560 extreme rainfall events this year. This is much more than what has been observed in recent years. Last year, for example, had 321 extreme rainfall events, and the years prior to that had fewer (see box).
The number of very heavy rainfall events, which includes instances of extremely heavy rainfall, was more than 2,600 this year, compared to 2,181 last year, and much fewer in the previous years.
“Extreme events are increasing all over the world, not just in India, because of climate change. This is well documented now in scientific literature. Climate change will not manifest as a slow and smooth change in temperature or rainfall but rather in the form of an increase in the number and intensity of extreme events. And these increases are not likely to be smooth and incremental. These would be erratic, and that is what we seem to be witnessing,” said Govindasamy Bala, professor at the Centre for
Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. “But as of now, we cannot say how much of what has happened this year can be attributed to global warming and how much of it is due to inter-seasonal variability. I would guess there is a combination of both,” he said.
Unusually wet September
The standout feature of this year’s monsoon is the unusually high rainfall in September. The month is normally expected to produce 170.2 mm rain over the country as a whole. This year, it brought 259.3 mm rain.
September marks the beginning of the withdrawal of the monsoon. This year, however, withdrawal has seen a record delay. So far, the longest delay happened in 1961 when the withdrawal started on October 1. This year, IMD said, the withdrawal is likely to begin only after October 10.
J Srinivasan, distinguished scientist at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change at IISc in Bengaluru, points out that the last time September produced so much rain, 1917, happened to be a La Niña year. La Niña, the phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific Ocean in which the sea surface temperatures turn unusually cold, is known to strengthen rainfall over the Indian sub-continent during the monsoon months. This year, there is no La Niña. In fact, it started with a weak El Niño, the opposite phenomenon in Pacific Ocean that has a negative impact on Indian monsoon, before the situation turned neutral.
Srinivasan said though there was no La Niña, a similar phenomenon much closer home, called the Indian Ocean Dipole, could have contributed to enhanced rainfall. “There was a cooling of the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean, below Sumatra, and that could have some role to play in the kind of rainfall that we have seen this year,” he said.
Ocean systems
The Indian Ocean Dipole is a phenomenon similar to the ENSO condition observed in the Pacific Ocean which creates the El Niño and La Niña events. The sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean gets warmer and cooler than normal, and this deviation influences regional atmospheric and weather patterns, notably the Indian monsoon.
But there is one major difference from ENSO. While the Pacific Ocean only has an El Niño or a La Niña condition at a time, the Indian Ocean experiences both warm and cold conditions at the same time – hence, a dipole. One of these poles is located in the Arabian Sea while the other is in the Indian Ocean, south of Indonesia.
The Indian Ocean Dipole is said to be positive when the western pole is warmer than the eastern one, and negative when it is cooler. The Indian Ocean Dipole and ENSO are not unrelated. Positive Indian Ocean Dipole events are often associated with El Niño and negative Indian Ocean Dipole with La Niña. When the Indian Ocean Dipole and ENSO happen at the same time, the Dipole is known to strengthen the impacts of the ENSO condition.
Many scientists like to describe the monsoon in terms of the movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ, a region near the Equator where the trade winds of the northern and southern hemispheres come together. The intense Sun and the warm waters of the ocean heat up the air in this region, and increase its moisture content.
As the air rises, it cools, and releases the accumulated moisture, thus bringing rainfall. During the monsoon season, this ITCZ is located over the Indian subcontinent. By September, as the temperature begins to go down, the ITCZ starts moving southwards of the Indian landmass, towards the equator, and further into the southern hemisphere. This year, this process has not yet started.
“In September this year, the northern hemisphere was much warmer than the southern hemisphere, and that could be one reason why the ITCZ has remained longer than usual over the northern hemisphere,” Srinivasan explained.
Dry Northeast
For the 18th time in 19 years, the Northeast had rainfall that was less than 100 per cent. In fact, the East and Northeast region, clubbed together as one of the four geographically homogeneous region for purposes of monsoon rainfall, saw a deficiency of 12 per cent.
The IMD says this indicates that the Northeast region is passing through a “below normal epoch”. Apart from exhibiting year-to-year variability, the monsoon is also supposed to have a 30-year variability cycle. During one cycle, it receives below normal rainfall, and in the next it gets above normal. Of course, within this period it exhibits intra-seasonal variations as well. But overall, it tends to follow this pattern.
“The IMD does monitor this 30-year cycle. There is some statistical evidence for that. So, the IMD explanation for what is happening in the Northeast seems logical. I don’t think we have any specific evidence for any climate change impacts for the Northeast region that can explain the rainfall pattern there,” Govindasamy said.
“But every year, we get to know of one aspect or the other of monsoon that differs significantly from our recorded data. The broad scientific understanding is that, because of global warming, we will see more and more extreme rainfall events that will also be more intense, while the instances of moderate or light rainfall events will decrease,” he said.

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Article 371G

Sat, 05 Oct, 2019

371G. Special provision with respect to the State of Mizoram Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,

(a) no Act of President in respect of

(i) religious or social practices of the Mizos,
(ii) Mizo customary law and procedure,
(iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Mizo customary law,
(iv) ownership and transfer of land, shall apply to the State of Mizoram unless the Legislative Assembly of the State of Mizoram by a resolution so decides: Provided that nothing in this clause shall apply to any Central Act in force in the union territory of Mizoram immediately before the commencement of the Constitution (Fifty third Amendment) Act, 1986 ;

(b) the Legislative Assembly of the State of Mizoram shall consist of not less than forty members

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Sheikh Hasina in India: Amid some challenges, celebrating a special friendship

Thu, 03 Oct, 2019

Bangladesh and India’s bilateral ties have rarely been a linear affair. That is why Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India beginning October 3 is a much-anticipated political event. There is little doubt that when India assisted Bangladesh to attain independence in 1971, many believed that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Mrs Indira Gandhi would forge a partnership rooted in progressive ideals and a common vision for their nations in South Asia and the world, one that would last for generations.
Trust and engagement
The assassination of Mujib and most of his family members in 1975, which resurrected the political, Islamic and military leaders from the political right between 1975 and 1996, meant that Bangladesh could not structure any lasting partnership with India.
Its relationship with India reached an all-time low when the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami coalition government between 2001 and 2006 allowed Bangladeshi territory to host insurgent activities against the Northeastern states of India.
This unfortunate nosedive in the Bangladesh-India relationship was decisively reversed after the electoral victory of the Awami League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in December 2008. There is little disagreement today that Bangladesh-India ties have greatly benefited since then.
That is why, since 2009, Bangladesh and India have peacefully navigated many contested issues that had remained unresolved since 1947. In 2015, the Indian government led by the BJP ratified the 1974 Land Boundary Treaty which executed a land swap of enclaves, settling historical anomalies dating back to the Partition of the subcontinent.
Bangladesh and India also peacefully obtained an international court ruling that allowed the two nations to explore resources in the Bay of Bengal without stepping on each other’s toes. These milestones show that a partnership based on trust and a willingness to engage on equal terms can help sovereign nations resolve historical disagreements.
Rivers and credit lines
The upcoming trip of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can be viewed as an effort to re-invest in the special friendship that Bangladesh and India have developed during her premiership. It will likely touch on a wide range of issues that will require improvisation and cooperation from both governments to find new solutions to old problems.
Specifically, Prime Minister Hasina is likely to request New Delhi’s cooperation for an improved management of all rivers that Bangladesh and India share, so that a better framework is created to ensure their equitable distribution.
The pending dispute over the Teesta river has shown how difficult it is for India’s central government to offer amicable solutions on such matters. Finalisation of an efficient and mutually acceptable river management framework will test imaginations and capacities of the governments on both sides.
Dhaka is also likely to seek New Delhi’s cooperation in upgrading its railways, roads, and shipping infrastructure, and might ask for the export of more electricity to Bangladesh. As of 2017, India had extended three lines of credit worth approximately $7.4 billion; however, the execution of projects under these credit pipelines has been very slow.
Less than 10% of the cumulative commitments have been disbursed so far, while almost no money from the third line of credit promising $4.5 billion has been utilised. Dhaka might seek both prompt disbursements of the existing commitments and, perhaps, an additional line of credit to finance infrastructure projects in the pipeline.
NRC and the Rohingya
Refuelling of the development partnership aside, some areas of concern too, are likely to be taken up during the deliberations. It remains unclear how the NRC saga will ultimately play out in Indian politics, and the implications it might have for Bangladesh. For now, it has definitely added an extreme level of suspicion about India among ordinary Bangladeshis.
And while Prime Minister Modi has assured Prime Minister Hasina during a meeting at the UN that the NRC will have no implications for Bangladesh, this commitment needs continuous reiteration, because an element of noise has been added to the partnership.
Many among the Bangladeshi intelligentsia believe that if the NRC wave gets more air from communal political currents in India, politicians in India might fail to ensure that this wave does not reach international shores.
Given that politicians often create forces that they cannot contain — most people are now familiar with the term “unintended consequences” in international policy literature — the NRC is likely to remain a real concern for both neighbours, and Bangladesh is likely to keep a close watch on it irrespective of Prime Minister Modi’s assurances.
Many in India are also concerned about Bangladesh’s growing partnership with China. This, by any standards, is a misplaced fear. Prime Minister Hasina’s China diplomacy is focused to structure a win-win economic cooperation to address Bangladesh’s developmental aspirations — and so far, there is no indication that this relationship has any possibility of adding a military dimension to it.
This balancing act by Bangladesh is especially important because it needs the support of both China and India to mitigate the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis. Given India’s historical friendship with Bangladesh, New Delhi bears the responsibility of going a few steps further than Beijing on the Rohingya crisis. To what extent Dhaka can convince New Delhi to make the maximum effort to push for a peaceful repatriation of the Rohingya, however, remains to be seen.
On the whole though, Prime Minister Hasina’s visit will underline and nurture the special friendship between Dhaka and New Delhi. In a world where building walls and distrusting neighbours have become the international norm, Prime Ministers Hasina and Modi are likely to demonstrate that forward-looking partnerships on equal terms are possible when bilateral ties are rooted in trust, and a common vision of peace and economic progress.

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Humans pollute more than volcanoes

Wed, 02 Oct, 2019

Human activity churns out up to 100 times more planet warming carbon each year as all the volcanoes on Earth. The Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), a 500strong international team of scientists, released a series of papers outlining how carbon is stored, emitted and reabsorbed by natural and manmade processes.
They found that manmade carbon dioxide emissions drastically outstrip the contribution of volcanoes — which belch out gas and and are often fingered as a major climate change contributor — to current warming rates.
The findings were published in the journal Elements. Manmade emissions in 2018 alone topped 37 gigatonnes. Celina Suarez, associate professor of geology at the University of Arkansas, said modern manmade emissions were the “same magnitude” as past carbon shocks that precipitated mass extinction.
“We are on the same level of carbon catastrophe which is a bit sobering,” she said. By comparison, the CO2 released annually by volcanoes hovers around 0.3 and 0.4 gigatonnes — roughly 100 times less than manmade emissions.

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penicillin revival to fight rheumatic fever

Tue, 01 Oct, 2019

In a bid to fight drug resistance and tackle rheumatic heart disease, the Government of India is planning a revival of penicillin, one of the oldest antibiotics known to man. Not many organisms have developed resistance to it yet.
Penicillin went out of production in India because of unrealistic price control, officials said. The government is now planning to procure penicillin centrally for three years and give it to all children between 5-15 years who have a sore throat, at least once. The drug will be dispensed through primary health centres or administered by ASHAs.
A committee has been formed with officials from the department of health research to finalise the contours of the plan to tackle rheumatic fever and heart disease burden and revive penicillin.
A senior health ministry official said, “We are looking at a plan to deal with rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease load and are trying to revive penicillin availability because it is the cheapest option for rheumatic fever treatment.
We are exploring various options including talking to the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority to take it off the price control list. Also, to kickstart production, we are looking at procuring the medicine centrally — enough stock for three years so that manufacturers are encouraged to restart production.”
Penicillin, discovered in 1928, is still the first line antibiotic in many western countries, but it gradually went out of the Indian market even though some of its more expensive derivatives continue to be prescribed.
Population-based studies indicate the prevalence of rheumatic heart disease in India to be about 2/1000 population. However, surveys conducted in school children in the age group of 5-16 years by ICMR gives overall prevalence of 6/1000. Rheumatic fever is endemic in India and remains one of the major causes of cardiovascular disease, accounting for nearly 25-45% of acquired heart disease.
Not all sore throats go on to become rheumatic fever with severe joint pain or affect the heart in a disease that eventually leaves no option but to replace the heart valves — a condition known as rheumatic heart disease. However, doctors say, it is better to give an antibiotic dose and nip the possibility in the bud.
Dr Arun Singh, advisor to the Ministry of Health, said: “Penicillin is one of the oldest antibiotics and in many western countries still remains the first antibiotic. Yet in India it has almost gone out of the market because of price control.
The prices were kept so low that manufacturers stopped making the drug. On the other hand, India has a high burden of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease — the latter often goes undiagnosed and leads to many maternal deaths at the time of childbirth. The first presentation often is a sore throat, so we are looking at giving a course of penicillin to all children between 5-15 years once.”

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Core sector growth turns negative in August in fresh concern

Tue, 01 Oct, 2019

Growth worries for the government escalated, with the output of India’s eight infrastructure sectors contracting for the first time in more than four years in August.
The index of eight core infrastructure industries declined 0.5% during the month. Production in five sectors, including electricity and cement, shrank. The development indicates that the recovery seen in July may have been a blip, as feared by many analysts.
Output of coal (-8.6%), crude oil (-5.4%), natural gas (-3.9%), cement (-4.9%) and electricity (-2.9%) contracted in August, indicating a broad-based slowdown, while production of refinery products (2.6%), fertilizers (2.9%) and steel (5%) increased.
Although the contraction in cement output was partly on account of the high base of last year and monsoon rain, in conjunction with the moderation in growth of steel output, this does not bode well for construction activity. The weakness in electricity output was driven by a contraction of 3.5% in thermal electricity generation, in contrast to the moderately healthy expansion of 6.2% in July.
The latest macro data may also force the monetary policy committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India to cut interest rates at its meeting later this week.
Data released last month showed the index of industrial production (IIP) grew 4.3% in July from a downward-revised 1.2% the previous month, bringing some cheer amid mounting economic gloom. Core sector constitutes about 40% of IIP.
Aditi Nayar, principal economist at ICRA Ltd, said the contraction in core sector growth in August confirmed that the modest pickup in IIP growth in July did not signal the start of an industrial recovery.
With the contraction in core sector output, auto production and non-oil merchandise exports, we expect IIP growth to print at a muted sub-1% in August. We continue to expect the MPC to cut the repo rate by 25 bps in the upcoming October 2019 policy review," she added.
Indian businesses have been battling a demand slowdown and liquidity crunch, resulting in economic growth rate cooling to a six-year low of 5% in the June quarter, while private consumption expenditure dropped to an 18-quarter low of 3.1%.
While the government’s decision to cut the corporate tax rate is expected to boost sentiment, most analysts believe a recovery in either investment or consumption in the short run is unlikely.
Data separately released by the central bank showed non-food credit growth—a key indicator of consumption demand—decelerated to 9.8% in August from 12.4% a year ago.

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Kerala tops Niti Aayog’s School Education Quality Index; U.P. is worst performer

Tue, 01 Oct, 2019

There are huge differences in the quality of school education across the country, according to a Niti Aayog ranking released on Monday. Among 20 large States, Kerala was the best performer with a score of 76.6%, while Uttar Pradesh came in last with a score of 36.4%.
However, Haryana, Assam and Uttar Pradesh showed the most improvement in their performance in 2016-17, in comparison to the base year of 2015-16. The School Education Quality Index assesses States on the basis of learning outcomes, access, equity and infrastructure and facilities, using survey data, self-reported data from States and third-party verification.
Tamil Nadu was the top performer in access and equity outcomes, while Karnataka led in learning outcomes. Haryana had the best infrastructure and facilities.
Among smaller States, Manipur emerged as the best performer, while Chandigarh topped the list of Union Territories. West Bengal refused to participate in the evaluation process and has not been included in the rankings.

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Obesity and undernutrition coexist

Mon, 30 Sep, 2019

Nearly 10% of children in the age group of 5-9 years and adolescents in the age group of 10-19 years are pre-diabetic, 5% are overweight and another 5% suffer from blood pressure. These are among the key findings of the first-ever national nutrition survey conducted by the Centre, yet to be made public, providing for the first time hard evidence of the coexistence of obesity and undernutrition, among school going children.
The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and UNICEF between February 2016 and October 2018 is the first study undertaken to measure malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies through biochemical measures such as blood and urine samples, anthropometric data as well as details of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol and kidney function in children and adolescents.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS), however, collects anthropometric data (weight for age, height for age, weight for height, mid-upper arm circumference) to measure prevalence of stunting, wasting and underweight and household dietary intake to measure deficiencies.
Moreover, these are collected for children in the age group of 1-5 years and adults, but not for school going children between the age of 5 and 19 years.
The study exclusively accessed by The Hindu found prevalence of indicators of non-communicable diseases alongside indicators of undernutrition shown by various NFHS surveys such as stunting, wasting and underweight.
A quarter of 5-9 and 10-19 year-olds were thin for their age, one in five children 5-9 years’ old were stunted. A total of 1.12 lakh children and adolescents (0-19 years) were surveyed for height and weight measurements and 51,029 children (1-19 years) for biological samples.
Due to the seriousness of these findings, there has been concern expressed by medical practitioners and nutrition experts on the delay by the government in releasing the study. On September 3, the Ministry held a video-conference with National Health Missions of all States to discuss the study and many have been waiting for it to be released.
An official of the Directorate General of Health Services said the report is likely to be made public any day. However, many closely involved with the study said the delay by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is inexplicable as the findings have been known for nearly six months and both NITI Aayog and the Prime Minister’s Office had given their assent for making them public.
With September being observed as Poshan Maah or Nutrition month, many argued that not all findings may be palatable to the Centre, forcing it to postpone releasing the study.
Health policy experts said the study showed that the government will have to focus on obesity alongside undernutrition as part of its Nutrition Mission.

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E-cigarettes banned to prevent youth from falling into new way of intoxication

Mon, 30 Sep, 2019

Explaining the reason behind the Union Cabinet decision to ban e-cigarettes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 29 said his government wanted to prevent “a new form of intoxication destroying a demographically young country.”
He said like the conventional cigarette, it does not spread an odour as fragrant chemicals are added to it but they are harmful and pose a health hazard.
“... E-cigarette has been banned so that this new form of intoxication does not destroy our demographically young country. It does not trample on the dreams of a family and waste the lives of our children. This scourge and this obnoxious habit should not become rooted in our society,” he said.
Unlike a regular cigarette, an e-cigarette is an electronic device where the heating of nicotine-containing fluids creates a type of chemical smoke and this is the pathway through which nicotine is consumed.

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India hits out at China, slams CPEC: Expect others to respect sovereignty

Sun, 29 Sep, 2019

Taking a swipe at the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, India on Saturday hit out at Beijing for raising the issue of Jammu and Kashmir at the UN General Assembly.
The Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “The Chinese side is well aware of India’s position that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are an integral part of India, and that the recent developments are entirely a matter internal to us.
“We expect that other countries will respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and desist from efforts to change the status quo through the illegal so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” he said, in reference to the CPEC.
Raising the Kashmir issue at the United Nations, China had on Friday told the General Assembly that the “dispute” should be peacefully and properly addressed in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and the bilateral agreement.
China, a close ally of Pakistan, also stressed that no actions should be taken that would unilaterally change the “status quo”.
“The Kashmir issue, a dispute left from the past, should be peacefully and properly addressed in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement.
“No actions that would unilaterally change the status quo should be taken. As a neighbour of both India and Pakistan, China hopes to see the dispute effectively managed and stability restored to the relationship between the two sides,” Wang said.
This is not the first time that India and China have publicly disagreed on the issue of revoking of special status to J&K under Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on September 25 in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA.
In August this year, Jaishankar had travelled to Beijing and had underlined that the future of India-China relations will depend on “mutual sensitivity to each other’s core concerns”. He had conveyed to Wang Yi that recent changes in India’s Constitution had “no implication for either the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China”.
Jaishankar had also told Wang that India was not raising any additional territorial claims and that Chinese concerns in this regard were “misplaced”.
As Wang, State Councillor and Foreign Minister, raised India’s move to revoke the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state, Jaishankar made it clear that this was an “internal matter”.
During the bilateral meeting in Beijing on August 12, Wang had also raised “rising tensions” between India and Pakistan as a result of these changes. Jaishankar reiterated that it was an “internal matter” that had “no bearing on Pakistan” and did not impact the LoC (Line of Control).

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‘Quantum supremacy’

Sun, 29 Sep, 2019

The story so far: Tech websites and theoretical computer-science outlets were aflame earlier this week after a story in the U.K.-based Financial Times said Google had claimed to have achieved ‘quantum supremacy’. In a line, it means that researchers at Google had solved a really difficult problem in seconds with the help of quantum computers which a supercomputer could not.
The research paper is yet to be formally vetted by peers in the field and became public after having appeared briefly on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) website — apparently some of its researchers were involved in the project. It is likely to reappear soon in a complete form.
What are quantum computers?
Quantum computers work differently from the classical computers we work on today. Exploiting the principles of quantum mechanics, they can easily tackle computational problems that may be tough for the classical computer as the size of the numbers and number of inputs involved grows bigger. Quantum computers do not look like desktops or laptops that we associate the word ‘computer’ with.
Instead (and there are only a handful of them) they resemble the air-conditioned server rooms of many offices or the stacks of central processing units from desktops of yore that are connected by ungainly tangled wires and heaped in freezing rooms. Conventional computers process information in ‘bits’ or 1s and 0s, following classical physics under which our computers can process a ‘1’ or a ‘0’ at a time.
The world’s most powerful super computer today can juggle 148,000 trillion operations in a second and requires about 9000 IBM CPUs connected in a particular combination to achieve this feat. Quantum computers compute in ‘qubits’ (or quantum bits). They exploit the properties of quantum mechanics, the science that governs how matter behaves on the atomic scale.
In this scheme of things, processors can be a 1 and a 0 simultaneously, a state called quantum superposition. While this accelerates the speed of computation, a machine with less than a 100 qubits can solve problems with a lot of data that are even theoretically beyond the capabilities of the most powerful supercomputers.
Because of quantum superposition, a quantum computer — if it works to plan — can mimic several classical computers working in parallel. The ideas governing quantum computers have been around since the 1990s but actual machines have been around since 2011, most notably built by Canadian company D-Wave Systems.
How will it help us?
The speed and capability of classical supercomputers are limited by energy requirements. Along with these they also need more physical space. Looking for really useful information by processing huge amounts of data quickly is a real-world problem and one that can be tackled faster by quantum computers.
For example, if we have a database of a million social media profiles and had to look for a particular individual, a classical computer would have to scan each one of those profiles which would amount to a million steps.
In 1996, Lov K. Grover from Bell Labs discovered that a quantum computer would be able to do the same task with one thousand steps instead of a million. That translates into reduced processors and reduced energy.
What quantum computing means for your bank accounts and smartphones
In theory, a quantum computer can solve this problem rapidly because it can attack complex problems that are beyond the scope of a classical computer. The basic advantage is speed as it is able to simulate several classical computers working in parallel. Several encryption systems used in banking and security applications are premised on computers being unable to handle mathematical problems that are computationally demanding beyond a limit. Quantum computers, in theory, can surpass those limits.
What has Google achieved?
Quantum supremacy refers to quantum computers being able to solve a problem that a classical computer cannot. In the research paper, Google used a 53-qubit processor to generate a sequence of millions of numbers.
Though these numbers appeared randomly generated, they conform to an algorithm generated by Google. A classical supercomputer checked some of these values and they were correct. Google’s quantum computer, named Sycamore, claimed ‘supremacy’ because it reportedly did the task in 200 seconds that would have apparently taken a supercomputer 10,000 years to complete.
Is this an important achievement?
Impressive as this may sound, experts caution that this does not imply that the quantum computer can solve every challenging problem thrown at it. The number-generating task was the equivalent of having a Ferrari and a truck compete in a race and, on the car’s predictable victory, declare that the Ferrari could do everything that a truck did.
While IBM and a few other private establishments also have quantum computer prototypes, a common ailment is that they have their own unique propensity to errors and are not as amenable to executing real world problems as super computers.
Then again, nothing yet rules out the creation of new mathematical methods or techniques that would allow classical computers to execute the same task faster. Some experts even question the term ‘quantum supremacy’ coined by theoretical physicist John Preskill of the California Institute of Technology, United States.
However, the Google feat shows that quantum computers are capable of a real world task. It gives confidence to private entrepreneurs and even academics to invest time and money to improving them
and customise them to real world problems. In terms of the number of qubits, D-Wave Systems says it is ready to commercially launch a 5000-qubit system by 2020. It already has a 1000-qubit system at NASA.
D-Wave claims that car maker Volkswagen used its quantum computers to figure out how best to control a fleet of taxis in Beijing relying on data from 10,000 cars, but the research paper describing this experiment does not quite explain how the proposed solution is better than algorithms that are currently used to optimise traffic flow.
What will it mean for online banking?
A question critics raise is how the use of quantum computing and its ability to break encryption codes will impact online banking. Breaking banking grade encryption is far away. Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist who has written on Google’s feat, opines that current encryption standards would require a quantum computer to have “several thousand logical qubits” working in tandem perfectly.
It requires millions of qubits of the kind that powers Sycamore to make ‘logical qubits’ and the 53 at Sycamore’s disposal does not quite cut the ice. However, there are other approaches to designing quantum computers and with it there may be cleverer ways to solve problems using them.
Moreover, if technological breakthroughs were to pose a real threat to banking or financial operations, it is likely that banks will harness quantum computers themselves.
Is India working on quantum computing?
There are no quantum computers in India yet. In 2018, the Department of Science & Technology unveiled a programme called Quantum-Enabled Science & Technology (QuEST) and committed to investing ₹80 crore over the next three years to accelerate research.
The ostensible plan is to have a quantum computer built in India within the next decade. Phase-1 of the problem involves hiring research experts and establishing teams with the know-how to physically build such systems.

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IRDAI-NHA panel batsfor strong law to deter health insurance fraud

Sun, 29 Sep, 2019

A sub-group on fraud control in health insurance, forming part of the joint working group of National Health Authority and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has advocated a strong law to act as a deterrent.
A strong legislation — National Health Insurance Anti-Fraud Act — is “required to effectively to deal with the whole gamut of activities for preventing, detecting and deterring fraud.” This would benefit the entire ecosystem, including private paid health insurance.
Suggesting that such a law should provide for setting up of a special anti-fraud task force to take punitive action, carry out recoveries, searches and seizures, the report said joint collective measures by all payers would have great impact on fraudulent practices of providers “which are the major players for fraud.”
While IRDAI is the regulator for the insurance sector, the National Health Authority (NHA) is the nodal agency for implementing the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aroygya Yojana, or Ayushman Bharat as the healthcare scheme is known.
In the set of recommendations and measures for collaboration, the sub-group said the definition of fraud and abuse should be standardised.
Also, the contracts entered into by a payer — with policy holder, empanelled hospitals, intermediary, employee — should mandatorily incorporate a standard definition of fraud, clauses, and the resulting punitive action that those indulging in them could face.
The report also emphasised the need for creation of a common talent pool for effective investigation and a certification programme for ensuring minimum standards. The impact of healthcare fraud is not only financial but also on the people’s health, and was an issue of “grave concern.
As the coverage/penetration of health insurance expands to more people, for more services, the element of fraud and abuse will also go up exponentially if handled inadequately,” the report said.
With the launch of Ayushman Bharat, the number of people covered under health insurance – private paid, organised through insurance companies under the aegsis of IRDAI or government funded, organised by State governments, now stands at 65 crore, including 15 crore under private paid insurance and 50 crore under PMJAY.

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Goldschmidtite

Sat, 28 Sep, 2019

A new, curious mineral has been discovered inside a diamond unearthed from a mine in South Africa. The mineral has been named goldschmidtite, after Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, the Norwegian scientist acknowledged as the founder of modern geochemistry. It has been described in the journal American Mineralogist.
Goldschmidtite has an unusual chemical signature for a mineral from Earth’s mantle, according to the University of Alberta, a student of which discovered it. While the mantle is dominated by elements such as magnesium and iron, goldschmidtite has high concentrations of niobium, potassium and the rare earth elements lanthanum and cerium.
PhD student Nicole Meyer found a single grain of the mineral in the diamond, unearthed in Koffiefontein, South Africa. The university described it as dark green and opaque.
Though the mantle makes up about 80 per cent of the Earth’s volume, very little is known about it. Reaching the mantle is not easy; it is about 2,900 km thick and no attempt to drill into it has been successful.
Diamonds hold clues as they are found up to 160 km beneath the surface, in the upper mantle. Diamonds that are unearthed were brought up closer to the surface, probably as a result of violent volcanic eruptions when the Earth was hotter, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

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Crude oil imports from U.S. jump 72%, Iraq is top supplier

Sat, 28 Sep, 2019

India’s crude oil imports from the U.S. have jumped by over 72% in the first five months of the current fiscal as the country looks to diversify oil purchases beyond its traditional suppliers in West Asia, official data showed.
According to data sourced from the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, the U.S. supplied about 4.5 million tonnes of crude oil in April to August 2019, as compared to 2.6 million tonnes oil sourced from that country in the same period a year ago.
Iraq continues to be India’s top crude oil supplier, meeting close to one-fourth of the country’s oil needs. Iraq sold 21.24 million tonnes of crude oil to India during April to August, almost 12% more than 18.99 million tonnes it had supplied in the same period of the previous fiscal.
India provisionally imported 91.24 million tonnes of crude oil in April-August 2019, down from 93.91 million tonnes a year ago.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally been India’s top oil source, but it was for the first time dethroned by Iraq in the 2017-18 fiscal year. Saudi Arabia, which has since then been relegated to the second spot, exported 17.74 million tonnes of crude oil, up from 15.66 million tonnes in the previous year.
India stopped importing crude oil from Iran following the reimposition of economic sanctions in May by the U.S., pushing down imports from the Persian Gulf nation to just 2 million tonnes from 13.3 million tonnes in the previous year, data showed.
Nigeria grabbed the third spot vacated by Iran. The African nation supplied 7.17 million tonnes of crude oil in April-August, up from 5.81 million tonnes a year ago.

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India, Nepal, Bhutan to count tigers in high altitude

Sat, 28 Sep, 2019

With studies earlier this year reporting the presence of tigers in high altitude regions in India, experts from India, Nepal and Bhutan — under the aegis of their governments — will next year begin a detailed assessment on how entrenched tigers are, in these regions.
A study jointly conducted by experts from three countries had, in a report this month, established that there were potentially 52,671 square kilometres of tiger habitat in high altitudes — or Himalayan habitats — of India, Nepal and Bhutan. 38,915 square kilometres of this habitat lay in India.
While India is home to the most number of tigers in the world, most of them are focussed in Central India and the Western Ghats. The latest tiger survey, made public earlier this year estimated 2,967 tigers all over India.
Camera traps laid in select districts of Uttarakhand, Sikkim, North Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh to detect the presence of tigers in higher altitudes found only three — two in Sikkim and one in Uttarakhand.
“What we’re not sure of is whether these tigers are embedded there or whether they have migrated in from other parts of the country. A more detailed assessment is necessary to find this out,” said Rajesh Gopal, Secretary General, Global Tiger Forum. (GTF). The GTF is an intergovernmental body that coordinates activities on tiger conservation.
In previous years, tigers have been reported in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal at elevations of 1765m, 3274 m and 2400 m respectively. Bhutan had recorded the presence of a tiger at 4,210 m.
Recording the presence of tigers in high altitudes is important to judge the health of the species, as poaching and fragmented habitat are serious challenges to their population growth.
As part of a “high altitude tiger master plan”, gathering background information on land attributes, ascertaining status of protection and engaging local communities in tiger conservation is critical. Potential high altitude tiger landscapes include the Valmiki-Chitwan-Annapurna (India-Nepal), Manas-Royal Manas-Jigme Dorji (India-Bhutan); Neora Valley-Torsa-Buxa-Phibsu (India-Bhutan); Askot-
Pithoragarh-Nandhaur-Suklaphanta (India-Nepal); and Arunachal-Sikkim-bordering Bhutan (India-Bhutan).

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10-year sanitation plan to focus on waste management

Sat, 28 Sep, 2019

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to declare that India is completely open defecation free (ODF) on October 2, the Centre has launched a 10-year strategy to maintain these gains and shift focus to solid and liquid waste management in rural areas of the country.
“The first priority is to sustain the gains of ODF, to prevent slipbacks and continue behaviour change. It may be less glamorous, but it is essential. Among other things, this will entail reaching out to “left-behind” households who have not been covered under the ODF drive.
The issue came to the limelight again when two Dalit children in Madhya Pradesh were killed while defecating in the open earlier this week. Their family did not have a toilet despite having applied for one.
The ten year strategy framework presented by Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat on Friday also indicates that the Centre’s share of financing the ODF Plus programme will be lower than in the last five years.
“Public financing has played an important role in the ODF journey,” said Arun Baroka. “But for maintenance of toilets and infrastructure, the government will not be able to take care. With regard to
waste management elements, there will have to be convergence of funds from the Centre, states, panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) and alternative financing, including credit and private funds.”
Mr. added that a note has been prepared for Cabinet approval, but said that discussions were still ongoing on the budget required and whether funds will be disbursed via a centrally sponsored scheme or through Finance Commission transfers to PRIs.

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The Caribbean community (CARICOM)

Fri, 27 Sep, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a USD 14-million grant for community development projects in a grouping of Caribbean nations and another USD 150 million Line of Credit for solar, renewable energy and climate-change related works as he hosted the first ever India-Caricom leaders' summit here.
Prime Minister Modi announced a grant of USD 14 million for community development works in the CARICOM and another USD 150 million Line of Credit for solar, renewable energy and climate-change related projects, the press release stated.
He also announced the setting up of the Regional Centre for Excellence in Information Technology in Guyana's Georgetown and the Regional Vocational Training Centre in Belize by upgrading the existing India-funded centres in these two countries.
The Caribbean community, also known as CARICOM, is a grouping of 15 member states and five associate members.
Caricom countries came together in 1973 to form an economic and political community that works jointly to shape policies for the region and encourages economic growth and trade.
Wednesday's meeting was attended by top leadership and representatives from Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.
The meeting was the first-ever meeting of Modi with CARICOM leaders in a regional format and highlighted the steadily intensifying relations between India and partner countries of the Caribbean, both bilaterally as well as regionally.
During the meeting, Modi reiterated India's firm commitment to strengthen its political, economic and cultural engagement with CARICOM and noted the presence of over a million-strong Indian diaspora as a vibrant and enduring link of friendship with the Caribbean nations.
The meeting deliberated on the strengthening the political and institutional dialogue processes, boosting economic cooperation, increasing trade and investment and fostering greater and more robust people-to-people relations.
Modi also laid emphasis on partnering with CARICOM countries in capacity building, development assistance and cooperation in disaster management and resilience.
He invited CARICOM countries to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), which was announced by the prime minister in his address to the UN Climate Action Summit.
Modi also expressed his condolences on the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian in the region and the worst hit island of Bahamas to which India has provided an immediate financial assistance of USD 1 million.
India also expressed support to specialised capacity building courses, training and deputation of Indian experts based on the needs and requirements of the CARICOM countries. He invited a parliamentary delegation from CARICOM to visit India in the near future.
During the meeting, a decision was taken to set up a Joint Task Force to expeditiously look into possible areas of cooperation and identify the way forward.
Outlining climate change and increasing India's participation with the Caricom nations as the focus of the meeting, he said he expects the discussion takes into consideration past experiences, present requirements and aspirations of the future.

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G4 nations voice concern over lack of concrete result on UNSC reforms

Fri, 27 Sep, 2019

India and other members of the G4 countries, including Brazil, Germany and Japan, have voiced concern over the lack of any concrete result on UN Security Council reform, saying the current inter-governmental negotiation process on the matter does not have the necessary openness and is constrained by flawed working methods.
The Foreign Ministers of the G4 countries, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Foreign Minister of Brazil Ernesto Araújo, Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Maas and Foreign Minister of Japan Motegi Toshimitsu, met on the margins of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.
According to a joint press statement issued after the meeting, the G4 Ministers reviewed the recent efforts undertaken in the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) on the United Nations Security Council.
"They expressed their concern with the fact that, although the African Common position is better reflected, more than 10 years after the beginning of the IGN, no concrete result has been achieved."
They underlined that the recent IGN session demonstrated once again that the negotiation process lacks the necessary openness and transparency and is constrained by flawed working methods.
The G4 Ministers underscored that "time has come to leave behind debates based solely on general statements, without substantive negotiation.
They also noted that an overwhelming majority of UN Member States firmly support comprehensive reform of the Security Council, and rightfully expect the IGN to be a more result-oriented process.
The ministers reiterated their strong commitment to an early and comprehensive reform of the Security Council, as envisaged by Heads of State and Government in the 2005 World Summit.
They highlighted the importance of efforts aimed at reforming the United Nations and updating its main decision-making bodies, in order to better reflect the contemporary realities.
They also emphasised that an expansion of the Security Council in both categories is indispensable to make this body more representative, legitimate and effective, enhancing, therefore, its capacity to deal with the complex challenges the world faces today on questions of international peace and security.
With the UN getting ready to commemorate in 2020 its 75th anniversary, the G4 ministers expressed their firm hope that the current session of the General Assembly will pave the way for finally moving on the call for an 'early reform' of the Security Council, that was made in the 2005 World Summit by all the Heads of State and Government.
This reform should include not only the expansion of both permanent and non-permanent categories of membership, but also measures to increase the transparency and effectiveness of the work of the Security Council," the press statement said.
It added that the ministers reiterated their support for each other's candidatures as aspiring new permanent members in a reformed Security Council given the capacity and willingness to take on major responsibilities with regard to the maintenance of international peace and security.
"There is a clear need for an enhanced role of developing countries and of major contributors to the United Nations to make the Council more legitimate, effective and representative," they said.
Over 40 years have passed since the inscription of the item "Question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council" on the agenda of the General Assembly in 1979.
The ministers underlined discussion on Security Council reform should follow the General Assembly's standard operating procedures in a democratic and transparent manner.
"The IGN should be guided by the decision-making requirements and working methods laid out in the Charter of the United Nations and in the rules and procedures of the General Assembly," the release said, adding the G4 ministers also stressed that sufficient time should be given to member states to negotiate, making use of the whole calendar of the General Assembly.
The Ministers underscored their steadfast support for Africa's representation in both the permanent and non-permanent categories of membership of a reformed and expanded Security Council, saying that this enhanced representation is the only way to correct the historical injustice against this continent with regard to its under-representation in the Security Council.

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Regional Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) reports

Fri, 27 Sep, 2019

Following a plea challenging the environmental clearance granted to 12 minor mineral sand mining projects in Uttar Pradesh, the National Green Tribunal held that the Regional Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) reports cannot be the sole basis for approval to projects.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, while quashing the environmental clearance said: “REIA is a macro-level tool which only gives representative idea of impacts in general, in a large area. It is just an indicative tool which gives a bird’s-eye view of the situation. Only the
individual EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] or cluster-based EIA can bring out individual or cluster-based impacts on environment.”
The green panel further held, “Relying solely on REIA or carving out individual EIAs from it cannot give or capture impacts at the micro or individual levels… Such a situation would result in the recipient environment being the net loser, which cannot be permitted in terms of the tenets of Precautionary Principle.”
Relying on such tools will give the authorities a false sense of environmental compliance whereas environmental degradation will continue at the same pace,”

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The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

Fri, 27 Sep, 2019

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) asked India to “rescind” its actions in Kashmir and abide by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions following New Delhi’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
The Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Contact Group on Kashmir discussed the Indian government’s decision to revoke Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the state’s bifurcation into two Union Territories during a meeting on the sidelines of the 74th session of UN General Assembly Wednesday.
In a draft communique that was released later, the group voiced concern over the human rights situation in Kashmir. They also discussed the communication restrictions put in place in Kashmir.
The group demanded that India “rescind” its actions in Kashmir and reiterate its commitment to abide by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
It also said India should allow access to Jammu and Kashmir to human rights organisations and international media to ascertain and report on the situation there. India asserts that the abrogation of Article 370 is its “internal matter”.

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New IPCC report warns of dire threat to oceans

Thu, 26 Sep, 2019

With representatives from nearly 200 countries at the United Nations Climate Summit underway in the United States, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the apex referee for scientific evidence on the impact of global warming — made public a special report that underlined the dire changes taking place in oceans, glaciers and ice-deposits on land and sea.
“Over the 21st century, the ocean is projected to transition to unprecedented conditions with increased temperatures, further ocean acidification, marine heatwaves and more frequent extreme El Niño and La Niña events,” according to a summary of the report made available to policymakers.
The report updates scientific literature available since 2015 — when the IPCC released its comprehensive 5th Assessment Report — and summarises the disastrous impacts of warming based on current projections of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“It is virtually certain that the global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970 and has taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system (high confidence). Since 1993, the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled. Marine heatwaves have very likely doubled in frequency since 1982 and are increasing in intensity,” the report notes.
The Southern Ocean accounted for 35%–43% of the total heat gain in the upper 2,000 m global ocean between 1970 and 2017, and its share increased to 45%–62% between 2005 and 2017.
The ‘Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ was prepared following an IPCC Panel decision in 2016 to prepare three Special Reports and follows the Special Reports on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR1.5), and on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL).
The 1.5°C report was a key input used in negotiations at Katowice, Poland last year for countries to commit themselves to capping global temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century.
“A major impact is in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Regions,” said Anjal Prakash, a researcher at The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) School of Advanced Studies, and among those involved with the report, adding, “Floods will become more frequent and severe in the mountainous and downstream areas of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins, because of an increase in extreme precipitation events... the severity of flood events is expected to more than double towards the end of the century.”

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Zero budget natural farming can solve farmers’ issues

Thu, 26 Sep, 2019

The zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) was highlighted as an alternative method of agriculture, shifting away from big irrigation projects, farm loan waiver and fertilizer subsidy, to address agrarian distress and resolve the plight of peasants at a training camp for farmers organised at Sewar in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district on Wednesday.
Noted agriculturist Subhash Palekar, who has pushed for adoption of ZBNF, apprised the farmers of his research on forest vegetation and the techniques for natural growth of trees at the six-day-long camp, which is the first one devoted to natural farming in the State. About 6,000 small and marginal farmers from Rajasthan and other States are attending the camp.
Maharashtra-based Mr. Palekar — recipient of the Padma Shri in 2016 — threw light on his “zero budget approach” to chemical-free farming involving manures and agro-ecology. He said farmers could face the present crisis if they learnt the techniques of reducing input costs, replacing pesticides with traditional material and preparation of indigenous seeds.
Mr. Palekar said land productivity had decreased because of constant use of chemical fertilizers, while climate change had posed new challenges and put the farmers in the vicious circle of loans, often resulting in their suicide. “Farming has become a loss-making occupation. Farmers are not getting remunerative prices for their produce because of a number of factors.”
Mr. Palekar said the Union and State governments should promote ZBNF by changing the policies adopted during the green revolution. The Union government’s Economic Survey of 2018-19 had advocated ZBNF as a “lucrative livelihood option” for small farmers, while it could be taken up with negligible investment and save 90% of irrigation waters.
Sita Ram Gupta, executive director of Bharatpur-based Lupin Foundation, which is organising the camp, said the farmers could also take up avocations such as beekeeping, dairy farming, pisciculture and poultry farming on their agricultural land.
Rajasthan Minister of State for Technical Education Subhash Garg said the ZBNF had the potential to strengthen rural economy and the State government would try to include it in its new agricultural policy.

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Warning signs: warmest ever, emission highs

Wed, 25 Sep, 2019

The average global temperature for 2015-2019 is on track to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record, and July 2019 was the hottest month on record globally, a report released ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York has found.
The warmest five-year trend has especially affected large areas of the United States, including Alaska, eastern parts of South America, most of Europe and the Middle East, northern Eurasia, Australia and areas of Africa south of the Sahara.
The report ‘United in Science’ is a synthesis prepared by the Science Advisory Group of the summit. It has also found that greenhouse gases have reached “new highs”, heatwaves were the “deadliest” meteorological hazard in this period, and tropical cyclones led to the largest economic losses. Among its key findings:
GLOBAL TEMPERATURE: The average global temperature for 2015-19 is currently estimated to be 1.1°C above pre-industrial (1850-1900) times, the report said. Widespread and long-lasting heatwaves, record-breaking fires and other devastating events such as tropical cyclones, floods and drought have had major impacts on socio-economic development and the environment.
GREENHOUSE GASES: Levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have reached new highs. The last time Earth’s atmosphere contained 400 parts per million carbon dioxide was about 3-5 million years ago. In 2018, the report said, global carbon dioxide concentration was 407.8 parts per million (ppm), 2.2 ppm higher than 2017. Preliminary data from a subset of monitoring sites for 2019 indicate that carbon dioxide concentrations are on track to reach or even exceed 410 ppm by the end of 2019.
In 2017, globally averaged atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were 405.6 ppm, methane at 1859 parts per billion (ppb) and nitrous oxide at 329.9 ppb. These values constitute, respectively, 146%, 257% and 122% of pre-industrial levels (pre-1750). The growth rate of carbon dioxide averaged over three consecutive decades (1985-1995, 1995-2005 and 2005-2015) increased from 1.42 ppm/yr to 1.86 ppm/yr and to 2.06 ppm/yr.
However, the report notes that emissions from the US and the European Union have declined over the past decade, while growth in China’s emissions have slowed significantly compared to the 2000s. Indian emissions are the fourth highest and are “growing strongly at annual rates in excess of 5%, albeit starting from a much lower base of per capita emissions.”
HEATWAVES: The report notes that heatwaves affected all continents and set many new national temperature records. It also mentions the heatwave that struck the subcontinent in mid-2015 where 2,248 deaths were reported in India, and 1,229 in Pakistan. “The 2019 summer saw unprecedented wildfires in the Arctic region with 50 megatons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere in June alone,” the report says.
PRECIPITATION: The effects of climate change were also seen on precipitation levels in the 2015-2019 period when compared to the five years preceding that. The average precipitation totals were higher in the latter period than in the former in large regions in southern South and North America, eastern Europe and most of Asia.
In contrast, less precipitation fell in large parts of Europe, south-west and southern Africa, northern North America and a large part of South America, the Indian Monsoon region, and northern and western Australia,” the report states.
SEA ICE: Arctic summer sea-ice extent has declined at a rate of approximately 12% per decade during 1979-2018, the report said. The four lowest values for winter sea-ice extent occurred between 2015 and 2019. Overall, the amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017. Glacier mass loss for 2015-2019 is the highest for any five-year period on record.

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Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement

Wed, 25 Sep, 2019

While India has not yet signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, it has accepted suggestions of other countries regarding rules on investments, a source aware of the developments. India and the other RCEP countries are currently in the final phase of negotiations in Vietnam.
India has so far agreed to several provisions that bring it in line with the investment rules applicable in most comparable countries, including banning host countries from mandating that the investing companies transfer technology and training to their domestic partners, and removing the cap on the quantum of royalties domestic companies can pay their foreign partners.
If the RCEP agreement is signed, these rules are expected to attract greater investment in India from the other 15 RCEP countries (the 10 ASEAN countries, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand). Indian laws currently have the provision wherein companies investing in the country can be made to transfer technology or know-hows to their domestic counterparts.
The government and Reserve Bank of India also currently impose a cap on the royalties a domestic company can pay to its foreign parent or partner, for certain kinds of investments.
These restrictions have been seen as major hindrances to investing in India, and other RCEP countries have argued strongly for their removal. The investment chapter of the RCEP deal has been agreed upon, and India has agreed to the removal of technology transfer requirements, and also the removal of any caps on royalty payments,” the source said.
This means there will be no cap on the royalties that a company like, say, Maruti, [can] pay a foreign partner.”
While there is apprehension in industry that removing the cap on royalty payments would lead to increased outflow in foreign exchange and deplete the ability of domestic firms to pay dividends to shareholders, there is also the view that removal of these restrictions will result in increased investments in India. “If India has taken this decision, then it is certainly a step in the right direction.

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No more waste mounds on Siachen glacier

Wed, 25 Sep, 2019

Since January 2018, nearly 130 tonnes of waste has been brought down from the Siachen Glacier and disposed of. Based on a 2018 concept note on waste management on the glacier, the Army has made bringing down waste a part of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for troops.
On an average, 236 tonnes of waste is generated every year on Siachen glacier. There is now a SOP, for every link patrol or administrative column to bring the waste down. The capacity of each person to carry is 10-15 kg due to the extreme weather,” an Army source said. Efforts are on to increase the disposal rate to 100 tonnes a year.
In the past, waste disposal work was fragmented and intermittent, but the Army is looking to cut waste in the rations and utilities delivered on the glacier, and make Siachen garbage free in 12-15 years.
India has held the glacier’s dominating heights since it occupied them in 1984 under ‘Operation Meghdoot’. The 130 tonnes disposed of include 48.4 tonnes of biodegradable garbage, 40.32 tonnes of non-biodegradable, non-metallic waste and 42.45 tonnes of metallic scrap. The biggest challenge was the high altitude as most posts were located between 18,000 and 21,000 feet. Nothing degrades at sub-zero temperatures, so everything had to be brought down.
The three types of wastes are disposed of differently. Biodegradable waste consists of cartons and packets rolled using baling machines. For the non-biodegradable, non-metallic waste, three incinerators have been set up at Siachen base camp, Partapur, and near Bukdang village, at 10,000 feet.
The waste are burnt in the incinerators but they do not produce Carbon Monoxide, only fumes and ash. “The ash is used as manure,” the source said.
For the metallic waste, there were three extrication centres, the source said and added, “The plan is to procure industrial crushers to crush it and send it down.”
While there are transit camps after the base camp, the actual posts are located at heights of 18,000 feet and above, the Bana post being the highest on the glacier close to 22,000 feet. At 18,000-19,000 feet, Indian and Pakistani posts face each other. However, beyond 20,000 feet, it is only India.
The Army has collaborated with the civil administration there and barrels have been painted and set up in villages around to segregate waste. “The disposal mechanism is being used by the civilian administration as well,” officials said.
The concept paper of the Army states that the process of waste generation is essentially rooted in the survival of troops present on the glacier and their need to be operationally prepared and logistically supported to undertake combat operations in such terrain and weather conditions.
“Since every item inducted into the glacier is a potential source of waste, the entire process of waste generation needs to be viewed holistically through total tonnage inducted into the glacier for requisite logistics support to these troops. Even at the broadest level, nature of waste and quantity varies from location to location,” it stated. The three-way segregation is being done on this basis.

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India, Emirates discuss areas of future cooperation

Tue, 24 Sep, 2019

India and the United Arab Emirates discussed areas for future cooperation, including growth opportunities for Indian banks, and the potential for private banks operating at the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) to offer private wealth services in India, according to a joint statement issued by the Ministry of Commerce and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
The joint statement comes following the seventh meeting of the UAE-India High Level Joint Task Force on Investments, which was co-chaired by Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Managing Director of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), and Indian Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal.
Areas for future cooperation were also discussed at the meeting, including growth opportunities for Indian banks, asset managers and technology companies at ADGM, and the potential for private banks operating at ADGM to offer high quality private wealth services in India,” the statement said.
In this regard, the UAE side further emphasised the strategic role that ADGM has played in fostering collaborations to enable sustainable trade flows and investments between the two economies.”

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Russia formally accepts 2015 Paris climate accord

Tue, 24 Sep, 2019

Russia said it would implement the 2015 Paris Agreement to fight climate change after Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday approved a government resolution signifying Moscow’s final acceptance of the deal.
The same resolution said Russia would not technically ratify the accord however due to a legal nuance. Mr. Medvedev said Moscow would adapt the accord to existing legal norms. It was unclear what, if any, the legal implications of failing to technically ratify the pact were.
Russia is the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the biggest emitter not to have ratified the landmark global climate deal.
On Monday’s government resolution, Russia said it did not need to ratify the agreement because Moscow had already undertaken to honour its commitments when it signed the deal in April 2016.
Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev said it was important for Russia to be part of the Paris accord so that it had a voice when it came to deciding any new measures to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “And any regulatory measures that are drawn up will have to take into consideration our national interests as much as possible,” he said.

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Giant earthworm found at the foot of Western Ghats

Tue, 24 Sep, 2019

Farmworkers in the land belonging to Gopalakrishna Katta in Kollamogaru village, near Kukke Subrahmanya, were taken aback when they saw a “snake-like creature” while removing soil for roadwork in January. Assuming it was a snake, they rushed to the landowner’s house to inform him.
But little did the workers realise that they had found a giant earthworm, measuring over three feet in length, which has not been reported in the Western Ghats and the coastal belt of Karnataka so far. The landowner’s son, Nishant Katta, a postgraduate in Applied Zoology, told them that it was not a snake but an earthworm.
Surprised and excited, Mr. Katta called up K.S. Sreepada, professor of Applied Zoology, Mangalore University, and Vivek Hasyagar, a research scholar in the same department, for further studies. Both are members of a research team on earthworms at the university. Now, the earthworm has been preserved in chemical solutions at the laboratory of the department at the Mangalagangotri campus of the
university. Prof. Sreepada told The Hindu that this was the first time such a large earthworm had been sighted in the Western Ghats and the coastal belt. “We are studying it,” he said.
Mr. Hasyagar said that when stretched, the earthworm measures 950 mm (more than 3 feet) and is 20 mm in width. He said that in India, J.M. Julka (2008) had reported the largest earthworm — Drawida nilamburensis, which belongs to the Moniligastridae family. That specimen, from the Nilgiris, measured up to 1,000 mm in length.
Prof. Sreepada said morphological study of the newly discovered earthworm has tentatively indicated that it belongs to the genus of Moniligaster. “We have not studied its internal structures as it has been preserved now. Hence, the species has not been identified,” he said. He said if internal structures are to be studied, the department would need another earthworm of the same size or category for dissection purposes.
Mr. Nishant said he had found a similar type of giant worm in the same area about 10 years ago when he was in class 8. “I too had believed it to be a snake,” he said.
Mr. Sreepada said the giant earthworms begin migrating at night during the pre-monsoon and post-monsoon periods. The sighting of the giant earthworm in Kollamogaru calls for deeper study from different angles, including the landslips in Kodagu this year and last, he said.

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dragonflies hints at impact of floods

Tue, 24 Sep, 2019

A survey of dragonflies and damselflies held in the Silent Valley National Park (SVNP) has discovered eight new species, but reported an alarming decrease in the odonate population, raising concerns over the ecological impact of the successive floods in the State.
The three-day survey, conducted last week jointly by the Silent Valley National Park and the Society for Odonate Studies, showed that several dragonfly species, including the Global Wanderer (Pantala flavescens), were missing from the national park.
V. Balachandran, secretary of the Indian Dragonfly Society, said that the aberrant rain pattern and the successive floods in the State could have decimated the population of dragonflies and damselflies in the SVNP.
“Odonates spend much of their lifetime as eggs and larvae under water. The floods could have washed them off. We need to conduct more studies in other parts of the State to get a clearer picture,”
However, eight new odonate species were found in the survey held in 11 camps across the buffer and core areas of the national park.
“Our study teams came up with 75 species of dragonflies and damselflies, taking the total number of odonate species in the Silent Valley to 91,” said Silent Valley Wildlife Warden Samuel Vanlalngheta Pachuau.
The new species found in the survey includes the Hemicordulia asiatica (Asian Emerald), which was reported from the Periyar Tiger Reserve in 2017. This rare dragonfly had gone unreported for over 80 years, and this was its second sighting from any protected forest in the State.
Macrogomphus wynadiccus (Wayanad Bowtail ), Onychogomphus nilgiriensis (Nilgiri Clawtail), Epithemis mariae (Rubytailed Hawklet), Palpopleura sexmaculata (Blue-Tailed Yellow Skimmer) and Neurothemis intermedia (Paddy Field Parasol) were the other interesting finds among dragonflies.
Agrocnemis splendidissima (Splendid Dartlet), Lestes dorothea (Scalloped Spreadwing), Onychargia atrocyana (Black Marsh Dart), Phylloneura westermani (Myristica Bambootail), Euphea disper (Nilgiri Torrent Dart) and Protostica gravely (Pied Reedtail) were some of the decorated findings among damselflies.
Mr. Pachuau said odonates were great biological indicators and studies on them would provide crucial information on the health of aquatic habitats and variations occurring in the climate. Odonates are good pest controllers, too.
“Regular monitoring over a long period will help us assess the changes in our natural landscape. The Silent Valley National Park aspires to be the front runner in such initiatives,” said Mr. Pachuau.

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India’s non-fossil fuel target to 450 GW by 2022

Tue, 24 Sep, 2019

India’s renewable energy target will be increased to 450 GW, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the United Nations Climate Action Summit here. “India today has come not just to talk about the seriousness of this issue, but to present a practical approach and a road map. We believe an ounce of practice is worth more than a tonne of preaching.
Speaking in Hindi, Mr. Modi reiterated India’s commitment to the creation of 175 GW renewable energy capacity by 2022 under the Paris Climate Agreement. “What is needed today is a comprehensive approach which covers education, values and everything from lifestyle to developmental philosophy... What we need is a global people’s movement to bring about behavioural change.”
India would spend approximately $50 billion “in the next few years” on the Jal Jeevan Mission to conserve water, harvest rainwater and develop water resources, he added.
Mr. Modi also said India planned to “considerably increase the proportion of the biofuel blend in petrol and diesel.” He said India had plans to make the transport sector green through the use of electrical vehicles.
The Prime Minister highlighted his call from banning single-use plastics, the International Solar Alliance, an Indian-led initiative, and that India had provided 160 million families with cooking gas connections.
He also announced two international initiatives. First, a platform with Sweden and other countries, for governments and the private sector to work together to develop low carbon pathways for industry.
Second, a Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. This initiative was approved by the Union Cabinet last month and ₹480 crore has been allocated for technical assistance and projects.
The U.K., Australia and island nations such as Fiji and the Maldives will be part of this coalition. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had asked leaders to come with “concrete plans” rather than “beautiful speeches”, a message he emphasised at the start of the summit.
Mr. Modi’s early slot, after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacina Ardern and Hilda Heine, the President of the Marshall Islands, was a recognition of India’s leadership in climate action, according to India’s UN envoy Syed Akbaruddin, who briefed the media a few days ago on the summit.
The U.S., Brazil, and South Africa are among countries that will not be speaking at the summit. U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence briefly attended the summit and listened to several speeches including Mr. Modi’s.
Highlights from PM Modi's speech:
>> World not doing enough to overcome serious challenge of climate change.
>> Need a global people’s movement to bring about behavioural change.
>> India will spend $50 billion on water conservation in next few years.
>> India will increase share of non-fossil fuel, will increase renewable energy capacity to beyond 175 GW by 2022 and take it to 400 GW.
>> India will inaugurate on Tuesday solar panels on the roof of the U.N. building, built at a cost of $1 million.
>> 80 countries have joined the International Solar Alliance initiated by India.
>> Called for a people’s movement to end the use of single use plastic and hoped that it will create an awareness at a global level about the harmful effects of single use plastic.
>> Need is a global people’s movement to bring about behavioural change.
>> India will spend $50 billion on his government’s ambitious ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’ for water conservation, rainwater harvesting and for the development of water resources.
>> India and China, which faced the highest burden of death from air pollution, will reap the biggest health benefits of a robust climate policy aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
>> Calls for comprehensive approach which covers everything from education to values, and from lifestyle to developmental philosophy.

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Is Indian Ocean helping Atlantic currents?

Mon, 23 Sep, 2019

In the Atlantic operates a large system of ocean currents, circulating the waters between the north and the south. Called Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, or AMOC, it ensures the oceans are continually mixed, and heat and energy are distributed around Earth.
For the last 15 years, however, scientists have been worried by signs that AMOC may be slowing, which could have drastic consequences on global climate.
Now a new study suggests that AMOC is getting help from the Indian Ocean. Warming as a result of climate change, the Indian Ocean is causing a series of cascading effects that is providing AMOC a “jump start”, in one researcher’s words.
How AMOC works
On its website, the UK Met Office likens AMOC to a conveyor belt and explains how it works. As warm water flows northwards in the Atlantic, it cools, while evaporation increases its salt content. Low temperature and a high salt content raise the density of the water, causing it to sink deep into the ocean. The cold, dense water deep below slowly spreads southward.
Eventually, it gets pulled back to the surface and warms again, and the circulation is complete. This continual mixing of the oceans, and distribution of heat and energy around the planet, contribute to global climate.
Another oceanic system, which makes news more frequently, is the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This involves temperature changes of 1°-3°C in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, over periods between three and seven years. El Niño refers to warming of the ocean surface and La Niña to cooling, while “Neutral” is between these extremes. This alternating pattern affects rainfall distribution in the tropics and can have a strong influence on weather in other parts of the world.
What is happening now
AMOC has been stable for thousands of years. Data since 2004, as well as projections, have given some scientists cause for concern. What is not clear, however, is whether the signs of slowing in AMOC are a result of global warming or only a short-term anomaly.
AMOC had weakened substantially 17,000 to 15,000 years ago, and it had global impacts, Yale University researcher Alexey Fedorov said in a statement released by the university. The new study, by Fedorov and Shineng Hu of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, appears in Nature Climate Change.
Indian Ocean’s role
Fedorov and Hu’s work involves climate mechanisms that may be shifting due to global warming. Using observed data and computer modelling, they have plotted out what effect such shifts might have over time. In this study, they looked at warming in the Indian Ocean. “The Indian Ocean is one of the fingerprints of global warming,” Hu said in the statement.
Their finding: As the Indian Ocean warms faster and faster, it generates additional precipitation. This draws more air from other parts of the world to the Indian Ocean, including the Atlantic. With so much precipitation in the Indian Ocean, there will be less precipitation in the Atlantic Ocean.
Less precipitation will lead to higher salinity in the waters of the tropical portion of the Atlantic — because there won’t be as much rainwater to dilute it. This saltier water in the Atlantic, as it comes north via AMOC, will get cold much quicker than usual and sink faster.
“This would act as a jump start for AMOC, intensifying the circulation,” Fedorov said in the statement. “… We don’t know how long this enhanced Indian Ocean warming will continue. If other tropical oceans’ warming, especially the Pacific, catches up with the Indian Ocean, the advantage for AMOC will stop.”

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Expense ratio

Mon, 23 Sep, 2019

Expense ratio, as the name suggests, is that part of a mutual fund scheme that takes care of expenses related to managing the fund. It is used to meet the administrative, management and other operating expenses of the scheme. Fund houses have to pay salaries to fund managers, commissions to distributors and other marketing costs. As per Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) regulations, all the expenses incurred while managing a particular scheme have to be borne out of the scheme only.
How much is the expense ratio?
As part of its measures to ensure that fund houses do not charge exorbitant amount or percentage as expense ratio, the capital markets regulator has capped expense ratio limit.
Last year, the board of the regulator capped the maximum total expense ratio or TER at 2.25% for open-ended equity schemes, some of which were earlier charging 2.75%
Though the cut looked marginal in terms of overall cap, the benefits are believed to be significant as the regulator has also laid down various slabs based on the assets of the scheme with the TER going down as the assets rise.
For instance, if the assets under management (AUM) of a particular scheme is in excess of ₹50,000 crore then the TER has been capped at 1.05%. Earlier, any scheme with an AUM of more than ₹300 crore could charge 1.75%. So, for large schemes, the expense ratio was brought down by almost 70 basis points.
According to SEBI's own estimates, the reduction in TER would lead to investors saving around ₹1,300-1,500 crore in commissions.
No. As a fund house has to put in more efforts and money to increase the overall penetration level of mutual funds to the far corners of the country, the regulator has allowed a higher TER for garnering flows from beyond the top cities of the country.
While lowering the cap for maximum TER, the SEBI allowed for an extra 30 basis points for retail flows from beyond the top 30 cities.
More importantly, it has been mandated that the additional expense will not be allowed for flows from corporates and institutions and will be limited only to retail flows.
Incidentally, all mutual fund houses, industry body Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI), along with SEBI have been putting in a lot of effort to channelise more household savings from far-flung towns into the stock markets through the mutual funds’ route.

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Delhi, Dhaka to boost maritime ties

Mon, 23 Sep, 2019

India will join Bangladesh to commemorate 100 years of ‘Bangabandhu’, the founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 2020, and an International Fleet Review in 2021 to mark 50 years of the Liberation of Bangladesh. Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh is on a visit to Dhaka where these issues would be discussed along with other maritime and security issues.
“Both sides are working on a proposal for a joint boat expedition with veterans from both sides to retrace the voyage of the Mukti Jodha from Khulna to Hoshangabad during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. The modalities are being worked out. Earlier the proposal was to conduct it in December 2018 but was put off due to elections in India.
In 1971, before the Liberation War, Mukti Bahini with training and assistance from India had launched attacks on Pakistan Navy vessels along Mongla, Chittagong and other areas in then East Pakistan.
Admiral Singh will be in Bangladesh till September 24 and the visit is intended to enhance the bilateral maritime relations. Top among the discussions would be the proposal to bring Bangladesh into India’s coastal radar chain network which several countries in the region have already joined.
The issue of coastal radar chain network in Bangladesh will be discussed to fast-track it, defence and diplomatic sources confirmed. A Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) team went there recently and a
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed and if all goes well, it could be signed in the next high-level bilateral visit.
As part of its foreign cooperation initiatives, the Navy already imparts extensive training to Bangladesh at all levels and also provides assistance in hydrography among others. As Dhaka looks to expand its domestic ship building industry, India has offered assistance in ship design.
The Chittagong Dry Dock Limited is looking to build six frigates for which India has offered to build some under the $500-million Line of Credit to boost ‘Make in India’ efforts and also assist in building some locally. “They recently sent a team to look at our facilities,” a defence official said.
This year the two Navies will hold their second coordinated patrol and then the first bilateral naval exercise, a Navy source said. In regional cooperation, Bangladesh is the Vice Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and will take over as the Chair in 2021. While cooperation has expanded with high-level visits and engagements, issue of fishermen and Dhaka’s expanding defence cooperation with China remain areas of concern for India.

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₹37,000 crore tax savings for top firms

Mon, 23 Sep, 2019

The Centre’s move to cut corporate tax rates from 30% to 22% through an ordinance issued on Friday will yield tax savings of at least ₹37,000 crore for the top 1,000 listed companies, said Crisil Research in an impact note called ‘Tax s(h)aving’ released on Sunday.
These firms account for over a fourth of the ₹1.45 lakh crore tax revenue loss estimated by the government. The tax savings for these firms could be even higher, Crisil reckoned, as the ₹37,000 crore estimate is based on profits before tax for 2018-19.
Oil and gas, financial services and consumer-facing businesses will benefit the most from the tax cuts, while export-oriented sectors including IT and pharmaceuticals may not gain much as their effective tax rates are already low thanks to tax incentives and exemptions.
The average effective tax rate for the 1,000 listed firms had crept up from 27% in 2013-14 to 33% in 2018-19, said Crisil.
“Companies in the highest bracket account for a large proportion of taxes and would also benefit more given the higher tax rates... Nearly 40% of these (1,000) companies had an effective tax rate of over 30%,” it said.
About 25,000 companies made profits in India in 2017-18, of which 1,074 companies with a revenue of ₹1,000 crore or more, had the highest effective tax rate. The effective tax rate for nearly 24,000 firms with revenues below ₹400 crore revenues was 25.4%.
As per the new rates announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the effective tax rate for domestic corporates, inclusive of surcharges, will fall from 34.94% to 25.17% if they stop availing any other tax sops.
Fresh capital investments from industry, will however, depend on the efficacy of measures to revive demand. “New sectors such as electric vehicles and their batteries, cellphone manufacturing, and consumer electronics may gain traction under the ‘Make in India’ programme because of the tax benefits announced on new investments,” the note said.
All new manufacturing businesses, set up after October 1, 2019 and commencing operations by March 31, 2023, will be effectively taxed at 17.1%, compared to 29.1% presently.
While automobile manufacturers may have limited benefits because of already lower effective tax rates, auto component manufacturers who pay higher effective tax rates, may see the maximum gains. Indian industry’s revenues are expected to grow 5% to 6% in this fiscal year.
Oil and gas, financial services and consumer-facing businesses will benefit the most from the tax cuts, while export-oriented sectors including IT and Pharmaceuticals may not gain much as their effective tax rates are already low thanks to tax incentives and exemptions.
The average effective tax rate for the 1,000 listed firms studied by Crisil had crept up from 27% in 2013-14 to 33% in 2018-19, said Crisil Research in an impact note called ‘Tax s(h)aving’ issued on Sunday.
“Companies in the highest bracket account for a large proportion of taxes and would also benefit more given the higher tax rates... Nearly 40% of these (1,000) companies had an effective tax rate of over 30%,” Crisil said.
About 25,000 companies made profits in India in 2017-18, of which 1,074 companies with a revenue of Rs 1,000 crore or more, had the highest effective tax rate. The effective tax rate for nearly 24,000 firms with revenues below ₹ 400 crore revenues was 25.4%.
As per the new rates announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the effective tax rate for domestic corporates, inclusive of surcharges, will fall from 34.94% to 25.17% if they stop availing any other tax sops.
Fresh capital investments from industry, will however, depend on the efficacy of measures to revive demand. “New sectors such as electric vehicles and their batteries, cellphone manufacturing, and consumer electronics may gain traction under the ‘Make in India’ programme because of the tax benefits announced on new investments,” the note said.
All new manufacturing businesses, set up after October 1, 2019 and commencing operations by March 31, 2023, will be effectively taxed at 17.1%, compared to 29.1% presently.
While automobile manufacturers may have limited benefits because of already lower effective tax rates, auto component manufacturers who pay higher effective tax rates, may see the maximum gains, Crisil noted.

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Corporate tax cut to have ‘minor’ impact on fiscal deficit

Sun, 22 Sep, 2019

A day after the government announced a cut in corporate taxes, Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar said the impact of the decision on the fiscal deficit would be a minor one as the shortfall incurred would be covered through increased tax collections.
Speaking at an event in New Delhi, Rajiv Kumar said, “I don’t think tax cuts will leave a gaping hole in the fiscal numbers. There will be some, which will be minor.”
On Friday, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced cuts in tax rates for domestic companies to 22 per cent and for new domestic manufacturing companies to 15 per cent. The new tax rate will be applicable from April 1, involving a revenue loss of Rs 1.45 lakh crore this fiscal.
The Niti Aayog vice-chairman also claimed there was buoyancy in growth that in turn would have an impact on direct and indirect tax collections. “There is buoyancy in growth. In the past, our tax buoyancy has been very good. Therefore, both direct and indirect tax collections will go up with growth,” he said.
The new effective tax rate, inclusive of surcharge and cess, for domestic companies would be 25.17 per cent and for new domestic manufacturing companies would be 17.01 per cent. These rates would be applicable to companies that forego the current exemptions and incentives.
Kumar pointed out that another area for optimism is the government focus on divestment, which he budgeted at Rs 1.05 lakh crore. “Asset sales will yield an additional Rs 52,000 crore over the budget estimate. Then you have got another Rs 50,000 crore from the RBI which was not included in the Budget,” Rajiv Kumar said.
With the manufacturing sector dragging GDP growth to a six-year low of 5 per cent in the first quarter of the ongoing fiscal, Kumar said the numbers mark the bottoming out of the cycle. “We will achieve a nearly 6.5 per cent growth this year and we will be on track for doubling up our per capita income in the next five years,” he added.

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Committed to strengthen all 22 Indian languages

Sun, 22 Sep, 2019

The Union government is committed to “strengthen” all 22 scheduled languages of the country and wants mother tongue to be the medium of instruction at the level of primary education, Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said at a meeting called to discuss the draft National Education Policy (NEP) on Saturday.
Speaking at a meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), Pokhriyal assured representatives of 26 states in the wake of the controversy over NEP’s recommendation on the three-language formula.
CABE is the highest advisory agency on education and has representatives of all states. Saturday’s meeting was called to seek suggestions of state governments on the draft NEP released in June.
Pokhriyal said: “There is one misunderstanding that I want to clear. The three-language formula was the same in 1969, 1986 and 1992; and even today, we haven’t touched it. I feel that people have not either understood it or don’t want to understand it. We (government) are committed to strengthen all Indian languages.”
He said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that we have to strengthen all our 22 (official/scheduled) languages. We want that education in childhood should be in mother tongue…. We are going to discuss everything in detail with you (states). Nothing will change overnight.”
While the minister welcomed suggestions from states, he also urged them to implement them on their own since education is “also a state subject”.
He said, “I would urge you to take decision at your level, too. When we talk about teacher vacancy, it’s important that the states also fill up vacancies in their educational institutions (schools and higher educational institutions).”
Pokhriyal also said that state governments should take advantage of Central schemes, a majority of which will continue even after the final NEP is implemented.

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Firms can use CSR funds for R&D

Sat, 21 Sep, 2019

The government has decided to allow corporate India to use their mandatory corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending for investments in publicly-funded incubators and contribute to research efforts in science, technology, medicine and engineering at major institutions and bodies.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the rules governing CSR spending norms have been amended to pave way for greater investment into research — a parameter the country fares poorly on a global basis.
India’s spending on research and development (R&D) activities has been far less than 1% of GDP for years, with the private sector chipping in less than half of investments. The Companies Act requires firms with a net worth of ₹500 crore, turnover of ₹1,000 crore or net profit of ₹5 crore or more to set aside 2% of their average net profit over the last three years towards ‘approved’ CSR activities.
Now this 2% can be spent on incubators funded by Central or State government or any agency of a Central or State public sector undertaking,” Ms. Sitharaman said. “They can also make contributions to publicly- funded universities, IITs, national laboratories and autonomous bodies (established under the auspices of ICAR, ICMR, CSIR, DAE, DRDO, DST and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology)
When asked if the government was drawing on CSR funds, the Minister said that was not the case. “IIT receives funds from the government but is not a government institution as such. It is an autonomous institution for engineering and technology. If science and tech-related research is being done there, CSR money can also go there,” she explained.
Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey said that this would enable a private pharmaceutical company, for instance, to undertake research in pharmaceuticals in conjunction with a publicly funded institution like IIT or ICMR and derive benefit from it.

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Students seek climate action ahead of UN summit

Sat, 21 Sep, 2019

The largest climate change protests in the U.S. got under way on Friday with students and young people expected to turn out in more than 1,000 locations across all 50 U.S. States to demand action to prevent climate change. Young Americans joined others across the world in a day of protests.
Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old from Sweden, who began weekly Friday protests outside Sweden’s Parliament in August 2018 and has become the face of these protests, is participating in a rally in Lower Manhattan.
“I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists,” Ms. Thunberg told a panel of the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week, submitting a copy of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5o C [October 2018] as her testimony to Congress. “And I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take real action,” Ms. Thunberg had said.
New York’s 1.1 million public school students have been allowed to skip classes to attend the protests if they have their parents’ permission, but school teachers are not permitted to attend during school hours.
Significantly, President Donald Trump, who has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord and undone several climate change mitigating policies, will not speak on Monday. According to a CBS News poll, 56% of Americans want climate change action to be taken right now.

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India, Mongolia to explore space together

Sat, 21 Sep, 2019

India and Mongolia on Thursday signed MoUs on space cooperation and disaster management that will provide a new dimension to the India-Mongolia strategic partnership. A press note issued by the
Ministry of External Affairs said the agreements would allow India to support Mongolia in resource management and satellite communication.
A joint statement said the space cooperation would allow “peaceful exploration” of outer space and include remote sensing and weather forecasting. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Battulga on Friday unveiled a statue of Lord Buddha located at the historic Gandan Tegchenling Monastery in capital Ulaanbaatar.
Both sides took stock of the project to build a Cyber Security Training Centre to be established in Mongolia with Indian support. The statement said the cyber centre is nearing completion.
India and Mongolia at present carry out regular military exercises named “Nomadic Elephant” and “Khaan Quest” which is expected to be broadened following the understanding reached on Friday. India has announced it will continue to help Mongolia with capacity building and training programmes for its citizens across diverse professions.

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Govt. cuts corporate tax to spur investment, jobs

Sat, 21 Sep, 2019

In its boldest gambit yet to stir up the economy, the government on Friday issued an ordinance to reduce the corporate tax rate for domestic firms and new manufacturing units by 10 to 12 percentage points, effectively bringing India’s tax rates on par with its competing Asian peers.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the effective tax rate for domestic corporates, inclusive of surcharges, will fall from 34.94% to 25.17% if they stop availing any other tax sops. For new manufacturing firms set up after October 1, 2019 and commencing operations by March 31, 2023, the effective tax rate will fall from 29.1% to 17%.
The slew of measures unveiled by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, including a rollback of the enhanced surcharge levied on foreign portfolio investors in the Budget, and a reduction in the Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) rate from 18.5% to 15% for all businesses, is estimated to cost the exchequer ₹1,45,000 crore a year in terms of revenue foregone.
Ms. Sitharaman said she was conscious of the impact of the package on the government’s fiscal arithmetic and the 3.3% fiscal deficit target for the year, but the government was betting on “more investments leading to more jobs and economic activity that would shore up revenues.”
Today, we propose to slash the corporate tax rates for domestic companies and also for new manufacturing companies. We have issued an ordinance to amend the Income Tax Act of 1961 and the Finance Act of 2019.
In order to promote growth and investment, a new provision has been inserted in the Income Tax law to allow any domestic company to pay income tax at the rate of 22% (from 30%), subject to the condition that they won't avail any other (tax) incentives or exemptions. There will be no MAT levied on them and the effective tax rate for such firms will be 25.17%, including all surcharges and cess.
To spur fresh investments and boost Make in India efforts, for new manufacturing companies incorporated after October 1, 2019 and commencing production by March 31, 2023, the income tax rate will be 15% from 25% at present. The effective tax rate for these companies will be 17.01%, compared to 29.1% at present. These firms will also be exempt from MAT.
In order to provide relief to firms who want to continue with the existing regime of exemptions, we are giving some MAT relief – the tax rate has been reduced from 18.5% to 15%,” the Minister said.
These tax cuts include a reduction in the surcharge on corporate income tax from 12% to 10%, pointed out Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey, stressing that the effective rate for MAT would also fall sharply.
The MAT rate of 18.5% along with surcharges used to be around 21% or 22%. Now that basic MAT rate has been reduced to 15%, and once you add up the surcharges, that comes to around 17% in the new regime,” he said.
The Finance Minister said that following these changes, India is at par and comparable with the lowest tax rates in South East Asian countries.
In the face of global headwinds, this puts India right up on the map as a forward looking, business friendly and competitive operating environment.
Firms currently availing income tax exemptions and incentives can opt for the new concessional tax regime with a headline tax rate of 22% after the expiry of their existing tax holidays or exemption periods. “This option, once exercised, cannot be withdrawn, so as to ensure there are no flip-flops.
The Minister said that foreign investors could also avail of the new tax rates, provided they had an establishment in the country or were investing equity into an Indian firm..
Responding to concerns about the impact of the foregone revenue on the Centre’s fiscal deficit target of 3.3% of the GDP for 2019-20, Ms. Sitharaman said: “We are conscious of the impact this will have. We will be taking all concerns on board to reconcile how the situation is now and how to take it forward,” and stressed that economic buoyancy “itself will generate more revenue generation through higher incomes and the tax basket would widen.’
The larger idea behind the exercise, the Minister said, was to eventually phase out all exemptions and incentives. On the other hand, surcharges on income tax would be eased out too, she hinted, in response to a query.

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UNICEF says conflicts, climate crisis, online misinformation are big emerging threats to children

Fri, 20 Sep, 2019

Protracted conflicts, the worsening climate crisis, a rising level of mental illness among young people, and online misinformation are some of the most concerning emerging global threats to children, cautions the UNICEF.
In an open letter issued by the organisation’s executive director Henrietta Fore marking 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UNICEF sounds the alarm on major growing and future challenges facing children.
The letter outlines eight growing challenges for the world’s children including prolonged conflicts, pollution and the climate crisis, a decline in mental health, mass migration and population movements, statelessness and online misinformation.
Our climate is changing beyond recognition. Inequality is deepening. Technology is transforming how we perceive the world. And more families are migrating than ever before. Childhood has changed, and we need to change our approaches along with it.”
The letter also expresses concern that the majority of children will grow up as natives of a digital environment saturated with online misinformation. For example, so-called ‘deep fake’ technology uses artificial intelligence techniques to create convincing fakes of audio and video content, relatively easily.
The letter warns that an online environment where truth can become indistinguishable from fiction has the potential to totally undermine trust in institutions and information sources, and has been demonstrated to skew democratic debate, voter intentions, and sow doubt about other ethnic, religious or social groups.
Online misinformation is already leaving children vulnerable to grooming, abuse, and other forms of exploitation; skewing democratic debate; and, in some communities, even prompting resurgence in deadly diseases due to distrust in vaccines fuelled by online misinformation – the results of which could be the creation of an entire generation of citizens who do not trust anything,” states the letter.
The UNICEF suggests that we should start by equipping young people with the ability to understand who and what they can trust online, so they can become active, engaged citizens.
The letter cautions that mental illness among adolescents has been on the rise in the years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that depression is now among the leading causes of disability in the young.
The letter urges that appropriate promotion, prevention and therapeutic treatment and rehabilitation for children and young people affected by mental health issues be prioritised, and that the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness be challenged so that treatment can be sought and support provided.

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FIPIC (Forum for Indo-Pacific Island Cooperation)

Fri, 20 Sep, 2019

In recent years, India’s approach towards the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) has been on a gradual positive shift. This change can be attributed to various geopolitical, economic and strategic factors. Geopolitically, the PICs are a part of the larger Indo-Pacific region. The current globalised world thrives largely on international trade, 90 percent of which is transported via sea routes. The sea-lanes of the Indo-Pacific region are critical to international commerce and the Pacific Islands lie right at the centre of it. Therefore, rising significance of the Indo-Pacific, regionally and internationally, has brought the PICs at the centre of the global attention. The wider Pacific region with its strategic and economic significance has attracted the attention of countries like US, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, and Indonesia. However, the traditional approach in India’s foreign policy focussed much more on the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific region including the PICs was relatively neglected. Till date out of the fourteen PICs, India has its resident missions only in two countries i.e. Papua New Guinea and Fiji. However, India’s approach towards the region is gradually changing, as India looks beyond its immediate region, with its growing economic, maritime military capacities and strategic ambitions in the wider Indo-Pacific region. In recent years New Delhi has reached out to these small island states, highlighting the government’s willingness for greater engagement. The paper here focuses largely on India’s relations with the fourteen PICs which are a part of the Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation (FIPIC), a multilateral platform launched by India in 2014. Given India’s renewed focus on the region, it becomes pertinent to analyse the significant areas which can facilitate closer cooperation between India and the PICs. This paper largely aims to highlight the future prospects of cooperation beginning with a brief backdrop of the PICs and an overview of India’s approach towards the region. The Pacific Island Countries (PICs) The Pacific Islands consists of the three major groups of islands: Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The term Pacific Island Countries (PICs) here commonly refers to the fourteen countries scattered in the South-West Pacific Ocean. These are the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. These are a heterogeneous group with diverse ethnic groupings, culture, languages, economies, and political systems. Of the fourteen PICs, nine are sovereign-the Kingdom of Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. Others are in Free Association with larger nations- which implies that their foreign and defence policies are managed by the larger nations. Cook Islands and Niue are in Free Association with New Zealand, the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau, with the US.i The region comprises strategically located small island nations (Nauru’s total land area is 21sq. Km.), with small populations (Niue’s total population is roughly around 1470)ii , abundance of natural resources and relatively lesser developed economies. They lie at the crossroads of strategically significant maritime trade routes. Their profile is rising particularly given the popularity of the Indo-Pacific construct. The South Pacific, until recently, was considered more of an area of US’ influence managed under the Australia-New ZealandUnited States (ANZUS) trilateral military alliance.iii As global attention shifts to the Indo-Pacific, the South Pacific sub-region is becoming increasingly prominent economically, politically, and strategically. Figure: 1 Pacific Island Countries and their EEZs Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) India’s engagement with the Pacific Island Countries Historically, India’s interaction with the region goes back to the colonial era, in the early 19th century when Indian workers were taken to the region, to work as indentured plantation labourers, most of whom settled there, particularly in Fiji and PNG. Yet, in the post-colonial era until recently the region did not find much significance in India’s foreign policy. However, of late, the changing geopolitical scenario and strategic and economic compulsions have driven India to refresh and redesign its Pacific policy. The PICs with their resource rich Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) can be attractive sources of natural and mineral resources like LNG and hydrocarbons to fuel India’s growing economy and can also provide new markets for its products. Some of the PICs have EEZs that are larger than the landmass and EEZ of India taken together. Kiribati, one of the smallest countries, alone has an EEZ of 3.5 million square kilometres. iv Also as India with its rising naval capabilities begins to look beyond the east of Malacca, the PIC’s would become inevitably significant in India’s broader maritime strategy. India’s renewed interest in the region can also be seen in the light of its own rechristened Act East policy with enhanced geographical reach and strategic substance. India’s interaction with the PICs still largely revolves around its engagement with Fiji and PNG, mainly driven by the presence of sizeable Indian Diaspora; nearly 40 percent of Fiji’s population is of Indian origin and about 3000 Indians live in PNG. v In terms of institutional engagements, 1 India participates in the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) as one of the key dialogue partners of the Forum. vi However, the most important development in facilitating India’s interaction with the PICs in recent years has been the formation of FIPIC. The Forum which was formed in 2014 marked India’s renewed strategic interest in the region. Discussions to date, in the FIPIC, have mainly revolved around issues of regional and global significance like environment, climate change, United Nations reform, fisheries management, energy security, maritime security, sustainable development etc. Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation (FIPIC) FIPIC is a multinational grouping which was launched during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fiji in November 2014, as part of his three country tour including the visit to Myanmar for the India-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit and to Australia for the G20 Summit in Brisbane. The historic visit to the island nation was the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 33 years, since Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s visit in 1981. The inaugural FIPIC summit, at the level of Heads of Government, was held in Suva, Fiji, on November 19, 2014. Speaking at the first FIPC summit on November 19, 2014, Prime Minister Modi called for building closer partnerships with the PICs and announced the following measures for the same:  Recognising Climate Change as a major issue of concern for PICs, a Special Adaptation Fund of US$1million was announced to be set up, to provide technical assistance and training for capacity building to the Pacific Island Partners. 1 Pacific Regionalism finds expression in the PIF, based “on the sense of common identity and purpose”. PIF earlier known as South Pacific Forum, founded in 1971, it comprises of 18 members and also has 18 dialogue partners.  E-networks are an effective means for coordination, given the distance and poor connectivity between the islands. In keeping with the success achieved in the Pan-African enetwork Project, a Pan Pacific Islands Project was announced for tele-medicine and teleeducation.  Willingness to work on solar energy projects with the Pacific Islands at the community level was also expressed.  Indian visa on arrival to all the 14 countries was announced to facilitate exchanges and promote better people to people contact.  Since most of the island nations are aid dependent, it was announced to increase the India’s Grant-in-Aid to PICs to US$ 200,000 annually.  Focusing on the long-standing request from the PICs to enhance trade relations with India, Prime Minister Modi announced the setting up of a Trade Office in India. He also highlighted the possibilities of joint research in traditional medicine and developing healthcare facilities.  Other important proposals included deputation of technical experts to the PICs including in the fields of agriculture, healthcare and IT, training to diplomats of these countries, ‘Distinguished Visitors Programme’ under the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), to strengthen cultural relations and mutual understanding , promoting cooperation in space technology application for improving communication and quality of life of the people, possibilities of sharing data that could be used for monitoring climate change, disaster risk reduction and management, resource management.  Lastly, India proposed that FIPIC be held on a regular basis. vii The second summit of the FIPIC Forum was hosted by India at Jaipur, Rajasthan, on 21- 22 August 2015. Building on the first summit, discussions took place on various issues of significance to the members such as climate change, clean energy, food security and reform of the United Nations. The then President of India Pranab Mukherjee welcoming the leaders, said that “our bilateral cooperation and engagement has not reached its potential. India wants to partner with the Small Island Developing countries in their quest for securing inclusive growth and sustained economic development”. viii He highlighted the mutually beneficial areas to strengthen trade and investments like “fisheries, agriculture particularly sugarcane, rice, coconut, coir, oil and natural gas, mining, water desalination and other areas of interest”. ix At the opening session of the summit, Prime Minister Modi in his keynote address called for closer partnership between India and the PICs “forged by shared aspirations and challenges”. x He argued that in the current globalised world the centre of gravity of opportunities as well as challenges is shifting towards the Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region, bringing the two Oceans together and has brought India and the Pacific Islands even more closer. He emphasised the idea of space and ocean as the drivers of economy, for sustainable development contributing in energy security, food security, and new medicines. He called for reforms in the United Nations, seeking support from the PICs’ leaders for the same and said that India will extend its support for a “dedicated seat for Small Island Development States (SIDS) in a reformed United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and also support realisation of vision of Pacific Regionalism”. xi The Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said that “India appreciates and is grateful to the PICs for their expression of support for India’s quest to become the permanent member in the expanded United Nations Security Council”. xii Highlighting the progress on implementation of announcements made in the first summit Prime Minister Modi pointed out, India’s increased grant-in-aid to the PICs from US$125,000 to US$200,000, e-tourist visas, deputation of Indian experts in the area of coir industry and a special training programme for diplomats of the PICs. While announcing the establishment of the FIPIC Trade Office at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), New Delhi, he said "trade, more than aid, is the enabler for development”. xiii The latest in the series of events under the aegis of the FIPIC was the ‘India-Pacific Islands Sustainable Development Conference’, held in Suva, Fiji from 25-26 May, 2017. Key partners at the conference were The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) as its key knowledge partner, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF). The central issues of discussion in the conference included the blue economy, adaptation-mitigation practices for climate change, disaster preparedness, health, the International Solar Alliance as well as finding practical solutions to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) implementation.xiv The conference aimed to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience, and initiate publicprivate partnerships and collaborations for the benefit of all participating countries.xv On the sidelines of the conference, India also signed several MoUs with the Pacific island nations to deepen cooperation across a variety of fields. These include MoUs for setting up of Centres of Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) with Fiji, Cook Islands, Nauru, Samoa and Niue. India and Fiji also signed three MOUs for 'Cooperation in Youth Development', 'Cooperation between Broadcasting Agencies' and Cooperation in Renewable Energy.xvi At this stage no official confirmation has been made about for the next FIPIC summit. Since its formation FIPIC has clearly brought India and the PIC’s closer providing a platform to discuss common areas of cooperation and highlight India’s interest in the Pacific Island region. Prospects for Cooperation: The Road Ahead Analysing the discussions taken up at the two subsequent FIPIC summits and the Sustainable Development Conference of 2017, certain crucial areas can be identified for future cooperation between India and the PICs. The geography of these countries makes them vulnerable to various challenges from traditional and non-traditional angles. One of the major critical challenges to the livelihood, security and well being of the people, faced by the PICs is the issue of Climate Change. The increasing soil salinity due to the rising sea level threatens the low lying island states, also giving rise to the problem of relocation. The 48th PIF Communiqué reiterated the support of PIF’s countries to international efforts on Climate Change, welcoming the Fiji’s Presidency of the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP 23) 2017, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). It called for urgent, ambitious action from the global community to address the issue climate change.xvii At the second edition of the World Sustainable Development Summit in New Delhi, India in February 2018, the Fijian representative, Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum argued that climate change presents an immediate threat to food production, and there is an urgent need to enhance finance and sustainable development assistance available to climate vulnerable nations like PICs’. He particularly highlighted the case of “the Government of Kiribati’s purchase of land in Fiji to address food security concerns due to rising sea levels”.xviii At the summit the Pacific Island Development Forum (PIDF)2 , with the aim to create Green-Blue Economies in the Pacific, emphasized the need to promote the “effective South-South Cooperation under the FIPIC”. xix Recently, the Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) Conference was held at 26-27 July, 2018 in Suva, Fiji. Speaking at the conference the Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama argued that the Pacific Islands have “their moral authority as vulnerable states to drive the world to a more ambitious, more aggressive climate action”. xx India with its long coastline and 1300 islands, clearly shares the concerns of climate change of the PICs. India has been an active participant in various international initiatives on climate change. Therefore, climate change is a crucial area of common concern where closer partnership can be developed for effective and concrete solution and could be a core area for providing technical assistance by India. Another significant area is assistance and capacity building in disaster management. Given their geography, most of the Pacific Island countries are prone to a variety of natural disasters, with widespread social, economic and environmental consequences. India can assist in building capacities of Disaster Risk Resilience to ensure sustainable development. India had proposed to enhance their capacities through conducting courses on early warning system, training programmes on Space Based Disaster Management System and such other areas. In September 2017, India launched Climate Early Warning Systems in seven PICs.xxi At the closing session of the FIPIC II, Prime Minister Modi said “India will be pleased to create capacity in Island States to deal with natural disasters, including through human resource development” and recognising the utility of space assets and technology for early warning system and incident response system, he suggested setting up of “Space Technology Applications Centre in any one of the Pacific Island Countries”. xxii He also proposed that the Indian Navy can provide coastal surveillance and hydrographic surveys assistance to the Pacific Island partners, to strengthen security of their EEZs.xxiii As part of goodwill visits to enhance cooperation and mutual understanding, the Indian Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessel Sumitra visited Fiji in October 2016. xxiv Earlier this month, INS Sahyadri paid a goodwill visit to the Port of Suva from 13-16 August. xxv 2 PIDF is a unique platform bringing together leaders from the public and private sectors and civil society to address regional development challenges, through mutually beneficial innovative partnerships. see more at : http://pacificidf.org/what-is-pidf/ Recently as a part of HADR assistance, India sent relief assistance worth US$ 3million to Fiji when Tropical Cyclone Winston hit the country in February 2016. xxvi India also gave an assistance of US$ 1million to the Kingdom of Toga in February this year in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Gita.xxvii In July this year the Indian government also handed over a grant assistance of US$200,000 to relief and rehabilitation efforts of the Government of Vanvatu, as the country has been suffering calamities for a year due to frequent eruptions of Manarao Volcano and the Tropical Cyclone Hola in March this year. xxviii Another critical area for cooperation is in the sustainable utilisation of ocean resources. As Prime Minister Modi speaking at the FIPIC II said that “I see you as large Ocean States with vast potential”xxix . The small island nations with large EEZ’s provide an opportunity as well as a challenge to harness the resources in a sustainable manner. India in the recent years India has been vocal about ocean led growth at various international platforms. Similarly, in 2017 the Pacific Island Forum Leaders also “endorsed the ‘Blue Pacific’ identity as the core driver of collective action. The ‘Blue Pacific’ seeks to re-capture the collective potential of the region based on an explicit recognition of it’s shared “ocean identity”, “ocean geography”, and “ocean resources”.xxx The idea provides a common ground where India can engage with these countries given its own emphasise on the idea of ‘Blue Economy’. The aims of sustainable development, economic growth, and strengthened security for all can very well be pursued by focussing on the Ocean led development, under the framework of ‘blue economy’ and ‘blue pacific’.xxxi Energy is a key priority for these countries. The possibility of renewable energy- wind and solar can be harnessed to fulfil their growing demands.xxxii In March 2007, India facilitated a training workshop on sustainable development in Suva, Fiji through the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI). The primary objective of the workshop was to help the small islands states of the South Pacific enhance capacity in renewable energy utilization, rainwater harvesting, and waste management.xxxiii A notable example of India’s efforts to foster the availability of affordable renewable energy in the PICs is the training program organized in 2012 for elderly women from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Samoa, Kiribati and Nauru at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan.xxxiv The programmes aims at “turning grandmothers into solar engineers trough training”, to install and maintain solar lighting and power in their home villages.xxxv Highlighting the significance of such training programmes at the FIPIC II, Prime Minster Modi said “during the last three years, India has trained 43 rural women from 8 island countries as solar engineers. We now commit to train 70 women solar engineers and to provide solar electrification to 2,800 houses -200 houses in each Pacific Island Country”. xxxvi Therefore, sustainable utilisation of ocean resources can provide a long term solution to the problems of food and energy security. In the field of healthcare and medicine, India plans to explore developing capacity for health services, set up a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant and distribution centre in the Pacific Island region for access to affordable drug and has offered a Line of Credit for this project. In 2016 President Pranab Mukherjee, during his two days State Visit to Papua New Guinea from 28-29 April 2016 announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for broad ranging cooperation in the health sector. He “announced that Government would provide retro- viral drugs and equipment for the treatment of 20,000 HIV patients in Papua New Guinea for one year”.xxxvii Such initiatives are crucial in building capacities in healthcare sector. The goodwill visits by the Indian Navy ships to the Pacific Islands can also support in areas like healthcare through medical camps on the islands.xxxviii A major area where India needs to focus in strengthening ties with the PICs is economic cooperation. In most of the PICs aid narrative has mainly determined their relationships with the larger countries. The region is one of the most aid-dependent in the world. While Australia remains the largest aid and development partner, over the last decade China has emerged as one of the significant donors to the region. Possibility of China’s large scale intervention has led to debate about its intentions and implications, creating apprehensions particularly in Australia and New Zealand. Some of the largest aid providers to the PICs over the past decade include the following: Figure: 2 Source: The Mapping Foreign Assistance in the Pacific Project, Lowy Institute for International Policy, https://chineseaidmap.lowyinstitute.org/ India began to disburse aid to the PICs only since 2006 when a minor annual grant of US $100,000 to each of the 14 island nations was announced, and the volume was increased to US$125,000 in 2009, xxxix which now stand at the US$200,000. Although India’s aid to the PICs has subsequently increased in the past few years, it is also, important to focus on improving trade relations with the PICs. The island nations have time and again expressed desire to engage more on trade and investment. India can explore the possible areas where a durable long-term trade partnership can be developed. Most of the economic activities in these countries fall under the unorganised sector. Development of small industries can speed up the process of economic development. India has the expertise to support the development of micro, small and medium enterprises. India has provided financial assistance for SME sectors in these countries, helping many small scale entrepreneurs to develop their own business. At the FIPIC II it was announced that India “will extend support for purchase of machinery for coconut processing and enhancing rice and sugarcane yields”.xl In December 2017, India announced US$1.06 million, to help Fiji Government to revitalize the country’s sugar industry, especially for procurement of agricultural equipments and vehicles.xli In an effort to provide a boost to economic cooperation, FICCI launched the Business accelerator for FIPIC in September 2015, with the objectives of providing necessary information and facilitation to businessmen on both sides regarding prospects of trade and investment, facilitating meetings between the concerned businessmen and organising events/trade fairs.xlii Country Imports 2017-18 Rs. Lacs Exports 2017-18 Rs. Lacs Total Trade Rs. Lacs Cook Island 4.79 115.45 120.24 Fiji 314.67 34,974.99 35,289.66 Kiribati 354.91 ----- 354.91 Naurau 8.24 877.58 885.82 Niue 3.72 ----- 3.72 Palau 504.07 42.48 546.55 PNG 126,615.80 27,037.91 153,653.72 Samoa 164.96 1,548.06 1,713.02 Solomon Island 43,701.73 823.60 44,525.33 Tonga ---- 809.01 809.01 Tuvalu 0.77 40.34 41.12 Vanvatu 0.46 1,464.37 1,464.83 Total 171, 674.12 67733.79 239,407.91 % share in India’s total 0.0572 0.0346 0.0483 Table: 1 Source: Department of Commerce, Export Import Data Bank, Ministry of Commerce and Industry Available at: http://commerce-app.gov.in/eidb/icstcntq.asp India’s total annual trade with the PICs presently, hovers around US$ 300 million. Some of the major items of exports include machinery and mechanical appliances, pharmaceutical products, plastic and articles thereof, mineral fuels, mineral oils, cotton, iron or steel etc. Imports mainly include items like ores, slag and ash, wood and articles of wood; wood charcoal.xliii India has also been looking for increasing investments in the PICs. A MoU for an Indian line of credit of US$ 100 million for development of infrastructure in PNG was signed during the then President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit in 2016. xliv The low volume of trade between India and the PICs is due to the small population and market sizes in these islands, as well as their distance from India.xlv The data shows that a large proportion of India’s trade in the region is mainly shared by a few countries like PNG, Fiji, Soloman Islands. The need is to focus, on one hand, on the idea of inclusive economic cooperation with the region as a whole, while at the same time also focus on exploring complementarities in trade with the individual countries. India’s engagement with the region can provide it greater access to the markets far away from its shores. It could be an important tool to strengthen its own presence in the Pacific region. Conclusion The Pacific Island countries, while geographically small yet they have considerable economic, strategic and political significance in international affairs. They have an independent voice at various international forums, have enormous amount of natural resources, and can be a lucrative market for a rapidly growing economy like India. Therefore, these island nations can no longer be ignored. Some of the crucial prospective areas which need to be focused in deepening India’s engagements with the Pacific Island nations include space technology, informational technology, trade and investment, sustainable development, maritime security, disaster management, human resource development and people to people contact. India’s diplomatic efforts are understandably focussed more on Fiji and PNG. However, it is important to develop a comprehensive and a clearly defined strategy to engage with all the PICs. Such engagements can be developed at bilateral and multilateral settings and regional and global forums, like the UN, PIC, FIPIC. The recent efforts to engage with the region have brought India much closer to these countries. The formation of FIPIC has given a much needed push to India’s relations with the PICs. It has provided a platform to facilitate multilateral and multidimensional cooperation between India and the PICs.

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‘Poshan Abhiyaan’

Fri, 20 Sep, 2019

India is unlikely to meet targets set under the ambitious Poshan Abhiyaan or National Nutrition Mission (NNM) for reduction in prevalence of stunting, underweight, low birth weight and anaemia in women and children by 2022 if there is no progress achieved in improving the rate of decline observed between 1990 and 2017, according to a new study published in The Lancet.
The study points out that India will miss its target for stunting levels of 25% by 9.6%; underweight target of 22.7% by 4.8%; desired low birth level of 11.4% by 8.9%; anaemia level among women of 39.4% by 13.8%; and anaemia level among children of 44.7% by 11.7%, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990-2017, released on Wednesday.
The report is a joint initiative of Indian Council of Medical Research, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Poshan Abhiyaan, the world’s largest nutrition programme, expected to benefit 10 crore people and launched in 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to reduce stunting, underweight, and low birth weight, each by 2% per year; and anaemia among young children, adolescents and women each by 3% per year until 2022. A special target for stunting is set at 25% by 2022.
A senior official at government think-tank NITI Aayog, which is spearheading the programme, says that the findings are not worrisome.
Poshan Abhiyaan has doubled the rate [of decline]. For example, it sets a target of 2% reduction per year for underweight, but the percentage of reduction for this indicator typically is 1%. So, we are not worried. We knew the prevalent levels were slow; the country aspires to make them faster and is making extra efforts to achieve that. Under Poshan Abhiyaan, we will make a change
Our findings suggest that the malnutrition indicator targets set by NNM for 2022 are aspirational, and the rate of improvement needed to achieve these targets is much higher than the rate observed in this study, which might be difficult to reach in a short period. This slow pace of improvement needs to be accelerated, so that future prevalence of the malnutrition indicators is better than our projections based on trends so far.”
Additional efforts over the last two years in the Poshan Abhiyan as well as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are likely to have hastened improvement,”
He added that the gaps shown in the study highlight how much more of these efforts are needed in different States to reach the targets set by the government.
According to the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-2016), 38.4% of children under the age of five are stunted; 35.7% are underweight; 18% of children were born underweight (less than 2.5 kg); and 58% of children between the age of 6-59 months and 53% of women in the age of 14-49 years have anaemia.
While the base for NNM targets is NFHS-4 data, the study considers prevalence levels determined in 2017 as the base level, which are comparable with the former. The study used all accessible data sources from India, including national household surveys, a variety of dietary and nutrition surveys, and other epidemiological studies, to arrive at its findings.

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Keeladi findings traceable to 6th century BCE

Fri, 20 Sep, 2019

In a major turning point in the cultural historiography of the ancient Sangam Age, the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department (TNAD) has stated that the cultural deposits unearthed during excavations at Keeladi in Sivaganga district could be safely dated to a period between 6th century BCE and 1st century CE. This is the first time the date has been officially announced by the TNAD.
The new findings in the report, released on Thursday by Minister for Tamil Culture and Archaeology K. Pandiarajan here, place Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than previously believed — 3rd century BCE.
One of the six samples collected at the depth of 353 cm and sent for carbon dating test in the U.S. “goes back to 580 BCE. The report titled, ‘Keeladi-An Urban Settlement of Sangam Age on the Banks of River Vaigai’, was published by the TNAD.
The results from the fourth excavations suggest that the “second urbanisation [the first being Indus] of Vaigai plains happened in Tamil Nadu around 6th century BCE as it happened in Gangetic plains. The report also spells the site as Keeladi as against the erstwhile widely used Keezhadi.
The recent scientific dates obtained for Keeladi findings push back the date of Tamil-Brahmi script to another century, i.e., 6th century BCE. These results clearly ascertained that they attained literacy or learned the art of writing as early as 6th century BCE.
Skeletal fragments were sent to Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute in Pune, and it identified them of species such as cow/ox (Bos indicus), buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), sheep (Ovis aries), goat (Capra hircus), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and peacock (Pavo cristatus).
Pottery specimens from Keeladi sent to the Earth Science Department of Pisa University, Italy, through Vellore Institute of Technology for mineral analysis, confirmed that water containers and cooking vessels were shaped out of locally available raw materials.
Recovery of 10 spindle whorls, 20 sharply pinpointed bone tip tools used for design creations, hanging stones of the yarn, terracotta spheres, copper needle and earthen vessels to hold liquid clearly attest to the various stages of weaving industry from spinning, yarning, looming and weaving and later for dyeing,” the report added.

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Access to Internet is a basic right, says Kerala High Court

Fri, 20 Sep, 2019

The Kerala High Court held that the right to have access to the Internet is part of the fundamental right to education as well as the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Justice P.V. Asha made the observation while ordering the Principal of Sree Narayanaguru College, Kozhikode, to re-admit a student who had been expelled from the college hostel for using her mobile phone beyond the restricted hours.
The court observed, “When the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has found that the right of access to Internet is a fundamental freedom and a tool to ensure right to education, a rule or instruction which impairs the said right of the students cannot be permitted to stand in the eye of law.”
The verdict came on a petition filed by Faheema Shirin, a third-semester B.A. English student of the college at Chelanur, challenging her expulsion for not adhering to restrictions on the use of mobile phone. As per the rules of the girls’ hostel, inmates were restrained from using mobile phones from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day. She, along with a few other inmates, had protested against the restriction, as it was hampering their learning process.
She contended that the use of mobile phones amounted to a violation of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. In fact, the internet, accessible through mobile phones or laptops, provided an avenue for the students to gather knowledge.
The Judge observed that the action of the college authorities infringed the fundamental freedom as well as privacy and would adversely affect the future and career of students who want to acquire knowledge and compete with their peers, such restriction could not be permitted to be enforced.
The court while citing the observations of the SupremeCourt in the S.Rengarajan and others v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) case said “ the fundamental freedom under Article 19(1)(a) can be reasonably restricted only for the purposes mentioned in Article 19(2) and the restriction must be justified on the anvil of necessity and not the quicksand of convenience or expediency.”
The court added that the hostel authorities were expected to enforce only those rules and regulations for enforcing discipline. Enforcement of discipline shall not be by blocking the ways and means of the students to acquire knowledge
The court further said that college authorities as well as parents should be conscious of the fact that the students in a college hostel are adults capable of taking decisions as to how and when they have to study.

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At 17.5 million, Indian diaspora largest in the world: UN report

Thu, 19 Sep, 2019

India was the leading country of origin of international migrants in 2019 with a 17.5 million strong diaspora, according to new estimates released by the United Nations, which said the number of migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million.
The International Migrant Stock 2019, a dataset released by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) on September 18, provides the latest estimates of the number of international migrants by age, sex and origin for all countries and areas of the world.
The estimates are based on official national statistics on the foreign-born or the foreign population obtained from population censuses, population registers or nationally representative surveys.
The report said that the top 10 countries of origin account for one-third of all international migrants. In 2019, with 17.5 million persons living abroad, India was the leading country of origin of international migrants.
Migrants from Mexico constituted the second largest diaspora (11.8 million), followed by China (10.7 million), Russia (10.5 million), Syria (8.2 million), Bangladesh (7.8 million), Pakistan (6.3 million), Ukraine (5.9 million), the Philippines (5.4 million) and Afghanistan (5.1 million).
India hosted 5.1 million international migrants in 2019, less than the 5.2 million in 2015. International migrants as a share of total population in India was steady at 0.4% from 2010 to 2019.
The country hosted 207,000 refugees, the report said, adding that refugees as a share of international migrants in the country was four per cent. Among the international migrants in the country, the female population was 48.8% and the median age of international migrants was 47.1 years.
In India, the highest number of international migrants came from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.
In 2019, regionally, Europe hosted the largest number of international migrants (82 million), followed by Northern America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million).
At the country level, about half of all international migrants reside in just 10 countries, with the United States of America hosting the largest number of international migrants (51 million), equal to about 19% of the world’s total.
Germany and Saudi Arabia host the second and third largest numbers of migrants (13 million each), followed by Russia (12 million), the United Kingdom (10 million), the United Arab Emirates (9 million), France, Canada and Australia (around 8 million each) and Italy (6 million).
The share of international migrants in total population varies considerably across geographic regions with the highest proportions recorded in Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand) (21.2%) and
Northern America (16.0%) and the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean (1.8%), Central and Southern Asia (1.0%) and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (0.8%).
A majority of international migrants in sub-Saharan Africa (89%), Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (83%), Latin America and the Caribbean (73%), and Central and Southern Asia (63%) originated from the region in which they reside.
By contrast, most of the international migrants that lived in Northern America (98%), Oceania (88%) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (59%) were born outside their region of residence.
UN Under-Secretary-General for DESA Liu Zhenmin said that these data are critical for understanding the important role of migrants and migration in the development of both countries of origin and destination.
Facilitating orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people will contribute much to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The report added that forced displacements across international borders continues to rise.
Between 2010 and 2017, the global number of refugees and asylum seekers increased by about 13 million, accounting for close to a quarter of the increase in the number of all international migrants.
Northern Africa and Western Asia hosted around 46% of the global number of refugees and asylum seekers, followed by sub-Saharan Africa (21%).
Turning to the gender composition, women comprise slightly less than half of all international migrants in 2019.
The share of women and girls in the global number of international migrants fell slightly, from 49% in 2000 to 48% in 2019.
The share of migrant women was highest in Northern America (52%) and Europe (51%), and lowest in sub-Saharan Africa (47%) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (36%).
In terms of age, one out of every seven international migrants is below the age of 20 years.

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NBFC loan pricing under RBI lens

Thu, 19 Sep, 2019

After mandating banks to implement external benchmarking for retail loan pricing, the Reserve Bank is now looking at the loan pricing regime of non-banking finance companies to make the practice more transparent.
According to sources, the central bank is internally discussing the loan pricing mechanism of the non-banking sector. At present, there is no anchor rate for NBFCs, similar to banks, that is linked to the lending rate of a particular loan.
For example, banks have the marginal cost of fund based lending rate (MCLR) — the anchor rate — and all the loans are linked to such a rate. Earlier, the base rate acted as an anchor rate.
Banks were not allowed to lend below the base rate or the MCLR rate. Banks are allowed to add a spread, based on the risk assessment, to the anchor rate.
However, there is no such mandate for NBFCs to have an anchor rate to which all the loan rates are linked.
It has often been noticed that lending rates of banks and NBFCs, including housing finance companies, are not responsive to changes in the RBI’s policy rate or the repo rate.
As a result, the banking regulator has now mandated banks that floating rate retail loans for homes, vehicles and loans to small and medium enterprises should be linked to an external benchmark like repo rate or Government of India T-bills, for example.
The main objective behind linking loans to an external benchmark was for faster transmission of monetary policy rates, particularly in a declining interest regime.
At the end of September 2018, the number of NBFCs registered with the Reserve Bank of India declined to 10,190 from 11,402 at the end of March 2018. Only a handful of large NBFCs are supervised by the banking regulator.
The consolidated balance sheet of NBFCs expanded in 2017-18 and also in 2018-19, helped by strong credit expansion.
The profitability of NBFCs improved on the back of fund-based income, low NPA levels relative to banks and strong capital buffers, RBI had observed in a recent report.

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India is the top source of immigrants across the globe

Thu, 19 Sep, 2019

India has emerged as the leading country of origin for immigrants across the world, with 17.5 million international migrants in 2019 coming from India, up from 15.9 million in 2015, according to a dataset released by the Union Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York.
Sharp increase
The International Migrant Stock 2019, released by the UN DESA's Population Division, said the number of international migrants in the world had reached an estimated 272 million 2019 — 51 million more than in 2010.
The percentage of international migrants of the total global population has increased to 3.5% from 2.8% in 2000.
While India remained as the top source of international migrants, the number of migrants living in India saw a slight decline from 5.24 million in 2015 to an estimated 5.15 million in 2019 – both 0.4% of the total population of the country.
Bangladesh was the leading country of origin for migrants in India, the report stated.
India is the top source of immigrants across the globe
From 10 countries
In a statement, the UN DESA Population Division said that one-third of all international migrants originated from 10 countries — after India, Mexico ranked second as the country of origin for 12 million migrants, followed by China (11 million), Russia (10 million) and Syria (8 million).
The European region hosted the highest number of the immigrants at 82 million in 2019, followed by North America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million). Among countries, the U.S. hosts the highest number of international migrants (51 million), about 19% of the global population.
The statement also said that around two-fifths of all international migrants had gone from one developing country to another.
The statement added that further, forced displacements continue to rise, with the number of refugees and asylum seekers increased by about 13 million from 2010 to 2017, the statement added.

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Cabinet approves ban on e-cigarettes

Thu, 19 Sep, 2019

The Union Cabinet approved a ban on e-cigarettes, citing the need to take early action to protect public health.
Upon promulgation of the ordinance, any production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale (including online sale), distribution or advertisement (including online advertisement) of e-cigarettes shall be a cognisable offence punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or fine up to ₹1 lakh, or both for the first offence; and imprisonment of up to three years and fine up to ₹5 lakh for a subsequent offence. Storage of electronic-cigarettes shall also be punishable with imprisonment of up to 6 months or a fine of up to ₹50,000 or both.
Children at risk
“Envisioned as a tool to combat tobacco addiction, electronic cigarettes and other vaping products have become a major problem and increase the risk of children adopting them,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a media briefing.
As per a release issued by the Centre, owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes on the date of commencement of the ordinance will have to suo motu declare and deposit these with the nearest police station.
E-cigarettes do not help quit smoking
The sub-inspector has been designated as the authorised officer to take action under the ordinance. The Central or State governments may also designate any other equivalent officer(s) as authorised officer for enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance.
The Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance, 2019, was recently examined by a Group of Ministers (GoM) following directions from the Prime Minister’s Office. In the draft ordinance, the Health Ministry had proposed a maximum imprisonment of up to one year along with a penalty of ₹1 lakh against first time violators.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that produce aerosol by heating a solution containing nicotine, which is the addictive substance in combustible cigarettes.
Cabinet approves ban on e-cigarettes
The Minister noted that as per data the misuse of e-cigarettes is very high among students.
The Union Health Ministry had earlier issued an advisory to all States and Union Territories to ensure that Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn devices, vape, e-sheesha, e-nicotine flavoured hookah, and devices that enable nicotine delivery are not sold (including online sale), manufactured, distributed, traded, imported and advertised in their jurisdictions.
Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan had also written to the Commerce Secretary to block the entry of a U.S.-based company manufacturing vaping devices like e-cigarettes, into India stating that “if not prevented, [it] could undermine the efforts taken by the government towards tobacco control.”
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) too had cautioned against the growing use of e-cigarettes citing studies which noted that use of e-cigarettes could have adverse effects on humans, which include DNA damage, carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity, respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders, and adverse impact on foetal development and pregnancy.
The Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation that represents e-cigarette users across the country, slammed the government’s move, terming it ‘a black day’ for 11 crore smokers in India who had been deprived of safer options.
The government may be patting its back for banning e-cigarettes but this is a draconian move considering the risk to the health of crores of smokers.

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RBI expands coverage of billers in payment system

Wed, 18 Sep, 2019

The Reserve Bank of India has decided to expand scope and coverage of Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS), an interoperable platform for repetitive bill payments, to include all categories of billers who raise recurring bills — except prepaid recharges — as eligible participants on a voluntary basis.
The BBPS currently covers five segments — direct-to-home (DTH), electricity, gas, telecom and water bills. Apart from digitisation of cash-based bill payments, these segments would also benefit from the standardised bill payment experience for customers, centralised customer grievance redressal mechanism, prescribed customer convenience fee and the like, the RBI said.
The RBI launched the BBPS to facilitate collection of repetitive (monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly) payments for everyday utility services provided by utility service providers.
Now the scope of BBPS could be extended to include services facilitating the collection of other types of repetitive payments, such as school/ university fees and municipal taxes/payments.
The objective of the BBPS is also to provide an accessible bill payments system to the large segments of un-banked/ under-banked population.
All forms of payments will necessarily be a part of the bill payments system, the RBI had earlier said.
The operational arrangements for setting up of settlement accounts in designated settlement bank, time discipline for settlement, etc. will be established by the Bharat Bill Payment Central Unit (BBPCU).

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Western Ghats gives a glimpse of its biodiversity

Wed, 18 Sep, 2019

A team of researchers have reported the discovery of two new plant species belonging to the Asclepiadaceae or milkweed family from the shola forests of the Western Ghats, highlighting its rich biodiversity and the need for a conservation strategy for the fragile ecosystem.
Latex in plant parts and pappus seeds are the general characteristics of the family. Tylophora balakrishnanii, a straggling vine, has been discovered from the Thollayiram shola in Wayanad, a biodiversity hotspot in the Nilgiri biosphere reserve.
The tuberous species has been discovered by a team of researchers led by Salim Pitchen, botanist at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) here, and Jose Mathew, Assistant professor, Department of Botany, SD College, during a recent floristic expedition.
The discovery has been published in the science journal NeBIO, an international journal on environment and biodiversity.
Reddish pink flowers
Flowers of the plant are reddish pink and the species is similar to the coastal plant Tylophora flexuosa. However, it differs in its floral parts arrangement and morphology, says Mr. Pitchen.
The species has been christened after V. Balakrishnan, member-secretary, Kerala State Biodiversity Board, and former director of the MSSRF, Wayanad, in recognition of his contributions to biodiversity.
Tylophora neglecta has been discovered from the shola forest on the Thooval Mala hill under the Achencoil forest division in Kollam.
The flowers of the new species are white with a violet tinge. Its leaves are thick and bristly in nature, Dr. Mathew said.
“We could find five to six Tylophora balakrishnanii and 15 to 16 Tylophora neglecta plants in the respective areas, Dr. Mathew said, adding that it indicated the need for a conservation strategy for the ecologically sensitive areas of the Western Ghats.

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Government to peg MGNREGA wages to inflation in bid to hike incomes

Wed, 18 Sep, 2019

Staring at a slump in rural demand and a slowdown in the rural economy, the Centre plans to inject more money into the UPA’s flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme by linking wages under the Act to an updated inflation index, which will be revised annually. It hopes this will increase wages, thus increasing purchasing power and reviving rural demand.
However, some economists question whether linking wage rates to a better inflation index will be sufficient, given that MGNREGA workers get paid much lower than market rates.
The national average wage of an MGNREGA worker is ₹178.44 per day, less than half of the ₹375 per day minimum wage recommended by a Labour Ministry panel earlier this year.
In the first week of September, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and the Labour Bureau informed the Rural Development Ministry that they had begun work to update the consumer price indices for rural areas (CPI-R) and agricultural labourers (CPI-AL) respectively.
“This has been a long-pending demand, but the case may be stronger now...This is one of the demand-side interventions that the government is carrying out in light of the current scenario in the rural economy,” said a senior official of the Rural Development Ministry, referencing the current slowdown.
Changed patterns
“The consumption basket of CPI-AL [which determines MGNREGA wage revisions] has not been updated for more than three decades, and rural consumption patterns have changed drastically in that time,” said the official.
Food items make up more than two-thirds of the CPI-AL consumption basket, but rural workers today spend a much smaller percentage of their money on subsidised food, and an increasingly larger amount on health, education and transport costs.
“They have now agreed to update the indices annually. MGNREGA wages will be linked to whichever index is higher in a particular State,” said the official, estimating that the increased wages based on updated inflation indices may result in 10% higher government expenditure on the scheme.
Government to peg MGNREGA wages to inflation in bid to hike incomes.
Wage rate revisions are usually notified at the beginning of a financial year, but the Ministry is trying implement the hike during the current year itself, as part of a stimulus package to counter the ongoing slowdown.
“If transferring expenditure [via MGNREGA] is done, rural wages could increase and that could percolate down into more purchasing power in the hands of the consumer.
However, some economists questioned whether the move is sufficient to revive demand.
According to the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey, market wages for men were higher than MGNREGA wages by 74% in 2017-18, while for women, it was a 21% gap. “They must first increase the wages and subsequently ensure better inflation indexation. Otherwise, the impact will be minimal,” said Dr. Sinha.
Even with existing wages, the scheme is running out of funds due to increased demand for work. MGNREGA received a budgetary allocation of ₹60,000 crore, of which more than 75% has already been released by the Centre even before the halfway point of the year.
Last week, the RD Ministry asked the Finance Ministry for an additional supplementary grant of ₹15,000-₹20,000 crore.
Droughts and floods in several States have led to an increased demand for work in the early part of the year, and the economic slowdown could spur demand again once the rabi planting season is over.

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Drone strikes on Saudi facility lead to jump in crude prices

Tue, 17 Sep, 2019

Drone attacks last week on Saudi Arabia’s crude processing facility, the largest in the world, have impacted half of the country’s crude oil production and about 5% of the world supply. Following the attacks, on Monday, Global Brent crude futures shot up more than 20% to $66.91 per barrel.
However, allaying Indian fears, Saudi Aramco officials have told oil companies that the attacks would not result in a shortage of supplies, the Ministry of Petroleum has said.
Saudi Arabia is a major source of oil imports for India, accounting for nearly 18% of the 226 million tonnes of crude the country imported during 2018-19, according to data with the Ministry of Commerce.
India, which imports more than 80% of its crude oil requirement, is particularly vulnerable to geopolitical risks arising out of the oil producing countries.
“While the oil markets await further updates on the resumption of supplies from Saudi Arabia, the oil markets will nevertheless be nervous as any retaliatory measures by Saudi Arabia and its allies will keep the market on tenterhooks,” said K. Ravichandran, Senior Vice-President and Group Head, Corporate Ratings, ICRA.
“As a result, oil prices should factor in sizeable geopolitical risk premium, which will be negative for Indian consumers. “Nevertheless, this impact is likely to be short-lived as the market will rebalance swiftly once the tensions abate.”

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Digital certificate of origin system unveiled

Tue, 17 Sep, 2019

The Supreme Court found the government’s statistics of thousands of instances of death, terror and violence in Jammu and Kashmir from 1990 as “formidable reasons” leading to the August 5, 2019 lockdown that followed the withdrawal of the special rights and privileges of Kashmiri people with the reading down of Article 370.
The top law officer told a Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi that since 1990, 41,866 persons have lost their lives in 71,038 terror incidents. This included 14,038 civilians; 5,292 security personnel and 22,536 terrorists.
The least the Kashmiris expected was that “a child can go to school quietly and the mother is assured the child returns home safely”.
The CJI later took a serious view of an oral submission made by senior advocate Husseifa Ahmadi, appearing for child rights activists Enakshi Ganguli and Dr. Shanta Sinha, that it was difficult to access the J&K High Court.
Mr. Ahmadi made the statement when the court asked him to approach the High Court. The petition had tried to draw judicial attention to media reports of detention of children aged between 10 and 18 in J&K.
Instead, the CJI sought a report from the High Court Chief Justice on the basis of Mr. Ahmadi's statement.
The CJI said he would speak to the High Court Chief Justice to verify the claim and, if necessary, even go there. The CJI warned that if the claim proved to be untrue, accountability would follow.
Nod for Azad’s visit
The court further agreed to a request of senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to visit four districts - Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Jammu.
Mr. Azad gave an undertaking to the court that he would not indulge in any political rallies while there. He is visiting to meet the daily wagers engaged in fruit trade, tourism and infrastructure in the four districts.
The court also issued notice to the government on a separate habeas corpus petition filed by Rajya Sabha member Vaiko to know the whereabouts of former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah.

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India, Indonesia elevate ties to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Mon, 16 Sep, 2019

India and Indonesia elevated their bilateral ties to that of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnerhsip and issued a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region following a bilateral summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
The two sides also signed 15 agreements, including on defence and economic cooperation.
Reflecting India's growing ties with Southeast Asia under New Delhi's Act East Policy, the two sides issued a joint statement on "Establishing Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Between Indonesia and India" which said that Modi and Widodo held extensive talks on bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest, and provided strategic directions that would further enhance the solid and expanding relations between the two countries.
"To enhance the two countries' strategic partnership, the leaders agreed to hold annual summit meetings, including on the margins of multilateral events. They also stressed the importance of continuing regular bilateral consultations through the robust architecture of dialogue in place, including the ministerial and working group mechanisms."
According to the statement, both leaders reaffirmed that teir countries, as strategic partners and maritime neighbours, must work to further strengthen and broaden the already robust defence cooperation.
"The leaders reaffirmed their commitment in the field of defence, with the signing of the Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two countries," it stated, adding that the this will further strengthen and renew the existing cooperation for mutual benefit of the two countries and the region.
Modi and Widodo also agreed to further enhance mutual trust through regular meetings and staff talks between armies, navies and air forces of the two countries.
In the area of defence industry, they took note on the progress made through the joint production of military equipment and identified cooperation in defence industry and technology as areas of great potential.
In terms of economic cooperation, the two sides sides agreed to work intensively for the early conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and reiterated that it needs to be comprehensive, fair and balanced with benefit to all member states.
RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) regional bloc and the six states with which Asean has existing free trade agreements - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
"President Joko Widodo welcomed the increase in Indian investments in Indonesia and appreciated their contribution to the Indonesian economy. Prime Minister Modi also welcomed Indonesian companies' participation through the Make in India initiative and invited Indonesian business to avail of the opportunities presented.
The joint statement said that as maritime neighbours, the two countries underlined the importance of stronger connectivity, particularly on sea links, in order to facilitate economic cooperation and people-to-people contact.
Modi and Widodo welcomed the plan to build connectivity between Andaman Nicobar in India and Aceh in Indonesia to unleash the economic potentials of both areas.
"Furthermore, the two sides looked forward to the expeditious conclusion of the Asean-India Maritime Transport Cooperation Agreement," the statement said.
The two leaders also reiterated their "strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations including cross-border terrorism and terror-related incidents in Indonesia and India and affirmed that perpetrators of these henious acts must be brought to justice".
In a manifestation of the growing geostrategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region, the two sides issued a separate statement on "Shared Vision of Indo-Indonesia Martime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific".
"In today's changing scenario in the Indo-Pacific region, we (India and Indonesia) are geostrategically located," Modi said in a joint address to the media with Indonesian President Joko Widodo following a bilateral summit here.
"Under India's Act East Policy, we have SAGAR - Security and Growth for All in the Region - that matches with President Widodo's Global Maritime Fulcrum," he said.
While Modi's SAGAR initiative underscores India's engagement in the Indian Ocean region, Jokowi's Global Maritime Fulcrum seeks to capitalise on Indonesia's geographic position to make the southeast Asian nation a "fulcrum" of Indo-Pacific maritime activity.
India is also part of a recently revived quad, including the US, Japan and Australia, that seeks to work for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
According to the statement on maritime cooperation, both sides recognised "that with a coastline of 7,500 km, with more than 1,380 islands and more than two million sq. km of Exclusive Economic Zone, India occupies a central position in the Indo-Pacific, while Indonesia as the largest archipelagic state in the world, with a coastline of 108,000 km, with 17,504 islands and features and a total of maritime area of 6,400,000 sq. km including Exclusive Economic Zone, is a fulcrum that connects the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean".
"The two oceans represent a combined maritime region which is important for global maritime trade and commerce," it stated.
It also called for adhering to the rights and obligations under the international law including the Charter of the United Nations, the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (Unclos) and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC).
This is his first visit to Indonesia as Prime Minister.

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Windfall for Odisha tribals if single-use plastic is banned

Mon, 16 Sep, 2019

As the focus is likely to shift to alternative products from single-use plastic that India plans to ban, millions of people, especially tribals residing in Odisha’s forest-rich regions, expect an upturn in their income.
Close to five million people in Odisha are currently involved in plate-making using both hand and machine stitching methods. They depend on two major leaves of forest species – sal and siali – for their earnings.
“Odisha’s leaf plate and cup market is worth 1,500 crore. While 2.5 million people mostly tribals are sal leaf pluckers, 1.5 million are siali leaf pluckers. Around one million are connected with other leaves,” said Chittaranjan Pani, a leading expert on non-timber forest product trade.
As soon as plastic products are banned, the focus will shift to degradable materials and leaf plates and cups are one of the obvious choices. In 22 of the 30 districts of Odisha, inhabitants of forest-fringe villages are traditionally involved in leaf-plate making.
In some districts, tribal women have already formed federations to get a better deal in the trade.

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Aramco plants

Mon, 16 Sep, 2019

Saudi Arabia will use its vast oil reserves to offset disruption to production, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said. Drone attacks on two major oil facilities on Saturday knocked 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) off production — close to 6% of the global crude supplies.
Between 1988 and 2009, Riyadh had built five giant underground storage facilities across the country to be used during crises.
The drone strikes on Saturday on national energy giant Aramco’s processing plants in Abqaiq and Khurais knocked 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) off production, close to 6% of the global crude oil supplies.
Riyadh has built five giant underground storage facilities across the country that can hold tens of millions of barrels of various refined petroleum products, to be tapped into during times of crisis. The facilities were constructed between 1988 and 2009 and cost tens of billions of dollars.
“As a result, ethane and LNG supplies will shrink by 50%,” said the Minister, adding that domestic supplies of fuel, electricity and water had not been affected.
Abqaiq is the world’s largest oil processing plant and can handle up to seven million bpd, some 70% of total Saudi output. It is located near Ghawar oilfield, the biggest in the world with reserves of over 60 billion barrels and a daily output capacity of six million bpd.
The plant also receives crude oil and gas from Shayba oilfield in the Empty Quarter. Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Tehran, saying there was no evidence it was launched from Yemen.
“Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Mr. Pompeo said. Last month, an attack also claimed by Huthi rebels sparked a fire at Aramco’s Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility, close to the Emirati border, with no casualties reported.
The Houthis also claimed a May drone attack on two oil pumping stations on Saudi Arabia’s key east-west pipeline, which caused a days-long shutdown.

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Teflon

Sun, 15 Sep, 2019

So the team tested Teflon in different forms — pellets, tapes and plates. They repeated the experiment using a Teflon beaker and tried different metals too and still got the same result each time. The only difference was that the particles did not show bright red luminescence when copper, silver and iron were used instead of gold.
Glass beaker (top view) in which copper powder is stirred with glucose in water with a teflon-coated magnetic pellet causes polymer fragments to float on the surface.
Glass beaker (top view) in which copper powder is stirred with glucose in water with a teflon-coated magnetic pellet causes polymer fragments to float on the surface.
“We then got a clue that the PTFE polymer might be breaking down into molecules through triboelectric degradation. An electric potential is produced at the interface of Teflon and water when the polymer is continuously stirred in water,” explains Prof. Pradeep.
Glucose added to water first leaches out ions from the metal surface. When the PTFE-coated magnetic pellet is continuously rotated, triboelectric charges get generated on the pellet. The PTFE gets negatively charged.
The negative charge on the PTFE surface attracts the metal ions that have been leached out. The interaction between the metal ions and PTFE results in metal-polymer bonding, causing the carbon-carbon bonds to destabilise. This eventually results in PTFEs degrading into molecules.
No such degradation of PTFE was noticed in the absence of stirring, glucose or metal ions. The rate of degradation gets reduced at room temperature.
“The amount of triboelectric degradation depends on the amount of glucose dissolved in water. As the amount of glucose in water increases more metal ions get leached leading to more interaction between PTFE and the metal ions. As more metal ions bind to PTFE, there is enhanced PTFE degradation,” says Abhijit Nag from IIT Madras and the first author of the paper.
“Mass spectrometry signatures imply the presence of molecular fragments of PTFE polymer,” says Prof. Pradeep. “The fragments seen floating on the water surface might be due to aggregation of molecular fragments or due to fragmentation of the long polymer.”
According to the paper, similar chemistry can possibly lead to micro and nanoplastics in food during cooking as many modern cookware are coated with Teflon.
“Triboelectric degradation of PTFE, polypropylene and other polymers might be occurring in nature in large water bodies such as oceans where metal ions are found in abundance and waves provide constant agitation,” Prof. Pradeep says. “This must be one of the ways by which microplastics get generated.”

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‘Speedy ITC e-refunds can boost exports’

Sun, 15 Sep, 2019

“The provision for Remission of Duties or Taxes on Export Product (RoDTEP) and replacing the existing Rebate of State and Central Taxes and Levies (RoSCTL) scheme on export of garments and made-ups should ease the existing financial crunch,” said Govind Zanwar, vice president, Vibrant Terry Towel Global Expo and Textile Development Foundation (TDF), which is planning large-scale exports of terry towels to the U.S.
“The fully automatic electronic refund for Input Tax Credit (ITC) and the Interest Equalisation Scheme (IES), will also help boost exports, particularly in the textiles sector. A quick reimbursement is much needed to ease financial scarcity,” he added.
He said priority sector lending (PSL) would also help, and labour intensive sectors such as textiles and leather industry should be included in it.
Taking advantage of the decision of the U.S. to hike duty on towel imports from China to 15%, Indian exporters of terry towels are eyeing higher exports to the U.S., which imports about 22,500 crore worth of the products every year. India currently accounts for only ₹5,200 crore of this.
Products to turn cheaper
Terry towel manufacturers from Solapur are hoping to increase capacity with a target to grow their revenue from ₹1,200 crore to ₹5,200 crore by 2022, of which the bulk would be from exports.
Analysts said the new measures announced by the FM sent a clear message that the government was giving top priority to reviving growth in the economy.
“The measures relating to housing and export promotion like textiles will provide a big boost to employment too since these are labour intensive industries,” said V.K. Vijayakumar, chief investment strategist, Geojit Financial Services.
Exporters in labour-intensive sectors should be happy with the new RoDTEP scheme from January 1, 2020 as it proposes to more than adequately incentivise exporters. Speedy ITC refunds and higher insurance cover for exporters should help.”

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Scheme for Remission of Duties or Taxes on Export Product (RoDTEP)

Sun, 15 Sep, 2019

A new tax refund scheme announced by Finance Minister on Saturday will replace the current one, compliant with World Trade Organization (WTO). This removes uncertainty over taxes on outbound shipments and was welcomed by exporters.

“The new scheme is attractive as it will neutralise all duties and levies,” said Sharad Kumar Saraf, president of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations.

Saraf said giving a three-month notice for the roll-out of the scheme will put all uncertainty to rest.

Introduced in 2015, under the Foreign Trade Policy, the MEIS incentivises merchandise of more than 8,000 items. This is the biggest scheme of its kind.

Exporters earn duty credits at fixed rates of 2 per cent, 3 per cent, and 5 per cent, depending upon the product and target country. Officials said the RoDTEP will also be based on this method, but the rates are yet to be decided.

Mahesh Jaising, partner, Deloitte India, said, “The important lookout is the quantum of benefit in key sectors. This will determine the actual impact of the new scheme vis-à-vis the MEIS.”

A commerce department official said apart from boosting exports, the scheme was also needed to break a major deadlock at the WTO.

“The RoDTEP gives us a leeway at the WTO, since other economies like Brazil have also done it. The new one will help reduce post-production transaction costs,” said Sachin Chaturvedi, director-general of RIS, a foreign trade think tank.

In March, the US had targeted the MEIS and other export-promotion schemes of India, arguing that New Delhi had been misusing export subsidies to get an unfair advantage. WTO rules prohibit India from expanding these schemes. India contested the charges, though it was opposed by an 11-nation coalition.

Since 2018, the commerce department has been working on a production-based scheme. Experts said a remission-based scheme will help at the WTO.

The government has also announced an electronic-refund model for quick and automatic disbursal of input tax credit refunds for exporters, set to go live by the end of the month.

“This has remained a prime concern among small businesses. This will reduce the lock up of funds. But the speed of other payments, especially that of the Rs 7,000-crore worth of unpaid payments to MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) need to go up,” said the Federation of Indian Micro and Small & Medium Enterprises in a statement.

The government will now also foot a bill of Rs 1,700 crore annually to provide higher insurance cover for exporters through the Export Credit Guarantee Corporation.

Besides this, updated priority sector lending norms will make an additional Rs 36,000 crore to Rs 68,000 crore available to banks for lending to exporters. The government hopes these interventions will ensure that foreign and rupee export credit interest rates will be below 4 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively, and increase credit availability.

Earlier, the government had also proposed to increase interest subvention to 5 per cent from 3 per cent or 

However, experts caution about the impact of these schemes on exports.

“Priority-sector status to exports will provide some relief to exporters, at the same time proposal of increasing interest subvention to 5 per cent will give some competitive advantage. However, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on export growth, which responds more to global demand,” said Devendra Kumar Pant, chief economist at India Ratings.

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Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI)

Sat, 14 Sep, 2019

1. Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), is a statutory body formed under an Act of Parliament, i.e., Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act, 1999 (IRDAI Act 1999) for overall supervision and development of the Insurance sector in India.

2. The powers and functions of the Authority are laid down in the IRDAI Act, 1999 and Insurance Act, 1938. The key objectives of the IRDAI include promotion of competition so as to enhance customer satisfaction through increased consumer choice and fair premiums, while ensuring the financial security of the Insurance market.

3. The Insurance Act, 1938 is the principal Act governing the Insurance sector in India. It provides the powers to IRDAI to frame regulations which lay down the regulatory framework for supervision of the entities operating in the sector. Further, there are certain other Acts which govern specific lines of Insurance business and functions such as Marine Insurance Act, 1963 and Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991.

4. IRDAI adopted a Mission for itself which is as follows:

  1. To protect the interest of and secure fair treatment to policyholders;
  2. To bring about speedy and orderly growth of the Insurance industry (including annuity and superannuation payments), for the benefit of the common man, and to provide long term funds for accelerating growth of the economy;
  3. To set, promote, monitor and enforce high standards of integrity, financial soundness, fair dealing and competence of those it regulates;
  4. To ensure speedy settlement of genuine claims, to prevent Insurance frauds and other malpractices and put in place effective grievance redressal machinery;
  5. To promote fairness, transparency and orderly conduct in financial markets dealing with Insurance and build a reliable management information system to enforce high standards of financial soundness amongst market players;
  6. To take action where such standards are inadequate or ineffectively enforced;
  7. To bring about optimum amount of self-regulation in day-to-day working of the industry consistent with the requirements of prudential regulation.

5. Entities regulated by IRDAI:

a. Life Insurance Companies - Both public and private sector Companies

b. General Insurance Companies - Both public and private sector Companies. Among them, there are some standalone Health Insurance Companies which offer health Insurance policies.

c. Re-Insurance Companies

d. Agency Channel

e. Intermediaries which include the following:

  1. Corporate Agents
  2. Brokers
  3. Third Party Administrators
  4. Surveyors and Loss Assessors.

6. Regulation making process:

  1. Section 26 (1) of IRDAI Act, 1999 and 114A of Insurance Act, 1938 vests power in the Authority to frame regulations, by notification.
  2. Section 25 of IRDAI Act, 1999 lays down for establishment of Insurance Advisory Committee consisting of not more than twenty five members excluding the ex-officio members. The Chairperson and the members of the Authority shall be the ex-officio members of the Insurance Advisory Committee.
  3. The objects of the Insurance Advisory Committee shall be to advise the Authority on matters relating to making of regulations under Section 26.
  4. Accordingly the draft regulations are first placed in the meeting of Insurance Advisory Committee and after obtaining the comments/recommendations of IAC, the draft regulations are placed before the Authority for its approval.
  5. Every Regulation approved by the Authority is notified in the Gazette of India.
  6. Every Regulation so made is submitted to the Ministry for placing the same before the Parliament.

7. The Authority has issued regulations and circulars on various aspects of operations of the Insurance companies and other entities covering:

  1. Protection of policyholders’ interest
  2. Procedures for registration of insurers or licensing of intermediaries, agents, surveyors and Third Party Administrators;
  3. Fit and proper assessment of the promoters and the management
  4. Clearance /filing of products before being introduced in the market
  5. Preparation of accounts and submission of accounts returns to the Authority.
  6. Actuarial valuation of the liabilities of life Insurance business and forms for filing of the actuarial report;
  7. Provisioning for liabilities in case of non-life Insurance companies
  8. Manner of investment of funds and periodic reports on investments
  9. Maintenance of solvency
  10. Market conduct issues
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India’s first maritime broadband

Sat, 14 Sep, 2019

VSAT solutions provider Nelco, a Tata enterprise, on Friday announced the launch of maritime communication services, becoming India’s first company to provide broadband services to the maritime sector.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Communications, Electronics & Information Technology and Law & Justice, and Anshu Prakash, Secretary, Department of Telecommunications, inaugurated the services here on Friday.

Nelco, through global partnerships and infrastructure, including transponder capacity on the satellite of ISRO and service portfolio, will help energy, cargo and cruise vessels by enhancing operational efficiency.

The in-flight and maritime communications (IFMC) licence has not only enabled connectivity for on-board users on ships but also brings operational efficiencies for shipping companies which were less evolved until now.

P.J. Nath, MD & CEO of NELCO, said, “Nelco is proud to announce the launch of its maritime communication services, enabling any maritime vessel sailing in Indian waters to have high quality, uninterrupted access to broadband Internet. We will also be offering a bouquet of digital services to cater to the needs of various maritime vessels. Going forward, we believe that we will be able to fully meet the communication needs of the maritime industry.

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LCA Tejas

Sat, 14 Sep, 2019

The HAL Tejas is an Indian single-engine, delta wingmultirole light fighter designed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. It came from the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme, which began in the 1980s to replace India's ageing MiG-21 fighters. In 2003, the LCA was officially named "Tejas".

Tejas has a tail-less compound delta-wing configuration with a single dorsal fin. This provides better high-alpha performance characteristics than conventional wing designs. Its wing root leading edge has a sweep of 50 degrees, the outer wing leading edge has a sweep of 62.5 degrees, and trailing edge has a forward sweep of four degrees. It integrates technologies such as relaxed static stabilityfly-by-wire flight control system, multi-mode radar, integrated digital avionics system and composite material structures. It is the smallest and lightest in its class of contemporary supersonic combat aircraft.

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Convention to Combat Desertification

Fri, 13 Sep, 2019

A variety of factors, both natural and human-induced, are known to be affecting the productivity of land, and making them desert-like. Increasing populations and the resultant rise in demand for food and water, feed for cattle, and a wide variety of ecosystem services these offer, have prompted human beings to clear forests, use chemicals, cultivate multiple crops, and over-exploit groundwater.
This has affected both the health and productivity of land. Natural processes such as rising global temperatures increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, and changing weather patterns have put further pressure on the land.
A recent report by the International Resources Panel, a scientific body hosted by the UN Environment Programme, said that about 25 per cent of world’s land area has been degraded. Another report, by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said that nearly 40 per cent of world’s population was being impacted negatively because of land degradation.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) too came out with a special report on land a few months ago, in which it said that the rate of soil erosion in many areas of the world was up to 100 times faster than the rate of soil formation.
It also said the annual area of drylands in drought had been increasing at more than 1 per cent every year in the last 50 years, and that nearly 500 million people lived in areas that have experienced desertification after the 1980s.
Desertification has implications for food and water security, livelihoods, migration, conflicts and even international security. Combating desertification refers to activities that prevent or reduce land degradation, and restore partially or fully degraded land.
What is the Convention to Combat Desertification?
The UNCCD is one of three Conventions that have come out of the historic 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It is, however, possibly the least known of the three. The Rio summit gave rise to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under which countries have agreed to restrict the emissions of greenhouse gases, first through the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and now through the Paris Agreement that was finalised in 2015 and becomes operational next year.
It also gave rise to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which too has delivered an international arrangement to protect and use biodiversity. The UNCCD has not yet resulted in any international treaty or protocol to fight desertification.
The UNFCCC holds its general meetings every year, while CBD and CCD meet every two years.
Why was the need felt for such a convention?
At the time the UNCCD was born in Rio, degradation of land was mostly viewed as a localised problem, one that was mainly affecting countries in Africa. In fact, it was on the demand of the African countries that CCD came into being. The Convention repeatedly makes a mention of the special needs of Africa in fighting desertification.
Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that land degradation was impacting the global network of food and commodity supply chains and was getting impacted in return. The crops being grown and the quantities in which they were being grown were dictated not by local needs but by global demands.
Changes in food habits and international trade have altered cropping patterns in many areas. Large-scale migration to urban centres and industrial hubs has seen a heavy concentration of populations in small areas, putting unsustainable pressure on land and water resources.
As an issue, therefore, land degradation of land is, therefore, much more complex than it appears.
To what extent does land degradation fit into the context of climate change?
Land has always been an important conversation in the climate change debate. That is because land affects, and is affected by, climate change. Forests, trees and vegetation cover are important sinks of carbon dioxide. Land degradation, therefore, reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed, and consequently leads to a rise in emissions.
At the same time, agriculture and activities such as cattle rearing contribute to emissions and are a major source of methane which is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Restoration of degraded land can, therefore, have major co-benefits for climate change objectives.
According to the report by the International Resources Panel referred to earlier, restoring 350 million hectares of degraded landscape by 2030 would take out between 13 to 26 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. This would more than offset the emissions from activities like agriculture and cattle-rearing. The IPCC report mentioned earlier had estimated that such activities
contribute about 25 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, or about 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
What change can be expected on the basis of a CCD meeting?
A meeting of the UNCCD is not expected to come up with any headline-grabbing decision. The discussions at the CCD have so far remained academic and technical, mainly focusing on the kinds of activities that can be undertaken to restore degraded lands. During the conference that is ending Friday, India announced that it would restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.
Working on a recent mandate of the CCD, countries are making efforts towards achieving what is called Land Degradation Neutrality, or LDN, within their territories, and trying to ensure that the amount and quality of land necessary to support ecosystem services and strengthen food security remains stable or increases within time periods targeted by them.

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Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Fri, 13 Sep, 2019

Amidst conflicting signals from the government over whether India will join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year, Australia’s lead negotiator for the 16-nation free trade agreement (FTA) says all countries have “committed” to completing talks in time for the RCEP summit on November 1.
On Friday, negotiating teams and diplomats from all 16 RCEP countries which include the 10 ASEAN states, and six ASEAN-FTA partners China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, will meet for a “Track 1.5” round table on “Global and Regional Trade and Economic Integration Issues”.
India is seeking a mechanism to ‘cap’ imports as a safeguard measure in case its withdrawal of tariffs under RCEP leads to a sudden surge in goods flooding the Indian market. Other sticking points have been over a dual tariff mechanism for countries India doesn’t have an FTA with like China, and the
rest, as well as the need for freedom of movement for services from India to the other countries. With Australia and New Zealand in particular, India has been negotiating on agricultural and dairy imports.
RCEP negotiations are now in the home-stretch with only “a small number of critical issues outstanding” between the 16 countries, say officials involved in the discussions. Of 29 parts of the agreement including the preamble, chapters on rule and market access and annexes, only about 12 parts remain incomplete. Seven chapters have been fully concluded, and two others are nearly concluded.
When asked if India, as the only outlier from RCEP, will be left out of the agreement or asked to join it later, Mr. Baxter said categorically that there has been “no discussion” on either concluding the deal with one or more member being left out, nor are there any RCEP talks on for an “early harvest” or partial agreement, indicating that the group expects to see full support for the final agreement when leaders of all RCEP nations attend the summit in seven weeks in Thailand. Before that, Mr. Goyal and other trade ministers are expected to meet atleast once more to finalise details of the agreement.
Mr. Baxter’s comments came as the two key ministers dealing with the negotiations sent out mixed messages over joining RCEP. Speaking in Singapore, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that India still has “reservations” about joining RCEP. “The big concerns of India are, of course, one, its relationship with China because we have an enormous trade deficit with China.
Speaking to journalists in Delhi a day later, however, Mr. Goyal sounded more positive about the agreement and said that the “National interest can’t be hijacked by one or two industries... Maximum interests should be protected.” Mr. Goyal also pointed out that while several trade groups were worried about RCEP, the industry was “split down the middle”, with cotton and textile companies welcoming the new market access that RCEP will bring.
If completed, RCEP will be the world’s biggest FTA, comprising countries that make up 45% of the world’s population with 33% of its GDP, and at least 28% of all trade in the world today, which are projected to form half the world’s GDP by 2050.
While several labour groups and industry bodies have lobbied against the agreement and argued for more protection, several economists have pointed out that not joining the RCEP will cut India out of the world’s biggest trade bloc. A final decision is expected closer to the summit, just ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Thailand on November 1.

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Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.

Fri, 13 Sep, 2019

The Supreme Court continued its stay on 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 referred to how resorts and illegal structures have encroached on forest lands and led to the depletion of the green cover. Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for one of the parties, said the focus should be on the lakhs of forest dwellers who face eviction.
The court said “the mighty and the undeserving” who had encroached on forest lands would be shown no mercy.
While issuing the stay order on eviction on February 28, the court had 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 (FDSTs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) were finally rejected.
More than 11 lakh people from the STs and OTFDs across 16 States faced the brunt of the apex court’s February 13 eviction order.
The apex court gave the States further time to file affidavits responding to complaints 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 now wants to know whether tribals and OTFDs were ousted from forest lands on the basis of sketchy, incomplete information and data.
The February 13 eviction order was stayed on February 28 after the Centre moved the apex court to modify the former order. The government had said the eviction order would affect a “large number of families”.
“The eviction of the tribals may be withheld... the eviction of tribals, without such information, would cause serious prejudice to them who have been residing in forests for generations... Many are poor and illiterate,” the Centre had submitted.

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IIP growth rebounds, retail inflation surges

Fri, 13 Sep, 2019

Industrial activity rebounded in July to 4.3% on a broad-based recovery across key sectors such as mining, manufacturing and construction. In a separate release, data showed retail inflation rose in August to hit a 10-month high of 3.21% on quickening food price rises.
Growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) accelerated in July after a slump in June when it touched 1.17%. Within the index, the mining sector accelerated to 4.92% in July compared with 1.53% in June. The manufacturing sector, similarly, saw growth quicken to 4.15% from 0.23% over the same period.
The only issue is to see if this will be sustained. This has come as a positive surprise because the general trend indicates a slowdown momentum.
Construction and infrastructure sector saw a turnaround in July, growing 2.13% after contracting 1.9% in the previous month.
On the consumer side, the consumer durables sector reined in its contraction, contracting 2.7% in July compared with a steep contraction of 10.2% in the previous month. Consumer non-durables saw growth accelerating to 8.29% from 7.08%. The electricity sector, however, saw growth slowing in July to 4.75% from 8.19% in June.
Growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) touched 3.21% in August, compared with 3.15% in July. Within the index, inflation in the food category touched a 14-month high of 2.96% in August, up from 2.33% in the previous month.
“Inflation overall is only marginally higher over last month,” Mr. Srivastava said. “Only vegetable and food price inflation have gone up and that is due to the seasonal effect. This usually happens in monsoon months.”
Inflation in the pan, tobacco and other intoxicants category quickened marginally to 5% in July from 4.89% in the previous month. Clothing and footwear category, however, saw inflation easing somewhat to 1.23% from 1.37% over the same period.
The housing sector saw the rate of inflation remain flat at 4.84% in July, compared with 4.87% in June. The fuel and light sector saw a contraction in prices by 1.7% compared with a contraction of 0.29%.
“Consumer price inflation is likely to inch up further in the coming months with the waning of the base effect and seasonal factors,” Care Ratings added. “Although the RBI is likely to continue with its monetary easing, we do not expect a rate cut at the next monetary policy.
“The RBI is likely to look for the transmission of the previous rate cuts with the introduction of the new external benchmark before cutting rates further,” the ratings agency added. “For the remainder of the financial year, we expect policy rates to be cut by another 40 bps.”

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National Animal Disease Control Programme (NACDP)

Thu, 12 Sep, 2019

  1. The program is aimed at eradicating foot and mouth disease (FMD) and brucellosis in livestock.
  2. The NADCP aims to control these two diseases by 2025, and to eradicate them by 2030.
  3. According to a government release, the programme aims to vaccinate over 500 million livestock heads, including cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats and pigs, against FMD, and some 36 million female bovine calves annually against brucellosis.
  4. The programme has received 100% funding from the Centre

Foot and Mouth Disease FMD:

  1. It is a highly infectious viral disease of cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and other cloven-hooved ruminants.
  2. FMD is generally not fatal in adult animals but leaves them severely weakened, and results in a drastically reduced production of milk and can, therefore, be financially ruinous for dairy farmers.
  3. Infected animals get a fever, sores in their mouth, on their teats, and between their hooves.
  4. FMD spreads through excretions and secretions; infected animals also exhale the virus.
  5. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the intergovernmental organisation responsible for improving animal health worldwide, FMD is endemic in several parts of Asia, most of Africa, and the Middle East. Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Central and North America, continental Western Europe, and most Latin American countries are FMD-free.
  6. Measures to stop outbreaks and check FMD transmission include controlled introduction of new animals into existing herds, regular cleaning and disinfection of livestock areas, monitoring and reporting of illness, and use of effective vaccination strategies.

Brucellosis:

  1. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease.
  2. According to the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, is endemic in most parts of the country.
  3. Brucellosis causes early abortions in animals, and prevents the addition of new calves to the animal population.
  4. The control the disease, the World Health Organisation recommends the vaccination of cattle and, in some cases, testing and culling.
  5. The Brucellosis Control Programme component of the NADCP envisages 100% vaccination coverage of female cattle and buffalo calves (4-8 months of age) once in their lifetimes.
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National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)

Thu, 12 Sep, 2019

National Commission for Scheduled Tribes is an Indian constitutional body was established through Constitution (89th Amendment) Act, 2003.On the 89th Amendment of the Constitution coming into force on 19 February 2004, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been setup under Article 338A on bifurcation of erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to oversee the implementation of various safeguards provided to Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution. By this amendment, the erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was replaced by two separate Commissions namely- (i) the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), and (ii) the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST). The second commission constituted on 2007 with Urmila Singh as the Chairperson. The third Commission constituted on 2010 with Rameshwar Oraon as the Chairperson.

Composition

The Commission comprises a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and three full-time Members (including one lady Member). The term of all the Members of the Commission is three years from the date of assumption of charge.

Powers, Functions And Responsibilities

  1. To investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution or under any other law for the time being in force or under any order of the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards;
  2. To inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes;
  3. To participate and advise in the planning process of socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes and to evaluate the progress of their development under the Union and any State;
  4. To present to the President, annually and at such other times as the Commission may deem fit, reports upon the working of those safeguards;
  5. To make in such reports, recommendations as to the measures that should be taken by the Union or any State for effective implementation of those safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes, and
  6. To discharge such other functions in relation to the protection, welfare and development and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes as the President may, subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament, by rule specify.

 

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‘Tribal area’ status for Ladakh

Thu, 12 Sep, 2019

  1. The Home Ministry is the central authority for declaring an area as a “tribal area”.
  2. The NCST’s recommendation comes against the backdrop of growing demand from a predominantly tribal population and political leaders of Ladakh for according “tribal area” status to the region.
  3. Though Ladakhis have welcomed the Centre’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and make Ladakh a Union territory, they fear an influx of outsiders would lead to a change in the region’s demography, jeopardising their culture and identity.
  4. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of Ladakh’s population is tribal.
  5. The NCST opines that, including Ladakh under Schedule 6 will help in:
    1. Democratic devolution of powers.
    2. Preserving and promoting distinct culture of the region.
    3. Protection of agrarian rights including rights on land and.
    4. Enhancing transfer of funds for speedy development of the region.

Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution:

  1. The Sixth Schedule is related to the administration of the North Eastern states of of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
  2. The Sixth Schedule gives tribal communities considerable autonomy.
  3. The role of the Governor and the State are subject to significant limitations, with greater powers devolved locally.
  4. 6th schedule provides for District Councils and Regional Councils with certain legislative and judicial powers.
  5. The District Council and the Regional Council under the Sixth Schedule have real power to make laws, possibility on the various legislative subjects, receiving grants-in-aids from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet the costs of schemes for development, health care, education, roads and regulatory powers to state control.
  6. The mandate towards Devolution, deconcentration and divestment determines the protection of their customs, better economic development and most importantly ethnic security.
  7. 6th schedule provides for District Councils and Regional Councils with certain legislative and judicial powers.
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Navtej Johar v. Union of India

Wed, 11 Sep, 2019

  1. This judgment in the Supreme court not only laid the ground for stronger equality recognition such as the judgment in the Joseph Shine case decriminalising adultery (2018) and the judgment in the Sabarimala case recognising the rights of women to enter religious shrines (2018), but also led to the decriminalising of same-sex intercourse in other jurisdictions such as the High Court of Botswana and inspired a constitutional challenge to Section 377A in Singapore.
  2. The recognition of these rights impacts not only LGBTI persons, but everyone, for it protects all our rights of self-expression, equality and autonomy
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India-ASEAN Trade in goods

Wed, 11 Sep, 2019

  1. The India-ASEAN trade in goods pact came into force from January 2010.
  2. Under the pact, two trading partners set timelines for eliminating duties on the maximum number of goods traded between the two regions.
  3. The 10 ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam.
  4. Based on preliminary ASEAN data, two-way goods trade with India grew by 9.8 per cent from $73.6 billion in 2017 to $80.8 billion in 2018.

Rising trade deficit:

  1. India is not happy about the fact that its trade deficit with ASEAN has widened significantly since the pact was implemented.
  2. A NITI Aayog study reveals that India’s trade deficit with ASEAN doubled to $10 billion in 2017 from $5 billion in 2011.
  3. One of the reasons for the growing deficit is the low utilisation of the FTA route by Indian exporters to ASEAN countries because of difficulties faced in negotiating the rules.
  4. A review of the India-ASEAN FTA could help improve utilisation in India by making the pact simpler and more user-friendly.
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Motihari-Amlekhganj oil pipeline

Wed, 11 Sep, 2019

India launched South Asia’s maiden cross-border oil pipeline from Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal.

  1. The cross border petroleum products pipeline was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli via video conference.
    1. The Motihari-Amlekhgunj oil pipeline project was first proposed in 1996.
    2. The project was put back on the agenda during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kathmandu in 2014.
    3. The two governments had signed an agreement to execute the project in August 2015. Construction had begun in April 2018.
    4. The project is one of the several connectivity schemes that India and Nepal have been planning for several years and was inked in 2015.
    5. A test supply was carried out in July 2019 after which both sides had agreed to operationalize the energy route, a first time effort in South Asia.
  2. It will help Nepal ensure stable energy supply for its domestic market.
  3. The 69-km pipeline, having a capacity of 2 million metric ton per annum, will provide cleaner petroleum products at affordable costs to the people of Nepal.
  4. The project is being led by the Indian Oil Corporation and the Nepal Oil Corporation which has built infrastructure in Amlekhgunj for distribution of energy in Nepal.

Significance:

  1. India is already supplying diesel to Bangladesh through cross border train and plans to build pipeline to supply petroleum products to its eastern neighbour.
  2. The move seeks to bind Kathmandu closer to New Delhi, economically and strategically.
  3. The aim is to cement India-Nepal ties in the face of major inroads made by China into the Himalayan nation, and seeks to repair the trust deficit between the two countries due to an economic blockade seemingly imposed by India in 2015 to persuade Nepal to change some provisions in its new constitution.
  4. The development comes against the backdrop of recent plans for a rail link between Nepal and China cutting through the Himalayas.
  5. There were also plans to link Nepal and China through an energy pipeline running through the Himalayas. Both were seen as means by Nepal to find an alternative to its dependency on India and came on the back of tensions in 2015.
  6. India-Nepal pipeline serves to bind the people of the two countries and adds credibility to the argument that India is a development partner of Nepal.
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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

Wed, 11 Sep, 2019

  1. India has consistently expressed concerns to both China and Pakistan on the projects in so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is on the territory of India that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947.
  2. The Chinese-funded CPEC, links China’s Muslim dominated Xinjiang province to the Gwadar deep-sea port in Pakistan.
  3. The project passes through Gilgit-Baltistan in PoK, which New Delhi considers its own territory.

Details:

  1. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Pakistan and discussed regional issues.
  2. During the discussion, China reiterated its support to Pakistan to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  3. The visit was part of continued consultation between Beijing and Islamabad after India ended special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019.
  4. India has expressed repeatedly, that it is resolutely opposed to any actions by other countries to change the status quo in PoK.

 

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Fortification of Salt

Tue, 10 Sep, 2019

  1. India made fortification of salt with iodine mandatory for direct human consumption in 1992.
  2. This was relaxed in 2000 and then reimposed in 2005.
  3. In 2011, the Supreme Court, too, mandated universal iodisation for the control of iodine deficiencies.

Iodine:

  1. Iodine is a vital micro-nutrient for optimal mental and physical development of human beings.
  2. Deficiency of iodine can result in a range of disabilities and disorders such as goitre, hypothyroidism, cretinism, abortion, still births, mental retardation and psychomotor defects.
  3. Children born in iodine deficient areas may have up to 13.5 IQ points less than those born in iodine sufficient areas.
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73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments

Mon, 09 Sep, 2019

  1. 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments were passed by Parliament in December, 1992.
  2. Through these amendments local self-governance was introduced in rural and urban India.
  3. It was meant to provide constitutionalsanction to establish “democracy at the grassroots level as it is at the state level or national level”.
  4. Establishment of panchayats and municipalities as elected local governments, devolving a range of powers and responsibilities, made them accountable to the people for their implementation.

Details:

  1. The Constitution mandates that panchayats and municipalities shall be elected every five years and enjoins States to devolve functions and responsibilities to them through law.
  2. Given diverse habitation patterns, political and social history, it makes sense to mandate States to assign functions to local governments.
  3. A study for the Fourteenth Finance Commission by the Centre for Policy Research, shows that all States have formally devolved powers with respect to five core functions of water supply, sanitation, roads and communication, streetlight provision and the management of community assets to the gram panchayats.

Issues:

  1. Democracy has not been enhanced in spite of about 32 lakh peoples’ representatives being elected to them every five years, with great expectation and fanfare.
  2. Devolution, envisioned by the Constitution, is not mere delegation. It implies that precisely defined governance functions are formally assigned by law to local governments, backed by adequate transfer of a basket of financial grants and tax handles, and they are given staff so that they have the necessary wherewithal to carry out their responsibilities.
  3. Above all, local governments are to report primarily to their voters, and not so much to higher level departments. Yet, none of this has happened.
  4. The constraint lies in the design of funding streams that transfer money to local governments.
    1. The volume of money set apart for them is inadequate to meet their basic requirements.
    2. Much of the money given is inflexible; even in the case of untied grants mandated by the Union and State Finance Commissions, their use is constrained through the imposition of several conditions.
    3. There is little investment in enabling and strengthening local governments to raise their own taxes and user charges.
  5. Local governments do not have the staff to perform even basic tasks. As most staff are hired by higher level departments and placed with local governments on deputation, they do not feel responsible to the latter; they function as part of a vertically integrated departmental system.
  6. In violation of the constitutional mandate of five-yearly elections to local governments, States have often postponed them.
    1. In 2005, a Supreme Court constitutional bench held that under no circumstances can such postponements be allowed.
    2. Supreme Court rejected alibis for election postponement, such as delays in determining the seat reservation matrix, or fresh delimitation of local government boundaries.
    3. Yet, in Tamil Nadu, panchayat elections have not been held for over two years now, resulting in the State losing finance commission grants from the Union government.
  7. The current Union government has further centralised service delivery by using technology, and panchayats are nothing more than front offices for several Union government programmes.
  8. The ‘Smart City’ programme does not devolve its funds to the municipalities; States have been forced to constitute ‘special purpose vehicles’ to ring fence these grants lest they are tainted by mixing them up with municipality budgets.
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Mukurthi National Park

Mon, 09 Sep, 2019

Recently, Nilgiri tahr’s population has increased from 568 in 2018 to 612 in 2019 in the Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu.

  1. The recent increase has favoured a healthy sex ratio i.e.slightly skewed in favour of female goats.
  2. There has been almost27% increase in the population of the tahr in the Nilgiris over the last three years.
  3. Factors responsible for maintaining an increase in the population of Nilgiri Tahr are:

    1. Keeping the national park closed to tourists and free from poaching
    2. Fighting the spread of invasive flora.
  4. Nilgiri Tahr is also known as Nilgiri Ibex.
  5. It has been listed as “Endangered”by IUCN.
  6. It has been listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972which provides absolute protection and offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties
  7. The Adult males of Nilgiri Tahrspecies develop a light grey area or “saddle” on their backs and are hence called “Saddlebacks”
  8. It is the state animal of Tamil Nadu.
  9. It is found in open montane grasslandhabitat of rain forests ecoregion.
  10. It is endemic to the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portion of the Western Ghatsin

    1. Tamil Nadu
    2. Kerala
  11. Threats:

    1. Habitat loss (mainly from domestic livestock and spread of invasive plants)
    2. Poaching,
    3. Populations of these animals are small and isolated, making them vulnerable to local extinction,
    4. Climate Change

Nilgiri Tahr

Mukurthi National Park

  1. It is a protected area located in the northwest corner of Tamil Nadu in the Western Ghats.
  2. The park was created to protect its keystone species, the Nilgiri Tahr.
  3. The park is characterised by montane grasslands and shrublands interspersed with sholas in a high altitude area of high rainfall, near-freezing temperatures and high winds.
  4. It is also home to an array of endangered wildlife, including royal Bengal tiger and Asian elephant, but its main mammal attraction is the Nilgiri tahr.
  5. The park was previously known as Nilgiri Tahr National Park.
  6. It is part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reservealong with Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Bandipur National Park, Nagarhole National Park, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and Silent Valley.

 

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Article 371

Mon, 09 Sep, 2019


Home Minister Amit Shah told Lok Sabha Tuesday that the government had no intention of removing Article 371 of the Constitution, which includes “special provisions” for 11 states, including six states of the Northeast. His assurance came after Congress leaders expressed apprehension that having rendered Article 370 irrelevant, the government might unilaterally move to abrogate or modify Article 371.

Articles 369 through 392 (including some that have been removed) appear in Part XXI of the Constitution, titled ‘Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions’. Article 370 deals with ‘Temporary Provisions with respect to the State of Jammu and Kashmir’; Articles 371, 371A, 371B, 371C, 371D, 371E, 371F, 371G, 371H, and 371J define special provisions with regard to another state (or states).

Article 371I deals with Goa, but it does not include any provision that can be deemed ‘special’.

Read this story in Bengali

Articles 370 and 371 were part of the Constitution at the time of its commencement on January 26, 1950; Articles 371A through 371J were incorporated subsequently.

Article 371, Maharashtra and Gujarat: Governor has “special responsibility” to establish “separate development boards” for “Vidarbha, Marathwada, and the rest of Maharashtra”, and Saurashtra and Kutch in Gujarat; ensure “equitable allocation of funds for developmental expenditure over the said areas”, and “equitable arrangement providing adequate facilities for technical education and vocational training, and adequate opportunities for employment” under the state government.

Article 371A (13th Amendment Act, 1962), Nagaland: This provision was inserted after a 16-point agreement between the Centre and the Naga People’s Convention in 1960, which led to the creation of Nagaland in 1963. Parliament cannot legislate in matters of Naga religion or social practices, Naga customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law, and ownership and transfer of land without concurrence of the state Assembly.

Article 371B (22nd Amendment Act, 1969), Assam: The President may provide for the constitution and functions of a committee of the Assembly consisting of members elected from the state’s tribal areas.

Article 371C (27th Amendment Act, 1971), Manipur: The President may provide for the constitution of a committee of elected members from the Hill areas in the Assembly, and entrust “special responsibility” to the Governor to ensure its proper functioning.

Article 371D (32nd Amendment Act, 1973; substituted by The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014), Andhra Pradesh and Telangana: President must ensure “equitable opportunities and facilities” in “public employment and education to people from different parts of the state”. He may require the state government to organise “any class or classes of posts in a civil service of, or any class or classes of civil posts under, the State into different local cadres for different parts of the State”. He has similar powers vis-à-vis admissions in educational institutions.

Article 371E: Allows for the establishment of a university in Andhra Pradesh by a law of Parliament. But this is not a “special provision” in the sense of the others in this part.

Article 371F (36th Amendment Act, 1975), Sikkim: The members of the Legislative Assembly of Sikkim shall elect the representative of Sikkim in the House of the People. To protect the rights and interests of various sections of the population of Sikkim, Parliament may provide for the number of seats in the Assembly, which may be filled only by candidates from those sections.

Article 371G (53rd Amendment Act, 1986), Mizoram: Parliament cannot make laws on “religious or social practices of the Mizos, Mizo customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Mizo customary law, ownership and transfer of land… unless the Assembly… so decides”.

Article 371H (55th Amendment Act, 1986), Arunachal Pradesh: The Governor has a special responsibility with regard to law and order, and “he shall, after consulting the Council of Ministers, exercise his individual judgment as to the action to be taken”.

Article 371J (98th Amendment Act, 2012), Karnataka: There is a provision for a separate development board for the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. There shall be “equitable allocation of funds for developmental expenditure over the said region”, and “equitable opportunities and facilities” for people of this region in government jobs and education. A proportion of seats in educational institutions and state government jobs in Hyderabad-Karnataka can be reserved for individuals from that region.

 

 

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Hydrogels with Adjustable Bactericidal Activity

Sun, 08 Sep, 2019

  1. A hydrogel is a complex fluid consisting of solid particles dispersed in liquid water.
  2. Silver is known to have antibacterial property, but it is not used due to its toxicity.
  3. When silver acetate was incorporated in the hydrogel the toxicity was reduced and thus suitable for treating bacterial infections.
  4. The research team has used a naturally occurring nucleoside molecule cytidine to self-assemble into a hydrogel.
  5. The hydrogel has antibacterial activity against Gram-negative bacterial strains such as E. coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and multidrug-resistant Morganella morganii.

Gram Negative Bacteria:

  1. Bacteria are grouped into gram positive and gram negative based on their response to the ‘Gram Stain’ test.
  2. Gram positive bacteria retains the violet colour used in the test for staining. Gram negative bacteria becomes red or pink after the test.
  3. This happens because of the difference in the cell wall structure of the bacteria.
  4. Gram positive bacteria have cell walls composed of thick layers of peptidoglycan.
  5. Gram negative bacteria have cell walls composed of a thin layer of peptidoglycan and an outer membrane of lipopolysaccharide.
  6. Formulating antibiotics against gram negative bacteria is a difficult task when compared to gram positive bacteria.
  7. Effectiveness of antibiotics against these two types of bacteria are different too. Ex.: Penicillin is effective against gram positive bacteria while Streptomycin is effective against both gram positive and gram negative ones.
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Biocatalyst Cuts Effluent Discharge during Leather Processing

Sun, 08 Sep, 2019

Pollution in the Leather Processing Industry:

  • Pre-tanning process generates 60-70% of total pollution during the processing of leather.
  • Chromium is used in the process for increasing the stability of the collagen through cross-linking. It leads to the discharge of chromium into the environment.

Details:

  • A Biocatalyst uses biological systems or their parts to speed up (catalyse) chemical reactions.
  • The biocatalyst was developed by researchers at the Central Leather Research Institute (CSIR-CLRI), Chennai.
  • The team used genetic code engineering to introduce new chemistry in the amylase enzyme to improve its enzymatic properties.
  • The biocatalyst has 120 times higher binding to the glycan sugar (glycosaminoglycan) present predominantly in the skin.
  • Once the catalysts binds to the sugar, it selectively breaks down (hydrolysis) the sugar thus opening up the skin fibre.

Significance:

  • The biocatalyst will make a threefold reduction in water usage during the processing of leather.
  • It will also reduce the time taken to process the skin at the pre-tanning stage.
  • It will increase the absorption of chromium and reduces its discharge into the environment.
  • The chemical oxygen demand drops by about 35% while the total solid effluent load reduces by over 50%.
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What is ration card portability?

Sun, 08 Sep, 2019

India runs the world’s largest food security programme, distributing more than 600 lakh tonnes of subsidised food grain to more than 81 crore beneficiaries every year. This is done through a vast network of more than five lakh ration or fair price shops.
Under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), each beneficiary is eligible for five kg of subsidised grains per month at the rate of ₹3/kg for rice, ₹2/kg for wheat and ₹1/kg of coarse cereals.
However, until recently, this has been a location-linked benefit, leaving crores of migrant workers and families out of the food safety net. Each household’s ration card is linked to a specific fair price shop and can only be used to buy rations in that particular shop.
Over the last few years, 10 States (partially in one) have implemented the Integrated Management of Public Distribution System, which allows beneficiaries to buy rations from any fair price shop within that State.
The Centre is now in the process of expanding these efforts into a nationwide portability network which is called the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme. It is scheduled to come into full effect by June 2020, after which a ration card holder can buy subsidised grain at any fair price shop in the country.
What are the benefits? Who will gain the most?
The main beneficiaries of the scheme are the country’s migrant workers. According to data from the Census 2011, there are more than 45 crore internal migrants in India, of whom more than half have not completed primary education, while 80% have not completed secondary education.
Lower levels of education are linked to lower income, which would make a large percentage of these migrants eligible for NFSA benefits. Registering for ration cards at their new location is an arduous process, especially if some members of the household still remain in their original home.
Apart from this, field studies estimate that four crore to ten crore people are short-term migrants, often working in cities, but not moving there permanently. Women who change locations after marriage also find it difficult to start accessing ration benefits using a new household’s card.
The Centre hopes that allowing ration card portability will also curb corruption and improve access and service quality by removing monopolies. Under the old system, beneficiaries were dependent on a single fair price shop and subject to the whims of its dealer. Under the new system, if they are denied service or face corruption or poor quality in one shop, they are free to head to a different shop.
The scheme is also driving the faster implementation of initiatives to digitise and integrate the food storage and public distribution system.
What is needed to make it work?
The scheme involves the creation of a central repository of NFSA beneficiaries and ration cards, which will integrate the existing databases maintained by States, Union Territories and the Centre. Aadhaar seeding is also important as the unique biometric ID will be used to authenticate and track the usage of ration by beneficiaries anywhere in the country. Currently, it is estimated that around 85% of ration cards are linked to Aadhaar numbers.
For the scheme to work, it is critical that all fair price shops are equipped with electronic point-of-sale machines (ePoS), replacing the old method of manual record-keeping of transactions with a digital real-time record. On the back-end, the Food Corporation of India’s Depot Online System is integrating all warehouses and godowns storing subsidised grain in an attempt to create a seamless flow of online information from procurement until distribution.
What is the progress so far?
Two pairs of States — Andhra Pradesh-Telangana and Maharashtra-Gujarat — became the first to begin implementing portability between their States last month. From October 1, two more pairs — Kerala-Karnataka and Rajasthan-Haryana — will join the experiment.
By January, all eight States and at least three others which already implement intra-State portability will form the first national grid for the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme.
What are the difficulties ahead?
There are only 4.32 lakh ePoS machines which have been installed in more than 5.3 lakh fair price shops. Apart from much of Northeast India, much of that gap comes from three States: Bihar, West Bengal and Uttarakhand. Given that they are major source States for migrants, Bihar (only 15% coverage) and West
Bengal (70% coverage) must speed up ePoS installation for the system to work smoothly. In some rural and remote areas, ePoS connectivity also remains erratic, jeopardising smooth functioning.
In Jharkhand, a State which was an early adopter of digitisation and Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in 2016, there have been widespread complaints of denial of food due to system failures.
A 2017 study in Ranchi district — which was relatively well-connected — found that 20% to 40% of beneficiaries had been unable to buy their rations. Right to Food activists have blamed at least 20 deaths from September 2017 to June 2019 on hunger caused by irregularities in the PDS system.
In other States, the challenge comes from the difference between ration benefits offered by the State in comparison to the Central entitlement.
Tamil Nadu, for example, offers 20 kg of free rice per month to almost 2 crore ration card holders, as well as subsidised sugar, pulses and oil, over and above the NFSA benefits. The State government has made it clear that it will not be offering these benefits to migrant workers, as the Centre will cover the costs of NFSA benefits only.
Another issue could arise if the members of a single household are split between two different locations. The scheme’s guidelines only permit purchase of half the subsidised grain at one time in an effort to prevent one member of the household taking the entire ration for the month, leaving family members in a different location stranded without food.
The biggest challenge may lie in the lack of any concrete data on inter-State migration trends, especially short-term migration. The allocation of food grains to States will have to be dynamic to allow for quick additional delivery to cover any shortfalls in States with large migrant populations.
Currently, Food Corporation of India godowns stock grains up to three months in advance. Food Ministry officials acknowledged that there is a “steep learning curve” ahead to ensure that movement of grain matches migration flows.

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India declared free of Avian Influenza

Sat, 07 Sep, 2019

India has been declared free of Avian Influenza (H5N1).
With effect from September 3, the OIE-World Organisation for Animal Health declared the country free of the virus, the Centre’s Animal Husbandry Department informed the states in a letter. In the last two years, outbreaks of the disease had been reported from several places, including Budhibara, Patharaganja, Malud, Brahmandeo, Kanheipur, Epinga and Nandala in Odisha, Goraho, Mubarakchak and Babura in Bihar and Fazil Khuthari in Jharkhand. All of them had been reported to the OIE and containment measures undertaken as per protocol.
It is pertinent to note that following the completion of the operation (including culling, disinfection and cleanup) at the above epicenters, there has been no further reports of the presence of the HPAI (highly pathogenic Avian Influenza) virus. Accordingly the country has been declared free from Avian Influenza (H5N1) w.e.f 3rd September 2019 which has already been notified by OIE,” Joint Secretary Upamanyu Basu wrote in the letter to the states the same day.
The status will last only till another outbreak is reported. India was last declared free of the disease in 2017.
Avian Influenza was first reported from Hongkong in 1997. Since then, there have been many outbreaks across the world. India too has had multiple outbreaks since 2005.
This declaration is important not just from the poultry industry standpoint, but also because humans can contact the disease from animals though the pathogen is not capable of sustained human-to-human transmission. “Humans can be infected with avian, swine and other zoonotic influenza viruses, such as avian influenza virus subtypes A(H5N1), A(H7N9), and A(H9N2) and swine influenza virus subtypes A(H1N1), A(H1N2) and A(H3N2),” says World Health Organization

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“The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019

Sat, 07 Sep, 2019

“The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 seeks to substantially modify Chapter VI of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and Section 35 and 36 therein. The new Section 35 of the UAPA Act, 1967 empowers the Central government to categorise any individual as ‘terrorist’ and add name of such a person in Schedule 4 of the Act,” Mr. Awasthi contended.
Right to reputation
The petition said the right to reputation was an intrinsic part of fundamental right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution and tagging an individual as “terrorist” even before the commencement of trial or any application of judicial mind over it, did not amount to following the ‘procedure established by law’.
“The right of dissent is a part and parcel of fundamental right to free speech and expression and therefore, cannot be abridged in any circumstances except for mentioned in Article 19 (2). The UAPA, 2019 empowers the ruling government, under the garb of curbing terrorism, to impose indirect restriction on right of dissent which is detrimental for our developing democratic society,” it said.
Instead of preserving the dignity of an individual, the government sought to encroach upon it, it added.

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Great Indian Bustard

Sat, 07 Sep, 2019

Great Indian bustard, (Ardeotis nigriceps), large bird of the bustard family (Otididae), one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. The great Indian bustard inhabits dry grasslands and scrublands on the Indian subcontinent; its largest populations are found in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

 Physical Features

Great Indian bustards are tall birds with long legs and a long neck; the tallest individuals may stand up to 1.2 metres (4 feet) high. The sexes are roughly the same size, with the largest individuals weighing 15 kg (33 pounds). Males and females are distinguished by the colour of their feathers. Feathers on the top of the head are black in males, who also possess a whitish neck, breast, and underparts, along with brown wings highlighted by black and gray markings. Males also have a small, narrow band of black feathers across the breast. In contrast, females possess a smaller black crown on the top of the head, and the black breast band is either discontinuous or absent.

 Predators And Prey

Great Indian bustards are omnivores that feed opportunistically (that is, they feed on any palatable food in their immediate surroundings). They prey on various arthropodsworms, small mammals, and small reptilesInsects such as locustscrickets, and beetles make up the bulk of their diet during the summer monsoon, when rainfall peaks in India and the bird’s breeding season largely takes place. Seeds (including wheat [Triticum vulgare] and peanuts [groundnuts; Arachis hypogaea]), in contrast, make up the largest portions of the diet during the coldest and driest months of the year.

 

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Will PSB mergers alter the banking scenario?

Fri, 06 Sep, 2019

  1. The largest of the mergers that has been proposed, which PNB is combining with two other entities, is going to give the bank which is about one third the size of the 50th largest bank in the world, which is low in ranking on the Global Standards.
  2. The correlation between size and efficiency is suspect beyond a certain minimum size.
  3. Evidences have also shown that in the Indian context large public sector banks underperform in relation to private banks, which are much smaller.
    1. The Price To Book Value Ratio of HDFC Bank is close to 4, whereas the price to book value of SBI is around 1.25.
    2. Therefore, the suggestion that getting bigger is going to, in itself, give some benefits is not validated by experience, either internationally or within India.
  4. Whenever a merger of such scale happens, the senior management gets distracted in terms of trying to make sure who gets what.
    1. And therefore, in the short term, there is going to be some amount of disruption.

The biggest argument against big banks is that they can become too big to fail.

  1. The financial sector is all inter-connected and a risk in any part of the system is a risk to the entire system. If a large bank were to fail, it could bring down the whole financial sector with it, as was evident from the near death experience following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, which triggered the global financial crisis.
  2. No country can therefore afford the failure of a big bank. The tacit knowledge that the sovereign will be forced to rescue it encourages irresponsible behaviour by big banks.

Significance

  1. In terms of resolution of NPAs there is some merit in having the merger because there are coordination problems involved when you have multiple banks trying to resolve NPAs which are common to all of them.
  2. The middle and senior management who are deputed for meetings, have discussions with their counterparts from other banks.
  3. And then they have to go back to the top management for a decision, come back again for a meeting, and it goes on and on.
  4. Therefore, the resolution of NPAs becomes difficult when you have so many banks trying to arrive at an understanding amongst themselves.
  5. So, to the extent that the discussion is happening among fewer banks, the resolution of NPAs will be facilitated.

 

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WHO South-East Asia Region plans to banish measles, rubella by 2023

Fri, 06 Sep, 2019

Member-countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region have resolved to eliminate highly infectious childhood killer diseases measles and rubella by 2023.
“The new target to eliminate both the diseases will leverage the existing momentum and a strong political commitment, which is being demonstrated through unprecedented efforts, progress and successes in recent years.
A resolution to eliminate the diseases was adopted at the 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia in Delhi.
Measles is particularly dangerous for the poor, as it attacks malnourished children and those with reduced immunity. It can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infection and pneumonia, while rubella/ congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) causes irreversible birth defects.
“Eliminating measles will prevent 500,000 deaths a year in the region, while eliminating rubella/ CRS would avert about 55,000 cases of rubella and promote health and wellbeing of pregnant women and infants,” Dr. Singh said.
Measles elimination and rubella control has been a regional flagship priority since 2014. Bhutan, DPR Korea, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste have eliminated measles and Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste have controlled rubella.
To achieve the new targets, the member-countries resolved to strengthen the immunisation systems for increasing and sustaining high level of population immunity against the two diseases at both the national and sub-national levels.
The resolution calls for ensuring a highly sensitive laboratory supported case-based surveillance system – better evidence for appropriate planning and response. It also emphasises on preparedness for outbreak response activities.
All countries pledged to mobilise political, societal and financial support to ensure the interruption of transmission of indigenous measles and rubella virus by 2023.

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India extends $1 b line of credit to Russia’s Far East

Fri, 06 Sep, 2019

Development of resources in the Far East region of Russia, where 98 per cent of diamond and 50 per cent of gold are mined, is one the top priorities for the Russian government and who if not India, an old friend and strategic partner, could lend a helping hand?
Speaking at plenary session of the 5th Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India would walk shoulder-to-shoulder with Russia in its development of the Far East for which it would extend a $1 billion line of credit.
Expanding economic cooperation is one of the key challenges for New Delhi and Moscow. In December 2014, the countries’ leaders set a goal to bring bilateral trade and investment figures to $30 billion by 2025.
While two-side investments have crossed $50 billion by 2017, thanks to acquisition of Essar Oil by the Rosneft-led consortium, the pace of bilateral trade is still far from the set bar, despite the doubling of indicators over the past couple of years.
Earlier this year, vice-governor of Far East Konstantin Bogdanenko said in 2018 the trade turnover of the region with India increased by 20 per cent and amounted to more than $42 million.
India's largest state-owned companies as well as private business conglomerates have been investing in the Far East, which includes ONGC’s investments in oil and gas projects, the development of coal and gold deposits by Tata Power and Sun Group, diamond polishing factories set up recently by KGK group and M Suresh, among others.
However, experts in both countries believe the scale of these investments does not correspond to the potential of the region, nor to the opportunities or interests of Indian business.
Multiple delegations of state authorities and business from both countries have visited each other since the beginning of 2019. The latest and largest delegation of four chief ministers and over 130 companies was headed by Minister of Railways and Minister of Commerce & Industry Piyush Goyal.
The talks resulted in numerous MoUs, and according to sources, and a few investments projects in mining, logistics, oil and gas sectors are likely to be finalised soon.
During the 20th summit, the two countries discussed the India-Russia Intergovernmental Agreement on Promotion and Mutual Protection of Investments, which is yet to be signed. As for the preferences, the administration of Far East region has gone a long way to create favourable conditions for investors, including 5-year tax holidays, and new proposals were made during this EEF.
“The far East has created a system of preferences with the lowest level of taxation in the Asia-Pacific region. There are several preferential regimes — analogues of special economic zones — created here, so-called “territories of advanced development.
“In addition to providing tax benefits and preferences, the government also provides all the necessary infrastructure — water, gas, roads,” Leonid Petukhov. General Director, Far East Investment and Export Agency, told BusinessLine. He added till date, 1,786 projects worth above $60 billion have been set up here.
According to Petukhov, Russia has introduced e-visa option for business people travelling to some of the locations, including the Far East. “More than 130 residents of India have already used e-visa,” he said.
“The political leadership in Russia and India deserve a huge amount of credit for bringing a renewed impetus on bilateral cooperation in the Russian Far East in partnership with the private sector from both the countries,” Shiv Khemka, Vice Chairman, SUN Group said.
He added that the Far East Investment agency has played a commendable role in the last few years in attracting foreign investment into the region.

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Coal India production drops 2.8%

Thu, 05 Sep, 2019

Coal India Ltd. (CIL) ended the first five months of this fiscal with a 2.8% production decline, mining 210.2 million tonnes against 216.2 million tonnes in the year-earlier period. In August its output dropped by 10.3%.
Two of its high-yielding subsidiaries, South Eastern Coalfields Ltd. (SECL) and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd. (MCL), ended the period with a lower production compared with the year-earlier period.
Coal offtake between April and August 2019 dropped by 2.5 million tonnes. In August, four out of CIL’s seven coal-producing subsidiaries lost production, showing negative growth rates over those clocked a year ago. This was due to various factors.
CIL sources said that law and order problems at some of the subsidiaries and heavy rains in western India had led to this production loss. There were also two mine accidents that led to production loss
Edelweiss Securities said in an update that CIL’s August 2019 production and offtake volume decline was the worst in the past three years. It said that the delay in finalisation of subcontracts and mining fatalities at MCL and SECL impacted production.
Higher-than expected rainfall, too, hit mining. On the offtake front, it said that lower rake availability led to loading of 178 rakes daily in August 2019 against 250 rakes of daily loading in July.
However, the brokerage firm was optimistic that CIL will get over its current production woes by resolving the issues at hand and register a growth rate of around 4.5%. It felt that achieving the year’s target of 660 million tonnes, requiring a 15% growth rate may be a daunting task for the behemoth.

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ANDREX project (Antarctic Deep water Rates of Export)

Wed, 04 Sep, 2019

The ANDREX project seeks to assess the role of the Weddell gyre in driving the southern closure of the meridional overturning circulation, in ventilating the deep global ocean, and in sequestering carbon and nutrients in the global ocean abyss.

To do this, the ANDREX team, a group of German collaborators and a group of US collaborators set out to obtain measurements of hydrography, velocity and a range of ventilation tracers and biogeochemical substances along the Weddell gyre’s rim. These measurements were organized into three surveys: a US CLIVAR section (a WOCE I6S repeat) between South Africa and Antarctica along 30°E in January–February 2008; the ANDREX section proper along the gyre’s northern edge between 30°E and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, in December–February 2009. The ANDREX section was aborted approximately half-way due to a medical evacuation, and was completed in March–April 2010 on board the RRS James Clark Ross. Finally, the box is close by the German Sr04 section (January–April 2005) in the Southwestern Weddell Sea between Kapp Norvegia and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Track of the ANDREX cruise: the ANDREX line (JR239 + JC30) goes from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to 30°E; the CLIVAR I6S section follows 30°E to the Antarctic continent, Sr04 goes from Kapp Norvegia (15°E) to the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (the bathymetry is shown in greyscale)Track of the ANDREX cruise: the ANDREX line (JR239 + JC30) goes from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to 30°E; the CLIVAR I6S section follows 30°E to the Antarctic continent, Sr04 goes from Kapp Norvegia (15°E) to the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (the bathymetry is shown in greyscale)

Specifically, ANDREX will use a combination of inverse estimation techniques and tracer and biogeochemical analyses to:

  • Quantitatively assess the import / export routes of Circumpolar Deep Water / Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) to / from the Weddell gyre.
  • Obtain an optimal, self-consistent estimate of the rates of ventilation and AABW formation in the Weddell gyre.
  • Quantify the heat and freshwater budgets of the Weddell gyre, and determine the freshwater inputs to the gyre (sea ice melt, precipitation, and glacial ice).
  • Quantify the nutrient and carbon cycles of the Weddell gyre.
  • Determine the rate of sequestration of anthropogenic carbon into the deep Weddell gyre.
  • Investigate the extent to which ventilation in, and AABW export from, the Weddell gyre have varied on interannual to decadal time scales.
Schematic of the circulation in the Weddell Sea (in black). The red arrows represent the escape route from the Weddell Sea. The white arrows are the eastern branches of the Weddell GyreSchematic of the circulation in the Weddell Sea (in black). The red arrows represent the escape route from the Weddell Sea. The white arrows are the eastern branches of the Weddell Gyre

The ANDREX team encompasses scientists from four UK institutions: the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOC), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the University of East Anglia (UEA), and the University of Manchester; one German institution: the Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Bremerhaven; and one US institution: the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Alberto Naveira Garabato is the project's Principal Investigator. ANDREX is funded by the UK's Antarctic Funding Initiative (AFI).

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Procurement price

Wed, 04 Sep, 2019

Procurement price of a commodity refers to the price at which govt. procures the commodity from producers/manufactures for maintaining the buffer stock or the public distribution system. These prices are announced by the govt. of India on the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices before the harvest season of the crop. Procurement prices are fixed generally at a level, which is somewhat higher than the level of minimum support prices but lower than the prevailing market prices.
 
 Procurement prices are announced before the sowing season. As a result, the procurement price itself become the support price at which the govt. purchased all the foodgrains offered for sale. Procurement prices also become the minimum support prices because the govt. was bound to purchase the foodgrains offered by the producers for sale.

Purposes of procurement price:

  1.  The procurement under Price Support is taken up mainly to ensure remunerative prices to the farmers for their produce which works as an incentive for achieving better  production.
  2.  Prior announcement of procurement prices along with other factors, takes into consideration the cost of various agricultural inputs and the reasonable margin for the farmers for their produce.
  3.  It also ensures effective market intervention thereby keeping the prices under check and also adding to the overall food security of the country.
  4.  It helps maintain a predetermined buffer stock of edibles for future use of the country or in case of an emergency.
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India faces higher mortality from cardiovascular diseases

Wed, 04 Sep, 2019

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels. CVD includes coronary artery diseases (CAD) such as angina and myocardial infarction (commonly known as a heart attack).
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) continues to be the leading cause of death across the world, but there are significant variations between rich and poor nations. While in high income countries, death from cancer is twice that of CVD, in low income countries, including India, death from cardiac disease was three times that of cancer.
Additionally, indoor or household air pollution has been identified as a key cause of CVD, research papers published in the Lancet, on Tuesday, have shown.
The PURE study, which was also presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, tracked over 1,62,000 individuals, aged 35-70 years, living in 21 countries across five continents, over about 9.5 years. The mortality was highest in the Low Income Countries (LIC) despite lower risk factors, and lowest in the High Income Countries (HIC).
The high mortality in poorer countries is not due to a higher burden of risk factors, but likely other factors including lower quality and less health care. The study establishes that though risk factors are lower in low income countries, factors such as access to quality health care and lack of insurance have a play, leading to the mortality.
The HIC in the study were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and United Arab Emirates. The middle-income countries (MIC) were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Columbia, Iran, Malaysia, Palestine, Philippines, Poland, Turkey and South Africa.
The LIC were Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Dr. Yusuf added that the results are likely to be applicable to other countries with similar economic and social characteristics and health care.

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ONE NATION-ONE RATION CARD SCHEME

Wed, 04 Sep, 2019

Ration card holders in Kerala and Karnataka, as well as in Rajasthan and Haryana,+will be able to buy subsidised food from ration shops in the neighbouring State from next month.
About the scheme
: will ensure all beneficiaries especially migrants can access PDS across the nation from any PDS shop of their own choice.
Benefits: no poor person is deprived of getting subsidised foodgrains under the food security scheme when they shift from one place to another+aims to remove the chance of anyone holding more than one ration card to avail benefits from different states.
Significance: will provide freedom to the beneficiaries as they will not be tied to any one PDS shop and reduce their dependence on shop owners and curtail instances of corruption
Challenges: Prone to corruption: Every state has its own rules for Public Distribution System (PDS)+If ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ is implemented, it will further boost corruption in an already corrupted PDS will increase the woes of the common man and, the middlemen and corrupt PDS shop owners will exploit them.Tamil Nadu has opposed the proposal of the Centre, saying it would result in undesirable consequences and is against federalism

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NORTH EASTERN REGIONAL AGRICULTURAL MARKETING CORPORATION LIMITED (NERAMAC)

Wed, 04 Sep, 2019

Foundation stone of North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited (NERAMAC) Marketing complex was recently laid in Guwahati, Assam.
About NERAMAC: pioneer marketing organization in the field of Agri-Horti sector of the NE region through registered FPO/FPCs+incorporated in the year 1982 as a Government of India Enterprise+registered office at Guwahati+operating under the administrative control of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER).

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How to read GDP data

Tue, 03 Sep, 2019

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) on Friday released the economic growth data for the first quarter (Q1, or April to June) of the current financial year (2019-20, or FY20). A disappointing number was widely expected, especially after the 5.8% growth in Q4 of FY19, and the wave of bad news such as falling sales of automobiles and everyday consumables — even so, the official GDP data of just 5% came as a shock to many.
Real vs Nominal Growth
At 5%, the real GDP growth rate has hit a six-year low (see Chart 1). Real GDP growth rate is a derived figure — it is arrived at by subtracting the inflation rate from the nominal GDP growth rate, that is growth rate calculated at current prices.
What is more worrying is the deceleration in the nominal GDP growth, which has been pegged at 8% for Q1. For perspective, it should be noted that the Union Budget, presented on July 5, had expected a nominal growth of 12%. The idea was that with a 12% nominal growth and 4% inflation rate, real GDP would be 8%.
At 8% nominal growth, all calculations — real GDP and tax revenues etc. — go haywire. An 8% nominal growth is unusually low; just once has nominal growth fallen to this level in both the current GDP series (with a base year of 2011-12) and the past GDP series (with the base year of 2004-05). And that was in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2009.
GVA vs GDP
There are two main ways in which the CSO estimates economic growth. One is from the supply side — that is, by mapping the value-added (in rupee terms) by the various sectors in the economy. The sectors are broadly divided into Agriculture, Industry and Services, and all workers in the economy fall into one or the other category.
There are sub-categories too — Industry, for example, has Manufacturing, Construction, Mining & Quarrying, etc. When all the value-added is totalled, we get the Gross Value Added (GVA) in the economy. In other words, GVA tracks the income generated for all the workers in the economy.
The GDP is arrived at from the demand side. It is calculated by mapping the expenditure made by different categories of spenders. Broadly speaking, there are four sources of expenditure in an economy — namely, private consumption, government consumption, business investments, and net exports (exports minus imports). Because the GDP maps final expenditure, it includes both taxes and subsidies that the government receives and gives. This component, net taxes, is the difference between GVA and GDP.
Typically, GDP is a good measure when you want to compare India with another economy, while GVA is better to compare different sectors within the economy. GVA is more important when looking at quarterly growth data, because quarterly GDP is arrived at by apportioning the observed GVA data into different spender categories.
The supply-side story
The GVA in Q1 is pegged at 4.9%. Such a low level of GVA suggests that producers are not adding enough value — in other words, their income growth is low.
As Chart 2 shows, growth in all three sectors has declined, but most of the decline is in Agriculture and Industry. Within Industry, Manufacturing has seen a spectacular collapse. Other sub-sectors of Industry such as Mining & Quarrying and Construction too, have slumped over the past five quarters.
These two sectors — Agriculture and Industry — not only employ the largest number of people, but also have the maximum potential to create new jobs. Stagnant Agriculture and Industry imply that a bulk India’s poorest and less educated workforce is either not getting jobs, or not seeing their incomes grow. And they can’t shift to the better-paying Services sector because of the deficiency in skills.
The demand-side story
The GVA weakness shows up on the demand side (Chart 3). Private consumption, which accounts for over 55% of GDP, has grown by just 3.14%. The reason why private demand has collapsed is that the bulk of India’s labour force is not earning enough to spend more.
The other big GDP component — business investments (which accounts for 32% of GDP) — has grown by just 4.04%. Businesses are not investing because they are either in the process of deleveraging (getting rid of excess loans) or stuck with unsold inventories. The only spender that has grown better than expected is the government.
What the numbers imply
Firstly, the growth trajectory suggests there is more pain ahead. According to an analysis by State Bank of India, when GDP grew by 8% in Q1 of FY19, 70% of the leading indicators such as car sales showed acceleration. In this quarter, only 35% of these indicators showed acceleration, and GDP grew by 5%. For Q2 (July to September), only 24% indicators show acceleration.
Secondly, since the release, GDP growth rate forecasts for the current year have been dialled down yet again. Most observers expected a real GDP growth rate of somewhere between 5.4% and 6.4% for Q1. Now, SBI pegs the full-year growth at 6.1%, ICICI Securities at 6.3%, and Pronab Sen, former Chief Statistician, pegs it at 5.5%. Roughly six months ago, most estimates for FY20 were around 7.5%.
Thirdly, such weak growth implies that the government’s fiscal deficit figures are likely to be breached.
Lastly, since weak growth will lead to lower tax revenues, the government is likely to struggle if it wants to push up growth by spending on its own.

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Category 5 hurricane

Tue, 03 Sep, 2019

Powerful winds are what define a hurricane, so they are named and classified based on how hard their winds are blowing. To qualify as a hurricane, a storm must have sustained winds of 74 mph or more.
All hurricanes are dangerous, but some pack more punch than others. So meteorologists try to quantify each storm’s destructive power by using the Saffir-Simpson scale, placing it in one of five categories based on sustained wind speed:
Category 1, 74 to 95 mph: These storms’ winds may knock down some trees and power lines and do a bit of damage to buildings. Dorian was in Category 1 when it blew through the Virgin Islands on Wednesday.
Category 2, 96 to 110 mph: These storms are likely to uproot many trees, disrupt electric power over wide areas and do significant roof and siding damage.
Category 3, 111 to 129 mph: These are major storms that can take roofs off even well-constructed houses and knock out electric and water systems for days or weeks. Roads will be blocked by falling trees and poles. Dorian is forecast to be at least this strong when it makes landfall.
Category 4, 130 to 156 mph: These major storms do catastrophic damage, felling most trees and power poles and wrecking some buildings. Affected areas may be uninhabitable for days or weeks afterward.
Category 5, 157 mph or more: Storms this powerful are rare, and when they strike, they are immensely destructive. Few structures will come through a direct hit unscathed, and a large percentage of frame buildings will be destroyed. Recovery may take weeks or months.
What are some recent examples of Category 3 storms?
Hurricane Katrina was in Category 3 when it slammed into the Louisiana coast on Aug. 29, 2005, devastating New Orleans and other communities. But it had weakened a bit by then; at its peak over the Gulf of Mexico, Katrina was a Category 5 monster.
Hurricane Sandy in 2012 peaked as a Category 3 storm, but by the time it came ashore to wreak havoc on the New York metropolitan region, its winds had slowed to the point that it was no longer technically a hurricane.
How about Category 4 storms?
Hurricane Maria was a Category 4 storm when it hit Puerto Rico in 2017, ultimately leading to thousands of deaths and blacking out the island for months, with effects that linger today. Tens of thousands of homes on the island still have blue tarpaulins for roofs.
Hurricane Harvey was another Category 4 storm in 2017, making its first landfall in Texas at peak strength, jogging back out into the Gulf of Mexico and then coming ashore again as Category 3.
And Category 5?
Just four Atlantic hurricanes since 1924 have been this powerful when they made landfall in the United States. The most recent, Hurricane Michael, struck the Florida Panhandle last year, causing at least 59 deaths in the United States and about $25 billion in damage.
Before Michael, the country had gone 26 years without a Category 5 landfall, since Hurricane Andrew walloped South Florida in August 1992. Andrew was one of the biggest natural disasters in American history, blamed for 61 deaths and about $50 billion in damage in today’s dollars.
Hurricane Irma, which swept through the Caribbean and Cuba before heading for Florida in 2017, peaked at Category 5 strength. But it had weakened to Category 4 when it hit the Florida Keys and then Category 3 when it reached the mainland.
Is a storm’s category all we need to know about its dangers?
Some experts say the scale is a limited way to assess a storm’s destructive potential because it focuses only on the power of its winds, and not on the surge of seawater that a storm flings ashore, or the flooding caused by its torrential rains. Most hurricane fatalities and property damage tend to be caused by those factors, and not directly by the wind.
For example, it was Katrina’s storm surge that overwhelmed New Orleans’s flood walls and levees and devastated the city. Sandy’s storm surge was responsible for the vast majority of the harm the storm did in the New York area. And when Harvey stalled over Houston, its winds were far below its peak, but its record-setting rains flooded much of the city.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the severity of storm surge will vary greatly from one place to another on a coastline, depending on tides and local conditions, so there was no simple way to factor storm surge into hurricane classification classifications.
The agency’s storm forecasts include warnings about heavy rainfall and threats of flooding, but those, too, can vary greatly from location to location. So rain potential is not an ingredient in the category system, which is meant largely to forecast wind damage.

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United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

Tue, 03 Sep, 2019

Families and communities are breaking up, losing their homes and sources of livelihoods, often from single instances of droughts, flashfloods and forest fires. These negative impacts of unpredictable and extreme climatic conditions are now recurrent, more frequent and intense in many parts of the world. Today, over a million species are on the verge of extinction, threatening global food security, largely due to habitat loss and land degradation. Three out of every 4 hectares of land have been altered from their natural states and the productivity of about 1 in every 4 hectares of land is declining. Poor land health is on the rise, and is impacting 3.2 billion people all over the world. Land degradation working in tandem with climate change and biodiversity loss may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050. 

UNCCD is reducing these impacts by promoting investment in the land to unlock opportunities for change, deliver hope and action, and help build a more sustainable path for the future.

We are especially focused on the over 1.3 billion people who rely directly on the land to survive, and suffer the most from the biophysical impacts of land degradation and drought. They can enjoy a better, healthier future if they are able to protect, manage and restore their own land. Communities that rely solely on the land should be supported to become resilient in the face of environmental, social and climatic pressures. 

Reversing land degradation and its outcomes while accelerating positive achievements for people and for ecosystems with a view to deliver on Sustainable Development Goals is the core agenda of the fourteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14). COP14 will take place on 2-13 September 2019 at the India Mart and Expo, in the Greater Noida area of New Delhi, India.

The UNCCD’s Conferences of the Parties (COP) is the place where governments agree on strategic and effective land use and sustainable land management goals to ensure nature and ecosystems thrive. COP14 will focus on the critical gaps in land management and planning, but also on practical actions to ensure the successes we are achieving, which are becoming more evident on the biophysical level, increase human well-being everywhere.

 Ministers from 196 countries, scientists and representatives of national and local governments, non-governmental organizations, city leaders, the private sector, industry experts, women, youth, journalists, faith and community groups will share their expertise, and agree on the most viable solutions. New actions will be guided by an assessment of the outcomes of the decisions they took two years ago.

Desertification, land degradation and drought are huge challenges. But investing in the land and its stewards can open up vast opportunities for the economy and environmental resilience. COP14 is aiming to help countries achieve Land Degradation Neutrality by delivering tools and resources that are fit for purpose. Tools that are built on accurate and reliable science and data, participatory processes and compromise, and benefit everyone. Countries can withstand future environmental challenges better by optimizing land management and massively scaling up sustainable practices and the restoration of degraded land. 

To stay up to date, information on and from COP14, including documentation, will be available through a conference app and social media. 

 

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What bank mergers can mean?

Mon, 02 Sep, 2019

How does consolidation help?
For years, expert committees starting from the M Narasimham Committee have recommended that India should have fewer but bigger and better-managed banks to ensure optimal use of capital, efficiency of operations, wider reach and greater profitability.
The logic is that rather than having several of its own banks competing for the same pie (in terms of deposits or loans) in the same narrow geographies, leading to each one incurring costs, it would make sense to have large-sized banks. This may be true especially in India’s bigger cities and towns. It has also been argued that such an entity will then be able to respond better to emerging market trends or shifts and compete more with private banks.
The Finance Minister has said that the proposed big banks would be able to compete globally and improve their operational efficiency once they lower their cost of lending and improve lending. But none of India’s banks including the largest, SBI, figures in the list of the top 50 global banks. So that may be a long way away.
How does it help the government?
For over decades starting from 1992, the government as the biggest shareholder of over 25 banks had to provide capital for them. To grow and lend more, the banks often need a higher amount of capital to set aside also for loans that could go bad. With the government not willing to lower its equity holdings and
with a large slice of the capital being set aside to cover for bad loans, which have swelled over the last few years, the burden of infusing capital rests on the majority shareholder.
This means marking a large amount of money almost every year during the last few years in the Budget for many banks at a time when there is a huge demand for funds for education, health and other programmes.
By reducing the number of banks to a manageable count, the government must be hoping that the demands for such capital infusion will be lower progressively with increased efficiencies and with more well capitalised banks. It will also help that the government can focus now on fewer banks than in the past.
On what rationale were the banks for the new mergers chosen?
The Finance Minister has said the government chose these banks on the basis of ensuring that there is no disruption in banking services and that these banks benefited from higher current and savings accounts (CASA) and greater reach.
In the past, the government and the RBI had discussed potential mergers taking into account banks that operated in a particular geographical region or had strengths in such regions. During Raghuram Rajan’s tenure as RBI Governor, one proposal discussed was to merge all PSU banks headquartered in the East which were inherently weak.
In the currently proposed mergers, this argument may apply mainly to the Bengalaru-based Canara Bank and Syndicate Bank. In the PNB-led merger, Oriental Bank is also a Delhi-based lender, while the strengths of midsized banks such as Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank in the South may complement Union Bank that has a stronger presence in the West and elsewhere.
For Indian Bank, a conservative bank and one of the few to have reported profits earlier when many other banks were hurting, the high CASA of Allahabad Bank is bound to help. That will imply cheaper source of funds.
What are the potential downsides of such a merger?
Smooth integration of operations always poses a risk, especially with the prospect of resistance from staff and unions in the entities being merged. There are issues like cultural fit, redeployment of staff, and fewer career opportunities for many in a merged entity. Another concern could be deterioration of services and disruption in the near term as the merger process gets under way.
It could also reflect in fewer options for customers; an easing of the personal touch which many of the midsize and smaller banks have. The swelling of combined bad loans with some of these mergers is also an issue.
Yet another worry is the possible creation of what is known as systematically important institutions, or those too big to fail, leading to the prospect of bailouts in the future, which could hurt the government
and financial stability. But a bigger challenge will be in ensuring that there is no disruption in activity, especially lending, because of the proposed mergers at a time when banks have been loath to lend. Whether this will lead to a further slowdown in lending for a while is another concern.
What do these mergers signal for the Reserve Bank of India?
The RBI keeps monitoring large institutions whose potential failure can impact other institutions or banks and the financial sector, and which could have a contagion effect and erode confidence in other banks.
A case in point is the recent instance of IL&FS Group, which defaulted on repayments hitting many lenders and investors. The creation of more large-sized banks will mean the RBI will have to improve its supervisory and monitoring processes to address increased risks.
What has the global experience on bank mergers been?
It seems mixed with some studies indicating that only 50 per cent have succeeded. Integration and cultural fit have been issues.
Can consolidation alone make a difference to the state of Indian banks?
No. Governance of these banks has been an major issue, which has dragged down many. The government has spelt out some measures to address that while indicating that more steps could be in the offing.
Former RBI Governor Y V Reddy, in his D T Lakdawala memorial lecture, had said the idea that consolidation of banks will solve the problem of public sector banks is not correct. According to him, if the problem is structural and of governance, it does not matter whether the banks are large or small.

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India facing prolonged slowdown

Mon, 02 Sep, 2019

 The state of the economy today is deeply worrying. The last quarter’s GDP growth rate of 5% signals that we are in the midst of a prolonged slowdown. India has the potential to grow at a much faster rate but all-round mismanagement by the Modi government has resulted in this slow down.
 It is particularly distressing that the manufacturing sector’s growth is tottering at 0.6%. This makes it very clear that our economy has not yet recovered from the man-made blunders of demonetisation and a hastily implemented GST.
 Domestic demand is depressed and consumption growth is at an 18-month low. Nominal GDP growth is at a 15 year low. There is a gaping hole in tax revenues. Tax buoyancy remains elusive as businessmen, small and big, are hounded and tax terrorism continues unabated. Investor sentiments are in doldrums. These are not the foundations for economic recovery.
 The Modi government’s policies are resulting in massive job-less growth. More than 3.5 lakh jobs have been lost in the automobile sector alone. There will similarly be large scale job losses in the informal sector, hurting our most vulnerable workers.
 Rural India is in terrible shape. Farmers are not receiving adequate prices and rural incomes have declined. The low inflation rate that the Modi government likes to showcase comes at the cost of our farmers and their incomes, by inflicting misery on over 50 per cent of India’s population.
 Institutions are under attack and their autonomy is being eroded. The resilience of the RBI will be tested after its record transfer of Rs. 1.76 lakh crores to the government, which claims that it does not have a plan on what it will do with this windfall.
 In addition, the credibility of India’s data has come under question under this government. Budget announcements and rollbacks have shaken the confidence of international investors. India has not been able to increase its exports to take advantage of opportunities that have arisen in global trade due to geopolitical realignments. Such is the state of economic management under the Modi government.
 Our youth, farmers and farm workers, entrepreneurs and the marginalised sections deserve better. India cannot afford to continue down this path. Therefore, I urge the government to put aside vendetta politics, and reach out to all sane voices and thinking minds, to steer our economy out of this man-made crisis

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The historic coastal town of Mamallapuram

Mon, 02 Sep, 2019

Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is a historic city and UNESCO World Heritage site in Tamil Nadu, India. During the reign of the Pallava dynasty, between the 3rd century CE and 7th century CE, it became an important centre of art, architecture and literature. Mahabalipuram was already a thriving sea port on the Bay of Bengal before this time. A significant amount of coins and other artefacts excavated from this region also indicate a pre-existing trade relation with the Romans even before it became a part of the Pallava Empire.

Early History

Mahabalipuram’s early history is completely shrouded in mystery. Ancient mariners considered this place the land of the Seven Pagodas. There are others who think that Mahabalipuram suffered from a great flood between 10,000 and 13,000 BCE. Controversial historian Graham Hancock was one of the core members of a team of divers from Indian National Institute of Oceanography and the Scientific Exploration Society based in Dorset, UK who surveyed the ocean bed near Mahabalipuram in 2002 CE. He is more inclined to believe the flood theory. His exploration also afforded him a fair glimpse of the vast extent of submerged ruins of the city. After his underwater exploration, he reportedly commented, “I have argued for many years that the world’s flood myths deserve to be taken seriously, a view that most Western academics reject … But here in Mahabalipuram, we have proved the myths right and the academics wrong.” 

Many opinions exist about the origin of the name of the site too. The most popular explanation is that the place is named after benevolent King Bali, also known as Mahabali. The ancient Indian text of Vishnu Puran documents his exploits. After sacrificing himself to Vaman, an incarnation of Vishnu, he attained liberation. “Puram” is a Sanskrit term for a city or urban dwelling. Mamallapuram is the Prakrit version of the original Sanskrit name.

During the rule of Mahendravarman I (600 CE – 630 CE), Mahablipuram started to flourish as a centre of art and culture. He himself was a well known poet, playwright and orator. His patronage helped the creation of a number of the city’s most iconic landmarks. This period of artistic excellence was duly continued by his son Narasimhavarman I (630 CE – 680 CE) and subsequent Pallava kings

 

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Evolution of antibiotic resistance in E. coli

Sun, 01 Sep, 2019

It is well known that low concentrations of antibiotics can cause resistance to evolve among bacteria. Now, a group of researchers from IISER Pune has taken this further to explore how exactly this happens. They have studied how resistance to the antibiotic rifampicin evolves in E. coli under two conditions — when the antibiotic is present in low or high concentrations, and when there is steady or pulsed supply of antibiotics.
Bacteria develop drug resistance both when they are within the body and outside. The fact that antibiotics are unevenly distributed within the body or intake of drugs could be stopped midway can lead to evolution of drug resistance. Similarly, low doses of such drugs available intermittently in the environment can also cause drug resistance to evolve in the bacteria.
According to a study published in the journal Genetics, the process of evolution of drug resistance appears to be rapid. “We found that E. coli can evolve resistance to rifampicin within a few generations of drug exposure. That’s less than half a day,” says Nishad Matange from the Biology department of IISER, Pune, who studied emergence of resistance under laboratory conditions.
A characteristic of some drug-resistant strains of bacteria is that they do not live in isolation but get connected to each other, forming biofilms. Using genetics and biochemistry, the researchers found that when under exposure to low concentrations of rifampicin, the E. coli tend to form biofilms.
This did not happen when they were exposed to high concentrations of antibiotic. “This is pretty dangerous since biofilms by themselves are a major challenge for hospitals and clinicians,” says Dr Matange.
Many genetic changes in the E.coli descendents were observed when the bacteria were exposed to low concentration of the antibiotic rifampicin. In order to understand the relevant genetic mutations that helped the bacteria form biofilms, the researchers engineered the individual mutations into the parent bacteria and studied which particular mutation was responsible for resistance against rifampicin.
They found that biolfilm formation was mediated by the activation of particular gene called the fim operon promoter. Activation of the gene allowed the expression of a type of fimbriae — thread-like structures that help a bacterium attach itself to another bacterium. These are important in the formation of biofilms.
Though the researchers have specifically studied how E. coli evolve resistance against rifampicin, the results may be extrapolated to Gram-negative bacteria in general. This will be useful in studying drug resistance in other Gram-negative bacteria such as Klebsiella and Salmonella which cause hazardous infections.

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How Southern Ocean could control global climate

Sun, 01 Sep, 2019

Scientists have made a new discovery challenging the previous understanding of the link between the Southern Ocean — next to Antarctica — and the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The study published in the journal Science Advances shows that, contrary to existing assumptions, biological processes far out at sea are the most important factors determining how the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is absorbed in the surface oceans and stored in the deep seas, gradually, over a timescale of 100s to 1,000s years.
The Southern Ocean plays a critical role in how the carbon dioxide is taken out of the atmosphere, and knowing how it functions helps scientists understand this mechanism’s role during dramatic climate transitions in the past, such as the ice ages, and better predict the current and future climate change.
Whether carbon is released into the atmosphere or trapped in the deep ocean, is crucially determined by the transformation of the water from light to dense which is inturn caused by cooling at the ocean’s surface, the study says.
So researchers from the University of Southampton with British Antarctic Survey, University of East Anglia and the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, studied the ocean circulation and carbon concentration of the Weddell Gyre — a region lying east of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The team studied data collected as part of the ANDREX project (Antarctic Deep water Rates of Export) which measured the physical, biological, and chemical properties of the waters in the gyre between 2008 and 2010.
The data considered in this study showed unambiguously that, in the Weddell Gyre, the dominant process enabling the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and its removal to the deep ocean included the role of phytoplanktons.
The researchers reasoned that as phytoplankton in the centre of the gyre grow and sink, they remove carbon from the surface of the ocean, causing an uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - a process known as the ‘biological carbon pump’.
From this, the team showed that the dominant factor driving the uptake of carbon from the atmosphere to the ocean was not related to dense water formation in the shallow seas close to Antarctica, but rather to biological processes further out in the sea.
“The results carry implications for our understanding of how the high-latitude Southern Ocean, close to the Antarctic continent, influences atmospheric carbon and global climate on 100 to 1000-year timescales, said Graeme MacGilchrist, who led the study for the University of Southampton.

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Monsoon deficit reduced to near zero

Sun, 01 Sep, 2019

In spite of heavy rains in August, which reduced the 2019 monsoon deficit to nearly zero, meteorologists say that India is unlikely to end the monsoon with surplus rain.
As of August 31, India received 300 mm of rain, 16% more than the 258 mm that’s typical for the month. Between June 1 and August 31, India got 709 mm of rainfall, a millimetre shy of the 710 mm that's normal for that period.
A surge of low pressure disturbances in the Bay of Bengal in July and August was responsible for the active monsoon.
However, monsoon has begun to ebb from August 18 and will continue so until early September, according to Madhavan Rajeevan, Secretary, Union earth sciences ministry. “A low-pressure system is likely to form around September 2. Overall, it looks like India will end up with normal monsoon rain.
The above average monsoon activity was due to “increased activity” in the Indian Ocean. “The El Nino activity had subsided however we were also seeing an above normal activity in the Indian Ocean. Unlike the Pacific Ocean, the impact of the Indian Ocean isn't as well understood,” Mr. Rajeevan noted.
India gets about 17-18 cm of rainfall in September and they are unlikely to be above average because of a slight resurgence of El Nino-like conditions.
Warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures are likely over some parts of central Pacific Ocean during August-November. This warming is likely to weaken in further seasons,” the IMD’s El Nino outlook of August warns.

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12TH INDIA SECURITY SUMMIT

Sat, 31 Aug, 2019

 

The 12th India Security Summit on the theme “Towards New National Cyber Security Strategy” was held here today. During the conference, many issues were discussed such as protection of critical national infrastructure, emerging cyber threats: incidents, challenges and response.

 Addressing the gathering, Dr Jitendra Singh said that Indian society has gone through rapid evolution as far as technology, special communication technology is concerned. He said that ‘digital culture’ is being transferred from generation to generations. He said that every technology has a utility; similarly cyber technology is a big boom nowadays. But besides being a boon the same technology has become one of the greatest threat, he added. He also mentioned about the cyber threat in the wake of national security.

 The Minister said that the concept of security has itself undergone change in the last few decades. It has assumed proportions; external as well as internal. The Minister said that it is important to understand that terrorism is terrorism and there cannot be a distinction based on caste, creed and religion. He added that we need to set the priorities. The Minister expressed hope that threat of cyber security will be overcome soon and we will find ways to deal with the cyber threat.

 The Minister of State for Home Affairs Shri G. Kishan Reddy said that we live in a digital world. He said that security is one of the challenging areas that all of us have to think upon. As we are adopting different technologies, we are also facing different challenges particularly on cyber security. Cyber security is the need of the hour for cyber safe society, the Minister said. Shri Reddy said that new tools and technologies must be developed at faster rate for cyber security.

 Shri G Kishan Reddy said that cyber space is becoming new battle field. He further said world over, successful attack has caused significant financial loss and other problems. He said that cyber security is crucial for digital Governance and its broad ecosystem. The MoS (Home) said that the Government has taken various measures to counter cyber threats. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has rolled out a scheme ‘Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C)’ to combat cyber crime in the country, in a coordinated and effective manner. He also mentioned about the “Cyber Swachhta Kendra” which is a part of the Government of India's Digital India initiative under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

 He called for generating more awareness through seminars and advisories. He said that cyber security is the collective responsibility of all of us and invited suggestions from the stakeholders to counter the cyber threat.

 The DG, NIC, Ms Neeta Verma said that India is the third largest user of internet and the cyber crime has increased manifold in the recent years. She said that various steps are taken by the Government to provide cyber security. She emphasized on the efforts by all stakeholders to supplement the efforts of the Government. She said that this is not one time task but an ongoing and joint responsibility of all of us.

 

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GLOBAL PLAN TO PROTECT BIODIVERSITY BEGIN IN NAIROBI

Sat, 31 Aug, 2019

Government officials, experts and activists from at least 100 countries began talks in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 27, 2019, to move towards a new global framework on biodiversity, post-2020.

The 196 Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity are expected to adopt the new framework during their 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15), scheduled for October 2020 in Kunming, China. The Nairobi meet is the first step in that direction.

The ‘global framework’ represents the global plan to halt the alarming trends in the state of nature. This has been outlined in various recent reports including the IPBES Global Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Reports and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report titled Biodiversity: Finance and the Economic and Business Case for Action among others.

The framework aims to set the world on the path towards living in harmony with nature by 2050, according to the website of the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

It takes a holistic approach to the multiple environmental crises facing the earth. The framework builds on the UN Convention’s current Strategic Plan on Biodiversity (2011-2020), agreed in 2010, according to the website.

“Between 1997 and 2011, the world lost an estimated $4-20 trillion per year in ecosystem services owing to land-cover change and $6-11 trillion per year from land degradation,” Cristiana Paşca Palmer, executive secretary, CBD, was quoted as saying in a press statement.

This had disproportionately affected the marginalised communities who depended directly on nature for their livelihoods and ways of life — even as it affected the entire global community, she added.

“There is no time to waste and that the costs of inaction only keep rising,” she said.

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Cryosphere

Fri, 30 Aug, 2019

  1. There are places on Earth that are so cold that water is frozen solid.
  2. These areas of snow or ice, which are subject to temperatures below 32°F for at least part of the year, compose the cryosphere.
  3. The term “cryosphere” comes from the Greek word, “krios,” which means cold.
  4. Ice and snow on land are one part of the cryosphere. This includes the largest parts of the cryosphere, the continental ice sheets found in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as ice caps, glaciers, and areas of snow and permafrost. When continental ice flows out from land and to the sea surface, we get shelf ice.
  5. The other part of the cryosphere is ice that is found in water. This includes frozen parts of the ocean, such as waters surrounding Antarctica and the Arctic. It also includes frozen rivers and lakes, which mainly occur in polar areas.
  6. The components of the cryosphere play an important role in the Earth’s climate. Snow and ice reflect heat from the sun, helping to regulate our planet’s temperature. Because polar regions are some of the most sensitive to climate shifts, the cryosphere may be one of the first places where scientists are able to identify global changes in climate.
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Fri, 30 Aug, 2019

It is the largest animal rights organization in the world.

  • PETA focuses its attention on the four areas:
  1. animals in the food industry
  2. animals in the clothing trade
  3. animals in laboratories, and
  4. animals in the entertainment industry.
  • PETA also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of rodents, birds, and other animals who are often considered “pests” as well as cruelty to domesticated animals.
  • PETA works through public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.
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Star tortoise, otters get higher protection at CITES

Thu, 29 Aug, 2019

India’s proposal to upgrade the protection of star tortoises (Geochelone elegans), the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) and small-clawed otters (Anoyx cinereus) in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species on Wild Fauna and Flora) have been approved.
These species have been listed under Appendix I of CITES and will now enjoy the highest degree of protection as there will be a complete international ban enforced on their trade. The upgradation was approved at the Conference of the Parties (COP18) held at Geneva.
Appendix I of CITES lists species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants. “They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, for instance for scientific research,” the CITES website states.
‘It’s very encouraging to see that India’s proposals received overwhelming support from other parties as well and got approved,” Saket Badola, head of TRAFFIC India told The Hindu. TRAFFIC is an international wildlife trade monitoring network.
Agni Mitra, deputy director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Eastern Region, said that 90% of trade of star tortoises occurs as part of the international pet market.
The species is categorized as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union of Conservation of Nature and a decline greater than 30% was predicted by 2025 if the exploitation continued or expanded.

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Ind-Ra cuts GDP growth forecast in FY20 to 6.7%

Thu, 29 Aug, 2019

India Ratings and Research has revised downwards its projection of the country’s GDP growth in financial year 2019-20 to 6.7%, a six-year low, from its earlier forecast of 7.3%.
“The agency expects FY20 to be the third consecutive year of subdued growth pushed by (i) a slowdown in consumption demand; (ii) delayed and uneven progress of monsoon so far; (iii) decline in manufacturing growth; (iv) inability of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code to resolve cases in a time-bound manner, and (v) rising global trade tension adversely impacting exports.
The agency expects growth in the first quarter of the current financial year to decline for the fifth consecutive quarter to 5.7%.
On August 23, 2019, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a slew of measures to revive the economy, which included addressing some of the woes facing auto sector, MSME, banking sector, capital market, etc.,” the report said. “However, these measures are likely to support growth only in the medium term, but the agency expects GDP growth to recover to 7.4% in the second half of FY20, mainly on account of the base effect.”

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Common code of conduct proposed for legislative bodies

Thu, 29 Aug, 2019

A common code of conduct will be framed for legislative bodies to check interruptions and for this a committee of presiding officers will be formed, which, after due consultations with Speakers of Legislative Assemblies and the Chairmen of Legislative Councils, will present its report later this year.
He released this statement after presiding over the meetings of the executive committee of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) India Region and Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies in India held in Parliament House Annexe earlier in the day.
The Speaker added that the presiding officers were of the unanimous view that Parliament and State Legislatures, the representative institutions, are accountable to the people and matters concerning different regions need to be constructively discussed and debated in the House.
There was a consensus among the presiding officers to increase the number of sittings of the State Legislatures and also to increase the productivity of legislative work. It was also felt that there is a need to have extensive and healthy debates in the Legislatures for passing the laws and the House needs to function without any interruptions.

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FDI rules in retail

Thu, 29 Aug, 2019

The Union Cabinet announced a number of decisions designed to attract increased foreign direct investment into the country, including easing local sourcing norms for single-brand retail companies.
Currently, the FDI policy says that a single-brand retail company with more than 51% FDI needs to source 30% of its goods from within India. The new decision says that this 30% can be calculated over the first five years of operation.
Further, sourcing for exports will also count towards the local sourcing requirement. With a view to provide greater flexibility and ease of operations to SBRT (single brand retail trade) entities, it has been decided that all procurements made from India by the SBRT entity for that single brand shall be counted towards local sourcing, irrespective of whether the goods procured are sold in India or exported.
The current FDI policy provides for 100% FDI under the automatic route in the manufacturing sector. There was no specific provision for contract manufacturing in the policy. It has now decided to allow 100% FDI under the automatic route in contract manufacturing in India as well. The government has also updated the FDI policy in keeping with prevalent business practices in India.
The existing policy says that incremental sourcing for global operations by non-resident single brand retail trading, either directly or through group companies, will also be counted towards the local sourcing requirement for the first five years.
However, prevalent business models involve not only sourcing from India for global operations by the entity or its group companies, but also through an unrelated third party, done at the behest of the entity undertaking single brand retail trading or its group companies.
In order to cover such business practices, it has been decided that ‘sourcing of goods from India for global operations’ can be done directly by the entity undertaking SBRT or its group companies (resident or non-resident), or indirectly by them through a third party under a legally tenable agreement.
Another change the Cabinet has approved is that single-brand retail companies can now start selling online before setting up a brick and mortar store as long as they set one up within two years of starting online sales. Earlier, they had to set up a brick and mortar store before selling online.
Online sales will lead to creation of jobs in logistics, digital payments, customer care, training and product skilling. Apart from single brand retail, the Cabinet also approved some changes to the FDI rules for digital media and coal mining.
It has decided to permit 26% FDI, with government approval, for uploading and streaming news and current affairs using digital media, on the lines of print media.
It has been decided to permit 100% FDI under automatic route for sale of coal, for coal mining activities including associated processing infrastructure subject to provisions of Coal Mines (special provisions) Act, 2015 and the Mines and Minerals (development and regulation) Act, 1957 as amended from time to time, and other relevant acts on the subject.

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Barak Valley

Wed, 28 Aug, 2019

The Barak Valley region, which forms the southern part of the state of Assam, is comparatively smaller in size. Historically, a large part of the valley was included in the Cachari Kingdom. The Cachari Kingdom was taken over by the British after the assassination of the last Dimasa (Cachari) King Govinda Chandra Narayan on the 24th day of April, 1830, the last Kingdom to be taken over by the British in India. The district of Cachar was created by the British rulers in 14th August, 95 1832. Throughout the British period, the economy of Barak Valley was a periphery to the economic mainstream of Bengal. Cachar was separated from Bengal and tagged with Assam (along with Sylhet) in 1874 by the then British Government. After achieving independence on 15th August 1947 a part of Sylhet district i.e. three and half thanas namely Karimganj, Patharkandi, Ratabari and Badarpur were transferred to Cachar in the form of Karimganj sub-division. At that time Cachar district had four sub-divisions namely Silchar, Hailakandi, Karimganj and North Cachar Hills. The North Cachar Hills sub-division was separated from Cachar in 1950 and placed as a sub-division in the district of United Mikir and North Cachar Hills. Subsequently, it was constituted into the district of North Cachar Hills (present Dima Hasao district). The sub-division of Karimganj was upgraded to a district on 1st July, 1983 and later on Hailakandi sub-division was also upgraded to a district on 1st October, 1989. At present Barak Valley region is comprised of three districts namely Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi. Of the three districts, Cachar is the largest with a total geographical area of 3786 sq. km., Hailakandi is the smallest with a total geographical area of 1327 and the total geographical area of Karimganj district is 1809 sq. km. as per 2011 96 census. The district headquarters of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi are Silchar, Karimganj and Hailakandi respectively. The principal river of the region is ‘Barak’ rising from the Angami Naga Hill of Manipur and reaching the plain near Jirighat. The Barak River that flows through a course of 192 km. in the region receives a number of tributaries. The other principal rivers of the valley are: Sonai, Daleshwari, Katakhal, Longai, Singla and Kakra. Most of these rivers are dried up during winter season and due to huge deposits of silt, the drainage capacity become ineffective and as a result, most of these rivers remain unavailable even in the rainy season. As such, in summer season all these rivers generally rise up in soaring epidemic causing high flood and visiting every year in the valley (Bezbaruah 1997). 3.1.2 Geographical Feature The Barak Valley region is situated between Longitude 92° 15´ and 93° 15´ East and Latitude 24° 8´ and 25° 8´ north covering an area of 6922 sq km. The valley constitutes 8.9 percent of the geographical area of the state but it contains 11.59 percent of the population as per 2011 census. The region shares its border with North Cachar Hills District (present Dima Hasao district) and the state of Meghalaya in the north; the state of Manipur in the east; the state of Mizoram in the south 97 and the state of Tripura and the Sylhet district of Bangladesh in the west (Roy 2009). The district of Cachar accounts for 54.7 percent of the total area of the valley and the share of Karimganj and Hailakandi district in the total area of the valley are 26.1 per cent and 19.2 percent respectively. The two major rivers Barak and Kushiara along with nineteen other tributaries and rivulets flow through the valley. 3.1.3 Topography The region has an undulating topography characterized by hills, hillocks (locally known as tillah), wide plains and low lying waterlogged areas (locally known as beels). The region is flanked by southern belt Borail range with an average width of six or seven miles containing peaks between three and six thousand feet in height; on the eastern frontier laid the Bhuban range, a continuation of the Lusai hills. The hill divisions consisting mainly of the Borail range from Jaintia hills to a point marginal to west of Asalurange formed a continuous wall of hills gradually increasing in height towards the east. Most of these hills are rugged and precipitous into which innumerable rivers cut deep gorges as they descended upon the plains. The mountainous character of the region renders inter-communication extremely difficult (Bhattacharjee 1977). The region’s plain areas can be topographically divided into four classes namely, (i) undulating plains, (ii) broad 98 meander plains, (iii) flood plains and (iv) low lying areas. The undulating plain areas scattered across the region and mixed with low hills and meander plains. The broad meander plains mainly occur on the north of Barak River in large patches mixed with low hills and piedmonts. The flood plain areas mainly cover the banks of the Barak River while the low lying areas consist of natural depressions and waterlogged areas. These are scattered in all the three districts and occur mainly on the south of Barak River. 3.1.4 Climate Condition Droughts and floods are the adverse climate conditions arising out of deficit and excess rainfall respectively. However, the climate condition of the Barak Valley region is subtropical, warm and experiences heavy rainfall and humidity. Winter lasts from late October to late February. Nights and early mornings are generally found foggy and during that period the rain remains scanty. While during this season the temperature generally varies from 10 degree to 25 degree Celsius (Roy 2009). However summer starts from the mid of the April, which is accompanied by high humidity and heavy rainfall followed by frequent thunderstorms. During the summer months the maximum temperature generally varies from 25 degree to 40 degree Celsius.

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Peacock Parachute Spider or Gooty Tarantula

Wed, 28 Aug, 2019

In an interesting find, researchers have sighted a critically endangered species of tarantula for the first time beyond its known habitat in the Eastern Ghats.
The spider belonging to the genus Poecilotheria, commonly known as the Peacock Parachute Spider or Gooty Tarantula was spotted by a team of researchers of the Puducherry-based Indigenous Biodiversity Foundation (IBF) in the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee in Villupuram district.
The team of wildlife researchers was involved in field work in the reserve forests recently when they sighted a Gooty Tarantula (Poecilotheria metallica) resting in a cave.
The species, known to be endemic to India, was found at different locations in the reserve forests. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorised it as Critically Endangered.
According to K. Raman, founder of IBF, “The spider was sighted way back in 1899 by Reginald Innes Pocock on the basis of a single female specimen in Gooty.
About 102 years later this species has been recorded at degraded forest between Nandyal and Giddalur in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh.” IUCN says on its website that it could not be said to occur naturally in Gooty, since it could have come from the Eastern Ghats at least 100 km away.
Species of this genus can be identified based on the banding patterns on the underside of the legs. Tarantulas are biological pest controllers and there is a huge demand for them by collectors in the pet trade. There is an urgent need to protect them.

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Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU)

Tue, 27 Aug, 2019

As the economy begins to suffer from the U.S.-China trade war, it is imperative for India to pursue a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU). Last month, negotiators from both sides met in Brussels, for more talks about talks, but time is now running out for New Delhi.

Moving beyond the U.S. and China, this is the right time for India to engage the EU as an indispensable democratic partner to craft a favourable geo-economic order. A series of economic and geo-strategic factors make the need for an economic deal with the EU more urgent.

First, India risks being left behind amidst a collapsing global trade architecture, rising protectionism and a new emphasis on bilateral FTAs. India is the only major power lacking an FTA with any of its top trade partners, including the EU, the U.S., China and Gulf economies. This situation is not tenable as most trade is now driven either by FTAs or global value chains.

The EU’s revived focus on FTAs could only exacerbate this risk for India. In June, Brussels concluded a trade deal with Vietnam and a historic FTA with the Mercorsur countries in South America. India, in the meantime, is hanging on to its Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. Its status under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) will face rising competition from Pakistan or Sri Lanka, who enjoy GSP+ benefits.

Stuck in a ‘grey zone

Stuck in a ‘grey zone’, without preferential FTA tariffs or GSP+ status, India will struggle to keep exports competitive for Europe, its largest trade partner where 20% of its exports land up.

The good news here is that India’s talks with the EU have been advancing slowly but steadily. From agriculture to intellectual property, the EU and India have quietly been exchanging and aligning views. New areas like e-commerce have registered significant convergence because India’s position on data privacy is not that different from the EU’s. As with the EU-Japan deal, India may wish to proceed at two speeds: it could delay discussions about free flow of data for a few years and freeze differences on the tax moratorium issue or data localisation, even while committing to liberalise in other areas.

Second, beyond mere economic cost-benefit analysis, India must also approach an EU FTA from a geo-strategic perspective. With Mr. Trump’s hostile spotlight focussing on India, and lingering concerns about the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, New Delhi must realise the long-term strategic benefits of a trade deal with Europe.

Democratic regulations

EU negotiators are now more willing to make concessions on labour or environmental regulations, which used to be insurmountable obstacles. The collapse of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and concerns about excessive economic reliance on China have propelled the EU to become a little more pragmatic, which New Delhi should leverage before it’s too late.

The EU also offers India a unique regulatory model that balances growth, privacy and standards. India’s governance framework shares the European norms of democratic transparency and multi-stakeholder participation on a variety of new technological domains, from regulating artificial intelligence to 5G networks. New Delhi must see this as a strategic premium that is not accounted for in a strict cost-benefit economic analysis.

When New Delhi speaks of Europe as a strategic partner to uphold a multipolar order, it must go beyond security and begin with the business of trade and technology.

 

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Giving wings to better air connectivity

Tue, 27 Aug, 2019

Civil aviation is a Central subject and one that barely got significant attention from the States until recently. It is evident from the fact that very few States in India have active civil aviation departments. This is also due to the reason that States have had a passive role, invariably, having had to look up to the Central government for the development of airports and enhancing air connectivity. However, in the last four years, the situation has changed considerably.

The cooperation of States is seen as a major factor in the growth of the civil aviation sector. The Regional Connectivity Scheme, UdeDeshkaAamNaagrik (UDAN), has become a game changer as this flagship programme has a built-in mechanism to develop stakes of State governments in the growth of the sector.

Key policy interventions

Thirty States and Union Territories have already signed memoranda of understanding with the Central government. The policies of States and Centre are now being interlinked to make flying accessible and affordable. Governments are poised for the growth as they have the potential to strengthen their partnership under the cooperative federalism framework to provide the required impetus to the sector. Here are some policy intervention suggestions to jump-start the aviation market.

For any airline in India, the cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) forms about 40% of the total operational cost. Keeping petroleum products out of the purview of Goods and Services Tax (GST) may be a policy imperative for the State governments but this is a step that adversely impacts the expansion of air services to the States. States have very high rates of value-added tax (VAT) on ATF — sometimes as high as 25% — which has dampened the growth trajectory of civil aviation. ATF is a small component of overall petroleum products and deserves to be treated separately.

The airline industry is capital-intensive and works on very thin profit margins. Therefore, relief on ATF is a major incentive for airlines to augment their operations. For States, it would be a notional revenue loss which can be offset by enhanced economic activities as a result of increased air connectivity to the region. An International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) study has shown that the output multiplier and employment multiplier of civil aviation are 3.25 and 6.10, respectively. Empirically, this has been proved in many airports within India where the connectivity has changed the economic landscape in a positive way.

Pending the decision on ATF at the GST Council where States are the major stakeholders, UDAN has motivated State governments to reduce the VAT on ATF to 1% for the flights that are operated under this scheme. Airports such as Jharsuguda (Odisha) and Kolhapur (Maharashtra) have successfully attracted airlines to connect these hitherto unconnected regions. Reducing VAT on ATF is the biggest lever States can operate, which will enable them in being an equal partner in steering sector policy.

Airport development

The second area is in the development and management of airports. There are many regional airports which can be developed by States on their own or in collaboration with the Airports Authority of India (AAI). In this, there have been different models of public-private-partnership which can be leveraged to develop infrastructures. Land involves huge capital and is a scarce resource. Innovative models can be explored to create viable ‘no-frill airports’. These functional airports can open up regions and change the way people travel. India had about 70 airports since Independence until recently. Under UDAN, the Union government, with the help of the States, has operationalised 24 unserved airports over the past two years; 100 more are to be developed in the next five years, which can only be achieved through the active collaboration between willing States and the Centre.

Linking the hinterland

Third, States and the Central government can play a crucial role in supporting airlines to develop air services in the remote regions. To reduce operational cost of airlines and airport operators, incentives from State governments have been sought: some in the form of financial support such as VAT reduction; sharing of viability gap funding with airlines, and non-financial incentives such as providing security and fire services free of cost to airport operators. Similarly, under the scheme, the Union government has declared concessions on excise duty on ATF and made budgetary allocations for airport development. This unique scheme has been successful in encouraging airlines to operate on regional unconnected routes instead of trunk routes. Market appetite and aspirations of remote areas can match the plans of airlines where States play a catalytic role. Under UDAN, some success stories have motivated States to announce innovative approaches and policies in support of airlines.

However, to attract airlines from regional to remote connectivity, further interventions are necessary. Considering the infrastructural constraints and difficult terrain, small aircraft operators need to be encouraged. Many a time, policy reluctance is observed considering the financial non-viability of the models to connect remote areas using smaller aircraft and helicopters. But air connectivity to these difficult regions is indispensable. Areas which cannot be connected meaningfully by road or rail have to be linked by air. No doubt, they will be cost-effective if the economic analysis is factored-in. For example, travel from Dehradun to Pithoragarh (both in Uttarakhand) by road takes 16 hours and communication is almost cut-off in the rainy season. Air connectivity would not only bring down travel time but also be a boon in emergencies. This is also true for northeast India, the islands and also hilly States.

Convergence is an element in governance which is often overlooked due to a compartmentalisation in implementation. States may converge their relevant schemes relating to tourism, health, and insurance for supporting air connectivity to supplement the objectives of regional connectivity.

Currently the penetration of the aviation market in India stands at 7%. There is potential to be among the global top three nations in terms of domestic and international passenger traffic. For this States need to create a conducive business environment to facilitate the strong aspirations of a burgeoning Indian middle class to fly at least once a year. It would boost ticket sales from the present level of eight crore domestic tickets. Developing airports, incentivising airlines and pooling resources of both the Union and State governments can accelerate the harmonised growth of the Indian civil aviation sector which would be equitable and inclusive

 

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Vector-borne diseases

Tue, 27 Aug, 2019

  1. Vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than 700 000 deaths annually.
  2. More than 3.9 billion people in over 128 countries are at risk of contracting dengue, with 96 million cases estimated per year.
  3. Malaria causes more than 400 000 deaths every year globally, most of them children under 5 years of age.
  4. Other diseases such as Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and schistosomiasis affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
  5. Many of these diseases are preventable through informed protective measures.

Main vectors and diseases they transmit

Vectors are living organisms that can transmit infectious diseases between humans or from animals to humans. Many of these vectors are bloodsucking insects, which ingest disease-producing microorganisms during a blood meal from an infected host (human or animal) and later inject it into a new host during their subsequent blood meal.

Mosquitoes are the best known disease vector. Others include ticks, flies, sandflies, fleas, triatomine bugs and some freshwater aquatic snails.

Mosquitoes

  • Aedes

    1. Chikungunya
    2. Dengue fever
    3. Lymphatic filariasis
    4. Rift Valley fever
    5. Yellow fever
    6. Zika
  • Anopheles

    1. Malaria
    2. Lymphatic filariasis
  • Culex

    1. Japanese encephalitis
    2. Lymphatic filariasis
    3. West Nile fever

Sandflies

  1. Leishmaniasis
  2. Sandfly fever (phelebotomus fever)

Ticks

  1. Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever
  2. Lyme disease
  3. Relapsing fever (borreliosis)
  4. Rickettsial diseases (spotted fever and Q fever)
  5. Tick-borne encephalitis
  6. Tularaemia

Triatomine bugs

  1. Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis)

Tsetse flies

  1. Sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis)

Fleas

  1. Plague (transmitted by fleas from rats to humans)
  2. Rickettsiosis

Black flies

  1. Onchocerciasis (river blindness)

Aquatic snails

  1. Schistosomiasis (bilharziasis)

Lice

  1. Typhus and louse-borne relapsing fever

Vector-borne diseases

Vector-borne diseases are human illnesses caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria that are transmitted by mosquitoes, sandflies, triatomine bugs, blackflies, ticks, tsetse flies, mites, snails and lice. Every year there are more than 700 000 deaths from diseases such as malaria, dengue, schistosomiasis, human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and onchocerciasis, globally.

The major vector-borne diseases, together, account for aeround 17% of all infectious diseases. The burden of these diseases is highest in tropical and subtropical areas and they disproportionately affect the poorest populations. Since 2014, major outbreaks of dengue, malaria, chikungunya yellow fever and Zika have afflicted populations, claimed lives and overwhelmed health systems in many countries.

Distribution of vector-borne diseases is determined by complex demographic, environmental and social factors. Global travel and trade, unplanned urbanization and environmental challenges such as climate change can impact on pathogen transmission, making transmission season longer or more intense or causing diseases to emerge in countries where they were previously unknown.

Changes in agricultural practices due to variation in temperature and rainfall can affect the transmission of vector-borne diseases. The growth of urban slums, lacking reliable piped water or adequate solid waste management, can render large populations in towns and cities at risk of viral diseases spread by mosquitoes. Together, such factors influence the reach of vector populations and the transmission patterns of disease-causing pathogens.

WHO response

The Global vector control response (GVCR) 2017–2030 approved by the World Health Assembly (2017) provides strategic guidance to countries and development partners for urgent strengthening of vector control as a fundamental approach to preventing disease and responding to outbreaks. To achieve this a re-alignment of vector control programmes is required, supported by increased technical capacity, improved infrastructure, strengthened monitoring and surveillance systems, and greater community mobilization. Ultimately, this will support implementation of a comprehensive approach to vector control that will enable the achievement of disease-specific national and global goals and contribute to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage.

WHO Secretariat provides strategic, normative and technical guidance to countries and development partners for strengthening vector control as a fundamental approach based on GVCR to preventing disease and responding to outbreaks. Specifically WHO responds to vector-borne diseases by:

  1. providing evidence-based guidance for controlling vectors and protecting people against infection;
  2. providing technical support to countries so that they can effectively manage cases and outbreaks;
  3. supporting countries to improve their reporting systems and capture the true burden of the disease;
  4. providing training (capacity building) on clinical management, diagnosis and vector control with some of its collaborating centres throughout the world; and
  5. supporting the development and evaluation of new tools, technologies and approaches for vector borne diseases, include vector control and disease management technologies.

A crucial element in vector-borne diseases is behavioural change. WHO works with partners to provide education and improve awareness so that people know how to protect themselves and their communities from mosquitoes, ticks, bugs, flies and other vectors.

For many diseases such as Chagas disease, malaria, schistosomiasis and leishmaniasis, WHO has initiated control programmes using donated or subsidized medicines.

Access to water and sanitation is a very important factor in disease control and elimination. WHO works together with many different government sectors to control these diseases.

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RBI showers 1.76 lakh crore bonanza on government

Tue, 27 Aug, 2019

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) at its board meeting on Monday decided to transfer a whopping  1.76 lakh crore to the Centre — including interim dividend of 28,000 crore paid in February — which is likely to address the precarious fiscal situation of the government to a great extent.

The 1.76 lakh crore includes the central bank’s 2018-19 surplus of 1.23 lakh crore and 52,637 crore of excess provisions identified as per the revised Economic Capital Framework (ECF) adopted at the Board meeting.

The RBI said as financial resilience was within the desired range, the entire 2018-19 net income of 1.23 lakh crore has been transferred.

Jalan panel 

The RBI had formed a committee chaired by former Governor Bimal Jalan to review its economic capital framework and suggest the quantum of excess provision to be transferred to the government.

 The committee was formed after a demand from the government for more money. The RBI Board has accepted all the recommendations of the Jalan committee. 

“The committee’s recommendations were guided by the fact that the RBI forms the primary bulwark for monetary, financial and external stability,” the central bank said in a statement.

Two components

The panel recommended a clear distinction between the two components of economic capital - realized equity and revaluation balances. It was recommended that realized equity could be used for meeting all risks/ losses as they were primarily built up from retained earnings, while revaluation balances could be reckoned only as risk buffers against market risks as they represented unrealized valuation gains and hence were not distributable. 

The committee also recognised that RBI’s provisioning for monetary, financial and external stability risks is the country’s savings for a ‘rainy day’,  (a monetary or financial stability crisis), which has been consciously maintained with the RBI in view of its role as the Monetary Authority and the Lender of Last Resort.

“This risk provisioning made primarily from retained earnings is cumulatively referred to as the Contingent Risk Buffer (CRB) and has been recommended to be maintained within a range of 6.5% to 5.5% of the RBI’s balance sheet,” the RBI statement said.

“This CRB comprising 5.5 to 4.5% for monetary and financial stability risks and 1.0% for credit and operational risks,” the RBI added.

The ‘Surplus Distribution Policy’, as recommended by the committee, says only if realized equity is above its requirement, the entire net income will be transferable to the Government. 

The RBI said the available realised equity stood at 6.8% of balance sheet, and there was excess of risk provisioning of 11,608 crore at the upper bound of CRB and 52,637 crore at the lower bound of CRB. 

“The Central Board decided to maintain the realized equity level at 5.5% of balance sheet and the resultant excess risk provisions of 52,637 crore were written back,” RBI said.

“Clearly the amount is higher than expected and with additional ECF transfer, the ammunition from tax shortfall could be partly met, thus alleviating some of the fiscal fragilities,” said Madhavi Arora, Economist with Edelweiss Securities. 

 

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‘No First Use’ policy?

Mon, 26 Aug, 2019

The story so far: Since conducting its second nuclear tests, Pokhran-II, in 1998, India has adhered to a self-imposed commitment to ‘No First Use’ (NFU) of nuclear weapons on another country. However, last week, on August 16, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh dropped a hint that in the future, India’s NFU promise “depends on circumstances.”
When did India’s N-weapons journey begin?
India embarked on the path of nuclear weapons development after its face-off with China in the 1962 war, followed by China carrying out nuclear tests in 1964 and in the subsequent years. In 1974, under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India conducted its first nuclear tests, Pokhran-I, dubbed as a “peaceful nuclear explosion”.
Despite more than two decades of international pressure that followed to make India abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, India again carried out a test in May 1998, Pokhran-II, involving a fission device, a low-yield device, and a thermonuclear device. Its successful execution meant that India had the ability to introduce nuclear warheads into its fast-developing missile programme.
A fortnight after the Pokhran-II tests, Pakistan also carried out similar tests, confirming progress with its nuclear weapons programme; since that time its nuclear arsenal has expanded rapidly. In 1999, India came out with an explicit nuclear doctrine that committed, among other things, to NFU — that is it would never carry out a nuclear first-strike.
This doctrine emphasised “minimal deterrence, no first use and non-use against non-nuclear weapon states”, in the words of former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. The NFU promise thus went together with credible minimum deterrence (CMD).
What does CMD mean for the Indian nuclear doctrine?
Credible minimum deterrence does not imply indefinite expansion of the nuclear arsenal; rather it is built on an assured second-strike capability. This implies that in the event of another nation carrying out a first nuclear strike of any magnitude against India, India’s nuclear forces shall be so deployed as to ensure survivability of the attack and the capability to carry out a massive, punitive nuclear retaliation aimed at inflicting damage that the aggressor will find “unacceptable”.
Additionally, CMD requires a robust command and control system; effective intelligence and early warning capabilities; comprehensive planning and training for operations in line with the strategy; and the will to employ nuclear forces and weapons.
Currently, the Nuclear Command Authority is responsible for command, control and operational decisions on nuclear weapons; specifically it is the Cabinet Committee on Security and ultimately the office of the Prime Minister of India, that is responsible for the decision to carry out a nuclear attack.
Why might the NFU policy be revisited?
Regional geopolitical realities have a significant bearing upon India’s NFU commitment, to the extent that the CMD is what the “enemy” believes deterrence to be, and their belief is manifested in their actions.
After the 1998 nuclear tests in India and Pakistan, the CMD was established in the sense that in the following decade, including the aftermaths of the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 and the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, neither country felt inclined to instigate all-out war.
However, since that time, the deterrent effect of India’s arsenal seemed to have less effect in one significant aspect: Pakistani officials started speaking out about their country’s development of tactical nuclear weapons, or “theatre nukes”, which had a lower yield but could still inflict enough damage to blunt a conventional attack.
It is surmised that Pakistan’s talk of tactical nuclear weapons might have emerged as a counter to speculation that India might have developed the “Cold Start” doctrine. This is a purported classified plan for a conventional military attack by Indian forces on Pakistani soil, likely as a response to a prior sub-conventional attack from across the border (such as a state-sponsored terror-attack).
In this context, in 2013, Shyam Saran, convener of the National Security Advisory Board, said: “India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.”
However, there may be some concerns with this idea that India will retaliate massively even if Pakistan uses tactical nuclear weapons — possibly on Indian forces operating on Pakistani soil — against it.
First, this strategy would take both countries back into the old-world deterrence paradigm of “mutually assured destruction”, because any surviving forces in Pakistan after India’s retaliation would surely launch a devastating attack against targets across India.
Second, India may have more to gain by pre-emptive action. This is the question that analysts Christopher Clary and Vipin Narang have studied, and they argue that one option under consideration could be for “a hard counterforce strike against Pakistan’s relatively small number — perhaps several dozen — strategic nuclear assets on land (and eventually at sea) to eliminate its ability to destroy Indian strategic targets and cities.
Such a strategy would be consistent with India’s doctrine of massive retaliation — massive retaliation strategies need not be countervalue — while avoiding the credibility issues associated with a countervalue targeting strategy following Pakistan’s use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield.”
Will we see India’s nuclear doctrine changing to accommodate these realities?
The simple answer: unlikely. As Mr. Clary and Mr. Narang argue, India’s adoption of potentially pre-emptive “counterforce options” – i.e. to eliminate Pakistan’s strategic nuclear weapons when it deems the risk of a Pakistani first-strike to have crossed a critical threshold — may require no explicit shifts in its declared nuclear doctrine.
In fact, remaining silent on this subject might be calculated as a strategic advantage for India as the country would be assuming deliberate nuclear ambiguity. The downside is that New Delhi remaining silent on this, except for occasional hints — such as what the Defence Minister tweeted recently — might compel Pakistan to adjust its nuclear posture accordingly, based on a calculation that India might be willing to carry out a counterforce attack and thereby eliminate the Pakistani nuclear threat entirely.
This in turn risks fuelling an arms race or more unstable nuclear weapons deployment patterns in Pakistan.
The Balakot strikes that followed the Pulwama attack (both in February 2019) demonstrate that the Narendra Modi government is not shy of taking cross-border military action. If another sub-conventional attack, say a terror attack, occurs on Indian soil anytime soon, these theories will likely be tested. What remains unclear is how high up the escalation ladder both countries will be willing to go.

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India and the UAE

Mon, 26 Aug, 2019

India's relations with the UAE are "at their best ever" as bilateral ties have been elevated from a mere "buyer-seller" to that of a comprehensive strategic partnership in the last four years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said as he highlighted the excellent rapport between the leadership of the two countries.

Modi in an interview with the UAE's official news agency, WAM, said that India has found a "valuable partner" in the UAE to achieve its ambitious dream of becoming a USD 5 trillion economy.

"India has embarked on the ambitious, yet achievable, path to be a USD 5 trillion economy by 2024-25. We are targeting about USD 1.7 trillion worth of investments in the coming five years. To achieve this vision, the government is working to promote inflows from domestic as well as foreign sources," Modi said, who is in the UAE on the second leg of his three-nation tour.

The Prime Minister believes that his third visit to the UAE, in the last four years, reflects the desire and will of the two countries to sustain the momentum achieved in the bilateral relationship.

"We consider the UAE as a valuable partner in realising the objective to reach USD 5 trillion economy through a mutually beneficial partnership," said Modi who started on Friday night a two-day state visit to the UAE.

He said that the UAE-India relations are "at their best ever", adding that the UAE investments in key sectors in India are growing.

"There has been an increasing interest in investments in India in sectors ranging from renewable energy, food, ports, airports, defence manufacturing and other sectors," Modi said.

"UAE investments in (sectors such as) infrastructure and housing are being enhanced.

"The UAE is our third largest trade partner with about USD 60 billion bilateral trade in 2018-19. Many of our companies are investing here in the UAE. Both countries are working closely and vigorously to implement the commitment of USD 75 billion investment by the UAE in India.

Annual bilateral trade between India and the UAE stood at about USD 60 billion. The UAE is also a key source of energy for India, being the fourth-largest exporter of crude oil for India, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement in New Delhi ahead of his visit to the kingdom.

In an another interview to Khaleej Times, Modi said that "strengthening the relationship between the countries is one of the most important foreign policy priorities of my government... With unstinted commitment and cooperation from both sides, we have come a long way in the last five years."

He also said that they relations with the UAE have been elevated from a mere "buyer-seller" relationship to that of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in the last four years.

On his relations with Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Modi, said that "the Crown Prince and I regard each other as brothers. We have developed enormous goodwill and mutual respect. I believe that the excellent rapport between the two of us is an important driving force in realising the true potential of our relationship."

The excellent cooperation received from the leadership has transformed the relationship not only in energy and people-to-people contact, but in trade, investments, defence, food, and security cooperation, he said.

"We share a common vision for our bilateral relations and I highly appreciate the initiatives of His Highness the Crown Prince for regional peace, prosperity and stability, Modi said, who will also receive the 'Order of Zayed', the highest civilian decoration conferred by the UAE government.

"I feel very honoured to receive the UAE's highest civil honour, the Order of Zayed. It is testimony to our growing partnership and is also an honour for the entire Indian nation of 1.3 billion people, Modi said.

From Abu Dhabi, Modi will visit Bahrain where he will hold talks with King Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and also witness the formal beginning of the re-development of the temple of Shreenathji -- the oldest in the Gulf region before returning to France on Sunday to attend the G7 Summit meetings

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Long-term strategy to fight climate change

Sat, 24 Aug, 2019

IN A new announcement, India said that by next year it would draw up a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the “long-term”. This mention has been made in the joint statement issued by India and France following the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. France has made a similar commitment in the joint statement.
Currently, as part of the global effort to fight climate change, India has set a few targets for itself for the year 2030. Most other countries also have targets for the year 2025 or 2030. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries need to make their next set of commitments, for the period beyond 2030, only by 2025.
However, there is a growing pressure on countries, at least the major emitters, from civil society organisations and scientific community to formulate and commit to a longer-range climate action plan. This, it is hoped, would bring in greater predictability in assessing whether the world was on course to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change or not.
In the last few months, many countries, including the United Kingdom, have spoken about their intention to become “net-zero” by the year 2050. There has been a move to encourage countries like India, which is the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, to commit to a similar target.
It is learnt that France wanted India to put this commitment in the joint statement, but New Delhi resisted. As a compromise, the two countries only agreed to “develop by 2020 their long-term strategies for low-GHG emission development. reflecting the highest possible level of national ambition”. The long-term strategies are unlikely to have any specific targets like the ones in India’s current plan for 2030.
As part of its contribution in the global fight against climate change, India has made three main promises — that it will reduce its emission intensity, or emission per unit of GDP, by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, that it will ensure that at least 40 per cent of its electricity in 2030 will come from non-fossil fuel sources, and that it will create 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of additional carbon sink through forests.
India has said it hoped not just to fulfil the targets in the time-frame but even over-achieve them. However, it is wary of taking on higher targets or commit to longer-term promises in the absence of similar commitments from other major countries.

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India, France to cooperate on cyber security, digital technology

Sat, 24 Aug, 2019

From hate speech to fake news, India and France decided to cooperate on a detailed roadmap on cyber security and digital technology. The two sides also said they “intend to work together on the risks associated with the deployment of 5G technologies and the technical solutions adopted to deal with them”.
On the issue of protection of personal information, the two sides said they wish to develop an innovative digital ecosystem that is secure and respectful of users’ data protection.
In the context of implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation and India’s objective to put in place adequate regulation in this area, both parties “recognise that the convergence of data protection frameworks of Europe and India would facilitate the flow of information and data”.
According to the joint roadmap released on Friday, France and India intend to share information on the legal and regulatory framework and best practices, including on the protection of Economic Information Infrastructure impacting National Security, and on testing and certification of digital products.
The two countries also decided that they intend to share their respective legal and regulatory frameworks, particularly with regard to the protection of Economic Information Infrastructure.
France and India highlighted the importance of close cooperation between all countries to address cross-cutting threats to cybersecurity, particularly in Economic Information Infrastructure impacting national security.
Recognising that cybercrime is a “transnational crime”, they plan to strengthen their cooperation in this area with a view to facilitating sharing of information, evidence collection, identification of offenders, particularly malware developers, hosters / hosting platform providers or broadcasters.
They also expressed their concerns regarding security of electronic means of payment and confirmed their commitment to protection of consumers from online financial fraud. Finally, they plan to discuss the prevention of cybercrime with service providers and social media companies to seek information-sharing arrangements.
On the issue of cooperation on digital governance and challenges of regulation, France and India wish to strengthen coordination in supporting the development of a legitimate, fair and balanced approach to secure digital sector at the international level.
France and India also recognize the need to develop the necessary framework to ensure that technologies remain protective of public goods, data sovereignty and fundamental freedoms,” the joint roadmap said.
They also decided to cooperate to “fight against terrorist, violent extremist and hateful content online”. “France and India reiterate their commitment to preventing the manipulation of information, spreading fake news and the importance of online freedom of expression.
They highlight the risks that can be raised by the circulation of manipulated information fake news and profiling of personal data. France and India call for an international exchange on this threat, particularly on the development of a framework to regulate social media platform.

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Development financial institution to fund infrastructure

Sat, 24 Aug, 2019

The government’s proposal to set up a development financial institution (DFI) is expected to solve the infrastructure financing needs of the country, since banks do not have the long-term funds to finance such projects.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a host of measures on Friday to boost economic growth that also included increasing capital flows and energising capital markets.
Commenting that there was a need to deepen bond markets, Ms. Sitharaman said, “In order to improve access to long-term finance, it is proposed to establish an organisation to provide credit enhancement for infrastructure and housing projects, particularly in the context of India now not having a development bank and also for the need for us to have a institutional mechanism. So, this will enhance debt flow toward such projects.
Banks do not have long-term funds. The maturity of our liabilities are five years, on an average. So, funding infrastructure projects is difficult for us.
Over the years, some of the major development financial institutions were merged with their banking outfits such as ICICI and IDBI.
Reserve Bank of India had released a discussion paper on wholesale and long-term finance banks in 2017 in which it was observed that there was a decline in the share of the long-term assets, relative to total assets, on the banks’ balance sheets.
The RBI had said that specialised banks could cater to the wholesale and long-term financing needs of the growing economy and possibly fill the gap in long-term financing.

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13 States, UTs improve their water management practices

Sat, 24 Aug, 2019

Thirteen of the 27 States and Union Territories have improved their water management practices from last year, an analysis by the NITI Aayog has revealed. Gujarat, though it dropped a point, topped the rankings for the second year in a row with a score of 75 out of a maximum possible 100.
Six States did worse than last year — with Delhi, which was evaluated for the first time this year garnering the lowest score — and three maintained their position from last year, according to the Composite Water Management Index, a ranking tool developed by the NITI Aayog and unveiled last year.
The ‘index’ aims at capturing how well States have done on groundwater and surface water restoration, implementing major and medium irrigation projects, watershed development, participatory irrigation management, on-farm water use, rural and urban water supply, and policy and governance.
These indicators were broken down into 28 objective indicators that include determining whether the State had policies and infrastructure in place to conserve groundwater, or its performance in providing piped water to villages.
Sixteen out of the 27 States and UTs assessed last year scored less than 50% of total achievable score, and remained in the ‘low-performing’ category. The average improvement among the low-performing States stood at 3.1 points, lower than the 5.2-point average improvement observed across States in the last three years. Haryana, Goa and Uttarakhand made remarkable gains from last year, the report noted.
The 16 low-performing States collectively account for 48% of the population, 40% of agricultural produce, and 35% of economic output for India. For the index, States were required to fill out the
necessary data on a NITI Aayog portal and this data was validated by an independent firm called IPE Global.
The results of this year’s exercise reveal an overall improvement in State performance, but severe disparities remain between states, and across themes, which must be bridged.
Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog said that those States growing crops that consumed excess water need to refrain from doing so and progress would come about only through “inter-State cooperation.
Last year, the NITI Aayog report painted an ominous picture. Nearly 600 million Indians faced high to extreme water stress and about 2,00,000 people died every year due to inadequate access to safe water. It warned of unsustainable groundwater extraction and loss to India's GDP if steps weren’t taken.

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Centre takes steps to control onion prices in national capital

Sat, 24 Aug, 2019

With heavy rain in key onion-growing States, such as Maharashtra and Karnataka, fanning fears of a price rise, the Centre has taken steps to control onion rates in Delhi and warned of strict action against hoarders and profiteers.
Safal, which owns about 400 outlets in the National Capital Region, is already being provided onions for sale from the government stock built under the Price Stabilisation Fund.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India and the National Cooperative Consumers Federation of India have also been directed to retail onions at similar rates. Onions from the government buffer will be offered at cost price to large retailers as well.
Government will also consider strict action against hoarding and profiteering activities and evaluate the need for imposing minimum export price on onion if the situation so demands.

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Capital ranks last in Niti Aayog’s assessment of water management

Sat, 24 Aug, 2019

Delhi has finished at the bottom of the Composite Water Management Index, an assessment by the Niti Aayog on how States and Union Territories manage their water.
The assessment pans nine themes, each having an attached weight, and assesses how well States have done on criteria such as groundwater and surface water restoration, implementing major and medium irrigation projects, watershed development, participatory irrigation management, on-farm water use, rural and urban water supply, and policy and governance. These indicators were broken down into 28 objective indicators.
The maximum possible score is a 100 and Gujarat, for the second year in a row, was the topper with 75 points. Delhi, assessed on the index for the first time this year, scores the lowest with 20 points. This is alarming, considering Delhi’s position as the country’s capital territory, and its population of two crore people whose water, arguably, is being poorly managed.
Delhi and Puducherry were the only Union Territories included in the rankings. A key reason for Delhi’s lacklustre performance was that it did not provide data for several indicators. It failed to report data on 12 indicators and reported nil figures on few others.
It thus scored zero on 4 themes which collectively made up about 40% of the maximum score. “This limits the potential to understand Delhi’s water management performance through the Index and compare it with other State, UTs,” the report added.
Delhi faced several water-related challenges such as water access for the urban poor residing in slums and discharge of untreated sewage and industrial waste into rivers, such as the Yamuna.
It also ranked second in the list of 20 largest water-stressed cities in the world in 2015. A key recommendation by the NITI Aayog for Delhi was to establish an integrated data centre for water resources that could help institutionalise these practices.

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Renewable energy status to ocean energy gets MNRE nod

Fri, 23 Aug, 2019

In a decision expected to boost to ocean energy in India, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) clarified that ocean energy shall be considered “renewable energy”. Various forms of ocean energy like tidal, wave and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) shall now be eligible as an option for states to meet their non-solar renewable purchase obligations (RPO), according to the Ministry.
“This step has been taken by the Ministry after some renewable energy developers sought clarification in this regard,” MNRE said in a release, which followed Minister of State for Power and New and Renewable Energy RK Singh’s approval of a proposal to this effect.
“A variety of different technologies are currently under development throughout the world to harness this energy in all its forms,” read the Ministry’s release, adding that deployment is currently limited but the sector has the potential to grow.
“As the government steps up its efforts to reach the objectives to contemplate its renewable energy and climate change objectives post 2022, it is opportune to explore all possible avenues to stimulate innovation, create economic growth and new jobs as well as to reduce our carbon footprint. As on date, India does not have any installed ocean energy capacit, according to a government official.
The total identified potential of tidal energy is about 12,455 mega watt, with potential locations identified at the Khambat and Kutch regions of Gujarat and large backwaters where barrage technology could be used, according to the Ministry.
Preliminary estimates peg the total potential of wave energy in India along the country’s coast to be about 40,000 MW. OTEC has a theoretical potential of 180,000 MW here, “subject to suitable technological evolution”, it added.
The Gulf of Cambay and the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat on the west coast show potential for tidal energy production. However, the capital cost for tidal energy is “very high” due to high civil construction and high power purchase tariffs, the Ministry clarified.

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Amazon fires a cause for concern?

Fri, 23 Aug, 2019

The Amazon rainforest is a repository of rich biodiversity and produces approximately 20 per cent of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is also home to indigenous communities whose lives and homelands are under threat due to encroachment by the Brazil government, foreign corporations and governments with economic interests in the resource-rich region, and local farmers.
In a 2017 study, the University of Leeds found that carbon intake by the Amazon basin matches the emissions released by nations in the basin. The burning of forests, therefore, implies additional carbon emissions. Research by scientists Carlos Nobre and Thomas E Lovejoy suggests that further deforestation could lead to the Amazon’s transformation from the world’s largest rainforest to a savanna, which would reverse the region’s ecology.
A National Geographic report said the Amazon rainforest influences the water cycle not only on a regional scale, but also on a global scale. The rain produced by the Amazon travels through the region and even reaches the Andes mountain range.
Moisture from the Atlantic falls on the rainforest, and eventually evaporates back into the atmosphere. The report said the Amazon rainforest has the ability to produce at least half of the rain it receives. This cycle is a delicate balance.
What environmental protections do Brazil’s laws provide, and what has changed in recent times?
Under Brazil’s Forest Code of 1965, farmers could purchase Amazon land but could farm only 20% of it. Following the collapse of the military dictatorship in 1988, a new constitution gave indigenous populations legal ownership of their land and the right to reject development of their land.
In 2012, the Forest Code was revised to reduce the area of deforested land required to be restored, and to reduce penalties for illegal deforesting. In 2018, Brazil’s Supreme Court upheld these changes.
Bolsonaro, who took office in January 2019, had promised during his election campaign that his government would open up the Amazon region for business. The Amazon has large reserves of gold and other minerals.
Along with aggressive policies of promoting agribusiness, Bolsonaro has opposed protections for indigenous tribal land. A few months before he won, The Washington Post reported that Bolsonaro had recommended exploiting the country’s natural resources by tapping into the Amazon basin.
After the victory, he wwas quoted as saying: “Brazil should not sit on its natural reserves because a handful of Indians want to conserve it.”
Since the 1960s, the Amazon has witnessed large-scale deforestation because of cattle-ranching, logging, power projects, mining and farming. Agribusiness products in 2016 represented 46% of Brazil’s exports. Conservationists believe that for Brazil’s government, short-term economic interests pushed by lobbies take precedence over environmental concerns.

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Sabka Vishwas (Legacy Dispute Resolution) Scheme, 2019.

Fri, 23 Aug, 2019

In theUnion Budget 2019-20, the Hon’ble Finance Minister announced the Sabka Vishwas-Legacy Dispute Resolution Scheme, 2019. The Scheme has now been notified and will be operationalized from 1st September 2019. The Scheme would continue till 31st December 2019. Government expects the Scheme to be availed by large number of taxpayers for closing their pending disputes relating to legacy Service Tax and Central Excise cases that are now subsumed under GST so they can focus on GST.

The two main components of the Scheme are dispute resolution and amnesty. The dispute resolution component is aimed at liquidating the legacy cases of Central Excise and Service Taxthat are subsumed in GST and are pending in litigation at various forums. The amnesty component of the Scheme offers an opportunity to the taxpayers to pay the outstanding tax and be free of any other consequence under the law. The most attractive aspect of the Scheme is that it provides substantial relief in the tax dues for all categories of cases as well as full waiver of interest, fine, penalty, In all these cases, there would be no other liability of interest, fine or penalty. There is also a complete amnesty from prosecution.

For all the cases pending in adjudication or appeal – in any forum - this Scheme offers a relief of 70% from the duty demand if it is Rs.50 lakhs or less and 50% if it is more than Rs. 50 lakhs. The same relief is available for cases under investigation and audit where the duty involved is quantified and communicated to the party or admitted by him in a statement on or before 30th June, 2019. Further, in cases of confirmed duty demand, where there is no appeal pending, the relief offered is 60% of the confirmed duty amount if the same is Rs. 50 lakhs or less and it is 40%, if the confirmed duty amount is more than Rs. 50 lakhs. Finally, in cases of voluntary disclosure, the person availing the Scheme will have to pay only the full amount of disclosed duty. 

As the objective of the Scheme is to free as large a segment of the taxpayers from the legacy taxes as possible, the relief given thereunder is substantial. The Scheme is especially tailored to free the large number of small taxpayers of their pending disputes with the tax administration. Government urges the taxpayers and all concerned to avail the SabkaVishwas - Legacy Dispute Resolution Scheme, 2019 and make a new beginning.

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Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

Fri, 23 Aug, 2019

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 by the Ministers of its Member jurisdictions.  The objectives of the FATF are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.  The FATF is therefore a “policy-making body” which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in these areas.

The FATF has developed a series of Recommendations that are recognised as the international standard for combating of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  They form the basis for a co-ordinated response to these threats to the integrity of the financial system and help ensure a level playing field.  First issued in 1990, the FATF Recommendations were revised in 1996, 2001, 2003 and most recently in 2012 to ensure that they remain up to date and relevant, and they are intended to be of universal application.

The FATF monitors the progress of its members in implementing necessary measures, reviews money laundering and terrorist financing techniques and counter-measures, and promotes the adoption and implementation of appropriate measures globally.  In collaboration with other international stakeholders, the FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities with the aim of protecting the international financial system from misuse.

The FATF's decision making body, the FATF Plenary, meets three times per year.  

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International Union for Conservation of Nature

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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Article 239-AA(4)

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs)

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Foreign Investment

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

What is Foreign Investment

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

BREAKING DOWN Foreign Investment

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

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

Direct vs Indirect Foreign Investments

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

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

Other Types of Foreign Investment

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

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


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Fossils show Kutch desert was once a forest

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

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

About:

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

Thu, 22 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

Wed, 21 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

Why BIMSTEC?

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

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

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

Importance of the BIMSTEC

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

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

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

Neighbourhood First Policy

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

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

India's Central Asia Outreach

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

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

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

Bilateral Meetings

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

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

Bilateral with Bangladesh

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

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

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

Bilateral with Sri Lanka

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

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

Bilateral with Nepal

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

Bilateral with Bhutan

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

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

Wed, 21 Aug, 2019

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

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India biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide

Tue, 20 Aug, 2019

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

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Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Food Safety Act

Tue, 20 Aug, 2019

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

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The monk who shaped India’s secularism

Tue, 20 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religion and rationality

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

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

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

Influence on Gandhi, Nehru

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

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

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

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

Mon, 19 Aug, 2019

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

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

Mon, 19 Aug, 2019

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

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“bottom-up consultative process”

Mon, 19 Aug, 2019

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

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

Agenda of the Process

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

Background

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

Mon, 19 Aug, 2019

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

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Why is the auto industry facing trouble?

Sun, 18 Aug, 2019

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

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South Asia Satellite (SAS or GSAT-9)

Sun, 18 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pradhan Mantri Laghu Vyapari Maan-Dhan scheme

Sun, 18 Aug, 2019

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

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India, Bhutan vow to strengthen ties, ink 10 MoUs

Sun, 18 Aug, 2019

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

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

Sat, 17 Aug, 2019

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

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Doctrine of NFU

Sat, 17 Aug, 2019

 

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

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

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

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

 

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No First Use’ nuclear policy depends on circumstances

Sat, 17 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Simla Agreement July 2, 1972

Sat, 17 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

SIMLA AGREEMENT

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

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

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

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WTO to rule on India sugar export subsidies

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

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

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Total Fertility Rate (TFR)

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

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

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microplastic particles

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

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

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Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

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

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Article 371H

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

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

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

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Bill

Fri, 16 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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India’s renewable energy capacity

Thu, 15 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

China way ahead

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

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

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

More coal, more pollution

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

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

 

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Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana

Thu, 15 Aug, 2019

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

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Chilika faces oil spillage threat from stuck ship

Thu, 15 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing Committee (APLMC)

Wed, 14 Aug, 2019

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

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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Wed, 14 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate social responsibility: Examples in India

Tata Group

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

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

Ultratech Cement

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

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

Mahindra & Mahindra

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

ITC Group

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

Methodology of corporate social responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSR trends in India

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Automobile sales drop 18.71% in July

Wed, 14 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

GST Council  may discuss rate cut for auto

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

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

Sectoral representation

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

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

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

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

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

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

14% rise

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

 

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City Knowledge and Innovation Clusters.

Tue, 13 Aug, 2019

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

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No harmful chemicals in PET bottles

Tue, 13 Aug, 2019

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

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ZONAL COUNCILS

Tue, 13 Aug, 2019

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

COMPOSITION OF ZONAL COUNCILS

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

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

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

COMMITTIEES OF ZONAL COUNCILS

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

ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE OF ZONAL COUNCILS

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

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

ROLE AND OBJECTIVES OF THE ZONAL COUNCILS

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

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

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

FUNCTIONS OF THE COUNCILS

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

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

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

 

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“Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas”

Mon, 12 Aug, 2019

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

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NEWSPACE INDIA Limited (NSIL)

Mon, 12 Aug, 2019

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

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DRDO focus on stealth weapons, drones

Mon, 12 Aug, 2019

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

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GRSE launches its 5th fast patrol vessel

Sun, 11 Aug, 2019

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

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The Kajin Sara lake

Sun, 11 Aug, 2019

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

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

Sun, 11 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

Definition changed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Rotavirus vaccine

Sat, 10 Aug, 2019

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

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

Rotavirus

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

Sat, 10 Aug, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fish metabolism

Sat, 10 Aug, 2019

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

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‘Centre will not touch Article 371F’

Sat, 10 Aug, 2019

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

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National Disaster Response Force

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

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

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

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

Before 1969:

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

Banking for All:

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

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

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

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

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

Fri, 09 Aug, 2019

 

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

Concerns:

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

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

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

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Even in cities, natural signs can warn of flood

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

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

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Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF)

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

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

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Online content can’t be regulated under Cinematograph Act

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

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

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RBI takes offbeat tack to help reverse growth slowdown

Thu, 08 Aug, 2019

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

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

Tue, 06 Aug, 2019

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

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Consumer Protection Bill gets RS green light

Tue, 06 Aug, 2019

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

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Article 370

Tue, 06 Aug, 2019

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

Mon, 05 Aug, 2019

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

Sun, 04 Aug, 2019

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

Sat, 03 Aug, 2019

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

Sat, 03 Aug, 2019

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

Location for Mining:

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

Fri, 02 Aug, 2019

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

Fri, 02 Aug, 2019

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

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

Thu, 01 Aug, 2019

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

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Cryptocurrency

Thu, 01 Aug, 2019

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

Thu, 01 Aug, 2019

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

Significance:

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

Concerns:

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

Wed, 31 Jul, 2019

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

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

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

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RoboBee X-Wing

Tue, 30 Jul, 2019

 

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

 

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

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

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

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


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India’s fertilizer industry

Tue, 30 Jul, 2019

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

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

Indian Fertilizer Market: Drivers

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


Market Summary:

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



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Nearly 3,000 tigers in India

Tue, 30 Jul, 2019

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

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Vishaka guidelines must be applicable to judiciary

Mon, 29 Jul, 2019

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

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Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)

Sun, 28 Jul, 2019

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

Jeevamrutha:

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

Bijamrita

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

Sun, 28 Jul, 2019

What is BS VI Standards?

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

Sat, 27 Jul, 2019

El Nino:

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

Antarctic Oscillation:

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

Fri, 26 Jul, 2019

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

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

Located in water-scarce areas

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

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

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

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

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

Specifying penalties

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

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

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

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

 

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United Nations Climate Summit in New York

Thu, 25 Jul, 2019

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

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The IMF’s World Economic Outlook

Thu, 25 Jul, 2019

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

Wed, 24 Jul, 2019

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

Tue, 23 Jul, 2019

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

Aim of the Project

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

Mon, 22 Jul, 2019

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

Sun, 21 Jul, 2019

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

Lacunas in Government Initiatives

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

Impact of Malnutrition

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

Sun, 21 Jul, 2019

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

 Analysis and hurdles been faced by the continent

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

 Aims and objectives of AfCFTA along with its core idea

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

 Intra-African Trade Initiatives

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

 India-Africa and AfCFTA

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

 Conclusion

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

 

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DAM SAFETY IN INDIA

Sat, 20 Jul, 2019

Types of dam in India

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

Dam Safety Framework in India

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

Fri, 19 Jul, 2019

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

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The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill 2019

Fri, 19 Jul, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bills to help transgenders

Thu, 18 Jul, 2019

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

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The National Policy on Biofuels, 2018

Wed, 17 Jul, 2019

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

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Govt. has ignored benefits of cannabis

Tue, 16 Jul, 2019

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

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Orchids

Mon, 15 Jul, 2019

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

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

Details:

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

Sun, 14 Jul, 2019

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

Sat, 13 Jul, 2019

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

Fri, 12 Jul, 2019

Issues:

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

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

Thu, 11 Jul, 2019

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

UN Population Projections  

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

Population and policy

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

 

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

Thu, 11 Jul, 2019

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

Thu, 11 Jul, 2019

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

Thu, 11 Jul, 2019

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

Wed, 10 Jul, 2019

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

Tue, 09 Jul, 2019

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

Mon, 08 Jul, 2019

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

What is a Uniform Civil Code?

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

Sun, 07 Jul, 2019

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

Sat, 06 Jul, 2019

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

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

Telangana Ku Haritha Haram:

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

Fri, 05 Jul, 2019

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

Strombolian Eruption:

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

Thu, 04 Jul, 2019

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

Wed, 03 Jul, 2019

 

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

Tue, 02 Jul, 2019

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

Mon, 01 Jul, 2019

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

Sun, 30 Jun, 2019

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

Sat, 29 Jun, 2019

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

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

Fri, 28 Jun, 2019

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

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

The development is significant for two major reasons:

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

United Nations Security Council:

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

Thu, 27 Jun, 2019

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

Details:

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

Wed, 26 Jun, 2019

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

Tue, 25 Jun, 2019

What is the anti-defection law?

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

 Are there any exceptions under the law?

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

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

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

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

Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review:

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

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

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

Mon, 24 Jun, 2019

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

Benefits of a Special Category Status:

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

Sun, 23 Jun, 2019

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

Issue:

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

Reasons for the delay:

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

Sat, 22 Jun, 2019

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

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SAFAR

Fri, 31 May, 2019

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

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BIMSTEC

Thu, 30 May, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Akash Missile

Wed, 29 May, 2019

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

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Special Status For The State

Tue, 28 May, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NuGen Mobility Summit 2019

Tue, 28 May, 2019

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

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AUSINDEX-19

Mon, 27 May, 2019

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

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LOCAL INDIAN OCEAN PHENOMENON MAY BRING BETTER RAINFALL DESPITE EL NINO

Sun, 26 May, 2019

 El Nino:

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

Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)

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

Sat, 25 May, 2019

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

Analysis

Causes of drought in Maharashtra:

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

Causes of drought in Gujarat:

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

Causes of drought in Bundelkhand:

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

Measures taken by the government:

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

Drought and poverty:

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

Farmer’s suicide:

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

Fri, 24 May, 2019

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

About: Background:

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

Analysis

Role of USA in Afghan Peace Process:

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

Contribution of other countries in the process:

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

Pakistan:

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

China:

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

Russia

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

India

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

Afghan as an elusive benefit for India:

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

Effect on India if Taliban comes to power:

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

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

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

Way forward:

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

 

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DISPUTE SETTLEMENT MECHANISM OF WTO

Fri, 24 May, 2019

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

About: Recent issues in WTO

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

WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism

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

Thu, 23 May, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A blueprint for a national security strategy

Thu, 23 May, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 22 May, 2019

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

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

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

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

Carbon dioxide’s long life

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

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

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

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

The temperature equivalence

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

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

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

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

 

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Time to rebuild India’s secularism

Wed, 22 May, 2019

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

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

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

The i