MASTER STROKE 05 (JULY 2018 PART 1)

 

DISHA DASHBOARD

In a bid to make “data-driven decision making” more than a mere buzzword, the Ministry of Rural Development this week launched the DISHA dashboard, a nifty tool that will make it easier to monitor governance by geography in real time.

The application, which is now available to all members of Parliament and State Assemblies as well district officials, allows the user to track the progress of multiple and diverse schemes in a certain district, block, or even a gram panchayat. Currently, 18 schemes are covered; the ultimate plan is to integrate all 42 Central schemes — representing a total outlay of ₹3 lakh crore — which are already monitored by DISHA or District Development Coordination and Monitoring Committees.

“Government systems and schemes work in silos,they don’t talk to each other. So it is difficult for elected representatives and local planners to go through all the data and get a sense of what is happening in a particular place.”

Currently, geographic mismatches make it difficult to unite data; for instance, while the Rural Development Ministry tracks its schemes by gram panchayat, the Health Ministry tracks it by anganwadis, which are mapped by population, while crime data uses different boundaries.

 

Languages census

More than 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken in India as mother tongues, according to the latest analysis of census released this week. There are 121 languages which are spoken by 10,000 or more people in India, which has a population of 121 crore,

 

UNLAWFUL ACTIVITIES (PREVENTION) ACT (UAPA)- A DISCOURSE FROM THE HINDU

On December 1, 1948, Professor K.T. Shah in his  speech in the Constituent Assembly objected to the wide range of restrictions that had been imposed upon fundamental rights in the draft Constitution. Drawing attention to the multiple “Public Safety Acts” and “Defence of India Acts” that had been the favourite weapons of the colonial regime, speaker after speaker expressed the concern that, despite the best intentions of the Assembly, the Constitution could easily be interpreted to authorise the continuation of these hated laws.

The arrest of five individuals in early June, ostensibly for instigating the riots at Bhima-Koregaon at the beginning of the year, throws the fears expressed in the CA into sharp relief. The accused, who include activists and lawyers, have been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). An examination of the UAPA shows how, in one overarching “anti-terrorism law”, vast discretionary powers are conferred upon state agencies, judicial oversight is rendered toothless, and personal liberty is set at naught.

Boundless discretion

·       The UAPA authorises the government to ban “unlawful organisations” and “terrorist organisations” (subject to judicial review), and penalises membership of such organisations.

·       The problems begin with the definitional clause itself. The definition of “unlawful activities” includes “disclaiming” or “questioning” the territorial integrity of India, and causing “disaffection” against India.

·       These words are staggeringly vague and broad, and come close to establishing a regime of thought-crimes. The problem of excessive breadth is then carried over into the “membership clauses”, which are the heart of the UAPA.

·       “Membership” of unlawful and terrorist organisations is a criminal offence, and in the latter case, it can be punished with life imprisonment. But the Act fails entirely to define what “membership” entails. Are you a “member” if you possess literature or books about a banned organisation? If you express sympathy with its aims? If you’ve met other, “active” members? These are not theoretical considerations: charge sheets under the UAPA often cite the seizure of books or magazines, and presence at “meetings”, as clinching evidence of membership.

In 2011, the Supreme Court attempted to narrow the scope of these provisions, holding that “membership” was limited to cases where an individual engaged in active incitement to violence. Anything broader than that, it ruled, would violate the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and of association. The application of this ruling, however, has been patchy and arbitrary: one judge of the Bombay High Court invoked it to grant bail to some members of the Kabir Kala Manch music troupe, while another judge ignored it and refused bail to other members of the same troupe (they were ultimately granted bail by the Supreme Court).

Despite the verdict of the Supreme Court, therefore, the wide and vague provisions of the UAPA allow governments great and virtually unbridled power to arrest people under boundlessly manipulable justifications, such as “having suspected Maoist links”. At this point, the second serious problem with the UAPA regime kicks in: Section 43D(5) of the Act prohibits courts from granting bail to a person if “on a perusal of the case diary or the [police] report … [the court] is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation against such person is prima facie true.”

Effacement of liberty

The case diary and the charge sheet is the version of the state. Therefore, under the UAPA, as long as the state’s version appears to make out an offence, a court cannot, under law, grant bail. When we juxtapose this with the inordinately slow pace at which criminal trials progress, Section 43D(5) of the UAPA is effectively a warrant for perpetual imprisonment without trial. This is not a theoretical concern either: on more than one occasion in recent years, terror accused have been acquitted after spending more than a decade in jail. This is something for which there can be no compensation or restitution; and it is only made possible because the law places an unbreakable shackle upon personal liberty.

This too was something that the framers of the Constitution foresaw, and wished to avoid. Maulana Hasrat Mohani, the great freedom fighter and poet, commenting on the same set of provisions as K.T. Shah, observed that “so long as you do not prove anything openly against anybody in a court of law, it should not be lawful to detain anybody.” His concern was discarded when the CA decided to have a specific provision that authorised preventive detention (Article 22). However, as the CA debates reveal, the provision was meant to be used in rare and exceptional cases. The framers did not intend — and the Constitution does not contemplate — the kind of perfect storm that exists when broad and vague provisions of public security laws are combined with statutory bars upon the grant of bail, and a legal system that takes years to complete a criminal trial.

This is not to say that the state always, or even often, abuses its power. The purpose of a Constitution and a bill of rights, however, is to establish a “culture of justification” where the state cannot abuse its power. Civil and political rights are based upon the understanding that at no point should so much power, and so much discretion, be vested in the state that it utterly overwhelms the individual. The women and men who occupy the high offices of the state may have the best of intentions, but they are human like the rest of us, and therefore imperfect. The Constitution exists to protect us from the consequences of those imperfections.

This is why the traditional argument in defence of laws such as the UAPA — that the state must be given a strong hand to control terrorist and other violent and disruptive activities — proves too much. It proves too much because it subordinates every other constitutional value — freedom of speech, personal liberty, the right to a fair trial — to the overarching concern of order. Such an attitude can be justified only in times of war or Emergency (and even then, subject to safeguards). But what the UAPA does is to normalise this “state of exception”, and make it a permanent feature of the legal landscape. One of our great judges, Justice Fazl Ali, expressly warned against it when he declared, “I do not think that it was ever intended that Parliament could at its will treat the normal as the abnormal or the rule as the exception.”

Transformative Constitution

The Bhima-Koregaon arrests provide us with yet another opportunity to rethink a legal regime that has obliterated the distinction between the normal and the abnormal. The power to keep citizens incarcerated for long periods of time, on vague charges, and without affording them an opportunity to answer their accusers in a swift and fair trial, is an anathema to democracy and the rule of law. The UAPA’s stringent provisions should go the way of its predecessors — the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They should be removed by Parliament, and, in the alternative, struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. And if that is not feasible, then there must at least be a change in the legal culture, with the courts following the example of the Bombay High Court in the first Kabir Kala Manch case, and granting bail unless the state can produce some cogent proof of criminality.

 

 

The Odisha government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) for effective management of disasters.

§  RIMES and OSDMA collaboration will contribute to global efforts targeted to substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems as articulated in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

§  RIMES was established on 30 April 2009 to provide user-relevant early warning services to its Member States and others. It is a UN registered international and inter-governmental institution. It is owned and managed by its 48 members and collaborating states for building capacities in the generation and application of user-relevant early warning information.

 

 

The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018 (AMCDRR 2018) will be held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. It is convened by the UN Office for DRR (UNISDR) and the Government of Mongolia.

§  The conference will represent a key milestone for reflection on three years into the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Specifically, the conference will enable governments and stakeholders to review progress made against the commitments at the AMCDRR 2016, i.e. the New Delhi Declaration, the Asia Regional Plan, and ten stakeholder voluntary action statements.

Theme of the AMCDRR 2018: ‘Preventing Disaster Risk: Protecting Sustainable Development’.

 

 

Article from Hindu

U.S. President Donald Trump is planning to create a “space force” or a sixth branch of the American armed forces. This has taken many by surprise within and outside the U.S. The purpose is to deny the Russians and the Chinese advantages in space. The main intention is to see that the U.S. establishes and maintains dominance in space.

 

The imperative by America to build space weapons, which is nothing new, goes back to the Cold War, an example being the Strategic Defense Initiative of the Reagan Administration. The creation of the new force represents an important shift at least at an institutional level.

·       Domestic impact

·       As Mr. Trump said the intention is to see that the U.S. establishes and maintains dominance in space. Ironically, the U.S. Air Force — historically a major constituency and votary for space weapons — is not entirely enthusiastic about this new service, which could take resources away from it and the prestige that comes with being the driver of space military operations.

·       Objections have also emerged from within the Administration. Adding another military arm would only compound the organisational challenges facing the U.S. armed services.

·       First, it could undercut ongoing missions.

·       Second, it could very well increase budgetary allocations in the future.

·       Third, a space corps could undermine American efforts in the domain of joint warfare. A new space force is not merely a brand new service; it potentially increases greater organisational uncertainty within the U.S. military.

Nevertheless, the fundamental difficulty of a space corps is that the physical environment of space is not conducive to the conduct of military operations without incurring serious losses in the form of spacecraft and debris.

Despite efforts to make spacecraft more fuel efficient, the energy requirements are enormous.

Further, the technical demands of defending assets in space make the possibility of dominance and space as a domain for war-fighting a sort of chimera. Much could change as well on the political front after the Congressional elections in November; the Democrats have a different vision for space.

China and Russia’s responses

While China has reiterated its response to the Trump Administration’s announcement with its oft-repeated statement that it opposes the weaponisation of space, it knows that it is the prime target of this incipient force. With a range of terrestrial interests in direct conflict with the Americans, Beijing will be in no mood to allow U.S. space dominance. China’s space military programme has been dedicated to building “Assassin Mace” technologies (an array of kinetic and non-kinetic means of attack) — capabilities that are geared to help win wars rapidly.

Russia for its part has been shriller in its response, making it clear that it will vigorously take on the U.S.. However, given its lack of the resources for competition, it will in all probability, for tactical reasons, align itself with China.

Implications for India

While India is officially committed to PAROS, or the prevention of an arms race in outer space, it is yet to formulate a credible official response to the Trump plan. India has yet to establish a credible space command of its own. And, its inter-services rivalries will have to be resolved about the command and control.

India also has to be concerned about Mr. Trump’s move for another reason — China. Beijing’s reaction could be much stronger than its seemingly muted official response and it does possess a formidable space military programme that far exceeds current Indian capabilities. For its part, New Delhi would do well to come out with an official white paper on space weapons. The government needs to engage with multiple stakeholders directly about the role space weapons will play in India’s grand strategy. More than their war-fighting attributes, space weapons have one principal function — deterrence.

 

MASSIVE GLOBULAR CLUSTER

Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope has detected a stunning image of a huge collection of ageing stars, believed to be 10 billion-years-old. This rich and dense smattering of stars is a massive globular cluster, a gravitationally bound collection of stars that orbits the Milky Way.Globular clusters are denser and more spherical than open star clusters like the famous Pleiades. They typically contain hundreds of thousands of stars that are thought to have formed at roughly the same time. The Hubble Space Telescope is a large telescope in space. NASA launched Hubble in 1990.

§  It was built by the United States space agency NASA, with contributions from the European Space Agency.Hubble is the only telescope designed to be serviced in space by astronauts.

§  Expanding the frontiers of the visible Universe, the Hubble Space Telescope looks deep into space with cameras that can see across the entire optical spectrum from infrared to ultraviolet.

 

 

Golden Globe Race is being conducted by Sir Robin Knox Johnston of UK to commemorate 50 years since the world’s first solo non-stop circumnavigation undertaken by him in 1968 onboard the Indian built boat, Suhaili. The uniqueness of the race is that boat designs and technology newer than 1968 is not permitted, hence use of Global Positioning System (GPS), satellite communication, navigational aids, etc is forbidden.

§  Commander Abhilash Tomy of the Indian Navy is the only invitee from Asia.

 

 

 Election Commission of India has launched a dedicated portal for the ECI’s ‘Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation’ (SVEEP).

 

§  SVEEP is a programme of multi interventions through different modes and media designed to educate citizens, electors and voters about the electoral process in order to increase their awareness and participation in the electoral processes.

§  SVEEP is designed according to the socio-economic, cultural and demographic profile of the state as well as the history of electoral participation in previous rounds of elections and learning thereof.

§  Now it includes enhanced interaction with the citizens through social media, online contests and voters’ festivals; awareness about new initiatives of linking EPIC with AADHAAR and National Voters’ Service Portal and a regularised yearly plan of activities.

 

APTA

§  The Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), previously named the Bangkok Agreement, was signed in 1975 as an initiative of ESCAP.

§  The six member countries are Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, Korea and Sri Lanka.

§  Being the oldest preferential trade agreement among developing countries in Asia-Pacific, APTA aims to promote economic development through the adoption of mutually beneficial trade liberalization measures that will contribute to intra-regional trade expansion and provides for economic integration through coverage of merchandise goods, services, investment and trade facilitation.

 

India has agreed to provide tariff concessions on 3,142 products to Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) members. These duty concessions will be more for least developed countries (LDCs) and less for developing nations.

Notably, APTA is the only operational trade agreement linking China and India, two of the fastest growing markets in the world, and other major markets such as the Republic of Korea.

 

 

AWAY FROM REACTOR (AFR) FACILITY

The Supreme Court has granted the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) an extension of time till April 30, 2022, to build an Away From Reactor (AFR) facility to store spent nuclear fuel from the Kudankulam power plant.The AFR facility was supposed to be built in five years, but this had not been done. In 2013, the court granted five years to NPCIL, till July 2018, to build the storage unit.

 

Behdienkhlam, one of the most colourful festivals of the State, was recently celebrated in the Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya. Behdienkhlam is a major festival of the people in the Jaintia Hills. It is celebrated to invoke the gods for a bumper harvest and drive away plague.

 

 

 

Kozhikode and Malappuram districts have been declared free of Nipah virus by the Kerala government. No fresh cases have been reported after June 1 in these districts.

According to WHO, the Nipah virus infection is a newly emerging zoonosis, that is, a disease transmitted from animals to humans. The virus belongs to a new genus termed Henipavirus (subfamily Paramyxovirinae).

§  The natural host of the virus are fruit bats belonging to the family Pteropodidae. In 2004, humans were affected after eating the date palm contaminated by infected fruit bats. Pigs can also act as intermediate hosts.It was first identified in 1998 at Kampung Sungai Nipah village, Malaysia. The virus is named after this village.

symptoms in humans

The symptoms of Nipah are similar to that of influenza: fever, muscle pain, and respiratory problems. Inflammation of the brain can also cause disorientation. Late onset of Encephalitis can also occur. Sometimes a person can have an asymptomatic infection, and be a carrier of Nipah and not show any symptoms.

 

Are there any vaccines?

§  Currently, there are no vaccines for both humans and animals. Intensive supportive care is given to humans infected by Nipah virus.

§  According to WHO, ribavarin can reduce the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and convulsions associated with the disease. Individuals infected need to be hospitalised and isolated. Special care should be taken to prevent human-to-human transmission. Surveillance systems should be established to detect the virus quickly and to initiate appropriate control measures.

 

Assumption Island agreement

Background: The red carpet laid out for the visiting Seychelles President Danny Faure last week came against the backdrop of setbacks in the bilateral relationship owing to the Assumption Island agreement being put on hold. The pact, to build a naval base on the island, was seen as a major strategic enhancement of India’s Indian Ocean Region  IOR naval capacities and had been under discussion since 2003.

It was finally signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Seychelles in 2015. The deal was to include 30-year access to the base as well as permission to station Indian military personnel on the ground, with facilities on the island funded by India, owned by Seychelles and jointly managed.

After Opposition protests about loss of sovereignty, however, it had to be renegotiated and an amended version was signed in January 2018. Even that proved insufficient. Mr. Faure lacks the numbers in the legislature to ratify it, and with the Opposition sticking to its stand he announced in early June he would not be taking the agreement with India forward. Instead, Seychelles would build the naval facility “on its own”. Given the blow to India’s plans, Mr. Faure may well have expected a cold reception in India. However, both sides decided to walk around the minefields relating to Assumption Island, with Mr. Modi saying they would work on the project “keeping in mind each other’s interests”. India also announced a credit line of $100 million for Seychelles to purchase defence equipment from India to build its maritime capacity, offered to finance civilian infrastructure including the official buildings, and handed over a Dornier aircraft for maritime surveillance purposes.

It would have been pointless to push the Seychelles President for a more concrete assurance on the Assumption Island project, as he has little room for manoeuvre.

India had earlier drawn a blank in attempting to negotiate directly with the Seychelles Opposition leader, Wavel Ramkalawan, who is of Indian origin. Until 2020-21, when Seychelles is due for presidential and parliamentary elections, it may not be possible to move the agreement further for ratification; rather than renegotiate or cancel it entirely, it is best to keep it in abeyance. This softer approach adopted by the government is in remarkable contrast to the strong-arm tactics it has used in the past with other countries in the IOR, such as the Maldives. India’s very public statements against the Abdulla Yameen government have now led to a considerable setback to its strategic position there, with the Maldives insisting on sending back Indian naval and coast guard helicopters from its atolls.

 

 

Payments Council of India (PCI)

·       The Payments Council of India was formed under the aegis of IAMAI in the year 2013 catering to the needs of the digital payment industry.

·       An apex body representing companies in payments and settlement system

·       new Chairman  Vishwas Patel.

 

Functions:

§  The Council was formed inter-alia for the purposes of representing the various regulated non-banking payment industry players, to address and help resolve various industry level issues and barriers which require discussion and action.

§  The council works with all its members to promote payments industry growth and to support our national goal of ‘Cash to Less Cash Society’ and ‘Growth of Financial Inclusion’ which is also the Vision Shared by the RBI and Government of India.

§  PCI works closely with the regulators i.e. Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Finance Ministry and any similar government, departments, bodies or Institution to make ‘India a less cash society’.

 

IAMAI:

§  The Internet and Mobile Association of India [IAMAI] is a young and vibrant association with ambitions of representing the entire gamut of digital businesses in India.

§  It was established in 2004 by the leading online publishers, but in the last 10 years has come to effectively address the challenges facing the digital and online industry including mobile content and services, online publishing, mobile advertising, online advertising, ecommerce and mobile & digital payments among others.

§  It is the only professional industry body representing the online and mobile VAS industry in India.

§  The association is registered under the Societies Act and is a recognized charitable institution in Maharashtra.

 

 

The Delhi government has launched a “happiness curriculum” in state-run schools.

The curriculum will be taught to around eight lakh students from nursery up to Class 8 of all Delhi government schools from the new academic session. The curriculum involves a “happiness period” of 45 minutes and five minutes of meditation before each class. It will include meditation, moral values and mental exercises.

 

 

KHADI INSTITUTION MANAGEMENT AND INFORMATION SYSTEM (KIMIS)

The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has launched its, in-house developed, single-umbrella e-marketing system named Khadi Institution Management and Information System (KIMIS). The system can be accessed from anywhere in the country for the sale and purchase of Khadi and Village Industries products.

 

The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) is a statutory body established by an Act of Parliament (Khadi and Village Industries Commission Act of 1956). In April 1957, it took over the work of former All India Khadi and Village Industries Board.

Functions: It is an apex organization under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, with regard to khadi and village industries within India, which seeks to – “plan, promote, facilitate, organise and assist in the establishment and development of khadi and village industries in the rural areas in coordination with other agencies engaged in rural development wherever necessary.”

 

 

POLAVARAM PROJECT

Chairperson NCST Presents Special Report on “Indira Sagar Polavaram Project” Affected Tribal People to President of India.

The report and recommendations are under Article 338A(5)(e) of the Constitution on the measures to be taken by the Government of Andhra Pradesh for the effective implementation of constitutional safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes who are affected on account of Polavaram Irrigation Project, Andhra Pradesh.

Polavaram Project is a multi-purpose irrigation project which has been accorded national project status by the central government.

§  This dam across the Godavari River is under construction located in West Godavari District and East Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh state and its reservoir spreads in parts of Chhattisgarh and Orissa States also.

§  The project is multipurpose major terminal reservoir project on river Godavari for development of Irrigation, Hydropower and drinking water facilities to East Godavari, Vishakhapatnam, West Godavari and Krishna districts of Andhra Pradesh.

§  The project is likely to displace over 1.88 lakh people across 222 villages and so far, 1,730 persons in six villages have been rehabilitated by the government.

 

 

NITI Aayog, in collaboration with various ministries and industry partners, is organising ‘MOVE: Global Mobility Summit’ in New Delhi.

§  Significance: It will be the first Global Mobility Summit of its kind, with over 1,200 expected participants from across the world including Government leadership, Industry leaders, Research Organizations, Academia, Think Tanks and Civil Society Organisations.

§  Objectives of the summit: To help drive Government’s goals for vehicle electrification, renewable energy integration and job growth and also speed up India’s transition to a clean energy economy.

 

Cvigil:

It is a mobile app launched by the Election Commission of India to enable citizens to report on violation of election code of conduct. It will be operational only where elections are announced.

 

 

The Supreme Court recently held that the Lt Governor of Delhi has no independent power to take decisions and is bound by the elected government’s advice. The ruling also lays down for the first time clear guidelines for the LG’s conduct, and delineates the powers of the two branches of the executive in Delhi, which does not have the status of a full state yet elects its own MLAs and government.

 

The judgment came on appeals filed by the NCT government against an August 4, 2016, verdict of the Delhi High Court, which had declared that the L-G has “complete control of all matters regarding the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and nothing will happen without the concurrence of the L-G.”

 

Supreme Court’s observations:

Role of LG:

§  The L-G is bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. In case of difference of opinion, the L-G should straightaway refer the dispute to the President for a final decision.

§  The Lieutenant-Governor should act as a “facilitator” for good governance in the national capital and not as an “obstructionist”.

§  The Lieutenant-Governor’s authority, saying he cannot exercise his discretion in “each and every matter” of daily governance. His discretionary powers are in fact limited to only matters in the State List — public order, police and land — over which the legislative power of the Delhi Legislative Assembly stand excluded under Article 239AA.

§  The NCT government need only to inform the L-G of its “well-deliberated” decisions. The government need not obtain his “concurrence” on every issue of day-to-day governance.

§  The elected government could make policies on laws enacted by its own Assembly. The executive power of the NCT government was co-extensive with its legislative powers.

 

Why Delhi cannot be a full- fledged state?

The Supreme Court followed the 1987 Balakrishnan report to conclude that Delhi is not a State. Balakrishnan report had envisaged that Delhi could not have a situation in which the national capital had “two governments run by different political parties. Such conflicts may, at times, prejudice the national interest.”

Delhi as the national capital belongs to the nation as a whole. if Delhi becomes a full-fledged State, there would be a constitutional division of sovereign, legislative and executive powers between the Union and the State of Delhi. Parliament would have limited legislative access and that too only in special and emergency situations. The Union would be unable to discharge its “special responsibilities in relation to the national capital as well as to the nation itself”.

 

HIGHER EDUCATION FINANCING AGENCY (HEFA)

The cabinet has approved the proposal for expanding the scope of Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) by enhancing its capital base to Rs. 10,000 crore and tasking it to mobilise Rs. 1,00,000 crore for Revitalizing Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022.

This would enable addressing the needs of all educational institutions with differing financial capacity in an inclusive manner.This would enable HEFA to leverage additional resources from the market to supplement equity, to be deployed to fund the requirements of institutions.

RISE scheme

§  Under RISE, all centrally-funded institutes (CFIs), including central universities, IITs, IIMs, NITs and IISERs, can borrow from a Rs 1,00,000 crore corpus over the next four years to expand and build new infrastructure. The initiative aims to step up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions, including health institutions.

§  Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) would be suitably structured for funding this initiative. The manner in which investment in institutions is provided is likely to be the same as is practised in HEFA, but there may be different windows for different institutions.

 

HEFA

The Union Cabinet had approved HEFA in September 2016 as a Special Purpose Vehicle with a public sector bank (Canara Bank). It would be jointly funded by the promoter/bank and the MHRD with an authorised capital of ₹2,000 crore. The government equity would be ₹1,000 crore.

Functions: HEFA will leverage the equity to raise up to ₹20,000 crore for the funding of world-class infrastructure at the IITs, IIMs, the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and such other institutions. The agency will also mobilise Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds from public sector units (PSUs) and corporates. These would be released as grants to eligible institutions for promoting research and innovation.

Significance of HEFA: Funding from HEFA is expected to boost infrastructure, especially state-of-the-art laboratories, in key institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), and the Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs).

 

DNA TECHNOLOGY (USE AND APPLICATION) REGULATION BILL, 2018

Cabinet approves DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018.

Therefore, the new bill aims to expand the application of DNA-based forensic technologies to support and strengthen the justice delivery system of the country.

 

Highlights of the Bill:

§  As per the Bill, national and regional DNA data banks will be set up for maintaining a national database for identification of victims, suspects in cases, undertrials, missing persons and unidentified human remains.

§  According to it, those leaking the DNA profile information to people or entities who are not entitled to have it, will be punished with a jail term of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh. Similar, punishment has also been provided for those who seek the information on DNA profiles illegally.

§  As per the bill, all DNA data, including DNA profiles, DNA samples and records, will only be used for identification of the person and not for “any other purpose”.

§  The bill’s provisions will enable the cross-matching between persons who have been reported missing on the one hand and unidentified dead bodies found in various parts of the country on the other, and also for establishing the identity of victims in mass disasters.

 

DNA technology- significance and concerns:

§  accurate technology

§  A hair sample, or even bloodstains from clothes, from a scene of crime, for example, can be matched with that of a suspect, and it can, in most cases, be conclusively established whether the DNA in the sample belongs to the suspected individual.

§  But information from DNA samples can reveal not just how a person looks, or what their eye colour or skin colour is, but also more intrusive information like their allergies, or susceptibility to diseases. As a result, there is a greater risk of information from DNA analysis getting misused.

§  speedier justice delivery but also in increased conviction rates.

 

Common Services centres, CSC SPV, a Special Purpose Vehicle under the Ministry of Electronics & IT, has entered into agreement with HDFC Bank to enable its three lakh Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) managing the Common Services centres operate as Banking Correspondents of HDFC Bank.

§  Under the agreement, VLEs of CSC will work as Banking Correspondent of HDFC Bank and support the Government initiative to promote financial inclusion and make banking services more accessible in rural areas.

This agreement is expected to be a game changer as it would significantly contribute to Government’s objectives of enabling Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of various schemes.

§  Women, senior citizens and persons with disability will especially get benefitted through this initiative.

§  This will facilitate withdrawal and deposit of government entitlements such as payments under MGNREGA as well as various social welfare schemes like widow pension, handicapped and old age pension, etc.

Common Services Centers (CSCs) are a strategic cornerstone of the Digital India programme. They are the access points for delivery of various electronic services to villages in India, thereby contributing to a digitally and financially inclusive society.

The CSC project, which forms a strategic component of the National eGovernance Plan was approved by the Government in May 2006, as part of its commitment in the National Common Minimum Programme to introduce e-governance on a massive scale. It is also one of the approved projects under the Integrated Mission Mode Projects of the National eGovernance Plan.

 

Cabinet approves extension of Scheme of Recapitalization of Regional Rural Banks upto 2019-20.

 

Impact:

This will enable the RRBs to maintain the minimum prescribed Capital to Risk Weighted Assets Ratio (CRAR) of 9%. A strong capital structure and minimum required level of CRAR will ensure financial stability of RRBs which will enable them to play a greater role in financial inclusion and meeting the credit requirements of rural areas.

A Regional Rural Banks Ordinance was promulgated in September 1975, which was replaced by the Regional Rural Banks Act 1976.

RRBs are jointly owned by Government of India, the concerned State Government and Sponsor Banks with the issued capital shared in the proportion of 50%, 15% and 35% respectively.

§  RRBs were set up with the objective to provide credit and other facilities, especially to the small and marginal farmers, agricultural labourers, artisans and small entrepreneurs in rural areas for development of agriculture, trade, commerce, industry and other productive activities.

 

WIPO Copyright Treaty, 1996 and WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty, 1996

Cabinet approves accession to WIPO Copyright Treaty, 1996 and WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty, 1996. The treaties extend coverage of copyright to the internet and digital environment.

 

Meeting the demand of the copyright industries, the treaties will help India:

§  To enable creative right-holders enjoy the fruit of their labour, through international copyright system that can be used to secure a return on the investment made in producing and distributing creative works;

§  To facilitate international protection of domestic rights holder by providing them level-playing field in other countries as India already extends protection to foreign works through the International Copyright order and these treaties will enable Indian right holders to get reciprocal protection abroad;

§  To instil confidence and distribute creative works in digital environment with return on investment; and

§  To spur business growth and contribute to the development of a vibrant creative economy and cultural landscape.

 

WIPO Copyright Treaty:

It came in force on March 6, 2002 and has been adopted by 96 contracting parties till date and is A Special agreement under Berne Convention (for protection of literary and artistic works). It has provisions to extend the protection of copyrights contained therein to the digital environment. Further it recognises the rights specific to digital environment, of making work available, to address “on-demand” and other interactive modes of access.

 

WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty:

§  It came in force on May 20, 2002 and has 96 contracting parties as its members. WPPT deals with rights of two kinds of beneficiaries, particularly in digital environment – (i) Performers (actors, singers, musicians etc.) (ii) Producers of Phonograms (Sound recordings). The treaty empowers right owners in theit negotiations with new digital platforms and distributors. It recognizes moral rights of the performers for the first time & provides exclusive economic rights to them.

§  Both the treaties provide framework for creators and right owners to use technical tools to protect their works and safeguard information about their use i.e. Protection of Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) and Rights Management Information (RMI).

 

WIPO

§  The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is one of the 17 specialized agencies of the United Nations.

§  It was created in 1967 “to encourage creative activity, to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world.”

§  It has currently 188 member states, administers 26 international treaties, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

§  Non-members are the states of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, South Sudan and Timor-Leste. Palestine has observer status.

§  India is a member of WIPO and party to several treaties administered by WIPO.

 

 

 

Cabinet approves renaming of Agartala Airport, Tripura as Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya Kishore Airport, Agartala. Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya Kishore, who ascended the throne of the erstwhile Tripura Princely State in 1923, was an enlightened and benevolent ruler. Agartala Airport was constructed in 1942 on the land donated by Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya Kishore.

 

 

Khan Prahari’:

 

is a Mobile Application ‘Khan Prahari’ it is a tool for reporting any activity taking place related to illegal coal mining like rat hole mining, pilferage etc. One can upload geo-tagged photographs of the incident along with textual information directly to the system.

 

 

The Central government has filed a counter affidavit in the Supreme Court expressing its inability to give Special Category Status (SCS) to Andhra Pradesh and said all commitments under the A.P. Reorganisation Act (APRA), 2014 had been addressed.

 

What is the economic rationale for the demand and how serious are the economic challenges for Andhra?

§  When the state was divided, Andhra not only lost a capital but also an important industry hub, which was in and around Hyderabad. The contribution of agriculture to state GDP is higher for Andhra than its neighbouring states.

§  In fact, today it is arguably the highest in South. This is also a reflection of a lower level of industrialization and along with it a lower per capita income and again, the lowest in South.

§  Much of this is because of Hyderabad, which political analysts argue has gone on to make Telangana, a city-centric state, with the city still an important growth engine and revenue source for Telangana. Today, the per capita income for Telangana is at par with states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and many see this as largely on account of Hyderabad.

 

What is Special Category Status?

There is no provision of SCS in the Constitution; the Central government extends financial assistance to states that are at a comparative disadvantage against others. The concept of SCS emerged in 1969 when the Gadgil formula (that determined Central assistance to states) was approved.

 

Some prominent guidelines for getting SCS status:

§  Must be economically backward with poor infrastructure.

§  The states must be located in hilly and challenging terrain.

§  They should have low population density and significant tribal population.

§  Should be strategically situated along the borders of neighbouring countries.

 

What kind of assistance do SCS States receive?

§  The SCS States used to receive block grants based on the Gadgil-Mukherjee formula, which effectively allowed for nearly 30 per cent of the Total Central Assistance to be transferred to SCS States as late as 2009-10.

§  Following the constitution of the NITI Aayog (after the dissolution of the Planning Commission) and the recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC), Central plan assistance to SCS States has been subsumed in an increased devolution of the divisible pool to all States (from 32% in the 13th FC recommendations to 42%) and do not any longer appear in plan expenditure.

§  The FFC also recommended variables such as “forest cover” to be included in devolution, with a weightage of 7.5 in the criteria and which could benefit north-eastern States that were previously given SCS assistance. Besides, assistance to Centrally Sponsored Schemes for SCS States was given with 90% Central share and 10% State share.

 

When was the first Special Category status bestowed?

The NDC first accorded SCS in 1969 to Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Nagaland. Over the years, eight more states were added to the list — Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and, finally, in 2010, Uttarakhand. Until 2014-15, SCS meant these 11 states received a variety of benefits and sops.

 

Way ahead:

Considering special status to any new State will result in demands from other States and dilute the benefits further. It is also not economically beneficial for States to seek special status as the benefits under the current dispensation are minimal. States facing special problems will be better off seeking a special package.

 

 

 

The Law Commission of India has submitted a report to the government recommending “cashless” gambling in sports as a means to increase revenue and deal a blow to unlawful gambling.

 

Legalize gambling?

Yes?

§  Since it is impossible to stop illegal gambling, the only viable option left is to “regulate” gambling in sports.

§  It will increase revenue and deal a blow to unlawful gambling. The money generated can be used for public welfare activities.

 

No?

§  A country as poor as India should not allow ‘legalised gambling’. Such a move would leave the poor poorer and only vested interests want legalisation of gambling.

§  Socio-economic and cultural circumstances of the country are not pragmatic to accept legalised gambling activities as it is still treated as a social stigma.

§  It may also prompt future generations to take unethical paths.

 

Law commission recommendations:

§  The revenue from gambling should be taxable under laws like Income Tax Act, the Goods and Services Tax Act.

§  Transactions between gamblers and operators should be linked to their Aadhaar and PAN cards so that the government could keep an eye on them.

§  There is a need for classification of ‘proper gambling’ and ‘small gambling.’ Proper gambling would be for the rich who play for high stakes, while small gambling would be for the low-income groups.

§  The government should introduce a cap on the number of gambling transactions for each individual, that is, monthly, half-yearly and annual.

§  Restrictions on amount should be prescribed while using electronic money facilities like credit cards, debit cards, and net-banking. Gambling websites should also not solicit pornography.

§  Regulations need to protect vulnerable groups, minors and those below poverty line, those who draw their sustenance from social welfare measures, government subsidies and Jan Dhan account holders from exploitation through gambling.

§  Foreign Exchange Management and Foreign Direct Investment laws and policies should be amended to encourage investment in the casino/online gaming industry. This would propel tourism and employment.

 

 

 

 ICAT has completed the first BS-VI certification for a heavy-duty engine model for M/s Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicle Limited.

 

What are BS norms?

The BS — or Bharat Stage — emission standards are norms instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles. India has been following the European (Euro) emission norms, though with a time-lag of five years.

 

Difference between BS-IV and the new BS-VI:

The major difference in standards between the existing BS-IV and the new BS-VI auto fuel norms is the presence of sulphur. The newly introduced fuel is estimated to reduce the amount of sulphur released by 80%, from 50 parts per million to 10 ppm. As per the analysts, the emission of NOx (nitrogen oxides) from diesel cars is also expected to reduce by nearly 70% and 25% from cars with petrol engines.

 

Why is it important to upgrade these norms?

Upgrading to stricter fuel standards helps tackle air pollution. Global automakers are betting big on India as vehicle penetration is still low here, when compared to developed countries. At the same time, cities such as Delhi are already being listed among those with the poorest air quality in the world. The national capital’s recent odd-even car experiment and judicial activism against the registration of big diesel cars shows that governments can no longer afford to relax on this front.

With other developing countries such as China having already upgraded to the equivalent of Euro V emission norms a while ago, India has been lagging behind. The experience of countries such as China and Malaysia shows that poor air quality can be bad for business. Therefore, these reforms can put India ahead in the race for investments too.

 

§  The International Centre for Automotive Technology (ICAT) is a division of NATRiP implementation society (NATIS), under the administrative control of the Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, Government of India.

§  ICAT is the first of new world-class centers established under the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) with the main objective of carrying out Research & Development besides extending homologation facilities in the field of Automotive Engineering.

 

NASA puts finishing touches to 430,000mph Parker Solar Probe that will launch next month to help predict devastating solar storms.

 

About the Parker solar probe:

What is it? NASA’s historic Parker Solar Probe mission will revolutionize our understanding of the sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds. Parker Solar Probe will travel through the sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions — and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.

Journey: In order to unlock the mysteries of the sun’s atmosphere, Parker Solar Probe will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun. The spacecraft will fly through the sun’s atmosphere as close as 3.9 million miles to our star’s surface, well within the orbit of Mercury and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before.

Goals: The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.

 

Parker Solar Probe has three detailed science objectives:

§  Trace the flow of energy that heats and accelerates the solar corona and solar wind.

§  Determine the structure and dynamics of the plasma and magnetic fields at the sources of the solar wind.

§  Explore mechanisms that accelerate and transport energetic particles.

 

Why do we study the sun and the solar wind?

§  The sun is the only star we can study up close. By studying this star we live with, we learn more about stars throughout the universe.

§  The sun is a source of light and heat for life on Earth. The more we know about it, the more we can understand how life on Earth developed.

§  The sun also affects Earth in less familiar ways. It is the source of the solar wind; a flow of ionized gases from the sun that streams past Earth at speeds of more than 500 km per second (a million miles per hour).

§  Disturbances in the solar wind shake Earth’s magnetic field and pump energy into the radiation belts, part of a set of changes in near-Earth space known as space weather.

§  Space weather can change the orbits of satellites, shorten their lifetimes, or interfere with onboard electronics. The more we learn about what causes space weather – and how to predict it – the more we can protect the satellites we depend on.

§  The solar wind also fills up much of the solar system, dominating the space environment far past Earth. As we send spacecraft and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this space environment just as early seafarers needed to understand the ocean.

 

 

 

THE FIRST ‘PAD ABORT’ TEST by ISRO

ISRO recently conducted the first ‘pad abort’ test critical for a future human space mission. The Pad Abort Test demonstrated the safe recovery of the crew module in case of any exigency at the launch pad.

Crew Escape System:It is an emergency escape measure to quickly pull the astronaut cabin along with crew out to a safe distance from launch vehicle during a launch abort.

 

National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) recently added four species into the center’s recovery Programme for critically endangered species. This decision will lead to targeted conservation of these species whose population is on the decline.The species are Northern River Terrapin, Clouded Leopard, Arabian Sea Humpback Whale and Red Panda.

Terrapins have been exploited for illegal trade across borders, especially for its meat and carapace. the Northern River Terrapin is largely found in West Bengal.

Clouded leopard and Red Panda are facing habitat loss and poaching threat for their meat, medicine and pelts. the clouded leopard is found in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim and Assam. Red Panda is largely found in Sikkim, western Arunachal Pradesh, North Bengal and parts of Meghalaya.

§  Arabian Sea Humpback Whale is facing threats from accidental entanglement in fishing gears, ship strikes and seismic explorations. Humpback whales migrate towards India’s west coast from Oman and there have been several instances of these gargantuan species getting beached on Maharashtra’s long coastline.

 

The species recovery programme of the Union Environment Ministry is implemented under Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats — a centrally sponsored umbrella scheme for management and conservation of parks, wildlife habitats and conservation. Started in 2008-09, IDWH is meant for providing support to protected areas (national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation reserves and community reserves except tiger reserves), protection of wildlife outside protected areas and recovery programmes for saving critically endangered species and habitats.

 

Species already included in the recovery programme: Snow Leopard, Bustard (including Floricans), Dolphin, Hangul, Nilgiri Tahr, Marine Turtles, Dugongs, Edible Nest Swiftlet, Asian Wild Buffalo, Nicobar Megapode, Manipur Brow-antlered Deer, Vultures, Malabar Civet, Indian Rhinoceros, Asiatic Lion, Swamp Deer and Jerdon’s Courser.

India is a party to the International Whaling commission that is committed to the protection of whales and its habitats in Indian waters.

National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is a statutory Board constituted in September 2003 under Section 5 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The NBWL is chaired by the Hon’ble Prime Minister.

 

 

Eta Carinae:

 

§  It is the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years. It is located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina. It is famous for a 19th century outburst that briefly made it the second-brightest star in the sky.

It is accelerating particles to high energies, some of which may reach the earth as cosmic rays.

 

 

Sambal’ scheme:

§  What is it? It is a power bill waiver scheme and subsidised power scheme for labourers and poor families launched by the Madhya Pradesh Government.

§  Under the scheme, the Below Poverty Line (BPL) families would be provided electricity at a cost of 200 rupees per month. The objective of this scheme to make sure that all the households have power facility in the state.

 

Gaming University In Andhra Pradesh:

§  Context: UNESCO has entered into an agreement with Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board (APEDB) to establish a ‘Gaming Digital Learning Hub’ in Vishakhapatnam.

§  The Design University for Gaming will help UNSECO to develop edutech gaming in state, with the target of providing 50,000 jobs in 10 years.

 

 

Chief Justice of India (CJI) is the “master of the roster

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) is the “master of the roster,” the Supreme Court has reaffirmed, declining to accept former law minister Shanti Bhushan’s suggestion that the CJI consult his collegium colleagues –the top four judges after him in seniority –in allocating cases to various benches.

 

Supreme Court’s observations:

Position of CJI: CJI is the master of roster in allocating cases to different benches and his power cannot be delegated to collegium comprising of CJI and four senior most judges. Although the constitution is silent on the CJI’s role as the master of the roster, his power is based on a healthy practice and “convention aimed at maintaining discipline and decorum.” He is described as “first among equals.”

Moral responsibility of CJI: SC highlighted that the CJI owes a moral responsibility to his colleagues and the public at large while flexing his powers as ‘Master of Roster’ to allocate cases. “Absolute discretion” cannot be confined in just one man, the CJI.

Qualities for a CJI: The court listed some of the qualities a CJI should possess as the Master of Roster, including balance, fortitude, moral courage and independence of mind. Also, as the court’s spokesperson, it is the CJI’s duty to usher in and administer reform as a continuous process.

 

What does ‘master of the roster’ mean?

§  ‘Master of the Roster’ refers to the privilege of the Chief Justice to constitute Benches to hear cases.

§  This privilege was emphasised in November last year, when a Constitution Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, declared that “the Chief Justice is the master of the roster and he alone has the prerogative to constitute the Benches of the Court and allocate cases to the Benches so constituted.”

§  It further said that “no Judge can take up the matter on this own, unless allocated by the Chief Justice of India, as he is the master of the roster.”

§  The immediate trigger for this was a direction by a two-judge Bench that a petition regarding a medical college corruption case, involving an alleged conspiracy to bribe Supreme Court judges, be heard by a Bench fo the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.

 

Concerns associated:

Undoubtedly, the chief justices enjoy a special status and they alone can assign work to a judge sitting alone and to the judges sitting in division bench or full bench. They have the jurisdiction to decide which case will be heard by which bench. If judges were free to choose their jurisdiction or any choice was given to them to do whatever case they may like to hear and decide, the machinery would collapse and the judicial work of the court would cease by generation of internal strife on account of hankering for a particular jurisdiction or a particular case.

 

 

 

National Health Stack (NHS)

NITI Aayog has proposed creation of National Health Stack (NHS), a centralized health record for all citizens of the country, in order to streamline the health information and facilitate effective management of the same.

§  The proposed NHS is an approach to address the challenge and seeks to employ latest technology including Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning Artificial Intelligence, a state of the art Policy Mark-up Language and create a unified health identity of citizens – as they navigate across services across levels of care, i.e. Primary, Secondary and Tertiary and also across Public and Private.

 

The Uttarakhand high court has declared the entire animal kingdom, including birds and aquatic animals, as a legal entity having rights of a “living person”. The move aims to ensure “greater welfare” of animals.

 

Legal entity?

A legal entity means an entity which acts like a natural person but only through a designated person, whose acts are processed within the ambit of law. This means the animal kingdom could be represented by a custodian.

 

Constitutional status:

§  Invoking Article 21 of the Constitution, the court said: “Article 21 of the Constitution, while safeguarding the rights of humans, protects life and the word ‘life’ means animal world”.

§  The court cited a 2014 Supreme Court judgment to say any disturbance from the “basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animals life, which are necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution”.

 

As part of the judgment, the court has issued following directions:

§  Create an animal welfare committee in every district of the state. All citizens of Uttarakhand shall be “persons in loco parentis” (in the place of a parent). This gives them the responsibility to protect animals and ensure their welfare.

§  The court also gave directions ranging from the amount of load allowed to be pulled by various animals in accordance with the kind of carriage being pulled to the amount of riders per carriage.

§  Further banning the use of spike or other sharp tackle or equipment on the animal, the court also directed the state government to ensure that if temperature exceeds 37 degree Celsius or drops below 5 degree Celsius, no person be permitted to keep in harness any animal used for the purpose of drawing vehicles.

§  The court also went into the aspect of animal safety, highlighting the need for fluorescent reflectors in carriages and animals, certificates of unladen weight of vehicles, compulsory shelter of suitable size for horses, bullocks and stray cattle and a direction to the veterinary doctors of Uttarakhand to treat any stray animals brought to them or by visiting them.

§  The court said as the carts driven by animals have no mechanical devices, animal-drawn carriages have to be given Right of Way over other vehicles.

Uttarakhand high court in March last year accorded the status of “living entity” to the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, a decision subsequently stayed by the Supreme Court.

 

 

 

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), India’s premier software lobby, has opened a Center of Excellence (CoE) for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence in Bangalore.

§  Nasscom also signed a MoU with NITI Aayog to collaboratively foster applied research, accelerating adoption and ethics, privacy and security.

 

Centre of excellence:

The CoE initiative is a nationwide programme on innovation, focusing on solutions in smart manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, agriculture, energy, IoT, banking and financial services, retail, telecom, and host of emerging technologies.

The center aims to “support SMBs, by fast-tracking their product development, provide market access to enterprises and assist them by co-creating programs along with other industry partners and start-ups to solve complex and real-world business problems.”

 

 

Mattala Airport:

India has agreed to form a joint venture with Sri Lanka to operate the country’s loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota.

§  It is dubbed as the “world’s emptiest airport” due to a lack of flights.

§  The airport infrastructure was funded through high interest Chinese commercial loans. The airport was officially opened in March 2013.

§  The only international flight operating from there was halted in May due to recurrent losses and flight safety issues.

 

The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India has approved a proposal to allow the Life Insurance Corporation of India to increase its stake in the ailing state-owned IDBI Bank to 51%. The plan envisages the insurer injecting much- needed capital into the financially stressed lender, which was placed under the Reserve Bank of India’s prompt corrective action framework in May 2017 as a consequence of its non-performing assets rising beyond a threshold.

The proposal raises several troubling questions. The government clearly sees it as a relatively painless way to recapitalise the bleeding bank without adversely impacting its fiscal position, but the risks in increasingly banking on state-controlled cash-rich corporations to help bail out other state-owned companies or lenders are too significant to be glossed over. Then, there are the regulators. The IRDA, whose mission is to “protect the interest of and secure fair treatment to policyholders”, is reported to have exempted the LIC from the well-reasoned 15% cap on the extent of equity holding an insurer can have in a single company. This puts at risk the interests of the premium-paying customers of the LIC. The Securities and Exchange Board of India has in the past waived the mandatory open offer requirement under its takeover regulations when it involved a state-run acquirer and another state enterprise as the target. As the capital markets watchdog, SEBI has an obligation in all such cases to weigh the interests of the small investor. And the RBI, as the banking regulator, should not ignore the contagion risks that the level of “interconnectedness” the proposed transaction would expose the entire financial system to.

 

 

In a recent discussion paper, NITI Aayog has chalked out an ambitious strategy for India to become an artificial intelligence (AI) powerhouse. AI is the use of computers to make decisions that are normally made by humans. Many forms of AI surround Indians already, including chatbots on retail websites and programs that flag fraudulent bank activity. But NITI Aayog envisions AI solutions for India on a scale not seen anywhere in the world today, especially in five key sectors — agriculture, healthcare, education, smart cities and infrastructure, and transport. In agriculture, for example, machines will provide information to farmers on the quality of soil, when to sow, where to spray herbicide, and when to expect pest infestations. It’s an idea with great potential: India has 30 million farmers with smartphones, but poor extension services. If computers help agricultural universities advise farmers on best practices, India could see a farming revolution.

Lack of data

However, there are formidable obstacles. AI start-ups already offer some solutions, but the challenge lies in scaling these to cover the entire value chain, as NITI Aayog envisions. The first problem is data. Machine learning, the set of technologies used to create AI, is a data-guzzling monster. It takes reams of historical data as input, identifies the relationships among data elements, and makes predictions. More sophisticated forms of machine learning, like “deep learning”, attempt to mimic the human brain. And even though they promise greater accuracy, they also need more data than what is required by traditional machine learning. Unfortunately, India has sparse data in sectors like agriculture, and this is already hampering AI-based businesses today.

Take the Bengaluru-based Intello Labs, for instance. This is a start-up which helps buyers at agricultural mandis evaluate the quality of grains, fruits or vegetables. In the normal course, a buyer determines visually how much wheat is destroyed by pests, and if foreign particles are present, before offering the farmer a price. But this process is subjective and prone to error. Visual inspection relies too much on the buyer’s expertise, and corrupt middlemen may cheat farmers. So, a smartphone-based AI product, such as Intello Labs’ grading app, can help. To develop this product, the Intello Labs team had to photograph 2.5 million agricultural samples. Experts then identified the contents of these photos — a laborious process called annotation. Next, the team wrote a deep learning algorithm, which was trained using the photos. Today, the algorithm can predict the quality of 12 foods over 95% of the time in a few markets like Delhi and Rajasthan. But in order to expand their basket beyond 12 products and a few States, Intello Labs will need millions of more such images. This can be challenging for a private firm, unless such images are collected, digitised and annotated automatically by the government at agricultural mandis. Such data collection doesn’t happen today. “The biggest agricultural data today resides with the government. It’s entirely up to them to annotate it and make it usable,” says Nishant Mishra, the chief technological officer of Intello Labs.

In fact, the lack of data means that deep learning doesn’t work for all companies in India. One example is Climate-Connect, a Delhi-based firm, which uses AI to predict the amount of power a solar plant will generate every 15 minutes. This is critical because solar electricity generation can change dramatically every hour depending on weather conditions and the position of the sun. When this happens, the plant must communicate expected changes to power distributors, which will then switch to alternative sources. With India planning to install 100 GW of solar power by 2022, such AI will play a central role in power planning.

But to generate such data, Climate-Connect needs historical inputs like the time of sunrise and sunset, and cloud cover where the plant is located. Unfortunately, since most Indian solar plants are recent, data are available only for a couple of years, whereas deep learning needs data over many years to predict generation. Today, the firm uses traditional machine learning technologies such as regression analysis that work with less data. These methods have an accuracy of around 95%. While deep learning can boost accuracy for operations such as Climate-Connect, it hasn’t worked very well in the Indian scenario, says Nitin Tanwar, cofounder of the firm.

Domain knowledge

Another problem for AI firms today is finding the right people. NITI Aayog’s report has bleak news: only about 50 Indian scientists carry out “serious research” and they are concentrated in elite institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Science. Meanwhile, only about 4% of AI professionals have worked in emerging technologies like deep learning. A survey of LinkedIn found 386 out of the 22,000 people with PhDs in AI across the world to be Indians. How does this skill gap impact companies? To some extent, open libraries of machine learning code, which can be customised to solve Indian problems, help. This means that companies need not write code from scratch, and even computer science graduates can carry out the customisation.

But open libraries can only go so far. For some technical problems, such libraries don’t exist. In Bengaluru, a start-up called Ati Motors is developing an autonomous cargo vehicle to ferry materials in ports and factories. One of the things the vehicle must do is to chart out its trajectory based on the obstacles along its path. There are no standard deep learning algorithms for this, and Ati Motors must write these on its own. This requires some knowledge of mathematics as well as deep learning, says Vinay Viswanathan, cofounder of Ati Motors. But finding people with such knowledge is proving hard. “You can do a fair amount of machine learning without mathematics, but if you get stuck somewhere, you have to know some math to find the solution,” he says.

Can India then really become an “AI garage” for 40% of the world, as NITI Aayog envisions? The discussion paper mentions no timeline for this goal. But for any reasonable time frame for execution, much needs to change immediately. First, if the government is serious about AI solutions powering agriculture or healthcare, it must collect and digitise data better under its existing programs.

Second, to close the skill gap, NITI Aayog suggests setting up a network of basic and applied AI research institutes. But if these institutes are to fulfil their mandate, they must collaborate closely with agricultural universities, medical colleges and infrastructure planners. AI is a collaborative process in which scientists developing solutions for certain sectors need an intimate knowledge of those sectors. The NITI Aayog report talks about collaboration. But unless collaboration is the basis for the new crop of institutes, these institutes won’t make a difference, experts say.

Third, NITI Aayog’s ambitious road map does not mention deadlines or funding. Without these, it lacks accountability. The government must make haste and specify its commitments on these fronts.

 

 

West is passé

There is a growing feeling amongst the larger Asian countries that the West is passé. The news coming out of there, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, is of declining populations, big layoffs and economic meltdowns in several countries of the European Union (EU), Italy being the latest.

Of course, by the West we don’t just mean the EU but also other parts of Europe such as the Scandinavian countries, all of North America and almost all of Australasia, many now home to millions of non-white, non-Christians.

One tends to forget that the most populous of the Western countries, the U.S., has a growing population and remains the most productive and innovative in the world, as well as militarily the most powerful.

The West continues to have most of the finest educational and research facilities, and takes in the most brilliant and creative minds from the rest of the world.

Regardless of an unpredictable U.S. President, the rich West hangs together, with a combined GDP several times than that of the rest of the world.

The West has no problem it cannot overcome, simply because it also collectively commands formidable military might of a kind that has enabled it to intervene wherever and whenever it chooses.

Not to be ignored are the massive financial resources that it has accumulated. Take Norway, for instance. With far fewer inhabitants than Bengaluru, that small Nordic country has a sovereign pension fund of $1 trillion, the outcome of a kind of prudence and foresight that ought to have left countries like Venezuela, Nigeria and Congo enormously wealthy, if only those who ran them had the integrity and wisdom to value public good over their own.

The robust legal and administrative systems in the West, the kind of social security as well as democracy its people enjoy, the accountability insisted upon, along with quick retribution of wrongdoing makes life there so much more secure and predictable.

And so, much as the world looks on the West as a spent force, there is every reason to believe that it will dominate the 21st century, as it has the two before that. The rest of the world badly needs a revolution in governance and public accountability to overcome seemingly insurmountable environmental, social and economic challenges. Some green shoots are evident in growing public activism in India, sporadic protests in China, and the easing-out of a dictator in Zimbabwe. These suggest that such a revolution may unexpectedly come about.

 

WHY TURKEY ALWAYS APPEARS TO BE IN A STATE OF FLUX

Conceding defeat to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the June election, Opposition leader Muharrem Ince protested against the “authoritarian” turn of events. He said the “one-man rule” meant that Turkey has departed from democratic values and that such rule poses “a threat to the survival of the country”. With civil liberties under acute pressure and Mr. Erdogan rooted in Islam, Turkey is in a state of flux. However, a look at its history shows that it has always been pulled in many directions. It is at once secular and Islamic, Western and Eastern, democratic and autocratic, with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia.

Jason Goodwin traces the rise and decline of the Ottoman empire in Lords of the Horizon (1998). He writes that “it was, by common consent, a Turkish empire, but most of its dignitaries and officers, and its shock troops, too, were Balkan Slavs. Its ceremonial was Byzantine, its dignity Persian, its wealth Egyptian, its letters Arabic… Its most brilliant sailors were all Greek. Its canniest merchants were Armenian.” Ottoman society at its best was civilised and tolerant, its rulers governing conquests with a light hand. Goodwin argues that the empire fell not least because of the Turks’ “prideful ignorance of the West”, depriving the country of the fruits of modernity.

The Turkish republic was founded on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Following the rise of Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, they ask whether Turkey has descended into a “tyranny of the majority” led by a charismatic leader. The challenges are many, from a faltering economy, the Kurds issue, a fraught foreign policy to a gnawing unhappiness

 

 

VOLITIONAL EVOLUTION

This refers to the changes in the physical characteristics of an organism caused by deliberate human intervention in its genetic makeup. Volitional evolution is made possible by recent advances in the science of biotechnology which allows human beings to engineer the genetic composition of various organisms according to their own desires. This is in contrast to the predominant form of evolution throughout history, facilitated by the process of natural selection. The term was coined by American biologist Edward O. Wilson who warned about the ethical problems posed by the deliberate manipulation of genes by human beings.

 

Banking Codes and Standards Board of India (BCSBI) was set up in February 2006 as a collaborative effort by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) and banks to define benchmarks for banking services. Accordingly, BCSBI had evolved two codes — the Code of Bank’s Commitment to Customers and the Code of Bank’s Commitment to Micro and Small Enterprises. Anand Aras, CEO, BCSBI, spoke about them.

How are the banking codes different from norms?

Reserve Bank of India issues regulatory instructions to banks on various matters, including customer service. The codes are a voluntarily declared commitment, as a self regulation, of member-banks to their customers explaining how they will deal with their customers in their day-to-day operations. The codes complement regulatory guidelines. They do not replace or supersede regulatory guidelines.

Why did building awareness among customers become your primary motive?

Our primary objective is to evolve the codes and ensure that member-banks comply to the codes. However, as mentioned earlier, codes explain how banks will deal with their customers in their day-to-day operations. You will appreciate that for [the] implementation of code in its true spirit and effectively, it is necessary that both, the bank staff as service provider and the bank customers as service receiver, need to be aware of it. Thus, BCSBI is making efforts to create and enhance awareness about codes among the customers.

Is there any specific code for senior citizens?

There is no separate code for senior citizen but the Code of Bank’s Commitment to Customers contains a dedicated section for senior citizen and differently-abled customers of banks. The focus of provisions covered under this section is on ease of availing banking services in a rightful manner. This contains a specific reference to commitments of member-banks to senior citizens.

Have you been getting many complaints from customers?

Although we are not a grievance redressal body, customers do write to us in case of a grievance. We only take up cases which involve a systemic issue or non adherence to the codes.

What is the level of code compliance by banks?

The codes developed by BCSBI are a commitment of our member-banks to their individual and micro and small enterprise customers, representing the best practices voluntarily agreed to by them. Similarly, Code of Bank’s Commitment to Customers, (revised in January 2018) is in essence a charter of rights of the individual customers. Thus, looking at its nature, it may be difficult to indicate level of code compliance in a comparative term.

What are the areas that particularly need improvement for better banking standards delivery to customers?

In general, there is a need for strengthening awareness about relevant code commitments and their importance among the staff at bank branches. The banks, particularly public sector banks, need to strengthen their monitoring and training systems coupled with an element of accountability.

What are the changes you have seen in the standards of customer service and code compliance over the years?

Over a period, with the improvement in the implementation of the codes, we have been witnessing some improvement in quality of customer service in banks.

Have you recently modified the codes?

The Charter of Customer Rights has been integrated with Key Commitments of the Codes to make it comprehensive. Operational changes have been captured. Also, all the relevant RBI guidelines pertaining to customer service are taken note of. These provisions increase the awareness of the customers, about their rights and explains to the customers how they should take care of their accounts in the wake of increasing digitisation, by following proper “dos and don’ts” and how to stay protected from payment-related frauds.

 

 

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in India seems to be petering out with the growth rate of inflows recording a five-year low of 3% at $44.85 billion in 2017-18, according to the latest data of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).

Foreign inflows in the country grew by 8.67% in 2016-17, 29% in 2015-16, 27% in 2014-15, and 8% in 2013-14. However, FDI inflows recorded a negative growth of 38% in 2012-13.

‘Policy uncertainty’

According to experts, it is critical to revive domestic investments and further improve ease of doing business in the country to attract foreign investors.

Anil Talreja, partner, Deloitte India, said the low growth of FDI in the consumer and retail sectors could be mainly attributed to uncertainty and complexity of the FDI policy.

“While the government has taken substantial efforts in relaxing the regulations as well as removing ambiguities, global consumer and retail companies are still hesitant to take decisions to invest in India,” he said.

India has done ‘considerably’ well in terms of moving up the ranking for ease of doing business; however, it needed to reach a level that creates enthusiasm for overseas investors, he added.

Biswajit Dhar, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “The status of the economy reflects the magnitude of the FDI in a country. In the past couple of years, we have seen a decline in the domestic investment rate and now, FDI is following suit.”

He said the Centre needed to take steps for reviving domestic investment to attract foreign investors.

An UNCTAD report, too, had recently stated that FDI in India decreased to $40 billion in 2017 from $44 billion in 2016. However, outflows from India, the main source of the FDI in South Asia, more than doubled to $11 billion, it added. UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi had said, “Downward pressure on FDI and slowdown in global value chains are a major concern for policymakers.“

Sectors that received maximum foreign inflows in the last fiscal include services ($6.7 billion), computer software and hardware ($6.15 billion), telecom ($6.21 billion), trading ($4.34 billion), construction ($2.73 billion) automobile ($2 billion) and power ($1.62 billion).

 

 

Taxes should be collected,” said Chanakya, “like the honeybee which sucks honey from the flowers in a swift, smooth and painless operation.” The tax department seems to be unaware of this maxim. In March 2018, the Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax sent out thousands of letters warning the recipients of strict penalties and prosecutions if they failed to furnish the return of income before March 31, 2018. The letter itself contained details of TDS on interest. Super senior citizens receiving interest of ₹9,000 and TDS of ₹90 were also blessed with such letters.

A multinational firm was involved in a transfer pricing dispute. The I-T department raised a demand of over ₹22 crore. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal granted interim stay subject to the company paying ₹2 crore. The Commissioner of Income tax approached the High Court with a writ petition challenging the stay order.

On merits, the case was covered by rulings of the Delhi and Karnataka High Courts. The appeal itself was coming up for hearing before the Tribunal shortly. Yet the Department chose to approach the High Court and sought adjournment of the main case before the Tribunal.

‘Wasting public time’

The Karnataka High Court criticised the unnecessary dogged approach to multiply litigation, wasting precious public time. “First raising unsustainable, illegal and high-pitched demands and then seeking to coercively recover the same showing scant regard to the orders passed by the highest Tribunal under the Act and then invoking the writ jurisdiction to support such effort is an utterly irresponsible and unfair behaviour.”

Expressing anguish while dismissing the writ petition of the department, the High Court chose to award exemplary costs. The Principal CIT and the Assistant Commissioner responsible for filing the writ petition were directed to pay ₹50,000 each from their personal resources, and not from government funds, within two months.

Sri Saibaba Sansthan Trust of Shirdi was asked to deposit ₹122 crore even when an appeal was pending. The case was covered in its favour by earlier rulings. Unable to bear the harassment, the Trust approached the Bombay High Court for stay. The High Court stayed the recovery of disputed taxes of the Trust observing that the aim of the entire exercise of the department appeared only to collect some taxes prior to March 31, 2018.

Inbavalli, aged 71, was a widow suffering from dementia. She was prosecuted for delay in filing her return and was sentenced to undergo six months RI. The Madras High Court ordered compounding of the case and quashed the sentence.

It is time the department took note of Chanakya’s exhortation.

(TCA Ramanujam is a former chief commissioner, Income Tax, and an advocate. TCA Sangeetha is an advocate.)

 

 

The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act,2016 (RERA) and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) offer protection to homebuyers from errant builders.

How does RERA protect homebuyers?

RERA offers protection to homebuyers by imposing duties on promoters and consists of preventive and penal provisions. Every promoter shall register his project with RERA and 75% of the amount realised shall be deposited in a separate account; withdrawal from the account shall be in proportion to the degree of project completion, among others. Failure to comply entails penalty. On failure to give possession of the apartment, the homebuyer is given the choice to withdraw from the project and the promoter shall be liable to repay the amount received. In case of non-withdrawal, promoter shall pay interest for every month of delay till the date of handing over the possession.

Protection that IBC offers

Post the recent ordinance promulgated in June 2018, homebuyers are included in the category of financial creditors under the IBC, thereby climbing up the ladder of precedence in recovery proceedings. Money given to real estate companies by homebuyers gets the commercial effect of a borrowing. Homebuyers can now form part of the committee of creditors that has the power to appoint the interim resolution professional and approve resolution plans, ensuring that their interests are not backtracked by other creditors. Being financial creditors, their voting share will be in proportion to the financial debts owed to them. An insolvency professional can be appointed to represent the interests of homebuyers when they exceed a certain number in the CoC. However, the threshold for such appointment is still unclear.

Which is the best forum to approach: RERA or IBC?

RERA, which caters to the real estate sector, contains stringent norms and penalties against errant builders. The IBC recognised homebuyers as financial creditors to protect their rights even when a creditor, other than a homebuyer, invokes insolvency proceedings against the builder. It may be in the interests of homebuyers to approach the National Company Law Tribunal only when the promoter fails to remedy default under RERA or where RERA is not active.

 

 

Under pressure from activists, the European Union, Britain, India and even fast food giants like McDonald’s have all made some headway towards bringing the use of plastic straws to an end.

There are alternatives to plastic straws, but they are much pricier. The five-star Monte Carlo Palace hotel in Monaco has introduced biodegradable straws. Others are using raw pasta and bamboo sticks.

 

 

 “Depression is more than just a low mood, it’s a serious condition that affects one’s physical and mental health. It isn’t a weakness and one can’t simply “snap out” of it. Depression may require long-term treatment. (sic)”

Medical experts agree with their views. Dr. Ajit Bhide, president, Indian Psychiatric Society, said: “The government’s advertisement has a feel-good simplicity to it. While these might be good lifestyle tips, depression is usually a more serious matter than can have devastating effects. Any advisory must mention the need to at least consult a doctor.”

This isn’t the first time the Health Ministry has been slammed for a poster that it has tweeted. It had earlier tweeted a poster detailing the benefits of a healthy diet which had been criticised for body shaming.

 

 

India gets its 37th WORLD UNESCO World HERITAGE SITE. The decision was taken at the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO at Manama in Bahrain.

37th site: Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai.

 

Facts for Prelims:

§  This makes Mumbai city the second city in India after Ahmedabad to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

§  In the past 5 years alone, India has managed to get inscribed seven of its properties/sites on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

§  India now has overall 37 World Heritage Inscriptions with 29 Cultural, 07 Natural and 01 Mixed sites.

§  While India stands second largest in number after China in terms of number of World Heritage properties in ASPAC (Asia and Pacific) region, it is overall sixth in the world.

 

What is a World Heritage site?

A World Heritage site is classified as a natural or man-made area or a structure that is of international importance, and a space which requires special protection. These sites are officially recognised by the UN and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, also known as UNESCO. UNESCO believes that the sites classified as World Heritage are important for humanity, and they hold cultural and physical significance.

 

Background:

In 1982, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) announced, 18 April as the “World Heritage Day”, approved by the General Assembly of UNESCO in 1983, with the aim of enhancing awareness of the importance of the cultural heritage of humankind, and redouble efforts to protect and conserve the human heritage.

 

 

The world’s second tallest statue of a seated figure, at 216 feet. And it is a tribute to the Bhakti saint, Ramanujacharya.he was a Hindu theologian, philosopher, and one of the most important exponents of the Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism.

§  His philosophical foundations for devotionalism were influential to the Bhakti movement.

§  He is famous as the chief proponent of Vishishtadvaita subschool of Vedānta.

§  He wrote influential texts, such as bhāsya on the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, all in Sanskrit.

 

“The saint lived 1,000 years ago and travelled widely, spreading the message of equality,” says Yellapragada Suryanarayana who is supervising the construction.

Started in 2016, the statue is in place now, while skilled workers are giving the finishing touches to the base, called Bhadravedi, that is itself 54 feet high.

Currently, the Great Buddha of Thailand is the tallest statue, at 302-feet. Once the Ramanujacharya statue is unveiled, it will become the second tallest, a distinction now held by the Guanyin figure on Mount Xiqiao in China’s Guangdong region, at 203 feet. “The inner core is 850 tonnes of steel holding up the 650-tonne statue. Just the flagstaff is 135 feet long. The flag looks very small but it weighs six tonnes and positioning it took about six weeks as it is 50 feet in the air,” says Prasad Sthapathi, the chief architect of the Sri Ramanuja Sahasrabdi Project.

“Ramanujacharya’s appearance has been designed based on carved stone images of the saint in Melkote and Srirangam temples,” says Devanatha Ramanuja Jeeyar, who is on the steering committee. Artisans worked on 14 models before the Chinna Jeeyar Swamy approved one.

Chinese expertise

“Once the model was approved, we did a 3D scan and approached Aerosan of China, a leader in making large statues. They used the information from the file we sent to create one-metre by one-metre pieces that were shipped to Chennai and then brought here,” Mr. Prasad says. “I felt very nervous when the face was being executed. Each eye is 6.5 feet in length and 3 feet in height and is the key to the statue’s appeal,” he says. The sthapathi spent a lot of time in Nanjing to ensure that the facial appearance was accurate.

“This is a ₹1,000 crore project with ₹500 crore spent in phase one. Most of the money is from donations,” says Mr. Yellapragada. The statue is part of a religious complex with a musical fountain for a sound and light show.

 

 

Kozhikode, Malappuram declared Nipah-free

A day after the deadline for the Nipah surveillance measures ended, the Kerala government officially declared Kozhikode and Malappuram districts free of the virus infection, albeit temporarily. Health Minister K.K. Shylaja announced this on Sunday at an event to honour health workers and others who helped contain the infection.

 

 

The 2018 World Sanskrit Conference (WSC) is being hosted by the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. It is 17th such conference.

 

World Sanskrit Conference:

§  The World Sanskrit Conference is the premier international forum for professional researchers and educators of the Sanskrit language and its literatures, and of the history, religion, and cultures of premodern South Asia.

§  It is convened every three years under the auspices of the International Association of Sanskrit Studies.

 

About IASS:

§  At the 29th International Congress of Orientalists, held in Paris in 1973, Sanskritists from various countries endorsed the formation of the International Association of Sanskrit Studies and drafted its constitution.

§  The main task of the IASS was agreed to be the organizing of a World Sanskrit Conference at different venues around the world.

§  The 1972 International Sanskrit Conference in New Delhi was recognised retrospectively as the First World Sanskrit Conference.

§  Indologica Taurinensia is the journal of the IASS.

 

 

During recent consultations with the Law Commission of India, as many as nine parties expressed their reservations while four parties supported holding of simultaneous elections.

 

Background:

Simultaneous elections were held in the country during the first two decades after Independence up to 1967. Dissolution of certain Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 followed by the dissolution of the Lok Sabha led to the “disruption of the conduct of simultaneous elections.

 

Simultaneous elections: Why is it a good idea?

§  This will help save public money.

§  It will be a big relief for political parties that are always in campaign mode.

§  It will allow political parties to focus more on policy and governance.

 

Need for simultaneous elections:

To reduce unnecessary expenditures: Elections are held all the time and continuous polls lead to a lot of expenditure. More than Rs1,100 crore was spent on the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the expenditure had shot up to Rs4,000 crore in 2014.

To reduce the unnecessary use of manpower: Over a crore government employees, including a large number of teachers, are involved in the electoral process. Thus, the continuous exercise causes maximum harm to the education sector.

Security concerns: Security forces also have to be diverted for the electoral work even as the country’s enemy keeps plotting against the nation and terrorism remains a strong threat.

 

Way ahead:

The time is ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after Independence when elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held simultaneously. It is for the Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties.

 

Facts for Prelims:

§  Law Commission of India is an executive body established by an order of the Government of India. Its major function is to work for legal reform. Its membership primarily comprises legal experts, who are entrusted a mandate by the Government.

§  The Commission is established for a fixed tenure and works as an advisory body to the Ministry of Law and Justice

§  The first Law Commission was established during the British Raj era in 1834 by the Charter Act of 1833. After that, three more Commissions were established in pre-independent India. The first Law Commission of independent India was established in 1955 for a three-year term.

 

 

 

The Multi Commodity Exchange of India (MCX), the country’s largest commodity bourse in terms of market share, is planning to enter the currency derivatives segment.

 

What are currency derivatives?

§  Currency derivatives are exchange-based futures and options contracts that allow one to hedge against currency movements.

§  Simply put, one can use a currency future contract to exchange one currency for an another at a future date at a price decided on the day of the purchase of the contract.

§  In India, one can use such derivative contracts to hedge against currencies like dollar, euro, U.K. pound and yen. Corporates, especially those with a significant exposure to imports or exports, use these contracts to hedge against their exposure to a certain currency.

§  While all such currency contracts are cash-settled in rupees, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), early this year, gave a go-ahead to start cross currency contracts as well on euro-dollar, pound-dollar and dollar-yen.

 

Why were such derivatives introduced on exchange platforms?

Prior to the introduction of currency derivatives on exchanges, there was only the OTC – over the counter – market to hedge currency risks and where forward contracts were negotiated and entered into. It was kind of an opaque and closed market where mostly banks and financial institutions traded. Exchange-based currency derivatives segment is a regulated and transparent market that can be used by small businesses and even individuals to hedge their currency risks.

 

Facts for Prelims: What is MCX?

§  Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX) as the name suggests is an exchange like BSE and NSE where commodities are traded.

§  It is a platform for commodity traders that facilitate online trading, settlement and clearing of commodity futures transactions, thereby providing a platform for risk management (hedging).

§  It was established in November 2003 under the regulatory framework of FMC (Forward Markets Commission).

§  In 2016, the FMC was merged with SEBIand MCX as an exchange falls under the regulatory purview of SEBI.

 

 

 

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Proven to Work Even in Three-star Systems. A study conducted by scientists proved that the legendary scientist was correct about gravity even in the most extreme scales.

 

The experiment:

The researchers observed gravitational behaviour in a three-star system known as PSR J0337+1715. The massive system located 4,200 light years away consists of two white dwarfs and a neutron star, an ideal example of an extreme scale.

After years of study, the researchers reported finding no detectable difference indicating no alternative theories of gravity were in motion. The results were consistent with Einstein’s theory of relativity.

 

The theory of general relativity:

§  In 1915, Albert Einstein presented his theory of general relativity, which proposed that gravity itself was the result of a warping of spacetime by massive objects like stars and planets.

§  Einstein’s theory of relativity indicates that all objects fall the same way regardless of mass or composition.

 

Things predicted by General relativity include:

§  As light gets closer to the sun, it bends towards the sun twice as much as classical physics (the system used before general relativity) predicts.

§  The perihelion of the planet Mercury rotates along its orbit more than is expected under Newtonian physics. General relativity accounts for the difference between what is seen and what is expected without it.

§  Redshift from gravity. When light moves away from an object with gravity (moving away from the center of the valley), it is stretched into longer wavelengths. This was confirmed by the Pound-Rebka experiment.

§  The Shapiro delay. Light appears to slow down when it passes close to a massive object. This was first seen in the 1960s by space probes headed towards the planet Venus.

§  Gravitational waves. They were first observed on 14 September 2015.

 

Alternatives to Einstein’s general theory of relativity:

Alternatives to Einstein’s general theory of relativity predict that compact objects with extremely strong gravity, like neutron stars, fall a little differently than objects of lesser mass. That difference, these alternate theories predict, would be due to a compact object’s so-called gravitational binding energy – the gravitational energy that holds it together.

However, to date, Einstein’s equations have passed all tests, from careful laboratory studies to observations of planets in our solar system.

 

 

 

Scientists at NASA are preparing to download the latest bit of data stored in its plant-hunting Kepler space telescope as the spacecraft is now running “very low” on fuel. NASA has placed the spacecraft in a no-fuel-use safe mode to save the remaining fuel so that data extraction can be completed.

 

About Kepler telescope:

Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

§  Since the launch of the observatory in 2009, astronomers have discovered thousands of extra-solar planets, or exoplanets, through this telescope alone. Most of them are planets that are ranging between the size of Earth and Neptune (which itself is four times the size of Earth). Most of these planets were discovered in a small region of the constellation Cygnus, at which Kepler was pointed for the first four years of its mission.

§  As of March 2018, Kepler had found 2,342 confirmed planets; add potential planets, and its find of exoworlds stands at 4,587.

 

 

NASA has announced it would give funds to Made In Space’s project- RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata), for finding ways to turn asteroids into giant, autonomous spacecrafts, which could fly to outposts in space.

 

About RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata):

Project RAMA, Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata, has been designed to leverage the advancing trends of additive manufacturing (AM) and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).

§  The project aims to enable asteroid rendezvous missions in which a set of technically simple robotic processes convert asteroid elements into very basic versions of spacecraft subsystems (GNC, Propulsion, Avionics).

§  Upon completion, the asteroid will be a programmed mechanical automata carrying out a given mission objective; such as relocation to an Earth-Moon liberation point for human rendezvous.

 

Significance:

§  This technique could some day create an affordable and scalable way for NASA to achieve future roadmap items for exploring the solar system.

§  These techniques could be beneficial to scientific goals for understanding the solar system and its formation, as it is estimated that an order of magnitude increase in NEO targets could be explored for the same mission cost compared to the SOA.

§  RAMA would enable this by removing the need to launch all spacecraft subsystems and instead converting the asteroid material in-situ.

 

Civil Aviation Research Organization at Begumpet Airport, Hyderabad:

§  What? State-run Airports Authority of India (AAI) will set up a Civil Aviation Research Organisation (CARO).

§  Where? CARO will be set up at Begumpet Airport, Hyderabad.

§  Why? CARO is aimed at “finding indigenous solutions” to meet the challenges posed by the growing air traffic.

 

 

 

What Is Aphelion?

Context: On July 6, Earth was at aphelion, officially at its farthest from the sun, orbiting at a distance of 94,507,803 miles, as opposed to its usual 93 million miles.

What is it? Aphelion Day is a special event that takes place once a year. On this date, the Earth is at its biggest distance from the sun. This point is called the aphelion. At aphelion, Earth receives about 7% less sun than it does in January.

 

 

Government declares 6 educational ‘Institutions of Eminence’; 3 Institutions from Public Sector and 3 from Private Sector shortlisted.

 

The institutions selected are:

Public Sector: (i) Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Karnataka; (ii) Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra; and (iii) Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

Private Sector: (i) Jio Institute (Reliance Foundation), Pune under Green Field Category; (ii) Birla Institute of Technology & Sciences, Pilani, Rajasthan; and (iii) Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka.

 

Implications of the decision:

§  Each ‘Public Institution’ selected as ‘Institution of Eminence’ will get financial assistance up to Rs. 1000 Crore over a period of five years.

§  These Institutions shall be provided with greater autonomy to admit foreign students up to 30% of admitted students; to recruit foreign faculty upto 25% of faculty strength; to offer online courses upto 20% of its programmes.

§  They will also be allowed to enter into academic collaboration with top 500 in the world ranking Institutions without permission of UGC; free to fix and charge fees from foreign students without restriction; complete flexibility in fixing of curriculum and syllabus, among others.

§  At the same time, they will get more opportunity to scale up their operations with more skills and quality improvement so that they become World Class Institutions in the field of education.

 

Need for world-class institutes:

India lacks world-class universities according to international rankings, and Indian academics, compared internationally, are rather poorly paid. Students also suffer an immense shortage of places in top academic institutions and throughout the higher education system. India today educates only half as many young people from the university age group as China and ranks well behind most Latin American and other middle-income countries.

 

Way ahead:

If India is to succeed as a great technological power with a knowledge-based economy, world-class universities are required. The first step, however, is to examine the problems and create realistic solutions. Spending large sums scattershot will not work. Nor will copying the American academic model succeed.

 

Facts for Prelims:

N Gopalaswami committee was constituted to select 20 institutes of higher education in India that will be developed into “world-class” institutes.

Institutions of Eminence scheme:

§  The institutes of eminence scheme under the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry aims to project Indian institutes to global recognition.

§  The 20 selected institutes will enjoy complete academic and administrative autonomy.

§  The government will run 10 of these and they will receive special funding.

§  The selection shall be made through challenge method mode by the Empowered Expert Committee constituted for the purpose.

§  Only higher education institutions currently placed in the top 500 of global rankings or top 50 of the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) are eligible to apply for the eminence tag.

§  The private Institutions of Eminence can also come up as greenfield ventures provided the sponsoring organisation submits a convincing perspective plan for 15 years.

 

 

 

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs is set to launch the Global Housing Construction Technology Challenge as part of the technology sub-mission of PMAY-U.

 

Global Housing Construction Technology Challenge:

§  The challenge aims to provide more dynamism to the scheme.

§  It will invite ideas from across the globe for alternative technologies that go beyond the brick-and-mortar building model used widely in Indian construction.

§  The four parameters in the global challenge would be time, cost, quality, and sustainability. The technology will have to be better than the existing ones on all these four fronts.

§  It will be tested in geographically different urban areas across the country with varying terrains such as say hilly, plain, or earthquake-prone.

§  The winning technologies would be used to build mass houses, in a tie-up with the states, for the economically weaker sections and low-income groups under the affordable housing project vertical of PMAY-U.

 

PMAY- Urban:

§  The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) Programme launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA), in Mission mode envisions provision of Housing for All by 2022.

§  Under the scheme, the government is providing an interest subsidy of 6.5% on housing loans which can be availed by beneficiaries for 15 years from start of loan date.

 

The Mission seeks to address the housing requirement of urban poor including slum dwellers through following programme verticals:

§  Slum rehabilitation of Slum Dwellers with participation of private developers using land as a resource.

§  Promotion of Affordable Housing for weaker section through credit linked subsidy.

§  Affordable Housing in Partnership with Public & Private sectors.

§  Subsidy for beneficiary-led individual house construction /enhancement.

 

 

 

Centre and ADB signed $84 million loan for water supply in Bihar. The ADB loan is part of the $200 million multi-tranche financing facility for the Bihar Urban Development Investment Programme, and it will facilitate improvement and expansion of water supply in Bhagalpur and Gaya towns in the state.

 

About ADB:

It is a regional development bank established on 22 August 1966 and is headquartered in Philippines. It aims to facilitate economic development of countries in Asia. It also aims for an Asia and Pacific free from poverty.

 

Membership:

The bank admits the members of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP, formerly known as the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) and non-regional developed countries.

Currently, it has 67 members – of which 48 are from within Asia and the Pacific and 19 outside.

 

Voting:

ADB was modelled closely on the World Bank, and has a similar weighted voting system where votes are distributed in proportion with member’s capital subscriptions.

 

Funding:

§  ADB raises funds through bond issues on the world’s capital markets.

§  ADB also rely on its members’ contributions, retained earnings from its lending operations, and the repayment of loans.

§  Japan holds the largest proportions of shares at 15.67%. The United States holds 15.56%, China holds 6.47%, India holds 6.36%, and Australia holds 5.81%.

 

Board of Governors:

§  It is the highest policy-making body of the bank.

§  It is composed of one representative from each member state.

§  The Board of Governors also elect the bank’s President who is the chairperson of the Board of Directors and manages ADB.

§  The Alternate Board of Governors are nominated by Board of Governors of ADB’s 67 to represent them at the Annual Meeting that meets formally once year to be held in a member country.

 

Loans:

It offers both Hard Loans and Soft loans. The ADB offers “hard” loans from ordinary capital resources (OCR) on commercial terms, and the Asian Development Fund (ADF) affiliated with the ADB extends “soft” loans from special fund resources with concessional conditions.

 

 

 

About three weeks after their launch, the twin climate-monitoring satellites- GRACE-FO satellites (short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On)- that NASA deployed in Earth’s orbit have switched on their powerful lasers for the first time, showing that their systems are shipshape.

 

About GRACE- FO mission:

The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-on (GRACE-FO) mission is a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ).

GRACE-FO is a successor to the original GRACE mission, which began orbiting Earth on March 17, 2002. The GRACE missions measure variations in gravity over Earth’s surface, producing a new map of the gravity field every 30 days.

§  GRACE-FO will carry on the extremely successful work of its predecessor while testing a new technology designed to dramatically improve the already remarkable precision of its measurement system.

§  GRACE-FO will continue the work of tracking Earth’s water movement to monitor changes in underground water storage, the amount of water in large lakes and rivers, soil moisture, ice sheets and glaciers, and sea level caused by the addition of water to the ocean. These discoveries provide a unique view of Earth’s climate and have far-reaching benefits to society and the world’s population.

 

 

First ever ‘India Tourism Mart’:

 

First ever ‘India Tourism Mart’ will be hosted in New Delhi from 16th to 18th September by the Ministry of Tourism in partnership with the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH). India Convention Promotion Board (ICPB) shall coordinate the whole event.

§  The objective of the event is to  create  an annual Global  Tourism  Mart  for  India  in line with  major  international  travel  marts  being  held  in  countries   across  the world.

§  ITM will be the best platform for the States to showcase their products to international buyers, opinion makers and bloggers and attract more tourists to their respective states.

§  The Mart will provide a  platform  for  all stakeholders  in the  tourism  and   hospitality industries  to  interact  and   transact  business

 

 

 

World’s Oldest Color Discovered In Rocks Deep Beneath Sahara Desert:

 

What? Scientists have discovered the oldest color in the geological record- the bright pink pigment aged 1.1 billion years old. The bright pink pigments are the molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms inhabiting an ancient ocean that has long since vanished.

Where? The ancient pigment was extracted from marine black shales of the Taoudeni Basin in Mauritania, West Africa.

 

 

The Union Minister of State (MoS) for Human Resource Development Shri Upendra Kushwaha is on an Official Visit to the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI). This is the first ever Ministerial visit from India to Majuro, Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI).

Key facts:

§  It is a country in the central Pacific Ocean.

§  It consists of some of the easternmost islands of Micronesia.

§  The Marshalls are composed of more than 1,200 islands and islets in two parallel chains of coral atolls—the Ratak, or Sunrise, to the east and the Ralik, or Sunset, to the west.

§  Majuro atoll is the nominal capital of the republic.

 

 

 World’s largest mobile phone factory:

 

Samsung Electronics has opened the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturing plant by production capacity in the industrial city of Noida, India.

 

Lonely Planet’s top five “2018 Best in Asia” list:

 

What is it? It is a collection of 10 of the best destinations to visit in the continent for the year. It is considered a Bible by travellers worldwide.

Top destinations:

§  Busan, South Korea.

§  Ancient cities and jewelled architecture of Uzbekistan.

§  Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

§  Western Ghats, India.

 

 

First Chairman of Rajya Sabha to sign an MOU:

 

§  Rajya Sabha has, for the first time in 76 years since it came into being, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a foreign counterpart for promoting inter-parliamentary dialogue.

§  Shri Venkaiah Naidu, has, in the process, become the first Chairman of Rajya Sabha to sign such an agreement when he inked an MOU with the visiting President of the Senate of the Republic of Rwanda, Mr. Bernard Makuza.

 

 

The Mission Olympic Cell has included the entire Indian hockey team in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme, rewarding the players for their silver medal-winning performance at the Champions Trophy.

 

Significance of the move:

Athletes from different sports have been included in Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) individually but it is first instance that an entire team has been made beneficiary of the financial assistance scheme.

 

Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS):

§  It was launched by Ministry of Sports within the ambit of National Sports Development Fund (NSDF).

§  It aims at identifying and supporting potential medal prospects for upcoming Olympic Games.

§  It will provide selected sportspersons customized training at institutes having world class facilities and also other necessary support is being provided to the elite athletes. It will also provide a benchmark for selection of athletes on par with international standards.

§  Under it, Sports Authority of India (SAI) and federations, which are members of Mission Olympic Cell (MOC), will be nodal agencies for disbursal for fund. They will make payments directly to beneficiary person and institution concerned on behalf of athletes.

 

Abinav Bindra Committee was constituted to identify and support potential medal prospects for 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games under the scheme.

The Mission Olympic Cell is a dedicated body created to assist the athletes who are selected under the TOP Scheme. The MOC is under the Chairmanship of the Director General, Sports Authority (DG, SAI). The idea of the MOC is to debate, discuss and decide the processes and methods so that the athlete receives best assistance. The MOC also focuses on selection, exclusion and retention of athletes, coaches, training institutes that can receive TOPS assistance.

 

 

Yo-Yo: a variation of the Beep test

Yo-Yo is a variation of the Beep test, a running aerobic fitness routine that Indian cricketers had to undergo in the past. But passing Beep was not mandatory for selection as is the case with Yo-Yo. Ambati Rayudu was left out of the one-day squad for the England tour in July after failing the test. Yo-Yo probes a sportsperson’s endurance and ability to pace himself; towards the end of the maximal running aerobic fitness drill, an element of speed comes into play.

The gruelling routine has two sets of cones that are 20 metres apart. Once the beep is sounded, an athlete has to reach the marker on the other side by the time the next beep sounds, turn and get back to where he started before the third beep.

The frequency of the beeps gradually increases for the subsequent trips; a trip is a successful completion of a run to the cones at the other end and back. There is a gap of about seven seconds between each trip.

What starts off as a fast jog at the start becomes distinctly quicker as the test progresses with the duration between the beeps decreasing. The point at which an athlete misses two beeps (twice unable to finish trips before the third beep goes off) is his score. Rayudu had failed to meet the benchmark of 16.1

The Yo-Yo test was invented by Dr. Jens Bangsbo, a Danish scientist and football coach, in the 1990s. He tested it on footballers to improve their overall fitness levels, with a routine that was not just about running long distances. Gradually, other sport started adopting Yo-Yo. For elite footballers, the benchmark score was set high at 21. Yo-Yo was introduced to Indian cricket by the national team’s strength and conditioning coach Shankar Basu. Ahead of India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2017, the cricketers underwent these tests.

 

India has joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) as the 69th shareholder, paving the way for more joint investment with Indian companies across the EBRD’s regions.

§  The EBRD’s board of governors, which represents all existing shareholders, voted unanimously in favour of the country’s application in March 2018.

 

Position of India:

India takes a shareholding in the EBRD but will not be a recipient of EBRD financing. But it may benefit indirectly through EBRD projects or if Indian companies invest alongside the bank.

 

How will this membership help India?

§  Membership of EBRD would enhance India’s international profile and promote its economic interests. It will also give access to EBRD’s Countries of Operation and sector knowledge.

§  India’s investment opportunities would get a boost. It would increase the scope of cooperation between India and EBRD through co-financing opportunities in manufacturing, services, Information Technology, and Energy.

§  EBRD’s core operations pertain to private sector development in their countries of operation. The membership would help India leverage the technical assistance and sectoral knowledge of the bank for the benefit of development of private sector.

§  This would contribute to an improved investment climate in the country. The membership of EBRD would enhance the competitive strength of the Indian firms, and provide an enhanced access to international markets in terms of business opportunities, procurement activities, consultancy assignments etc.

§  This would open up new vistas for Indian professionals on the one hand, and give a fillip to Indian exports on the other. Increased economic activities would have the employment generating potential. It would also enable Indian nationals to get the employment opportunity in the Bank.

 

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is an international financial institution that supports projects in over 30 countries, from eastern Europe to central Asia and the southern and eastern Mediterranean. Investing primarily in private sector clients whose needs cannot be fully met by the market, the EBRD promotes entrepreneurship and fosters transition towards open and democratic market economies.

 

What is the EBRD’s mandate?

The mandate of the EBRD stipulates that it must only work in countries that are committed to democratic principles. Respect for the environment is part of the strong corporate governance attached to all EBRD investments.

 

What support does the EBRD provide in the countries where it works?

The EBRD provides project financing for banks, industries and businesses, both new ventures and investments in existing companies. It also works with publicly owned companies, to support privatisation, restructuring state-owned firms and improving municipal services. It uses close relationship with governments in the region to promote policies that will bolster the business environment.

 

Who owns the EBRD?

The EBRD is owned by 65 countries and two intergovernmental institutions: the European Union and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

 

How is the EBRD governed?

The powers of the EBRD are vested in the Board of Governors to which each member appoints a governor, generally the minister of finance. The Board of Governors delegates most powers to the Board of Directors, which is responsible for the EBRD’s strategic direction. The President is elected by the Board of Governors and is the legal representative of the EBRD. Under the guidance of the Board of Directors, the President manages the EBRD’s work.

 

 

 

 

News:

In a setback to the Narendra Modi government’s ambitious Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Scheme (AB-NHPS), two of the BJP-ruled States — Rajasthan and Maharashtra — have expressed “reluctance” to implement the programme.

The AB-NHPS is aimed at providing a coverage of ₹5 lakh per family annually and benefiting more than 10 crore poor families in the country.

Read about this scheme.

 

As per International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA)’s latest ‘Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/ GM Crops in 2017’ report, India has the world’s fifth largest cultivated area under genetically modified (GM) crops.

 

Highlights of the report:

§  Unlike other big growers, India’s entire GM crop area is under a single crop — cotton — incorporating genes from the Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt soil bacterium coding for resistance against heliothis bollworm insect pests.

§  The country with the highest area under transgenic crops, at 75 mh, is the United States. It includes soyabean, maize (corn), cotton, alfalfa, canola, sugar-beet, potato, apples, squash and papaya.

§  The report shows farmers across the world to have planted 189.8 mh under transgenic crops last year. This is as against 1.7 mh in 1996, the year when they were grown commercially for the first time. Total planted area grew particularly during the first decade of this century, while slowing down in the last five years.

§  The report has estimated the highest share in the world’s total 189.8 mh GM crop area for 2017 to be of soyabean (94.1 mh), followed by maize (59.7 mh), cotton (24.1 mh), canola (10.2 mh), alfalfa (1.2 mh) and sugar-beet (0.50 mh).

 

GM crops in India:

In India, the GM crops that are under regulatory consideration — apart from the already commercialised Bt/insect-resistant cotton — include glyphosate-tolerant cotton and biotech hybrid mustard.

Both the Bollgard II-Roundup Ready Flex (BGII-RRF) cotton event of Monsanto (incorporating Bt as well as glyphosate-tolerant genes) and transgenic mustard developed by Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (harbouring three alien genes that enable higher yields through hybridisation) have undergone all the mandated bio-safety research and open field trials. Their commercial release has, however, been stuck due to opposition from environmental activists.

 

Global Innovation Index 2018 has placed India at the 57th position among 130 countries. GII is jointly released by Cornell University, INSEAD and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). GII ranks 126 economies based on 80 indicators.

 

GII 2018:

§  The GII 2018 marks the 11th edition of the GII, and the beginning of its second decade providing data and insights gathered from tracking innovation across the globe.

§  This year’s edition, is dedicated to the theme of Energizing the World with Innovation. It analyses the energy innovation landscape of the next decade and identifies possible breakthroughs in fields such as energy production, storage, distribution, and consumption.

§  It also looks at how breakthrough innovation occurs at the grassroots level and describes how small-scale renewable systems are on the rise.

 

Performance of India:

§  This year, India has moved up 3 places as compared to 60th rank in GII 2017 and emerged as top-ranked economy in Central and South Asia. It has consistently moving up on global ranking from 81st in 2015 to 57th this year.

§  India is a top performer in the lower middle income group, where it is ranked at fifth position. It is the most innovative country in its region of central and southern Asia.

§  In the indicators that capture the quality of innovation inputs and outputs, India is ranked second after China in the lower and upper middle income group combined.

§  However, India has fared badly on indicators such as ease of starting business, political stability and safety, overall education and environmental performance.

 

Other countries:

§  Switzerland is at the top. Since 2011, Switzerland has been ranked at the top every year.

§  This year, Netherlands follows at second place and Sweden at third. The US drops down to sixth from fourth last year.

§  Four of the top five innovation clusters are in Asia, based on patents and publishing. San Francisco is the only innovation cluster outside Asia among the top five.

§  Tokyo is at the top, and two of the top five clusters are in China.

§  China, at 17, broke into the world’s top 20 most-innovative economies.

§  On a new indicator – mobile-app creation – Cyprus, Finland and Lithuania emerged as global leaders in development of mobile apps relative to GDP.

 

 

India has now become world’s sixth-largest economy, pushing past France, according to the updated World Bank figures for 2017.

 

Large economies:

The US remains the world’s largest economy followed by China, Japan, Germany and Britain.

 

India’s performance:

India is reclaiming its place as a growth leader after a short slowdown. Just in the last decade, India has doubled the size of its economy outpacing that of France. While India’s GDP has risen by an average 8.3% over the decade, that of France’s actually declined by 0.01%. To add more perspective, in the past 10 years India’s GDP grew by 116.3% while France witnessed a 2.8% decline in GDP. Certainly, this tells us that India is gaining economic size consistently and is emerging as one of the powerhouses.

 

Why this position may not be significant?

When compared with $2.582 trillion for France, India’s GDP stood at $2.597 trillion at 2017 end. However, India has an estimated per capita income of $7,060 while France has $43,720, some six times more than that of India. India ranks at the 123th position when it comes to per capita income at PPP while France ranks at the 25th position. An average Indian is far poorer than the average Frenchman if one uses this yardstick.

The size of the economy is linked to the size of geography, its population, and workforce. India has a population of 1.34 billion while France has 67 million. If one talks about the prosperity of the people in an economy, PPP is the right metric to look at. One reason why India has a much lower PPP compared with France is the difference in population (per capita is the total size of the economy divided by the total number of people in that country).

 

Challenges ahead for India:

Employment scenario in the country is disturbing. Almost 80% of all Indians rely on the informal sector to make a living — a large chunk of them are still dependent on farming, the contribution of which to the economy has shrunk from 50% at the time of independence to 15-16% now.

§  Output hasn’t increased but farming still constitutes one of the largest areas of employment. That’s one reason why the poor remain poor and live in distress. Even today, India doesn’t have solid payroll data but the unemployment rate is believed to be quite high. China, UK, and Germany have a 3-4% unemployment rate while France has close to a nine percent rate.

§  Till recently, India was home to the largest number of poor in the world but it got rid of the dubious title. Nigeria has about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million.

 

Way ahead:

In April earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected India to grow at 7.4% in 2018 and 7.8% in 2019, leaving its nearest rival China behind respectively at 6.6 and 6.4% in the two years. However, while debating a course correction, India will have to repair its fault lines even as it gains economic muscle.

 

New Zealand scientists have performed the first-ever 3-D, colour X-ray on a human, using a technique that promises to improve the field of medical diagnostics.

 

Medipix:

§  The technique used is known as Medipix. The technology is developed by CERN.

§  It works like a camera detecting and counting individual sub-atomic particles as they collide with pixels while its shutter is open. This allows for high-resolution, high-contrast pictures.

§  The machine’s “small pixels and accurate energy resolution meant that this new imaging tool is able to get images that no other imaging tool can achieve. The images very clearly show the difference between bone, muscle and cartilage, but also the position and size of cancerous tumours, for example.

 

 

As per the latest studies, climate change is threatening the Nilgiri tahr. It is estimated that the endangered wild goat could lose approximately 60% of its habitat, starting from the 2030s. There are only around 2,500 tahrs left in the wild and their population — “small and isolated, making them vulnerable to local extinction” — shows a “decreasing” trend, as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

§  It is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.

§  Endemic to the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portion of the Western Ghats in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in Southern India. It is the State animal of Tamil Nadu. Currently, the only populations with more than 300 individuals are in Eravikulam National Park and in the Grass Hills in Anamalai.

 

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights NCPCR has come up with a model fee regulatory framework for unaided private schools.

 

NCPCR has been receiving reports that children were being harassed by school administrations and that they considered committing suicide over the fee hike issue.

 

The framework:

§  The framework is for private unaided schools – which are 23% of the total schools in India and cater to 36% of the total population of children attending school.

§  The framework is a model document that may be recommended to states where the fee regulation mechanism does not work effectively.

§  According to the draft regulations, if a school violates the norms provided in the uniform fee framework, the respective government can bar the school from taking new admissions for the next academic year or impose fine equivalent to 10% of the total revenue generated by the school or society or trust in the preceding year.

 

Recommendations:

§  A 10% yearly cap on fee hike in private, unaided schools.

§  Set up a district fee regulatory authority in states to monitor school fee increases.

 

About NCPCR:

§  The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was set up in March 2007 under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005.

§  It works under the administrative control of the Ministry of Women & Child Development.

§  The Child is defined as a person in the 0 to 18 years age group.

§  The Commission’s Mandate is to ensure that all Laws, Policies, Programmes, and Administrative Mechanisms are in consonance with the Child Rights perspective as enshrined in the Constitution of India and also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

 

 

PROPOSED SOCIAL MEDIA HUB

The Supreme Court has taken a strong note of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s decision to set up a social media hub for monitoring online data and said that it will be like creating a surveillance state. These observations were made by the court based on a petition filed.

 

Concerns over the proposed Social media hub:

§  The petition alleged that though the stated aim of the project was to enable the government to understand the impact of social media campaigns on welfare schemes and improve the reach of such campaigns, the project had two aspects — “mass surveillance apparatus that aims at collecting and analysing huge volumes of data, and profiling people based on that” and “utilising this data to predict the mood of people online and issue responses, including those targeted at individuals or groups”.

§  The social media analytical tool is expected to ‘listen’ to conversations on all major digital channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, as well as blogs and news channels.

§  Therefore, the petition contended that “such intrusive action on the part of the government, is not only without the authority of law, but also infringes fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.” The move is violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21.

 

What is Social media communication hub?

The hub proposes to monitor social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even email) handles at the very local level in multiple languages to carry out “sentiment analysis”, track down the influence-making social media users and to categorise the conversations on social media into positive, negative and neutral sections.

It also aimed to track real time the way social media receives news on government’s schemes and announcements and also political events.

 

Benefits:

This information would help the government in formulating policies, schemes or rectify any flaws in their implementation at the ground level so that the ultimate beneficiary who is the common man is benefited and has a direct way to communicate any complaints regarding the same to the Government.

 

Social media managers:

As per the proposal, the project is meant to strengthen the social media division and recruit social media managers to be deployed in 712 districts of the country. Each district will have one social media manager who will be entrusted with the tasks of keeping a close eye on the regional and local media, collecting data of regional media and of local events, providing content for social media and supporting media units at the regional level for social media publicity.

 

Role of social media managers:

These social media managers will also monitor local editions of newspapers, local cable channels, local audio channels (FM) and key local social media handles for important local developments. They will make a daily analysis report incorporating local sentiments to be sent to region head in the PIB as well as the media hub (command centre).

 

Concerns:

The proposal to set up such a hub had turned controversial, as many called it an indirect measure to “snoop” on and influence voters.

 

 

 South Africa has unveiled MeerKAT- a super radio telescope, a first phase of what will be the world’s largest telescope in a project to try to unravel the secrets of the universe. The telescope was inaugurated in the remote South African town of Carnarvon.

 

§  MeerKAT is a followup to the KAT 7 (Karoo Array Telescope), built in the vast semi-desert Karoo region north of Cape Town to demonstrate South Africa’s ability to host the SKA. It will be the biggest radio telescope of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

§  Built at a cost of 4.4 billion rand, MeerKAT will be incorporated into the complex Square Kilometre Array (SKA) instrument, which when fully operational in the late 2020s would be the world’s biggest and most powerful radio telescope.

§  MeerKAT will address some of the key science questions in modern astrophysics – how did galaxies form, how are they evolving, how did we come to be here.

 

The SKA Project:

§  The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area.

§  The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence.

§  Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope. It will also have the ability to image huge areas of sky in parallel a feat which no survey telescope has ever achieved on this scale with this level of sensitivity.

§  Both South Africa’s Karoo region and Western Australia’s Murchison Shire were chosen as co-hosting locations for many scientific and technical reasons, from the atmospherics above the desert sites, through to the radio quietness, which comes from being some of the most remote locations on Earth.

§  Whilst 10 member countries are the cornerstone of the SKA, around 100 organisations across about 20 countries are participating in the design and development of the SKA.

 

News:

Mr. Ansari addresses in his new book, Reflections on Contemporary Challenges, a collection of his speeches and writings.

Pluralist view

He also feels that the widely accepted pluralist view of nationalism and Indianness is now being challenged by a viewpoint depicting purifying exclusiviness through the idea of cultural nationalism.The idea of ‘CULTURAL NATIONALISM’ is premised principally on a shared culture narrowly defined, he says.

According to Mr. Ansari, who had the distinction of being the only second Vice-President after S. Radhakrishnan to serve for two consecutive terms, the debate on nationalism has wider ramifications for Indian democracy.

“In the typology of democracy; ours is a liberal one based on universal suffrage, tolerance, respect for diversity, a comprehensive charter of rights and Rule of Law that brings together the notions of rights, development, governance and justice,” he says.

Their attainment is premised on equality and fraternity. Any dilution of this principle will take it in the direction of an ethnic democracy, implicitly or otherwise, and would bring forth an illiberal structure, he says.

 

 

 A scientist(Lal Ji Singh) from the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has come out with a green alternative to use-and-throw plastic drinking straws, by tapping bamboo.

The bamboo species Schizostachyum andamanicum, endemic to the islands looks ideal for the purpose.

The work to make a bamboo straw at Dhanikhari Experimental Garden-cum-Arboretum, at the BSI Regional Centre has gone on since 2011.

“After I registered the invention with the patent office under the title Reusable Straw and Its Manufacturing, I took 5,000 sample straws and distributed it during the World Environment Day Celebrations held in New Delhi earlier this year,” Dr. Singh said.

Not only is a bamboo straw biodegradable, it can be reused for years. People can keep one in their homes and use it multiple times like tooth brushes, avoiding plastic straws. And the cost? Just 50 paise per piece. Its longevity makes it cheaper than plastic.

BSI Director Paramjit Singh said that the invention is timely in the campaign against plastic pollution.

 

Transgenders from different parts of the State(Orissa)  took part in the cultural festival organised by the Anwesha Kala Kendra, a cultural organisation of the city.

 

Arunachal stares at water scarcity

‘Situation could be as grim as Shimla’

Arunachal Pradesh is staring at scarcity of water, the very resource that is expected to make the frontier State India’s hydroelectric powerhouse. The State’s Minister for Environment and Forests Nabam Rebia said more than 200 rivers and streams across Arunachal Pradesh have dried up. The scenario, he indicated, could be as grim as Shimla, the capital of another “presumably water-abundant” Himalayan State that underwent a severe water crisis recently.Mr. Rebia attributed the drying up of water bodies to rampant destruction of forests besides thinning glaciers in the Eastern Himalayas due to climate change.

Forest cover

The State’s forest cover has decreased from 82% to 79% and catchment areas of many rivers are under threat because of jhum (slash-and-burn) cultivation and landslides. Large-scale hunting of animals, too, has been a factor in the depletion of the State’s natural resources. Many communities hunt birds and animals for food and adornment of traditional headgear. Wild animals such as Asiatic black bear, leaf deer and Mishmi taking are considered delicacies.

 

 

With Odisha placed at the bottom of Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) coverage in the country, the Centre has urged the State government to use the forthcoming Shree Jagannath Rath Yatra festival in Puri as a platform to spread the message on twin-pit toilet access and usage. Given the slow progress of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in Odisha, which is our common concern, this could be a significant opportunity to provide much-needed acceleration to the programme,

Worst performer

Odisha has been the worst performer in executing the SBM in the country. Since October 2, 2014, when the mission was launched, only 38.08 lakh household toilets have been constructed, and IHHL coverage in Odisha has been estimated at 57.82%.

Bihar has slightly better coverage than Odisha with 58.9%. As many as 18 States and Union Territories have already achieved 100% coverage. Uttar Pradesh, a bigger State, has achieved 79.14% coverage of households with IHHL.

As far as Open Defecation Free (ODF) villages are concerned, Odisha figures among five lowest performing States. Only 23.42% villages in Odisha have qualified for the ODF tag.

While neighbouring Chhattisgarh has already achieved the 100% milestone, only two of Odisha’s 30 districts have been been declared ODF.

 

 

Fish samples test positive for formalin

Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar said use of formalin as a preservative cannot be allowed at any cost. He said tests had been conducted in Thoothukudi and other places based on information received by the department but none of those samples had any formalin. “Formaldehyde has the potential to cause blood cancer in human beings.”

 

Despite being the fastest-growing economy, India has taken a “quantum jump in the wrong direction” since 2014, and because of the backward movement, it is now the second worst in the region, eminent economist Amartya Sen has said. He was speaking at the launch of Bharat Aur Uske Virodhabhas, the Hindi edition of his book, An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradiction, which he co-authored with development economist Jean Dreze.

 

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh will chair a two-day plenary meeting of the North Eastern Council (NEC) in Shillong on Monday. The Governors and the Chief Ministers of the north-eastern States will participate.

For the first time since it was established in 1971, the NEC would discuss topics related to security in the region. An official said the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the proposed Naga accord were on the agenda.

The NEC is the nodal agency for the development of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. Its chairmanship was recently transferred to the Home Minister. It was earlier held by the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, headed by Jitendra Singh.

 

 

In 2013, cybersecurity, which was the sole preserve of the Home Ministry, was moved to the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) under the Prime Minister’s Office. The critical infrastructure was moved to the National Technical Research Organisation and the non-critical part to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

 

CURRENCY DERIVATIVES

Currency derivatives are considered to be one of the best options to manage any risk against foreign currency exchange rate volatility. What are currency derivatives?

Currency derivatives are exchange-based futures and options contracts that allow one to hedge against currency movements. Simply put, one can use a currency future contract to exchange one currency for an another at a future date at a price decided on the day of the purchase of the contract. In India, one can use such derivative contracts to hedge against currencies like dollar, euro, U.K. pound and yen. Corporates, especially those with a significant exposure to imports or exports, use these contracts to hedge against their exposure to a certain currency.

While all such currency contracts are cash-settled in rupees, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), early this year, gave a go-ahead to start cross currency contracts as well on euro-dollar, pound-dollar and dollar-yen.

How can one trade in currency derivatives?

The two national-level stock exchanges, BSE and the National Stock Exchange (NSE), have currency derivatives segments. The Metropolitan Stock Exchange of India (MSEI) also has such a segment but the volumes are a fraction of that witnessed on the BSE or the NSE. One can trade in currency derivatives through brokers. Incidentally, all the leading stock brokers offer currency trading services too.

It is just like trading in equity or equity derivatives segment and can be done through the trading app of the broker. While a dollar-rupee contract size is $1,000, one can trade by just providing the 2-3% margin.

Why were such derivatives introduced on exchange platforms?

Prior to the introduction of currency derivatives on exchanges, there was only the OTC – over the counter – market to hedge currency risks and where forward contracts were negotiated and entered into. It was kind of an opaque and closed market where mostly banks and financial institutions traded. Exchange-based currency derivatives segment is a regulated and transparent market that can be used by small businesses and even individuals to hedge their currency risks.

Are the derivatives popular?

The currency segment was unveiled in 2008 and since then, the volumes had registered a steady rise. In June, BSE reported an average daily turnover of ₹33,961 crore on its currency derivatives platform while NSE clocked ₹29,161 crore. MSEI reported a daily average turnover of only ₹239 crore in June.

 

 

LIMITED SUCCESS OF THE CURRENT NPA RESOLUTION

The limited success of the current NPA resolution framework and its mechanisms calls for new forms of institutions which will be effective in dealing with the current NPA crisis.

The need for a new institution is warranted due to two basic reasons.

1.     The first is to do with the principle of separation of good and bad assets. The separation of bad assets helps banks to focus on their business expansion.

2.     The second relates to maximum recovery and hence minimum burden or cost to the banks or the government.

These are the principles around which a new institution should be framed. International experience shows that a ‘bad bank’ or ‘Asset Management Company (AMC)’ has the potential to fulfil the above vital principles and can possibly address the NPA resolution challenge more effectively.

It is possible to conceptualise and set up an institution in India on similar lines.

Countries that have gone through banking crises at different times have adopted the above two principles and have created specific institutions to deal with their NPA problem. While the essence of the institution remained same, the operational structure, however, varied from country to country. And, so also the outcome. Countries have had a variety of experiences in outcomes or grades of success in NPA resolution.

Governance and financing

The new institution should be independent and transparent in its operation with high emphasis on professionalism.

While the government needs to own and oversee governance at the institution, the managerial staff, however, can be outsourced to strengthen operational and managerial efficiency. The experience in other countries offers two key commonalities that were inherent in their respective institutions — accountability to the government or its agencies and managerial efficiency.

As to financing, broadly, there can be four ways of financing an asset management company as seen in several countries. These include equity injection by the government, special loans from the central bank, AMC bonds and public offering of shares.

Issuance of AMC bonds has been the major source of finance in a majority of the countries. Ideally, the government must invest first for the creation of such an institution.Mere creation of a new institution in the form of either a ‘bad bank’ or an ‘AMC’ does not guarantee automatic success.

International experience suggests that the success of the AMC will depend on three critical conditions:.

1.     first, there should be a clear distinction between the bad and good assets (in other words, the definition of a bad asset has to be followed strictly;

2.     second, over time, the economy should bounce back to high growth trajectory;

3.      third, preventive measures must be in place so that every new loan that is disbursed does not become an NPA too soon.

The fulfilment of the above conditions will determine the degree of success of the ‘bad bank’ or the asset management company.

 

 

EXOTIC VEGETABLES

More than 100 farmers in this village of Tamil Nadu are into cultivation of exotic vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini, iceberg lettuce, brussels sprout, red cabbage and leek.

·       These are available at departmental stores and served cooked at star hotels.

·       The weather conditions at Kookalthorai are conducive for cultivation of these exotic vegetable varieties.

·       the yield is better compared with other parts of the Nilgiris.

·       The duration of the crop is a maximum of 60-70 days and we are able to grow three crops a year.

·       Farmers get seedlings from Udhagamandalam or Bengaluru.

·       There are also large companies that supply the seedlings and have entered into buyback agreements with the growers. This gives an assured price and market.

·       The investment is not high compared with other vegetables and farmers mostly do not incur losses. As a result, exotic varieties are increasingly finding favour with farmers.

·       The areas under exotic vegetable cultivation are increasing across the Nilgiris every year and the growth is steady.

·       farmers were switching over from tea and other vegetables to exotic vegetable varieties.

·       The buyers are from cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata and also include some well-known food chains. Though there are supplies from places such as Pune, Shimla, and Nashik, the demand from the Nilgiris is high, especially between May and October.

THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD SUPPORT CULTIVATION OF EXOTIC VEGETABLES.

 

 

 

Sangeeta Sindhi Bahl, the oldest woman from India to conquer Mount Everest, is now eyeing Mount McKinley in Alaska. She aims to realise her dream of scaling summits across the seven continents. “

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in on Monday inaugurated Samsung’s mobile manufacturing plant, touted as the biggest in the world, in Noida.

With this plant, set up on an investment of ₹4,915 crore, the South Korean electronics major plans to make India an export hub, with 50% of its overall production coming from here in the next three years from the present 10%. Samsung said it would almost double its manufacturing capacity to 120 million by 2020 from 68 million now.

Speaking at the event, Mr. Modi said the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative was not just an economic policy measure, but also a commitment of better ties with friendly nations like South Korea. He added that 30% of phones made at the Noida plant would be exported.

 

THE PERCUSSION MAESTRO KUZHALMANNAM RAMAKRISHNAN

Three years after he developed a lightweight version of South Indian percussion instrument mridangam, it’s celebration time for the percussion maestro Kuzhalmannam Ramakrishnan. The patent office of Union government awarded the patent for the design to the innovative product. The Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks has given the patent under ‘drum’ category. Made of steel and fibre, Mr. Ramakrishnan has named the instrument as ‘sadmridangam.’ “Going by the literal meaning, mridangam is a musical instrument played softly.

 

 

 

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) campaign group said 18 factories in 10 Chinese provinces they looked into admitted to using banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Producers and traders told EIA researchers posing as buyers that the majority of Chinese companies manufacturing foam — in high demand as an insulator in the booming construction sector — continue to use CFC-11 because of its better quality and lower price.

They were banned under the internationally binding 1987 Montreal Protocol and production of CFCs officially stopped in developing countries in 2010. Chinese authorities previously said the country successfully ended the industrial practice of using CFCs in 2007.

‘Shady’ operations

the firm sources CFCs from unlicensed factories with “shady” operations in Inner Mongolia and conceals the substance from customs agents.some companies produce the substance themselves, with one source saying its factories can produce 40 tonnes of CFC agents per day.

EIA also said that Chinese companies export the banned CFC agents by mislabelling them as Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) compounds and other chemical blends.

“If China doesn’t stop this illegal production, it will imperil our slowly healing ozone layer,” said Alexander von Bismarck, EIA U.S. executive director. “CFC-11 is also a super global warmer as well,” he added.

 

 

News

RUMOURS ON WHATSAPP

As per public commentary, it is WhatsApp that has caused the loss of more than 20 lives in the past two months alone in the country. Rumours on WhatsApp that there are child kidnappers and cattle traders roaming around have led to mob lynchings. Such rumours are posited as incontrovertible facts. Consequently, a debate has been framed around the growing use of technology by the “ignorant” masses and the responsibilities of a technology platform. This is a shallow understanding that distracts us from the harder, vexing questions on the sectarian discourse set by our political leadership, a deepening divide that is damaging fraternity within society, and the structural reforms necessary to restore law and order.

We are made to believe that in the age of social media, facts have become fungible. There is little distinction left for many between established media outlets and websites that incessantly broadcast propaganda and hate speech. A messaging application such as WhatsApp, with a large user base and an ability to instantly and widely share information, has been arraigned as a co-conspirator to these tragedies. It is easy to get swept in this wave of social panic and draw neat narratives which ignore factual complexity. Hence, before we delve into the technology aspect, it is important to take a step back and examine three facts and the existing narrative. This is important as many public policy responses that are being suggested will ultimately weaken the features of encryption that promote privacy, and may even bring in forms of pre-censorship on justifications of security.

Three facts

The first fact is that the government maintains no central data on public lynchings. The legal framework in India does not have any anti-lynching offences either. While some may oppose a special law for public lynchings, most scholars like Paul Brass, who have studied such riots which often involve public lynchings in India, term them to be “organised political productions” in which there is an element of group identity and politics with the desire to establish “dominance of one community over another”. This is well understood by some activists, such as those who began a campaign last year for the drafting of an anti-lynching bill named the Manav Suraksha Kanoon. Despite such civic action, parliamentary replies reveal bluster and indifference, with the Central government stating that there is no proposal to bring a law against lynchings.

The second fact is that in the absence of official data or a substantive law, media reports which quote the police become the principal source to build a public narrative. As many of us crave simplicity and clarity in facts, opinion writing has often homogenised incidents into a factual straightjacket. In the lynching cases this year, it is claimed that the common factor is the use of WhatsApp to spread rumours relating to the abduction of children, ostensibly for the purpose of forcible organ harvesting. These grotesque details underplay and ignore the fact that the victims of mob lynchings are quite often members of nomadic tribes and religious minorities. They ignore pre-existing social tensions, asymmetry of social capital and power among groups, past instances of mob violence and killings, and the efficiency of policing

some of the identities of the victims demonstrate that their distinction from the local communities and lack of power, their “othering”, and absence of state protection were significant factors in the distrust which rose to the level of organised mob violence. However, due to the framing of the instant problem as primarily technological, the onus for policing and public broadcasting has been primarily placed on WhatsApp.

The third fact is that these lynchings are not removed from the trend of mob lynchings spurred by cattle preservation laws. A fact-finding report, “Lynching without end”, which collated data from 2015 to 2017 and was published last year, documents 24 instances of lynching and vigilante violence resulting in the murder of 34 persons and the rape of two women. It reveals that 94% of these were organised instances of violence by vigilante groups and 91% were bovine related. The report indicates severe structural faults — from a deficiency of laws to the absence of long-pending police reforms. There is only one solitary instance of WhatsApp in which the originator is clearly identified as the leader of one of these vigilante groups. These findings, the result of research by several organisations, is a meaningful benchmark.

Escaping accountability

Taken together, these three facts indicate our willingness to reach for quick and easy fixes which are harmful public policy prescriptions. We ignore the problems within our legal framework and law enforcement and prescribe policy choices with the same ease with which we install applications on our smartphones. Such framing is leading to WhatsApp being made the principal offender in designing a technical architecture which offers security, privacy and has expanded the avenues of free expression and political organising for masses of Indians. This is not to say that WhatsApp does not need to act with greater responsibility in supporting fact-checking or making technical, product choices which would stem the tide of misinformation without compromising on digital rights. But WhatsApp cannot and should not perform the duties of our democratically elected government. Our problematic framing is leading to public officials and police departments escaping accountability as they continue to place the onus of governance on a private corporation for maintaining an ordered and democratic society. As Paul Brass notes, it is the duty of public commentary to “fix responsibility and penetrate the clouds of deception, rhetoric, mystification, obscurity and indeterminacy.”

 

 

Article FROM HINDU

AGE OF DISRUPTION

Given the uncertain times we live in, nothing can be taken for granted. Much of the world seems to be in a state of bewildering confusion. Across the spectrum, people appear euphoric, angry, fearful or confused. Many do not even want to think of what lies ahead. Therein, perhaps, lurks the biggest danger. Not wanting to understand what is taking place has its own perils.

Age of disruption

Disruption is the dominant sentiment today. It is leading to major political upheavals. It has resulted in escalating levels of violence. Technology is the biggest disruptor of all. Many large firms are being challenged by start-ups. Artificial Intelligence is threatening everything that we are aware of. This breeds uncertainty, apart from confusion.

How else can anyone explain the extraordinary spectacle of a U.S. President effecting a meeting with a North Korean leader. Till very recently, North Korea was seen by the U.S., and much of the West, as the principal part of the “axis of evil”. Not only has this been exploded with the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea meeting in Singapore in June, but the U.S. has announced that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat, nor is it the “biggest and the most dangerous problem” for the U.S. No diplomatic rigmarole, no joint communiqué on the details and guarantees, just a simple endorsement that North Korea would eschew the use of nuclear weapons and dismantle its nuclear arsenal is considered enough.

The rest of the world, meantime, is in various stages of disarray. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is pitted against almost the entire Western world, and is being blamed for an array of human rights violations. Several regions of Asia are akin to powder kegs waiting to blow up. Afghanistan is rocked almost daily by terror attacks by the Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Islamic State. West Asia is embroiled in several wars. Syria is the worst-affected and has almost ceased to be a state. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have intensified. Tensions between Israel and the Muslim world have peaked. The war launched by the Saudi Arabia-led alliance of Arab States against Yemen is turning into a war without end. In South Asia, even tiny countries like the Maldives are challenging bigger neighbours like India.

Europe may not be convulsed with the same degree of violence, but political uncertainty is the prevailing order. Germany, which appeared the most stable of European countries till recently, is in deep crisis politically and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government hangs by the proverbial thread. In France, despite President Emmanuel Macron’s reassuring presence, strong undercurrents of political disruption are evident. A fluid political situation prevails across much of southern Europe.

Stable dictatorships

In a topsy-turvy world, it would appear that autocracies or dictatorships remain more stable, while democracies seem increasingly dysfunctional. Under President Xi Jinping, China, for instance, is making steady progress, despite the occasional dip in economic forecasts. The party remains in tight control of affairs. Mr. Xi and the Chinese Communist Party have on their radar milestones such as ‘wiping out poverty and becoming a moderately prosperous society by 2021’ (100th anniversary of the founding of the party); a ‘Made in China target to be completed by 2025’; and turning ‘China into a fully developed nation by 2049’ (100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China). No hiccups are in sight.

Russia is, again, not constrained by contrarian pulls and pressures. It has entered into a strategic relationship with China, is seeking to consolidate its influence in Eurasia, and has been able to stand up to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the West. Its economy is also on the mend. Other dictatorial regimes, such as Turkey, are proving more resilient than democratic regimes across the world, and better able to manage turmoil within and outside their borders.

Most democracies, on the other hand, reveal a far from homogeneous state of affairs, with ruling and opposition parties increasingly working at cross purposes. Germany’s plight today is largely due to Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and coalition partner, the Christian Social Union, pulling in different directions. Such trends are a common occurrence today.

Equally disconcerting is the plight of political parties themselves in many democracies. Many act in a manner that appears like an indictment of democratic politics. In the U.K., for instance, the Conservative and Labour parties face serious internal divisions. In the U.S., both Republicans and Democrats appear in poor shape. Political parties in France are hardly better situated. What all this presages for the future of democracies is a matter of conjecture.

Indian democracy, unfortunately, is not an exception. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) currently projects an image of a strong centralised party. Most other parties are riven by internal dissensions. Yet, the BJP has been unable to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament. The BJP’s inability, despite its brute majority in the Lok Sabha, to ‘manage’ a determined Opposition is a serious chink in its armour. More unfortunate, it has resulted in a paralysis of informed discussion and debate. Absence of a debate of this nature in Parliament has a direct impact on the conduct of affairs of state.

For example, there had existed for a long time a broad consensus among parties in Parliament about the conduct of foreign affairs. Today, the consensus appears to have broken down. This has happened precisely when India’s external policies have come under strain. The nation, however, has the right to know the correct state of affairs, which is possible only through a detailed discussion in Parliament. The ruling party seems in no hurry to restore the consensus.

Friction in ties

Without this, it will be difficult for the nation at large to discern why India-U.S. relations, after more than a decade and half of steady improvement, seem to be slowing down. It was only early this year that U.S. President Donald Trump had announced suspension of military aid to Pakistan, and pointed an accusing finger at it for backing terror. All of a sudden, whether due to U.S. imperatives in Afghanistan, or some other reason, there are signs of renewed engagement between Pakistan and the U.S. This cannot but adversely impact India’s position in the region. Simultaneously, the U.S. has of late taken to upbraiding India on trade issues, lecturing it on reducing military ties with Russia, and insisting that it abide by U.S. sanctions on Iran. It also peremptorily postponed the 2+2 dialogue. Without a serious debate in Parliament, it would be difficult for the government to reach a consensus on how to deal with this situation.

This applies in equal measure to the state of India’s relations with China. Despite the Wuhan summit, our relations with China remain equivocal. There has been no give by China on contentious issues such as the border. The Doklam stand-off has yet to be resolved. Further, China continues to aggressively cultivate countries in India’s neighbourhood to India’s detriment. Nepal and the Maldives are conspicuous examples. It is little understood, again, why many of our neighbours seem to be drifting away from India.

A debate in Parliament would be even more critical to understand where our relations with Russia stand today. On the surface, India-Russia relations remain unaffected, but there are enough signs that the nature of the relationship has undergone a change, even though defence ties may be unaffected. If the U.S. continues to insist that India resile from its commitment to buy the Triumf missile defence systems from Russia, we will have a first-rate crisis on our hands. India needs a national consensus to tide over the crisis and withstand U.S. pressure, since succumbing to it would be detrimental to our claims to ‘strategic autonomy’.

Some of the policy imperatives of recent years, including possibly the current transactional nature of India’s foreign policy, may well need to be reformulated, given the present state of affairs. This cannot happen without a detailed debate in Parliament. The time has, hence, come for the government to seek out the Opposition to debate some of these issues inside Parliament, so that foreign policy, at least, remains on an even keel and is not buffeted by the cross-winds of adversarial party politics in the country.

Article by M.K. Narayanan is a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal, in The Hindu.

 

Andhra Pradesh has topped the third edition of the government’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index for States with a final score of 98.42%. This is the second time in a row that Andhra Pradesh achieved the first rank.

A.P., which was given second rank in 2015, outperformed other States and Union territories by maintaining its leadership position through implementation of 99.73% reforms.

 

 

Starting November, the Indian Railways will start a special train, ‘Shri Ramayana Express’, which will cover important destinations related to the epic in a 16-day journey.

The train will be flagged off on November 14 from Delhi’s Safdarjung railway station, an official statement said.

The tour will be spread across India as well as Sri Lanka. It will be priced at ₹15,120 per person, which will cover all meals, accommodation, wash and change facilities in dharmashalas, all transfers, sight-seeing arrangements and a dedicated tour manager. After leaving Delhi, the train will make its first stop in Ayodhya followed by Hanuman Garhi Ramkot and Kanak Bhawan temple. It will then cover the important destinations of Ramayana circuit such as Nandigram, Sitamarhi, Janakpur, Varanasi, Prayag, Shringverpur, Chitrakoot, Nasik, Hampi and Rameswaram.

 

 

The Eat Right Movement’

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on Tuesday unveiled ‘The Eat Right Movement’, built on two broad pillars of ‘Eat Healthy’ and ‘Eat Safe’. The programme aims to engage and enable citizens to improve their health and well-being by making the right food choices.

Star attraction

Kicked off in the city by National Award-winning actor Rajkummar Rao, the event saw the food industry, public health professionals, civil society and consumer organisations, and influencers and celebrities coming together to pledge concrete steps to create ‘The Eat Right Movement’ in the country.

FSSAI CEO Pawan Agarwal said the movement can grow organically as a self-perpetuating movement, co-owned and co-led by various partners using the broad framework and resources put together by professionals and experts in the field of food and nutrition.

Stating that its aim was to cut down salt/sugar and oil consumption by 30% in three years Mr. Aggarwal said that 15 major food manufactures have already joined the programme.

The FSSAI, he said, “is looking at robust food labelling and cleaning up the claims space.”

 

 

Three playwrights — Annie Zaidi, Swetanshu Bora and Sneh Sapru — have been shortlisted for their works submitted for The Hindu Playwright Award 2018. The award, instituted in 2008, carries a prize of ₹ 2 lakh for the best original, unpublished and unperformed play script in English.

The three plays, Untitled 1 (Annie Zaidi), Guilt (Swetanshu Bora) and Hello Farmaish (Sneh Sapru), were chosen by a panel of three independent judges from a list of 68 plays submitted.

 

 

FOUR FUNDAMENTAL REALITIES THAT WILL NOT CHANGE EVEN AFTER ELECTION

First, Pakistan’s military-led establishment will continue to wield effective power, drawing strength from allegations of incompetence and corruption against civilian politicians. Second, civilian politicians will continue to justify their incompetence and corruption by invoking the spectre of military intervention in politics. Third, jihadis and other religious extremists will continue to benefit from the unwillingness of the military and the judiciary to target them as well as the temptation of politicians to benefit from their support. Fourth and finally, Pakistan’s international isolation and economic problems, stemming from its ideological direction and mainstreaming of extremism will not end.

The conviction of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by an accountability court last Friday has set the stage for him to portray himself as the latest martyr for democracy. He has argued, as others have done before him, that he is being punished not for corruption but for standing up to Pakistan’s invisible government — the military-intelligence combine that has dominated the country effectively since 1958.

His supporters are willing to ignore the fact that Mr. Sharif’s own political career was launched by the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the likelihood that allegations of unusual expansion of the Sharif fortune since the family’s advent in politics are true.

 

 

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL (HRC) OF THE UNITED NATIONS

The withdrawal of the U.S. from the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations in June this year sent shock waves through the international community, foreign-policy think-tanks and human rights non-governmental organisations. However, some feel this was the right decision and are now advocating withdrawal by other countries; this includes those in India.

The antecedents and functioning of the much vilified HRC are worth examining. The main criticism against it is that it is made up of states not known for their human rights records; that many are in fact egregious violators of human rights. Current members include Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom — a few of the 47 states elected by the General Assembly, based on geographic quotas. So why is the HRC still important despite this crisis? There is much disinformation and confusion as to the origins of the HRC and its role, so setting the record straight is important.

Integral to rights system

The HRC was established in 2006, as part of the UN’s reform process, replacing the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Council members are elected by the General Assembly with three-year terms, with a maximum of two consecutive terms. It was to serve as a forum for all states to examine and ‘peer review’ the record on human rights. The ‘Universal Periodic Review’ process, where all states are scrutinised, is currently in its third cycle (2017-2021). No state is exempt from this process, including Security Council members. Politics is unavoidable, with states using the opportunity to highlight the records of other states. However, an overly simplistic reading of the HRC paints this as purely partisan theatre, which is not the entire picture.

What gets lost in all the rhetoric regarding the HRC is the actual track record — the overt manner in which a human rights agenda and the evolution of human rights norms are facilitated — and also less tangible gains from having such a body composed of states and actually engaging with them. Resolutions adopted have highlighted egregious violations despite efforts to the contrary by some members of the HRC. The situation in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and North Korea are but a few. Subject areas that have been the source of much controversy have been addressed at the HRC, including LGBTIQ rights and discrimination on the basis of religion.

The HRC is also a forum to monitor international obligations of a state based on international law that states themselves have undertaken. Engagement on their track record, in defence of rights is critical. This forum for advocacy and scrutiny, with its pitfalls, is an important component of the UN rights system.

Multiple strands

Another aspect overseen by the HRC is the appointment of special rapporteurs — independent mandate holders — on issues including internal displacement, torture, racial discrimination, as well as country specific mandates. In addition, there are distinct international commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions into particular violations. It is also worth pointing out that the role of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is often confused with the HRC. It is a separate institution which presents reports independent of the HRC, the recent report on Kashmir being an example. The conflation of the HRC and the OHCHR is incorrect and confuses their separate mandate and functions. Hence, there are multiple strands in the monitoring functions of human rights by UN institutions, one of which is the HRC. In the promotion of human rights, all these play a critical role.

Coming back to the U.S., the factor that precipitated its withdrawal is the alleged targeting of Israel by the HRC. However, the background to this is also one of impatience and a failure to stay the course on an important multilateral process — that of HRC reform. Discussions and reform proposals are already in the works, with engagement by states and human rights organisations indicating a consensus building approach. However, while ostensibly committing to reform, the impatience of the current U.S. administration and its disdain for multilateralism has resulted in the impetuous decision to withdraw. By ceding a role at the HRC, a state reduces its ability to influence the agenda, and if it is so inclined, a genuine engagement in the monitoring of human rights. Invoking sovereignty as the basis to disengage is specious at best and malafide at worst.

Ultimately, we are all the poorer for such actions. Not just states but also individuals who are in need of a more robust defence of their rights stand to lose much. It is worth instead contemplating the need to reduce rhetoric and, rather, increase substantive engagement with issues concerning the rights of individuals.

 

 

IDEA OF HOLDING SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS

It is perhaps no surprise that political parties are deeply divided over the idea of holding simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies. During consultations initiated by the Law Commission of India, nine parties opposed it, arguing that it went against the constitutional fabric and that it would be impractical. Four parties backed the concept.

In principle, there are obvious advantages to the ‘one nation, one election’ idea —

·       election expenditure will be drastically cut and

·       ruling dispensations will be able to focus on legislation and governance rather than having to be in campaign mode forever.

However, the idea is fraught with practical difficulties.

·       some parties fear that a simultaneous poll, particularly in this era where news is easily and widely disseminated, will privilege national issues over regional ones even if, arguably, the reverse may happen too.

·       The issue is that synchronisation would involve curtailment or extension of the tenure of a House — the legal propriety of which is questionable.

The key proposal is that Assemblies be bunched into two categories based on whether their terms end close to the 2019 or the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Elections could be held for one group in 2019, and for another in 2024 so that subsequent elections could be synchronised. Or, polls could be held for one group along with the 2019 election, and for the rest 30 months later, so that there is a round of elections every two and a half years. An attempt at solving the problem of regimes falling due to lack of majority is the proposal for a ‘constructive vote of no-confidence’. This means that when passing a motion expressing lack of trust in a regime, legislators must necessarily propose an alternative. If a mid-term election has to be held, the term of such a House would only be for the remainder of its tenure. These two recommendations may partially address the question raised by the DMK on whether all Assemblies would be dissolved too if the Lok Sabha has to be prematurely dissolved. However, it is unclear if it will be palatable for all parties to invest their time and resources in an election that would win them only a curtailed term. Allowing a one-time waiver of the anti-defection law to enable the House to elect a leader in the event of a hung House is another proposal. However, these reforms can be adopted even without simultaneous elections. Also, there are many pressing reforms needed in the electoral space including curbing the use of black money to fund elections and tackling the staggered manner in which elections are held in many States.

 

 

BRITAIN’S IMMIGRATION SYSTEM

Britain’s immigration system has come under scrutiny amid controversy over its treatment of Commonwealth immigrants who came during the post-Second World War period, in what has come to be dubbed the ‘Windrush scandal’. The revelations have renewed a long-standing public debate on the appropriateness of the hostile environment approach that Prime Minister Theresa May pledged while she was the Home Secretary. A parliamentary committee report this year called the approach “callous” and called for “root and branch reform”. Sajid Javid, the current Home Secretary, has pledged reform. However, amid concerns over the government’s recent decision not to extend a relaxation of documentation requirements to Indian students, there are doubts over the extent to which things would change. Satbir Singh, who heads Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), an advocacy group, speaks about what drives Britain’s immigration policies and what campaigners are doing to bring about change.

What is the trajectory of immigration-related politics in the U.K.? Has it got noticeably worse under the Conservatives?

It has got noticeably worse over the last couple of decades. If we go back to the late 1990s or early 2000s, this was the point at which it became acceptable to use immigrants as a scapegoat for pretty much every policy failure. There was, however, a marked change in 2010 — that is when we had a government that was willing to throw evidence completely aside. With the Windrush scandal, we’ve seen some of what happened in the Cabinet and it’s clear that from the minute they came to office, the Conservatives were keen to make life as difficult as possible for immigrants.

It’s an important point because its not just about one individual, Theresa May…

Absolutely. We had Britain chafing under the weight of austerity because cuts were really significant and the effects were starting to bite — living standards were falling dramatically; wages were falling in real terms or stagnating; and services were struggling. The easiest way out of all of these was to blame immigrants. There was this nonsensical target that the government set — of 1,00,000 or fewer immigrants per year. There was no expert who said that this was a sensible target — unions didn’t say it, industry didn’t say it. This number came out of thin air.

This appears particularly short-sighted…

These policies are making it exponentially more difficult for people to enter the country and stay here. These were politically expedient policy measures and their consequences were not thought through and that is why we have this complete misalignment.

The Conservative line is that: we are the sensible pair of hands for the economy and the industry should trust us but we are also the party of the illogical but nonetheless alluring idea of ‘Fortress Britain’. Part of the identity struggle the Conservatives are having now is about these two competing sections and Brexit illuminates these divisions completely.

The Indian diaspora was fed a particular narrative by some campaigning for Brexit suggesting that if it voted to leave the European Union (EU), it would give space to allow more non-EU migration…

It was very upsetting for me as a member of the South Asian diaspora in the U.K. to see this narrative, and [to see] them [the Brexit campaigners] pitting different groups against each other and saying that the reason it had become difficult for Indians was migration from Central and Eastern Europe in the last decade. It worked initially. You had a high turnout in some areas having South Asian communities in favour of Brexit. However, later the opposite happened. There is no inclination on the part of the government to make it easier.

Is there a conversation within the Indian diaspora to be had about its attitudes towards immigration?

We, the diaspora, have in some ways perpetuated the myth about good and bad migrants. We as a community in the past two decades have been surprisingly supportive of restrictive immigration policies and that’s because almost every member of the diaspora who is upper middle class has this story about “How I came here with five pounds in my pocket… we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps.”

It has to be remembered that there was the entrepreneurial spirit but we were also supported by services, social housing, health and education. We have to accept that we are all in this together and people who come to do what we disparagingly refer to as ‘low-skilled work’ are in the same situation that our parents were in about 50 years ago.

To what extent is this debate about race?

Race has always played a significant role in our conversation about immigration. That said, it’s not fair to suggest that anti-immigration sentiment or concerns about immigration here are always intertwined with race because there are other factors such as economic anxieties that enter the picture.

But race is coming to the fore once again with the conversation about people arriving by boats from North Africa; and the conversations we have about who Britain will enter into these free trade agreements with first. As if these are fruits for us to go and pick when we want it.

There are nations like Australia, New Zealand and Canada — the settler colonies — that will have the first priority; it’s hard to deny the racial element that exists particularly when you consider the volume of trade between the U.K. and New Zealand vis-à-vis the volume of trade between the U.K. and India.

What is your assessment of the decision to exclude Indian students, while easing up the criteria for Chinese students? Is this a hangover of colonial times?

It has to do with a lack of vision in their [the authorities’] own concept of what this ‘global Britain’ means. It’s a conflict between sensible economic trade policies and regressive immigration policies and policies towards minorities who don’t necessarily fit into that narrative. It’s like the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

The colonial legacy perhaps also plays some part but from a slightly different perspective. There is this assumption that even if we make it exponentially harder for people to come here, even if we treat people very badly, Indians will always choose to come; the assumption is that the demand is perfectly inelastic. But that’s not the case any more. We just have to look at the precipitous drop in the number of students coming here.

It’s over 50 years since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. What lessons can be learnt from the past?

The lesson to be learnt is that we need to know the difference between when we’ve moved on and when it seems we’ve moved on. You had this 15/20-year period of relatively robust economic growth with a rise in living standards but the grey spots in the economy [still] existed where opportunities weren’t well dispersed.

The evidence tells us that immigration is not to blame for problems in public services — the queues in hospitals aren’t shorter in places where there are fewer immigrants but we’ve left those areas completely unattended and those are the parts of the country that got scooped up by nativist forces. We didn’t have a proper conversation about immigration. We didn’t properly explain the benefits of migration to the whole country because it was assumed that the whole country was on board. It was also assumed that there would continue to be a role for evidence in our public conversations. Across the Atlantic and here, we are seeing [that] you can just make stuff up and get away with it for a reasonably long time.

Given the lack of a factual basis, how do you turn around the conversation on immigration?

We can’t have a top-down approach: it can’t just be about the digital and national media. We need to be better at face-to-face conversations. We have to be much better at pushing back against the toxic rhetoric from leading voices on the political right.

Is it right to draw a distinction between legal and illegal migration?

Through the distinction, you are vilifying a very vulnerable population. Almost everyone here who is without documentation came here legally. We are an island: people arrived here legally. The biggest driver of undocumented status is an immigration system which is so complicated that even the Home Office makes a mistake a lot of the time.

There has been a lot of focus on the U.S. family separations — which you’ve travelled to the U.S. to document. What is the experience of families here in the U.K.?

Separating families is a policy here, including through the really severe restrictions on family reunions because of which at least 50,000 children have been separated from a parent. They are British children in the U.K. [separated] because one parent doesn’t have a right to come here. And that’s because we have this unreasonable high-income requirement that excludes 41% of the work force in the U.K. This is further complicated by a labyrinthine application process which sees the Home Office make as many mistakes as the applicants do.

There is a complete neglect of the rights of the child and families under the European Convention on Human Rights. We also have the spectre of immigration enforcement officials bursting into people’s homes and detaining parents in front of their children. You are traumatising children for administrative convenience and because the system you’ve created doesn’t allow them to exercise their rights.

Will things change under Sajid Javid?

Some of the noises we are hearing are positive but these are low-hanging fruits. What remains to be seen is whether he’s serious about fixing the system. However, [former Home Secretary] Amber Rudd’s departure signalled for the first time that there is a political consequence of all of this. It was earlier assumed by both major parties that you can turn on people born elsewhere — whatever the logic or evidence, the rule of law or the international obligations say — and there will be no political consequences.

 

 

National Disaster Loss and Damage databases

·       Since 1970, more than two million people have been killed by natural disasters in the ‘Ring of Fire’ region around the Pacific Ocean, at an average of 43,000 a year, as per the United Nations (UN).

·       In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami struck 14 countries, and killed more than 18,000 people in India.

There is a way to dramatically cut down on the number of people impacted by such disasters, and that is by using data. If we are to save lives and prevent damage to economies, it is critical to identify the most vulnerable populations. Data on these communities can be used to pursue ‘risk-informed development’. For instance, road infrastructure can be built by calculating the intensity of floods and determining the types of materials needed to construct durable roads. India recently embarked on an initiative to establish a comprehensive disaster database system. Now, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), working with partners, has established National Disaster Loss and Damage databases in 16 countries.

Data also help identify the gaps and makes recommendations on where to allocate resources to mitigate risks from disasters. For example, flood-resistant roads can only be constructed if governments consider and review data about flood risks. With such information, they can allocate appropriate funds for better road construction.

Institution to study risks

To further advance resilience in the region, in 2015, the UNDP partnered with the Tohoku University and Fujitsu to create a Global Centre for Disaster Statistics (GCDS).

The aim is to gather and crunch ‘big data’ to meet the ambitious targets of the Sendai Framework to reduce the risks from disasters. Fujitsu’s cloud-based ecosystem captures data from a variety of sources, including unstructured sources like social media, high-resolution satellite imagery and drones. Specialised technical institutions like the Tohoku University can crunch and analyse these data sets to provide insights for policymakers about the impacts of disasters. This includes helping to monitor recovery, focussing on early warning, and assessing resilience.

Big data also provides a deeper understanding about how an economy is interconnected: how devastation of a rice crop by a disaster can trigger a chain impact across several industries and services, such as transportation, rice-trading, packaging and retail. With such valuable information, governments can anticipate disasters and reduce risks through preventive measures such as early warning systems, safety drills, and resilient infrastructure. Of course, the data that matters the most is the number of lives saved.

 

 

SpaceILm, an Israeli non-profit group, plans to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon in February in the first landing of its kind since 2013. The craft, which is shaped like a round table with four carbon fibre legs, is set to blast off in December from Florida’s Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It aims to transmit pictures and videos back to earth over two days after it lands on February 13.

 

Giant dinosaurs lived on the earth much earlier than previously thought, according to a team of excavators in Argentina, who discovered the remains of a 200-million-year old species.

The species,  Ingentia prima, was about three times the size of the largest Triassic dinosaurs from its era. It was discovered in the Balde de Leyes dig site in San Juan province, 1,100 km west of the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

These were “herbivore dinosaurs, quadrupeds, easily recognisable by their very long neck and tail, and from the sauropod group,” she added. Before this discovery, it was thought that gigantism developed during the Jurassic period, around 180 million years ago.

Fellow co-author Ricardo Martinez believes the Ingenia prima is from “a Late Triassic period, possibly 205 million years” ago. The Triassic period extended from around 250-200 million years ago and the Jurassic from 200-145 million years ago. According to scientists, Ingenia prima was the first dinosaur species to reach gigantism.

The dinosaur’s bone fragments displayed cyclical and seasonal growth, with a different kind of tissue to other sauropods, which allowed it to grow very quickly. It’s believed that the species grew to eight to 10 meters tall and weighed around 10 tonnes, equal to two or three African elephants.

 

Swat smiles again A visitor walking past a seventh-century sculpture of Buddha carved into a mountain at Jahanabad in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. It was restored by Italian archaeologists after the Taliban defaced it in 2007
 

 

Spiritual leader and educationist Dada J.P. Vaswani — the moral force behind the Sadhu Vaswani Mission and a tireless promoter of vegetarianism and animal rights — passed away on Thursday, aged 99, days short of his centenary.

 

The government’s list of ‘INSTITUTES OF EMINENCE’ (IOES) was awaited for the simple reason that finding a place in it would help an educational institution avoid the clutches of a dreaded regulator. Regulators are meant to ensure that we have a socially desirable outcome but in the case of higher education in India, the opposite seems to have happened. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has, over more than half a century, micromanaged this space, leading to a large number of publicly funded universities, producing low-level ‘knowledge’, which have shattered the aspirations of our youth.

Aware of the public anger at the functioning of the UGC, two governments in the past decade have tried to revamp the regulatory environment for higher education. The latest offering is in the form of a proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). The intention is to leave the HECI to focus on quality while leaving funding of public institutions to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).

Engagement with ideas

This arrangement has raised the issue of the possibility of bias, leading to concerns that the government may use its discretion to reward institutions according to its ideological predilections. While this is an ever-present hazard in a democracy, one cannot in principle object to an institutional arrangement whereby an elected government exercises its right to allocate funds. One can only pressure it to be impartial and accountable in its actions. In higher education, one would imagine that this accountability would be manifested in enabling the pursuit of excellence.

It is not as if excellence is difficult to identify, even if it may be impossible to measure. In the world of ideas, excellence lies in the ability to participate as an equal in the global knowledge commons. The emphasis here must be on engagement; it is not necessary that institutions should produce knowledge in every field or that its members abide by every idea and protocol in the fields chosen. Whether the criterion of equal engagement is met by the majority of our universities is a moot question. This could be a high-priority issue for the proposed HECI.

However, even as we wonder if the HECI is going to be more than just old wine in a new bottle, we have an inkling of where it could go wrong. The government has chosen a total of six institutions — three public and three private — for the IOE status. The public institutions are: the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru; and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) at Delhi and Mumbai. The private ones are: the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani; the Jio Institute; and the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. The list suffers from a serious lack of credibility as the most obvious question that arises is: Where are the universities?

Ignoring the universities

Universities by definition embody knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. While the early European universities started as academies of the arts, they soon had medicine and astronomy as areas that they pursued with vigour. The emphasis was on depth of knowledge across a broad horizon. Somewhere along the line, we seem to have lost this breadth and come to revel in a landscape dominated by engineering schools. These engineering schools, notably the IITs, have done us proud but cannot be equated with the great universities of the world for the simple reason that they are focussed on a narrow domain.

Also, if the idea behind preparing a list of the IoEs is giving them greater autonomy and enhanced financial support, it must be acknowledged that until very recently, the IITs were not meddled with; neither were they starved of resources. The IISc’s scope is of course broader than that of the IITs but it does not embrace the social sciences and the humanities, the presence of which would be considered necessary for an institution to be considered a university.

Assuming that an IoE list is needed, the absence of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) from the present list striking. If, as I mentioned earlier, the possibility offered by a university for engagement with global ideas is accepted as a criterion, the JNU would count as among India’s eminent educational institutions. One need not agree with any of the political ideas emanating from the university to recognise that if there is one Indian institution that engages a student as an equal in the global commons, it is the JNU. Its research work in various disciplines, ranging from history to economics, is top-quality. Its faculty have brought many of the world’s leading ideas to Indian students and also come close to building a new school of thought. It is not as if similar efforts have not occurred elsewhere in India but JNU has perhaps sustained its reputation as a university for longer.

It would require a scientist assess the contribution made by the JNU to the sciences but it may be noted that it has had schools of Computer Science and the Life Sciences for many decades, right from the time when they were just nascent disciplines in the country.

The choice of the three private institutions that made the cut is as surprising as the exclusion of JNU. While BITS Pilani made significant contribution to the country at a time when it desperately needed engineers, it still doesn’t have the breadth of disciplines to be considered a university.

Dubious premise

However, the presence of the two other institutions on the list leaves one nonplussed. One of them, we are told, has been conferred the status solely on grounds of its promise, a dubious position to take as it has little to show but for the financial heft that will surely undergird it. The other is known largely for its practice of charging capitation fees. Eminence is not usually understood in terms of money.

So where does this leave us? Even before the HECI is a reality, we can get an overview of what to expect when such a limited approach to education guides the hand of the state. While there may be no political partisanship involved in the matter of finding eminence only in engineering schools, the choices do reflect short-sightedness when the social sciences and the humanities are completely ignored.

It is indeed conceivable that the politicians who govern us have little time to bother with the constitution of committees. But then, we do maintain a machinery of government, at considerable expense, to advise the Cabinet. In this episode of drawing up a list of IoEs, we are able to see what will determine whether the HECI can make a difference. Its membership will matter more than the institutional architecture governing higher education in India.

Pulapre Balakrishnan is Professor of Ashoka University and Senior Fellow of IIM, Kozhikode. Views expressed are personal.

 

 

Kailash Satyarthi is the founder of Global March against Child Labour

The violence apart, there are also many people who suspect that their children could be abducted for prostitution, organ trade, forced beggary or any other form of slavery.

Eight children go missing every hour in India to remain untraced and four are sexually abuse. Aren’t these figures enough to cause fear among the masses?

Can we say with confidence that our children are safe in homes, schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces, shelter homes, or even inside the places of worship and faith institutions? Can we guarantee that our children will not be abused by a family member or friend? Can we totally trust our state institutions to bring the perpetrators to justice? Fears triggered by such insecurities quickly take the form of collective frustration. Mob action, condemnable no doubt, is the most violent expression of such frustration.

Rising anger

Last year, HE led an 11,000-km Bharat Yatra to take the message of ‘safe childhood’ across the country. A total of 12 lakh people, including child victims of rape, their parents, survivors of child trafficking and prostitution, former child labourers, and young people, marched with HIM to demand their right to childhood. Though their rising anger was discernible, I repeatedly appealed to them not to take the law into their hands and to follow the legal, judicial system for justice. But it is necessary to point to the apathy among our institutions toward child safety.

Reports on incidents like the sale of a baby by the Missionaries of Charity home; the rape of minor girls by a self-styled godman in Delhi; and the rape of a nine-year-old girl by a Maulana in a madrassa raise a basic question: Why are many of these residential religious institutions allowed to run without stringent regulations and checks?

The government has information on 1.4 lakh missing children on one hand and on the other, has a database of three lakh children staying in state and NGO-run children’s homes. Why can’t it effectively use simple technological solutions like facial recognition software and try to reunite missing children with their families? Further, what stops the largest democracy in the world from passing more stringent laws against child trafficking and child pornography?

 Nobody has questioned why an eight-year-old was grazing horses and not attending school as per constitutional right to education.

Demanding capital punishment for the perpetrators of child rape is the easiest way to show social media heroism. The government’s response, which includes setting up an enquiry or bringing an ordinance, is equally convenient. However, I have never come across an incident where an individual or institution ever took moral responsibility for such a pathetic situation on child safety. Therefore, I argue for a culture of moral responsibility and accountability among our institutions, as opposed to the prevalent culture of superficial, convenient responses.

Moral responsibility is an individual decision and moral accountability is a culture. Mahatma Gandhi called off the Non-Cooperation Movement against the British because some of his supporters turned violent in Chauri Chaura. Martin Luther King Jr. repeatedly called for compassion and hope despite facing vicious racist insults. More recently, Nelson Mandela adopted the approach of reconciliation to bring about justice, despite being a brutalised victim of apartheid. A culture of accountability can be created if the society and the state are guided by a moral compass.

Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi is the founder of Global March against Child Labour and Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation

 

 

india-South Korea ties have drifted too long — political ownership of them will help

That South Korean President Moon Jae-in undertook a four-day visit to India this week, when there is hectic diplomacy over the Korean peninsula, speaks of his commitment to improving bilateral ties. In fact, during his election campaign last year he had promised to raise bilateral ties to the level of South Korea’s relations with what it calls the four major powers: the U.S., Russia, China and Japan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has often said he sees South Korea as a significant partner for India, and had travelled to Seoul. But despite the personal touch, and ambitions to align India’s Act East policy with Korea’s New Southern Policy, ties have drifted for lack of focus. Trade, at $20 billion, is a fraction of the potential, given that India and South Korea are Asia’s third and fourth largest economies. This figure has been a cause for worry, as the two countries had hit the $20-billion mark in 2011 after the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The large trade deficit in South Korea’s favour has led India to be wary of further opening up. In turn, Korean companies cite problems in doing business in India, despite a special “Korea Plus” desk set up by the Prime Minister’s Office in 2015. Tourism between the two countries has always been low, and strategically both New Delhi and Seoul are preoccupied with tensions in their immediate neighbourhoods and ties with the big world powers than with each other.

On Mr. Moon’s watch, this may change. Both Mr. Modi and he exuded a sense of purpose and there is a clear road map on converging interests. Agreement to invoke the “early harvest” clause in the 2010 CEPA will allow both to do away with tariffs in 11 areas, benefiting Indian seafood exporters and food processing units, as well as South Korean petrochemical companies. The inauguration of Samsung’s biggest mobile factory in Noida will bring investment and create jobs in India. More Korean companies should be persuaded to invest, by projecting a counter-narrative to the failed bid by the steel company Posco to set up its plant in Odisha. Much will depend on negotiations on the regional free trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. On the strategic front, India has asserted its place as a “stakeholder” in the Korean peace process, while South Korea has for the first time shown an interest in talking about an Indo-Pacific policy. In the short term, a symbolic token towards shared interests will be seen in a joint “capacity-building” programme in Afghanistan. At a time when U.S. foreign policy is capricious and unpredictable, and China’s is making purposeful moves towards global domination, it is important that the South Korea-India partnership grows and consolidates, to contribute to stability in the region.

 

 

COMPENSATORY AFFORESTATION (CA): FAILED TO FULFILL ITS PURPOSE

Compensatory afforestation (CA) is not new in India. Several national- and State-level laws permit change in use of forest land or cutting of trees as long as the damage can be offset. This is done by bringing more land under forest area, or planting more trees than what would be lost, or both. CA is seen as a compromise between ecological requirements and developmental aspirations.

Discussions in the Supreme Court since the late 1990s and reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General have identified four reasons why CA has not worked, the foremost being the availability of land where plantations can be raised without encumbrances. Further diversion of these CA lands for other uses is a challenge. Audits have also indicated delays in fund disbursements by agencies seeking change in land use, and poor utilisation of funds by the forest department that is tasked with ensuring plantations. They are not mere implementation hassles if they have lasted so long.

Third, the afforestation overdrive by government departments is done in floodplains, grasslands and other ecosystems that are often not suitable for tree cover. Administrations do not carry out impact assessments of sites where CA is to take place. These areas are demarcated, and letters permitting land use change enlist these areas as designated zones for plantations. This is a form of dumping saplings in sites that are empty and where trees are not appropriate. For Delhi, one popular place for compensatory plantations is the Yamuna river floodplains. Citizens are rightfully questioning whether the floodplains should be where saplings should be dumped in lieu of fruit and flowering trees being cut to construct a World Trade Centre in the heart of the city.

Laws have not helped

Laws like the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 and the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act of 1994 were enacted with the objective of conserving and preserving trees, and preventing forest loss. However, using the route of compensatory afforestation, these laws have legitimised the loss of an average of 35,000 hectares of forests annually to development projects. Over ₹400 billion has been collected as funds by systematically allowing for loss of forests and felling of old growth trees.

In effect, forest and tree conservation laws have fuelled more ecological loss and destruction by relying on offsets like compensatory afforestation.

 

 

Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017 proposes a comprehensive resolution framework for specified financial sector entities and service providers to deal with bankruptcy in banks, insurance companies and financial sector entities.

The Bill seeks to give comfort to the consumers of financial service providers in financial distress. Its objectives include the maintenance of financial stability during a crisis.

The second schedule of the Bill lists 11 categories of institutions which would come under the definition of specified service providers. These include any banking institution other than eligible cooperative banks, including an insured service provider; insurance companies; any financial market infrastructure; any payment system, as defined under the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007; any non-banking financial company; branch offices of body corporates incorporated outside India, carrying on the business of providing financial service here; and any other entity/ fund which may be notified by the government.

The Bill proposes the setting up of a Resolution Corporation by the Central government. It would lead to repeal or amendment of resolution-related provisions in legislation, including the repeal of the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, 1961. This would mean the transfer of deposit insurance powers and responsibilities to the Resolution Corporation to streamline the deposit insurance framework for the benefit of retail depositors. The government lists the functions of the Resolution Corporation to include protecting the stability and resilience of the financial system, public funds, and consumers of covered obligations up to a “reasonable limit”.

Section 13 of the Bill details the powers and functions of the Corporation to include providing deposit insurance to banking institutions, specifying the criteria for classification of a specified service provider into one of the categories of risk to viability, acting as an administrator for a specified service provider under critical risk, exercising powers in relation to certain termination rights in respect of specified service providers, resolving a specified service provider under critical risk, and acting as a liquidator for a specified service provider.

The recently enacted Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 to deal with the insolvency resolution issues of non-financial entities will be complemented by the proposed Bill.

 

 

Indian start-up dreams searching for funding at ‘RISE 2018’, Asia’s largest tech event currently on in this bustling Asian business capital(HONG KONG)

 

 

 

 

 

HIMA DAS became the first Indian athlete( 400M)  to win a gold medal at a global meet: the IAAF World U-20 Athletics Championship 2018 at Tampere.

 

Leprosy must not continue to be a ground for divorce noted the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) stating that this disease is now fully curable, and that the archaic laws relating to leprosy must be relooked at.

Leprosy is one of the world’s oldest diseases with India accounting for over 60% of the annual new cases of leprosy and a home to around 800 self-settled leprosy colonies.

World Health Organisations (WHO) data reveals that in 2016, a total of 2,14,783 cases of leprosy were reported worldwide. There were 18,000 child cases and 12,437 cases who were already suffering from serious disabilities at the time of diagnosis. India had 1,35,485 cases.

Still face discrimination

“While recognised as a disability under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995, and being completely curable, persons affected by leprosy continue to face discrimination not only from the larger society but also the disability sector itself,” noted a release issued by the NCPEDP.

India’s archaic laws need to be changed if this has to happen said the NCPEDP.The release noted that there are currently 119 provisions across various Acts passed by the Central and State governments that continue to discriminate against people affected by leprosy (PAL).

These are also directly in contrast with the provisions of the Rights of Person with Disabilities Act 2016, that mandates non-discrimination and equality for all irrespective of disability.

 

 

Girish Karnad’s much anticipated play that centres around the Battle of Talikota (1565), between Aliya Ramaraya of the Vijayanagar empire and the united forces of the Deccan sultanate, will be out on August 15. Titled Rakshasa-Tangadi.

 

Pulikali, the tiger hunt–themed street art form that has men done up in tiger body art roaming the streets in a feral dance, accompanied by rustic drum beats. The art form, Thrissur’s own, is being ravaged mainly by financial crisis.

Pulikali is managed by groups of youth who want to preserve the dying art form.

 

AYUSHMAN BHARAT, THE WORLD’S LARGEST HEALTH INSURANCE SCHEME

Aimed at covering 50 crore Indians, is facing teething troubles. In May, the government published the rates that insurance companies would pay hospitals for the 1,350 procedures covered under the scheme.

These rates have become a sticking point for hospitals, which have criticised them as arbitrary and low. For example, the price of Caesarean section, at ₹9,000 for five days of hospital stay, food and consultation, is “laughable,” says Girdhar Gyani, director-general of the Association for Healthcare Providers India (AHPI). Even government hospitals incur ₹7,000 a day just to maintain a bed, he adds.

Doctors have also criticised the clustering of medical conditions in the rate list. For example, treatment for tuberculosis and HIV with complications will be reimbursed at the same rate of ₹2,000 a day.. “HIV complications can be pretty serious. The fundamental problem, according to doctors and hospitals, is that the reimbursement rates were not calculated in a scientific manner.

Ayushman Bharat did rely on a study of over 100 hospitals in 60 cities, according to Dinesh Arora, director of the scheme. But these were mostly hospitals with under 50 beds in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. The cost structure of these hospitals is substantially different from tertiary-care hospitals in tier-1 cities for multiple reasons. Tertiary-care hospitals have super-specialists, a greater nurse/bed ratio, and hi-tech facilities such as catheterization labs, all of which cost more.

What is the government stand?

For now, the government is committed to the launch date of August 15. But officials have acknowledged that the rates will be revised. Ayushman Bharat has asked the AHPI to submit a list of 100 key procedures, for which a detailed cost study will be done.

 

 

S-400 TRIUMF IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST ADVANCED AIR DEFENCE SYSTEMS

It can simultaneously track numerous incoming objects — all kinds of aircraft, missiles and UAVs — in a radius of a few hundred kilometres and launch appropriate missiles to neutralise them. It is now bang in the middle of the ongoing stand-off between Russia and Western nations. Among the countries under pressure from the U.S. not to buy this weapon is India. The system is a large complex of radars, control systems and different types of missiles. The highly automated S-400 has radars that can pick up an incoming object up to a 1,000 kilometres away, track several dozen incoming objects simultaneously, distribute the targets to appropriate missile systems and ensure a high success rate. The command post detects, tracks and identifies the target. Then the tracked object is taken over by manned anti-aircraft missile systems of the complex, which launch the counter attack. The development of S-400 (NATO name SA-21 Growler) was started towards the end of the Soviet Union in the 1980s and was disrupted by the collapse of the Communist bloc in 1991. The system is specifically designed to detect and destroy an array of targets — strategic bombers; aircraft used for electronic warfare, early warning, and reconnaissance; fighter jets such as F-16 and F-22; and incoming missiles such as Tomahawk. Russian forces have deployed at least half-a-dozen S-400 regiments, at least two of them are for the protection of Moscow. Russia has also deployed at least two S-400 systems in Syria, much to the concern of observers who fear the system could contribute to a global conflict breaking out in Syria. A single unit, consisting of eight launchers, 112 missiles and command and support vehicles, costs at least $400 million (₹2,500 crore).

S-400 traces its origins to the desperation of the Cold War period to find a credible counter to the threat from missiles and incoming enemy aircraft. S-400 is a dramatic improvement from its predecessor S-300, which was the mainstay of Soviet Union’s air defence during the Cold War, when nuclear missile threat was at its peak. S-300 was initially developed against incoming cruise missiles and aircraft, but the latter versions could also intercept ballistic missiles. They were deployed in the 1970s across Soviet Union for protecting key industrial complexes, cities, and other strategic assets.

Today, the S-400 uses four different types of missiles and can track and shoot down incoming objects as far away as 400 kilometres, while it also has shorter-range missiles to track and shoot down objects that are closer.

The acquisition of S-400 by countries such as India and Turkey has taken centre stage in the American diplomacy regarding Russia. Upfront, the recent sanctions against Russian entities, especially its military manufacturers and suppliers, mean any country buying the system may run into trouble. Besides, the U.S. has singled out the acquisition of S-400, telling potential customers such as India and Turkey that it is opposed to the move. It believes that S-400 could access sensitive U.S. military technologies in service with the potential buyers. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said the negotiations for the S-400 were in a “conclusive stage.” There are conflicting reports about Turkey’s plan. American diplomats have accused Russia of “flipping” Turkey with the S-400 offer, while Turkey claims it is a defensive system. At the NATO summit in Brussels early this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the first batch of the S-400 system would be in Turkey by late 2019.

 

 

Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)

Like many other States, Andhra Pradesh is known for indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to the extent that residues found their way into mothers’ milk in a few villages in Guntur. As Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) takes root in Andhra Pradesh, promising to move away from synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and rejuvenate the degraded soil, a retired civil servant, T. Vijay Kumar, is leading the project.

What is the mission?

Mr. Kumar is being seen as the prime mover of the ZBNF as Andhra Pradesh inches towards becoming India’s first natural farming State, covering 60 lakh farmers and 12,294 gram panchayats by 2024, and 80 lakh hectares or 90% of the cultivable area by 2026. After retiring in September 2016, he became adviser to the government on agriculture and vice-chairman of the Rythu Sadhikara Samstha, a not-for-profit company set up by the government to usher in natural farming. According to Mr. Kumar, “’for both farmers and consumers, natural farming is a win-win situation.” Simply put, the ZBNF is a practice that believes in natural growth of crops without fertilizer and pesticide or any other “foreign” elements. The inputs used for seed treatments and other inoculations are cow dung and cow urine. Vidarbha farmer and Padma Shri awardee Subhash Palekar, the biggest champion of the ZBNF, pioneered a cow dung- and cow urine-based concept for seed treatment, inoculation, mulching and soil aeration.

one of the biggest challenges was that of mindset. Farmers had been brought up to believe that chemical-based farming, with external inputs, was necessary to increase yields. But when fellow farmers who had taken to natural farming briefed the others of the benefits, especially of cost, they took to it “like fish to water.”

 

MANIPUR, ALLEGED INCURSIONS BY MYANMAR SOLDIERS.

Where is the incursion?

Villagers along Manipur’s border say incursions are nothing new. For instance, Myanmar nationals have been occupying Govajang village near the trade town of Moreh in Tengnoupal district, The aggression has increased over the past six months. The action has been in the newly created Tengnoupal district, though the other three border districts — Chandel, Kamjong and Ukhrul — have issues too. According to the United Naga Council (UNC) of Manipur, an umbrella socio-economic and cultural group of the Naga tribes, Myanmar soldiers on April 29 vandalised a saw mill in Tengnoupal’s H. Lhangcham, a Maring Naga-inhabited village between border pillars 75 and 76. Two days later, Myanmar soldiers raided N. Satsang and Choktong, also in Tengnoupal, and made 62 tribal families flee. They dismantled the Indian boundary pillar number 82 and planted their own. These villages are within 10 km north of Moreh. The latest incident was reported from Kwatha Khunou further north, near where border pillar 81 used to stand. Notably, only a 10-km stretch (Moreh area) of the India-Myanmar border is fenced.

 

The External Affairs Ministry has said India has not shifted pillars demarcating the border with Myanmar and the boundary is settled and there is no confusion over its alignment. Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has said his government has formed a high-power committee to investigate the incursions; it will seek a fresh survey if any discrepancy is found. But UNC leader Gaidon Kamei said Myanmar soldiers and civilians have illegally occupied a large chunk of land on the Manipur side of the boundary from pillar number 81 to 88. A Congress team that visited Kwatha Khunou a fortnight ago found a subsidiary Myanmar pillar 100 metres in India from pillar 81. The team also found Burmese graffiti and a symbol of Myanmar flag on the base of a tree that the Meitei people worship as a deity and claimed that Myanmar took over half of Molfei village inhabited by the Kuki. Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, who was in Manipur at that time, insisted that there was no border dispute. The Congress and some NGOs took it as admission that India gifted land to “please Myanmar, whose rulers are getting closer to China.” Why then do Assam Rifles soldiers stop people from inspecting the border and why don’t Indian surveyors visit the area, they ask.

Is history responsible?

The BJP had earlier blamed Manipur’s boundary problem with Myanmar on Jawaharlal Nehru for not claiming the Kabaw Valley (in Myanmar) during demarcation in 1947. In the medieval ages, Manipur and Burmese kings often wrested the valley from each other until the British defeated the Burmese and signed the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. But the valley was returned to Burma in the second treaty of 1834 and a boundary line between British India and Burma was drawn by Captain R.B. Pemberton. The Pemberton Line had left out certain restive Kuki areas that were included in a rectified boundary in 1881 called Johnstone Line. The boundary was redrawn again in 1896 to have 38 pillars and be known as Maxwell or Pemberton-Johnstone-Maxwell Line. But Burma never participated in these exercises until India and Burma became independent. After negotiations started in 1953, both ratified the 1896 line via the Rangoon Agreement on March 10, 1967. Border residents in Manipur hope New Delhi makes it clear to Myanmar that history needs to be respected.

 

 

 

It was August 11, 1992. Outside the police headquarters in the ITO area of Delhi, the first known protest for gay rights in India was being held.

It was sparked off by the police picking up men from Central Park in Connaught Place on suspicion of homosexuality — in those days, this kind of harassment was still a ‘normal’ practice. But activists from an organisation called AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) decided not to let it pass this time and blocked the entrance to the police headquarters to protest the harassment.

Nothing came of it.

Two years later, in 1994, a medical team landed up at Tihar Jail to investigate the high incidence of sodomy reported from the quarters. Tihar decided to deal with the “menace of homosexuality”, as Bedi termed it, by mandatorily testing inmates for HIV and segregating those found positive.

In 1994, ABVA filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Delhi High Court, challenging the constitutional validity of Section 377 — it was one of the first legal protests against government repression of the LGBTQ community.

Brave and prescient

The PIL also gave India its first champion of gay rights, Siddhartha Gautam, who had become involved in the gay rights movement in the U.S. when he went to study at Yale in 1989. He had co-founded ABVA on his return, and published a ground-breaking pamphlet, ‘Less Than Gay’, a citizens’ report on the discrimination faced by the community in India.

the petition was dismissed in 2001. But it had set the ball rolling.

A public health measure

Meanwhile, the health ministry was facing a different problem. By 2002, government estimates put India’s HIV affected population at around 3.97 million people — more than any other country except South Africa.

Former Union health secretary Sujatha Rao recalls visiting NGOs in Bengaluru in 2006. “I was stunned and shocked to hear about the police violence and the amount of fear and exploitation these people were under. That visit strongly influenced my thinking,” says Rao, who played a key role in convincing the health ministry to take a pro-LGBTQ stand.

The then Home Minister Shivraj Patil was bitterly opposed, but Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss was firmly in support,” says Rao.

by Summit exclusively for The Hindu

 

 

Jawahar Kala Kendra in collaboration with Contemporary Clay Foundation presents the first ‘Indian Ceramics Triennale: Breaking Ground’, from August 31 to November 18. This is the first ever international ceramics event to be held at Jawahar Kala Kendra. It will have 35 Indian and 12 international artist projects, 10 collaborations, 12 speakers, a symposium, film screenings and workshops for adults and children. In India, ceramics and clay have always been considered as artisanal craft. The Ceramics Triennale hopes to increase visibility of the artists and allow ceramics to be appreciated as art.

 

Diabetes

  • Diabetes mellitus (DM) – Commonly referred to as diabetes, is a group of metabolic disorders in which there are high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period.
  • Most common types of Diabetes Mellitus are as follows
  1. Type 2 diabetes – A chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar (glucose).
  2. Type 1 diabetes – A chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin.
  3. Prediabetes – A condition in which blood sugar is high, but not high enough to be type 2 diabetes.
  4. Gestational diabetes – A form of high blood sugar affecting pregnant women.
  • Diabetes insipidus – It occurs when the body can’t regulate how it handles fluids.
  • The condition is caused by a hormonal abnormality and isn’t related to diabetes.
  • In addition to extreme thirst and heavy urination, other symptoms may include getting up at night to urinate, or bed-wetting.
  • Depending on the form of the disorder, treatments might include hormone therapy, a low-salt diet and drinking more water.

 

National Statistics Day

  • Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation and Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) celebrated National Statistics Day.
  • National Statistics Day is celebrated on 29th June every year in recognition of the notable contributions made by Late Professor Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis.
  • Mahalanobis has made his excellence in the fields of statistics, statistical system and economic planning.
  • The objective of celebration of this Day is to create public awareness about the importance of statistics in socio-economic planning and policy formulation

 

 

  • Government proposes to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) with a Higher Education Commission of India.
  • The proposal raises many concerns and has many unanswered questions.

What are the concerns?

  • Role – The role of HECI in relation to professional bodies is unclear.
  • Depriving the HECI completely of funding functions may affect its efficacy.
  • It may affect its stature in discharging its onerous responsibility.
  • Funding – The MHRD has been directly funding more than a hundred institutions of national importance.
  • It includes Indian Institutes of Technology, National Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research.
  • Funding 47 Central universities should not pose a problem for the ministry.
  • However, funding scheme for the State universities needs to be clearly worked out.
  • This is because they account for more than 50% of the student enrolment.
  • A clear and transparent mechanism should be spelt out if it is to be funded through the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan.
  • Besides, the effective role of HECI in regulating state institutions needs attention.
  • Autonomy – Certain new initiatives are proposed recently in the higher education sector.
  • This includes granting near complete autonomy to the Indian Institutes of Management.
  • It also includes providing graded autonomy to other institutions.
  • Besides, more institutions are encouraged to move out of the regulatory ambit to develop into institutes of excellence.
  • Given these, the role of HECI as an overarching regulator has to be reassessed.
  • Structure – HECI will have a chairperson, vice-chairperson and 12 members.
  • The secretary of the HECI will be an officer of the rank of joint secretary and above.
  • S/he could also be a reputed academic and will serve as its member-secretary.
  • Will the secretary have voting rights or not as a member is unanswered.
  • Also, government has overwhelming power to remove the chairperson and members.
  • Secretary – The secretary is expected to play multiple roles:
  1. acting as a member of the HECI
  2. serving as a member of search-cum-selection committee of the chairperson and vice-chairperson
  3. processing their appointment as a key functionary of the government
  • Such multiplicity of roles may create difficulties and conflict of interest.

 

 

cVIGIL

  • cVIGIL is a mobile app launched by Election Commission of India.
  • It enables citizens to report on violation of code of conduct during elections.
  • The application will be active only in States where elections have been announced.
  • The moment a citizen exits an election-bound State, the app will become inactive.
  • To prevent any misuse, the app will not allow uploading of the pre-recorded or old images and videos.
  • The app will be made available for general use by all, from the forthcoming Assembly elections in the States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan.

 

 

cVIGIL

  • cVIGIL is a mobile app launched by Election Commission of India.
  • It enables citizens to report on violation of code of conduct during elections.
  • The application will be active only in States where elections have been announced.
  • The moment a citizen exits an election-bound State, the app will become inactive.
  • To prevent any misuse, the app will not allow uploading of the pre-recorded or old images and videos.
  • The app will be made available for general use by all, from the forthcoming Assembly elections in the States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan.

 

 

Accession to WIPO treaty

  • Union Cabinet has approved the proposal regarding accession to the WIPO Copyright Treaty and WIPO Performers and Phonograms Treaty.
  • The treaty extends coverage of copyright to the internet and digital environment.
  • It is seen as a step towards the objective laid in the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy, 2016.
  • The policy aims to get value for IPRs through commercialization by providing guidance and support to IPR owners about commercial opportunities of e-commerce through Internet and mobile platforms.

WIPO Copyright Treaty

  • The treaty came to force in 2002 and has been adopted by 96 contracting parties till date.
  • It is a Special agreement under Berne Convention (for protection of literary and artistic works).
  • It has provisions to extend the protection of copyrights contained therein to the digital environment.

WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty

  • The treaty came to force in 2002 and has 96 contracting parties as its members.
  • WPPT deals with rights of Performers (actors, singers, musicians etc.) and producers of Phonograms (sound recordings) in digital environment.
  • It recognizes moral rights of the performers for the first time & provides exclusive economic rights to them in digital environment.

 

 

Under Water Museum

  • Bolivia is going to build an underwater museum in its sacred Lake Titicaca.
  • It is in partnership with Belgium and UNESCO would contribute $2 million to the project.    
  • Titicaca is located between the border of Bolivia and Peru with an area of 8,500 sq.km.
  • It will be both a tourist complex and a centre for archaeological geological and biological research which will make it the only one in the world.

 

 

Like previous ones, National Bio-fuel policy -2018 t00 seems to be chasing ambitious targets based on ambiguous plans and questionable technologies.

  • But pollutions levels and fuel prices are only increasing and our bio-fuels program is becoming irrelevant due to lack of sincere implementation.

What is the state of India’s Bio-fuel program?

  • India commissioned “National Policy on Bio-fuels” (NPB) to find a solution to air pollution through clean and sustainable fuels.
  • In addition to this, moving towards energy self-sufficiency, and reducing dependence on crude oil imports, and reducing prices were other aspects.
  • Unfortunately, precious little has been done so far, and government and almost all the set targets are yet to be met despite timelines having elapsed.
  • In 2003, “Ethanol Blended Petrol Programme” (EBP) focussed on 5% blending of molasses-based ethanol with petrol, which was enhanced to 10% in 2008.
  • Thereafter, “National Biodiesel Mission” focused on biodiesel production from Jatropha seeds and targeted a 10% blending with diesel by 2012.
  • While none of these targets were met, in 2009, the NPB proposed a revised target of 20% blending for ethanol and biodiesel by 2017.
  • Notably, India currently has a paltry 2-4% blend on an average, which is woefully short of even the initial target of 5%.
  • Inconsistent supply of domestically produced ethanol is said to be the main reason for the apparent failure of the blending program.

What does the new “National Bio-fuels Policy – 2018” (NBP-18) offer?

  • NBP-18, repeats the previous pattern of promising the moon, with a road map that has little clarity and conviction.
  • Octane Count – World Health Organisation (WHO) has already declared 14 Indian cities as among the 20 most polluted in the world.
  • In this context, the policy is also totally silent on “fuel octane count”, which has direct consequences on vehicular emissions and air quality.
  • Notably, currently, to mimic octane characteristics in fuel, petrol is blended with imported aromatics which are proven carcinogens.
  • Untested Technology – NPB-18 has proposed “Viability gap funding scheme” and a “6 year tax incentive” for refiners manufacturing 2G ethanol.
  • 2G is a new untested technology and there isn’t a single plant worldwide that produces 2G ethanol on a commercial scale.
  • Considering the amount of funds needed and the risk of failure, it is surprising that the government is prioritising 2G ethanol over other aspects.
  • Additionally, there is total lack of transparency in signing of MoUs with oil marketing companies for the 2G ethanol blending project.

What is the way ahead?

  • While the government has increasing the price of ethanol (by Rs. 3) to enhance supply, this might not contribute significantly to the blending program.
  • Rather, merely staying focused in implementing rationally revised blending targets would go a long way.
  •  If necessary, the government could even consider importing ethanol at times to create consistency of supply for blending (like Philippines).
  • Appropriate and consistent ethanol blending throughout the country will help in reducing the import of expensive and harmful imported aromatics like BTX.
  • Also, as 2G ethanol is still in the developmental stage, the government would do good to persist with 1G for the time being.

 

 

Like previous ones, National Bio-fuel policy -2018 t00 seems to be chasing ambitious targets based on ambiguous plans and questionable technologies.

  • But pollutions levels and fuel prices are only increasing and our bio-fuels program is becoming irrelevant due to lack of sincere implementation.

What is the state of India’s Bio-fuel program?

  • India commissioned “National Policy on Bio-fuels” (NPB) to find a solution to air pollution through clean and sustainable fuels.
  • In addition to this, moving towards energy self-sufficiency, and reducing dependence on crude oil imports, and reducing prices were other aspects.
  • Unfortunately, precious little has been done so far, and government and almost all the set targets are yet to be met despite timelines having elapsed.
  • In 2003, “Ethanol Blended Petrol Programme” (EBP) focussed on 5% blending of molasses-based ethanol with petrol, which was enhanced to 10% in 2008.
  • Thereafter, “National Biodiesel Mission” focused on biodiesel production from Jatropha seeds and targeted a 10% blending with diesel by 2012.
  • While none of these targets were met, in 2009, the NPB proposed a revised target of 20% blending for ethanol and biodiesel by 2017.
  • Notably, India currently has a paltry 2-4% blend on an average, which is woefully short of even the initial target of 5%.
  • Inconsistent supply of domestically produced ethanol is said to be the main reason for the apparent failure of the blending program.

What does the new “National Bio-fuels Policy – 2018” (NBP-18) offer?

  • NBP-18, repeats the previous pattern of promising the moon, with a road map that has little clarity and conviction.
  • Octane Count – World Health Organisation (WHO) has already declared 14 Indian cities as among the 20 most polluted in the world.
  • In this context, the policy is also totally silent on “fuel octane count”, which has direct consequences on vehicular emissions and air quality.
  • Notably, currently, to mimic octane characteristics in fuel, petrol is blended with imported aromatics which are proven carcinogens.
  • Untested Technology – NPB-18 has proposed “Viability gap funding scheme” and a “6 year tax incentive” for refiners manufacturing 2G ethanol.
  • 2G is a new untested technology and there isn’t a single plant worldwide that produces 2G ethanol on a commercial scale.
  • Considering the amount of funds needed and the risk of failure, it is surprising that the government is prioritising 2G ethanol over other aspects.
  • Additionally, there is total lack of transparency in signing of MoUs with oil marketing companies for the 2G ethanol blending project.

What is the way ahead?

  • While the government has increasing the price of ethanol (by Rs. 3) to enhance supply, this might not contribute significantly to the blending program.
  • Rather, merely staying focused in implementing rationally revised blending targets would go a long way.
  •  If necessary, the government could even consider importing ethanol at times to create consistency of supply for blending (like Philippines).
  • Appropriate and consistent ethanol blending throughout the country will help in reducing the import of expensive and harmful imported aromatics like BTX.
  • Also, as 2G ethanol is still in the developmental stage, the government would do good to persist with 1G for the time being.

 

 

The Sunil Mehta Committee submitted a five-point plan on bad loan resolution.

What are the key recommendations?

  • The Committee was set up for restructuring stressed assets and creating more value for public sector banks (PSBs).
  • It has proposed Project Sashakt to recover banks and stressed companies.
  • The five-pronged resolution route outlines five features for bank resolution:
  1. an SME resolution approach
  2. bank-led resolution approach
  3. AMC/AIF led resolution approach
  4. NCLT/IBC approach
  5. asset-trading platform
  • This route will be applicable to the following, which have a potential for turnaround –
  1. smaller assets with exposure up to Rs.50 crore
  2. mid-size assets between Rs.50 crore and Rs.500 crore
  3. large assets with exposure of Rs.500 crore and more
  • Large assets – For large assets, an independent asset management company (AMC) will be set up.
  • The resolution route is also applicable to larger assets already before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
  • It would also cover any other asset whose resolution is still pending.
  • The process will cover both performing and non-performing assets.
  • Mid-size assets – The committee called for a bank-led resolution approach for these.
  • The resolution plan has to be approved by lenders holding at least 66% of the debt.
  • The independent steering committee appointed by the Indian Banks Association (IBA) has to validate the process within 30 days.
  • The resolution for this category would be achieved in 180 days.
  • In this category, the key challenge would be to arrive at a consensus.
  • This is because the exposure is held by multiple banks/lenders.
  • SMEs – The committee suggested setting up of a steering committee by banks for SMEs resolution.
  • This will formulate and validate the schemes, with a provision for additional funds.
  • The resolution should be complete within 90 days.
  • It also suggested that the resolution be under a single bank’s control.
  • The bank will have the liberty to customise the resolution process.
  • AIF – Alternative investment fund (AIF) would raise funds from institutional investors.
  • Banks would be given an option to invest in this fund if they wish.
  • AIFs can also bid for assets in National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
  • The lead bank can discover price discovery through the open auction route.

What is the significance?

  • The recommendations offer a transparent market-based solution and are fully compliant with RBI regulations.
  • It focusses on asset turnaround to ensure job protection and creation.
  • The resolution process would help bring in credible long-term external capital.
  • This could limit the burden on the domestic banking sector.
  • It could also ensure robust governance and credit architecture and prevent any build-up of NPAs in the future.

 

 

What are the concerns?

  • Approach – Large banks helping smaller lead banks to run the resolution process, if required, sounds an ineffective suggestion.
  • The bank-led resolution approach has largely failed in the past.
  • Clearly, this is the reason why alternative plans to resolve NPAs quickly are being sought.
  • Consensus – The lead bank’s resolution plan to be approved by 66% of the lenders (by value) merely replaces the earlier JLF.
  • The JLF (joint lenders’ forum) structure failed miserably as it fell short of building consensus.
  • The present committee report has missed to address this real challenge.
  • Small banks – The structure also fails to serve the interests of smaller banks.
  • If restructuring involves additional finance, small banks may be affected.
  • As, unlike the larger ones, smaller banks may not prefer giving good money after the bad loans.
  • Reconstruction – The report points out the lacunae in the existing functioning of asset reconstruction companies (ARCs).
  • But it fails to address how such issues will be tackled under the proposed AMC or AIF structure.
  • Success of price discovery through open auction under AMC/AIF depends on banks’ willingness and capability to take financial risks.
  • Clearly, unattractive returns and poor recovery rates have discouraged investors from bringing in capital in the past.
  • Complex – The objective of early resolution to NPAs may be hampered by complicated work processes.
  • E.g. there is lack of clarity on how AIFs will work with a series of AMCs for a quick resolution.
  • Also, there are 26 ARCs and a couple of resolution advisory service companies in operation.
  • Given this, creation of new platforms like the AMC in AIFs for NPA resolution seems illogical.

What is the way forward?

  • Quick-fixes like utilising healthy banks’ or institutions’ assets to rescue stressed banks may not be sustainable.
  • The long awaited structural reforms for the banks are:
  1. empowering the bank boards
  2. setting a roadmap for consolidation
  3. Centre diluting its stake in PSBs
  • These have to be paid attention to, and the Centre has to push through these reforms.

 

 

The United States has recently withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

  • It is essential at this juncture to understand the role of the council in human rights issues.

What is UNHRC?

  • The HRC was established in 2006 as part of the UN’s reform process.
  • It replaced the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
  • UNHRC is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, made up of 47 States.
  • Members are elected by the UNGA with 3-year terms, with a maximum of 2 consecutive terms.
  • They are responsible for promotion and protection of human rights.
  • It meets 3 times a year to examine human rights violations worldwide.
  • Its resolutions are not legally binding but carry moral authority.

What is the concern?

  • The main criticism is that it is made up of states not known for their human rights records.
  • Many have, in fact, been violators of human rights.
  • Current members include Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Pakistan, and the UK and a few elected based on geographic quotas.

Why is it still crucial?

  • HRC has a fair track record of taking up human rights agenda.
  • It has facilitated the evolution of human rights norms.
  • There are many less tangible gains from having such a body in place.
  • Resolutions adopted have highlighted rights violations, despite resistance by some members.
  • The situation in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and North Korea are few examples.
  • Issues that have been the source of much controversy have been addressed at the HRC, including LGBTIQ rights.
  • It is also a forum to monitor international obligations of a state based on international law.
  • HRC is thus an important component of the UN rights system.
  • Its sustenance with credibility is significant for handling global human rights issues.

 

 

Religious Minority Status to Jews

  • The Gujarat government has granted religious minority status to the Jewish community in the State.
  • Gujarat is the third state in India to accord minority status after Maharashtra and West Bengal.
  • It will enable the community to get benefits of welfare schemes formulated for religious minority communities.
  • Gujarat is home to about 170 Jews, mostly centered in the western city of Ahmedabad.
  • The city also is home to the only synagogue in the state, the Magen Abraham Synagogue, built in 1934.

 

 

INS Tarangini

  • INS Tarangini is part of the first Training Squadron based at Kochi, under the Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy.
  • The word  Tarangini means ‘the one that rides the waves’.
  • It is the first ship of the Indian Navy to have circumnavigated the globe in the year 2003-04.
  • It commenced ‘Lokayan-18’ from Kochi, to cover a distance of over 20,000 nautical miles to display the Indian flag at 15 ports across 13 countries.
  • During its Lokayan voyage, it will participate in the prestigious ‘tall ship races – 2018’ at Sunderland Port in the UK.
  • It has already participated in tall ship races conducted around the world in 2007, 2011 and 2015.

Govardhan Teerth

  • Union Tourism Ministry recently sanctions Rs.50 crore for development of Govardhan Parikrama in Mathura under PRASAD scheme.
  • The ‘National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Augmentation Drive’ (PRASAD) has been launched by the Ministry of Tourism in the year 2014-15.
  • Its objective is holistic development of identified pilgrimage and heritage destinations.
  • Click here to know more about PRASAD scheme.

 

 

Longest Lunar Eclipse of the Century

  • A total lunar eclipse will occur on July 27-28, 2018 with a totality duration of 1 hour 43 minutes which makes it the longest total lunar eclipse of this century (2001 AD to 2100 AD).
  • In this eclipse, the Moon will pass through the central part of the Earth’s umbral shadow.
  • Longer eclipse – The moon will be at apogee, means at farthest from the Earth in its orbit and will be moving at a slower speed in its orbit.
  • This slower moving full Moon will take longer time and greater distance of Earth’s umbral shadow cone to travel, making it the longest duration of total eclipse of this century.
  • Brighter Moon – On July 27, the red planet Mars, will also be at opposition, meaning that the Sun and Mars will lie opposite to each other, keeping the Earth in the middle.
  • This will result in Mars coming close to the Earth, causing it to appear brighter than normal.

 

 

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