Monthly Current Affairs for Prelims: August 2020

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Table of Contents

 

Art And Culture

Festivals:

Onam

  • Context:
    • Onam is celebrated at the beginning of the month of Chingam, the first month of the solar Malayalam calendar (Kollavarsham). It falls in August or September each year.
    • The festival is spread over 10 days and culminates with Thiruvonam, the most important day.
  • About the festival:
    • The Festival:
      • Onam is a major harvest festival in Kerala and is celebrated to honour the home-coming of Asura king Mahabali who brought about peace and prosperity in Kerala.
    • Time:
      • It is one of the three major festivals of Kerala, celebrated during the month of Chingam, the first month in the Malayalam calendar, Kollavarsham.
      • The other two major festivals of the state are Vishu and Thiruvathira.
      • The 10-day harvest festival begins on Atham (first day of Onam) and concludes on Thiruvonam (last day).
    • Celebration:
      • Onam is celebrated by making Pookkalam (the flower rangolis). Other rituals are also performed which includes-Vallam Kali (the boat races), Pulikali (the tiger dances), Kummattikali (mask dances), Onathallu (martial arts), among others.
    • The main attraction is the traditional Onam sadhya (grand feast).
  • How is it celebrated?
    • During the festival, people get dressed in their traditional attire, prepare the Onam Sadhya and take part in a variety of group activities such as the Pookolam (rangoli made with fresh flowers), Vallam Kali (boat race), Pulikali (tiger dance), Kai Kottu Kali (Onam dance), Kummattikali (mask dance) and various other activities.

Pulikkali

  • It is a recreational folk art from the state of Kerala.
  • It is performed by trained artists to entertain people on the occasion of Onam, an annual harvest festival, celebrated mainly in Kerala.
  • The literal meaning of Pulikkali is the 'play of the tigers'.
  • The origin of Pulikkali dates back to over 200 years, when the Maharaja Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran, the then Maharaja of Cochin, is said to have introduced the folk art.

Sattriya Dance

  • Sattriya originated in Sattra, monastery, as a part of neo vaishnavite movement started by Srimanta Sankardev in the 15th Century.
  • He propagated the “ek sharan naama dharma” (chanting the name of one God devotedly).
  • It consists of dhemali, drum playing, known as gayan bayan, where several men play drums, in various talas and also use hand gestures.
  • Corpus of Sattriya dances thus consist of ankiya bhaona, dance-dramas in Brajabuli which is understood by common people.
  • Sattriya dance tradition is governed by strictly laid down principles in respect of hasta mudras, footworks, aharyas, music, etc.
  • They also consist of Ojapali dances in which the main singer sings and enacts abhinaya, telling stories, and a group of dancers dances as back up dancers playing small cymbals.
  • The dance was formerly performed by celibate monks and female roles were also enacted by them.
  • A pivotal role has been played by monasteries in preserving and nurturing Sattriya for more than 500 years.
  • Leading an austere and simple life, the monks are completely devoted to the dance form.

Kolams

  • Kolam is a form of drawing that is drawn by using rice flour, chalk, chalk powder, or rock powder, often using naturally or synthetically colored powders.
  • It is practiced in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and some parts of Goa, Maharashtra, and a few other Asian countries.
  • A Kolam is a geometrical line drawing composed of curved loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots.
  • Kolams are regionally known by different names in India, Raangolee in Maharashtra, Aripan in Mithila, Hase and Rangoli in Karnataka, Muggulu in Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.

Ancient Monuments And Dynasties:

Indian Culture Portal

  • Indian culture portal is the first government authorized portal where knowledge and cultural resources of various organizations of the Ministry of Culture are now available in the public domain on a single platform.
  • This portal hosts documents, images, audio-video files, and other data from archives, museums, academies, and libraries across the nation.
  • The larger aim of the Indian Culture portal is to create awareness among the citizens about the diverse heritage of our country.
  • The portal is more than a repository, it is a proud culmination of the mélange of Indian cultures that have coexisted and thrived for more than five thousand years.
  • The content available on the portal comprises mainly of rare books, e-books, manuscripts, artifacts from museums, virtual galleries, archives, photo archives, gazetteers, Indian National Bibliography, videos, images, cuisine, UNESCO, Musical Instruments of India among others.
  • One of the unique features of the portal is the stories, based on original archival documents narrated in an interesting, easy to read and understand format.
  • The portal also contains write-ups and beautiful pictures on cuisines, festivals, paintings, folk art, and classical art from different states of India.

Hidden Caves Of Maharashtra

  • The caves include the natural wonders like the Jangubai Cave Temple and the Kaplai Caves which are known to the aboriginal people and are their pilgrim centres.
  • The Jangubai Cave Temple is a popular pilgrim centre for the Raj Gond, Pardhan, and Kolam tribes of the former composite Adilabad district. It is comparatively small in length.
  • The Kaplai Caves which are said to be much longer, running into a few kilometers.
  • Kaplai can be accessed from two routes but both the routes are unmotorable.
  • The pilgrims perform puja and visit the temple of Lord Shiva located near Kaplai in another green valley

Nagara Architecture of Ayodhya's Ram Mandir

  • Context:
    • The grand temple at Rama Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya will follow the Nagara style of temple architecture.
  • What is the Nagara style of temple architecture?
    • The Nagara style of temple architecture is found in northern India.
    • In the Nagara style, the temple is generally constructed on an upraised platform called jagati.
    • Mandapas are present in front of the Garbhagriha. These are adorned with the Shikhara, the tallest one being above the Garbhagriha.
    • Nagara style doesn’t usually have elaborate boundary walls or gateways.
    • Generally, there is no water tank in the temple premises and the pradakshina patha is covered.
    • The garbhagriha is always located directly under the tallest tower.
  • The basic form of a Hindu temple contains the following architectural elements:
    1. Garbhagriha – the small room where the principle deity/deities of the temple reside
    2. Mandapa – the portico or hall at the entrance of the temple generally designed to house a large number of people
    3. Shikhara – the mountain like spire which can have different shapes from pyramidal to curvilinear
    4. Vahana – the mount or vehicle of the main deity placed generally in line of sight from Garbhagriha
  • Similar to Khajuraho Temple:
    • There are different types of Shikhara found in Indian temples.
    • A comparison with Khajuraho Vishwanath temple, also built in Nagara style, shows the similarity between the two.
    • Note that the main shikhara of the two are remarkably similar.
    • They rise upward in a curved pyramidal fashion, ending in a horizontal fluted disc called an Amalaka topped with a Kalasha. This is called the Latina-style shikhara.
  • Subdivisions:
    • Nagara school is further subdivided into different schools based on regions like Odisha, Khajuraho, Solanki, etc.

11th-century Lingaraj Temple

  • Context:
    • The Odisha government has announced to give a facelift to the 11th century Lingaraj Temple, akin to its pre- 350-year structural status.
    • The efforts will be to create a spiritual and ecological ambiance in and around the Lingaraj Temple.
  • About:
    • Lingaraj Temple, built-in 11th century AD, is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is considered as the largest temple of the city Bhubaneswar.
    • It is believed to have been built by the Somvanshi King Yayati I.
    • The main tower of this temple measures 180-feet in height.
    • It is built in red stone and is a classic example of the Kalinga style of architecture.
    • The temple is divided into four sections―Garbh Griha (sanctum sanctorum), Yajna Shala (the hall for prayers), Bhoga Mandap (the hall of offering), and the Natya Shala (hall of dance).
    • The sprawling temple complex has one hundred and fifty subsidiary shrines.
    • Lingaraj is referred to as ‘Swayambhu” – self-originated Shivling.
    • Another important aspect of the temple is that it signifies the syncretisation of Shaivism and Vaishnavism sects in Odisha.
  • Deula style:
    • The temple is Lingaraj Temple built-in the Deula style that has four components namely, vimana (structure containing the sanctum), jagamohana (assembly hall), natamandira (festival hall), and bhoga-mandapa (hall of offerings), each increasing in the height to its predecessor.

The cultural heritage of Hyderabad

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Tourism recently organised the 50th webinar titled “Cultural heritage of Hyderabad” under the Dekho Apna Desh series.
  • What is the Dekho Apna Desh series?
    • The Ministry of Tourism is organizing the DekhoApnaDesh webinars with an objective to create awareness about and promote various tourism destinations of India – including the lesser-known destinations and lesser-known facets of popular destinations.
    • It also promotes the spirit of Ek Bharat Sreshtha Bharat.
  • About:
    • Hyderabad is popularly known as the “City of Pearls” and the “City of Nizams”, and has been the centre of a vibrant historical legacy, ever since its inception by the QutubShahi dynasty.
    • Muhammad QuliQutb Shah established Hyderabad in 1591 to extend the capital beyond the fortified Golconda.
    • In 1687, the city was annexed by the Mughals. In 1724, Mughal governor NizamAsaf Jah I declared his sovereignty and founded the Asaf Jahi dynasty, also known as the Nizams.
    • Hyderabad served as the imperial capital of the AsafJahis from 1769 to 1948.
  • Important cultural sites of Hyderabad highlighted in the session:
    1. Golconda Fort, Hyderabad: Built by the Kakatiya dynasty in the 13th century.
    2. Chowmahalla Palace: Once the seat of the Asaf Jahi Dynasty. It has bagged the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Merit Award for Culture Heritage Conservation.
    3. Charminar: The monument was erected when QuliQutab Shah shifted his capital from Golconda to Hyderabad.
    4. Mecca Masjid: Completed by Aurangazeb in 1693. The bricks used here are believed to be from Mecca, and hence the name.
    5. Warangal Fort: This fort appears to have existed since at least the 12th century when it was the capital of the Kakatiya dynasty.

Warli Painting

  • Context:
    • With a view to promoting Indian folk art, National Fertilizers Limited (NFL) a PSU under the Department of Fertilizers, has displayed Maharashtra's famous Warli painting on the outer walls of its Corporate Office in Noida.
  • Who are Warlis?
    • The Warlis or Varlis are an indigenous tribe or Adivasis, living in mountainous as well as coastal areas of the Maharashtra-Gujarat border and surrounding areas.
    • They speak an unwritten Varli language which belongs to the southern zone of the Indo-Aryan languages.
  • Warli Paintings:
    • Warli Painting is a style of tribal art mostly painted on Walls.
    • It is practiced in Maharashtra. Warli is the name of the largest tribe found on the northern outskirts of Mumbai.
    • This art makes use of geometric shapes such as circles, triangles, and squares to form numerous shapes.
    • The painting is the vivid expression of daily and social events of the Warli tribe and does not depict mythological characters or images of deities.
    • Women are mainly engaged in the creation of these paintings.
    • Initially, Warli art was done on walls on special occasions. The painting would be done over a brown background which would basically be a mixture of mud and cow dung cakes.
    • The white pigment used to draw shapes and figures would be a mixture of rice mixed with water and gum.
    • One of the most popular themes in Warli art is a spiral chain of humans around one central motif. This in accordance with their belief that life is an eternal journey, and it has no beginning and end.
  • Unique features:
    • A very basic graphic vocabulary like a circle, a triangle, and a square is used in these rudimentary wall paintings which are monosyllabic in nature.

Kariye Museum

  • Context:
    • Turkish President has issued a decree to open this Orthodox church that was previously a popular Istanbul museum to Muslim worship upon court order.
  • About:
    • It is located in Turkey. Built-in 534 AD, during the early Byzantine period.
    • The decision to transform the Kariye (Chora) Museum into a mosque came just a month after a similar conversion of the UNESCO World Heritage-recognized Hagia Sophia.

Great Andamanese tribe

  • Context:
    • Five members of the Great Andamanese tribe have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • About:
    • It is a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG).
    • They are one of five PVTGs that reside in the Andamans archipelago.
    • They speak Jeru dialect among themselves and their number stands at 51.
    • The five PVTGS residing in Andamans are Great Andamanese, Jarwas, Onges, Shompens, and North Sentinelese.

GI Tag:

Odisha’s Kandhamal Haladi

  • Context:
    • Despite a GI tag, the lockdown has meant meager sales of the organic tuber.
  • About:
    • It has a GI tag.
    • It is a pure organic product.
    • Tribals grow the tuber without applying fertiliser or pesticide.

Karuna Dolls

  • Context:
    • The finger-sized Karuna dolls were launched on National Handloom Day (August 7). These dolls are being used for community messaging on important issues like health etc.
  • About:
    • Kovid Kumari symbolises hope and joy. She is one of the many Karuna (compassion) dolls being made across the country to highlight the plight of artisans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Kovid Kumari from Haryana conveys the women in the villages that their family’s health is in their hands.
    • It is conceptualised and promoted by the voluntary online movement creativedignity.org (CD).
    • These dolls are being created by women spinners, weavers and embroiderers from their homes across India.

Channapatna Toys

  • Context:
    • COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a crippling blow to the industry. It has forced many workers to scout for sundry jobs for survival.
  • About:
    • Channapatna toys are a particular form of wooden toys (and dolls) that are manufactured in the town of Channapatna in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka state.
    • This traditional craft is protected as a geographical indication (GI).
    • As a result of the popularity of these toys, Channapatna is known as Gombegala Ooru (toy-town) of Karnataka.

History

Famous Personalities:

Guru Nanak And Bidar

  • Context:
    • Bidar, a town in northeastern Karnataka, holds a special place in the history of the Sikh faith as it is connected to the life of Guru Nanak and a few other religious figures.
    • Bidar town marked the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak with special fervour, under the aegis of the Gurudwara rabhandak Committee and the Guru Nanak Foundation.
    • Guru Nanak is believed to have visited Bidar during the ‘dakshinapatha’ or his southern sojourn.
    • Legend has it that he stopped in the hilly town of Bidar while returning from Sri Lanka in 1512.
  • About Guru Nanak Dev:
    • Guru Nanak, was born in the village of Talwandi (now called Nankana) in 1469.
    • He died at Kartarpurin in 1538.
    • He founded the Sikh faith, introducing the concept of one God.
    • Like Kabir, Nanak also preached a casteless, universal, antiritualistic, monotheistic and highly spiritual religion.
    • He started the institution of Guru Ka Langar. Langar in the Sikh religion refers to the common kitchen where food is served to everyone without any discrimination.
    • He emphasized the equality of women, rejected the path of renunciation and he rejected the authority of the Vedas.
    • His approach aimed at bridging distinctions between the Hindus and the Muslims.
    • Janam-Sakhis are hagiographic narratives of his life.
    • He was the contemporary of Mughal emperor – Babur.

Tyagaraj

  • Context:
    • Saint Tyagaraja’s kirtanas were the earliest one to celebrate “God Ram” musically in ragas Kalyani, Bhairavi, Begada etc.
  • About:
    • Tyagaraja (1767-1847), his contemporaries Syama Sastri and Muttusvami Dikshitar are together known as the “Trinity” of Carnatic music.
    • Saint Tyagaraja has composed thousands of devotional compositions, mostly in Telugu in the praise of Lord Rama, many of which remain popular today.
    • Tyagaraja saw the reigns of four kings of Maratha dynasty Tulaja II (1763-1787), Amarasimha (1787-1798), Serfoji II (1798-1832) and Sivaji II (1832-1855), although he served none of them.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s 

  • Context:
    • One of the firebrand freedom fighters and the strongest proponent of 'purna swaraj' or 'total self-rule', Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak's 100th death anniversary was observed on August 1st.
  • Legacy:
    • Part of the Lal-Bal-Pal (Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Bipin Chandra Pal) troika, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was called 'father of the Indian unrest” by British colonial rulers.
    • Jawaharlal Nehru called him the 'father of Indian revolution'.
    • Mahatma Gandhi described Tilak as 'the maker of modern India'.
  • Contribution:
    • In 1884, Lokmanya Tilak founded the Deccan Education Society to teach nationalist ideas to youth.
    • He formed a close alliance with many Indian National Congress leaders including Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghose, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah during the freedom movement.
    • The trio of Lokmanya Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Bipin Chandra Pal was famously called ‘Lal Bal Pal’. 
    • He was one of the first advocates of Swaraj or self-rule. He gave the slogan, “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it.” He believed that no progress was possible without self-rule.
  • He published two papers:
    • Kesari in Marathi and Mahratta in English. He was fearless in his criticism of the government in these papers.
    • He used the Ganesh Chaturthi and Shiv Jayanti (birth anniversary of Shivaji) festivals to create unity and a national spirit among the people.
  • His famous slogan:
    • His slogan 'Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it' caught the imagination of a country fighting to free itself from the colonial rule.

Pingali Venkayya

  • Context:
    • Birth Anniversary- 2nd August.
    • He was born on August 2, 1876, in Andhra Pradesh.
    • He is also known as 'Jhanda Venkaiah'.
  • Who was Pingali Venkayya?
    • Pingali Venkayya was a freedom fighter and the designer of the Indian National Tricolour. The national flag that we see today was based upon his design.
    • Venkayya earlier served as a soldier in the British Army in South Africa during the Anglo Boer war in Africa.
    • A firm believer in Gandhian principles and an ardent nationalist, Venkayya met the Mahatma during the war.
  • The evolution of Indian National Flag:
    1. Between 1918 and 1921, Venkayya raised the issue of having an own flag in every session of Congress. Back then, he was working as a lecturer at the Andhra National College in Machilipatnam.
    2. He met the Mahatma once again in Vijayawada and showed him his publication with the various designs of the flag. Acknowledging the need for a national flag, Gandhi then asked Venkayya to design a fresh one at the national congress meeting in 1921.
    3. Initially, Venkayya came up with saffron and green colours, but it later evolved with a spinning wheel at the centre and a third color-white. (LALA HANS RAJ SONDHI SUGGESTED ADDING A SPINNING WHEEL — SHOWING THE INDEPENDENT INDIANS WHO CAN SPIN THEIR OWN CLOTHING FROM LOCAL FIBRES.)
    4. The flag was officially adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1931.

Abanindranath Tagore

  • Context:
    • National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi is organising the virtual tour titled “The Great Maestro of Abanindranath Tagore” to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Abanindranath Tagore on 7th August 2020.
  • About Abanindranath Tagore:
    • Abanindranath Tagore, the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, was one of the most prominent artists of the Bengal school of art in India. He was the first major supporter of swadeshi values in Indian art.
  • Abanindranath Ideology:
    • In his youth, Abanindranath received training in European and Academic style from European artists.
    • However, during the last decade of the 19th century, he developed a distaste for the corporeality of European naturalism (which represented things closer to the way one sees them – inspired by the principles of natural science).
    • Mughal miniatures influenced his visual ideas deeply.
    • Another source of inspiration came from the visit of the Japanese philosopher and aesthetician Okakura Kakuzo to Kolkata in 1902.
    • He leaned towards painting images with historic or literary allusions.
  • The contribution of Abanindranath Tagore towards Indian art and culture are:
    • Bengal School of Art:
      • He first created the ‘Indian Society of Oriental Art’ and later went on to establish the Bengal school of art.
      • He believed that Indian art and its art forms gave importance to spirituality as opposed to the West which stressed materialism, thus rejecting it.
      • His idea of modernizing Mughal and Rajput paintings eventually gave rise to modern Indian painting, which took birth at his Bengal school of art.
      • Most of his works revolved around Hindu philosophy.
      • In his later works, Abanindranath started integrating Chinese and Japanese calligraphic traditions into his style.
      • The intention behind this move was to construct an amalgamation of the modern pan-Asian artistic tradition and the common elements of Eastern artistic and spiritual culture.
  • Famous paintings are:
    • Bharat Mata, The Passing of Shah Jahan (1900), My Mother (1912–13), Fairyland illustration (1913), Journey’s End (circa 1913).
  • Literature:
    • Abanindranath is also regarded as a proficient and accomplished writer.
    • Most of his literary works were meant for children. Some of his books like ‘BudoAngla’, ‘KhirerPutul’, and ‘Rajkahini’ are the best examples of Bengali children’s literature.
    • William Rothenstein helped Rabindranath Tagore to publish his work ‘Gitanjali’ in English.
    • Arabian Nights series was one of his notable works.

Noor Inayat Khan

  • About:
    • She was Britain’s World War II spy.
    • She became the first Indian-origin woman to be honoured with a memorial Blue Plaque in central London recently.
    • While Khan is the first woman of Indian origin to be honoured with a blue plague, it has been erected on houses and venues associated with several Indian men including Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Ram Mohon Roy, and B R Ambedkar.
  • What is the Blue Plaque scheme?
    • It is run by the English Heritage charity.
    • It honours notable people and organisations connected with particular buildings across London.

Mahatma Ayyankali

  • Context:
    • PM remembers Mahatma Ayyankali on his 157th Birth Anniversary- 28th August.
  • Who is Mahatma Ayyankali?
    • Ayyankali (1863-1914), born in Kerala, was a leader of the lower castes and Dalits. With his efforts, Dalits got the freedom to walk on public roads, and Dalit children were allowed to join schools.
    • He formed Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham (SJPS) to work for low castes.
    • Efforts to organise the “depressed classes” and particularly the untouchable castes predated the nationalist movement, having begun in the second half of the nineteenth century.
    • This was an initiative taken from both ends of the caste spectrum – by upper-caste progressive reformers as well as by members of the lower castes such as Mahatma Jotiba Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar in western India, Ayyankali, Sri Narayana Guru, Iyothee Das, and Periyar (E.V. Ramaswamy Naickar) in the South.
  • His contributions to Dalit developments:
    • Ayyankali in 1893 rode an ox-cart challenging the 'ban' on untouchables from accessing public roads by caste-Hindus.
    • He also led a rally to assert the rights of 'untouchables' at Balaramapuram.
    • The walk Ayyankali took came to be known as 'walk for freedom' and the consequent riots as 'Chaliyar riots'.
    • Ayyankali efforts influenced many changes that improved the social wellbeing of those people, who are today referred to as Dalits.
    • Ayyankali became a stated protestor for Pulayar rights. Because of the protests led through Ayyankali, in 1907 a decree turned into issued to confess students from the untouchable network to government schools.
    • Inspired by Sree Narayana Guru, a social reformer from Ezhava caste, Ayyankali started Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham (association for the protection of the poor) which later raised funds to start their own schools.

Battles And Organization:

Quit India movement

  • Context:
    • The 78th anniversary of the Quit India movement was observed on August 8th, 2020.
    • Every year 8 August is celebrated in India as of August Kranti Din.
  • Causes:
    • The immediate cause of the movement was the collapse of the Cripps Mission.
    • The British assumption of unconditional support from India to the British in World War II was not taken well by the Indian National Congress.
    • The anti-British sentiments and demand for full independence had gained popularity among Indian masses.
    • The two decades of a mass movement which were being conducted on a much more radical tone under the leadership of the various associated and affiliated bodies of the Congress, like All India Kisan Sabha, Forward Bloc, etc. had already prepared the ground for the movement.
    • There were militant outbursts happening at several places in the country which got channelized with the Quit India Movement.
    • The economy was also in shatters as a result of World War II.
  • Demands:
    • The demand was to end the British rule in India with immediate effect to get the cooperation of Indians in World War-II against fascism.
    • There was a demand to form a provisional government after the withdrawal of the Britishers.
  • The Quit India resolution stated the provisions of the movement as:
    1. An immediate end to British rule over India.
    2. Declaration of the commitment of free India to defend itself against all kinds of imperialism and fascism.
    3. Formation of a provisional government of India after British withdrawal.
    4. Sanctioning a civil disobedience movement against British rule.
  • Gandhi’s instructions to various sections of the public:
    1. Government servants: do not resign your job but proclaim loyalty to the INC.
    2. Soldiers: be with the army but refrain from firing on compatriots.
    3. Peasants: pay the agreed-upon rent if the landlords/Zamindars are anti-government; if they are pro-government, do not pay the rent.
    4. Students: can leave studies if they are confident enough.
    5. Princes: support the people and accept the sovereignty of them.
    6. People of the princely states: support the ruler only if he is anti-government; declare themselves as part of the Indian nation.
  • Impact of the movement:
    • Several national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Kalam Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were arrested.
    • Congress was declared an unlawful association, leaders were arrested and its offices all over the country were raided and their funds were frozen.
    • The first half of the movement was peaceful with demonstrations and processions. The peaceful protest was carried till Mahatma Gandhi’s release.
    • The second half of the movement was violent with raids and setting fire at post offices, government buildings, and railway stations. Lord Linlithgow adopted the policy of violence.
    • The Viceroy’s Council of Muslims, the Communist Party, and Americans supported Britishers.
  • Some of the drawbacks were:
    • Use of violent methods by the volunteers and participants.
    • The movement was crushed in a relatively short period of time by the British.
    • Lack of leadership did not lead to well-coordinated guidance and progress of the movement, with the intensity restricted to a few pockets.
    • Some parties did not support the movement. There was opposition from the Muslim League, the Communist Party of India (the government revoked the ban on the party then), and the Hindu Mahasabha.
    • Meanwhile, Subhas Chandra Bose organized the Indian National Army and the Azad Hind government from outside the country.
    • As C Rajagopalachari was not in favour of complete independence he resigned from the INC.
  • Conclusion:
    • The Quit India Movement was a watershed movement in the sense, that it prepared the ground for future politics in India. It is in the Quit India Movement that the freedom struggle was owned by ’We the People’ who fought for India’s freedom.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • Aruna Asaf Ali popularly known as the 'Grand Old Lady' of the Independence Movement is known for hoisting the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai during the Quit India Movement.
    • Female leaders like Usha Mehta have helped set up an underground radio station which led to the awakening of the movement.

1947 pact on Gorkha soldiers

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Foreign Minister of Nepal said that the 1947 agreement among India, Nepal, and the United Kingdom that deals with the military service of Gorkha soldiers has become redundant.
  • About the 1947 pact on Gorkha soldiers:
    • Following the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16, the British decided to recruit Gorkha soldiers in 1815.
    • After India’s Independence in 1947, the question of allotting the 10 regiments of Gorkha soldiers was settled by the Britain-India-Nepal Tripartite Agreement.
    • The agreement divided the Gorkha Regiments of the British Empire between India and the United Kingdom.
    • It also assured that the Gorkha soldiers of Nepal while serving in the British military will draw perks and privileges equivalent to their counterparts.
  • The Tripartite Agreement:
    • In 1947, when India became independent, it was decided to split Gurkha regiments between the British and Indian armies.
    • From the first quarter of the 19th century, Gurkhas had served under the British, first in the armies of the East India Company, and then the British Indian Army.
    • East India Company first recruited Gurkhas after suffering heavy casualties during the Anglo-Nepalese War also known as the Gurkha War. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816.
    • It ensured that Gurkhas in British and Indian service would enjoy broadly the same conditions of service as that of British and Indian citizens.
    • The services include all perks, remuneration, facilities and pension schemes, etc.
    • Gorkha recruitment was the first window that was opened to Nepali youth to go abroad.
  • What’s the issue now?
    • For some time now, Gorkha veterans have been alleging that the UK has been discriminating against them.
    • The objection from Nepal regarding the Gorkhas serving in the Indian military has been heard more prominently in the recent months in the backdrop of the Nepal-India territorial dispute over the Kalapani region.
  • What next?
    • Nepal has written to the United Kingdom to review the engagement with London to secure the prospects of the Gorkha soldiers.
    • And also, Nepal is planning to terminate the 1947 agreement.
  • Gorkhas in the British Army:
    • Currently, the Gorkhas comprise up to 3% of the British Army, and in 2015 completed 200 years of service there.
    • Regarded as fierce and loyal, the Gorkhas are held in high esteem in the British Army. They are enlisted not only in the infantry but also in the engineering corps and as logisticians.
    • Their signature weapon, the khukri, famous for the inwardly curved shape of its blade and its legendary utility, forms part of the Gorkha regimental insignia in Britain as well as in India.
    • Queen Elizabeth II of Britain is guarded by two personal Gurkha officers.
  • Prelims Fact:
    • The Indian Army Chief is granted the honorary post of a General in the Nepal Army.

Hiroshima atomic bombing

  • Context:
    • Japan, on 6th August, marked 75 years since the world's first atomic bomb attack, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing a scaling back of ceremonies to remember the victims.
  • What happened on August 6th?
    • On 6th August 1945, a US bomber dropped the uranium fission bomb, codenamed Little Boy, on Hiroshima, a city in Japan.
    • Three days later it dropped another bomb codenamed Fat Man, on Nagasaki.
    • The explosion and resultant firestorms are believed to have killed around 80,000 people in Hiroshima and around 40,000 people in Nagasaki.
    • Thousands more died in the following years due to the exposure to radiation from the blast and also from the black rain that fell in the aftermath of the explosions.
    • Long-term effects of the attack included birth defects, malnutrition, cancer, and other illnesses
    • This bombing marked the end of World War II, with Japan surrendering to the Allies on 14th August 1945
  • Why did the US bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
    • After the conclusion of World War II in 1945, the relations between Japan and the US worsened, especially after Japan forces decided to take an aim at Indochina with the intention of capturing the oil-rich areas of the
    • East Indies. Therefore, US president Harry Truman authorised the use of atomic bombs in order to make Japan surrender in WWII, which it did.
  • Who developed the bomb?
    • The atomic bomb was a result of British and American scientific knowledge and was built at two plants in The US, while a scientific laboratory was maintained separately, all of which came under the ambit of the Manhattan Project, which was the codename for this research effort.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • The atomic bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima was called “Little Boy”.
    • The atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki was called “Fat Man”.

Geography

Pakistan’s new map

  • Context:
    • Recently, Pakistan has released a new political map that includes all of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Sir Creek, and Junagadh.
    • The map has been released on the eve of the first anniversary of the abrogation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370.
  • The Map:
    • The map depicts entire Jammu & Kashmir as a disputed territory and does not show any borders in the east of Kashmir.
    • It has also renamed Kashmir Highway in Islamabad as Srinagar Highway.
    • It claims the Siachen, regions of Sir Creek, and the erstwhile state of Junagadh in Gujarat as part of Pakistan’s territory.
    • This is not the first time Pakistan has tried to portray Junagadh as part of its territory. The 2012 Atlas of Pakistan also portrayed Junagadh as a Pakistan’s territory.
    • The map also shows the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as being part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
  • India’s response:
    • India has dismissed the map as an “exercise in absurdity” that made “untenable claims” to territories in India. These ridiculous assertions have neither legal validity nor international credibility.
    • India also said that the release of the new map confirms Pakistan’s “obsession with territorial aggrandizement” supported by cross-border terrorism.
  • The timing of the release of the new map:
    • The map has been released a day before the first anniversary of the Indian government’s August 5 decisions rolling back the special status of J&K and the bifurcation of the state into two UTs.
    • The move also appears to be a tit-for-tat for India’s inclusion of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as part of the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir, and of Gilgit Baltistan as part of Ladakh in the new map, the government released on November 2.
  • About Sir Creek
    • Sir Creek is a 96-km strip of water disputed between India and Pakistan in the Rann of Kutch marshlands.
    • Originally named Ban Ganga, Sir Creek is named after a British representative.
    • The Creek opens up in the Arabian Sea and roughly divides the Kutch region of Gujarat from the Sindh Province of Pakistan.
  • What’s the related dispute?
    • The dispute lies in the interpretation of the maritime boundary line between Kutch and Sindh.
    • Pakistan claims the entire width of the estuary, while India says the demarcation should be in the middle.
    • In its support, India cites the Thalweg Doctrine in International Maritime Law, which states that river boundaries between two states may be divided by the mid-channel if the water-body is navigable.
  • What about Junagadh?
    • Junagadh is in coastal Gujarat. It was a part of the Kathiawar region.
    • It decided to join India in 1947 and the decision was formalised through a Plebiscite in 1948. This was, however, not accepted by Pakistan then, but was overtaken by the first India-Pakistan war over Kashmir that began at the end of October 1947 and continued for over a year.

Geothermal springs in the Himalayas

  • Context:
    • Scientists of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) recently conducted a study on Geothermal springs in the Himalayas.
  • Key observations and findings:
    1. Geothermal springs cover about 10,000 square km in the Garhwal region of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand.
    2. The Himalayas host hundreds of geothermal springs and they release a huge amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
    3. CO2 in these thermal springs are sourced from metamorphic decarbonation of carbonate rocks present deep in the Himalayan core along with magmatism and oxidation of graphite.
    4. Most of the geothermal water is dominated by evaporation followed by weathering of silicate rocks.
  • Carbon Cycle:
    • Carbon Cycle involves a series of processes where carbon compounds are interconverted in the environment.
    • It involves the incorporation of carbon dioxide into living tissue by photosynthesis and its return to the atmosphere by respiration, burning of fossil fuels, and decay of dead organisms.
    • The four main steps of the carbon cycle are photosynthesis, decomposition, respiration and combustion.
  • Geothermal spring
    • Hot spring or geothermal spring is a spring produced by the emergence of geo-thermally heated groundwater that rises from the Earth’s crust.
    • While some of these springs contain water that is a safe temperature for bathing, others are so hot that immersion can result in injury or death.
    • Because heated water can hold more dissolved solids than cold water, warm and especially hot springs, including beneficial sulphurous water, often with very high mineral content, containing everything from simple calcium to lithium, and even radium.
  • What are hot/geothermal springs?
    • A hot spring is a spring produced by the emergence of geothermally heated groundwater that rises from the Earth's crust.
  • The science behind hot water:
    1. As we know, the deeper we go down the earth hotter it gets and finds magma (molten rock) at the outer core of the earth. This magma(8001300°C) is surrounded by different layers of the earth.
    2. If there is a crack or thrust fault in the layers of earth (one layer of the crust breaking and being thrust over another), a tremendous amount of heat will be transferred from the magma to the surrounding rocks.
    3. Now, all that thermal energy will be transferred from the rocks along that thrust fault to the water present down there.
    4. As the temperature of the water increases, its density decreases which result in the rise of the hot water toward the surface along this thrust fault in the form of hot springs.

Mount Sinabung

  • Context:
    • The volcano has become active once again. The volcano became active in 2010, erupting after nearly 400 years of inactivity.
  • Location:
    • North Sumatra, Indonesia.
  • Mt. Sinabung:
    • It is among more than 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.
    • The volcano was dormant for 400 years before exploding in 2010. It exploded again in 2014 and 2016.
  • Ring of Fire:
    • The Ring of Fire also referred to as the Circum-Pacific Belt, is a path along the Pacific Ocean characterized by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes.
    • It traces boundaries between several tectonic plates—including the Pacific, Cocos, Indian-Australian, Nazca, North American, and Philippine Plates.
    • 75% of Earth’s volcanoes i.e. more than 450 volcanoes are located along the Ring of Fire. 90% of Earth’s earthquakes occur along its path.
    • The abundance of volcanoes and earthquakes along the Ring of Fire is caused by the amount of movement of tectonic plates in the area.
  • Why do volcanoes erupt?
    • A volcano can be active, dormant, or extinct.
    • An eruption takes place when magma (a thick flowing substance), formed when the earth’s mantle melts, rises to the surface.
    • Because magma is lighter than solid rock, it is able to rise through vents and fissures on the surface of the earth. After it has erupted, it is called lava.
  • When are they explosive?
    • Not all volcanic eruptions are explosive since explosivity depends on the composition of the magma.
    • When the magma is runny and thin, gases can easily escape it, in which case, the magma will flow out towards the surface.
    • On the other hand, if the magma is thick and dense, gases cannot escape it, which builds up pressure inside until the gases escape in a violent explosion.

Hurricanes

  • Context:
    • Hurricane Laura has made landfall in southwestern Louisiana in the US as one of the most powerful storms to hit the state.
  • What Are Hurricanes?
    • Hurricanes are large, swirling storms. They produce winds of 119 kilometers per hour (74 mph) or higher.
    • They form over warm ocean waters.
  • What Are the Parts of a Hurricane?
    • Eye: The eye is the “hole” at the center of the storm. Winds are light in this area. Skies are partly cloudy, and sometimes even clear.
    • Eyewall: The eyewall is a ring of thunderstorms. These storms swirl around the eye. The wall is where winds are strongest and rain is heaviest.
    • Rain bands: Bands of clouds and rain go far out from a hurricane's eyewall. These bands stretch for hundreds of miles. They contain thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes.
  • How Does a Storm Become a Hurricane?
    1. A hurricane starts out as a tropical disturbance. This is an area over warm ocean waters where rain clouds are building.
    2. A tropical disturbance sometimes grows into a tropical depression. This is an area of rotating thunderstorms with winds of 62 km/hr (38 mph) or less.
    3. A tropical depression becomes a tropical storm if its winds reach 63 km/hr (39 mph).
    4. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane if its winds reach 119 km/hr (74 mph).
  • What Makes Hurricanes Form?
    1. Warm ocean waters provide the energy a storm needs to become a hurricane. Usually, the surface water temperature must be 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher for a hurricane to form.
    2. Winds that don't change much in speed or direction as they go up in the sky. Winds that change a lot with height can rip storms apart.

Society

Health:

Price Monitoring and Resource Unit 

  • Context:
    • A Price Monitoring and Resource Unit (PMRU) has been set up in Karnataka under the aegis of the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), Department of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Chemicals, and Fertilizers.
  • What are the Price Monitoring and Resource Units (PMRU)?
    • It is a registered society and shall function under the direct control and supervision of the State Drug Controller of respective states. The unit shall be funded by NPPA for its recurring and non-recurring expenses.
    • The suggestion to set up PMRUs was made due to lack of a field-level link between the NPPA and the State Drugs Controllers to monitor drug prices.
    • Kerala was the first state to set up a price monitoring and research unit (PMRU) to track violation of prices of essential drugs and medical devices under the Drugs Price Control Order (DPCO).
  • Functions:
    1. Help NPPA and State Drug Controller in ensuring the availability and accessibility of medicines at affordable prices.
    2. Organise seminars, training programs, and other information, education, and communication (IEC) activities in the areas of availability and affordability of medicines for all.
    3. Collect samples of medicines, collect and analyze data, and make reports with respect to availability and over-pricing of medicines for taking action under the provisions of the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO).
  • Which other states have PMRUs?
    • NPPA, under its Central Sector Scheme named Consumer Awareness, Publicity and Price Monitoring (CAPPM), has already set up PMRUs in 12 States/ UTs, including Kerala, Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Nagaland, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Mizoram, and Jammu & Kashmir.
    • NPPA has plans to set up PMRUs in all the 36 States/ UTs.
  • National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority(NPPA):
    • It was formed on 29 August 1997.
    • National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority is a government regulatory agency that controls the prices of pharmaceutical drugs in India.
    • NPPA fixes ceiling prices of essential medicines that are listed in Schedule I of DPCO, 2013.

Society and Education:

Swachh Survekshan 2020 report 

  • Context:
    • Swachh Survekshan 2020 report was recently released by the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry.
    • Swachh Survekshan 2020 covered 4,242 cities, 62 cantonment boards, and 92 Ganga towns. This survey was carried out in 28 days.
    • This year the Ministry has released rankings based on the categorization of cities on population, instead of releasing overall rankings.
  • Performance of various cities:
    1. Indore was ranked the cleanest city in the overall category this year followed by Surat and Navi Mumbai.
    2. Chhattisgarh is the cleanest state in the category of states with more than 100 urban local bodies (ULBs).
    3. Ahmedabad is India's cleanest Megacity.
    4. New Delhi is the cleanest capital city.
    5. Chhattisgarh's Ambikapur is the cleanest smallest city.
    6. Bengaluru wins the Best Self Sustainability award in the Megacity category.
    7. Jharkhand is the cleanest state in the category of state with less than 100 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).
    8. Cleanest Cantonment: Jalandhar Cantt, Punjab.
    9. Cleanest Town along the banks of river Ganga: Varanasi.
    10. In cities with a population of less than one lakh, Karad in Maharashtra is the cleanest city.
    11. Maximum citizen participation in keeping city areas clean – Shahjahanpur.
    12. The cleanest megacity with more than 40 lac population – Ahmedabad (Gujarat).
    13. Fastest-moving city in terms of cleanliness – Jodhpur (Rajasthan).
    14. Self-sustainable city in terms of cleanliness (more than 10 lakh population) – Rajkot (Gujarat).
    15. Mysuru (Karnataka) is ranked cleanest among the medium-sized cities with a population ranging between 3 lakh and 10 lakh.
  • What is Swachh Survekshan?
    • Launched by PM Modi in 2016.
    • It is meant to monitor the performance of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which was launched on October 2, 2014, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
    • It was also aimed at inculcating a spirit of healthy competition among cities towards becoming India’s cleanest cities.
    • The dynamic and evolving nature of the Swachh Survekshan framework was also highlighted. From being just a monitoring framework for measuring outcomes, it has become an implementation accelerator for Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U), enabling the sustainability of outcomes by institutionalizing cleanliness.
    • SBM-U was launched in 2014, with the objective of making urban India 100% Open Defecation Free (ODF) along with 100% scientific solid waste management.
    • It has a deep impact on health, livelihoods, quality of life, and behaviour, which proved to be very helpful while dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic as well.
  • Who conducts the survey?
    • The Quality Council of India (QCI) is in charge of evaluating the performance of the participating cities. This is an autonomous accreditation body that was set up by the Government of India in 1997 for quality assurance in all fields, including governance.

Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA)

  • Context:
    • The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has received a funding of ₹455.02 crores for the construction of new academic buildings, hostels, and research centres, among others, under the Union ministry of human resources development (MHRD)’s higher education funding agency (HEFA).
  • About Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA):
    • HEFA incorporated on 31st May 2017, is a joint venture of the Ministry of HRD, GOI, and Canara Bank with agreed equity participation in the ratio of 90.91% and 09.09% respectively.
    • HEFA is registered under the Companies Act 2013 as a Union Govt company and as Non–deposit-taking NBFC with RBI.
  • VISION:
    • To enable India’s premier educational institutions to excel and reach the top in global rankings by financing building world-class infrastructure including R&D Infra.
  • Functions:
    • It will mobilize resources from the market by way of equity from individuals/corporates and by the issue of bonds to finance the requirement.
    • It provides financial assistance for the creation of educational infrastructure and R&D in India’s premier educational institutions.
    • Encourages scientific and technological developments by supporting R&D facilities for conducting high-quality research.
    • Channelises CSR contributions from companies and donations for various schemes in uplifting higher education.
  • How HEFA works? What are the advantages?
    • The funding under HEFA will replace the current grant assistance by GOI for infrastructure projects in premier educational institutions.
    • All the Educational Institutions set up/funded referred by concerned ministries would be eligible for financing their capital expenditure from HEFA.
    • HEFA would be able to fund a larger basket of institutions as compared to the grants approach.
    • Top-class infrastructure can be created in a quick time so that the country realizes the potential of its demographic dividend in a faster time frame.
  • RISE 2022:
    • “Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022”, is a major initiative launched by GOI in the FY 2018-19 budget.
    • HEFA’s scope under rising has been greatly expanded from the initial objective of financing infrastructural needs of select Higher Educational Institutions in India to the extent of Rs. 20,000 crores.
    • It is proposed to accelerate the investment in these institutions to Rs.1,00,000 crores over the next 4 years as under

National Recruitment Agency (NRA)

  • Context:
    • The Union Cabinet has approved setting up of National Recruitment Agency, an independent body to conduct examination for government jobs.
    • Initially, it will organise a CET to screen/shortlist candidates for the Group B and C (non -technical) posts, which are now being conducted by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC), Railways Recruitment Board (RRBs), and Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS). Later on, more exams may be brought under it.
  • When was it first announced?
    • The setting up of such an agency to conduct a common eligibility test (CET) was announced in the Union Budget by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in February.
  • Composition:
    • It will be headed by a Chairman of the rank of the Secretary to the Government of India. It will have representatives of the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Finance/Department of Financial Services, the SSC, RRB & IBPS.
  • Functions of the proposed NRA:
    • It will conduct a common preliminary examination for various recruitments in the central government. Based on the common eligibility test (CET) score a candidate can apply for a vacancy with the respective agency.
  • How the test will be conducted?
    • The Common Eligibility Test will be held twice a year.
      1. The test will be conducted for three levels: graduate, higher secondary (12th pass), and the matriculate (10th pass) candidates.
      2. However, the present recruitment agencies– IBPS, RRB, and SCC — will remain in place.
      3. Based on the screening done at the CET score level, final selection for recruitment shall be made through separate specialised Tiers (II, III, etc.) of examination which shall be conducted by the respective recruitment agencies.
  • Other details:
    • The CET score of a candidate shall be valid for a period of three years from the date of declaration of the result.
    • To make it easier for candidates, examination centres would be set up in every district of the country.
    • While there will be no restriction on the number of attempts to be taken by a candidate to appear in the CET, it will be subject to the upper age limit.
    • The examinations will be conducted in 12 languages.
  • Why is the NRA needed? What are the challenges faced by students and agencies?
    • As of now, aspirants have to take different exams that are conducted by various agencies for central government jobs.
    • Candidates have to pay fees to multiple recruiting agencies and also travel long distances for appearing in various exams.
    • On average 2.5 crore to 3 crore aspirants appear for about 1.25 lakh vacancies in the central government every year.

United Nation’s policy brief on the pandemic’s impact on education

  • Context:
    • United Nations has released its policy brief on the pandemic’s impact on education.
  • Key findings:
    1. More than 1.6 billion learners affected across the world by the disruption of the education system.
    2. Disparities increased: The pandemic has served to exacerbate existing disparities, with vulnerable populations in low-income countries taking a harder and longer hit.
    3. School dropouts: Almost 24 million children are at risk of not returning to school next year due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.
    4. Girls and young women are likely to be disproportionately affected as school closures make them more vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy and gender-based violence.
    5. Learning losses: Even for those who do not drop out of school, learning losses could be severe, especially in the foundational years.
  • Overall impact:
    • Simulations on developing countries participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) suggest that:
      1. Impact on learning: Without remediation, a loss of learning by one-third [equivalent to a three-month school closure] during Grade 3 might result in 72% of students falling so far behind that by Grade 10 they will have dropped out or will not be able to learn anything in school.
      2. The economic loss might reach $16,000 of lost earnings over a student’s lifetime, translating over time into $10 trillion of lost earnings globally.
      3. Increased financial gap: In early 2020, low and middle incomes faced a $148-billion gap between their education budgets and the money available to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of quality education. The COVID-19 crisis is likely to increase that financing gap by up to one-third.
  • What needs to be done?
    • Education budgets need to be protected and increased. And it is critical that education is at the heart of international solidarity efforts, from debt management and stimulus packages to global humanitarian appeals and official development assistance.

Atal Rankings of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA) 2020

  • Context:
    • The Atal Rankings of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA) 2020 has been released.
  • What is it?
    • It is an initiative of the Ministry of Education, Government of India to systematically rank all the major higher education institutions and universities in India on indicators related to “Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development” amongst students and faculties.
    • More than quantity, ARIIA focuses on the quality of innovations and tries to measure the real impact created by these innovations nationally and internationally.
  • ARIIA ranking will primarily focus on 6 main parameters:
    1. Programs and Activities on IPR, Innovation, Start-up, and Entrepreneurship.
    2. Pre Incubation & Incubation Infrastructure & Facilities to Support I&E.
    3. Annual Budget Spent on Promoting and Supporting I&E Activities.
    4. Courses on Innovation, IPR, and Entrepreneurship Development.
    5. Intellectual Property (IP), Technology Transfer, and Commercialization.
    6. Successful Innovation and Start-ups & Funding Innovation & start-ups.
  • Rank Categorisation- Two Broad Categories:
    • 1. Publicly Funded Institutions:
      • Sub Categories:
        1. Institute of National Importance, Central Universities, and Centrally Funded Technical Institutes.
        2. State University & Deemed Universities (Government & Government. Aided)
        3. Government and Government/Aided College/Institutes.
    • 2. Private or Self- Financed Institutions:
      • Sub categories:
        1. Private or Self- Financed Universities.
        2. Private or Self- Financed College/Institutes.
    • For the first time, ARIIA 2020 has a special prize category for women only higher educational institutions.
    • This will be the 6th subcategory.
  • Top Performing of various institutions:
    1. IIT Madras under the category of Institutes of National Importance, Central Universities, and Centrally Funded Technical Institutes;
    2. Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai got the top position under Government and Government Aided Universities;
    3. College of Engineering, Pune under Government and Government Aided Colleges;
    4. Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar under Private or Self-Financed Universities.
    5. S R Engineering College, Warangal under Private or Self-Financed Colleges.
    6. Avinashilingam Institute For Home Science And Higher Education For Women, Tamil Nadu got the first rank in Higher Educational Institutions Exclusively for Women.

Code on Social Security, 2019

  • Context:
    • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, in its report on Code on Social Security, 2019, has submitted its report to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.
    • The parliamentary committee, headed by senior BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, had examined the code referred to it by the Lok Sabha last December.
  • Key recommendations:
    1. The time limit for payment of gratuity to an employee after termination of employment should be reduced from the current five years of continuous service to just one year.
    2. The provision of gratuity should be extended to all kinds of employees, including contract labourers, seasonal workers, piece-rate workers, fixed-term employees, and daily/monthly wage workers.
    3. “Inter-state migrant workers” should be mentioned as a separate category in the Code.
    4. A welfare fund should be created exclusively for them. The fund should be financed proportionately by the sending states, the receiving states, the contractors, the principal employers, and the registered migrant workers.
    5. The funds so created should exclusively be used for workers/employees not covered under other welfare funds.
    6. Create a central online portal and database of registered establishments as well as migrant workers, including building and other construction staff.
    7. Registration: It should be made mandatory for all establishments, including agricultural, nonagricultural, contract as well as self-employed workers to register under one body, instead of multiple organisations. This body “should remain responsible for the provision of social security for all types of workers in the country”.
    8. An enabling mechanism should be included in the code itself for portability of the Building and Construction Workers Welfare Fund among states so money due to beneficiaries can be paid in any state irrespective of where the cess has been collected.
  • Background:
    • The Code on Social Security, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha in December last year but several concerns were raised over some of its key provisions which led to the Bill being sent to the Standing Committee.
    • The Code replaces nine laws related to social security and is focused to amend and consolidate the laws relating to social security of the employees’ and related issues.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • The Building and Construction Workers Welfare Fund are raised by levying a cess of 1 percent of the construction cost.
    • It is part of the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Act, 1996, which regulates employment and working conditions of construction workers and also provides for their safety and welfare measures.

Minimum age of marriage for women

  • Context:
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that the Centre will decide on the recommendations of a committee set up to reconsider the minimum age of marriage for women.
    • The minimum age of marriage, especially for women, has been a contentious issue.
  • Background:
    • The Union Ministry for Women and Child Development set up a committee in June, headed by Jaya Jaitley, to examine matters pertaining to the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering the Maternal Mortality Ratio, and the improvement of nutritional levels among women.
    • It will examine the correlation of age of marriage and motherhood with health, medical well-being, and nutritional status of the mother and neonate, infant or child, during pregnancy, birth and thereafter.
  • What does the law say?
    • Currently, the law prescribes that the minimum age of marriage is 21 and 18 years for men and women, respectively.
    • The minimum age of marriage is distinct from the age of majority, which is gender-neutral.
    • An individual attains the age of majority at 18 as per the Indian Majority Act, 1875.
    • For Hindus, Section 5(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 years as the minimum age for the groom. Child marriages are not illegal but can be declared void at the request of the minor in the marriage.
    • In Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered valid under personal law.
    • The Special Marriage Act, 1954, and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively.
  • Why is the law being relooked at?
    • From bringing in gender-neutrality to reduce the risks of early pregnancy among women, there are many arguments in favour of increasing the minimum age of marriage of women.
    • Early pregnancy is associated with increased child mortality rates and affects the health of the mother.
    • Despite laws mandating minimum age and criminalising sexual intercourse with a minor, child marriages are very prevalent in the country.
    • Also, according to a study, children born to adolescent mothers (10-19 years) were 5 percentage points more likely to be stunted (shorter for their age) than those born to young adults (20-24 years).

Rashtriya Swachhata Kendra

  • Context:
    • Rashtriya Swachhata Kendra was inaugurated recently.
  • What is it?
    • A tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, the Rashtriya Swachhata Kendra (RSK) was first announced by the Prime Minister on 10th April 2017, on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of Gandhiji's Champaran Satyagraha.
    • It is an interactive experience centre on the Swachh Bharat Mission.
    • The installations at RSK will include audiovisual immersive shows, interactive LED panels, hologram boxes, interactive games, etc.
  • Roles and functions of RSK:
    1. It will introduce future generations to its successful journey as the world’s largest behaviour change campaign.
    2. It will showcase the core elements of the mission and anecdotes on the journey of the country from Satyagraha to Swachchagrah.
    3. It will impart information, awareness, and education on Swachhata (sanitation) and related aspects.

Parivar Pehchan Patra (PPP)

  • Context:
    • Launched by the Haryana government.
  • Key features:
    • PPP will provide a unique identity to complete family and it would have name of the head of the family on top. The name of family member will be added to the ‘Parivar Pehchan Patra’ right after his birth and after marriage of a girl her name will be transferred to the ‘Parivar Pehchan Patra’ of her in-laws.
  • Significance:
    • PPP will enable the citizens to get the benefits of various central and state government schemes at their door-step in a fair and transparent manner.

National Council for transgenders

  • Context:
    • The Centre has constituted the national council for transgender persons.
  • Composition:
    • Headed by the Union social justice minister and comprising representatives from 10 central departments, five states and members of the community.
    • The council is India’s first and formed under Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019.
  • The council has five main functions:
    • advising the central government on the formulation of policies, programmes, legislation, and projects with respect to transgender persons; monitoring and evaluating the impact of policies and programmes designed for achieving equality and full participation of transgender persons; reviewing and coordinating the activities of all the departments; redressing grievances of transgender persons; and performing such other functions as prescribed by the Centre.

Tribes:

Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED)

  • Context:
    • The 33rd Foundation Day of TRIFED was observed on 6th August 2020.
  • About TRIFED:
    • It is the national level cooperative body mandated to bring about socio-economic development of tribals of the country by institutionalising the trade of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) & Surplus Agricultural Produce (SAP) collected/cultivated by them.
    • It was established in 1987.
    • It is under the administrative control of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
  • Important Functions:
    • It plays the dual role of both a market developer and a service provider, empowering the tribals with knowledge and tools to better their operations in a systematic, scientific manner and also assist them in developing their marketing approach.
    • It is involved actively in capacity building of the tribal people through sensitization and the formation of Self Help Groups (SHGs).
    • The organisation also assists them in exploring and creating opportunities to market the developed products in national and international markets on a sustainable basis.
  • Recent initiatives by TRIFED:
    1. Launched Van Dhan Samajik Doori Jagrookta Abhiyaan, which is aimed at educating Tribals engaged in gathering NTFPs in forest areas, on the covid-19 response, key preventive behaviour like social distancing, home quarantine, hygiene tips.
    2. Initiated steps to provide the Van Dhan Self Help Groups (SHGs) with protective masks and hygiene products (Soaps, Disinfectants, etc.) that are necessary for carrying out their operations in a safe manner.
    3. Focus on revamping the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for MFP to enhance tribal livelihood in these testing times and to ensure that they get the benefit of an equitable market price for their produce.
    4. TRIFOOD Scheme is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, and TRIFED.
    5. Tech for Tribals, an initiative of TRIFED supported by the Ministry of MSME, aims at capacity building and imparting entrepreneurship skills to tribal forest produce gatherers enrolled under the Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana(PMVDY).

Namath Basai

  • It is the Kerala government’s unique programme of teaching tribal children in their mother tongue. Implemented by the Samagra Siksha Kerala (SSK).
  • The SSK has distributed some 50 laptops exclusively for Namath Basai. Pre-recorded classes are offered through a YouTube channel.
  • It has succeeded in retaining hundreds of tribal children in their online classes by making them feel at home with the language of instruction.

Trifood Project

  • Context:
    • Trifood Project of TRIFED launched in Raigad, Maharashtra, and Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh.
  • Details of the project:
    • Being implemented by TRIFED, Ministry of Tribal Affairs in association with Ministry of Food Processing (MoFPI).
    • Aims to enhance the income of tribals through better utilization of and value addition to the MFPs collected by the tribal forest gatherers.
  • How?
    • To achieve this, as a start, two Minor Forest Produce (MFP) processing units will be set up.

Brus reject resettlement sites

  • Context:
    • Three organisations representing the Bru community displaced from Mizoram have rejected the sites proposed by the Joint Movement Committee (JMC), an umbrella group of non-Brus in Tripura, for their resettlement.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The JMC had on July 21 submitted a memorandum to the Tripura government specifying six places in Kanchanpur and Panisagar subdivisions of North Tripura district for the resettlement of the Brus who fled ethnic violence in Mizoram since 1997. The JMC also proposed settling 500 families at most in these places. However, the organisations representing the Bru Community have opposed the involvement of non-Brus in JMC.
  • What’s the demand now?
    • Resettle some 6,500 families in clusters of at least 500 families at each of the sites of their choice —seven in North Tripura district and five in the adjoining Dhalai district.
    • The sites proposed by the JMC, they said, are unconnected by road and electricity and too far from hospitals, schools, and other facilities.
  • Who is Brus?
    • The Brus also referred to as the Reangs, are spread across the northeastern states of Tripura, Assam, Manipur, and Mizoram.
    • In Tripura, they are recognised as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group. In Mizoram, they have been targeted by groups that do not consider them indigenous to the state.
    • A permanent solution to the crisis:
    • The centre, in January 2020, signed a historic pact for permanent solution of Bru refugees’ issue.
    • The agreement was between the Union Government, Governments of Tripura, and Mizoram, and Bru-Reang representatives to end the 23-year old Bru-Reang refugee crisis.
  • Highlights of the agreement:
    • Under the agreement, the centre has announced a package of Rs. 600 crore under this agreement.
    • As per the agreement, the Bru tribes would be given land to reside in Tripura.
    • A fixed deposit of Rs. 4 lakh will be given to each family as an amount of government aid. They will be able to withdraw this amount after two years.
    • Each of the displaced families will be given 40×30 sq ft residential plots.
    • Apart from them, each family will be given Rs. 5,000 cash per month for two years.
    • The agreement highlights that each displaced family will also be given free ration for two years and aid of Rs. 1.5 lakh to build their houses.

Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)

  • Context:
    • Over 10 individuals belonging to the Great Andamanese tribe, a notified Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), with a population of just 56 individuals tested positive for COVID.
    • The island administration has since ramped up testing among the Onge, Little Andamanese, and the Great Andamanese, and the Jarawas.
  • About ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)’:
    • PVTGs are more vulnerable among the tribal groups.
    • They have a declining or stagnant population, low level of literacy, pre-agricultural level of technology, and are economically backward.
    • They generally inhabit remote localities having poor infrastructure and administrative support.
  • Identification:
    • In 1973, the Dhebar Commission created Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs) as a separate category, which are less developed among the tribal groups.
    • In 1975, the Government of India initiated to identify the most vulnerable tribal groups as a separate a category called PVTGs and declared 52 such groups, while in 1993 an additional 23 groups were added to the category, making it a total of 75 PVTGs, spread over 18 states and one Union Territory (A&N Islands) in the country (2011 census).
    • Among the 75 listed PVTG’s the highest number are found in Odisha (13), followed by Andhra Pradesh (12).
    • In 2006, the Government of India renamed the PTGs as PVTGs.
  • Scheme for development of PVTGs:
    • The Ministry of Tribal Affairs implements the Scheme of “Development of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)” exclusively for them.
    • Under the scheme, Conservation-cum-Development (CCD)/Annual Plans are to be prepared by each State/UT for their PVTGs based on their need assessment, which is then appraised and approved by the Project Appraisal Committee of the Ministry.
    • Priority is also assigned to PVTGs under the schemes of Special Central Assistance (SCA) to Tribal SubScheme (TSS), Grants under Article 275(1) of the Constitution, Grants-in-aid to Voluntary Organisations working for the welfare of Scheduled Tribes and Strengthening of Education among ST Girls in Low Literacy Districts.
  • The criteria followed for determination of PVTGs are as under:
    1. A pre-agriculture level of technology.
    2. A stagnant or declining population.
    3. Extremely low literacy.
    4. A subsistence level of the economy.

SKOCH Gold Award

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) has received SKOCH Gold Award for its “Empowerment of Tribals through IT-enabled Scholarship Schemes” project.
  • About SKOCH Awards:
    • Instituted in 2003, it is the highest civilian honour in the country conferred by an independent organisation.
    • It recognises people, projects, and institutions that go the extra mile to make India a better nation.
    • It is given in the areas of digital, financial and social inclusion; governance; inclusive growth; excellence in technology and applications; change management; corporate leadership; corporate governance; citizen service delivery; capacity building; empowerment and other such softer issues.
    • It is given to both institutions/organisations and individuals.
  •  

Polity

Executive:

Defamation

  • Context:
    • The Delhi High Court has asked Delhi Police and Zee News to respond to a plea by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra challenging the summons and framing of charges against her in a defamation case filed by the news channel and its editor.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The case relates to Ms. Moitra’s June 25, 2019 speech in Parliament on the ‘Seven Signs of Fascism’ and a TV show run by the news channel and other subsequent developments.
    • Zee News has filed the defamation complaint against Ms. Moitra for allegedly making statements against the channel to the media.
  • What is defamation?
    • Defamation is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation.
    • In India, defamation can both be a civil wrong and a criminal offence.
    • The difference between the two lies in the objects they seek to achieve.
    • A civil wrong tends to provide for redressal of wrongs by awarding compensation and a criminal law seeks to punish a wrongdoer and send a message to others not to commit such acts.
  • Legal provisions:
    • Criminal defamation has been specifically defined as an offence under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
    • Civil defamation is based on tort law (an area of law which does not rely on statutes to define wrongs but takes from an ever-increasing body of case laws to define what would constitute a wrong).
    • Section 499 states defamation could be through words, spoken or intended to be read, through signs, and also through visible representations.
    • Section 499 also cites exceptions. These include “imputation of truth” which is required for the “public good” and thus has to be published, on the public conduct of government officials, the conduct of any the person touching any public question, and merits of the public performance.
    • Section 500 of IPC, which is on punishment for defamation, reads, “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
  • Misuse of the law and concerns associated:
    • The criminal provisions have often been used purely as a means of harassment.
    • Given the cumbersome nature of Indian legal procedures, the process itself turns into punishment, regardless of the merits of the case.
    • Critics argue that defamation law impinges upon the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and that civil defamation is an adequate remedy against such wrongs.
    • Criminal defamation has a pernicious effect on society: for instance, the state uses it as a means to coerce the media and political opponents into adopting self-censorship and unwarranted self-restraint.
  • What has the Supreme Court said?
    1. In the Subramanian Swamy vs Union of India case 2014, the Court approved the Constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 (criminal defamation) in the Indian Penal Code, underlining that an individual’s fundamental right to live with dignity and reputation “cannot be ruined solely because another an individual can have his freedom”.
    2. In August 2016, the court also passed strictures on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa for misusing the criminal defamation law to “suffocate democracy” and, the court said, “public figures must face criticism”.

Rules for administration in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has notified new rules for administration in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir that specify the functions of the Lieutenant Governor (LG) and the Council of Ministers.
  • Overview of the new rules:
    • Roles and powers of LG:
      1. Police, public order, All India Services and anti-corruption, will fall under the executive functions of the LG, implying that the Chief Minister or the Council of Ministers will have no say in their functioning.
      2. Proposals or matters which affect or are likely to affect the peace and tranquility of the UT or the interest of any minority community, the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Backward Classes “shall essentially be submitted to the Lieutenant Governor through the Chief Secretary, under intimation to the Chief Minister, before issuing any orders.”
      3. In case of difference of opinion between the LG and a Minister when no agreement could be reached even after a month, the “decision of the Lieutenant Governor shall be deemed to have been accepted by the Council of Ministers.
  • Role of the President:
    • In case of difference of opinion between the Lieutenant Governor and the Council with regard to any matter, the Lieutenant Governor shall refer it to the Central Government for the decision of the
    • President and shall act according to the decision of the President.
    • The LG of J&K has been empowered to pass directions in such situations that action taken by the Council of Ministers will be suspended for as long as it takes the President of India to decide on the cases referred to her.
  • Role of Council of Ministers, led by the Chief Minister:
    • 1. They will decide service matters of non-All India Services officers, proposal to impose a new tax, land revenue, sale grant or lease of government property, reconstituting departments or offices, and draft legislations.
    • 2. Any matter which is likely to bring the Government of the Union territory into controversy with the Central Government or with any State Government, shall, as soon as possible, be brought to the notice of the LG and the Chief Minister by the secretary concerned through the Chief Secretary.
  • Role of the Central Government:
    • The Lieutenant Governor shall make a prior reference to the Central government with respect to proposals of the following kinds:
      1. those affecting the relations of the Centre with any state government, the Supreme Court of India, or any other high court;
      2. proposals for the appointment of Chief Secretary and Director General of Police;
      3. important cases which affect or are likely to affect the peace and tranquility of the Union Territory; and
      4. cases that affect or are likely to affect the interests of any minority community, Scheduled Castes, or the Backward Classes.
  • Background:
    • On August 6, 2019, Parliament read down Article 370 of the Constitution revoking the special status of J&K and bifurcated and downgraded the State into Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh; J&K with a legislative assembly. J&K has been without a chief minister since June 2018.
    • According to the requirements of the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, fresh elections will be held after the delimitation exercise is completed next year.
  • Implications of the new rules:
    • In the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, when it had a special status, the chief minister was the most powerful person in the decision-making process.
    • With the new rules, CM has been reduced to an ornamental figure. He would not even have the power to transfer a constable of the Jammu & Kashmir Police.

Arunachal groups push for 6th Schedule status

  • Context:
    • The revival of the demand for two autonomous councils has made political parties and community-based groups call for bringing the entire Arunachal Pradesh under the ambit of the Sixth Schedule or Article 371 (A) of the Constitution.
  • What’s the demand?
    • Currently, Arunachal Pradesh is under the Fifth Schedule that “does not provide special rights for the indigenous communities” unlike the Sixth Schedule.
    • Many political parties have been demanding the inclusion of Arunachal Pradesh in the 6th Schedule for making the Arunachalees owner of all-natural resources instead of being protectors only.
    • Inclusion of the state under the Sixth Schedule would enable the state to own the legitimate ownership rights over its own natural resources and make it self sufficient without having to depend too much on central grants.
  • What is the 6th Schedule?
    • The Sixth Schedule currently includes 10 autonomous district councils in four northeastern States — Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura.
    • Passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, it seeks to safeguard the rights of the tribal population through the formation of Autonomous District Councils (ADC).
    • This special provision is provided under Article 244(2) and Article 275(1) of the Constitution.
  • Key provisions:
    • The governor is empowered to organise and re-organise the autonomous districts:
      1. If there are different tribes in an autonomous district, the governor can divide the district into several autonomous regions.
      2. Composition: Each autonomous district has a district council consisting of 30 members, of whom four are nominated by the governor and the remaining 26 are elected on the basis of adult franchise.
      3. Term: The elected members hold office for a term of five years (unless the council is dissolved earlier) and nominated members to hold office during the pleasure of the governor.
      4. Each autonomous region also has a separate regional council.
      5. Powers of councils: The district and regional councils administer the areas under their jurisdiction.
        • They can make laws on certain specified matters like land, forests, canal water, shifting cultivation, village administration, the inheritance of property, marriage, and divorce, social customs, and so on. But all such laws require the assent of the governor.
      6. Village councils: The district and regional councils within their territorial jurisdictions can constitute village councils or courts for trial of suits and cases between the tribes. They hear appeals from them. The jurisdiction of the high court over these suits and cases is specified by the governor.
      7. Powers and functions: The district council can establish, construct, or manage primary schools, dispensaries, markets, ferries, fisheries, roads, and so on in the district. It can also make regulations for the control of money lending and trading by non-tribals. But, such regulations require the assent of the governor.
        • The district and regional councils are empowered to assess and collect land revenue and to impose certain specified taxes.
  • Exceptions:
    • The acts of Parliament or the state legislature do not apply to autonomous districts and autonomous regions or apply with specified modifications and exceptions.
    • The governor can appoint a commission to examine and report on any matter relating to the administration of the autonomous districts or regions. He may dissolve a district or regional council on the recommendation of the commission.
  • What about Nagaland?
    • Nagaland is governed by Article 371 (A), which says that no Act of Parliament shall apply in the State in several areas unless the Nagaland Assembly so decides by a resolution.
    • These include administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law and ownership and transfer of land and its resources.

Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal

  • Context:
    • At a recent meeting, the Punjab Chief Minister asked the Central government to be cautious about the contentious Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue, saying it has the potential to disturb the nation’s security.
    • The meeting was convened following the Supreme Court’s direction to the Centre on July 28 to mediate between the two States to resolve the issue.
  • How this issue could disturb the nation’s security?
    • Pakistan has been making continuous attempts to foment trouble and to try and revive the separatist movement through the banned Sikhs for Justice organisation. The water issue could further destabilise the State.
  • Punjab’s demands:
    • Suitable amendments should be made to the proposed Inter-State River Water Disputes Act to set up a new tribunal, to ensure that Punjab gets adequate water “in a just and equitable manner in keeping with its total demand and securing the livelihood of future generations.”
  • What is the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, and the controversy over it?
    • Historical background:
      1. The creation of Haryana from the old (undivided) Punjab in 1966 threw up the problem of giving Haryana its share of river waters.
      2. Punjab was opposed to sharing waters of the Ravi and Beas with Haryana, citing riparian principles, and arguing that it had no water to spare.
      3. However, Centre, in 1976, issued a notification allocating to Haryana 3.5 million-acre feet (MAF) out of undivided Punjab’s 7.2 MAF.
      4. The Eradi Tribunal headed by Supreme Court Judge V Balakrishna Eradi was set up to reassess the availability and sharing of water. The Tribunal, in 1987, recommended an increase in the shares of Punjab and Haryana to 5 MAF and 3.83 MAF, respectively.
  • The canal:
    • To enable Haryana to use its share of the waters of the Sutlej and its tributary Beas, a canal linking the Sutlej with the Yamuna, cutting across the state was planned.
    • A tripartite agreement was also negotiated between Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan in this regard.
    • The Satluj Yamuna Link Canal is a proposed 214-kilometer long canal to connect the Sutlej and Yamuna rivers. However, the proposal met obstacles and was referred to the Supreme Court.
  • What is Haryana’s demand?
    • Haryana has been seeking the completion of the SYL canal to get its share of 3.5 million acre-feet of river waters. It has maintained that Punjab should comply with the 2002 and 2004 Supreme Court orders in this regard. Haryana is getting 1.62 million acre-feet of the Ravi-Beas waters.

Public Safety Act

  • Context:
    • The special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked on August 5 last year. But, even after almost a year, over two dozen mainstream leaders of the regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir remain under house arrest.
    • The state was stripped of special status under Article 370 and the government had also repealed Article 35A.
  • Concerns associated with such measures:
    1. House detentions without any administrative orders are unlawful.
    2. It undermines human rights and individual liberty.
    3. Even the courts failed to hear petitions and left jailed Kashmiris at the mercy of the government.
  • How many people have been arrested so far?
    • Jammu and Kashmir home department officials estimate that, in the run-up to and aftermath of August 5, more than 500 people were booked under the Public Safety Act.
    • That included stone-pelters, lawyers, separatist leaders of the Hurriyat as well as leaders of pro-India parties.
    • Around 250 Kashmiri detainees are still lodged in jails outside the Union Territory.
    • Since the 6th of August, 2019, more than six hundred Habeas Corpus Petitions have been filed before the Hon’ble High Court of Union Territory of J&K at Srinagar and to date not even 1% of such cases have been decided by the J&K High Court.
  • What needs to be done now?
    1. Conditional release of leaders placed under house arrest for more than a year.
    2. Restoration of 4G network.
    3. Lifting of the curbs on peaceful political activity.
    4. A multilevel dialogue with those affected with the August 5 decision.
    5. Compensation to Kashmiri farmers and businessmen for their economic losses.
  • Powers of government under the Public Safety Act:
    • Also called as the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978.
    • It is a preventive detention law, under which a person is taken into custody to prevent him or her from acting in any manner that is prejudicial to “the security of the state or the maintenance of the public order”.
  • When and why was it introduced?
    • Introduced as a tough law to prevent the smuggling of timber and keep the smugglers “out of circulation”.
  • Applicability:
    1. The law allowed the government to detain any person above the age of 16 without trial for a period of two years.
    2. It allows for administrative detention for up to two years “in the case of persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State”, and for administrative detention up to one year where “any person is acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”.
  • How is it enforced?
    • It comes into force when administrative order passed by either by Divisional Commissioner or the District Magistrate.
    • The detaining authority need not disclose any facts about the detention “which it considers to be against the public interest to disclose”.
  • Protection to enforcing authorities:
    • Section 22 of the Act provides protection for any action taken “in good faith” under the Act: “No suit, prosecution or any other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of the provisions of this Act.”
  • Who is empowered to make rules in this regard?
    • Under Section 23 of the Act, the government is empowered to “make such rules consistent with the provisions of this Act, as may be necessary for carrying out the objects of this Act”.
    • However, no Rules have so far been framed to lay down procedures for the implementation of the provisions of the PSA.
  • But, why is the law controversial?
    1. It allows for detention without trial.
    2. No Right to File Bail Application.
    3. It provides a vast number of reasons for detention.
    4. No Distinction Between Minor and Major Offences.
  • Can the Courts intervene?
    • The only way this administrative preventive detention order can be challenged is through a habeas corpus petition filed by relatives of the detained person.
    • The High Court and the Supreme Court have the jurisdiction to hear such petitions.
    • However, if the order is quashed, there is no bar on the government passing another detention order under the PSA and detaining the person again.
  • Prelims Fact:
    • Article 22 (3) – If a person is arrested or detained under preventive detention, then the protection against arrest and detention under Article 22 (1) and 22(2) shall not be available.

Three capitals for Andhra Pradesh

  • Context:
    • The Andhra Pradesh high court has stayed the notifications issued by the YSR Congress government on the formation of three capitals for the state till August 14.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Various petitions were filed opposing the three capitals move and demanding a stay on the two new acts.
    • In response, the Court has granted stay on the implementation of the gazette notifications and asked the state government to file a counter within 10 days.
  • Three- capitals:
    • Andhra Pradesh Assembly, in January 2020, passed The Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Equal Development of All Regions Bill, 2020.
    • On July 31 the state government notified the AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Act, 2020, and the AP Capital Region Development Authority (Repeal) Act, 2020.
      • This law paves the way for three capitals for the state.
      • 1. Amaravati– legislative capital.
      • 2. Visakhapatnam– executive capital.
      • 3. Kurnool– judicial capital.
  • Need for three capitals:
    • The government says it is against building one mega capital while neglecting other parts of the state. Three capitals ensure equal development of different regions of the state.
    • Decentralisation has been the central theme in recommendations of all major committees that were set up to suggest a suitable location for the capital of Andhra Pradesh. These include Justice BN Srikrishna Committee, K Sivaramakrishnan Committee, G N Rao Committee etc.
  • Why implementing this idea will be difficult?
    • Coordination and logistics fear: Coordinating between seats of legislature and executive in separate cities will be easier said than done, and with the government offering no specifics of a plan, officers and common people alike fear a logistics nightmare.
    • Time and costs of travel: Executive capital Visakhapatnam is 700 km from judicial capital Kurnool, and 400 km from the legislative capital Amaravati. The Amaravati-Kurnool distance is 370 km. The time and costs of travel will be significant.
  • Which other Indian states have multiple capitals?
    1. Maharashtra has two capitals– Mumbai and Nagpur (which holds the winter session of the state assembly).
    2. Himachal Pradesh has capitals at Shimla and Dharamshala (winter).
    3. The former state of Jammu & Kashmir had Srinagar and Jammu (winter) as capitals.

Clause 6 of the Assam Accord

  • Context:
    • In February, a government-appointed committee had submitted its recommendations for implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, a key provision that has been contentious for decades. The government made the report public recently.
  • Background:
    • The committee was set up by the Home Ministry in 2019.
    • Headed by retired High Court judge Biplab Kumar Sarma.
    • Its brief was to define the “Assamese people” and suggest measures for the safeguard of their rights.
  • What does Clause 6 say?
    • Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which was signed in 1985 after the Assam Agitation of 1979-85, envisages that appropriate “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards should be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the people of Assam.”
    • This Clause was inserted to safeguard the socio-political rights and culture of the “indigenous people of Assam”.
  • What is the Assam Accord?
    • It was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between representatives of the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15 August 1985.
    • For recognition as citizens, the Accord sets March 24, 1971, as the cutoff.
  • Key recommendations made by the committee:
    • The committee has proposed that the following be considered Assamese people for the purpose of Clause 6:
    • All citizens of India who are part of:
      1. Assamese community, residing in the Territory of Assam on or before January 1, 1951; or
      2. Any indigenous tribal community of Assam residing in the territory of Assam on or before January 1, 1951; or
      3. Any other indigenous community of Assam residing in the territory of Assam on or before January 1, 1951; or
      4. All other citizens of India residing in the territory of Assam on or before January 1, 1951; and
      5. Descendants of the above categories.
  • Implications and impacts of these recommendations:
    • Clause 6 is meant to give the Assamese people certain safeguards, which would not be available to migrants between 1951 and 1971.
    • If the recommendation is accepted, those who migrated between 1951 and 1971 would be Indian citizens under the Assam Accord and NRC, but they would not be eligible for safeguards meant for “Assamese people”.
  • What are these safeguards?
    1. 80 to 100% reservation in the parliamentary seats of Assam, Assembly seats and local body seats be reserved for the “Assamese people”.
    2. 80 to 100% of Group C and D level posts (in Assam) in central government/semi-central government/central PSUs/private sector
    3. 80 to 100% of jobs under Government of Assam and state government undertakings; and 70 to 100% of vacancies arising in private partnerships
    4. Land rights, with restrictions imposed on transferring land by any means to persons other than “Assamese people”.
    5. Several other recommendations deal with language, and cultural and social rights.

NSCN-IM 2015 Naga framework agreement

  • Context:
    • The National Socialist Council of Nagaland-IM has for the first time released the details of the 2015 framework agreement.
    • It has also accused interlocutor R.N. Ravi of deleting a keyword from the original document and sharing the modified version with other Naga groups.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The agreement released by the NSCN-IM stated “sharing the sovereign power” and provide for an “enduring inclusive new relationship of peaceful co-existence of the two entities”.
    • However, it is alleged that Mr. Ravi, also Nagaland Governor, “craftily deleted the word new from the original” and circulated to the other Naga groups including the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs).
  • What are the demands?
    1. The NSCN claimed that the word ‘new’ is politically sensitive as it goes to define the meaning of peaceful co-existence of the two entities (two sovereign powers) and it strongly indicates outside the purview of the Constitution.
    2. It has demanded that the Centre should come out with an undertaking that the framework agreement is still alive in its original form and “to be handled by somebody other than RN Ravi” who is sensitive enough to understand and respect what has been achieved during the past 23 years.
  • Background:
    • Naga talks have hit rough weather as the NSCNIM has demanded that the present interlocutor be removed from the position.
    • • The NSCN-IM has been fighting for ‘Greater Nagaland’ or Nagalim — it wants to extend Nagaland’s borders by including Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring Assam, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh, to unite 1.2 million Nagas.
    • • The Centre has said there will be no disintegration of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur to merge the Naga inhabited areas with Nagaland.
  • How old is the Naga political issue?
    • Pre-independence:
      • The British annexed Assam in 1826, and in 1881, the Naga Hills too became part of British India. The first sign of Naga resistance was seen in the formation of the Naga Club in 1918, which told the Simon Commission in 1929 “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”.
      • In 1946 came the Naga National Council (NNC), which declared Nagaland an independent state on August 14, 1947.
      • The NNC resolved to establish a “sovereign Naga state” and conducted a “referendum” in 1951, in which “99 percent” supported an “independent” Nagaland.
    • Post-independence:
      • On March 22, 1952, the underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army (NFA) were formed. The Government of India sent in the Army to crush the insurgency and, in 1958, enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
  • When did the NSCN come into being?
    • A group of about 140 members led by Thuingaleng Muivah, who were at that time in China, refused to accept the Shillong Accord and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1980.
    • As per the accord, NNC and NFG agreed to give up arms.
    • In 1988, the NSCN split into NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) after a violent crash.

Domicile-based job quota

  • Context:
    • The Madhya Pradesh government’s recent decision to reserve all government jobs for “children of the state” raises questions relating to the fundamental right to equality.
  • What’s the issue now?
    • Reservation solely based on place of birth would raise constitutional questions.
  • What does the Constitution say?
    • Article 16 of the Constitution, which guarantees equal treatment under the law in matters of public employment, prohibits the state from discriminating on grounds of place of birth or residence.
    • Article 16(2) states that “no citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State”. The provision is supplemented by the other clauses in the Constitution that guarantee equality.
  • Enabling provisions:
    • However, Article 16(3) of the Constitution provides an exception by saying that Parliament may make a law “prescribing” a requirement of residence for jobs in a particular state. This power vests solely in the Parliament, not state legislatures.
  • Why does the Constitution prohibit reservations based on domicile?
    • When the Constitution came into force, India turned itself into one nation from a geographical unit of individual principalities and the idea of the universality of Indian citizenship took root.
    • As India has common citizenship, which gives citizens the liberty to move around freely in any part of the country, the requirement of a place of birth or residence cannot be qualifications for granting public employment in any state.
  • What has the Supreme Court said about reserving jobs for locals?
    • The Supreme Court has ruled against reservation based on place of birth or residence.
      1. In 1984, ruling in Dr. Pradeep Jain v Union of India, the issue of legislation for “sons of the soil” was discussed. The court expressed an opinion that such policies would be unconstitutional but did not expressly rule on it as the case was on different aspects of the right to equality.
      2. In a subsequent ruling in Sunanda Reddy v State of Andhra Pradesh (1995), the Supreme Court affirmed the observation in Pradeep Jain to strike down a state government policy that gave 5% extra weightage to candidates who had studied with Telugu as the medium of instruction.
      3. In 2002, the Supreme Court invalidated the appointment of government teachers in Rajasthan in which the state selection board gave preference to “applicants belonging to the district or the rural areas of the district concerned”.
      4. In 2019, the Allahabad High Court struck down a recruitment notification by the UP Subordinate Service Selection Commission prescribed preference for women who are “original residents” of the UP alone.
  • How do some states then have laws that reserve jobs for locals?
    • Exercising the powers it has under Article 16(3), Parliament enacted the Public Employment (Requirement as to Residence) Act, aimed at abolishing all existing residence requirements in the states and enacting exceptions only in the case of the special instances of Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, and Himachal Pradesh.
    • Constitutionally, some states also have special protections under Article 371.
    • Andhra Pradesh under Section 371(d) has powers to have “direct recruitment of local cadre” in specified areas.
    • In Uttarakhand, class III and class IV jobs are reserved for locals.
    • Some states have gone around the mandate of Article 16(2) by using language.
    • States that conduct official business in their regional languages prescribe knowledge of the language as a criterion. This ensures that local citizens are preferred for jobs. For example, states including Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu require a language test.

Power of states under the Disaster Management Act to override UGC

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has held that States are empowered under the Disaster Management Act to override the University Grants Commission (UGC) exam guidelines in order to protect human lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • What’s the issue?
    • UGC had on July 6 issued guidelines based on the recommendations of the R.C. Kuhad Expert Committee.
    • They provided three modes of examination – pen and paper, online and blended (both physical and online).
    • A “special chance” was also given to students unable to take the exams.
    • Following this, a batch of petitions were filed in the court against the direction to hold exams as per the UGC guidelines.
    • The petitioners also contended that the revised guidelines violate Article 14 on two counts — by fixing a date for the completion of exams for the entire country irrespective of the situation in different parts and discriminating between final and first/second-year students.
  • The judgment:
    • Universities and other institutions of higher education will have to conduct the final-year exams and “cannot” promote students on the basis of internal assessment or other criteria.
    • However, states and Union Territories, which may have postponed the exams in view of the COVID the outbreak, can approach the University Grants Commission (UGC) for an extension of the September 30 deadline.
  • Powers of states under the DM Act:
    • In case of a disaster, the priority of all authorities under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 is to immediately combat the disaster and contain it to save human life.
    • Therefore, under the DM Act, states can countermand the revised UGC guidelines of July 6 to conduct the final year and terminal semester examinations by September 30.
    • However, the powers of the States under the Disaster Management Act do not extend to promoting students on the sole basis of their internal assessment without taking exams.
  • Do these guidelines discriminate against final year students?
    • The court said the July 6 guidelines did not discriminate against final year students by compelling them to take exams while their juniors were promoted on their internal assessment marks.
    • The final year exam is an opportunity for a student to show his optimum calibre. It paves his future career both in academics and employment.
  • What next?
    • In future, if any State found it impossible to conduct the exams by September 30 and wanted to postpone them, it could apply to the UGC, which would consider the request and decide at the earliest, the court directed.
  • The relevance of the DM Act in this pandemic:
    • Under the Act, the States and district authorities can frame their own rules on the basis of broad guidelines issued by the Home Ministry.
      1. The legal basis of the DM Act, is Entry 23, Concurrent List of the Constitution “Social security and social insurance”.
      2. Entry 29, Concurrent List “Prevention of the extension from one State to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals or plants,” can also be used for specific lawmaking.
  • About the Disaster Management Act, 2005:
    • The stated object and purpose of the DM Act is to manage disasters, including the preparation of mitigation strategies, capacity-building, and more.
    • It came into force in India in January 2006.
    • The Act provides for “the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
    • The Act calls for the establishment of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), with the Prime Minister of India as chairperson.
    • The Act enjoins the Central Government to Constitute a National Executive Committee (NEC) to assist the National Authority.
    • All-State Governments are mandated to establish a State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).
  • How does DMA empower the governments?
    1. The law authorises the NDMA’s chairperson, the Prime Minister, to take decisions to deal with the pandemic, including deciding on relief for victims and special measures for the needy.
    2. The state chief minister may also invoke special powers under the law for dealing with the pandemic.

National Population Register (NPR)

  • Context:
    • The first phase of the Census and the exercise to update the National Population Register (NPR), scheduled for this year but deferred due to the coronavirus outbreak, may be delayed by a year as there is no sign of the slowdown of the pandemic.
  • What is the National Population Register (NPR)?
    • It is a Register of usual residents of the country.
    • It is being prepared at the local (Village/sub-Town), sub-District, District, State, and National level under provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
    • It is mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR.
  • Objectives:
    • To create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country.
  • Who is a usual resident?
    • A usual resident is defined for the purposes of NPR as a person who has resided in a local area for the past 6 months or more or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next 6 months or more.
  • What is the controversy around it?
    1. Comes in the backdrop of the NRC excluding lakhs of people in Assam.
    2. It intends to collect a much larger amount of personal data on residents of India.
    3. There is yet no clarity on the mechanism for the protection of this vast amount of data.

Legislature:

No-Confidence motion

  • Context:
    • The no-confidence motion against the Pinarayi Vijayan government was defeated 87-40 in the Kerala Assembly on Monday. The Assembly has been adjourned sine-die.
  • What is a no-confidence motion?
    • A no-confidence motion is a parliamentary motion which is moved in the Lok Sabha against the entire council of ministers, stating that they are no longer deemed fit to hold positions of responsibility due to their inadequacy in some respect or their failure to carry out their obligations. No prior reason needs to be stated for its adoption in the Lok Sabha.
  • Procedure to move a “No Confidence Motion”:
    • A motion of “No Confidence Motion” against the Government can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha under rule 198.
    • The Constitution of India does not mention either a Confidence or a No-Confidence Motion. Although,Article 75 does specify that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha.
    • The motion of No Confidence can be admitted when a minimum of 50 members, support the motion in the house.
    • The Speaker then, once satisfied that the motion is in order, will ask the House if the motion can be adopted.
    • If the motion is passed in the house, the Government is bound to vacate the office.
    • A no-confidence motion needs a majority vote to pass the House.
    • If individuals or parties abstain from voting, those numbers will be removed from the overall strength of the House, and then the majority will be taken into account.

Trust vote

  • Context:
    • The Congress government in Rajasthan led by chief minister Ashok Gehlot has ended the month-long uncertainty in the state by winning the trust vote in the assembly.
  • Implications:
    • The development brings an end to the rebellion by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and 18 other MLAs that had threatened the survival of the state government.
  • Trust vote:
    • A confidence motion, or a vote of confidence, or a trust vote, is sought by the government in power on the floor of the House.
    • It enables the elected representatives to determine if the Council of Ministers commanded the confidence of the House.
  • Floor test:
    • The floor test is a term used for the test of the majority.
    • If there are doubts against the chief minister, the governor can ask him to prove his majority in the House.
    • In the case of a coalition government, the chief minister may be asked to move a vote of confidence and win a majority.
  • What happens in the absence of the majority?
    • In the absence of a clear majority, when there is more than one individual staking claim to form the government, the governor may call for a special session to see who has the majority to form the government.
    • Some legislators may be absent or choose not to vote. The numbers are then considered based only on those MLAs who were present to vote.
  • What is No-confidence motion?
    • A no-confidence motion, or vote of no-confidence, or a no-trust vote, can be sought by any House member to express that they no longer have confidence in the government.
  • Constitutional provisions:
    • According to Article 75 (3) and Article 164 of the Constitution, the Council of Ministers are collectively responsible to the House of the People.

Official Languages Act for good governance: CJI

  • Context:
    • Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde has said that the government should consider amending the Official Languages Act of 1963 to include more vernacular languages in governance, and not just confine it to Hindi and in English.
  • Background:
    • The court was hearing an appeal filed by the Union of India challenging the legality of a Delhi High Court the judgment of June 30 to translate the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2020 into all 22 vernacular languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • What does the Constitution say?
    • Article 348 (1) of the Constitution of India provides that all proceedings in the Supreme Court and in every High court shall be in the English Language until Parliament by law otherwise provides.
    • Under Article 348 (2), the Governor of the State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorize the use of the Hindi language or any other language used for any official purpose of the State, in the proceedings of the High Court having its principal seat in that State provided that decrees, judgments or orders passed by such High Courts shall be in English.
  • Other legal provisions:
    • Section 7 of the Official Languages Act, 1963, provides that the use of Hindi or official language of a State in addition to the English language may be authorized, with the consent of the President of India, by the Governor of the State for purpose of judgments, etc. made by the High Court for that State.

Whip

  • Context:
    • Congress chief whip in the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly has moved the Supreme Court against a State High Court direction to the Speaker to maintain the status quo in the disqualification proceedings initiated against ousted MLAs under the anti-defection law.
  • What’s the issue?
    • According to chief Whip, the High Court order on July 24 violated a Constitution Bench judgment of the Supreme Court in the Kihoto Hollohan of 1992.
    • The verdict had categorically held that courts should not intervene in disqualification proceedings prior to a final decision from the Speaker. The judicial review of disqualification proceedings was very limited.
    • In this case, the High Court, however, had intervened at the stage of notice in the disqualification action.
  • What is a whip?
    • A whip is an official of a political party who acts as the party's 'enforcer' inside the legislative assembly or house of parliament.
    • Parties appoint a senior member from among their House contingents to issue whips — this member is called a Chief Whip, and he/she is assisted by additional Whips.
    • India inherited the concept of the whip from the British parliamentary system.
    • (Note: A whip in parliamentary parlance is also a written order that party members be present for an important vote, or that they vote only in a particular way.)
  • Role of whips:
    • They try to ensure that their fellow political party legislators attend voting sessions and vote according to their party's official policy.
  • What happens if a whip is disobeyed?
    • A legislator may face disqualification proceedings if she/he disobeys the whip of the party unless the number of lawmakers defying the whip is 2/3rds of the party's strength in the house. Disqualification is decided by the Speaker of the house.
  • Limitations of whip:
    • There are some cases such as Presidential elections where whips cannot direct a Member of Parliament (MP) or Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) to vote in a particular fashion.
  • Types of whips:
    1. There are three types of whips or instructions issued by the party
    2. One-line whip: Issued to inform members of a party about a vote. It allows a member to abstain in case they decide not to follow the party line.
    3. Two-line whip: Issued to direct the members to be present in the House at the time of voting.
    4. Three-line whip: Issued to members directing them to vote as per the party line.

Judiciary:

EWS quota challenge

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has referred to a five-judge Bench the “substantial question of law” whether grant of 10% reservation to economically weaker sections of the society is unconstitutional and violates the 50% ceiling cap on quota declared by the court itself.
  • What does the reference mean?
    • A reference to a larger Bench means that the legal challenge is an important one.
    • As per Article 145(3) of the Constitution, “the minimum number of Judges who are to sit for the purpose of deciding any case involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of this Constitution” shall be five.
    • The Supreme Court rules of 2013 also say that writ petitions that allege a violation of fundamental rights will generally be heard by a bench of two judges unless it raises substantial questions of law. In that case, a five-judge bench would hear the case.
  • What are the grounds of challenge?
    • The law was challenged primarily on two grounds:
      1. First, it violates the Basic Structure of the Constitution. This argument stems from the view that the special protections guaranteed to socially disadvantaged groups are part of the Basic Structure and that the 103rd Amendment departs from this by promising special protections on the sole basis of economic status.
      2. Although there is no exhaustive list of what forms the Basic Structure, any law that violates it is understood to be unconstitutional.
      3. Second, it violates the SC’s 1992 ruling in Indra Sawhney & Ors v Union of India, which upheld the Mandal Report and capped reservations at 50%. In the ruling, the court held that economic backwardness cannot be the sole criterion for identifying backward class.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The economic reservation was introduced in the Constitution by amending Articles 15 and 16 and adding clauses empowering the state governments to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness.
    • The validity of the Constitutional Amendment was challenged, saying the 50% quota limit was part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
    • A three-judge bench had refused to stay the implementation of the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, which provides the 10% quota.
  • How centre defends this move?
    • The Centre had argued that it was every State’s prerogative to provide a 10% economic reservation in State government jobs and admissions in State-run education institutions.
    • Whether or not to provide reservation to the economically weaker section (EWS) of the society for appointment in State government jobs and for admission to State government educational institutions, as per provisions of the newly inserted Articles 15(6) and 16(6) of the Constitution, is to be decided by the State government concerned.
    • The government also argued that under Article 46 of the Constitution, part of Directive Principles of State Policy, it has a duty to protect the interests of economically weaker sections.
    • Countering the claims that the amendment violates the Indra Sawhney principle, the government relied on a 2008 ruling— Ashok Kumar Thakur v Union of India, in which the SC upheld the 27% quota for OBCs.
    • The argument is that the court accepted that the definition of OBCs was not made on the sole criterion of caste but a mix of caste and economic factors, to prove that there need not a sole criterion for according reservation.
  • What is a constitution bench?
    • Article 145(3) says at least five judges need to hear cases that involve “a substantial question of law as to the interpretation” of the Constitution, or any reference under Article 143, which deals with the power of the President of India to consult the Supreme Court.
    • But this doesn't mean constitution benches can't be larger. For example, nine judges were on the bench that unanimously declared privacy to be a fundamental right in August 2017. There have also been seven and 13-judge benches.

Audit of PM-CARES Fund: SC

  • Context:
    • Supreme Court has delivered its judgment on PM CARES funds.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The petition was filed by an NGO named Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) had sought a direction to the Centre to transfer the funds of PM Cares Fund to the NDRF.
  • Highlights of the judgment:
    1. The Court has “refused” to order the transfer of funds from the PM CARES Fund to the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). They “are two entirely different funds with different object and purpose”.
    2. PM CARES Fund, being a public charitable trust, “there is no occasion for audit by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India”.
    3. The Court also rejected the request for a new National Plan under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005, to deal with the Covid-19 situation.
    4. The court held that there is “no statutory prohibition on individuals to make voluntary contributions to NDRF” under Section 46(1)(b) of the DM Act.
    5. The court also declined to intervene with the “minimum standards of relief” and the necessary guidelines issued by the government under Section 12 of the DM Act.
  • About PM CARES Fund:
    • Set up on March 28, the PM CARES Fund is a charitable trust registered under the Registration Act, 1908.
    • The trust does not receive any Budgetary support or any Government money.
    • It was constituted with an objective to extend assistance in the wake of a public health emergency that is pandemic COVID-19”.
  • Who administers the fund?
    • Prime Minister is the ex-officio Chairman of the PM CARES Fund and the Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance, Government of India are ex-officio Trustees of the Fund.

Curative Petition

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Supreme Court held Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt of court for his tweets against the CJI S.A. Bobde and against the judiciary.
    • Now, Prashant Bhushan has asked the Court to defer the punishment until the review petition is filed and decided.
    • He also submitted that the remedy of a curative petition is also available.
  • About Curative Petition:
    • The concept was first evolved by the Supreme Court of India in Rupa Ashok Hurra vs. Ashok Hurra and another case (2002) on the question whether an aggrieved person is entitled to any relief against the final judgment/order of the Supreme Court, even after the dismissal of a review petition.
    • The court used the Latin maxim “actus curiae neminem gravabit”, which means that an act of the court shall prejudice no one. Its objectives are twofold- avoid a miscarriage of justice and to prevent abuse of process.
  • Related Constitutional provisions:
    • The concept of the curative petition is supported by Article 137 of the Indian Constitution.
    • It provides that in the matter of laws and rules made under Article 145, the Supreme Court has the power to review any judgment pronounced (or order made) by it.
  • Procedure:
    1. A curative petition may be filed after a review plea against the final conviction is dismissed.
    2. It can be entertained if the petitioner establishes that there was a violation of the principles of natural justice and that he was not heard by the court before passing an order.
    3. It must be rare rather than regular.
    4. A curative petition must be first circulated to a Bench of the three senior-most judges, and the judges who passed the concerned judgment, if available.
    5. Only when a majority of the judges conclude that the matter needs hearing should it be listed before the same Bench.
    6. The Bench at any stage of consideration of the curative petition can ask a senior counsel to assist it as amicus curiae (Friend of the court).
    7. A curative petition is usually decided by judges in the chamber unless a specific request for an open-court hearing is allowed.

EWS quota challenge

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has referred to a five-judge Bench the “substantial question of law” whether the grant of 10% reservation to economically weaker sections of the society is unconstitutional and violates the 50% ceiling cap on quota declared by the court itself.
  • What does the reference mean?
    • A reference to a larger Bench means that the legal challenge is an important one.
    • As per Article 145(3) of the Constitution, “the minimum number of Judges who are to sit for the purpose of deciding any case involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of this Constitution” shall be five.
    • The Supreme Court rules of 2013 also say that writ petitions that allege a violation of fundamental rights will generally be heard by a bench of two judges unless it raises substantial questions of law. In that case, a five-judge bench would hear the case.
  • What are the grounds of challenge?
    • The law was challenged primarily on two grounds:
      1. First, it violates the Basic Structure of the Constitution. This argument stems from the view that the special protections guaranteed to socially disadvantaged groups are part of the Basic Structure and that the 103rd Amendment departs from this by promising special protections on the sole basis of economic status.
      2. Although there is no exhaustive list of what forms the Basic Structure, any law that violates it is understood to be unconstitutional.
      3. Second, it violates the SC’s 1992 ruling in Indra Sawhney & Ors v Union of India, which upheld the Mandal Report and capped reservations at 50%. In the ruling, the court held that economic backwardness cannot be the sole criterion for identifying backward class.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The economic reservation was introduced in the Constitution by amending Articles 15 and 16 and adding clauses empowering the state governments to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness.
    • The validity of the Constitutional Amendment was challenged, saying the 50% quota limit was part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
    • A three-judge bench had refused to stay the implementation of the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, which provides the 10% quota.
  • How the centre defends this move?
    • The Centre had argued that it was every State’s prerogative to provide a 10% economic reservation in State government jobs and admissions in State-run education institutions.
    • Whether or not to provide reservation to the economically weaker section (EWS) of the society for appointment in State government jobs and for admission to State government educational institutions, as per provisions of the newly inserted Articles 15(6) and 16(6) of the Constitution, is to be decided by the State government concerned.
    • The government also argued that under Article 46 of the Constitution, part of Directive Principles of State Policy, it has a duty to protect the interests of economically weaker sections.
    • Countering the claims that the amendment violates the Indra Sawhney principle, the government relied on a 2008 ruling— Ashok Kumar Thakur v Union of India, in which the SC upheld the 27% quota for OBCs.
    • The argument is that the court accepted that the definition of OBCs was not made on the sole criterion of caste but a mix of caste and economic factors, to prove that there need not a sole criterion for according reservation.
  • What is a constitution bench?
    • Article 145(3) says at least five judges need to hear cases that involve “a substantial question of law as to the interpretation” of the Constitution, or any reference under Article 143, which deals with the power of the President of India to consult the Supreme Court.
    • But this doesn't mean constitution benches can't be larger. For example, nine judges were on the bench that unanimously declared privacy to be a fundamental right in August 2017. There have also been seven and 13-judge benches.

Hindu women’s inheritance rights

  • Context:
    • Supreme Court has expanded on a Hindu woman’s right to be a joint legal heir and inherit ancestral property on terms equal to male heirs.
  • What is the ruling?
    • A Hindu woman’s right to be a joint heir to the ancestral property is by birth and does not depend on whether her father was alive or not when the law was enacted in 2005.
    • The ruling now overrules the verdicts from 2015 and April 2018.
  • How did the case come about?
    • While the 2005 law granted equal rights to women, questions were raised in multiple cases on whether the law applied retrospectively, and if the rights of women depended on the living status of the father through whom they would inherit.
  • About the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005:
    • It gave Hindu women the right to be coparceners or joint legal heirs in the same way a male heir does.
    • The amended act made a daughter of a coparcener also a coparcener by birth “in her own right in the same manner as the son”.
    • The law also gave the daughter the same rights and liabilities “in the coparcenary property as she would have had if she had been a son”.
  • Applicability of the law:
    • It applies to ancestral property and to intestate succession in personal property — where succession happens as per law and not through a will.
  • Background of the case:
    • Different benches of the Supreme Court and various High Courts had taken conflicting views on the issue.
    • In Prakash v Phulwati (2015), the Supreme Court held that the benefit of the 2005 amendment could be granted only to “living daughters of living coparceners” as on September 9, 2005 (the date when the amendment came into force).
    • In February 2018, contrary to the 2015 ruling, the Court held that the share of a father who died in 2001 will also pass to his daughters as coparceners during the partition of the property as per the 2005 law.
    • Then in April that year, the Court reiterated the position taken in 2015.
    • These conflicting views by Benches of equal strength led to a reference to a three-judge Bench in the current case.

Lok Adalat held online

  • Context:
    • In a first of its kind in the country, the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) recently organized the e -Lok Adalat to facilitate mediation between the parties, who are willing to get their matters settled amicably, in all the District Courts Complexes of Delhi.
  • How it was conducted?
    • In the e-Lok Adalat, an online link would be sent by SAMA (an Online Dispute Resolution platform recognized by the Department of Justice for resolving disputes through video conferencing) to the concerned parties and a judge would preside over the mediation process.
    • Following the settlement, an OTP would be sent to them and on the confirmation, the dispute would be settled.
  • Outcomes:
    • 77 Benches were constituted wherein a total of 5838 cases were disposed of pertaining to various categories in which settlement amount was approx Rs 46.28 crores.
  • What is a Lok Adalat?
    • Lok Adalat is one of the alternative dispute redressal mechanisms, it is a forum where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at the pre-litigation stage are settled/ compromised amicably.
    • The Lok Adalats are formed to fulfill the promise given by the preamble of the Indian Constitution– securing Justice – social, economic, and political of every citizen of India.
  • Constitutional basis:
    • Article 39A of the Constitution provides for free legal aid to the deprived and weaker sections of the society and to promote justice on the base of equal opportunity.
    • Articles 14 and 22(1) of the Constitution also make it compulsory for the State to guarantee equality before the law.
  • Statutory provisions:
    • Under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 Lok Adalats have been given statutory status.
  • Final award:
    • The decision made by the Lok Adalats is considered to be a verdict of a civil court and is ultimate and binding on all parties.
  • No appeal:
    • There is no provision for an appeal against the verdict made by Lok Adalat.
    • But, they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction by filing a case by following the required procedure, in the exercise of their right to litigate.
  • Court fee:
    • There is no court fee payable when a matter is filed in a Lok Adalat. If a matter pending in the court of law is referred to the Lok Adalat and is settled subsequently, the court fee originally paid in the court on the complaints/petition is also refunded back to the parties.
  • Nature of Cases to be referred to as Lok Adalat:
    1. Any case pending before any court.
    2. Any dispute which has not been brought before any court and is likely to be filed before the court.
    3. Provided that any matter relating to an offense not compoundable under the law shall not be settled in Lok Adalat.

States can have sub-groups among SCs/STs: Supreme Court

  • Context:
    • A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court has held that States can sub-classify Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
    • Tribes in the Central List to provide preferential treatment to the “weakest out of the weak”.
  • Background:
    • The judgment is based on a reference to the Constitution Bench the question of law involving Section 4(5) of the Punjab Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006.
    • The legal provision allows 50% of the reserved Scheduled Castes seats in the State to be allotted to Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs.
  • Need for sub-classification- Observations made by the Supreme Court:
    • Reservation has created inequalities within the reserved castes itself.
    • There is a “caste struggle” within the reserved class as the benefit of reservation is being usurped by a few.
    • It is clear that caste, occupation, and poverty are interwoven.
    • The State cannot be deprived of the power to take care of the qualitative and quantitative difference between different classes to take ameliorative measures.
  • What does the Constitution of India state?
    • According to the Constitution of India, under article 341(1), the President of India, after consultation with the Governor, may specify, “the castes, races, tribes or parts of groups within castes or races, which shall be deemed to be Scheduled Castes”.
    • Accordingly, the President has notified the Scheduled Castes in the order called ‘Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order-1950’ and the ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes List (Modification) Order-1956.
    • • However, under article 341(2), the Parliament of India by law can include or exclude the abovementioned groups from the list of the Scheduled Castes.
  • Does the latest judgment amount to tinkering of the Central list?
    • No, said the Supreme Court bench. Sub-classifications within the Presidential/Central List does not amount to “tinkering” with it. No caste is excluded from the list. The States only give preference to the weakest of the lot in a pragmatic manner based on statistical data.
    • Besides, Preferential treatment to ensure even distribution of reservation benefits to the more backward is a facet of the right to equality.
  • Why this judgment is significant?
    • It fully endorses the push to extend the creamy layer concept to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
    • The judgment records that “Citizens cannot be treated to be socially and educationally backward till perpetuity; those who have come up must be excluded like the creamy layer”.
    • The entire basket of fruits cannot be given to the mighty at the cost of others under the guise of forming a homogenous class.
  • Implications of the judgment:
    • With this, the Bench took a contrary view to a 2004 judgment delivered by another Coordinate Bench of five judges in the E.V. Chinnaiah case.
    • In this case, the court had held that allowing States to unilaterally “make a class within a class of members of the Scheduled Castes” would amount to tinkering with the Presidential list.
    • Now with two numerically equal Benches of judges holding contrary viewpoints, the issue has been referred to a seven-judge Bench of the court.

Constitutional Provisions:

Sri Lanka 19th amendment of the constitution

  • Context:
    • In his first address to the newly elected Parliament, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has declared his intention to repeal the landmark 19th Amendment to the Constitution, and, thereafter, to work towards a new Constitution.
    • Why? The Rajapaksa camp viewed the 19th Amendment’s clauses as primarily intending to prevent its leaders’ return to power.
  • Overview of the 19th Constitutional Amendment:
    • Introduced in 2015. The legislation envisages the dilution of many powers of the Executive Presidency, which had been in force since 1978.
  • It involves:
    1. The reduction in the terms of President and Parliament from six years to five years.
    2. Re-introduction of a two-term limit that a person can have as President.
    3. The power of President to dissolve Parliament only after four and a half years.
    4. The revival of the Constitutional Council and the establishment of independent commissions.
    5. The President remains the head of the Cabinet and he can appoint Ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.
  • Why was the 19th Amendment introduced?
    • It mainly sought to weaken the power of the presidency which the 18th amendment had greatly expanded.
  • The 18th amendment allowed four basic changes:
    1. The President can seek re-election any number of times;
    2. The ten-member Constitutional Council has been replaced with a five-member Parliamentary Council;
    3. Independent commissions are brought under the authority of the President; and,
    4. It enables the President to attend Parliament once in three months and entitles him to all the privileges, immunities, and powers of a Member of Parliament other than the entitlement to vote.
    5. The 19th amendment counterbalanced many of these decisions and restored components of the 17th amendment.

Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)

  • Context:
    • Former Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu was recently appointed as the new Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
  • About CAG:
    • The Constitution of India provides for an independent office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in chapter V under Part V.
    • The CAG is mentioned in the Constitution of India under Article 148 – 151.
    • He is the head of the Indian Audit and Accounts Department.
    • He is the guardian of the public purse and controls the entire financial system of the country at both the levels- the center and state.
    • His duty is to uphold the Constitution of India and the laws of Parliament in the field of financial administration.
  • Appointment and Term to Constitutionals Posts:
    • The CAG is appointed by the President of India by a warrant under his hand and seal.
    • He holds office for a period of six years or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • Duties:
    1. CAG audits the accounts related to all expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of India, Consolidated Fund of each state, and UT has a legislative assembly.
    2. CAG audits all expenditures from the Contingency Fund of India and the Public Account of India as well as the Contingency Fund and Public Account of each state.
    3. CAG audits all trading, manufacturing, profit and loss accounts, balance sheets, and other subsidiary accounts kept by any department of the Central Government and the state governments.
    4. CAG audits the receipts and expenditure of all bodies and authorities substantially financed from the Central or State revenues; government companies; other corporations and bodies when so required by related laws.
    5. He ascertains and certifies the net proceeds of any tax or duty and his certificate is final on the matter.
  • Reports:
    • He submits his audit reports relating to the accounts of the Centre and State to the President and Governor, who shall, in turn, place them before both the Houses of Parliament and the state legislature respectively.
    • He submits 3 audit reports to the President: an audit report on appropriation accounts, an audit report on financial accounts, and the audit report on public undertakings.
  • CAG and PAC:
    • He acts as a guide, friend, and philosopher of the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament.
    • CAG along with its mandatory regulatory and compliance audit performs the performance as well as efficiency audit to question the executive’s wisdom and economy in order to identify cases of improper expenditure and waste of public money.
  • Constitutional provisions which ensure the independence of CAG are:
    1. CAG is provided with the security of tenure. He can be removed by the president only in accordance with the procedure mentioned in the Constitution. Thus, he does not hold his office until the pleasure of the president, though he is appointed by him.
    2. He is not eligible for further office, either under the Government of India or of any state, after he ceases to hold his office.
    3. His salary and other service conditions are determined by the Parliament. His salary is equal to that of a judge of the Supreme Court.
    4. Neither his salary nor his rights in respect of leave of absence, pension or age of retirement can be altered to his disadvantage after his appointment.
    5. The administrative expenses of the office of the CAG, including all salaries, allowances and pensions of persons serving in that office are charged upon the Consolidated Fund of India. Thus, they are not subject to the vote of Parliament.

UPSC chairman

  • Context:
    • Educationist Professor Pradeep Kumar Joshi has been appointed as the chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
    • Mr. Joshi is currently a member of the Commission.
    • He will succeed Arvind Saxena.
  • Who appoints chairman and other members?
    • Article-316- Appointment and term of office of members:
      • The Chairman and other members of a Public Service Commission shall be appointed, in the case of the Union Commission or a Joint Commission, by the President, and in the case of a State Commission, by the Governor of the State.
  • Term:
    • A member of a Public Service Commission shall hold office for a term of six years from the date on which he enters upon his office or until he attains, in the case of the Union Commission, the age of sixty-five years, and in the case of a State Commission or a Joint Commission, the age of sixty-two years, whichever is earlier.
  • Reappointment:
    • A person who holds office as a member of a Public Service Commission shall, on the expiration of his term of office, be ineligible for reappointment to that office.
    • But, a member other than the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission, or as the Chairman of a State Public Service Commission, but not for any other employment either under the Government of India or under the Government of a State.
    • Also, the Chairman of a State Public Service Commission shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman or any other member of the Union Public Service Commission.
  • Article-317- Removal and suspension of a member of a Public Service Commission:
    • Chairman or any other member of a Public Service Commission shall only be removed from his office by order of the President on the ground of misbehaviour after the Supreme Court, on reference being made to it by the President, has, on inquiry held in accordance with the procedure prescribed in that behalf under article 145, reported that the Chairman or such other member, as the case may be, ought on any such ground to be removed.
  • Besides, President may by order remove from office the Chairman or any other member of a Public Service Commission if the Chairman or such other member, as the case may be:
    1. is adjudged an insolvent; or
    2. engages during his term of office in any paid employment outside the duties of his office; or
    3. is, in the opinion of the President, unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body.
  • Guilty of Misbehaviour:
    • If the Chairman or any other member of a Public Service Commission is or becomes in any way concerned or interested in any contract or agreement made by or on behalf of the Government of India or the Government of a State or participates in any way in the profit thereof or in any benefit or emolument arising therefrom otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company, he shall, for the purposes of clause (1), be deemed to be guilty of misbehaviour.

Appointment of Election Commissioners

  • Context:
    • In pursuance of clause (2) of Article 324 of the Constitution, the President has appointed Rajiv Kumar, IAS(Retd.) as the Election Commissioner.
  • About Election commission of India:
    • The constitution under article 324 provides for an Election Commission for the superintendence, direction, and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for the conduct of elections to parliament, state legislatures, and to the offices of president and vice president.
  • Composition Election commission of India:
    • The constitution provides for the following provisions in relation to the composition of the election commission:
      1. The election commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other election commissioners, if any, as the president may from time to time fix.
      2. The appointment of the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners shall be made by the president.
      3. When any other election commissioner is so appointed the chief election commissioner shall act as the chairman of the election commission.
      4. The president may also appoint after consultation with the election commission such regional commissioners as he may consider necessary to assist the election commission.
      5. The conditions of service and tenure of office of the election commissioners and the regional commissioners shall be such as the President may by rule determine.
  • CEC vs ECs:
    • Though the Chief Election Commissioner is the chairman of the election commission, however, his powers are equal to the other election commissioners.
    • All the matters in the commission are decided by the majority amongst its members. The Chief Election Commissioner and the two other election commissioners receive equal salary, allowances, and other benefits.
  • Tenure:
    • The Chief Election Commissioner and other election commissioners hold office for 6 years or till they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They can resign at any time by addressing their resignation to the president.
  • Removal:
    • They can resign anytime or can also be removed before the expiry of their term.
    • The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from his office in the same manner and on the same grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court.

Lokayukta

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has issued a notice on a plea filed by the State of Nagaland for a direction to its Lokayukta to cease exercising his powers and functions and transfer all his work to the Upa-Lokayukta.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The petition by the State asked the court to use its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to preserve the institutional integrity of the Lokayukta and ensure that a “fit, proper and competent person” occupies the office of the Lokayukta.
  • What is Lokayukta?
    • Lokayukta is an anti-corruption authority or ombudsman – an official appointed by the government to represent the interests of the public.
    • Most importantly, it investigates allegations of corruption and mal-administration against public servants and is tasked with speedy redressal of public grievances.
  • Genesis:
    • The Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Late Morarji Desai in 1966 recommended the setting up of the institution of Lokayukta.
    • The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013, commonly known The Lokpal Act was passed by the Parliament of India in December 2013.
    • It provides for the appointment of a Lokayukta “to investigate and report on allegations or grievances relating to the conduct of public servants.”
    • It also called for the establishment of Lokpal at the Centre.
  • Who is appointed as the Lokayukta?
    • The Lokayukta is usually a former High Court Chief Justice or former Supreme Court judge and has a fixed tenure.
  • Selection of Lokayukta:
    • The Chief Minister selects a person as the Lokayukta after consultation with the High Court Chief Justice, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the Chairman of the Legislative Council, Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, and the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council.
    • The appointment is then made by the Governor.
    • Once appointed, Lokayukta cannot be dismissed nor transferred by the government, and can only be removed by passing an impeachment motion by the state assembly.

Attorney General

  • Context:
    • Attorney General of India KK Venugopal has told the Centre that it must compensate states fully for the loss of Goods and Services Tax revenue during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
    • The Centre had sought advice from the attorney general on the matter.
  • Attorney General- Facts:
    • The Attorney General for India is the central government’s chief legal advisor, and its primary lawyer in the Supreme Court of India.
    • He is a part of the Union Executive.
  • Appointment and eligibility:
    • He is appointed by the President of India under Article 76(1) of the Constitution and holds office during the pleasure of the President.
    • He must be a person qualified to be appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court.
    • He should be an Indian Citizen.
    • He must have either completed 5 years in the High Court of any Indian state as a judge or 10 years in High Court as an advocate.
    • He may be an eminent jurist too, in the eye of the President.
  • Powers and Functions:
    • The Attorney General is necessary for giving advice to the Government of India in legal matters referred to him. He also performs other legal duties assigned to him by the President.
    • The Attorney General has the right of audience in all Courts in India as well as the right to participate in the proceedings of the Parliament, though not to vote.
    • The Attorney General appears on behalf of the Government of India in all cases (including suits, appeals, and other proceedings) in the Supreme Court in which the Government of India is concerned.
    • He also represents the Government of India in any reference made by the President to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution.
    • The Attorney General can accept briefs but cannot appear against the Government.
    • He cannot defend an accused in the criminal proceedings and accept the directorship of a company without the permission of the Government.
    • The Attorney General is assisted by two Solicitor General and four Additional Solicitor Generals.

International Relations

Dialogues And Talks:

Teesta river dispute

  • Context:
    • India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta.
    • Adding to the existing tensions, Bangladesh is now discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river.
  • Why India is concerned and worried?
    • Bangladesh’s discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh.
  • How have relations between Bangladesh and China been developing?
    • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports.
    • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
    • China is the biggest arms supplier in Bangladesh.
  • About the Teesta river:
    • Teesta river is a tributary of the Brahmaputra (known as Jamuna in Bangladesh), flowing through India and Bangladesh.
    • It originates in the Himalayas near Chunthang, Sikkim, and flows to the south through West Bengal before entering Bangladesh.
    • The Teesta Barrage dam helps to provide irrigation for the plains between the upper Padma and the Jamuna.
  • Efforts to resolve the dispute:
    • Negotiations on how to share the water have been going on since 1983.
    • A 2011 interim deal – that was supposed to last 15 years – gave India 42.5 percent of the Teesta's waters and gave Bangladesh 37.5 percent. Bengal opposed this deal so it was shelved and remains unsigned.
    • Bangladesh sought a fair and equitable distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty 1996.
    • The treaty is an agreement to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border.
    • In 2015, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka generated expectations to take forward the issue but it still remains unresolved.
    • However, In India, individual states have significant influence over transboundary agreements, impeding the policymaking process.
    • West Bengal is one of the key stakeholders of the Teesta agreement and is yet to endorse the deal.
  • Importance of Teesta River:
    • For Bangladesh:
      • Its flood plain covers about 14% of the total cropped area of Bangladesh and provides direct livelihood opportunities to approximately 73% of its population.
    • For West Bengal:
      • Teesta is the lifeline of North Bengal and almost half a dozen districts of West Bengal are dependent on the waters of Teesta.

Trump signs executive order against hiring H1B visa

  • Context:
    • President Donald Trump has signed an executive order preventing federal agencies from contracting or subcontracting foreign workers — mainly those on H-1B visa — from hiring.
  • What will change now?
    • The order bars federal agencies from hiring H-1B visa holders and other foreign workers in place of US citizens or green cardholders.
  • What is the H1B visa?
    • The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
  • Why is it popular?
    • • To keep costs in check, federal agencies in the US — and various other countries — either hire a large number of foreign workers or outsource their back-end database updation and other jobs to business process outsourcing firms from around the world. Such jobs in developed countries pay minimum wages, which are not lucrative enough for employable individuals in these countries.
  • Implications of this move:
    • The executive order requires all federal agencies to complete an internal audit and assess whether they are in compliance with the requirement that only US citizens and nationals are appointed to the competitive service.
    • As a result, the Department of Labour will also finalise guidelines to prevent H-1B employers from moving H-1B workers to other employers’ job sites to displace American workers.
  • The immediate reason for this change:
    • The latest order follows the federally-owned Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) announcement that it will outsource 20% of its technology jobs to companies based in foreign countries.
    • TVA’s action could cause more than 200 highly-skilled American tech workers in Tennessee to lose their jobs to low-wage, foreign workers hired on temporary work visas.
  • Trump’s arguments:
    • Outsourcing hundreds of workers are especially detrimental in the middle of a pandemic, which has already cost millions of Americans their jobs.
    • National security risk: Given the current climate of rampant intellectual property theft, outsourcing IT jobs that involve sensitive information could pose a national security risk.
    • This will help combat employers’ misuse of H-1B visas, which were never intended to replace qualified American workers with low-cost foreign labour.
  • What’s the concern? Why India and Indians are worried?
    • The latest move comes over a month after the Trump administration on June 23 suspended the H-1B visas along with other types of foreign work visas until the end of 2020 to protect American workers in a crucial election year.
    • The latest executive order will also impact workers of Indian companies that are on contract with federal agencies.
    • Bigger federal agencies such as state-run banks give the contract for supply and maintenance of their databases and other services to bigger Indian companies such as Infosys, TCS, or Wipro.
  • How it would affect the US?
    • The new executive order is based on misperceptions and misinformation. Such a measure could slow down the recovery phase of the US as countries start unlocking.
    • The order is particularly coming at a time when there is a huge shortage of STEM skills in the US that workers on short-term non-immigrant visas like H-1B and L-1 help bridge.
  • Prelims Facts:
    • Of 65,000 new visa applications approved every year, an average of 1,800 to 2,000, or roughly 3%, are H-1B visas granted to workers employed by federal agencies.
    • As many as 70% of the H-1B visa goes to people from India.
  • What next?
    • Mr. Trump said he favours a merit-based immigration system that brings in high-skilled people that creates jobs inside the US and not take jobs of Americans. An immigration bill in this regard will be introduced shortly.

Italian marines case

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has refused to pass any order on the Centre’s plea seeking closure of cases against two Italian marines, who are facing charges of killing two Indian fishermen in February 2012.
  • What has the Court said?
    • The court said it would not pass any order without hearing the victims’ families who should be given adequate compensation.
    • The Court insisted that it will close their criminal trial in India only after the victims’ families are heard and paid a “hefty” and “adequate” compensation.
  • Background:
    • On July 3, the Centre moved the top court seeking closure of judicial proceedings in India against the two Italian marines, arguing that it has accepted the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, which held that India is entitled to get compensation in the case but can’t prosecute the marines due to official immunity enjoyed by them.
  • What had the tribunal held?
    • In a close 3:2 vote, the tribunal ruled that the Italian marines enjoyed diplomatic immunity as Italian state officials under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea.
    • Taking note of the “commitment expressed by Italy” to resume its criminal investigation into the incident, the tribunal said India must cease to exercise its jurisdiction.
  • What’s the issue now?
    • The award passed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration is in conflict with the Supreme Court judgment in 2013. This verdict upheld the authority of the Union of India to prosecute the Marines.
    • So, an international award which is in conflict with domestic law, notwithstanding India's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, can be implemented only if it is made into the law under Article 253 of the Constitution”.
  • What next?
    1. The court asked the Centre to negotiate a “hefty” compensation with Italy.
    2. The court ordered the Centre to implead the victims’ families in the case within a week.
  • Overview of the marines’ case:
    • In 2012, two Italian marines fired shots while on-board an Italian vessel, Enrica Lexie killing two Indian fishermen aboard an Indian vessel, St. Anthony.
    • But, the fishing vessel was within the country’s Contiguous Zone and it was quite clear that the offence warranted arrest and prosecution under domestic law.
    • Eventually, the marines were arrested. But, further, the marines were released from India and sent to Italy.
    • At that time, India had set up a specially designated court, as ordered by Indian Supreme Court, to determine the applicability of jurisdiction.
    • Meanwhile, the National Investigation Agency invoked the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002.
    • The dispute between the two countries as regards which country will try the two marines went before the PCA.

Geopolitical Events:

Indus Water Treaty (IWT)

  • Context:
    • India has refused a request by Pakistan to hold a meeting on issues around the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) at the Attari check-post near the India-Pakistan border.
  • Background:
    • In March India had suggested a virtual conference but Pakistan had insisted on a physical meeting.
    • But, India said because of restrictions on movement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling to the border for a meeting isn’t advisable.
  • What are the IWT meetings? When they are held?
    • The practice at the IWT meetings is that they are led by Indus Water Commissioners from both countries and a range of issues on the construction of dams and hydropower projects concerning the Indus river system are discussed.
    • The last such meeting between the two countries was in October in Islamabad, and, as per the agreement in the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), a meeting was to be scheduled in India before March 31.
  • What’s the latest dispute?
    • Evolving a procedure to solve differences in technical aspects governing the construction of the Ratle run-of-the-river (RoR) project on the Chenab in the Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir.
    • India has called for the appointment of a ‘neutral’ party while Pakistan favours a Court of Arbitration to agree upon a final resolution on the design parameters of this hydropower project.
  • About the Indus Water Treaty:
    • It is a Water-Distribution Treaty, signed in Karachi in 1960, between India (Pm Jawaharlal Nehru) and Pakistan (President Ayub Khan), brokered by the World Bank.
    • Under the treaty, India has control over the water flowing in the eastern rivers– Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej.
    • Pakistan has control over the western rivers– Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum.
    • As per the treaty, the water commissioners of Pakistan and India are required to meet twice a year and arrange technical visits to projects’ sites and critical river head works.
    • Both sides share details of the water flow and the quantum of water being used under the treaty.
    • The treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of the rivers.

Loya Jirga

  • Context:
    • A three-day Loya Jirga-grand assembly has been called in Afghanistan to decide on freeing about 400 Taliban fighters convicted for serious crimes including murder and abductions.
  • About:
    • It is a mass national gathering that brings together representatives from the various ethnic, religious, and tribal communities in Afghanistan.
    • It is a highly respected centuries-old consultative body that has been convened at times of national crisis or to settle national issues.
    • According to the Afghan Constitution, a Loya Jirga is considered the highest expression of the Afghan people. It is not an official decision-making body and its decisions are not legally binding.

Organizations And Conventions:

Israel- UAE agreement

  • Context:
    • Israel and the United Arab Emirates have announced an agreement that will lead to full normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two states, a move that reshapes the order of West Asia politics from the Palestinian issue to Iran.
    • The agreement will be known as Abraham Accords.
  • Overview of the agreement:
    • Trilateral agreement: The agreement was the product of lengthy discussions between Israel, the UAE, and the US that accelerated recently.
    • Under the accord, Israel has agreed to suspend annexing areas of the occupied West Bank as it had been planning to do.
    • It also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel, and the US view as the main threat in the region.
  • Background:
    • Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. But the UAE, along with most other Arab nations, did not recognise Israel and had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it until now.
  • Where is West Bank?
    • It is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, bordered by Jordan to the east and by the Green Line separating it and Israel on the south, west, and north.
    • The West Bank also contains a significant section of the western Dead Sea shore.
  • What is the dispute settlements here? Who lives there?
    1. The West Bank was captured by Jordan after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
    2. Israel snatched it back during the Six-Day War of 1967 and has occupied it ever since. During this war, the country defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.
    3. It has built some 130 formal settlements in the West Bank, and a similar number of smaller, informal settlements have mushroomed over the last 20-25 years.
    4. Over 4 lakh Israeli settlers — many of them religious Zionists who claim a Biblical birthright over this land — now live here, along with some 26 lakh Palestinians.
    5. The territory is still a point of contention due to a large number of Palestinians who live there and hope to see the land become a part of their future state.
    6. When Israel took control of the land in 1967 it allowed Jewish people to move in, but Palestinians consider the West Bank illegally occupied Palestinian land.

BRICS innovation base

  • Context:
    • China is “actively considering the establishment of a BRICS innovation base in China, in order to strengthen practical cooperation with the BRICS”.
  • Aim:
    • To take forward 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI) cooperation among the five countries.
  • Rationale behind the proposal:
    • China’s interest in promoting 5G within the BRICS bloc could be part of its interest in pushing tech giant Huawei internationally – Huawei’s name has come up as a contender to build the network in Brazil and South Africa even as it is embroiled in controversies in other countries.
  • How BRICS countries have responded?
    • Russia said it would work with China on 5G.
    • In South Africa, Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei is providing services to three of its telecom operators in the roll-out of their 5G networks.
    • Brazil has allowed participation in trials but is yet to take a final call.
    • However, India is the only country in the grouping that is leaning towards excluding Chinese participation in the roll-out of its national 5G network.
  • Way ahead for India:
    • India is unlikely to allow Chinese participation in 5G, particularly in the wake of recent moves to tighten investment from China and to ban 59 Chinese apps, citing national security concerns.
    • The ban, which followed the June clash in Galwan Valley, cited a “threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India” posed by the apps.
    • Indian intelligence assessments have also expressed concerns about the possible direct or indirect links of several Chinese companies, including Huawei, with the Chinese military.
    • India has made clear a return to normalcy cannot be possible while tensions along the Line of Actual Control remain unresolved.
  • Similar efforts by the UK- 5G club:
    • In May, the British government approached the US with the prospect of creating a 5G club of 10 democracies.
    • It includes G7 countries – UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, and Canada – plus Australia, South Korea, and India.
    • It will aim to create alternative suppliers of 5G equipment and other technologies to avoid relying on China.
  • What underlying technologies make up 5G?
    • 5G is based on OFDM (Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing), a method of modulating a digital signal across several different channels to reduce interference.
    • 5G uses a 5G NR air interface alongside OFDM principles.
    • 5G also uses wider bandwidth technologies such as sub-6 GHz and mmWave.
    • The previous generations of mobile networks are 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G.
      • 1. First-generation – 1G
        • The 1980s: 1G delivered analog voice.
      • 2. Second-generation – 2G
        • The early 1990s: 2G introduced digital voice (e.g. CDMA- Code Division Multiple Access).
      • 3. Third generation – 3G
        • The early 2000s: 3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000).
      • 4. Fourth-generation – 4G LTE
        • The 2010s: 4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband.
        • 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G all led to 5G, which is designed to provide more connectivity than was ever available before.

EU urges Turkey to stop Mediterranean drilling

  • Context:
    • The European Union has urged Turkey to halt its drilling activities in contested waters in the Mediterranean and ordered EU officials to speed up work aimed at blacklisting some Turkish officials linked to the energy exploration.
  • What’s the issue?
    • Over recent weeks, tensions have been rising in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, prompted by what seems like a simple rivalry over energy resources.
    • Turkey has pursued an aggressive gas exploration effort, its research vessel heavily protected by warships of the Turkish Navy.
    • There have been encounters with rival Greek vessels and a third Nato country, France, has become involved, siding with the Greeks.
    • These tensions also highlight another shift in the region – the decline of US power.
  • Cause for latest tensions:
    • Tensions are mounting to the breaking point between Turkey and Greece over Turkey’s drilling work near the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which like Greece is an EU member country.
    • Turkey doesn’t recognize the divided island of Cyprus as a state and claims 44 percent of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone as its own.
    • Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
  • About the Mediterranean:
    • It is a vast sea positioned between Europe to the north, Africa to the south, and Asia to the east.
  • The Mediterranean Sea connects:
    1. To the Atlantic Ocean by the Strait of Gibraltar (known in Homer‘s writings as the “Pillars of Hercules“) in the west
    2. To the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, by the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus respectively, in the east
    3. The 163 km (101 mi) long artificial Suez Canalin the southeast connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

International Finance Corporation (IFC)

  • Context:
    • IFC to invest $10 mn in Endiya Partners Fund II for product start-ups.
  • About the International Finance Corporation (IFC):
    • It is an international financial institution that offers investment, advisory, and asset management services to encourage private sector development in developing countries.
    • It is a member of the World Bank Group and is headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States.
    • It was established in 1956 as the private sector arm of the World Bank Group to advance economic development by investing in strictly for-profit and commercial projects that purport to reduce poverty and promote development.
    • The IFC is owned and governed by its member countries but has its own executive leadership and staff that conduct its normal business operations.
    • It is a corporation whose shareholders are member governments that provide paid-in capital and which have the right to vote on its matters.
    • Since 2009, the IFC has focused on a set of development goals that its projects are expected to target.
    • Its goals are to increase sustainable agriculture opportunities, improve healthcare and education, increase access to financing for microfinance and business clients, advance infrastructure, help small businesses grow revenues, and invest in climate health.
    • It offers an array of debt and equity financing services and helps companies face their risk exposures while refraining from participating in a management capacity.
    • It advises governments on building infrastructure and partnerships to further support private sector development.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

  • Context:
    • The government of India, the Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have signed a loan agreement for a $500 million Mumbai Urban Transport Project-III to improve the network capacity, service quality, and safety of the suburban railway system in Mumbai.
  • What is AIIB?
    • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a multilateral development bank with a mission to improve social and economic outcomes in Asia and beyond.
      • It is headquartered in Beijing.
      • It commenced operations in January 2016.
      • It is a development bank with a mission to improve the economic and social outcomes in Asia.
  • Is AIIB actively recruiting new members?
    • AIIB is an open and inclusive multilateral financial institution.
    • Membership in AIIB shall be open to members of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development or the Asian Development Bank.
    • Unlike other MDBs (multilateral development banks), the AIIB allows for non-sovereign entities to apply for AIIB membership, assuming their home country is a member.
  • AIIB Project Preparation Special Fund:
    • Established in June 2016, the Project Preparation Special Fund (Special Fund) is a multi-donor facility with the primary purpose of supporting eligible AIIB members—especially low-income members— prepare bankable infrastructure projects AIIB may finance.
    • The Special Fund provides technical assistance grants for preparing bankable infrastructure projects.
    • Through these grants, clients can hire experts and consultants to carry out the required preparation work.
  • Various organs of AIIB:
    • Board of Governors:
      • The Board of Governors consists of one Governor and one Alternate Governor appointed by each member country. Governors and Alternate Governors serve at the pleasure of the appointing member.
    • Board of Directors:
      • Non-resident Board of Directors is responsible for the direction of the Bank’s general operations, exercising all powers delegated to it by the Board of Governors. This includes approving the Bank’s strategy, annual plan, and budget; establishing policies; taking decisions concerning Bank operations; and supervising management and operation of the Bank, and establishing an oversight mechanism.
    • International Advisory Panel:
      • The Bank has established an International Advisory Panel (IAP) to support the President and Senior Management on the Bank’s strategies and policies as well as on general operational issues.
      • The Panel meets in tandem with the Bank’s Annual Meeting, or as requested by the President. The
      • President selects and appoints members of the IAP to two-year terms. Panelists receive a small honorarium and do not receive a salary. The Bank pays the costs associated with Panel meetings.
  • Significance of AIIB:
    • The United Nations has addressed the launch of AIIB as having the potential for “scaling up financing for sustainable development” for the concern of global economic governance. The capital of the bank is $100 billion

Economy

Banking And Finance:

Insolvency process

  • Context:
    • The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) has allowed the initiation of insolvency proceedings against Anil Ambani after two companies promoted by him failed to pay dues on Rs 1,200 crore that they had borrowed from State Bank of India (SBI).
    • The insolvency process will be initiated against Ambani as he had given a personal guarantee against the loans provided to his firms.
  • Personal insolvency:
    • The case is significant as it is one of the first cases of insolvency against a major business group head.
    • The rules for initiation of personal insolvency were notified last year in December.
  • What is the process for personal insolvency?
    • As the NCLT has allowed the appointment of an interim resolution professional (IRP) in the matter, SBI will now approach the IRP with a list of the assets provided by Ambani as a personal guarantee when his companies had sought the loan.
    • In the case of banks providing loans against the personal guarantee, the guarantor has to furnish a list of assets whose value is equivalent to the total amount of loan being given.
    • In case of failure to pay these assets, these guarantees can be invoked.
  • What happens to Anil Ambani after the insolvency process is over?
    • Like corporate insolvency processes, a businessperson is free to start with a clean slate after a personal insolvency case against them is over.
    • The lenders will be eligible to recover their dues only from the collateral deposited or personal assets belonging to that person.
    • However, any or all assets mentioned in the list provided at the time of sanctioning of the loan, even if transferred to someone else, can also be attached and sold.
    • Ambani will be free to run other businesses that are not under insolvency, or which are able to service their debts and obligations on time.

Transparent Taxation – Honoring the Honest

  • Context:
    • It is a new platform launched recently by PM Modi to further digitise the Income Tax Department’s functioning.
    • The platform seeks to “reform and simplify our tax system.”
  • Key features of the platform:
    • The platform has major reforms like faceless assessment, faceless appeal, and taxpayers charter.
    • Faceless assessment and taxpayers charter has come into force. However, the facility of faceless appeal will be available from September 25.
  • Need for such initiatives:
    • The number of taxpayers is significantly low with only 1.5 Crore paying taxes in a country of 130 Crore people.
    • Therefore, its time for people to introspect and come forward to pay Income taxes due on them to build an AtmaNirbharBharat.
    • Besides, the country’s tax structure needed fundamental reforms as the earlier tax structure was developed from the one created during pre-independent times.
    • Even the several changes made during the post-independent times did not alter its fundamental character. Thus, the complexity of the earlier system made it difficult to confirm.
  • Significance of the platform:
    • Honest taxpayers of the country play a big role in nation-building. When the life of an honest taxpayer becomes easy then the country also develops.
    • Therefore, the tax system should be seamless, painless, and faceless.
    • The new facilities launched are a part of the Government’s resolve to provide maximum governance with minimum government.
  • Recent tax reforms:
    1. The latest laws reduced the legal burden in the tax system where now the limit of filing cases in the High Court has been fixed at up to 1 crore rupees and up to 2 crores for filing in the Supreme Court.
    2. Initiatives like the 'Vivaad Se Vishwas' Scheme pave the way for most of the cases to be settled out of court.
    3. The tax slabs have also been rationalised as a part of the ongoing reforms where there is zero tax up to an income of 5 lakh rupees, while the tax rate has reduced in the remaining slabs too.

National Strategy for Financial Education 2020-2025 (NSFE)

  • Context:
    • The Reserve Bank of India has released a national strategy for financial education to be implemented in the next five years.
    • The multi-stakeholder led approach is aimed at creating a financially aware and empowered India.
    • It is the second NSFE, the first one being released in 2013.
  • Basic objectives:
    • The objectives include managing risk at various life stages through relevant and suitable insurance cover besides planning for old age and retirement through coverage of suitable pension products.
  • Who prepared it?
    • The NSFE has been put together by the National Centre for Financial Education (NCFE) in consultation with the four financial sector regulators (Reserve Bank of India, Securities, and Exchange Board of India, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India, and Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority) and other relevant stakeholders.
  • Highlights of NSFE: 2020-25- Key recommendations:
    1. Adopt a ‘5 C’ – Content, Capacity, Community, Communication, and Collaboration – approach to achieve the financial well-being of all Indians.
    2. It has suggested financial literacy content for school children (including curriculum and co-scholastic), teachers, young adults, women, new entrants at workplace/ entrepreneurs (MSMEs), senior citizens, persons with disabilities, illiterate people, etc.
    3. Capacity development of various intermediaries, who can be involved in providing financial literacy.
    4. Develop a ‘Code of Conduct’ for financial education providers.
    5. Community-led approaches should be evolved for disseminating financial literacy in a sustainable manner.
    6. A specific period in the year needs to be identified to disseminate financial literacy messages on a large/ focused scale.
    7. Integrate financial education content in the school curriculum, various professional and vocational courses (undertaken by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship) through their Sector Skilling Missions and B.Ed./M.Ed. programmes.
    8. Adopt a robust ‘Monitoring and Evaluation Framework’ to assess progress made under the strategy.
  • Significance and expected outcomes:
    • The strategy seeks to develop credit discipline and encourage availing of credit from formal financial institutions as per requirement.
    • It wants to improve the usage of digital financial services in a safe and secure manner.
    • The document wants the management of risk at various life stages through relevant and suitable insurance cover and plan for old age and retirement through coverage of suitable pension products.
  • About NCFE:
    • National Centre for Financial Education (NCFE) is a Not for Profit Company promoted by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) and Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA).

Participatory Notes

  • Context:
    • Investments through participatory notes (P-notes) in the domestic capital market soared to Rs 63,288 crore till July-end, making it the fourth consecutive monthly rise.
    • Of the total money invested through the route till July, Rs 52,356 crore was invested in equities, Rs 10,429 crore in debt, Rs 250 crore in the hybrid securities, and Rs 190 crore in the derivatives segment.
  • What are Participatory Notes?
    • Participatory Notes or P-Notes (PNs) are financial instruments issued by a registered foreign institutional investor (FII) to an overseas investor who wishes to invest in Indian stock markets without registering themselves with the market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
  • Key points:
    • P-Notes are Offshore Derivative Investments (ODIs) with equity shares or debt securities as underlying assets.
    • They provide liquidity to the investors as they can transfer the ownership by endorsement and delivery.
    • While the FIIs have to report all such investments each quarter to SEBI, they need not disclose the identity of the actual investors.
  • What are the govt & regulator’s concerns?
    • The primary reason why P-Notes are worrying is because of the anonymous nature of the instrument as these investors could be beyond the reach of Indian regulators.
    • Further, there is a view that it is being used in money laundering with wealthy Indians, like the promoters of companies, using it to bring back unaccounted funds and to manipulate their stock prices.

Sin goods and sin tax

  • Context:
    • Finance Minister recently said that two-wheelers are neither a luxury nor sin goods and so, merit a GST rate revision.
    • Two-wheelers currently attract 28% GST.
  • Sin goods:
    • Sin goods are goods which consider harmful to society.
    • Example of sin goods: Alcohol and Tobacco, Candies, Drugs, Soft drinks, Fast foods, Coffee, Sugar, Gambling and Pornography.
  • What is the sin tax?
    • It is placed on goods that adversely affect health, most notably tobacco and alcohol.
    • Three principal arguments are used to justify this type of taxation:
      1. It can reduce consumption through increased prices.
      2. Compensate society for things like increased health system costs.
      3. Increase resources for the health sector.
  • Regulation in India:
    • According to the current GST rate structure, some of the sin goods that attract a cess include cigarettes, pan masala and aerated drinks. Apart from sin goods, luxury products like cars also attract cess.
  • Global examples:
    • Countries such as the UK, Sweden and Canada impose Sin Taxes on a series of products and services, fromtobacco and alcohol to lotteries, gambling and fuel, which chip in with sizeable revenues.
    • Mexico imposed a Soda Tax in 2013.
  • Why is it important?
    • That excessive consumption of tobacco, alcohol, or empty calories heightens health risks such as cancer, heart conditions and obesity, is quite well-documented by now.
    • Evidence from other countries that have imposed Sin Taxes shows the consumption of cigarettes and soft drinks has fallen significantly, after the new tax.
    • The huge revenues many State governments in India rake in from liquor sales (and taxes) show that Sin Taxes can mean a bonanza for the State.

Contingency Fund (CF) of the central bank

  • Context:
    • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has retained a whopping amount of Rs 73,615 crore within the RBI by transferring it to the Contingency Fund (CF) of the central bank.
    • As a result, the CF has swelled to a new high of Rs 264,034 crore.
  • Under what provisions does the central government receive money from the RBI?
    • As per Section 47 of the RBI Act, profits or surplus of the RBI are to be transferred to the government, after making various contingency provisions, public policy mandate of the RBI, including financial stability considerations.
    • The RBI’s transfer this year is as per the economic capital framework (ECF) adopted by the RBI board last year.
  • What is the Contingency Fund (CF)?
    • This is a specific provision meant for meeting unexpected and unforeseen contingencies.
    • This includes depreciation in the value of securities, risks arising out of monetary/exchange rate policy operations, systemic risks and any risk arising on account of the special responsibilities enjoined upon the Reserve Bank.
    • This amount is retained within the RBI.
  • RBI’s risk provision accounts:
    • The central bank’s main risk provision accounts are Contingency Fund, Currency and Gold Revaluation Account (CGRA), Investment Revaluation Account Foreign Securities (IRA-FS), and Investment Revaluation
    • Account-Rupee Securities (IRA-RS). Together now they amount to Rs 13.88 lakh crore.
  • What’s the CGRA account?
    • The Currency and Gold Revaluation Account (CGRA) is maintained by the Reserve Bank to take care of currency risk, interest rate risk and movement in gold prices.
    • Unrealised gains or losses on the valuation of foreign currency assets (FCA) and gold are not taken to the income account but instead accounted for in the CGRA.
    • CGRA provides a buffer against exchange rate/ gold price fluctuations. It can come under pressure if there is an appreciation of the rupee vis-à-vis major currencies or a fall in the price of gold.
  • What are IRA-FS and IRA-RS accounts?
    • The unrealised gains or losses on revaluation in foreign dated securities are recorded in the Investment Revaluation Account Foreign Securities (IRA-FS).
    • Similarly, the unrealised gains or losses on revaluation is accounted for in Investment Revaluation AccountRupee Securities (IRA-RS).

GST shortfall

  • Context:
    • The Centre has presented two options before the states to bridge their goods and services tax (GST) revenue shortfall. They are:
      1. States borrow Rs 97,000 crore, which is the estimated shortfall, only “on account of GST” under a special window to be facilitated in consultation with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) at a ‘reasonable G Sec-linked interest rate’.
      2. They borrow the entire Rs 2.35 lakh crore. There also, arrangement could be made with the RBI and certain facilities could be provided.
      3. The loans will be serviced via the proceeds of the relevant compensation cess, which will apply on the specified demerit goods for a year or more beyond the current end date of FY22.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The GST Compensation Act, 2017 guaranteed States that they would be compensated for any loss of revenue in the first five years of GST implementation, until 2022, using a cess levied on sin and luxury goods.
    • However, the economic slowdown has pushed both GST and cess collections down over the last year, resulting in a 40% gap last year between the compensation paid and cess collected.
    • States are likely to face a GST revenue gap of ₹3 lakh crore this year, as the economy may contract due to COVID-19, which Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman termed an unforeseen “act of God”.
  • What is compensation cess?
    • The modalities of the compensation cess were specified by the GST (Compensation to States) Act, 2017.
    • This Act assumed that the GST revenue of each State would grow at 14% every year, from the amount collected in 2015- 16, through all taxes subsumed by the GST.
    • A State that had collected tax less than this amount in any year would be compensated for the shortfall. The amount would be paid every two months based on provisional accounts and adjusted every year after the State’s accounts were audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. This scheme is valid for five years, i.e., until June 2022.
  • Compensation cess fund:
    • A compensation cess fund was created from which States would be paid for any shortfall. An additional cess would be imposed on certain items and this cess would be used to pay compensation.
    • The items are panned masala, cigarettes and tobacco products, aerated water, caffeinated beverages, coal and certain passenger motor vehicles.
    • The GST Act states that the cess collected and “such other amounts as may be recommended by the [GST] Council” would be credited to the fund.
  • Challenges ahead:
    • Most economists expect negative real GDP growth this year, and nominal GDP to be close to last year’s level.
    • As indirect taxes are levied on the nominal value of transactions, this is likely to result in a significant shortfall for States from the assured tax collection.
    • A key source of the problem is that the 2017 Act guaranteed a tax growth rate of 14%, which is unachievable this year. Whereas no one could have foreseen the pandemic and its impact on the economy, the 14% target was too ambitious to start with.
  • What needs to be done?
    • The Central government is constitutionally bound to compensate States for loss of revenue for five years.
  • There are several possible solutions to this issue:
    • The Constitution could be amended to reduce the period of guarantee to three years (thus ending June 2020). This would be difficult to do as most States would be reluctant to agree to this proposal. It could also be seen as going back on the promise made to States when they agreed to subsume their taxes into the GST.
    • The Central government could fund this shortfall from its own revenue. States would be happy with this proposal. However, the Centre’s finances are stretched due to shortfall in its own tax collection combined with extra expenditure to manage the health and economic crisis. It may not be in a position to give further support to the States.
    • The Centre could borrow on behalf of the cess fund. The tenure of the cess could be extended beyond five years until the cess collected is sufficient to pay off this debt and interest on it.
    • The Centre could convince States that the 14% growth target was always unrealistic. The target should have been linked to nominal GDP growth. If the Centre can negotiate with States through the GST Council to reset the assured tax level, it could then bring in a Bill in Parliament to amend the 2017 Act.

K. V. KAMATH COMMITTEE

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) constituted an expert committee under the chairmanship of veteran banker K.V. Kamath to make recommendations on norms for the resolution of COVID-19 related stressed loans.
  • The Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) will function as the secretariat to the committee and the committee will be fully empowered to consult or invite any person it deems fit.

Priority Sector Lending (PSL)

  • Context:
    • The Reserve Bank of India has assigned priority sector lending (PSL) status to India’s startup sector.
  • Significance of the move:
    • RBI opening up more funds for lending to startups is a very positive step. Startups have not had easy access to debt, stymied by traditional lender metrics of creditworthiness. This is a huge booster as sufficient funding and user adoption are two primary challenges for Indian entrepreneurs.
    • Besides, Startups have mostly relied on expensive venture debt. This move will help startups free up their equity and raise low-cost debt.
  • What is Priority Sector Lending?
    • It means those sectors which the Government of India and Reserve Bank of India consider as important for the development of the basic needs of the country and are to be given priority over other sectors. The banks are mandated to encourage the growth of such sectors with adequate and timely credit.
  • RBI guidelines for PSL for scheduled commercial banks:
    • 40% of the total net bank credit should go to priority sector advances.
      1. 10% of the priority sector advances or 10% of the total net bank credit, whichever is higher should go to the weaker section.
      2. 18% of the total net bank credit should go to agricultural advances. Within the 18 percent target for agriculture, a target of 8 percent of Adjusted Net Bank Credit (ANBC) or Credit Equivalent Amount of Off-Balance Sheet Exposure, whichever is higher is prescribed for Small and Marginal Farmers, to be achieved in a phased manner.
      3. 7.5 of ANBC or Credit Equivalent Amount of Off-Balance Sheet Exposure, whichever is higher should go to Micro enterprises.
  • Priority Sector includes the following categories:
    1. Agriculture
    2. Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME)
    3. Export Credit
    4. Education
    5. Housing
    6. Social Infrastructure
    7. Renewable Energy
    8. Others
  • Priority Sector Lending Certificates (PSLCs):
    • Priority Sector Lending Certificates (PSLCs) are a mechanism to enable banks to achieve the priority sector lending target and sub-targets by the purchase of these instruments in the event of a shortfall.
    • This also incentivizes surplus banks as it allows them to sell their excess achievement over targets thereby enhancing lending to the categories under priority sector.

Business Responsibility Reporting

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) releases the Report of the Committee on Business Responsibility Reporting.
  • Key recommendations:
    1. A new reporting framework called the ‘Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR)’ has been recommended to better reflect the intent and scope of reporting on non-financial parameters.
    2. The BRSR would be integrated with the MCA 21 portal.
    3. The information captured through BRSR filings should be used to develop a Business ResponsibilitySustainability Index for companies.
    4. The top 1000 listed companies are to undertake this reporting mandatorily.
    5. The reporting requirement may be extended by MCA to unlisted companies above specified thresholds of turnover and/or paid-up capital.
  • What is Business Responsibility Reporting?
    • It is a disclosure of the adoption of responsible business practices by a listed company to all its stakeholders.
    • Business Responsibility Reporting is applicable to all types of companies including manufacturing, services etc.
  • Evolution of Business Responsibility Reporting in India:
    1. Corporate Voluntary Guidelines in 2009;
    2. Endorsement of United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights by India in 2011;
    3. MCA issued ‘National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economical Responsibilities of Business’ which encourages reporting on the environment, social and governance issues in 2011;
    4. SEBI mandates top 100 listed companies by market capitalization to file Business Responsibility Reports (BRR) based on NVGs in 2012;
    5. SEBI extends BRR reporting to top 500 companies by market capitalization in 2015;
    6. National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct (NGRBC) released in 2019.
  • Why we need Business Responsibility Reporting?
    • At a time and age when enterprises are increasingly seen as critical components of the social system, they are accountable not merely to their shareholders from a revenue and profitability perspective but also to the larger society which is also its stakeholder.
    • This is important considering the fact that these companies have accessed funds from the public, have an element of public interest involved, and are obligated to make exhaustive disclosures on a regular basis.

Agriculture:

Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Agriculture funding start-ups under the innovation and agripreneurship component of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana in 2020-21.
  • Background:
    • A component, Innovation and Agri-entrepreneurship Development programme has been launched under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana in order to promote innovation and agripreneurship by providing financial support and nurturing the incubation ecosystem.
    • These start-ups are in various categories such as agro-processing, artificial intelligence, digital agriculture, farm mechanisation, waste to wealth, dairy, fisheries, etc.
  • The following are the components of this scheme:
    1. Agripreneurship Orientation – 2 months duration with a monthly stipend of Rs. 10,000/- per month. Mentorship is provided on financial, technical, IP issues, etc.
    2. Seed Stage Funding of R-ABI Incubatees – Funding up to Rs. 25 lakhs (85% grant & 15% contribution from the incubator).
    3. Idea/Pre-Seed Stage Funding of Agripreneurs – Funding up to Rs. 5 lakhs (90% grant and 10% contribution from the incubatee).
  • About Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana:
    • RKVY scheme was initiated in 2007 as an umbrella scheme for ensuring the holistic development of agriculture and allied sectors.
    • The scheme incentivizes States to increase public investment in Agriculture & allied sectors.
    • The Cabinet has approved (as on 1st November 2017) for the continuation of the ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme (State Plans) – Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) as Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana- Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture and Allied Sector Rejuvenation (RKVY-RAFTAAR).
    • The main objective of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana is to develop farming as the main source of economic activity.
  • Some of the objectives also include:
    1. Risk mitigation, strengthening the efforts of the farmers along with promoting agri-business entrepreneurship through the creation of agri-infrastructure.
    2. Providing all the states with autonomy and flexibility in making plans as per their local needs.
    3. Helping farmers in increasing their income by encouraging productivity and promoting value chain addition linked production models.
    4. To reduce the risk of farmers by focusing on increasing the income generation through mushroom cultivation, integrated farming, floriculture, etc.
    5. Empowering the youth through various skill development, innovation, and agri-business models.
  • Funding:
    • RKVY-RAFTAAR will continue to be implemented as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme in the ratio of 60: 40 (Government of India and State Share respectively) except in the case of northeastern and hilly states where the sharing pattern is 90:10. For UTs the grant is 100% as Central share.

Krishi Megh

  • Context:
    • Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare virtually launched the Krishi Megh (National Agricultural Research & Education System -Cloud Infrastructure and Services).
  • What is it?
    • Krishi Megh is the data recovery centre of ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research).
  • Details:
    • Krishi Megh has been set up under the National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP).
    • The data recovery centre has been set up at National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM), Hyderabad.
  • Significance and benefits of Krishi Megh:
    • Built to mitigate the risk, enhance the quality, availability, and accessibility of e-governance, research, extension, and education in the field of agriculture in India.
    • Krishi Megh is equipped with the latest artificial intelligence and deep learning software for building and deploying of deep learning-based applications through image analysis, disease identification in livestock, etc.
    • It enables the farmers, researchers, students, and policymakers to be more equipped with the updated and latest information regarding agriculture and research.
  • National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP):
    • The project is funded by both the government of India and the World Bank.
    • The overall objective of the project is to provide more relevant and high-quality education to the agricultural university students that are in tune with the New Education Policy – 2020.

Organic farming in India

  • Context:
    • In a world battered by the COVID pandemic, the demand for healthy and safe food is already showing an upward trend and hence this is an opportune moment to be captured for a win-win situation for our farmers, consumers and the environment.
  • Organic farming in India:
    1. India ranks first in the number of organic farmers and ninth in terms of area under organic farming.
    2. Sikkim became the first State in the world to become fully organic and other States including Tripura and Uttarakhand have set similar targets.
    3. North East India has traditionally been organic and the consumption of chemicals is far less than the rest of the country.
    4. Similarly, the tribal and island territories are being nurtured to continue their organic story.
    5. The major organic exports from India have been flax seeds, sesame, soybean, tea, medicinal plants, rice, and pulses.
  • Government initiatives to support organic farming:
    • Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North East Region (MOVCD) and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) launched in 2015 to encourage chemical-free farming.
    • Both these schemes are promoting certification under Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) and National Program for Organic Production (NPOP) respectively targeting domestic and export markets.
  • What is organic farming?
    • It is an agricultural process that uses biological fertilizers and pest control acquired from animal or plant waste.
    • It is a unique production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity.

Bt Brinjal

  • Context:
    • Experts have slammed a recent move of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) giving its greenlight for biosafety research-level-II (BRL-II) field trials for Event 142, a new variety of genetically modified brinjal (Bt brinjal).
  • Why this is a matter of concern?
    • This new variety of genetically modified brinjal was quietly given approval without any data in the public domain. This variety got approved even before the second season BRL-II and the biosafety report was out.
    • This paved the way for crop developers and applicants to seek permission for commercial cultivation.
    • There was no transparency in the manner when it came to reports regarding the biosafety of this variety of brinjal.
  • What is a GM crop?
    • A GM or transgenic crop is a plant that has a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology.
    • For example, a GM crop can contain a gene(s) that has been artificially inserted instead of the plant acquiring it through pollination.
    • The resulting plant is said to be “genetically modified” although, in reality, all crops have been “genetically modified” from their original wild state by domestication, selection, and controlled breeding over long periods of time.
  • What is the legal position of genetically modified crops in India?
    • In India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body that allows for commercial release of GM crops.
  • Penalty:
    • Use of the unapproved GM variant can attract a jail term of 5 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh under the Environmental Protection Act,1986.
  • Why are farmers rooting for GM crops?
    • Reduced costs:
      • The cost of weeding goes down considerably if farmers grow Ht Bt cotton and use glyphosate against weeds. In the case of Bt brinjal, the cost reduces as the cost of production is reduced by cutting down on the use of pesticides.
  • Concerns:
    • Environmentalists argue that the long-lasting effect of GM crops is yet to be studied and thus they should not be released commercially. Genetic modification, they say, brings about changes that can be harmful to humans in the long run.

Centre should repeal ordinances: farmers

  • Context:
    • All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) has announced a “Corporates Leave Farming” campaign across the country on August 9 against the Centre’s recent ordinances on agriculture and farmerissues.
  • What’s the issue?
    • In June 2020, the Central government introduced three ordinances to bring in far-reaching agricultural ‘reforms’ in the country. They are:
      1. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.
      2. The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020.
      3. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services ordinance, 2020.
    • But, activists have expressed disappointment saying that the reforms package will not solve the problems of farmers, instead will exacerbate them.
  • General concerns:
    1. These are anti-farmer and will only result in reduced crop prices for farmers and undermine seed security even further.
    2. Food security will be eroded as government intervention is eliminated.
    3. These ordinances promote corporate control of the Indian food and farming systems.
    4. They will also encourage hoarding and black marketing, in addition to the exploitation of farmers.
  • Let us now take up one by one;
    • 1. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020:
      • Key provision:
        • It allows for regulating the supply and stock limit of certain specified agricultural produce under extraordinary circumstances such as extraordinary price rise and natural calamity of grave nature, etc.
      • Issues:
        • The price range fluctuation allowed in this ordinance is narrow (100% increase in the retail price of horticultural produce and 50% increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural foodstuffs).
        • This stock limit regulation will not be applicable for value chain participants of any agricultural produce if their stock limit remains within their installed capacity.
        • It will also not apply to exporters if they can show demand for export.
    • 2. The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020:
      • Key provision:
        • It seeks to effectively bypass the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets by providing for the freedom to trade in any area outside of private and APMC designated market yards.
      • Issues:
        • This leads to a situation where local farmers do not find adequate demand for their produce at MSP in the local market.
        • Since most farmers are small or marginal landowners, they do not have the wherewithal to transport their produce to large distances.
        • Hence, they are forced to sell them at a lower price than the MSP in the local market itself.
    • 3. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services the ordinance, 2020:
      • Key provision:
        • It seeks to create a legal framework for contract farming in India.
      • There are two broader concerns here:
        1. First, one principle concern with contract farming has been regarding the negotiating power of the two parties involved. It seems likely that individual farmers might not find themselves equipped or powerful enough to negotiate with corporates or big-pocket sponsors to ensure a fair price for their produce.
        2. Second, the ordinance says that the quality parameters can be mutually decided by the two parties in the agreement. But the quality aspect will become crucial when a few corporates will try to usher in uniformity which might end up adversely impacting the already skewed agro-ecological diversity in the country.
  • Conclusion:
    • The three ordinances will have far-reaching and varying impacts depending on the social, political, economic and cultural contexts of the respective states.
    • But such bold and unilateral moves by the Centre fail to incorporate and give due consideration to the immense diversity in the country, not just between the states in terms of land ownership, cropping patterns, historical functioning of agricultural markets, etc. but also within them.
    • Therefore, it is feared that the three ordinances rather than helping farmers, might end up being a source of distress for millions of small and marginal farmers in the country as have been observed in the past in cases of demonetization and COVID-19 related lock-downs.

Agriculture Infrastructure Fund

  • Context:
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently launched the financing facility of Rs 1 lakh crore under the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund via video conferencing.
    • The fund has been launched as part of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' (self-reliant India) to make farmers self-reliant.
  • About the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund:
    • It is a new pan India Central Sector Scheme.
    • The scheme shall provide a medium – long term debt financing facility for investment in viable
    • projects for post-harvest management Infrastructure and community farming assets through interest subvention and financial support.
    • The duration of the Scheme shall be from FY2020 to FY2029 (10 years).
  • Eligibility:
    • Under the scheme, Rs. One Lakh Crore will be provided by banks and financial institutions as loans to Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS), Marketing Cooperative Societies, farmer producer organisations (FPOs), SHGs, Farmers, Joint Liability Groups (JLG), Multipurpose Cooperative Societies, Startups, etc.
  • Interest subvention:
    • All loans under this financing facility will have an interest subvention of 3% per annum up to a limit of Rs. 2 crores.
    • This subvention will be available for a maximum period of seven years.
  • Credit guarantee:
    • Credit guarantee coverage will be available for eligible borrowers from this financing facility under Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE) scheme for a loan up to Rs. 2 crore.
    • The fee for this coverage will be paid by the Government.
    • In case of FPOs the credit guarantee may be availed from the facility created under FPO promotion scheme of the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare (DACFW).
  • Management of the fund:
    • It will be managed and monitored through an online Management Information System (MIS) platform.
    • The National, State and District level Monitoring Committees will be set up to ensure real-time monitoring and effective feedback.

Food System Vision Prize 2020

  • Context:
    • The Rockefeller Foundation has selected Naandi Foundation (a Hyderabad based non-profit organisation), as one of the top 10 ‘Visionaries’ in the world for the Food System Vision 2050 Prize.
    • Naandi was recognised for its Arakunomics model.
  • About:
    • It is an invitation for organizations across the globe to develop a Vision of the regenerative and nourishing food system that they aspire to create by the year 2050.
    • The prize awards a cash incentive of USD $200,000.
    • It was launched by the USA-based ‘The Rockefeller Foundation’, in partnership with the other two organisations – SecondMuse and OpenIDEO- in 2019.
  • What is a Food System Vision?
    • It is really a story about the future that addresses the following six interconnected themes:
      1. Environment
      2. Diets
      3. Economics
      4. Culture
      5. Technology
      6. Policy
  • What is Arakunomics?
    • It is a new integrated economic model that ensures profits for farmers, quality for consumers through regenerative agriculture.
    • This model is a tribute to the tribal farmers of the Araku region for the world-class coffee produced and launched in Paris in 2017 as well as for the high carbon landscape transformation they did in over 955 villages there by planting 25 million trees.
  • Why Naandi was chosen?
    • The success of Arakunomics in Araku region led to Naandi replicating the model to support the livelihood of farming communities in the villages of Wardha, Maharashtra, and later in New Delhi.
    • Naandi hopes to expand its “food-print” by creating thousands of farm livelihoods by transforming their agriculture over one million acres spread across India.
  • Also, the Arakunomics model leads to Food Vision 2050 that follows an “ABCDEFGH” framework centering on:
    1. Agriculture
    2. Biology
    3. Compost
    4. Decentralised decision-making
    5. Entrepreneurs
    6. Families
    7. Global Markets
    8. Headstands or turning current approaches on their head.

National Food Security Act 2013

  • Context:
    • Department of Food &Public Distribution issues directions to States/UTs to include all eligible disabled persons under the National Food Security Act 2013.
    • It has also asked the states to ensure that they get their entitled quota of food grains under NFSA & Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana.
  • Enabling provisions:
    • Section 38 of the Act mandates that the Central Government may from time to time give directions to the State Governments for effective implementation of the provisions of the Act.
    • The Section 10 of the National Food Security Act, 2013 provides for coverage of persons under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana in accordance with the guidelines applicable to the said scheme and the remaining households as priority households in accordance with such guidelines as the States Government may specify.
    • Disability is one of the criteria for inclusion of beneficiaries under AAY households.
  • National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013:
    • The objective is to provide for food and nutritional security in the human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.
  • Key features:
    1. Coverage and entitlement under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS): The TDPS covers 50% of the urban population and 75% of the rural population, with uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month. However, the poorest of the poor households will continue to receive 35 kg per household per month under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
    2. Subsidised prices under TPDS and their revision: For a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act, Food grains under TPDS will be made available at subsidised prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains.
    3. Identification of Households: The identification of eligible households is to be done by States/UTs under TDPS determined for each State.
    4. Nutritional Support to women and children: Children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years and pregnant women and lactating mothers will be entitled to meals as per prescribed nutritional norms under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) schemes. Malnourished children up to the age of 6 have been prescribed for higher nutritional norms.
    5. Maternity Benefit: Pregnant women and lactating mothers will also be receiving maternity benefit of Rs. 6,000.
    6. Women Empowerment: For the purpose of issuing of ration cards, the eldest woman of the household of age 18 years or above is to be the head of the household.
    7. Grievance Redressal Mechanism: Grievance redressal mechanism available at the District and State levels.
    8. Cost of transportation & handling of foodgrains and FPS Dealers’ margin: the expenditure incurred by the state on transportation of foodgrains within the State, its handling and FPS dealers’ margin as per norms to be devised for this purpose and assistance to states will be provided by the Central Government to meet the above expenditure.
    9. Transparency and Accountability: In order to ensure transparency and accountability, provisions have been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits, and setting up of Vigilance Committees.
    10. Food Security Allowance: In case of non-supply of entitled foodgrains or meals, there is a provision for food security allowance to entitled beneficiaries.
    11. Penalty: If the public servant or authority fails to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer, the penalty will be imposed by the State Food Commission according to the provision.

Pokkali variety of rice

  • The pokkali variety of rice is known for its saltwater resistance and flourishes in the rice paddies of coastal Kerala districts.
  • The uniqueness of the rice has brought it the Geographical Indication (GI) tag and is the subject of continuing research.
  • The organically-grown Pokkali is famed for its peculiar taste and its high protein content

Kisan Rail

  • Indian Railways will introduce “Kisan Rail”, a special Parcel Train from Devlali (Maharashtra) to Danapur (Bihar).
  • It is in pursuance of announcement made by Finance Minister in Union Budget 2020-21.
  • It is expected that the train will provide seamless supply chain of Perishable produce, will be a great help to the farmers.

Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA)

  • Established under the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority Act 1985.
  • The Authority replaced the Processed Food Export Promotion Council (PFEPC).
  • APEDA, under the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, promotes export of agricultural and processed food products from India.
  • It has been mandated with the responsibility of export promotion and development of the scheduled products viz. Fruits, Vegetables and their Products, Meat and Meat Products etc.
  • In addition to this, APEDA has been entrusted with the responsibility to monitor import of sugar.

Honey Mission

  • Launched by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) in 2017.
  • It is aimed at creating employment for the Adivasis, farmers, unemployed youth, and women by roping them in beekeeping while also increasing India’s honey production.

Nuakhai Juhar

  • Nuakhai Juhar is the agricultural festival is also called Nuakhai Parab or Nuakahi Bhetghat.
  • Nuakhai is a combination of two words signifies eating of new rice as ‘nua’ means new and ‘khai’ means eat.
  • It is one of the most ancient festivals celebrated in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and areas of neighbouring states to welcome the new crop of the season.
  • On this day, people worship food grain and prepare special meals. Farmers offer the first produce from their lands to Goddess Samaleswari, the famous ‘Mother Goddess’ of Sambalpur district of Odisha

Infrastructure:

Toy traders

  • Context:
    • The toy industry in India has asked the government to suspend a Quality Control Order (QCO) issued in February, for at least a year, failing which the industry would be forced to shut shop.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The complexity of Scheme-1 of the QCO and the challenges in adhering to its September 1, 2020 timeline “will have a devastating impact” on the industry. Hence, there is a need for further suspending the order.
  • Need of the hour:
    • The government must constructively engage with all the stakeholders of the industry to formulate a comprehensive policy for domestic and overseas manufacturers based on the rules that are already in place since 2017.
  • Overview of the Toys (Quality Control) Order:
    • This relates to the regulation of toys and/or materials for use in play by children under 14 years of age, or other products as notified by the Central Government.
    • • The order has been issued by DPIIT, Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
  • The Order contains several important provisions for toy safety, including:
    1. The requirement for toys to conform to the latest version of a list of Indian Standards.
    2. The requirement for toys to bear the Standard Mark under a license from the Bureau as per Scheme-I of Schedule-II of Bureau of Indian Standards (Conformity Assessment) Regulations, 2018.
    3. Directing the Bureau to be the certifying and enforcement authority.
  • Overview of the Scheme-I:
    • Under this scheme, the ISI mark is granted to the factories (who is actually producing the goods) and products by the BIS which is the national standards body of India.
    • The main objective of the BIS is to ensure that the products that are delivered to the end consumers are safe for their use and are in adherence with all the quality and safety standards set by them.
    • In India, the ISI mark is the synonym for better quality and safety.
  • Need for safety:
    • Safety and quality are fundamental concerns for parents who buy toys and other products related to children.
    • It is imperative that not only the industry but the government should also assume an active role in enabling its adoption by a larger section of the society.
    • The recent survey conducted by the Quality Council of India shows that 67% of imported toys are not safe for the children.

Electricity Amendment Bill 2020

  • Context:
    • Aam Aadmi Party has sought permission from the Speaker to table a motion for repealing of the Centre’s three agriculture-related ordinances and Power Amendment Bill-2020.
    • It is because AAP argues that these laws are contrary to the federal structure of the country, besides impinging on the rights of the States.
  • Contentious clauses in the Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020:
    • Firstly, few states have accused the Centre of failure to consult the States on the Bill since electricity is on the Concurrent List. Other issues are:
      1. The Bill seeks to end subsidies. All consumers, including farmers, will have to pay the tariff and the subsidy will be sent to them through direct benefit transfer.
      2. States are worried about this clause because:
      3. This would mean people would have to pay a huge sum towards electricity charges while receiving support through direct benefit transfer later.
      4. This would result in defaults leading to penalties and disconnection.
      5. The Bill “divests” the States of their power to fix tariff and hands over the task to a Central government-appointed authority.
      6. This is discriminatory since the tariff can be tweaked according to the whims and fancies of the Central government.
      7. The Bill also makes it compulsory for the State power companies to buy a minimum percentage of renewable energy fixed by the Centre.
    • This would be detrimental to the cash- strapped power firms.
  • Other key provisions in the Bill:
    • Renewable Energy: It delegates the Central Government with the power to prepare and notify a National Renewable Energy Policy “for promotion of generation of electricity from renewable sources”, in consultation with State Governments.
    • Cross Border Trade: The Central Government has been delegated with the power to prescribe rules and guidelines to allow and facilitate cross border trade of electricity.
    • Creation of Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority: It has been proposed to be given sole jurisdiction to adjudicate upon matters on the performance of obligations under a contract regarding sale, purchase, and transmission of electricity, which exclusion of this specialized authority’s jurisdiction on the determination of tariff or any other dispute regarding the tariff

Regional Connectivity Scheme UDAN

  • Context:
    • The Civil Aviation Ministry has approved 78 new routes under the 4th round of the Regional Connectivity Scheme UDAN.
    • So far, 766 routes have been sanctioned under the UDAN scheme.
  • About Regional Connectivity Scheme UDAN:
    • UDAN, which stands for ‘Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik’, aims to make air travel affordable and widespread. The Ministry of Civil Aviation had launched the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) on October 10 2016 to stimulate regional air connectivity and making air travel affordable to the masses.
    • The scheme will be jointly funded by the central government and state governments.
    • The scheme will run for 10 years and can be extended thereafter.
  • Viability Gap Funding (VGF):
    • The scheme entails making the routes financially viable, without insisting on the financial viability of the regional airports, by lowering the cost of flight operations and through financial support in the form of Viability Gap Funding (VGF).
    • VGF will be available to flight operators on specific routes for the first 3 years of operation.
  • UDAN 4.0:
    • The 4th round of UDAN was launched in December 2019 with a special focus on North-Eastern Regions, Hilly States, and Islands.
    • The airports that had already been developed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) are given higher priority for the award of VGF (Viability Gap Funding) under the Scheme.
    • Under UDAN 4, the operation of helicopter and seaplanes is also been incorporated.

Production linked incentive scheme for electronics manufacturers

  • Context:
    • Global electronics giants such as Samsung, Pegatron, Flex, and Foxconn among others are in the final stages of negotiations to benefit from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s (MeitY) production linked incentive (PLI) scheme for making mobile phones and certain other specified electronic components.
  • About the PLI scheme:
    • Notified on April 1 as a part of the National Policy on Electronics.
    • It proposes a financial incentive to boost domestic manufacturing and attract large investments in the electronics value chain.
  • Key features of the scheme:
    1. The scheme shall extend an incentive of 4% to 6% on incremental sales (over a base year) of goods manufactured in India and covered under target segments, to eligible companies, for a period of five (5) years with financial year (FY) 2019-20 considered as the base year for calculation of incentives.
    2. The Scheme is open for applications for a period of 4 months initially which may be extended.
    3. The Scheme will be implemented through a Nodal Agency which shall act as a Project Management Agency (PMA) and be responsible for providing secretarial, managerial and implementation support and carrying out other responsibilities as assigned by MeitY from time to time.
  • Eligibility:
    • According to the scheme, companies that make mobile phones which sell for Rs 15,000 or more will get an incentive of up to 6 percent on incremental sales of all such mobile phones made in India.
    • In the same category, companies which are owned by Indian nationals and make such mobile phones, the incentive has been kept at Rs 200 crore for the next four years.
  • What kind of investments will be considered?
    1. All electronic manufacturing companies which are either Indian or have a registered unit in India will be eligible to apply for the scheme.
    2. These companies can either create a new unit or seek incentives for their existing units from one or more locations in India.
    3. However, all investments done by companies on land and buildings for the project will not be considered for any incentives or determine the eligibility of the scheme.
  • Why we need such a scheme?
    • The domestic electronics hardware manufacturing sector faces a lack of a level playing field vis-à-vis competing nations.
    • The sector suffers disability of around 8.5% to 11% on account of lack of adequate infrastructure, domestic supply chain and logistics; high cost of finance; inadequate availability of quality power; limited design capabilities and focus on R&D by the industry; and inadequacies in skill development.
    • Therefore, to position India as a global hub for Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM), it is necessary to encourage and drive capabilities in the country for developing core components and create an enabling environment for the industry to compete globally.

Line of credit

  • Context:
    • India announced a slew of new connectivity measures for the Maldives, including air, sea, intra-island, and telecommunications in an effort to help the Indian Ocean Islands deal with the economic impact of the COVID- 19 pandemics.
  • Initiatives announced:
    1. Air connectivity “bubble” for travel.
    2. A direct ferry service.
    3. A submarine cable for telecom connectivity.
    4. Assistance for the Greater Male Connectivity project (GMCP) to connect Male to three neighbouring islands- Villingili, Thilafushi, and Gulhifahu islands.
  • Background:
    • India will support the implementation of the GMCP in the Maldives, through a financial package consisting of a grant of USD 100 million and a new Line of Credit (LoC) of USD 400 million.
    • The GMCP would be the “largest civilian infrastructure project in the Maldives”.
  • What is Line of Credit (LOC)?
    • The Line of Credit is not a grant but a ‘soft loan’ provided on concessional interest rates to developing countries, which has to be repaid by the borrowing government.
    • The LOCs also helps to promote exports of Indian goods and services, as 75% of the value of the contract must be sourced from India.

Export Preparedness Index (EPI) 2020

  • Context:
    • NITI Aayog in partnership with the Institute of Competitiveness has released the Export Preparedness Index (EPI) 2020.
    • EPI is the first report to examine export preparedness and performance of Indian states.
  • How were states ranked?
    • The index ranked states on four key parameters – policy; business ecosystem; export ecosystem; export performance.
    • The index also took into consideration 11 sub-pillars — export promotion policy; institutional framework; business environment; infrastructure; transport connectivity; access to finance; export infrastructure; trade support; R&D infrastructure; export diversification; and growth orientation.
  • Highlights of the report:
    1. Top 3 states: Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.
    2. Among the landlocked states, Rajasthan has performed the best, followed by Telangana and Haryana.
    3. Among the Himalayan states, Uttarakhand topped the chart, followed by Tripura and Himachal Pradesh.
    4. Across Union Territories/ City-States, Delhi has performed the best, followed by Goa and Chandigarh.
    5. On policy parameters, Maharashtra topped the index followed by Gujarat and Jharkhand.
    6. On the business ecosystem parameter, Gujarat was ranked number one followed by Delhi and Tamil Nadu.
    7. In the export ecosystem parameter, Maharashtra topped the Index followed by Odisha and Rajasthan.
    8. On the export performance parameter, Mizoram led the index, followed by Gujarat and Maharashtra.
    9. At present, 70 percent of India’s export has been dominated by five states – Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana.
  • Export promotion in India faces three fundamental challenges:
    1. Intra- and inter-regional disparities in export infrastructure.
    2. Poor trade support and growth orientation among states.
    3. Poor R&D infrastructure to promote complex and unique exports.
  • What needs to be done?
    • Joint development of export infrastructure.
    • Strengthening industry-academia linkages.
    • Creating state-level engagements for economic diplomacy.
    • Revamped designs and standards for local products.
    • Harness the innovating tendencies to provide new use cases for such products, with adequate support from the Centre.
  • Way ahead:
    • The rapid growth of exports is a crucial component for long-term economic growth. A favorable ecosystem enables a country to contribute significantly to global value chains and reap the benefits of integrated production networks, globally.

National Transit Pass System (NTPS)

  • Context:
    • It is an online transit pass generation system for timber, bamboo, and other forest produce.
    • It was launched recently by the Union Environment Ministry.
    • The pilot project will be functional in Madhya Pradesh and Telangana for now.
  • How does it work?
    • An applicant has to register in the system, thereafter the applicant can apply for a transit pass.
    • The application will move to concerned range forest office. After following state-specific procedure of verification, transit pass will be issued.
    • The applicant will receive a message of issuance and the transit pass can be downloaded and viewed.
  • Significance:
    • It expedites the issuance of the transit pass system. A transit pass issued will be valid across India. This will enhance the seamless movement of forest produce.

National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP)

  • Context:
    • Finance Minister launches an Online Dashboard for the National Infrastructure Pipeline.
  • Key points:
    • The online dashboard is envisaged as a one-stop solution for all stakeholders looking for information on infrastructure projects in New India.
    • The dashboard is being hosted on the India Investment Grid (IIG) (www.indiainvestmentgrid.gov.in).
  • About NIP:
    • When was it announced?
      • In the budget speech of 2019-2020, Finance Minister announced an outlay of Rs 100 lakh Crore for infrastructure projects over the next 5 years.
  • What is it?
    1. NIP is a first-of-its-kind initiative to provide world-class infrastructure across the country and improve the quality of life for all citizens.
    2. It will improve project preparation, attract investments (both domestic & foreign) into infrastructure, and will be crucial for attaining the target of becoming a $5 trillion economy by FY 2025.
    3. Covers both economic and social infrastructure projects.
  • Report by Taskforce:
    • The task force headed by Atanu Chakraborty on National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP), in May 2020, submitted its final report to the Finance Minister.
  • Important recommendations and observations made:
    1. Investment needed: ₹111 lakh crore over the next five years (2020-2025) to build infrastructure projects and drive economic growth.
    2. Energy, roads, railways, and urban projects are estimated to account for the bulk of projects (around 70%).
    3. The centre (39 percent) and state (40 percent) are expected to have an almost equal share in implementing the projects, while the private sector has a 21 percent share.
    4. The aggressive push towards asset sales.
    5. Monetization of infrastructure assets.
    6. Setting up of development finance institutions.
    7. Strengthening the municipal bond market.
  • The task force has recommended setting up of the following three committees:
    1. Committee to monitor NIP progress and eliminate delays
    2. Steering Committee at each Infrastructure ministry level to follow up on the implementation process
    3. Steering Committee in DEA for raising financial resources for the NIP.

Submarine communications cable

  • Context:
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently inaugurated the Chennai-Andaman and Nicobar Island Submarine Cable System, which will provide better connectivity to the archipelago.
    • The foundation stone for the project was laid by PM Modi in December 2018 at Port Blair.
  • Key points:
    • About 2,300 km of submarine optical fibre cable (OFC) has been laid at a cost of about Rs 1,224 crore to provide better connectivity in the UT.
    • The project envisages better connectivity from Chennai to Port Blair and seven other Islands — Swaraj Deep (Havelock), Long Island, Rangat, Hutbay (Little Andaman), Kamorta, Car Nicobar, and Campbell Bay (Great Nicobar).
    • The project is funded by the government through the Universal Service Obligation Fund under the ministry of communications.
  • Who will benefit?
    1. Better connectivity in the region will facilitate the delivery of e-governance services such as telemedicine and tele-education.
    2. Small enterprises will benefit from opportunities in e-commerce, while educational institutions will utilise the enhanced availability of bandwidth for e-learning and knowledge sharing.
    3. Business Process Outsourcing services and other medium and large enterprises too also benefit from better connectivity.
    4. After the launch of the project by PM Modi, the internet bills in Andaman and Nicobar will also come down substantially.
  • What is the Submarine Communications cable?
    • It is a cable laid on the sea bed between land-based stations to carry telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean and sea.
    • The optical fiber elements are typically individually coated with plastic layers and contained in a protective tube suitable for the environment where the cable will be deployed.
  • Types of Submarine fiber cables:
    • There are two types of Submarine fibre cables: unrepeatered and repeatered.
    • Unrepeatered cables are preferred in short cable routes because it does not require repeaters, lowering costs; however, their maximum transmission distance is limited.
  • Importance of submarine cables:
    • Currently 99 percent of the data traffic that is crossing oceans is carried by undersea cables.
    • The reliability of submarine cables is high, especially when multiple paths are available in the event of a cable break.
    • The total carrying capacity of submarine cables is in the terabits per second, while satellites typically offer only 1,000 megabits per second and display higher latency.
  • Challenges:
    • A typical multi-terabit, transoceanic submarine cable system costs several hundred million dollars to construct.

Delhi government launches electric vehicle policy

  • Context:
    • Delhi government has launched the Electric Vehicle Policy for the national capital.
    • With this policy, the government aims to generate employment to give a boost to Delhi's economy and reduce pollution levels in the national capital.
  • Highlights of the policy:
    1. The policy aims to constitute 25% electric vehicles by 2024, which is currently just 0.29% in the in the national capital.
    2. The government will waive the registration fees and road tax.
    3. It will give an incentive of up to ₹30,000 for two-wheelers, autos, e-rickshaws, and freight vehicles while for cars, it will provide an incentive of up to ₹1.5 lakh.
    4. The government will also give a low-interest loans on electric commercial vehicles.
    5. An 'EV Cell' will be established to implement the Policy.
    6. The government will also set up a 'State Electric Vehicle Board'.
    7. 200 charging stations will be set up in a year to ensure that people driving these vehicles can get a charging station within a radius of three kilometers.
    8. The Delhi government will give a ''scrapping incentive'' under the electric vehicle policy, which will be first-of-its-kind in the country.
    9. Youth will be trained so that they get jobs as the electric vehicle sector will need them at a large scale after implementation of this policy.

RORO service of South Western Railway

  • Context:
    • First-ever RORO service of South Western Railway from Nelamangla (near Bengaluru) to Bale (near Solapur) has been started.
    • This shall be the only privately operated RORO train service on Indian Railways.
  • What is RORO?
    • Roll On Roll Off (RORO) is a concept of carrying road vehicles loaded with various commodities, on open flat railway wagons.
    • RORO services are combination of the best features of road and rail transports in the sense that they offer door to door service with minimal handling transported by fat and direct rail link.
  • Advantages of RO-RO:
    • Faster movement of goods and essentials, reducing Time taken by trucks to reach destinations due to traffic congestion in between cities.
    • Reduces congestion on the roads.
    • Saves precious fuel.
    • Reduces carbon footprint.
    • Relief to the crew of truck as it avoids long-distance driving.
    • No hassles of check posts/toll gates etc.
    • Seamless Inter-operability between roadways & railways-Inter-modal transport on existing track.
    • Ensuring an uninterrupted supply of essential commodities.
  • Prelims Fact:
    • RO-RO train services were first introduced in Indian Railways on Konkan Railways in 1999, and are running successfully since then.

Ninja UAVs

  • Indian Railways has started deploying “Ninja UAVs” (unmanned aerial vehicles) for establishing a drone-based surveillance system in a bid to intensify its security mechanism across its network.
  • A drone camera can cover a large area, which may require up 10 RPF personnel.
  • The exercise may lead to a substantial improvement in utilisation of scarce manpower, said a note on drone surveillance issued by the ministry

Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited

  • DFCCIL under the Ministry of Railways is a special purpose vehicle tasked with planning and completion of 3, Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs).
  • It has been registered as a company under the Companies Act 1956 on 30 October 2006.
  • In the first phase the organisation is constructing the Western DFC (1504 Route km) and Eastern DFC (1856 route km) spanning a total length of 3360 route km.

Association of Renewable Energy Agencies of States (AREAS)

  • Context:
    • 6th Foundation Day of AREAS.
  • About AREAS:
    • AREAS was formed by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) for better coordination, interaction and sharing of best practices among the various state nodal agencies (SNAs) for renewable energy.
    • The Union Minister for MNRE is the Patron of the Association.
    • The MNRE Secretary is the ex officio President of the Association.

Web Portal And App:

Swasthya Portal

  • Launched by Tribal Affairs Minister recently.
  • The online portal will act as a one-stop solution presenting all information pertaining to tribal health and nutrition-related to Scheduled Tribes.
  • The portal will be managed by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Knowledge Management in Health and Nutrition.

Hari Path app

  • It is a mobile app launched recently by the National Highway Authority of India.
  • It will monitor plantation along national highways.
  • The app will monitor location, growth, species details, maintenance activities, targets and achievements of each of the NHAI’s field units for each and every plant under all plantation projects.

Environment

Species in news:

Name Of Species: Information:

Dhole (Asiatic wild dog)

  • Context:
    • Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh rank high in the conservation of the endangered dhole in India, according to a new study.
  • About:
    • Dhole is an apex social carnivore in the tropical forests of South and Southeast Asia.
    • Endangered –IUCN.
    • CITES – Appendix II.
    • Schedule II of wildlife act.
    • Disease and pathogens: Dholes are susceptible to rabies, canine distemper, canine parvovirus, and sarcoptic mange among others which are usually contracted from domestic village dogs that act as reservoirs.

Pangolin

  • About:
    • Pangolin is the only scaly mammal on the planet.
    • According to CITES, it is also the most illegally traded vertebrate within its class (Mammalia).
    • Of the eight species of pangolin worldwide, two are found in India. They are Chinese pangolin, mostly found in northeast India and Indian pangolin.
  • Protection Status:
    • Chinese pangolin has been listed as “critically endangered”.
    • Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) has been listed as “endangered”.
    • It is also a Schedule I category protected animal, under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).

Barn Owls (Tyto alba)

  • Context:
    • The Lakshadweep Administration had embarked on the ‘Pilot project on Biological Control of Rodents (Rats) by Using Barn Owls (Tyto alba) in Kavaratti Island’.
  • About:
    • The barn owl is the most widespread landbird species in the world, occurring in every continent except Antarctica. They are one of the most widespread owls in the Indian Subcontinent.
    • These owls are medium-sized with long legs and wings and have a relatively shorter tail when compared to other similar-sized owls.
    • Barn Owl exhibits dark eyes and a distinct heart-shaped facial disc.
    • This owl doesn’t have the characteristic ‘woo-woo-woo’ hoot of owls and utters a screechy ‘shreeeeeeeee’ to protect its territory.
    • IUCN status- Least Concern.

 Cheetah

  • Context:
    • Mysuru zoo receives three African hunting cheetahs from South Africa.
    • Mysuru zoo has received three Cheetahs from Ann Van Dyke Cheetah Centre, South Africa.
    • Mysuru is the second zoo to house hunting cheetah in India. Hyderabad zoo has a pair of big cats.
  • About Cheetah:
    • The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
    • The cheetah is also the world’s fastest land mammal.
    • It is listed as vulnerable in IUCN red-listed species.
    • It was declared extinct in India in 1952.
    • The Asiatic cheetah is classified as a “critically endangered” species by the IUCN Red List and is believed to survive only in Iran.


Pollution And Conservation:

Smog towers

  • Context:
    • Supreme Court, last year, had directed authorities to take measures, including asking the Delhi government and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to submit a comprehensive plan on setting up “smog towers” in the capital.
    • Later, in January, the Court directed that two towers should be installed in the capital by April on a pilot project basis.
    • This timeline was never met, however.
    • A smog tower is a structure designed to work as a large-scale air purifier.
  • How does it work?
    • This structure fitted with multiple layers of filters that trap fine dust particles suspended in the air as it passes through them.
    • Air is drawn through fans installed at the top of the tower, passed through filters, and then released near the ground.
  • Are they helpful?
    • Yes, smog towers have been experimented with in recent years in cities in the Netherlands, China, South Korea and Poland.
    • The first such tower was erected in 2015, in Rotterdam, Netherlands (it can filter 30,000 cubic metres of air per hour around it).
    • Experts have said that the towers would create “clean air zones” in the city. A tower would reduce 50% of the particulate matter load — fine dust particles suspended in the air — in an area of 1 kilometre in the direction of the wind, as well as 200 metres each along the sides of the tower and against the direction of the wind.
  • Why Delhi needs such measures?
    • Air pollution in the national capital has been an issue of concern for quite some time as Delhi and its suburbs have ranked among the most polluted cities in the world frequently since 2014 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Delhi the most polluted city in the world.
    • Pollution levels in Delhi increase dramatically during winter — on some days to nearly 10 times above the limits prescribed by WHO, posing a serious risk to vulnerable and also healthy populations.
  • Reasons behind high pollution levels?
    • Construction work, industrial and vehicular pollution — in and around the city.
    • The situation is aggravated at the start of winter by smoke from stubble-burning in northwestern states, coupled with unfavourable meteorological conditions, such as calm winds, low temperatures, and fewer sunny days.
  • Measures taken to control pollution:
    1. Persuading farmers in Punjab and Haryana to use mechanical alternatives to stubble-burning.
    2. Closure of thermal power stations in Delhi.
    3. Making industries use piped natural gas.
    4. Control measures were taken under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) when pollution levels spike.

Lead poisoning by UNICEF

  • Context:
    • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and international non-profit organization focused on pollution issues, Pure Earth have released a report- “The Toxic Truth: Children’s exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential”.
  • Key findings:
    1. Lead poisoning is affecting children on a “massive and previously unknown scale”.
    2. Around 1 in 3 children – up to 800 million globally – have blood lead levels at, or above, 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL), the amount at which action is required.
    3. Nearly half of these children live in South Asia.
  • How lead affects children?
    1. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that causes irreparable harm to children’s brains.
    2. It is particularly destructive to babies and children under the age of 5 as it damages their brain before they have had the opportunity to fully develop, causing them lifelong neurological, cognitive and physical impairment.
    3. Childhood lead exposure has also been linked to mental health and behavioural problems and an increase in crime and violence.
    4. Older children suffer severe consequences, including increased risk of kidney damage and cardiovascular diseases in later life.
  • How it costs countries?
    • Childhood lead exposure is estimated to cost lower- and middle-income countries almost USD $1 trillion due to the lost economic potential of these children over their lifetime.
  • Factors contributing to lead poisoning:
    1. Informal and substandard recycling of lead-acid batteries.
    2. Increase in vehicle ownership, combined with the lack of vehicle battery recycling regulation and infrastructure.
    3. Workers in dangerous and often illegal recycling operations break open battery cases, spill acid, and lead dust in the soil.
    4. They also smelt the recovered lead in crude, open-air furnaces that emit toxic fumes poisoning the surrounding community.
  • Need of the hour:
    1. A coordinated and concerted approach across the following areas:
    2. Proper Monitoring and reporting.
    3. Prevention and control measures.
    4. Management, treatment, and remediation.
    5. Public awareness and behaviour change.
    6. Legislation and policy.
    7. Global and regional action.
  • Conclusion:
    • It is clear from evidence compiled that lead poisoning is a much greater threat to the health of children than previously understood. Although much more research needs to be conducted, enough data have recently emerged for decisive action to begin – and it must begin now.
  • Prelims Facts:
    1. Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney, and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time.
    2. Lead in bone is released into the blood during pregnancy and becomes a source of exposure to the developing foetus.
    3. WHO has identified lead as 1 of 10 chemicals of major public health concern.
    4. WHO has joined with the United Nations Environment Programme to form the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint.

National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)

  • Context:
    • The National Green Tribunal has slammed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) over its report on the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) which proposes a 20-30% reduction of air pollution by 2024.
  • What’s the issue?
    • MoEF had recently informed the NGT that a committee has concluded that 20-30% pollutant reduction under the NCAP seems realistic.
    • The Ministry had further said that pollution could not be controlled except to the extent of certain per cent.
    • However, the NGT has disapproved this submission saying that the MoEF’s view was against the constitutional mandate under Article 21 and also against the statutory mandate.
  • Observations made by the NGT:
    • The right to Clean Air stood recognised as part of the Right to Life and failure to address air pollution was a denial of Right to Life.
    • The enforcement of the ‘Sustainable Development’ principle and the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ required stern measures to be adopted to give effect to the mandate of international obligations for which the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and other laws had been enacted.
  • What does the NCAP say on this? What are the issues?
    • Under the NCAP, the target is to achieve norms in 10 years and reduce load to the extent of 35% in the first three years with a further reduction of pollution later.
    • This meant for 10 years pollution would remain unaddressed which is a too long period of tolerating violations when clean air was Right to Life.
    • Further, it is also not clear what type of pollutants or all pollutants would be reduced.
    • Besides, in 2019, the number of Non-Attainment Cities (NACs) has gone up from 102 to 122.
  • Need of the hour:
    1. Violation of laid down air pollution levels resulting in a large number of deaths and diseases needed to be addressed expeditiously.
    2. Targeted time of reduction of pollution loads needed to be reduced and planned steps needed to be sternly implemented on the ground.
  • About the National Clean Air Programme:
    • Launched by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in 2019.
    • It was not notified under the Environment Protection Act or any other Act.
    • It is envisaged as a scheme to provide the States and the Centre with a framework to combat air pollution.
    • It has a major goal of reducing the concentration of coarse (particulate matter of diameter 10 micrometer or less, or PM10) and fine particles (particulate matter of diameter 2.5 micrometer or less, or PM2.5) in the atmosphere by at least 20% by the year 2024, with 2017 as the base year for comparison.
  • Who all will participate?
    • Apart from experts from the industry and academia, the programme will be a collaboration between the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Heavy Industry, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, NITI Aayog, and Central Pollution Control Board.
  • Which cities will fall under this?
    • Initially, 102 cities from 23 States and UTs were chosen as non-attainment cities. With the exception of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, most of those chosen are tier two cities.
    • The cities were selected on the basis of the ambient air quality data from the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) of 2011 – 2015.
    • Maharashtra had the maximum number of cities chosen for the programme.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) – Transport Initiative for Asia (TIA)

  • Context:
    • NITI Aayog has launched the India Component of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC)–Transport Initiative for Asia (TIA).
  • About NDC- TIA:
    • It is a joint programme, supported by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).
    • It aims to promote a comprehensive approach to decarbonize transport in India, Vietnam, and China.
    • It is implemented by a consortium of seven other organisations.
    • On behalf of the Government of India, NITI Aayog will be the implementing partner.
  • Implementation:
    • The NDC-TIA programme has a duration of 4 years.
    • It will allow India and other partner countries to achieve accountable long-term targets by making a sectoral contribution through various interventions, coordinated with a large number of stakeholders in the domain.
    • This will contribute towards achieving their NDCs and increasing their ambition in the transport sector of 2025 NDCs.
  • Need for such initiatives:
    • India has a massive and diverse transport sector that caters to the needs of billion of people.
    • It has the world’s second-largest road network, which contributes to maximum greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through all means of transportation.
    • With increasing urbanisation, the fleet size i.e. the number of sales of vehicles is increasing rapidly.
    • It is projected that the total number of vehicles will be doubled by 2030.

State Pollution Control Boards

  • Context:
    • Orissa High Court has issued notice to the state government over the appointment of bureaucrats as chairman and member secretary of the State pollution control board for the past 10 years.
  • What’s the issue?
    • A social activist had moved the HC drawing attention that:
      • As per Section 4 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and Sec 5 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) 1981, there is provision for the appointment of full-time member secretary and nomination of full time or part-time chairman by the State government.
      • But, for last more than 10 years, the posts of OSPCB are filled up from the cadres of IAS and IFS respectively without adhering to any selection procedure”.
      • The same is the case in many other States. A case was also filed in the National Green Tribunal, New Delhi, since the posts require scientific and engineering or management qualification and experience.
      • The NGT made a similar observation in its 2016 order.
      • In September 2017, the Supreme Court had directed the State governments to formulate policy regarding the qualification and experience for these posts within six months.
  • About State Pollution Control Boards:
    • They are constituted in pursuance of the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.
    • After the enactment of the Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the enforcing responsibility was entrusted to these Boards.
  • Composition and selection of members:
    • The members of State Pollution Control Boards are nominated by respective State Governments.
  • Apart from the above said Acts, the Board is also enforcing the following Rule and Notifications framed under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986:
    1. Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016.
    2. Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006.
    3. Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016.
    4. Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
    5. The Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rules, 2000.
    6. Construction & Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016
    7. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991.
    8. Fly Ash Notification, 1999 and 2008.

‘No-Go’ forests cleared for coal mining

  • Context:
    • As per the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE):
      1. Since 2015, of the 49 blocks cleared for coal mining, 9 were in ‘No-Go’ areas, or regions that were once classified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change as containing very dense forests and hence closed to coal mining.
      2. In 2020, of the 41 blocks put up for auction, 21 features in the original No-Go list.
      3. Currently, India is not utilizing its existing capacity fully: 67% of the mines auctioned since 2015 are were not operational yet.
  • What’s the issue?
    • The environment ministry's ban on mining in areas of thick forest cover has locked away millions of tonnes of coal reserves.
    • According to the power ministry, coal shortage is likely to hold up new power projects of over 17,000 mw aggregate capacity.
    • This has triggered debate among the ministries of coal, power, and steel on the 'Go, No-Go' concept's merits.
  • What are 'No Go' areas in coal mining?
    • In 2009, the environment and coal ministries had jointly placed the country's forested areas under two categories – Go and No-Go – and imposed a ban on mining in the 'No-Go' zones on environmental grounds.
    • ‘No Go’ areas are those having either more than 10 percent weighted forest cover (WFC) or more than 30 percent gross forest cover (GFC).
  • Is there a need for classifying 'Go' and 'No Go' areas?
    • The exercise is aimed at prioritising forest areas under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
    • Besides, Diversion of forest land for coal mining in these areas, which are rich in flora and fauna, will have an “avoidable serious adverse impact on forests and wildlife”.
    • If mining were to continue, even with afforestation and reclamation, it would not be possible to restore the regions biodiversity.
  • Criticisms of this policy:
    • The concept has no legal standing- They are mandated neither under Forest Conservation Rules, 2003 nor under any circular issued by the ministry of environment and forests.

Environment:

Report on leopard sightings

  • Context:
    • As part of its global tiger census, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is set to release a dedicated report on leopard sightings by the month-end.
  • Prelims Fact:
    • No separate census for leopard is conducted. The quadrennial tiger survey also estimates the population of other animals including leopards by relying on camera trap images.
  • Estimated Leopards in India:
    • The last formal census on India’s leopards was conducted in 2014 which estimated the cat’s population at between 12,000 and 14,000.
    • They also estimated 8,000 leopards in the vicinity of the tiger habitat.
  • Issues with the present methodology:
    • Conducting a leopard survey, along with the tiger survey, is problematic as the former is adapted to living on the edge of forests and human habitats, unlike the tiger which is an elusive creature. This had led to gross errors in estimating the true numbers of leopards.
  • But, Why it is difficult to hold leopard census directly?
    • Leopards share habitat with both, tigers and humans. They reside in protected areas as well outside them in agricultural fields, scrublands, and riverine tracts. Therefore, it is highly difficult to count such a widely distributed population.
    • Besides, there are substantial numbers of leopards and they are well distributed. Hence, a separate wouldn’t be necessary.
  • What needs to be done then?
    • India’s leopard population may be only a tenth of what it was a little over a century ago, experiencing catastrophic declines due to human pressures.
    • Instead of conducting a new leopard census, the cause of the leopard would be served better ifconservation strategies were made a priority of policy decisions.
    • A stringent policy action should be to bring down retaliatory killings as well poaching for trade.
    • Given the threats the animal faces today–ranging from conflicts with humans, poaching, habitat loss to availability of prey– an initiative similar to ‘Project Tiger’ is required for the cat.
  • Prelims Facts- Leopard:
    • Scientific Name- Panthera pardus.
    • Listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
    • Included in Appendix I of CITES.
    • Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
    • Nine subspecies of the leopard have been recognized, and they are distributed across Africa and Asia.

Rakhis tied to trees in Aravalis

  • Context:
    • On the eve Raksha Bandhan, using leaf vines, women and children tied symbolic rakhi to the trees and took an oath to protect the Aravali forests that are the lifeline for clean air and water in Gurugram and National Capital Region.
  • Background:
    • The degradation of the Aravalis threatens Gurugram and National Capital Region’s water security. High levels of natural cracks and fissures in the Aravali hills make this mountain range a superior zone for recharging groundwater, which is in the red zone at this point in time as extraction is several folds more than what is put back into the ground.
  • Aravali Range:
    1. They are aligned in north-east to south-west direction. They run between Delhi and Palanpur in Gujarat.
    2. The highest peak is Guru Shikhar at 1,722 metres (5,650 ft).
    3. They are one of the oldest fold mountains of the world and the oldest in India.
    4. According to some geographers, one Branch of the Aravalis extends to the Lakshadweep Archipelago through the Gulf of Khambhat and the other into Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
    5. At the south-west extremity, the range rises to over 1,000 m. Here Mt. Abu (1,158 m), a small hilly block, is separated from the main range by the valley of the Banas.
    6. Pipli Ghat, Dewair, and Desuri pass allow movement by roads and railways.
    7. The Aravalli Range joins two of the ancient earth's crust segments that make up the greater Indian craton- Aravalli Craton and Bundelkand Craton.
  • Rivers:
    • Three major rivers and their tributaries flow from the Aravalli, namely Banas and Sahibi rivers which are tributaries of Yamuna, as well as Luni River which flows into the Rann of Kutch.
  • The Great Green Wall of Aravalli:
    • It is a 1,600 km long and 5 km wide green ecological corridor along with Aravalli range from Gujarat to Delhi.
    • It will be connected to the Shivalik hill range.
    • To be implemented on a concept similar to the Great Green Wall of Sahara in Africa, it will act as a buffer against pollution.

Commercial use of groundwater

  • Context:
    • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has set stringent conditions for commercial groundwater use.
    • The order came on a plea seeking direction to check the depleting groundwater level in the country.
    • NGT has also struck down the Central Ground Water Authority’s (CGWA) 2020 guidelines, saying they were against the law. The 2018 version of the guidelines had been struck down by the NGT last year.
  • Conditions set by NGT:
    1. Industries must expect a complete overhaul in the manner in which the permits are issued for the extraction of groundwater for commercial activities. They must ensure that all the conditions are complied with.
    2. The tribunal has specifically banned the general permission for the withdrawal of groundwater, especially to the commercial entities without an environmental impact assessment.
    3. Permits must be for the specified quantity of water and must be monitored with digital flow metres and audited every year by the third parties.
    4. Strict actions, including prosecution and blacklisting, must be taken against those who will fail the audit.
    5. All overexploited, critical, and semi-critical (OCS) assessment units must undergo water mapping.
    6. Authorities are given three months to make water management plans for all the overexploited, semicritical, and critical areas.
  • Concerns associated with these conditions:
    • As per some of the experts, these directions have put rigorous requirements on the businesses at a time when they have been trying to find their way amid COVID-19.
    • The restrictions make access to groundwater very difficult.
    • The move by NGT has also been interfering with the legislative functions of the Jal Shakti Ministry.
  • Why NGT felt these conditions were necessary?
    • No improvements: There was no claim over groundwater levels improving, nor was there a projection for future improvement in the past 23 years of regulation by the CGWB.
    • India was at the bottom of the water quality index, at 120 among 122 countries.
    • Fifty-four percent of India’s groundwater wells have decreased in levels, with 21 major cities across the country expected to run out of groundwater by 2020.
    • India extracted the most groundwater. India accounted for 25 percent of the total annual global water extracted, with the extraction level steadily increasing.
    • According to ‘Water and Related Statistics 2019’, a report published by the Central Water Commission (CWC), the annual replenishable groundwater resources in India (2017) are 432 BCM, out of which 393 BCM is the annual “extractable” groundwater availability.

World Biofuel day

  • Context:
    • World Biofuel Day is observed every year on the 10th August to raise awareness about the importance of non-fossil fuels as an alternative to conventional fossil fuels.
    • The day honours the research experiments by Sir Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel (inventor of the diesel engine) who ran an engine with peanut oil in 1893.
    • In India, the day has been celebrated by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas since 2015.
    • The theme for 2020 World Biofuel Day in India is ‘Biofuels Towards Atmanirbhar Bharat’
  • What are Biofuels?
    • Any hydrocarbon fuel that is produced from an organic matter (living or once-living material) in a short period of time (days, weeks, or even months) is considered a biofuel.
    • Biofuels may be solid, liquid, or gaseous in nature.
      • Solid: Wood, dried plant material, and manure
      • Liquid: Bioethanol and Biodiesel
      • Gaseous: Biogas
  • Classification of Biofuels:
    • 1st generation biofuels are also called conventional biofuels. They are made from things like sugar, starch, or vegetable oil. Note that these are all food products. Any biofuel made from a feedstock that can also be consumed as a human food is considered a first-generation biofuel.
    • 2nd generation biofuels are produced from sustainable feedstock. The sustainability of a feedstock is defined by its availability, its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, its impact on land use, and by its potential to threaten the food supply.
      • No second-generation biofuel is also a food crop, though certain food products can become second-generation fuels when they are no longer useful for consumption. Second-generation biofuels are often called “advanced biofuels.”
    • 3rd generation biofuels are biofuel derived from algae. These biofuels are given their own separate class because of their unique production mechanism and their potential to mitigate most of the drawbacks of 1st and 2nd generation biofuels.
    • 4th generation biofuels: In the production of these fuels, crops that are genetically engineered to take in high amounts of carbon are grown and harvested as biomass. The crops are then converted into fuel using second generation techniques.

TRAFFIC study on leopards

  • Context:
    • TRAFFIC India has released a paper titled ‘‘SPOTTED’ in Illegal Wildlife Trade: A Peek into Ongoing Poaching and Illegal Trade of Leopards in India’.
    • It is a study on the seizure and mortality of ‘common leopards’ (Panthera pardus fusca).
  • Highlights of the report:
    • Of the total of 747 leopard deaths between 2015-2019 in India, 596 were linked to illegal wildlife trade and activities related to poaching.
    • The highest numbers of poaching incidents were reported from the States of Uttarakhand and Maharashtra.
    • Among all the derivatives found in illegal wildlife trade, skin remained the most in-demand product, accounting for 69% of all seizures, while derivatives like claws, teeth, and bones were also traded.
  • Background:
    • The last formal census on India’s leopards was conducted in 2014, which estimated the population between 12,000 and 14,000.
    • The results of a recent census of leopard sightings are likely to be released soon by the Wildlife Institute of India.
  • Conclusion:
    • The plight of leopards in illegal wildlife trade has been highlighted from time to time through investigative reports and studies and through various wildlife enforcement actions across the country. However, this has not deterred wildlife smugglers, who are lured by high profits and low risk of detection, to target the species.
    • Therefore, experts suggest that more emphasis should be given to the conservation of leopards.
  • About TRAFFIC:
    • TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, is the leading non-governmental organisation working globally on the trade of wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity and sustainable development.
    • It was founded in 1976 as a strategic alliance of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • Insta Facts- Leopard:
    1. Scientific Name- Panthera pardus.
    2. Listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
    3. Included in Appendix I of CITES.
    4. Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
    5. Nine subspecies of the leopard have been recognized, and they are distributed across Africa and Asia.

One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG) initiative

  • Context:
    • The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has put calls for proposals to the One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG) initiative on hold till further notice.
  • About the initiative:
    • OSOWOG initiative was proposed by India to set up a framework for facilitating global cooperation which aims at building a global ecosystem of interconnected renewable energy resources that can be easily shared.
  • Details of the initiative:
    • Parent Body:
      • The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).
    • Objective:
      • To build global consensus about sharing solar resources among more than 140 countries of West Asia and South-East Asia.
    • Vision:
      • It is ‘The Sun Never Sets’ and is a constant at some geographical location, globally, at any given point of time.
      • This grid shall be interconnected with the African power pools also at the later stage.
      • It has been taken up under the technical assistance program of the World Bank.
  • Potential and benefits of the initiative:
    • India would generate 40% of power from non-fossil fuels by 2030 and has called for connecting solar energy supply across borders giving the mantra of ‘One World One Sun One Grid’.
    • The proposed integration would lead to reduced project costs, higher efficiencies, and increased asset utilization for all the participating entities.
    • This plan will require only incremental investment because it will not require a parallel grid infrastructure due to working with existing grids.
    • It will help all the participating entities in attracting investments in renewable energy sources as well as utilizing skills, technology, and finances.
    • Resulting economic benefits would positively impact poverty alleviation and support in mitigating water, sanitation, food, and other socio-economic challenges.
    • It will allow national renewable energy management centers in India to grow as regional and global management centers.

Tiger can regain its stripes?

  • Context:
    • Two legal instruments that have enabled tiger recoveries in India are:
      1. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
      2. The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, which reinforced Project Tiger.
  • How was this achieved?
    • The political leadership and field efforts behind this recovery had to overcome very difficult social challenges:
      • slow growth of the economy.
      • excessive reliance on forest exploitation for livelihoods and government revenues.
      • dire poverty, and protein dependency on wild meat that drove massive local hunting.
    • These challenges were overcome and tiger recoveries occurred, but only sporadically in a few reserves.
  • What has changed? What are the current challenges?
    • Around 2000, things began to change.
    • There was a decline in political commitment to conservation.
    • There was a gradual transition of the field-oriented Forest Department to one whose primary aspiration was to be like the multitasking Indian Administrative Service.
    • There was also unnecessary and massive borrowings from the Global Environment Facility-World Bank combine to create new models for tiger recovery.
    • There was also the upsurge of emancipatory political movements for the release of wildlife habitats for cultivation and exploitation by loosely defined “forest-dwellers”- This populist movement led to the implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006.
    • The tiger extinction in Sariska Reserve caused a public outcry in 2005, leading to the appointment of a Tiger Task Force (TTF) by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
    • However, it created a tiger management model that benefited the forest bureaucracy more than it did the tigers.
  • International cooperation to protect tiger:
    • Global Tiger forum is the only intergovernmental international body established with members from willing countries to embark on a global campaign to protect the tiger.
    • It is focused on saving the remaining five subspecies of tigers distributed over 13 tiger range countries of the world.
  • In India:
    • National Tiger conservation authority (NTCA) is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and climate change.
    • It was established in 2005 following the recommendations of the Tiger task force.
    • It was constituted under enabling provisions of the wildlife (protection) act 1972, as amended in 2006.

Managing human-elephant conflict

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has compiled the best practices of human-elephant conflict management in India.
  • These include:
    1. Retaining elephants in their natural habitats by creating water sources and management of forest fires.
    2. Elephant Proof trenches in Tamil Nadu.
    3. Hanging fences and rubble walls in Karnataka.
    4. Use of chili smoke in north Bengal and playing the sound of bees or carnivores in Assam.
    5. An elephant corridor initiative where 25.37 acres of private land was purchased at EdayarahalliDoddasampige in Karnataka as part of conservation efforts.
    6. Use of technology: Individual identification, monitoring of elephants in south Bengal and sending SMS alerts to warn of elephant presence.
  • Need for these management strategies:
    • Over 500 humans are killed in encounters with elephants annually, and crops and property worth millions are also damaged. Many elephants are also killed in retaliation due to conflict.
  • Prelims Facts:
    1. Asian elephants are listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
    2. Indian Elephant has also been listed in Appendix I of the Convention of the Migratory species in the recently concluded Conference of Parties of CMS 13 at Gandhi Nagar, Gujarat in February 2020.
    3. The elephant is the Natural Heritage Animal of India.
    4. India has the largest number of wild Asian Elephants, estimated at 29,964 according to 2017 census by Project Elephant. The figure amounts to about 60% of the species’ global population.

Thumbimahotsavam 2020

  • What is it?
    • It is the first-ever State Dragonfly Festival in Kerala.
    • World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) State unit has joined hands with the Society for Odonate Studies (SOS) and Thumbipuranam for the festival.
  • The official mascot of the festival:
    • Pantalu.
  • National dragonfly festival:
    • This is part of a national dragonfly festival being organised by the WWF India, Bombay Natural History Society & Indian Dragonfly Society in association with the National Biodiversity Board, United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Development Programme and IUCN – Centre for Environment Conservation.
    • The Dragonfly Festival started in 2018 to educate and inform the public about the integral role that dragonflies, and their lesser known siblings damselflies, play in our environment.
  • About the World Wide Fund for Nature:
    • It is an international non-governmental organization.
    • Founded in 1961
    • Headquarter — Gland (Switzerland).
  • Aim:
    • Wilderness preservation & the reduction of human impact on the environment.
  • Reports & programmes:
    1. Living Planet Report— published every two years by WWF since 1998; it is based on a Living Planet Index and ecological footprint calculation.
    2. Earth hour – a worldwide movement organized by WWF annually, encouraging individuals, communities, and businesses to turn off non-essential electric lights, for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on a specific day towards the end of March, as a symbol of commitment to the planet.
    3. Debt-for-nature swaps–financial transactions in which a portion of a developing nation’s foreign debt is forgiven in exchange for local investments in environmental conservation measures.
    4. Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) — an independent non-profit organization that sets a standard for sustainable fishing.
    5. Healthy GrownPotato — eco-brand that provides high-quality, sustainably grown, packaged, and shipped potatoes to consumers by leveraging integrated pest management (IPM) farming practices on large scale farms.

BIS’ draft standard for drinking water supply

  • Context:
    • The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has prepared a draft standard for the supply system of piped drinking water- ‘Drinking water supply quality management system — requirements for piped drinking water supply service’.
    • The draft has been prepared by the BIS’ Public Drinking Water Supply Services Sectional Committee.
  • Highlights of the draft:
    1. It outlines the process of water supply, from raw water sources to household taps.
    2. It outlines the requirements for a water supplier or a water utility on how they should establish, operate, maintain, and improve their piped drinking water supply service.
    3. It states that the water treatment process should be planned in such a manner that after treatment the drinking water should conform to the Indian Standard (IS) 10500 developed by the BIS.
    4. It contains guidelines for top management of the water utility, in terms of accountability and customer focus, establishing a quality policy for their service, monitoring the quality of water released to people, and conducting a water audit.
    5. It states that the concept of district metering area (DMA) should be adopted where possible. DMA is a concept for controlling leakages in the water network, which is essentially divided into a number of sectors, called the DMAs, and where flow meters are installed to detect leaks.
    6. It mentions that water should be sampled at the treatment plant every four hours against quality parameters. In the distribution system, the sampling should be done every eight hours at the water reservoirs. Random sampling should also be done at household levels.
  • Significance of the draft and need for it:
    • The standard holds importance as it is expected to make the process of piped water supply more uniform, especially in rural and underdeveloped areas of the country where the system runs on various government orders and circulars.

Mullaperiyar Dam issue

  • Context:
    • The Supreme Court has decided to consider the plea demanding to reduce the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam during monsoon, on August 24.
  • Background:
    • The petition was filed by a resident of Idukki district of Kerala to lower the water level of Mullaperiyar dam to 130 feet saying there is a danger of earthquakes and floods in the area as the monsoon progresses in the State.
  • Mullaperiyar Dam- what you need to know?
    • Although the dam is located in Kerala, it is operated by Tamil Nadu following an 1886 lease indenture for 999 years (the Periyar Lake Lease Agreement) that was signed between the Maharaja of Travancore and the Secretary of State for India for the Periyar Irrigation works.
    • Constructed between 1887 and 1895, the dam redirected the river to flow towards the Bay of Bengal, instead of the Arabian Sea and provide water to the arid rain region of Madurai in Madras Presidency.
    • The dam is located on the confluence of the Mullayar and Periyar rivers in Kerala’s Idukki district.
  • What’s the issue surrounding?
    • The lease agreement was renewed in the 1970s by both Tamil Nadu and Kerala giving the former rights to the land and water from the dam, besides the authority to develop hydropower projects at the site. In return, Kerala would receive rent from Tamil Nadu.
    • The first cracks in this agreement surfaced in 1979 when a minor earthquake had resulted in cracks in the dam.
    • The Central Water Commission, under the Government of India, conducted a study and recommended lowering the water stored in the dam’s reservoir to 136 feet from 142 feet.
    • If definitive measures were implemented, only then could the Tamil Nadu administration raise water levels to the dam’s full capacity of 152 feet.
  • What Tamil Nadu says?
    • Tamil Nadu claims that although it has undertaken measures to strengthen the dam, the Kerala government has blocked any attempt to raise the reservoir water level – resulting in losses for Madurai farmers.
  • Kerala’s arguments:
    • Kerala, however, highlights fears of devastation by residents living downstream in the earthquake-prone district of Idukki.
    • Scientists have argued that if there is an earthquake in the region measuring above six on the Richter scale, the lives of over three million people will come under grave danger.
  • Supreme Court verdict:
    1. In 2006, the Supreme court gave Tamil Nadu legal sanction to raise the water level to 142 feet.
    2. In response, Kerala amended the 2003 Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, restricting the water level to 136 feet.
    3. In 2012, however, an Apex court-appointed committee stated that the dam was “structurally and hydrologically safe” and that the Tamil Nadu government could raise water levels up to 142 feet.
    4. In 2014, the court event struck down the amendment to the 2003 Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, calling it unconstitutional.
    5. The Supreme Court had also directed the Centre and the governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to set up three panels to prepare a contingency plan in case of a disaster.
  • Conclusion:
    • Even years after this verdict, the latest developments show that the Mullaperiyar dam continues to be a bone of contention between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, with multiple interpretations on everything from the veracity of the 1886 agreement governing its use to the project’s structural safety.

Ammonium nitrate(Beirut)

  • Context:
    • The catastrophic explosion at Beirut port on August 4 was caused by over 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate kept in storage for over six years.
  • What is it?
    • In its pure form, ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is a white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water.
  • Where all is it used?
    • It is the main ingredient in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction.
    • It is a common chemical ingredient of agricultural fertilisers.
    • It is also the main component of the explosive composition known as ANFO — ammonium nitrate fuel oil.
  • When it can cause a fire hazard?
    • Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own. It is classified as an oxidiser (Grade 5.1) under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods.
    • If mixed with ingredients like fuel or some other contaminants, or because of some other external factors, it can be very explosive.
  • The explosion of large storage can happen primarily in two ways:
    1. By some type of detonation or initiation because the storage comes in contact with the explosive mixture.
    2. Due to a fire that starts in the ammonium nitrate store because of the heat generated due to the oxidation process at large scale.
  • How is it regulated in India?
    • In India, its usage is regulated as per The Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012, under The Explosives Act, 1884.
    • The rules also make storage of ammonium nitrate in large quantities in populated areas illegal in India.
    • For the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, an Industrial licence is required under the Industrial Development and Regulation Act, 1951.
    • A license under the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012 is also required for any activity related to ammonium nitrate.
  • Health effects:
    • An ammonium nitrate explosion produces massive amounts of nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) is a red, bad-smelling gas.
    • It can irritate the respiratory system. Elevated levels of these pollutants are particularly concerning for people with respiratory conditions.

Tsunami Ready

  • Context:
    • Odisha has achieved another milestone in disaster management. Venkatraipur in Ganjam and Noliasahi in Jagatsinghpur have been recognised by UNESCO-IOC as Tsunami-Ready Communities.
  • About Tsunami Ready:
    • Tsunami Ready is a community performance-based programme.
    • Initiated by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO to promote tsunami preparedness through the active collaboration of public, community leaders, and national and local emergency management agencies.
  • Objectives of the programme:
    • To improve the coastal community’s preparedness for tsunami emergencies.
    • To minimize the loss of life and property.
    • To ensure a structural and systematic approach in building community preparedness.
  • About the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC):
    • IOC-UNESCO was established in 1960 as a body with functional autonomy within UNESCO and is the only competent organization for marine science within the UN system.
    • The purpose of the Commission is to promote international cooperation and to coordinate
    • programmes in research, services, and capacity-building, in order to learn more about the nature and resources of the ocean and coastal areas and to apply that knowledge for the improvement of management, sustainable development, the protection of the marine environment, and the decisionmaking processes of its Member States.
    • The IOC is recognized through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the competent international organization in the fields of Marine Scientific Research and Transfer of Marine Technology.

Science And Technology

Space:

BeiDou

  • Context:
    • China has recently completed its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System constellation.
  • What is the BeiDou navigation system?
    • It is Chinese Satellite Navigation System.
    • The system uses a network of satellites and can provide positional accuracies of under ten metres (GPS provides positioning accuracies of under 2.2 metres).
    • China initiated BeiDou in 1994 with aims to integrate its application in different sectors, including fishery, agriculture, special care, mass-market applications, forestry and public security.
    • BeiDou offers services including accurate positioning, navigation and timing as well as short message communication.
  • How many satellites are there in the system?
    • It consists of 27 satellites in medium Earth orbit, five in geostationary orbit and three more in inclined geosynchronous orbits.
  • What does this mean for China?
    • As ties between US and China deteriorated, it had become more important for China to have its own navigation system that the US does not have control over.
    • By completing BeiDou, China now has its own navigation system, which will compete with systems developed by other countries.
    • It is of foremost importance in allowing China’s military to employ Beidou-guided conventional strike weapons.
  • Which other countries are working on building their navigation systems?
    1. The GPS is owned by the US government and operated by the US Air Force.
    2. Russia has its navigation system called GLONASS.
    3. The European Union (EU) has Galileo.
    4. India’s navigation system is called Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC).

SpaceX Crew Dragon

  • Context:
    • The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley onboard splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020.
  • What is it?
    • In May 2020, the Crew Dragon became the first space vehicle to launch humans from American soil in nine years.
    • Built by Elon Musk's SpaceX, it's part of Nasa's plan to hand over space station flights to private companies.
    • In particular, SpaceX was given funding through NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which started in 2010 to foster public-private partnerships for space exploration.
  • Background:
    • Crew Dragon evolved from an earlier design, called Dragon 1, which launched 20 times on missions to deliver cargo to the ISS between May 2012 and March 2020.
  • Importance of the mission:
    • It was the first time that astronauts used a spaceship built and launched by a private company, and the event is being widely seen as the beginning of a new era in space exploration.
    • The rocket, named Falcon 9, which carried the spaceship into the orbit, was also built by SpaceX.
    • The mission was called Demo-2, in keeping with the fact that it was only a ‘test flight’, which if successful, would lead to more missions in the coming months.

SpaceX’s SN5 Starship prototype

  • About:
    • It is a prototype of SpaceX’s uncrewed “Mars ship”. It is a stainless steel test.
    • It is a part of the Starship spacecraft.
  • Context:
    • The prototype recently completed its first test flight. It successfully flew to an altitude of over 500 feet for a little less than 60 seconds.
  • What is Starship?
    • Designed by SpaceX, Starship is a spacecraft and super-heavy booster rocket meant to act as a reusable transportation system for crew and cargo to the Earth’s orbit, Moon and Mars.
    • SpaceX has described Starship as “the world’s most powerful launch vehicle” with an ability to carry over 100 metric tonnes to the Earth’s orbit.
  • Potential:
    • Once functional, the Starship spacecraft will enter Mars’ atmosphere at a speed of 7.5 km per second and will be designed to withstand multiple entries.
    • Starship can deliver satellites further and at lower marginal costs than SpaceX’s Falcon vehicles and it can ferry both cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS).
    • Once developed, Starship is also expected to help carry large amounts of cargo to the Moon, for human spaceflight development and research.
    • Beyond the Moon, the spacecraft is being designed for carrying crew and cargo for interplanetary missions as well.

Vikram Sarabhai

  • Context:
    • ISRO pays tribute to Dr Vikram Sarabhai by announcing that Chandrayaan 2 Orbiter has captured the Moon images of “Sarabhai” Crater.
  • About Vikram Sarabhai and his contributions:
    • Vikram Sarabhai was born on August 12, 1919.
    • Sarabhai was instrumental in forming India’s future in astronomy and setting up the country’s space research facilities.
  • Key contributions:
    1. Based on his persuasion, the Indian government agreed to set up the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962. He was the first chairman of the committee.
    2. The INCOSPAR was restructured and renamed as Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1969.
    3. Sarabhai founded the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad in the year 1947. The laboratory started its operation from RETREAT, Sarabhai’s residence in Ahmedabad. Its first topic of research was cosmic rays.
    4. He also set up India’s first rocket launch site in Thumba, a small village near the Thiruvananthapuram airport in Kerala.
    5. Vikram Sarabhai was also responsible for bringing cable television to India. His constant contact with NASA paved a way for the establishment of the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) in 1975.
    6. Sarabhai was the mastermind behind building India’s first satellite, Aryabhata.
    7. He was one of the founding members of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA).
    8. Vikram Sarabhai received the Padma Bhushan in 1966 for his contribution to India’s progress. He was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1972, posthumously.

India’s AstroSat telescope 

  • Context:
    • India’s multi-wavelength orbiting telescope, AstroSat, has detected light from a galaxy, called AUDFs01, in the extreme-ultraviolet (UV) light.
    • The galaxy is 9.3 billion light-years away from Earth.
  • Key points:
    • The discovery was an international collaboration by astronomers from India, Switzerland, France, USA, Japan, and the Netherlands.
    • This is the first time that star-forming galaxies have been observed in this extreme UV environment.
  • The methodology used for this discovery:
    • The team observed the galaxy within the patch of sky called the Hubble eXtreme Deep field (XDF), which itself sits at the centre of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF).
    • The HUDF is a small area in the constellation of Fornax, created using Hubble Space Telescope data from 2003 and 2004. It contains thousands of galaxies, and became the deepest image of the universe ever taken at the time.
    • XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies.
    • AstroSat looked at a part of XDF for 28 hours in October of 2016, a feat only space telescopes could perform because the atmosphere absorbs ultraviolet radiation.
  • About AstroSat:
    • It is India’s first multiwavelength space telescope, which has five telescopes seeing through different wavelengths simultaneously — visible, near UV, far UV, soft X-ray and hard Xray.
    • Onboard the AstroSat is a 38-cm wide UltraViolet Imaging Telescope (UVIT), which is capable of imaging in far and near-ultraviolet bands over a wide field of view.
    • AstroSat was launched on 28 September 2015 by ISRO into a near-Earth equatorial orbit.
    • It is a multi-institute collaborative project, involving IUCAA, ISRO, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Mumbai), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (Bengaluru), and Physical Research Laboratory (Ahmedabad), among others.

Sputnik V

  • It is a new coronavirus vaccine launched by Russia.
  • It is touted as the world's first such vaccine, too.
  • Currently, WHO and Russian health authorities are discussing the process for possible WHO prequalification for its newly approved COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The vaccine is named Sputnik V, a reference to the first orbital satellite, which was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 and set off the global space race.

Health:

New tick-borne virus

  • Context:
    • This new virus is rapidly spreading in China.
    • It causes a disease called Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS).
  • What’s the concern now?
    • While the disease is transferred to humans through tick bites, Chinese virologists have warned that human-to-human transmission of the virus cannot be ruled out.
    • The current case fatality rate rests between approximately 16 and 30 percent.
    • Due to the rate at which it spreads and its high fatality rate, SFTS has been listed among the top 10priority diseases blueprint by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
    • Unlike SARS-CoV-2 however, this is not the first time the SFTS virus has infected people. The recent spate of cases merely marks a re-emergence of the disease.
  • What is the SFTS virus?
    • Severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus (SFTSV) belongs to the Bunyavirus family and is transmitted to humans through tick bites.
    • The virus was first identified by a team of researchers in China over a decade ago.
  • How it spreads?
    • An Asian tick called Haemaphysalis longicornis is the primary vector, or carrier, of the virus.
    • Scientists have found that the virus is often transmitted to humans from animals like goats, cattle, deer, and sheep.
  • What are the symptoms of the SFTFS virus?
    • According to a study conducted by a team of Chinese researchers in 2011, the incubation period is anywhere between seven and 13 days after the onset of the illness. Patients suffering from the disease usually experience a whole range of symptoms, including, fever, fatigue, chill, headache, lymphadenopathy, anorexia, nausea, myalgia, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gingival hemorrhage, conjunctival congestion, and so on.
  • How is SFTS treated?
    • While a vaccine to treat the disease is yet to be successfully developed, the antiviral drug Ribavirin is known to be effective in treating the illness.

Fluorosis

  • Context:
    • Scientists from the Institute of Nano Science and Technology (INST) have developed an equipment-free fluoride ion detection and quantification in drinking water with the naked-eye. It can be operated by non-experts for household use to evade Fluorosis-based disorders.
  • How does it work?
    • The technology involves a push-pull chromophore based on 2,3-disubstituted 1,1,4,4-tetracyano-1,3- butadienes (TCBDs) that change color upon exposure to fluoride ion.
  • What is fluorosis?
    • Fluorosis is a crippling disease resulting from the deposition of fluorides in the hard and soft tissues of the body due to excess intake of fluoride through drinking water/food products/industrial pollutants over a long period.
    • It results in dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis, and non-skeletal fluorosis.
    • According to WHO, the fluoride concentration in drinking water should not exceed 1.5mg/l.

African Swine Fever (ASF)

  • Context:
    • African swine fever (ASF) has spread to Meghalaya; more than 17,000 pigs have died due to the highly contagious disease in adjoining Assam.
  • Background:
    • Since February this year, ASF has killed at least 17,000 domesticated pigs in Assam and an unspecified number in Arunachal Pradesh. The disease is believed to have been transmitted from China where it has resulted in the death of several animals in 2019.
  • What’s the concern?
    • Piggery is a major source of livelihood in the northeast because of the high demand for pork. Assam alone has seven lakh pig farmers engaged in the business, worth at least ₹8,000 crore annually.
  • About African Swine Fever (ASF):
    • ASF is a highly contagious and fatal animal a disease that infects domestic and wild pigs, typically resulting in an acute form of hemorrhagic fever.
    • It was first detected in Africa in the 1920s.
    • The mortality is close to 100 percent, and since the fever has no cure, the only way to stop it spreading is by culling the animals.
    • ASF is not a threat to human beings since it only spreads from animals to other animals.
    • According to the FAO, “its extremely high potential for transboundary spread has placed all the countries in the region in danger and has raised the spectre of ASF once more escaping from Africa. It is a disease of growing strategic importance for global food security and household income”.

Vaccine Nationalism

  • Context:
    • Even before the end of the final stage human trials or regulatory approval, several wealthier countries like Britain, France, Germany, and the US have entered into pre-purchase agreements with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers, a development that has come to be known as “vaccine nationalism”.
    • There are fears that such advance agreements will make the initial few vaccines unaffordable and inaccessible to everyone apart from the rich countries in a world of roughly 8 billion people.
  • What is the Vaccine Nationalism? How does it work?
    • Vaccine nationalism occurs when a country manages to secure doses of vaccine for its own citizens or residents before they are made available in other countries.
    • This is done through pre-purchase agreements between a government and a vaccine manufacturer.
  • How was it used in the past?
    • Vaccine nationalism is not new. During the early stages of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, some of the wealthiest countries entered into pre-purchase agreements with several pharmaceutical companies working on H1N1 vaccines.
    • At that time, it was estimated that, in the best-case scenario, the maximum number of vaccine doses that could be produced globally was two billion.
    • The US alone negotiated and obtained the right to buy 600,000 doses. All the countries that negotiated pre-purchase orders were developed economies.
  • Why it's not good? What are the associated concerns?
    • Vaccine nationalism is harmful to equitable access to vaccines.
    • It further disadvantages countries with fewer resources and bargaining power.
    • It deprives populations in the Global South from timely access to vital public health goods.
    • Taken to its extreme, it allocates vaccines to moderately at-risk populations in wealthy countries over populations at higher risk in developing economies.
  • What needs to be done?
    • International institutions — including the WHO — should coordinate negotiations ahead of the next pandemic to produce a framework for equitable access to vaccines during public health crises.
    • Equity entails both, affordability of vaccines and access opportunities for populations across the world, irrespective of geography and geopolitics.
  • What is being done now?
    • To bring about equitable and broad access, WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi have come up with an initiative known as “Covax Facility”.
    • The facility aims to procure at least two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of next year for deployment and distribution mainly in the low- and middle-income countries.

Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN)

  • This is being implemented under National Health Mission (NHM) by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • eVIN aims to provide real-time information on vaccine stocks and flows, and storage temperatures across all cold chain points in the country.

Serosurvey results 

  • Context:
    • Over the last two months, Serosurveys have been conducted in various cities across the country including Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, and Pune.
    • These serosurvey results suggest Covid-19 is far more widespread than virus tests show.
  • Key findings:
    • In Pune, more than 51% of those who were tested showed the presence of antibodies specific to the novel coronavirus, suggesting that about half the population of this city of 4 million could have already been infected.
    • An earlier exercise in Delhi had suggested that the actual spread could be 40 times the number of confirmed cases.
    • As per the second survey, 29% of Delhi has antibodies for Covid-19.
    • In Mumbai, about 40 percent of the sampled group was found to be infected.
  • Key takeaways from these findings:
    • 1. More Asymptomatic
      • cases: These numbers confirm the general impression that most SARS-CoV2 infections are asymptomatic (some estimates say approximately 80 percent are asymptomatic).
      • Of course, the virus could be spreading from asymptomatically infected people too, especially within families.
    • 2. Inadequate tests:
      • From a capacity to test just a few hundred samples at the start of the outbreak in March to more than eight lakh tests a day now, there has been a massive upgrade in the testing infrastructure.
      • And yet, the serological tests show that a vast majority of the infected people are still being missed out, particularly those who are not showing symptoms.
  • Is it leading to herd immunity?
    • Scientists warn against interpreting these results as an indication of the percentage of population that might have become immune to the disease.
    • The serological surveys are not designed to detect neutralising or “protective” antibodies in human beings.
    • All antibodies are not protective. It is only the neutralising antibodies that can make a person immune to the disease.
    • Besides, Scientists still do not know the level of infection in the population at which “herd immunity” would start to play a role.
  • Need of the hour:
    • Adequate testing is crucial to containment strategies. It is the only method to identify, and isolate, infected people and their close contacts.
    • The more the tests, the greater the chance of detecting infected people, including those who are asymptomatic. Timely isolation of these can prevent transmission to other people.
    • A higher number of tests, therefore, has a direct bearing on slowing down the spread of the disease.
  • Prelims Concepts:
  • What is sero survey? What does it indicate?
    • The serological survey is one that involves collecting blood samples to:
      1. Determine whether a person is infected with the novel coronavirus.
      2. Detect whether the person was infected with the said virus in the past.
      3. Identify antibodies being produced to combat COVID-19.

The national digital health mission

  • Context:
    • In his address to the nation on Independence Day, the PM has launched the National Digital Health Mission which rolls out a national health ID for every Indian.
    • The scheme will be rolled out through a pilot launch in the Union Territories of Chandigarh, Ladakh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Lakshadweep.
  • What is the National Digital Health Mission?
    • It is a digital health ecosystem under which every Indian citizen will now have unique health IDs, digitised health records with identifiers for doctors and health facilities.
    • The Mission is expected to bring efficiency and transparency in healthcare services in the country.
    • The new scheme will come under the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana.
  • Key features:
    1. It comprises six key building blocks — HealthID, DigiDoctor, Health Facility Registry, Personal Health Records, e-Pharmacy, and Telemedicine.
    2. The National Health Authority has been given the mandate to design, build, roll-out, and implement the mission in the country.
    3. The core building blocks of the mission are that the health ID, DigiDoctor, and Health Facility Registry shall be owned, operated, and maintained by the Government of India.
    4. Private stakeholders will have an equal opportunity to integrate and create their own products for the market. The core activities and verifications, however, remain with the government.
    5. Under the Mission, every Indian will get a Health ID card that will store all medical details of the person including prescriptions, treatment, diagnostic reports, and discharge summaries.
    6. The citizens will be able to give their doctors and health providers one-time access to this data during visits to the hospital for consultation.
  • What was the need for this mission?
    • The mission aims to liberate citizens from the challenges of finding the right doctors, seeking appointments, payment of consultation fee, making several rounds of hospitals for prescription sheets, among several others and will empower people to make an informed decision to avail of the best possible healthcare.
  • Background:
    • The ambitious National Digital Health Mission finds its roots in a 2018 Niti Aayog proposal to create a centralised mechanism to uniquely identify every participating user in the National Health Stack.
  • Have there been global instances of such a centralised health record system?
    • In 2005, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) started deployment of an electronic health record systems with a goal to have all patients with a centralised electronic health record by 2010. While several hospitals acquired electronic patient records systems as part of this process, there was no national healthcare information exchange.
    • The program was ultimately dismantled after a cost to the UK taxpayer was more than £12 billion, and is considered one of the most expensive healthcare IT failures.

Glanders

  • Context:
    • The Delhi High Court has asked municipal bodies to take steps to prevent the spread of glanders disease in animals including horses and issued notice to the Delhi government and others on an application filed by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), India.
  • What’s the issue?
    • In its application, the PETA has sought directions to implement the provisions of the Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Disease in Animal Act, 2009 and National Action Plan for control and eradication of glanders in horses, mules, ponies, and donkeys in the national capital.
  • About Glanders:
    • It is an infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia mallei.
  • Who can get infected?
    • While people can get the disease, glanders is primarily a disease affecting horses. It also affects donkeys and mules and can be naturally contracted by other mammals such as goats, dogs, and cats.
  • Transmission:
    • Transmitted to humans through contact with tissues or body fluids of infected animals.
    • The bacteria enter the body through cuts or abrasions in the skin and through mucosal surfaces such as the eyes and nose.
    • It may also be inhaled via infected aerosols or dust contaminated by infected animals.
  • Symptoms of glanders commonly include:
    1. Fever with chills and sweating.
    2. Muscle aches.
    3. Chest pain.
    4. Muscle tightness.
    5. Headache.
    6. Nasal discharge.
    7. Light sensitivity (sometimes with excessive tearing of the eyes).

UK’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme

  • Context:
    • The EOHO Scheme is an economic recovery measure by the UK government to support hospitality businesses as they reopen after the COVID-19 lockdown in the country.
    • The scheme was announced on July 8 as part of the Plans for Jobs's summer economic update.
  • How does it work?
    1. Under the EOHO Scheme, the government would subsidise meals (food and non-alcoholic drinks only) at restaurants by 50 percent, from Monday to Wednesday every week, all through August.
    2. The discount is capped at GBP 10 per head and does not apply to take-away or event catering.
    3. There is no minimum spend and no limit on the number of times customers can avail the offer, since the whole point of the scheme is to encourage a return to dining in restaurants.
    4. EOHO scheme would cost GBP 500 million.
  • Why was this scheme deemed necessary?
    • All over the world, the food services sector is one of the worst affected by the pandemic.
    • In the UK, the top two concerns were customers avoiding restaurants for fear of contracting the virus and customers having less disposable income for dining out.
    • The scheme makes eating out more affordable for consumers directly and helps restore demand.
    • And Restoring consumer demand is being seen as crucial to the UK’s economic recovery.
  • What do critics of the scheme say?
    • The scheme may have been introduced too early since it was not yet clear whether the problem was on the demand side, with people being reluctant to go out and eat, or on the supply side, with restaurants unable to serve enough people, thanks to social distancing.
    • The scheme benefits everyone, regardless of income. Higher-income households would have returned to restaurants anyway.

Infecting mosquitoes with the bacterium Wolbachia cuts dengue spread

  • Context:
    • A recent study suggests that the “Wolbachia method” could be used to significantly reduce the incidence of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, in populations where the illness is endemic.
  • Where was this method tested?
    • Scientists from the World Mosquito Program (WMP) of Monash University in Australia and Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia tested this method in a 27-month trial in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
    • They found that using the Wolbachia method reduced the occurrence of dengue in the treated population by 77%.
  • How does it work?
    • This method involves introducing Wolbachia, a type of bacteria, into populations of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species responsible for spreading dengue.
    • When the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes breed with their wild counterparts, the percentage of mosquitoes carrying the bacterium grows.
    • It is not fully understood why the Wolbachia bacterium interferes with the transmission of dengue. One theory is that the bacterium prevents dengue viruses from replicating in mosquito cells.
  • Background:
    • Dengue is a viral disease that is endemic in many countries, including India.
    • Although it usually results in mild illness, severe dengue infections can sometimes prove fatal.
    • World Health Organization (WHO) estimates suggest an annual incidence of 100-400 million dengue infections every year, with its global incidence growing dramatically “in recent decades”.

Africa declared free of wild polio

  • Context:
    • Africa has been declared free from wild polio by the independent body, the Africa Regional Certification Commission.
    • Now only the vaccine-derived poliovirus remains in Africa.
  • When a country is certified as free of wild polio?
    • A region is certified as free of wild polio after three years have passed without the virus being detected in any of its countries.
    • Nigeria is the last African country to be declared free from wild polio.
  • Where wild polio is still present?
    • Wild polio is still present in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • What is a vaccine-derived poliovirus?
    • It is a strain of the weakened poliovirus that was initially included in the oral polio vaccine (OPV) and that has changed over time and behaves more like the wild or naturally occurring virus.
    • This means it can be spread more easily to people who are unvaccinated against polio and who come in contact with the stool or respiratory secretions, such as from a sneeze, of an infected person. These viruses may cause illness, including paralysis.
  • How is it spread?
    • Oral polio vaccine (OPV) contains an attenuated (weakened) vaccine-virus, activating an immune response in the body. When a child is immunized with OPV, the weakened vaccine-virus replicates in the intestine for a limited period, thereby developing immunity by building up antibodies.
    • During this time, the vaccine-virus is also excreted. In areas of inadequate sanitation, this excreted vaccine-virus can spread in the immediate community (and this can offer protection to other children through ‘passive’ immunization), before eventually dying out.

UN’s guidelines on access to social justice for people with disabilities

  • Context:
    • The United Nations has released its first-ever guidelines on access to social justice for people with disabilities to make it easier for them to access justice systems around the world.
    • The guidelines outline a set of 10 principles and detail the steps for implementation.
  • The 10 principles are:
    1. Principle 1 All persons with disabilities have the legal capacity and, therefore, no one shall be denied access to justice on the basis of disability.
    2. Principle 2 Facilities and services must be universally accessible to ensure equal access to justice without discrimination of persons with disabilities.
    3. Principle 3 Persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, have the right to appropriate procedural accommodations.
    4. Principle 4 Persons with disabilities have the right to access legal notices and information in a timely and accessible manner on an equal basis with others.
    5. Principle 5 Persons with disabilities are entitled to all substantive and procedural safeguards recognized in international law on an equal basis with others, and States must provide the necessary accommodations to guarantee due process.
    6. Principle 6 Persons with disabilities have the right to free or affordable legal assistance.
    7. Principle 7 Persons with disabilities have the right to participate in the administration of justice on an equal basis with others.
    8. Principle 8 Persons with disabilities have the right to report complaints and initiate legal proceedings concerning human rights violations and crimes, have their complaints investigated, and be afforded effective remedies.
    9. Principle 9 Effective and robust monitoring mechanisms play a critical role in supporting access to justice for persons with disabilities.
    10. Principle 10 All those working in the justice system must be provided with awareness-raising and training programmes addressing the rights of persons with disabilities, in particular in the context of access to justice.
  • How does the UN define a person with a disability?
    • The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 2007 as the first major the instrument of human rights in the 21st century.
    • It defines persons with disabilities as those “who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.
  • What does discrimination on the basis of disability mean?
    • Discrimination on the basis of disability’ means any distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of disability which has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis with others, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. It includes all forms of discrimination, including denial of reasonable accommodation.
  • How many people are disabled in India?
    • As per statistics maintained by the UN, in India 2.4 per cent of males are disabled and two percent of females from all age groups are disabled.
    • Disabilities include psychological impairment, intellectual impairment, speaking, multiple impairments, hearing, seeing among others.
    • In comparison, the disability prevalence in the US is 12.9 percent among females and 12.7 percent among males. Disability prevalence in the UK is at 22.7 percent among females and 18.7 per cent among males.

CSIR moots ‘mega labs’ to boost COVID-19 testing

  • Context:
    • To speed up testing as well as improve the accuracy of testing for coronavirus (COVID-19) positive cases, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is working on developing “mega labs”.
    • In these labs, large machines, called Next Generation Sequencing machines (NGS), which are also used for sequencing human genomes, will be repurposed to sequence 1,500-3,000 viral genomes at a go for detecting the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus.
  • Significance and benefits of these mega labs:
    • These genome sequencing machines can substantially detect the possible presence of the virus even in several instances where the traditional RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) tests miss out on them.
    • RT-PCR test identifies the SARS-CoV-2 virus by exploring only specific sections of the virus whereas the genome method can read a bigger chunk of the virus genome and thereby provide more certainty that the virus in question is indeed the particular coronavirus of interest.
    • It can also trace the evolutionary history of the virus and track mutations more reliably.
    • The NGS does not need primers and probes and only needs custom reagents.
  • What Is Genome Sequencing?
    • It is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome—the order of Adenine, Cytosine, Guanines, and Thymine that makes up an organism's DNA.

New Technology:

Digital Quality of Life Index 2020

  • Context:
    • The report was released recently.
    • The index is prepared by Surfshark, a virtual private network (VPN) provider based in the British Virgin Islands.
    • It seeks to rank countries on internet affordability and quality, and electronic infrastructure, security, and government. All parameters have equal weightage.
  • Performance of other countries:
    1. Top 3: Scandinavian countries Denmark and Sweden topped the index, with Canada rounding up the top three.
    2. Israel offered the cheapest internet — calculated by considering how much time one must work to be able to afford the cheapest mobile internet and broadband.
    3. Of the total countries, 75% of them have to work more than the global average to afford the internet.
    4. Singapore, the UK, and the US performed the best on the e-government indicator — arrived at by checking the state of government’s online presence and readiness to employ artificial intelligence technology and help “minimise bureaucracy, reduce corruption and increase the transparency of the public sector”.
    5. The UK, France, and Lithuania offer the most security — cybersecurity and status of personal data protection.
    6. Best Internet Quality– Singapore, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
    7. The UAE, Sweden, and Denmark have the most developed e-infrastructure.
  • India’s performance:
    1. Of 85 countries, India ranked 9th on the internet affordability indicator and 15th on e-government.
    2. Overall, India is ranked 57th.
    3. Internet cost– India scored the best on this parameter, leading countries like the UK, US, and China.
    4. e-government indicator– India secured 15th position on this, ahead of the Netherlands, China and Belgium.
    5. Security– India performed poorly here, standing at 57th position.
    6. Internet quality– With a rank of 78, it fell behind countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, and the Philippines.
    7. On electronic infrastructure — focusing on active internet users and information and communications technology adoption rate — India ranked 79th, behind neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

Google Pay violation

  • Context:
    • The Delhi High Court has sought a response of the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on a plea seeking action against ‘Google Pay’ for allegedly violating the central bank’s guidelines related to data localisation, storage, and sharing norms.
  • What’s the issue?
    • A petition was filed in the court seeking to impose a penalty on the company for alleged violations of laws.
    • The plea claimed that the company was storing personal sensitive data in contravention of UPI procedural guidelines of October 2019, which allows such data to be stored only by Payment Service Provider [PSP] bank systems and not by any third-party application.
  • A timeline of the RBI’s localisation mandate for payments data:
    1. April 2018 The localisation circular surfaces: The RBI told all payments system operators in India to ensure that payments-related data was stored within the country and gave the companies six months to comply.
      • The RBI wanted data stored locally “to have unfettered access to all payment data for supervisory purposes”.
    2. July 2018, the Finance ministry tries to step in: The Finance Ministry eased the RBI’s directive for foreign payment firms, saying that mirroring a copy of the data in India would be sufficient.
    3. In July, the Data Protection Bill mandated localisation: The long-awaited draft Data Protection Bill 2018 was submitted to the government, adding to the confusion. The bill overrode all sectoral regulators and therefore all their directives. It mandated that all data fiduciaries store a copy of users’ personal data in India. It also required mandatory storage of ‘critical personal data’ within India only. The bill, however, failed to explicitly define ‘critical data’.
    4. September 2018, RBI asks for updates on local storage: The RBI asked payment companies to send it fortnightly updates about their progress on local storage of payments data.
    5. October 2018, RBI circular comes into effect: The RBI’s circular on localisation of payments data came into effect.
    6. February 2019: The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade released a Draft E-commerce Policy, which included strategies for regulating access to data, mandating data storage requirements, and controlling cross-border data flows. Data localisation may now be left out of the e-commerce policy, and left to the jurisdiction of the Data Protection Bill.
  • Why data localization is necessary for India?
    1. For securing citizen’s data, data privacy, data sovereignty, national security, and economic development of the country.
    2. The extensive data collection by technology companies, has allowed them to process and monetize Indian users’ data outside the country. Therefore, to curtail the perils of unregulated and arbitrary use of personal data, data localization is necessary.
    3. With the advent of cloud computing, Indian users’ data is outside the country’s boundaries, leading to a conflict of jurisdiction in case of any dispute.

Science and Technology Indicators (STI), 2018

  • Context:
    • Science and Technology Indicators (STI), 2018 is a periodic compendium of the state of scientific research in India. It was released recently.
  • Who prepares the report?
    • The STI is prepared by the National Science and Technology Management Information System (NSTMIS), a division of the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
    • It is based on data provided by a range of scientific establishments across the country.
  • Key findings:
    • India’s private sector research companies appear to employ a larger proportion of women in core research and development activities than government-funded major scientific agencies do.
    • The 2018 indicators reiterate the historic trend of India’s scientists being overwhelmingly men.
  • Key takeaways:
    • On the whole, private sector companies had a greater commitment to ensuring that women scientists were fairly represented in recruitment, promotions, and appraisal processes than in many scientific organisations.
  • The large drop in the number of women between the doctoral and professional stages appears to be due to:
    1. Social pressure on women to have a family that is seen as incompatible with a professional career.
    2. Patriarchal attitudes in hiring practices, so many women are discriminated against at this stage as well, with administrators deciding that women ‘should’ be opting for the family over a career.

DNA Bill

  • Context:
    • The parliamentary standing committee on science and technology headed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has raised few concerns over the DNA Bill.
  • They are:
    1. DNA data could be misused for caste or community-based profiling.
    2. The Bill refers to consent in several provisions, but in each of those, a magistrate can easily override consent, thereby in effect, making consent perfunctory (Meaning of perfunctory: performed merely as a routine duty; hasty and superficial).
    3. There is also no guidance in the Bill on the grounds and reasons of when the magistrate can override consent, which could become a fatal flaw.
    4. The Bill permits retention of DNA found at a crime scene in perpetuity, even if the conviction of the offender has been overturned.
    5. The Bill also provides that DNA profiles for civil matters will also be stored in the data banks but without a clear and separate index.
  • Overview of the DNA Technology (Use And Application) Regulation Bill, 2019:
    1. It seeks to establish a national data bank and regional DNA data banks.
    2. It envisages that every databank will maintain indices like the crime scene index, suspects' or undertrials' index, offenders' index, missing persons' index, and unknown deceased persons' index.
    3. It also seeks to establish a DNA Regulatory Board. Every laboratory that analyses DNA samples to establish the identity of an individual, has to be accredited by the board.
    4. The bill also proposes written consent by individuals to be obtained before the collection of their DNA samples. However, consent is not required for offences with the punishment of more than seven years in jail or death.
    5. It also provides for the removal of DNA profiles of suspects on the filing of a police report or court order, and of undertrials on the basis of a court order. Profiles in the crime scene and missing persons' index will be removed on a written request.

Student Entrepreneurship Programme

  • Context:
    • Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), NITI Aayog, in collaboration with Dell Technologies has launched Student Entrepreneurship Programme 2.0 (SEP 2.0) for young innovators of Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs).
  • About SEP 2.0 and its significance:
    • It will allow student innovators to work closely with Dell volunteers.
    • They will receive mentor support; prototyping and testing support; end-user feedback; intellectual property registration and patenting of ideas, processes, and products; manufacturing support; as well as the launch support of the product in the market.
  • About Student Entrepreneurship Programme:
    • SEP 1.0 began in January 2019.
    • Through a 10-month-long rigorous programme, the top 6 teams of ATL Marathon—a nationwide contest where students identify community challenges and create grassroots innovations and solutions within their ATLs—got a chance to transform their innovative prototypes into fully functioning products, which are now available in the market.

Chunauti”- Next Generation Start-up Challenge Contest

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has launched “Chunauti”- Next Generation Startup Challenge Contest.
  • Aims and Objectives:
    1. To further boost startups and software products with special focus on Tier-II towns of India.
    2. Identify around 300 startups working in identified areas and provide them seed fund of up to Rs. 25 Lakh and other facilities.
  • Under this challenge the Ministry of Electronics and IT will invite startups in the following areas of work:
    1. Edu-Tech, Agri-Tech & Fin-Tech Solutions for masses.
    2. Supply Chain, Logistics & Transportation Management.
    3. Infrastructure & Remote monitoring.
    4. Medical Healthcare, Diagnostic, Preventive & Psychological Care.
    5. Jobs & Skilling, Linguistic tools & technologies.
  • Benefits for the selected startups:
    • The startups selected will be provided various support from the Government through Software Technology Parks of India centers across India.
    • They will get incubation facilities, mentorship, security testing facilities, access to venture capitalist funding, industry connect as well as advisories in legal, Human Resource (HR), IPR and Patent matters.
    • Besides seed fund of up to Rs. 25 Lakh, the startups will also be provided cloud credits from leading cloud service providers.
    • Each intern (start-up under pre-incubation) will be paid Rs. 10,000/- per month up to a period of 6 months.

Miscellaneous

Draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020

  • Context:
    • Ministry of Defence (MoD) has formulated and released a draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020 (DPEPP 2020).
    • It is envisaged as an overarching guiding document of MoD to provide a focused, structured and significant thrust to defence production capabilities of the country for self-reliance and exports.
  • The policy has laid out the following goals and objectives:
    1. To achieve a turnover of Rs 1,75,000 Crores (US$ 25Bn) including export of Rs 35,000 Crore (US$ 5 Billion) in Aerospace and Defence goods and services by 2025.
    2. To develop a dynamic, robust, and competitive Defence industry, including Aerospace and Naval The shipbuilding industry to cater to the needs of Armed forces with quality products.
    3. To reduce dependence on imports and take forward “Make in India” initiatives through domestic design and development.
    4. To promote the export of defence products and become part of the global defence value chains.
    5. To create an environment that encourages R&D rewards innovation creates Indian IP ownership, and promotes a robust and self-reliant defence industry.
    6. The share of domestic procurement in overall defence procurement is about 60%. In order to enhance procurement from the domestic industry, it is incumbent that procurement is doubled from the current ₹70,000 crores to ₹1,40,000 crore by 2025.
  • The Policy brings out multiple strategies under the following focus areas:
    1. Procurement Reforms
    2. Indigenization & Support to MSMEs/Startups
    3. Optimize Resource Allocation
    4. Investment Promotion, FDI & Ease of Doing Business
    5. Innovation and R&D
    6. DPSUs and OFB
    7. Quality Assurance & Testing Infrastructure
    8. Export Promotion
  • Other highlights of the policy:
    1. The policy states that a negative list of weapons and platforms will be notified with year-wise time lines for placing an embargo on the import of such items from those dates.
    2. A Technology Assessment Cell (TAC) would be created. It would assess the industrial capability for design, development, and production, including re-engineering for production of major systems such as armoured vehicles, submarines, fighter aircraft, helicopters, and radars with the major industries in the country, the policy states.
    3. A Project Management Unit (PMU) will be set up with representation from the Services for estimation of development and production lead times specifications and technologies involved, life cycle costs and maintenance requirements of platforms, equipment, and weapon systems.

Negative import list for defence 

  • Context:
    • Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently announced a list of 101 items that the Defence Ministry will stop importing.
    • It essentially means that the Armed Forces—Army, Navy, and Air Force—will only procure all of these 101 items from domestic manufacturers.
    • The manufacturers could be private sector players or defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs).
  • Why was this policy needed? What will be the impacts?
    • As per Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India has been the second-largest importer between 2014 and 2019 with US$ 16.75 billion worth of imports during this period.
    • The government wants to reduce the dependence on imported items in defence and give a shot in the arm to the domestic defence manufacturing industry.
    • By denying the possibility of importing the items on the negative list, the domestic industry is given the opportunity to step up and manufacture them for the needs of the forces.

Naval Innovation and Indigenisation Organisation (NIIO)

  • Context:
    • The NIIO is a three-tiered organisation.
  • About:
    1. Naval Technology Acceleration Council (N-TAC) will bring together the twin aspects of innovation and indigenisation and provide apex level directives.
    2. A working group under the N-TAC will implement the projects.
    3. A Technology Development Acceleration Cell (TDAC) has also been created for the induction of emerging disruptive technology in an accelerated time frame.
  • Functions of NIIO:
    • The NIIO puts in place dedicated structures for the end-users to interact with academia and industry towards fostering innovation and indigenisation for self-reliance in defence in keeping with the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat.
  • Background:
    • The Draft Defence Acquisition Policy 2020 (DAP 20) envisages Service Headquarters establishing an Innovation & Indigenisation Organisation within existing resources.
    • Indian Navy already has a functional Directorate of Indigenisation (DoI) and the new structures created will build upon the ongoing indigenisation initiatives, as well as focus on innovation.

Armed Forces Tribunal

  • Context:
    • The Delhi-based principal bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal has initiated hearing of matters pertaining to regional benches through video conferencing.
  • About AFT:
    • It is a military tribunal in India.
    • It was established in 2009 under the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007.
    • The act was passed on the basis of the recommendation of the 169th Law Commission Report and various Supreme Court directives.
  • Powers and functions:
    • To adjudicate disputes and complaints with respect to the commission, appointments, enrolments, and conditions of service in respect of persons subject to the Army Act, 1950, The Navy Act, 1957, and the Air Force Act, 1950.
  • Composition:
    • Each Bench comprises of a Judicial Member and an Administrative Member.
    • Judicial Members are retired High Court Judges.
    • Administrative Members are retired Members of the Armed Forces who have held the rank of Major General/ equivalent or above for a period of three years or more or Judge Advocate General (JAG), who has held the appointment for at least one year.
  • Who can be a chairperson?
    • The person holding the office of the chairperson of AFT must have been either a retired judge of the Supreme Court or the retired chief justice of the high court.
  • Exceptions:
    • Paramilitary forces including the Assam Rifles and Coast Guard are outside the tribunal's purview.
    • AFT is considered to be a criminal court with respect to the Indian Penal Code, and Code of Criminal Procedure.
    • Appeals against the decision of the AFT can be taken only in Supreme Court. High Courts are not allowed to entertain such appeals.

Places in News

 

Place in News Why In News, And Some Information About the Place

Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant

About:

  • United Arab Emirates’ first nuclear reactor at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant has achieved the first criticality and successfully started up.
  • Barakah, which means “blessing” in Arabic, is a regional first. Barakah was built by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation.

Galapagos archipelago

  • Context:
    • Ecuador was on alert earlier this week as a fleet of Chinese fishing vessels– what some called a “floating city”– was sighted near the Galapagos archipelago.
    • Chinese ships frequent Ecuador’s waters this time of the year when the cold Humboldt Current brings in nutrients that lead to a high congregation of marine species.
  • About
    • The Galapagos Islands, spread over almost 60,000 sq km, are a part of Ecuador and are located in the Pacific Ocean around 1,000 km away from the South American continent.
    • The giant tortoises found here – ‘Galápagos’ in old Spanish– give the islands its name.
    • Ecuador made a part of the Galapagos a wildlife sanctuary in 1935, and the sanctuary became the Galapagos National Park in 1959. In 1978, the islands became UNESCO’s first World Heritage Site.
    • Charles Darwin described the islands as a “world in itself”.

Agatti island

  • Context:
    • Recently, the National Green Tribunal granted an interim stay on the felling of coconut trees on Agatti Island for the purpose of forming a Beach Road.
  • About:
    • Agatti Island is a 7.6 km long island, situated on a coral atoll called Agatti atoll in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, India.

Beirut

  • About:
    • It is the capital and largest city of Lebanon.
    • Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's Mediterranean coast, Beirut is an important regional seaport.
  • Context:
    • A huge explosion recently devastated the port area of the capital Beirut The blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse.

Papum Reserve Forest

  • Context:
    • A study based on satellite data has flagged a high rate of deforestation in this area which is also a major hornbill habitat in Arunachal Pradesh.
    • Papum RF is a nesting habitat of three species of the large, colourful fruit-eating hornbills: Great, Wreathed and Oriental Pied.
  • About:
    • It is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in Arunachal Pradesh.
    • Located between two IBAs, Itanagar Wildlife Sanctuary to the east and Pakke Wildlife Sanctuary to the west.
    • The Reserve Forest forms part of the Eastern Himalayas Endemic Bird Area.

The Mediterranean Sea

  • Context:
    • France has temporarily reinforced its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea amid tensions between neighbours Greece and Turkey over recently discovered gas reserves.
    • The Mediterranean is a vast sea positioned between Europe to the north, Africa to the south, and Asia to the east.
  • The Mediterranean Sea connects:
    1. to the Atlantic Ocean by the Strait of Gibraltar (known in Homer's writings as the “Pillars of Hercules”) in the west
    2. to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, by the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus respectively, in the east
    3. The 163 km (101 mi) long artificial Suez Canal in the southeast connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

Bondas

  • Context:
    • Four members of the community have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • About:
    • Bondas is a tribal community residing in the hill ranges of Malkangiri district in Odisha.
    • They are a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG).
    • Their population is around 7,000.
    • Bonda people are often led to bonded labour through marriage, also known as diosing.
    • A form of dowry (known as Gining) is paid for brides.

Pampa river (Also known as Pamba river)

  • About:
    • Pampa is the third-longest river in Kerala after Periyar and Bharathappuzha.
    • Sabarimala temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is located on the banks of the river.
    • The river is also known as ‘Dakshina Bhageerathi’ and ‘River Baris’.

Doklam and Naku La

  • Context:
    • China has been developing two air defence positions that will cover the 2017 Doklam stand-off area and also Naku La in Sikkim.
  • Key facts:
    • Naku La sector is a pass at a height of more than 5,000 metres above Mean Sea Level (MSL) in the state of Sikkim. It is located ahead of Muguthang or Cho Lhamu (source of River Teesta).
    • Doklam (or Zhonglan or Donglong): It is an area with a plateau and a valley that lies on the Bhutan-China border, near India. It is located between Tibet's Chumbi Valley to the North, Bhutan's Ha Valley to the East, and India's Sikkim state to the West.

 

Schemes in News

 

Scheme Concerned Ministry Features
Atal Bimit Vyakti Kalyan Yojana Employee’s State Insurance (ESI)
  • Context:
    • Relaxation in eligibility criteria and enhancement in the payment of unemployment benefits under the Atal Bimit Vyakti Kalyan Yojana of ESIC.
  • About Atal Bimit Vyakti Kalyan Yojana:
    • Launched by the Employee’s State Insurance (ESI) in 2018.
  • Aim:
    • It aims to financially support those who lost their jobs or rendered jobless for whatsoever reasons due to changing employment patterns.
  • What are the latest changes?
    • Eligibility criteria for availing the relief has been relaxed, as under:
      1. The payment of relief has been enhanced to 50% of the average wages from earlier 25% of average wages payable up to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment.
      2. Instead of the relief becoming payable 90 days after unemployment, it shall become due for payment after 30 days.
      3. The Insured Person can submit the claim directly to the ESIC Branch Office instead of the claim being forwarded by the last employer and the payment shall be made directly in the bank account of IP.
      4. The Insured Person should have been insurable employment for a minimum period of 2 years before his/her unemployment and should have contributed for not less than 78 days in the contribution period immediately preceding to unemployment and minimum 78 days in one of the remaining 3 contribution periods in 02 years prior to unemployment.
Prime Minister Employment Generation Program (PMEGP)
 Ministry of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MoMSME)
  • Context:
    • PMEGP projects records a 44% implementation jump.
  • About Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme:
    • PMEGP is a central sector scheme administered by the Ministry of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MoMSME).
    • Launched in 2008-09, it is a credit-linked subsidy scheme which promotes self-employment through setting up of micro-enterprises, where subsidy up to 35% is provided by the Government through the Ministry of MSME for loans up to ₹25 lakhs in manufacturing and ₹10 lakhs in the service sector.
  • Implementation:
    • National Level- Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) as the nodal agency.
    • State Level- State KVIC Directorates, State Khadi and Village Industries Boards (KVIBs), District Industries Centres (DICs), and banks.
  • Eligibility:
    • Any individual above 18 years of age, Self Help Groups, Institutions registered under Societies Registration Act 1860, Production Co-operative Societies, and Charitable Trusts are eligible.
    • Existing Units and the units that have already availed Government Subsidy under any other scheme of the Government of India or State Government are not eligible.
    • Only new projects are considered for sanction under PMEGP.
Gramodyog Vikas Yojana
Ministry of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME)
  • Context:
    • Ministry of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) has approved a programme for the benefit of artisans involved in the manufacturing of Agarbatti under the ‘Gramodyog Vikas Yojana’ (As a pilot project).
  • Key points:
    1. Initially, four Pilot Projects will be started, including one in North-Eastern part of the country.
    2. Each targeted cluster of artisans will be supported with about 50 Automatic Agarbatti making machines and 10 Mixing machines.
    3. Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) will provide training, and assist artisans working in this area.
  • Significance:
    • The programme aims to enhance the production of ‘Agarbatti’ in the country and create sustainable employment for the traditional Artisans, by providing them regular employment and an increase in their wages.
    • This will give a boost to the domestic Agarbatti Industry in the country and will reduce imports of Agarbatti.
Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana Ministry of Finance
  • Context:
    • Completes six years of successful implementation.
    • The number of total PMJDY accounts stands at 40.35 crore.
    • Rural PMJDY accounts stands at 63.6 percent.
    • Women PMJDY accounts stands at 55.2 percent.
  • About PMJDY:
    • Announced on 15th August 2014, PMJDY is National Mission for Financial Inclusion to ensure access to financial services, namely, Banking/ Savings & Deposit Accounts, Remittance, Credit, Insurance, Pension in an affordable manner.
  • Objectives:
    • To ensure access to financial products & services at an affordable cost.
    • Use of technology to lower cost & widen reach.
  • Basic tenets of the scheme:
    1. Banking the unbanked – Opening of basic savings bank deposit (BSBD) account with minimal paperwork, relaxed KYC, e-KYC, account opening in camp mode, zero balance & zero charges.
    2. Securing the unsecured – Issuance of Indigenous Debit cards for cash withdrawals & payments at merchant locations, with free accident insurance coverage of Rs. 2 lakhs.
    3. Funding the unfunded – Other financial products like micro-insurance, overdraft for consumption, micro-pension & micro-credit.
  • The scheme is based upon the following 6 pillars:
    1. Universal access to banking services – Branch and Banking Correspondents.
    2. Basic savings bank accounts with overdraft facility
    3. (OD) of Rs. 10,000/- to every household.
    4. Financial Literacy Program– Promoting savings, use of ATMs, getting ready for credit, availing insurance and pensions, using basic mobile phones for banking.
    5. Creation of Credit Guarantee Fund – To provide banks some guarantee against defaults.
    6. Insurance – Accident cover up to Rs. 1,00,000 and life cover of Rs. 30,000 on account opened between 15 Aug 2014 to 31 January 2015.
    7. Pension scheme for Unorganized sector.
  • Extension of PMJDY with New features:
    1. Focus shift from Every Household to Every Unbanked Adult.
    2. RuPay Card Insurance – Free accidental insurance cover on RuPay cards increased from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 2 lakhs for PMJDY accounts opened after 28.8.2018.
    3. Enhancement in overdraft facilities – OD limit doubled from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000; OD up to Rs 2,000 (without conditions). Increase in upper age limit for OD from 60 to 65 years.

 



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