ART & CULTURE  

Kalamkari art

Kalamkari art:

Context :

  • A museum for Kalamkari art has been founded in Machilipatnam.
  • The museum is a treasure trove of Kalamkari art. It has a collection of old wooden blocks with Persian, Dutch (Chintz), Mughal, traditional Indian and Buddhist motifs, fabrics, rare photographs and details of the process of natural dyeing, wooden block making, printing and washing in river Krishna. Tree of Life, a wall-hanger created with 212 wooden blocks by his team of artists, is also displayed at the museum.

About Kalamkari Paintings :

  • Literal meaning is painting done by kalam (pen) , mainly in Andhra Pradesh (developed under Vijaynagar rulers)
  • Stories from the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas are painted as continuous narratives.
  • Mainly to decorate temple interiors with painted cloth panels scene after scene; Every scene is surrounded by floral decorative patterns.
  • The artists use a bamboo or date palm stick pointed at one end with a bundle of fine hair attached to the other end to serve as brush or pen.
  • Relevant Telugu verses explaining the theme are also carried below the artwork.
  • Cloths are painted with the colours obtained from vegetable and mineral sources.
  • Gods are painted blue, the demons and evil characters in red and green.
  • Yellow is used for female figures and ornaments.
  • Red is mostly used as a background.
  • The art had gone into oblivion in Machilipatnam, from where it originated.
  • In 2013, MachilipatnamKalamkari got the Geographical Indication Registry tag.

  ECONOMICS:  

REAL ESTATE REGULATORY AUTHORITY

REAL ESTATE REGULATORY AUTHORITY

The work of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016, which mandates the establishment of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), will be looked after by the Urban Affairs Ministry.

About the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016:

The RERA is for regulation and promotion of the real estate sector and to ensure sale of plot, apartment or building in an efficient and transparent manner and to protect the interest of consumers in the real estate sector.

  • It makes it mandatory for all builders - developing a project where the land exceeds 500 square metre - to register with RERA before launching or even advertising their project.
  • The promoter of a real estate development firm has to maintain a separate escrow account for each of their projects. A minimum 70% of the money from investors and buyers will have to be deposited. This money can only be used for the construction of the project and the cost borne towards the land.
  • RERA requires builders to submit the original approved plans for their ongoing projects and the alterations that they made later. They also have to furnish details of revenue collected from allottees, how the funds were utilised, the timeline for construction, completion, and delivery that will need to be certified by an Engineer/Architect/practicing Chartered Accountant
METHANOL ECONOMY

METHANOL ECONOMY

Context :

  • NitiAayog plans to set up a Methanol Economy Fund worth Rs 4,000-5,000 crore to promote production and use of the clean fuel.
  • The government think is aiming at generation of the fuel by converting high ash content coal into methanol.

What is methanol economy?

The methanol economy is a suggested future economy in which methanol and dimethyl ether replace fossil fuels as a means of energy storage, ground transportation fuel, and raw material for synthetic hydrocarbons and their products. It offers an alternative to the proposed hydrogen economy or ethanol economy.

Advantages of methanol economy :

  • Methanol can be easily produced from renewable sources like agricultural waste, forest residue and naptha and biomass waste can be converted through gasification.
  • It will provide additional income for farmers,especially in backward regions by selling agricultural waste to methanol producing plants.
  • Effective and judicious use of agricultural residue for producing methanol will also solve smog problems in Delhi NCR region to great extent.
  • With small, relatively inexpensive, modifications to the engine, petrol and diesel cars can be made methanol compatible
  • Methanol production can be an effective waste management method and effectively use the 1 million tonnes of biomass India produces every month to generate fuel.
  • Methanol can be exported to neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan which have comparable economies and with similar energy circumstances.
  • Methanol can be used as an energy producing fuel, transportation fuel and cooking fuel, cutting down India's oil import bill by an estimated 20 per cent over the next few years.It will also reduce India's dependence on imported fuel and will ensure energy security.
  • Methanol is ecofriendly fuel as well as cheaper than other fuels available.
TAMIL NADU VS NISSAN DISPUTE

TAMIL NADU VS NISSAN DISPUTE

It is about the fiscal incentives - investment promotion subsidy (IPS) and value-added tax (VAT) refunds - promised by the Tamil Nadu government to investors. Nissan, along with its partner Renault, set up a manufacturing plant in Oragadam near Chennai in 2010. While the state government is learnt to have paid the IPS dues, there is a dispute over VAT refunds amounting to around Rs 2,900 crore. Along with this, Nissan is also learnt to be claiming around Rs 2,100 crore towards damages, interest and other costs - and, therefore, seeking total compensation of around Rs 5,000 crore.

  • Nissan motor company decided to go for international arbitration against India.This is followed by Tamil Nadu government moved Madras High Court to restrain the company from proceeding with international arbitration.

Concerns :

  • These disputes affects the ease of doing business in india and can hamper foreign investment.
  • These also brings bad name for the country.
  • Can have bearing on make in India mission.
  • It also has bearing on India Japan relations.

Way forward :

  • Implement justice B.N Srikrishna committeerecomendationabout changes in Indian arbitration law and institutionaal mechanisms to promote arbitration in India.
  • Creation of inter ministrial committee with officials from the ministrues of finance, external affairs and law.
  • Hiring external lawyers having expertise in BIT disputes.
  • Create designated fund to fight BIT disputes.
  • Appoint counsels qualified in BITS to defend India against BIT claims.
  • Boosting capacity of central and state governments to better understand the implications of their policy decisions on India's BIT obligations.
  • Create post of an 'international law advisor' to advise government on international legal disputes,particularly BIT disputes.
Government to bear traders’ costs on debit card buys

Government to bear traders’ costs on debit card buys

Context :

The government will bear the charges merchants pay to banks on purchases of up to Rs 2,000 using a debit card, Bhim or Aadhaar for a period of two years starting from January 1, 2018.

Digital transaction :

Digital transactions include those made through credit and debit cards, the unified payments interface (UPI), unstructured supplementary service data (USSD), prepaid payment instruments (PPIs) and internet banking.

What is Merchant Discount Rate (MDR) :

  • MDR is the fee that the store accepting your card has to pay to the bank when you swipe it for payments.
  • The MDR compensates the bank issuing the card, the bank which puts up the swiping machine (Point-of-Sale or PoS terminal) and network providers such as Mastercard or Visa for their services. MDR charges are usually shared in a pre-agreed proportion between them.
  • In India, the RBI specifies the maximum MDR charges that can be levied on every card transaction.
  • As per RBI rules, the merchant must cough up the MDR out of his own pocket and cannot pass it on to the customer.
  • Similarly, MDR is charged on payments made to merchants through BHIM UPI platform and AePS. However charges on payments made are lower than debit card charges.

Issues with MDR :

  • To ensure wider adoption of plastic economy, banks must have more cards/PoS machines in circulation and more merchants need to install PoS terminals.
  • Getting small merchants to install PoS machines has been a challenge, as cash transactions entail no extra costs to them, while cards do. Citing this, many people prefer cash payments.
  • Banks on their part are willing to increase PoS coverage only if their MDR share is lucrative.
  • This tug-of-war between merchant, banks and service provider leads to slow installation and usage of Cards payment.
  • Also after demonetisation, with easing of the liquidity crunch, transaction volumes for overall retail electronic payments have seen a marginal dip with some smaller merchants are reverting to cash.

Advantage :

  • Benefits to merchants will be two pronged — one, they will bear zero cost for electronic debit card transactions and, two, it will reduce the need and cost of handling cash at the outlet.
  • Given that the average debit transaction in India is below Rs 1,500, accepting debit cards will become almost as cheap as accepting cash for small merchants.
  • The government stands to gain through a shift in payments to the electronic mode as currency printing costs are ultimately borne by the government.
  • Increase in usage of debit cards will also benefit e-commerce companies who pay a huge price for cash on delivery.

Concerns :

  • Bankers say that given that MDR for the next year is likely to be around Rs 4,000 crore it appears that the government might ask banks to pitch in with the subsidy.
  • Digital mode of transaction are yet to pick up in retail payments as they require both merchant and customer to be savvy in using mobile applications.
GST: E-way bill to help monitor interstate movement of goods

GST: E-way bill to help monitor interstate movement of goods

Context :

The GST Council decided to introduce of the e-way bill system under the Goods and Services Tax regime on trial basis from Jan. 16, which will be mandatory on Feb. 1, 2018.

What is e-way bill?

It stands for Electronic Way Bill. It is usually a unique bill number generated for the specific consignment involving the movement of goods.

Current system :

  • Various State governments have devised their own system to track the movement of goods within and to outside their borders.
  • The documents like the permit form, way bill, among others have to be obtained from concerned states for intra-state or inter-state transportation.
  • Apart from these, certain states mandate the transporter of goods to obtain the transit pass or declaration form.

Under GST :

  • With GST, all the existing state-wise documentation required for movement of goods will be eliminated and the e-way bill will be made common across the nation.
  • The process and procedural aspects for the movement of goods are prescribed in the e-way bill rules of GST.
  • A registered person who intends to initiate a movement of goods of value exceeding Rs 50,000 should generate an e-Way bill.

Shifting from State to National e-way bill :

  • Earlier GST Council had authorised the States to continue their own separate e-way bill systems, till such time as National e-way bill is ready. But the issue of e-way Bills is very serious because.
    • As represented by the trade and transporters, States’ e-way bill system is causing undue hardship in interstate movement of goods.
    • There is a concern over potential revenue leakages in the absence of a nationwide uniform tracking platform.
  • As decided by GST Council, the nationwide e-way bill system will be rolled out on a trial basis from January 16.
  • As for intra-state movement of goods, States have been given time till June 1, 2018, to implement the e-way bill system.

Advantage :

  • E-way bill system will ensure accountability and tax compliance.
  • It would prop up revenue collections and enable the government to track tax evasion far better.
  • Transit pass system with e-way bill the system is expected to speed up movement of goods countrywide.
  • Already, the removal of number to check-posts across state borders and national highways resulted in ease of movement of goods.

Concerns :

  • Industry is wary that this may be a rushed exercise with just a fortnight allowed for trials.
  • The mandatory roll-out from February 1 could cause difficulties for businesses, especially in many States that do not have any such requirement at present.
  • The success of e-way bill implementation again depends upon the quick response of GSTN and the other facilities from GSTN (like e-way bill through mobile app etc.)
  • Stringent provisions of e-way bill in regard to acceptance or rejection within stipulated time frame may become concern for its effective implementation.
Consent must for changing subsidy receiving accounts: UIDAI

Consent must for changing subsidy receiving accounts: UIDAI

Context :

The Unique Identification Authority of India on Tuesday decided to revamp the method as per which direct benefit transfers are made to beneficiaries using accounts linked with Aadhaar.

Background :

  • The notification cameBhartiAirtel case where LPG subsidy of over 31 lakh users was deposited in Airtel Payments Bank accounts instead of their original bank accounts.
  • The UIDAI notification follows various complaints made by beneficiaries about their money being deposited into accounts that were last linked with Aadhaar, instead of the accounts in which they were originally receiving it.

New Process :

  • According to the new notification, banks have been asked to seek explicit consent of the beneficiaries before changing accounts to which subsidy will be remitted, along with intimating the consumer.
  • According to the new process, banks will send request for mapping of a new account or overriding an existing bank account to NPCI only after taking explicit and informed consent of the users.
  • The banks would also have to inform each account holder through SMS and email about the overriding request within 24 hours.
  • In case, the consumer does not wish to link the DBT to the new account, the bank will have to provide the user with a method to reverse the mapping.

About UIDAI :

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a statutory authority established under the provisions of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (“Aadhaar Act 2016”), under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

UIDAI Mission :

  • Deliver Aadhaar numbers universally to residents with a well defined turnaround time and adhering to stringent quality metrics.
  • Collaborate with partners to set up infrastructure which provides convenience to residents for updating and authenticating their digital identity.
  • Collaborate with partners and service providers in leveraging Aadhaar to serve residents effectively, efficiently and equitably.
  • Encourage innovation and provide a platform for public and private agencies to develop Aadhaar linked applications.
  • Ensure availability, scalability and resilience of the technology infrastructure.
  • Build a long term sustainable organization to carry forward the vision and values of the UIDAI.
  • Make it attractive for the best global expertise in different fields to collaborate and provide valuable insights to the UIDAI organization.
World Bank loan for “SANKALP” Project

World Bank loan for “SANKALP” Project

Context :

A Financing Agreement for IBRD loan of USD 250 million (equivalent) for the “Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion (SANKALP) Project” was signed with the World Bank.

About SANKALP :

The Objective of the project is to enhance institutional mechanisms for skills development and increase access to quality and market-relevant training for the work force.

The Key result areas for the project include -

  1. Institutional Strengthening at the National and State Levels for Planning, Delivering
  2. Monitoring High-Quality Market-Relevant Training
  3. Improved Quality and Market Relevance of Skills Development Programs
  4. Improved access to and completion of skills training for female trainees and other disadvantaged groups
  5. Expanding skills training through private-public partnerships (PPPs)

About IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) :

  • The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) is an international financial institution that offers loans to middle-income developing countries.
  • The IBRD is the first of five-member institutions that compose the World Bank Group.
  • It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States.
NLCPR scheme for North East

NLCPR scheme for North East

News Summary :

  • The Union Cabinet has approved the continuation of the existing Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) scheme with funding pattern of 90:10 till March, 2020 with an outlay of Rs.5300 crore.
  • The Union Cabinet also approved the introduction of new Central Sector Scheme of “North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme” (NESIDS) from 2017-18 with 100% funding from the Central Government to fill up the gaps in creation of infrastructure in specified sectors till March, 2020.

The new scheme will broadly cover creation of infrastructure under following sectors: -

  • Physical infrastructure relating to water supply, power, connectivity and specially the projects promoting tourism
  • Infrastructure of social sectors of education and health.

Benefits of NESIDS :

  • Strengthen health care and education facilities in the region.
  • Encourage tourism which help in employment opportunities for local youth.
  • Act as a catalyst in overall development of the region.
Achievement under PMGSY

Achievement under PMGSY

Context :

More than 80 per cent of the habitations in the country had been connected with all-weather roads under the PradhanMantri Gram SadakYojana (PMGSY).

About The PradhanMantri Gram SadakYojana (PMGSY) :

  • The PradhanMantri Gram SadakYojana (PMGSY) is a nationwide plan in India to provide good all-weather road connectivity to unconnected villages.
  • This Centrally Sponsored Scheme was introduced in 2000 by the then-prime minister of India AtalBihari Vajpayee.
  • The PMGSY is under the authority of the Ministry of Rural Development.
  • The eligible unconnected Habitations in the rural areas with a population of 500 persons and above in Plain areas.
  • In respect of the Hill States, Desert Areas, Tribal areas eligible unconnected Habitations with a population of 250 persons and above.

  INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS:  

BBIN Motor pact

  BBIN Motor pact:  

Context

  • India plans to operationalise BBIN motor vehicle agreement (MVA) with Bangladesh and Nepal for seamless movement of passenger and cargo vehicles.
  • Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) had signed a framework MVA in June 2015 to enable movement of passenger and cargo vehicles across borders among the four countries.
  • Bhutan has not yet ratified the pact for its entry to come into force. However, Bhutan has given its consent for the BBIN MVA to enter into force amongst the other 3 countries i.e. Bangladesh, India and Nepal, who have already ratified it.

About BBIN agreement

  • The agreement encapsulates the spirit of economic integration emphasised in the SAARC Charter.
  • The main objective of the agreement is to provide seamless people-to-people contact and enhance economic interaction by facilitating cross border movement of people and goods.
  • It would permit unhindered movement of passenger and cargo vehicles among the four countries. Cargo vehicles do not have to be changed at the border, a practice that has prevailed until now.
  • As per the agreement, member countries would allow vehicles registered in the other countries to enter their territory under certain terms and conditions. Customs and tariffs will be decided by the respective countries and these would be finalised at bilateral and trilateral forums.
  • The BBIN agreement will promote safe, economical efficient and environmentally sound road transport in the sub-region and will further help each country in creating an institutional mechanism for regional integration.
India, Australia call for ‘open’ Asia-Pacific zone

  India, Australia call for ‘open’ Asia-Pacific zone:  

What is the news?

  • Australia and India discussed the need to maintain the Asia-Pacific region as a “free” and “open” zone under the “2+2” dialogue model which includes the foreign and defence secretaries of both sides.
  • The discussion was the first meeting of this level since the two sides participated in the quadrilateral discussion for a new strategic partnership targeting the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Both sides agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large. There is a growing convergence of strategic perspectives between the two countries.

Participants

  • The “2+2” dialogue was held between Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra and their Australian counterparts Frances Adamson and Greg Moriarty.

Focus South China Sea

  • The dialogue indicated that the focus remains on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where China has been reclaiming land for infrastructure, boosting its maritime influence.
A 3-nation Indo-Pacific Compact

  A 3-nation Indo-Pacific Compact :  

What is the News?

  • India, Japan and Australia have “growing convergences” in the Indo-Pacific region, said officials of the three countries after meeting for a trilateral in New Delhi.

Highlights

  • The three sides stressed the need for greater collaboration on maritime security and domain awareness and disaster response capabilities.
  • They also renewed their resolve to fight the scourge of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed the need for enhanced cooperation on counter-terrorism.
  • The three countries had discussed regional connectivity issues, at the meeting.
  • This was fourth trilateral between Foreign Secretaries S. Jaishankar and his counterparts, Ms. Adamson and Japanese Vice-Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama, held in Delhi.
  • The statement issued after the trilateral also underlined “support for ASEAN centrality in the political and security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region”, indicating the possibility of trilateral military cooperation along with East Asian nations as well.

ASEAN-India Summit

  • India is hosting a commemorative ASEAN-India summit in Delhi on January 25, while all 10 ASEAN-nation leaders will be the chief guests at the coming Republic Day parade.
  • The theme of the engagement this year would focus on the three “C’s” of Commerce, Connectivity and Culture, and would also underline similar convergence on issues in the Indo-Pacific, as the East Pacific-Indian Ocean region is popularly referred to.
Pakistan files counter in ICJ

  Pakistan files counter in ICJ:  

What is the news?

  • Pakistan has filed a counter-memorial before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against India’s plea to prevent execution.

What are the details of Counter-memorial?

  • The counter-memorial stated that Jadhav, 46, is a RAW operative involved in espionage and subversive activities and supporting terrorists to conduct attacks in the restive Balochistan province. India has denied the allegations.
  • Pakistan has referred to the bilateral consular access agreement of 2008, which says that in case of arrest, detention, or sentence made on political or security grounds, each side may examine the case on the merits. The agreement was signed in Islamabad on May 21, 2008.

What is the background?

  • India had filed a plea before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prevent execution of alleged Indian spy KulbhushanJadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court in April.
  • Pakistan had refused to allow consular access to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad despite repeated requests.
  • India had won a stay from the ICJ on Jadhav’s execution on May 18 following Pakistan’s refusal .

Access granted to Kin

  • Islamabad has now agreed to allow Mr. Jadhav’s wife and mother to meet him on December 25.
  • The Pakistani authorities have also allowed the presence of an Indian High Commission official at the meeting as requested by New Delhi.
East Jerusalem is Palestine’s capital: OIC

  East Jerusalem is Palestine’s capital: OIC :  

What is the news?

  • Islamic leaders urged the world to recognise occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the U.S. no longer had any role to play in the peace process.

Background

  • In response to the recognition by U.S. President Donald Trump of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
  • Turkish President RecepTayyipErdoðan convened in Istanbul an emergency summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic body, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), seeking a coordinated response.

Highlights

  • With the Islamic world itself mired in division, the summit fell short of agreeing any concrete sanctions against Israel or the U.S.
  • But their final statement declared “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine” and invited “all countries to recognise the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.
  • They declared Mr. Trump’s decision “null and void legally” and “a deliberate undermining of all peace efforts” that would give impetus to “extremism and terrorism”.
  • The final statement from the OIC said, Mr. Trump’s move was “an announcement of the U.S. administration’s withdrawal from its role as sponsor of peace” in West Asia.
  • Israel sees the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector, which the international community regards as annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state.
Saudi, UAE pledge funds for African anti-terror force

  Saudi, UAE pledge funds for African anti-terror force:  

What is the News?

  • Saudi Arabia has pledged $100 million towards a five-nation anti-terror force in the Sahel region of West Africa, while the United Arab Emirates has offered $30 million, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

What is G5 Sahel Force?

  • The G5 Sahel force,is an initiative pooling troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
  • The leaders of the five nations, which are among the world’s poorest, joined Mr. Macron and other leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the talks at a château in La Celle-Saint-Cloud outside Paris.
  • Former colonial power France is fighting against jihadists in West Africa with its 4,000-strong regional Barkhane force, but is keen for the countries affected to take on more responsibility.
What is net neutrality and why does it matter?

  What is net neutrality and why does it matter?:  

Net Neutrality

  • “Net neutrality” regulations, designed to prevent internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter from favouring some sites and apps over others, are on the chopping block.
  • The Federal Communications Commission voted in favour of not just undoing the Obama-era rules that have been in place since 2015, but will forbid states to put anything similar in place.

What is Net Neutrality?

  • Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers treat all web traffic equally, and it’s pretty much how the internet has worked since its creation.
  • But regulators, consumer advocates and internet companies were concerned about what broadband companies could do with their power as the pathway to the internet blocking or slowing down apps that rival their own services, for example.

What did the government do about it?

  • The FCC in 2015 approved rules, on a party-line vote, that made sure cable and phone companies don’t manipulate traffic. With them in place, a provider such as Comcast can’t charge Netflix for a faster path to its customers, or block it or slow it down.
  • The net neutrality rules gave the FCC power to go after companies for business practices that weren’t explicitly banned as well. For example, the Obama FCC said that “zero rating” practices by AT&T violated net neutrality.
  • The telecom giant exempted its own video app from cellphone data caps, which would save some consumers money, and said video rivals could pay for the same treatment. Pai’s FCC spiked the effort to go after AT&T, even before it began rolling out a plan to undo the net neutrality rules entirely.
  • A federal appeals court upheld the rules in 2016 after broadband providers sued.

What telcos want

  • Big telecom companies hate the stricter regulation that comes with the net neutrality rules and have fought them fiercely in court.
  • They say the regulations can undermine investment in broadband and introduced uncertainty about what were acceptable business practices.
  • There were concerns about potential price regulation, even though the FCC had said it won’t set prices for consumer internet service.

What Silicon Valley wants

  • Internet companies such as Google have strongly backed net neutrality, but many tech firms have been more muted in their activism this year.
  • Netflix, which had been vocal in support of the rules in 2015, said in January that weaker net neutrality wouldn’t hurt it because it’s now too popular with users for broadband providers to interfere.

What happens Next

  • In the long run, net-neutrality advocates say undoing these rules makes it harder for the government to crack down on internet providers who act against consumer interests and will harm innovation.
  • Those who criticize the rules say undoing them is good for investment in broadband networks.
  • But advocates aren’t sitting still. Some groups plan lawsuits to challenge the FCC’s move, and Democrats energized by public protests in support of net neutrality think it might be a winning political issue for them in 2018 congressional elections.
Trump to unveil ‘America First’ plan

  Trump to unveil ‘America First’ plan:  

What is the News?

  • President Donald Trump is poised to outline a new national security strategy,Prioritising national sovereignty over alliances to be known as ‘America first’plan.

What is America first plan?

  • It is a new national security strategy that envisions nations in a perpetual state of competition, reverses Obama-era warnings on climate change, and de-emphasises multinational agreements that have dominated the U.S.’s foreign policy since the Cold War.
  • The plan, is to focus on four main themes —
    1. Protecting the homeland and way of life;
    2. Promoting American prosperity;
    3. Demonstrating peace through strength; and
    4. Advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world.

What is the doctrine behind the plan?

  • Mr. Trump’s doctrine holds that nation states are in perpetual competition and that the U.S. must fight on all fronts to protect and defend its sovereignty from friend and foe alike.
  • ‘America First’ does not mean ‘America Alone’,
  • The national security strategy to will make clear that the U.S. will stand up for itself even if that means acting unilaterally or alienating others on issues like trade, climate change and immigration.

Obama’s strategy And Trump

  • The last such strategy document, prepared by then-President Barack Obama in 2015, declared climate change an “urgent and growing threat to our national security”.
  • The Trump plan removes that determination following the administration’s threat to pull out of the Paris climate accord but will mention the importance of environmental stewardship.

Rogue Regimes

  • Mr. Trump, is also expected to discuss threats he’ll deem as “rogue regimes”, like North Korea, and “revisionist powers”, like Russia and China, who aim to change the status quo, such as Moscow and its actions with Ukraine and Georgia, and Beijing in the South China Sea.

Way forward

  • If the plan fully implemented could sharply alter the U.S.’s relationships with the rest of the world.The U.S. is interested only in relationships with other countries, including alliances like NATO that are fair and reciprocal.
U.S. vetoes UN call on Jerusalem’s status

  U.S. vetoes UN call on Jerusalem’s status:  

What is the News?

  • The United States blocked a United Nations Security Council call for the declaration(recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by US) to be withdrawn.
  • What happened at the council?
  • Apart from US the remaining 14 members voted in favour of the Egyptian-drafted resolution, which did not specifically mention the United States or Mr. Trump but which expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem”.
  • It was the first veto cast by the United States in the Security Council in more than six years.

About UNSC

  • The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, charged with the maintenance of international peace and security as well as accepting new members to the United Nations and approving any changes to its United Nations Charter.
  • Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions; it is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
  • The Security Council consists of fifteen members. The great powers that were the victors of World War II—the Soviet Union (now represented by the Russian Federation), the United Kingdom, France, Republic of China (now represented by the People’s Republic of China), and the United States—serve as the body’s five permanent members.
  • These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General.
  • The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.

  POLITY & GOVERNANCE  

The Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill, 2017

  The Indian Forest (Amendment)
Bill, 2017 :  

The bill would amend the Indian Forest Act to exempt felling andtransportation of bamboo grown in non-forest areas from the state permit. It would omit bamboos growing in non-forest areas from the definition of trees.

Background

  • In november, the government had come out with an ordinance to amend the Indian Forest Act, 1927 in this regard. Prior to issuance of the ordinance, the definition of tree in the Act included palm, bamboo, brushwood and cane.

Why this move?

  • The major objective of the amendment is to promote cultivation of bamboo in non-forest areas to achieve twin aims of increasing the income of farmers and also increasing the green cover of the country.
  • Bamboo, though taxonomically a grass, is treated as tree under the Act and attracts the requirement of permit for transit. While many states have exempted felling and transit of various species of bamboos within the states, the interstate movement of bamboos require permit.
  • The farmers faced hardships in getting the permits for felling and transit of bamboos which acts as a major impediment to the cultivation of bamboos by farmers on their land. This measure will go a long way in enhancing the agricultural income of farmers and tribals, especially in North-East and Central India.
  • Moreover, it'll solve the raw material crunch of industries which use Bamboo like paper industry, traditional craft etc.
The Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017

  The Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017:  

  • Parliament unanimously passed The Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017 . The bill seeks to bring about a positive change in the educational system in the country.

Highlights of the Bill

  • The Bill declares 20 existing Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) as institutions of national importance.
  • The bill gives them powers to award degrees instead of postgraduate diplomas.
  • The Board of Governors will be the executive body of each IIM, comprising upto 19 members. It will nominate 17 board members including eminent persons, faculty members and alumni. The remaining two members will be nominees from the central and state governments, respectively. The Board appoints its own Chairperson.
  • The Board of Governors will appoint the Director of each IIM. A search committee will recommend names for the post of the Director. The Director is eligible for variable pay, to be determined by the Board.
  • The Academic Council of each IIM will determine the: (i) academic content; (ii) criteria and process for admission to courses; and (iii) guidelines for conduct of examinations.A coordination forum will be set up, which will include representation from the 20 IIMs. It will discuss matters of common interest to all IIMs.

Analysis

  • Currently, the central government has a role in the functioning of IIMs which includes appointment of the Chairperson of their Boards, their Directors and pay to the Director. In contrast, the Bill extends greater autonomy to the Board in the performance of these functions. The passage of bill will pave the way for more research at these prestigious institutions.
Special courts to try politicians, Centre informs SC

  Special courts to try politicians, Centre informs SC :  

What is the News?

  • The Centre informed the Supreme Court that it will set up at least 12 special courts to try exclusively criminal cases involving MPs and MLAs.
  • 7.8 crore allocated: The government, in an affidavit, said it had allotted 7.8 crore and framed a scheme to set up the special courts.The scheme had been given in-principle approval by the Finance Ministry.

Background

  • The court directed the Centre to place before it details of 1,581 cases involving MPs and MLAs, as declared by the politicians at the time of filing their nominations during the 2014 general elections.
  • The affidavit was in response to a Supreme Court direction in November to the government to frame a Central scheme for setting up special courts across the country exclusively to try criminal cases involving "political persons".

Way forward

  • It is a determined effort to cleanse politics of criminality and corruption. The Centre's decision could be a setback to politicians who, despite facing serious charges, have remained members of Parliament and state assemblies due to time consumed in trials. Such cases will fall in the purview of special courts and their fate will be decided expeditiously.

Supreme Court gives the nod for setting up 12 special courts to try cases against politicians:

  • The Supreme Court gave the green signal for the Centre's scheme to set up 12 fast track courts to exclusively prosecute and dispose 1,581 criminal cases pending against Members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies within a year.
  • The States shall, in consultation with the High Courts concerned, make the courts operational by March 1, 2018, the Bench said.
Jallikattu issue to go to Constitution Bench

  Jallikattu issue to go to Constitution Bench :  

What is the News?

  • The Supreme Court said a Constitution Bench would examine if the people of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra can conserve jallikattu and bullock cart races as their cultural right and demand their protection under Article 29 (1) of the Constitution.

About Article 29 (1)

  • Article 29 (1) is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of citizens.
  • Though commonly used to protect the interests of minorities, the Article mandates that "any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same".
  • TheSupreme Courtdecision in Ahmedbad St. Xavier's College Society case pointed out that the scope of Article 29 (1) does not necessarily confine to the cultural rights of minorities but may well include the majority.

Background

  • The two-judge Special Bench was hearing a batch of petitions, filed by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), seeking the quashing of the new Jallikattu law passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly that brought bulls back into the fold of 'performing animals'.
  • The law under challenge - Tamil Nadu's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2017and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules of 2017 - opened the gates for the conduct of the bull-taming sport despite a 2014 ban by the Supreme Court. That year, in the A. Nagaraja judgment, the Supreme Court held jallikattu as cruelty to bulls.
  • Five internationally recognized freedoms : The PETA petitions contend that the 2017 Jallikattu Act and Rules violate the five internationally recognized freedoms - the freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

Way forward

  • If jallikattu is upheld by the Constitution Bench as a cultural right and a part of the "collective culture" of the people of Tamil Nadu under the Article, provisions of other laws that undermine the sport may run the risk of being struck down.
Naveen writes to PM on Mahanadi Issue

  Naveen writes to PM on Mahanadi Issue :  

What is the News?

  • Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has written a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister NarendraModi, requesting issuance of instructions for the constitution of a tribunal to resolve the Mahanadi water dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

Background

  • The Odisha government had filed a complaint with the Centre in November, 2016, seeking appointment of a tribunal to adjudicate the water dispute, Mr. Patnaik pointed out that the Union Ministry of Water Resources had taken a clear stand that the water dispute cannot be settled through negotiations and a tribunal was required to be constituted.

Legal and Constitutional Provisions

  • River waters use/harnessing is included in states jurisdiction (entry 17 of state list, Schedule 7 of Indian Constitution). However, union government can make laws on regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys when expedient in the public interest (entry 56 of union list, Schedule 7 of Indian Constitution).
  • Whenever the riparian states are not able to reach amicable agreements on their own in sharing of an interstate river waters, section 4 of IRWD Act provides dispute resolution process in the form of Tribunal.
  • Article 262. Adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter State rivers or river valleys
    1. Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter State river or river valley.
    2. Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament may by law provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint as is referred to in clause (1) Co ordination between States.
  • Article 263. Provisions with respect to an inter State Council: If any any time it appears to the President that the public interests would be served by the establishment of a Council charged with the duty of
    1. inquiring into and advising upon disputes which may have arisen between States;
    2. investigating and discussing subjects in which some or all of the States, or the Union and one or more of the States, have a common interest; or
    3. making recommendations upon any such subject and, in particular, recommendations for the better co ordination of policy and action with respect to that subject, in shall be lawful for the President by order to establish such a Council, and to define the nature of the duties to be performed by it and its organisation and procedure.

Inter State River Water Disputes Act, 1956:

  • The Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (IRWD Act) is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted under Article 262 of Constitution of India on the eve of reorganization of states on linguistic basis to resolve the water disputes that would arise in the use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valley.
  • Whenever the riparian states are not able to reach amicable agreements on their own in sharing of an interstate river waters, section 4 of IRWD Act provides dispute resolution process in the form of Tribunal.
Hold meet on PCPNDT Act: SC

  Hold meet on PCPNDT Act: SC :  

What is the News?

  • The Supreme Court ordered the government to hold a meeting with stakeholders, including online search engines Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, to finalise a mechanism to ensure that materials violating Indian laws prohibiting pre-natal sex determination are not hosted on websites.
  • The Bench directed the meeting to be held within six weeks.

What is PCPNDT Act

  • Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India.
  • The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.
  • Offences under this act include conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units, sex selection on a man or woman, conducting PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act, sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.
  • Amendment in 2003: Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.
SC eases petcoke ban in two sectors

  SC eases petcoke ban in two sectors:  

What is the News?

  • The Supreme Court relaxed its ban on the use of petroleum coke (petcoke) and allowed cement and limestone industries to use it.
  • However, the bench asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests to frame a scheme within four weeks to contain the illegal diversion of petcoke from cement industries to other fields.

Background

  • The court's earlier stance urged States and Union Territories to move forward towards a nationwide ban on the use of petcoke and furnace oil to power up industries in an attempt to fight pollution.

What is the cause of step back?

  • The decision to modify its ban was largely due to the government's submissions that petcoke is used as an ingredient and not as fuel in the cement industry. The sulphur is mostly absorbed in the process of cement-making.

What is petcoke?

  • Petroleum coke, abbreviated coke or petcoke, is a final carbon-rich solid material that derives from oil refining, and is one type of the group of fuels referred to as cokes.
  • Petcoke is over 90 percent carbon and emits 5 to 10 percent more carbon dioxide (CO2) than coal on a per-unit-of-energy basis when it is burned.
  • As petcoke has a higher energy content, petcoke emits between 30 and 80 percent more CO2 than coal per unit of weight.
  • The difference between coal and coke in CO2 production per unit of energy produced depends upon the moisture in the coal, which increases the CO2 per unit of energy - heat of combustion) and on the volatile hydrocarbons in coal and coke, which decrease the CO2 per unit of energy.
Kalvari submarine a big step in defence preparedness, says PM Modi

  Kalvari submarine a big step in defence preparedness, says PM Modi :  

What is the News?

  • Prime Minister NarendraModi formally commissioned the first of six Scorpene diesel-electric submarines into the Navy.
  • This is the Navy's first modern conventional submarine in almost two decades since the INS Sindhushastra was procured from Russia in July 2000.
  • The second of the Scorpenes, Khanderi, was launched in January 2017, and is undergoing sea trials. The third, Karanj, is being readied for launch shortly. The rest are in various stages of outfitting. The project is expected to be over by 2020.

About Kalvari

  • It is named after a deep sea tiger shark, weighs about 1,600 tonnes and carries the sea skimming SM 39 Exocet missiles and the heavy weight wire guided Surface and Underwater Target (SUT) torpedoes. For self-defence it has mobile anti-torpedo decoys.
  • The boat also has two 1250 kW MAN diesel engines for rapidly charging batteries. The submarine boasts of a highly advanced Combat Management System and a sophisticated Integrated Platform Management System.
  • The Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd (MDL) for undertook the project to construct the six submarines with technology transfer from the Naval Group (Formerly DCNS) of France.
  • INS Kalvari is manned by a team of eight officers and 35 sailors.
  • The Scorpene submarines can undertake different missions including anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying and area surveillance, the MDL officials said.
Cabinet nod for Bill making instant triple talaq a crime

  Cabinet nod for Bill making instant triple talaq a crime :  

What is the news?

  • The Union Cabinet approved a Bill that makes instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat a criminal offence and a Muslim husband resorting to instant talaq can be jailed for up to three years.

Jurisdiction of the proposed bill

  • The proposed Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill will deal with complaints against instant triple talaq across the country, except Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Provisions of the bill:
  • As per provisions of the draft Bill, a husband who resorts to instant triple talaq can be fined or face a jail term of up to three years.
  • Instant triple talaq in any form - oral, written or electronic form - has been banned and made a cognisable offence.
  • The Bill also provides for a subsistence allowance of a harassed Muslim woman and her dependent children and the custodial rights of minor children.

What was the need of a bill?

  • In August, the SC had passed a landmark judgment terming instant triple talaq "llegal and unconstitutional."
  • However, government sources say data suggests even after the judgement, there have been 66 cases of instant divorce until November. And before the judgment, there were 177 cases with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar recording the maximum number of cases.
Cabinet clears Bill to replace Medical Council of India

  Cabinet clears Bill to replace Medical Council of India :  

What is the News?

  • The Union Cabinet has cleared the National Medical Commission Bill, which does away with the Medical Council of India (MCI) and replaces it with a regulator that will do away with "heavy handed regulatory control" over medical institutions and will also bring in a national licentiate examination.

About the body

  • The Bill proposes a government-nominated chairman and members, who will be selected by a committee under the Cabinet Secretary.
  • The 25-member NMC will have 12 ex-officio members, including four presidents of boards from leading medical institutions such as AIIMS and the ICMR; 11 part-time members and, a chairman and member-secretary.
  • The NMC also aims to be less draconian. Deterrence for non-compliance with maintenance of standards is in terms of monetary penalty - ranging up to 10 times the annual tuition fee - rather than the existing system of not renewing permissions in case of serious infractions. The new commission will also have the power to frame guidelines for fees for up to 40% seats in private colleges and deemed universities.
  • Among its key provisions isto ease the processes for colleges to manage undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Earlier, the MCI approval was needed for establishing, renewing, recognising and increasing seats in a UG course. Under the new proposal, permissions need only be sought for establishment and recognition.
  • While separate permission would be required for starting a postgraduate course after UG recognition, colleges could start PG courses on their own.

What is the aim of the bill?

  • The Bill is aimed at bringing reforms in the medical education sector which has been under scrutiny for corruption and unethical practices
Big push for Northeast roads

  Big push for Northeast roads :  

What is the News?

  • Prime Minister NarendraModi inaugurated crucial connectivity and power projects in Mizoram and Meghalaya.
  • Mr. Modi dedicated the 60-MW Tuirial hydropower power project, which made Mizoram the third power-surplus State in the region after Sikkim and Tripura.The project is expected to produce "251 million units" of power annually.

Better Connectivity

  • The dam could be used for improving connectivity in remote villages, fisheries, ecotourism and also as a source of potable water.
  • In Meghalaya, he announced a grant of 90,000 crore for improving roads and national highways in the northeast over two or three years to improve connectivity.
  • He dedicated to the nation a 271-km two-lane national highway connecting Tura in western Meghalaya to Shillong.
  • The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, connecting Aizawl with the deep-water Sittwe Port in Myanmar, would provide great benefits to the people of the north-eastern States.
  • With the allocation of 10,000 crore for the power sector, a state-of-the-art transmission system would be in place soon in the Northeast.
  • The development of the Rih-Tiddim road and the establishment of numerous rural markets along the Mizoram-Myanmar border would increase trade volume.

  SCIENCE TECH AND ENVIRONMENT  

Brahmos supersonic cruise missile

  Brahmos supersonic cruise missile:  

Context

  • Work has begun to integrate the Brahmos supersonic cruisemissile on 40 Sukhoi combat aircraft.
  • This project is expected to fulfil critical needs of the Indian Air Force in the wake of evolving security dynamics in the region.
  • Air-launched variant of the Brahmos was successfully test fired from a Sukhoi-30 combat jet on November 22, marking a major milestone to enhance the precision strike capability of the air force.
  • This will be the heaviest weapon to be deployed on India's Su-30 fighter aircraft.

Brahmos missile :

  1. It is world's fastest supersonic cruise missile
  2. The 2.5-ton missile flies almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8 and has a range of 290 km.
  3. The range of the missile can be extended up to 400 km as certain technical restrictions were lifted after India became a full member of the Missile Technology Control Regime(MTCR) last year.
  4. The BrahMos missile is named after two rivers,theBrahmaputra And the Moskva (Russia).
  5. Brahmos is a joint venture between DRDO of India and NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) of Russia.
Deep Learning Neural Network

  Deep Learning Neural Network:  

Context :

  • Scientists have announced the discovery of two new exoplanets, Kepler-90i and Kepler-80g. With this discovery, it is now clear that there is another star besides the Sun that has eight planets orbiting it.
  • These new exoplanets have been discovered using a deep learning neural network - an artificial intelligence tool that mimics the workings of a human brain.

What is Deep Learning?

  • Deep learning is a machine learning technique that teaches computers to do what comes naturally to humans: learn by example.
  • In deep learning, a computer model learns to perform classification tasks directly from images, text, or sound.
  • Deep learning models can achieve state-of-the-art accuracy, sometimes exceeding human-level performance.
  • Models are trained by using a large set of labeled data and neural network architectures that contain many layers.
  • A key advantage of deep learning networks is that they often continue to improve as the size of your data increases.

Applications :

  • Deep learning is a key technology behind driverless cars, enabling them to recognize a stop sign, or to distinguish a pedestrian from a lamppost.
  • It is the key to voice control in consumer devices like phones, tablets, TVs, and hands-free speakers. Deep learning is getting lots of attention lately and for good reason. It's achieving results that were not possible before.
Pratap Helicopters

  Pratap Helicopters:  

Context :

The Soviet-era MI-8, also known as 'Pratap', the backbone of the Indian Air Force helicopter operations, was recently phased out, bringing an end to its glorious service career spanning 45 years.

Background :

  • Formally inducted in 1972 and rechristened as "Pratap", MI-8 took part in several major IAF operations, including Operation Meghdoot in the Siachen Glacier and the Indian Peace Keeping Force operation in Sri Lanka.
  • The helicopter, inducted in 10 operational helicopter units, was also extensively used in Humanitarian and Disaster Relief operations, besides being associated with VIP/VVIP flying.
FSOC Technology

  FSOC Technology:  

Context :

Google X has signed a MoU with Andhra Pradesh government to setup developmental centre in Visakhapatnam and to create a high speed internet network based on FSOC technology.

What is FSOC technology?

  • FSFC is an optical communication technology that uses light to wirelessly transmit data to telecommunication and internet applications.
  • The technology remained outside the commercial applications for long owing to distance, speed, and efficiency related problems.

How FSOC technology works?

FSOC links use beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances, just like fiber optic cable, but without the cable. And because there's no cable, this means there's none of the time, cost, and hassle involved in digging trenches or stringing cable along poles. FSOC boxes can simply be placed kilometres apart on roofs or towers, with the signal beamed directly between the boxes to easily traverse common obstacles like rivers, roads and railways.

About Google X :

  • Founded by Google in 2010 as Google X with an aim to work on finding solutions to the world's large problems, this American semi-secret advanced technology lab facility became an independent Alphabet company and was renamed as X after Google was restructured into Alphabet in the year 2015.
  • It has been working on several projects including driver-less car, product delivery through flying vehicles, Project Loon, Google glass among other technologies.
Great white pelican was sighted at kolleru lake offering a rarevisualtreattobirdwatchers

  Great white pelican was sighted at kolleru lake offering a rarevisualtreattobirdwatchers:  

Great white pelican :

  1. It is also known as the eastern white pelican, rosy pelicanor white pelican.
  2. It is a bird in the pelican family.
  3. It breeds from south eastern Europe through Asiaand Africa, in swampsandshallow lakes.
  4. IUCN conservation status: least concern
  5. It is listed underAppendix I of the Convention on the Conservationof Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Kolleru lake :

  1. Kolleru Lake islocated between thedeltaof Godavariand Krishna Rivers in Andhra Pradesh.
  2. It functions as a natural flood balancing reservoir between these two deltas.
  3. The lakesupportsabout 63 speciesof fishes, freshwater turtles andother amphibians,apartfrom beingahabitatformany migratory birds thatforms Kolleru Bird Sanctuary.
  4. The lakewasnotifiedas a wildlifesanctuary under Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
  5. It is designated as a wetlandof international importance in November 2002under theRamsarConvention.
Water spray cannons latest in pollution fight

  Water spray cannons latest in pollution fight:  

To combat pollution in the capital, the Delhi government plansto use a machine that sprays water into the air. A pilot project to test the machine, described as an "anti-smog gun", was done recently.

Water Canon :

This move is inspired by the Chinese water cannons that were used by the authorities there with some success. The idea is to reduce air pollution by binding dust and other particulate matter, and bring them down to the ground level. This could be of use in an arid place like Delhi

Delhi government made 'Air Action Plan' to curb the air pollution issue of the city

Air Action Plan :

The plan has two components - a constructive plan with specific targets, which officials aim to start fromJanuary 2018, and a regulatory plan that will vary depending on the season.The plan has been made by looking at the three major sources of pollution - transport, industry, and road dust and fugitive emissions.Few steps that are to be taken includes:

  • Procure 2,000 busesto improve last-mile connectivity
  • Converting 35 lakh BS-II two-wheelers into electric vehicles.
  • An incentive scheme for public transport such as midi buses to be converted into electric vehicles.
  • The government will also focus on the existing Pollution Under Control (PUC) mechanism.
  • Closing down of the Badarpur thermal power plant by July 2018 was integral to curb pollution.
  • Environment Marshals will ensure that laws related to the environment were enforced at the field level. They will also monitor the implementation of plan.
Environment alistsallege winter forest firesin Charmadirangeare 'engineered'

  Environment alistsallege winter forest firesin Charmadirangeare 'engineered' :  

Forest fires during the winter at Somanakadu valley in the Charmadi range, which is normally a completely green landscape of the Western Ghats, has shocked administrators and environmentalists.

Reasons of fire :

  • Environmentalists allegethat these are not "natural"but attempts byestate owners inthe regionto extend their boundaries illegallyintoreserve forest areas. Many estate owners have developed estates growing rubber, coffee, among other produce at the foothills of the Western Ghats and have regularly been encroaching reserve forest lands.
  • Deficient rainfall this monsoon dried up all the water sources making the grass dry.

Consequences:

The region had seen forest fires this February too, destroying avast extent of forestland, including Shola forest sand grassland.
Recurring forest fires and consequent encroachment offorest landwillhave a cascading effect on the flowof the Netravathi,whichhas already been drying up. Such instances lead to ecological imbalance.

Conclusion :

The State government should use helicopters for monitoring and regulation. Recent step taken by government to recruit over 4,000 field personnel to guard the forest wealth is a step in right direction.

NASA’s Juno probes depths of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

  NASA’s Juno probes depths of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot:  

What is the News?

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the solar system’s most famous storm, is almost one-and-a-half Earths wide and penetrates about 300 km into the planet’s atmosphere, according to data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

Highlights:

  • Jupiter has two previously uncharted radiation zones.
  • One of the most basic questions answered about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot: how deep are the roots?” “Juno data indicate that the solar system’s most famous storm is almost one-and-a-half Earths wide, and has roots that penetrate about 300 km into the planet’s atmosphere,”
  • The science instrument responsible for this in-depth revelation was Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR). “Juno’s Microwave Radiometer has the unique capability to peer deep below Jupiter’s clouds,”
  • Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a giant oval of crimson-coloured clouds in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere that race counter-clockwise around the oval’s perimeter with wind speeds greater than any storm on the earth.
  • Warm at the base
    Measuring 16,000 km in width as of April 3, this year, the Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as the earth. “Juno found that the Great Red Spot’s roots go 50 to 100 times deeper than the earth’s oceans and are warmer at the base than they are at the top,” Winds are associated with differences in temperature, and the warmth of the spot’s base explains the ferocious winds we see at the top of the atmosphere,” said Ingersoll.
  • The future of the Great Red Spot is still very much up for debate. While the storm has been monitored since 1830, it has possibly existed for more than 350 years.
New island offers clues in search for life on Mars: NASA

  New island offers clues in search for life on Mars: NASA :  

What is the news?

The world’s newest island — formed during a volcanic eruption in the remote Pacific three years ago — may offer clues to how life potentially developed on Mars, NASA said.

What is islands location?

The island of Hunga Tonga HungaHa’apai rose from the seabed about 65 km northwest of the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa in late 2014 or early 2015.

About the Island:

  • Scientists initially expected the island — created when vast quantities of rock and dense ash spewed from the earth’s crust — to wash away within a few months.
  • It had proved more resilient than expected, possibly because warm sea water combined with ash during the volcanic explosion to create a concrete-like substance known as “tuff”. While the island — which initially measured one km wide, two km long and about 100 metres high — has undergone significant erosion, it is now expected to last anywhere from six to 30 years.
  • It provides a rare chance to study the life cycle of a newly created island.
  • Such spots may be prime locations to look for evidence of past life because they combined a wet environment with heat from volcanic processes.

Mars connection:

Examining how life gained a foothold on the Tongan island could help scientists pinpoint where to look for evidence of life on Mars.
Islands like this might have worked on Mars two or three billion years ago — lakes and small seas filling depressions, persistent surface waters.

NGT once again bans plastic use in Haridwar, Rishikesh to save Ganga

  NGT once again bans plastic use in Haridwar, Rishikesh to save Ganga :  

What is the news?

Reiterating its previous orders, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a ban on plastic items, including plastic bags and cutlery, in Haridwar and Rishikesh.

What are the details of the ban?

  • The bench banned the sale, manufacture and storage of all such plastic items, till Uttarkashi.
  • The green panel specified that the ban would be applicable to towns in Uttarakhand, along river Ganga and its tributaries.
  • A fine of ¹ 5,000 would be imposed on those violating the order. Action would be taken against erring officials as well.

Background:

  • In a judgment passed in 2015, the NGT had observed: “Plastic waste and other municipal waste is being thrown directly into river Ganga and its banks are full of such waste.
  • There is no proper system for collection, segregation and disposal of municipal solid waste in the entire city of Haridwar.” said: In a bid to check further pollution of the river, the green panel had imposed a ban on the use of plastic.
  • There shall be complete prohibition of use of plastic in the entire city of Haridwar and Rishikesh and particularly on the banks and flood plain of river Ganga. Plastic will not be used for any purpose whatsoever, that is serving food, commodities, packaging or even carrying the plastic in that area.
  • As part of the project to clean the river, the bench had held, “Under no circumstances, plastic carry bags of any thickness whatsoever would be permitted.
  • The procurement, storing and sale of such plastic bags, plates, glass, spoons are hereby prohibited.”
  • Further, the Tribunal had also prohibited the authorities from throwing municipal waste, construction and demolition waste into Ganga and its tributaries.
Biodiversity under alien attack

  Biodiversity under alien attack :  

A wide array: Orange Cup-Coral, Amazon Sailfin catfish, African Apple Snail and Papaya Mealy Bug.

What is the News?

  • Scientists have identified 157 animal species that pose a threat to native fauna
  • Just as alien plant species such as Partheniumhysterophorus (cotton grass) and Lantana camara (Lantana) are known to harm agriculture and biodiversity, invasive animal species pose a threat to biodiversity and human well-being.
  • According to experts, alien species become ‘invasive’ when they are introduced deliberately or accidentally outside their natural areas, where they out-compete the native species and upset the ecological balance.

Details of the compilation:

  • The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has for the first time compiled a list of alien invasive animal species, totalling 157.This number excludes invasive microbe species, adding that of the 157 species, 58 are found on land and in freshwater habitats, while 99 are in the marine ecosystem.
  • Of the 58 invasive species found on land and in freshwater, there were 31 species of arthropods, 19 of fish, three of molluscs and birds, one reptile and two mammals.
  • Paracoccusmarginatus (Papaya Mealy Bug), belongs to Mexico and Central America but is believed to have destroyed huge crops of papaya in Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
  • Phenacoccussolenopsis (Cotton Mealybug) is a native of North America but has severely affected cotton crops in the Deccan.
  • Pterygoplichthyspardalis (Amazon sailfin catfish) has been destroying fish populations in the wetlands of Kolkata.
  • Achatinafulica (African apple snail) is said to be most invasive among all alien fauna. It is a mollusc and was first reported in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. But today it is found all across the country and is threatening the habitats of several native species.
  • Among the alien invasive marine species, the genus Ascidia accounts for the maximum number of species (31), followed by Arthropods (26), Annelids (16), Cnidarian (11), Bryzoans (6), Molluscs (5), Ctenophora (3), and Entoprocta (1).
  • Tubastreacoccinea (Orange Cup-Coral), which originated in Indo-East Pacific but has now been reported in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Gulf of Kutch, Kerala and Lakshadweep.

This compilation was announced on the sidelines of the National Conference on the Status of Invasive Alien Species in India, organised by the ZSI and the Botanical Survey of India (BSI).

Reduce pesticide residue in rice,
States told

What is the news?

After noticing the pesticide level in rice exceeding stipulated limit, which has led to problems in export, major rice producing States in the South have been asked to take necessary steps to reduce the pesticide residue.

Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telanganahave been asked by the Union Ministry of Agriculture to keep a watch on the use of pesticides by farmers that could finally enter the food chain.

Background:

Export of rice has faced problems in the last few years in different markets such as the U.S., E.U. and Iran owing to detection of pesticides exceeding the prescribedmaximum residue limits (MRLs) a cautionary note that has been sent in late September to the Agriculture Departments of all five States through the Hyderabad-based Directorate of Oilseeds Development, which is the nodal agency for agri-related activities for South India. In Karnataka, the note was forwarded to the officials concerned in late November.

Internationally accepted MRLs

The European Union has brought the MRL of Tricyclazole to 0.01 gm/kg. “Similarly, the U.S. does not permit the presence of residue of Isoprothiolane beyond 0.01 gm/kg.

What are Tricyclazole and Isoprothiolane?

Tricyclazole and Isoprothiolane, are the two pesticides commonly used in paddy cultivation to prevent blast disease, a major threat to the Basmati and non-Basmati crops.

How rampant is fertilizer use?

There are differing views on this.
While farmers, acknowledged that it is the case, Agriculture Department officials claim that pesticide use is under control.

  • Farmers say that local fertilizer dealers have emerged as an advisor to farmers, who follow their instructions instead of sticking to the protocols issued by the Agriculture Department or agriculture universities.
  • Farmers have been using pesticide doses higher than the prescribed limit.
  • The department recommends spraying insecticide once or twice depending on the need. However, farmers end up spraying anywhere from 4 to 8 times.
  • The department recommends one-and-a-half quintal of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) per acre, farmers apply at least four-and-a-half quintals.” In fact, he said that though the department does not always advice use of systemic pesticides (which remain in the plant for a long time), farmers use them at their discretion.

  SOCIAL ISSUES  

EWS patients also 'overcharged' at Fortis

  EWS patients also 'overcharged'at Fortis:  

Fourmember committee appointed by theHaryanagovernment to probe into thedeath of seven-year old AdyaSingh during dengue treatment at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, has alsofound faults withthe treatment of patients from Economically Weaker Sections atthe hospital.

Findings of thepanel :

  1. According to thepanel the hospital useshigh-cost drugs for the EWSpatientsdeterring them fromopting fortreatment,despitesame composition medicines beingavailable in their pharmacy atmuch lower prices.
  2. Everyfollow-up patientisshownas a new caseto increase their numbers.
Wonders for maternal, newborn health

  Wonders for maternal, newborn health:  

Context:

  • According to a new study ‘Outcomes of a Coaching-Based World Health Organisation (WHO) Safe Childbirth Checklist Program in India’, Childbirth remains the No. 2 killer of women of childbearing age.

News Summary :

  • As per data released from the National Family Health Survey, 2015-16 (NFHS-4), Uttar Pradesh’s infant mortality rate (IMR) improved from 73 deaths per 1,000 live births to 64 over 10 years to 2016 and under-five mortality rate (U5MR) of 78 deaths per 1,000 live births, which are among the highest.
  • As a checklist cannot substitute for other critical components of the health system like persistent gaps in skills, availability of medicines or equipment, in systems for care of complications etc.
  • UP spends Rs 452 per capita on health, 70% less than Indian average despite being India’s most populous state.
  • The study aims to demonstrate large-scale, broad-based improvement in care during the 48-hour period of labour and delivery when women and newborns face the greatest risk of death and complications.
  • In this randomised study conducted from 2014 to 2016, birth attendants and managers at 60 rural health centres in Uttar Pradesh were coached on use of the WHO’s Safe Childbirth Checklist.

Findings of Study :

  • The study found “that coaching birth attendants and managers to use the WHO Safe Childbirth Checklist produced greater adherence to essential birth practices, representing significant improvements in care for women and newborns.
  • Community and primary health centres across Uttar Pradesh achieved marked improvement in the quality of childbirth care delivered for women and newborns using a checklist and coaching intervention.

Way forwards :

  • The agenda should be to bring together all of these system improvements so we can provide women and infants in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere with the best possible care and outcomes.
  • We also need to build in accountability in our public health systems—not just hospitals but, starting, in fact, with government-funding mechanisms.
Healthcare costs land 5 crore Indians in poverty

  Healthcare costs land 5 crore Indians in poverty:  

Context :

World Bank and the World Health Organization released ‘Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report’.

Findings of report :

  • The levels of health service coverage vary widely between countries. The Universal Health Coverage (UHC) service index is highest in East Asia (77 on the index) and Northern America and Europe (also 77). Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest index value (42), followed by Southern Asia (53).
  • Incidence of “catastrophic” spending has been increasing between 2000 and 2010.
  • Latin America and Asia have the highest rates of people with out-of-pocket expenditures exceeding 10% or 25% of total household consumption or income.
  • Among the BRICS countries, percentage of households spending over 25% of their income on healthcare:
  • South Africa, which spends 8.7% of GDP on health, had just 0.1% of households.Russia, which has a predominantly state-funded healthcare system, had 0.6%.
  • India, which has public health spending of about 1.3% of GDP on health, had 3.9% of households.
  • China had the highest proportion of households i.e. 4.8% and in Brazil it was 3.5% of households
  • The US had 0.8% of households who spends over 25% of their income on healthcare
  • Report has revealed that currently 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves.
  • At least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services and each year.
  • For almost 100 million, these expenses are high enough to push them into extreme poverty, forcing them to survive on $1.90 or less a day, because they have to pay for healthcare out of their own pockets.

India specific analysis :

  • About one-sixth of households in India spends exceeding 10% of their household income and 3.9% spends exceeding 25% of their household income.
  • Major concern is that households bear such spending out of their ability to pay and without any reimbursement by a third party.
  • In these cases, a household is forced by an adverse health event to divert spending away from things like food, shelter and clothing, to an extent that its spending on these items is reduced below the level indicated by the poverty line.
  • The report states that 4.2% and 4.6% households in India, based on two different poverty lines, are impoverished by spending on health.
  • Given that there are about 24 crore households in India, that would mean around a crore households or a population of nearly 5 crore being impoverished.

About Report :

  • Universal Health Coverage (UHC) means that all people receive the health services they need, including public health services designed to promote better health, ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.
  • The Universal Health Coverage (UHC) service index, which correlated with under-five mortality rates, life expectancy and the Human Development Index, is calculated for various region and countries.
  • The report also looks at “catastrophic” spending on health on the basis of out-of-pocket expenditures exceeding 10% and 25% of household total income or consumption.
IMA tightens the screws on antibiotic prescriptions

  IMA tightens the screws on antibiotic prescriptions:  

Context :

Indian Medical Association (IMA) has advised the doctors to follow strictly guidelines while prescribing antibiotics because of the growing antibiotic resistance that has made it difficult to treat many bacterial infections.

Reasons for antibiotic resistance :

  • Growing antibiotic resistance attributes to self-medication by most of the people.
  • Many people go to a chemist and ask for medicines for their health problem without visiting a doctor.
  • Moreover, some doctors too prescribe higher antibiotics due to the impatience shown by their patients in getting well soon.

ICMR initiative :

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has set up the National Anti-Microbial Resistance Research and Surveillance Network to enable the compilation of antibiotic resistance data at different levels of healthcare and publish the treatment guidelines for anti-microbial use in common syndromes.

Anti-Microbial Resistance Conference :

  • It was held in New Delhi in November.
  • At the conference, IMA advised its members to mandatorily restrict the usage of antibiotics for treatment of proven bacterial infections.
  • IMA also came out with a policy on anti-microbial resistance.
  • IMA president has told that the doctors should henceforth write the antibiotic in a box to differentiate it from other drugs in the prescription.
  • Clear instructions should be given to the patient about no refill of antibiotic prescription without the signature of the doctor.

No prescription without clinical suspicion :

  • As per the policy, doctors should not prescribe antibiotic cover or prophylactic antibiotic without a high degree of clinical suspicion.
  • No antibiotic should be prescribed for small bowel diarrhoea, fever with cough and cold, dengue, chikungunya, malaria and fever with rashes.
  • However, early initiation of antibiotics is the rule in suspected sepsis bacterial pneumonia meningitis and confirmed tuberculosis cases.

Prescription Audit :

  • The government should conduct random prescription audits in both private and public sectors to improve medication safety.
  • This has also been included in the National Health Policy and Karnataka Public Health Policy prepared by the Knowledge Commission.
  • The Karnataka Health Policy is yet to be implemented.
  • It also recommends that the State Health Ministry should also have its own antibiotic policy.
Centre examining health effects of e-cigarettes

  Centre examining health effects of e-cigarettes:  

Context :

The government is examining the legal implications and health effects of e-cigarettes and had constituted three groups to study the various aspects of e-cigarettes.

About Three Groups :

  • One group has studied the legal implications of this e-nicotine drug induce system.
  • Another group checked into the health effects
  • Third group studied advocacy.

All three sub-groups have given their reports which are being reviewed by the ministry to decide the course of action.

  • Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes are a type of battery-operated, electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) that heats a liquid to produce a vapor that the user inhales.
  • E-cigarettes have a cartridge containing a liquid (sometimes referred to as “e-liquid”), which contains nicotine and other constituents like propylene glycol, glycerol or flavorings. The liquid is heated to produce a vapor which is then inhaled by the user.
  • First-generation of e-cigarettes mimic the shape and size of conventional cigarettes and may be referred to as “cigalikes.”
  • Second-generation e-cigarettes are larger than conventional cigarettes and are either pen-style (medium size) or tank-style (large size).
  • Third-generation e-cigarettes are known as “personalized vapors.”
  • Metals such as tin, lead, nickel, and chromium have been found in e-cigarette liquids. Other compounds detected include tobacco-specific nitrosamines, carbonyl compounds, metals, volatile organic compounds and phenolic compounds.
  • Nicotine replacement products like chewing gums, not e-cigarettes, should be used to manage nicotine withdrawal symptoms in people who are trying to quit smoking.
  • As per WHO, regulations are needed to stop promotion of e-cigarettes to nonsmokers and young people, minimize potential health risks to users and nonusers, stop unproven health claims about e-cigarettes, and protect existing tobacco control efforts.
  • Indian Medical Association has also condemned the use and sale of e-cigarettes as a safer substitute to normal cigarettes.
  • E-cigarettes were invented in 2003 in China.

Side Effects:

  • Nicotine exposure from e-cigarette use increases heart rate and produce measurable levels of blood cotinine, a nicotine metabolite.
  • Inhaling e-cigarette vapor is likely to be harmful due to chronic inhalation caused by e-cigarette vapor.
  • Levels of toxic and carcinogenic compounds may vary in e-cigarette liquid components and device used.
  • Little is known about the overall safety or the carcinogenic effects of propylene glycol or glycerol when heated and aerosolized. At high temperatures, propylene glycol decomposes and may form propylene oxide, a probable human carcinogen.
  • Glycerol produces the toxin, acrolein.
  • Both propylene glycol and glycerol decompose to form the carcinogens formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, with levels depending on the voltage of the battery used in the e-cigarette.
SC advice for open jails

  SC advice for open jails:  

Context :

To make jail a reformative and rehabilitative place, the Supreme Court has favoured setting up of open jails.

Article-21 and Right of prisoners :

  • Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of Article 21 of the Constitution and the right to a life of dignity.
  • It said that the State should ensure that the guarantee to a life of dignity is provided to the extent possible even in prisons, otherwise Article 21 will remain a dead letter.

Pathetic condition of prisoners in jail :

  • The biggest roadblock in ensuring rights of prisoners is the overcrowding of prisons, where the rights of the undertrials and the prisoners serving their sentences are undermined.
  • The bench had taken suomotucognisance in 2012 on pathetic condition in 1382 prisons in the country and has been passing directions from time to time to improve the condition.
  • The court said that prisoners are forced to live an inhuman life in overcrowded jails with no basic facilities and many of them were committing suicide and dying unnatural death.

Prison reform - Setting open jail :

  • Criminal justice system in the country is based on reformation and rehabilitation of criminals.
    ü Unless the State changes mindset of retribution and deterrence and takes steps to give meaning to life and liberty of every prisoner, prison reforms can never be effective or long lasting.
  • The SC said that open jail system could pave the way to allow them to live with dignity and help them to foster a sense of self- worth in the prisoners.

Open prison vs. Close prison :

  • Open jails is where inmates are not confined to the boundaries of the jail and allowed to live with their family members outside the jail during the day and earn livelihood on their own.
  • The open prison system is cost effective and will lead to social integration of the prisoners and reduced prison overcrowding.

Current status of open jail :

  • The first open jail was set up near Jaipur in Rajasthan way back in 1954 when prisoners were allowed to stay with their family members and were allowed to work in the agricultural firms.
  • Over the years the concept has been followed by other states also.
  • As per the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) report for 2015, there are 63 open jails in the country with a total capacity of 5,370 but most remain underutilised as these together house 3,789 prisoners.

SC direction :

  • SC said, the governments must change its mindset and take humane approach towards prisoners.
  • It directed the Centre to take the lead in framing guidelines and examine the feasibility of setting up of open jail in each district.

Way forwards :

  • The Union Home Ministry’s Model Prison Manual of 2016 made clear that the state is under an obligation to protect the rights of prisoners.
  • The manual calls for setting up of a legal aid clinic in every prison to ensure free legal aid under Article 39A of the Constitution.Comprehensive health screening for women prisoners, sensitising and training of staff on gender issues and sexual violence, counselling and rehabilitation measures to ease women’s re-integration into society.
  • Provisions for holistic development of children of women prisoners, including provision of food, medical care, clothing, education, and recreational facilities.
  • Installation of CCTV cameras in work sheds, kitchens, high security enclosures, main gate, etc. of prisons to prevent violation of human rights.
  • Physical infrastructure needs to be expanded to create modern jails with modernised amenities.
Indian diaspora is world’s largest

  Indian diaspora is world’s largest diaspora:  

Context :

  • According to the ‘World Migration Report (2018), the Indian diaspora is the world’s largest diaspora, with a little more than 15.6 million people from India living overseas.
  • “World Migration Report” is published by International Organization for Migration, a UN agency.

Finding of report :

  • According to the report, in 2015, the Indian diaspora constituted six percent of the total number of international migrants.
  • The report states that nearly half of all international migrants throughout the world were born in Asia, primarily originating from India, China and other South Asian countries.
  • After India, Mexico has the second largest diaspora followed by Russia, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan and since 1970.
  • The Gulf nations is the house of the biggest population of the Indian diaspora 22 percent living in the UAE and 1.9 million or 12 percent living in Saudi Arabia.

About International Organization for Migration :

  • The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an intergovernmental organization that provides services and advice concerning migration to governments and migrants, including internally displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers.
  • The International Organization for Migration has 166-members states and 8 observer states.
  • In September 2016, IOM became a related organization of the United Nations.

  EDITORIAL ECONOMY:  

1th WTO meeting India seeks global checks on patenting neem, yoga

  1th WTO meeting India seeks global checks on patenting neem, yoga:  

Context :

The government moved in to check patenting of products using genetic resources such as neem, haldi, aamla or even bhang and also illegal rights over traditional knowledge such as yoga and ayurveda.

News Summary :

  • India wanted to make it mandatory for anyone seeking to patent a product or process that uses genetic resources and traditional knowledge.
  • Several other countries such Mexico, which have a rich heritage have also argued for checks on patenting of traditional knowledge and genetic resources.
  • The issue is also being discussed at the World Intellectual Property Rights Organization (WIPO).

The need for checks on patents :

  • In 2005, it was estimated that over 2,000 wrong patents involving Indian systems of medicine had been granted, resulting in the establishment of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL).
  • In recent years, there have been several instances of products such as neem being patented, resulting in expensive legal battles which have been long drawn.
  • While yoga per se cannot be patented, there have been attempts to patent asanas or their variations.
  • So far about 200 patent applications of pharmaceutical companies of US, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, China etc. have either been set aside/ withdrawn/ amended, based on the prior art evidences present in the TKDL database.

About Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) :

  • Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) is a pioneer initiative of India to prevent misappropriation of country’s traditional medicinal knowledge at International Patent Offices.
  • Its genesis dates back to the Indian effort on revocation of patent on wound healing properties of turmeric at the USPTO.
  • TKDL is proving to be an effective deterrent against bio-piracy and is being recognized as a global leader in the area of traditional knowledge protection.
  • TKDL has made waves around the world, particularly in TK-rich countries by demonstrating the advantages of proactive action and the power of strong deterrence.
  • The idea is not to restrict the use of traditional knowledge, but to ensure that wrong patents are not granted due to lack of access to the prior art for Patent examiners.
India opposes move to link gender with trade :

  India opposes move to link gender with trade :  

Context :

119 WTO members backed a non-binding declaration that sought women’s economic empowerment by speedily removing barriers to their participation in trade. However, India voted against a declaration that supported gender equality in trade.

Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade :

  • It provides a framework for members of the trade body to adopt “gender-responsive” trade policies.
  • WTO will further identify of barriers that limit women’s participation in trade, financial inclusion as well as access to trade financing, enhancement of women entrepreneurs’ participation in public procurement markets, and the inclusion of women-led businesses, in particular MSMEs, in value chains.
  • It will leads to inclusion of ‘gender equality’ in the services trade negotiations agenda under Domestic Regulation discipline (one of major areas of services negotiations under GATS).

Women and Trade :

  • Increasing women’s engagement in trade is important as advancing women’s equality could help add $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025. So, declaration seeks to remove barriers to, and foster, women’s economic empowerment.
  • These actions will also contribute to UN Global Development Goals, including the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to achieve gender equality through the empowerment of women and girls.

Concern raised by India :

  • India said it strongly supports gender equality, and is very much in favour of promoting gender issues but it could not concur with the view that gender is a trade-related issue.
  • WTO, which is purely a trade-related body, is not a forum to discuss gender. Hence gender-related discussions should take place at appropriate fora.
  • Developed countries has high standard in gender-related policies as compared to developing or least developed countries (LDC).

It might act as a Exploitative tool to developed country :

  • Curb exports from the developing world using the ‘gender’ issues as non-trade barrier.
  • Also indirectly restrict developing countries from incentivising their women citizens as part of measures to address developmental challenges.
  • So it will be used same as ‘Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS)’ measures which is being used by developed nations against developing and LDC.
  • It is a lever and ploy by developed countries because no nation will ever say that it is against gender equality or environment and labour standards.
  • Also, it would set a precedent to bring in other non-trade issues such as labour and environment standards into the WTO’s ambit

Wider concern raised :

  • Many women’s rights organisations from all continents have rejected this declaration as simply a ‘pink herring’ designed to distract attention from the harm the WTO does.
  • They said in a joint statement that the Declaration fails to address the adverse impact of WTO rules on women and instead appears to be designed to mask the failures of the WTO and its role in deepening inequality and exploitation.
  • Hence they reject WTO’s gender washing that aimed at making palatable neoliberal policies that inflict deep sufferings on women from poor and underdeveloped countries.
  • WTO members and backers of the Declaration have agreed to explore ways to address women’s lack of access to trade financing and sub-optimal participation of women in public procurement markets.
Rich-poor divide increasing rapidly: Study

  Rich-poor divide increasing rapidly: Study:  

Context :

The World Inequality Report 2018 has been released by World Inequality Lab (WIL).

News Summary :

  • According to the report, since 1980, the richest 1% captured twice as much as the poorest 50% of the world population.
  • In other words, since 1980, 27% of all new income worldwide was captured by the richest 1%, while the poorest 50% captured only 13% of growth.
  • Variation in Inequality trend highlights the important role of national policies in shaping inequality.
    • For instance since 1980, China has recorded much higher growth rates with significantly lower inequality levels than India.
    • Since 1980, income inequality has increased rapidly in North America, China, India and Russia while growing moderately in Europe.
    • However, in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil income inequality has remained relatively stable but at extremely high levels.

Factors Responsible :

  • The combination of privatisations and increasing income inequality has fuelled the rise of wealth inequality within countries and at global level.
  • Private capital is increasingly concentrated among a few individuals.

Specific to India :

  • According to the report, deregulation and opening-up of reforms in India since 1980s have led to substantial increase in inequality.
  • In 2014, the share of national income captured by India’s top 1% of earners was 22% while share of top 10% of earners was around 56%.
  • The top 0.1% of earners have continued to capture more growth than all those in the bottom 50% combined.
  • The bottom 50% now has about 15% share in the total income.
  • This rising inequality contrasts to the 30 years following the country’s Independence in 1947, when income inequality was widely reduced and the incomes of the bottom 50% grew at a faster rate than the national average.

Need for ambitious policies :

  • The report said that the global income and wealth inequality will steadily rise if countries continue to follow the same trajectory they have been on since 1980, despite strong growth in emerging countries.
  • The report stresses on the need for more ambitious policies to democratise access to education and well-paying jobs in rich and emerging countries alike.

  MISCELLANIES:  

Nyaya Gram project

  Nyaya Gram project:  

Context :

President of India, Ram NathKovind, recently laid the foundation stone of the Nyaya Gram project of the High Court of Allahabad.

What is it?

It is a model township of High Court in Allahabad. The township includes a judicial academy, an auditorium and residences for judges and staff.

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