ART & CULTURE  

UNESCO names KumbhMela Intangible Cultural Heritage

UNESCO names KumbhMela Intangible Cultural Heritage

What is the News?

  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has listed ‘KumbhMela’ on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
  • The decision was taken by Intergovernment Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage under UNESCO during its 12th session held at Jeju, South Korea.
  • This inscription is the third in two years following the inscriptions of Yoga and Norouz in December 2016.

About KumbhMela

  • It is believed to be the largest religious gathering on the Earth.
  • It is held every 12 years on the banks of the Sangam- the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.
  • The Mela is held alternatively between Nasik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar every three years.
  • According to mythology, when the “devas” or gods and the “asuras” or demons together churned the waters of the primeval ocean, many priceless things floated up from the ocean.

Types of Kumbh Mela

  • Maha Kumbh Mela- It occurs after every 144 years and is held only in Allahabad.
  • Purna Kumbh Mela- It occurs after every twelve years.
  • Ardh Kumbh- It take place 6th year after Kumbh Mela.
  • Kumbh Mela- It take place every 12 years, at each place :Prayag, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain.
  • Magh Mela – It is held annually every year except years of Kumbh Mela and Ardh Kumbh Mela. It is held in Magh (Jan-Feb) month and it always take place in Allahabad.
Bodhi Parva: BIMSTEC Festival of Buddhist Heritage

Bodhi Parva: BIMSTEC Festival of Buddhist Heritage

News Summary

  • Minister of State for Culture (Independent Charge) has inaugurated three days ‘Bodhi Parva: BIMSTEC Festival of Buddhist Heritage’ in New Delhi as part of celebrations of 20th anniversary of BIMSTEC.
  • The values of peace, accommodation, inclusiveness, and compassion that are part of our societies can be attributed to the influence of the teachings of Lord Buddha and Buddhism.
  • The festival will help in building an awareness of BIMSTEC’s rich and common heritage.

About BIMSTEC

  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation involving a group of countries in South Asia and South-East Asia.
  • These 7 countries are: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.
  • The BIMSTEC states are among the countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal.
  • Its secretariat is located in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

  ECONOMICS:  

PSU banks: reforms with recap

PSU banks: reforms with recap

Context?

  • Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Urjit Patel said that the recapitalisation package for public sector banks will not only be linked to their capital requirements but will also depend on their reforms initiatives.

Recapitalisation of Banks

  • In order to strengthen the banks, the Centre had announced a 2.11 lakh crorerecapitalisation plan for PSU banks, of which 1.35 lakh crore would be raised through recapitalisation bonds.
  • Apart from making provisions for bad loans, the lenders would need capital to meet the Basel-III norms and to support their business growth.

Reform-and-Recap Package

  • The RBI had been working closely with the Finance Ministry to finalise the plan for each bank.
  • The plan will be differentiated across banks so the banks that had managed their balance sheets ‘well’ would be given priority for capital infusion while others would have to show the resolve to reform.
  • Other banks will receive government’s contribution based on their resolve and progress toward reform in a significant and time bound manner such as becoming slim and trim through adoption of simpler, better focused business strategies and also possibly non-core asset sales.
  • This package will ensure that the recapitalisation funds are not used by banks for the next cycle of lending.
Panel to Address NPAs in Power Sector

Panel to Address NPAs in Power Sector:

Context

  • The government has set up a high-level committee headed by NITI Aayog chief executive Amitabh Kant to address the problem of stressed assets in India’s power sector.

News Summary

  • Non-performing assets (NPAs) in power generation accounted for around 5.9% of the banking sector’s total outstanding advances of Rs. 4.73 trillion.
  • Tackling the issues that afflict the so-called stranded power assets will provide much-needed relief for Indian banks weighed down by bad loans.
  • Of India’s installed power generation capacity of 331,118 megawatts (MW), 58%, or around 193,426MW, is fuelled by coal.
  • Gas-based and hydropower projects account for 25,150MW and 44,765MW, respectively.
  • Crisil Research believes a large proportion of coal-based power generation capacities in the private sector, stressed due to multiple factors, will remain in duress for a long time despite a raft of alleviation measures from the government.
MSME Sambandh

  MSME Sambandh:  

Context

  • A Public Procurement Portal ‘MSME Sambandh’ was recently launched.

News Summary

  • The objective of the portal is to monitor the implementation of the Public Procurement from MSEs by Central Public-Sector Enterprises.
  • In India, 80% of jobs in industry is given by MSME with just 20% of investment.
  • The Procurement Policy launched in 2012 mandates the Central Government Departments / CPSUs to procure necessarily from MSEs i.e.
  • Every Central Ministry / Department / PSU shall set an annual goal for procurement from the MSE sector.
  • By creating an online portal, the Ministries and the CPSEs can assess their performance.

  INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS:  

Donald Trump to Recognise Jerusalem as Israel Capital

  Donald Trump to Recognise Jerusalem as Israel Capital:  

What is the News?

  • United States President Donald Trump has officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He has directed the State Department to initiate the process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Arab Worlds Reaction

  • Many Arab leaders warn the move can trigger an upheaval in the already volatile Middle East. Israel considers the “complete and united Jerusalem” its capital, but Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for the capital of their future state.

About Jerusalem and its International status:

  • Jerusalem is home to sites that are among the holiest in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Its area is just one square kilometer.
  • Because of its unique cultural and religious significance, the UN General Assembly set aside Jerusalem to be a corpus separatum, or separated body, under UN trusteeship when it voted in 1947 to divide the British mandate of Palestine into two states, an Arab one and a Jewish one.
  • That position remained the international consensus even after the partition plan itself was preempted by Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and the subsequent invasion by Arab powers.
  • An armistice the following year divided the mandate along what has become known as the Green Line, which cuts through the middle of Jerusalem. Israel established its seat of government in the western half of the city, while, across a no man’s land lined with barbed wire, Jordan took control of the city’s eastern half, including the Old City.
  • Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and subsequently annexed it, redrawing its municipal borders to include surrounding Arab villages.
  • In 1980, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, designated the united city as Israel’s capital. By contrast, the West Bank, also captured in 1967, was not annexed; it remains under military occupation and Palestinians have partial self-government there, through the Palestinian Authority (PA).
  • While Israel controls the city, the Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, stipulated that Jerusalem’s disposition would only be decided on in permanent-status negotiations between the parties.

Residents of Jerusalem

  • Jerusalem is home to nearly one million residents. West Jerusalem’s population of some 330,000 is almost entirely Jewish. The eastern half of the city, which comprises the Old City, Palestinian neighborhoods, and refugee camps, along with some newer Jewish settlements, is home to about 320,000 Arabs and 212,000 Jews. Unlike Palestinians who live elsewhere in Israel, most Palestinian East Jerusalemites have permanent residency, but not citizenship, since they do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city.

Way forward

  • Trump’s announcement is likely to compound a broader crisis of confidence among Palestinians that President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been in office for many years beyond his electoral mandate, can deliver statehood. Fatah and Hamas have called for protest.
Back India’s entry into NSG, China told

  Back India’s entry into NSG, China told :  

  • Russia is speaking to China at “all levels” for India’s membership at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and hopes that India will win membership to the Wassenaar Arrangement.
  • The political committee of the 41-member Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, is meeting in Vienna.
  • This is an example and reflection of Russia’s unwavering support to India’s membership of international nuclear control regimes,”.
India gets admission into Wassenaar Arrangement

  India gets admission into Wassenaar Arrangement:  

What is the News?

  • The Ministry of External Affairs welcomed the decision of the Wassenaar Arrangement to admit India as the 42nd member of the organisation which aims to regulate trade and use of dual use technology. The decision was taken at the recently held plenary meeting of the grouping in Vienna.

What is Wassenaar Arrangement

  • Founded in 1996, the Wassenaar Arrangement is an elite club of countries subscribing to arms export controls.
  • Headquartered in Vienna. Barring China, all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are its signatories.
  • The WassenaarArrangement, is a multilateral export control regime established to ensure regional and international security and stability promoting transparency in transfer of arms and dual-use goods and technologies.
  • The participating nations make sure that the export of ammunition does not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities undermining regional security. In order to achieve the aim of stable defence deals, the participatory nations apply export controls to all items listed in the List of Dual-Use Goods and Technologies and the Munitions List.

Way forward for India

  • It would enhance India’s credentials in the field of non-proliferation despite not being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
  • India has low reserves of uranium required for its civil nuclear energy programmes, the country entry to the Export Control regimes will help secure the supply of nuclear fuel more easily.
  • Membership will build up a strong case for India’s entry into the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
UAE and Saudi form New Group Separate from GCC

  UAE and Saudi form New Group Separate from GCC:  

What is the News?

  • The UAE announced it has formed a new economic and partnership group with Saudi Arabia, separate from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a move that could undermine the council amid a diplomatic crisis with Qatar.
  • The Emirati Foreign Ministry announcement, just hours ahead of a GCC meeting in Kuwait, said the new “joint cooperation committee” was approved by the UAE’s ruler and President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan.
  • The Emirati Ministry said the new “committee is assigned to cooperate and coordinate between the UAE and Saudi Arabia in all military, political, economic, trade and cultural fields, as well as others, in the interest of the two countries.”

What is GCC?

  • The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf known as the Gulf Cooperation Council, is a regionalinter governmental political and economic union consisting of all Arab states of the Persian Gulf, except for Iraq.
  • Its member states are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • The Charter of the Gulf Cooperation Council was signed on 25 May 1981, formally establishing the institution.
China, India vow to Protect Globalisation

  China, India vow to Protect Globalisation:  

What is the News?

  • In the first major follow-up to the September talks in Xiamen between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister NarendraModi, top economic planners of India and China set the goal of leading a new wave of globalisation by synchronising their emerging economies.
  • NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar and his Chinese counterpart Li Wei, president of the Development Research Council (DRC) — the Chinese Cabinet’s top official think tank — began talks based on a firm common understanding.
  • Rescue Globalisation from Neoprotectionist : They agreed that the two countries must work together to rescue globalisation from neoprotectionist tendencies in the U.S., Europe or anywhere else in the world.

Highlights

  • Strengthened cooperation between China and India will jointly safeguard and improve the multilateral system and mechanism and promote a new type of globalization.
  • An open, liberal and rule-based globalisation, wherein India and China could play a defining role, was necessary for prosperity and global political stability.
  • China-India cooperation — routed through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the G-20, the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) — “will further improve the global governance system.
  • India could benefit from Chinese experience gained from innovation-based “fourth industrial revolution” that focussed on advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, electric vehicles and internet-of-things.
  • India could learn from China’s rich experience in developing infrastructure.
Solar Alliance comes into Existence

  Solar Alliance comes into Existence:  

What is the News?

  • India’s global initiative, the International Solar Alliance (ISA) that aims at increasing solar energy deployment in member countries, came into legal, independent existence. It is the first treaty-based international intergovernmental organisation to be based out of India.

Members

  • So far, 19 countries are part of the compact — Bangladesh, Comoros, Fiji, France, Ghana, Guinea, India, Mali, Mauritius, Nauru, Niger, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tuvalu, Australia, Cuba, Malawi and Peru.

A mission to mobilise more than $1000 billion

  • The ISA, also sees itself as on a mission to mobilise more than $1000 billion in investments needed by 2030 for “massive deployment” of solar energy, pave the way for future technologies adapted to the needs of moving to a fossil-free future and keep global temperatures from rising above 2C by the end of the century.

Indian Commitment to the Mission

  • India has committed itself to having 175,000 MW of renewed energy in the grid by 2022.
  • As part of the agreement, India will contribute $27 million (¹ 175.5 croreapprox) to the ISA for creating corpus, building infrastructure and recurring expenditure over five years from 2016-17 to 2020-21.
  • In addition, public sector undertakings of the Government of India, Solar Energy Corporation of India(SECI) and Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency(IREDA), have made a contribution of $1 million (¹ 6.5 crore) each for creating the ISA corpus fund.
  • The ISA is an Indian initiative, jointly launched by PM NarendraModi and the president of France on 30th November 2015 in Paris, on the sidelines of COP-21, the UN climate conference.

  POLITY & GOVERNANCE  

Government gives Green Light for Single-Judge NGT Benches

  Government gives Green Light for Single-Judge NGT Benches :  

What is the News?

  • To address the festering problem of vacancies in the National Green Tribunal, the government has amended rules to allow the court to constitute single member Benches.

What the Current Rules say?

  • Current rules require that every Bench of the NGT consist of “two or more” members and made up of at least one judicial and one expert member.
  • The balance of judicial and independent experts was necessary to ensure that technical aspects of disputes were adequately addressed.

About NGT

  • The NGT specialises in adjudicating on matters relating to environment, forests and harm to people or property due to the neglect of environmental obligations of infrastructure projects.
  • National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (NGT) is an Act of the Parliament of India.
  • It draws inspiration from the India’s constitutional provision of Article 21, which assures the citizens of India the right to a healthy environment.

Members

  • The tribunal shall consist of a full time chairperson, judicial members and expert members.
  • The minimum number of judicial and expert member prescribed is ten in each category and maximum number is twenty in each category.
  • Another important provision included in the law is that the chairperson, if find necessary, may invite any person or more person having specialized knowledge and experience in a particular case before the tribunal to assist the same in that case.
  • A judge of the Supreme Court of India or Chief Justice of High Court are eligible to be Chairperson or judicial member of the Tribunal. Even existing or retired judge of High Court is qualified to be appointed as a Judicial Member.
  • A person is qualified to be an expert member if he has Master of Science with a Doctorate degree or Master of Engineering or Master of Technology and has an experience of fifteen years in the relevant field including five years practical experiences in the field of environment and forests in a reputed National level institutions. Anyone who has administrative experience of fifteen years including experience of five years in dealing with environment matters in the Central Government or a State Government or in National or State level institution is also eligible to be an expert member.
Courts can turn down child Repatriation, says Supreme Court

  Courts can turn down child Repatriation, says Supreme Court  

What is the News?

  • A Supreme Court judgment delivered accords courts in India unlimited discretion to determine which parent should have the custody of minor children involved in international parental child abduction.
  • The verdict holds that Indian courts can decline the relief of repatriation of a child to the parent living abroad even if a foreign court, located in the country from where the child was removed, has already passed orders for the child’s repatriation.
  • The judgment, observed that welfare of the child came first over the repatriation order of the foreign court as India was not a signatory to the Hague Convention of “The Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction”.

Background

  • The judgment came in a case where the father took the younger of the two sons from his wife’s custody in the United States and came to India. The mother’s version was that he had taken the boy on the pretext of visiting the neighbourhood mall. A U.S. Court upheld her lawful custody and ordered the man to return his son to his wife.

What is Hague Abduction Convention

  • The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction or Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member country to another. The Convention entered into force between the signatories on 1 December 1983.
  • The Convention was drafted to ensure the prompt return of children who have been abducted from their country of habitual residence or wrongfully retained in a contracting state not their country of habitual residence.
  • The primary intention of the Convention is to preserve whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately before an alleged wrongful removal or retention thereby deterring a parent from crossing international boundaries in search of a more sympathetic court.
  • The Convention applies only to children under the age of 16.
U.P. becomes First State to endorse Centre’s Triple Talaq Draft Bill

  U.P. becomes First State to endorse Centre’s Triple Talaq Draft Bill:  

What is the News?

  • Uttar Pradesh has become the first State to endorse the Central government’s draft bill that makes instant triple talaq a cognisable and non-bailable offence.

Backgroud

  • On August 22, the Supreme Court struck down triple talaq, calling the practice unconstitutional and in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which provides for equality before the law.
  • The draft ‘Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill’ was sent by the Centre to the States as the practice continued despite the Supreme Court striking it down.

The draft Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill

  • The draft law, which provides for three-year imprisonment and a fine to a man trying to divorce his wife by uttering “talaq” three times.
  • Bill to be introduced in winter session of Parliament.
  • The proposed law would only be applicable on instant triple talaq or ‘talaq-e-biddat’ and it would give power to the victim to approach a magistrate seeking “subsistence allowance” for herself and minor children.
  • The woman can also seek the custody of her minor children from the magistrate who will take a final call on the issue.
  • Under the draft law, triple talaq in any form — spoken, in writing or by electronic means such as email, SMS and WhatsApp — would be bad or illegal and void.
  • The provision of subsistence allowance and custody has been made to ensure that in case the husband asks the wife to leave the house she should have legal protection.
Adultery Law weighted in Favour of Men: Supreme Court

  Adultery Law weighted in Favour of Men: Supreme Court:  

What is the News?

  • The Supreme Court said the dusty Victorian provision of adultery in the Indian Penal Code treats a married woman as her husband’s “subordinate.” The court admitted a petition to drop adultery as a criminal offence from the statute book.

The Court will examine two aspects of the penal provision

  • One, why does Section 497 treat the man as the adulterer and the married woman as a victim?
  • Two, the offence of adultery ceases the moment it is established that the husband connived or consented to the adulterous act. So, is a married woman the “property” of her husband, a passive object without a mind of her own?

Ground for challenging Section 497 of IPC

  • The court is hearing a petition challenging the constitutionality of Section 497 IPC read with Section 198(2) of the CrPC. The petition says, Section 497 IPC is unconstitutional as it discriminates against men and violates Article 14, 15 and 21.
  • Section 497 IPC says, “Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.”
  • Section 198(2) CrPC says that “… no person other than the husband of the woman shall be deemed to be aggrieved by any offence punishable under Section 497 or Section 498 of the said Code: Provided that in the absence of the husband, some person who had care of the woman on his behalf at the time when such offence was committed may, with the leave of the Court, make a complaint on his behalf.”

Way Forward

  • The time has come for the society to realise that a woman is equal to her husband in every respect. A re-visit signals a paradigm shift in the way the apex court views the modern Indian women.
  • Most countries in the West have decriminalized adultery. India should follow their example rather than split hairs over making it gender just. Marriage is an agreement and adultery a violation of this agreement. Such laws serve as encouragement to peep into people’s bedrooms though only the husband can make a complaint.
Dispose Pleas to Debar MPs in 3 Months, says Venkaiah Naidu

  Dispose Pleas to Debar MPs in 3 Months, says Venkaiah Naidu:  

What is the News?

  • Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu has, in his order disqualifying senior Janata Dal (U) MPs SharadYadav and Ali Anwar from the RajyaSabha, said that issues of disqualification of MPs should be decided by the presiding officers within a period of three months.

Voice of Majority

  • He also explained, in the order, as to why the disqualification petition had not been referred to the committee of privileges.
  • He said the procedural requirements of the committee often took a longer time frame for conduct of preliminary enquiry and submission of a final report, a delay which was “tantamount to subverting the essence of the anti-defection law, namely to curb the menace of defection, by allowing a member to continue his membership without facing the consequences of defection.”

Anti-Defection

  • The 52nd amendment to the Constitution added the Tenth Schedule which laid down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection.
  • A member of parliament or state legislature was deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily resigned from his party or disobeyed the directives of the party leadership on a vote. That is, they may not vote on any issue in contravention to the party’s whip.
  • Independent members would be disqualified if they joined a political party.
  • Nominated members who were not members of a party could choose to join a party within six months; after that period, they were treated as a party member or independent member.
  • The law also made a few exceptions.
  • Any person elected as speaker or chairman could resign from his party, and rejoin the party if he demitted that post.
  • A party could be merged into another if at least two-thirds of its party legislators voted for the merger. The law initially permitted splitting of parties, but that has now been outlawed.
SC Calls for Regulating Hefty Fees of Lawyers

  SC Calls for Regulating Hefty Fees of Lawyers:  

What is the News?

  • The astronomical fees charged by lawyers and the commercialisation of the legal profession is a violation of the fundamental right of the poor to get equal justice, the Supreme Courtheld in a judgment pronounced.
  • Neither the Bar nor the judiciary have made any move to regularise the hefty fees charged by lawyers from the poor and the needy.
  • A report filed by the Law Commission way back in 1988 to regularise lawyers’ fees continues to be in cold storage.

Background

  • The judgment came in the case of B. Sunitha, a woman from Telangana whose husband died in a road accident. She was made to sign a cheque for three lakh by a lawyer who represented her accident claims case in the lower courts. This was over and above the ¹ 10 lakh she had already paid to him.

About the Bar Council of India

  • The Bar Council of India is a statutory body established under the section 4 of advocates Act 1961 that regulates the legal practice and legal education in India.

Members

  • Its members are elected from amongst the lawyers in India and as such represents the Indian bar.

Function

  • It prescribes standards of professional conduct, etiquettes and exercises disciplinary jurisdiction over the bar.
  • It also sets standards for legal education and grants recognition to Universities whose degree in law will serve as a qualification for students to enroll themselves as advocates upon graduation.
Ministers not Under RTI, says HC

  Ministers not Under RTI, says HC:  

What is the News?

  • The case emanates from an application filed by a Maharashtra resident who wanted to know how to get an appointment with the Union Law Minister.
  • Justice VibhuBakhru overturned the March 12, 2016, CIC verdict.

Background

  • The case emanates from an application filed by a Maharashtra resident who wanted to know how to get an appointment with the Union Law Minister.
  • In November 2014, the man moved an application before Additional Private Secretary, Ministry of Law and Justice, seeking to know the time period of the Minister or Minister of State meeting the public.
  • As the information sought was not received, the matter reached the CIC. Here the Commission went on to frame the questions whether the Minister or his office was a “public authority” under the RTI Act.
  • It gave the Cabinet Secretary at the Centre and Chief Secretaries in the States two months to appoint public information officers for each Minister’s office. Also, the CIC said each Minister should get a website of his/her own where information can be disclosed.
A Woman does not Mortgage herself to a Man with Marriage: CJI

  A Woman does not Mortgage herself to a Man with Marriage: CJI  

What is the News?

  • A woman does not mortgage herself to a man by marrying him and she retains her identity, including her religious identity, even after she exercises her right to marry outside her community under the Special Marriage Act, Chief Justice of India DipakMisra orally observed while heading a five-judge Constitution Bench.
  • The Special Marriage Act of 1954 is seen as a statutory alternative for couples who choose to retain their identity in an inter-religious marriage.
  • Nobody could presume that a woman has changed her faith or religion just because she chose to change her name after marrying outside her community.

Background

  • A petition was filed by a Parsi, who was barred by her community from offering prayers to her dead in the Tower of Silence for the sole reason that she married a Hindu under the Special Marriage Act.

Highlight of the observation:

  • A decision in favour of the woman would uphold the fundamental right to religion, dignity and life and create a paradigm shift for women within the minority community.
  • The Bench, prima facie, disagreed with the widespread notion in common law that a woman’s religious identity merges with that of her husband after marriage.

  SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY  

New graphene-based battery charges five times faster

  New graphene-based battery charges five times faster:  

What is the News?

  • Scientists have developed a new graphene-based battery material with charging speed five times faster than today’s lithium-ion batteries.

Why a fast charging battery?

  • Standard lithium batteries require charging time of at least an hour to fully charge, even with quick charging technology, so numerous attempts to explore new innovative materials have been started.In theory, a battery based on the “graphene ball” material requires only 12 minutes to fully charge.

What is Graphene?

  • Graphene has been touted in the global electronics industry as a “miracle material” given its strength, electrical conductivity and elasticity, and has been seen as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries since its discovery in 2004. It is a form of carbon that can be used to develop smaller, slimmer batteries but with higher capacity.
  • Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick. Its thin composition and high conductivity means it is used in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices. These properties also enable thinner wire connections; providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices.
  • The potential applications of graphene include water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine, to name a few.
  • Graphene has excellent electronic, mechanical, thermal and optical properties as well. Its uses range from improving battery performance in energy devices, to cheaper solar panels.

Way forward

  • The breakthrough by researchers at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) in South Korea provides promise for the next generation mobile batteries and electric vehicles. Research enables mass synthesis of ....graphene at an affordable price, ...as the markets for mobile devices and electric vehicles is growing rapidly.
Workings of solar wind flows deciphered by PRL team

  Workings of solar wind flows deciphered by PRL team  

What is the News?

  • A group of researchers from Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, have, for the first time, figured out the conditions under which certain types of solar storms can flow towards the earth and affect its atmosphere.

Why is this research important?

  • This is important because such storms contain charged particles travelling at very high speeds and these can affect the electronics present on satellites in orbit around the earth.
  • Solar storms are violent events on the sun which can temporarily distort the earth’s magnetosphere – the region around the earth which is influenced by its magnetic field.
  • These temporary disturbances, called geomagnetic storms, can generate shock waves in the interplanetary medium that can accelerate charged particles to very high energies and which, in turn, can harm the satellites placed by humans in space.
  • Such solar storms have two causes: Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) and Corotating Interaction Regions (CIR).
  • CMEs are huge explosions of charged particles extending beyond the sun’s corona or outer layer and can be visibly observed. CMEs can be detected by a coronagraph when they are ejected from the Sun.
  • CIRs are much more complicated and difficult to observe. CIRs are generated in the interplanetary medium and there are no visual signatures for CIRs. Hence, in order to detect [them], solar wind parameters need to be characterised critically.
  • The sun goes through cyclic variations with a period of eleven years during which sunspot activity increases to a maximum and then decreases. The researchers studied 43 geomagnetic storms linked to CIRs during the years 2006-2010 which corresponded to the minimum of solar activity in that particular solar cycle.

L1 Point:

  • There is an imaginary point on the line joining the sun and earth known as the L1 point or the Lagrange 1 point. A special feature of this point is that a particle placed there will feel no gravitational pull due to either the sun or the earth as the two forces cancel each other
PSU banks: reforms with recap

  PSU banks: reforms with recap  

What is the news?

  • Scientists have proven the existence of new form of matter called excitonium - which was first theorised almost 50 years ago.

What is Excitonium?

  • It is made up of excitons – unusual particles made up of an escaped electron and the hole it has left behind in a material.
  • This quirky quantum-mechanical pairing is possible because, in semiconductors, electrons on the edge of one energy level in an atom are able, when excited, to jump into the next energy level, leaving behind a “hole” in the previous level.
  • This hole acts like a positively charged particle, attracting the negatively charged electron that escaped.

What is the Background?

  • A novel technique called momentum-resolved electron energy-loss spectroscopy (M-EELS) for the study by the scientists. With their new technique, the group was able to measure collective excitations of the low-energy bosonic particles, the paired electrons and holes.

Way forward

  • Excitoniums properties can be further explored and applied. Most obviously, as a superconductor and superfluid, this material could be used to further existing technologies.
  • This research could help to further de-mystify current quantum puzzles. These applications, especially those in practical technologies, are purely speculative at this point.
2 kiwi birds are rare bright spot in grim extinction report

  2 kiwi birds are rare bright spot in grim extinction report:  

What is the news?

  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature upgraded the Okarito kiwi and the Northern Brown kiwi from endangered to vulnerable thanks to New Zealand’s progress in controlling predators like stoats and cats.
  • But the conservation group’s latest update mostly detailed grave threats to animals and plants due to loss of habitat and unsustainable farming and fisheries practices.
  • It said three reptile species are now considered extinct in the wild. The whiptail-skink, the blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko from Australia’s Christmas Island all have mysteriously disappeared. The group said a disease or the arrival of an invasive species, the yellow crazy ant, might be to blame.

  SOCIAL ISSUES  

India eliminates trachoma as per WHO criteria

  India eliminates trachoma as per WHO criteria:  

What is the News?

  • While releasing the National Trachoma Survey Report (2014-17), the Union Health Minister has declared India free from infective trachoma.

News Summary

  • The National Trachoma Prevalence Surveys and the Trachoma Rapid Assessment Surveys were conducted from the year 2014 to 2017.
  • These were conducted by Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences in collaboration with National Program for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment under Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • They were conducted in 27 high-risk districts across 23 states and union territories.

About Surveys

  • It was done in 10 districts selected from the previously hyper-endemic states.
  • Under the survey, 19662 children in 1-9 year age group were examined by trained ophthalmologists.
  • As many as 44135 persons were examined among the 15yr+ age group.
  • Trachoma Rapid Assessment Surveys: It was done in 17 other districts from other parts of the country in places where trachoma cases have been reported which were not previously hyper-endemic.

Highlight from Survey

  • The survey findings indicate that the active trachoma infection has been eliminated among children in all the survey districts with overall prevalence of only 0.7%.
  • This is much below the elimination criteria of infective trachoma as defined by the WHO.
  • India has met the goal of trachoma elimination as specified by the WHO under its GET2020 program.

WHO Criteria

  • As per WHO, the active trachoma is considered eliminated if the prevalence of active infection among children below 10 years is less than 5%.

Efforts taken

This has been made possible due to decades of inter-sectoral interventions and efforts that includes:

  • Provision of antibiotic eye drops
  • Personal hygiene
  • Availability of safe water
  • Improved environmental sanitation
  • Availability of surgical facilities for chronic trachoma
  • General improvement in the socio economic status in the country

About Trachoma

  • It is a chronic infective disease of the eye and is the leading cause of infective blindness globally.
  • It is a disease of poor environmental and personal hygiene and inadequate access to water and sanitation.
  • It affects the conjunctiva under the eyelids.
  • Repeated infections cause scarring leading to in-turning of the eyelashes and eyelids.
  • This further causes damage to the cornea and blindness.
  • It is found affecting the population in certain pockets of the States of North India like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Nicobar Islands.
  • Trachoma infection of the eyes was the most important cause of blindness in India in 1950s and over 50% population was affected in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh.
  • It was the most important cause of corneal blindness in India, affecting young children.
500 to TB patients every month

  500 to TB patients every month:  

Why in News

  • About 35 lakh identified Tuberculosis (TB) patients across the country will get ¹ 500 every month from the Centre as social support.

News Summary

  • Social support will cover loss of wages, travel and nutrition.
  • Some states are already providing financial support.
  • Now similar support will be extended to all TB patients and their families which can be covered under the ambit of direct benefit transfer using Aadhaar.
  • Nutritional assessment, counselling and support are now considered integral aspects of care of TB patient.
  • Therefore, these elements need to be integrated into the overall management of patients with active TB in India.
  • Nutritional support will help reduce TB deaths which are currently estimated as 4.8 lakh per year.

Guidance Document

  • The decision of providing the cash benefit to tuberculosis patients was taken on the basis of Guidance document.
  • The guidance document has been prepared by a team of professors and experts from various institutes across the country.

Highlight of Guidance Document

  • Guidelines on nutritional assessment, counselling and support.
  • A simplified field chart for doctors and health workers to make patient-specific assessment of required nutrition.
  • Recommendation that patients should also be screened for anaemia.
  • Recommendation about the extra care for management of severely undernourished patients.
  • Recommendation for severely undernourished patients as they need hospitalization.

Under-nutrition and TB Prevalence

  • The guidance document has pointed out that under-nutrition is an established risk factor for progression of latent TB infection to active TB.
  • Under-nutrition is a serious co-morbidity in patients with active TB in India and increases the risk of severe disease, death, drug toxicity, drug malabsorption and relapse after cure.
  • In the absence of nutritional support, undernourished patients with TB do get enmeshed in a vicious cycle of worsening disease.
  • Food insecurity in household contacts the TB patients in India increases their risk of developing active TB.
  • This has serious implications especially for contacts of patients with multi-drug resistant TB.
  • Under-nutrition at the population level contributes to an estimated over one million new cases of annual TB incidence in India.
  • Under-nutrition and TB have a bidirectional relationship and studies on nutritional status of TB patients in India have shown high levels of moderate to severe under-nutrition in both women and men.
  • The reduction of TB burden in India and its elimination will require improving the nutritional status of the community as a whole.
Case for vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV)

  Case for vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV):  

Why in News

  • A National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) has proposed that a vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, be introduced in India’s Universal ImmunisationProgramme (UIP).

About NTAGIs

  • NTAGIs are (according to the World Health Organisation) technical resource providing guidance to national policymakers and programme managers to enable them to make evidence-based immunisation-related policy and programme decisions.

Need for Vaccine

  • Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women.
  • Among Indian women, it is the second most frequent, according to the WHO.
  • Nearly 366 million Indian girls and women aged 15 years and above are at risk from cervical cancer.
  • While India has seen a fall in the incidence of cervical cancer over the last three decades, the number of cases remains high in rural areas and where sanitation and hygiene are low.
  • These were among the reasons for the NTAGI to propose the HPV vaccination programme for girls.

About HPV

  • HPV is a group of viruses known to cause penile cancer in men and cervical, vaginal, anal and vulvar cancer in women.
  • HPV can also lead to throat or rectum cancer in both men and women.
  • The virus is transmitted through sexual intercourse, oral or anal sex.
  • The HPV sub-types 16 and 18 cause over 70% of cervical cancer cases.
  • The two subtypes produce two proteins which turn off tumour-suppressing genes and lead to abnormal growth in the cervical lining.
  • The infection may not always lead to cervical cancer, the virus poses a higher risk for HIV-infected persons, smokers, those with high dependency on hormonal contraceptives and with early initiation into sexual activity.

The Vaccine

  • The HPV vaccine is given thrice within six months to girls aged 9-13 years, before they become sexually active.
  • Post-vaccination, a girl should ideally undergo PAP smear tests every three years to check for pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.

Concerns Regarding Vaccine

  • In India, the primary concern is cost, given the huge population and stretched healthcare budgets.
  • A single shot of vaccine costs between Rs 3,000 to Rs 2,000 and each girl requires three shots.
  • At present, no data suggests that either vaccine can prevent invasive cervical cancer as the testing period is too short to evaluate the long-term benefits of HPV vaccination.
  • The study added that India is already witnessing a declining trend in cervical cancer due to better hygiene, changing reproductive patterns, improved nutrition and water supply.
  • According to experts, cervical cancer is declining in urban areas due to better hygiene and it may further shrink if this extends to rural areas.
  • Also, there are over 100 HPV sub-types against which the vaccine does not provide immunity.
Single School Board

  Single School Board:  

Why in News

  • Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed for ‘one nation, one education board’ to end disparity in knowledge dissemination during the formative years of a child.

News Summary

  • In 2011, a three-judge Bench led by Justice J.M. Panchal, in an appeal filed by the Tamil Nadu government, had held that a common syllabus, especially for children aged between six and 14, would achieve the “code of common culture”.
  • The judgment had even viewed the idea of a common syllabus as a precursor to the Uniform Civil Code and an antidote to fanaticism and divisiveness.
  • At present there are more than 50 recognised educational boards in India of various types- all India boards like CBSE and ICSE, state level boards, international boards like IB and IGCSE and open schooling boards like NIOS. Each has its own schedules, pedagogy and curriculum.
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.

Argument for Single Board

  • Firstly, since educational boards have different schedules (For e.g.: The academic year in schools of the Maharashtra state boards begins in June while that of CBSE does in April), students migrating from one part of the country to another often face problems.
  • Secondly, policies followed with regards to the number of languages taught and the way they are taught differ drastically.
  • Thirdly, marking schemes of boards vary considerably- while some are lenient with many students scoring in the higher 90s, in some it is an achievement to cross the 90 figure itself. This creates aunequal playing field for student seeking admission in colleges.
  • When it comes to entrance exams like NEET, students of state boards are placed at a disadvantage vis a vis the CBSE students as such entrance exams are more or less based on the NCERT syllabus.
  • Separate education facilities are inherently unequal and violate the doctrine of equality.

Argument against Single boards

  • State Boards are cheaper when compared to CBSE & ICSE and it help’s poor students.
  • When there are multiple boards, its sparks competition amongst these boards. Every board’s incentive is to be able to capture and get numerous schools affiliated under it.
MGNREGS effect: 11% rise in income of rural households

  MGNREGS effect: 11% rise in income of rural households:  

News Summary

  • According to the IEG (Institute of Economic Growth) study, income of poor households rose by 11 per cent and farm productivity by up to 32 per cent due to various works carried out under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
  • Cereal productivity also increased by 11.5 per cent and vegetable productivity by 32.3 per cent in rural areas under the scheme.
  • The expenditure under MGNREGS in the last three years (2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18) has been the highest ever since its inception in 2006.

About MGNREGA

  • National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (later renamed as the “Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act”, MGNREGA), is an Indian labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’.
  • It aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
  • Employment is to be provided within 5 km of an applicant’s residence, and minimum wages are to be paid.
  • If work is not provided within 15 days of applying, applicants are entitled to an unemployment allowance.
Minority tag for Hindus

  Minority tag for Hindus:  

Why in News

  • The National Commissionfor Minorities (NCM) has formed a three-member committee to look into whether Hindus should get minority status in eight states where they are not the dominant religious group.
  • It is led by NCM vice-chairman George Kurien, the team will speak extensively to lawyers and stakeholders and come back with a report in three months.
  • The committee will seek minority status for Hindus in eight states: J&K, Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Punjab.

About National Commission for Minorities (NCM)

  • The Union Government set up the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
  • Six religious communities, viz; Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Jains have been notified in Gazette of India as minority communities by the Union Government all over India.
  • For minorities, Constitution of India has envisaged a number of rights and safeguards in Fundamental Rights (Part III), Directive Principles of State policy (Part IV) and also in the Fundamental Duties (Part IV-A).
  • The Commission shall consist of :– (i) a Chairperson, (ii) a Vice Chairperson, (iii) Five Members to be nominated by the Central Government.
UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report 2017-18

  UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report 2017-18  

News Summary

  • According to thr report, almost a fifth of the country’s population—266 million adults—are not able to read and some 12 million children are yet to get enrolled in schools.
  • Making education accessible to all as well as improving the quality of education available is one of the 17 sustainable development goals.
  • The report recommends allocation of 4% of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for education or 15% of the total government expenditure.

About United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) :

  • It is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris.
  • Its objective is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms.
  • It has 195-member states and ten associate members.
  • UNESCO implements its activities through the five programme areas: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a set of 17 “Global Goals” with 169 targets covering various sectors like health, education and climate change among others.
  • They replaced UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
  • It is Spearheaded by the United Nations.
LaQshya Initiative

  LaQshya Initiative  

Why In News

  • New initiatives “LaQshya”was launched, to improve the quality of care provided to the pregnant mother.

About Laqshya

  • “LaQshya (y{;)” Labour Room Quality Improvement Initiative, a Safe Delivery Mobile Application for health workers who manage normal and complicated deliveries in the peripheral areas.
  • It is expected to improve the quality of care that is being provided to the pregnant mother in the Labour Room and Maternity Operation Theatres, thereby preventing the undesirable adverse outcomes associated with childbirth.
  • This initiative will be implemented in Government Medical Colleges (MCs) besides District Hospitals (DHs), and high delivery load Sub- District Hospitals (SDHs) and Community Health Centres (CHCs).

About Mission Indradhanush (MI) :

  • It is one of the largest global public health initiatives, launched in 2014.
  • In its four phases till date, MI has successfully reached over 25 million children in over 528 districts.
  • Since 2014, government have launched Rotavirus vaccine, Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), and the Measles-Rubella (MR) vaccine, and also the JE vaccine for adults.
  • The PradhanMantri Dialysis Program has also been launched where 1.43 lakhs patients have availed free services from 1,069 Dialysis Units and under Free Drugs and Diagnostics Program.
  • Nearly 47 Lakh patients have benefitted from AMRIT Pharmacies through purchase of subsidized medicines.
  • The Government has increased the budget of the Health Ministry for 2017-18 by 27.7%.
  • The Government has also through the 14th Finance Commission increased devolution from 32 % to 42% of divisible pool - an increase estimated at Rs. 25 lakh crores over award period to provide States with greater flexibility and autonomy to design, implement and finance schemes.

  EDITORIALS:  

Getting back on Track

  Getting back on Track:  

Context

  • Second quarter GDP data was recently released which shows revival of economy.

News Summary

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown at 6.3% year-on-year compared to 5.7% in the first quarter.
  • The trend of declining growth rate quarter after quarter, which was seen in the last one year, has been reversed.
  • However, some people are disturbed by the excessive focus on GDP and its growth rate.
  • It is true that development has many dimensions and for a balanced view, one must look at all of them.
  • Nevertheless, GDP is an important indicator of the performance of the economy, and a faster rate of growth is most often a prerequisite for rapid social development.

High Growth Sectors

Manufacturing sector

  • It grew at 7% against 1.2% in the previous quarter.
  • It appears that the manufacturing sector has come out of the disruptions caused by demonetisation and more particularly, the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST).

Trade and Public Administration

  • The trade sector grew by 9.9% (could be even higher as statisticians indicate that there could be some underestimation here).
  • Public administration grew at 6%, much lower than the previous quarters but still reasonably high.
  • In fact, it is a good sign that despite a lower growth of government expenditure, overall growth rate picked up.

Electricity & Other Utility Services

  • The other sector which has grown strongly is the ‘Electricity, Gas, water supply and other utility services’ sector which grew by 7.6 percent as compared to growth of 5.1 percent previous year.

Low growth sectors

Agriculture:

  • The growth rate in agriculture was low at 1.7%. This was to be expected because the growth rate in agriculture was very strong the previous year.
  • Even though the monsoon has been good, one should not expect a much stronger growth over a good year.

Construction

  • The construction sector grew at 2.6% only.
  • It is yet to recover from the impact of demonetisation.

Concern

Investment rate or GFCF not picking up

  • The most discouraging sign is the behaviour of the Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) as the growth rate of GFCF fell below the growth rate of GDP, the ratio of GFCF to GDP has fallen from 27.1% to 26.4%.
  • The fall must be due to a decline in private investment, as public investment during this period has done reasonably well.
  • Without a rise in the private investment rate, sustained high growth cannot be maintained.

Way Forward

Encouraging Exports

  • India’s export performance has picked up in the current year.
  • In terms of growth rate, it was doing reasonably well. During April-September, exports grew by 11.52%.
  • But there was a setback in October with the export growth rate turning negative.
  • However, the world economy is generally looking better this year.World trade in 2017 is expected to grow at 1.7% compared to 0.8% in 2016.
  • Improvement in the external environment may help to raise our exports.

Address Declining Investment Rate:

  • For growth to pick up in a strong way, policymakers need to address the issue of declining investment rate.
  • The excess capacity built up during the boom period must have been used up by now.
Dealing with data: Need for data protection laws

  Dealing with data: Need for data protection laws:  

Context

  • In the era of Big Data analytics and automation, algorithm-based processing of zettabytes of information has opened up great opportunities for the beneficial use of data. However, It also enhanced the perils of unregulated and arbitrary use of personal data.

Current Data Protection Framework in India

  • India does not have a separate law for data protection.
  • Section 43A of the Information Technology Act, 2008 provides a measure of legal protection of personal information.
  • Under 43A, if a body corporate, handling any sensitive personal data or information in a computer resource, is negligent in reasonable security practices thereby causes wrongful loss to any person, it shall be liable for punishment.

AP Shah Committee Recommendations

  • In 2012, the Justice A.P. Shah Committee recommended a set of principles for a legal framework for protecting privacy. Drawn from OECD guidelines, these principles were centred on:–
    • Sufficient notice and disclosure to citizens when data are collected.
    • Limitations on data collection and use.
    • Norms related to data security and accountability.

Srikrishna Committee

  • Justice BN Srikrishna Committee was set up by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology to frame a draft data protection law.

Seven principles for data protection framework by committee

  • Technology agnostic law - it must be flexible to take into account changing technologies and standards of compliance.
  • Be applicable to the private sector and the government, with different obligations if necessary.
  • Informed and meaningful consent.
  • Minimal and necessary data processing.
  • Data controller must be accountable for any processing.
  • Establishing a high-powered statutory authority for enforcement, supported by a decentralised enforcement mechanism.
  • Penalties for wrongful data processing to ensure deterrence.

Statutory Authority Needed to Enforce Data Protection

  • The law requires careful drafting and strictly defined concepts.
  • It is legitimate to collect personal data in the public interest, but this information should be protected and used only for the purposes it was collected.
  • Above all, the law must provide for a suitably empowered statutory authority to enforce its promised protection to citizens’ data.
WTO- Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11)

  WTO- Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11):  

Context

  • The Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

What to expect from MC11

  • Service negotiation under General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) will be on priority.
  • Domestic regulation: to address the contentious issue of professional visa fee hikes by the likes of the US and UK, which India has been claiming are discriminatory.
  • Agreement on Trade Facilitation in Service (TFS)
  • Global rules on services and e-commerce: While EU proposed it and wants to finalize but India wants to avoid these rules.
  • India will also push for others pending issues like progress of Doha Development Agenda (DDA), commitment on Public stock-holding, new mechanism for domestic support for food procurement, seeking sharp cuts in support to farmers in the US and Europe etc.

What is GATS

  • While services currently account for over 60 percent of global production and employment, they represent no more than 20 per cent of total trade (BOP basis).
  • In order to facilitate the trade in service sector by simplifying or removing complexity in trade rules & regulation by member state in service sector, it was needed to have General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) with same objectives as its counterpart in merchandise trade, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
  • GATS entered into force in January 1995 as a result of the Uruguay Round negotiations to provide for the extension of the multilateral trading system to services.
  • The GATS is the first multilateral, legally binding set of rules covering international trade in services.

The objective of GATS

  • Creating a credible and reliable system of international trade rules
  • Ensuring fair and equitable treatment of all participants (principle of non-discrimination)
  • Stimulating economic activity through guaranteed policy bindings
  • Promoting trade and development through progressive liberalization
  • All Members of the World Trade Organization are signatories to the GATS and are committed to entering into further rounds of services negotiations.

Modes of Supply of Services

  • The definition of services trade under the GATS is four-pronged, depending on the territorial presence of the supplier and the consumer at the time of the transaction.
  • Mode 1 — Cross border trade: A user in country A receives services from abroad through its telecommunications or postal infrastructure. Such supplies may include consultancy or market research reports, tele-medical advice, distance training, or architectural drawings.
  • Mode 2 — Consumption abroad: Nationals of A have moved abroad as tourists, students, or patients to consume the respective services.
  • Mode 3 — Commercial presence: The service is provided within A by a locally-established affiliate, subsidiary, or representative office of a foreign-owned and — controlled company (bank, hotel group, construction company, etc.).
  • Mode 4 — Presence of natural persons: A foreign national provides a service within A as an independent supplier (e.g., consultant, health worker) or employee of a service supplier (e.g. consultancy firm, hospital, construction company).

Major areas of services negotiations under GATS

  • Services related to e-commerce - Set of rules to facilitate online service transactions focusing on the issues of electronic contracts, electronic authentication and trust services, consumer protection and unsolicited commercial electronic messages
  • Market Access- Negotiations to liberalize market conditions for trade in services
  • Domestic Regulation - It relate to how WTO members should develop licensing & qualification-related measures and technical standards to ensure that these measures & standards are impartial and adequate. These should be based on objective and transparent criteria that do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade in services.

What is Trade Facilitation in Services (TFS)

  • TFS will significantly enhance the potential for trade in services.
  • India is pushing for TFS Agreement, which also aims to ensure easing rules regarding movement of professionals and skilled workers across borders for temporary work/projects.
  • The objective behind India’s proposal for an Agreement on TFS is to initiate discussions at the WTO on how to comprehensively address the numerous border and behind-the-border barriers, across all modes of supply, which are impediments to the realization of the full potential of services trade.

India stance at WTO on different issues

On TFS:

  • Through TFS, India wants issues related to easier access for Indian software and accounting professionals along with nurses and doctors.
  • It particularly emphasised hurdles faced by natural persons supplying services in foreign jurisdictions.

On Domestic Rule

  • India has highlighted the difficulties faced by services suppliers from developing economies in complying with complex domestic regulations brought out by developed country Members.
  • India also rejected attempts by some WTO Members such as European Union and Canada to include ‘gender equality’ in the services trade negotiations agenda under DR discipline as it will create service trade barrier.

On e-commerce

  • There is fear that under the banner of e-commerce several other aspects are sought to be introduced that will leave countries like India with little flexibility in seeking domestic content for programmes such as Digital India and may also make it tough to depend on open source software.
  • Plus, it limits the government’s ability to tailor rules that serve its interests instead of policies that benefit only Amazon or Alibaba.

On Doha Round

  • For the last 16 years, WTO has been negotiating the Doha Round - which includes agriculture, services and import duty on industrial goods - but has made little headway due to the reluctance of the US and the EU to play ball.
  • Instead of discussing and negotiating issues of Doha round like agriculture farm subsidy, public stock-holding etc., these countries instead want new issues such as e-commerce, investment facilitation and a global regime for MSMEs.

Way Forward

  • Due to short time duration, no outcome in the form of an agreed text can be expected in Buenos Aires in these areas, and the proponents agree with this assessment.
  • In terms of post-Buenos Aires work on these two topics, India and the EU have communicated their intention to re-engage on services trade facilitation and online transactions, respectively.

About World Trade Organization

  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization that regulates international trade.
  • The WTO officially commenced on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 123 nations on 15 April 1994, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
  • It is the largest international economic organization in the world.
  • The WTO has 164 members and 22 observer governments.
  • The highest decision-making body of the WTO is the Ministerial Conference, which usually meets every two years.
  • Uruguay Round-eighth GATT round- It was the biggest negotiating mandate on trade ever agreed. The talks were going to extend the trading system into several new areas.
  • Marrakesh Agreement-The Final Act concluding the Uruguay Round and officially establishing the WTO regime was signed 15 April 1994, during the ministerial meeting at Marrakesh, Morocco, and hence is known as the Marrakesh Agreement.
  • Doha Round- launched at the fourth ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar in November 2001. This was to be an ambitious effort to make globalization more inclusive and help the world’s poor, particularly by slashing barriers and subsidies in farming.

Subsidies related to WTO

  • Green Box subsidies- which are no or least market distorting includes measures decoupled from output such as income-support payments (decoupled income support), safety – net programs, payments under environmental programs, and agricultural research and-development subsidies.
  • Blue Box subsidies- Only ‘Production limiting Subsidies’ under this are allowed. They cover payments based on acreage, yield, or number of livestock in a base year.
  • Amber Box subsidies – Those subsidies which are trade distorting and need to be curbed.
Steel is the answer to goals of smart cities

  Steel is the answer to goals of smart cities  

News Summary

  • In order to transform existing inadequate infrastructure, including roads, residential areas, city sewage systems, community areas etc., the Smart City project was initiated for urban renewal and retrofitting programme to develop 100 such cities in the country.
  • Across the globe, cities are marching towards becoming smart cities. So, they are either coming out with unique solutions using existing infrastructure or are adopting eco-friendly and sustainable models to solve above problems.
  • It is a visionary project for sustainable, high quality of life in terms of infrastructure, mobility and connectivity, technology, environment, availability of resources and overall living conditions and experience.

Properties of Steel

  • Steel, by virtue of its physical properties, emerges a strong component in and contributor to the fabrication of infrastructure required for smart cities.
  • Steel is answer for structures that are intended to have at least a 100-year life cycle with minimal maintenance but are quick to complete, whether it is underground, above ground or in buildings.
  • Steel is also 100% recyclable, and thus, environment-friendly.
  • Thus, stepping ahead with steel for smart cities will trigger development, with no debris and faster execution of projects.
  • Hence buildings across the globe are steel intensive.

Benefits of using Steel

  • If made with steel, all sewage, drainage, water, casing for cable for Internet or transmission, will ensure zero wastage and maintenance.
  • Drinking water pipes made of stainless steel for transporting water after filtration are not only good for health but also stop leakage of potable water, a precious commodity today.

  MISCELLANIES:  

DNA fingerprinting in India

  DNA fingerprinting in India:  

Why in News

  • Lalji Singh, an eminent scientist and father of DNA fingerprinting in India passes away.

His Achievements

  • He was one of the leaders instrumental in making DNA fingerprinting to be in mainstream in India both at the level of research as well as for forensic applications.
  • He served as the director at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad from 1998 to 2009.
  • He was the Vice Chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University from 2011 – 2014.
  • He was the recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri award.

About DNA Fingerprinting

  • It is also called DNA fingerprinting, DNA testing or DNA typing.
  • It is the process of determining an individual’s DNA characteristics called a DNA profile.
  • DNA profile is very likely to be different in unrelated individuals, thereby it is as unique to individuals as are fingerprints.

How it Works

  • DNA of an individual carries some specific sequence of bases.
  • Such nucleotide base sequences are repeated many times and are found in many places throughout the length of DNA.
  • The number of repeats is very specific in each individual.
  • The tandem repeats of short sequences are called ‘mini satellites’ or ‘variable number tandem repeats’.
  • Such repeats are used as genetic markers in personal identity.

Uses: DNA Profiling is being used in

  • Establishing parentage
  • Solving some high profile crime cases
  • Determining sex
  • Conserving wildlife
  • Forensics
  • Evolution
  • Migration of humans
Arogya 2017

  Arogya 2017:  

News Summary

  • The First Ever International Conference on AYUSH and Wellness ‘Arogya 2017’ was inaugurated in New Delhi.
  • It is a comprehensive exhibition cum conference on Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddhha, Sowa Rigpa, Homoeopathy and wellness.
  • Through ‘Arogya 2017’, government has decided to share the traditional medicine knowledge of India with humanity across the world.
  • A White Paper “AYUSH for the World” by Frost & Sullivan was launched at the event to offer a roadmap for AYUSH regulations and registration in ASEAN and BIMSTEC countries.

Related Information

  • India is the second largest exporter of Ayurvedic and alternate medicine to the world and has a potential to generate 3 million job opportunities.
  • The Indian herbal market is valued at around Rs 5,000 crore currently, with an annual growth rate of 14%.
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