Polity & Governance
- Law coming to enforce dam safety regulations
- 8 tribunals face axe amid downsizing
Issues related to Health & Education
- Amendment to ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’
- Rajya Sabha passes HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014
- Cabinet approves of proposal to establish a Fund of Fund for Start-ups (FFS)
- Union Cabinet approves proposal for amendments to NABARD Act, 1981
- NABARD launches Water Conservation Campaign in 1 lakh villages
- Cabinet approves North East Road Network Connectivity Project Phase I
Defence & Security Issues
- Cabinet approves MoU between India and the USA on cooperation in the field of Cyber Security
Key Facts for Prelims
- 23rd March: World Meteorological Day
- Advisory for Flag Code of India
- American Hindu Coalition (AHC)
- Essar’s Nand Niketan: India’s first private sector township to go cashless
Polity & Governance
Law coming to enforce dam safety regulations
The Centre is contemplating an institutional mechanism to improve safety in India’s 5300-odd dams. The new law, which has been vetted by the Union Law Ministry and will now go to the Union Cabinet for approval.
- It proposes a Central authority and State-level bodies that will enforce regulation.
- Dam and project proponents falling short could face a fine, though they are unlikely to face imprisonment.
Need for the new law:
- There are around 4900 large dams in India and several thousand smaller ones. About 300 are in various stages of construction. However, large reservoirs and water storage structures, in the past few decades, are not seen as a model of safety.
- Currently, guidelines in this regard are not effectively enforced by the States.
- A recent analysis of the state of India’s dams found that half of them did not meet contemporary safety standards.
8 tribunals face axe amid downsizing
The Centre has decided to wind up eight tribunals that currently deal exclusively with disputes pertaining to employees’ provident fund or EPF, Competition law, Airports’ economic regulation, Information Technology law, National highways, railways, copyrights and foreign exchange.
- The Lok Sabha has approved amendments to this effect in the Finance Bill of 2017 proposed by the Centre, along with changes in the norms for tribunals, appellate tribunals and other boards associated with the administration of 17 central laws.
Eight tribunals include:
- The Competition Appellate Tribunal, whose work will now be transferred to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal;
- The Cyber Appellate Tribunal — whose functions will now be discharged by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).
- The EPF Appellate Tribunal’s remit would be transferred to the Industrial Tribunal that examines matters under the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947.
- Cases under the Foreign Exchange Management Act of 1999 would be transferred from the dedicated tribunal for foreign exchange matters to the Appellate Tribunal constituted under the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act of 1976.
- National Highways Tribunal that deals with disputes under the Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act of 2002 will be wound up.
- Highway disputes will now be adjudicated by the Airport Appellate Tribunal set up under the Airport Authority of India Act of 1994, which is distinct from the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal (AERAAT).
- The Railways Rates Tribunal for hearing matters under the Railways Act of 1989 will also cease to exist, with its workload transferred to the Railway Claims Tribunal set up under a 1987 law.
- The Copyright Act of 1957, decisions under which are currently reviewed by the Copyright Board, will now be transferred to the Intellectual Property Appellate Board set up under the Trademarks Act of 1999.
Typically, the terms of service of such tribunal heads and members are enshrined in the laws. The chairpersons and members of tribunals that are being wound up, will receive three months pay and allowances for the premature termination of their tenure, even as the Finance Bill makes significant changes in the terms of service and rules for appointments of such members and chairpersons in the tribunals that will continue to operate.[Ref: The Hindu]
Issues related to Health & Education
Rajya Sabha passes HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014
The Rajya Sabha has passed HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014.
- The Bill seeks to safeguard the rights of people living with HIV and affected by HIV.
- The bill aims to prevent social stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV (PLHIV).
- It also seeks to strengthen legal accountability and establish formal mechanisms for inquiring into complaints and redressing grievances to probe discrimination complaints against those who discriminate against PLHIV.
Key Features of Bill:
- Prevention and control the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). It prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS.
- No person will be compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent, and if required by a court order Establishments keeping records of information of PLHIV must adopt data protection measures.
- Obligations on establishments to safeguard rights of persons living with HIV arid create mechanisms for redressing complaints.
- Lists various grounds on which discrimination against HIV-positive persons and those living with them is prohibited.
- These include the denial, discontinuation, termination or unfair treatment with regard to employment, educational establishments, health care services, renting property etc.
- Prohibits, requirement for HIV testing as a pre-requisite for obtaining employment or accessing health care or education.
- Prohibits any individual from publishing information or advocating feelings of hatred against HIV positive persons and PLHIV.
- There are approximately 21 lakh persons estimated to be living with HIV in India, the third highest number after South Africa and Nigeria.
- Currently, HIV is more prevalent in high-risk groups like female sex workers, homosexuals and drug addicts.
- The prevalence of HIV is decreasing over the last decade but percentage of PLHIV receiving Anti-Retroviral therapy (ART) treatment are merely 28.82% against global percentage of 41%.
Amendment to ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’
The Union Cabinet has approved the amendment to Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. The amendment seeks to ensure all teachers, in position as on March 2015, acquire minimum qualifications prescribed by academic authority to extend period for such training for 4 years up to March 2019.
Benefits of Amendments:
- It will enable the in-service untrained elementary teachers to complete their training and ensure that all teachers at the elementary level have a certain minimum standard of qualifications.
- It will ensure that all teachers attain minimum qualifications as considered necessary to maintain the standard of teaching quality.
- It will ultimately result in improvement in overall quality of teachers, teaching processes and learning outcomes of children.
- It will reinforce the Government’s emphasis on improvement of quality of elementary education.
The RTE Act, 2009 envisages free and compulsory elementary education to every child in the age group of 6-14 years.
The section 23(2) of the Act specifies that all teachers at elementary level at commencement of this law if did not possess minimum qualifications under it need to acquire these within a period of five years i.e. by March 2015.
However, several state governments have reported that 11.00 lakh teachers at the elementary level are still untrained out of a total number of 66.41 lakh teachers.
Thus, to ensure that all teachers acquire the minimum qualifications prescribed by the academic authority, it is deemed necessary to carry out appropriate amendment in the RTE Act, 2009 to extend period for such training for four years up to March 2019.[Ref: The Hindu]
Cabinet approves of proposal to establish a Fund of Fund for Start-ups (FFS)
The Union Cabinet has approved setting up of Fund of Funds for Startups (FFS) under Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) for extending support to Startups.
- It will be established in line with the Start up India Action Plan, an initiative of Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) which was unveiled by Union Government in January 2016.
About Fund of Funds for Start-ups (FFS):
The Union Cabinet in 2016 had approved the proposal to establish a Fund of Funds for Start-ups (FFS) with a total corpus of Rs.10000 crore, with contribution spread over the 14th & 15th Finance Commission cycles based on progress of implementation and availability of funds.
- The fund will be used for the contribution of various Alternative Investment Funds (AIF) registered with Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to extend funding support to Startups.
- An amount of 500 crore rupees already has been provided to the corpus of FFS in the fiscal 2015-16 and 600 crore rupees has been earmarked in the fiscal 2016-17.
- Further provisions will be made as grant assistance through Gross Budgetary Support by DIPP which will monitor and review performance in line with the action plan.
- The day to day operations of the FFS will be managed by the expertise of SIDBI.
- The monitoring and review of performance of startups would be linked to the implementation of the action plan to enable execution as per timelines and milestones.
- The corpus fund can be the nucleus for catalyzing 60,000 crore rupees of equity investment and twice as much debt investment.
- It would provide a predictable and stable source of funding for the start-up enterprises and thereby facilitate large scale job creation.
Significance of the FFS:
- The FFS will play an important role in accelerating innovation driven entrepreneurship and business creation through Start-ups which is crucial for large-scale employment generation in the country to tap the demographic dividend.
- The Fund of Funds operations will help to address the various challenges faced by start-ups such as limited availability of domestic risk capital, information asymmetry, constraints of conventional bank finance and lack of hand holding support from credible agencies.
- The Fund would also encourage greater participation of private capital and thus help leverage mobilization of larger resources to build highly scalable businesses from startups.
Union Cabinet approves proposal for amendments to NABARD Act, 1981
The Union Cabinet approved the proposal for Amendments to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) Act, 1981.
- Amendments to National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development Act, 1981 include provisions that enable Union Government to increase the authorized capital of NABARD from Rs 5000 crore to Rs 30000 crore.
- It also proposes to increase the authorised capital beyond Rs 30000 crore in consultation with RBI, as deemed necessary from time to time.
- It also proposes the transfer of 0.4 per cent shareholding of RBI in NABARD to the Union Government. The shareholding of RBI amounts to Rs 20 crore.
- The proposed amendments also include changes in the long title and certain Sections to bring Medium Enterprises and Handlooms in NABARD’s mandate.
Significance of these amendments:
- The proposed increase in the authorized capital of NABARD will allow the organisation to respond to the commitments it has undertaken, particularly in respect of the Long Term Irrigation Fund and the recent Cabinet decision regarding on-lending to cooperative banks.
- It will also enable NABARD to augment its business and enhance its activities to facilitate promotion of integrated rural development and securing prosperity of rural areas including generation of more employment.
- The transfer of entire shareholding in NABARD held by RBI to the Union Government will remove the conflict in RBI’s role as banking regulator and shareholder in NABARD.
National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) is an apex development and specialized bank established in July 1982 by an act by the parliament of India.
- It is one of the premier agencies providing developmental credit in rural areas.
- NABARD is India’s specialised bank for Agriculture and Rural Development in India.
- Its main focus is to uplift rural India by increasing the credit flow for elevation of agriculture & rural non-farm sector.
- It was established based on the recommendations of the Committee set up by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under the chairmanship of Shri B. shivaraman.
- It replaced the Agricultural Credit Department (ACD) and Rural Planning and Credit Cell (RPCC) of Reserve Bank of India, and Agricultural Refinance and Development Corporation (ARDC).
- The Bank has been accredited with “matters concerning policy, planning and operations in the field of credit for agriculture and other economic activities in rural areas in India”.
- NABARD is active in developing financial inclusion policy and is a member of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion.
- It also looks after the development of the cottage industry, small industry and village industry, and other rural industries.
NABARD launches Water Conservation Campaign in 1 lakh villages
The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) has decided to launch a major Water Campaign during the current year, covering around one lakh villages in vulnerable/ water stressed areas and more specifically, where the ground water is over-exploited.
- The campaign would essentially focus on creating awareness among the rural community about the methods of water conservation, preservation and its efficient utilization at various levels using the modern technologies like micro irrigation (more crop per drop), traditional water management practices, adopting improved package of agronomic practices and others.
- In an innovative move, NABARD proposes to identify Village Volunteers (Jal Doots) for a localized and more effective approach.
- These volunteers will increase awareness about various methods of rain water harvesting, efficient water use, recharging groundwater and integrated farming systems besides facilitating creation of water conservation structures and adoption of water efficient practices/ technologies through convergence with the ongoing schemes of the Govt./ banks.
- Adequate number of Master Trainers in each State will be identified and professionally trained who will be deployed to run the campaign at district/ village level during the campaign period of April to July 2017.
Cabinet approves North East Road Network Connectivity Project Phase I
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved North East Road Network Connectivity Project (NERNCP) Phase I for development of 403 kms of National Highways in Meghalaya and Mizoram.
- Out of total 403 km, approximately 351 km will be in developed in Mizoram and 52 km in Meghalaya.
- The project will be executed in EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) Mode.
- The implementation of projects will start from the financial year 2017-18. The civil works are expected to be completed by 2021 and maintenance works by 2025.
- The projects will encourage sub-regional socio-economic development by improving infrastructure in Mizoram and Meghalaya.
- It will also enhance connectivity with inter-state roads and International Borders.
- The work for development of two lane standards under the scheme NERNCP Phase I will be financially supported by loan assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The existing carriageway of all the stretches in Meghalaya and Mizoram are varying between Single lane to Intermediate lane. The condition of the pavement is also very poor and at some locations which is not in traffic worthy condition.
In addition, these stretches also are in poor condition in the landslides areas/sinking zone. The development and updation of these stretches to the two lane will improve their standards and improve connectivity.[Ref: PIB]
Defence & Security Issues
Cabinet approves MoU between India and the USA on cooperation in the field of Cyber Security
The Union Cabinet has been apprised of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-ln) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the US Homeland Security Department on cooperation in the field of Cyber Security.
- The MoU intends to promote closer co-operation and exchange of information pertaining to the Cyber Security in accordance with the relevant laws, rules and regulations and on the basis of equality, reciprocity and mutual benefit.
About the CERT-In:
CERT-In is nodal government agency that deals with cyber security threats like hacking and phishing in India.
- It is nodal department under the aegis of Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
- According to the provisions of the Information Technology Amendment Act 2008, CERT-In is responsible for overseeing administration of the Act.
Objectives of the CERT-In:
Its objectives are to:
- Protect Indian cyberspace and software infrastructure against destructive and hacking activities.
- Strengthen security-related defence of the Indian Internet domain. Issue guidelines, vulnerability notes, advisories, and whitepapers regarding to information security practices, prevention, procedures, response and reporting of cyber security incidents.
Key Facts for Prelims
23rd March: World Meteorological Day
- The World Meteorological Day (WMD) is observed every year on 23rd March to mark establishment of World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on this day in 1950.
- 2017 Theme: “Understanding Clouds”.
- On this occasion, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) launched new edition of the International Cloud Atlas. It is a treasure trove of hundreds of images of clouds, including a few newly classified cloud types and is single authoritative and most comprehensive reference for identifying clouds. It also features other meteorological phenomena such as rainbows, halos, snow devils and hailstones. This Atlas for the first time has been produced in a digital format and is accessible via both computers and mobile devices.
- On this day in 1950 the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Convention came into force that aimed at creating WMO.
- Later in 1951, WMO became United Nations specialized agency for meteorology, geophysical sciences and operational hydrology.
Advisory for Flag Code of India
- The Union Home Ministry has issued an advisory to all states and UTs, ministries and departments of Central government to ensure strict compliance of provisions contained in the Flag Code of India, 2002 and The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.
- The Advisory stated that the National Flag represents hopes and aspirations of the people and hence should occupy a position of honour.
- It directed that mass awareness programmes should be carried out in this regard through advertisements in the electronic and print media.
American Hindu Coalition (AHC)
- It is a new organisation launched by a group of influential American Hindus, most of them of Indian descent.
- It aspires to emerge as the political platform for all Hindus in the country regardless of their ethnic origin.
- The American Hindu Coalition (AHC) will be formally inaugurated in May but the group has launched a website and started raising funds online and from selected donors.
- Primary aim of AHC is to represent Hindus in America who are U.S citizens, not all of them from India.
Essar’s Nand Niketan: India’s first private sector township to go cashless
- Essar’s Nand Niketan at Hazira in Surat district, Gujarat became India’s first private sector township to go cashless, using the mobile wallet for performing digital transactions.
- Mumbai-based tech company was roped by the township to provide smartphone based application for mastercard-enabled mobile wallets.
- So far around 8,000 prepaid cards were issued in the township to the employees, merchants and shop owners operating within its precincts.
- An average of Rs 2 lakh worth of digital transactions are being executed every day.