Polity & Governance
- SATH program launched by NITI Aayog
- Data protection law mooted
- Unclaimed PF to fund medical costs
- Aadhaar linkage with PAN mandatory, rules Supreme Court
- Centre sets up 18 sectoral groups for smooth GST rollout
Environment Ecology & Disaster Management
- Use bioethanol to end farm crisis, says Nitin Gadkari
Bilateral & International Relations
- India awards road contract to complete Kaladan project in Myanmar
- Swiss support India’s NSG bid
Key Facts for Prelims
- QS World University Rankings 2018
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Polity & Governance
SATH program launched by NITI Aayog
NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog has launched a programme, SATH- ‘Sustainable Action for Transforming Human capital’ with the State Governments.
- The vision of the program is to initiate transformation in the education and health sectors.
- SATH aims to identify and build three future ‘role model’ states for health systems.
- The program will be implemented by NITI Aayog along with McKinsey & Company and IPE Global consortium, who were selected through a competitive bidding process.
- To select the three model states, NITI Aayog defined a three-stage process – expression of interest, presentations by the states and assessment of commitment to health sector reforms.
- Sixteen states expressed prima facie interest, of which fourteen made their presentations. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh presented their project proposal to a Committee.
- The Committee headed by Member of NITI Aayog, Shri Bibek Debroy and comprising of CEO, Amitabh Kant as well as a representative from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
- Of these fourteen states, five have been shortlisted.
- Metrics such as MMR, IMR, incidence of malaria and others have been considered for determining potential impact while density of doctors and nurses, compliance to IPHS norms are some of the metrics used to determine likelihood of success.
- The program will be launched in the three selected states after the signing of MoUs.
About NITI Aayog:
- NITI Aayog is essentially an advisory body that seeks to provide critical directional and strategic inputs across spectrum of key elements of policy to the centre as well as states.
- It’s a think tank to the government which has no power to implement the government policies.
Data protection law mooted
The government is mulling a new data protection law to protect personal data of citizens, while also creating an enabling framework to allow public data to be mined effectively.
- The move assumes significance amid the debate over security of individuals’ private data, including Aadhaar-linked biometrics, and the rising number of cyber-crimes in the country.
- The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEIT) is working on a new data protection law. A proposal to this effect has been sent to the Prime Ministers’ Office for approval. Once the PMO approves it, the ministry will set up a “cross-functional committee” on the issue.
What necessitated a new law?
- Currently, India does not have a separate law for data protection, and there is no body that specifically regulates data privacy.
- There is nominally a data protection law in India in the form of the Reasonable Security Guidelines under Section 43A of the Information Technology Act. However, it is a toothless law and is never used.
- Privacy is a fundamental human right, recognised as such in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. India has ratified the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which contains an obligation to protect privacy. Control over one’s personal data is an innate facet of privacy.
Unclaimed PF to fund medical costs
According to Labour Ministry sources, savings remaining unclaimed in dormant Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) accounts for seven years will be used to fund a new scheme for providing medical benefits to pensioners under the EPF scheme.
About the move:
- With respect to the unclaimed money available in Provident Fund Organisations (Coal Miners PF, etc), the respective ministries may consider formulating and implementing schemes for the benefit of senior citizens belonging to the groups subscribing to the PF.
- Once the scheme is put in place, EPF pensioners will be able to avail medical facilities from a network of more than 1,400 dispensaries and 150 hospitals under ESIC across the country.
- The move comes after a committee of secretaries, headed by Cabinet Secretary P.K. Sinha, recently directed the Labour Ministry to frame scheme for benefit of senior citizens who are PF subscribers from inoperative account funds.
- The government had framed a law last year wherein unclaimed money under EPF, Public Provident Fund and small saving schemes such as post office savings accounts for a period of seven years will be diverted to set up a senior citizens’ welfare fund.
- The trade unions had strongly protested the move to divert EPF money for setting up a fund for the elderly. Following this, Labour Minister wrote to Finance Ministry to not divert unclaimed EPF money for other purposes.
When will the PF account be considered inoperative?
- EPF money becomes unclaimed after a subscriber doesn’t withdraw money after reaching 61 years of age.
- Accounts also become inoperative if persons settling abroad do not withdraw their money within three years.
- Under the ESI Act, workers drawing salary of up to ₹15,000 per month are entitled to medical benefits for treatment during sickness, maternity, disability and death due to injury during work.
- The Act applies to factories with 10 or more workers and also to shops, hotels, restaurants, cinemas and road transport undertakings.
Aadhaar linkage with PAN mandatory, rules Supreme Court
The Supreme Court upheld the government’s decision to link Aadhaar with the permanent account number (PAN) for the filing of income tax returns, but ruled that non-compliance with the law will carry no retrospective criminal consequences.
- With this the apex court reject the argument that the law is arbitrary or that the Parliament lacks competence to bring in such a legislation.
About the ruling:
- The apex court’s ruling makes it mandatory for every Aadhaar holder to link the unique identity number with their PAN for filing income tax returns.
- The court, however, said that an individual’s PAN cannot be invalidated retrospectively for failing to link it with Aadhaar, doing away with the so-called criminal consequences. This means that taxpayers’ previous returns cannot be called into question for failure to link the two.
- Aadhaar is also mandatory to obtain or retain PAN. However, permanent account numbers of those without Aadhaar will not be invalidated for the time being.
What’s the issue?
- Government had made linking of Aadhaar card with PAN card mandatory for filing of Income Tax returns as it would help to weed out fake and fraudulent financial accounts.
- According to the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, the Aadhaar number is mandatory only for receiving social welfare benefits. But as per the provisions of the Finance Act 2017, the Aadhaar number/Aadhaar enrolment number is mandatory to file income tax returns and to apply for a new PAN.
- The government will declare the existing PAN to be void if the taxpayer fails to link it with Aadhaar by July 31, 2017.
- In 2015, a three-judge bench had referred the issue of Right to Privacy and other aspects to a larger constitution bench, which is yet to be constituted.
Centre sets up 18 sectoral groups for smooth GST rollout
The government has set up 18 sectoral groups, comprising senior members from the Centre and the States, to ensure the smooth rollout of the Goods and Services Tax.
18 sectoral groups:
- 18 sectoral groups have been constituted representing various sectors of the economy in order to ensure smooth rollout of GST.
- The 18 sectors that will be represented by these groups include banking, telecom, exports, IT & ITeS, transport and logistics, textiles, MSMEs, oil and gas, gems and jewellery, government services, food processing, e-commerce, big infrastructure, transport and tourism, handicraft, media and entertainment, drugs and pharmaceuticals, and mining.
These sectoral groups are to ensure a timely response to the problems of their respective sector by
- Interacting and examining representations received from trade and industry associations,
- Highlighting specific issues for the smooth transition of the respective sector to the GST regime, and
- Preparing sector-specific draft guidance.
Environment Ecology & Disaster Management
Use bioethanol to end farm crisis, says Nitin Gadkari
Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari recently said that the Centre will shortly unveil a policy on the production of second-generation ethanol from biomass, which will be a “game changer” for farmers.
- Ethanol could be produced from paddy and wheat straw, bagasse, biomass, segregated municipal waste and bamboo.
- In Nagpur, 55 air-conditioned buses were being operated using “100% bioethanol”.
- Vehicles with “flexi-engines”, which can use 100% ethanol or a mix of 22% ethanol with petrol or a blend of 15% ethanol with diesel, were available globally.
- The automotive sector was growing every year at 22%.
- The government has a goal to have 100% electric vehicles by 2030.
- The new Motor Vehicles law, likely to be passed in the Rajya Sabha soon, would tackle issues such as one-third of driving licences being fake and a shortage of drivers. The number of driver training institutes issuing certificates would go up to 2,000 from 84, with computer-based licensing to eliminate corruption, once the new law was in place.
Efforts made by the government:
- The Petroleum Ministry had taken the initiative to get pacts signed with 15 industrial units for bioethanol production.
- A suggestion had been made to the Finance Minister to give concessions to electric cars while fixing the GST. The GST Council also had to consider it.
- The Cabinet had approved ₹2,000 crore a year to be set apart out of the fuel cess collected for the Central Road Fund, and this could be used for work on the Ganga and the Brahmaputra.
- Burning of paddy straw in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana was causing pollution in New Delhi and elsewhere, and farm refuse could be used to solve the problem.
- The farm sector was in a state of “crisis” and agriculture should get diversified into energy and power sectors. By converting agricultural waste into bioethanol, farmers would be diversifying.
- The cost of the cable-car systems compared to Metro Rail with a similar passenger capacity was attractive. While a ropeway would cost ₹35 crore to ₹50 crore a km, a Metro cost ₹350 crore per km. Such systems could be tried in cities such as Coimbatore and Kochi.
What is Bioethanol?
Biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels that are produced from biodegradable fractions of products, remains from agricultural production and forestry, as well as biodegradable fractions of industrial and municipal wastes.
- However, ethanol produced from renewable energy sources is one of the most promising biofuels for the future.
- Although bioethanol fuels can be manufactured using the chemical reaction between ethylene and stream, it is mainly produced through fermentation of sugars derived from crops containing starch, such as corn, wheat, sugar cane, sorghum plants, etc.
- It is currently used in the fuel industry as an additive for petrol. The most common blend is 90% petrol and 10% ethanol.
- It is a high octane fuel and has replaced lead as an octane enhancer in petrol. Blending ethanol with petrol oxygenates the fuel mixture so that it burns completely and reduces harmful emissions.
Benefits of Bioethanol:
- It is produced from a renewable resource (such as crops). There is therefore little/no net carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere, making bioethanol an environmentally beneficial energy source.
- The road transport network contributes a great deal to the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and with the use of bioethanol, emission rates can be drastically reduced.
- It is also biodegradable, and less toxic than fossil fuels.
- In addition, blending bioethanol with petrol compensates for the diminishing oil supplies across the globe thereby ensuring higher fuel security and avoiding foreign reliance for fuel supply between countries.
- The rural community will also benefit from the increased demand to grow the necessary crops required for producing bioethanol.
- It also reduces the emission of carbon monoxide produced by old vehicle engines and thus improves air quality.
- Another key benefit of bioethanol is the ease of integrating it with the existing road transport fuel system – bioethanol can be easily blended with conventional fuels (up to 15%) without any need for engine modifications.
- Improving the quality of air is one of the most important functions of bioethanol. When added to fuel, bioethanol reduces the use of cancer-causing gasoline compounds such as ethylbenzene, xylene, toluene and benzene.
- It also reduces the emissions of small particulates and soot from motor fuels, and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Water-saving ethanol plant designs are very common. In addition, the water discharged from these plants is regulated such that the water is environmentally neutral when it leaves the plant.
- Certain plants manage and reuse the wastewater generated during the ethanol process. Therefore, it is evident that using bioethanol has a positive effect on ecology, minimizes exhaust gas emissions and improves energy safety and operation of transport facilities.
Bilateral & International Relations
India awards road contract to complete Kaladan project in Myanmar
Indian government is finally on course to completing the $484-million Kaladan multi-modal transport projects in Myanmar that will offer connectivity to Mizoram in India.
- Kaladan was the first major project taken up by India in Myanmar.
- India completed the construction of Sittwe port, at the estuary of Kaladan river, in trouble-prone Rakhine state of Myanmar, last year, one year behind schedule.
- At the Indian side, extension of the Aizawl-Saiha National Highway by 90 km to the international border at Zorinpui, at the southern tip of Mizoram, is almost over.
- In addition, four-laning of the 300 km Aizawl-Tuipang highway to ensure faster movement of goods between Sittwe and Aizawl is also nearing completion.
About the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project:
- The Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) in Myanmar was conceptualized and is being administered by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) with a view to facilitate connectivity between the mainland and the North Eastern States of the country through maritime shipping, inland waterways and roads of Myanmar.
- Mooted in 2003, India entered a framework agreement with Myanmar for Kaladan project in 2008. Construction began in 2010 with a deadline in June 2015. But, no headway was achieved on the road project.
- KMMT is hailed as “Future gateway to South East Asia”.
- When completed, the KMTT will shorten the current time taken to transport goods from Kolkata to Mizoram by three-four days, and the distance by around 950 km.
- The link between North Eastern States of India and Myanmar will pave the way for enhanced trade & commerce across the border and enable cultural and social integration at the regional level.
Swiss support India’s NSG bid
Switzerland, the incoming chair of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), will support application for membership, but has left the door open for Pakistan to join as well.
- Despite the supportive Swiss position, India is yet to hold talks with officials at the NSG to push ahead with its membership this year.
- The “Grossi process” mandates the former NSG chairperson and diplomat Rafael Grossi to build a consensus among all 48 countries of the NSG, many of which resisted India’s membership bid at the Seoul plenary session in 2016, unless the country signs the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
- Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a multinational body concerned with reducing nuclear proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of materials that may be applicable to nuclear weapon development and by improving safeguards and protection on existing materials.
- The NSG was founded in response to the Indian nuclear test in May 1974 to stop what it called the misuse of nuclear material meant for peaceful purposes.
- Currently, it has 48 members and European Commission is its Permanent Observer.
Key Facts for Prelims
QS World University Rankings 2018
- In the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings-2018, only 12 Indian institutions and universities have made it to the top 700 this year with IIT-Delhi topping at 172 rank while IISc, Bengaluru gets 190th rank.
- Only four universities — University of Delhi (481-490); Jadavpur University (601-650), University of Hyderabad (601-650) and Anna University (651-700) figured in the top.
- The QS World University Rankings are published annually by British company Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).
- Till last year, the university was being ranked only in three subjects – English, chemistry and physics.