Polity & Governance
- Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in the Parliament
- SC sets deadline for long-pending criminal cases in HC’s & Trial Courts across country
- Minorities’ panel has no member
- Centre issues draft rules on e-wallet payments
- Funds to Swachh Bharat Kosh (SBK)
- Centre to Launch Pilot Project on Ornamental Fisheries
Environment & Ecology
- Ministry of Railways and UNEP signed Letters of Intent (LOI) on Environment Initiatives
- NIO finds a new canyon system close to Kovvada coast
Bilateral & International Relations
- India and Belgium sign Protocol amending the India-Belgium Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and Protocol
- Commonwealth trade meet begins
Defence & Security Issues
- INS Tillanchang commissioned
Key Facts for Prelims
- RV Sindhu Sankalp completes 100 expeditions
- Saraswati Samman 2016
Polity & Governance
Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in the Parliament
Parliament has passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
- The Bill seeks to amends the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
- The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha during the parliament session. The Bill had already been passed by the Rajya Sabha in August 2016 during the Winter Session. With this, the Bill stands passed in the Parliament.
Provisions of the Bill:
- It seeks to increase maternity leave available to working women from the current 12 weeks to 26 weeks for the first two children.
- Maternity leave for children beyond the first two will continue to be 12 weeks.
- Maternity leave of 12 weeks to be available to mothers who adopt a child below the age of three months.
- It also provides maternity leave of 12 weeks to the commissioning mothers. The commissioning mother is defined as biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo planted in any other woman.
- Every establishment with more than 50 employees to provide for crèche facilities for working mothers and such mothers will be permitted to make four visits during working hours to look after and feed the child in the crèche.
- The employer may permit a woman to work from home if it is possible to do so.
- Every establishment will be required to make these benefits available to the women from the time of her appointment.
- The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha on August 2016 by the Union Minister for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya.
- The amendment bill is applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more persons. The amendments will help around 18 lakh women workforce in organised sector.
SC sets deadline for long-pending criminal cases in HC’s & Trial Courts across country
The Supreme Court on 10 March 2017 fixed deadlines for deciding long-pending criminal cases in high courts and trial courts across the country.
Highlights of Supreme Court’s direction:
- The apex court said denial of speedy justice is a threat to public confidence in the administration of justice.
- It said the fundamental right to speedy trial cannot be denied even on the plea of non-availability of financial resources.
- Issuing a slew of directions to all high courts, the apex court asked them to issue directions to subordinate courts to decide bail pleas normally within one week.
- Besides, it asked the high courts’ to ask magistrates to conclude trial in petty offences, where undertrials are in jails, within six months.
- It said that the session’s court will have to conclude trials in serious offences within two years if the accused are in jail. It added that strict adherence to the timeline is ensured by making it a part of Annual Confidential Reports of judicial officers.
- It said efforts be made to dispose of all cases which are five years old by the end of the year.
- The bench also asked the high courts to prepare and issue as well as monitor appropriate action plans for subordinate courts.
- The apex court said appropriate monitoring mechanism on the administrative side as well as on the judicial side be set up by high courts for speedy disposal of cases of undertrials pending in subordinate courts and appeals pending in high courts.
Minorities’ panel has no member
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), formed to protect the interests of minority communities, is left with no member.
- The last member of the panel, Dadi E Mistri, a representative of the Parsi community, demitted office recently after completing his stipulated three-year term with the commission.
- The government says the process of filling vacancies is on.
- The NCM was set up under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 to look into complaints from members of five religious communities — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis).
- Jain community was notified as a minority community in 2014.
- Besides NCM, 15 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Assam, which are home to sizeable minority populace, have set up commissions at their respective levels.
- Aggrieved persons belonging to the communities may approach the state minorities commissions concerned for redressal of their grievances or send their representations to the NCM after exhausting all avenues of remedies available.
- The functions of the state commissions, inter-alia, are to safeguard and protect the interests of minorities provided in the Constitution and laws enacted by Parliament and state legislatures.
Centre issues draft rules on e-wallet payments
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has issued draft Information Technology (Security of Prepaid Payment Instruments) Rules 2017 for Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPI) company or e wallet firms.
- The draft rules seek to ensure integrity, security and confidentiality of electronic payments made through PPIs.
- It covers an entire spectrum for protecting consumer information, especially financial data.
Key Features of the Rules:
- Person operating a payment system issuing prepaid payment instruments to individuals or organisations under the aegis of Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
- Mandatory for e-PPI issuers to develop an information security policy that ensures that the systems operated by them are secure.
- Mandatory for e-PPI to carry out risk assessment to spot security risks and also ensure adequate due diligence is done before issuing PPIs.
- e-PPIs should appoint a chief grievance officer with his contact details prominently displayed on website. The officer must act upon any complaint within 36 hours and close it in a month’s time.
- e-PPIs shall ensure that end-to-end encryption is applied to safeguard the data exchanged. It shall retain data relating to electronic payments only till necessary.
- CERT-In (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team) shall notify the categories of incidents and breaches that are required to be reported to it mandatorily.
What are Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPIs)?
- PPIs are methods that facilitate purchase of goods and services against the value stored on such instruments.
- The value stored on such instruments represents the value paid for by the holder, by debit, by cash to a bank account or by credit card.
- These prepaid instruments can be issued as online wallets, mobile accounts, mobile wallets, smart cards, magnetic stripe cards, internet accounts, paper vouchers and any such instruments used to access the prepaid amount.
Funds to Swachh Bharat Kosh (SBK)
What is Swachh Bharat Kosh (SBK)?
- The SBK was set up to attract CSR funds from corporate sector and contribution from individual philanthropists to achieve the objective of Clean India (Swachh Bharat) through “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” by the year 2019, the 150th year of birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
- The SBK is to be used to achieve the objective of improving cleanliness levels in rural and urban areas, including in schools.
- The allocation from the SBK is being used to supplement departmental resources for such activities.
- All donations towards Swachh Bharat Kosh are eligible for deduction of 100% from the total Income Tax.
- The contributions to SBK can also be included by companies towards CSR under the Companies Act, 2013.
Why it is in news?
- Rural Electric Corporation (REC) Limited has contributed Rs. 25 crores towards SBK as part of REC’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
- REC has also contributed Rs. 25 Crore towards this noble cause earlier in August 2016, thus making a total contribution of Rs. 50 Crore to the Kosh.
- Rural Electric Corporation (REC) Limited is an enterprise of the Government of India under the Ministry of Power.
- It is mandated to provide financing for the power sector development across the value chain in the field of generation, transmission, distribution and above all, renewable energy development.
- REC is the coordinating agency for implementing flagship programs of the government in power sector that include Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana scheme, the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) programme and several other initiatives of the government to ensure “Power for All”.
Centre to Launch Pilot Project on Ornamental Fisheries
The Department of Animal Husbandry along with Dairying and Fisheries and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare would be launching a pilot scheme for the development of ornamental fisheries with a total outlay of Rs 61.89 crore.
About the project:
- The scheme would mainly focus on creating an environment that would enable sustainable development of Ornamental Fisheries for the socio-economic development of the people attached to the activity as well as for exports.
Major objectives of the project:
- To promote ornamental fish culture in India through cluster-based approach.
- To expand ornamental fisheries trade and export earnings
- To create employment opportunities for the rural & peri-urban population
- To use modern technology and innovation to make ornamental fisheries a thriving activity.
Implementation of the project:
- The pilot project would be implemented in eight states at first, which include Assam, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Odisha.
- It would be implemented by the National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB) through the Fisheries departments of the states.
Classification of activities:
All the activities under the pilot project are classified in to four major groups, viz.,
- Activities related to production of ornamental fish, e.g. setting up of backyard rearing units, medium scale units, integrated breeding-cum-rearing units, etc.,
- Activities related to aquarium fabrication, trade and marketing;
- Activities for promotion of ornamental fisheries sector, and
- Activities related to skill development and capacity building.
Overall, ornamental fisheries, which is counted as a sub-sector of the fisheries sector dealing with breeding and rearing of coloured fish of both freshwater and marine water has the potential for tremendous growth in India.
Though it does not directly contribute to India’s food and nutritional security, it helps generate livelihood and income for the rural and peri-urban population, especially for women and the unemployed youth who take it up as a part-time activity.
Besides this, the major attraction in the sector is the low production cost backed by high returns within a short span of time and the ever-growing demand in both Indian and International markets.
Currently, there are about 400 species of marine ornamental fishes and 375 freshwater ornamental varieties in India.[Ref: PIB]
Environment & Ecology
Ministry of Railways and UNEP signed Letters of Intent (LOI) on Environment Initiatives
The Ministry of Railways signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to formalise the joint cooperation in the area of environmental conservation.
- The agreement will help in exploring the opportunity and developing a joint cooperation mechanism in the field of Environment & Sustainability.
Focussed areas of Letter of Intent:
- Collaborate in formulating specific roadmap for achieving 20 per cent reduction in water consumption at railway establishments.
- Collaborate in the development of a draft action plan for establishing waste management centres at major stations on Indian railways.
- Collaborate in the development of a draft action plan for Indian railways on sustainable public procurement for green technology.
Significance of the move:
- This joint co-operation will help Indian Railways in achieving its green objectives. Railway is already taking several green initiatives and is going to produce 1000MW solar energy.
Indian Railways, that carries 23 million passengers every day, is the largest consumer of water as well as electricity in the country. It is also the major contributor to green environment due to reduced GHG emissions.
Indian Railways have been taking a number of steps towards Water Management, Energy Conservation, Solid Waste Management and Green buildings.
On the other hand, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading organization within the United Nations in the field of environment and majorly focuses on the conservation, protection, enhancement and support of nature and natural resources worldwide.
Hence, both the organisations collaborated to further these common goals and objectives within their respective mandates and governing rules and regulations.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is an agency of United Nations and coordinates its environmental activities, assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices.
- It was founded by Maurice Strong, its first director, as a result of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Conference) in June 1972.
- Its headquarters is in the Gigiri neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya.
- UNEP has overall responsibility for environmental problems among United Nations agencies but talks on addressing global warming are overseen by the Bonn-based Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
- Its activities cover a wide range of issues regarding the atmosphere, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, environmental governance and green economy.
- UNEP has also been active in funding and implementing environment related development projects.
- The World Meteorological Organization and UNEP established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988.
- UNEP is also one of several Implementing Agencies for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, and it is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.
- The International Cyanide Management Code, a program of best practice for the chemical’s use at gold mining operations, was developed under UNEP’s aegis.
NIO finds a new canyon system close to Kovvada coast
Scientists for the first time have discovered three new canyons close to Kovvada in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.
- This discovery was made by team of scientists from CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Visakhapatnam.
- These three canyons together form a major canyon system in the depths of the Bay of Bengal.
What is canyon?
- A canyon is a deep, narrow valley with steep sides. The movement of rivers, the processes of weathering and erosion, and tectonic activity create canyons.
- Canyon systems are generally formed by the flow of river water into the sea and they could be as old as the river system, which is close to 23 million years.
- The largest and most famous canyons have been cut through arid or semiarid lands by swift streams fed by rain or melting snow of moister regions. The walls remain steep and angular because they are not worn and softened by frequent rainfall and surface drainage.
- Notable canyons in the United States are those of the Colorado, Snake, Arkansas, Rio Grande, and Yellowstone rivers.
- Cutting across the continental shelves and down the continental slopes beneath the sea in many parts of the world are prominent underwater canyons. Some are on the same enormous scale as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.
About the discovery:
- This discovery was made by clearly mapping the ocean floor between Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam by sending over 32 high density beams to the depths of the sea.
- The new canyon system was probably formed by river Kandivalasa. It is very huge and its depth varies from about 90 metres at the starting point to about 2,500 metres at the deepest point. It extends to about 50 to 70 km deep into the sea.
- The last canyon systems off the Visakhapatnam coast were discovered in 1963 by American geologist E.C. LaFond of the US Navy Electronics Laboratory. The data was collected on board research ship Anton Bruun.
Significance of this discovery:
- Most of the canyons in the ocean system across the world act as channels for depositing sediments in the shelf region. The more the deposit, the more are the chances of finding hydro-carbons.
- The discovery of the canyon is not only a major breakthrough in underwater geological formations, but also gives us immense scope to study and explore new benthic ecosystem.
- The study of ecology and fauna and micro organisms will not only tell us about our past but also throw light on new science. The study of how organisms live and flourish at low oxygen level and high current system can lead us to understand human heart diseases better and help us develop new treatment system.
Bilateral & International Relations
India and Belgium sign Protocol amending the India-Belgium Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and Protocol
India and Belgium have signed a Protocol amending the existing Agreement and Protocol between the two countries for Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income.
Significance of this protocol:
- The protocol broadens the scope of the existing framework for the exchange of tax-related information.
- It will help the government to curb tax evasion and tax avoidance between the two nations.
- It will also enable mutual assistance in collection of taxes.
The Union Government has set a key priority area for fighting the menace of Black Money stashed in offshore accounts. To further this goal, India has either signed or amended international agreements, declarations or conventions for the DTAA and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income and for the Exchange of Information with Mauritius, Switzerland, Cyprus, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Kazakhstan, and Austria during the financial year 2016-17.[Ref: PIB]
Commonwealth trade meet begins
An inaugural Commonwealth summit focused on stimulating trade within the group has begun in London.
- It is being attended by government trade representatives and business people.
- The event involves a series of roundtable discussions between ministers from over 30 countries and chief executives, followed by a ministerial roundtable, which its organisers hope will kick start further action on strengthening cross-Commonwealth trade, ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in the U.K. next year.
- The Commonwealth leadership is targeting an increase in intra-Commonwealth trade to $1 trillion by 2020, from $750 billion.
- Organisers of the trade summit are hopeful that a Commonwealth accord that recognises the benefits of trade within the block, and provides the framework for potential trade initiatives between groupings within it is achievable in the next couple of years.
Defence & Security Issues
INS Tillanchang commissioned
India Navy has commissioned INS Tillanchang at Karwar, Karnataka.
- It is a Water Jet Fast Attack Craft (WJFAC).
- INS Tillanchang is the third ship of four follow-on WJFAC built by the Kolkata based Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE).
- The first two ships INS Tarmugli and INS Tihayu which were commissioned in 2016.
- These ships will play a vital role in light of India’s security environment. They are designed to take on both conventional and asymmetric threats.
About INS Tillanchang:
- INS Tillanchang has been indigenously designed and built and is an upgrade from the Chetlat class of Fast Attack Craft (FCA).
- INS Tillanchang will be based at Karwar under the operational control of the Flag Officer Commanding, Karnataka Naval Area. It is manned by 50 personnel.
- It is about 50 m long and powered by three waterjet propulsion system, which give it speeds of over 35 knots.
- It is armed with a 30 mm main gun and a number of light, medium and heavy machine guns to undertake operations at sea.
- It will be used for missions like Coastal and Off-shore Surveillance, Law Enforcement, EEZ Control as well as non-military missions such as Search and Rescue, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).
Key Facts for Prelims
RV Sindhu Sankalp completes 100 expeditions
- Research Vessel (RV) Sindhu Sankalp, the flagship research vessel of CSIR- National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), has completed 100 expeditions.
- The vessel, which was originally built as fishing training vessel (FV Chisio Maru) by the Japanese Government in 1989, was procured by NIO from Japan in 2008.
- The vessel sailed across Bay of Bengal, Andaman Seas and Arabian Sea and has provided invaluable data and samples to understand the ocean processes and mapping of sea floor and water column variables.
- Equipped with CTD system, multi-beam bathymetric system, echo-sounder and sub-bottom profiler, RV Sindhu Sankalp played a key role in conducting seabed geophysical and environmental surveys in KG Basin.
Saraswati Samman 2016
- Prominent Konkani writer Mahabaleshwar Sail was selected for the Saraswati Samman 2016 for his novel Hawthan.
- Mahabaleshwar Sail is Goa-based renowned bi-lingual writer. So far, he wrote 4 Marathi dramas and 7 Konkani novels.
- The novel ‘Hawthan’ is a well-researched work of fiction. The book presents the cultural map of the traditional potter community of Goa.
- Saraswati Samman is named after Goddess Saraswati, Indian goddess of learning. The award was instituted in 1991 by the KK Birla Foundation.
- The award consists of 15 lakh rupees, a citation and a plaque.
- The inaugural award was given to Harivanshrai Bachchan for his four volume autobiography – Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon, Needa Ka Nirman Phir, Basere Se Door and Dashdwar Se Sopan Tak.
- The Saraswati Samman for 2015 was given to Padma Sachdev for her autobiography titled Chitt-Chete, which was written in Dogri language.