Polity & Governance
- Task force moots new panel on BPL
- Tea Board seeks nod for insurance scheme
- CBEC to be renamed as CBIT under GST regime
- Union Government issues fresh guidelines for flexi-fund for CSS
- Three companies get SEBI nod to launch InvITs
Bilateral & International Relations
- South-East Asian nations to set up fund to prepare for health
- China’s BRICS trade pact idea finds no takers
Science & Technology
- NASA spots slowest known magnetar
Key Facts for Prelims
- World’s Longest Bullet Train Tracks
- Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Singh Bhati
- Spanish Talgo train
- Deepa Malik
Polity & Governance
Task force moots new panel on BPL
Task force headed by NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya to prepare a road map for elimination of poverty submitted its report to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
What has been suggested?
- The Task force has suggested setting up a committee to identify people Below Poverty Line (BPL).
- It also suggested participation from states in defining the BPL population.
- It asked for constitution of a new committee, which in participation with the states and other stakeholders should work on defining the BPL population and identify them.
Four options for tracking the poor:
The Task force suggested four options for tracking the poor and they are:
- First- It asks to continue with the Tendulkar poverty line.
- Second- It asks to switch to the Rangarajan or other higher rural and urban poverty lines.
- Third- It calls to track the progress over time of the bottom 30 percent of the population
- Fourth- It asks to track progress along specific components of poverty such as nutrition, housing, drinking water, sanitation, electricity and connectivity.
- The task force was constituted in March 2015 with an initial mandate to finalise its report by 30 June 2015. Its main task was to prepare a road map for elimination of poverty as well as suggest strategies and anti-poverty programmes. Its terms of reference included developing a working definition of poverty and coordinating and developing synergy with central ministries and state government task forces.
Tea Board seeks nod for insurance scheme
The Tea Board has sought the Centre’s approval for modifying an insurance scheme meant for workers in small tea gardens.
What’s the proposal?
- According to the proposal, which was approved by Tea Board at its last board meeting, workers at small tea gardens would be eligible to apply for the accident insurance scheme. Owners of the small gardens are also eligible under the new plan.
- The Tea Board of India had introduced in July, an accident insurance scheme for workers in small tea gardens at an annual premium of Rs.14. Of this, tea-farmers will have to pay only Rs. 3.50 annually. Oriental Insurance would issue the master-policy in the Tea Board’s name. This scheme was open only to workers.
- The initiative would be funded under the 12th Plan scheme. The Centre had made an allocation of Rs.200 crore in a plan of Rs.1,425 crore.
About the Tea Board of India:
The Tea Board of India is a state agency of the Government of India established to promote the cultivation, processing, and domestic trade as well as export of tea from India.
- It was established by the enactment of the Tea Act in 1953 with its headquarters in Kolkata.
- Its offices are located in Kolkata, London, Moscow and Dubai.
Organisation of the Board:
- The present Tea Board is functioning as a statutory body of the Central Government under the Ministry of Commerce.
- The Board is constituted of 31 members (including Chairman) drawn from Members of Parliament, tea producers, tea traders, tea brokers, consumers, and representatives of Governments from the principal tea producing states, and trade unions.
- The Board is reconstituted every three years.
Functions of the Tea Board of India:
- The Tea Board has wide functions and responsibilities under the direction of the Central Government. Briefly the primary functions of the Tea Board are as under:
- Responsible for the assignment of certification numbers to exports of certain tea merchants. This certification is intended to ensure the teas’ origin, which in turn would reduce the amount of fraudulent labelling on rare teas such as ones harvested in Darjeeling.
- Rendering financial and technical assistance for cultivation, manufacture and marketing of tea.
- Export Promotion
- Aiding Research and Development activities for augmentation of tea production and improvement of tea quality.
- Extend financial assistance in a limited way to the plantation workers and their wards through labour welfare schemes.
- To encourage and assist both financially and technically the unorganised small growers sector.
- Collection and maintenance of Statistical data and publication
- Such other activities as are assigned from time to time by the Central Government.
CBEC to be renamed as CBIT under GST regime
Apex indirect tax body Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) will be renamed as the Central Board of Indirect Tax (CBIT) once the new national tax framework kicks in from April 1 next year, as per the draft dealing in GST organisational structure prepared by the Centre.
What will be the structure of the CBIT?
- CBIT will be headed by a secretary-level officer.
- It will implement the rules, including exemptions and threshold, to be set by the GST Council, which is chaired by Union Finance Minister and has state finance ministers as its members.
- CBIT will consist of six members, who will look after Customs, policy and IT, central excise and legal issues, training and litigation.
- Besides, an additional secretary of the department of revenue, who will be secretary to the GST Council, will be a CBIT member for Central GST (CGST) and Integrated GST (IGST) related matters.
The Central Board of Excise and Custom is the nodal national agency responsible for administering Customs, Central Excise, Service Tax & Narcotics in India.
- It is one of the oldest government departments of India.
- The Customs & Central Excise department was established in the year 1855 by the then British Governor General of India, to administer customs laws in India and collection of import duties / land revenue.
- The agency is staffed by IRS officers.
- Currently the Customs and Excise department comes under the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance.
Union Government issues fresh guidelines for flexi-fund for CSS
Union Government has recently issued fresh flexi-fund guidelines for Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS).
Under the new norms:
- Flexi-funds in each CSS have been increased from the current 10% to 25% for states and 30% for Union Territories.
- State governments will have to constitute a state-level sanctioning committee to avail of the flexi-fund facility.
- The flexi-fund facility is not for CSS which emanate from legislation, like MNREGA.
- The guidelines would give more freedom to states in spending money under the CSS to meet local developmental requirements.
- The states can now use the fund to undertake mitigation or restoration activities in case of natural calamities, or to satisfy local requirements in areas affected by internal security disturbances.
Based on the recommendations of the sub-group of chief ministers and consultations with stakeholders, NITI Aayog had issued instructions for rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes.[Ref: BL]
Three companies get SEBI nod to launch InvITs
More than two years after markets watchdog SEBI had issued guidelines for infrastructure investment trusts (InvITs), the regulator has finally granted three companies — IRB Infrastructure, GMR and MEP Infrastructure — to launch the trusts.
- Accordingly, these companies will float IRB Invit Fund, GMR Infrastructure Trust and MEP Infrastructure Trust shortly as per SEBI.
- With a view to help infra developers mop up funds for long-term projects in a more transparent manner, SEBI had in August 2014 introduced InvITs — an investment vehicle that would enable promoters to monetise completed assets.
- But the move failed to get enough attention of businesses owing to taxation issues.
What is InvITs?
An Infrastructure Investment Trust (InvITs) is like a mutual fund, which enables direct investment of small amounts of money from possible individual/institutional investors in infrastructure to earn a small portion of the income as return.
- SEBI notified the SEBI (Infrastructure Investment Trusts) Regulations, 2014 on September 26, 2014, providing for registration and regulation of InvITs in India.
- The objective of InvITs is to facilitate investment in the infrastructure sector.
- InvITS are like mutual funds in structure. InvITs can be established as a trust and registered with SEBI. An InvIT consists of four elements:
- Investment Manager and
- Project Manager.
- InvITs work like mutual funds or real estate investment trusts (REITs) in features.
- InvITs can be treated as the modified version of REITs designed to suit the specific circumstances of the infrastructure sector.
Bilateral & International Relations
South-East Asian nations to set up fund to prepare for health
India along with 10 other member countries of WHO’s South-East Asian Regional Committee decided to set up a dedicated fund aimed at building preparedness for health emergencies in the region.
- In addition, the member countries also passed a resolution for promoting physical activity and expanding health workforces across the region. Insufficient physical activity is a major contributor to rising rates of non-communicable diseases in the region, with four-fifth of adolescents not getting enough of it.
- The decision was made at the 69th session of WHO Regional Committee Meeting held at Colombo, Sri Lanka.
- The joint funding stream will be established under the South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund (SEARHEF).
Significance of the decision:
- The decision would help the member countries to invest in human resources and infrastructure at times of emergencies, as it is one of the most disaster-prone regions.
- In the recent years, earthquakes, cyclones and floods have caused health emergencies in south-east Asian region and it has also been threatened by a range of emerging diseases, including SARS, MERS CoV, pandemic influenza and Zika virus.
About WHO South-East Asia region committee:
- WHO South-East Asia region committee comprises 11 member states namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
- The Regional Committee meeting is WHO South-East Asia Region’s highest decision-making body.
China’s BRICS trade pact idea finds no takers
India and three others in the BRICS bloc — Brazil, Russia and South Africa — have cold-shouldered China’s attempt to bring to the negotiating table a proposal for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the five major emerging economies.
What is ‘BRICS FTA’?
- China has proposed for a ‘BRICS FTA’, which is aimed at boosting trade ties in the grouping through binding commitments on eliminating tariffs.
Who are not agreed on this pact?
Except China, BRICS members are not keen on such a pact.
- While Russia and South Africa did not respond to the BRICS FTA proposal, Brazil pointed out that it participates in FTA negotiations as part of the ‘Mercosur’ – a trading bloc and customs union of Latin American nations
Why they are not agreed to this pact?
- Their apprehensions about the plan include the fear that it could lead to a surge in imports of Chinese goods into their territory — in turn, hurting local manufacturing.
India’s response to the pact?
- India also raised concerns regarding a widening goods trade deficit with China. According to Indian government statistics, India’s goods trade deficit with China has escalated from $1.1 billion in 2003-04 to $52.7 billion in 2015-16.
- China is expected to take up this issue in the upcoming BRICS Trade Ministers Meeting, the first BRICS Trade Fair and the Eighth BRICS Summit. India is hosting these events as it currently holds the BRICS Chairmanship.
Science & Technology
NASA spots slowest known magnetar
Astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence of an extremely dense, magnetised neutron star – or magnetar – that spins much slower than the slowest of its kind known until now, which spin around once every 10 seconds.
- The magnetar 1E 1613 – at the centre of RCW 103, the remains of a supernova explosion located about 9,000 light years from Earth – rotates once every 24,000 seconds (6.67 hours), the researchers found.
What is a magnetar?
A magnetar is a type of neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field.
- The magnetic field decay powers the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays and gamma rays.
- Neutron stars are formed when the largest stars in the universe reach the end of their lives. When these stars run out of fuel, their core collapses causing outer layers to come crashing in towards the centre.
- As stars are so large the crushing forces created can be phenomenal. These pressures can squash the core of the star together and because of this, a neutron star – and hence a magnetar – is made of some of the densest material in the known universe.
Magnetar- key facts:
- Magnetars are characterized by their extremely powerful magnetic fields of 108 to 1011 tesla.
- These magnetic fields are quadrillions of times stronger than any man-made magnet, and hundreds of millions of times more powerful than the field surrounding Earth.
- The magnetic field of a magnetar would be lethal even at a distance of 1000 km due to the strong magnetic field distorting the electron clouds of the subject’s constituent atoms, rendering the chemistry of life impossible.
- Their material is so dense that one teaspoon of it contains the same amount of mass as 900 Egyptian pyramids.
- The active life of a magnetar is short. Their strong magnetic fields decay after about 10,000 years, after which activity and strong X-ray emission cease.
- Given the number of magnetars observable today, one estimate puts the number of inactive magnetars in the Milky Way at 30 million or more.
Key Facts for Prelims
World’s Longest Bullet Train Tracks
China’s high-speed railway has completed over 20,000 kms of track network in the country, becoming the world’s longest bullet train network.
Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Singh Bhati
Mariyappan Thangavelu won the gold medal and Varun Singh Bhati clinched bronze in the men’s High Jump T42 event to open India’s medal tally at the Rio Paralympics. T-42 is a disability classification in the sport for differently-abled track-and-field athletes with single ‘above the knee’ amputations or a comparable disability.
- Thangavelu has become the first Indian high jumper to win a Paralympics gold. HN Girisha was the first Indian high-jumper to win a medal, at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
- He is also the third Indian to win a gold at Paralympics after Murlikant Petkar, who won in Swimming, at Heidelberg 1972 and Devendra Jhajharia who won at Athens 2004 in Javelin Throw.
- India’s overall medal tally in all Paralympic Games has now stands at 10 – three golds, three silvers and four bronze.
Spanish Talgo train
The Spanish Talgo train has completed its final trial between Delhi and Mumbai in less than 12—hours at a maximum speed of 150 km per hour speed, to make a strong pitch for its induction in Indian Railways future venture.
- The lightweight aluminium coaches, made by Madrid-based Talgo, can travel at much higher speeds due to their weight and also don’t need to de-accelerate at sharp turns like conventional coaches used by the Indian Railways.
- Besides being faster, the light-weight of the Talgo trains coaches means that the train guzzles up to 30 per cent less energy than a train with conventional coaches.
- Railways had conducted the first trial run of Talgo trains on the Bareilly—Moradabad stretch in Uttar Pradesh followed by the second trial run was conducted on the Palwal—Mathura section of the North—Central Railway.
Deepa Malik has created history by winning silver medal in Women’s shotput at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. With this, she becomes first Indian woman to win a medal at the Paralympics. It is India’s 3rd medal in the ongoing Paralympics games at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.