Polity & Governance
- Cabinet approves appointment of Second National Judicial Pay Commission
Government Schemes & Policies
- Cabinet approves continuation and Restructuring of National Rural Drinking Water Programme
- First power plant under PM Ladakh scheme commissioned in Drass
Issues related to Health & Education
- Cabinet approves creation of National Testing Agency
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Facebook launches Disaster Maps in India for better response to disasters
Bilateral & International Relations
- India re-elected as member of UNESCO’s executive board: official
- Cabinet approves Joint Interpretative Declaration between India and Colombia
- 11 Trade ministers reach deal on Pacific trade without US
- Cabinet approves MoU with Philippines on agriculture and related fields
- Cabinet approves protocol amending DTAA between India and Kyrgyz
Key Facts for Prelims
- “People First” campaign
- China unveils massive island-building vessel
- Mohammed VI-A satellite
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Polity & Governance
Cabinet approves appointment of Second National Judicial Pay Commission
The Union Cabinet has approved appointment of Second National Judicial Pay Commission (SNJPC) for Subordinate Judiciary in the country.
Who will head this commission?
- The Commission is to be headed by retired justice of the Supreme Court, J.P.Venkatrama Reddi.
- Basant, a former judge of the Kerala high court is also a member of the commission.
Terms of References of the commission:
- The Commission will examine the present structure of emoluments and conditions of service of Judicial Officers in the States and UTs.
- The Commission aims to evolve the principles which would govern pay structure and other emoluments of Judicial Officers belonging to the Subordinate Judiciary of the country.
- It will examine the work methods and work environment as also the variety of allowance and benefits in kind that are available to Judicial Officers in addition to pay and to suggest rationalization and simplification thereof.
- The Commission will devise its own procedures and formulate modalities necessary for accomplishing the task.
- The Commission also aims at making the pay scales and conditions of service of Judicial Officers uniform throughout the country.
Significance of this commission:
- The recommendations of the Commission will help in promoting efficiency in Judicial Administration, optimizing the size of judiciary etc. and to remove anomalies created in implementation of earlier recommendations.
- The Commission will make its recommendations to the State Governments preferably within a period of 18 months.
Government Schemes & Policies
Cabinet approves continuation and Restructuring of National Rural Drinking Water Programme
The Union Cabinet has accorded its approval for continuation and restructuring of National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).
- The move is aimed to make NRDWP outcome-based, competitive and better monitored with increased focus on sustainability (functionality) of schemes to ensure good quality service delivery to the rural population.
- The programme will cover all the Rural Population across the country.
- A sum of Rs. 23,050 crore has been approved for the programme for the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) period 2017-18 to 2019-20.
- The restructuring will make the programme flexible, result-oriented, competitive, and will enable the Ministry towards to reach the goal of increasing coverage of sustainable Piped Water Supply.
National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme with 50: 50 fund sharing between the Centre and the States.
- It was started in 2009, with a major emphasis on ensuring sustainability (source) of water availability in terms of potability, adequacy, convenience, affordability and equity.
- The aim and objective of the NRDWP is to provide every rural person with adequate safe water for drinking, cooking and other basic domestic needs on a sustainable basis, with a minimum water quality standard, which should be conveniently accessible at all times and in all situations.
- Achieving this aim and objective is a continuous process.
First power plant under PM Ladakh scheme commissioned in Drass
The Biaras Small Hydro Power Project (SHP) of 1.5 MW capacity, in Biaras Drass, Kargil Jammu & Kashmir, was commissioned.
- It is the first project to be commissioned under the Prime Minister’s Ladakh Renewable Energy Initiative (LREI).
- The total cost of the project is Rs. 17 crores and it is fully funded by the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy.
About the project:
- The plant will power the Drass town in Kargil, which is one of the coldest places in India. Power from Biaras SHP would be sufficient to meet normal power requirement of about 1000 families, which would make them comfortable in the extreme winter season.
- The project has been developed by Kargil Renewable Energy Development Agency (KREDA) under Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.
About Prime Minister’s Ladakh Renewable Energy Initiative:
The project aims to minimize dependence on diesel in the Ladakh region and meet power requirement through local renewable sources.
- It is implemented by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.
- The approach of the project is to meet power requirements through small / micro hydel and solar photovoltaic power projects /systems and use solar thermal systems for water heating / space heating / cooking requirements.
- The project also envisages setting up of 10 solar photovoltaic power plants in defence establishments.
- Such projects would be able to replace use of diesel to a great extent, at least for about 8 months in a year and reduce green house emissions in the region.
Issues related to Health & Education
Cabinet approves creation of National Testing Agency
The Union Cabinet approved creation of National Testing Agency (NTA) as an autonomous and self-sustained premier testing organization to conduct entrance examinations for higher educational institutions.
- It will be society registered under Indian Societies Registration Act, 1860.
Features of NTA:
- The NTA will initially conduct entrance examinations currently being conducted by CBSE. Other examinations will be taken up gradually after NTA is fully geared up.
- The entrance examinations will be conducted in online mode at least twice a year to give adequate opportunity to candidates to bring out their best.
- In order to serve requirements of the rural students, it will locate centres at sub-district and district level and as far as possible it will undertake hands-on training to the students.
- NTA will be chaired by an eminent educationist appointed by Ministry of Human Resource Development.
- The CEO will be Director General (DG) appointed by Government.
- Besides, there will be Board of Governors comprising members from user institutions.
- The DG will be assisted by 9 verticals headed by academicians and experts.
- NTA will be given one-time grant of Rs.25 crore from Union Government to start its operation in first year. Thereafter, it will be financially self-sustainable.
- It will be subjected to Comptroller and Auditor General (GAG) audit.
- NTA will benefit about 4 million students appearing in various entrance examinations.
- It will relieve AICTE, CBSE, and other agencies from responsibility of conducting these entrance examinations.
- It will bring in high reliability, standardized difficulty level for assessing intelligence, aptitude and problem solving abilities of students.
- Finance Minister in his Budget speech of 2017-18 had announced setting up of NTA as autonomous and self-sustained premier testing organization to conduct all entrance examinations for higher educational institutions in view to have specialized body in India like most advanced countries.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Facebook launches Disaster Maps in India for better response to disasters
Facebook has partnered with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and a non-profit body, SEEDS in India, to offer tools to these agencies to help them respond more effectively to natural disasters.
- Facebook will offer ‘disaster maps data’ that illustrate aspects like people’s movement and concentration of Facebook users in the given area before and after a calamity.
- The programme will be piloted in two disaster-prone States — Assam and Uttarakhand.
- Government has claimed that India will be first country to partner with Facebook on disaster response.
Disaster Maps was introduced globally in June and uses aggregated location information that users have chosen to share with Facebook.
- These tools have been deployed in Peru and the US.
- So far, Facebook researchers have built three kinds of maps: (i) Location density maps, (ii) Movement maps and (iii) Safety Check.
How will they help?
- It aims to help communities across country recover and rebuild from natural disasters faster by sharing critical pieces of data sets with humanitarian agencies in timely manner.
- It provides multiple types of maps during disaster response efforts, which include aggregated location information chosen by people to share with Facebook.
- This helps NGOs and relief agencies get precise location of people affected by disaster so they can determine where resources like food, water and medical supplies are needed.
Need for such maps:
- According to UN Development Programme (UNDP) data, India is third-worst affected country by natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, cyclones, drought and landslides.
- Moreover, response time during and after these crises is often slow and it takes significant time and resources to understand where help is needed most.
- Facebook has 2 billion-plus users globally and its users in India have crossed 240 million mark, making it largest audience country for social media company.
Facebook’s Disaster Management Initiatives
- Facebook already has a safety check feature that allows users to notify their friends and family that they are safe.
- Facebook is also holding its first annual Disaster Response Summit in India with NDMA, which will bring together many humanitarian organisations to help train and discuss how technology can be used to devise better responses to natural disasters and subsequent recovery.
- It is also supporting the pilot of the Aapda Samachar Karyakarta-Disaster Information Volunteers (ASK-DIV) scheme where a network of trained volunteers provide supplementary information to inform government relief efforts through the Facebook Workplace platform.
Bilateral & International Relations
India re-elected as member of UNESCO’s executive board: official
India was re-elected as a member of the executive board of the UN educational, scientific and cultural organization (UNESCO).
- The election was held at the 39th session of the General Conference of the UNESCO in Paris.
- The executive board is the top decision- making body of the international organisation.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris.
- It was formed in 16 November 1945.
- Its main aim is to contribute to building of peace and security, eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms.
- Its other objectives include attaining quality education for all, addressing emerging social and ethical challenges, fostering cultural diversity, a culture of peace and building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication.
- It has 195 member states and ten associate members.
About General Conference:
- The General Conference consists of the representatives of the member states of the UNESCO.
- It meets every two years and is attended by member states and associate members along with observers for non-member States, intergovernmental organisations and non- governmental organisations (NGOs).
Powers & Duties of General Conference
- It determines the policies and the main lines of work of the organisation.
- The body is also responsible for setting up the programmes and the budget of UNESCO.
- It also elects the members of the Executive Board and appoints the Director- General every four years.
- Each country gets one vote in the conference regardless of its size or the extent of its contribution to the budget.
Cabinet approves Joint Interpretative Declaration between India and Colombia
The Union Cabinet approved signing of Joint Interpretative Declaration (JID) between India and Colombia regarding existing Agreement for Promotion and Protection of Investments.
- The agreement was signed between them signed in November 2009.
Significance of JID
- The JID will help to impart clarity on interpretation of existing Agreement as it includes interpretative notes to be jointly adopted for many clauses.
- It includes definition of investor, investment, Fair and Equitable Treatment (FET), Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment, National Treatment (NT), expropriation, Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision and Denial of Benefits.
Need for JIDs
- JIDs in general play important supplementary role in strengthening investment treaty regime.
- Issuance of such statements will have strong persuasive value before arbitration tribunals as Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) disputes are increasing.
- Such pro-active approach by partners can foster more predictable and coherent reading of treaty terms by arbitration tribunals.
Location of Colombia:
- Colombia is a sovereign state largely situated in the northwest of South America, with territories in Central America.
- Colombia shares a border to the northwest with Panama, to the east with Venezuela and Brazil and to the south with Ecuador and Peru.
- It shares its maritime limits with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
- Ecologically, it is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, and the most densely biodiverse of these per square kilometer.
11 Trade ministers reach deal on Pacific trade without US
In a major breakthrough, trade ministers from 11 Pacific Rim countries have reached a deal to proceed with the free-trade Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that was in doubt after President Donald Trump abandoned it.
- The TPP member countries are trying to find a way forward without the U.S.
- In January 2017, US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal that was championed by his predecessor Barack Obama. Leaders of the 11 countries remaining in the TPP had been due to meet and endorse a deal worked out in last-minute talks overnight.
Now, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement among 11 Pacific Rim countries concerning a variety of matters of economic policy, which was reached in October 2015 after 7 years of negotiations.
- Initially, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was headed by the US and includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
- The agreement covers 40% of the world’s economy.
- It would set new terms for trade and business investment among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.
- It would phase out thousands of import tariffs as well as other barriers to international trade.
- It also would establish uniform rules on corporations’ intellectual property, open the Internet even in communist Vietnam and crack down on wildlife trafficking and environmental abuses.
- The United States government has considered the TPP as the companion agreement to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a broadly similar agreement between the United States and the European Union.
Why Trump is against this deal?
- Trump thinks such deals will hurt American workers and undercut US companies.
- His stance on trade is protectionist: he has vowed to shield Americans from the effects of globalised trade by slapping hefty tariffs on cheap Chinese imports of up to 45%.
- Trump says, “The TPP creates a new international commission that makes decisions the American people can’t veto, making it easier for our trading competitors to ship cheap subsidised goods into US markets – while allowing foreign countries to continue putting barriers in front of our exports.”
Criticisms of TPP:
- Those against TPP fear it could mean jobs will move from the US to developing countries. They also do not like the fact the five-year talks were held largely in secret.
- The TPP would also have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of expression, right to privacy and due process, as well as hindering peoples’ abilities to innovate.
- The TPP suffers from a serious lack of transparency, threatens to impose more stringent copyright without public input, and pressures foreign governments to adopt unbalanced laws.
- Some critics also claim that TPP paves the way for companies to sue governments that change policy on, say, health and education to favour state-provided services.
- The TPP will also intensify competition between countries’ labour forces.
Cabinet approves MoU with Philippines on agriculture and related fields
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Philippines in the field of agriculture and related fields.
About the MoU:
- This MoU provides for cooperation in the fields of rice production and processing, multi cropping system, dryland farming systems, bio-organic farming, solid and water conservation and management, soil fertility, sericulture, agro forestry, livestock improvement etc.
- The MoU provides for constitution of Joint Working Group composed of equal number of representatives.
- The Joint Working Group shall meet once every two years alternatively in the Philippines and India.
Significance of the MoU:
- The MoU will improve bilateral cooperation in the field of agriculture and will be mutually beneficial to both countries.
- It will promote understanding of best agricultural practices in the two countries and will help in better productivity as well as improved global market access.
Location of Philippines:
- Philippines is a unitary sovereign state and island country in Southeast Asia.
- Situated in the western Pacific Ocean, it consists of about 7,641 islands that are categorized broadly under three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
- The capital city of the Philippines is Manila and the most populous city is Quezon City, both part of Metro Manila.
- Bounded by the South China Sea on the west, the Philippine Sea on the east and the Celebes Sea on the southwest, the Philippines shares maritime borders with Taiwan to the north, Vietnam to the west, Palau to the east and Malaysia and Indonesia to the south.
Cabinet approves protocol amending DTAA between India and Kyrgyz
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for the protocol amending the Agreement between India and Kyrgyz Republic for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.
- The Protocol amending Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) aims to update Article 26 (Exchange of Information) of DTAA to international standards.
- The existing DTAA between India and Kyrgyz Republic was notified in February 2001.
- The Protocol amending DTAA for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income has been agreed to be signed between two countries.
What is DTAA?
A Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) is a tax treaty signed between two or more countries.
- Its key objective is that tax-payers in these countries can avoid being taxed twice for the same income.
- A DTAA applies in cases where a tax-payer resides in one country and earns income in another.
- DTAAs can either be comprehensive to cover all sources of income or be limited to certain areas such as taxing of income from shipping, air transport, inheritance, etc.
- In so far as India is concerned, the Central Government is authorized under Section 90 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 to enter into an Agreement with a foreign country or specified territory for avoidance of double taxation of income, for exchange of information for the prevention of evasion or avoidance of income-tax chargeable under the Income-tax Act, 1961.
- India has DTAAs with more than eighty countries, of which comprehensive agreements include those with Australia, Canada, Germany, Mauritius, Singapore, UAE, the UK and US.
Why is it important?
- DTAAs are intended to make a country an attractive investment destination by providing relief on dual taxation.
- Such relief is provided by exempting income earned abroad from tax in the resident country or providing credit to the extent taxes have already been paid abroad.
- DTAAs also provide for concessional rates of tax in some cases.
Location of Kyrgyzstan:
- Kyrgyzstan is a sovereign state in Central Asia.
- Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country with mountainous terrain.
- It is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west and southwest, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east.
- Its capital and largest city is Bishkek.
Key Facts for Prelims
“People First” campaign
- Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) has planned to conduct State specific Atal Pension Yojana (APY) mobilization Campaigns under the title “People First”.
- The People First campaign will be a series of campaigns conducted at various states across the country to increase APY outreach.
China unveils massive island-building vessel
- China launched a massive ship named Tian Kun Hao, which is being referred as Asia’s largest dredging vessel, at a port in eastern Jiangsu province.
- The vessel described as a ‘magic island maker’ is capable of building artificial islands.
- The ship is capable of digging 6,000 cubic meters an hour, which is equivalent to three standard swimming pools.
- It is a larger version of the one China used to dredge sand, mud and coral for transforming reefs and islets in the South China Sea into artificial islands capable of hosting military installations.
Mohammed VI-A satellite
- It is an earth observation satellite of Morocco.
- The satellite was launched by European consortium Arianespace’s Vega rocket from French Guyana Space Centre.
- It was built for Morocco by Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor and Airbus as co-prime.
Location of Morocco: