Polity & Governance
- NACO to send funds directly to AIDS societies
- SC: Why not treat drought as disaster?
- Elderly women outnumber men, says NSS report
- Maharashtra to be the first state to enact law against social boycott
- Consumer sentiment worsens: CMIE index
- Tap forex pool to help exporters: Ministry
Environment & Ecology
- Three of India’s natural world heritage sites face threat from harmful activity: WWF
- Monsoon likely to be above normal: IMD
- India, US agree ‘in principle’ to sign logistics support pact
Science & Technology
- Potassium chlorate, beautiful but dangerous
Also in News
- Canada to offer formal apology for Komagata Maru tragedy
- Gurgaon renamed as ‘Gurugram’
- Maharajas’ Express among top-rated trains globally
Polity & Governance
NACO to send funds directly to AIDS societies
As India’s HIV policy struggles with a funding crisis, the Health Ministry — in a marked departure from the Centre’s policy on financial decentralisation — has taken back control of the programme’s funding.
- After a year of experimenting with routing money through State treasuries, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) will once again route money directly to State-level AIDS societies from this month.
- The Health Ministry had written to the Finance Ministry to revert to the original system where NACO directly transferred money to State AIDS Control Societies (SACS), satellite branches that implement the programme at the State level.
- The cash crunch was felt the most in Maharashtra.
SC: Why not treat drought as disaster?
With around 10 states reeling under drought, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre why the natural calamity could not be brought under the Disaster Management Act to release funds for the welfare of affected families.
- The court mooted the idea after noting that many states had not declared drought.
- The court pointed out that drought could be covered under the Disaster Management Act.
- Drought was not expressly mentioned in the Disaster Management Act, but it can be covered under loss of crops.
Union Government’s stands:
- The Centre informed the court that its hands were tied and it could not force states to declare a drought as the matter came within states’ domain.
- Also, there is no statute to regulate declaration of drought.
- The centre argues that it has only a limited role — of providing funds and putting in place a monitoring system.
- The court has sought information on the number of people and districts affected by drought, as well as the budgetary allocation for and expenditure of national and state disaster relief funds.
- The Centre has assured that it would place the information before the court on the next hearing.
About Disaster Management Act, 2005:
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 came into force in India in January 2006. The Act extends to the whole of India.
- The Act provides for “the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
- At Centre, the Act calls for the establishment of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), with the Prime Minister of India as chairperson. The Act enjoins the Central Government to Constitute a National Executive Committee(NEC) to assist the National Authority.
- At state levels, all State Governments are mandated to establish a State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).
- At district levels, the Chairperson of District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) will be the Collector or District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner of the district. The elected representative of the area is member of the DDMA as an ex officio co-Chairperson
- The Act provides for constituting a National Disaster Response Force“for the purpose of specialist response to a threatening disaster situation or disaster” under a Director General to be appointed by the Central Government.
[Ref: ToI, Wiki]
Elderly women outnumber men, says NSS report
The latest National Sample Survey report on ‘Health in India’ notes that the share of 60-plus women is higher than that of men in both rural and urban areas.
Key facts of the report:
- India has more elderly women than men with the sex ratio of the country’s 60-plus population recorded at 1,033 women per 1,000 men in the 2011 Census, up from 1,029 in the 2001 census.
- The sex ratio in the country had shot up from 930 in the 1991 Census to 1,029 in 2001. However, the National Sample Survey in 2004 recorded a drop in this ratio to 999, before it went up again in 2011.
- Among rural areas, the highest sex ratio (1,289) was reported in Gujarat and in urban Assam it was recorded as 1,476.
- The share of elderly women (per 1,000 population) in both urban and rural areas is higher than those of men.
- The overall proportion of the elderly in India, home to the world’s largest youth population, too has gone up. An estimated 87.6 million aged people live in India, about 69% of them in rural parts. Their magnitude in terms of number or in terms of share to total population is found to rise gradually over the decades. But about 50% of the elderly population is totally economically dependent on others.
- Experts describe the pattern as feminisation of ageing, which in the context of a developing country like India, brings with it health and financial concerns.
- According to the Health in India report, around 70% elderly women in both urban and rural India are economically dependent on others. And around 35% of women aged over 80 are immobile.
- Financial constraints are further compounded by illnesses of old age. The survey found a high proportion of the elderly battling chronic illnesses and around 8% of the elderly, particularly those aged over 80, confined to their beds.
Maharashtra to be the first state to enact law against social boycott
Maharashtra will be the first state in the country to enact a law against social boycott of individuals or families by caste panchayats.
- The said act, ‘Maharashtra Prohibition of Social Boycott Act, 2015’ has termed any action of social boycott as crime.
- It has also made the provision of ‘Social Boycott Prohibition Officer’ to detect the commission of offences under the provisions of this Act. The officer will also assist magistrate and police officers to discharge their duties.
This won’t be the first time that the state is taking a lead in formulating such acts. Maharashtra was also the first in the country to enact anti superstition law.
Consumer sentiment worsens: CMIE index
According to a new index, consumer sentiment in India deteriorated in the first quarter of 2016 with consumers getting more pessimistic about the future than they were at the start of the year.
- The index is Consumer Sentiments Index, which is formulated by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
- The CMIE Consumer Sentiments Index, which was introduced in January, shows that consumers’ economic conditions, sentiments, and expectations of what the future holds, have all been on a declining trend from January to March.
Tap forex pool to help exporters: Ministry
The Commerce Ministry has asked RBI to use a part of its foreign exchange reserves to give long-term loans at low interest rate to the Exim Bank of India, which can pass it on to exporters at lower rates than bank credit.
Aim of the proposal:
- The aim is to help reduce the costs and enhance the competitiveness of exporters at a time of global trade slowdown and weak demand overseas.
What proposal says?
- According to the commerce ministry, a part of India’s foreign exchange (forex) reserve can be used for loans as the forex reserve has now increased to a record high of around $360 billion.
- The ministry argues that higher import cover indicates greater currency stability and India’s capacity to absorb external shocks, such as the impact of an outflow of funds following a rate hike by the US Fed, and support its domestic economy.
Rate of export credit around the world:
Rate of export credit in India is between 11 and 12% as against 2-3% in the Euro area (except Greece), 2.6% in Taiwan, 4.6% in Thailand, 5.5% in China and 6.2% in Malaysia.
- Exporters, citing the contraction in the country’s goods exports for 15 months since December 2014, have been demanding credit at lower rates to help increase their competitiveness in global markets.
Problems cited by Exim Bank of India:
- Exim Bank of India has also been citing constraints including that it is permitted a low leverage ratio, of around 11 times the bank’s net-owned funds, in comparison to that of its Chinese counterpart, where the ratio is 77 times. Exim Bank has sought relaxation of norms including a higher leverage ratio, of at least 15 times its NOF, and more capital from the government.
- However, the Finance Ministry is unwilling to give more capital to the Exim Bank given the fiscal constraints. Therefore, the Exim Bank is finding it difficult to finance project exports due to these operational limitations.
Environment & Ecology
Three of India’s natural world heritage sites face threat from harmful activity: WWF
According to a latest survey ‘Protecting People Through Nature’ by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), India’s three major natural World Heritage Sites are facing threats from harmful industrial activities like mining.
- Western Ghats,
- Sundarbans National Park and
- Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
Threats they facing:
These iconic places face a range of threats, including climate change.
- The ecology of Western Ghats covering six states – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala – is threatened by mining and oil and gas exploration.
Sundarbans National Park:
- Sundarbans in West Bengal and neighbouring Bangladesh have been hit by various activities including unsustainable water use, dams, wood harvesting, over-fishing and shipping lanes.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary:
- Manas Wild Life Sanctuary faces threat from dams and unsustainable water use.
Removing pressure from harmful industrial activity is therefore critical to increase the sites’ resilience.
Why world heritage sites are important to us?
- World Heritage sites are not just important environmentally, they also provide social and economic benefits.
- Two-thirds of natural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List are crucial sources of water and about half help prevent natural disasters such as floods or landslides.
- WWF survey estimates that “11 million people – more than the population of Portugal – depend directly on World Heritage sites for food, water, shelter and medicine. Harmful industrial development poses a threat to these ecosystem services and communities that depend on them.”
UNESCO world heritage site:
- A World Heritage Site is a place (such as a building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, or mountain) that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as being of special cultural or physical significance.
- The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states which are elected by the General Assembly.
- Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located and UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
- According to the sites ranked by country, Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites with 51 sites, followed by China (48), Spain (44), France (41), Germany (40), Mexico (33), and India (32).
- The List of recorded sites on the World Heritage now stands at 981 which include both cultural and natural wonders.
[Ref: ToI, Wiki]
Monsoon likely to be above normal: IMD
India’s official weather forecasting agency, IMD, has said that the monsoon is likely to be “above normal” and likely to be 106% of the average of 89 cm.
- This is the first time since 1999 that department has made an “above normal” prediction.
What is normal rain?
- Monsoon is considered normal if rain during the June to September season is 96-104 per cent of the LPA.
[LPA is average seasonal rainfall over the country in the past 50 years, starting 1951, and it is estimated to be 89 centimetres. The forecast is with model error of five per cent.]
Reasons support the IMD’s prediction:
- The good news has come mainly because the dreaded El Nino weather phenomenon that caused the back-to-back droughts of 2014 and 2015 is showing signs of waning by the time India’s southwest monsoon gathers steam around July and August.
- El Nino, an abnormal warming of surface waters in the east-central Pacific that drives weather changes across the globe, is seen to have depressed the last two monsoons in India.
- Another meteorological phenomenon known as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole — where the western portions of the Indian Ocean are warmer than the east and thereby push rain-bearing clouds over India — is also likely to form during the middle of the monsoon season, according to the IMD.
India, US agree ‘in principle’ to sign logistics support pact
In a significant decision that could have far-reaching implications for India’s military posture, India and the U.S. have agreed “in principle” on a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMA), a logistics support agreement — the first proposed in 2004— that would make it easier for both militaries to share each other’s facilities.
- The logistics exchange deal will enable both militaries to use each other’s assets and bases for repair and the replenishment of supplies
- This does not, however, mean stationing of American troops on Indian soil.
Science & Technology
Potassium chlorate, beautiful but dangerous
Investigators probing the cause of the fireworks disaster at the Puttingal Devi temple near Kollam, Kerala recently, hinted that rival teams possibly used potassium chlorate, a banned explosive.
- They had also probably sourced the chemical illegally from matchstick factories.
About Potassium chlorate (KClO3):
- Potassium chlorate is a compound containing potassium, chlorine and oxygen atoms, with the molecular formula KClO3.
- In its pure form, it is a white crystalline substance. It is the most common chlorate in industrial use.
Potassium chlorate is used
- as an oxidizing agent,
- to prepare oxygen,
- as a disinfectant,
- in safety matches,
- in explosives and fireworks,
- in cultivation, forcing the blossoming stage of the longan tree, causing it to produce fruit in warmer climates.
It is commonly used in pyrotechnics. The principal reason for using it in pyrotechnics is for the production of beautiful colours. Despite its inherent risk, the reason it is sometimes used in pyrotechnics is because it is cheap and easily available.
How does it work?
Potassium chlorate has very powerful oxidising ability.
- When heated, it decomposes to produce oxygen. The oxygen so produced fuels the flame of the lit firework, thereby increasing the temperature of the firework even further. The extra heat generated excites the electrons in the colour-producing chemicals added in the firework mixture and thus produces beautiful colours.
Why is it banned?
- The oxidising property of potassium chlorate is also its biggest disadvantage when used in fireworks.
- It has an inherent property to become very reactive, especially when mixed with sulphur; the potassium chlorate-sulphur mixture becomes dangerously sensitive to friction and may spontaneously ignite.
Hence, potassium chlorate is banned for use in fireworks.
[Ref: Hindu, Wiki]
Also in News
Canada to offer formal apology for Komagata Maru tragedy
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will offer an apology in the House of Commons on May 18 almost 102 years after the Komagata Maru incident.
About the Komagata Maru incident:
A Japanese steam ship named Komagata maru, filled with Indian immigrants was forced to return to India on September 29, 1914 from Canada when the passengers were not allowed to land in Canada (only 24 out of 352 passengers were admitted to Canada).
- This was due to the Continuous passage act enacted by the Canadian government to check the immigrants and particularly from India.
- In this incident, 19 Canada-bound Indian immigrants were killed in police firing and many were arrested by the British police.
- This incident had also made the Ghadar Party proclaim war and inspired thousands of Indian immigrants to come back and organize an armed rebellion against British imperialism in India.
Gurgaon renamed as ‘Gurugram’
Haryana Government has decided to rename Gurgaon as “Gurugram.”
- The decision to change the name of Gurgaon was taken on the basis of several representations recommending “Gurugram” as the appropriate name for the city.
- Haryana was a historic land of the Mahabharata period and Gurgaon was a great centre of learning where Guru Dronacharya taught the Pandavas and Kauravas.
- The town derived its name from Guru Dronacharya, who was gifted the village as “gurudakshina” by his students, the Pandavas. It came to be known as “Gurugram”, which in the course of time got distorted to Gurgaon.
Maharajas’ Express among top-rated trains globally
According to a survey by research firm New World Wealth, Maharajas’ Express is ranked fourth on the list of preferences of the super-rich, while Eastern and Oriental Express (Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand) was rated the best globally.
- With regard to luxury hotels, the iconic Plaza Hotel of New York, owned by the crisis-ridden Sahara group, has been rated second best by the world’s wealthiest. The list was topped by The Bellagio, Las Vegas.