Polity & Governance
- Ratan Watal committee submits report on boosting digital payments
- National Resource Centre for Tribal Livelihood to be launched
- Railways mulls exclusive suburban tracks
Environment & Ecology
- NDRF teams pre-positioned in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu for cyclone Vardah
- Researchers discover mutated Atlantic killifish resistant to toxic waste 8,000 times
Bilateral & International Relations
- The Indo-Pacific potential
- India, Indonesia sign three agreements to enhance strategic partnership
- Islamic State retakes ancient city of Palmyra
Key Facts for Prelims
- New UN secretary general
- India’s first amphibious bus project
Polity & Governance
Ratan Watal committee submits report on boosting digital payments
The Committee on Digital Payments headed by Ratan P. Watal has submitted its final report to the Union Finance Ministry.
About the committee:
- It was 11-member committee notified in August 2016 by the Finance Ministry.
- It was tasked to review existing payment systems in the country and recommend appropriate measures for encouraging Digital Payments.
- It was having representatives from Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), tax department and various industry bodies in the payments space.
Important recommendations of the committee:
- The Committee has recommended medium term strategy for accelerating growth of Digital Payments in India. The strategy must be backed with regulatory regime which is conducive to bridging the Digital divide by promoting competition, interoperability and open access in payments.
- It also recommends inclusion of financially and socially excluded groups and assimilation of emerging technologies in the market.
- It calls for need of safeguarding security of Digital Transactions and providing level playing to all stakeholders and new players who will enter this new transaction space.
- It has suggested inter-operability of payments system between banks and non-banks, up-gradation of digital payment infrastructure and institutions.
- It also recommends a framework to reward innovations for leading efforts in enabling digital payments.
- Greater use of Aadhaar and mobile numbers for making digital payments as easy as cash. Called for inter-operable payments between bank and non-banks as well as within non-banks.
- Proposed to make regulation of payments independent from the function of central banking to give the entire digital payments boost.
- Give Board for Regulation and Supervision of Payment and Settlement Systems (BPSS) independent statutory status within overall structure of RBI.
- Called for amendments to the Payments and Settlement Systems Act, 2007 to provide BPSS explicit mandate for competition and innovation, consumer protection, open access and interoperability, regulations on systemic risks and data protection.
- Operations of payment systems like National Electronic Fund Transafer (NEFT) and Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) can be outsourced after a cost benefit analysis.
National Resource Centre for Tribal Livelihood to be launched
Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs is all set to launch “Vanjeevan” the National Resource Centre for Tribal Livelihood issues at Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
- It will be launched in collaboration with UNDP and National Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSTFDC).
- Vanjeevan will be a programme to identify the problems in livelihood issues in select districts of six states having low HDI of tribal people in the first phase. The states are Assam, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Telangana.
- In the second phase the programme will be implemented in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and Tripura.
- The programme will focus on the identification of local resources, keeping in view the existing skill level.
- The programme will facilitate utilization of funds under various Government programmes for the above purpose.
National Resource Centre:
- The National Resource Centre will serve as a platform for livelihood mapping, skill gap analysis and knowledge hub where consolidation of best livelihood and entrepreneurship models will be accessible for tribal entrepreneurship development.
Railways mulls exclusive suburban tracks
Indian Railways may soon build exclusive rail tracks for suburban trains in a bid to ease congestion.
What’s wrong with existing tracks?
- Since running suburban services on existing tracks adversely affects the capacity of freight trains and long-distance trains, it would not be possible for Railways to use existing infrastructure for the purpose of suburban services.
- At present, the Railways is running suburban train services in certain sections on the tracks laid primarily for long-distance trains.
- The Railways has framed the draft guidelines to address the demand for more suburban trains from the state governments.
Guidelines for suburban railway projects:
- The Railways will partner states through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for suburban train systems.
- SPV would be empowered to propose a surcharge on passengers for recovering operating losses and capital costs of such projects.
- State governments would set up a dedicated urban transport fund through “levy of dedicated taxes, levies, betterment tax, impact fee”, among others in the “influence zone of proposed railway station” to finance the capital cost of suburban train projects.
- The Indian Railways, on request from the SPV, may restructure fares on suburban trains and impose a surcharge to recover the operating losses and the capital cost “if operating losses are not recovered from the dedicated urban transport fund.”
- The state governments will be required to conduct feasibility studies of the project at their own cost which will be examined by zonal Railways and subsequently sent to Indian Railways.
- States will also have to ensure there is no delay in land acquisition and Indian Railways will only contribute its equity share to the SPV once 70% of the land to be acquired is made available by the state government.
- Additionally, states will have to bear the complete cost of land acquisition, leasing of railway land and resettlement and rehabilitation.
Environment & Ecology
NDRF teams pre-positioned in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu for cyclone Vardah
In view of development of cyclone Vardah over Bay of Bengal, 19 flood rescue teams of NDRF have been prepositioned in coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh & Tamil Nadu as a proactive deployment.
- The Disaster Management (DM) Act has made the statutory provisions for constitution of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) for the purpose of specialized response to natural and man-made disasters.
Role and mandate of NDRF:
- Specialized response during disasters
- Proactive deployment during impending disaster situations
- Acquire and continually upgrade its own training and skills
- Liaison, Reconnaissance, Rehearsals and Mock Drills
- Impart basic and operational level training to State Response Forces (Police, Civil Defence and Home Guards)
- Community Capacity Building Programme
- Public Awareness Campaign
What are the features which make NDRF a Unique Force?
- The only dedicated disaster response force of the world.
- The only agency with comprehensive response capabilities having multi-disciplinary and multi-skilled, high-tech, stand alone nature.
- Experienced paramilitary personnel specially trained and equipped for disaster response.
- Capabilities for undertaking disaster response, prevention, mitigation and capacity building.
Locations of NDRF BNs:
- These NDRF battalions are located at ten different locations in the country based on the vulnerability profile of country and to cut down the response time for their deployment at disaster site.
Researchers discover mutated Atlantic killifish resistant to toxic waste 8,000 times
Researchers discovered Atlantic killifish, a fish species which has evolved to be 8,000 times more resilient to toxic waste compared with normal fish.
How it is resistant to toxic waste?
- The high genetic diversity of the killifish makes it unusually well-positioned to adapt and survive in habitats that have been radically changed.
- It has the genetic variation needed to adapt even before the habitats they live in became polluted.
- It can live in polluted sites have been contaminated by a mixture of industrial plants which include heavy metals, dioxins, hydrocarbons and other chemicals.
About the Atlantic killifish:
- The evolution has made Atlantic killifish very resilient to environmental change allows it live in lethal and human-altered environments.
- The fish has evolved to adapt to the amount of highly toxic industrial pollutants that would normally kill normal fish.
- Killifish has resilience to high levels of genetic variation which is higher than those of other vertebrates including humans.
- The fish has small strip on its small body and has beautiful colours. It is not commercially valuable Ecologists use it as an indicator species acting like an aquatic canary in polluted environments.
Where it is found?
- The fish species lives in the heavily polluted East Coast estuaries of US such as the Elizabeth River in Virginia and the Newark Bay in New Jersey.
[Ref: The Hindu]
Bilateral & International Relations
The Indo-Pacific potential
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi as he is known, on his official visit to India.
- Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Jokowi met on the sidelines of the 9th East Asia Summit in Myanmar in 2014, this is the first time in the two years that they have been in power that they will meet substantively.
Why is Indonesia important for India?
- Indonesia is a latent Asian power. It is the world’s largest archipelago, straddling the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It can potentially control virtually all the straits linking the southern Indian Ocean to the South China Sea.
- Indonesia can play a stabilising role in the Indo-Pacific region as China is showing its naval muscle in the South China Sea and its strategic and commercial reach through the One Belt One Road initiative.
- Medan industrial zone in north Sumatra is strategically important for India. A shipping service from Chennai or Krishnapatnam to Medan via the Andaman Islands could be used to export Indian goods to offset, at least partly, the large imbalance in India’s trade with Indonesia.
- India could also learn lessons on tourism promotion from Indonesia — from Bali, for instance, where Indians rank high in the list of nationalities visiting that island. India could also learn from Bali about a more ‘simple’ Hinduism that is relatively free from caste and sectarian divisions.
Why India is important for Indonesia?
- Indonesia is a maritime axis requiring a strong naval force to protect its territorial integrity, fishing waters and energy interests, supported and funded by strong economic growth. India can help Indonesia in this regard.
- India could recognise Indonesia’s centrality in the Indo-Pacific region and help work towards a future where both countries can be partners for security in the region.
- There is, at present, a battle being waged in Indonesia over the role of religion, ethnicity and language that in some ways mirrors India’s own. India has a stake in the diversity of Islam found in Indonesia against exclusive and homogenising influences. Indonesia and India can provide complementary models for the coexistence of religious minorities with majoritarian communities in Asia based on their own traditions of coexistence.
- Without entering into a domestic debate on religion, India can strengthen Indonesia’s democratic credentials by advocating its admission in a revived India-Brazil-South Africa forum as a pluralist democracy that is an alternative to what appears to be a rise of intolerance in many democracies.
The India-Indonesia relationship has been one of potential rather than realisation.
Notwithstanding the efforts made during the tenures of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the partnership has not yet gathered traction. Both countries should ensure that this visit is not just another diplomatic formality but is utilised to turn the relationship into one of the defining ones in Asia.[Ref: The Hindu]
India, Indonesia sign three agreements to enhance strategic partnership
India and Indonesia have signed three agreements in various areas to enhance strategic partnership.
- Both the nations also released a Vision Document 2025 on bilateral ties.
Three signed Agreements are:
- MoU on Youth and Sports Cooperation.
- MoU on Standardization Cooperation.
- Joint Communiqué on Voluntary International Cooperation to Combat Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) Fishing and to promote Sustainable Fisheries Governance.
Besides, both countries decided to strengthen their defence and maritime security relations and resolved to effectively address the issue of terrorism.
About the Vision Document 2025:
The Vision Document covers five areas:
- Strategic engagement;
- Defence and security cooperation;
- Comprehensive economic partnership;
- Cultural and people-to-people links; and
- Cooperation in responding to common challenges.
Islamic State retakes ancient city of Palmyra
Islamic State (ISIS) militants recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra, after heavy clashes with the Syrian Army.
- Russia had supported the Syrian Army in Palmyra, with airstrikes and logistical support but their efforts were apparently insufficient to save the city.
- ISIS first took over Palmyra in May 2015, following a protracted battle with Syrian regime forces. The Islamic State’s occupation was exceptionally brutal, even by the standards of Syria’s 5-year-long conflict.
- In August 2015, satellite images confirmed the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UN slammed the destruction of the Palmyran temple, describing it an ignominious “war crime.”
- Nine months ago, Islamic State militants were expelled by Syrian and Russian forces from the city. The militants had spent 10 months in Palmyra, during which they blew up a number of temples and caused other destruction – severing the heads of statues and partially damaging two temples and famous arch.
- Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.
- From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
- Palmyra is a UNESCO designated World Heritage site and home to some of the world’s most magnificent ancient ruins.
- The city is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and was eventually incorporated into the Roman Empire, before passing to almost all empires to have operated in the region over some 2,000 years.
Key Facts for Prelims
New UN secretary general
- Former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres was recently sworn in as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
- Guterres will succeed Ban Ki-moon. He is the ninth U.N. chief in the body’s 71-year history.
- The Secretary-General of the United Nations is the head of the United Nations Secretariat.
- The Secretary-General also acts as the de facto spokesperson and leader of the United Nations.
- UN chiefs are charged with promoting sustainable development, working for peace around the globe, protecting human rights and dealing with humanitarian catastrophes.
India’s first amphibious bus project
- Punjab Government has launched country’s first amphibious bus project at the Harike wetland near Amritsar.
- The amphibious bus named as “Harike Cruise” travels on land and as well as in water.
- The first of its kind amphibious bus in India was imported from Swedish automobile company Scania.
- It will be run by the Punjab Tourism department.