Polity & Governance
- Ministry of Railways launched various initiatives
- CPWD reminded of challenges ahead as it turns 163
- IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC) in Varanasi
- Bitcoin trade may come under SEBI
Bilateral & International Relations
- Cabinet approves SASEC Road Connectivity Investment Program
- Union Cabinet approves JIN pact between India and Bangladesh
Defence & Security Issues
- Government empowers Army to procure weaponry for short intense wars
Key Facts for Prelims
- India to host 8th Edition of Theatre Olympics
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Polity & Governance
Ministry of Railways launched various initiatives
The Ministry of Railways has launched the following Initiatives:
1. Rail Cloud Project:
- RailCloud is a virtual server with an inbuilt security system that will enable faster connectivity at a reduced cost. Rail Cloud works on popular Cloud Computing system.
- RailCloud has been developed by rail PSU RailTel as part of Railways strategic IT initiative, IR—OneICT.
- It is aimed at optimising server the resources and its management.
- Most Important works are done through Cloud Computing. Cloud Computing is the emerging technology for faster and on demand commensurate deployment of Server resources which result in reduced cost.
Potential benefits to Railways after implementation of RailCloud are:
- Faster and on-demand deployment of application
- Optimum use of Servers and storage
- Utilization of existing infrastructure as part of Cloud
- Rapid scalability and elasticity
- IT Security enhancement and Standardization
- Cost reduction
- Better user experience
2. NIVARAN-Grievance Portal (First IT Application on Rail Cloud):
- ‘NIVARAN-Grievance Portal’ is the first IT application to be launched on the RailCloud.
- It serves as a platform for resolution of service-related grievances and of serving and former railway employees.
- The existing application hosted on a conventional server was migrated on RailCloud.
- It will save significant revenue and improve user experience at same time.
3. Cashless Treatment Scheme in Emergency (CTSE) Scheme:
- To provide immediate care to its retired employees in ‘Golden Hour’ Railway Board has decided to roll out a “Cashless treatment Scheme in Emergency’ (CTSE), in empanelled hospitals, for retired employees and their dependent family members.
- A web based system of communication between private hospitals and railway authorities has been developed wherein identity of the beneficiary shall be established using biometrics stored in Aadhar (UIDAI) server, eligibility shall be determined using Railway Data Base and emergency shall be verified by Railway Medical Officer based on private hospital’s clinical report.
- The whole system is online and even the bill processing shall be online.
- This scheme shall provide help and succour to the retired railway employees at the time of need and at the same time will have a morale boosting effect on the serving employees.
- The Scheme fulfils both the avowed objectives of the GOI; utilizing IT tools to cut the red-tape and promoting cashless transactions.
CPWD reminded of challenges ahead as it turns 163
The public sector construction major, Central Public Works Department (CPWD) turned 163 on July 12th, 2017.
- On this occasion, it was reminded of the challenges ahead and the need to innovate to retain its primacy.
About the CPWD:
The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) of India is a central government owned authority in charge of public sector works.
- The Central Public Works Department, under the Ministry of Urban Development, builds and maintains public buildings.
- CPWD came into existence in July 1854 when Lord Dalhousie established a central agency for execution of public works and set up Ajmer Provincial Division.
- Through the professional expertise in disciplines including Architecture, Engineering, Project Management coupled with comprehensive experience in building construction and maintenance CPWD has been serving the nation for last 162 years and has executed priority of works in difficult and demanding geographical and climatic conditions.
- It has now grown into a comprehensive construction management department, which provides services from project concept to completion, consultancy and maintenance management.
- It is headed by the Director General (DG) who is also the Principal Technical Advisor to the Government of India.
- The regions and sub-regions are headed by Special DGs and Additional DGs respectively, while the zones in all state capitals (except a few) are headed by Chief Engineers.
- CPWD has PAN India presence and has ability to undertake construction of complex projects even in difficult terrain and maintenance in post construction stage.
- It is the prime engineering department of Government of union of India and its specifications and manuals are followed by local public works departments and engineering wing of other departments.
- CPWD consists of three wings in execution field: (i) B&R (Buildings and Roads) (ii) E&M (Electrical and Mechanical) (iii) Horticulture.
- CPWD had been involved in construction of stadiums and other infrastructure requirements for Asian Games 1982 and Commonwealth Games 2010.
IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC) in Varanasi
The Union Cabinet has approved establishment of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) set up a regional centre International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a global rice research institute.
- It will be named as IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC) and will be set up at campus of National Seed Research and Training Centre (NSRTC) in Varanasi.
- This Centre will be the first of its kind international Centre in the eastern India.
- For setting up of the Centre, a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) will be signed between Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare (DACFW) and IRRI, Philippines.
- Under the proposal, a Centre of Excellence in Rice Value Addition (CERVA) will be set up in Varanasi. This will include a modern and sophisticated laboratory with capacity to determine quality and status of heavy metals in grain and straw.
- The Centre will also undertake capacity building exercises for stakeholders across the rice value chain.
Benefits from ISARC:
- The ISARC will help in utilizing the rich biodiversity of India to develop special rice varieties.
- It will help India to achieve higher per hectare yields and improved nutritional contents.
- Further it will help to address India’s food and nutritional security issues.
- It will play a major role in harnessing and sustaining rice production in the region.
- It is also expected to be a boon for food production and skill development in the eastern India and similar ecologies in other South Asian and African countries.
- The Centre will support in adopting value chain based production system in the country. Thus, help to reduce wastage, add value to produce and generate higher income for the farmers.
- The farmers in Eastern India will be main beneficiaries, besides those in South Asian and African countries.
About International Rice Research Institute (IRRI):
- IRRI is an international agricultural research and training organization with headquarters in Los Baños, Philippines.
- It was established in 1960 and has offices in 17 countries.
- It is also the largest non-profit agricultural research centre in Asia.
- It aims to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability of rice farming.
- IRRI is known for its work in developing high yielding rice varieties that contributed to the Green Revolution in the 1960s.
- It advances its mission through collaborative research, partnerships, and the strengthening of the national agricultural research and extension systems of the countries IRRI works in.
Bitcoin trade may come under SEBI
The government is considering the introduction of a regulatory regime for virtual or crypto currencies, such as Bitcoin, that would enable the levy of the Goods and Services Tax on their sale.
- The new regime may possibly bring their trading under the oversight of the stock market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
What’s the idea?
- The idea is to treat such currency in a manner similar to gold sold digitally, so that it can be traded on registered exchanges.
- It was also suggested that government maintain limited regulation. This means reiterating that crypto currencies are not recognised and those who deal in them do so at their own risk, while focusing on curbing illegal activities.
Benefits of regulation:
- The regulation of such currency will “promote” a formal tax base, while keeping a tab on their use for illegal activities such as money laundering, terror funding and drug trafficking.
What are cryptocurrencies?
- Crypto-currency is a digital currency that allows transacting parties to remain anonymous while confirming the transaction is valid.
- It is not owned or controlled by any institution – governments or private.
- There are multiple such currencies — Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple are some of the popular ones.
- Crypto-currency can be used for a lot of legal activities — such as booking tickets, buying coffee or fast food, depending of which retailers accept such currency.
Why their regulation is needed?
Currently, they are neither illegal nor legal in India.
- Bitcoins were in the news recently when during the two global cyber ransomware attacks — WannaCry and Petya — attackers sought about $300 in bitcoin as ransom.
- The market cap for all crypto-currencies has just crossed $100 billion, with most of the increase coming in the past few months.
- On April 1, 2017, the total market cap was just over $25 billion, representing a 300% rise in just over 60 days. One bitcoin today is worth as much as 60 grams of gold.
Why their ban is not good idea?
- Banning such currencies will give a clear message that all related activities are illegal and will disincetivise those interested in taking speculative risks.
- It will also impede tax collection on gains made in such activities and that regulating the currency instead would signal a boost to blockchain technology, encourage the development of a supervision ecosystem (that tracks legal activities and may also assist in tracking illegal activities) and promote a formal tax base.
However, the government is wary that regulation will provide legitimacy to “what is currently ambiguous,” and may lead to further rise in its valuation and end up contributing “to the investment bubble”.[Ref: The Hindu]
Bilateral & International Relations
Cabinet approves SASEC Road Connectivity Investment Program
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by the Prime Minister has given its approval for upgradation and widening of 65 kms of Imphal-Moreh Section of NH-39 in Manipur.
- The project is being developed with ADB’s loan assistance under the South Asian Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Road Connectivity Investment Program.
- The project corridor is also a part of the Asian Highway No. 01 (AH01) and acts as India’s Gateway to the East. Thus trade, commerce and tourism in the region will get a boost.
About SASEC Programme:
In 2001, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal formed the South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme, which the Maldives and Sri Lanka joined in 2014.
- Under SASEC programme, these countries have worked together to build power plants, highways, rail systems and fibre optic networks to expand and improve Internet access.
- It is a project-based partnership to promote regional prosperity by
- Improving cross-border connectivity,
- Boosting trade among member countries, and
- Strengthening regional economic cooperation.
- The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is the secretariat and lead financier of the SASEC programme.
About the SASEC Road Connectivity Investment Program (SRCIP):
- SRCIP is a strategic initiative that aims to achieve regional integration among the members of the SASEC group by improving road connectivity within the North Bengal-North Eastern Region in India.
Union Cabinet approves JIN pact between India and Bangladesh
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for the Joint Interpretative Notes (JIN) on the agreement between India and Bangladesh for the promotion and protection of investments between the two countries.
What the approved JIN includes?
- The JIN includes interpretative notes to be jointly adopted for many clauses, including, the definition of investor and investment, exclusion of taxation measures, Fair and Equitable Treatment (FET), National Treatment (NT) and Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment, expropriation, essential security interests and settlement of disputes between an investor and a contracting party.
Significance of the JIN:
- Joint Interpretative Statements play an important supplementary role in strengthening the investment treaty regime.
- With increasing Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) disputes, issuance of such statements was likely to have strong persuasive value before tribunals.
- Moreover, such pro-active approach by states also can foster more predictable and coherent reading of treaty terms by tribunals.
- The JIN would impart clarity to the interpretation of the existing agreement between India and Bangladesh for the Promotion and Protection of Investments (BIPA).
Defence & Security Issues
Government empowers Army to procure weaponry for short intense wars
The Centre has given Army vice-chief full financial powers to procure critical ammunition and spares to maintain an optimum level to fight a short intense war.
What does this mean?
- The major decision means procurement process of such ammunition and equipment that would take months would be completed much faster.
- This is the revenue route for in-service equipment and there will be no need to head to the Defence Acquisition Council (headed by defence minister Arun Jaitley) or the Cabinet Committee on Security, for procuring such critical equipment. This will ensure that the time taken in procuring such equipment will reduce tremendously.
- As part of it, the Army has been allowed to procure 46 types of ammunition and spares for 10 different types of weapons systems.
- The Army faces severe shortage in ammunition, mainly for artillery guns, tanks, air defence and certain infantry weapons, which will make it very difficult to fight a short intense war that lasts for 10 to 15 days.
- The government has conducted faster procurement in the past when it realised that there were several voids in the capabilities of the Army, mainly in ammunition.
Key Facts for Prelims
India to host 8th Edition of Theatre Olympics
- India will host 8th Edition of Theatre Olympics ‘The Biggest Theatre Celebration of the World’ from February 17 – April 08, 2018.
- The Theatre Olympics, being held in India for the first time, is being organised by National School of Drama, under the aegis of Ministry of Culture.
- The Theatre Olympics was established in 1993 in Delphi, Greece, as the first international theatre festival.
- With the tagline ‘Crossing Millennia’, this is an initiative to connect the cultural past with the present and future, bringing the richness and diversity of theatre heritage to the experiments and research of contemporary theatre.
- The first country to host the Theatre Olympics was Greece in 1995.
- In 2016, the 7th Theatre Olympics were held in Wroclaw, Poland.