Polity & Governance
- Sikkim launches open government data portal
- ‘Internet Saathi’ to digitally empower one lakh women in Bengal
- Government launches “SURYAMITRA” Mobile App
- Sebi Issues Stricter KYC, Disclosure Regime for P-Notes
- State-owned banks widen reach quicker than private lenders
- SEBI to relax REIT, portfolio manager norms to woo investors
Environment & Ecology
- Order ‘jumping chicken’ in Goa, get frog legs on your plate
- Popcorn-like fossils highlight environmental impact on species
- Light pollution hampers view of Milky Way
Science & Technology
- Damage to liver protein can cause heart disease
- Deepest image of a galaxy
- Space technology to safeguard thatched roofs
- AIIMS to conduct study on stem cell therapy
- China launches 23rd navigation satellite BeiDou Navigation Satellite
Also in News
- 18th century Zafar Mahal loses battle against illegal constructions
- ‘Yoga medals’ proposed for paramilitary troops
Polity & Governance
Sikkim launches open government data portal
Sikkim claimed to become the first state in India to have an open government data portal.
- On the open government data portal, the data produced or commissioned by the government or government controlled entities can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone.
‘Internet Saathi’ to digitally empower one lakh women in Bengal
‘Internet Saathi’, a joint digital literacy programme of Google India and Tata Trust.
- The programme is all set to roll out across 400 villages and reach one lakh women in Purulia district in West Bengal in the next few months.
- Under the programme, women are trained to learn and explore various uses and benefits of the Internet.
- After covering nine States, the programme will now be made available in West Bengal, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura.
- Women will be selected and trained to become adept in using the Internet on smartphones and tablet devices. These women will further coach other women in their villages and neighbouring hamlets.
Government launches “SURYAMITRA” Mobile App
Ministry for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy launched “Surya Mitra” mobile App.
- The “Surya Mitra” is a GPS based mobile app, developed by National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE).
Key features of the app:
- This App is a high end technology platform which can handle thousands of calls simultaneously and can efficiently monitor all visits of Suryamitra’s.
- Using this app, customers can avail services like maintenance, serving and repairing at the click of a button on their mobiles.
- This innovative mobile approach shall enhance the employment of trained youth in solar PV technology and also improve the businesses of solar entrepreneurs.
About National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE):
- National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE), an autonomous institution of Ministry of New and Renewable (MNRE), is the apex National R&D institution in the field Solar Energy.
- The institute is involved in demonstration, standardization, interactive research, training and testing of solar energy technologies and systems.
About Suryamitra initiative:
Suryamitra initiative is a 600 hours (i.e. 3 months) skill development program designed to create skilled manpower in installation, commissioning, and Operation & Maintenance of solar power plants and equipment.
- Suryamitra initiative is also a part of Make in India.
- The course is jointly designed by the National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE), and the Ministry of New and Renewable (MNRE).
- The objective of this program is to provide employability and entrepreneurship to rural and urban youth & women.
- “Suryamitra” is a residential program which is 100% funded by Govt. of India and implemented by NISE across the country.
- The institutes like universities, polytechnics, ITIs etc. are executing the “Suryamitra” skill development program at various locations in the country.
- So far more than 125 institutes in 25 states are implementing the Suryamitra program and creating job opportunities to the unemployed youth.
- About 80% of the Suryamitras are placed in various solar industries with decent salaries. The rest are becoming entrepreneurs in the field of solar energy.
- To achieve and maintain the target of 100 GW solar power plants for 25 years, India requires about 6.5 lakh personnel, trained in solar energy sector (estimated by CII).
- MNRE set a target of 50,000 “Suryamitras” of skilled manpower in solar energy sector in next 3 years.
Sebi Issues Stricter KYC, Disclosure Regime for P-Notes
Indian markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has put in place a stricter know your customer (KYC) and disclosure regime for participatory notes (P-Notes) to make it tougher to use these offshore instruments without disclosing the money-trail and details of their users.
- The new guidelines have been finalised after detailed consultation with the FPIs and users of ODIs, while they were also consulted for the preparation of the formats.
Highlights of the new norms:
- The new norms follow approval from the regulator’s board to amend its regulations for Offshore Derivative Instruments (ODIs)– popularly known as P-Notes — after taking into account suggestions from the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on Black Money to ensure this route is not used for money laundering.
- Under the new norms, all the users of ODIs would have to follow Indian KYC and AML (anti-money laundering) regulations, irrespective of their jurisdictions, while the ODI issuers will be required to file suspicious transaction reports, if any, with the Indian Financial Intelligence Unit, in relation to the ODIs issued by them.
- Presently, the details of ODI holders need to be mandatorily reported to Sebi on a monthly basis. Sebi has now decided that in the monthly reports on ODIs all the intermediate transfers during the month would also be required to be reported. Besides, ODI issuers will have to carry out reconfirmation of the ODI positions on a semi-annual basis. In the case of any divergence from reported monthly data, the same should be informed to Sebi in a prescribed format.
- ODIs have often been in controversy in India for alleged misuse for round-tripping of funds. But the norms have been made stringent in the recent years, following which they have also become less attractive.
- While ODIs used to account for as high as 55% of the total foreign fund flows in Indian capital markets in 2007, now their share has fallen to a record low level of 9.3%.
What is P-notes?
- P-notes, or Off-shore Derivatives Instruments (ODIs), allow foreign investors to take exposure to Indian stocks without registering with SEBI.
- These instruments are issued by foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) registered with SEBI.
- Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Credit Suisse are among the biggest P-note issuers on the Indian market.
State-owned banks widen reach quicker than private lenders
According to the recent data released by the Reserve Bank of India, public sector banks have increased their presence across the country—in terms of ATMs and points of sale devices—far faster than private sector banks have.
- The data compare private sector and public sector banks on various parameters such as the number of ATMs, points of sale (POS) devices, credit and debit cards outstanding, and the value of the transactions done via these cards.
- The data shows that public sector banks have steadily increased their share in most of these parameters over the last four years.
- There are 27 public sector banks and 19 private sector banks in operation currently.
- One common view is that this increase in the number of ATMs by PSBs is due to the government-mandated rural financial inclusion programme.
- The issuance of credit cards and the share in credit card transactions are two areas where the private sector outshines the public sector.
SEBI to relax REIT, portfolio manager norms to woo investors
In order to deepen Indian capital markets, regulator Sebi has lined up wide-ranging relaxations to its norms for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).
- Among the changes, which would be considered by Sebi, the regulator is looking to make Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) more attractive to investors by allowing them to invest a large portion of funds in under-construction assets.
- Besides, REITs would be allowed to have a larger number of sponsors, while regulations regarding the minimum public offer size and related party transactions could also be eased.
- With regard to foreign fund managers willing to relocate to Indian shores, the Sebi board will consider allowing them to function as ‘Portfolio Managers’ under a simpler regulatory regime, a move that will make it easier for such entities to operate in India.
- Sebi plans to remove curbs on the SPV to invest in other SPVs holding the assets, which in turn would allow REITs to invest in a holding company owning stake in SPVs.
What are REITs?
- REITs are similar to mutual funds. While mutual funds provide for an opportunity to invest in equity stocks, REITs allow one to invest in income-generating real estate assets.
How does an REIT work?
- REITs raise funds from a large number of investors and directly invest that sum in income-generating real estate properties (which could be offices, residential apartments, shopping centres, hotels and warehouses).
- The trusts are listed in stock exchanges so that investors can buy units in the trust. REITs are structured as trusts. Thus, the assets of an REIT are held by an independent trustee on behalf of unit holders.
An REIT’s investment objective:
- The investment objective of REITs is to provide unit holders with dividends, usually generated from rental income and capital gains from the profitable sale of real estate assets.
- Typically, the trust distributes 90 per cent of its income among its investors by issuing dividends.
REITs in India?
REITs, as a concept, have been on the horizon for a while now.
- India’s regulations in 2014 for the sector have not been able to attract investor interest.
- REITs obtained exemption from dividend distribution tax in the Budget, a step towards making them attractive for the investors.
The current SEBI guidelines for REITs permit investments only in rent-yielding assets.
Why invest in REITs?
- For investors who are averse to investing in physical purchase of property due to the risks involved, REIT is an alternative.
- Investors purchase units of REITs which are traded on the stock exchange, as against physical purchase of property. Therefore, investors can buy and sell units of REIT on the stock exchange as and when required, making investment easier to liquidate compared to physical property transaction.
Potential investment risks:
- REITs units are listed on, and are subject to the vagaries of the stock exchanges, resulting in negative or lower returns than expected.
- As in mutual funds, retail investors in REITs have no control over investments and exits being made by the trust.
Environment & Ecology
Order ‘jumping chicken’ in Goa, get frog legs on your plate
Before the onset of monsoon every year, Goa’s Forest Department issues a warning that cooking of Indian bullfrog meat is as illegal as hunting the species.
- Though possession and buying of this meat is illegal, the sale of frog meat, under the garb of ‘jumping chicken,’ continues in the State.
- The problem is particularly grave during the onset of monsoon, when the frogs come out of their hibernation to mate.
About Indian bullfrog:
The Indus Valley bullfrog or Indian bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus), popular name Asian bullfrog, Asean bullfrog or Asia bullfrog, is a large species of frog.
- The Indian Bullfrog is found in the wetlands of South and South East Asia. It found in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka. They also found in Maldives and Madagascar
- This species is classified as Least Concern in the IUCN red list.
- The Indian Bullfrog is the largest Indian frog.
- It inhabits holes and bushes near permanent bodies of water.
- They prefer freshwater wetlands and aquatic habitats. Generally, they avoid coastal and forest areas.
Popcorn-like fossils highlight environmental impact on species
An analysis of microscopic aquatic creatures called planktonic foraminifera, whose fossil remains now resemble miniaturised popcorn, has provided the first statistical evidence that the number of species that can exist on the Earth depends on how the environment changes.
- While previous research typically focused individually on either biological, climate change or geological explanations, this new study examined the co-dependence of these factors on how species interact.
- The researchers found that the number of species was almost certainly controlled by competition among themselves and probably kept within a finite upper limit.
- The researchers used mathematical models to reveal how environmental changes influence both the rate of diversification among species and how many species can co-exist at once.
- The results suggest that the world is full of species, but that the precise fullness varies through time as environmental changes alter the outcome of competition among species.
- While the idea of infinite species on a finite Earth is clearly fanciful, the relevance of upper limits to diversity is still a fractious debate amongst evolutionary biologists, ecologists and palaeontologists.
Light pollution hampers view of Milky Way
A new world atlas of light pollution suggested that the Milky Way is invisible to more than one-third of humanity.
- The new light-pollution atlas, based on high-resolution satellite data and precision sky brightness measurements, documented a world that is in many places awash with light.
- The most light-polluted country is Singapore, where the entire population never experiences conditions resembling true night.
- Residents of India and Germany are most likely to be able to see the Milky Way from their homes, while those in Saudi Arabia and South Korea are least likely.
- In Western Europe, only small areas of night sky remain relatively undiminished, mainly in Scotland, Sweden, Norway, and parts of Spain and Austria.
- On the other hand, countries with populations least affected by light pollution are Chad, the Central African Republic, and Madagascar, with more than three quarters of their people living under pristine, ink-black night sky conditions.
Overall, more than 80 % of people on Earth live under light-polluted skies.[Ref: Hindu]
Science & Technology
Damage to liver protein can cause heart disease
Researchers have for the first time identified a tiny liver protein that when disrupted can lead to cardiovascular disease as well as fatty liver disease, a precursor to cancer.
- Low density lipoproteins (VLDL) by the liver are known to increase cholesterol levels, a risk factor for plaque build-up in the arteries.
- The chief culprit in disabling the protein’s delicate mechanics is a fatty acid found in red meat and butter.
- For healthy liver function, normal VLDL secretion must be kept in a delicate balance. Too little VLDL secretion causes fatty liver and, potentially, liver cancer.
Deepest image of a galaxy
The Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), the world’s largest single-aperture optical telescope on the island of La Palma in Spain, has captured an image of a galaxy which is 10 times deeper than any other obtained from the ground.
- GTC researchers has observed a faint halo of stars around the galaxy UGC0180, which is 500 million light years away from the Earth.
- The galaxy UGC00180 was chosen because it is quite similar to our neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy, and to other galaxies to which the researchers have references.
- They used the OSIRIS camera on the GTC, which has a field big enough to cover a decent area of sky around the galaxy, in order to explore its possible halo.
- With this measurement,the existence of the stellar haloes predicted by theoretical models is confirmed, and it has become possible to study low surface brightness phenomena.
Space technology to safeguard thatched roofs
The scientists of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, have showcased the ceramic-polymer hybrid (CASPOL), a spin-off product that could protect public transport systems and poor men residing in thatched homes from fire accidents.
CASPOL is an indigenously developed, easy-to-use flame-proof coating, from the VSSC stable.
- The water-based ready-to-coat product was originally developed to protect the rockets from high temperature and fire to which they are exposed during the initial moments of launch.
- Caspol can withstand up to 800 degree Celsius.
- It could be applied either by brushing or spraying on the desired surface.
- The protective pads that cover the rockets are coated with CASPOL to save them from fire and high temperature to which they are exposed to.
- Seats in automobiles, public transport system and seat cushions of railway coaches can be made fireproof when Caspol is applied. The ceramic-polymer hybrid will affect the cushioning characteristics significantly of seats once it is applied.
- Caspol can also make surfaces waterproof. When applied over the concrete surface of buildings, fill up the micro cracks and holes on concrete to prevent water from seeping in.
- When applied over concrete surface of buildings, the high emissivity of the product reduces the temperature inside the building by at least 5 to 6 degree Celsius.
- It can be used on a variety of substrates such as masonry surfaces, textiles, paper, thatched leaves and wood to advanced materials like polyurethane and phenolic-based thermal insulation foam pads.
- It is eco-friendly as it is free of toxic materials.
AIIMS to conduct study on stem cell therapy
Inspired by the encouraging results of stem cell therapy in the treatment of various diseases, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is all set to start a clinical trial to establish the efficacy of the same.
- Since 2003, stem cell therapy has been used in 35 departments at AIIMS, especially in the treatment of diseases pertaining to the cornea, skin and heart, and the results have been promising.
- India currently did not have a definite law for stem cell therapy.
- The Ministry of Health through the DCG(I) was in the process of revisiting the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and Rules 1945 to make a more definitive law for stem cells.
China launches 23rd navigation satellite BeiDou Navigation Satellite
China has successfully launched 23rd satellite BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) to support its global navigation and positioning network which is being developed to rival the US Global Positioning System.
- The satellite was put into orbit by a Long March-3C carrier rocket. It was the 229th launch of the Long March carrier rocket.
- The satellite, after entering its designed work orbit and finishing in-orbit testing, will join 22 others already in orbit and improve the stability of the system, preparing for BDS to offer global coverage.
Also in News
18th century Zafar Mahal loses battle against illegal constructions
The forsaken 18th century palace, Zafar Mahal is now being swallowed up by illegal constructions, some of them as tall as five to six storeys.
- The palace is situated at Delhi’s congested Mehrauli area.
- The monument which was declared to be of national importance back in 1920, is literally crumbling.
- The palace was originally built by Akbar II and was later chosen by Bahadur Shah Zafar II as his ‘summer palace’.
- Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II wished to be royally buried at this palace.
‘Yoga medals’ proposed for paramilitary troops
The government has proposed instituting ‘Yoga medals’ for Central paramilitary troops for displaying exceptional skills in the ancient discipline for physical, mental and spiritual well being.
- Besides, it has planned to re-employ retiring personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces as Master Yoga Trainers in order to create a constant resource pool of teachers for about 9 lakh personnel of the CRPF, the CISF, the ITBP, the SSB and the BSF.
- As per a blueprint prepared in this regard, a committee has been formed under country’s largest paramilitary CRPF which will “suggest modalities” for awarding Yoga medals to those personnel who have “excelled” in not only performing the various ‘asanas’ deftly but also having a good track record as a Yoga teacher.
- Each of these forces — the Central Reserve Police Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Border Security Force, the ITBP and the Sashastra Seema Bal — has been asked to “identify” such personnel.