Government Schemes & Policies
- President hosts ‘LPG Panchayat’
Issues related to Health & Education
- UP govt launches campaign to eradicate Japanese Encephalitis
- NEET mandatory for MBBS aspirants applying abroad: Health ministry
- International Conference on Unani Medicine
- NTPC to supply 300 MW power to Bangladesh
- Rajasthan announces Rs 8,000 crore farm loan waiver
- Merger of PSU non-life insurers
- Jogighopa to become India’s new gateway to South-East Asia
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017
Bilateral & International Relations
- 2,300 Army personnel to join UN peace keeping mission in South Sudan
Defence & Security Issues
- Defence Acquisition Council approves acquisitions worth over Rs 15,000 crore
Key Facts for Prelims
- ‘Progress 69’
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Government Schemes & Policies
President hosts ‘LPG Panchayat’
President Ram Nath Kovind hosted an‘LPG Panchayat at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
- It was organised by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana (PMUY).
About LPG Panchayat scheme:
The LPG Panchayat aims to provide a platform for LPG consumers to interact with each other, promote mutual learning and share experiences.
- It also aims at spreading awareness among LPG users about how to properly use clean fuel and its useful benefits.
- It will provide platform to trigger discussion through sharing of personal experiences on benefits of use of clean fuel compared to traditional fuels like cowdung, charcoal or wood.
- It also aims to connect with beneficiaries of Ujjwala Yojana to resolve issues and wrong traditional beliefs among people through officials of oil PSUs, NGOs, Asha workers and social workers.
- Under it, one lakh LPG Panchayats will be activated across country to deal with issue of safe use of LPG as well as discuss its various benefits on environment, health and how it empowers women.
- LPG Panchayat will serve as an interactive platform between those who received LPG cylinders under PMUY.
- One panchayat will have around 100 LPG customers of nearby areas , to discuss safe and sustainable usage of LPG, its benefits and the link between clean fuel for cooking and women’s empowerment.
- The panchayats discuss issues such as safe practices, quality of service provided by distributors and availability of refill cylinders.
Issues related to Health & Education
UP govt launches campaign to eradicate Japanese Encephalitis
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath inaugurated the “Dastak Campaign against Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and Acute Encephalitis Syndrom (AES)”.
- The campaign was launched in collaboration with UNICEF.
- DASTAK campaign is part of the comprehensive Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) strategy embraced by state government to beat encephalitis.
- The war cry of DASTAK is Darwaja khatkhatao, AES aur JE ko bhagao.
- 38 districts of Uttar Pradesh are affected with AES and JE. They are mostly falling in the Tarai region of state which contributes to about 60% of total AES cases all over the country.
What is Japanese Encephalitis?
- Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) is a flavivirus related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses. It is spread by mosquitoes.
- In 1871, the first case of Japanese encephalitis viral disease (JE) was documented in Japan.
- Most JEV infections are mild with patients experiencing fever and headache, without apparent symptoms.
- In case of severe illness, the patient experiences rapid onset of high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, seizures, spastic paralysis and ultimately death.
- Of those who survive, 20 to 30 per cent suffer permanent intellectual, behavioural or neurological problems such as paralysis, recurrent seizures or the inability to speak.
How is the disease transmitted?
- JEV is transmitted to humans through bites from infected mosquitoes of the Culex species (mainly Culex tritaeniorhynchus)
- Humans, once infected, do not develop sufficient viraemia to infect feeding mosquitoes
- The virus exists in a transmission cycle between mosquitoes, pigs and/or water birds (enzootic cycle)
- The disease is predominantly found in rural and periurban settings, where humans live in closer proximity to these vertebrate hosts.
Is there a treatment for it?
- There is no antiviral treatment for patients with JE. Treatment is supportive to relieve symptoms and stabilize the patient.
NEET mandatory for MBBS aspirants applying abroad: Health ministry
Union Health Ministry has approved a proposal of Medical Council of India (MCI) to amend the Screening Test Regulations 2002.
- The proposal of the Medical Council of India (MCI) is to make it mandatory to pass NEET to obtain an eligibility certificate (EC) to pursue courses in foreign medical colleges.
- A common National Entrance Exam viz. National Eligibility cum Entrance Test has been made mandatory for admission to all medical courses in the country. Indian students can also pursue medical education abroad and have to qualify a Screening Test called Foreign Medical Graduates Exam (FMGE), for registration to practice in India after obtaining primary medical qualification (MBBS) overseas.
- However, few medical institutions / Universities of foreign countries admit Indian students without proper assessment or screening of the students’ academic ability to cope up with medical education with the result that many students fail to qualify the Screening Test.
In this regard, Medical Council of India (MCI) had proposed to amend the Screening Test Regulations, 2002, making it mandatory to qualify NEET to pursue foreign medical course.
Implications of the move:
- Now, students intending to study undergraduate medical courses in foreign universities will have to take National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), a move that will affect about a couple of thousand students who apply for such courses in China, Russia and other countries each year.
Medical Council of India (MCI) is a statutory body for establishing uniform and high standards of medical education in India.
- The Medical Council of India was first established in 1934 under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1933. This Act was repealed and replaced with a new Act in 1956. This was further modified in 1964, 1993 and 2001.
The objectives of the Council are as follows:
- Maintenance of uniform standards of medical education, both undergraduate and postgraduate.
- Recommendation for recognition/de-recognition of medical qualifications of medical institutions of India or foreign countries.
- Permanent registration/provisional registration of doctors with recognized medical qualifications.
- Reciprocity with foreign countries in the matter of mutual recognition of medical qualifications.
International Conference on Unani Medicine
The International Conference on Unani Medicine was held in New Delhi.
- It was organized as part of celebration of Unani Day (February 11).
- It was organised by Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine (CCRUM), under Ministry of AYUSH.
- The theme of the conference was Integration of Unani System of Medicine in main stream healthcare
About Unani Day:
- This year it was 150th Birth Anniversary of Hakim Ajmal Khan. The birthday of great Unani researcher Hakim Ajmal Khan i.e. 11th February is celebrated as Unani Day.
Who is Hakim Ajmal Khan?
- Hakim Ajmal Khan was eminent Indian Unani physician who was versatile genius, freedom fighter, educationist and founder of scientific research in Unani Medicine.
Unani system of medicine
- Unani system of medicine is the term for Perso-Arabic traditional medicine as practiced in Mughal India and in Muslim culture in South Asia and modern day Central Asia. It had originated in Greece.
- Aesculapius is credited as originator of this system. Buqrat (better known as Hippocrates, 460-377 BC) is said to be a descendent of Aesculapius and recognised as ‘father of Unani medicine’.
- The term Yūnānī (Greek) means Perso-Arabic system of medicine.
Unani system of medicine in India:
- It was introduced to India by the Arabs and Persians sometime around the eleventh century.
- The Delhi Sultans (rulers) provided patronage to the scholars of Unani System and even enrolled some as state employees and court physicians.
- After it was influenced by Indian medical teachings of Sushruta and Charaka.
- Currently, the Unani Medicine education in India is governed by Central Council of Indian Medicine
Principles and Concepts of Unani:
- The basic theory of Unani system is based upon the well- known four – humour theory of Hippocrates.
- As per this theory, the human body is composed of four basic elements: earth, air, water and fire having cold, hot, wet and dry temperaments respectively.
- The body fluids are composed of four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. These humors have their own temperament:
NTPC to supply 300 MW power to Bangladesh
State-run power giant NTPC’s arm NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam (NVVN) has emerged as the lowest bidder for supply of 300 MW power to Bangladesh for 15 years at an estimated tariff of Rs 3.42 per unit.
- The company is expecting a revenue of Rs 900 crore every year for supplying 300 MW under a tender floated by Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB).
- At present, India exports approximately 600 MW electricity to Bangladesh.
- India already has power grid links with Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, and is building power projects in the three countries. It also plans to develop power transmission links with Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
About NTPC Ltd:
- National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Limited is India’s largest energy conglomerate with roots planted way back in 1975 to accelerate power development in India.
- Since then, it has established itself as the dominant power major with the presence in the entire value chain of the power generation business.
- From fossil fuels, it has forayed into generating electricity via hydro, nuclear and renewable energy sources.
- This foray will play a major role in lowering its carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Rajasthan announces Rs 8,000 crore farm loan waiver
Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje announced one-time farm loan waiver of up to Rs50,000 for small and marginal farmers in the state, which would cost Rs8,000 crore to the exchequer.
Farm loan waiver in India:
- In India, farm loan waivers have been announced intermittently by both the central and state governments to provide relief to farmers facing distress due to natural calamities/crop failure.
- In its policy statement released last week, the monetary policy committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) pointed out that the implementation of farm loan waivers across states could hurt the finances of states and make them throw good money after bad, and stoke inflation.
- So far, three major states—Uttar Pradesh (UP), Punjab and Maharashtra—have announced large-scale farm debt waivers. The cumulative debt relief announced by the three states amounts to around Rs77,000 crore or 0.5% of India’s 2016-17 GDP.
Drawbacks of loan waivers:
- It covers only a tiny fraction of farmers. The loan waiver as a concept excludes most of the farm households in dire need of relief and includes some who do not deserve such relief on economic grounds.
- It provides only a partial relief to the indebted farmers as about half of the institutional borrowing of a cultivator is for non-farm purposes.
- In many cases, one household has multiple loans either from different sources or in the name of different family members, which entitles it to multiple loan waiving.
- Loan waiving excludes agricultural labourers who are even weaker than cultivators in bearing the consequences of economic distress.
- It severely erodes the credit culture, with dire long-run consequences to the banking business.
- The scheme is prone to serious exclusion and inclusion errors, as evidenced by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) findings in the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008.
- The schemes have serious implications for other developmental expenditure, having a much larger multiplier effect on the economy.
- Proper identification: For providing immediate relief to the needy farmers, a more inclusive alternative approach is to identify the vulnerable farmers based on certain criteria and give an equal amount as financial relief to the vulnerable and distressed families.
- Enhance non- farm income: The sustainable solution to indebtedness and agrarian distress is to raise income from agricultural activities and enhance access to non-farm sources of income. The low scale of farms necessitates that some cultivators move from agriculture to non-farm jobs.
- Improved technology, expansion of irrigation coverage, and crop diversification towards high-value crops are appropriate measures for raising productivity and farmers’ income. All these require more public funding and support.
Merger of PSU non-life insurers
The three public sector general insurance companies will deliberate on the proposed merger plan.
What’s the plan?
- As part of divestment of public sector entities, the government has proposed in the Budget to merge National Insurance Company, United India Insurance and Oriental Insurance Company into one and subsequently list the new entity on stock exchanges.
- This means the three companies could be merged by the middle of 2019.
Purpose of this merger:
There are a lot of operational advantages and savings that will accrue from this proposed merger.
- The trigger for central government to go for merger of three general insurers is mainly to boost up their solvency ratio and divest part of its holding in the market.
- Merger will also stop the unhealthy competition between the government-owned insurers.
- It is hoped that this merger will make companies stronger.
Implications of this merger:
- These three public sector general insurance companies combined held a market share of close to 35 per cent among all the general insurance companies including the private sector insurers and standalone health insurers. The merging will lead to the creation of a mammoth non-life company and expected to be a major contributor to the divestment target of Rs 80,000 crore set for the fiscal year 2018-19.
- There is also a concern that post merger, there will be unhealthy competition between two government-owned general insurers – New India Assurance and the new company that emerges out of the proposed merger.
- Also, it will be a big task to build the brand equity for a new entity in a highly competitive market.
- In 2017, the government listed two state-owned insurers New India Assurance Company Ltd and General Insurance Corporation of India.
Jogighopa to become India’s new gateway to South-East Asia
Jogighopa, a small town in Assam, is set to become India’s gateway to South-East Asia as well as the rest of the North-East with the road ministry gearing up to develop a multimodal logistics park (MMLP) there with road, rail, waterways and air transport facilities.
Where is Jogighopa located?
- Jogighopa is a small town located on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in the Bongaigaon district in the state of Assam.
- Within the city are the remains of the five rock cut rock-cut caves, examples of Salasthambha period architecture.
What’s the project?
- Under the project, all four types of transportation—road, rail, air and waterways—will be available.
- The development includes railway sidings, container terminals, warehousing, non-cargo processing, a truck terminal, common facilities, support infrastructure and equipment.
- A special purpose vehicle, backed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), will be created to execute the project, which will be executed in two phases.
Need for alternative route:
- The current transit corridors from mainland India to the North-East region pass through an area known as the “Chicken’s Neck”—a narrow tract of land in India between the borders with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Since it is close to these borders and cannot be expanded, the North-East region requires an alternative route for providing connectivity to the rest of India—a route with adequate expansion potential. The Indo-Bangladesh road route, along with the National Waterways-2, provides such an option.
- The move comes at a time when India’s neighbours are gearing up for trade. For example, Bangladesh’s development of the Khulna-Dhaka-Sylhet Economic Corridor and the Banglabandha-Dhaka-Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar Economic Corridor—to promote industrial development in the region.
- These initiatives are expected to drive freight movement in the region and facilitate trade between India and Bangladesh, and between Bangladesh and Bhutan through India.
- North-East is one of the regions which has played a pivotal role in terms of logistics connectivity with the international and national corridors of India. And Asean’s (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) strong bond with the North-East region will act as a mascot for the entire region and for the rest of the businesses in India.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has released India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017.
About the report:
- The report is the 15th such report in the series.
- It also for the first time contains information on the decadal change in water bodies in the forest during 2005-2015, forest fire, production of timber from outside forest, state wise carbon stock in different forest types and density classes.
Highlights of the ISFR 2017:
- India is ranked 10th in world, with 24.4% of land area under forest and tree cover, even though it accounts for 2.4 % of the world surface area and sustains needs of 17 % of human and 18 % livestock population.
- India was placed 8th in list of Top Ten nations reporting the greatest annual net gain in forest area.
- There is an increase of 8, 021 sq km in the total forest and tree cover of the country, compared to the previous assessment in 2015.
- The increase in the forest cover has been observed as 6,778 sq km and that of tree cover as 1, 243 sq km.
- The total forest and tree cover is 24.39 per cent of the geographical area of the country.
- Much of the increase in the forest cover has been observed in Very Dense Forest (VDF). These forests absorb maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- About 40 per cent of the country’s forest cover is present in 9 large contiguous patches of the size of 10, 000 sq.km or more.
- Three states – Andhra Pradesh (2141 sq km), Karnataka (1101 sq km) and Kerala (1043 sq km) have shown a significant increase in forest cover due to successful agro forestry practices, increase in mangrove cover, better conservation and protection practices.
- Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover of 77,414 sq km in the country in terms of area, followed by Arunachal Pradesh with 66,964 sq km and Chhattisgarh (55,547 sq km).
- In terms of percentage of forest cover with respect to the total geographical area, Lakshadweep with (90.33 per cent) has the highest forest cover, followed by Mizoram (86.27 per cent) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands (81.73 per cent).
- The study also reveals that 15 states/UT’s have more than 33 per cent of their geographical area under forest cover.
- Among these, seven states. UTs including Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur have more than 75 per cent forest cover.
- Eight other states including Tripura, Goa, Sikkim, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Assam have forest cover between 33 per cent and 75 per cent.
- According to the study, the total mangrove cover stands at 4,921 sq km and has shown an increase of 181 sq km.
- All the 12 mangrove states have shown a positive change in the mangrove cover, as compared to the last assessment.
- Further, the extent of the bamboo-bearing area in the country has been estimated at 15.69 million hectare, showing an increase of 1.73 million hectare since the last assessment in 2011.
Bilateral & International Relations
2,300 Army personnel to join UN peace keeping mission in South Sudan
The Indian Army, one of the largest contributors to United Nations Peacekeeping Missions, is contributing approximately 2300 personnel to support United Nations Peacekeeping Missions to South Sudan (UNMISS) in order to bring peace and normalcy in the war-torn country.
- It includes deployment of seven Garhwal Rifles Infantry battalion group of the Indian Army.
- The deployment of Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan is under Chapter VII which entails Peace Enforcement.
India and UNMISS:
- The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is newest UN Peacekeeping Mission. India, with 2,237 troops, is the highest contributor in terms of troops to UNMISS. In addition to India, 53 nations from around the world have contributed troops to the peacekeeping mission.
- In November 2017, the UN Commander in South Sudan had commended the efforts of the Maratha Light Infantry for their bravery and professionalism. The Indian Army unit assumed operational responsibility in South Sudan, the newest country in the world, on November 16, 2016.
About UN Peacekeeping:
United Nations Peacekeeping was created in 1948.
- Its first mission involved the establishment of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which served to observe and maintain ceasefire during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
- UN Peacekeeping maintains three basic principles:
- Consent of the parties,
- Impartiality and non-use of Force except in self-defence and
- Defence of the mandate.
- The UN Peacekeepers are led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DKPO).
- There are currently 17 UN peace operations deployed on four continents.
- UN Peacekeepers are from diverse backgrounds, from areas all around the world. They include police, military and civilian personnel. They are often referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmets because of their light blue berets or helmets.
- The UN Peacekeeping Force won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.
- The United Nations Charter gives the United Nations Security Council the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security. For this reason, the international community usually looks to the Security Council to authorize peacekeeping operations.
About South Sudan:
- South Sudan is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa.
- It gained its independence from (North) Sudan in 2011. Its capital and largest city is Juba.
- South Sudan is bordered by Sudan to the north, Ethiopia to the east, Kenya to the southeast, Uganda to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southwest, and the Central African Republic to the west.
- It includes the vast swamp region of the Sudd, formed by the White Nile and known locally as the Bahr al Jabal.
- With Nilotic peoples forming the majority of its population, the nation is also referred to as the Nilotic Republic, as a homeland and supposedly the place of origin for the Nilotic race.
- South Sudan has suffered ethnic violence and has been in a civil war since 2013. As of 2017, despite not being ranked bottom in the latest World Happiness Report, it had the highest score on the Fragile States Index (formerly, the Failed States Index), surpassing Somalia.
Defence & Security Issues
Defence Acquisition Council approves acquisitions worth over Rs 15,000 crore
Defence Acquisition Council has cleared a plan to procure some much-needed fire-power for the armed forces, expected to cost Rs. 15,935 crore.
- The list includes light machine guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles.
About Defence Acquisition Council (DAC):
To counter corruption and speed up decision- making in military procurement, the government of India in 2001 decided to set up an integrated DAC.
- It is headed by the Defence Minister.
- The DAC is responsible to give policy guidelines to acquisitions, based on long-term procurement plans.
- It also clears all acquisitions, which includes both imported and those produced indigenously or under a foreign license.
Objective of DAC:
- The objective of the Defence Acquisition Council is to ensure expeditious procurement of the approved requirements of the Armed Forces in terms of capabilities sought, and time frame prescribed, by optimally utilizing the allocated budgetary resources.
Functions of the DAC include:
- In-principle approval of 15 Year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan for Defence Forces;
- accord of Acceptance of Necessity to acquisition proposals;
- categorization of the acquisition proposals relating to ‘Buy’, ‘Buy & Make’ and ‘Make’;
- issues relating to Single vendor clearance;
- decision regarding ‘offset’ provisions in respect of acquisition proposals above Rs. 300 crores;
- decisions regarding Transfer of Technology under ‘Buy & Make’ category of acquisition proposals; and
- Field Trial evaluation.
Key Facts for Prelims
- It is a Russian cargo spacecraft launched by a Russian Soyuz rocket toward the International Space Station.
- Progress 69 is packed with food, science gear and other vital supplies for the six-person Expedition 54 crew on the International Space Station.