Polity & Governance
- President nominates four members to Rajya Sabha
Government Schemes & Policies
- RBI cautions states over cash for food scheme
- IFFCO launches e-commerce platform ‘IFFCO iMandi’ for farmers
- Can Jute sector get benefits in ban on plastic bags scenario?
- PM inaugurates Bansagar canal project in Mirzapur
- Indian shipping companies headed for troubled waters
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Golden jackal faces threat in its habitat
Bilateral & International Relations
- UN Security Council imposes arms embargo on South Sudan
- India becomes regional head of Asia Pacific at World Customs Organisation
Key Facts for Prelims
- Ground test of Vikas Engine
- Aruna Sairam gets Sangita Kalanidhi Award
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Polity & Governance
President nominates four members to Rajya Sabha
In exercise of the powers conferred by Article 80 of the Constitution of India, and on the advice of the Prime Minister, the President of India has made the following four nominations to the Rajya Sabha:
- Ram Shakal
- Rakesh Sinha
- Raghunath Mohapatra
- Sonal Mansingh
- There were, currently, eight nominated members in the Rajya Sabha, and hence, four vacancies.
Article 80 of the Constitution:
- As per the article 80 of the Constitution, the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) is composed of not more than 250 members, of whom 12 are nominated by the President of India from amongst persons who have special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as literature, science, art and social service.
Rationale behind principle of the nomination:
- The rationale behind principle of the nomination is to facilitate the representation of eminent professionals and experts who cannot face direct elections.
- By nominating them to Rajya Sabha, the State not only recognises their merit and confers honour on them, but also enables them to enrich the debates by their expertise and knowledge that they have in different areas.
First batch of 12 nominated members:
The first batch of 12 nominated members represented a galaxy of talented persons of proven merit. They were:
- Scholar and educationist Dr. Zakir Husain,
- Renowned historians Dr. Kalidas Nag and Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji,
- National poet Shri Maithilisharan Gupta,
- Well-known Gandhian author Kakasaheb Kalelkar,
- Eminent scientist Professor Satyendranath Bose,
- Social worker Shri N.R. Malkani,
- Renowned exponent of classical dance forms Shrimati Rukmini Devi Arundale,
- Gandhian scholar and teacher, Dr. J.M. Kumarappa,
- Legal luminary Dr. Alladi Krishnaswami,
- Famous stage actor and cine star Shri Prithviraj Kapoor and
- Eminent medical scientist Major-General S.S. Sokhey.
Powers and privileges:
- Nominated members enjoy all powers, privileges and immunities available to an elected member of Parliament.
- They take part in the proceedings of the House as any other member.
- They, however, are not entitled to vote in the election of the President of India.
- But in the election of the Vice-President of India, they have a right to vote.
- A nominated member is allowed six months, should he decide to join a political party after he has taken his seat in the House in terms of article 99 of the Constitution.
- A nominated member has also been exempted from filing his assets and liabilities under Section 75A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 which requires the elected member to do so within 90 days of his making or subscribing oath/affirmation.
- Under MPLADS, the Nominated Members of the Rajya Sabha may select any Districts from any State in the Country for implementation of their choice of work under the scheme.
Nominated members in Lok Sabha:
- The president can nominate two members from the Anglo-Indian community if the community is not adequately represented in the Lok Sabha.
Government Schemes & Policies
RBI cautions states over cash for food scheme
Acknowledging that problems have been experienced by three Union Territories (UTs) in the implementation of direct benefit transfer (DBT) for food subsidy, the Reserve Bank of India has cautioned the states planning to shift from existing mechanism to DBT for food subsidies.
What are the problems cited by RBI in its report?
- In its report on State finances, the Bank referred to problems such as inadequacy of transfers to maintain pre-DBT consumption levels, insufficiency of last-mile delivery mechanisms and a weak grievance redressal system.
DBT Vs. PDS:
On the question of whether cash transfer is an alternative to the public distribution system (PDS), the RBI has stated that
- Cash transfer mode reduces the need for large physical movement of food grains.
- Given the wide inter-State and intra-State variations in food consumption habits, the DBT provides “greater autonomy” to beneficiaries to choose their consumption basket, apart from enhancing dietary diversity.
- It also reduces the leakage in the PDS, as the Central government has to absorb a huge food subsidy bill under the existing system of distribution of food grains in fulfilment of provisions of the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
What is Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme?
With the aim of reforming Government delivery system by re-engineering the existing process in welfare schemes for simpler and faster flow of information/funds and to ensure accurate targeting of the beneficiaries, de-duplication and reduction of fraud Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) was started on 1st January, 2013.
- DBT Mission was created in the Planning Commission to act as the nodal point for the implementation of the DBT programmes. The Mission was transferred to the Department of Expenditure in 2013 and then placed in Cabinet Secretariat under Secretary (Co-ordination & PG) in 2015.
- Aadhaar is not mandatory in DBT schemes. Since Aadhaar provides unique identity and is useful in targeting the intended beneficiaries, Aadhaar is preferred and beneficiaries are encouraged to have Aadhaar.
- JAM i.e. Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile are DBT enablers. These provide a unique opportunity to implement DBT in all welfare schemes across country including States & UTs.
Categories of schemes covered under DBT:
Cash Transfer to Individual Beneficiary:
This category includes schemes or components of schemes wherein cash benefits are transferred by Government to individual beneficiaries. Example PAHAL, MGNREGA, NSAP etc. This transfer of cash benefits from Ministry/Department to beneficiaries happens through different routes, as given below:
- Directly to beneficiaries
- Through State Treasury Account to beneficiaries
- Through any Implementing Agency as appointed
- Centre/State Governments to beneficiaries
In-kind Transfer from Government to Individual Beneficiary:
- This category includes schemes or components of schemes wherein kind benefits are given by the Government to individuals through an intermediate agency.
- For example, in Public Distribution System (PDS), Food Corporation of India (FCI) is the Government agent responsible for procurement, movement, storage and distribution of food grains to Fair Price Shops.
- Apart from these two categories of schemes, there is another category of transfers from the government to different non-government functionaries who help in facilitation of various government schemes till the last mile.
- This category includes transfers made to the various enablers of government schemes like community workers, NGOs, in the form of honorarium, incentives, etc. for successful implementation of the schemes.
- For example, ASHA workers under NHM, Aanganwadi workers under ICDS, teachers in aided schools, sanitation staff in ULBs, etc. are not beneficiaries themselves but they are given wages, training, and incentives for their service to the beneficiaries/community.
IFFCO launches e-commerce platform ‘IFFCO iMandi’ for farmers
Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) has launched e-commerce platform IFFCO iMandi (mobile application and web portal) to address all needs of the farming community associated with it.
- For this initiative, IFFCO has partnered with Singapore-based technology firm iMandi.
- Through this e-commerce platform, IFFCO is targeting to reach GMV (gross merchandise value) of $5 billion in the next two years by catering needs of 5.5 crore farmers already associated with it.
Key features of IFFCO iMandi:
- The e-commerce platform is one stop shop for agri inputs and produce, FMCG, electronics, loans, insurance etc.
- It has features like buy-sell, communication, entertainment and information/advisory content to keep farmers engaged.
- Using it, farmers buy all agri inputs of IFFCO, including fertilisers, agro chemicals and seeds at discounted price and get free delivery at their doorstep.
About Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO):
- IFFCO is large scale fertiliser cooperative federation in India which is registered as Multistate Cooperative Society.
- It is one of India’s biggest cooperative society which is wholly owned by Indian Cooperatives.
- It was founded in 1967 with just 57 cooperatives and at present it has amalgamation of over 36,000 Indian Cooperatives with diversified business interests ranging from General Insurance to Rural Telecom apart from its core business of manufacturing and selling fertilisers.
Can Jute sector get benefits in ban on plastic bags scenario?
The outcry and ban against plastic bags and single-use plastic packaging holds potential for the jute sector.
Challenges faced by the Jute sector in India:
- More than 100-year-old Jute sector, supporting five million families at the farm and the industry-level, may not be in a position to benefit from this opportunity, right away.
- The availability of quality raw jute and shrinking acreage on the one-hand and the failure of most jute mills to modernise has left the sector dependent on government-support like packaging reservations.
- The sector is still primitive, involves labour-intensive cultivation methods and retting (drenching raw jute in water to extract the fibre) — a crucial determinant in raw jute quality — creates problems.
- With raw jute prices remaining below the support price in 2017-18, area-under-cultivation may stagnate in 2018-19.
Jute industry in India:
- Jute industry is predominantly dependent on Government sector which purchases jute products more than Rs. 5,500 crore every year.
- Nearly 3.7 lakh workers and approximately 40 lakh farmers are dependent for their livelihood on jute sectors.
- West Bengal is India’s single largest raw jute cultivator producing almost 75 % of the crop in Nadia, Dinajpur, Murshidabad and North 24 Parganas districts.
Steps taken by Govt. to support the Jute sector:
The Jute Foundation’ (TJF):
- A recent initiative called ‘The Jute Foundation’ (TJF) is trying to address many issues pertaining to the environment-friendly product.
- It is trying to engage all stakeholders –farmers, workers, mills, research organisations and consumers.
- The I-CARE programme unveiled by the National Jute Board and the Jute Corporation of India is planning to introduce a pilot project on retting technologies aimed at increasing farmers’ returns.
Jute SMART an e-govt initiative:
- In order to promote transparency in jute sector, Jute SMART an e-govt initiative was launched in December, 2016, providing an integrated platform for procurement of B-Twill sacking by Government agencies.
Definitive Anti Dumping Duty:
- With a view to boosting demand in the jute sector, Government of India has imposed Definitive Anti Dumping Duty on import of jute goods from Bangladesh and Nepal with effect from 5th January, 2017. As a result of these measures, 13 Twine mills in Andhra Pradesh had resumed operation, benefitting 20000 workers.
- Further, the JCI is transferring 100% funds to jute farmers online on the jute procurement under MSP and commercial operations.
What is Jute Technology Mission (JTM)?
Jute Technology Mission (JTM) was approved by the government of India in 2006 and it has 4 mini Missions.
The Objectives of the JTM are as follows:
- To strengthen agricultural research and technology achievements.
- Development/extension of raw jute Ministry of and transfer of improved technology.
- To develop efficient market linkages Ministry of for raw jute.
- To modernize, technologically upgrade, improve productivity, Textiles diversify and develop human resource for the jute industry.
PM inaugurates Bansagar canal project in Mirzapur
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 171 km long Bansagar canal project in Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh.
About Bansagar canal project:
- Bansagar Dam project is a joint venture (JV) between Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Governments.
- It is multipurpose river valley project built on Son River situated in Ganges Basin in Madhya Pradesh.
- The total network of canal from the dam is 171 kms long.
- The canal network will bring waters from Shahdol district in Madhya Pradesh for Adwa Barrage, Meza Dam and Jirgo reservoir.
Significance of the project:
- The project aims to provide a big boost to irrigation in the region. It promises to be greatly beneficial for the farmers of Mirzapur and Allahabad districts of Uttar Pradesh.
- As per the projections, the project will benefit 1 lakh 70 thousand farmers of Mirzapur and Allahabad districts.
About Sone river:
- Sone River of central India is the Second largest of the Ganges’ southern tributaries after Yamuna River.
- It originates near Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh, just east of the headwater of the Narmada River, and flows north-northwest through Madhya Pradesh state before turning sharply eastward where it encounters the southwest-northeast-Kaimur Range.
- The Sone parallels the Kaimur hills, flowing east-northeast through Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar states to join the Ganges just west of Patna.
- Geologically, the lower valley of the Son is an extension of the Narmada Valley, and the Kaimur Range an extension of the Vindhya Range.
- Its main tributaries are the Rihand and the North Koel.
- Dehri on sone and Sonbhadra are the major cities situated on Sone River.
- Indrapuri Barrage and Bansagar Dam are built on river Sone.
Indian shipping companies headed for troubled waters
A proposed move by the Centre to abolish the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) clause for transportation of Indian cargo by Indian-flagged vessels — the only benefit available to Indian shipping companies — is threatening the existence of the domestic shipping industry.
What is Right of First Refusal (ROFR)?
- Right of first refusal is a contractual right, but not obligation, to enter into a business transaction with a person or company before anyone else can.
- If the entity with the right of first refusal declines to enter into a transaction, the owner of the asset who offered the right is free to open the bidding up to other interested parties.
How ROFR help domestic industry?
- ROFR clause ensures Indian-registered ships carry Indian bulk dry/liquid cargo of Indian public and private sector companies at the lowest rate quoted by a foreign shipping line by matching the price. Thus, while it does not add any extra cost to the importer or exporter, it provides assured business to the national fleet at a rate quoted by a foreign line.
Concerns raised by Indian shipping companies:
- Removal of ROFR will strike at the very foundations of Indian shipping. The government’s move to deny Indian shipping companies the ROFR will put the already-battered firms at a disadvantageous position against foreign liners.
- Currently, 92% of India’s export import trade is carried by foreign flag ships. And the 8% that is assured to Indian ships is likely to go if the ROFR is scrapped. This benefit is provided since foreign flag vessels do not pay any tax in India while Indian companies are costlier since they have to pay multiple taxes.
- The move may also prompt Indian Shipping firms to de- register their vessels from India and flag them in tax havens of Panama and Bahama to survive and compete with foreign lines. De-registering of vessels from the Indian flag will be a strategic blow to Indian security as merchant naval fleet always acts as a second line of defence for coastal security.
Intention of Govt.:
- However, some experts feel the objective of the government is to shift cargo movement from railways and roadways to the waterways to reduce logistics costs and ensure faster movement of cargo, which the domestic lines have failed to deliver.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Golden jackal faces threat in its habitat
Destruction of mangrove cover in the Bandar Reserve Forest (in Andhra Pradesh) is forcing the golden jackal (Canis aureus) out of its habitat, triggering a conflict with the local communities.
About Golden jackal:
- Golden jackal is a wolf-like canid that is native to Southeast Europe, Southwest Asia, South Asia, and regions of Southeast Asia.
- The conservation status of the animal is the ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List due to its widespread distribution and high density in areas with plenty of available food and optimum shelter.
- It preys on wild crab and fish.
- Golden jackals are present in all protected areas of India except for those in the high elevation regions of the Himalayas.
- The species is included in CITES Appendix III (in India). Jackals feature on Schedule III of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) of India and are afforded the least legal protection (mainly to control trade of pelts and tails). However, no hunting of any wildlife is permitted under the current legal system in India.
- The golden jackal could be considered as a “species requiring no immediate protection” with caution and knowledge that populations throughout its range are likely declining.
- Almost all zoos in India have golden jackals.
- In India, jackal populations achieve high densities in pastoral areas such as Kutch, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Haryana.
Bilateral & International Relations
UN Security Council imposes arms embargo on South Sudan
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has adopted Resolution 2428 to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, almost five years after ruinous civil war was started in infant country.
What is Resolution 2428 (2018)?
- Resolution 2428 calls upon all UN member states to prevent supply, sale or transfer to South Sudan — from or through their territories till 31 May 2019.
- The embargo is related to arms and related material and withholds training, technical and financial assistance related to military activities or materials.
- It also lays out several exemptions to the country’s arms embargo including for material and activities related to humanitarian activities and lists details related to the inspection of shipments and cargo bound for South Sudan.
Civil war in South Sudan:
- The civil war in South Sudan started in 2013, two years after it gained independence from Sudan, when President Salva Kiir accused his then-deputy Riek Machar of plotting coup against him.
- The civil war has killed tens of thousands of people and forced millions to flee their homes, triggering humanitarian crisis.
- The United Nations has peacekeepers in the country as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
- In June 2018, President Kiir and his rival Riek Machar had agreed to permanent ceasefire, raising hopes of peace deal to end their country’s devastating civil war. But several ceasefires had previously been violated by the warring parties.
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.
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.
India becomes regional head of Asia Pacific at World Customs Organisation
India has become the Vice-Chair (Regional Head) of the Asia Pacific Region of World Customs Organisation (WCO) for a period of two years, from July, 2018 to June, 2020.
- Being the Vice Chair of AP Region of WCO will enable India to take on leadership role.
About World Customs Organisation (WCO):
WCO is an independent intergovernmental body whose mission is to enhance effectiveness and efficiency of Customs administrations.
- It was established in 1952 as Customs Co-operation Council (CCC).
- It is the only international organization with competence in Customs matters and is considered as voice of international Customs community.
- WCO represents 182 Customs administrations across the globe that collectively process approximately 98% of world trade.
- It is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
- WCO has divided its membership into six regions whereby each region is represented by elected vice-chairperson to WCO Council.
Functions of WCO:
- It offers range of Conventions and other international instruments, as well as technical assistance and training services to its members.
- It also actively supports its members in their endeavours to modernize and build capacity within their national Customs administrations.
- It also plays vital role in stimulating growth of legitimate international trade and combats fraudulent activities.
- It also promotes emergence of honest, transparent and predictable Customs environment, thus directly contributing to economic and social well-being of its members.
Key Facts for Prelims
Ground test of Vikas Engine
- ISRO has successfully conducted ground test of its high thrust version of Vikas Engine at ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) in Mahendragiri, Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.
- Vikas Engine is the workhorse liquid rocket engine powering second stage of India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), second stage and four strap on stages of Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and is part of first stage i.e. twin engine core liquid stage (L110) of GSLV Mk-III.
- It was conceptualized and designed by ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre in the 1970s.
Aruna Sairam gets Sangita Kalanidhi Award
Renowned Carnatic vocalist Aruna Sairam has been selected for 2018 Sangita Kalanidhi award of Music Academy for her contribution to Carnatic music.
About Sangita Kalanidhi award/title:
- This honour is considered one of the highest awards in Carnatic music.
- It is prestigious award/title bestowed annually upon expert of Carnatic Music by Madras Music Academy.