Polity & Governance
- Union HRD Ministry launches a new initiative ‘Vidyanjali’
- Middle-aged smoke and drink the most: Survey
- Centre to set up chemical hubs, provide early clearances for brownfield expansion
- Modi wants 10 crore households in tax net
- NITI Aayog submits proposals for divestment
- SBI launches Rs 200-crore fund for fintech start-ups
Environment & Ecology
- Study of Palaeochannel deposits are valuable from ground water point of view, Minister
- Determined to honour pact on uranium supply: Namibia
- Sampur project uncertainty continues
Defence & Security Issues
- Police stations to have wider jurisdiction over coasts
Science & Technology
- Living bone grown in lab for the first time
Polity & Governance
Union HRD Ministry launches a new initiative ‘Vidyanjali’
Inspired from PM’s vision to inculcate reading habits among children and create a reading culture at school and community level, Union HRD Ministry launches a new initiative ‘Vidyanjali’ to involve volunteers into co-scholastic activities of schools.
- The Indian Diaspora in Indonesia shared their heartfelt appreciation for the initiative, along with their views and suggestions.
Key features of the programme:
Vidyanjali, which is being implemented under the overall aegis of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, will enhance the community involvement in Government run elementary schools and effectively engage children in reading, creative writing, public speaking, play acting, preparing story books etc.
- The programme is designed to involve volunteers from different walks of life to strengthen the co-scholastic activities in government schools.
- The programme is unique in that it gives the freedom to the volunteers to design their activities in consultation with the school.
- The programme will be open for participation by all Indian citizens including retired Professionals, retired government officials, working professionals and homemakers; and also persons from the Indian Diaspora.
- The programme will be piloted across 21 States which committed to do so in the conference of State Ministers of Education held in February, 2016.
- The volunteers can register for free by visiting the MyGov.in or though the mobile app, which has been developed by MyGov.
Significance of the programme:
- Vidyanjali is a step forward in creating an ecosystem, wherein education will be attached with imbibing knowledge and improving learning output.
- The programme will leverage an ingrained sense of participation and willingness within the people of this country to contribute towards nation building.
- Numerous researches have reflected that community engagement with schools has led to improvement in the quality of learning and education. This programme will instil fresh enthusiasm in school children to take up reading and will re-energise the teaching-learning process at schools.
- Improved learning outcomes of school children thereby help to reduce the number of school drop outs.
Middle-aged smoke and drink the most: Survey
Data from the Sample Registration System (SRS) Baseline Survey 2014, released by the Registrar General of India show the various numbers regarding smoking & drinking.
Key points of the survey:
Highest & lowest:
- West Bengal and Chhattisgarh had the highest proportions among people who reported to be smokers and alcohol drinkers respectively.
- A fourth of West Bengal men smoke and a third of Chhattisgarh men drink — the highest among the 21 ‘bigger states’ for which data is available.
- On the other hand, Maharashtra has the lowest proportion of male smokers and drinkers, at 2% and 2.7%.
- The survey also reported more smokers (11.4 per cent) than drinkers (10 per cent).
- 13 of the 21 states, however, have more drinkers than smokers, including Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Telangana — where the difference is the highest.
- For both categories, the 45-59 reported the highest proportion while the 15-29 age group reported the lowest.
- In contrast, the numbers are significantly low for women — a mere 0.7% of total women, for both smoking and drinking.
- At 3 per cent, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have the highest proportion of female drinkers.
Caste-wise drinking & smoking:
- Caste-wise, reported drinking is more among men belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (18.2 per cent). This can explain why Chhattisgarh tops the drinking list, as the State has a large adivasi population.
- Smoking is most prevalent among the Scheduled Castes (16.3%).
Quit bad habits:
- Overall, 1.4% people reported to have quit smoking and drinking.
- For every seven men who smoke and for every eight men who drink, there is one who has quit the respective habit.
Centre to set up chemical hubs, provide early clearances for brownfield expansion
The Centre has announced creation of chemical hubs across the country, early environment clearances in existing clusters, adequate infrastructure, and establishment of a Central Institute of Chemical Engineering and Technology.
- The announcements were made during the launch of India Chem 2016.
- Government is now also planning to set up a reverse Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in Mozambique mainly for the fertiliser and petrochemical sector, while it is already in talks with Iran for a proposed SEZ there.
- Government is in talks with Iran for setting up a natural gas-based petroleum plant-cum-petrochemicals complex there.
- The industry faced challenges over environment clearances for greenfield and brownfield projects.
- Qualified manpower is another issue faced by the chemicals and petrochemicals industry.
- Recently, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers had discussed the issue with the Environment Ministry and it was decided that environment clearances would be issued for brownfield expansion in clusters in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
What is the meaning of Reverse SEZs?
According to the FICCI, Reverse SEZs are designed for Indian chemical and petrochemical companies to be able to set up plants in other countries, often politically unstable, to be able to securely manufacture basic raw materials to meet India’s needs.
- According to FICCI’s proposal, the Indian government could help create these reverse SEZs with the help of the local governments in the shortlisted countries.
- It believes that a wide range of Indian companies would be interested in such SEZs to use the cheap gas available to make chemical building blocks and bring them to India for the country’s needs.
Ideal places for setting up Reverse SEZs:
- Countries like Mozambique, Iran and Myanmar have been shortlisted for their abundance of oil and gas resources, a key feedstock for petrochemicals and petroleum industry.
- The ministry for chemicals and fertilizers believes that Iran could be an ideal place to start the first reverse SEZ project as many refineries in India already import crude from Iran and have a working business relationship with Iranian companies.
Who is the biggest beneficiary?
- The biggest beneficiary according to the proposal would be the fertilizer industry as it would get gas supply at one-fourth the current price and the Centre could do away with subsidies to producers.
Modi wants 10 crore households in tax net
The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has addressed tax administrators at the two-day Rajasva Gyan Sangam.
- This is the first time that the two revenue boards – the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), and the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), are holding a simultaneous conference.
- Prime Minister asked senior tax officials to aim for widening the tax net from the present 5.4 crore households to 10 crore households — all non-agricultural income households — mainly, by changing their attitudes towards taxpayers.
- He suggested that the approach has to be to make it very easy to pay taxes and very difficult to avoid paying them.
- He pointed out that while nearly 92% of India’s tax revenue comes from self-assessments, advance tax payments and tax deducted at source, the 42,000 taxmen raise barely 8% through assessments and scrutiny of returns.
- The Prime Minister asked the officers to ensure their behaviour is “soft” and “sober” and change their attitude so that the “fear of harassment” is erased from the minds of taxpayers.
- He said the query “how to pay taxes in India” throws up seven crore responses on Google. Similarly, the search engine gives 12 crore responses to the query “how not to pay taxes in India.”
In his address, Mr. Modi gave a five-point charter to tax administrators embodied in the word ‘RAPID.’
- Information and
NITI Aayog submits proposals for divestment
The NITI Aayog has submitted two sets of recommendations to the Centre for strategic disinvestment of State-owned companies.
The first set of suggestions from the Aayog:
- This set of suggestions is a list of recommendations on each of the sick and loss-making government-owned companies.
- There are about 74 such companies in all. Of these, for about 25 companies in which revival plans were attempted but had failed, it has suggested closure, after which their assets, especially land holdings, could be disposed off and employees be offered voluntary retirement.
- In the remaining cases, either mergers with other public sector units or strategic disinvestment is recommended.
- In some companies, the Aayog preferred to let revival plans run their course, before taking a call on their future.
- This set of suggestions was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office, which will take a decision on subsequent action.
The second set of suggestions from the Aayog:
- This set of suggestions is a separate list of 15 PSUs in which it has recommended strategic disinvestment on priority.
- This list has been submitted to the Department of Investment and Public Asset management in the Finance Ministry.
- The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had in February directed the Aayog to identify PSUs that the Department could take up for strategic disinvestment and also suggest norms for doing so.
- Any disinvestment of government’s shareholdings, closure or mergers of PSU will need the Union Cabinet’s approval.
SBI launches Rs 200-crore fund for fintech start-ups
In order to assist start-ups in the financial technology (fintech) space, country’s largest lender State Bank of India has set up a Rs 200 crore ‘IT Innovation Start-up Fund’.
- This fund shall consider assistance of up to Rs 3 crore to an Indian registered company for promoting their business innovations using IT in India for banking and related technology.
- The announcement comes against the backdrop of a greater thrust from the Centre on developing the start-up ecosystem.
- In January, SBI opened a start-up branch called InCube in Bengaluru. It functions as a single point of contact for the start-up account holders for their various banking and financial advisory related requirements. This branch is not giving actual funding. It handholds start-ups to create their business plans, finds out their legal requirements, help them with compliance and registration.
What is FinTech?
- FinTech, which means using technology to offer financial services to end customers at a lower cost.
- The RBI is promoting two types of FinTech in India:
- The Unified Payments Interface and
- The Bharat Bill Payments System
Environment & Ecology
Study of Palaeochannel deposits are valuable from ground water point of view, Minister
Union Minister of State for Water Resources Sanwar Lal Jat made a strong pitch for having detailed understanding of groundwater prospects of palaeochannels to ensure optimum utilisation of water resources.
What is Palaeochannel?
A palaeochannel (literally means an old channel) is a remnant of an inactive river or stream channel that has been either filled or buried by younger sediment.
- The sediments that the ancient channel is either cut into or buried by can be either unconsolidated, semi-consolidated, consolidated, or lithified.
- Palaeochannel deposits are unconsolidated fluvial sediments, often coarse grained than adjoining flood plain deposits.
Palaeochannels of Late Quaternary (0.5 to 1 million year old) period are of particular interest from groundwater point of view.
Importance of the Palaeochannels:
- Palaeochannels are valuable from groundwater point of view. An optimum utilisation of water resources warrants detailed understanding of ground water prospects of the palaeochannels.
- Understanding movements of faults, which may redirect river systems and thus form stranded channels which are in essence palaeochannels.
- Preserving evidence of older erosional surfaces and levels, useful for estimating the net erosional budget of older regolith.
- Preserving sedimentary records useful for understanding climatic conditions, including various isotopic indicators of past rainfall, temperatures and climates, which are used in understanding climate change and global warming
- Palaeochannels can host economic ore deposits of uranium, lignite, precious metals such as gold and platinum, heavy minerals such as tin, tungsten, and iron ore preserved as paleo-placer deposits.
Palaeochannel deposits in India:
- Palaeochannels have been reported from different parts of India, covering the Indo-Gangetic plains as well as the Central and Peninsular India.
- Several ancient rivers, which once supported civilisation, agriculture and economic growth along its flood plains, have now turned into Palaeochannels.
- Of all the reported palaeochannels, most widely researched, investigated and discussed are those located in the western and north-western parts of India, covering the states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat which is often linked to erstwhile mighty river Sarasvati.
Determined to honour pact on uranium supply: Namibia
Reiterating its commitment to honour the 2009 pact to supply uranium to India at the earliest, Namibia has asked India to enter into similar agreements with other countries to convince the member-states of the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (ANWFZT).
Why Namibia is unable to supply uranium to India?
Namibia was keen on supplying uranium to India as part of the civil nuclear cooperation, for augmenting its resources.
- Although Namibia is the fourth largest producer of uranium, it, a member of ANWFZT, is barred from supplying uranium to India as the latter is not a member of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT.
- So far, India has signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with 12 countries, including the United States, Russia, Korea and Japan.
- In 2009,India and Namibia signed civil nuclear energy agreement which allows for supply of uranium from the African country. The Indo-Namibian agreement in peaceful uses of nuclear energy allows for supply of uranium and setting up of nuclear reactors.
What is Pelindaba Treaty?
The Pelindaba Treaty also known as the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (ANWFZT) was signed in 1996.
- It aims at preventing nuclear proliferation and preventing strategic minerals of Africa from being exported freely.
- It covers the entire African continent along with few islands.
- Presently, the treaty has been ratified by 40 countries.
- Pelindaba Treaty controls supply of uranium from key mineral hubs of Africa to the rest of the world.
- The Treaty prohibits the research, development, manufacture, stockpiling, acquisition, testing, possession, control or stationing of nuclear explosive devices in the territory of parties to the Treaty and the dumping of radioactive wastes in the African zone by Treaty parties.
- The Treaty also prohibits any attack against nuclear installations in the zone by Treaty parties and requires them to maintain the highest standards of physical protection of nuclear material, facilities and equipment, which are to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
- The Treaty requires all parties to apply full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to all their peaceful nuclear activities.
Sampur project uncertainty continues
The uncertainty over the Sampur thermal power project in Sri Lanka continues as the NTPC, India’s partner in the coal-fired 500-megawatt (MW) project, is awaiting advice from the Central government on the issue of change of fuel for the proposed plant.
- The issue has been raised by Sri Lanka, which apparently now favours liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the fuel.
- In February this year, the project received environmental clearance and about a month ago, even a decision was taken by the Trincomalee Power Company Limited (TPCL), a special purpose vehicle floated by the NTPC and the Ceylon Electricity Board, to float bids for the project.
Defence & Security Issues
Police stations to have wider jurisdiction over coasts
The Union Home Ministry extended the jurisdictional limits for notified police stations from the existing 12 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles by issuing a government notification.
- The decision was taken at a meeting of Home Ministers, Chief Secretaries and officials from eight costal States and Union Territories.
- In another development, Union Home Ministry approved a proposal by Maharashtra Chief Minister to create a Central Marine Police Force for patrolling the coastline.
- As many as 10 police stations have been notified in eight States that share the coastline.
- The new coastal police stations have been proposed to maintain security up to five nautical miles from the shore.
- The extension was an important development in allowing a greater say to local police while dealing with cases of smuggling and terrorism.
Following the 26/11 terror attacks, the Coast Guard were made responsible for securing the territorial waters extending up to 12 nautical miles (about 22 kilometres) from the shore.
Steps taken by the govt. for coastal security:
Since the vulnerability of India’s coasts was exposed in 1993 when explosives were smuggled to Raigad and then in 2008 when terrorists attacked Mumbai several initiatives have been taken to strengthen coastal security.
- Creating a chain of static sensors and Automatic Identification System (AIS) receivers along the Indian Coast.
- Radars are being operated by the Coast Guard at 45 locations.
- Steps are being taken to set up more coastal police stations in coastal states and Union Territories.
- Coast Guard conducts coastal security exercises involving all stakeholders in all coastal states and UTs biannually to validate Standard Operating Procedures.
- Around 65 lakh Identity Cards have been issued to fishermen for their identification and they are being connected now with biometric database.
- India’s coast is over 7,516 km long and is dotted with 12 major ports and 187 minor or intermediate ports.
- Several industrial, commercial establishments and strategic installations are located in coastal areas.
Security structure of India’s coast:
- Indian coasts are guarded by a 3-tier system of State Marine Police, Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy.
- Coastal or the Marine police is responsible for policing upto 12 nautical miles from the coast.
- While sea security from 12- 200 nautical miles are looked after by Coast guard and the Navy looks after the area after that.
Science & Technology
Living bone grown in lab for the first time
Scientists have for the first time grown a living bone in the lab to repair large defects in the head and face of patient, taking a step forward in improving treatments for people with craniofacial defects.
- A new technique uses autologous stem cells derived from a small sample of the recipient’s fat and precisely replicates the original anatomical structure of the bone.
- This is step forward in improving regenerative medicine options for patients with craniofacial defects.
- An unexpected outcome was that the lab-grown bone, when implanted, was gradually replaced by new bone formed by the body, a result not seen with the implantation of a scaffold alone, without cells.
- This feature is what makes our implant an integral part of the patient’s own bone, allowing it to actively adapt to changes in the body throughout its life,” she said.