Polity & Governance
- SC moves away from death penalty
- New import policy for marble, travertine blocks notified
- Cambodia emerges as surrogacy hub
- Simplify factory inspections for ‘ease of doing business’: CII
Bilateral & International Relations
- Rich Indians worry as ‘dollar’ visa set to end
Science & Technology
- Scientists use stem cells to grow 3D lung-in-a-dish
Key Facts for Prelims
- Indian Navy’s Mormugao
- Meeting of BRICS Representatives in charge of security
- West Asia North Africa (WANA) region
- Joint Sea-2016
- Giant African Land Snail (GALS)
- Charkhi Dadri
- Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mascot
Polity & Governance
SC moves away from death penalty
The Supreme Court has moved away from death penalty (capital punishment) after it commuted the death sentence of a youth for raping and killing a seven-year-old girl with the Special Category of Punishment.
- The apex court in its judicial innovation awarded the convict 25-year jail term considering it appropriate punishment between death sentence and life imprisonment in heinous crimes.
- The court has said that the offence did not come within the ambit of rarest of rare case but also held that life imprisonment of 14 years would not be sufficient punishment for the crime committed.
- Holding that innovative approach is needed to award sentence in such cases, the court directed that the convict must spent 25 years behind the jail.
- The court has also held that judicial innovation for bridging the gap between death sentence on the one extreme and only 14 years of actual imprisonment in the name of life imprisonment on the other, serves a laudable purpose and does not violate any law in the Indian Penal Code or in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Significance of this judgment:
- The innovative approach reflected in this case, on the one hand helps the convict in getting rid of death penalty in appropriate cases, on the other it takes care of genuine concerns of the victim including the society by ensuring that life imprisonment shall actually mean imprisonment for whole of the natural life or to a lesser extent as indicated by the court in the light of facts of a particular case.
What is Special Category of Punishment?
- Special Category of Punishment is judicial innovation that will be veering away from capital punishment. It will be limited to a “very few cases”.
- In this case capital punishment will be shifted to life imprisonment without the benefit of release on remission for prolonged periods ranging from 25 to 30 years, if not more.
- It was formalised by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Rajiv Gandhi killers’ case in December 2015.
- It helps “get rid of death penalty” and addresses the genuine concerns of the society to see justice done.
Significance of the Special Category of Punishment:
- The judicial innovation of the special category of punishment bridges the gap between death sentence (capital punishment) on the extreme and only 14 years of actual life imprisonment on the other.
- It may be considered as endeavour of the Supreme Court to make no party (convict or the society) a loser. Thus, it can be said that with judicial innovation of special category sentence the apex court may have found alternative to capital punishment.
Evolution of Special Category of Punishment:
- This special category of Punishment for the first time was mentioned in the Swami Shraddananda versus State of Karnataka judgment of the Supreme Court in 2008.
- Later in 2016, the apex Court had given itself the authority to tweak the sentencing laws and evolve a special category of sentence in its judgment in Union of India versus Sriharan alias Murugan.
New import policy for marble, travertine blocks notified
The Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry has notified the new import policy for Marble & Travertine Blocks, and Marble and Granite Slabs, to come into effect from 1st October 2016.
Aim of the new policy:
- The new policy aims to balance the interests of domestic consumers, producers and processors, and to end the cumbersome licensing system for import of Marble & Travertine blocks.
- The quantitative restriction on the import of Marble & Travertine Blocks has been brought to an end.
- The minimum import price (MIP) for import of marble blocks has been reduced to $200/ tonne to address the distortions.
- To address the interest of domestic producers, basic customs duty on import of marble & travertine blocks will go up four times from the present 10% to 40%.
- The MIP on marble slabs is also being reduced to $40 per sq. metre and basic customs duty is being doubled from 10% to 20%.
- As regards granite slabs, the MIP is being reduced to $50 per sq. metre and basic customs duty on import is being doubled from 10% to 20%.
Cambodia emerges as surrogacy hub
With India toughening its stand on surrogacy, evident in the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 which the Cabinet cleared last month, surrogacy service seekers, and even doctors have started moving to destinations that still allow this service.
- While Cambodia has become popular among people — both Indians and from other parts of the world — countries such as Ukraine and Kenya are attracting doctors from India.
Why Cambodia has emerged as an attractive destination?
- As in the early days of surrogacy in India, the lack of proper laws or guidelines in Cambodia has proved a big attraction.
Concerns regarding Cambodia as an attractive destination:
- There are concerns about Cambodia’s medical infrastructure.
- There is a huge pressure building and Cambodia is ill-prepared to handle it.
- Besides, there are no laws in place regarding surrogacy in Cambodia.
Why India is no longer attractive for surrogacy?
Surrogacy laws in India are becoming tougher.
- India banned commercial surrogacy in November, 2015.
- The Cabinet also recently cleared the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016. The bill has made the government’s intent to ban commercial surrogacy clear.
Simplify factory inspections for ‘ease of doing business’: CII
The Confederation of Indian Industry has called for simplification and rationalisation of inspection and regulations for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
- It was published in CII’s white paper titled ‘Inspections and Regulatory Enforcements for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in India.’
Challenges faced by MSMEs in India:
- A manufacturing company in India has to comply with around 70 laws and regulations.
- Besides, 40 inspectors and government officials visit factories on an average with the ulterior motive to fleece the company promoters and owners.
- Most of the inspections conducted are related to environment or labour law compliances.
- Apart from multiple inspections, a company has to file around 100 returns every year.
- Inspections in India have also been found to be excessive, duplicate and complicated, imposing significant costs on businesses, especially MSMEs. While most inspections are selected locally, without any objective criteria, inspectors act over-zealously and make extortionist demands from factories.
- There are also variations in inspections conducted on small factories across the country. While inspectors for labour compliances visit most SMEs once or twice a year, it has been observed that in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand, SMEs are visited by labour inspectors once every month.
- CII has called for an integrated inspection system and highlighted the need for inculcating a risk-based approach in the inspection system which will rationalise the number of inspections and weed out the redundancy and duplicity.
- A portal could be created for automatically updating invoices related to excise, sales tax, customs and the like by SMEs and this could be used by regulators and inspectors in lieu of physically visiting the factory premises. Audited accounts of SMEs could be used by inspectors while performing verification.
- CII has also urged the central government to encourage the states to pursue a process for simplification of labour laws and compliance.
Bilateral & International Relations
Rich Indians worry as ‘dollar’ visa set to end
Many high net worth individuals the world over, including in India, are worried as the controversial immigrant visa programme of the US government, EB-5 Programme is set to expire this month-end.
What is EB-5 Programme?
- Also known as ‘Green Card for greenback’ scheme, the programme is named EB-5 as it is the fifth preference category under the Employment-Based (EB) immigration visas.
Aim of the programme:
- It aims to boost the American economy by attracting investment from foreign nationals and generating employment for locals. In 1992, its scope was widened through an Immigrant Investor Programme, or the Regional Centre Programme.
EB-5 Programme- Key facts:
- The programme grants rich entrepreneurs — as well as their spouses and unmarried children below the age of 21 — an opportunity to bag the coveted U.S. Green Card (or status of permanent residence) and Citizenship.
- All they have to do is invest in just over half a million dollars in the U.S. and ensure that the funds help generate at least ten full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
- The visa, given in exchange for investments, grants the holder a conditional permanent residence status.
- After two years, the conditions may be removed, when it becomes permanent green card that can lead to citizenship, provided it has resulted in the creation of 10 jobs.
- According to U.S. government data, applicants from China managed to get 8,156 visas under this programme.
- This was followed by Vietnam (280), China/Taiwan-born (139), South Korea (116), India (111), Russia (88), UK (84), Mexico (77) and Iran (62).
Indians and EB-5
- In 2015, the U.S. authorities issued 111 EB-5 visas to Indians — that is 15 more than the previous year, and 74 more than the number of such immigrant visas issued in 2011.
- The rapid rise in the number of EB-5 visas to Indians in the last few years had led to the filing of over a thousand applications under that category from India this year.
- In the backdrop of allegations of fraud and corruption — including against Indian-origin individuals — related to the programme, the U.S. Congress will soon have to consider whether to renew it or to pay heed to rising criticism and wind it up altogether.
- More stringent norms for fraud prevention, as well as steps to protect America’s national security (through fool proof measures to prevent terror- and other illegal finance flowing into the programme) are in line.
Science & Technology
Scientists use stem cells to grow 3D lung-in-a-dish
A team of researchers has created three-dimensional (3D) lung “organoids” — laboratory-grown lung-like tissue.
- The three-dimensional drug has been created by coating tiny gel beads with lung-derived stem cells and allowing them to self-assemble into the shape of air sacs found in human lungs.
Significance of the research:
- The lung is created to study diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which has been difficult to study using conventional methods and also test possible treatments for the lung diseases.
What is Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis?
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic lung disease characterised by scarring of the lungs.
- The scarring makes the lungs thick and stiff, which over time results in progressively worsening shortness of breath and lack of oxygen to the brain and vital organs.
- Though researchers do not know what causes IPF in all cases but cigarette smoking and exposure to certain types of dust can increase the risk of developing the disease.
Key Facts for Prelims
Indian Navy’s Mormugao
- Indian Navy’s indigenously built most Advanced Guided Missile Stealth Destroyer ‘Mormugao’ was recently launched in Mumbai, Maharashtra.
- It was built by government-run Mazgaon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd and belongs to Visakhapatnam class of ships being constructed under Project 15B.
- It has a displacement of 7,300 tonnes with maximum speed of over 30 knots. It is fitted also with the Barak-8 long-range missiles.
- It has been fitted with multi-mission radar for surveillance along with medium range air and surface surveillance radar and other advanced electronic warfare and decoys.
- It is equipped with surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles and anti-submarine rocket launchers.
- It is also capable of carrying two anti-submarine warfare helicopters.
- Union Government in 2011 had sanctioned four 15B ships at the cost of 29,700 crore rupees to develop a class of stealth guided missile destroyers for the Indian Navy.
Meeting of BRICS Representatives in charge of security
The meeting of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) High Representatives in charge of security was held in New Delhi, India. It was hosted National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval.
They agreed to intensify cooperation against terror groups like the Islamic State in West Asia and North Africa region (WANA).
West Asia North Africa (WANA) region
An abbreviation for “West Asia and North Africa” region includes countries in North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan), West Asia (Turkey, Cyprus, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria), all the middle eastern countries in the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. These regions are bonded by mostly commonality in language (Arabic), religion (Islam) and culture.
The WANA region is characterized by high population growth, low and erratic rainfall, limited arable land, and severely limited water resources.
There are very few possibilities for expansion of farming areas or irrigation.
Methods for more efficient and sustainable use of these limited resources must be found.
Some authorities include Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of the WANA group of countries and others exclude them from WANA and include them as part of the South Asian region.
Israel is also another country that may or may not be considered as part of the WANA group of countries, depending on the organization (because while it is part of the middle-east, Israel is not governed by Islamic laws and doesn’t have much in the way of Arabic cultural influences). Therefore, the exact list of countries in the WANA region may vary from organization to organization.
As an example of the above, the Government of India’s Department of Commerce considers Israel as part of the WANA countries group, but Afghanistan and Pakistan are considered as part of South Asian group of countries, in all their trade reports by region.
Giant African Land Snail (GALS)
Two 11-cm long specimens of giant African land snails (GALS) were found in the Goa University campus recently, just over a year after the first one was spotted near the same site.
Giant African Land Snail is the exotic invasive species which has been listed as one of the world’s 100 most invasive species by the international union of conservation of nature and natural resources (IUCN).
Ecologically, the species are dangerous as they reproduce faster and take over entire ecosystems, this becoming a menace to crops. It is a potential threat to agro-horticultural crops and local flora in Goa and even pose a threat to local land snails species.
An invasive species is a non-native organism that causes ecological harm after being introduced to a new environment.
It is a joint naval exercises carried out by China and Russia in the resource-rich South China Sea (SCS) off China’s southern Guangdong province.
It is the 22nd district of the Haryana state recently announced by the state government.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mascot
Union Government has chosen 105-year-old Kunwar Bai from Chhattisgarh as the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ mascot.
She was recognised for building toilet by selling off her 8-10 goats to build two toilets at her home. She also started showing other villagers the toilets at her home while educating them about its importance. She has also encouraged others from the village to build toilets. Her efforts had help to make her village ‘open defecation free as very home in her village has toilets.