Polity & Governance
- Mallikarjun Kharge set to be PAC chairman
- Labour code to provide social security cover to all workers
- World Bank approves $175 million loan for India’s National Hydrology Project
Environment & Ecology
- First “Pristine air-quality monitoring station at Palampur”
Bilateral & International Relations
- India signs WHO’s ‘call for action’, pledging to end TB in South East Asian region by 2030
- Indian drugmakers face squeeze in U.S. healthcare market
- India, Brazil conclude social security agreement
- ICRISAT, ICAR join hands for crop improvement
Defence & Security Issues
- 29 lakh debit cards subjected to malware attack: Government
- Parliamentary panel fumes as NATGRID posts remain vacant
Polity & Governance
Mallikarjun Kharge set to be PAC chairman
The Congress’s floor leader in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, is all set to become the next chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
- He will succeed his party colleague K.V. Thomas, who will complete his third term as Chairman of PAC on April 30.
- The chair of the PAC, given to an MP of the main Opposition party with a Cabinet rank.
About Public Accounts Commission (PAC):
- PAC is one of the most important finance committees in the Parliament along with the Committee on Estimates and the Committee on Public Undertakings.
- The key function of PAC is to examine annual audit reports of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) after they are tabled in Parliament by President.
- It is constituted every year and consists of 22 members – 15 from Lok Sabha and 7 from Rajya Sabha.
- The members from Lok Sabha are elected from amongst its members according to the principle of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote.
- Members from Rajya Sabha elected by that House in like manner are associated with the Committee. Speaker usually appoints the Chairman of the PAC.
- It should be noted that a minister cannot be elected to as member of Committee. It should be noted that since 1967, Chairman of PAC is senior member of the main Opposition party.
Labour code to provide social security cover to all workers
The Union Labour Ministry has proposed a labour code [‘draft code on Social Security and Welfare’] which will provide social security cover to the entire workforce in the country, including self-employed and agricultural workers.
Key features of the draft code:
- Its aim is to provide social security cover to the entire workforce in the country of about 45 crore workers.
- It will cover every working person whether he/she belongs to the organised sector or the unorganised sector in the country under it.
- Thus, for the first time, agricultural workers along with self-employed people will be covered under the social security cover.
- Even factories employing single worker will have to contribute towards social security benefits.
- It will cover any factory, mine, shop, plantation, charitable organisations and all establishments or households employing casual, fixed-term, part-time, informal, apprentice, domestic and home-based workers.
- If such establishments or factories fail to contribute towards the social security schemes of the workers, they will be liable to pay compensation.
- It even covers households employing domestic help and they will also have contribute towards schemes, including gratuity for the worker and provident fund.
National Social Security Council:
- It proposes, National Social Security Council (NSSC), chaired by the Prime Minister to streamline and make policy on social security schemes related to all the Ministries.
- NSSC’s other members will include Union Finance Minister, Labour Minister, Health and Family Welfare Minister along with employer and employees’ representatives.
- It will co-ordinate between central and State governments, monitor the implementation of social security schemes, regulate funds collected under various social security schemes, among others.
World Bank approves $175 million loan for India’s National Hydrology Project
The World Bank Board approved the USD 175 million for India’s National Hydrology Project to strengthen capacity of institutions to assess water situation in their regions.
- The project is aimed at assisting the institutions in reducing the vulnerability to recurring flood and droughts.
- The loan has been issued from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) with maturity of 23 years. It also has a six-year grace period in which no interest payments will be due.
About the National Hydrology Project:
- NHP was approved by the Union cabinet in April 2016 as a central sector scheme with a total outlay of Rs 3679 crore.
- Later it was approved by the World Bank Board. Of the total fund, Rs 3,640 crore will be spent for the national project, remaining Rs 39 crore will be used to establish National Water Informatics Centre (NWIC) as a repository of nation-wide water resources data.
- The National Hydrology Project will scale up the successes achieved under Hydrology Project-I and Hydrology Project-II to cover the entire country including the states of Ganga and Brahmaputra-Barak basins.
- Earlier Project-I and Project-II were limited only to large river systems viz. Krishna and Satluj-Beas. They had established real-time flood forecast systems to give reservoir managers an accurate picture of the water situation in their region.
- The early forecast had increased the time available for early flood warnings and improved flood management preparation from hours to days, saving hundreds of lives and avoided flood damages of $65 million a year.
- National Flood Forecasting Systems with an advance warning system and reservoir operation systems as well as water resources accounting in river basins will be included under the project.
- Sensors in the field will instantly transmit this information to data centres through satellite or mobile phone technology to form a clear picture of the water situation unfolding in the region.
Benefits from this project:
- Apart from benefitting the states in further upgrading and completing their monitoring networks, it will also help new states to better manage water flows from the reservoirs.
- It will have the potential to help communities to build resilience against possible uncertainties of climate change.
- It will also help the states to monitor all the important aspects of the hydro-meteorological cycle and adopt the procedures to measure how much rain or snow has fallen right in the catchments of rivers, how much silt has built up, and how much water will reach the reservoir.
Environment & Ecology
First “Pristine air-quality monitoring station at Palampur”
National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has established an atmospheric monitoring station in the campus of Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT) at Palampur (Himachal Pradesh).
- The station is placed at an altitude of 1391 m for generating the base data for atmospheric trace species & properties to serve as reference for comparison of polluted atmosphere in India.
- The station houses calibrated state-of-the-art-equipment for the continuous measurements of ambient and greenhouse gases (CO, NO, NO2, NH3, SO2, O3, PM1, PM2.5, PM10, hydrocarbons, black-carbon, CO2 & CH4), and weather parameters.
Significance of this station:
- Because of Palampur’s pristine air, and the capability of the new monitoring station for detection of small amounts of pollutants, the impact of faraway pollution sources can be measured precisely.
- In addition, this new station has the experimental facilities to investigate the aerosol/cloud interactions, and such investigations would be helpful in generating a better understanding of the Earth’s climate system.
- The data generated by pristine station at Palampur will act as background data for the measured pollution at various cities in the country. The generated background data will be shared with different pollution control boards and agencies in the country so that the more precise pollution mapping traceable to standard values can be done, which in turn, would assist policy decisions for the abatement of air pollutants.
- In India, air quality parameters are mostly measured in industrial and residential areas, however, data for air quality of pristine atmosphere is not available in India. NPL’s station will contribute to fill this important gap.
- The NPL’s station will also serve as a base station for inter-comparison of air quality monitoring equipment being used in India to improve quality of monitored data in India.
Bilateral & International Relations
India signs WHO’s ‘call for action’, pledging to end TB in South East Asian region by 2030
Health ministers from countries in WHO South-East Asia Region (WHO SEARO), which bear half the global TB burden, have signed World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Call To end Tuberculosis (TB) by 2030 in the region during two-day ministerial meeting held in New Delhi.
- India along with other countries in the South East Asian Region have also signed it.
- WHO SEARO countries have pledged to scale-up efforts and implement adequately funded, innovative, multi-sectoral and comprehensive measures to achieve the global target to end the disease by 2030.
- They also agreed to set up of a ‘regional innovation to implementation fund’ for accelerated sharing of knowledge, intellectual resources and innovations to reach out and treat all cases.
- Call To End TB by 2030 initiative also stresses on increasing government and partner budgetary allocations to enable national TB plans to be fully funded.
- The WHO global targets seek to reduce TB mortality by 90% and incidence by 80% by 2030.
- WHO South East Asian Region bears half of the global tuberculosis burden.
- Six of the region’s countries Bangladesh, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand are among the 30 high TB burden nations globally.
- In 2015, TB caused estimated 4.74 million new TB cases were reported in the region and nearly 8,00,000 deaths.
- India represents the single highest number of TB cases in the world reporting 2.8 million new TB cases annually and nearly half a million deaths due to the disease.
- WHO’s South-East Asia Region (WHO SEARO) comprises Bhutan, Bangladesh, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
Indian drugmakers face squeeze in U.S. healthcare market
India’s small and medium-sized generic drugmakers say the threat of tougher rules and higher barriers for outsiders in the U.S. healthcare market will force many to find a niche or focus their expansion efforts on other countries.
- India supplies nearly a third of medicines sold in the United States, the world’s largest healthcare market.
What are the key concerns for India’s generic drugmakers?
- Cut-price generics sold by India’s small- and medium-sized drugmakers have been critical in bringing down prices in U.S.
- A more protectionist stance by President Donald Trump, with the prospect of import tariffs and the U.S. boosting local drug manufacturing, mean the operating environment for smaller generic players will get worse.
- The risks come as U.S. revenue growth for these firms is falling.
- Consolidation among U.S. drugs distributors and a federal investigation into drug pricing have also reduced the pricing power of drugsmakers.
- The U.S. drugs regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, has also banned dozens of Indian drug factories from supplying the U.S. market following inspections that found inadequate quality-control practices. Companies have invested significant sums to raise their quality standards.
- Smaller companies with a few regular products and no long-term vision for the United States won’t last. Even with a vision, the U.S. market is just getting tougher for companies to operate in.
India, Brazil conclude social security agreement
India and Brazil signed a social security agreement in Brazil’s capital Brasilia, exempting detached workers of the two countries from making social security contribution in either country, as long as they were making such contributions in their own respective nations.
- It will be the first such agreement between the BRICS countries.
- It will come in force by early 2018 after it is ratified.
Who are detached workers?
- They are the workers sent by their respective employers to work in the office of their company or an affiliated one located in a different country.
- The agreement establishes the rights and obligations of nationals belonging to both the countries and provides for their equal treatment and unrestricted payment of pensions even in the case of residence in the other contracting state.
- The requirements to be entitled for pension can be met by aggregating the periods of insurance completed in India and Brazil, whereby each country pays only the pension for the insurance periods covered by its laws.
Significance of this agreement:
- Once SSA between Brazil and India is brought into force, it will favourably impact the profitability and competitive position of companies of both countries with foreign operations in either countries by reducing their cost of doing business abroad.
- It will also help promote more investment flows between the two countries.
This SSA takes forward the spirit of Goa Declaration adopted at 8th BRICS Summit, outcomes of the meetings of BRICS Labour & Employment Ministers held in June 2016 in Geneva and September 2016 in New Delhi.
So far, India has signed and operationalized Social Security Agreements (SSAs) with 18 countries. They are Australia, Belgium, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and South Korea.[Ref: Economic Times]
ICRISAT, ICAR join hands for crop improvement
In a bid to benefit small farmers in India and globally, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) would work together on crop improvement and agronomy programmes for grain legumes and dryland cereals.
- The agreement has identified climate smart crops, smart food and digitalisation of breeding database as some of the core areas of research.
- The other areas of focus include developing genetic and genomic resources of finger millet and enhancing genetic gains for priority traits, integrating systems modelling tools for upscaling climate resilient agriculture.
- On crop improvement front, it will facilitate research on pigeonpea and chickpea for insect resistance. Dryland cereals and grain legumes are branded as smart foods.
- The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT) is a non-profit agricultural research organization headquartered in Patancheru in Hyderabad, Telangana.
- It was founded in 1972 by a consortium of organizations convened by the Ford and the Rockefeller Foundations.
- Its charter was signed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
- It has several regional centres around globe- Niamey (Nigeria), Nairobi (Kenya) and research stations Bamako (Mali), Bulawayo (Zimbabwe).
- Since its inception, India has granted special status to ICRISAT as a UN Organization operating in the Indian Territory making it eligible for special immunities and tax privileges.
Defence & Security Issues
29 lakh debit cards subjected to malware attack: Government
In a written reply to the Lok Sabha, the Union Government has announced that total of 29 lakh debit cards were subjected to malware attack in through ATMs that were connected with the switch of Hitachi.
- As reported by commercial banks, 29 lakh cards used at ATMs that were connected to switch of Hitachi were subjected to malware attack.
- However, the successful attempts of misuse of compromised cards reported to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) by banks was only 3,291.
Steps taken after security breach:
- The Hitachi Payment Services (HPS) had appointed SISA Infosec for The Payment Card Industry (PCI) forensic investigation.
- The National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) had not carried out independent investigation.
- The forensic report suggested that the only ATM infrastructure of HPS was breached and not the POS (point of sale) infrastructure.
- RBI had advised banks to improve and maintain customer awareness and education with regard to cyber security risks.
- RBI also has set up a Cyber Security and IT Examination (CSITE) Cell within its Department of Banking Supervision in 2015.
- The central bank also had issued a comprehensive circular in June 2016 covering best practices pertaining to various aspects of cyber security.
- It had instructions on banks cyber-security framework, asking them to put in place a board-approved cyber security policy, make arrangement for continuous surveillance and prepare a cyber-crisis management plan.
Parliamentary panel fumes as NATGRID posts remain vacant
A parliamentary panel has asked the Home Ministry to re-publicise the vacant NATGRID posts and offer remuneration commensurate with that of the private sector to attract the most qualified professionals.
What’s the issue?
The Union Home Ministry recently informed a parliamentary panel that it couldn’t get qualified IT professionals to fill 35 posts in the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), an ambitious intelligence project conceptualised by the United Progressive Alliance government after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.
Observations made by the committee:
The committee observed that:
- In a country like India, known worldwide for its highly skilled IT professionals, it is simply not acceptable that the non-availability of professionals was the reason for not filling the 35 posts of consultants.
- Either the Ministry had failed to publicise the posts widely or the remuneration being offered was not attractive enough.”
What is National Intelligence Grid or NATGRID?
- Conceived in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) is a centralised agency which stores sensitive personal information on citizens from almost two dozen agencies to be made available for counter-terror investigations.
- It is a counter terrorism measure that collects and collates a host of information from government databases including tax and bank account details, credit card transactions, visa and immigration records and itineraries of rail and air travel.
- The grid will provide an intelligence database that would have networked 21 sets of data sources to provide quick and secure access of information to about 10 intelligence and law-enforcement agencies including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and R&AW.
In what ways, it is different from NIA and NCTC:
- The National Investigating Agency and the National Counter Terrorism Centre are two organisations established in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
- Unlike the NCTC and the NIA which are central organisations, the NATGRID is essentially a tool that enables security agencies to locate and obtain relevant information on terror suspects from pooled data of various organisations and services in the country.
- It will help identify, capture and prosecute terrorists and help pre-empt terrorist plots.
Criticisms of NATGRID:
- NATGRID faced opposition on charges of possible violations of privacy and leakage of confidential personal information.
- Its efficacy in preventing terror has also been questioned given that no state agency or police force has access to its database thus reducing chances of immediate, effective action.
- NATGRID claims to be protected by several structural and procedural safeguards and oversight mechanisms including that of external audits and technology safeguards.