Polity & Governance
- New coal linkage plan ‘Shakti’
- Cabinet approves Pan-India implementation of Maternity Benefit Program
- Cabinet approves amendment of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971
- Government approves pharma mission to develop bio pharmaceuticals
- Cabinet clears proposal to build 10 atomic reactors
Bilateral & International Relations
- Cabinet nod for signing of convention on base erosion and profit shifting
Defence & Security Issues
- IB-like secrecy norms to be imposed on NTRO staff
Key Facts for Prelims
- NITI Aayog Conducts First Samavesh Meeting
- Indian Agricultural Research Institute (lARI) in Assam
- Dan David Prize
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Polity & Governance
New coal linkage plan ‘Shakti’
Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved a new coal linkage policy ‘Shakti’ to ensure an adequate supply of the fuel to power plants through reverse auction.
- Shakti (Scheme for Harnessing and Allocating of Koyala Transparently in India) has been envisaged to make optimal allocation of the natural resource across power units.
- The new coal linkage policy for power plants will help producers ensure fuel supplies in an organised manner.
Need of the policy:
- The government’s initiatives as well as international market conditions have helped bring down price of the dry fuel and boosted domestic production. But a mechanism is required for providing coal linkages to power plants at competitive rates. The new policy will address this concern and put in place a proper mechanism for sourcing of the dry fuel by the power plants as per their schedules.
- Coal linkage policy is a policy designated by the union government for the allocation of coal among thermal power plants. Inadequate availability of domestic coal coupled with high price for imported coal requires the government to allocate the available coal rationally among the power plants. This is especially necessary as the coal producing firms are public sector companies. Also, the pricing of coal is an another important issue. In this context, the government designates coal linkage policies to allocate coal among different thermal power plants.
Cabinet approves Pan-India implementation of Maternity Benefit Program
The Union Cabinet has given ex-post facto approval to Pan-India implementation of Maternity Benefit Program which now has been extended to all districts of the country.
- The total cost of the proposal for the period from 1 January 2017 to 31 March 2020 including Central and State Government share is Rs. 12,661 crore.
About the Maternity Benefit Program:
- The Maternity Benefit Program will provide compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives so that the women can take adequate rest before and after delivery and not be deprived of proper nutrition.
- It is a centrally sponsored scheme and the cost sharing between Centre and states is 60:40 for all the states and union territories (with legislature), 90:10 for NER and Himalayan States and 100% Centre share for union territories without legislatures.
Objective of the Scheme:
- To provide partial compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives so that the woman can take adequate rest before and after delivery of the first living child.
- The cash incentives provided would lead to improved health seeking behaviour amongst the Pregnant Women and Lactating Mother (PW&LM) to reduce the effects of under-nutrition namely stunting, wasting and other related problems.
- All eligible Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers (PW&LM), excluding the Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers who are in regular employment with the Central Government or State Government or Public Sector Undertakings or those who are in receipt of similar benefits under any law for the time being.
- It has been decided to give the benefit of Rs.5000/- to PW&LM in three installment for the birth of the first live child by MWCD and the remaining cash incentive as per approved norms towards Maternity Benefit under existing programmes after institutional delivery so that on an average, a woman will get ₹6000/-.
- The conditional cash transfer scheme would be in DBT mode.
Significance of this scheme:
Normally, the first pregnancy of a woman exposes her to new kinds of challenges and stress factors.
- Hence, the scheme intends to provide support to the mother for safe delivery and immunization of her first living child.
- The improved health care seeking behaviour of the PW&LM would lead to better health status for the mother and the child.
Cabinet approves amendment of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971
The Union Cabinet on 17 May 2017 approved the amendment in Section 2 and Section 3 of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971.
- The Government of India has to evict unauthorized occupants from Government accommodations under the provisions of PPE Act, 1971. However, the eviction proceedings take unusually long time, thereby reducing the availability of govt. accommodations to new incumbents.
What are the amendments:
- Insertion of the definition of ‘residential accommodation occupation’ in a new clause in section 2 of the Act.
- Insertion of provisions relating to eviction from residential accommodation occupation in a new sub-section 3B below sub-section 3A of Section 3 of the Act.
Powers under the amendments:
- The amendments would enable the Estate officer to apply summary proceedings for evicting unauthorised occupants from residential accommodations allotted to them for a fixed term or for a period they hold office.
- Non-vacation of such residences leads to unavailability of houses for those who assume the new office.
- Now, the Estate officer could make an order for the eviction of such persons immediately following the newly proposed procedures instead of adhering to the previous elaborate procedures.
- If the concerned people fail or refuse to comply with the said order of eviction, the Estate Officer may evict them from the premises and take possession, using force if required.
Who are the beneficiaries?
- The beneficiaries include the employees of the Central Government offices who are eligible for General Pool Residential Accommodation (GPRA) and waiting for the maturity of their turn.
Significance of these amendments:
- The amendment will facilitate smooth and speedy eviction of unauthorised occupants from government residences.
Government approves pharma mission to develop bio pharmaceuticals
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved a collaborative mission between industry and academia called ‘Innovate in India empowering biotech entrepreneurs and accelerating inclusive innovation’.
- The mission is aimed at accelerating research for early development of bio-pharmaceuticals.
Key features of the mission:
- The mission would attract an investment of Rs 1,500 crore from the central government over a period of five years. Half of the funding would be funded through a loan from World Bank.
- The mission will be implemented by Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a public sector undertaking working under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
- The mission will focus on key areas that would supplement country’s technological and product development capabilities in the biopharmaceutical sector to enable the sector to become globally competitive over the next 10-15 years.
- The mission will concentrate on development of specific products such as vaccines, biotherapeutics, medical devices and diagnostics etc.
- Besides, the mission will also work on establishment of shared infrastructure and facilities.
- The mission will help in building and strengthening domain specific knowledge and management skills at the same time creating and enhancing technology transfer capabilities in public and private sector.
- The significance of the mission lies in the fact that National Biotechnology Development Strategy 2015-2020 announced by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) lays emphasis on making the country achieve USD 100 billion biotech industry by 2025.
Cabinet clears proposal to build 10 atomic reactors
In a significant decision to fast-track India’s domestic nuclear power programme, and give a push to country’s nuclear industry, the Union Cabinet has given its approval for construction of 10 units of India’s indigenous Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR).
- The 10 PHWR project will result in a significant augmentation of nuclear power generation capacity. With this, the total installed capacity of the Plants will be 7000 MW.
- The ten reactors will be part of India’s latest design of 700 MW PHWR fleet with state-of-art technology meeting the highest standards of safety.
Significance of this move:
- This Project will bring about substantial economies of scale and maximise cost and time efficiencies by adopting fleet mode for execution.
- It is expected to generate more than 33,400 jobs in direct and indirect employment.
- With manufacturing orders to domestic industry, it will be a major step towards strengthening India’s credentials as a major nuclear manufacturing powerhouse.
- It also supports India’s commitment to sustainable development, energy self-sufficiency and bolsters global efforts to combat climate change.
- India has current installed nuclear power capacity of 6780 MW from 22 operational plants. Another 6700 MWs of nuclear power is expected to come onstream by 2021-22 through projects presently under construction.
Bilateral & International Relations
Cabinet nod for signing of convention on base erosion and profit shifting
Claiming that the revision of bilateral pacts could be cumbersome, the Union Cabinet in a “historic” decision approved the signing of multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS).
Why government ratified this convention?
- There are more than 3000 bilateral treaties, which would not have been practical to attempt revise them and hence the government has decided to ratify the multilateral agreement.
- Moreover, the convention has been arrived at after long deliberations within the G20 and OECD. Once it comes in force, the gaps in tax rules of different countries could not be exploited to shift the profit by companies.
What is Base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS)?
- BEPS refers to tax planning strategies used by multinational companies, that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax locations where there is little or no economic activity, resulting in little or no overall corporate tax being paid.
- The project headed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was initiated by the G20 in 2012.
- The inclusive framework brings together over 100 countries and jurisdictions to collaborate on the implementation of the OECD/ G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Package.
- Developing countries have been engaged since the beginning of the BEPS Project.
About the multilateral convention:
- The Convention is an outcome of the OECD / G20 BEPS Project.
- The Convention implements two minimum standards relating to prevention of treaty abuse and dispute resolution through Mutual Agreement Procedure.
- The Convention will not function in the same way as an Amending Protocol to a single existing treaty, which would directly amend the text of the Covered Tax Agreements. Instead, it will be applied alongside existing tax treaties, modifying their application in order to implement the BEPS measures.
- The Convention ensures consistency and certainty in the implementation of the BEPS Project in a multilateral context.
- The Convention also provides flexibility to exclude a specific tax treaty and to opt out of provisions or parts of provisions through making of reservations.
- A list of Covered Tax Agreements as well as a list of reservations and options chosen by a country are required to be made at the time of signature or when depositing the instrument of ratification.
How India will be benefited?
- Signing of the Multilateral Convention will enable the application of BEPS outcomes through modification of existing tax treaties of India in a swift manner.
- It is also in India’s interest to ensure that all its treaty partners adopt the BEPS anti-abuse outcomes.
- Signing of the Convention will enable curbing of revenue loss through treaty abuse and base erosion and profit shifting strategies by ensuring that profits are taxed where substantive economic activities generating the profits are carried out and where value is created.
Defence & Security Issues
IB-like secrecy norms to be imposed on NTRO staff
The Home Ministry has issued a notification listing NTRO under The Intelligence Organisations (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1985, a demand being made by the organisation for over a decade now.
- Under the notification, National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) will now be bound by secrecy norms just like Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research & Analyses Wing (RAW), with its staff restricted from speaking about the structure and functioning of the organisation.
About Intelligence Organisations (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1985:
- The act was first passed in Parliament in 1985 to regulate intelligence agencies, to ensure that intelligence personnel do not spill the beans and embarrass the government of the day.
Implications of this move:
- The inclusion of NTRO in the Schedule under the Intelligence Organisations (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1985 will inslulate it from answering queries under the Right to Information Act.
- The agency can decline RTI queries on its structure, functioning, personnel and organisation affairs by invoking Section 6 of the Act.
- Under Section 6 of the Intelligence Organisations (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1985, no member of a scheduled intelligence agency can communicate with the press or publish or cause to be published any book, letter, pamphlet, poster or other document except with the prior permission of the head of the intelligence organisation.
- The member also cannot use the name of his organisation for purposes not authorised by the head or in any other manner except for purposes relating to the official work and functioning of the organisation itself.
- Any person who contravenes the aforesaid provisions will be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to Rs 2,000 or with both.
What is NTRO?
- Set up after the 1999 Kargil conflict, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) is an Indian technical intelligence agency.
- The NTRO acts as the primary advisor on security issues to the Prime Minister and the Union Council of Ministers of India.
- It reports to the PMO and the NSA.
- It also provides technical intelligence to other Indian agencies.
- NTRO’s activities include satellite and terrestrial monitoring. It cannot, however, legally monitor Internet or other communications; there are nine other agencies authorized to do so.
- NTRO is also charged with developing technology relevant to Indian national security and intelligence. These technologies include cryptology, cybersecurity and data management.
- The IB and the R&AW had earlier opposed the inclusion of any other organisation in the list of monitoring agencies under the Act, following which the Home Ministry declined to grant powers to NTRO to monitor phones.
- NTRO has been making presentations and demanding that they shall be included on the list as they have the right to lawfully intercept and monitor communications externally.
Key Facts for Prelims
NITI Aayog Conducts First Samavesh Meeting
- NITI Aayog has conducted the first Samavesh meeting of the National Steering Group and other knowledge partners under the co-chairmanship of Amitabh Kant, CEO and Ratan P Watal, Principal Adviser, NITI Aayog.
- The meeting was also attended by representatives of four States- Kerala, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
- The objective of the meeting was to bring together 32 premier educational and policy research institutions to boost the development process, improve institutional capacity and forge a field level interface with the community in pursuance with the Prime Minister’s call for a New India 2022.
Indian Agricultural Research Institute (lARI) in Assam
- The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved the setting up of Indian Agricultural Research Institute (lARI) in Assam.
- lARI-Assam would be a Post-Graduate Institution of higher learning in Agricultural Education.
- It will have the hallmark identity of an IARI including all sectors of agriculture like field crops, horticultural crops, agro-forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries, poultry, piggery, silk rearing, honey production, etc.
- It will be an off-campus of IARI, New Delhi and integrated multi-disciplinary research would be undertaken in school mode i.e. Schools of Crop Sciences, Natural Resource Management, and Animal Sciences & Fisheries.
Dan David Prize
- Indian scientist Shrinivas Kulkarni has won the prestigious Dan David prize as a recognition for his contributions made in the field of astronomy.
- He is a pioneer in the field of time-domain astrophysics.
- He has been credited for building and conducting the Palomar Transient Factory, which is a large-area survey of the night sky that has turned up with thousands of stellar explosions.
- The Dan David Foundation was established in 2000 by the late Dan David, an international businessman and philanthropist.
- Three Dan David prizes of $1 million each are awarded each year in the categories of “Past,” “Present” and “Future” to people who have made exemplary contributions to humanity in the field of sciences, humanities, or for their work in civil society.