Government Schemes & Policies
- LS passes Homoeopathy Central Council Amendment Bill, 2018
- Rajasthan first State to implement biofuel policy
Issues related to Health & Education
- Common Service Centers to help in implementation of Ayushman Bharat
- India Post Payments Bank to start operations soon with 650 branch
Bilateral & International Relations
- US gives India Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 status
Science & Technology
- Scientists discover new geometric shape – the ‘scutoid’
- NASA’s new planet hunting probe, TESS, begins operations
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Government Schemes & Policies
LS passes Homoeopathy Central Council Amendment Bill, 2018
Lok Sabha has passed the Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill 2018.
- It seeks to replace the Central Council of Homoeopathy (CCH) with a board of governors and is aimed at bringing accountability and quality in homeopathy education system.
Key features of the Bill:
Supersession of the Central Council:
- It amends the 1973 Act to provide for the supersession of the Central Council with effect from May 18, 2018.
- The Central Council will be reconstituted within one year from the date of its supersession.
- In the interim period, the central government will constitute a Board of Governors, which will exercise the powers of the Central Council.
Board of Governors:
- The Board of Governors will consist of up to seven members including: (i) persons of eminence in the field of homoeopathy education, and (ii) eminent administrators, appointed by the central government.
- The central government will select one of these members as the Chairperson of the Board. With regard to policy decisions, the directions of the central government will be final.
Permission for existing homoeopathy colleges:
- The Bill states that: (i) if any person has established a homoeopathy medical college, or (ii) if an established homoeopathy medical college has opened new courses or increased its admission capacity before the Ordinance was promulgated, it will have to seek permission from the central government within one year.
- If the person or homoeopathy medical college fails to seek such permission, then any medical qualification granted to a student from such medical college will not be recognised under the Act.
Rajasthan first State to implement biofuel policy
Rajasthan has become the first State in the country to implement the national policy on biofuels.
- The policy lays emphasis on increasing production of oilseeds and establish a Centre for Excellence in Udaipur to promote research in the fields of alternative fuels and energy resources.
- In May 2018, the Union Cabinet has approved National Policy on Biofuels – 2018 in order to promote biofuels in the country.
Salient Features of the policy:
- The Policy categorises biofuels as “Basic Biofuels” viz. First Generation (1G) bioethanol & biodiesel and “Advanced Biofuels” – Second Generation (2G) ethanol, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to drop-in fuels, Third Generation (3G) biofuels, bio-CNG etc. to enable extension of appropriate financial and fiscal incentives under each category.
Scope of raw materials:
- The Policy expands the scope of raw material for ethanol production by allowing use of Sugarcane Juice, Sugar containing materials like Sugar Beet, Sweet Sorghum, Starch containing materials like Corn, Cassava, Damaged food grains like wheat, broken rice, Rotten Potatoes, unfit for human consumption for ethanol production.
Protection to farmers:
- Farmers are at a risk of not getting appropriate price for their produce during the surplus production phase. Taking this into account, the Policy allows use of surplus food grains for production of ethanol for blending with petrol with the approval of National Biofuel Coordination Committee.
Viability gap funding:
- With a thrust on Advanced Biofuels, the Policy indicates a viability gap funding scheme for 2G ethanol Bio refineries of Rs.5000 crore in 6 years in addition to additional tax incentives, higher purchase price as compared to 1G biofuels.
Boost to biodiesel production:
- The Policy encourages setting up of supply chain mechanisms for biodiesel production from non-edible oilseeds, Used Cooking Oil, short gestation crops.
- The policy aims at reducing import dependency.
- By reducing crop burning & conversion of agricultural residues/wastes to biofuels there will be further reduction in Green House Gas emissions.
- Prolonged reuse of Cooking Oil for preparing food, particularly in deep-frying is a potential health hazard and can lead to many diseases. Used Cooking Oil is a potential feedstock for biodiesel and its use for making biodiesel will prevent diversion of used cooking oil in the food industry.
- One 100klpd 2G bio refinery can contribute 1200 jobs in Plant Operations, Village Level Entrepreneurs and Supply Chain Management.
Additional Income to Farmers:
- By adopting 2G technologies, agricultural residues/waste which otherwise are burnt by the farmers can be converted to ethanol and can fetch a price for these waste if a market is developed for the same.
Issues related to Health & Education
Common Service Centers to help in implementation of Ayushman Bharat
Common Service Center (CSC) and National Health Accounts (NHA) have signed a memorandum of understand to implement the Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM) through three-lakh CSCs across the country.
Key features of the MoU:
- A beneficiary can now visit the nearby CSC to get the benefit of this scheme and CSC will help the beneficiary to identify his name in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare database and his entitlement for the scheme.
- The CSCs will help the beneficiary to scan/ upload his KYC documents for verification of his/ her identity and claim his/ her entitlement.
- The beneficiary will also have facility to print his/ her Ayushman Scheme card through the centre which will be his/ her base source claim.
- CSCs will also provide requisite information about the scheme and promote the same.
Key Features of AB-NHPM:
- The scheme will integrate two on-going centrally sponsored schemes viz. Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) and Senior Citizen Health Insurance Scheme (SCHIS).
- AB-NHPM aims to target over 10 crore families belonging to poor and vulnerable population based on Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC) database.
- It will cover of Rs 5 lakh per family per year, taking care of almost all secondary care and tertiary care procedures. There will be no cap on family size and age in the scheme.
- It includes pre and post-hospitalisation expenses.
- It will cover all pre-existing conditions from beginning of the policy.
- It will also pay defined transport allowance per hospitalization to the beneficiary.
- The scheme allows the beneficiary to take cashless benefits from any public or private empanelled hospitals across the country.
- The payment for treatment will be done on package rate which will be defined by Government in advance basis. The package rates will include all the costs associated with treatment.
- To ensure that funds reach SHA on time, transfer of funds from Central Government through AB-NHPMA to State Health Agencies may be done through an escrow account directly.
- The scheme will work in partnership with NITI Aayog to operationalise a robust, modular and interoperable IT platform which will involve a paperless and cashless transaction.
- For giving policy directions and fostering coordination between Centre and States, Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission Council (AB-NHPMC) will be set up at apex level. It will be chaired by Union Health and Family Welfare Minister.
- It is entitlement based scheme with entitlement decided on basis of deprivation criteria in SECC database.
- Different categories of families covered under scheme are Families having only one room with kucha walls and kucha roof, families having no adult member between age 16 to 59, female headed households with no adult male member between age 16 to 59, disabled member and no able bodied adult member in family, SC/ST households, landless households deriving major part of their income from manual casual labour.
- It will also automatically include families in rural areas having any one of the following- households without shelter, destitute, living on alms, manual scavenger families, primitive tribal groups or legally released bonded labour.
- For urban areas, 11 defined occupational categories will be entitled under scheme.
- States/UTs will have also flexibility to modify these rates within limited bandwidth. For beneficiaries, it will be cashless and paper less transaction.
- States will be required to form State Health Agency (SHA) to implement scheme and at district level also, a structure for implementation of the scheme will be set up
Role of state governments:
- They will be allowed to expand the scheme both horizontally and vertically. They will be free to choose modalities for implementation.
- They can implement through insurance company or directly through Trust/ Society or a mixed model.
What are the Common Services Centers (CSCs)?
Common Services Centers (CSCs) are a strategic cornerstone of the Digital India programme.
- They are the access points for delivery of various electronic services to villages in India, thereby contributing to a digitally and financially inclusive society.
- CSCs enable the three vision areas of the Digital India programme:
- Digital infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen.
- Governance and services on demand.
- Digital empowerment of citizens.
Significance of the CSCs:
- CSCs are more than service delivery points in rural India. They are positioned as change agents, promoting rural entrepreneurship and building rural capacities and livelihoods.
- They are enablers of community participation and collective action for engendering social change through a bottom-up approach with key focus on the rural citizen.
India Post Payments Bank to start operations soon with 650 branch
To increase banking connectivity, especially in rural areas, the government plans to open branches of India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) all across the country.
- The government will open over 650 branches of the payments bank, which will have access points across 1.5 lakh locations across India.
- Most of these access points — over 1.3 lakh — will be opened in rural areas.
- The initiative will certainly help in bringing untouched rural areas under the banking system, say industry experts.
About the India Post Payments Bank (IPPB)
- The India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) has been incorporated as a public sector company under the Department of Posts with 100% GOI equity.
- IPPB is offering Savings account up to a balance of Rs 1 Lakh, along with digitally enabled payments and remittance services of all kinds between individuals.
- In due course, IPPB will also provide current accounts and access to third party financial services like insurance, mutual funds, pension, credit products, forex, and more.
- IPPB will be headquartered in New Delhi and plans to launch 650 branches across the country by the next year.
- These 650 branches will be linked to rural post offices. [India has 154,000 post offices, of which 139,000 are rural post offices]
- The total corpus of the payments bank is of Rs 800 crore, which will have Rs 400-crore equity and Rs 400-crore grant.
- Its services will be available across the country through these 650 payments bank branches, linked post offices and alternative channels, riding on modern technology including mobiles, ATMs and simple digital payments.
- The payments bank, which will be run by a Chief Executive Officer, would be professionally managed and there would be a representation from various other government departments including the Department of Posts, Department of Expenditure, etc.
At present, the core banking network of post offices is more than that of the country’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI).
About Payments banks:
- Payments banks are a new model of banks conceptualised by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to meet government’s financial inclusion target.
- It will be set up as a differentiated bank and will confine its activities to acceptance of demand deposits, remittance services, Internet banking and other specified services but cannot undertake lending services.
- Payments banks can accept deposits up to Rs. 1 lakh per account from individuals and small businesses.
- Payments banks will mainly deal in remittance services.
- They will not lend to customers and will have to deploy their funds in government papers and bank deposits.
- The promoter’s minimum initial contribution to equity capital will have to be at least 40% for the first five years.
- They can issue ATM/debit cards but not credit cards.
- They can also issue other prepaid payment instruments.
- They can distribute non-risk sharing simple financial products like mutual funds and insurance products.
- Non-resident Indians (NRIs) are not be allowed to open accounts in payment banks.
- Apart from amounts maintained as Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) with the Reserve Bank on its outside demand and time liabilities, it will be required to invest minimum 75% of its “demand deposit balances” in Statutory Liquidity Ratio(SLR) eligible Government securities/treasury bills with maturity up to one year and hold maximum 25% in current and time/fixed deposits with other scheduled commercial banks for operational purposes and liquidity management.
- This new model of banking allows mobile firms, supermarket chains and others to cater to banking requirements of individuals and small businesses.
Difference between Payment Banks and Small Finance Banks:
- The major difference between payment banks and small finance banks is their area of operation. Payment bank can only open savings account and current accounts but cannot lend money while small finance bank’s main aim is to lend money to farmers and small businesses.
- Usually, major earnings of the bank come from interest difference between deposits and lending but payment banks would run on different niche and their earnings would be from the charges levied on transactions. But in case of small finance banks, their source of earnings would be same as of any other scheduled commercial banks.
- Payment banks aims to provide banking through high-technology and low-cost operations while small finance banks may or may not be tech-savvy.
Bilateral & International Relations
US gives India Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 status
The United States has designated India as Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) country.
What is Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA)?
- STA allows for license exception with regards to exports from the US.
- This type of US government authorisation allows a certain item to be exported under defined conditions without a transaction-specific license.
- Currently there are 36 countries on STA-1 list.
- India is only South Asian country to be on the list. Till recently, India was classified as an STA-2 country along with seven others.
- Other Asian countries designated as STA-1 are Japan and South Korea.
Items eligible for export to STA-1 nations:
- Those under control for national security,
- chemical or biological weapons,
- nuclear non-proliferation,
- regional stability,
- crime control
The categories also include electronics, lasers and sensors, information security, computers and electronics, navigation, telecommunications, aerospace, etc.
How will this status benefit India?
- STA-1 provides India with greater supply chain efficiency, both for defence, and for other high-tech products.
- The status eases export controls for high technology product sales to India, granting it the same access as NATO allies — Australia, Japan and South Korea.
- India’s inclusion is beneficial mostly for the purposes of increasing the speed of sale of high-tech defence and non-defence products that are otherwise subjected to strict controls and licensing.
- Now, India can get easy access to latest defence technologies, with the reduction of the number of licenses needed for exports from the US.
- According to analysts, it is also a boost for the foundational Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).
- India and the United States share an interest in countering China’s expanding economic and military weight and the United States has emerged as a top arms supplier to India, selling more than $15 billion of weapons over the past decade as New Delhi modernizes its Soviet-era military.
- Looking at current exports from the US to India, 50% of those are eligible now under STA-1. This can free up $2.1 billion in trade, make US exporters more competitive in the global marketplace, help provide India more advanced US technology.
Science & Technology
Scientists discover new geometric shape – the ‘scutoid’
Scientists have identified new shape called scutoid while studying epithelial cells.
What are epithelial cells?
Epithelial tissue is one of four kinds of tissue that forms human body which acts as safety shield of body that make up cell walls lining our blood vessels and organs.
- The epithelial cells are the construction blocks with which an organism is formed. They are like ‘pieces of Tente or Lego from which animals are made.
- The epithelial cells form structures with multiple functions like forming a barrier against infections or absorbing nutrients.
- During the development of an embryo, it changes from a simple structure formed from only a handful of cells to an animal with very complex organs. This process doesn’t only occur because of the growth of the organism, but also because the epithelial cells start ‘moving and joining together’ to organise themselves correctly and give the organs their final shape.
What is Scutoid?
A scutoid is a solid geometric shape, like a cube or a pyramid, which had not been described until now.
- The epithelial cells adopt this form when the tissue curves, giving it a more stable structure. It could be said that they look like ‘twisted prisms’.
- These new and beautiful shapes are the solution that nature has found to fold and curve the epithelia, which lines the outer surfaces of organs.
- Scutoid shape has five sides on one end and six on the other and a triangular surface on one of its longer edges and it is completely new to geometry and resembles beetle’s scutellum (shield-like structure) from top-down view.
Significance of the discovery:
- This discovery will help to explain how cells arrange themselves in tightly packed three-dimensional (3D) structures that serve as protective barriers in body.
- It will contribute to the field of tissue engineering specifically development of artificial organs.
- It will be useful in other fields beyond biology, such as mathematics and engineering.
NASA’s new planet hunting probe, TESS, begins operations
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission has officially started its science operations.
- Its first observations will be transmitted back to Earth at some point in August, after which it will continue to send in new information for the next two years, at least.
- TESS was launched on April 18th with the help of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which sent the satellite into an elliptical orbit around Earth.
About TESS mission:
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a NASA mission that will look for planets orbiting the brightest stars in Earth’s sky.
- TESS is designed to carry out first spaceborne all-sky transiting exoplanet survey.
- It is equipped with four wide-angle telescopes and associated charge-coupled device (CCD) detectors.
- The mission will monitor at least 200,000 stars for signs of exoplanets, ranging from Earth-sized rocky worlds to huge gas giant planets.
- TESS, however, will focus on stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than those Kepler examined. This will help astronomers better understand the structure of solar systems outside of our Earth, and provide insights into how our own solar system formed.
- TESS will occupy a never-before-used orbit high above Earth. The elliptical orbit, called P/2, is exactly half of the moon’s orbital period; this means that TESS will orbit Earth every 13.7 days.
- Its closest point to Earth (67,000 miles or 108,000 kilometers) is about triple the distance of geosynchronous orbit, where most communications satellites operate.
- It will provide prime targets for further characterization by James Webb Space Telescope, as well as other large ground-based and space-based telescopes of the future.