Polity & Governance
- Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-third Amendment) Bill 2017 and National Commission for Backward Classes (Repeal) Bill, 2017
- Cabinet approves permission to avail external assistance by State Government entities from bilateral agencies
- The Government decides to do away with beacons for all categories of vehicles
Bilateral & International Relations
- India, China to resume stalled dialogue on corridor with Myanmar, Bangladesh
Science & Technology
- A frog’s mucus could treat flu
Key Facts for Prelims
- April 19: Aryabhata Day or Satellite Technology Day
- Sahitya Akademi award for translation in English
Polity & Governance
Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-third Amendment) Bill 2017 and National Commission for Backward Classes (Repeal) Bill, 2017
The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister has given Ex-post facto approval for introduction of the following bills in the Parliament:
Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-third Amendment) Bill 2017:
- Constitution of a Commission under Article 338B for socially and educationally backward classes by name of National Commission for Backward Classes.
- Insertion of Clause (26C) under Article 366 with modified definition viz. “socially and educationally backward classes” means such backward classes as are so deemed under Article 342A for the purpose, this Constitution.
National Commission for Backward Classes (Repeal) Bill, 2017.
- Repeal of the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993 along with Savings Clause for namely the National Commission for Backward Classes (Repeal) Bill, 2017.
- Dissolution of the National Commission for Backward Classes with effect from such date as the Central Government may appoint in this behalf and the National Commission for Backward Classes constituted under sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the said Act shall stand dissolved.
- The proposed Act of repeal is necessary in view of setting up of the National Commission for Backward Classes by insertion of Article 338B of the Constitution.
- The decision will also enable effecting continuity in the functioning of the National Commission for Backward Classes under Article 338B.
Cabinet approves permission to avail external assistance by State Government entities from bilateral agencies
The Union Cabinet has approved the policy guidelines to permit financially sound State Government entities to borrow directly from bilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA) partners for the purpose of implementing vital infrastructure projects.
- The approval is subject to fulfilment of certain conditions and all repayments of loans and interests to the funding agencies.
- Major infrastructure projects of several State entities have huge funding requirements, and borrowing of the State Governments for implementing such projects exhausts their respective borrowing limits.
- Therefore, it was considered necessary to facilitate direct borrowing by the State Government entities from bilateral external agencies.
- As per the new guidelines, State entities can directly borrow and repay the loan without burdening the State exchequer.
At present, external assistance from bilateral and multilateral sources is received by the union government for:
- projects/programmes in the Central sector;
- projects executed by Central Public Sector Undertakings;
- on behalf of the State Governments for State sector projects/programmes implemented by the State Governments and/or local bodies and public sector undertakings.
The existing guidelines prohibit State Government from borrowing directly from external agencies.
In addition, the amount borrowed by the state governments would become a part of their Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM).
Highlights of new guidelines:
- The State government which gets the loan will furnish guarantee for the loan and the Government of India will provide counter guarantee for the loan.
- The state entities can directly approach bilateral agencies and the funding would not fall under state FRBM target.
- The eligibility criteria for state entities would be a revenue of over Rs 1,000 crore. In case of infrastructure projects, the cost criteria will be Rs 5,000 crore.
The Government decides to do away with beacons for all categories of vehicles
The Union Cabinet has put a ban on the use of red beacons atop cars of VIPs.
- The decision will come into force from May 1, 2017.
- In effect, the ban is applicable to the prime minister, union ministers, chief ministers, state cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and judges of the High Court and Supreme Court.
- Only three categories were exempted from the ban. They are the President, Vice-President and Chief Justice of India.
- The exemption also applies to the emergency service vehicles. Accordingly, fire brigade, ambulance services, police vehicles and other emergency services will be allowed to use the blue beacon.
- Amendments in this regard will be made in the Central Motor Vehicles Rules of 1989.
- A specific clause in Rule 108 of the 1989 regulations, which empowers the Centre and the States to designate some dignitaries as entitled to red lights on top of their vehicles, is being abolished.
- Its abolition would mean that neither the Centre nor the States would have any dignitary that governments can nominate for the usage of red beacons.
- Beacons on vehicles are perceived symbols of VIP Culture, and the government believes they have no place in a democratic country.
- The Supreme Court in 2013 directed States to amend the Motor Vehicle Rules to restrict the use of the red beacon. It had stated that only constitutional authorities should be allowed to use the red beacon.
Bilateral & International Relations
India, China to resume stalled dialogue on corridor with Myanmar, Bangladesh
The stalled consultation process for the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) Economic Corridor is set to resume, with officials and scholars from the four countries shortly meeting in Kolkata after a gap of more than two-and-half years.
- The last meeting of the Joint Study Group (JSG), which has government sanction, was held at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh in December 2014.
- The idea of creating a corridor of regional integrity was first floated in 1999 but there has been little progress in implementing the grand plan.
- Officially, China and India say the process of finalising the BCIM is not easy because of several reasons, including the restive nature of the region the planned corridor will pass through.
- Privately, diplomats and bureaucrats from the two countries blame each other for the tardy progress.
The Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM) is a sub-regional organisation of four Asian nations.
- It aims at greater integration of trade and investment between the four countries.
- The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor meant to industrialise a stretch — spanning more than 2,000-km — linking Kunming in China with Mandalay in Myanmar, passing through Bangladesh, and ending at Kolkata in India.
- The multi-modal corridor will be the first expressway between India and China and will pass through Myanmar and Bangladesh.
- The economic advantages of the BCIM trade corridor are considerable, most notably include access to numerous markets in Southeast Asia, improvement of transportation infrastructure and creation of industrial zones.
Science & Technology
A frog’s mucus could treat flu
Researchers have found that skin mucus secreted by a colourful, tennis ball-sized frog species- Hydrophylax bahuvistara, found in Kerala can be used to develop an anti-viral drug that can treat various strains of flu.
- The secretion from frog contains peptide, or chain of amino acids.
- The researchers have named the newly identified peptide “urumin” after the urumi, a sword with a flexible blade that snaps and bends like a whip.
- Urumin is not toxic to mammals, but “appears to only disrupt the integrity of flu virus”.
- It seems to work by binding to a protein that is identical across many influenza strains, and in lab experiments, it was able to neutralise dozens of flu strains.
- More research is needed to determine if urumin could become a preventive treatment against the flu in humans, and to see if other frog-derived peptides could protect against viruses like dengue and Zika.
Key Facts for Prelims
April 19: Aryabhata Day or Satellite Technology Day
- India’s first satellite – Aryabhata – was launched successfully by a Russian rocket on 19th April 42 years ago in 1975, taking the country on an exciting space odyssey as far as the Moon and the Mars.
- Aryabhata is the first Indian spacecraft that was also built in the country.
- Named after the 5th century astronomer, the experimental spacecraft did not last its design life of six months in space. But this kick-started the Indian capability to build satellites solidly on track.
- It was meant to study distant celestial bodies that emit X-rays, Sun and Earth’s ionosphere.
- ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) — which has built nearly 90 bigger and far more sophisticated spacecraft since then — proudly observes April 19 every year as Aryabhata Day or Technology Day.
Sahitya Akademi award for translation in English
- The English translation of writer Perumal Murugan’s novel Mathorubhagan (One Part Woman) has won the Sahitya Akademi’s award for translation in English. The translation was done by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.
- Sahitya Akademi Award is conferred annually on writers of outstanding works in one of the twenty-four major Indian languages (22 Scheduled Languages+ English and Rajasthani).
- The award consists of a casket containing an engraved copper-plaque, a shawl and a cheque of 1 Lakh rupees.