Polity & Governance
- Companies Amendment Bill passed by Parliament
- Parliament gives nod to IIM Bill
- Lok Sabha passes Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017
Issues related to Health & Education
- Centre examining health effects of e-cigarettes
- Kaleshwaram irrigation project gets environmental nod
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- NITI Aayog evaluating ₹5,000 crore Methanol Economy Fund
Defence & Security Issues
- India has decided to crank up its crackdown against Bitcoins
Science & Technology
- WB considers blockchain technology to protect online records
- ‘Hamesha Vijayee’ exercise
Key Facts for Prelims
- Losar Festival
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Polity & Governance
Companies Amendment Bill passed by Parliament
The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which is aimed at making some major changes to the Companies Act, 2013, was passed in Rajya Sabha by voice vote.
- The bill, which was adopted by the Lok Sabha in July, will now have to receive the assent of the President to become law.
Aim of the bill:
- The bill is aimed at strengthening corporate governance standards, providing for strict action against defaulting companies and improving ease of doing business in the country.
Some of the key amendments proposed by the bill:
- Simplification of the process through which companies raise funds through a private placement of shares.
- Rationalisation of provisions pertaining to loans given to directors of companies
- Replacing the need to get approval from the central government for managerial pay above the prescribed limit, after getting it approved from the company’s shareholders
- Aligning disclosure requirements in the prospectus with SEBI regulations.
- Making it a non-compoundable offence to flout provisions pertaining to deposits.
- The Bill also provides for maintenance of register of significant beneficial owners and makes offence for contravention of provisions relating to deposits as non-compoundable.
- It also provides for stringent penalties in case of non-filing of balance sheet and annual return every year, which will act as deterrent to shell companies. This would facilitate ease of doing business, and result in harmonization with SEBI, RBI and rectify certain omissions and inconsistencies in the existing Act.
Parliament gives nod to IIM Bill
The Lok Sabha passed the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) Bill 2017 to allow them greater autonomy and empower them to grant degrees instead of diplomas as is the practice now.
Key features of the IIM bill:
- IIMs would become institutes of national importance with power to grant degrees.
- The boards of the institutes are proposed to be vested with full autonomy including the power to appoint chairperson as well as the director.
- Power to review the performance of each IIM is also vested with the board.
- Board to be the principal executive body of each institute.
- Chairperson of the board will be appointed by the board for a period of four years.
- Director of each IIM will be appointed by the board for a period of five years via a search-cum-selection panel. Once the bill becomes an act, the board is not required to seek the human resource development ministry’s approval for this.
- The Board will have the power to remove a director.
- The IIMs’ accounts will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
- There will be an IIM Coordination Forum to be notified by the central government. It shall function as an advisory body and will be headed by an eminent person.
- The bill says the central government may frame rules to give additional powers and duties to the IIM Boards and, it will decide the terms and condition of service of directors although the appointment will be made by the board. It will notify the IIM coordination forum to be headed by a eminent person.
- All rules and regulations framed either by the central government or the IIM Boards will need to be tabled in parliament.
Critical Analysis of the bill:
- The bill is not clear on the reservation policy in teacher recruitment at the IIMs. It vaguely mentions “enabling provision allowing reservation in employment”.
- There is also a concern with IIMs being granted the complete control over the fee structure.
- There is a concern that the government would control the IIMs via the coordination forum.
- Besides, the government is fails to clearly spell out the process of appointing the board of governors that will control IIMs now.
- There are now demands for similar independence from government control to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other top schools in the government and private sector.
- It is unclear if there is a plan to extend the enhanced autonomy proposed for IIMs to other higher educational institutions of national importance as well.
Lok Sabha passes Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017
The Lok Sabha has unanimously passed Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
- The Bill seeks to amend the Central Road Fund Act, 2000, through which the cess levied and collected on high speed petrol and diesel is distributed for development of rural roads, national highways, railways, state roads and border area roads.
About Central Road Fund:
- The Central Road Fund was established by the government as per the Central road fund act 2000 to fund the development and maintenance of National Highways, State Highways and Rural roads.
- In order to mobilise the fund, the Central Road Fund Act 2000 proposed to levy and collect by way of cess, a duty of excise and duty of customs on petrol and high speed diesel oil.
- The fund is utilised for the development and maintenance of National highways, State roads, Rural roads and for provision of road overbridges/under bridges and other safety features at unmanned Railway Crossings.
Highlights of the Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017:
Inclusion of inland waterways:
- The Bill defines national waterways as those that have been declared as ‘national waterways’ under the National Waterways Act, 2016.
- Currently, 111 waterways are specified under the 2016 Act.
Utilisation of fund:
- Under the 2000 Act, the fund can be utilised for various road projects including: (i) national highways, (ii) state roads including roads of inter-state and economic importance, and (iii) rural roads.
- The Bill provides that in addition to these the fund will also be used for the development and maintenance of national waterways.
Powers of central government:
- Under the Act, the central government has the power to administer the fund.
- The central government will make decisions on the: (i) investments on national highways and expressways projects, (ii) raising funds for the development and maintenance of national highways, and rural roads, and (iii) disbursement of funds for national highways, state roads and rural roads.
- The Bill provides that central government will make all the above decisions for national waterways as well.
Allocation of cess:
- Under the Act, the cess on high speed diesel oil and petrol is allocated towards different types of roads.
- The Bill seeks to decrease the allocation of cess towards the development and maintenance of national highways from 41.5% to 39%. It allocates 2.5% of the cess towards the development and maintenance of national waterways.
Significance of the bill:
- This is one more step towards promotion of Inland Water Transport sector as a cost effective, logistically efficient and environment friendly sector which would contribute in diverting traffic from the over congested roads and railways and offer an incentive and provide certainty for private companies to invest in the sector.
Issues related to Health & Education
Centre examining health effects of e-cigarettes
The government is examining the legal implications and health effects of e-cigarettes.
- The Health Ministry had constituted three groups to study the various aspects of e-cigarettes. One was to study the legal implications of this e-nicotine drug induce system, another was to go into the health effects and the other was to study advocacy.
All about E-cigarettes:[Read IASToppers Exclusive G.S. Slide Notes on ‘E-cigarettes’ at http://www.iastoppers.com/e-cigarettes-beneficial-injurious-health2/] [Ref: The Hindu]
Kaleshwaram irrigation project gets environmental nod
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has accorded environmental clearance for Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project (KLIP) in Telangana.
- The project is to build at estimated to cost about Rs. 80,499.7 crore and proposed to be completed in three years. It is the costliest irrigation project to be taken up by any state in the country.
About Kaleshwaram irrigation project:
The Kaleshwaram project is an off-shoot of the original Pranahitha-Chevella Lift Irrigation Scheme taken up by the Congress government in 2007 when Andhra Pradesh was not divided.
- After the formation of Telangana in 2014, the TRS government redesigned the project on the ground that the original plan had too many environmental obstacles and had very low water storage provision — only about 16.5 tmc ft.
- After conducting a highly advanced Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) survey for a couple of months, the government separated the original component serving the Adilabad area as the Pranahitha project and renamed the rest as Kaleshwaram by redesigning the head works, storage capacity and the canal system based on the data of availability of water at different locations along the course of the Godavari and its tributaries.
- The Kaleshwaram project has provision for the storage of about 148 tmc ft with plans of utilising 180 tmc ft by lifting at least 2 tmc ft water every day for 90 flood days.
- The project is designed to irrigate 7,38,851 hectares (over 18.47 lakh acres) uplands in the erstwhile districts of Karimnagar, Nizamabad, Warangal, Medak, Nalgonda and Ranga Reddy.
- According to engineers, KLIP has many unique features, including the longest tunnel to carry water in Asia, running up to 81 km, between the Yellampally barrage and the Mallannasagar reservoir.
- The project would also utilise the highest capacity pumps, up to 139 MW, in the country to lift water.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
NITI Aayog evaluating ₹5,000 crore Methanol Economy Fund
NITI Aayog is planning to set up a Methanol Economy Fund worth Rs 4,000-5,000 crore to promote production and use of the clean fuel.
- The fund will be utilized for generation of cheaper, safer and pollution free methanol fuel by converting high ash content coal and stranded gas assets into methanol.
- NITI Aayog plans to move a Cabinet note soon on the methanol economy and the plans to set up production plants. It expects that two plans can be commissioned in the next 3-4 years. The first coal-based methanol plant will be set up in West Bengal by world’s largest coal miner Coal India Ltd (CIL).
- Methanol is a clean-burning fuel that produces fewer smog-causing emissions — such as sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter — and can improve air quality and related human health issues.
- Methanol is most commonly produced on a commercial scale from natural gas. It can also be produced from renewable sources such as biomass and recycled carbon dioxide.
- As a high-octane vehicle fuel, methanol offers excellent acceleration and power. It also improves vehicle efficiency.
China is currently world’s largest producer of methanol. India’s current installed capacity of methanol production is 0.47 million tonne and total domestic production is 0.2 million tonne.
Methanol as an alternative fuel:
- Methanol is a promising fuel for waterways as it is clean, cheaper than fossil fuels and a good substitute for heavy fuels.
- Methanol can be blended with gasoline in low-quantities and used in existing road vehicles, or it can be used in high-proportion blends such as M85-M100 in flex-fuel or dedicated methanol-fueled vehicles. Technology is also being commercialized to use methanol as a diesel substitute.
- India imports methanol from Saudi Arabia and Iran at present. Across the world, methanol is emerging as a clean, sustainable transportation fuel of the future.
- The Bureau of Indian Standards have certified Methanol as a fuel.
Defence & Security Issues
India has decided to crank up its crackdown against Bitcoins
As the most popular cryptocurrency touches new highs, the income tax department began its nationwide crackdown on Bitcoin exchanges.
- The IT department is set to issue notices to 4 to 5 lakh high networth individuals (HNI) across the country who were trading on the exchanges of this unregulated virtual currency.
Why India has decided to crank up its crackdown against Bitcoins?
- Bitcoin can be an easy way to evade tax or snare unsuspecting small investors in ponzi schemes. The regulators are worried about their use for illicit and illegal activities, subjecting the users to an unintentional breach of laws against money laundering and terror finance.
- Concerns also emanate from some unscrupulous entities indulging in illicit money-pooling activities—commonly known as ponzi schemes—with the promise of huge returns from investment in bitcoins and other variants, which they claim are minted through blockchain, a distributed ledger technology that was created to mint bitcoins and comprises of extremely complex algorithms with several thousand nodes for each chain.
- There is a suspicion that some so-called cryptocurrencies and bitcoin investments may actually have nothing to do with any blockchain-developed virtual currency and are just new ways devised by scamsters to ride the wave and what they may be offering could be ‘e-ponzi’ schemes.
- The financial regulators are worried that a complete lack of regulatory regime for such cryptocurrencies may give rise to ‘e-ponzi’ schemes.
What are the regulations?
- Bitcoins are currently unregulated in India. There are no specific legal frameworks for Bitcoins and cryptocurrencies in India yet.
- In December 2013, RBI issued a warning with caution to “users, holders and traders of virtual currencies, including Bitcoins, about the potential financial, operational, legal, customer protection and security related risks that they are exposing themselves to”.
While some of the countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan have declared Bitcoins as a means of payment illegal and in violation of the state law, a majority are yet to take a stand on it.[Ref: The Hindu, Economic Times]
‘Hamesha Vijayee’ exercise
The Southern Command of Indian Army conducted major army exercise called ‘Hamesha Vijayee’ in deserts of Rajasthan from December 16 to 22, 2017.
- The purpose of the exercise was to evaluate capability of armed forces to strike deep into enemy territory in an integrated air-land battle.
- The ‘Hamesha Vijayee’ exercise was conducted in battle like conditions that aimed at fine tuning surveillance and destruction mechanisms to support precision strikes and manoeuvres by network enabled forces.
- The Southern Command (hearquaters Pune) undertakes such exercises at regular intervals to ensure high degree of battle readiness as well as validation of operational plans using modern weapons and equipment.
- The exercise showcased high degree of synergy between Indian Army and Air Force along with new generation aviation assets of army which were reviewed to obtain inputs for further refinement of operational procedures.
- With emphasis on joint operations, the exercise would test robust sensor to shooter grids by employing a vast array of surveillance and air assets networked with land based strategic and tactical vectors.
Science & Technology
WB considers blockchain technology to protect online records
The West Bengal government is planning to introduce the blockchain technology to protect its documents from cyber attacks.
Need for such move:
- Recently, computers at some offices of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited were crippled by ‘WannaCry’ virus, a global ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.
- The state government’s proposed Cyber Security Centre of Excellence would be entrusted to execute the new ‘blockchain’ mechanism at various departments.
- The cyber security centre will bring the best in academic, law enforcement and other sections under one roof for the best practices to counter cyber crimes.
- The centre will also conduct research and development on cyber crimes for which the state government will partner with private firms.
What is blockchain technology?
- At a very high level, the blockchain is a decentralized ledger, or list, of all transactions across a peer-to-peer network.
- This is the technology underlying Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and it has the potential to disrupt a wide variety of business processes.
Applications of blockchain technology:
- Using this technology, participants can transfer value across the Internet without the need for a central third party. The buyer and seller interact directly without needing verification by a trusted third-party intermediary.
- Transactions are not anonymous, but they are pseudonymous: a transaction record is created, but identifying information is encrypted, and no personal information is shared.
What challenges and opportunities does this technology pose for financial institutions?
- Financial institutions such as banks and brokerages have long held the position of the trusted third party validating the authenticity and accuracy of a transaction. Blockchain significantly alters the need for this trusted third-party middleman.
- China recently expressed his views regarding blockchain technology that it may not be able to handle the entire transaction needs of a large economy because the technology requires massive computational and data storage capabilities.
- With the ownership and provenance of a transaction recorded in the blockchain at the earliest stages of a transaction and verified at every subsequent stage, agreement among all parties involved in a transaction is guaranteed.
- And because the blockchain can record and authenticate every stage of a transaction, it could theoretically be used to secure and verify any type of transaction, from simple goods-forcash exchanges to complex transaction management, without any third-party interaction.
Key Facts for Prelims
- Losar festival, which has its origin in the 15th century, celebrates the Ladakhi or Tibetan New Year.
- Losar celebrations in Jammu and Kashmir, in the Ladakh district can be regarded as the most elaborate and convoluted of the different social and religious events and festivals of Ladakh.
- In Ladakh, Losar is regarded as the most important socio-religious event.
- The festival is marked by making offerings to the Gods, both in Gompas and their shrines.