Polity & Governance
- Government sets up the “NITI Forum for Northeast”
- Tribunal to settle Mahanadi water dispute
- Cabinet approves creation of National Urban Housing Fund
- Cabinet approves Silkyara Bend-Barkot Tunnel as part of ‘Chardham Mahamarg Pariyojana’
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- India to host World Environment Day 2018
- Food processing ministry begins work on Operation Greens
Bilateral & International Relations
- Cabinet approves India-Morocco Cooperation Agreement in Railway Sector
- UK and India upgrade joint research on clean water and clean energy
Defence & Security Issues
- India test fires medium range nuclear capable Agni-II missile
Art & Culture
- 21st February: International Mother Language Day
Science & Technology
- Agriculture ministry adds six new features in e-NAM platform
Key Facts for Prelims
- Mizoram to get first regional agricultural centre with Israeli collaboration
- Saras completes second test flight successfully
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Polity & Governance
Government sets up the “NITI Forum for Northeast”
The Union Government has issued order setting up the ‘NITI Forum for North-East’.
About NITI Forum for Northeast:
- ‘NITI Forum for North-East’ has been set up to identify constraints and recommend suitable interventions for speedy and sustainable growth in northeast region.
Composition of the Forum:
- Members of the Forum will include Secretaries of Ministries of Road Transport & Highways, Railways, Power, Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, New & Renewable Energy, Health & Family Welfare, Human Resource Development, Environment, Forest & Climate Change.
- Chief Secretaries of Northeastern states of Assam, Sikkim, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram will also be members of the Forum. Secretary, North East Council (NEC), Shillong will be Member Secretary. Joint Secretary (NE), MHA, besides a number of experts from various fields will also be members of the Forum.
- The forum will be co-chaired by the Vice-Chairman of NITI Aayog and Minister of State (I/C), Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region (DoNER).
Functions of the Forum:
The NITI Forum for Northeast is tasked
- To identify various constraints on the way of accelerated, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the North East Region of the country
- To recommend suitable interventions for addressing identified constraints.
- To review the development status in the NER.
The forum may also examine and address any other issues which are of importance but not specifically spelt out in its Terms of Reference. It may devise its own procedure to conduct its business, meetings, field visits or constitution of Sub-Groups etc.[Ref: PIB]
Tribunal to settle Mahanadi water dispute
The Union Cabinet has approved the setting up of a tribunal to settle a row between Odisha and Chhattisgarh on sharing the waters of the river Mahanadi.
- This is in keeping with the recent Supreme Court order directing the Centre to set up a tribunal in response to a plea by the Odisha government to stop the Chhattisgarh government from constructing several weirs on the river.
Composition of the tribunal:
- With a chairperson and two other members, the tribunal will be formed according to the provisions of the Inter-State River Water Disputes (ISRWD), 1956.
- The Chief Justice of India would nominate the chairperson and members for the tribunal from among the judges of the apex court or high courts.
Mandate of the tribunal:
- As per provisions of the ISRWD Act, 1956 the Tribunal is required to submit its report and decision within a period of 3 years which can be extended to a further period not exceeding 2 years due to unavoidable reasons.
About the Mahanadi water dispute:
- The 850km length of the Mahanadi river is divided almost equally between Chhattisgarh, where it is born, and downstream Odisha. Last year Odisha government opposed barrages that Chhattisgarh has been constructing.
- Odisha government alleges that these barrages are meant to feed industrial projects and will block the flow of water into Odisha whose dependence on the river is greater. Chhattisgarh has denied this allegation pointing out that much of the river in Odisha flows untapped and straight into the sea.
- The committee has been set up with reference to complaint of State of Odisha under section 3 of the ISRWD Act, 1956 regarding utilisation of waters of Mahandi Basin.
About Mahanadi river:
- Mahanadi is major river in East Central India.
- It originates from highlands of Chhattisgarh through collection of array of streams.
- It flows through Chhattisgarh and Odisha and reaches Bay of Bengal.
- It drains an area of around 141,600 square kilometres and has total course of 858 kilometres.
- It left bank tributaries are Shivnath, Mand, Ib, Hasdeo and right bank are Ong, parry river, Jonk, Telen.
Cabinet approves creation of National Urban Housing Fund
The Union Cabinet has approved creation of Rs. 60,000 crores National Urban Housing Fund (NUHF) to finance Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) which aims to build 1.2 crore affordable houses in urban areas by 2022.
About National Urban Housing Fund (NUHF):
- NUHF will be placed under aegis of Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC).
- It will be raised from non-budgetary sources and will tap into existing government entities such as Housing and Urban Development Corp. (Hudco).
- NUHF will facilitate raising requisite funds in next four years and plug any budgetary shortfalls.
- It will smoothly sustain construction of houses to address gap in Urban Sector progresses by maintaining flow of Central Assistance under different verticals i.e. Affordable Housing in Parternership (AHP), Beneficiary Linked Construction (BLC), In-Situ Slum Redevelopment (ISSR) and Credit Linked Subsidy Scheme (CLSS).
About Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC):
- BMTPC is an autonomous body under Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
- It is registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
- Its primary task is to mainstream new construction technologies.
- It is responsible to undertake research, development and large scale application of new building material technologies.
Efforts by government to improve Urban housing:
- With an estimated slum population of about 65 million and another 0.9 million homeless people in urban India, the Housing for All / Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY-HFA), which aims to provide a home to all urban poor by 2022, is an important urban policy thrust.
- The government has so far sanctioned 39.4 lakh houses under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban).
Cabinet approves Silkyara Bend-Barkot Tunnel as part of ‘Chardham Mahamarg Pariyojana’
Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved Silkyara Bend-Barkot Tunnel in Uttarkhand as part of ‘Chardham Mahamarg Pariyojana’.
About the Silkyara Bend-Barkot Tunnel:
- The project will be falling along NH-134 (old NH-94) in the State of Uttarakhand.
- The project will be built under Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) Mode.
- This is funded under NH (O) Scheme of Ministry of RT&H and forms part of ambitious Chardham Plan.
- The project will be implemented by Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH), through National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (NHIDCL). NHIDCL is wholly state owned company, established in 2014 for development of highways in states on the international borders.
Significance of the Silkyara Bend-Barkot Tunnel:
- The construction of Silkyara Bend-Barkot Tunnel will provide all weather connectivity to Yamunotri, one of dham on Chardham Yatra.
- It will encourage regional socio-economic development, trade and tourism within country.
- It will reduce travel distance from Dharasu to Yamunotri by about 20 km and travel time by about hour.
- It will save number of trees that would have been required to be removed in road improvement if original alignment had been followed.
About the Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna:
In December 2016, PM Narendra Modi has laid the foundation stone for the Chardham highway development project in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun.
- The project is an ambitious initiative to improve connectivity to the four main Himalayan pilgrimage centres in Uttarakhand, called Char Dham.
- The project’s main objective is to develop around 900 km of national highways.
- These highways will be built in Uttarakhand at an approximate cost of Rs 12,000 crore.
- The project will make travel to the Char Dham (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) safer and more convenient.
- The project involves widening the existing, geometrically deficient highway that connects the four abodes.
- Apart from widening, the road transport and highways ministry plans to improve the stretches to two-lane carriageway with paved shoulders, protect landslide hazard zones, construct bypasses, long bridges, tunnels and elevated corridors to ensure safety for the users.
- It will have proper slope stabilisation to ensure protection against landslides.
- The project is expected to be completed by 2018.
Significance of the project:
- The project will benefit people visiting holy shrines in Uttarakhand.
- It will generate additional employment for the local population and will change the economy of the State as it will give strong boost to connectivity and tourism.
- The roads leading to Gangotri and Badrinath are also equally important from a strategic point of view as these roads are used for supply and deployment to the defence establishments along the Indo-China border areas in Uttarakhand.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
India to host World Environment Day 2018
India will be the Global Host for World Environment Day (WED) 2018 which is observed annually on 5 June.
- The central theme for this year is ‘Plastic Pollution”.
About World Environment Day:
- World Environment Day (WED) is observed every year on June 5 to raise global awareness to take positive environmental action to protect nature and the planet Earth.
- World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 on the first day of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.
- It is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
- It was Started to create global awareness about the condition of the Environment.
- The first World Environment Day was observed in 1973 and since then it is being held every year with different themes.
Food processing ministry begins work on Operation Greens
The Ministry of Food Processing Industries has started consultations with stakeholders to determine the contours of Operation Greens.
- Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in his speech while presenting the Union Budget 2018-19 in Lok Sabha, proposed to launch Operation Greens.
- Jaitley proposed that Operation Greens would be launched with an allocation of Rs 500 crore on the lines of Operation Flood.
What is Operation greens?
Operation is essentially a price fixation scheme that aims to ensure farmers are given the right price for their produce.
- Operation Greens aims to promote farmer producers organisations, agri-logistics, processing facilities and professional management.
- The operation aims to aid farmers and help control and limit the erratic fluctuations in the prices of onions, potatoes and tomatoes.
- Operation Greens will work to increase demand in the economy as well with its demand forecasting model.
Significance of Operation greens:
- The idea behind Operation Greens is to double the income of farmers by the end of 2022.
- Operation Green (OG) wants to replicate the success story of Operation Flood, in fruits and vegetables, starting with three basic vegetables—tomatoes, onions and potatoes (TOP).
- The main objective of OG is to reduce price volatility in these commodities, and thereby helping farmers augment incomes on a sustainable basis, as also provide these basic vegetables to consumers at affordable prices.
- India is the second largest producer of vegetables in the world with about 180 MMT. But China produces four times more vegetables than India.
- The litmus test of the success of this OG would be if it can contain roller-coaster rides of booms and busts in prices, and avert scenes of farmers dumping potatoes and tomatoes on roads, as is happening in several parts of India today.
- Also, containing prices going through the roof compelling the government to put bans on exports, de-stocking or even having income-tax raids on traders.
Bilateral & International Relations
Cabinet approves India-Morocco Cooperation Agreement in Railway Sector
The Union Cabinet has given its ex-post facto approval to the Cooperation Agreement between India and the Moroccan National Railways Office (ONCF) to develop long-term cooperation and partnership in different areas of railway sector.
Areas of technical cooperation:
- Training and staff development;
- Expert missions, exchange of experience and personnel; and
- Mutual technical assistance, including exchanging of experts.
- Ministry of Railways have signed MOUs for technical cooperation in the Rail sector with various foreign Governments and National Railways.
- The identified areas of cooperation include high-speed corridors, speed raising of existing routes, development of world class stations, heavy haul operations and modernization of rail infrastructure, etc.
- The cooperation is achieved through exchange of information on developments in areas of railways technology & operations, knowledge sharing, technical visits, training & seminars and workshops in areas of mutual interest.
- The MoUs provide a platform for Indian Railways to interact and share the latest developments and knowledge in the railway sector.
Location of Morocco:
- Morocco is a unitary sovereign state located in the Maghreb region of North Africa.
- Geographically, Morocco is characterised by a rugged mountainous interior, large tracts of desert and a lengthy coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
UK and India upgrade joint research on clean water and clean energy
India and United Kingdom jointly launched research projects on ‘Water Quality Research’ and ‘Energy Demand Reduction in Built Environment’.
- Both the projects will be implemented with a total joint investment of up to 15 million pounds.
- These projects aim to deliver mutual benefits and research solutions the UK and India, besides addressing shared global sustainable development goals on clean water and clean energy.
Water Quality Research Programme:
- The ‘Water Quality Research’ programme has eight projects.
- It is supported jointly by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), NERC, EPSRC and ESRC in the UK.
- It aims to equip local communities, policymakers, regulators and businesses with information and solutions they need to secure provision of clean water, rejuvenate rivers and restore ecosystems.
Energy Demand Reduction in Built Environment Programme:
- The ‘Energy Demand Reduction in Built Environment’ programme has a total of four projects.
Defence & Security Issues
India test fires medium range nuclear capable Agni-II missile
An indigenously developed intermediate-range nuclear capable ballistic Agni II was successfully test-fired from the Abdul Kalam Island off the Odisha coast.
- The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) had successfully tested country’s longest indigenously developed nuclear missile Agni-V in January and short-range nuclear capable ballistic Agni-I earlier this month.
Key facts about Agni II:
- The intermediate-range nuclear capable ballistic Agni II is indigenously made and has already been inducted into the Indian Army.
- Agni II missile has a strike range of more than 2,000 km and is 20 metres long.
- Agni II missile weighs 17 tonnes and can carry a payload of 1,000 kg.
- The two-stage Agni II missile is equipped with advanced high accuracy navigation system.
- The navigation system in Agni II missile is guided by a novel scheme of state-of-the-art command and control system was propelled by solid rocket propellant system.
Art & Culture
21st February: International Mother Language Day
The International Mother Language Day (IMLD) was observed across the world on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic, multilingualism and cultural diversity.
- The theme of 2018 International Mother Language Day is ‘Linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development’.
About the International Mother Language Day (IMLD):
- The International Mother Language Day was instituted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by passing resolution 61/266 in 2007.
- The resolution had called upon member states “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.
- Since 2007, it is observed annually by member states to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
- The day was first proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
- Observance of this day also supports target 6 of Goal 4 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which states that ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.
- The day, February 21 in 1952 assumes special significance in Bangladesh where scores of people (activists), mostly students and teachers of the Dhaka University, were mercilessly shot down by the Pakistani army when Bangladesh was East Pakistan.
- The activists had protested against imposition of Urdu as the national language side-stepping Bengali – their mother tongue and the protest came to be known as Language Movement.
Science & Technology
Agriculture ministry adds six new features in e-NAM platform
Union Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare launched six new user friendly features of National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) platform to make it more users friendly.
- The objective was to bring more transparency and competition and provide remunerative prices to farmers.
Six new features include:
- e-NAM Mobile App
- BHIM payment facility
- New & improved website with eLearning module
- MIS Dashboard
- Grievance redressal management system
- Integration with farmer database
The eNAM website is now available in Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Odia besides Hindi and English, while the eNAM trading facility is available in six languages.
National Agriculture Market (NAM) is a pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities.
- This e-platform aims to provide more options to farmers to sell their produce and is part of implementation of the roadmap for doubling income of the farmers by 2022.
- National Agriculture Market (NAM) has been incorporated by the Department of Agriculture & Cooperation.
- e-NAM was envisioned and launched in 21 Mandis on 14th April 2016 which has now reached 479 Mandis across 14 states and 1 Union Territory.
[Ref: The Hindu, Economic Times]
Key Facts for Prelims
Mizoram to get first regional agricultural centre with Israeli collaboration
- Northeast India’s first regional Centre for Agriculture with collaboration of Israel will be inaugurated in Mizoram in March 2018.
- It will be first such centre in North East region of India being established with Israeli collaboration.
- There are 22 such operational centres setup across India with support of Israel including in states of Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. The first centre was established in 2008 in Haryana.
Saras completes second test flight successfully
The indigenous light transport aircraft (LTA) Saras PT1N recently completed the second of the proposed 20 test flights.
What is SARAS?
- The SARAS is an indigenous aircraft developed by the National Aeronautics Laboratories (NAL), which is overseen by the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR).
- The aircraft programme is named after Indian crane Saras.
About SARAS PT1N:
- SARAS PT1N is a 14-seater passenger aircraft designed and developed by CSIR-NAL, a frontline aerospace research laboratory.
- The flight recently completed a successful first flight in its new avatar.
- The production version aircraft will have 19-seat capacity.