Polity & Governance
- National vehicle registry VAHAN unveiled
Government Schemes & Policies
- Govt formally launches ‘Ganga Gram’ project
Issues related to Health & Education
- India’s digital gender gap could further marginalise women: UNICEF
- PCA only to improve banks’ health, says RBI
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- New scorpion species discovered in Tripura
- India unveils anti-smog cannon in fight against Delhi pollution
Bilateral & International Relations
- UN resolution against US’ Jerusalem move
- RCEP: India hardens stand ahead of summit with ASEAN
Art & Culture
- 2017 Sahitya Akademi Award winners
Key Facts for Prelims
- India’s first design university ‘World University of Design’
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Polity & Governance
National vehicle registry VAHAN unveiled
The Union government has unveiled ‘VAHAN’, a national vehicle registry with a database of vehicles in the country.
What is ‘Vahan’?
- ‘Vahan’ is the name of the national vehicle registry, which intends to collate all the information available with road transport authorities for easy access by both citizens and regulators.
- Data available with over 90% of all road transport authorities including RTOs and district transport offices have been computerised so far.
- As a result, Vahan now contains about 21.68 crore vehicle records in its repository.
- Vahan allows access to all details related to vehicles such as registration number, chassis/engine number, body/fuel type, colour, manufacturer and model and provides various online services to citizens.
- Driving Licence and related data are automated through a separate application called ‘Sarathi’.
Benefits of Vahan:
- Vahan has been designed to capture all the information mandated by the Central Motor Vehicle Act 1988 as well as State Motor Vehicle Rules. It has been customised to suit the varied requirements of all States and Union Territories. This way, the system ensures access to such information from anywhere.
- Besides, centralisation of data through the creation of the State and National Registries under Vahan also helps address the needs of RTOs, police and motor insurers.
- The Police Department will also have access to the registry. The information available online can help in resolving crimes such as theft of vehicles and usage of fake registration numbers.
- Traffic-check points can cross-check the validity of the documents such as licences presented by motorists through hand-held devices.
- Enforcement activities such as issue of challan and settlement of penalty amount can also be carried out through Vahan.
- Banks, which may have given out loans for vehicle purchases, will also have access to the National/State Registry to track the status of vehicles under lien.
- Lately, motor insurance companies have also been encouraged to upload data of insured vehicles on Vahan. When the process is completed, it will help in tracking vehicles that have not obtained an insurance cover or vehicles that have not renewed their covers.
- With Vahan, multiple visits to the RTO, extensive paperwork, queues, middlemen and bribes, all of which are today a part of package if you own a vehicle, will be a thing of the past.
- Vahan helps carry out most of the RTO related transactions including payments, online. Other services such as transfer of ownership, change of address, issue and renewal of permits and fitness certificates are also available at the click of the mouse.
- The need for ‘No objection certificate’ for transfers will be eliminated since all RTOs will have access to the centralised data.
Government Schemes & Policies
Govt formally launches ‘Ganga Gram’ project
The Union Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation has formally launched ‘Ganga Gram’ project at the Ganga Gram Swachata Sammelan held in New Delhi.
- The project was launched under the Clean Ganga mission-Namami Gange Programme for holistic sanitation development in villages on the banks of River Ganga.
What is Ganga Gram Project?
- Ganga Gram project is an integrated approach for holistic development of villages situated on the banks of the holy River Ganga with active participation of villagers.
- The objectives of project include solid and liquid waste management, water conservation projects, renovation of ponds and water resources, organic farming, horticulture, and promotion of medicinal plants.
About Ganga Swachhata Manch:
- Ganga Swachhata Manch, a forum of individuals, academicians, civil society organisations and the like was also launched on the sidelines of Gram Swachata Sammelan.
- It has been formed upon initiative of Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation Uma Bharati.
- It has been created for awareness creation, knowledge sharing, learning and advocacy for Ganga Gram Project.
- In August 2017, Centre had declared all 4,470 villages on the banks of River Ganga, located in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, open defecation-free (ODF). Of these villages, Centre and state governments have identified 24 villages to be taken up under pilot project to transform them into ‘Ganga Grams’.
About Namami Gange Programme:
‘Namami Gange’ Programme, is a flagship programme of Government of India with a renewed impetus to decrease river pollution and conserve the revered river ‘Ganga’.
- The Union government approved “Namami Gange” Program in May 2015.
- In this connection, the Indian Government solicited support from various countries to rejuvenate the Ganga.
- The program would be implemented by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), and its state counterpart organizations i.e., State Program Management Groups (SPMGs).
- According to the program, rejuvenation implies restoring the “wholesomeness” of the river and that includes three things: Aviral dhara (continuous flow), nirmal dhara (unpolluted flow) and ecological and geological integrity.
- Among other things, the programme will focus on pollution abatement interventions namely Interception, diversion & treatment of wastewater flowing through the open drains through bio-remediation / appropriate in-situ treatment / use of innovative technologies.
- Under this programme, the focus of the Government is to involve people living on the banks of the river to attain sustainable results.
- The programme also focuses on involving the States and grassroots level institutions such as Urban Local Bodies and Panchayati Raj Institutions in implementation.
Issues related to Health & Education
India’s digital gender gap could further marginalise women: UNICEF
The 2017 edition of UNICEF’s annual flagship publication “The State of the World’s Children Report” was recently launched.
- The theme of this year’s edition is: ‘Children in a digital world.’
- The report provides country-level examples to give a sense of the kinds of barriers girls and women confront.
Highlights of the report:
- In India, where only 29% of all internet users are female, girls in rural areas often face restrictions on their use of ICTs solely because of their gender.
- There is a digital gender gap as well. Globally, 12% more men than women used the internet in 2017. In India, less than one third of internet users are female.
- India is one place in which the digital divide highlights society’s deep chasms. Digital divides can mirror broader societal divides — between rich and poor, cities and rural areas, between those with or without an education — and between women and men.
- The ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, the report notes, has made online access for many children less supervised and potentially more dangerous.
- Digital networks like the Dark Web and cryptocurrencies are enabling the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and ‘made to order’ online child sexual abuse.
What are the Causes for digital gender divide?
- The digital gender divide is caused by a number of factors — social norms, education levels, lack of technical literacy and lack of confidence among them — but is often rooted in parents’ concern for the safety of their daughters.
- In a society that is still largely patriarchal, for girls, traits like deference and obedience are often valued over intelligence and curiosity. In some households, technology is not seen as necessary or beneficial for girls and women.
- Many fear that allowing girls to use the internet will lead to liaisons with men, bringing shame on the family. For most girls, if they are allowed to use the internet, their every move is monitored by their parents or brothers.
Necessity of bridging of digital gender gap:
- If girls and women remain digitally illiterate, they risk becoming further marginalised in society and at home. Therefore, bridging gender gap is necessary. Besides, digital connection and literacy offer advantages in a knowledge-based society, improving children’s lives and their future earning potential.
What can be done?
- Girls and boys in India have the unique opportunity to benefit from the connectivity that the digital world can provide.
- Only collective action — by governments, the private sector, children’s organizations, academia, families and children themselves — can help level the digital playing field and make the internet safer and more accessible for children.
PCA only to improve banks’ health, says RBI
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has once again clarified that Prompt Correction Action (PCA) is imposed to encourage banks to improve their financial health.
- The reiteration comes in the wake of rumours on social media that some of the banks that are under PCA could be closed down.
What is Prompt Correction Action (PCA)?
PCA norms allow the regulator to place certain restrictions such as halting branch expansion and stopping dividend payment.
- It can even cap a bank’s lending limit to one entity or sector.
- Other corrective action that can be imposed on banks include special audit, restructuring operations and activation of recovery plan.
- Banks’ promoters can be asked to bring in new management, too. The RBI can also supersede the bank’s board, under PCA.
Why the need for PCA?
The 1980s and early 1990s were a period of great stress and turmoil for banks and financial in stitutions all over the globe.
- In USA, more than 1,600 commercial and savings banks in sured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) were either closed or given financial assis tance during this period. The cumulative losses incurred by the failed institutions exceeded US $100 billion. These events led to the search for appropriate supervisory strategies to avoid bank failures as they can have a destabilising effect on the economy.
When is PCA invoked?
- The PCA is invoked when certain risk thresholds are breached.
- There are three risk thresholds which are based on certain levels of asset quality, profitability, capital and the like.
- The third such threshold, which is maximum tolerance limit, sets net NPA at over 12% and negative return on assets for four consecutive years.
What are the types of sanctions?
- There are two types of restrictions, mandatory and discretionary. Restrictions on dividend, branch expansion, directors compensation, are mandatory while discretionary restrictions could include curbs on lending and deposit.
Previous cases of sanctions:
- In the cases of two banks where PCA was invoked after the revised guidelines were issued — IDBI Bank and UCO Bank — only mandatory restrictions were imposed. Both the banks breached risk threshold 2.
What will a bank do if PCA is triggered?
- Banks are not allowed to re new or access costly deposits or take steps to increase their fee-based income.
- Banks will also have to launch a special drive to reduce the stock of NPAs and contain generation of fresh NPAs. They will also not be allowed to enter into new lines of business.
- RBI will also impose restrictions on the bank on borrowings from interbank market.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
New scorpion species discovered in Tripura
A new scorpion species namely Schaller’s wood scorpion or Liocheles schalleri was identified by researchers in Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary of Tripura.
- This new species was named in honour of celebrated wildlife biologist George Schaller, who has studied wildlife across the world, including the snow leopards of the Himalayas and central India’s tigers.
About wood scorpions:
- Unlike the large scorpions, wood scorpions or dwarf scorpions are only about three cm long and live in small burrows on the ground, making them very difficult to spot.
- They also have fairly large and powerful pincers with which they crush their prey.
About the news species:
- Schaller’s wood scorpion is the eleventh wood scorpion species to be discovered in India. 9 of India’s 11 wood scorpions are endemic to the country. India is home to more than 125 species of scorpions.
- Schaller’s wood scorpion is distinctly different from other recorded wood scorpions — the mid-portion of their pincers was differently-shaped as was the placement of their eyes, and they were far darker (a glossy black).
Where can the new species be found?
- The new species, Liocheles schalleri occurs in the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, a region that has been poorly explored for its arachnid diversity.
- Schaller’s wood scorpion is found in low elevations in parts of Tripura, including Trishna and Bison National Park.
- It is likely to be found in Bangladesh too, which is three km away from Tripura border.
About Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary:
- It is situated in South Tripura District of Tripura.
- The great attraction of this Wildlife Sanctuary is a sizeable population of Gaur or Indian Bison.
- It is also the habitat of and home to highly endangered only ape species of Indian subcontinent i.e, the Hoolock Gibbon and primates like Capped Langur and Golden Langur.
- One species of bamboo, locally known as Kailliai is found in this sanctuary. This bamboo is said to be endemic.
- Rajbari (Bison) National Park is a national park in the Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary.
India unveils anti-smog cannon in fight against Delhi pollution
To combat pollution in the capital, the Delhi government plans to use an anti-smog cannon machine that sprays water into the air.
- The Delhi government has tested ‘anti-smog guns in the capital to deal with the winter smog.
What is anti-smog gun?
- The anti-smog gun or fog cannon is a canon that sprays atomized water 50 metres into the air to bring down suspended pollutants.
- The device is connected to a water tank and it can be taken to different parts of the city on a vehicle.
How it operates?
- The anti-smog cannon comprises a cylindrical drum with a tank to store water and a high-velocity exhaust fan. The water is pumped from the tank to the exhaust fan which blows out water in the form of micro droplets.
- The theory is that the sprayed water will cling on to the pollutants — particularly particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10 — and wash it down creating the effect of rain. The current trials will be used to find if the theory holds true.
- The use of anti-smog gun in Delhi is inspired by the Chinese water cannons that were used by the authorities there with some success.
Idea behind the use of anti-smog gun in Delhi:
- The idea is that it reduces air pollution by binding dust and other particulate matter, and bring them down to the ground level. This could be of use in an arid place like Delhi. The plan has been made by looking at the three major sources of pollution–transport, industry, and road dust and fugitive emissions.
Bilateral & International Relations
UN resolution against US’ Jerusalem move
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has overwhelmingly adopted resolution declaring United States of America (USA) recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as ‘null and void’.
- The resolution was moved by Turkey and Yemen.
- 128 countries including India voted in favour of the resolution, nine against and 35 abstained.
About the resolution:
- The UNGA resolution stressed that Jerusalem was final status issue to be resolved through negotiations.
- It demanded that all States comply with UNSC resolutions regarding Jerusalem, and not recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions.
- Countries voting in favour of resolution also disregarded US President Trump’s threat to cut off financial aid to countries that backed the draft resolution.
India’s response on the issue:
- India differed with the US on recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Indian foreign ministry stated that India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country.
RCEP: India hardens stand ahead of summit with ASEAN
In a sign that India’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations could slow further, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has taken a strong stand that the country should restrain itself from concluding any such pact from which it would not gain in the medium term.
- The Ministry has called for observance of due restraint and not conclude trade arrangements which are not to India’s medium term advantage. A lot of India’s free trade agreements have not served as well as they could have.
- The report is significant coming ahead of the ASEAN-India commemorative summit to be held on January 25, where the issue of the long-delayed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will likely take centre stage.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement (FTA) is proposed between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing FTAs (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).
- RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.
- The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is among the proposed three mega FTAs in the world so far. The other two is:
- The TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership, led by the US) and
- The TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and the EU).
- RCEP is viewed as an alternative to the TPP trade agreement, which includes the United States but excludes China.
India’s concerns associated with RCEP:
- Emphasis of RCEP is on trade in goods and the same enthusiasm is not shared for trade in services. The reluctance in giving market access for trade in services is a big challenge for India.
- While there is immense pressure on India in the RCEP negotiations to commit to opening up (90%) of its traded goods, what is troubling the government is the fact that other RCEP countries have so far been lukewarm to India’s demands for greater market access in services, particularly on easing norms on the movement of professionals and skilled workers across borders for short-term work.
- India, which is defensive regarding opening up its goods sector, is currently virtually isolated in the RCEP talks. Also, existing huge goods trade deficit has led to questions on whether the pact is only helping ASEAN nations and not benefiting India.
- Significantly, while the India-ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement was inked and enforced from January 1, 2010, India’s goods trade deficit with ASEAN widened from $4.98 billion in 2010-11 to $14.75 billion in 2015-16, and then narrowed to $9.56 billion in 2016-17. The huge goods trade deficit has led to questions on whether the pact is only helping ASEAN nations and not benefiting India.
- India’s external trade arrangements must be supportive of the Make in India initiative.
- Though larger FTAs are important for getting preferential access to the markets, it is important to be cautious about the manner in which such arrangements work out in respect of India’s imports as well as on the country’s efforts to increase the share of manufacturing sector in the economy.
Art & Culture
2017 Sahitya Akademi Award winners
The Sahitya Academy has announced the names of 24 poets and authors who will be conferred the prestigious 2017 Sahitya Akademi Award.
- Seven books of novels, five of poetry, five of short stories, five of literary criticism and one of play and essays have won the Sahitya Akademi Awards 2017
Some of the winners of the 2017 Sahitya Akademi Award:
- Rajen Toijamba (Manipuri)
- Jagdish Lachhani (Sindhi)
- Ramesh Kuntal Megh (Hindi) (for his literary criticism work Vishw Mithak Sarit Sagar)
- Urmi Ghanshyam Desai (Gujarati),
- TP Ashoka (Kannada),
- Bina Hangkhim (Nepali) and
- Neeraj Daiya (Rajasthani).
- Autar Krishen Rahbar (Kashmiri),
- Shiv Mehta (Dogri),
- Gajanan Jog (Konkani),
- Gayatri Saraf (Odia) and
- Baig Ehsas (Urdu).
- Udaya Narayana Singh (Maithili),
- Bhujanga Tudu (Santali),
- Shrikant Deshmukh (Marathi),
- Inqulab (Tamil) and
- Devipriya (Telugu).
About the award:
- 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.
Key Facts for Prelims
India’s first design university ‘World University of Design’
- India’s first and only design university, World University of Design opened it campus at Sonipat, Haryana.
- It is promoted by Om Parkash Bansal Educational and Social Welfare Trust of Mandi Gobindgarh, Punjab.
- The campus is situated on NH1 in Rajiv Gandhi Education City (NCR), Sonipat, the largest planned integrated city for education in India.
- WUD is India’s first university dedicated to education in creative domain.
- It underlines movement of design from being purely vocation-oriented to becoming academic-oriented.