Government Schemes & Policies
- Parliament passes Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017
- Cabinet approves moving official amendments in the “Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016”
- Private Sector Investment on Toll Operate and Transfer (TOT) model
- MCX launches world’s first brass futures contracts
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- NITI Aayog Initiates implementation of strategy on Resource efficiency
- Redevelopment and upgradation of Okhla Bird Sanctuary
Bilateral & International Relations
- The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has been signed by 44 African countries at a summit of the African Union in Kigali, Rwanda.
Defence & Security Issues
- BrahMos missile successfully tested fired with indigenous seeker
Science & Technology
- DAE unit develops device to measure uranium traces in water
Key Facts for Prelims
- Indian Sign Language (ISL) Dictionary
- 21st March: World Forestry Day
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Government Schemes & Policies
Parliament passes Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017
The Parliament has passed Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017 to empower government to fix period of maternity leave and tax-free gratuity amount with an executive order.
- The Bill seeks to amend Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 on two issues related to maternity leave and ceiling of gratuity payable to an employee.
Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972:
- It allows for payment of gratuity to employees in any establishment, factory, mine, oilfield, plantation, port, railways, company, or shop employing 10 or more workers.
- Under it, employees are paid gratuity if they have provided at least 5 years of continuous service at time of termination.
- Gratuity is calculated based on 15 days of wages for each year of continuous and complete service, subject to a ceiling.
Highlights of the Bill:
- The 2017 Bill empowers the central government to (i) notify the period of maternity leave eligible for qualifying as continuous service; and (ii) determine the amount of gratuity available to employees.
- The Bill removes the reference to 12 weeks in the 1972 Act and empowers the central government to notify the maximum maternity leave.
- Under the Act, the maximum amount of gratuity payable to an employee cannot exceed Rs 10 lakh. The Bill removes the existing ceiling and states that the ceiling may be notified by the central government.
Cabinet approves moving official amendments in the “Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016”
The Union Cabinet has approved proposal for moving official amendments in Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016.
Highlights of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016:
- The Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha in November 2016 which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare in January 2017.
- The proposed legislation proposes to regulate surrogacy in India by establishing NSB at central level and, SSBs and Appropriate Authorities in States/UTs.
- It also seeks to ensure effective regulation of surrogacy, prohibit commercial surrogacy and allow altruistic surrogacy to needy Indian infertile couples.
- The Bill will apply to whole of India, except Jammu and Kashmir.
Significance of the proposed Bill:
- The proposed law will regulate surrogacy services in country and rein unethical practices in surrogacy.
- It will prevent commercialization of surrogacy and prohibit potential exploitation of surrogate mothers and children born through surrogacy.
- It will prohibit commercial surrogacy including sale and purchase of human embryo and gametes.
- It will allow ethical surrogacy to needy infertile couples on fulfillment of certain conditions and for specific purposes.
- It will protect rights of surrogate mother and children born out of surrogacy will be protected.
- India has emerged as surrogacy hub for couples from different countries and there have been reported incidents concerning unethical practices, abandonment of children born out of surrogacy, exploitation of surrogate mothers and rackets of intermediaries importing human embryos and gametes.
- The 228th report of Law Commission of India has recommended for prohibiting commercial surrogacy and allowing ethical altruistic surrogacy by enacting suitable legislation.
- Once the Bill is enacted by Parliament, National Surrogacy Board (NSB) will be constituted at central level.
- The States/UTs will constitute State Surrogacy Boards (SSBs) and State Appropriate Authorities within 3 months of notification by Central Government.
Private Sector Investment on Toll Operate and Transfer (TOT) model
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which invited bids for various highways, hopes to generate more than Rs 6,000 crore by leasing out the roads under the ‘toll-operate-transfer’ (TOT) model.
- This will provide NHAI funds to build more highways, filling in for the private sector that is reluctant to invest in new highways.
What is TOT model?
- Under this newly launched ‘toll-operate-transfer’ (TOT) model, the right to collect user-fee or toll on selected national highway stretches built through public funding is proposed to be auctioned and assigned to a concessionaire for a period of 30 years against an upfront payment of a lump-sum amount to the government.
- The concessionaire is also responsible for the operation and maintenance of the roads during the tenure.
- The model concession agreement also seeks to address the risks associated with such a long concession contract, with several provisions designed to deal with eventualities like roadway expansion, high toll traffic variation, etc., to ensure that concessionaires are not exposed to undue risks.
- The government can also increase the concession period in later stages, if the concessionaire wants it.
Why India need such Model?
- India is facing a $526 billion infrastructure investment gap by 2040. The TOT model, once successful in the highways sector, other sectors such as power transmission, oil and natural gas could replicate the same model, thereby unlocking the huge offbudget funding.
- The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in 2016 had authorised NHAI to monetise 75 publicly funded national highways that are operational and have been generating toll revenues for at least two years.
MCX launches world’s first brass futures contracts
India’s largest commodities exchange platform, Multi Commodity Exchange of India Limited (MCX) launched world’s first brass futures contracts.
- MCX Brass futures will be the first non-ferrous contract with compulsory delivery option.
- Its price will be quoted as per rate at ex-warehouse Jamnagar (delivery centre) inclusive of taxes and duties.
- It will facilitate brass stakeholders to hedge their price risk.
Significance of MCX Brass futures:
- Provide its stakeholders with more organised and robust price discovery platform.
- Help them to use national level benchmark price as ready reference.
- Enable them to mitigate their price risk.
- Lead to best price discovery for brass, which is of key relevance to its stakeholders including importers, exporters, manufacturers, refiners, and processors among others in country, who are looking to hedge their price exposure.
About Multi Commodity Exchange Ltd (MCX):
- The MCX is the country’s largest metals and energy commodity bourse.
- It began functioning in November 2003 and operates within the regulatory framework of the Forward Contracts Regulation Act, 1952 (FCRA, 1952).
- It is country’s first listed commodity futures exchange that facilitates online trading, and clearing and settlement of commodity futures transactions, thereby providing a platform for risk management.
- It offers futures trading in bullion, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, energy, and a number of agricultural commodities (mentha oil, cardamom, potatoes, palm oil and others).
- Globally, MCX ranks first in silver, second in natural gas, and third in crude oil and gold in futures trading.
What is Brass?
- Brass is metallic alloy of copper (55-60%) and zinc (40-45%) with small amounts of lead and iron.
Usage of Brass in industry:
- It is used in industries like electrical appliance, pump parts, marine engines, switch gears, sanitary ware, automobiles and defence.
Brass production in India:
- The estimated annual production of brass in India is approximately between 100,000-150,000 tonne, which includes production through primary metal and recycled brass.
- India is largest exporter of finished brass products.
- India imports huge quantities of brass scrap from US, Middle East, Africa and Europe which is then separated and recycled to make brass.
- Out of the 5,000 small and medium units (SMEs) producing brass in the country, about 3,000 are located at Jamnagar, Gujarat which accounts for 80% of brass produced in India. The rest of the companies are spread across Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh) and Jagadhari (Haryana).
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
NITI Aayog Initiates implementation of strategy on Resource efficiency
NITI Aayog has initiated implementation of strategy on Resource efficiency.
- After detailed discussion, a road map for implementation of the RE in the country has also been evolved.
Following measures related to implementation of strategy on resource efficiency was announced by the NITI Aayog:
- NITI Aayog will facilitate the RE strategy implementation. Implementation however will be the responsibility of the line ministries/departments.
- A baseline survey on RE could be considered for better targeting.
- A Status paper on RE and Four sectoral strategy papers on RE are to be prepared.
- SWACH Bharat also means a clean production/mining environment, therefore resource efficiency and circular economy are also a part of this initiative.
- One pilot study on Ease of Doing RE Business in collaboration with DIPP could be considered.
- Finally, RE is a potential instrument for generating wealth from waste. Measures for promoting effective recycling of scrap generated in the country could be explored.
What is Strategy on Resource Efficiency?
- NITI Aayog in collaboration with the European Union delegation to India have released the Strategy on Resource Efficiency. The strategy aims to promote resource efficiency in India.
- It is developed with the recommendations from the Indian Resource Efficiency Programme (IREP), launched by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and Indian Resource Panel (InRP) in April 2017.
- This strategy is the first policy document to emphasize resource productivity in the country.
- The Strategy emphasizes on Sustainable Public Procurement (SSP) as an action agenda which will be the market transformation tool to transform to a resource efficient economy.
Need for Resource Efficiency:
- Resource efficiency very simply put is making more with fewer materials. In practice, through a life-cycle approach, it leads to minimizing impact on environment & the associated societal burdens, transforming ‘waste’ into ‘resources’ fostering circular economy, and strengthening resource security.
- Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy are important goals and central principles for achieving sustainable development. Sustainability is a global priority and SDGs commitment and 11th Five year plan also clearly enunciate importance of Resource efficiency (RE).
About Indian Resource Panel (InRP):
- The new Indian Resource Panel (InRP) was officially unveiled in 2016, making India one of the first emerging economies to set up a national advisory body on resource efficiency.
- The InRP was created with support from the International Climate Initiative as part of the project ‘Resource efficiency and secondary raw materials management as a contribution to climate change mitigation’.
- The InRP will issue recommendations to Indian businesses and policy-makers on improving the general conditions for resource efficiency.
Redevelopment and upgradation of Okhla Bird Sanctuary
Foundation stone for redevelopment and upgradation of Okhla Bird Sanctuary was recently laid.
About Okhla Bird Sanctuary:
Okhla Bird Sanctuary is a bird sanctuary at the Okhla barrage over Yamuna River. It is situated at a point where river Yamuna enters in the state of Uttar Pradesh leaving the territory of Delhi.
- Okhla Bird Sanctuary, belonging to the State of Uttar Pradesh, has an area of 400 ha, out of which 120 ha falls within the National Capital Region of Delhi.
- Okhla Bird Sanctuary is located close to New Delhi and is one of the 467 Important Bird Areas (IBA) of the country.
- It is home to a large number of resident, as well as migratory birds like grey-headed fish eagle, Baikal teal, Baer’s pochard and Sarus crane.
- It is home to 32 species of reptiles, 7 species of amphibians and 186 plant species.
Bilateral & International Relations
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has been signed by 44 African countries at a summit of the African Union in Kigali, Rwanda.
- If successful, it will be the biggest trade trade agreement since the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995.
- Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, as well as a host of others did not sign the agreement.
What is AfCFTA?
- African heads of government agreed to establish a continental free trade area in 2012 and started negotiations in 2015.
- The draft agreement commits countries to removing tariffs on 90% of goods, with 10% of “sensitive items” to be phased in later.
- The agreement will also liberalise services and aims to tackle so-called “non-tariff barriers” which hamper trade between African countries, such as long delays at the border.
- Eventually, free movement of people and even a single currency could become part of the free trade area.
Objectives of the AfCFTA:
- Create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union.
- Expand intra African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes and instruments across RECs and across Africa in general.
- Resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes.
- Enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.
Importance of AfCFTA:
- The AfCFTA has the potential to bring over 1.2bn people together into the same market. The bloc of 55 nations would be the largest in the world by member states.
- The AfCFTA could improve trade between African countries, which in 2016 estimates stated accounted for only 10%. By reducing barriers to trade, such as removing import duties and non-tariff barriers, African countries hope to boost intra-continental business.
- Once AfCFTA becomes reality, it will be largest free-trade area in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
- African heads of government agreed to establish a continental free trade area in 2012 and started negotiations in 2015 to boost intra-Africa trade.
- Intra-African trade is relatively limited and it is made up only 10.2% of continent’s total trade in 2010. Within Africa, 43% goods traded are manufactured products.
- Between 2010 and 2015, fuels represented more than half of Africa’s exports to non-African countries, while manufactured goods made up only 18% of exports to rest of the world.
Defence & Security Issues
BrahMos missile successfully tested fired with indigenous seeker
Supersonic cruise missile BrahMos was successfully flight-tested for first time with indigenously developed seeker at Pokhran test range, Rajasthan.
- So far, seeker, a critical technology in missiles was imported from Russia. During the test missile with India-made seeker flew in its designated trajectory and target with pin-point accuracy.
About the seeker technology:
- The seeker technology determines the accuracy of missile and is closely guarded secret.
- The indigenous seeker was developed by Research Centre Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad, in collaboration with other DRDO labs.
- It is considered as significant milestone in indigenous missile technology and would reduce import dependence.
Key features of BrahMos Missile:
- BrahMos Missile is the first supersonic cruise missile system known to be in service, developed as part of a joint venture between India and Russia.
- The missile derives its name from the names of two rivers, namely the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.
- The missile is capable of carrying a conventional as well as nuclear warhead of 300 kilograms.
- The BrahMos is a multi-stage missile having a solid propellant in the first stage and the ramjet liquid propellant in the second stage.
- It can be launched from land, sea, sub-seas and air.
- It operates on ‘Fire and Forget Principle’ by adopting varieties of flights on its way to the target.
- It approaches the enemy target with a top speed of Mach 2.8, which is about three times faster than the US subsonic Tomahawk Cruise Missile System.
- The missile has been developed by the BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited.
- It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroeyenia and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
- While the navy and army versions of the missile were inducted in 2005 and 2007 respectively, the air version is still in the testing stage.
Science & Technology
DAE unit develops device to measure uranium traces in water
The Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT), an Indore-based unit of Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has developed an instrument called Fluorimeter, to measure traces of uranium in water.
Key features of the device:
- The instrument is capable of examining traces of uranium in a sample of water from 0.1 PPB (Parts-per-billion) unit to 100 PPB.
- The device, costing Rs 1 lakh, would help in detecting traces of uranium in water.
- The device will be especially helpful in areas like Punjab where uranium traces in water sources have been found to be at dangerous levels.
- Uranium is a radioactive element. If in any source of water it’s quantity is more than the permissible limit, then use of such water may cause thyroid cancer, blood cancer, depression and other serious ailments.
- Notably, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has fixed the permissible radiological limit to 60 PPB of uranium concentration for drinking water.
Key Facts for Prelims
Indian Sign Language (ISL) Dictionary
- The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has launched India’s first Sign Language Dictionary of 3000.
- As per the census 2011, there are 50, 71,007 Deaf people and 19, 98,535 with speech disability in India.
About Indian Sign Language (ISL) Dictionary:
- The dictionary has been developed by Indian Sign Language Research & Training Centre (ISLR&TC) under Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), M/o Social Justice & Empowerment.
- Its aim is to give Deaf people the constitutional right to speech and opportunity of freedom of expression and also bringing them into the main stream of the society.
- It will help to bring uniformity in sign languages which are used by differently abled people especially people with hearing or speech impairment.
- This dictionary is available in both print and video formats.
21st March: World Forestry Day
World Forestry Day or International Day of Forests is celebrated worldwide every year on 21st of March at the international level in order to increase the public awareness among communities about the values, significance and contributions of the forests to balance the life cycle on the earth.
- Theme for World Forestry Day 2018 is “Forests and Sustainable Cities”.
- The World Forestry Day was established in the year 1971 at the 23rd General Assembly of European Confederation of Agriculture. And it was decided to be celebrated as an annual event celebration on 21st of March by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.