Polity & Governance
- Heavy Water Board inks agreement for sale of 20 tonnes of Heavy Water
- RBI launches Ombudsman scheme for NBFCs
- India invites Saudi Arabia to invest in oil, gas sector
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Supreme Court paves way for Kaleswaram project in Telangana
Bilateral & International Relations
- India-bound gas pipeline TAPI breaks ground on Afghan section
- US tightens H-1B visa rules, Indians to be hit
- Govt signs $84mn loan agreement with ADB for water supply in Bihar
- India, Uzbek region ink pharma pact
- FICCI and DS&T launches ASEAN-India Research Training Fellowship (AIRTF)
Defence & Security Issues
- ‘Dhanush’ ballistic missile successfully test-fired
Art & Culture
- Centre organises Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav in MP
Key Facts for Prelims
- First woman fighter pilot to fly fighter jet
- 5th International Data Science Summit
- BMP-2 and -2K combat vehicles
- C V Raman International Fellowship for African Researchers
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Polity & Governance
Heavy Water Board inks agreement for sale of 20 tonnes of Heavy Water
Heavy Water Board (HWB) has signed a collaborative agreement with Clearsynth, Mumbai for sale of 20 tonnes of Heavy Water in year.
- It will be sold for development of deuterium labeled compounds, NMR Solvents, d-labeled Active Pharma Ingredients (APIs).
Significance of the deal:
- This deal marks beginning of important era in t annals of Indian Nuclear industry leading to societal benefits for masses.
- During previous years, Indian industries had imported deuterated compounds and Heavy Water to tune of 9 Million USD. This collaborative agreement will initiate import substitution for deuterated compounds and Heavy Water.
About Heavy Water Board (HWB):
- HWB is constituent unit under DAE in the Central Government.
- It is primarily responsible for production of Heavy Water (D2O) which is used as ‘moderator’ and ‘Coolant’ in nuclear power as well as research reactors.
- It is also engaged with production of different types of nuclear grade solvents and extraction of rare materials.
- HWB currently operates 7 heavy water plants around the country.
What is Heavy Water?
- Heavy Water, also known as deuterium oxide (D2O), is a form of water that contains large amount of hydrogen isotope deuterium (heavy hydrogen).
- Deuterium differs from hydrogen which is usually found in water. Heavy water may be deuterium protium oxide (DHO) or deuterium oxide (D2O).
- The presence of deuterium increases mass of water and gives different chemical and physical property compared to normal water.
Applications of heavy water:
- Heavy water is used in certain types of nuclear reactors, where it acts as a neutron moderator to slow down neutrons.
- It also used in nuclear magnetic resonance, organic chemistry, fourier transform spectroscopy, neutron moderator, neutrino detector, tritium production and metabolic rate testing in physiology and biology.
RBI launches Ombudsman scheme for NBFCs
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has launched Ombudsman Scheme for non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) for redressal of complaints against NBFCs registered with RBI under section 45-IA of the RBI Act, 1934.
- The scheme will provide cost-free and expeditious complaint redressal mechanism relating to deficiency in services by non-banking financial companies covered under the scheme.
Ombudsman Scheme for NBFCs
Who can file the complaint?
- Under this scheme, any customer or person can file compliant with ombudsman on various grounds.
Conditions for filing complaint:
- Only written complaints or those in electronic format will be accepted.
- The complaint may be wrt non-payment or inordinate delay in payment of interest, non-repayment of deposits, lack of transparency in loan agreement, non-compliance with RBI directives on fair practices code for NBFCs, levying of charges without sufficient notice to customers and failure or delay in returning securities documents despite repayment of dues among others.
Appointment of the ombudsman:
- RBI will appoint one or more of its officers in rank of not less than General Manager (GM) to be known as Ombudsman to carry out functions.
- The appointment will for period not exceeding three years at time.
- The offices of NBFC Ombudsmen will function at four metro centres —Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi.
- They will handle complaints of customers in respective zones. To begin with, the scheme will cover all deposit-taking NBFCs.
- The schemes provide for Appellate mechanism under which complainant/NBFC will have option to appeal against decision of Ombudsman before Appellate Authority.
Settlement or Award:
- It will obligation of NBFC concerned to implement settlement arrived with complainant or Award passed by Ombudsman when it becomes final and send report in this regard to RBI within 15 days of award becoming final.
- In case of non-implementation of settlement or Award, the complainant may represent to RBI and RBI may initiate such action under provisions of RBI Act, 1934 as it deems fit.
- The ombudsman will be required to send a report to the RBI governor annually on 30 June containing general review of the activities of his office during the preceding financial year and other information required by the central bank.
What is a Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC)?
Non-bank financial companies (NBFCs) are financial institutions that provide banking services without meeting the legal definition of a bank, i.e. one that does not hold a banking license.
- A Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC) is a company registered under the Companies Act, 1956.
- These institutions typically are restricted from taking deposits from the public depending on the jurisdiction.
- Nonetheless, operations of these institutions are often still covered under a country’s banking regulations.
Limitations to the functions of the NBFCs:
- Typically, NBFCs are restricted from taking deposits from the public depending on the jurisdiction. Nonetheless, operations of these institutions are often still covered under a country’s banking regulations.
- NBFC cannot accept demand deposits.
- NBFCs do not form part of the payment and settlement system and cannot issue cheques drawn on itself.
- Deposit insurance facility of Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation is not available to depositors of NBFCs, unlike in case of banks.
[Ref: The Hindu, Live Mint, Economic Times]
India invites Saudi Arabia to invest in oil, gas sector
India has invited Saudi Arabia to participate in the Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) Programme.
- Saudi Arabia is among India’s largest energy suppliers being the second largest supplier of crude oil and LPG.
- In 2016-17, India’s crude oil import from Saudi Arabia was 18.5 per cent of total imports or 39.5 million tonnes out of total imports of 214 million tonnes.
- In January 2016, India signed a deal with the United Arab Emirates that allows the Gulf OPEC country to fill half of the underground crude oil storage facility of ISPRL at Mangalore. Therefore, the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company will store about 6 million barrels of oil at Mangalore.
About India’s SPR programme:
- To ensure energy security, the Government of India had decided to set up 5 million metric tons (MMT) of strategic crude oil storages at three locations namely, Visakhapatnam, Mangalore and Padur (near Udupi).
- These strategic storages would be in addition to the existing storages of crude oil and petroleum products with the oil companies and would serve as a cushion during any external supply disruptions.
- In the 2017-18 budget, it was announced that two more such caverns will be set up Chandikhole in Jajpur district of Odisha and Bikaner in Rajasthan as part of the second phase.
- The construction of the Strategic Crude Oil Storage facilities is being managed by Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL), a Special Purpose Vehicle, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Oil Industry Development Board (OIDB) under the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas.
India’s need for strategic oil reserves:
- In 1990, as the Gulf war engulfed West Asia, India was in the throes of a major energy crisis. By all accounts India’s oil reserves at the time were adequate for only three days.
- While India managed to avert the crisis then, the threat of energy disruption continues to present a real danger even today.
- It is unlikely that India’s energy needs will dramatically move away from fossil fuels in the near future.
- Over 80% of these fuels come from imports, a majority of which is sourced from West Asia. This is a major strategic risk and poses a massive financial drain for an embattled economy and its growing current account deficit.
- To address energy insecurity, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government mooted the concept of strategic petroleum reserves in 1998.
- Today, with India consuming upwards of four million barrels of crude every day (January 2015 figures), the case for creating such reserves grows stronger.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Supreme Court paves way for Kaleswaram project in Telangana
In a major relief to the Telangana government, the Supreme Court has refused to intervene in an order granted by the Hyderabad High Court suspending the order of the National Green Tribunal at Delhi staying the construction of the Kaleswaram Lift Irrigation Project.
- The NGT bench at Chennai had on October 5, 2017 directed the Telangana government to stay the construction of the project.
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.
Bilateral & International Relations
India-bound gas pipeline TAPI breaks ground on Afghan section
Turkmenistan announced the start of construction work on the Afghan section of an $8 billion natural gas pipeline that will link the energy-rich Central Asian nation to Pakistan and India.
About Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline:
The Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI), also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline project.
- It is being developed by the Asian Development Bank.
- This 1800-kilometre-long pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India.
- The TAPI pipeline will have a capacity to carry 90 million standard cubic metres a day (mmscmd) gas for a 30-year period.
- India and Pakistan will get 38 mmscmd each, while the remaining 14 mmscmd will be supplied to Afghanistan.
- The project will be operational by December 2019.
Significance of the TAPI gas pipeline project:
- TAPI gas pipeline project is considered as an important initiative of these four countries as it connects energy rich Central Asia with energy starved South Asia.
- It will enhance economic engagement through regional connectivity by economically integrating region stretching from the Bay of Bengal to the Caspian Sea.
- It will not just be a commercial project, but also help in providing peace and security in the region.
- From India’s perspective, TAPI Project will provide an alternative supply source of gas with dependable reserves leading to enhanced energy security.
- It will further diversify the fuel basket to the benefit of Indian economy as it would be used mainly in power, fertilizer and city gas sectors.
- The TAPI project crosses Afghanistan and Pakistan, the former deeply unstable and of uncertain future, the latter plagued by terrorist incidents and infested with militant groups that may find a gas pipeline easy pickings. Ensuring the security of those involved in the construction of the pipeline and then extending that security along its length once operational is going to be a challenge for all the signatories.
- After its completion, maintenance in the presence of terrorist elements in Afghanistan and in the restive areas of Pakistan will also be a challenge.
- Another critical issue is the fraught relations of Pakistan with India and Afghanistan.
US tightens H-1B visa rules, Indians to be hit
The US government has announced a new policy that has made the procedure of issuing H-1B visas relatively harder than the existing one.
- The updated policy guidance is in sync with President Donald Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ Executive order.
What are the changes introduced in the new policy?
- The new move announced through a seven-page policy empowers the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to issue H-1B visas to an employee for only the period he/she has work at a third-party worksite. Currently, H-1B visas are issued for three years at a time.
- Under the new policy, a firm would have to go an extra mile to prove its H-1B employee at a third-party worksite has specific and non-qualifying speculative assignments in speciality occupation.
- When H-1B beneficiaries are placed at third-party worksites, the firms must demonstrate that they have specific and non-speculative qualifying assignments in a speciality occupation for that beneficiary for the entire time requested on the petition.
- Extensions of H-1B visas have become even tougher, in particular if the employee has been on a bench for any part of their previous duration.
- New employers must provide contracts and itineraries for employees who will work at a third-party location. This includes evidence of actual work assignments, which may include technical documentation, milestone tables, marketing analysis, cost-benefit analysis, brochures, and funding documents.
- Sometimes, US firms abruptly end the contract of an employee and as a result, the workers temporarily do not have any work, which in IT parlance is called “on bench”. During this period, they maintain their H-1B status but investigations have revealed foreign IT workers on H-1B visas do not get paid, which the USCIS says is illegal and abuse of the system.
- As per the policy memorandum. if these conditions are not met, and the petitioner did not comply with the terms and conditions of the original petition and did not file an amended petition, USCIS may have eligibility concerns about a subsequent petition filed to extend the employment.
Why Indian are the worse hit?
- Indian IT companies, which are among the major beneficiaries of H-1B visas, has a significant number of its employees deployed at third-party worksites. A significant number of American banking, travel and commercial services depend on on-site IT workers from India to get their job done.
Govt signs $84mn loan agreement with ADB for water supply in Bihar
The Union Government has inked $84 million loan agreement with Asian Development Bank (ADB) for improvement and expansion of water supply in Bhagalpur and Gaya towns in Bihar.
- The loan will have a 25-year term, including grace period of 5 years with annual interest rate determined in accordance with ADB’s lending facility based on London interbank offered rate (LIBOR) and commitment charge of 0.15% per year.
About the project:
- The tranche 2 loan is part of the 200 million dollar multi-tranche financing facility (MFF) for the Bihar Urban Development Investment Program that was approved by ADB in 2012.
- The program aims to provide sustainable urban infrastructure and services in four towns in Bihar – Bhagalpur, Gaya, Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur.
- The project 2 will improve access to better quality and sustainable water supply, for people of Bhagalpur and Gaya towns.
- It will help two towns to achieve national urban service goals or match many of national averages for urban service delivery performance in India.
- The investment program will assist urban local body (ULBs) in designing affordable tariffs for operation and maintenance (O&M) cost recovery.
About Asian Development Bank (ADB):
- The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is a regional development bank established on 19 December 1966.
- It is headquartered in the Ortigas Center located in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, Philippines.
- The bank admits the members of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP, formerly the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East or ECAFE) and non-regional developed countries.
- ADB has been modelled closely on the World Bank.
- ADB is an official United Nations Observer.
Functions of ADB:
- Provides loans and equity investments to its Developing Member Countries (DMCs)
- Provides technical assistance for the planning and execution of development projects and programs and for advisory services
- Promotes and facilitates investment of public and private capital for development
- Assists in coordinating development policies and plans of its DMCs
India, Uzbek region ink pharma pact
The Andijan Region of Uzbekistan and India have inked an agreement for cooperation in the pharmaceutical industry.
- Under the agreement, both sides will develop cooperation in the implementation of a program for the production of pharmaceutical, bio-pharmaceutical products and medical equipment in the Andijan region of Uzbekistan.
Location of Andijan Region of Uzbekistan:
- Andijan is a region of Uzbekistan, located in the eastern part of the Fergana Valley in far eastern Uzbekistan. It borders with Kyrgyzstan, Fergana Region and Namangan Region.
[Ref: Economic Times]
FICCI and DS&T launches ASEAN-India Research Training Fellowship (AIRTF)
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) has entered into partnership with Department of Science and Technology (DST) to implement and execute the ASEAN India Research Training Fellowship (AIRTF).
About ASEAN India Research Training Fellowship (AIRTF):
The AIRTF scheme was introduced to promote scientific cooperation between India and ASEAN member countries.
- Its objective is to support and facilitate mobility of young talented researchers from ASEAN member countries to India to conduct short term research and training under guidance of Indian host scientists.
- It aims at capacity building of 50 young researchers annually from ASEAN member countries in S&T domain and provide complete financial support including to and fro travel, sustenance allowance and research contingency for period of 6 months.
- AIRT Fellowship is offered broadly in different areas which are in line with ASEAN Plan of Action on Science, Technology and Innovation (APASTI) 2016-2025.
- It provides opportunities to researchers from ASEAN member countries to undertake research and training for period of 6 months at Academic and Research Institutions in India.
- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), has 10 member nations — Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Defence & Security Issues
‘Dhanush’ ballistic missile successfully test-fired
Nuclear-capable surface-to-surface Dhanush ballistic missile was successfully test-fired.
- The missile test was carried out by Strategic Forces Command (SFC), the tri-services military command that controls all of India’s nuclear weapons and their associated delivery systems.
About Dhanush missile:
- Dhanush, also known as Prithvi-III, is a surface-to-surface missile.
- It is a naval variant of the indigenously-developed ‘Prithvi’ missile.
- It has a strike range of 350 km.
- It is capable of carrying a payload of 500 kg.
- It can be used for both ship-to-ship and ship-to-surface strikes.
- The single-stage, liquid-propelled ‘Dhanush’, has already been inducted into the defence services.
- Dhanush is one of the five missiles developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). The other families of missiles developed under IGMPD are Agni, Trishul, Akash and Nag.
- The Dhanush missile made its first test flight in 2000, with first fully operational test conducted in 2004. It has been test-fired total of seven times so far. The last time Dhanush was test fired was in November 2015.
Art & Culture
Centre organises Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav in MP
To celebrate the idea of unity in diversity, the Ministry of Culture, under the Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat matrix, is organising the the Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh.
- The Mahotsav will cover a profusion of art forms from classical and folk, music and dance, theatre to literature and the visual arts.
- It would offer the chance to experience the best in established and emerging virtuosity.
About Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav (RSM):
- RSM was conceived by the Ministry of Culture in the year 2015 with an intent to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Country in all its rich and varied dimensions.
About Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat programme:
- The Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat programme was launched by the Prime Minister on 31st October, 2016 to promote engagement amongst the people of different states/UTs so as to enhance mutual understanding and bonding between people of diverse cultures, thereby securing stronger unity and integrity of India.
Key Facts for Prelims
First woman fighter pilot to fly fighter jet
- Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman fighter pilot to fly solo.
- She flew a MiG-21 Bison, which has the highest landing and take-off speed in the world.
- The fighter stream was opened for women in 2015
5th International Data Science Summit
- 5th international data science summit was recently held in New Delhi.
- Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the National Standards Body of India, in association with Data Science Foundation organized the summit.
- The conference was attended by around 130 delegates from Corporate Officers and executives involved in strategy, Government Policy Planners, Academic institutions, Electrical utilities, Researchers and Developers along with Standards Development Organizations.
BMP-2 and -2K combat vehicles
- Recently, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, approved capital acquisition proposals worth 9.2 billion rupees ($150 million), which primarily includes purchasing 149 BMP-2/2K Infantry Combat Vehicles for the army.
- The BMP-2 is a second-generation, amphibious infantry fighting vehicle introduced in the 1980s in the Soviet Union, following on from the BMP-1 of the 1960s. The BMP-2 was license-produced in Czechoslovakia (BVP-2) and India (Sarath).
C V Raman International Fellowship for African Researchers
- FICCI in partnership with Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and DS&T gives away C V Raman International Fellowship for African Researchers which is in line with efforts of promoting scientific and technological cooperation between India and Africa.