Polity & Governance
- Centre may enact law against fugitives
- States can relax highway liquor ban
- NHRC retains its ‘A’ status of accreditation with GANHRI in Geneva
- 338 workers to be Conferred with Prime Minister Shram Awards
- PNB fraud fallout: Banks told to link CBS with SWIFT system
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Drypetes kalamii: New plant species from West Bengal
Bilateral & International Relations
- 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers
- International Conference on Sustainable Biofuels 2018
Defence & Security Issues
- Rustom-2 UAV successfully test-flown
- Indian Navy to host ‘Milan-2018’
Science & Technology
- Moon’s water may be widely distributed
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Polity & Governance
Centre may enact law against fugitives
The Union government may consider enacting the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill to confiscate assets of those who flee the country and refuse to return after committing frauds in excess of Rs. 100 crore.
- Such a law assumes significance as major bank frauds have come to light in quick succession of late.
- A draft of the Bill, which is in consonance with similar legislation in several countries, was circulated last May seeking comments from all stakeholders.
- The bill was drafted in pursuance of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s 2017-18 Budget speech promising legislative changes or even new law to confiscate the assets of such fugitives.
- The Finance Ministry had prepared the draft Cabinet note on the bill and sought the law ministry’s opinion on it.
- The Bill was then cleared by the Union Law Ministry with certain recommendations on reconciliation of provisions with the existing laws.
Who is a fugitive economic offender?
- As per the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2017, fugitive economic offender is a person who has an arrest warrant issued in respect of a scheduled offence and who leaves or has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution, or refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.
Highlights of the draft Bill:
- The Bill seeks to deter economic offenders from evading the process of Indian law by fleeing the country.
- The proposed law will be applicable in cases where the value of offences is over Rs 100 crore.
- The bill proposes to allow the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the premier technical snoop wing under the finance ministry, to file an application for the declaration of fugitive economic offender for confiscation of their assets.
- The courts under PMLA would be entrusted with the responsibility to try the case.
- Also, the bill has provision for appointment of an administrator to dispose off the property to pay off the creditors. Besides, the provisions of the proposed law will override provisions of other existing laws.
- Also, the burden of proof for establishing that an individual is a fugitive economic offender will be on the authorities.
- As proposed, the Enforcement Directorate will be empowered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to initiate the proceedings. It has a provision enabling repayment of dues to creditors by disposing of confiscated assets, in case the accused offender continues to evade prosecution.
- As listed in the draft Bill’s schedule, it will be applicable to various financial and allied offences as defined under the Indian Penal Code, the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, Customs Act and so on.
Existing laws related to fugitive economic offenders:
The existing laws under which such fugitive economic offenders are tried include:
- Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act (RDDBFI),
- Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002, (SARFESI) and
- Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
Need for a law:
- There have been several instances of economic offenders fleeing the jurisdiction of Indian courts, anticipating the commencement, or during the pendency, of criminal proceedings.
- Under the existing laws, the bank has failed to recover the dues in the past three years.
- The absence of such offenders from Indian courts has several deleterious consequences— first, it hampers investigation in criminal cases; second, it wastes precious time of courts of law; third, it undermines the rule of law in India.
States can relax highway liquor ban
The Supreme Court has given the State governments the discretion to decide, on facts, whether areas covered by local self-governing bodies or areas proximate to municipal pockets should be exempted from the court’s nationwide prohibition on sale of liquor within 500 metres along the highways.
- In 2016, the Supreme Court passed an order banning the sale of alcohol along national and state highways, ordering the cancellation of liquor licences issued to shops by April 1, 2017.
- The order states that no liquor stores should be even visible from highways, or located within a distance of 500 metres of the highways, or be directly accessible from a national or state highway.
- The order has been subsequently modified to exempt establishments within 220 metres of the highways for smaller towns and municipalities with a population of less than 20,000 people.
- The order is aimed at tackling the rising menace of drunk driving as well as improving road safety conditions in India. The court cited “alarming” statistics showing drunk driving-related accidents and deaths, and said the order is in “overwhelming public interest.”
- Citing data from the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the Supreme Court noted that in 2015, intake of alcohol or drugs by drivers resulted in 16,298 road accidents (4.2% of total accidents) and 6,755 fatalities (6.4% of total accidents) where drivers were at fault.
- The court also said data showing low incidence of drunk driving often tends to be skewed and “under-reported” as a cause of accidents, as that can affect the claims of victims or their heirs to accident compensation.
NHRC retains its ‘A’ status of accreditation with GANHRI in Geneva
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), India has retained its ‘A’ status of accreditation with the United Nations (UN) mandated Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) in Geneva for the fourth consecutive term of five years.
Who is given to ‘A’ status?
- The ‘A’ status is given to those national human rights bodies, which, after a rigorous process of review every five years, are found fully compliant with the UN mandated Paris principles.
What it means?
- The accreditation confers international recognition and protection of the NHRI and grants participation in the work and decision-making of the GANHRI, as well as the work of the Human Rights Council and other UN mechanisms.
- The NHRC got ‘A’ status first time in 1999 which it retained in 2006 and 2011 reviews.
About GANHRI accreditation system:
- GANHRI is a global network of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) – administrative bodies set up to promote, protect and monitor human rights in a given country.
- It coordinates the relationship between NHRIs and the United Nations human rights system
- It is unique as the only non-UN body whose internal accreditation system, based on compliance with the 1993 Paris Principles, grants access to UN committees.
- The GANHRI is constituted as a non-profit entity under Swiss law, and has one member of staff representing it at the United Nations Office at Geneva.
- Accreditation takes place under the rules of procedure of the GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA).
The GANHRI accreditation system has evolved and been strengthened over the past years. The GANHRI adopted few measures to improve the process include:
- A system by which NHRIs are reviewed on a periodic basis of 5 years;
- An appeal process for NHRIs to ensure greater transparency and due process;
- A more rigorous review of each application;
- More focused recommendations; and
- Wider distribution and greater knowledge of SCA recommendations by NHRIs and other stakeholders, so that they can follow up in-country and contribute to the accreditation process.
About GANHRI Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA):
- In line with its key mission to support the establishment and strengthening of NHRIs, the GANHRI through its Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA) reviews and accredits national human rights institutions in compliance with Paris Principles.
- The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is a permanent observer on the Sub Committee on Accreditation, SCA and serves as the secretariat to the GANHRI and its SCA.
About Paris Principles:
The Paris Principles were adopted by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1993. The Paris Principles require NHRIs to:
- Protect human rights, including by receiving, investigating and resolving complaints, mediating conflicts and monitoring activities; and
- Promote human rights, through education, outreach, the media, publications, training and capacity building, as well as advising and assisting the Government.
The Paris Principles set out six main criteria that NHRIs require to meet:
- Mandate and competence: a broad mandate, based on universal human rights norms and standards;
- Autonomy from Government;
- Independence guaranteed by statute or Constitution;
- Adequate resources;
- Adequate powers of investigation.
- The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India is an autonomous public body constituted in 1993.
- It was given a statutory basis by the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (TPHRA).
- Recommendations given by NHRC are just advisory and not binding in nature.
- NHRC submits Annual report to the Central government and to the concerned state governments.
The NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) consists of:
- A Chairperson, retired Chief Justice of India
- One Member who is, or has been, a Judge of the Supreme Court of India
- One Member who is, or has been, the Chief Justice of a High Court
- Two Members to be appointed from among persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights
- In addition, the Chairpersons of four National Commissions of (1. Minorities 2. SC and ST 3. Women) serve as ex officio members.
338 workers to be Conferred with Prime Minister Shram Awards
Prime Minister Shram Awards will be conferred to around 338 Workers.
- The awards are given in recognition of their distinguished performances, innovative abilities, outstanding contribution in the field of productivity and exhibition of exceptional courage and presence of mind.
About Shram Awards:
- The Prime Minister’s Shram Awards were instituted in 1985 by the Government of India.
- This national award is conferred on workers for outstanding contributions that improve productivity, innovation, and indigenization, resulting in saving foreign exchange.
- The award is also given for long-term exceptional dedicated work.
- The objective of the Prime Ministers Shram Awards is to recognize the outstanding contributions made by workmen as defined in the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 in organizations both in public and private sector and who have distinguished record of performance, devotion to duty of a high order, specific contribution in the field of productivity and proven innovative abilities among others.
They are four types of awards:
- Shram Ratna: Rs. Two lakhs and recognition of their contribution to their field (a Sanad).
- Shram Bhushan: RS. 100000 and a Sanad.
- Shram Vir / Shram Veerangana: RS. 60000 and a Sanad.
- Shram Devi / Shram Shree: RS. 40000 and a Sanad.
PNB fraud fallout: Banks told to link CBS with SWIFT system
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has directed banks to link SWIFT (Society for World Interbank Financial Telecommunication System platform) with their core banking solutions (CBS) by April 30, 2018.
- This decision is part of RBI’s efforts to tighten internal controls in banks following Rs 11,400 crore fraud that was unearthed at Punjab National Bank (PNB).
- CBS is centralised software used to support bank’s most common transactions.
Need for SWIFT-CBS linking:
- Many banks are yet to establish the linkage. So, there is urgent need for banks to revisit their surveillance system and plug the loopholes.
What is SWIFT?
SWIFT is global financial messaging service that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in secure, standardized and reliable environment.
- It is used to transmit messages relating to cross border financial transactions.
- It was founded in 1973 by a group of 239 banks from 15 countries and is headquartered in La Hulpe, Belgium.
- It is a cooperative society under Belgian law owned by its member financial institutions with offices around the world.
- SWIFT does not facilitate funds transfer, rather, it sends payment orders, that must be settled by correspondent accounts that institutions have with each other.
- On receiving this message through SWIFT, banks abroad, mostly branches of domestic banks abroad provide funds to the company.
- Globally over 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries use services of SWIFT.
- It carries an average of approximately 26 million financial messages each day.
- In order to use its messaging services, customers need to connect to the SWIFT environment.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Drypetes kalamii: New plant species from West Bengal
Scientists from Botanical Survey of India (BSI) have identified new plant species named Drypetes kalamii from two protected National Parks in West Bengal.
- These protected National Parks include Buxa and Jaldapara.
- The new species has been named after former President of India, Dr APJ Kalam.
- The new species is close relative of medicinal plant known in Sanskrit as Putrajivah.
About Drypetes kalamii:
- Drypetes kalamii is small shrub found to be shorter version of its close relative Drypetes ellisii.
- It is found in wet, shaded areas of subtropical, moist semi-evergreen forests, at heights of 50-100 metres.
- It is just 1 metre tall and is unisexual in nature, which means they have separate male and female plants.
- It has pale yellow flowers in clusters and bright orange to red fruits.
- Scientists have provisionally assessed plant to be “Critically Endangered” as per IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) rules.
- It faces threat from forest fires and grazing.
About Buxa National Park:
Buxa National Park, in the Alipurduar district, was set up in the year 1982-83 at the north eastern corner of West Bengal bordering Bhutan and Assam.
- The name “Buxa” has been derived from Buxa Fort – a fort at an altitude of 867 meters on the Sinchula Range guarding the most important of the eleven routes into Bhutan, which once was used for detainees during freedom movement of India.
- With an area of 759 sq km this picturesque reserve with its prodigious Terai, Bhabar as well as Hilly landscape, crisscrossed by numerous rivers and their tributaries, presents a breathtaking landscape.
- Buxa National Park is the largest forest in Dooars.
- The Phipsu Wildlife Sanctuary of Bhutan is contiguous to North of BTR. Manas Tiger Reserve lies on east. Thus, Buxa Tiger Reserve serves as international corridor for elephant migration between India and Bhutan. The reserve encompasses as many as eight forest types.
About Buxa Tiger Reserve:
The Buxa Tiger Reserve is a 760-square-kilometre tiger reserve located inside the Buxa National Park in West Bengal.
- The Buxa Tiger Reserve is situated in the Buxa Hills of the southern hilly area of Bhutan.
- Northern boundary of Buxa Tiger Reserve runs along the international border with Bhutan.
- The Sinchula hill range lies all along the northern side of BTR and the eastern boundary touches that of the Assam state.
- It is the eastern most extension of extreme bio-diverse North-East India and represents highly endemic Indo-Malayan region.
- The fragile “Terai Eco-System” constitutes a part of this reserve.
- The Phipsu Wildlife Sanctuary of Bhutan is contiguous to the north of BTR.
- Manas National Park lies on east of BTR. BTR, thus, serves as international corridor for Asian elephant migration between India and Bhutan.
About Jaldapara National Park:
- Jaldapara National Park is a national park situated at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas in Alipurduar District of northern West Bengal and on the banks of the Torsa River.
- Today, it has the largest population of the Indian one horned rhinoceros in the state, an animal threatened with extinction, and is a Habitat management area (Category IV).
- The nearby Chilapata Forests is an elephant corridor between Jaldapara and the Buxa Tiger Reserve.
- Nearby is the Gorumara National Park, known for its population of Indian rhinoceros.
- Toto tribes and Mech Tribes (Bodos) used to stay in this area before 1800. At that time this place was known as “Totopara”.
Bilateral & International Relations
20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers
The 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) is being held at Fiji.
- The theme for 20CCEM is Sustainability and Resilience: Can Education Deliver?
It includes three subthemes:
- Education for sustainable development: Education as a key enabler for sustainable development- skills development and transitioning youth to decent work.
- Building resilience through education: Climate change and the curriculum – displacement and migration due to climate change and the challenges faced by small and atoll islands (including the role of education, traditional knowledge and local culture in building climate resilience).
- Education governance & management: Strengthening the teaching profession and school management – issues of quality and equity; financing of education; societal barriers (including drug abuse and internet/social media); and advocacy for education strategies across the SDGs.
What is Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers?
- The Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers is a high-level meeting that brings together education Ministers from the 52 Commonwealth countries to discuss key issues on education.
- The Commonwealth education conference has been taking place every three years since 1959, when the first meeting was held in Oxford.
- It is the second largest meeting organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
- 2018 conference will be the first Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) since the global community adopted the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
- The meeting will give education ministers the opportunity to agree on effective strategies to help individual countries achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 – inclusive and quality education for all.
- Kenya has formally undertaken to host the 21st Commonwealth Conference of Education Ministers in 2021. Bahamas hosted the 19th Conference.
International Conference on Sustainable Biofuels 2018
A two- day International Conference on Sustainable Biofuels is jointly being organized by Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India on behalf of Mission Innovation (MI) and Biofuture Platform at New Delhi.
About the conference:
- The Sustainable Biofuel is one of the Seven Mission Innovation Challenges and India co-leads this along with other countries Brazil, Canada and China.
- The sustainable biofuel innovation challenge under MI aims to accelerate research, development and deployment of low cost, high GHG impacting advanced biofuels.
- To provide a platform to Government policy makers, investors, industry and research community to exchange experiences and challenges related to development and scaling up of advanced biofuels.
- To exchange best practices in developing projects, performance breakthroughs and in cost reduction.
- Understanding the concerns of private sector and that of investors, to speedup large scale production of sustainable biofuels.
- The event will bring together experts from Biofuels sector to take stock of current knowledge, share information and best practices, and build consensus on the actions most needed to move forward.
- Senior Government Officers, Technical Experts, Academicians, Researchers and Representatives from various Countries, Industry and Investors will participate in the event.
What is Mission Innovation (MI)?
Mission Innovation (MI) is a global initiative of 22 countries and the European Union to dramatically accelerate global clean energy innovation.
- Mission Innovation was announced on November 30, 2015, as world leaders came together in Paris (during COPE 21) to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change.
- As part of the initiative, participating countries have committed to double their governments’ clean energy research and development (R&D) investments over five years, while encouraging greater levels of private sector investment in transformative clean energy technologies.
- These additional resources will dramatically accelerate the availability of the advanced technologies that will define a future global energy mix that is clean, affordable, and reliable.
- India is Founding Member of the Steering Committee and also a Member of the two sub-groups: Joint research and Capacity Building and Private Sector Engagement.
What is Biofuture Platform?
- The Biofuture Platform has been proposed by the government of Brazil to several leading countries in all five continents.
- India is among the founding and current Member States of the Biofuture Platform.
- The Biofuture Platform aims to be an action-oriented, country-led, multistakeholder mechanism for policy dialogue and collaboration among leading countries, organizations, academia and the private sector conscious of the need to accelerate development and scale up deployment of modern sustainable low carbon alternatives to fossil based solutions in transport, chemicals, plastics and other sectors.
- The ultimate purpose of the Biofuture Platform is to help in the global fight against climate change, nurturing solutions in low carbon transport and the bioeconomy that can aid countries to reach their Nationally Determined Contribution targets(NDCs), as well as to contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDGs 7 (sustainable energy), and 13 (action against climate change), while also contributing to SDGs 8 (economic growth and decent work), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 2 (sustainable agriculture and zero hunger) and 15 (forests and ecosystems).
Role of sustainable biofuels:
- Use of fossil fuels for transportation contributes significantly to global greenhouse gases (GHG) emission. The sustainable biofuels have ability to reduce the GHG emission load.
- Advanced or second-generation biofuels produced from non-food biomass materials and specially grown high yielding plants or algae, if managed sustainably can contribute to significantly reduce emissions.
- However, many of the advanced biofuels still remain in pre- or an early commercial stage of development and need innovations and breakthrough for low cost sustainable production.
Defence & Security Issues
Indian Navy to host ‘Milan-2018’
Indian Navy’s Andaman & Nicobar Command will host the multinational mega event MILAN 2018 with theme of ‘Friendship Across the Seas’.
About MILAN Exercise:
- MILAN is congregation of littoral navies conducted biennially by Indian Navy under aegis of the Andaman and Nicobar Command. It was first held in 1995.
- In the first edition, only four littoral navies had participated in it. Now it has now grown into prestigious international event and encompasses participation by maritime forces from not just Bay of Bengal and South East Asia but larger Indian Ocean Region (lOR).
- It provides effective forum to participating navies to come together to discuss common concerns in the Indian Ocean Region and forge deeper cooperation among friendly navies.
About MILAN 2018:
- MILAN 2018 aims to showcase the rich heritage and pristine natural beauty of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the foreign visitors.
- Besides fostering co-operation through naval exercises and professional interactions, MILAN also provides an excellent opportunity to the participating navies to come together in a spirit of collaboration and mutual understanding to nurture stronger ties.
- 16 countries participating in this edition of exercise include Australia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Vietnam, Thailand, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya and Cambodia.
Rustom-2 UAV successfully test-flown
India’s premier defence research institute Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) carried out “successful” test flight of its Rustom 2 drone, a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
- This flight assumes significance due to the fact that this is the first flight in user configuration with higher power engine.
About Rustom 2:
Rustom 2 drone is a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, developed on the lines of predator drones of the United States.
- The objective of this drone is to carry out surveillance for the armed forces with an endurance of 24 hours.
- Rustom 2 is part of the Rustom line of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that includes Rustom-I, Rustom-H and Rustom-C.
- The drone was developed for use by all three services of the Indian armed forces, primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.
- The medium-altitude prototype can fly at over 22,000 ft and is a long-endurance (MALE) UAV that has an approximate flight time of 20 hours.
- It can fly at around 280 km/h and carry a variety of payloads like Medium Range Electro Optic (MREO), Long Range Electro Optic (LREO), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Electronic Intelligence (ELINT).
- Rustom 2 can fly missions on manual as well as autonomous modes. The onboard way-point navigation system allows the drone to conduct missions autonomously.
- Modern warfare is heavily dependent on drones and India had deployed its imported drones effectively during the surgical strikes it carried out across the Line of Control in Pakistan in September 2016.
Science & Technology
Moon’s water may be widely distributed
A new analysis of data from India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) suggests that Moon’s water may be widely distributed across the surface, not confined to a particular region.
- The results contradict some earlier studies, which had suggested that more water was detected at the Moon’s polar latitudes and that the strength of the water signal waxes and wanes according to the lunar day (29.5 Earth days).
About the new findings:
- The new finding of widespread water suggests that it may be present primarily as OH, a more reactive relative of H2O that is made of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom.
- OH, also called hydroxyl, does not stay on its own for long, preferring to attack molecules or attach itself chemically to them. Hydroxyl would therefore have to be extracted from minerals in order to be used.
How did these findings make?
- For the study, the researchers analysed data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper spectrometer on board Chandrayaan-1.
- They came up with a new way to incorporate important temperature information, creating a detailed model from measurements made by the Diviner instrument on NASA’s LRO.
Significance of this new findings:
- The new findings could help researchers understand the origin of the Moon’s water and how easy it would be to use as a resource.
- If the Moon has enough water, and if it is reasonably convenient to access, future explorers might be able to use it as drinking water or to convert it into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel or oxygen to breathe.