Polity & Governance
- Conflict of interest in appointment of GEAC members: Par panel
- Now, Serious Fraud Investigation Office has powers to arrest
- Govt notifies changes in Banking Regulation Act
- Spice Digital gets RBI licence to operate under BBPS
- NITI Aayog pitches to remove agriculture from Essential Commodities Act
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- NITI Aayog suggests waste to energy plants to clean up solid
Science & Technology
- Ocean forecasting system unveiled
- A new technique developed to produce bioethanol from cotton-stalks
- New Biosensor detects kidney disorders in few minutes
Key Facts for Prelims
- Grameen Khel Mahotsav
- India’s first Videsh Bhavan
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Polity & Governance
Conflict of interest in appointment of GEAC members: Par panel
The department-related parliamentary standing committee on science and technology and environment and forest recently submitted its recommendations in its 301st report on ‘GM crop and its impact on environment’.
Concerns raised by the committee related to GEAC:
- The committee said, there is a conflict of interest in the appointment of some members of the country’s biotech regulator- GEAC- with two of the top three positions being held by bureaucrats of the environment ministry.
- The committee expressed its concerns about the “ad hocism” in the constitution of the committee and also about the criteria adopted by the environment ministry for selection of the members of GEAC, their credentials, etc.
- The panel said that “it would be in fitness of things if GEAC is headed by an expert from the field of biotechnology given the understanding of scientific data and analysis of research and its implication before coming to a conclusion in the matter.”
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is the apex body constituted in the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
- It was set up under ‘Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells 1989’, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- The GEAC approves activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
- It is also responsible for approval of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials (Biosafety Research Level trial-I and II known as BRL-I and BRL-II).
Authorities under the Rule of 1986:
The Rules of 1989 also define five competent authorities for handling of various aspects of the rules.
- Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBSC),
- Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM),
- Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
- State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) and
- District Level Committee (DLC).
Now, Serious Fraud Investigation Office has powers to arrest
The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) now has powers to arrest people for violations of companies’ law, with the government notifying relevant provisions under the Companies Act, 2013.
What is Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO)?
The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) is a fraud investigating agency.
- It is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India.
- The SFIO is involved in major fraud probes and is the co-ordinating agency with the Income Tax and CBI.
- It is a multi-disciplinary organization having experts from financial sector, capital market, accountancy, forensic audit, taxation, law, information technology, company law, customs and investigation.
- These experts have been taken from various organizations like banks, Securities and Exchange Board of India, Comptroller and Auditor General and concerned organizations and departments of the Government.
- The Government approved setting up of this organization on 9 January 2003 on the basis of the recommendations made by the Naresh Chandra Committee which was set up by the Government on 21 August 2002 on corporate governance.
Notified powers of SFIO:
As per the latest notification,
- The director as well as additional or assistant director level officials at the SFIO can arrest a person if they believe he or she is guilty of any offence with regard to the case being probed. The reason for arrest should be recorded in writing.
- In case of an arrest being made by additional director or assistant director, the prior written approval of the director SFIO shall be obtained.
- The SFIO director would be the competent authority for all decisions pertaining to arrest.
- The arrest of a person in connection with a government or a foreign company under investigation can be made by the SFIO only “with prior written approval of the central government”. Besides, such arrest should be intimated to the managing director or the person in-charge of the affairs of the government company.
- In case the person arrested is the managing director or person in-charge of a government company, then the secretary of the administrative ministry concerned should be intimated by the arresting officer.
Govt notifies changes in Banking Regulation Act
The Union Government has notified the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2017.
Key provisions of the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2017:
- The bill will replace the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 promulgated by President in May 2017.
- The bill seeks to amend the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 to insert provisions for handling cases related to stressed assets or non-performing assets (NPAs) of banks.
- It will enable the Central government to authorize the RBI to direct banking companies to resolve specific stressed assets by initiating insolvency resolution proceedings under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.
- It empowers RBI to issue directions to banks for resolution of stressed assets from time to time.
- It enables RBI to specify committees or authorities to advise banks on resolution of stressed assets. RBI will appoint or approve members on such committees.
- It inserts provision to make above provisions applicable to the SBI and its subsidiaries and also Regional Rural Banks (RRBs).
- The banking sector in India is saddled with non-performing assets (NPAs) of over Rs.8 lakh crore, of which, Rs. 6 lakh crore are with public sector banks (PSBs).
- The Union Government in May 2017 had promulgated an ordinance authorising the RBI to issue directions to banks to initiate insolvency resolution process under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.
- The RBI had identified 12 accounts each having more than Rs. 5000 crore of outstanding loans and accounting for 25% of total NPAs of banks for immediate referral for resolution under the bankruptcy law.
- The bulk of the NPAs are in various sectors including power, steel, road infrastructure and textiles.
Spice Digital gets RBI licence to operate under BBPS
Spice Digital Limited (SDL), a fintech company, has received the final licence from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), allowing the company to process bill payments as a Bharat Bill Payment Operating Unit (BBPOU) in the Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS).
- In August 2016, NPCI had launched a pilot project for BBPS with eight BBPS operating unit, Spice Digital was one of them.
Bill payments in India
- Bill payments is a major component of the retail payment transactions in India. It is characterized by the presence of large number of billers and aggregators who provide a variety of payment options to customers.
- According to the Digital Payments 2020 report by Google and Boston Consulting Group, cashless payments contribution in the consumer payments segment will double to 40%.
About Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS)
The Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS) is an RBI conceptualised system driven by National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI).
- BBPS is an integrated bill payment system offering interoperable and accessible bill payment service to customers through a network of agents, enabling multiple payment modes and providing instant confirmation of payment.
- The BBPS initiative aims to provide a major push to digital payments as it is a big step forward in formalizing the bill payment system in the country.
- Under the BBPS framework, a customer will be able to pay several bills such as electricity, telephone, water, gas, and DTH television at a single location—physical or electronic—and receive instant confirmation once the payment is made. Nearly 45 crore bills are permitted under BBPS.
- Payments through BBPS can be made using cash, transfer cheques and electronic modes.
- Bill aggregators and banks, who will function as operating units, will carry out these transactions for the customers.
- At present the bulk of transactions on BBPS are of electricity bills. It contributes to about 180 million bills per month out of which only 10% is digital.
About the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI)
- NPCI is an umbrella organization for all retail payments system in India.
- Founded in 2008, NPCI is a not-for-profit organisation registered under the Companies Act 2013.
- It aims to allow all Indian citizens to have unrestricted access to e-payment services.
- It was set up with the guidance and support of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Indian Banks’ Association (IBA). NPCI has ten promoter banks.
- It has been promoted by the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India.
- Its recent work of developing Unified Payments Interface aims to move India to a cashless society with only digital transactions.
- It has successfully completed the development of a domestic card payment network called RuPay, reducing the dependency on international card schemes.
NITI Aayog pitches to remove agriculture from Essential Commodities Act
NITI Aayog has proposed to remove all agricultural commodities from the Essential Commodities Act.
Why NITI Aayog has suggested so?
- According to NITI Aayog, the suggested move will lead to shifting towards organised trading by removing stock restrictions.
- With this, a smaller number of traders with sufficient capital will be able to have an upper-hand in the market. This will help in reduction of costs and prices, bring economies of scale and increase returns for farmers.
- NITI Aayog is of the view that by organised trading, the removal of agriculture commodities from the Act will improve scale and logistics benefit and bring about more capital into trade with a handful of big traders competing with each other.
- This proposal has already been discussed with the Centre and it is likely for the Centre to reach out to the states for enabling this provision after consulting with the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.
Need for the proposed move
- With rules and stock limits frequently changing, traders are not incentivised to invest in a better storage infrastructure.
- Also, stock limits cut functioning of food processing industries. These need to maintain underlying commodities in large quantities in order to operate smoothly. In such a case, it is unlikely for private entities to invest in such units.
- Ministry of Consumer Affairs says that if there are a fewer traders, it will indefinitely lead to price manipulation because then many would be tempted to choose the illegal business method.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
NITI Aayog suggests waste to energy plants to clean up solid
In its recently released Three Year Action Agenda, the NITI Aayog has suggested setting up an authority which will take up installation of waste to energy plants in public-private partnership (PPP) mode to clean up municipal solid waste.
- The Aayog noted that the mountains of waste, which can now be seen in nearly all cities, have become a serious public health threat.
- Rapidly rising prosperity has resulted in generation of vast volumes of solid waste in the cities. However, cities have been “slow to develop effective ways” to dispose municipal waste and called for accelerated action to combat the problem.
About the proposed authority:
- The Aayog is of the view that it may be worth exploring the possibility of an authority at the Centre to spread the use of waste to energy plants.
- Such an authority can be called Waste to Energy Corporation of India (WECI) and placed under the housing and urban affairs ministry.
- On the line of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), the WECI may set up world class waste to energy plants through PPP mode across the country.
- The authority can play a “key role in fast-tracking coverage” of waste to energy plants across 100 smart cities by 2019.
- As per the 2011 census, 377 million people living in 7,935 urban centres generate 1,70,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste daily.
- Urban local bodies spend about Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 per tonne on solid waste management. Out of this, about 60-70 per cent is spent on the collection of waste and 20-30 per cent on transportation but almost nothing on its treatment and disposal.
Science & Technology
Ocean forecasting system unveiled
The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) of the Ministry of Earth Sciences inaugurated the Ocean Forecasting System for Indian Ocean countries Comoros, Madagascar, and Mozambique.
- It was unveiled at the third Ministerial Meeting of Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Asia and Africa (RIMES) held at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
- The Ocean Forecast System will offer, high wave alerts, port warnings, forecast, oil spill advisory services along the ship routes in addition to tsunami and storm surge warnings and help in search and rescue operations. These ocean services are aimed towards safety at the sea.
- The ocean forecast and early warming information on winds, high wave, currents, tides, sub-surface ocean conditions will cater to users like coastal population, fishermen, tourism sector, coastal defence officials, port authorities, marine police, research institutions and offshore industries of these countries.
- INCOIS has been developing Ocean Forecast System for the Indian Ocean countries and already has provided these operational services to Maldives, Sri Lanka and Seychelles.
Advantages for India
- The Ocean Forecast System developed for the Indian Ocean countries and the real-time data from their territories also help to improve the ocean forecast and early warning system for the Indian coast too.
- Wave surge and coastal flooding that occurred from July 28 to August 3 in 2016 along Kerala and West Bengal were well predicted and real-time data from Seychelles were highly beneficial for predicting these incidents, as many of these remotely forced waves originated from the southern and western Indian Ocean.
About Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES)
- RIMES is an international and intergovernmental institution, owned and managed by its Member States, for the generation and application of early warning information.
- RIMES provides regional early warning services and builds capacity of its Member States in the end-to-end early warning of tsunami and hydro-meteorological hazards.
About Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS)
- INCOIS is an autonomous organization of the Union Government, under the Ministry of Earth Sciences is a unit of the Earth System Science Organization (ESSO).
- It was established in 1999 and is headquartered in Pragathi Nagar, Hyderabad.
- Its mandated is to provide the best possible ocean information and advisory services to government agencies, society, industry and the scientific community through sustained ocean observations and constant improvements through systematic and focussed research.
A new technique developed to produce bioethanol from cotton-stalks
Scientists from CSIR’s National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (CSIR-NIIST), Thiruvananthapuram have been able to turn waste into wealth.
- They have produced ethanol from discarded cotton-stalks by using a combination of chemical and biological techniques.
Cotton stalk wastes:
- India has about 9.4 million hectares under cotton cultivation and every hectare generates 2 million tonnes of cotton stalk wastes.
About the new technique:
- The stalks were first treated with an acid, alkali and different enzymes to breakdown the complex organic polymers of the stalk.
- The acid helps to remove hemicellulose, a polymer of cell wall and alkali makes easier to extract lignin, a binding matrix in cell wall, made of complex phenolics.
- These treatments expose cellulose of cotton stalks made of glucose to the action of enzymes. It converts glucose into final product bioethanol by the process of fermentation using a novel yeast strain.
- The novel yeast strain used was Saccharomycescerevisiae-RRP-03N, obtained from a rotting wild fruit we found in the Silent Valley National Park, Kerala.
- The yeast showed a glucose conversion efficiency of 76% and the entire glucose was utilised by the yeast in just 24 hours and converted into alcohol. This performance was superior to any other organism reported for fermentation of cotton stalk.
- The final alcohol obtained can be made to fuel grade bioethanol (>99% purity), after distillation and dehydration using molecular sieves, which is an existing technology practised in the distilleries.
- Converting the agro-residues such as cotton stalks and wheat and rice husks etc to ethanol reduces the food vs fuel competition.
New Biosensor detects kidney disorders in few minutes
Researchers from Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Bombay and Indore have jointly developed a biosensor that makes it possible to detect kidney disorders in less than eight minutes.
- The biosensor can accurately measure both the pH and urea concentration with a single drop of urine.
- It will help make a point-of-care test to determine whether kidneys are functioning normally or not.
About conventional kidney tests
- To check the proper functioning of kidneys, doctors generally need an estimate of pH and urea, as most kidney disorders result in reduced pH and a higher concentration of urea.
- In the available methods, patients have to undergo two tests in order to detect urea accurately.
- In addition, the results can be affected by the contaminating components in urine such as calcium, chloride, ascorbic acid, sodium and potassium, making them inaccurate.
About the New Biosensor test
- The new biosensor can detect both pH and urea.
- It is made by encapsulating an enzyme urease and a molecule FITC-dextran in alginate microspheres.
- The combination of the enzyme and the molecule emits fluorescence colour in response to chemical reaction with urea and changes in pH when urine is added.
- The fluorescence reduces when the pH is acidic and increases when it is alkaline.
- The change in fluorescence intensity helps to calculate the values of pH and urea.
Advantages of the Biosensor Test
- The biosensor is made using alginate and hence, is safe and non-toxic to handle.
- It can work in the ideal pH range of 4-8 and is able to detect even low concentrations of urea up to 50 millimolar.
- So far, tests have revealed the accuracy of the biosensor to be more than 97 percent.
- Further, the biosensor is stable for up to a month in a refrigerator and gives results that are unaffected by other components in urine samples.
- It can help make rapid and accurate point-of-care diagnostic test for kidney disorders.
Disadvantages of the Biosensor Test
- While the newly developed test has various pros, it has a con as well, as it is not user-friendly and cost-effective in comparison to other electrochemical techniques that are routinely used for the purpose.
Key Facts for Prelims
- Nuakhai is an agriculture festival celebrated primarily in western Odisha by farmers to thank ‘Mother Earth’ for being so bountiful.
- The festival is akin to Onam in Tamil Nadu.
- The festival is celebrated on the day after Ganesh Chaturthi.
- Nuakhai is observed to welcome the new rice of the season.
Grameen Khel Mahotsav
- The first edition of Rural Games or Grameen Khel Mahotsav will kick-start from Delhi.
- It will take place between 28th August to 3rd September, 2017.
- The Rural Games will aim at popularising the indigenous games like wrestling, athletics etc.
- It will also have fun games like Matka Race, Tug of War for senior citizens to add the fun element in the games.
- These games are intended to act as a catalyst to promote sports in rural areas across the country. The main objective is to deepen the sports culture among the rural youth.
- This festival will help participation of rural youth in large numbers in popular sports and encourage them to achieve excellence and adopt healthy life style.
India’s first Videsh Bhavan
- The Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) launched country’s first Videsh Bhavan by assimilating all Regional Passport Offices and allied departments under a single roof at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai.
- Currently, 90-plus RPOs and PoEs across the country function from rented offices. Merging and integrating them into similar Videsh Bhavans in different state capitals is expected to cut costs besides ensuring improving efficiency and speeding up the delivery of various services.
- The pilot project is part of Union Government’s policy to bring together different offices of the MEA under a single roof and work closely with states as more and more Indians are going abroad for education, employment, business and tourism.