Polity & Governance
- Over Rs.one lakh cr investment approved for housing of urban poor
- SC seeks law to regulate NGO funds
- Religious freedom deteriorating in India
- Supreme Court pulls up States on food panels
Environment & Ecology
- A shrinking home for endemic birds
- High Court spells out steps to stop pollution in Dal Lake
- International Conference on Dara Shikoh
Science & Technology
- ISRO unveils Solar Calculator app
- Artificial womb experiment delivers hopes
Polity & Governance
Over Rs.one lakh cr investment approved for housing of urban poor
Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation has sanctioned 1,00,537 more houses for urban poor under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) with an investment of Rs.4,200 cr taking the total investment so far approved to Rs.1,00,466 cr.
- This is 307% more than the investment approved of Rs.32,713 cr during 2004-14 for affordable housing in urban areas.
- With the latest sanctions, the Ministry has so far approved construction of 18,75,389 houses for Economically Weaker Sections under PMAY(Urban) in 2,151 cities and towns in 34 States/UTs as against 13.80 lakh houses sanctioned during 2004-15 with an approved investment of Rs.32,009 cr.
- The total investment approved so far includes central assistance of Rs.29,409 cr, assistance from State Governments and beneficiary contribution.
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) Programme launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA), in Mission mode envisions provision of Housing for All by 2022, when the Nation completes 75 years of its Independence.
- The Mission seeks to address the housing requirement of urban poor including slum dwellers through following programme verticals:
- Slum rehabilitation of Slum Dwellers with participation of private developers using land as a resource.
- Promotion of Affordable Housing for weaker section through credit linked subsidy.
- Affordable Housing in Partnership with Public & Private sectors.
- Subsidy for beneficiary-led individual house construction /enhancement.
- The beneficiaries are poor and people living under EWS and LIG categories in the country.
- The scheme is divided into three phases. In the first phase, a total of 100 cities will be covered from April 2015 to March 2017. In phase two, 200 cities will be covered from April 2017 to March 2019. In the third phase, the leftover cities will be covered from April 2019 to March 2022.
- The government is providing an interest subsidy of 6.5% on housing loans which can be availed by beneficiaries for 15 years from start of loan date.
- The government will grant Rs 1 lakh to all the beneficiaries of the scheme. In addition, Rs 1.5 lakh will be given to all eligible urban poor who want to construct their houses in urban areas or plan to go for renovation in their existing houses.
- One can also avail loans under this scheme to build toilets in existing houses.
SC seeks law to regulate NGO funds
The Supreme Court has asked the government to frame a statutory law to regulate the flow of public money to the NGOs.
- The government had recently handed over the guidelines to the court, appointing NITI Aayog as the nodal agency for NGO registration.
- But the court said the guidelines might not prove sufficient for “systematising the entire process of accreditation, fund utilisation and audit of NGOs”.
- The Ministry of Rural Development had framed the accreditation guidelines to regulate “manner in which the VOs/NGOs, which are recipient of grants, would maintain their account, the procedure for audit of the account, including procedure to initiate action for recovering of the grants in case of misappropriation and criminal action.”
Some key guidelines:
- NITI Aayog has been appointed as the nodal agency for the purpose of registration and accreditation of VOs/NGOs seeking funding from the Government of India.
- The Aayog has been also tasked with maintaining of database systems to manage and disseminate information relating to NGOs/VOs.
- As per the new guidelines, an NGO will be blacklisted if it provides false and misleading information to the Centre.
- Under the stringent guidelines, NGOs would be provided a unique ID and subjected to the Income Tax Act and Foreign Contribution Regulations act. They would be granted accreditation after their internal governance and ethical standards are evaluated.
- Past record of NGOs too would be scrutinized before they are given accreditation. A three-tier scrutiny would be in place to evaluate utilization of funds and the process would also include quality of work done by the NGOs.
- It would be mandatory for the NGOs to execute a bond to refund the amount with 10% interest if they fail to execute the project for which the grant is allocated.
- Misappropriation of funds would invite both criminal and civil cases.
Need of a law:
- CBI records filed in 2016 in the Supreme Court had shown show that only 2,90,787 NGOs file annual financial statements of a total of 29,99,623 registered ones under the Societies Registration Act.
- In some States, the CBI said the laws do not even provide for the NGOs to be transparent about their financial dealings. In the Union Territories, of a total of 82,250 NGOs registered and functioning, only 50 file their returns.
- New Delhi has the highest number of registered NGOs among the Union Territories at 76,566. But none of these organisations submit returns, the CBI chart showed. In Kerala, which has 3,69,137 NGOs, there is no legal provision to submit returns. The same is the case for Punjab with 84,752 and Rajasthan with 1.3 lakh NGOs.
- Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of NGOs at 5.48 lakh among the States, has only 1.19 lakh filing returns. Tamil Nadu has 1.55 lakh NGOs registered; however, only 20,277 file returns. Andhra Pradesh has 2.92 lakh NGOs, but only 186 file financial statements annually.
- West Bengal has 2.34 lakh registered NGOs, of which only 17,089 active NGOs file annual returns.
Religious freedom deteriorating in India
The annual report of the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom released recently said that religious tolerance and religious freedom continued to deteriorate in India in 2016.
Highlights of the report:
- Hindu nationalist groups and their sympathisers perpetrated numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minority communities and Hindu Dalits. These violations were most “frequent and severe” in 10 of India’s 29 States.
- National and State laws that restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, and the foreign funding of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) helped create the conditions enabling these violations.
- The report also blames police and judicial bias and inadequacies that “have created a pervasive climate of impunity in which religious minorities feel increasingly insecure and have no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur”.
Supreme Court pulls up States on food panels
The Supreme Court has criticised the Centre and the State governments for the lacklustre implementation of the National Food Security Act of 2013, including a rather casual approach taken to the mandatory setting up of the State Food Commissions meant to monitor the implementation of the statute.
- The court found that the situation has come into existence owing to the “flexibility” provided by the Act to States to designate “some existing Commission to act as the State Food Commission”.
- The result, the apex court found, was that many States have opted for this flexibility.
State Food Commission:
- As per the act, every State Government shall, by notification, constitute a State Food Commission for the purpose of monitoring and review of implementation of this Act.
- The State Commission shall consist of: A Chairperson, five other Members and a Member-Secretary, who shall be an officer of the State Government not below the rank of Joint Secretary to that Government.
- The act requires that there shall be at least two women, one person belonging to the Scheduled Castes and one person belonging to the Scheduled Tribes, whether Chairperson, Member or Member-Secretary.
About National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013:
As passed by the Parliament, Government has notified the National Food Security Act, 2013 on 10th September, 2013.
- NFSA aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people.
- The Act provides for coverage of upto 75% of the rural population and upto 50% of the urban population for receiving subsidized foodgrains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), thus covering about two-thirds of the population.
- Under the provisions of this act, beneficiaries are able to purchase 5 kilograms per eligible person per month of cereals at the following prices:
- Rice at 3 Rupees per kg.
- Wheat at 2 Rupees per kg.
- Coarse grains (millet) at 1 rupee per kg.
- The existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households, which constitute the poorest of the poor, will continue to receive 35 Kgs of foodgrains per household per month.
- The cost of the implementation is estimated to be $22 billion (1.25 lac crore), approximately 1.5% of GDP.
Environment & Ecology
A shrinking home for endemic birds
According to a study by IUCN experts, 17 Western Ghats species have smaller ranges than what was thought earlier.
- The study used land cover, forest type (satellite imagery), temperature, precipitation and ‘citizen science’ using the eBird online birding checklist.
Highlights of the study:
- The study found that for 17 of 18 bird species, the distribution was smaller than what IUCN earlier estimated.
- IUCN overestimated the habitat of these bird species by up to 88%. Of the 18 species, habitats of 12 were overestimated by over 50%.
- An example is the Malabar grey hornbill which IUCN classifies as ‘Least Concern’ and believes is distributed across 2.3 lakh sq.km in Kerala and Karnataka. But when researchers used a spatial modelling technique, they found its range was just 43,060 sq. km, or, nearly 81% less than the estimates. This would put the bird in the ‘Near Threatened’ category.
- Again, the Nilgiri pipit appears to have lost 88% of its habitat, making it “endangered” rather than “vulnerable.”
- These species are in danger because as per the IUCN guidelines, ‘less vulnerable’ species receive a lower conservation focus.
High Court spells out steps to stop pollution in Dal Lake
The Jammu & Kashmir High Court has come down heavily on authorities for failing to preserve the famous Dal Lake.
- The court has ordered a slew of measures to contain the ever growing pollution and encroachments in and around the waterbody.
These measures are as follows:
- Re-structure and refurnish existing Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs).
- Rope in non-governmental and other organisations “for technical experience” and install CCTV cameras “to strengthen” the LAWDA’s Enforcement Wing.
- Implement a rehabilitation project for lake-dwellers who are being displaced as part of the conservation programme.
- Seek guidance of the World Wildlife Fund, which has created a network called the India Water Stewardship Network and Alliance for Water Stewardship, “to ensure sustainable water management”.
- Examine whether a non-profit trust can be formed, like a ‘Dal Lake Fund’. It can be given the task of restoration of the lake.
- Encourage good Samaritans to save the lake. This can be done by encouraging school and college students to take part in community service programmes, focusing specifically on clean environment in and around the lake.
About Dal Lake:
- Dal lake is the second largest lake in Jammu and Kashmir and is integral to tourism and recreation in Kashmir.
- It is named the “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir” or “Srinagar’s Jewel”.
- Mughal gardens on the shore, such as Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh were built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir.
- The lake covers an area of 18 square kilometres and is part of a natural wetland which covers 21.1 square kilometres, including its floating gardens.
- The floating gardens are known as “Rad” in Kashmiri.
- The lake is located within a catchment area covering 316 square kilometres in the Zabarwan mountain valley, in the foothills of the Shankracharya hills, which surrounds it on three sides.
International Conference on Dara Shikoh
The international conference on “Dara Shikoh: Reclaiming Spiritual Legacy of India” will be held on April 27 and 28.
- The conference will be organised by the Indian Council Of Cultural Relations (ICCR).
- The conference will see the participation of eminent scholars from the US, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and India.
- The objective of the conference is to highlight Dara Shikoh’s contributions to bring about spiritual homogenisation of Hinduism and Islam and his initiatives in building a cohesive social and cultural edifice in India.
About Dara Shikoh:
- Dara Shikoh was the eldest son of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.
- He was also the heir-apparent of the Mughal Emperor.
- He was favoured as a successor by his father, Shah Jahan, and his elder sister, Princess Jahanara Begum.
- However, Dara Shikoh was defeated and killed by his younger brother Aurangzeb in a struggle for the imperial throne.
- Dara Shikoh, through his research and study of Vedas and Upanishads, concluded that a common spiritual basis existed between Hinduism and Islam which should be comprehended and celebrated.
- In his foreword to the monumental work, Siri-Akbar, he wrote that a great deal of Quranic wisdom existed in Upanishads.
- He also documented the Quranic terms and their Sanskrit equivalents from Upanishads.
- He was invited to lay the foundation of the Golden Temple of Amritsar and he befriended with 7thGuru of Sikhs Guru Har Rai.
Science & Technology
ISRO unveils Solar Calculator app
ISRO has launched a solar calculator app that can calculate the benefits of installing solar panels in different regions of the country.
- The app has been created by the Space Application Center (SAC) facility of ISRO following the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE)’s request.
- The app comes handy for installation of Photovoltaic (PV) for tapping of solar energy.
Salient features of the app:
- The App determines solar energy potential (in kWh/m2) at any given location, determination of which is important for setting up of photovoltaic thermal power plants.
- The user can key in the location or the app can get the location details through GPS.
- The app provides monthly and yearly solar potential by processing data obtained from Indian Geostationary Satellites (Kalpana-1, INSAT-3D and INSAT-3DR).
- The app provides information about the azimuth and elevation angles, and duration of day over different time periods in a year.
- It also calculates the obstruction of sunlight due to terrain by employing Digital Elevation Model (DEM).
- In addition, the app also suggests the optimum tilt angle for the installation of solar PV. The app provides information using tables and visuals.
- The complete report provided by the app can be saved by the user in the form of PDF.
About Space Applications Centre (SAC):
- SAC is one of the major centres of ISRO. It was established in the year 1972.
- It primarily focuses on the design of space-borne instruments for ISRO missions.
- It also develops applications of space technology covering the fields of communication, broadcasting, navigation, disaster monitoring, meteorology, oceanography, environment monitoring and natural resources survey for societal benefits.
- It is headquartered in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
Artificial womb experiment delivers hopes
Scientists have successfully tested an artificial womb filled with clear liquid on pre-natal lambs.
About this experiment:
- A fluid environment is critical for foetal development. The foetus — breathing liquid, as it would in the womb — lies in a clear-plastic sack filled with a synthetic amniotic fluid.
- It is designed to continue what naturally occurs in the womb.
- The umbilical cord is attached via tubes to a machine outside the bag, which removes CO2 and adds oxygen to blood passing through it.
- There are no mechanical pumps — it is the foetus’ heart that keeps things moving.
- Sheep have long been used in experiments for prenatal treatment, especially because lung development is highly similar.
Significance of this experiment:
- The new system mimics life in the uterus and could, if approved for human use, dramatically improve the odds.
- This could help extremely premature babies avoid death or life-long disability.