Polity & Governance
- Govt directs NGOs to open account in any designated bank within a month
Government Schemes & Policies
- Commerce Ministry panel suggests change in SEZ rules
- NITI Aayog’s ‘AIM’ selects additional 1500 schools
- Conceptualisation of govt’s ‘Prasad’ scheme radically wrong: House panel
- India’s 1st pod taxi on the way, to follow U.S. safety norms
- Finance Ministry to issue recapitalisation bonds to PSBs
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Centre releases draft action plan to tackle air pollution in Delhi
- Environment ministry launches pilot project for beach clean-up
Key Facts for Prelims
- China’s Yaogan-30 project
- ‘Mission Seven Summits’
For IASToppers Current Affairs Analysis Archive, Click Here
Polity & Governance
Govt directs NGOs to open account in any designated bank within a month
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has directed all NGOs, individuals and business entities receiving foreign funds to open accounts in any of 32 designated banks, including one foreign, within a month.
- It also asked them to ensure that such funds are not utilised for activities detrimental to the national interest.
- The MHA order comes in exercise of the powers conferred under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010.
Purpose of the order:
- The directive to the NGOs, companies and individuals to open foreign contribution accounts in banks, which are integrated with the central government’s Public Financial Management System (PFMS), came for providing a higher level of transparency and hassle-free reporting compliance.
About Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010:
- The FCRA 2010 provides for regulation of acceptance of foreign funds/foreign hospitality by certain individuals, associations, organisations and companies. It ensures that such contributions or hospitality is not being utilised for activities detrimental to the national interest.
Currently, around 10,000 FCRA-registered NGOs are operating in country.
What is Public Financial Management System?
PFMS is an electronic fund tracking mechanism compiles, collates and makes available in real-time, information regarding all government schemes.
- The PFMS, also known as Central Plan Scheme Monitoring System (CPSMS), tracks fund disbursement and ensures that state treasuries are integrated with the Centre to ensure money is send as and when required.
- PFMS, administered by the department of expenditure, is an end-to-end solution for processing payments, tracking, monitoring, accounting, reconciliation and reporting. It is a web based application.
- It provides the government real-time information on resource availability and utilisation across schemes.
- In addition, the platform will allow government expenditure to adopt a Just-in- Time (JIT) approach, with payments made only when they are needed.
- The government has set a target to integrate PFMS with all state treasuries in current fiscal and implement Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for welfare and scholarship schemes.
In future, Government aims to transform PFMS to Government-wide Integrated Financial Management System (GIFMIS) as a comprehensive payment, receipt and accounting system.
Significance of the PFMS:
- The PFMS aims to help in complete tracking and monitoring flow of funds to implementing agencies and ensuring timely transfer of funds.
- It will help government to ascertain actual status of utilization of funds by multiple implementing agencies of central and the state governments.
- It will also cut need for paper work and in long way help in monitoring and tracking of any unnecessary parking of funds by implementing agencies, thus minimising cases of delay and pending payments to large extent.
- It will help to plug leakages in system and help to manage and maintain data that government can use to develop more scientific approach.
Government Schemes & Policies
Commerce Ministry panel suggests change in SEZ rules
A commerce ministry-appointed panel has suggested few changes in the existing SEZ rules.
About the committee:
- In order to align the SEZ rules 2006 with the GST (Goods and Services Tax) laws as well as for removal of various difficulties faced, the committee was constituted by the ministry to make necessary recommendations.
What changes are proposed?
- The Board of Approval (BoA), the highest decision making body for SEZs, should be given additional powers to exempt units and developers from certain rules to promote these zones.
- The other suggestions include submission of GST registration certificate instead of sales tax registration.
- It also provides for obtaining national security clearance as per guidelines issued by the home affairs ministry.
- The other recommendations include cut in paper work for setting up of SEZ units.
Need for additional powers to BoA:
Under the existing SEZ (special economic zones) rules, the BoA has no power to relax any rule. The inter-ministerial board BoA is headed by the commerce secretary.
- Even when the BoA considers it appropriate, it has to take approval of commerce and industry minister. Hence, wherever BoA feels that there is genuine hardship to the trade and industry and relaxation in SEZ rule is required, it should be empowered to do so.
What is a Special Economic Zone (SEZ)?
Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a specifically delineated duty-free enclave and shall be deemed to be foreign territory for the purposes of trade operations and duties and tariffs.
- In order words, SEZ is a geographical region that has economic laws different from a country’s typical economic laws.
- Usually the goal is to increase foreign investments.
Who can set up SEZs?
- Any private/public/joint sector or state government or its agencies can set up an SEZ. A foreign agency can set up SEZs in India.
What is the role of state governments in establishing SEZs?
- State governments will have a very important role to play in the establishment of SEZs.
- Representative of the state government, who is a member of the inter-ministerial committee on private SEZ, is consulted while considering the proposal.
- Before recommending any proposals to the ministry of commerce and industry (department of commerce), the states must satisfy themselves that they are in a position to supply basic inputs like water, electricity, etc.
Are SEZ’s controlled by the government?
- In all SEZs the statutory functions are controlled by the government. Government also controls the operation and maintenance function in the seven central government controlled SEZs. The rest of the operations and maintenance are privatised.
Are SEZs exempt from labour laws?
- Normal labour laws are applicable to SEZs, which are enforced by the respective state governments.
- The state governments have been requested to simplify the procedures/returns and for introduction of a single window clearance mechanism by delegating appropriate powers to development commissioners of SEZs.
NITI Aayog’s ‘AIM’ selects additional 1500 schools
NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) has selected additional 1500 Schools for establishment of Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs).
- With this announcement of the new Atal Tinkering Labs, AIM, has selected 2441 Schools across India to establish ATLs to date since it began its operations over a year ago.
- The addition of these schools will give a major boost to realize the vision of the mission to ‘Cultivate One Million children in India as the Innovators of tomorrow’.
About Atal Innovation Mission:
- NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission is among one of the flagship programs of the Government to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the country and to set up the Atal Tinkering Labs across the country.
What are Atal Tinkering Labs?
Atal Tinkering Labs are meant to be non-prescriptive by nature, and mentors are expected to be enablers rather than instructors.
- ATLs are innovation play workspaces for students between Grade VI to Grade XII, stimulating innovations combining science & technology.
- These open-ended innovation workspaces equipped with state of the art technologies like 3D printers, Robotics, Sensor Technology Kits, Internet of Things, miniaturized Electronics etc enable the students to learn and solve local community problems using emerging Technologies.
- Students are encouraged to explore and experience Design Thinking and Innovation, using a do-it-yourself approach, and develop innovative solutions to India’s social, community or economic problems.
Conceptualisation of govt’s ‘Prasad’ scheme radically wrong: House panel
The parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture has referred to the tourism ministry’s flagship Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (Prasad) scheme as one whose conceptualisation is “radically wrong” and which needs a “complete relook”.
Why these apprehensions?
- The standing committee noted that the scheme was not running properly even three years after its launch. States are not actually buying the idea of tourism department and their plan.
- The committee visited Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and during deliberations of the committee, it came to know that they have their own tourism policy. But it seems there is no coordination with the central government.
- The standing committee was also dissatisfied with the government’s response blaming state government agencies for the delay.
- The committee finds that study of the ‘Prasad’ scheme shows that it has not been properly conceived at all.
- Even today, without government intervention, there are many other well operated religious circuits in the country.
- The standing committee recommended that the ministry undertake a “complete relook” of the scheme.
About PRASAD scheme:
National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD) aims to beautify and improve the amenities and infrastructure at pilgrimage centres of all faiths.
- Under the ‘PRASAD’ scheme the focus is on development and beautification of the identified pilgrimage destinations.
- This scheme is proposed to be implemented as a Central Sector Scheme during the 12th Five-year Plan and beyond.
The objectives are:
- Integrated development of pilgrimage destinations in a planned, prioritized and sustainable manner to provide complete religious tourism experience.
- Harness pilgrimage tourism for its direct and multiplier effects on employment generation and economic development.
- Follow community-based development and pro-poor tourism concept in development of the pilgrimage destinations.
- Leveraging public capital and expertise.
- Enhancing the tourist attractiveness in a sustainable manner by developing world-class infrastructure in the religious destination.
- Creating awareness among the local communities about the importance of tourism for them in terms of increase in sources of income, improved living standards and overall development of the area.
- Promote local arts, culture, handicrafts, cuisine, etc., to generate livelihood in the identified places.
Identified cities under PRASAD:
PRASAD Scheme was launched in 2014-15 with below 12 identified sites:
- Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh),
- Gaya (Bihar),
- Dwaraka (Gujarat),
- Amritsar (Punjab),
- Ajmer (Rajasthan),
- Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu),
- Vellankani (Tamil Nadu),
- Puri (Odisha),
- Varanasi (Uttar Prasesh),
- Mathura (Uttar Pradesh),
- Kedarnath (Uttarakhand) and
- Kamakhya (Assam)
- During 2015-16, Patna (Bihar) was added in the list.
In 2016-17, 12 more sites were added in the scheme for development namely
- Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh),
- Badrinath (Uttarakhand),
- Belur (West Bengal),
- Deoghar (Jharkhand),
- Guruvayur (Kerala),
- Hazratbal and Katra (Jammu & Kashmir),
- Omkareshwar (Madhya Pradesh),
- Somnath (Gujarat),
- Srisailam and Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh),
- Trimbakeshwar (Maharashtra).
So, currently, total 25 sites in 16 states are added in the list of PRASAD scheme.[Ref: The Hindu]
India’s 1st pod taxi on the way, to follow U.S. safety norms
The much-awaited India’s first pod taxi project- also known as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT)- has moved a step closer to reality after a high-level panel recommended inviting fresh bids for the same conforming to the strictest safety standards on the lines of those prescribed by an American body.
- The committee set up for technical and safety standards of PRT has recommended issuance of a fresh EOI (expression of interest) incorporating (automated people movers) APM standards and specifications, along with other general safety parameters with NITI Aayog recommendations.
About the pilot project:
- This pilot project will cover a stretch of 13 kilometres from the Gurugram-Delhi border to Badshapur Mod on Sohna Road with a total of 16 stations. For this, a budget of Rs 850 crore has been estimated.
- The feasibility report for the same has been submitted by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).
- Every pod of Metrino taxi can accommodate up to five passengers and the fare is likely to be similar to that of Metro rail in Delhi.
What is Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) network?
- Sized for individual or small group travel, personal rapid transit (PRT) is a transport mode combining small automated vehicles, known as pods, operating on a network of specially built guideways.
- The network consists of a number of stations or stops for passengers to get on and get off.
- The average speed of the pods is 60 kilometres per hour.
- It is a green mode of uninterrupted transportation.
Brief history of Personal rapid transit (PRT) network:
- The modern PRT concept began around 1953 when Donn Fichter, a city transportation planner, began research on PRT and alternative transportation methods
- In 1967, Aramis project, an experimental personal rapid transit system was started by aerospace giant Matra in Paris. The project was, however, cancelled when it failed its qualification trials in November 1987
- Between 1970 and 1978, Japan operated a project called “Computer-controlled Vehicle System” (CVS). In a full-scale test facility, 84 vehicles operated at speeds up to 60 kilometres per hour on a 4.8 kilometres guideway.
- The automated people mover (APM) standards in US as recommended by the committee for maiden PRT in India have been prepared by American Society of Civil Engineers.
- These recommendations constitute minimum requirements for acceptable level of safety and performance for the PRT.
- The APM standards include minimum requirements for design, operation, construction and maintenance of various sub-systems of APM system and are in general relevant for a PRT.
- These include vehicle arrival audio and video visual warning system, evacuation of misalighted vehicles, platform sloping, audio communication, surveillance/CCTV, emergency call points and fire protection, among other advanced systems.
Finance Ministry to issue recapitalisation bonds to PSBs
The Ministry of Finance is likely to issue the first tranche of recapitalisation bonds to public sector banks (PSB) in early January.
- The recapitalisation bonds will not be sold in open market and will be issued to all banks.
- Apart from this, the government will also infuse capital worth Rs 8,000 crore on the basis of performance.
- Earlier in October, the government had announced an unprecedented PSU banks recapitalisation programme of Rs 2.11 lakh crore. This was essential to improve the lending capacity of the banks and to increase public spending on infrastructure.
What is bank recapitalisation?
- Bank recapitalisation, as the name suggests, means recapitalising banks with new capital to improve their balance sheet.
- The government, using different instruments, infuses capital into banks undergoing credit crunch.
- Capital is the money invested by shareholders in the business. Since the government is the biggest shareholder in public sector banks, the responsibility of infusing capital majorly lies with the government.
When do the bank recapitalisation plan come into action?
The recapitalisation plan comes into action when banks get caught in a situation where their liabilities are comparatively higher than their assets.
- The liquidity with banks is a liability as it is the money deposited by customers, which needs to be paid sooner or later. Due to this their balance-sheet weakens and banks find it difficult to raise capital from the open market. The government, which is also the biggest shareholder, can infuse capital in banks by either buying new shares or by issuing bonds.
How government plans to recapitalise public sector banks?
- The government is currently focused on maintaining its fiscal deficit at 3.2%. This means that the government cannot take out money from state coffers and give it to banks.
- Hence, the government bifurcated the entire Rs 2.11 lakh crore amount in two parts: First, through budgetary allocation and second, by issuing recapitalisation bonds.
- The government plans to infuse Rs 76,000 lakh crore capital by giving it space in budgetary allocation and through markets, and rest 1.35 lakh crore by issuing recapitalisation bonds.
Need for Recapitalisation in India:
- Several economists opine that the recapitalisation of banks — so that they can lend more freely and help revive private investment — is critical for revitalising the growth momentum at a time when the global economy is recovering.
- Indian PSBs are saddled with high, non-performing assets (NPAs) and facing prospect of having to take haircuts on loans stuck in insolvency proceedings.
- NPAs of banks had more than doubled to Rs. 7.33 lakh crore in June 2017 from Rs. 2.75 lakh crore in March 2015. Due to this, PSBs were unable to give fresh loans.
- Even under the Indradhanush roadmap introduced in 2015, Central Government had announced to infuse Rs 70,000 crore in PSBs over four years to meet their capital requirement in line with global risk Basel-III norms to keep these banks fully solvent.
- The move is vital for the slowing economy, as private investments remain elusive in the face of the “twin-balance sheet problem” afflicting corporate India and public sector banks reflected in slow bank credit growth.
Implications of Recapitalisation:
- Strengthening banks will lead to more jobs, more growth and more investment.
- Recapitalisation of banks helps in lending more freely and help revive private investment which is critical for revitalising the growth momentum at a time when the global economy is recovering.
- It will address the bank balance sheet problem and push growth forward.
- The recapitalisation of state-owned banks would be followed by a series of reforms to make them more accountable.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Centre releases draft action plan to tackle air pollution in Delhi
A high-level task force headed by Nripendra Misra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister, released a 12-point draft plan to tackle pollution in Delhi NCR.
- The task force was formed after a severe spell of pollution in the region in November when air quality remained at hazardous levels for almost two weeks.
- The centre and the Union environment ministry faced flak for failing to coordinate actions across states that impacted Delhi NCR’s air quality.
- The environment secretary is tasked with ensuring implementation of the measures, while the task force will step in occasionally to monitor progress. The direct intervention by the PMO would give the action plan more heft.
About the 12-point ‘Air Action Plan – Abatement of Air Pollution:
- Crop stubble burning, monitoring and interstate coordination:
- Coordinated action to combat stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and UP.
- Implement roll out of the agreed plan for managing crop stubble.
- Monitor agreed enforcement measures to reduce crop stubble burning.
- Ensure that independent data on crop stubble burning is available in real time.
- Pollution monitoring and source attribution:
- Ensure that Delhi/ NCR has an adequate network of air quality monitoring stations
- Commission and validate source attribution studies for the National Capital Region (annually).
- Set up an anti-Pollution Help-Line in NCR Districts to register complaints of specific violations.
- A pollution app should also be prepared wherein citizens can take a picture of the violation and upload it for quick remedial action.
- Reducing pollution from power plants and other polluting industries:
- NOx curtailment measures in all power plants in NCR region in a time bound manner by NTPC and other operators.
- MoEF to develop a dashboard of all the Red Category polluting units in NCR. Each of these units to install a certified pollution meter within their premises.
- Strict action should be taken regarding brick kilns operating in NCR.
- Enforce all brick-kilns to migrate to zig-zag technology [A technology which bricks are arranged to allow hot air to travel in a zigzag path. This reduces coal consumption to about 20%, says this article].
- State and municipal actions required to reduce air pollution.
- Solid waste management:
- MCDs to increase decentralized processing of bio-degradable waste, to fill the gap between waste collected and processed.
- An independent verification mechanism should be set up to check whether 100% solid waste is actually being collected– with specific focus on poor communities such as slums and JJ clusters.
- Managing and remediating sanitary landfills:
- Steps must be taken to ensure that there are no fires at sanitary landfills. Municipal Bodies must access special expertise to douse landfill fires.
- Remediation measures for the all three sanitary landfill sites should be initiated in 6 months.
- Construction and demolition (C&D) waste:
- Large construction Agencies like NBCC and CPWD that are working in the National Capital Region should set up their own facilities for processing C&D waste and reuse the products in their own projects.
- Mechanized road sweeping and managing road dust:
- At present, it is reported that about 15% of road sweeping in Delhi is mechanized. This should increase to at least 40% in the next 4 months.
- Delhi PWD, Irrigation Department and MCDs to take up greening or green paving of central verges, roadside berms, sides of drains, etc. over the next one year with monitorable targets.
- Watering roadsides (pavement) and parking places by all the Municipal Corporations in Delhi to reduce dust as per agreed schedule.
- Ensure SoPs [standard operating procedures] are followed at construction sites in terms of curtaining and sprinkling water to reduce dust.
- Municipal Corporations, UD Department have to implement a strong behaviour change campaign involving Resident Welfare Associations and Market Trader Associations on proper management of solid waste to improve air quality.
- Improving public transport:
- Procurement of additional buses and improvement of last mile connectivity.
- Increase number of metro coaches
- Journey Planner app integrating Metro, DIMTS and DTC services
- Integrated ticketing across DTC, Cluster and Metro in six months
- Ensure that non- destined trucks do not enter Delhi. Ensuring compliance of the Toll and Municipal charges for entering of trucks in Delhi.
- Solid waste management in other NCR cities
- The respective Divisional Commissioners will assess the management of Municipal solid waste in their jurisdictions, and, within 15 days, prepare a plan to ensure 100% collection and processing. The plan must have monitorable timelines and an independent verification mechanism.
- Steps will be taken to combat road dust and dust arising from construction activities, broadly following the model set by Delhi.
- Completion of Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways within target dates.
- Encouraging electric vehicles and promoting shared and connected mobility:
- Policy support to encourage Electric Vehicles, prioritising the use of EVs for public transport and promoting shared and connected mobility.
- Reducing congestion:
- In collaboration with the traffic police, identify choke points and take up projects to reduce congestion at these points; Similar exercise may be done in respect of Meerut, Rohtak and Gurugram divisions.
Environment ministry launches pilot project for beach clean-up
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has launched pilot project ‘Blue Flag’ to develop and enhance standards of cleanliness on beaches.
What is Blue Flag project?
- Blue Flag project is a certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that a beach, Marina or sustainable boating tourism operator, meets its stringent standards.
- Its purpose is to enhance standards of cleanliness, upkeep and basic amenities at beaches.
- Under the pilot project, each of coastal state/UT was requested to identify and nominate a beach, which is to be funded through ongoing Integrated Coastal Management Programme (ICMP).
About Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE):
- The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation promoting sustainable development through environmental education.
- FEE is active through five programmes; Blue Flag, Eco-Schools, Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE), Learning about Forests (LEAF) and Green Key.
Key Facts for Prelims
China’s Yaogan-30 project
- China has successfully launched remote sensing satellites to conduct electromagnetic environmental probes. They are part of third batch of the Yaogan-30 project.
- A trio of Yaogan-30 satellites was carried by a Long March-2D rocket, the 260th mission for the Long March rocket family.
- Yaogan-30 is Remote Sensing Satellite programme of China.
- The electro-optical digital imaging satellites developed under it by China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).
- China launched the first “Yaogan” series satellite, Yaogan-1, in 2006.
‘Mission Seven Summits’
- After scaling of Mt Everest in 2005, IAF launched a unique and unprecedented series of mountaineering expedition ‘Mission Seven Summits’ with an aim to fly the tricolour and the IAF flag on the highest peaks in every continent.
- With this, the IAF has become the first organisation in India to achieve this unique feat.
What are Seven Summits?
- The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Summiting all of them is regarded as a mountaineering challenge.
The highest peak on each continent are part of Mission Seven Summits. They include –
- Everest (Asia)
- Kosciuszko (Australia)
- Aconcagua (South America)
- Vinson Massif (Antarctica)
- Denali (North America)
- Elbrus (Europe)
- Kilimanjaro (Africa)
This is to note that the first Indian woman who successfully climbed all the seven highest mountains of the world (Seven Summits) was Premlata Agarwal.