Polity & Governance
- Centre urges States not to deny food subsidy for want of Aadhaar card
Government Schemes & Policies
- Government working on tougher consumer protection law
- Rajasthan passes Bill to hike OBC quota
- CRISIL launches India’s first infrastructure investability index
- NHAI eyes bond issue to finance highway projects
- Shipping ministry offers grant to JNPT, Karwar port
Bilateral & International Relations
- India, Sri Lanka ink housing project deal in Hambantota
Defence & Security Issues
- Defence Minister takes note of key shortfalls in Navy
Key Facts for Prelims
- Ancient skull likely belonged to world’s oldest tsunami victim
- INS Chakra
- What is the urban heat island effect?
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Polity & Governance
Centre urges States not to deny food subsidy for want of Aadhaar card
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution has instructed states not to deny PDS benefits to any beneficiary who does not have Aadhaar or has not linked ration card to the 12-digit biometric identifier and warned of strict action on violation.
- The Ministry has also asked state governments not to delete eligible households from the list of beneficiaries for non- possession of Aadhaar.
- Deletion from the ration card database shall happen only after proper verification of the ration card holder which establishes beyond reasonable doubt that he or she is not genuine
- Until Aadhaar is assigned to the beneficiary, subsidised foodgrains will have to be given on production of ration card, enrolment slip and other stipulated documents.
- Even in the case of failure of biometric authentication due to a glitch or poor biometric quality, the beneficiary will have to be given the benefits on production of Aadhaar card along with the ration card.
- The States and the Union Territories will have to provide Aadhaar enrolment facilities to those without Aadhaar and link their Aadhaar numbers with ration cards
- The intention is to ensure that no one is denied any food benefits for lack of Aadhaar, lack of linking, or technical difficulty in biometric authentication.
- An instruction has been issued in this regard this week to all states, after an 11-year old Jharkhand girl allegedly died of starvation recently after being denied PDS ration.
- As per the National Food Security Act, states have been given deadline till December to link Aadhaar with ration cards.
- The Centre, however, told the Supreme Court that the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar to avail of benefits of various government schemes would be extended till March 31 next year for those who do not have the 12-digit biometric identification number.
- So far, 82 per cent of the ration cards have been seeded with Aadhaar number in the country.
Government Schemes & Policies
Government working on tougher consumer protection law
While speaking at the inauguration of a two-day international conference on Consumer Protection for East, South, Southeast and Asian nations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that stricter guidelines are in the offing to protect people from misleading advertisements.
About the conference:
- The conference is being organised by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
- The theme is “Empowering Consumers in New Markets”.
- 22 countries from East, South and South-East Asia are participating in this conference.
About the proposed new consumer protection law:
- The new law will replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and is in line with the revised UN guidelines on consumer protection.
- It is currently with the Cabinet Secretariat and will be placed before the Cabinet for consideration soon.
- The proposed Act lays great emphasis on consumer empowerment.
- Stringent provisions are proposed against misleading advertisements.
- A Central Consumer Protection Authority with executive powers will be constituted for quick remedial action.
Steps taken in the field of consumer protection:
India’s consumer protection traditions dated back to 2,500 years. Laws existed even in the Vedic period to prevent unfair trade practices and adulteration of products.
Goods and Services Tax (GST):
- The new Goods and Services Tax (GST) was one of the key consumer-friendly reforms that his government had introduced.
- The GST would benefit consumers in the long run as prices would come down because of competition among manufacturers.
- Consumers can no longer be cheated as they can see on receipts the tax they are paying.
- Increased competition among companies due to the GST will lead to moderation in prices and this will directly benefit poor and middle class consumers.
- This scheme alone has caused saving of more than Rs 20,000 crore for consumers by reducing the cost of LED bulb and through reduction in electricity bills
Jan Aushadhi Pariyojna:
- The government is providing affordable medicines to people and 500 medicines have been included in the list of essential drugs and their prices have been reduced.
- By transferring the money directly into the beneficiaries’ bank accounts the government has prevented leakage of more than Rs 57,000 crores.
Public Distribution System:
- The government has strengthened the Public Distribution System through technology to ensure that the poor, who have the right to affordable food grains.
“Give it up’ campaign:
- More than one crore beneficiaries surrendered their LPG subsidy and the saved subsidy amount have been used to give free gas connections to 3 crore households so far.
New Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act:
- RERA Act has been enacted to protect home buyers and the government is working to achieve the target of housing for all by 2022.
Bureau of Indian Standard Act:
- Act has been enacted under which any commodity or service can be brought under compulsory certification. The Act has provisions to order recall of substandard products from the market.
Open Defecation Free communities:
- Financial savings for each household in Open Defecation Free communities are Rs 50,000 per year, considering medical costs averted, value of time savings and mortality averted.
Capped rates of medical devices:
- The government has capped rates of coronary stents and knee implants. This also is saving crores of rupees for the poor and middle class people.
- The time reduction in transportation of goods would also lead to fall in prices and this benefit will also be transferred to consumers.
- Inflation has been brought under control leading to economic benefits for poor and middle class consumers.
About United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD):
UNCTAD is the principal organ of the United Nations General Assembly dealing with trade, investment, and development issues.
- It was established in 1964 as a permanent intergovernmental body.
- UNCTAD is part of the UN Secretariat.
- UNCTAD reports to the UN General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council but have our own membership, leadership, and budget.
- The primary objective of UNCTAD is to formulate policies relating to all aspects of development including trade, aid, transport, finance and technology.
- The conference ordinarily meets once in four years.
- The first UNCTAD conference took place in Geneva in 1964, the second in New Delhi in 1968 and the fourteenth in Nairobi (Kenya) in 2016.
- One of the principal achievements of UNCTAD (1964) has been to conceive and implement the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
- Currently, UNCTAD has 194 member states and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
- There are non-governmental organizations participating in the activities of UNCTAD.
- It is a member of the United Nations Development Group.
About United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP)
- The UNGCP were adopted by United Nations General Assembly in 1985 and revised in 2015. The new guidelines call for greater International cooperation.
Rajasthan passes Bill to hike OBC quota
The Rajasthan Assembly passed a bill which increased reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) from 21 per cent to 26 per cent.
- The community includes Gujjars and four other castes.
About the bill:
- The bill seeks to provide 5 per cent reservation to Gujjar, Banjara, Gadia-Lohar, Raika and Gadariya communities.
- The Bill created a new “most backward” category within the OBCs for providing the quota benefit to Gujjars and four other nomadic communities.
Implications of the bill:
- With the passage of the bill, the reservation in Rajasthan now stands at 54 per cent defying the set ceiling of 50 per cent by the Supreme Court.
- The Rajasthan High Court last year struck down five per cent reservation for these castes provided through The Rajasthan Special Backward Classes Act, 2015, pointing out flaws in the government’s process of granting reservation.
- With the 2015 SBC Act, the government had moved the five castes from OBC into a separate Special Backward Castes category. However, the Act was quashed and the government moved them back into the OBC list on May 19 this year.
CRISIL launches India’s first infrastructure investability index
CRISIL launched the CRISIL InfraInvex, India’s first investability index, along with the CRISIL Infrastructure Yearbook 2017, a first-of-its-kind annual publication.
About the index:
- The index tracks, measures and assesses investment attractiveness, development and maturity of infrastructure sectors.
- The index is based on four parameters – policy direction, institutional strength and regulatory maturity, financial sustainability, and implementation ease.
- Being an ascending scale, a score of 1 reflects least investment attractiveness and maturity, and a score of 10 highest investment attractiveness and maturity.
Highlights of the report:
- India needs to spend over Rs 50 lakh crore on infrastructure creation in key sectors including power, highways, railways, urban infra, ports and airports over the next five years through 2022.
- This projection factors an average annual GDP growth of 7%, infrastructure investments equal to 5.5% of GDP, and a pick-up in private sector investments after fiscal 2019.
- The power transmission sector in India is the most attractive to invest in currently, followed by roads & highways, and renewable energy.
- The urban sector, which is the least attractive right now.
- Investments by the private sector and states are likely to remain subdued in the near term.
- Weak project preparation,
- Poorly structured contracts with inappropriate risk allocation,
- Irrational bidding exuberance,
- Overreliance on bank-led financing in the past have spawned the ‘twin balance-sheet problem’ of deeply indebted developers and gargantuan stressed assets in banking.
- The takeover of distribution utility losses under the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) and the recent agri-loan waivers have further strained state finances.
Efforts made by the government
- To resolve the issue of non-performing assets NPAs
- To revive stalled projects
- To facilitate easier exits
- Front-ending of bankable projects
- Comprehensive retooling of public-private partnership frameworks – introduce calibrated public-private partnership (PPP) models such as hybrid annuity and toll-operate-transfer in highway
- Deepening of the infrastructure financing ecosystem.
NHAI eyes bond issue to finance highway projects
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will soon issue bonds to finance highway projects.
- This is being done to make sure that funds are raised to support and finance roads and highways without any delay.
- Funds to the tune of ₹4-5 lakh crore can be raised from the markets for highway projects.
- NHAI has a AAA rating that would help it tap into the capital markets.
Funds for BharatMala Pariyojana:
- Recently, the Cabinet approved the BharatMala Pariyojana to build 34,800 km roads worth ₹5.35 lakh crore.
- For Bharatmala, ₹2.09 lakh crore will be raised as debt from the market and ₹1.06 lakh crore will be mobilised through public-private partnership (PPP). The remaining ₹2.19 lakh crore will flow from accruals of the Central Road Funds and toll projects.
Shipping ministry offers grant to JNPT, Karwar port
The Ministry of Shipping has sanctioned Rs 25 crore as grants-in-aid to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and another Rs 50 crore to the Government of Karnataka for the Karwar port for developing their infrastructure.
- The grants-in-aid was sanctioned under the Coastal Berth Scheme of its flagship Sagarmala project.
- The project at Jawaharlal Nehru Port involves construction of a coastal berth (270m x 30m) and port craft jetty, reclamation and capital dredging in the coastal berth. The project would be completed by March 2019.
- The project at Karwar Port in Karnataka involves extension of the existing Southern breakwater by 145 metres and construction of a new North breakwater of 1160 metres. It is expected to be complete in three years.
Significance of the move:
- The expansion at both the ports will result in increased shipping activity, employment generation and overall improvement in the socio-economic condition in the hinterland.
About Karwar Port:
- Karwar Port is situated between New Mangalore Port and Mormugao Port on the Southern side of the Kali River.
- It is acclaimed as one of the best natural all weather ports on the west coast and provides all-weather berthing facilities for ocean-going vessels.
- It is the only port owned and administered by the State Government.
What is Coastal Berth Scheme?
- The Coastal Berth Scheme aims to provide financial assistance to ports or states in order to create infrastructure for movement of cargo and passengers either by sea or national waterways.
- The admissible financial assistance from Central Government is 50% of the total cost of the project.
- The balance expenditure has to be incurred by the respective ports/concerned State Government from their own resources.
About Sagarmala port project:
- The Sagarmala project seeks to develop a string of ports around India’s coast.
- The objective of this initiative is to promote “Port-led development” along India’s 7500 km long coastline.
- The Union Ministry of Shipping has been appointed as the nodal ministry for this initiative.
- The project aims to develop access to new development regions with intermodal solutions and promotion of the optimum modal split, enhanced connectivity with main economic centres and beyond through expansion of rail, inland water, coastal and road services.
- It also aims at simplifying procedures used at ports for cargo movement and promotes usage of electronic channels for information exchange leading to quick, efficient, hassle-free and seamless cargo movement.
- It also strives to ensure sustainable development of the population living in the Coastal Economic Zone (CEZ).
- The project, envisaging port-led development, targets to provide one crore employment, direct employment to 40 lakh persons and indirect employment to 60 lakh persons.
[Ref: PIB, Economic Times]
Bilateral & International Relations
India, Sri Lanka ink housing project deal in Hambantota
Sri Lanka signed an agreement with India to build 1,200 houses in the southern coastal port city of Hambantota, Sri Lanka.
Key features of the MoU:
- Under the signed MoU, out of the 1,200 houses to be built, 600 will be constructed in the Southern Province, while the remaining would be built across Sri Lanka, through one model village in each of the country’s 25 districts.
- The coastal city of Hambantota gained strategic significance after President Rajapaksa built a massive port and an airport with huge Chinese loans.
- In July this year, his successor government sold a majority stake of the port to China to service an outstanding $8-billion debt it owes China, fanning concerns of countries with competing strategic interests, particularly India and the U.S.
- Local residents, including supporters of Mr. Rajapaksa, have earlier protested the selling of “national assets to foreign entities”, some of them leading to violent clashes.
- As many as 46,000 homes have been built in the Tamil-majority north and east, while 4,000 houses are currently being built in the hill country in the Central and Uva provinces, where several thousand Sri Lankans of recent Indian origin live and work.
Significance of the MoU:
- The signing of the MoU in Hambantota assumes significance not only in its timing, but also in taking India’s housing project to the Sinhala-majority Southern Province.
- India has been taking steps to protect itself in the Indian Ocean by allying itself with the United States and Japan in a clear bid to counter growing Chinese influence
- Hambantota is the main town in Hambantota District, Southern Province, Sri Lanka.
- Hambantota is right in the middle of vital energy supply lines in the Indian Ocean, connecting the Middle East and East Asia.
- This underdeveloped area was hit hard by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and is underwent a number of major development projects including the construction of a new sea port and international airport.
[Ref: The Hindu]
Defence & Security Issues
Defence Minister takes note of key shortfalls in Navy
While addressing the on-going biannual Naval Commanders Conference, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took note of the critical capability shortfalls that the service is facing in various platforms.
- The Indian Navy is facing in ship-borne multi-role helicopters, conventional submarines and mine counter measure vessels, which need urgent redressal to maintain the combat edge of the Navy.
Commending tasks of Indian Navy:
- The Indian Navy has maintained the “high operational tempo” in the last one year through regular deployment of ships, submarines and aircraft from the South China Sea and Sea of Japan in the East to the Persian Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean in the West and the shores of Australia in the South.
- The focused efforts of the Navy in deterring piracy attempts off the Gulf of Aden.
- Engagement with the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) littorals to build their capacities and enhance their capabilities through practical training of Naval personnel on regular basis
- Lead taken by Indian Navy in indigenisation and self-reliance.
- Participation in a number of bilateral exercises. Success of the Exercise MALABAR with the US and the Japanese Navy.
- The Navy has recently validated a new mission based deployment concept to maintain round-the-clock surveillance of critical choke points and sea lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean Region in the backdrop of increased Chinese presence in the region. [for more info about the mission, read Current Affairs Analysis of 26th Oct 2017]
Indian Ocean Region (IOR):
- The IOR, a large maritime area that extends from coastal Africa through the Middle East and South Asia and on to Australia, is a major conduit for global trade, a littoral zone of developing powers.
Key Facts for Prelims
Ancient skull likely belonged to world’s oldest tsunami victim
- An ancient human skull discovered in Papua New Guinea is likely to have belonged to the world’s oldest-known tsunami victim.
- The partially preserved Aitape Skull was discovered in 1929 by Australian geologist Paul Hossfeld, 12 km inland from the northern coast of the Pacific nation.
- However, scientists now say the area was once a coastal lagoon that was hit by a tsunami about 6,000 years ago.
- A Russian technical team is in Vizag for a joint investigation into the mysterious damage suffered by INS Chakra, the nuclear submarine leased to India in 2011.
- INS Chakra is a Russia-made, nuclear-propelled, hunter-killer submarine.
- INS Chakra has been taken on lease from Russia for 10 years to provide the Navy the opportunity to train personnel and operate such nuclear-powered vessels.
- India is already engaged in negotiations for the second nuclear submarine from Russia, which could join service when INS Chakra returns after its 10-year lease.
What is the urban heat island effect?
- An urban heat island (UHI) is an urban area or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.
- Due to urban heat island effect, urban areas getting significantly warmer during the day compared with the surrounding areas.
Why in news?
- Recently, a study observed that in variance with the urban heat island effect, between February and May, most of the 89 Indian cities that are to be developed as Smart Cities have been found to be 1-5 degrees C cooler during the day relative to the surrounding non-urban areas.