Polity & Governance
- PMO puts the brakes on rail tariff regulator plan
- Health Ministry receives detailed report on Scrub Typhus from HP Govt
- PM Modi dedicates seven new home-grown plant species to the nation
- India biggest recipient of remittances in 2015: study
- Haryana to integrate 54 mandis with e-NAM
Bilateral & International Relations
- South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) releases its Operational Plan 2016-2025
Key Facts for Prelims
- World Tourism Day
- New Lizard Species Discovered
Polity & Governance
PMO puts the brakes on rail tariff regulator plan
The PMO has asked the Railways Ministry to follow the legislative route to set up an independent regulator for freight and passenger tariffs rather than push it through an executive order.
- In a bid to bypass the parliament, the Ministry of Railways had proposed Rail Development Authority by issuing a notification through an executive order and subsequently strengthen its powers through the legislative process.
Implications of this decision:
The legislative route may be a major setback for the Railways on this front, as it was banking on creating the independent regulator this year in order to perk up its worse-than-expected financial performance in the first half of this fiscal year.
About the proposed authority:
The proposed Rail Development Authority would be an independent body, housed outside the Ministry of Railways.
- The authority will be funded through the annual railway budget sanctioned by the Parliament. The approved Budget would be placed at the disposal of the regulatory authority.
- It would also be permitted to arrange funds through adjudication fees, penalties levied and any other source as specified in the proposed Act.
- The proposed Rail Development Authority will be mandated to set passenger and freight tariff, ensure fair play and level-playing field for private investments in Railways, maintain efficiency and performance standards, disseminate information such as statistics and forecasts related to the sector.
- The authority will set tariff based on cost recovery principle and “what the traffic can bear.”
- All the direct and indirect costs such as pension liabilities, debt servicing, replacements and renewals along with productivity parameters, market-driven demand and supply forces and future investments will be considered by the regulator before setting tariffs.
- The authority will be authorised to penalise cartelisation, abuse of dominance and other unfair market mechanisms.
- At present, the tariff is set by the Union government.
- Earlier, the revised tariff was usually announced by the Union Rail Minister in Parliament but this practice was discontinued after protests by the Members of Parliament over any proposal to hike tariff.
- The proposal for setting up a regulator comes at a time when the estimated losses in passenger segment has ballooned from Rs 6159 crore in 2004-05 to provisional estimate of over Rs 30,000 crore in 2015-16, primarily due to sharp increases in input costs and no proportionate increase in fares over the same period.
- Keeping fares within affordable limits has led to cross-subsidisation of passenger services leading to erosion of railway’s market share in freight. The total share of railways in the total transportation of freight traffic has declined from 89% in 1950-51 to 36% in 2007-08.
- The full potential of the railway sector has not been tapped as “investors have generally been shy of investing in an industry where far too much is still being done or controlled by government and the risk or return trade-off is not always favourable.”
PM Modi dedicates seven new home-grown plant species to the nation
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dedicated seven new indigenously developed varieties of plants to the nation to mark the 75th anniversary of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
- The new varieties of the plants that have ornamental and medicinal qualities were developed by the CSIR laboratories, especially Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP).
- The plants include new varieties of lemongrass, citronella, vetiver and canna lily plant.
Health Ministry receives detailed report on Scrub Typhus from HP Govt
In view of the rising number of cases and reported deaths due to of Scrub Typhus in Himachal Pradesh, Shri J P Nadda, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare had sought a detailed report from the State Government.
- The Union government has decided to send an expert committee to the State on its request.
- It is also very closely monitoring the situation and is ready to provide all logistical and technical support to the Himachal Government to strengthen their capacity to effectively manage the situation.
About Scrub Typhus:
- Scrub Typhus is an acute illness caused by a bacterium Orintia tsutsugamushi, which is transmitted by the bite of an infected mite larva present in the soil having scrub vegetation.
- Himachal is an endemic region as it has a large scrub vegetation.
India biggest recipient of remittances in 2015: study
According to a study by Western Union, the world’s biggest money transfer firm, remittances from Indians working overseas stood at $69 billion in 2015, making it the biggest recipient of international remittances.
Highlights of the study:
- India received $69 billion in remittances, followed by China at $64 billion.
- The Gulf countries are among the top eight remittance sources for India in 2015.
- Five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman—contributed 50% of the total value of remittances in 2015, despite their economies suffering from a decline in oil prices.
- The study stated that the money coming in constitute 4% of India’s gross domestic product. However, State-wise distribution differs.
- Kerala received 25-30% of the remittances to India, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Punjab.
- Kerala and Tamil Nadu used most of the money that came in not just for subsistence and debt repayments, but also for education, healthcare expenses and bank savings.
Haryana to integrate 54 mandis with e-NAM
The Haryana State Agricultural Marketing Board (HSAMB) has decided to integrate 54 mandis with electronic-national agriculture market (e-NAM) in the first phase of the ambitious project.
About National Agriculture Market:
National Agriculture Market (NAM) is a pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities.
- This e-platform aims to provide more options to farmers to sell their produce and is part of implementation of the roadmap for doubling income of the farmers by 2022.
- National Agriculture Market (NAM) has been incorporated by the Department of Agriculture & Cooperation.
Objectives of NAM:
- A national e-market platform for transparent sale transactions and price discovery initially in regulated markets. Willing States to accordingly enact suitable provisions in their APMC Act for promotion of e-trading by their State Agricultural Marketing Board/APMC.
- Liberal licensing of traders / buyers and commission agents by State authorities without any pre-condition of physical presence or possession of shop /premises in the market yard.
- One license for a trader valid across all markets in the State.
- Harmonisation of quality standards of agricultural produce and provision for assaying (quality testing) infrastructure in every market to enable informed bidding by buyers. Common tradable parameters have so far been developed for 25 commodities.
- Single point levy of market fees, i.e. on the first wholesale purchase from the farmer.
- Provision of Soil Testing Laboratories in/ or near the selected mandi to facilitate visiting farmers to access this facility in the mandi itself.
Why we need NAM?
Agriculture marketing is administered by the States as per their agri-marketing regulations, under which, the State is divided into several market areas, each of which is administered by a separate Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) which imposes its own marketing regulation (including fees). This fragmentation of markets, even within the State, hinders free flow of agri commodities from one market area to another and multiple handling of agri-produce and multiple levels of mandi charges ends up escalating the prices for the consumers without commensurate benefit to the farmer.
How effective the NAM is in solving these challenges?
NAM addresses these challenges by
- Creating a unified market through online trading platform, both, at State and National level and promotes uniformity,
- Streamlining of procedures across the integrated markets,
- Removes information asymmetry between buyers and sellers and promotes real time price discovery, based on actual demand and supply,
- Promotes transparency in auction process, and access to a nationwide market for the farmer, with prices commensurate with quality of his produce and online payment and availability of better quality produce and at more reasonable prices to the consumer.
Bilateral & International Relations
South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) releases its Operational Plan 2016-2025
The South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme has released the SASEC Operational Plan for 2016-25 period.
- The SASEC OP 2016-25 is SASEC programme’s first comprehensive long-term plan to promote greater economic cooperation among the member countries.
- Under this plan, the SASEC programme has identified over 200 potential projects, including 74 in India, which will require USD 120-billion investment in next five years.
- Majority of these projects are located in North East or Eastern part of the country.
About SASEC Programme:
In 2001, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal formed the South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme, which the Maldives and Sri Lanka joined in 2014.
- Under SASEC programme, these countries have worked together to build power plants, highways, rail systems and fibre optic networks to expand and improve Internet access.
- It is a project-based partnership to promote regional prosperity by
- Improving cross-border connectivity,
- Boosting trade among member countries, and
- Strengthening regional economic cooperation.
- The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is the secretariat and lead financier of the SASEC programme.
Till date, ADB has approved 40 SASEC projects worth almost USD 7.7 billion in transport, energy, trade facilitation, and information and communications technology.[Ref: PIB]
Key Facts for Prelims
World Tourism Day
- World Tourism Day 2016 was observed across the world on 27 September 2016.
- The theme of the World Tourism Day 2016 is: Tourism for All – promoting universal accessibility.
- The first World Tourism Day was celebrated in 1980 after decision made by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly in 1979.
- This date was chosen as on that day in 1970, the Statutes of the UNWTO were adopted. The adoption of these Statutes is considered a milestone in global tourism.
New Lizard Species Discovered
- A new species of a ground-dwelling lizard has been discovered in Mumbai.
- The species has been named after a Bengaluru-based scientist Varad Giri. It is named as Cyrtodactylus Varadgirii or Giri’s Geckoella.
- The species is discovered 130 years after the last such gecko was discovered.
- The species, of the genus Cyrtodactylus known in Southeast Asia, India and Sri Lanka, is a member of the subgenus Geckoella.