Polity & Governance
- Lok Sabha passes comprehensive Bill to check benami transactions
- Lok Sabha approves changes in Lokpal Act
- Cabinet approves Revised Cost Estimate for NATRIP Project
- Cabinet approves rescinding the decision to set up the Concurrent Evaluation Office in Ministry of Rural Development
- Cabinet approves setting up of new AIIMS in Bhatinda
- Govt approves policy for award of waterfront & related land
- Cabinet approves Amendment in the Central Agricultural University Act, 1992
- Cabinet increases the limit for foreign investment in Stock Exchanges from 5% to 15%
Environment & Ecology
- Rare new species of beaked whale identified
- South Africa to host BRICS office
- Cabinet approves Bilateral Investment Treaty between India and Cambodia to boost investment
Science & Technology
- Farewell Philae: Earth severs link with silent comet probe
Persons in News
- Magsaysay award for Wilson, T.M. Krishna
Polity & Governance
Lok Sabha passes comprehensive Bill to check benami transactions
Seeking to check black money, the Lok Sabha passed a comprehensive Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Bill 2015.
- Moving the Bill for the consideration and passage, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured that genuine religious trusts will be kept out of the purview of the legislation.
Key features of the bill:
- The Bill seeks to amend the Benami Transactions Act, 1988.
- The Act prohibits benami transactions and provides for confiscating benami properties.
- The Bill seeks to: (i) amend the definition of benami transactions, (ii) establish adjudicating authorities and an Appellate Tribunal to deal with benami transactions, and (iii) specify the penalty for entering into benami transactions.
- The Act defines a benami transaction as a transaction where a property is held by or transferred to a person, but has been provided for or paid by another person.
- The Bill amends this definition to add other transactions which qualify as benami, such as property transactions where:
- The transaction is made in a fictitious name,
- The owner is not aware of denies knowledge of the ownership of the property, or
- The person providing the consideration for the property is not traceable.
- The Bill seeks to establish four authorities to conduct inquiries or investigations regarding benami transactions:
- Initiating Officer,
- Approving Authority,
- Administrator and
- Adjudicating Authority.
- Under the Act, the penalty for entering into benami transactions is imprisonment up to three years, or a fine, or both. The Bill seeks to change this penalty to rigorous imprisonment of one year up to seven years, and a fine which may extend to 25% of the fair market value of the benami property.
- The Bill also specifies the penalty for providing false information to be rigorous imprisonment of six months up to five years, and a fine which may extend to 10% of the fair market value of the benami property.
- Certain sessions courts would be designated as Special Courts for trying any offences which are punishable under the Bill.
- The bill was tabled in May last but was later referred to the standing committee on finance. The panel submitted its report in the budget session this year and recommended a slew of changes including giving more time to property holders to furnish information, a time-bound process for initiating investigation and filing appeals and for allowing some exceptions for properties considered benami.
Lok Sabha approves changes in Lokpal Act
The Lok Sabha approved the Lokpal and Lokayuktas (Amendment) Bill, 2016, allowing an extension of the deadline for filing asset declarations beyond 31 July for 5 million central government employees and non-government organisations (NGOs) receiving government funds.
- Spouse and dependent children of government employees, ministers and MPs have been spared from declaring their assets.
- However, the senior management personnel of NGOs and public servants are still required to declare their assets.
- The NGOs that receive more than 1 crore of government grants and donations above 10 lakh from abroad fall under the ambit of Lokpal.
- The amendment pertains to Section 44 of the Lokpal Act which deals with declaration of assets and provision of making assets public.
According to the rules notified under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, every public servant shall file declaration, information and annual returns pertaining to his assets and liabilities as well as of his spouse and dependent children as on March 31 on or before July 31 of that year.[Ref: ToI]
Cabinet approves Revised Cost Estimate for NATRIP Project
The Union Cabinet has approved the revised cost estimate for the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRIP).
- This approval ensures completion of the projects under NATRIP which is an important Initiative by the Government of India for the establishment of the global test centres in India.
- This will address the R&D requirements of the automotive industry, full-fledged testing and homologation centres.
- The NATRIP project is required to adopt global best practices to ensure road safety, environmental protection etc. in design, manufacture, testing and operation of motor vehicles in India since India is signatory to UN Regulation on Harmonisation of Vehicle Specifications under WP-29 of 1998.
About the NATRiP:
- National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP), the largest and one of the most significant initiatives in Automotive sector so far, represents a unique joining of hands between the Government of India, a number of State Governments and Indian Automotive Industry to create a state of the art Testing, Validation and R&D infrastructure in the country.
- The Project aims at creating core global competencies in Automotive sector in India and facilitate seamless integration of Indian Automotive industry with the world as also to position the country prominently on the global automotive map.
The government plans to make NATRIP centres globally competitive and fully-integrated with the established auto hubs so that domestic industry is export competitive, thus giving impetus to the Make in India program.[Ref: PIB, Wiki]
Cabinet approves rescinding the decision to set up the Concurrent Evaluation Office in Ministry of Rural Development
The Union Cabinet has decided to repeal a decision of the UPA government to establish Concurrent Evaluation Office (CEO) for managing Concurrent Evaluation Network (CENET) in Ministry of Rural Development.
- CEO was proposed as an independent entity mandated to assess the impact of social sector schemes, including MNREGA.
Significance of the move:
- The decision will pave the way for a need based strengthening of the Economic and Monitoring Wing of the Ministry of Rural Development for managing and carrying out evaluation studies of Rural Development programmes.
- Originally, the idea was mooted by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 1985-87 when he was a member in the Planning Commission.
- According to the proposal, CEO was supposed to be a lean organisation headed by a scholar in economy and policy research.
- In March 2013, then Cabinet had approved the proposal to set up CEO to critically assess the government programmes and find out whether they were reaching to the people or not.
- The CEO office was envisaged to work in tandem with Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) of the erstwhile Planning Commission.
Cabinet approves setting up of new AIIMS in Bhatinda
The Union Cabinet has approved the establishment of a new AIIMS at Bhatinda in Punjab under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY).
- The new AIIMS at Bhatinda will provide super specialty health care to the population while creating a large pool of doctors and other health workers in this region that can be available for primary and secondary level institutions/facilities being created under National Health Mission (NHM).
- The institute will also conduct research on prevalent regional diseases and other health issues and provide for better control and cure of such diseases.
- The Central Sector Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY) was first announced in August 2003 with the primary objective of correcting the regional imbalances in availability of affordable/reliable tertiary level healthcare in the country in general, and to augment facilities for quality medical education in under-served or backward States, in particular.
- Under this scheme AIIMS have been established in Bhubaneshwar, Jodhpur, Raipur, Rishikesh, Bhopal and Patna while work of AIIMS Rae Bareli is in progress. Also, three AIIMS in Nagpur (Maharashtra), Kalyani (West Bengal) and Mangalagiri in Guntur (A.P) have been sanctioned in 2015.
Govt approves policy for award of waterfront & related land
The Cabinet has approved the policy for award of waterfront and associated land to port dependent industries in major ports and its operationalisation.
- Under the policy, concession will be granted to Port Dependent Industries (PDI) for setting up dedicated facilities in major ports for import and/or export of cargo and their storage before transportation to their destination, for a period not exceeding 30 years.
- The ambit of the policy includes creation of new assets as well as utilisation of currently unutilised existing assets such as vacant berths. The policy will also be applicable to all the major ports
Significance of the move:
- It will result in uniformity and transparency in procedure for awarding of captive facilities and will enable optimal utilisation of capacities in major ports and increase revenue to the Major Port Authority.
- Under the existing guidelines for private sector participation in major ports issued by the Shipping Ministry in 1996 and 1998, provisions have been made for allotment of waterfront and land on a captive basis to port-based industries.
- It also includes central/state public sector undertakings (PSUs) that fulfill the prescribed eligibility criteria.
Cabinet approves Amendment in the Central Agricultural University Act, 1992
The Union Cabinet has approved the amendment in relevant clauses of the Central Agricultural University Act (CAU), 1992 to include State of Nagaland under the jurisdiction of Central Agricultural University (CAU), Imphal (Manipur).
- After inclusion of State of Nagaland under jurisdiction of the CAU, Imphal, the College of Veterinary Sciences in Nagaland will produce the much-needed professional manpower in the fields of animal husbandry, which will facilitate socio-economic growth in the region.
- The new college will help familiarize the farmers with new techniques, thereby contributing to the production and productivity of domestic animals in the State of Nagaland.
- The amendment will help the State of Nagaland reap the benefit of the CAU, Imphal which is established for the entire North Eastern Region.
Cabinet increases the limit for foreign investment in Stock Exchanges from 5% to 15%
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for raising foreign shareholding limit from 5% to 15% in Indian Stock Exchanges for a stock exchange, a depository, a banking company, an insurance company, a commodity derivative exchange.
- The Cabinet has also approved the proposal to allow foreign portfolio investors to acquire shares through initial allotment, besides secondary market, in the stock exchanges.
Significance of the move:
- The move will help in enhancing global competitiveness of Indian stock exchanges by accelerating/facilitating the adoption of latest technology and global best practices which will lead to overall growth and development of the Indian Capital Market.
- The approval is in pursuance of implementation of the Budget Announcement made by the Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley while presenting the Union Budget 2016-17.
Environment & Ecology
Rare new species of beaked whale identified
Scientists have identified a rare new species of beaked whales with a size of up to seven metres that ranges from northern Japan across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
- Japanese whalers call the enigmatic black whales “karasu,” the Japanese word for raven.
- The new species is darker in colour and about two-thirds the size of the more common Baird’s beaked whale, but so scarce that even whalers rarely see them.
- A DNA analysis of 178 beaked whales from around the Pacific Rim found eight known examples of the new species.
- Beaked whales remain among the least known whales in the ocean, with several species identified only in the past few decades.
South Africa to host BRICS office
South Africa is set to open a regional BRICS office, which would channel funding drawn from the New Development Bank (NDB) of the Brazil-Russia-China-India-South Africa (BRICS) grouping.
- The Africa Regional Office (ARO) is expected to open in Johannesburg by the year-end.
- It is important to know that BRICS was originally known as “BRIC” before the controversial inclusion of South Africa in 2010.
Cabinet approves Bilateral Investment Treaty between India and Cambodia to boost investment
The Union Cabinet has approved Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between India and Cambodia.
- The Treaty seeks to promote and protect investments from either country in the territory of the other country with the objective of increasing bilateral investment flows.
- The Treaty encourages each country to create favourable conditions for investors of the other country to make investments in its territory and to admit investments in accordance with its laws.
- The Treaty is the first Bilateral Investment Treaty in accordance with the text of the Indian Model BIT, approved by the Cabinet in December, 2015.
Science & Technology
Farewell Philae: Earth severs link with silent comet probe
The European Space Agency (ESA) has turned off the communications system between the Rosetta spacecraft and the Philae probe, severing the link between the two craft.
- Robot lander Philae made space history in 2014, when it touched down on the surface of Comet 67P.
About the Philae:
Philae is a robotic European Space Agency lander that accompanied the Rosetta spacecraft.
- Philae ’s mission was to land successfully on the surface of a comet, attach itself, and transmit data from the surface about the comet’s composition.
- Philae is monitored and operated from DLR’s Lander Control Center in Cologne, Germany.
- Several of the instruments on Philae made the first direct analysis of a comet, sending back data that will be analysed to determine the composition of the surface.
Persons in News
Magsaysay award for Wilson, T.M. Krishna
Bezwada Wilson, a prolific campaigner for eradication of manual scavenging in India, and Carnatic singer T M Krishna from Chennai, were chosen for the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2016.
- Apart from the two Indians, four others have been selected for the award.
- Wilson, the national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), has been named as an awardee for “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity”.
- Krishna was chosen for the award under the ‘Emergent Leadership’ category for bringing “social inclusiveness in culture”.
About Ramon Magsaysay Award:
Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is considered Asia’s highest honour.
- It celebrates the memory and leadership example of the third Philippine President after whom the award is named.
- It is given every year to individuals or organisations in Asia who manifest the same selfless service and transformative influence that ruled the life of the late and beloved Filipino leader.
- Many Indians have received the prestigious award in the past, including Mother Teresa, Jayaprakash Narayan, Satyajit Ray, Kiran Bedi, P. Sainath and current Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.