Polity & Governance
- Top prize in computing, named after codebreaker
- Cabinet approves additional posts in NCLAT
- FinTech Conclave 2019
- Explained: Is the Indian economy slowing down?
- Women’s labour force participation in India among the world’s lowest
- PFC completes REC acquisition
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- New rules in Andaman and Nicobar island make green activists worried
- Study finds gaps in conservation efforts in Western Ghats
Defence & Security Issues
- Four indigenous ‘Dhanush’ Howitzers inducted into the Indian Army
Science & Technology
- Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India
- Cabinet approves five year’s extension of Biomedical Research Career Programme
Key Facts for Prelims
- World’s largest ‘Salt Cave’ revealed in Israel
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Polity & Governance
Top prize in computing, named after codebreaker
Three pioneers in artificial intelligence — a senior Google executive, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, and an academic — were announced as the winners for this year’s A M Turing Award.
- It is often described as the “Nobel Prize for computing”.
Why is the award named Turing?
- The award is named after British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Mathison Turing (1912-54), whose work in codebreaking is credited with having played a decisive role in World War II.
- Apart from the award, the Turing machine, used in computing, is named after the pioneer who is considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
- Turing never received full recognition for his efforts because he was a homosexual, which was then a crime in the UK.
- His work and life are the theme of the film The Imitation Game (2014), in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing.
About A.M Turing Award:
- Given by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the A M Turing Award carries $1 million as prize money.
- As described on the ACM website, it is “for major contributions of lasting importance to computing”.
- First awarded in 1966, it has been awarded annually for 53 years so far to 70 recipients. These include 3 women, the first of these having won in 2006.
Cabinet approves additional posts in NCLAT
NCLAT was constituted under Section 410 of the Companies Act, 2013 for hearing appeals against the orders of National Company Law Tribunal(s) (NCLT), with effect from 1st June, 2016.
About National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT):
Functions of the NCLAT:
- NCLAT is also the Appellate Tribunal for hearing appeals against the orders passed by NCLT(s) under Section 61 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC).
- NCLAT is also the Appellate Tribunal for hearing appeals against the orders passed by Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India under Section 202 and Section 211 of IBC.
- NCLAT is also the Appellate Tribunal to hear and dispose of appeals against any direction issued or decision made or order passed by the Competition Commission of India (CCI).
FinTech Conclave 2019
NITI Aayog had organised a day-long FinTech Conclave 2019 in New Delhi.
Objective of the conclave:
- To shape India’s continued ascendancy in FinTech, build the narrative for future strategy and policy efforts, and to deliberate steps for comprehensive financial inclusion.
What is FinTech?
- FinTech, which means using technology to offer financial services to end customers at a lower cost, has been a buzzword across the world in recent years, with little or no regulation over their functioning.
- Fintech is an omnibus term for the use of technology to deliver all kinds of financial services. The most common areas is in fund-raising, lending, borrowing and mobile payments.
FinTech market in India:
- The Indian FinTech market is set to double to $2.4 billion in the next four years.
- It is in a nascent stage in the country, and many feel that start-up firms in the space would disrupt the traditional banking and financial services model.
- The RBI is promoting two types of FinTech in India:
- The Unified Payments Interface and
- The Bharat Bill Payments System
- Some areas in which FinTech has emerged include payments, peer-to-peer lending, and the use of automated algorithms to offer financial advice.
Why is it important?
- India has a large population of non-city folk, many million small enterprises and any number of small borrowers without any credit history, who today cannot knock at the banks’ doors for loans. It is therefore said to be just ripe for a Fintech revolution. To help things along, the Government is expediting this by promoting the JAM trinity (Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile).
- The reason why banking bigwigs are watching these developments like hawks is that Fintech has enormous power to disrupt old-world banks. They mostly function as online bazaars that simply put borrowers in touch with lenders or entrepreneurs with investors, while they pocket a fee on each transaction.
- A Fintech firm may help participants on its platform by doing background checks on entrepreneurs, borrowers or lenders who hop on to it. But it does not put its own capital at risk. This fee-based approach to financial services (as opposed to funds-based approach of banks), saves the Fintech newbies a lot of costly capital. With no depositors’ money at stake, they may get away with lighter regulations too.
Explained: Is the Indian economy slowing down?
The economy is indeed slowing down as many economic indicators point to that.
Signs suggesting slowing down of Indian economy:
- The largest carmaker company in India witnessed declining sales for most months in 2018-19, Tractor sales for Mahindra declined in December 2018, were flat in January 2019 and dropped in February too.
- Two-wheeler sales started crawling since December. In February, the two biggest two-wheeler producers, Hero MotoCorp and Honda Motorcycle reported lower sales.
- Eight core segments (steel, cement, fertilisers, coal, electricity, crude oil, natural gas and refinery products), grew at 1.8 per cent in January 2019, compared with 2.8 per cent in the previous month.
- The growth in industrial output itself dropped to 1.7 per cent in January 2019 against a growth of 2.6 per cent in December 2018.
- The GDP growth rate in the first three quarters (April-June 2018, July-September 2018 and October-December 2018) of the current financial year ending March 2019, the Central Statistics Office estimates, was 8 per cent, 7 per cent and 6.6 per cent, respectively.
- In 2014-15 and 2015-16, the economy grew at 7.1 per cent and 8.2 per cent, respectively. The government expects the economy to grow at 7 per cent in 2018-19, which is slower than 7.2 per cent in 2017-18.
- In spite of Consumption expenditure being contributing almost 56 per cent of the India’ GDP, consumption slowdown of non-discretionary items such as food items indicate towards slower economy.
Reason for slowdown of economy:
- High interest rates, higher fuel prices and lack of credit
- Adverse effects of demonetisation and introduction of Goods and Services Tax
- Poor bank credit and liquidity crisis
World economy scenario:
- After growing at 3.1 per cent in 2017, the world economy is estimated to have slowed down to 3 per cent in 2018, and the outlook for 2019 suggests it will slow down to 2.8 per cent over the next two years.
- The prospects over the coming three years for both the US and the Euro zone points to continuous slowing down.
- China’s GDP growth rate is expected to drop to 6 per cent in 2021 from 6.5 per cent in 2018.
- However, India seems to be the only economy expected to show7.5 per cent growth every year till 2021 according to the World Bank’s latest Global Economic Prospects
Women’s labour force participation in India among the world’s lowest
According to Oxfam, an international non-profit organisation, irrespective of employment category and location, women workers in India are paid a lower wage rate.
About the report:
- The report is based on estimates on employment unemployment survey (EUS) 2011-12, done by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) and International Labour Organization (ILO) studies which builds first inequality report launched by Oxfam in 2018.
Highlights of report:
- The gender pay gap was 34 per cent in India i.e. women get 34 per cent less compared to men for performing the same job with same qualifications.
- Women professionals even in the highest ranks of labour are also paid less compared to their male counterparts.
- However, these women constitute only 1% of the total female work force and the gap is lowest as they are aware of their rights.
- The wage difference is lesser for more skilled workers and more for semi-skilled or unskilled workers.
- Across enterprise type, wage difference is less for government/public sector and public/private limited company.
- Large pay gaps in terms of average daily wages exist in male and female wage rates of casual and regular workers in rural and urban areas and the gap is narrower for regular workers in urban areas. On the other hand, for casual workers, wage gap is narrower in rural areas.
- A casual labourer is a person who is casually engaged in others’ farm or non-farm enterprises and receives wages according to the terms of the daily or periodic work contract.
- The report stresses that while inequality in jobs has increased, inequality in education has decreased between boys and girls. Moreover, even as girls frequently outperform boys in school examinations, they are not finding suitable jobs for the skills that they have.
- Women’s labour force participation in India is one of the lowest in the world. Women comprise half of the Indian population but make up less than a quarter of the labour force.
- The report says that while both men and women are diversifying out of agriculture, almost 75 per cent of rural women are still engaged in it.
- Oxfam, formed in 1995 by a group of independent non-governmental organizations, is an international confederation of 19 organizations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries.
- It aimed at creating lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty.
PFC completes REC acquisition
State-owned power sector financier Power Finance Corporation (PFC) completed its mega deal to buy majority stake in REC Ltd on Thursday by transferring Rs 14,500 crore to the government.
- This acquisition and merger will make PFC second-largest government-owned financial player in the country based on the current market capital after State Bank of India (SBI) and also PFC will be the third-highest profit-making financial player in India.
- Incorporated on July 16th, 1986, Power Finance Corporation Ltd. is a Schedule-A Navratna CPSE and is a leading Non-Banking Financial Corporation in the Country.
- PFC is under the administrative control of the Ministry of Power.
- It was classified as an Infrastructure Finance Company by the RBI
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
New rules in Andaman and Nicobar island make green activists worried
The Union Environment Ministry has notified island protection zone (IPZ) 2019 for Andaman and Nicobar Island.
About the new notification:
- IPZ 2019 allows eco-tourism projects 20 metres from the high tide line (HTL) in smaller islands like Baratang, Havelock and Car Nicobar and allows 50 metres in larger Islands triggering concern among some green activists.
- This brings the norms for Andaman and Nicobar at par with coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms for other islands close to the mainland and backwater islands.
- This new notification relaxes development norms in the islands compared to the IPZ notification of 2011, which stipulated a no-development zone (NDZ) of 200 metres from the HTL for all islands.
- According to government, New notification is in line with the government’s plans of opening up the “Blue economy”.
Other relaxed norms mentioned in IPZ 2019:
- New notification also allows for eco-tourism activities like mangrove walks, tree huts and nature trails in island coastal regulation zone IA (classified as the most eco-sensitive region of the islands which includes turtle nesting grounds, marshes, coral reefs etc).
- The notification also allows for construction of roads, roads on stilts by reclaiming land in exceptional cases for defence installations, public utilities or strategic purposes in eco-sensitive zones.
- These were not allowed under the IPZ 2011 notification which only permitted pipelines, transmission lines, trans-harbor links to be laid in the eco-sensitive zone. Moreover, the 2011 notification allowed a few activities in the inter-tidal zone like construction of huts for fisher folk and other public facilities.
- However, IPZ 2019 allows a number of new activities in the inter-tidal zone between low tide line and HTL which includes land reclamation and bunding for foreshore facilities like ports, harbours, jetties etc., transfer of hazardous substances from ships to ports, manual mining of atomic minerals, and mining of sand for construction purposes.
- infrastructure development and construction on the coast, including easing floor area ratio (FAR) in coastal urban areas and slashing the NDZ in densely populated coastal rural areas to 50 metres from HTL as compared to 200 metres earlier.
- The legal changes in the IPZ are aligned with the NITI Aayog’s proposal for holistic development in the Islands which is being taken forward under the guidance of the Island Development Agency.
About Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ):
- Under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 of India, a notification was issued in February 1991, for regulation of activities in the coastal area by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
- As per the notification, the coastal land up to 500m from the High Tide Line (HTL) and a stage of 100m along banks of creeks, estuaries, backwater and rivers subject to tidal fluctuations, is called the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ).
Island Protection Zone Notification, 2011:
- On January 07, 2011 the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) released for the first time, an Island Protection Zone Notification (IPZ), 2011 to cover Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep.
- On the same day, Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011 was also released to replace CRZ Notification of 1991.
- For the four islands namely, North Andaman, Middle Andaman, South Andaman and Great Nicobar, the Notification applies to areas within 500 metres from the High Tide Line along the seafront, while for all other islands and Lakshadweep islands, the entire geographical area, including the water area up to 12 nautical miles falls within purview of the Notification.
- In December 2018, A committee headed by the Shailesh Nayak (Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences) examine the various issues for recommending appropriate changes in the CRZ Notification, 2011.
- New provisions included easing floor area ratio (FAR) in coastal urban areas and slashing the NDZ in densely populated coastal rural areas to 50 metres from HTL.
- It also includes No Development Zone (NDZ) of 20 meters for all Islands.
Objective of Protection Zone Notification (IPZ), 2011:
- Protection of livelihoods of traditional fisher folk communities
- Preservation of coastal ecology;
- Promotion of economic activity that have necessarily to be located in coastal regions.
Under this notification, the coastal areas of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is classified as:
- ICRZ-I: The areas that are ecologically sensitive and the area between Low Tide Line and High Tide Line.
- ICRZ-II: The areas that have been developed up to or close to the shoreline.
- ICRZ-III: Areas that are relatively undisturbed and areas which are not substantially built up. Such as rural areas and also areas within municipal limits.
- ICRZ-IV: The water area from the Low Tide Line to 12 nautical miles and tidal influenced water area
Why is a separate Island Protection Zone Notification, 2011 required?
- The geographical areas of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands are so small that in most of the cases the 500 metres Coastal Regulation Zone regulations overlap.
- Hence, a separate Notification is being issued which takes into account the management of the entire island (except for four islands of A&N which include North Andaman, Middle Andaman, South Andaman and Great Nicobar).
What is Blue Economy?
- The Blue Economy encompasses various traditional marine sectors such as fisheries and aquaculture, shipping, port infrastructure, ship building and repair, island development, seabed exploration, hydrocarbon extraction and marine tourism industry.
- There are also many emerging sectors such as marine renewable energy, deep seabed mining, salt water desalination, marine bio-technology and provisioning specialized Information and Communications Technologies services for the marine industry.
How can we harness the potential of the blue economy?
- In order to fully harness the potential of the blue economy, India needs to envision the seas and oceans as development spaces.
- This involves an integrated approach towards oceanic resources comprising marine spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management
- Floor area ratio (FAR) is the ratio of a building’s total floor area (gross floor area) to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built. The terms can also refer to limits imposed on such a ratio through zoning.
- As a formula FAR = (gross floor area) / (area of the plot)
- Island Coastal Regulation Zone (ICRZ) and Integrated Islands Management Plans (IIMPs) have been set up for the environmental management of the Islands of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep.
Study finds gaps in conservation efforts in Western Ghats
A new study has found that expansion of protected areas in the Western Ghats has not helped the lot of Dhole, commonly known as the Asiatic wild dog, even while enabling the recovery of populations of tigers and other big carnivores.
Threats to Dhole population:
- Researchers emphasised that factors linked to human use of dhole habitats pose the highest level of threats to dhole populations.
- The presence of livestock adjacent to reserve areas negatively affected dhole occupancy. It affects habitat quality as livestock competes with the wild prey of dholes.
- Free-ranging feral dogs also adversely affect dhole populations because of competition for prey and by hosting a range of pathogens harmful to dholes.
- Dholes are perhaps a lot more sensitive to forest cover compared to bigger carnivores and therefore require more nuanced approaches for population recovery.
Dhole is an apex social carnivore in the tropical forests of South and South East Asia. Dholes hunt in packs and tend to venture into forested landscapes adjoining protected areas.
- Its scientific name is Cuon alpinus.
- Its habitat is forest, grassland, shrubland.
- Dhole is listed as endangered as per IUCN.
- It is Schedule II of wildlife act.
- The dhole is a highly social animal, living in large clans without rigid dominance hierarchies and containing multiple breeding females.
- Dholes are susceptible to rabies, canine distemper, canine parvovirus and sarcoptic mange among others which are usually contracted from domestic village dogs that act as reservoirs.
- AS per IUCN the animal is resident in following nations: Bangladesh; Bhutan; Cambodia; China; India; Indonesia; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Myanmar; Nepal; Thailand.
- Dhole is a habitat generalist, and can occur in a wide variety of vegetation types, including: primary, secondary and degraded forms of tropical dry and moist deciduous forests; evergreen and semi-evergreen forests; temperate deciduous forests; boreal forests; dry thorn forests; grassland–scrub–forest mosaics; temperate steppe; and alpine steppe
Defence & Security Issues
Four indigenous ‘Dhanush’ Howitzers inducted into the Indian Army
Four indigenous ‘Dhanush’ Howitzer guns were inducted to the Indian Army at a ceremony held the Ordnance factory in Jabalpur.
The Dhanush gun system is based on designs of the Bofors howitzer which was inducted in the Army in 1980s and would be the third type of artillery gun to be inducted into the force after the K-9 Vajra and the M-777 ultra-light howitzers.
- The Dhanush gun, which has a calibre of 155x45mm, is the first indigenous artillery gun of this calibre.
- It is also the first long-range artillery gun to be produced in India, having a range of 38 km.
- In army parlance it is classified as ‘medium artillery’.
- The Dhanush is equipped with a navigation-based sighting system, on board ballistic computation and an advanced day and night direct-firing system.
- The self-propulsion unit allows the gun to deploy itself in mountainous terrains with ease.
- The army’s artillery arm has ‘medium regiments’, with guns of this calibre and also of 130mm calibre.
- The Bofors, which had played a crucial role in targeting Pakistani military positions during the 1999 Kargil War, has a similar 155mm calibre.
Science & Technology
Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry launched a blockchain-based online marketplace for coffee in New Delhi.
- Known as the Coffee Blockchain initiative, the pilot was activated simultaneously executive director of the International Coffee Organisation from Nairobi and India’s commerce secretary from New Delhi.
- Currently, in the pilot stage, this initiative is aimed at helping integrate the farmers with markets in a transparent manner and lead to the realisation of a fair price for the coffee producer.
- Use of blockchain technology will reduce the number of layers between coffee growers and buyers and help farmers double their income.
Objective of using Blockchain:
- The aim of using blockchain is to “premium-ise” coffee, add “bean-to-cup traceability” and cut the role of middlemen.
- It is also expected that the Coffee Board of India will help the Indian coffee trade make more inroads into the premium market internationally and make India one of the top three coffee producers in the world.
- In India, coffee is cultivated in about 454,000 hectares by 366,000 coffee farmers — 98% of them small farmers — whose returns are meagre.
- India is the only country in the world where entire coffee is grown under shade, handpicked and sun dried.
- It produces one of the best coffees in the world, produced by small coffee growers, tribal farmers adjacent to National Parks and Wild Life Sanctuaries in the Western and Eastern Ghats, which are two of the major bio-diversity hot spots in the world.
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain is in the simplest of terms, a time stamped series of immutable record of data that is managed by cluster of computers not owned by any single entity.
- Each of this blocks of data (i.e block) are secured by and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e chains).
- Blockchain is a sort of distributed ledger or decentralized database that keeps records of digital transactions.
- Blockchain technology was first developed in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto.
- Since its inception, it has been used as the basis for several cryptocurrencies from around the world, including Bitcoin and Bitshares.
- Once a transaction is entered in the blockchain, it cannot be erased or modified.
- Blockchain removes the need for using a trusted third party such as a bank to make a transaction by directly connecting the customers and suppliers.
- Each transaction is recorded to the ledger after verification by the network participants, mainly a chain of computers, called nodes.
Blockchain tech can reduce transaction costs:
- According to FICCI report, the next generation blockchain technology can help in reducing cost of transactions in various government schemes.
- For example, it is estimated that approximately 1.3 per cent of the GDP is lost due to unclear land titles and the litigation cost associated with competing claims only serves to exacerbate the problem further. Here the use of blockchain technology has the potential to make the agri-supply chain more secure, transparent and efficient.
- As per the report, Blockchain solutions, if implemented, may lead to the elimination of intermediaries or middlemen, thereby leading to improved pricing, decreased transaction fees, thus eliminate issues of hoarding.
Disadvantages of blockchain technology:
- Blockchain is still relatively a new technology. There are ongoing concerns about privacy in the settlement and storage of securities – blockchain providers are working hard to address.
- Banks are also at threat with blockchain, since more and more firms (using their IT service providers from India and elsewhere) will build systems that can create and exchange ‘blocks’ with one another completely legally, without ever having to use the banks as a financial intermediary.
Blockchain is not bitcoin:
- Bitcoin is digital money, a virtual currency that was the first successful blockchain product. Blockchain is the technology that enables cryptocurrency like bitcoin. While they go hand-in-hand, there are other use cases for blockchain besides bitcoin.
Coffee Board of India:
Government of India established the ‘Coffee Board’ through a constitutional act “Coffee Act VII of 1942 under the administrative control of Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
- The board comprises 33 member including Chairman and Secretary and Chief Executive officer.
The core activities of Coffee Board of India are:
- Enhancement of production, productivity and quality.
- Export promotion for achieving higher value returns for Indian coffee and
- Supporting development of domestic market.
Cabinet approves five year’s extension of Biomedical Research Career Programme
The Union Cabinet has approved the continuation of the Biomedical Research Career Programme (BRCP), and Wellcome Trust (WT).
- Its initial 10-year term (2008-09 to 2018-29) has been renewed to a new five-year phase (2019-20 to 2023-24).
- BRCP is an alliance between Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Wellcome Trust (WT).
- The Programme will fulfil the objectives of building and nurturing talent of highest global standards in cutting-edge biomedical research in India, which has led to important scientific breakthroughs and applications to meet societal needs.
- BRCP has made it attractive for high quality Indian scientists working abroad to return to India, and has increased the number of locations geographically within India where world-class biomedical research is undertaken.
- The Programme would continue to build this capacity as also strengthen clinical research and work towards addressing important health challenges for India.
About Wellcome Trust/DBT India alliance:
The Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance is an £160 million initiative funded equally by the Wellcome Trust, UK and Department of Biotechnology, India.
- It is registered as a charitable trust in India.
- The organization is an equal partnership between the Wellcome Trust (UK) and the Department of Biotechnology (Government of India).
- Together, this partnership is aimed at promoting biomedical research in India through funding and engagement.
Aim of Wellcome Trust/DBT India alliance:
- The broad aim of the India Alliance is to build excellence in the Indian biomedical scientific community by supporting future leaders in the field.
About Wellcome Trust:
- The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to improving health by supporting bright minds in science, the humanities and social sciences, and public engagement.
- Established in 1936 and with an endowment of around £15 billion, it is the largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research in the United Kingdom.
- It is independent of both political and commercial interests.
Key Facts for Prelims
World’s largest ‘Salt Cave’ revealed in Israel
- Israeli researchers revealed that an area near the Dead Sea is home to the world’s longest salt cave, a title previously held by Iran for the Cave of the Three Nudes on Qeshm Island.
- Malham salt cave in Mount Sedom, is 11km long mountain that sits 170 meters below sea level at the southwestern tip of the Dead Sea.
- According to Hebrew University two factors have protected the cave: the sturdy cap rock that covers its salt, and the arid climate of the Negev Desert.
About Malham Salt Cave:
- The Malham Salt Cave is a river cave. Water from a surface stream flowed underground and dissolved the salt, creating caves – a process that is still going on when there is strong rain over Mount Sedom about once a year.
- In addition to its length, the Malham Cave contains a stunning array of salt stalactites and salt crystals within its chambers.
- These salt icicles hang from the cave’s ceiling and grow longer and fatter as each drop of water rolls down before evaporating into the salty air.
- The caves are dated to be 7000 years old.