Polity & Governance
- 9th High Powered Review Board meeting of Brahmaputra Board held
- WCD Ministry launches E-Samvad portal
- Government launches online portal ‘NARI’
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- New species of blind fish discovered inside Meghalaya cave
- Ancient jumping genes may give corals new lease of life
Bilateral & International Relations
- India, Pakistan exchange list of nuclear installations
Defence & Security Issues
- Nagaland declared as ‘disturbed area’ for 6 more months
Key Facts for Prelims
- Progress report of Eight core sectors
- India’s second-largest rooftop solar plant
- Saudi Arabia, UAE introduce VAT for first time
- Pakistan central bank allows yuan-based trade with China
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Polity & Governance
9th High Powered Review Board meeting of Brahmaputra Board held
The 9th meeting of High Powered Review Board (HPRB) of Brahmaputra Board was held at Borgos, Kaziranga in Assam.
- The meeting was chaired by Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
Decisions taken at the 9th HPRB:
- HPRB approved restructuring of Brahmaputra Board and advised that funds should be largely spent for works and limited funds should be spent for establishment costs including salary and wages.
- HPRB also ratified the project for protection of Majuli Island from flood and erosion for an amount of Rs. 237 crore.
- A Mathematical Model Study prepared by IIT, Guwahati called Brahma-ID was also launched on this occasion. This project has been sponsored by Brahmaputra Board for an amount of Rs. 3.00 crore.
About Brahmaputra Board:
The Brahmaputra Board is an autonomous statutory body which is responsible for preparation and implementation of plans related to flood management, erosion control, drainage management and water resource development in the Brahmaputra valley.
- The board was set up under the Ministry of Irrigation (later renamed as Ministry of Water Resources) as per the Brahmaputra Board Act 1980.
- The Board started functioning from January 11, 1982 and its headquarters is located at Guwahati, Assam.
Objectives of the board:
- The key objectives of Brahmaputra board include preparation and implementation of Master Plans for management of flood, bank erosion and drainage congestion and development and utilization of water resources of the Brahmaputra Valley in association with States.
Composition of the board:
- The Board consists of 21 Members (4 full time Members and 17 part time Members), representing seven states of the North Eastern Region, North Eastern Council, concerned Ministries and Departments of the Government of India.
- Since creation of Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) and inclusion of Sikkim and part of West Bengal within the jurisdiction of Board, some other representatives of various concerned departments or bodies are also invited as Special Invitees in the meetings of the Brahmaputra Board.
Funding of the board:
- Brahmaputra Board is provided fund through grant-in-aid by the Central Government for its works and establishments.
Jurisdiction of the board:
- The jurisdiction of the Board includes both the Brahmaputra and Barak Valley and covers all the States of the North Eastern Region, Sikkim and part of West Bengal falling under Brahmaputra river basin.
Main functions of the board:
- Undertaking ‘Survey & Investigation’ in Brahmaputra & Barak Valley and preparation of Master Plans for control of floods, bank erosion and improvement of drainage in the Brahmaputra Valley and activities connected therewith, including development and utilization of water resources of the Brahmaputra Valley for irrigation, hydropower, navigation and other beneficial purposes,
- Preparation of Detailed Project Reports and estimates including apportionment of cost among States in respect of the dams and other projects,
- Formulation of programme, in consultation with State Governments, for construction / implementation of dams and other projects identified in the Master Plans, approved by Government of India, in phases,
- Finalization of standards and specifications for construction, operation and maintenance of such dams and other projects and
- Construction, operation and maintenance of Multipurpose and other Water Resources Projects, identified in the Master Plans, on approval of Government of India.
About Barak Valley:
- The river Barak is a part of the Ganga-Brahmaputra Meghna system and is the second largest river of the N.E. Region having eight major tributaries.
- It originates from a hill east of Mouthana at an elevation of about 2840 m in the southern slopes of Nagaland/Manipur.
- The Barail, Patkai and Lussai hills bound the sub-basin on its three sides.
- The total catchment area of the Barak sub-basin up to Indo-Bangladesh border is 41,704 sq.km. Out of which 751 sq.km. lies in Myanmar.
- After Bhanga in Cachar district (Assam) the Barak bifurcates into two branches known as the Surma and the Kushiara. These two branches enter Bangladesh and again join to form a single river channel and flow up to Bhairab Bazar where it meets with Meghna in Bangladesh.
- The river Barak is joined by a number of hill streams on both its banks. The flood occurs frequently in this valley causing extensive damage to lives and properties.
WCD Ministry launches E-Samvad portal
The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) has e- Samvad portal.
About e- Samvad portal:
E- Samvad is an online platform for NGOs and Civil Societies to interact with the Ministry of Women & Child Development.
- Through e-Samvad portal, NGOs and civil society can provide their feedback, suggestions, put up grievances, share best practices etc.
- Senior Officers within MWCD will be able to view the inputs/suggestions received for their concerned subject areas and appropriately respond to NGOs.
- This will help in formulation of effective policies and measures for welfare of women and children.
Government launches online portal ‘NARI’
In a path breaking initiative to empower women, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) has launched an online portal NARI.
About NARI portal:
It is an online portal developed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) which will provide information to women on issues affecting their lives.
- The portal aims to provide women citizens with easy access to information on government schemes and initiatives for women.
- The portal contains information about schemes being run by both Central as well as the States Governments.
- It provides links to the Ministries, Departments and autonomous bodies offering these schemes as well as easy access to online applications and grievance redressal.
- It will also provide tips on good nutrition, suggestions for health check-ups, information on major diseases, tips for investment and savings advice, job search and interview, information on crimes and against women and reporting procedures, contacts of legal aid cells, simplified adoption procedures and much more.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
New species of blind fish discovered inside Meghalaya cave
A new species of blind fish – Schistura larketensis has been discovered inside a cave in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya.
- The fish — Schistura larketensis — gets its name from Larket village, where the cave has been found.
About the new species:
- The species has apparently lost its sight living in the perpetual darkness inside the cave.
- It has also lost its pigments too while adapting to its habitat in the dark waters.
- The orbital diameter of fish decreases gradually as its matures with eyes completely absent in older individuals.
- Small and faintly blackish spot-like depressions are seen in place of eyes, indicating evolutionary and morphological adaptations.
- The new fish species can be immediately distinguished from all other species of Schistura (excluding Schistura papulifera for its vestigial subcutaneous eyes appearing as black spots).
Threats to this species:
- The high level of siltation, pollution and acidification in Jaintia Hills due to coal mining and cement plants is threatening local cave biodiversity.
Significance of this discovery:
- Though there are about 200 known species of similar kind of fish inhabiting streams and rivers throughout Indochina and Southeast Asia, this is first such discovery of blind fish.
Ancient jumping genes may give corals new lease of life
Scientists have identified a special gene called ‘Retrotransposons’ that improves the heat tolerance of the algae that live symbiotically with coral species, and could potentially help the corals adapt to some warming.
What is Symbiodinium?
- Symbiodinium is a unicellular algae that provides its coral host with photosynthetic products in return for nutrients and shelter.
About coral beaching:
- High sea temperatures can cause the breakdown of the symbiotic relationship between the algae and corals and lead to the widespread expulsion of Symbiodinium from host tissues, an event known as coral beaching.
- If bleached corals do not recover, they starve to death, leaving only their white, calcium-carbonate exoskeleton.
Significance of retrotransposons:
- During the study, most genes commonly associated with heat stress were turned off, while a small number of retrotransposons were turned on.
- The activation and replication of Symbiodinium’s retrotransposons in response to heat stress could lead to a faster evolutionary response, “since producing more mutations increases the chance of generating a beneficial one that allows the symbionts to cope better with this specific stress
Bilateral & International Relations
India, Pakistan exchange list of nuclear installations
India and Pakistan recently exchanged, through diplomatic channels simultaneously at New Delhi and Islamabad, the list of nuclear installations and facilities under a three-decade old bilateral pact.
- This is the 27th consecutive exchange of such list between two countries after first list was exchanged on 1 January 1992.
- The exchange is done each year on January 1, under the Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities, also referred to as the Non-Nuclear Aggression Agreement.
About Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear installations:
The Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear installations is a bilateral and nuclear weapons control treaty between the two South Asian states, India and Pakistan.
- The treaty aims at the reduction (or limitation) of nuclear arms and pledged not to attack or assist foreign powers to attack on each other’s nuclear installations and facilities.
- The treaty was drafted in 1988, and signed by the Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her Indian counterparts, Rajiv Gandhi in 1988; it entered into force on January 1991.
- The treaty barred its signatories to carry out a surprise attack (or to assist foreign power to attack) on each other’s nuclear installations and facilities.
- Starting in January 1992, India and Pakistan have annually exchanged lists of their respective civilian nuclear-related facilities.
Significance of the agreement:
- The need for the agreement had been felt against the backdrop of Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor near Baghdad. The strike, carried out by Israeli fighter jets over hostile airspace, had set Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme significantly.
- The agreement had also come at a time of deep anxiety for Pakistan. Islamabad had been rattled by the memory of the 1972 defeat which dismembered the country, and military developments in India, such as Operation Brasstacks in 1987, which was a wargame exercise to prepare for deep strike offensive capabilities. Pakistan had at the time responded by putting at its nuclear installations and assets on ‘high alert’.
Defence & Security Issues
Nagaland declared as ‘disturbed area’ for 6 more months
Under the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), the entire Nagaland has been declared as “disturbed area” for six more months, till June- end.
Implications of the move:
- The decision to continue the declaration of Nagaland as “disturbed area” has been taken as killings, loot and extortion have been going in various parts of the state which necessitated the action for the convenience of the security forces operating there.
AFSPA in Nagaland:
- The AFSPA has been in force in Nagaland for several decades. It has not been withdrawn even after a framework agreement was signed in August 2015 between the Naga insurgent group NSCN-IM and the government.
- The framework agreement came after over 80 rounds of negotiations spanning 18 years with the first breakthrough in 1997 when the ceasefire agreement was sealed after decades of insurgency in Nagaland.
- Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), is an Act of the Parliament of India that grant special powers to the Indian Armed Forces in what each act terms “disturbed areas”.
Why is this required?
- The government (either the state or centre) considers those areas to be ‘disturbed’ “by reason of differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.”
Under which conditions AFSPA can be declared?
- When the local administration fails to deal with local issues and the police proves inefficient to cope with them.
- When the scale of unrest or instability in the state is too large for the police to handle.
How does one officially declare a region to be ‘disturbed’?
- Section (3) of the AFSPA Act empowers the governor of the state or Union territory to issue an official notification on The Gazette of India, following which the centre has the authority to send in armed forces for civilian aid.
- It is still unclear whether the governor has to prompt the centre to send in the army or whether the centre on its own sends in troops.
- Once declared ‘disturbed’, the region has to maintain status quo for a minimum of three months, according to The Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976.
What about the state government’s role?
- The state governments can suggest whether the Act is required to be enforced or not. But under Section (3) of the Act, their opinion can still be overruled by the governor or the centre.
Key Facts for Prelims
Progress report of Eight core sectors
- According to data released by the Commerce and Industry Ministry, eight core sectors expanded at the fastest pace in more than a year at 6.8 per cent in November 2017.
- The output of refinery products rose by 8.2 per cent, steel – 16.6 per cent and cement – 17.3 per cent on an annual basis in November.
- Crude oil and natural gas output too registered a positive growth.
- The Coal output growth rate, however, recorded a negative growth during the month under review.
What are the eight core sectors?
- In India, there are eight core sectors comprising of coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilisers, steel, cement and electricity.
- The electricity has the maximum weight of 10.32% followed by Steel (6.68%), Petroleum Refinery (5.94%), Crude Oil production (5.22 %), Coal production (4.38 %), Cement (2.41%), Natural Gas production (1.71 %) and Fertilizer production (1.25%).
- Healthy growth in these key eight sectors has positive implications on Index of Industrial Production (IIP) as these eight segments account for about 41% of the total factory output.
India’s second-largest rooftop solar plant
- State-owned gas utility GAIL India Ltd has commissioned India’s second largest rooftop solar power plant in Uttar Pradesh.
Largest rooftop solar plant in India
- India’s largest rooftop solar plant was commissioned in December 2015 by Tata Power Solar in Amritsar, Punjab.
- India is planning to have 40 GW of rooftop photovoltaics (PV) by 2022.
Saudi Arabia, UAE introduce VAT for first time
- Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) became first countries of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to introduce Value Added Tax (VAT) for the first time to increase their revenue away from oil reserves.
- It is a five per cent tax on most goods and services to boost revenue.
- The VAT will be applied on food, clothes, electronics and gasoline, phone, water and electricity bills, as well as hotel reservations.
About Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC):
- GCC is a political and economic alliance of six countries in Arabian Peninsula: Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
Pakistan central bank allows yuan-based trade with China
- Pakistan’s central bank has allowed the Chinese yuan to be used for bilateral trade and investment activities, a move which could replace the US dollar for transactions in the strategic projects.
- The adoption of yuan means that Pakistan and China would be able to replace the US dollar for transactions in the USD 50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.