Polity & Governance
- Centre asks states to speed up trial against tainted politicians
Government Schemes & Policies
- CCEA approves revised price of ethanol under EBP for OMCs
- CCEA nod for extending Rs 15,722cr RKVY-RAFTAAR till 2019-20
Issues related to Health & Education
- Cabinet approves National Council for Teacher Education (Amendment) Bill, 2017
- Mass bathing in Ganga aggravates anti-microbial resistance woes
- CCEA approves Special Banking Arrangement for payment of outstanding subsidy to fertilizer
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- UN outlines gap between global emissions and Paris Agreement pledges
- EESL secures $454 million funding from Global Environment Facility
Bilateral & International Relations
- Cabinet approves an agreement between India and Armenia on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters
- President Kovind appreciates Bhutan’s support in resolving Doklam issue
Science & Technology
- Quake-proof concrete developed
- Carnivorous plants use CO2 to lure prey
Key Facts for Prelims
- Twenty habitable planets identified
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Polity & Governance
Centre asks states to speed up trial against tainted politicians
The Supreme Court favoured creation of special courts to exclusively deal with criminal cases involving politicians and their speedy disposal.
- The SC bench told the Centre to also furnish data of the ongoing cases against the legislators, acquittals and convictions in the last three years.
What’s the issue?
- Under the current Representation of People’s Act, 1951, a convicted person may contest elections after six years.
- In this matter, the Centre and Election Commission have been at loggerheads. While the EC was supporting lifetime ban, the Centre was of the view that six years ban serves the purpose.
- Various pleas have knocked the Supreme Court arguing that the ban should be lifetime at par with the judiciary and executive where a person cannot hold office for life post conviction.
Significance of the move:
It takes years, probably decades, to complete the trial against a politician. By this time, he or she would have served as a minister or legislator several times over.
- The setting up of special fast track courts is in the interest of the nation, so that current courts are not overburdened.
- It will make the criminal justice system more responsive and effective.
- It is a determined effort to cleanse politics of criminality and corruption
Government Schemes & Policies
CCEA approves revised price of ethanol under EBP for OMCs
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has approved the revision in the price of ethanol under Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme for supply to the Public Sector Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs).
Significance of the move:
- The approval will facilitate the continued policy of the Government in providing price stability and remunerative prices for ethanol suppliers.
- It will also help in reducing dependency on crude oil imports, saving in foreign exchange and benefits to the environment.
What is Ethanol Blending?
- Ethanol blending is the practice of mixing petrol with ethanol.
- Ethanol is biofuel derived from Sugarcane molasses, corn, sorghum etc.
Ethanol Blending in India:
- In India, practice of blending ethanol was started in 2001. It was first time mentioned in the Auto fuel policy of 2003.
- Later, National Policy on Bio-fuels, 2009 made mandatory for oil companies to sell petrol blended with at least 5% of ethanol.
About the Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme:
- Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme was launched by the Government in 2003 to promote the use of alternative and environment friendly fuels.
- The programme also sought to reduce import dependency for energy requirements.
- However, since 2006, OMCs were not able to receive offers for the required quantity of ethanol against the tenders floated by them due to various constraints like State Specific issues, Supplier related issues including Pricing issues of ethanol.
CCEA nod for extending Rs 15,722cr RKVY-RAFTAAR till 2019-20
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) cleared the continuation of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) as Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana – Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture and Allied sector Rejuvenation (RKVY-RAFTAAR) for three years till 2019-20.
- The objective of the RKVY-RAFTAAR Scheme is to make farming remunerative economic activity by strengthening farmer’s effort, risk mitigation and promoting agribusiness entrepreneurship.
Key features of the RKVY-RAFTAAR Scheme:
- The financial allocation of scheme is Rs. 15,722 crore.
- The fund will be provided to states as 60:40 grants between Centre and States (90:10 for North Eastern States and Himalayan States).
- Under it, 50% of annual outlay will be provided for setting up infrastructure and assets, 30% for value-addition linked production projects and 20% of outlay will be flexi-funds for supporting any project as per the local needs.
- Moreover, about 20% of the annual outlay will be provided for implementing special sub-schemes of national priorities under RKVY-RAFTAAR.
- Also, 10% of annual outlay will be provided for innovation and agri-entrepreneur development through creating end-to-end solution, skill development and financial support for setting up the agri-enterprise.
- Besides, funding of special sub-schemes of national priorities will get 20% of annual outlay.
- The sub-schemes includes national priorities such Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI), Crop Diversification Program (CDP), Reclamation of Problem Soil (RPS), Foot & Mouth Disease – Control Program (FMD-CP), Saffron Mission, Accelerated Fodder Development Programme (AFDP).
- The scheme will incentivize states to enhance more allocation to Agriculture and Allied Sectors.
- Its continuation will therefore keep momentum of agriculture and allied sector growth.
- It will strengthen farmer’s efforts through creation of agriculture infrastructure that will help in supply of quality inputs, market facilities etc.
- It will further promote agri-entrepreneurship and support business models that will maximize returns to farmers.
About Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY):
RKVY was launched during 2007-08 to achieve 4% annual growth in agricultural sector by ensuring holistic development.
- The scheme was under implementation from XI Five Year Plan.
- It has provided considerable flexibility and autonomy to states in planning and executing programmes for incentivizing investment in agriculture and allied sectors.
- It also has enabled adoption of national priorities without affecting autonomy and flexibility of states availability of appropriate technology and natural resources.
- District Agriculture Plans (DAPs) and State Agriculture Plan (SAP) ensured accommodation of local needs, cropping pattern, priorities etc.
Issues related to Health & Education
Cabinet approves National Council for Teacher Education (Amendment) Bill, 2017
The Union Cabinet approved the introduction of a Bill in Parliament to amend the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) Act, 1993.
Objective of the amendment Act:
- The National Council for Teacher Education (Amendment) Act, 2017 seeks to grant retrospective recognition to the Central and State Institutions and Universities that conduct teacher education courses without NCTE permission recognition till the academic year 2017-2018.
Provisions of the amendment Act:
- The retrospective recognition will be a onetime measure to ensure that the future of the students, passed out or enrolled in these institutions, is not at risk.
- It will make students studying in these Institutions and Universities or already passed out, eligible for employment as a teacher.
- All institutions running Teacher Education Courses such as B.Ed. and D.El.Ed. need to obtain recognition from the National Council for Teacher Education under section 14 of the NCTE Act.
- Further, the courses of such recognised Institutions and Universities have to be permitted under section 15 of the NCTE Act.
- The NCTE Act, 1993 enacted by Parliament aims to achieve planned and coordinated development of teacher education system, regulation and ensure proper maintenance of norms and standards in said system.
- It is applicable throughout the country, except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
- It establishes NCTE to achieve these objectives.
- It has separate provisions for recognising teacher education courses and to lay down guidelines for compliance by recognized Institutions/Universities.
Mass bathing in Ganga aggravates anti-microbial resistance woes
What is Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR)?
- Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of a microorganism like bacteria, viruses and some parasites to stop an antimicrobial from working against it.
- AMR reduces the effectiveness of treatment; thus patients remain infectious for a longer time, increasing the risk of spreading resistant microorganisms to others.
- Resultantly, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.
- Microbes resistant to multiple antimicrobials are called multidrug resistant (MDR) or sometimes ‘superbugs’.
Why in news?
- Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) Study has reported that mass-bathing in the Ganga during pilgrimages might be contributing to anti-microbial resistance (AMR).
Significance of the study:
- The study is important in tackling the spread of antibiotic resistance. They could provide clues to the mechanisms behind its spread.
- Research helps in understanding the importance of the environment in evolution of antimicrobial resistance.
Findings of the study:
- In 2014, India was the highest consumer of antibiotics, followed by China and the United States.
- India has some of the highest antibiotic resistance rates among bacteria that commonly cause infections in the community and healthcare facilities.
- The report highlights how the rivers and groundwater have been contaminated by drug-resistant bacteria. And this is subsequently augmenting the vulnerability of people using that water.
- It states that levels of resistance genes were found to be about 60 times greater during the pilgrimage months than at other times of the year.
- Other than ‘cultural factors’ such as bathing, the drivers of AMR included excessive use of antibiotics in the livestock industry and unchecked discharge of effluents by the pharmaceutical industry.
How does it spread in water?
- When the amount of human waste entering the river rises , the resistant organisms in people’s guts can be washed into the river in faeces.
- The faecal organisms tend not to live very long, but the plasmids that carry antibiotic resistance genes can be quickly transferred to other organisms in the river.
- This increases the probability that people will ingest bacteria with antibiotic resistant genes when they drink or bathe in the water.
- Once they are exposed, they can then carry them back to their own towns and cities in their gut – carrying antibiotic resistance genes to the wider world.
CCEA approves Special Banking Arrangement for payment of outstanding subsidy to fertilizer
The Union government gave ex-post facto clearance to implementation of the Special Banking Arrangement (SBA) of Rs10,000 crore for payment of outstanding claims towards fertiliser subsidy in 2016-17.
- The decision was taken at the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- The CCEA has also approved that, in future, the Department of Fertilisers would avail the SBA with the concurrence of the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance.
- The government is making available urea and 21 grades of P&K (phosphate and potassium) fertilisers to farmers at subsidised prices through fertiliser manufacturers and importers.
- To make funds available to fertiliser companies against their subsidy claims, the finance ministry had approved the SBA of Rs10,000 crore with government interest liability limited to G-Secs rate.
- An SBA was worked out with State Bank of India (SBI) for Rs10,000 crore to meet the outstanding subsidy claims of fertiliser companies. The loan together with government interest thereon has been repaid from the Budget Estimate of 2017-18.
- Under the SBA, a total loan of Rs9,969 crore for settlement of outstanding subsidy bills with SBI was raised by the government.
- The loan amount, along with interest liability, on the part of the government amounting to Rs80.9 crore was paid to SBI.
About Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA)
- Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) is one of the standing committees of the cabinet constituted by the Govt. of India.
Some of the major functions of CCEA:
- CCEA has a mandate to review economic trends on a continuous basis, as also the problems and prospects, with a view to evolving a consistent and integrated economic policy framework for the country.
- It also directs and coordinates all policies and activities in the economic field including foreign investment that require policy decisions at the highest level.
- Matters regarding fixation of prices of agricultural products as well as reviewing progress of activities related to rural development including those concerning small and marginal farmers are in CCEA’s competence.
- Price controls of industrial raw materials and products, industrial licensing policies including industrial licensing cases for establishment of Joint Sector Undertakings, reviewing performance of Public Sector Undertakings including their structural and financial restructuring are also within the purview of CCEA, as are all matters relating to disinvestment including cases of strategic sale, and pricing of Government shares in Public Sector Undertakings (except to the extent entrusted to an Empowered Group of Ministers).
- CCEA facilitates finalisation of factual reports on the accomplishments of the Ministries, Agencies and Public Sector Undertakings involved in implementation of prioritised schemes or projects for evaluation by the Prime Minister.
- The CCEA also considers cases of increase in the firmed up cost estimates/revised cost estimates for projects etc. in respect of the business allocated to the CCEA.
[Ref: PIB, Live Mint]
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
UN outlines gap between global emissions and Paris Agreement pledges
According to the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) latest Emissions Gap Report 2017, governments across the world need to urgently revise their 2020 emissions targets pledges to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
What’s the gap?
- The Paris Agreement set two major temperature goals: a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and a second goal to limit the increase to 1.5°C.
- However, the report indicates that there is a significant distance between the collective ambitions and commitments in individual countries Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.
Highlights of the report:
- The report forecasts that temperatures will rise by at least 3 degree C by the end of this century, even if current unconditional and conditional NDCs under the Paris Agreement are implemented.
- The report says full implementation of the unconditional NDCs and comparable action afterwards “could result in a temperature increase of about 3.2° C by 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels”, while full implementation of conditional NDCs would marginally lower that projection by about 0.2°C.
- The report stresses the need for Governments and non-state actors to commit to immediate short-term reductions in emissions, as well as ambitious expansions in their long-term climate pledges.
- Overall greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, thanks mainly to the growing contribution of land use, land-use change and forestry, or LULUCF, emissions.
- Fossil fuels and cement production account for about 70% of greenhouse gases.
- The alarming number and intensity of extreme weather events in 2017, such as hurricanes, droughts and floods, add to the urgency of early action.
- The report describes the opportunities offered by limiting emissions of the so-called short-lived climate pollutants.
- Reductions of these pollutants will limit the rate of short-term warming, and when sustained and combined with reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, they help to limit long-term warming, which is the ultimate aim of closing the emissions gap.
- The report explores “negative emission technologies” to mitigate climate change.
[Ref: The Hindu, Guardian]
EESL secures $454 million funding from Global Environment Facility
In a boost to India’s efforts to transition to a low-carbon economy, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) will provide $454 million in funding for energy-efficiency projects run by India’s state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL).
- It will help EESL’s projects mitigate 60 million tonnes (mt) of carbon dioxide emissions.
- The funding will be given by the GEF, United Nations agencies, multilateral development banks, and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
- The funding announcement was made at the launch of the GEF-6 fund which supports two projects – ‘Creating Markets for Energy Efficiency’ and ‘District Energy in Cities’.
- Besides, EESL further proposes an Energy Efficiency Revolving Fund (EERF) for a sustainable funding mechanism of energy-efficiency projects.
- Project will receive a composite funding of $454 million comprised of the GEF grant of $20 million and co-financing of $434 million in the form of loans and equity, including a $200 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Utilization of fund:
- The funding will be utilised for EESL’s programmes for street lighting, domestic lighting, five-star rated ceiling fans and agricultural pumps and also help diversify its portfolio.
- India is among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change.
- India is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.
- The energy-efficiency market in India is estimated at $22.81 billion.
- Currently around two-thirds of total power generation capacity in India is based on fossil fuels.
- India plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 33-35% from its 2005 levels by 2030, as part of its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted by 195 countries in Paris in 2015.
About Energy Efficiency Revolving Fund (EERF):
- The EERF mechanism will support the ‘proof of concept’ investments for the new technologies.
- These involve street lighting, domestic lighting, five-star rated ceiling fans and agricultural pumps
EESL, under the ministry of power, is promoted by public sector firms in the energy sector—NTPC Ltd, Rural Electrification Corp. Ltd, Power Finance Corp. Ltd and Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd.
- EESL is leading India’s energy efficiency programme seeking to reduce carbon emissions as part of its climate change goals.
- It has been offering large procurement contracts in the energy sector enabling businesses to leverage scale and achieve economy to bring down prices.
- The massive scale of EESL’s energy efficiency programme has helped in reducing the price of LED lights significantly.
- It is also leading India’s electric vehicle procurement programme and is buying 10,000 electric cars.
- EESL has partnered with UN Environment’s District Energy in Cities Initiative, which has already identified $600 million of projects across five cities in India.
About Global Environment Facility (GEF):
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was established in October 1991 as a $1 billion pilot program in the World Bank to assist in the protection of the global environment and to promote environmental sustainable development.
- Since then, the GEF has provided $14.5 billion in grants and mobilized $75.4 billion in additional financing for almost 4,000 projects.
- The GEF has become an international partnership of 183 countries, international institutions, civil society organizations, and private sector to address global environmental issues.
- The GEF directly support actions to combat major environmental issues such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, polluted international waters, land degradation and desertification, and persistent organic pollutants, as well as stimulate green growth.
- In 1994, at the Rio Earth Summit, the GEF was restructured and moved out of the World Bank system to become a permanent, separate institution.
- The decision to make the GEF an independent organization enhanced the involvement of developing countries in the decision-making process and in implementation of the projects.
- Since 1994, however, the World Bank has served as the Trustee of the GEF Trust Fund and provided administrative services.
Bilateral & International Relations
Cabinet approves an agreement between India and Armenia on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters
The Union Cabinet approved signing and ratifying agreement between India and Armenia on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters.
Significance of the agreement:
- The agreement will provide legal framework for sharing of information and intelligence between Customs authorities of two countries.
- It will also help in proper application of Customs laws, prevention and investigation of Customs offences and facilitation of legitimate trade.
- The Agreement will help in availability of relevant information for prevention and investigation of Customs offences.
- It is also expected to facilitate trade and ensure efficient clearance of goods traded between countries.
- The Agreement takes care of Indian Customs’ concerns and requirements, particularly in area of exchange of information on correctness of Customs value declared and authenticity of certificates of origin of the goods traded between the two countries.
- The agreement will be signed by two countries after it is approved by respective Governments.
- It will enter into force on first day of second month after Contracting Parties notify each other through diplomatic channels after fulfilling necessary national legal requirements for entry into force.
Location of Armenia:
President Kovind appreciates Bhutan’s support in resolving Doklam issue
During the king and queen of Bhutan’s India visit, President Ram Nath Kovind expressed his deep appreciation for Bhutan’s support in resolving the recent stand-off with China at Doklam.
- He also said that the security of India and Bhutan is “indivisible and mutual”.
- India and China’s troops were locked in a 73-day stand-off in Doklam, a tri-junction between Sino-India and Bhutanese border near Sikkim from June 16 this year.
- The face-off between India and China took place after Bhutanese troops registered a protest against Chinese military building a road on the plateau.
- Indian troops—stationed in the area under a special security pact between India and Bhutan—intervened after the Chinese troops ignored the Bhutanese warnings.
- The Chinese road construction plans also had India worried that Beijing could cut off the Indian mainland’s access to its northeastern states.
Key takeaways from Bhutan’s stand:
- It is a signal that Bhutan’s India first policy is intact against the backdrop of China trying to make inroads into a country seen as firmly within India’s sphere of influence in South Asia.
- It is significant as it seeks to end speculation over India’s decision to send troops into land caught in a dispute between Bhutan and China.
- It signals a tacit endorsement of India’s actions during the Doklam crisis, as well as a reaffirmation of ties.
India- Bhutan bilateral relations:
- India and Bhutan enjoy unique ties of friendship, which are characterized by deep understanding and mutual trust.
- Bhutan is also key for India’s plans to push subregional cooperation.
- Bhutan will help accelerate regional integration within BIMSTEC.
- India is involved in developing a number of hydel power projects in Bhutan already and is keen to deepen the cooperation as Bhutan has a hydel power potential of 30,000 megawatt (MW) of which 23,000MW can be tapped.
Science & Technology
Quake-proof concrete developed
Researchers from Canada have developed fibre-reinforced concrete, called eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite (EDCC).
About the EDCC:
- The newly developed concrete can withstand earthquakes with magnitudes as high as 9.1, which wrecked havoc when it struck Tohoku, Japan in 2011.
- The material is engineered at the molecular scale to be strong, malleable, and ductile.
- The material is so strong and flexible that it acts like steel, bending during an earthquake instead of crumbling like concrete.
- EDCC combines cement with polymer-based fibres, fly ash and other industrial additives.
Probable usage in India:
- In India, researchers plan to retrofit a school building in in Roorkee in Uttarakhand, a highly seismic area, with EDCC.
Carnivorous plants use CO2 to lure prey
Scientists at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Gardens and Research Institute have come up with evidence that some carnivorous plants use carbon dioxide (CO2) to attract insects and ants to their prey traps.
About the Carnivorous plants:
- Carnivorous plants of the genus Nepenthes supplement their nutrient deficiency by capturing insects through their leaf-evolved pitchers which act as biological traps.
- Carnivorous plants have been known to employ a variety of techniques like nectar, smell, colour and ultraviolet florescence to lure and capture prey.
Key findings of the study:
- The study has found that the Indian pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana) uses the gas, both to attract prey and to aid the digestive process.
- The unopened pitchers of the plant are carbon dioxide-enriched, with a gas concentration of 2,500 to 5,000 ppm (parts per million), approximately 10 times that in the earth’s atmosphere.
- While the open Nepenthes pitchers were found to emit CO2 constantly to attract insects.
- The high CO2 inside the pitchers was produced by the respiration of tissues within the cavity.
- The high CO2 environment in the pitchers and the dissolved CO2 in the pitcher fluids might also act as a tranquilliser for the trapped prey.
- Nepenthes pitchers have the potential to be used as natural models mimicking an anticipated elevated CO2 scenario on earth.
Key Facts for Prelims
Twenty habitable planets identified
- Scientists, using data from NASA’s Kepler telescope, have discovered 20 new potentially habitable exoplanets that may host alien life.
- Of those, 20 were listed as the best candidates to be habitable rocky planets like Earth.
- “Habitable zone” is the area around a star in which a planet’s surface could hold liquid water.
- The planet which was the closest in resemblance to our Earth has been named as KOI-7923.0 by the researchers. This planet just might be the best contestant for the race of Earth 2.0.