Polity & Governance
- Govt Changes Rules to Protect Civil Servants
- Goa lifeguards strike, government invokes ESMA
- WHO declares Guinea Ebola free
- Foreign funds plan share in India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund
- Government pitches for global north-south corridor
Science & Technology
- China launches earth observation satellite Gaofen-4
Polity & Governance
Govt Changes Rules to Protect Civil Servants
IAS officers working with the Centre can now be suspended only with the approval of the minister in charge of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), according to new rules that are aimed at protecting them.
- Until now, the Centre could suspend an IAS officer and a Central Review Committee of bureaucrats would step into the picture only if the suspension was to be continued beyond a year.
- These All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Amendment Rules, 2015, replace the rules of 1969.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the administrative head of the DoPT, has spoken in the past about protecting honest officers.
- The new rules have kicked in after almost yearlong deliberations with the states in the backdrop of suspensions of IAS officers including Ashok Khemka and Durga Shakti Nagpal.
Under the New Rules:
- The IAS officers working with the Centre can now be suspended only on the recommendation of the Central Review Committee and with the approval of the DoPT minister in charge.
- States will now have to inform the Centre within 48 hours of suspending any allIndia services officer (IAS, IPS and IFS) working for them.
- Copy of the suspension order and reasons for the suspension have to be communicated.
- There was no time limit earlier. Also, the state cannot keep an officer suspended beyond 30 days if the Centre does not confirm the suspension or if disciplinary proceedings are not initiated. The earlier period was 45 days.
- The Central Review Committee will now have the secretary of the DoPT as chairperson and its members will be the DoPT’s establishment officer and the secretary of the ministry where the IAS officer is posted.
- Previously, the committee was headed by the secretary of the ministry concerned and it was optional to co-opt a DoPT officer.
- Suspension in the first place now would require the committee and the minister’s nod. This is aimed at checking any arbitrary suspension at the Centre’s level as well.
- The new rules also stipulate that any appeals or memorials against disciplinary action taken by the state government or a central ministry against an allIndia service officer must be forwarded to the Centre with the ministry or state’s comments within 30 days of receipt “or the Central government will take a decision on the advance copy of the appeal received by them.
Goa lifeguards strike, government invokes ESMA
The Goa government has invoked the ESMA Act as about 600 lifeguards posted on the state’s beaches went on an indefinite strike demanding regularisation of their services.
- The indefinite strike was called by more than 600 lifeguards employed by a private beach management agency engaged by the Goa tourism ministry.
- The imposition of the Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1988, renders illegal the indefinite strike called by the lifeguards.
- The government has declared the lifeguarding and water safety services on the beaches and the inland water bodies under the aegis of the department of tourism as essential services.
Why ESMA Act?
- The Goa state is one of the top beach tourism destinations in the country.
- Goa’s 100 km coastline has some spectacular beaches which are popular with tourists.
- Since private beach management agencies have been recruited by the tourism authorities in the last few years, several hundred tourists have been saved from drowning.
About ESMA Act:
- The Essential Services Maintenance (ESMA) is an act of Parliament of India which was established to ensure the delivery of certain services, which if obstructed would affect the normal life of the people.
- This include services like public transport (bus services), health services (doctors and hospitals).
- The ESMA is a central law, that is, a law made by the Parliament of India; but the discretion on the execution of it mostly lies with the State governments.
- Each state in the union of India hence has a separate state Essential Services Maintenance Act with slight variations from the central law in its provisions. This freedom is accorded by the central law itself.
- Although it is a very powerful law, its execution rests entirely on the discretion of the State government.
- The law has seen little use in India, with many strikes by public transport providers or staff, doctors or Government employees, being continued for weeks without ESMA being invoked by the Union Government or the State Government.
- There have been instances of citizens approaching courts for implementation of ESMA, and the executive being forced by court orders to declare ESMA over a strike and the strikes being called off overnight.
WHO declares Guinea Ebola free
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Guinea Ebola free, thereby ending two-year long plague in West Africa.
- This is the first time in two years- when original chain of transmission that began in Gueckedou, Guinea in December 2013 and spread to seven other countries- that all three Ebola affected countries in West Africa (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) are Ebola free.
- The WHO in a press statement, said that 42 days have passed since the last person confirmed to have Ebola virus disease tested negative for the second time.
- Guinea now enters a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to ensure that any new cases are identified quickly before they can spread to other people.
About Ebola virus:
- Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
- The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
- The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
- The first EVD outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests, but the most recent outbreak in West Africa has involved major urban as well as rural areas.
- Community engagement is a key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilisation.
- Early supportive care with rehydration, symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralise the virus but a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.
- There are currently no licensed Ebola vaccines but 2 potential candidates are undergoing evaluation.
[Courtesy: Hindu, WHO]
Foreign funds plan share in India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund
International pension funds and sovereign wealth funds from countries such as Russia, Singapore and the UAE have evinced interest in participating in India’s Rs 40,000-crore National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF).
- The government will invest Rs. 20,000 crore in the Fund that will build Greenfield and Brownfield projects and revive stalled projects.
- The remaining Rs. 20,000 crore is expected to come from private investors. The government’s share in the corpus will not exceed 49 per cent.
- The Governing Council of the Fund has decided to complete by January-end the selection process of the Chief Executive of the investment management company responsible for taking investment decisions of its corpus
- National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) is a fund created by the Government of India for enhancing infrastructure financing in the country.
- This is different from the National Investment Fund.
- NIIF, proposed to be set up as a Trust, would raise debt to invest in the equity of infrastructure finance companies such as Indian Rail Finance Corporation (IRFC) and National Housing Bank (NHB).
- The idea is that these infrastructure finance companies can then leverage this extra equity, manifold. In that sense, NIIF is a banker of the banker of the banker.
- Its creation was announced in the Union Budget 2015-16.
Objective of NIIF:
- The objective of NIIF would be to maximize economic impact mainly through infrastructure development in commercially viable projects, both Greenfield and Brownfield, including stalled projects.
- It could also consider other nationally important projects, for example, in manufacturing, if commercially viable.
Government pitches for global north-south corridor
In a bid to boost trade with former Soviet Union countries, Iran and Russia, the commerce ministry has pitched for popularisation of International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) as an alternative route through Tehran that significantly reduces costs and travel time.
- The move comes at a time when the government has adopted a market diversification strategy to help Indian exporters reduce their dependence on traditional markets in the West where there is currently not much demand and instead gain more access in growing markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America not tapped as much previously.
- Meanwhile, Export Import Bank of India has expressed interest in financing projects in the infrastructure sector and joint ventures involving Indian companies to better the prospects of INSTC.
- At a stakeholder meeting held last week in Mumbai, the commerce ministry has pointed out that even 15 years after the formalisation of the INSTC concept by India, Iran and Russia (in 2000), this alternative trade route has not taken off in a big way due to outstanding issues concerning logistics, banking connections, insurance cover as well as harmonisation of documentation and procedures for cargo.
- Poor rail connectivity and the shortage of wagons in Iran as well as the lack of incentives including discounts for using the INSTC were also flagged by the commerce ministry during the meeting.
- In addition, the need for improving scanning facilities—to do away with unloading/reloading of cargo and detention of vehicles/train—was also highlighted.
- The ministry also wanted banks (to help in trade finance) and insurance companies (to provide trade credit insurance, cargo insurance and risk management) to play an active role in boosting traffic through INSTC.
- The International North–South Transport Corridor is the ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.
- The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road.
- Besides Iran, India and Russia, countries that are members of INSTC include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kyrgyztan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Turkey, Tajikistan, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria (observer status).
- The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali and etc.
- Dry runs of two routes were conducted in 2014, the first was Mumbai to Baku via Bandar Abbas and the second was Mumbai to Astrakhan via Bandar Abbas, Tehran and Bandar Anzali.
- The objective of the study was to identify and address key bottlenecks.
- The results showed transport costs were reduced by “$2,500 per 15 tons of cargo”.
- Other routes under consideration include via Armenia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
Benefits from INSTC:
- The primary objective of the NSTC project is to reduce costs in terms of time and money over the traditional route currently being used.
- Analysts predict by having improved transport connectivity between Russia, Central Asia, Iran and India their respective bilateral trade volumes will increase.
- A study conducted by the Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India found the route is, “30% cheaper and 40% shorter than the current traditional route”.
Science & Technology
China launches earth observation satellite Gaofen-4
China has successfully launched its “most sophisticated” observation satellite, Gaofen-4, as part of the country’s high-definition earth observation project.
- Gaofen-4 was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre aboard a Long March-3B carrier rocket. It was the 222th flight of the Long March rocket series.
- Gaofen-4 is China’s first geosynchronous orbit HD optical imaging satellite and the world’s most sophisticated HD geosynchronous orbit remote sensing satellite.
- Different from Gaofen-1 and Gaofen-2 in low orbits (600-700km) around the earth, Gaofen-4 is located at the orbit 36,000km away from the earth and moves synchronously with the earth.
- It can “see” an oil tanker on the sea with a huge CMOS camera, reaching the best imaging level among global high-orbit remote sensing satellites.
- The successful launch of Gaofen-4 was the 19th space mission in this year.
- It will be used for disaster prevention and relief, surveillance of geological disasters and forest disasters, and meteorological forecast.
- The Gaofen project aims to launch seven high-definition observation satellites before 2020.
- Gaofen-1, the first satellite of the project, was launched in April 2013.
[Courtesy: Live Mint]