Polity & Governance
- Parliamentary panel concerned over delay in setting up telecom ombudsman
Government Schemes & Policies
- Arunachal declared open defecation-free State
- Assam publishes first draft of National Register of Citizens
- Govt stops free conversion of PIO cards to OCI
- Cryptocurrencies are a Ponzi scheme, warns FinMin
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Two new Ginger species found in the northeast
- New night frog species discovered in Western Ghats
Defence & Security Issues
- Endo-atmospheric interceptor missile
Science & Technology
- NASA’s 2018 to do list includes mission to ‘touch’ Sun
Key Facts for Prelims
- Common buzzard
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Polity & Governance
Parliamentary panel concerned over delay in setting up telecom ombudsman
A Parliamentary panel has expressed concern over delay in setting up of an ombudsman to deal with consumer grievances in the telecom sector despite the regulator TRAI recommending it twice.
- Early this year, TRAI has recommended to the government that an Office of Telecom Ombudsman needs to be established to address grievances of telecom consumers and to have a new funding mechanism for it.
What TRAI has proposed?
The ombudsman can be established under rules framed by the Centre, similar to the institution of the insurance ombudsman under the Redress of Public Grievances Rules, 1998 (RPG Rules).
- The government may, by notification, make rules for carrying out the purposes of this Act.
- Alternatively, the government can choose to create the ombudsman office through a legislation to be passed by Parliament.
- A three-stage grievance redress mechanism for telecom sector is proposed that includes — resolution by telecom service providers (TSPs), resolution by Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum (CGRF) — and determination by Telecom Ombudsman.
What would be the role of ombudsman?
- According to TRAI recommendations, the consumer should in the first instance approach the complaint centre of the TSP to seek a solution. It will be the duty of the TSP to look into the request and address the consumer’s concerns within the time frames stipulated by the Authority.
- In case, the TSP fails to resolve the complaint in a manner that is satisfactory to the consumer; or does not provide a response; or fails to do so within the prescribed time lines laid down by TRAI, the customer will have the option to seek further redress through an independent mechanism.
- This would consist of a process of a resolution based on fact finding by Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum (CGRF), followed by, if necessitated, determination by the telecom ombudsman.
Funding of an ombudsman:
- A portion of the existing, not in addition, licence fee, is recommended as the funding mechanism for Ombudsman.
- And in addition to this fixed fee, there will be a variable component payable by each telecom service provider (TSP) depending on the volume of complaints being filed against it and admitted before the ombudsman’s office.
Need for an ombudsman:
- Existing grievance redressal mechanism for telecom is ‘grossly inadequate’. There is a need for an independent and appropriately empowered structure to be created for resolution of grievances of telecom consumers.
- As per the current trends, on an average around 10 million complaints are lodged with the TSPs each quarter and currently complaints are characterised by high volumes, low-value and from users in diverse geographic locations. Therefore, such regulations (ombudsman) were required to address to consumers in a speedy manner.
- This is also necessary keeping in view of the major changes that has taken place in the Indian telecom sector in the recent past.
- Urgent steps should be taken to amend the Consumer Protection Act in order to include telecom consumer complaints and financial claims of customers under its ambit.
- Earlier, the Consumer Protection Act was applicable to telecom cases — large in number with small ticket size — but a Supreme Court decision excluded the telecom consumers from the purview of the Act.
- At the same time, TRAI Act 1997 does not entail handling of individual consumer complaints by the regulator and all complaints received by it are forwarded to concerned telecom operators for suitable action.
Government Schemes & Policies
Arunachal declared open defecation-free State
Arunachal Pradesh emerged as the second state in the Northeast, after Sikkim, to be declared Open Defecation Free.
- Overall Arunachal Pradesh became the fifth state after Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Haryana to be declared ODF state.
- With this, Arunachal has 21 districts and the state attained the feat much before the national deadline of October 2, 2019.
- Arunachal Pradesh has managed to do this before the deadline of October 2, 2019.
- The state government had cut short the national ODF target by one year and ten months ahead of the national target and set 31 December, 2017, as the final target to achieve ODF status in Arunachal Pradesh.
About Swachh Bharat Mission:
- Swachh Bharat Mission is a massive mass movement that seeks to create a Clean India by 2019.
- The father of our nation Mr. Mahatma Gandhi always puts the emphasis on swachhta as swachhta leads to healthy and prosperous life. Keeping this in mind, the Indian government has decided to launch the swachh bharat mission on October 2, 2014.
- The mission will cover all rural and urban areas.
- The urban component of the mission will be implemented by the Ministry of Urban Development, and the rural component by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
Major components of the goal:
- Elimination of open defecation, conversion of insanitary toilets to pour flush toilets, eradicating of manual scavenging and Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM).
- Construction of individual sanitary latrines for households below the poverty line with subsidy (80 percent) where demand exists
- Conversion of dry latrines into low-cost sanitary latrines
- Construction of exclusive village sanitary complexes for women providing facilities for hand pumping, bathing, sanitation and washing on a selective basis where there is not adequate land or space within houses and where village panchayats are willing to maintain the facilities.
- Setting up of sanitary marts
- Total sanitation of villages through the construction of drains, soakage pits, solid and liquid waste disposal
- Intensive campaign for awareness generation and health education to create a felt need for personal, household and environmental sanitation facilities.
Significance of Swachh Bharat Mission:
- Open defecation is an important factor for causing various diseases like intestinal worm infections, diarrhoea, polio, hepatitis etc. These diseases kill hundreds of thousands of children each year, and stunt the physical and cognitive development of those who survive.
- Announcing a goal of accelerating the reduction in open defecation was a great idea, articulating a worthy goal for serious public policy efforts.
Assam publishes first draft of National Register of Citizens
The Assam government has released the first draft of the much-awaited National Register of Citizens (NRC) which declared 1.9 crore people of total 3.29 crore applicants as legal citizens of India.
- The rest of the applications are undergoing verification and the complete list will be within 2018.
- The NRC is being compiled following a Supreme Court directive to identify illegal immigrants in Assam.
- The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the entire process, had ordered that the first draft of the NRC be published by December 31 after completing the scrutiny of over two crore claims along with that of around 38 lakh people whose documents were suspect.
What’s the issue?
- Assam faced influx from Bangladesh since the early 20th century. It is the only state having an NRC, first prepared in 1951. Since then, it had recorded 80 lakh citizens in the State.
- The process of identification of illegal immigrants in Assam has been debated and become a contentious issue in the State’s politics.
- A six-year agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was launched by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 1979. It culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985.
What is National Register of Citizens (NRC)?
- The NRC was introduced to identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and recognise the Indian citizens in Assam.
- It was first prepared in 1951 and Assam is the only state having this arrangement.
- Under NRC, immigrants who have documents proving that they entered Assam before 1971 will be considered Indian citizens and others have to show that they their ascendants have lived in Assam even before 1971.
[Ref: The Hindu, Indian Express]
Govt stops free conversion of PIO cards to OCI
The Union government has stopped the scheme of free conversion of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) cards to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards.
- The government has decided not to give any more extension beyond the December 31 deadline.
- However, the conversion would continue beyond the date on payment of fees.
Why there a scheme of merger?
- Simultaneous existence of PIO and OCI cards led to confusion among People of Indian Origin residing abroad. Thus, merging PIO and OCI will lead to simplification of the rules under a single umbrella.
- It would facilitate visa-free travel to India, rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities in the country.
- This is aimed at simplifying the visa-free entry for people of Indian origin into India.
- The merger of the two cards could make PIO cardholders eligible for benefits already enjoyed by OCI cardholders.
- Merging of the two cards will also facilitate travel of Indians staying abroad and their participation in various activities in India.
Who are NRIs, PIO and OCI?
- Non-Resident Indians (NRI), Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) are the three major categories in which the people from India go and live abroad can be categorised.
- While NRIs is essentially a term used for Indians that live in another country, PIOs and OCIs are people who want to stay connected and involved with India more closely.
Benefits of being an NRI:
- Can get special bank accounts from Indian banks.
- Can continue to own land and property in India.
- Earnings outside India are not taxed by the Indian government, provided you have paid taxes in the nation you reside in. Local earnings in India (interest, rental income) are still taxed.
- There is a special quota of seats in Indian universities reserved for NRIs.
- Can still vote, but you have to be in India to do it.
Drawbacks of an NRI card holder:
- May need permission to take out money invested in India.
- May not purchase agricultural land or farm houses.
- May not hold a government job.
- May not be elected to a political position.
Benefits of being an OCI
- Lifelong multiple entry visa to India
- Never have to report to the FRRO regardless of the length of your stay
- Can eventually become a citizen of India if you remain an OCI for 5 years and live in India for at least 1 year (short breaks are now allowed)
- Can use special counters during immigration
- Don’t need a student visa to study in India
- Don’t need an employment visa to get a job
- Can open a special bank account in India, just like an NRI
- Can make investments in India
- Can buy non-farm property and exercise property ownership rights
- Can use your OCI card to apply for a driver’s license, open a bank account, or get a PAN card
- Get the same economic, financial, and education benefits as NRIs (e.g. reserved admission quotas), and you can adopt children like an NRI
- Pay the Indian resident fee when visiting a national parks, monuments, museums or wildlife sanctuary (of course it is ultimately up to the discretion of the man issuing tickets)
Drawbacks of an OCI card holder:
- May not purchase agricultural land or farm houses
- May not vote
- May not hold a government job
- May not be elected to a political position
- May not travel to restricted areas without permission
Benefits of being a PIO card holder:
- If a person holds a PIO card, then he/she doesn’t need a separate visa to visit India. The card is valid for 15 years. Along with this, he/she is exempted from a student or employment visa to acquire employment or academic opportunities in India.
- A PIO card holder during the duration of stay in India, is not required to register at the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO).
- Not only this, but the holder also enjoys parity with NRIs in concern to economic, financial and educational matters. These may include matters related to property transfer or acquisition, holding, disposal, investment, admission of children in educational institutions under general category quota for NRIs.
- A separate immigration counters are provided at all International airports in India for PIO card holders.
Drawbacks for PIO card holder:
- The PIO card holders do not have any voting rights.
- Meanwhile, a prior permission is needed to undertake mountaineering expeditions or any such related research work in protected areas.
Cryptocurrencies are a Ponzi scheme, warns FinMin
The government has joined the Reserve Bank of India in cautioning potential customers from investing in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, likening them to Ponzi schemes.
- The government of India is yet to introduce regulations covering the digital currency market, but it already created an interdisciplinary committee to research and to develop a regulatory framework for the sector. The committee’s members included the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
- Meanwhile, the Indian Supreme Court has issued an appeal to the government in November to start the drafting of a regulatory framework to ‘control the flow of Bitcoin’ in the country.
- Despite its latest warning, the finance ministry has not implemented a total ban on virtual currency trading and has not announced any measures that will curb the adoption and trading of digital currencies in India.
What are the Virtual Currencies?
- Virtual Currencies, also called as digital/crypto-currencies, are a type of unregulated digital money that is neither issued by a central bank/public authority, nor is necessarily attached to a fiat currency, but is used and accepted among the members of a specific virtual community.
- They are capable of being transferred, stored or traded electronically.
- The examples of virtual currencies are Bitcoin, Litecoin, Darkcoin, Peercoin, Dogecoin, Primecoin etc.
What are the concerns associated with Virtual Currencies?
In recent times, there has been a phenomenal increase in the price of virtual ‘currencies’ (VCs) including Bitcoin, in India and globally. India now accounts for over 10 per cent of the global Bitcoin trade.
- VCs don’t have any intrinsic value and are not backed by any kind of assets. The price of Bitcoin and other VCs therefore is entirely a matter of mere speculation resulting in spurt and volatility in their prices.
- The price of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies therefore is entirely a matter of mere speculation resulting in spurt and volatility in their prices. There is a real and heightened risk of investment bubble of the type seen in Ponzi schemes, which can result in sudden and prolonged crash and result in retail consumers losing their hard-earned money.
- Virtual currency (VC) transactions are encrypted and are likely being used for terror-funding, smuggling, drug trafficking and money laundering.
- Besides, VCs are not reliable as they are stored in digital/electronic format, making them vulnerable to hacking and malware attack.
What is the meaning of Ponzi schemes?
A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investing scam promising high rates of return with little risk to investors.
- The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, who became notorious for using the technique in 1920.
- The Ponzi scheme generates returns for older investors by acquiring new investors.
- This is similar to a pyramid scheme in that both are based on using new investors’ funds to pay the earlier backers.
Why do Ponzi schemes collapse?
- With little or no legitimate earnings, Ponzi schemes require a consistent flow of money from new investors to continue. Ponzi schemes tend to collapse when it becomes difficult to recruit new investors or when a large number of investors ask to cash out.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Two new Ginger species found in the northeast
Botanical Survey of India (BSI) scientists have discovered two new species of Ginger in easternmost districts, Ukhrul in Manipur and Tuensang in Nagaland, both bordering Myanmar.
Two new species of ginger are:
- Hedychium chingmeianum
- Caulokaempferia dinabandhuensis
- Hedychium chingmeianum, the species discovered in Tuensang district, is an epiphytic plant and grows on tall trees, while Caulokaempferia dinabandhuensis was found growing in rock crevices, boulders and humus rich soil in the Shirui Hills, where the highest peak stands at an elevation of 2,938 metres.
- Both the plants are from the family of Zingiberaceae, to which the commonly found Ginger (Zingiber officinale) belongs.
Significance of these new species:
- Most of the species under the genus Hedychium have medicinal properties. However, it is yet to be ascertained whether the newly discovered species Hedychium chingmeianum has medicinal properties or not.
- Out 44 taxa, 31 species and 13 varieties of genus Hedychium found in India, only five are reported in south India. The remaining species are all found in the northeast.
New night frog species discovered in Western Ghats
Scientists have discovered a new frog species from Kozhikode’s Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary.
- The frog species, named Mewa Singh’s Night frog, belongs to a genus endemic to the Western Ghats.
- The frog has been named after wildlife scientist Mewa Singh, in honour of his contributions to behavioural ecology and primate studies.
About Mewa Singh’s Night frog:
- It belongs to genus Nyctibatrachus (commonly known as night frogs) endemic only to Western Ghats mountain range.
- The frog’s genetically closest relatives are the Athirappilly night frog (found south of the Palakkad Gap in Thrissur and Idukki) and the Kempholey night frog (found in the northern Western Ghats of Kerala and Karnataka).
- Currently, it is known only from Peruvannamuzhi in Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary in a small stream running along Peruvannamuzhi dam.
Significance of this discovery:
- Frogs in the genus Nyctibatrachus, commonly known as night frogs, are found only in the Western Ghats mountain range. The addition of the Mewa Singh’s night frog to this group brings the total number of night frogs to 36.
Defence & Security Issues
Endo-atmospheric interceptor missile
India successfully test-fired an Advanced Air Defence (AAD) interceptor missile, capable of destroying enemy ballistic missiles at low altitude, from a test range at Abdul Kalam Island off the Odisha coast.
- The AAD interceptor missile has been indigenously developed by DRDO.
- The missile is being developed as part the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system and it was the third successful test this year.
- The endo-atmospheric interceptor made a direct hit with the incoming missile at an altitude of 15 km, completely destroying it.
- The official stated that shooting down an incoming missile at lower altitudes is more complicated than shooting at higher altitudes due to the higher velocity of the missile.
- The Research Centre Imarat (RCI) of the DRDO has played pivotal role in the development of all strategic missiles, spearheaded under the India’s double-layered ballistic missile defence (BMD) programme.
- The BMD consists of two interceptor missiles, Advanced Area Defence (AAD) missile for endo-atmosphere or lower altitudes and Prithvi Defence Vehicle for exo-atmospheric ranges.
- The DRDO expects deployment of BMD shield by 2022.
- India will be fourth country in the world after the US, Russia and Israel to successfully built effective anti-ballistic missile system.
- Earlier in February 2017, DRDO had successfully carried out test of the exo-atmospheric Pirthivi interceptor missile destroying the target outside the earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of over 85 km.
Science & Technology
NASA’s 2018 to do list includes mission to ‘touch’ Sun
NASA is turning 60 in 2018 and the agency is looking forward to launching a slew of important missions in the coming year, including one to “touch” the Sun.
- NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is scheduled for launch in 2018 to explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere.
NASA’s other future scientific expeditions:
- In 2018, NASA will also add to its existing robotic fleet at the Red Planet with the InSight Mars lander designed to study the interior and subsurface of the planet.
- NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx, is scheduled to arrive at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in August 2018, and will return a sample for study in 2023.
- By June 2018, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will search for planets outside our solar system by monitoring 200,000 bright, nearby stars.
- To continue the long—term record of how Earth’s ice sheets, sea level, and underground water reserves are changing, NASA will also launch the next generation of two missions — ICESat-2 and GRACE Follow-On — in 2018.
About NASA’s Parker Solar Probe:
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to “touch” the sun.
- To trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and
- To explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.
- Determine structure and dynamics of magnetic fields at sources of solar wind.
- Trace flow of energy that heats corona and accelerates solar wind.
- Determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles.
- Explore dusty plasma near Sun and its influence on solar wind and energetic particle formation.
Key facts about the probe:
- The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the sun’s atmosphere about 6.2 million miles from our star’s surface.
- It is scheduled for launch in 2018 to explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere.
- The probe will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun.
- The Parker Solar Probe will perform its scientific investigations in a hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation.
- The primary power for mission is dual system of solar panels (photovoltaic array). Secondary source consists of much smaller secondary array power that uses pumped-fluid cooling to maintain operating temperature.
- The spacecraft is designed to endure harsh environment near Sun, by approaching within 8.5 solar radii (5.9 million kilometers) to ‘surface’ (photosphere) of Sun where incident solar intensity is approximately 520 times intensity at Earth orbit.
- It will be protected by solar shadow-shield made of reinforced carbon-carbon composite.
- The spacecraft systems and scientific instruments are located in central portion of shield’s shadow, where direct radiation from Sun is fully blocked.
[Ref: The Hindu]
Key Facts for Prelims
- It is Albania’s national symbol.
- It is threatened with extinction due to widespread poaching of raptors.
- It is a medium-to-large bird of prey whose range covers most of Europe and extends into Asia.
- The buzzard is a protected species just like the golden eagle. It is classified as Least Concern.
- Of the four species of vultures that used to exist in Albania, only one, the Egyptian vulture, remains and its population has been extremely reduced.
- On a global scale, the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is not classified as a threatened species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Location of Albania:
- It is a country in South-eastern Europe.
- Albania is in the southwestern portion of the Balkan Peninsula, bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south and southeast.
- Much of the country is mountainous, including the Albanian Alps in the north, the Korab Mountains in the east, the Ceraunian Mountains in the south and the Skanderbeg Mountains in the center.
- Its coast touches the Adriatic Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea to the southwest, forming the Albanian Riviera.
- Albania is less than 72 km (45 mi) from Italy across the Strait of Otranto, which connects the Adriatic to the Ionian.