Polity & Governance
- CAG protests refusal of access to GSTN data
- Mobile apps eChallan, mParivahan to report traffic violations
- Government unveils online vigilance clearance system, e-service book
- Cabinet approves changes to New Urea Policy–2015
- CCEA approves amendments in Mega Power Policy 2009
- Centre picks five airlines to connect 43 regional airports
Environment & Ecology
- Hills sizzle at 8°C above normal
Bilateral & International Relations
- , NDB ink $350 mn. loan pact
Defence & Security Issues
- Chinese city announces punishments for VPN users
Distribution of Key Natural Resources
- ‘Significant incidences’ of gold found in Uttarakhand
Key Facts for Prelims
- El Salvador makes history as first nation to impose blanket ban on metal mining
- Hyderabad becomes first city to have 1 GBPS internet speed
- 3rd meeting of G20 Framework Working Group (FWG)
Polity & Governance
CAG protests refusal of access to GSTN data
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has protested with the Finance Ministry against the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), a special purpose vehicle majority owned by private companies, refusing to give access to taxpayers’ data on its network for scrutiny and audit.
What is GSTN?
- The GSTN is a private limited company floated to aid the rollout of the new indirect tax regime.
- The company will provide information technology support to all stakeholders for smooth implementation of the new taxation regime across the country and will be the repository of all information related to taxation and entities registered under GST.
- The majority (51%) shareholding in the firm is with private entities including HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and LIC among others. The central government, jointly with state governments and Union Territories, own 49% in the company.
Why GSTN has refused to give information?
- GSTN has refused to allow the CAG on the ground that it was a non-government company and the auditor could not exercise the same rights as applicable for public enterprises.
- The GSTN also argued that it was just a “pass through portal” and that the CAG must approach the Central Board of Excise and Customs and states which would have original data filed by taxpayers.
Arguments put forth by CAG:
- Rejecting GSTN’s contention, CAG has said the source of all taxpayers’ data in the GST regime would be with GSTN, ‘being the primary location’ where the data is created. It is from here that the data is selectively pushed to CBEC and states. It is therefore essential for the CAG to access the data lying at the primary source for performing its constitutional mandate.
- The CAG also contended that the government had “strategic control” in GSTN irrespective of the shareholding pattern. The SPV is performing a part of the statutory function pertaining to revenue collection on behalf of the Centre and states and it could not refuse to give access to information to the auditor.
- CAG has requested the Finance ministry to ensure that it gets access to data maintained on the GSTN portal as well as to its application software, the modalities of which could be worked out later.
Mobile apps eChallan, mParivahan to report traffic violations
The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has launched two mobile applications —e-challan and m-parivahan to provide a comprehensive digital solution for enforcement of traffic rules.
- These applications will provide access to various services and information, and enable citizens to report any traffic violation or road accident.
- eChallan is an integrated enforcement solution to manage traffic violations through mobile app and back-end web application, for use by the Traffic Police and Transport Enforcement Wing.
- It will help in improving transparency by connecting all stakeholders through a common system and ensuring data integrity.
- It will also help in easing operations and efficient monitoring through digitization of records and will enhance the visibility of offenders, leading to better traffic management.
- It is a citizen-centric app that will facilitate access to various transport-related services.
- It will bring convenience to citizen and transparency in the system It is an empowering app for the citizen which provides access to various services, information and utilities related to the transport sector.
- It will provide a virtual driving licence and registration certificates through back-end connection to the transport national register.
- It will give full details of the car and the owner, including his driving licence and registration certificate if a vehicle number is entered into the app.
- This will help check the genuineness of a vehicle’s ownership and driver. It will also help in passenger safety when hiring a driver or when buying a second-hand vehicle.
Both apps also have additional common functionalities like road accident and traffic violation reporting by citizen, concept of virtual and enforceable DL/RC etc. They will also facilitate “good Samaritans” through technology.[Ref: Economic Times]
Government unveils online vigilance clearance system, e-service book
The Union Government has launched the Online Vigilance Clearance System and e-Service Book in New Delhi.
- The online system aims to fast track process of cases of vigilance clearance for senior-level appointments in central government.
- Initially, the system will be made available for board-level appointments done by Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) for Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs).
- Later it will be extended for senior appointments in banks and in government departments.
- It will reduce time taken for vigilance clearance from three months to a day or two.
- All Central Government Ministries have been asked to regularly update database of officers on the system which will act as computerized database and provide the details of officers clearly.
- It will electronically maintain service records, including leave, history of work done by employees at various departments, house building allowance and other relevant details.
- It will help in maintaining the employee’s service related records online that will result in quick processing of cases of salary (in cases of inter-departmental or inter-state transfers) or pension (in case of retirement).
- It has been started on pilot-project mode for the employees of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions and soon it will be extended to other departments as well.
Cabinet approves changes to New Urea Policy–2015
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved amendments to the New Urea Policy–2015.
- The said amendments will protect the production beyond re-assessed capacity by the urea units and are expected to boost indigenous production.
- It also raises ceiling imposed on production beyond RAC during the year 2016-17 to enable all urea unit to produce additional production which otherwise were not able due to low Import Parity Price (IPP).
- Further, Department of Fertilizers has been authorized to take appropriate decision in consultation with Department of Expenditure to address any future fluctuation in IPP that would have adverse impact on the production beyond RAC by urea units.
About New Urea Policy 2015:
- It was notified in May 2015 with the objective of maximising indigenous urea production, promoting energy efficiency in the urea units and rationalizing the subsidy burden on the Government.
- Under it, it is mandatory for all the indigenous urea producers to neem coat 100% of their urea production with the objective of increase Nitrogen Use Efficiency, promote balanced use of fertilizers and prevent diversion of urea for purpose other than agriculture.
CCEA approves amendments in Mega Power Policy 2009
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved amendments in the Mega Power Policy, 2009 to push 31 GW stranded projects entailing an investment of Rs 1.5 lakh crore.
- The initiative mainly aims at bringing down power tariff for making electricity more affordable and achieving the ambitious goal of 24X7 power for all.
- The amendment extends the time period for the provisional Mega projects (25 projects), for furnishing the final Mega certificates to the Tax authorities to 120 months instead of 60 months from the date of import.
- However, developers will be required to keep their Bank Guarantee (in lieu of duty exemption claimed) or Fixed Deposit Receipt (FDR) alive.
- CCEA also approved 25 projects for Mega Policy benefits in proportion to long term PPA (Power Purchase Agreement), as permitted under the policy, once specified threshold capacity of project is commissioned.
- However, the money realized by the developer, as a result of release of proportionate Bank Guarantee will first be utilized for repayment of the Bank dues by the developer.
- Further a suitable mechanism will be worked in consultation with Department of Revenue (Finance Ministry) for operationalisation of release of proportionate Bank Guarantee.
Significance of this move:
- This decision is expected to enable developers to competitively bid for PPAs in future.
- Once the developer commissions the specified threshold capacity, proportional mega benefits will facilitate easing out liquidity crunch with the banks/developers and improve the viability of their projects.
- Increased power availability will further boost country’s overall growth and also ensure that cost of power to the consumers does not increase.
Centre picks five airlines to connect 43 regional airports
The Union Civil Aviation Ministry has announced regional aviation routes and airlines after the first round of bidding under UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) Scheme.
- In the first round, as many as 128 routes connecting 70 big and small airports across the country were selected and all flights will become active within 4-6 months.
- The airlines selected under this round are SpiceJet, Air India subsidiary Alliance Air and regional airlines Turbo Megha Airways, Air Deccan and Air Odisha Aviation.
- Some of the inactive airports selected are Shimla, Bikaner, Agra, Gwalior, Rourkela, Kadapa, Jharsuguda, Vidyanagar, Burnpur, Kullu, Diu, Mysore, Shillong, Jagdalpur, Salem, Utkela, and Hosur.
- The regional airlines will connect these destinations with their nearest bigger airports such as Delhi, Chennai, Bhubaneswar, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Jaipur, among others.
What is UDAN Scheme?
- The UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam naagrik) scheme seeks to provide connectivity to un-served and under-served airports of the country through revival of existing air-strips and airports.
- This first-of-its-kind scheme will ensure affordability, connectivity, growth and development.
Key features of the scheme:
- It is an innovative scheme to develop the regional aviation market. It is a market-based mechanism in which airlines bid for seat subsidies.
- Under this scheme, half of the seats on the plane will be capped at Rs. 2,500 per hour’s flight. Government will subsidise the losses incurred by airlines flying to dormant airports by charging Rs. 2,500 per hour’s flight.
- 80% of the subsidy will be collected by charging a levy of up to Rs. 8,500 on each departing flight of domestic airlines and the rest 20% will come from the respective State governments.
- Government will provide subsidy to airlines for first three years of operations when they will have exclusive flying rights on the selected routes.
- Once the market in these routes gets jump started, it will operate on a commercial basis as per market forces of supply and demand.
Environment & Ecology
Hills sizzle at 8°C above normal
According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), so far, this summer, the maximum temperature surges were recorded in hill-station favourites Kullu in Himachal Pradesh and Mukteshwar in Uttarakhand.
- These towns recorded 32°C and 27.2°C — a searing eight degrees above normal for the last week of March.
- Other summer getaways in north India, such as Shimla also in Himachal Pradesh, Pahalgam in Jammu & Kashmir and Dehradun in Uttarakhand have all registered temperatures seven degrees above their historical normals.
- The IMD had already warned of summer temperatures being higher than normal in February and “above normal” temperatures in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir.
- Historical data, until 2010, on the IMD website says that Shimla’s highest-ever maximum temperature in March was 25.8°C in 2010 and Mukteshwar, 28.5°C in 2004.
Factors responsible for the high temperature in the North:
- The high temperatures in the north are due to a confluence of weather conditions such dry south-westerly winds from Gujarat blowing to the north and approaching Western Disturbances (a storm from the Mediterranean that brings rain to north and northwest India).
- These are coupled with an anticyclone, a clockwise spiraling of air that pulls in more warm air flowing in from the south-west.
- North India apart, several states — Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Rajasthan — recorded severe-heat wave conditions because of the meteorological confluence.
The stamp of global warming is evident in this year’s searing March. When the average temperatures are rising every year, there will be more incidents of extreme temperature.
The IMD is already in the process of informing States to put in place comprehensive heat action plans to prepare for the summer.[Ref: The Hindu]
Bilateral & International Relations
Govt., NDB ink $350 mn. loan pact
India has signed its first loan agreement with the New Development Bank (NDB)/BRICS Bank for $350 million to be used in the development and upgradation of district roads in Madhya Pradesh.
- The objective of the project is the upgrade major district roads in Madhya Pradesh to improve road connectivity of the interior areas of the state with the national and state highway networks.
- The project will include upgradation, reconstruction and rehabilitation of approximately 1,500 km of district roads to intermediate lane, all-weather standards.
- It will also have road safety features and improved road maintenance and management.
About New Development Bank:
- The NDB is a multilateral bank created by BRICS nations viz. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
- The goal of the bank is to fund infrastructure projects in emerging economies for sustainable development.
- It had started its operations in July 2015 with initial authorized capital of $100 billion. It is headquartered in Shanghai, China.
- In the NDB, each participant country has been assigned one vote, and none of the countries have veto power.
- Renowned Indian banker Kundapur Vaman Kamath is the President (first) of NDB.
Defence & Security Issues
Chinese city announces punishments for VPN users
Southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality, the most populous and also the largest direct-controlled municipality, has announced a new regulation to punish unauthorised Internet connections outside China’s Great Firewall (GF) using VPNs by individuals in the region.
What is China’s Great Firewall?
The GF is built over the years by China to regulate the Internet content and restrict access to all the banned contents including access to global social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Google.
What’s the new rule?
- The new regulation aims to strengthen China’s rule of law and cyberspace security.
- Under the new rules, if an individual accesses international network privately or via “illegal channels,” or offers related services without authorisation, they could be fined up to 15,000 yuan ($2,178).
- Those who violate the regulation to make profits would be fined and their gains confiscated accordingly.
Why this new law is needed?
- There are 700 million Internet users in China, more than half of its population, and Internet news circulated by social media platforms like Weibo has become more popular than the state-controlled mainstream media making the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) to beef up controls on the Internet to ensure that its monopoly over power is not challenged.
- While VPNs are used widely by diplomatic and foreign media in China to access world wide Internet, the special applications designed to beat the GF being marketed by several Internet firms abroad are becoming popular among Chinese too.
- Also, China pitches for “cyber sovereignty” moving away from global Internet.
Distribution of Key Natural Resources
‘Significant incidences’ of gold found in Uttarakhand
Scientists at the Geological Survey of India (GSI) have discovered, for the first time, “significant incidences” of gold associated with copper mineralisation in parts of Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand.
- This is the first record of in-situ gold incidence from the Rudraprayag area.
Regions where the gold has been found:
- According to the report, the regions bearing gold are best exposed around Rudraprayag town in the Mandakini river valley.
- Panning of stream sediments of Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers in Sumerpur-Ratura, Sari and Jugtoli areas also revealed a few visible gold flakes.
- This part of Uttarakhand where significant incidences of gold has been discovered is in what is known as the “Lesser Himalaya” that is sandwiched, in the north, by the Main Central Thrust — the major geological fault where the Indian Plate has been pushed under the Eurasian Plate along the Himalaya — and in the south by North Almora Thrust.
Significance of this discovery:
- This finding on the occurrence of gold in alluvial deposits — also called placer gold — around Rudraprayag is indicative “of some probable potential auriferous (gold-bearing) zone” towards the northern part of the region.
Occurrence of Gold:
Gold occurs as coarse, liberated particles and fine particles locked in pyrite and copper sulphide.
- According to the GSI, gold is currently produced from three mines — Hutti, Uti and Hirabuddni in Karnataka — and, as a by-product, from the base metal sulphide deposits of Khetri in Rajasthan and Mosabani, Singhbhum, and Kundrekocha in Jharkhand.
- Apart from the gold mines in the above-mentioned areas, some gold, although very small in quantity, is collected by “panning” from the sand and gravel of several rivers, including the Subarnarekha in Jharkhand and the Ambankadava Puzha and Chabiyar Puzha in Kerala.
Key Facts for Prelims
El Salvador makes history as first nation to impose blanket ban on metal mining
- El Salvador has made history after becoming the first country in the world to ban metal mining.
- El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Latin America and, while rainfall is plentiful, holding on to the water is a major issue because of unsustainable farming practices and inadequate industrial controls that have led to widespread soil erosion and the almost total destruction of its forests.
- More than 90% of El Salvador’s surface waters are estimated to be polluted by toxic chemicals, heavy metals and waste matter. The water crisis has steadily deepened since the pro-business Arena Party granted an array of permits for mineral exploration.
Hyderabad becomes first city to have 1 GBPS internet speed
Internet Service Provider (ISP) ACT Fibernet has announced the launch of 1Gbps (gigabits per second) wired broadband internet services in Hyderabad, making the `City of Pearls’ India’s first `Giga City’.
3rd meeting of G20 Framework Working Group (FWG)
- The third edition of G20 Framework Working Group (FWG) meeting was held in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
- The two-day meeting took place under the G20 German presidency, and was co-hosted by the Union Finance Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
- This was the fourth occasion that India, hosted the FWG meeting since its inception in 2009. Previously, India had hosted the G20 FWG meeting in Neemrana (2012 under Mexican presidency), Goa (2014 under Australian presidency) and in Kerala (2015 under Turkish presidency).
- The first two FWG meetings under the German presidency of G20 were held at Berlin in December 2016 and at Riyadh in February 2017.
- The fourth and the last G20 FWG meeting under the G-20 German presidency is likely to be held in Argentina before the G20 leaders’ summit in July 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.