Polity & Governance
- Government proposes bureaucrats-led committees to probe complaints against info commissioners
Government Schemes & Policies
- WhatsApp unveils ‘Checkpoint Tipline’ to tackle fake news
Issues related to Health & Education
- 2nd April: World Autism Awareness Day
- Manufacturing growth slips to six-month low in March: PMI
- RBI sets WMA Limit for Government at Rs 75000 crore for H1 of 2019-20
- Global Report on Food Crises shows acute hunger still affecting over 100 million people worldwide
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Delhi becomes first city to roll-out Euro VI fuel
Bilateral & International Relations
- India signs agreement to set agriculture institute in Malawi
Defence & Security Issues
- Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) scaled back in Arunachal
- US approves sale of 24 MH 60 Romeo Seahawk helicopters to India for $2.4 bn
Key Facts for Prelims
- Dawn of a new era: Japan’s new imperial era to be named ‘Reiwa’
- ‘Maitri Bridge’
- India-Australia joint naval exercises begin
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Polity & Governance
Government proposes bureaucrats-led committees to probe complaints against info commissioners
The Centre has proposed to form committees under cabinet secretary to look into complaints against Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners, a move seen as an attack on the independence of the transparency panel.
- The proposal was sent to the Central Information Commission (CIC) by the Department of Personnel and Training.
About the proposal:
- According to the proposal, the government intends to form committees under cabinet secretary to look into complaints against Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners.
- The move was triggered by a Supreme Court query to know the procedure to handle complaints against Information Commissioners.
- The proposal also says that other secretaries will also be a part of it.
- The proposed change would be in contravention to the current Right To Information (RTI) law and therefore is being seen by the CIC as “an attempt to erode its independence and undermine its role.”
- According to Chief Information Commissioners, there is no such committee to probe complaints against Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners who are constitutional authorities, then, why is there a need for such a mechanism when it comes to Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners.
- Moreover, according to Section 14 (1) of the RTI Act, the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner shall be removed from office “only by order of the President” on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity “after the Supreme Court reported that the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner ought on such ground be removed.
- This is another conspiratorial attempt to kill the institution, which was asking the Government offices to disclose the corruption and other cases against its officers. Its totally against the RTI Act.
- Central Information Commission must function autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under RTI Act. The committees proposed are not authorities under this Act. Hence, Government cannot create any such authority in the absence of any enabling provision in the Act.
Chief Information Commissioner or an Information Commissioner
- Central Information Commission has 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
- The first Chief Information Commissioner of India was Wajahat Habibullah. First woman Chief Information Commissioner was Deepak Sandhu. The present Chief Information Commissioner of India is Sudhir Bhargava.
Central Information Commission:
- Under the provision of Section-12 of RTI Act 2005, the Central Government constituted a body to be known as the Central Information Commission in 2005.
- The present Chief Information Commissioner of India is Sudhir Bhargava.
- There are two women who became CIC till now: Ms Deepak Sandhu (4th CIC) and Ms Sushma Singh (5th CIC).
Power of CIC as per RTI Act, 2005:
- Adjudication in second appeal for giving information
- Direction for record keeping
- Suo motu disclosures receiving and enquiring into a complaint on inability to file RTI
- Imposition of penalties and Monitoring and Reporting including preparation of an Annual Report.
Composition of CIC:
- This Commission consists of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners not exceeding 10.
- CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of:
- The Prime Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee
- The Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha
- A Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
Government Schemes & Policies
WhatsApp unveils ‘Checkpoint Tipline’ to tackle fake news
A messaging app ‘WhatsApp’ unveiled ‘Checkpoint Tipline’ for checking the authenticity of information received in order to crack down on fake news ahead of the general election in India.
- Launched by PROTO, an India-based media skilling startup, the tipline is aimed at creating a database of rumours.
- The idea is to study misinformation spread ahead of the upcoming elections for Checkpoint, which is a research project commissioned and technically assisted by WhatsApp.
How does Tipline will work?
- People in India can submit misinformation or rumours they receive to the Checkpoint Tipline on WhatsApp (+91-9643-000-888).
- Once a WhatsApp user shares a suspicious message with the tipline, PROTO’s verification centre will seek to respond and inform the user if the claim made in message shared is verified or not.
- This centre is equipped to review content in the form of pictures, video links or text and will cover English and four regional languages – Hindi, Telugu, Bengali and Malayalam.
- Following the project, PROTO also plans to submit learnings to the ‘International Center for Journalists’ to help other organisations learn from the design and operations of this project.
Government’s push to curb fake NEWS:
- The Indian government, through proposed changes in IT rules, is seeking to make social media platforms more accountable by mandating social media platforms to introduce tools that can identify and disable unlawful content.
- One of the amendments being considered in the IT intermediary rules (meant for online and social media platforms) will require them to enable tracing out of such originators of information as needed by government agencies that are legally authorized.
- Social media platform – Facebook which owns Whatsapp, had faced strong criticism from the Indian government after a series of mob-lynching incidents triggered by rumours circulating on WhatsApp.
- Under pressure to stop rumours and fake news, WhatsApp had in 2018 restricted forwarding messages to five chats at once. It has also been putting out advertisements in newspapers and running television and radio campaigns offering tips to users on how to spot misinformation.
About Draft Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018
- Intermediaries are entities that store or transmit data on behalf of other persons, and include internet or telecom service providers, and online market places.
- The Information Technology Act was amended in 2008 to provide exemption to intermediaries from liability for any third party information, among others. Following this, the IT (Intermediary
- In 2018, a discussion was raised in Parliament on incidents of violence due to misuse of social media platforms. Hence, amendments were made in IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011.
- Removal of content: Any intermediary must, on receipt of a court order or on being notified by the government, remove access to unlawful content. These are acts related to the sovereignty of India, security, and public order, among others. Such removal must be done by the intermediary within 24 hours.
- Assistance: Intermediaries must provide assistance to government agencies (based on a lawful order), within 72 hours. Further, they must enable tracing of the originator of the information on its platform.
- Registered physical presence: Certain intermediaries must be incorporated in India, under the Companies Act, 2013. These are those with more than fifty lakh users or as notified by the government. They must also have a permanent office in India and designate persons for coordination with government agencies.
Issues related to Health & Education
2nd April: World Autism Awareness Day
The World Autism Awareness Day 2019 was celebrated on 2nd April 2019.
- This year’s theme: ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation’.
- The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) announced April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day in 2008.
What is autism?
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder spanning entire life.
- It impairs the ability to communicate and interact.
Effects of Autism:
- Autism spectrum disorder impacts the nervous system and affects the overall cognitive, emotional, social and physical health of the affected individual.
- The range and severity of symptoms can vary widely. Common symptoms include difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests and repetitive behaviours.
- There is no definitive cure.
- However, early recognition, as well as behavioural, educational and family therapies may reduce symptoms and support development and learning.
Steps taken by Indian government:
- Though the Government had notified Autism as a disability in 2001, it had not been issuing certificates.
- The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, under MSJE has notified guidelines in April 2016 to pave the way for constitution of boards and issuing of disability certificates for Autism.
Manufacturing growth slips to six-month low in March: PMI
Nikkei’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI) showed that manufacturing activities slowed down to a six-month low in March as new orders and production decline.
What is Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)?
- PMI is an indicator of business activity-both in the manufacturing and services sectors.
- It is a survey-based measure that asks respondents about changes in their perception of some key business variables from month before.
- PMI is usually released at start of month, much before most of official data on industrial output, manufacturing and GDP growth is made available. It is, therefore, considered a good leading indicator of economic activity.
- Manufacturing growth measured by PMI is considered good indicator of industrial output.
- It is calculated separately for manufacturing and services sectors and then composite index is constructed.
- The PMI also gives an indication of corporate earnings and is closely watched by investors as well as the bond markets. A good reading enhances the attractiveness of an economy vis-a- vis another competing economy.
RBI sets WMA Limit for Government at Rs 75000 crore for H1 of 2019-20
The Reserve Bank of India, in consultation with the Government of India, has decided that the limits for Ways and Means Advances (WMA) for the first half of the financial year 2019-20 to be Rs 75000 crore.
RBI and WMA limit:
- The Reserve Bank retains the flexibility to revise the limit at any time, in consultation with the Government of India, taking into consideration the prevailing circumstances.
- The Reserve Bank may trigger fresh floatation of market loans when the Government of India utilises 75 per cent of the WMA limit.
The interest rate on WMA/overdraft are:
- WMA: Repo Rate
- Overdraft: Two percent above the Repo Rate
About Ways and Means Advances (WMA):
- A temporary loan facilities given by the Reserve Bank of India to the centre and state governments as a banker to government is called Ways and Means Advances (WMA).
- The objective of this scheme is to meet temporary mismatches in the receipts and payments of the government.
The WMF for the Central Government
- The WMA scheme for the Central Government was introduced in April, 1997. Before WMA, there as adhoc (temporary) Treasury Bills to finance the Central Government deficit.
- This facility can be availed by the government if it needs immediate cash from the RBI.
- The WMA is to be vacated after 90 days. The limits for WMA are mutually decided by the RBI and the Government of India.
WMA Scheme for State Governments:
- Under the WMA scheme for the State Governments, there are two types of WMA – Special and Normal WMA.
- Special WMA is extended against the collateral (mortgaging) of the government securities held by the State Government.
- After the exhaustion of the special WMA limit, the State Government is provided a normal WMA. The normal WMA limits are based on three-year average of actual revenue and capital expenditure of the state.
- The withdrawal above the WMA limit is considered an overdraft. A State Government account can be in overdraft for a maximum 14 consecutive working days with a limit of 36 days in a quarter.
- The rate of interest on WMA is linked to the Repo Rate.
- When the WMA limit is crossed, the government takes recourse to overdrafts, which are not allowed beyond 10 consecutive working days.
- The interest rate on overdrafts would be 2 percent more than the repo rate. The minimum balance required to be maintained by the Government with the RBI will not be less than Rs.100 crore on Fridays, on the date of closure of Government of India’s financial year and on June 30, the date of closure of the annual accounts of the RBI, and not less than Rs.10 crore on other days.
Global Report on Food Crises shows acute hunger still affecting over 100 million people worldwide
A report “Global Report on Food Crises” is presented jointly by the European Union (EU), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
- The figure of 113 million people facing food crises is down slightly from the 124 million figure for 2017. However, the number of people in the world facing food crises has remained well over 100 million in the last three years.
- Nearly two-thirds of those facing acute hunger are in just 8 countries: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In 17 countries, acute hunger either remained the same or increased.
- Climate and natural disasters pushed another 28 million people into acute food insecurity in 2018. And 13 countries – including North Korea and Venezuela – are not in the analysis because of data gaps.
About the Global Report:
- The Global Report is produced each year by the ‘’Global Network Against Food Crises, which is made up of international humanitarian and development partners.
- This year’s report was presented at a two-day high-level event, ‘Food and agriculture in times of crisis’, in Brussels.
- ‘Zero Hunger Goal’ is one of the 17 goals of UN sustainable development goals.
- Asia is the continent with the most hungry people, two thirds of the total.
- Since the 1900s, 75 percent of crop diversity has been lost from farmers’ fields.
About Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO):
FAO is specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.
- Its parent organization is UN Economic and Social Council (UNESC).
- It was established on 16 October 1945 and its headquarters are in Rome, Italy.
- Its motto is “Let there be bread”.
- It has 194 member states, along with the European Union (member organization)
- It is neutral forum serving both developed and developing countries where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy.
- FAO meet the demands posed by major global trends in agricultural development and challenges faced by member nations.
- It helps countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices, ensuring good nutrition and food security for all.
- FAO Council was established by the Conference at its Third Session (1947) to replace the original “Executive Committee of FAO” in accordance with a recommendation of the Preparatory Commission on World Food Proposals.
- The Council, within the limits of the powers, acts as the Conference’s executive organ between sessions.
- The Council exercises functions dealing with the world food and agriculture situation and related matters, current and prospective activities of the Organization, including its Programme of Work and Budget, administrative matters and financial management of the Organization and constitutional matters.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Delhi becomes first city to roll-out Euro VI fuel
With an aim to combat the rising levels of air pollution in Delhi-NCR region, petrol pumps in the capital have started supplying ultra-clean Bharat Stage VI grade fuel (both petrol and diesel).
- This move makes New Delhi the first city in the country to switch from BS-IV grade fuels to BS-VI (equivalent to fuel meeting Euro-VI emission norms).
- IOC, the nation’s biggest oil firm controlling roughly half of retail fuel market, will source the BS-VI fuel to meet Delhi’s requirement from its Mathura and Panipat refineries.
- While Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL) will do so from its joint venture refinery at Bhatinda. Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL) will supply the fuel from its Bina refinery.
What are BS norms?
Introduced in 2000, the Bharat norms are emission control standards that are based on the European regulations (Euro norms).
- They set limits for release of air pollutants from equipment using internal combustion engines, including vehicles.
- Typically, the higher the stage, the more stringent the norms.
- BS IV norms stipulate only 50 parts per million sulphur compared with up to 350 parts per million under BS III.
- Also, hydrocarbon, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions are lower under BS IV.
Difference between BS-IV and the new BS-VI:
- The major difference in standards between the existing BS-IV and the new BS-VI auto fuel norms is the presence of sulphur.
- The newly introduced fuel is estimated to reduce the amount of sulphur released by 80 per cent, from 50 parts per million to 10 ppm.
- As per the analysts, the emission of NOx (nitrogen oxides) from diesel cars is also expected to reduce by nearly 70 per cent and 25 per cent from cars with petrol engines.
- However, the introduction of higher grade fuel will be beneficial only if it is done in tandem with the roll-out of BS-VI compliant vehicles.
- Using BS-VI fuel in the current BS-IV engines or, conversely, running BS-VI engines on the current-grade fuel, may be ineffective in curbing vehicular pollution, and may damage the engine in the long run.
Benefits of this upgradation:
- Upgrading to stricter fuel standards helps tackle air pollution.
- Global automakers are betting big on India as vehicle penetration is still low here, when compared to developed countries. At the same time, cities such as Delhi are already being listed among those with the poorest air quality in the world.
- The national capital’s recent odd-even car experiment and judicial activism against the registration of big diesel cars shows that governments can no longer afford to relax on this front.
- With other developing countries such as China having already upgraded to the equivalent of Euro V emission norms a while ago, India has been lagging behind. The experience of countries such as China and Malaysia show that poor air quality can be bad for business. Therefore, these reforms can put India ahead in the race for investments too.
Bilateral & International Relations
India signs agreement to set agriculture institute in Malawi
India has signed an MoU with National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development Consultancy Service (NABCONS) for setting up India-Africa Institute of Agriculture and Rural Development (IAIARD) in Malawi in Southern Africa.
- IAIARD will be a Pan-African Institute wherein trainees not only from Malawi but also from other African countries, will receive training to develop their human resources and build their capacity.
- IAIARD will develop training programs in the areas of micro-financing and agro-financing, among others.
- The entire expenditure on faculty from India, the travel, logistics and training course expenses for students from other African countries will be borne by the Government of India for an initial period of three years.
Significance of IAIARD:
- This institute will be the first of its kind developed in an African country by India.
- This will further strengthen the bilateral relations with Malawi and India’s relations with African Union.
- NABARD Consultancy Services (Nabcons) is a wholly owned subsidiary promoted by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
- It is engaged in providing consultancy in all spheres of agriculture, rural development and allied areas.
Malawi is a landlocked country in southeast Africa.
- It is bordered by Tanzania to the northeast, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east, south, and west.
- Lake Malawi separates the country from Mozambique.
- The Great Rift Valley runs in Malawi from the north to the south.
- The Shire River begins at the lake and ends at the Zambezi River in Mozambique.
- Lilongwe is the capital of the country.
- Tobacco, cotton, tea, sugarcane, corn, sorghum, potatoes, cattle, and goats are main agricultural products.
- 57 percent of the country’s people speak Chichewa, an official language.
[Ref: Business Standard]
Defence & Security Issues
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) scaled back in Arunachal
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act would remain in force in the areas bordering Myanmar.
- After 32 years, the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which gives sweeping powers to security forces, was partially removed from three of the nine districts of Arunachal Pradesh but would remain in force in the areas bordering Myanmar.
- The Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy committee had recommended scrapping of the Act from the State.
- 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”.
- It was preceded by the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958. The Ordinance gave the armed forces certain special powers in the ‘disturbed areas’ of Manipur and Assam.
- In the backdrop of the growing insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, the Central government issued a similar enactment known as the ‘’The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990.
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.
Where it is applicable currently?
- Currently, AFSPA is applicable to the seven states of the North-East, i.e. Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.
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.
What are the special powers given to army officials under AFSPA Act?
- The authorised officer has the power to open fire at any individual even if it results in death if the individual violates laws which prohibit (a) the assembly of five or more persons; or (b) carrying of weapons. However, the officer has to give a warning before opening fire.
- The authorised officer has also been given the power to (a) arrest without a warrant; and (b) seize and search without any warrant any premise in order to make an arrest or recovery of hostages, arms and ammunitions.
- The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of AFSPA in a 1998 judgement (Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights v. Union of India).
- In November, 2004, the Central government appointed a five member committee headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy to review the provisions of the act in the north eastern states which recommended repeal of the act but was not implemented.
US approves sale of 24 MH 60 Romeo Seahawk helicopters to India for $2.4 bn
The US has approved the sale of 24 multi-role MH-60R Seahawk maritime helicopters to India at an estimated cost of USD 2.6 billion.
- This will boost the Indian Navy’s anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare operations as China expands its presence in the Indian Ocean.
- The Lockheed Martin-built helicopters would replace India’s aging fleet of British-made Sea King helicopters.
- The helicopters are designed to hunt down submarines, as well as knock out ships and conduct search-and-rescue operations at sea.
- They will provide the Indian defence forces with the capability to perform anti-surface and antisubmarine warfare missions along with the ability to perform secondary missions including vertical replenishment, search and rescue and communications relay.
- The helicopters are designed to operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers. These helicopters are considered the world’s most advanced maritime helicopter.
Key Facts for Prelims
Dawn of a new era: Japan’s new imperial era to be named ‘Reiwa’
‘Reiwa’ will be the name for the new era when Prince Naruhito of Japan succeeds his father Emperor Akihito on May 1, 2019.
- The imperial era begins on May 1, when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne. The new era will be the 248th in the history of Japan.
- Emperor Akihito’s era was known as ‘Heisei’ era.
- The imperial era name, or “gengo”, is used on documents, newspapers, calendars and coins.
- It is the way many Japanese count years, although use of the Western calendar is becoming more widespread, and many use the two systems interchangeably.
- The emperor does not choose the “gengo”. The cabinet decides from a list of names suggested by scholars and bureaucrats.
- Traditionally, characters were selected from ancient Chinese texts, but this time they were taken from a collection of Japanese classical poetry called
- The first character is most often understood to mean “order” or “command” but can also mean “good” and “beautiful”.
- The second character means “peace” or “harmony”.
Japan imported the imperial calendar system from China about 1,300 years ago.
- Starting with the Meiji era (1868-1912), it adopted the practice of “one emperor, one era name.”
- There have been four era names in the modern period: Meiji, Taisho (1912-1926), Showa (1926-1989) and the current Heisei.
- There were calls to abolish the system after Japan’s 1945 defeat in Second World War. But a law enacted in 1979 after a push by conservatives gave it new legal basis.
- Indian Army has successfully built the longest suspension bridge ‘Matiri Bridge’ over Indus river in Leh, Ladakh.
- To connect to the remote areas in Ladakh, the Indian Army has built a 260-feet long bridge named ‘Maitri Bridge’.
- It was constructed to help residents of Choglamsar, Stok and Chuchot villages which are the largest areas in Ladakh region.
- The bridge was constructed by the Combat Engineers of ‘Sahas aur Yogyata’ Regiment of ‘Fire & Fury Corps’ in just 40 days, which is a record.
- In 2018 an all-weather accessible road was built from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh via Zanskar in Kargil.
- In the same year the work for the Zojila tunnel, which is Asia’s longest was also kick started.
- Apart from this Border Roads Organisation (BRO) built a 35-meter Chamesahn bridge in the region which would remove a major travelling bottleneck in Leh and ease the vehicle movement to the base of Siachen Glacier.
- The project was completed under Project HIMANK.
India-Australia joint naval exercises begin
- The third edition of AUSINDEX, a joint maritime exercise between India and Australia, began in Visakhapatnam.
- The bilateral maritime exercise is aimed to strengthen mutual cooperation and enhance interoperability between the Royal Australia Navy (RAN) and Indian Navy by providing opportunities for interaction and exchange of professional views between the personnel of the two navies.
- It is a sign of strengthening of bilateral and defence cooperation between the two countries as envisaged in the Framework for Security Cooperation (FSC) announced by the then Prime Ministers of Indian and Australia in 2014.