Polity & Governance
- 25th meeting of Western Zonal Council (WZC)
Government Schemes & Policies
- Rewarding Whistle-blowers
- FAME India Phase II
- Second Loan Waiver to Maharashtra
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Rehabilitation Centre for Turtle
Bilateral & International Relations
- UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN)
Science & Technology
- What is Extra ocular vision?
- New division on New and Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST)
Key Facts for Prelims
- Last known settlement of Homo erectus
- Patola Sarees
For IASToppers Current Affairs Analysis Archive, Click Here
Polity & Governance
25th meeting of Western Zonal Council (WZC)
The 25th meet of the council will be held in January in Mumbai, under the chairmanship of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
- Chief Minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray will co-chair the next meeting of the Western Zonal Council (WZC), which will have women safety on top of the agenda.
Cyber Safe Women campaign:
- The Maharashtra cyber department and district-level police across the state will be conducting a week-long campaign — ‘Cyber Safe Women’ — in more than 100 schools and colleges to guide women on how to stay safe in the cyber space.
- The department launched the campaign on January 3 on the birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule, a social reformer and educationalist, who is regarded as the first woman teacher of India.
- It is aimed to create awareness among women and children and inform them about the law, their rights, how to stay safe while using social media and Internet and what precautions they need to take.
About Western Zonal Council:
- The Western Zonal Council functions under the aegis of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
- It comprises of the States of Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra and the Union Territories of Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.
- West Zonal Council has been instrumental in giving impetus to the Indian economy as the States of the Zone are contributing around 24% to the GDP and 45% to the total exports of the country.
- Zonal Councils are advisory councils and are made up of the states of India have been grouped into six zones to foster cooperation among them. They are:
- Northern Zonal Council
- North-Central Zonal Council
- North-Eastern Zonal Council
- Eastern Zonal Council
- Western Zonal Council
- Southern Zonal Council
- Five Zonal Councils were set up under the States Reorganisation Act, 1956 for the North, Central, Eastern, Southern and Western.
- The North Eastern States’ problems are addressed by another statutory body – The North Eastern Council, created by the North Eastern Council Act, 1971.
Functions of the Councils:
- Each Zonal Council is an advisory body and may discuss any matter in which some or all of the States represented in that Council have a common interest and advise the Central Government and the Government of each State concerned as to the action to be taken on any such matter.
- In particular, a Zonal Council may discuss, and make recommendations with regard to:
- Any matter of common interest in the field of economic and social planning;
- Any matter concerning border disputes, linguistic minorities or inter-State transport;
- Any matter connected with or arising out of, the re-organization of the States under the States’ Reorganisation Act.
Government Schemes & Policies
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) came out with a new mechanism to reward whistle blowers and other informants for sharing information about insider trading cases.
- Under the new framework, it would be mandatory to disclose the source of information.
- The confidentiality regarding the identity of the informant would be protected.
- Reward would be given in case the information provided leads to a disgorgement (the act of giving up something on demand or by legal compulsion) of at least ₹1 crore in accordance with the PIT (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations.
- The Office of Informant Protection has been established by it as an independent office for receiving and processing the Voluntarily Information Disclosure Form.
Who are Whistle blowers?
- A Whistle blower is a person who exposes secretive information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within a private or public organization.
- The information of alleged wrongdoing can be classified in many ways: violation of company policy/rules, law, regulation, or threat to public interest/national security, as well as fraud, and corruption.
- Those who become whistle blowers can choose to bring information or allegations to surface either internally i.e. within the accused organization or externally i.e. to media, government, law enforcement agencies etc.
- Insider trading is the practice of using or revealing information that has not been made public, to execute trading decisions.
- It gives traders an unfair advantage over other traders and it is considered are illegal.
- It is a malpractice wherein trade of a company’s securities is undertaken by people who by virtue of their job roles and work have access to some crucial information which can be utilised for making investment decisions.
FAME India Phase II
To give a further push to clean mobility in Road Transport Sector, the Department of Heavy Industries has sanctioned 2636 charging stations in 62 cities across 24 States/UTs under FAME India (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles in India) scheme phase II.
- The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020 is a National Mission document providing the vision and the roadmap for the faster adoption of electric vehicles and their manufacturing in the country.
- As part of the NEMMP 2020, Department of Heavy Industry formulated a Scheme– Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME India) in the year 2015.
- It was aimed to promote manufacturing of electric and hybrid vehicle technology and to ensure sustainable growth of the same.
- The Phase-I of this Scheme was initially launched for a period of 2 years, commencing from 1st April 2015, which was subsequently extended from time to time and the last extension was allowed up to 31st March 2019.
- The 1st Phase of FAME India Scheme was implemented through four focus areas namely
(i) Demand Creation, (ii) Technology Platform, (iii) Pilot Project and (iv) Charging Infrastructure.
- Market creation through demand incentives was aimed at incentivizing all vehicle segments i.e. 2-Wheelers, 3-Wheelers Auto, Passenger 4-Wheeler vehicles, Light Commercial Vehicles and Buses.
- The government supported more than 2.78 lakh electric and hybrid vehicles with a total fund allocation of Rs 529 crore under FAME I.
FAME II scheme
- The Department of Heavy Industry notified Phase-II of the FAME Scheme, with an outlay of Rs. 10,000 Crore for a period of 3 years commencing from 1st April 2019.
- Phase-II will mainly focus on supporting the electrification of public and shared transportation and aims to support through subsidies 7,000 e-Buses, five lakh electric three-wheelers, 55,000 electric four-wheeler passenger cars and 10 lakh electric two-wheelers.
- There will be greater emphasis on providing affordable and environment-friendly public transportation options with more focus on vehicles used for public transport or those registered for commercial purposes.
- Plug-in hybrid vehicles and those with a sizeable lithium-ion battery and electric motor will also be included in the scheme and support will be offered depending on the size of the battery.
- The centre will invest in setting up charging stations, with the active participation of public sector units and private players.
Second Loan Waiver to Maharashtra
Maharashtra government announced a conditional loan waiver for farmers who had pending loans between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2019.
- Maharashtra thus became possibly the only state to have offered two consecutive farm loan waivers within two-and-a-half years of each other.
- This loan waiver comes over two years after the Rs 34,000 crore loan waiver announced by the then BJP-ShivSena government in 2017.
Who gets benefitted?
- As per the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Farmer Loan Waiver Scheme, loans upto Rs two Lakh taken between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2019 and which has not been repaid till September 30, 2019 will be eligible for waiver.
- Those farmers whose crop loan and restructured loan is more than Rs two lakh will not be eligible for any benefit under the scheme.
- Individual farmers will be considered for the loan waiver, and the loan taken from nationalised, district, co-operative banks and co-operative societies will be considered.
- The benefit of the scheme will not be passed on to the elected representatives, including serving and former ministers, present and former MLAs, central and state government employees, whose monthly family income is more than Rs 25,000, excluding Class IV employees.
- Those who pay tax on the income incurred from non-agriculture sector, pensioners whose monthly income is more than Rs 25,000, excluding former servicemen, will also not get the benefit.
- To help the farm sector, state governments have time and again announced loan waiver schemes.
- Back in 2008-09, the then UPA government at the Centre had announced a loan waiver scheme for the entire country.
- States like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and others have announced similar schemes in the recent past.
Drawbacks of Loan waiver:
- The ultimate goal of farm loan waiver is to lessen the debt burden of distressed and vulnerable farmers and help them qualify for fresh loans.
- It covers only a tiny fraction of farmers. According to 2012-13 National Sample Survey (NSS) reports, out of the indebted agricultural households, 39% borrowed from non-institutional sources and 48% of the agricultural households did not have any outstanding loan.
- It provides only a partial relief to the indebted farmers as about half of the institutional borrowing of a cultivator is for non-farm purposes.
- In many cases, one household has multiple loans either from different sources or in the name of different family members, which entitles it to multiple loan waiving.
- The loan waiving excludes agricultural labourers who are even weaker than cultivators in bearing the consequences of economic distress.
- It severely erodes the credit culture, with dire long-run consequences to the banking business.
- The scheme is prone to serious exclusion and inclusion errors, as evidenced by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) findings in the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008.
Alternative solutions to Loan waivers:
- Loan waiving can provide a short-term relief to a limited section of farmers; it has a meagre chance of bringing farmers out of the vicious cycle of indebtedness.
- Strengthening the repayment capacity of farmers by improving and stabilising their income is the only way to keep them out of distress.
- The sustainable solution to indebtedness and agrarian distress is to raise income from agricultural activities and enhance access to non-farm sources of income.
- The low scale of farms necessitates that some cultivators move from agriculture to non-farm jobs.
- Improved technology, expansion of irrigation coverage, and crop diversification towards high-value crops are appropriate measures for raising productivity and farmers’ income.
- Removal of old regulations and restrictions on agriculture to enable creation of a liberalised environment for investment, trading and marketing.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Rehabilitation Centre for Turtle
A first-of-its-kind rehabilitation centre for freshwater turtles will be inaugurated in Bihar’s Bhagalpur forest division in January 2020.
- In eastern Bihar and Bhagalpur, the flow of water in the Ganga is ample and it serves an ideal breeding ground for turtles. Also, there are many sandbanks in the middle of the river, which facilitate breeding of turtles.
- The rehab centre, spread over half a hectare, will be able to shelter 500 turtles at a time.
Need and Purpose:
- The need to build such a centre was felt after several turtles were found severely injured, sick or dead and sick when rescued from smuggles by rescue teams.
- Previously the rescued turtles used to be released into rivers without much treatment in the absence of any facility like the centre.
- This centre will play a significant role in treating these animals and their proper upkeep before being returned to their natural habitat.
Role of Fresh water Turtles:
- The turtles play a significant role in the river by scavenging dead organic materials and diseased fish, controlling fish population as predators and controlling aquatic plants and weeds.
- They are also described as indicators of healthy aquatic ecosystems.
- According to a recent study conducted by Traffic India, around 11,000 turtles are being smuggled in India every year. In the past 10 years, as many as 110,000 turtles have been traded.
- These species are now under severe threats due to habitat fragmentation and loss through dams and barrages, pollution, illegal poaching, accidental drowning through fishing nets and threats to their nesting habitats.
- Soft-shell turtles are being frequently targeted for meat due to the prevailing belief that it gives an energy boost and keeps various diseases away.
- The Hard-shell turtles, especially spotted ones are being poached for the pet trade. Such turtles are in high demand in South East Asia, China and Japan.
Operation Save Kurma:
- Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) had convened a species specific operation on turtles, code named ‘Operation Save Kurma” from December 15, 2016 to January 30, 2017.
- Approximately 16,000 live turtles were recovered from 45 suspects, having inter-state linkages.
- The operation brought about an awareness among the enforcement agencies to focus on the existing trade routes and major trade hubs in the country, which will be specifically focused in future.
- Indian government was awarded certificate of commendation for its effort to combat illegal wildlife trade by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for its Operation Kurma in 2017.
Bilateral & International Relations
UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN)
The UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) was created in 2004 to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.
- Objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level.
- UCCN covers seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Arts, Media Arts, Film, Design, Gastronomy, Literature and Music.
- By joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN), the cities pledge to share their best practices and develop partnerships involving public and private sectors as well as civil society to strengthen creation, production, distribution and dissemination of cultural activities, goods and services.
- The Creative Cities Network is a privileged partner of UNESCO, not only as a platform for reflection on the role of creativity as a lever for sustainable development but also as a breeding ground of action and innovation, notably for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Why in news?
- Mumbai and Hyderabad have been included in UNESCO’s network of ‘Creative Cities’ on the occasion of World Cities Day 2019.
- Mumbai has been designated as Creative City of Films and Hyderabad a Creative City of Gastronomy.
- Vietnamese capital city – Hanoi
- Gastronomy is the study of the relationship between food and culture, the art of preparing and serving rich or delicate and appetizing food and the cooking styles of particular region.
- The Indian cities Chennai (2017) and Varanasi (2015) are UNESCO cities of music.
- Jaipur (2015) is the City of Crafts and Folk Arts.
- The United Nations General Assembly has designated the 31st of October as World Cities Day.
Science & Technology
What is Extra ocular vision?
Extra ocular vision is the ability to see without eyes which has been found in some species.
- Researchers have found that a species of brittle stars, which are relatives of starfish can see even though it does not have eyes.
- The red brittle star (Ophiocoma wendtii), which lives in the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea, becomes only the second creature, after a sea urchin species, known to have this ability.
How it works?
- In sea urchins and brittle stars, researchers suspect that extra ocular vision is facilitated by the photoreceptor cells found on their bodies.
- Another peculiar feature of the red brittle star is its signature colour change. While the creature is deep red during the day, it changes its colour to beige at night.
- The researchers think that there may be a link between their extra ocular vision and colour changing abilities since the responses they saw in the creatures tested during the day, disappeared in those that were tested at night.
New division on New and Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST)
Indian foreign ministry has announced the setting up of a new division on New and Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST) amidst looming security concerns due to the introduction of 5G and artificial intelligence.
- The development comes as the government has allowed all telecom equipment makers, including Chinese Huawei, to participate in the 5G trials.
- The new division will be a specialized desk specifically created to deal with emerging challenges and scenarios.
- In the past also, the foreign ministry has created special desks like: to increase investment coordination between the different states of India and foreign countries or to coordinate strategy on the Indo-Pacific region.
- The NEST division will act as the nodal point in India’s foreign ministry for all matters connected to new and emerging technologies including exchange of views with foreign governments and coordination with domestic ministries and departments.
- It will also help assess foreign policy and international legal implications of emerging technology and technology-based resources.
- NEST will negotiate technology governance rules, standards and architecture, suited to India’s conditions.
- The desk will also be involved in negotiations to safeguard Indian interests at multilateral forums like the United Nations or the G20 where rules governing the use and access to such technologies could be decided.
- NEST will also undertake the creation of HR capacity within the ministry for technology diplomacy work by utilising the existing talent-pool and facilitating functional specialisation of Foreign Service officers in various technology domains.
Key Facts for Prelims
Last known settlement of Homo erectus
As per a new study published in Nature, the last known settlement of Homo erectus was situated in Ngandong on the Indonesian island of Java.
- Homo erectus, who disappeared around four lakh years ago, are the direct ancestors of modern humans.
- According to the researchers, the human ancestors existed on the Indonesian island between 1,08,000 and 1,17,000 years ago.
- Homo erectus arose in Africa about 2 million years ago, then dispersed throughout Asia and perhaps Europe.
- By about 400,000 years ago, this early relative of modern humans had largely disappeared. The date range for the last known Homo erectus holdout, in Ngandong, is 108,000 to 117,000 years ago. Around that same time, modern humans were roaming in Africa, and Neanderthals lived in Europe.
- Homo erectus arrived at Java, Indonesia, about 1.6 million years ago, and settled across the Indonesian islands. Back then, Ngandong was mainly a grassland with a rich flora and fauna, not unlike Homo erectus‘ original habitat in Africa.
- There was a change in climate and the fauna changed from open country, grassland, to a tropical rainforest (extending southward from today’s Malaysia).
- Those were not the plants and animals that Homo erectus was used to, and the species just could not adapt.
Historic initiative taken by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), a first Silk Processing Plant was inaugurated at Surendranagar in Gujarat.
- It would help cut down the cost of production of silk yarn drastically and increase the sale and availability of raw material for Gujarati Patola Sarees locally.
Rationale behind the move:
- The move serves twin objectives; one boost sales of Patola Sarees by making silk more ready available at a low cost and second generating livelihood and employment for economically backwards Surendranagar district.
- Reason being the raw material silk yarn is purchased from Karnataka or West Bengal, where silk processing units are situated, thus increasing the cost of the fabric manifolds.
- Now, the cocoons will be brought from Karnataka and West Bengal and Silk yarn will be processed in house.
- Patola is the trademark Saree of Gujarat, is considered to be very costly and worn only by the Royals or the Aristocrat.
- It is a double ikat woven sari,usually made from silk, made in Patan, Gujarat, India.
- It has received a Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2013.