Polity & Governance
- Govt announces details of electoral bonds for political funding
- Former RAW chief Rajinder Khanna appointed deputy NSA
Government Schemes & Policies
- National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Amendment) Bill, 2017
Issues related to Health & Education
- WHO approves Indian typhoid vaccine Typbar-TCV for global use
- Cabinet approves setting up of new AIIMS in Bilaspur
- Rajasthan sounds swine flu alert
- Cabinet approves Zojila Pass tunnel project connecting Jammu and Kashmir
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- China starts collecting environment tax
Defence & Security Issues
- Indo-Myanmar agreement on land border crossing
Art & Culture
- Jangalmahal Utsab festival
- Cyclone bomb hits United States; east coast worst affected
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Polity & Governance
Govt announces details of electoral bonds for political funding
The Union Government has announced details of electoral bonds for political funding that can be routed by donors to political parties.
- The electoral bonds scheme was announced in Union Budget 2017 with an aim for increasing transparency in political funding. It makes India first country in the world to have such unique bonds for electoral funding.
What are Electoral bonds?
- Electoral bonds will be bearer instrument in nature of promissory note and an interest-free banking instrument.
- These can be redeemed only through the registered accounts of a political party in a prescribed time frame.
- It aims at rooting out current system of largely anonymous cash donations made to political parties which lead to generation of black money in the economy.
- Electoral bonds can be purchased for any value in multiples of Rs.1,000, Rs.10,000, Rs.10 lakh, and Rs.1 crore from any of the specified branches of State Bank of India (SBI).
Who can purchase?
- A citizen of India or a body incorporated in India will be eligible to purchase the bond.
- The purchaser is allowed to buy electoral bonds only on due fulfilment of all extant KYC norms and by making payment from a bank account. It will not carry the name of the payee.
- In essence, the donor and the party details will be available with the bank, but the political party might not be aware of who the donor is.
Eligibility of Political parties:
- Every party that is registered under section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and has secured at least one per cent of the votes polled in the most recent Lok Sabha or State election will be allotted a verified account by the Election Commission of India. Electoral bond transactions can be made only via this account.
- It will have a life of 15 days during which they can be used to make donations to registered political parties.
- The electoral bonds will be available for purchase for a period of 10 days each in months of January, April, July and October with additional 30 days to be specified by Central government in year of general election so that this does not become a parallel currency.
Former RAW chief Rajinder Khanna appointed deputy NSA
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved the appointment of Rajinder Khanna as the next Deputy National Security Adviser (NSA).
- He was the former Director of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
About National Security Advisor (NSA):
The National Security Advisor (NSA) is the chief executive of the National Security Council (NSC), and the primary advisor to the Prime Minister of India on national and international security.
- The post was created on 19 November 1998 by the Government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Powers and functions of NSA:
- It is the National Security Advisor to whom intelligence agencies such as the Research and Analysis Wing and Intelligence Bureau report, rather than directly to the Prime Minister. Due to such vested powers, NSA is a prominent and powerful office in the bureaucracy.
- The National Security Advisor (NSA) is tasked with regularly advising the Prime Minister on all matters relating to internal and external threats to the country, and oversees strategic issues.
- The NSA of India also serves as the Prime Minister’s Special Interlocutor on border issues with China, and frequently accompanies the Prime Minister on Foreign State visits.
NSAs so far:
- All the NSAs appointed since the inception of the post belong to the Indian Foreign Service except M K Narayanan and the incumbent, Ajit Doval, who belong to the Indian Police Service.
- Brajesh Mishra was appointed the first National Security Advisor of India.
Government Schemes & Policies
National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Amendment) Bill, 2017
Parliament has passed the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Amendment) Bill, 2017 with the approval of Rajya Sabha. Lok Sabha already had passed the bill in August 2017.
- The Bill seeks to amend National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) Act, 1981.
- The Act establishes NABARD for providing and regulating facilities like credit for agricultural and industrial development in the rural areas.
Highlights of the Bill
- The Bill allows Union Government to increase capital of NABARD from Rs. 5000 crore to Rs 30,000 crore.
- Further, it allows Union Government to increase the capital more than Rs 30,000 crore in consultation with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), if necessary.
- The Bill provides that Union Government alone must hold at least 51% capital share of NABARD. Further, it transfers share capital held by RBI valued at Rs. 20 crore to Union Government. Currently RBI holds 0.4% of paid-up capital of NABARD and remaining 99.6% is held by Union government and this causes conflict in RBI’s role as banking regulator and shareholder in NABARD.
- The Bill replaces terms ‘small-scale industry’ and ‘industry in tiny and decentralised sector’ with terms ‘micro enterprise’, ‘small enterprise’ and ‘medium enterprise’ as defined in MSME Development Act, 2006. Further, it allows NABARD to provide financial assistance to banks if they provide loans to the MSMEs.
- The Bill substitutes references to provisions of the Companies Act, 1956 with references to the Companies Act, 2013. It includes provisions dealing with definition of a government company and qualifications of auditors.
National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) is an apex development and specialized bank established in July 1982 by an act by the parliament of India.
- It is one of the premier agencies providing developmental credit in rural areas.
- NABARD is India’s specialised bank for Agriculture and Rural Development in India.
- Its main focus is to uplift rural India by increasing the credit flow for elevation of agriculture & rural non-farm sector.
- It was established based on the recommendations of the Committee set up by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under the chairmanship of Shri B. shivaraman.
- It replaced the Agricultural Credit Department (ACD) and Rural Planning and Credit Cell (RPCC) of Reserve Bank of India, and Agricultural Refinance and Development Corporation (ARDC).
Issues related to Health & Education
WHO approves Indian typhoid vaccine Typbar-TCV for global use
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given its pre-qualification to Typbar Typhoid Conjugate Vaccine (TVC) developed by Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech for global use.
- The WHO pre-qualification enables procurement and supplies of this life-saving vaccine to UNICEF, Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and GAVI (vaccine alliance) supported countries.
- This also paves the way for WHO member countries to introduce the Typbar TCV into their immunization programs.
About Typbar TCV:
Typbar TCV is world’s first typhoid vaccine clinically proven to be administered to children from six months of age to adults, and confers long-term protection against typhoid fever.
- A single dose offers 87% protective efficacy against typhoid.
- TCVs are innovative products having longer-lasting immunity than older vaccines and require fewer doses.
- They can be given to young children through routine childhood immunization programs.
- TCVs have been recommended by WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (WHO-SAGE).
- Typhoid fever is caused by bacterium Salmonella Typhi (S. Typhi).
- It infects humans due to contaminated food and beverages from sewage and other infected humans.
- Its symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea or constipation.
- Currently, a third of global population is at risk of typhoid fever, which results in loss of work and wages, lowered pregnancy outcomes and impaired the physical and cognitive development of children.
- According to International Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates in 2016, there were approximately 12 million cases of typhoid fever resulting in around 130,000 deaths.
- Urbanisation and climate change have potential to further increase global burden of typhoid.
What is GAVI?
Gavi is an international organisation – a global Vaccine Alliance created in 2000.
- It brings together public and private sectors with the shared goal of creating equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries.
- It also brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry in both industrialised and developing countries, research and technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private philanthropists.
Cabinet approves setting up of new AIIMS in Bilaspur
The Union Cabinet has approved setting up of an AIIMS in Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh with an outlay of Rs. 1,350 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Surakhsa Yojna (PMSSY).
About Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY):
The Central Sector Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY) was first announced in August 2003 with the primary objective of correcting the regional imbalances in availability of affordable/reliable tertiary level healthcare in the country in general, and to augment facilities for quality medical education in under-served or backward States, in particular.
- The scheme has two components: Setting up of new AIIMS and upgradation of government medical colleges.
- Under this scheme, AIIMS have been established in Bhubaneshwar, Bhopal, Raipur, Jodhpur, Rishikesh and Patna while work of AIIMS Rae Bareli is in progress.
- Also, three AIIMS in Nagpur (Maharashtra), Kalyani (West Bengal) and Mangalagiri in Guntur (Andhra Pradesh) have been sanctioned in 2015 and two AIIMS have been sanctioned at Bathinda and Gorakhpur in 2016.
Rajasthan sounds swine flu alert
The Rajasthan government sounded an alert in the State after more than 400 people were diagnosed positive for the swine flu virus in December 2017.
- According to medical and health department records, nearly 11,721 people were tested for swine flu between January 1, 2017 to December 19, 2017, of which 3,214 were confirmed positive.
About Swine Flu:
- Swine influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that normally only affects pigs. It is commonly caused by H1N1 strains of swine influenza A virus.
- However, other strains, such as H1N2, H3N1 and H3N2 also circulate in pigs. While it is not usual for people to get swine flu, human infections do occasionally happen, mainly after close contact with infected pigs.
- Swine flu is contagious, and it spreads in the same way as the seasonal flu.
- In 2009, a new strain of swine influenza virus emerged in Mexico, and started to cause illness in humans. The World Health Organisation says that this new strain of influenza, called Influenza A (H1N1), can spread from person to person. Later, the World Health Organization declared the swine flu pandemic officially over.
- Swine influenza is present in all pig-producing countries around the world. Outbreaks in pigs occur throughout the year. However, many countries routinely vaccinate pigs against swine influenza.
- When people are infected with swine flu viruses, their symptoms are usually similar to those of seasonal influenza. These include fever, tiredness, and lack of appetite, coughing and a sore throat.
- Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhoea. Some people infected with influenza A (H1N1) have had severe illness and died.
- However, in most of the cases the symptoms of influenza A (H1N1) have been mild, and people have made a full recovery.
Cabinet approves Zojila Pass tunnel project connecting Jammu and Kashmir
The Union Cabinet has approved the construction of Asia’s longest bi-directional Zojila Pass tunnel at an estimated cost of Rs 6,089 crore.
Where is Zojila pass situated?
- Zojila pass is situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway which remains closed during winters (December to April) due to heavy snowfall and avalanches cutting off Leh-Ladakh region from Kashmir.
About the Zojila pass tunnel:
The Zojila Tunnel will be situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway (NH-1A).
Aim and objective of the project:
- The Project aims at construction of 14.150 km long 2-lane bidirectional single tube tunnel with a parallel 14.200 km long egress (escape) tunnel excluding approaches between Baltal & Minamarg in J&K.
- The main objective of the project is to provide all whether connectivity to strategically important Leh region in J&K which at moment is limited to at best 6 months because of snow on the mountainous passes and threat of avalanches. Ladakh region remains cut off from rest of the country during winter months due to heavy snowfall.
Implementation of the project:
- The project will be implemented by Union Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) through the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) on Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) mode.
Significance of the project:
- The construction of this tunnel will provide all weather safe, fast and cheap connectivity between Srinagar, Kargil and Leh.
- It will bring about all round economic and socio-cultural integration of these regions.
- It also has strategic and socio-economic importance and it will be instrument for development of economically backward districts in J&K.
- The project, on completion, will also lead to enormous boost in employment as local businesses get linked to National market and beautiful region is able to receive round the year tourist traffic.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
China starts collecting environment tax
China has started collecting an environment tax to better protect the environment and cut pollutant discharge, as the country’s Environmental Protection Tax Law took effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
- This is China’s first tax clearly designed for environmental protection.
- It will help establish a “green” financial and taxation system and promote pollution control and treatment of pollutants.
Who will pay?
- Under the Environmental Protection Tax Law, which targets enterprises and public institutions that discharge listed pollutants directly into the environment, companies will pay taxes for producing noise, air and water pollutants as well as solid waste.
- Individuals do not need to pay the tax as it is applicable only to enterprises, public institutions and other business operators.
Defence & Security Issues
Indo-Myanmar agreement on land border crossing
The Union Cabinet has approved an agreement between India and Myanmar on land border crossing.
- The agreement is expected to enhance economic interaction between people of the two countries.
Significance of the agreement:
- The agreement will also facilitate movement of people on the basis of valid passports and visas which will enhance economic and social interaction between the two countries.
- It is expected to provide connectivity and enhance interaction of the people from north-eastern states of India with those of Myanmar.
- The agreement will also safeguard the traditional rights of the largely tribal communities residing along the border which are accustomed to free movement across the land border.
- It will also give boost to economy of North East and leverage geographical connections with Myanmar to boost trade and people to people ties.
- India shares a 1643-km long border with Myanmar in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.
- Despite threats, the India–Myanmar border has the Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows the tribes living along the border to travel 16 km across the boundary without visa restrictions.
- There are over 250 villages with over 300,000 people living within 10 km of the border who frequently cross the border through 150 small and large, formal and informal, border crossings.
- This regime has been in place to protect traditional social relations among border people. However, it has been misused by militants and criminals who are using it to smuggle weapons, narcotics, contraband goods and Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN).
Art & Culture
Jangalmahal Utsab festival
- Jangalmahal Utsab festival was recently inaugurated at the Jhargam district in West Bengal to promote tribal art and culture.
- Different folk songs and dances such as Tusu, Bhadu, Ahira and Jhumur are performed by the locals of the Jangalmahal area during the festival.
- The world Junglemahal is used to refer four districts of the state — Purulia, Bankura, Jhargram and West Midnapore. These four districts were once affected by Maoist insurgency.
Cyclone bomb hits United States; east coast worst affected
A bomb cyclone walloped the US East Coast with heavy snow and freezing cold that made for treacherous travel conditions and bone-chilling misery.
What is Bomb Cyclone?
Bomb Cyclone is a nickname given to a phenomenon called “bombogenesis,” in which a weather system experiences a sharp drop in atmospheric pressure and intensifies rapidly, unleashing hurricane-force winds.
- By definition, the barometric pressure must drop by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours for a storm to be called a bomb cyclone; the formation of such a storm is called bombogenesis.
- What makes a storm a “bomb” is how fast the atmospheric pressure falls; falling atmospheric pressure is a characteristic of all storms.
- These strong winter systems are notorious for packing big winds and waves to go along with heavy snow – possibly resulting in downed trees, power outages and coastal flooding.
- It happens after the pressure inside a storm cell falls so quickly that it gives the storm explosive strength.
Mechanism of Bomb Cyclone:
- Deep drops in barometric pressure occur when a region of warm air meets one of cold air. The air starts to move and the rotation of the earth creates a cyclonic effect.
- The direction is counter-clockwise in the Northern hemisphere leading to winds that come out of the northeast.
Hurricanes vs. cyclones vs. typhoons:
Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are all tropical storms. They are all the same thing but are given different names depending on where they appear. When they reach populated areas they usually bring very strong wind and rain which can cause a lot of damage.
- Hurricanes are tropical storms that form over the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific.
- Cyclones are formed over the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.
- Typhoons are formed over the Northwest Pacific Ocean.
[Ref: Indian Express, Times of India, NY Times]