Polity & Governance
- Centre plans to set up more commercial courts
- Cauvery Tribunal gets six months extension
- Paradise Papers: Indian names tumble out for tax haven links
- Postmen to collate data on homes still without electricity
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Hotspots of rattan found in Western Ghats
Defence & Security Issues
- India plans 17 underground passages along China border
- Global watchdog FATF puts Pakistan on notice
Science & Technology
- IIT Guwahati uses superhydrophobic cotton to remove oil-spill
Key Facts for Prelims
- 1st Heli Expo India and International Civil Helicopter Conclave-2017
- National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA)
- 2017 World Youth Forum
- “Quadrilateral” grouping
- BRO builds world’s highest motorable road in Ladakh
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Polity & Governance
Centre plans to set up more commercial courts
The Union government proposed to establish commercial courts in districts to further improve the parameters.
Why this proposed?
- Legal remedy to commercial disputes and enforcement of business contracts are parameters of the World Bank ranking and in a latest World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking, India jumped 30 positions.
India on Ease of Doing Business ranking:
- In terms of ease of enforcing contracts, India jumped from 172 to 164. Though the jump in the ranking sounds small, it is substantial given the diversities of laws in our country and the complex demography.
- India’s performance has been varied within the legal framework. For example, the World Bank’s ranking marked “court system and proceedings in India” 4.5 out of a total of 5, but in management of cases, it was 1.5 out of 6.
- India also fared well in alternative dispute redress mechanism and scored 2.5 out of a total of 3 marks.
What is a commercial dispute?
- A commercial dispute is defined to include any dispute related to transactions between merchants, bankers, financiers, traders, etc.
- Such transactions deal with mercantile documents, partnership agreements, intellectual property rights, insurance, etc.
About the Commercial Courts Act 2015:
The Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Act, 2015 was notified on the 1st of January 2016.
- The act contemplates setting up commercial courts at the district level and commercial divisions and appellate divisions at the high court level.
- It seeks to completely transform the manner in which commercial cases are heard and tried in India.
- It stipulates various functions to be performed by three key players, namely state governments, chief justices of high courts and lawyers/litigants.
- Chief justices have huge responsibility in implementing this Act by setting up commercial courts in various districts and by designating or setting up commercial divisions in the high courts.
Cauvery Tribunal gets six months extension
Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has extended the term of Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal by six months upto May 02, 2018.
About the Cauvery water dispute:
Cauvery is an inter‐State basin having its origin in Karnataka and flowing through Tamil Nadu and Puduchery before outfalling in Bay of Bengal. The sharing of waters of the Cauvery has been the source of a serious conflict between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
- The genesis of this conflict rests in two agreements in 1892 and 1924 between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and Kingdom of Mysore.
- The tribunal was constituted on June, 2, 1990, to adjudicate the water dispute. Kerala and Puducherry are the other two states party to the dispute.
- After hearing concerns of all the four states concerned for over 16 years, the tribunal had finally in February 2007 announced its order allocating specified quantum of water to all four states. The Centre had notified the tribunal’s award in 2013. However, the states had then challenged the tribunal’s order in the Supreme Court.
- Tamil Nadu has been accusing Karnataka of not releasing its due share of water. Karnataka, on the other hand, has expressed its inability to release the stipulated quantum of water owing to scarcity in the state.
Water in the Constitution of India:
- Water is a State subject as per entry 17 of State List and thus states are empowered to enact legislation on water.
- However, union government can make laws on regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys when expedient in the public interest.
About the Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956:
- Whenever the riparian states are not able to reach amicable agreements on their own in sharing of an interstate river waters, section 4 of The Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (IRWD Act) provides dispute resolution process in the form of Tribunal.
- The IRWD Act is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted under Article 262 of Constitution on the eve of reorganization of states on linguistic basis to resolve the water disputes that would arise in the use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valley.
- As per the Act, the tribunal shall not only adjudicate but also investigate the matters referred to it by the central government and forward a report setting out the facts with its decisions.
- When the tribunal final verdict issued based on the deliberations on the draft verdict is accepted by the central government and notified in the official gazette, the verdict becomes law and binding on the states for implementation.
- When pronounced in the ambit of IRWD Act, the tribunal’s verdict after its publication in the official gazette is equivalent to Supreme Court verdict as per section 6 of IRWD Act.
Article 262 of Constitution
- Article 262 of the Indian Constitution provides a role for the Central government in adjudicating conflicts surrounding inter-state rivers that arise among the state/regional governments.
About Cauvery river:
Cauvery or Kaveri, by covering a distance of about 765 km, flows through the state of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and emptying into the Bay of Bengal through two principal mouths in Poompuhar, Tamil Nadu.
- The Cauvery basin covers about 81155 sq km area. Out of this 43,856 sq km is in Tamil Nadu, 34,273 sq km in Karnataka, 2866 sq km in Kerala and 160 sq km in Puducherry.
- Talacauvery (located in Kodagu District of Karnataka) is considered the source of the Cauvery.
- At the source of the Cauvery there is a temple where every year on Tula sankramana thousands of pilgrims gather to pay their respects to the Cauvery.
- On its journey to the Bay of Bengal, the river is joined by its tributaries, which include Shimsa, Hemavathi, Honnuhole, Arkavathi, Kapila, Lakshmana Theertha, Kabini, Lokapavani, Bhavani, Noyil and Amaravathy.
Paradise Papers: Indian names tumble out for tax haven links
What are the Paradise Papers?
- The Paradise Papers are set of 13.4 million documents mainly from Appleby, an offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and beyond related to offshore investment in some of the world’s most secretive countries.
- It is a global investigation that reveals the offshore activities of some of the world’s most powerful people and companies.
- They reveal tracks of veiled offshore financial activities.
Why in news?
- The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has released ‘The Paradise Papers.
- Among 180 countries represented in the data, India ranks 19th in terms of number of names. In all names of 714 Indians have figured in this largest ever black money data leak.
About International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)
The ICIJ is global network of more than 200 investigative journalists in 70 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories.
- It was founded in 1997 by respected American journalist Chuck Lewis.
- It was launched as a project of Centre for Public Integrity, focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers: corruption, cross-border crime and accountability of power.
- It is headquartered in Washington DC, US.
- Earlier in 2016, it had released Panama Papers.
- In February 2017, ICIJ was spun off to become a fully independent news organization with the goal of extending global reach and impact even farther.
Postmen to collate data on homes still without electricity
The power ministry has engaged postmen for door-to-door survey to expedite the Saubhagya scheme launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for complete household electrification by December 2018.
What is Saubhagya scheme?
- The Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana -Saubhagya was launched in September with over Rs 16,000 crore outlay for universal household electrification.
- It will cover a total of 300 lakh households–250 lakh households in rural areas and 50 lakh in urban areas.
- As per scheme, the states will have to submit detailed project reports to the Centre. Projects would be sanctioned based on the detailed project reports to be submitted by the states.
Why postmen have been chosen?
- India Post is the only organisation, which has permanent link with each and every household in the country.
- It has arrangements in place for delivery of mails to each of about 5.94 lakh inhabited villages in the country from the nearest post offices.
How will this data be collected?
- India Post through its network 1.73 lakh outlets has begun collecting data on un-electrified households spread over three states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Similar initiatives are being launched in Assam and Jharkhand.
- The data for a total 1.75 lakh villages in the five states is likely to be submitted in a month. The data is being uploaded online through a web portal and a mobile application by the postmen called ‘Gram Dak Sewaks’ by the postal department.
- The web portal and the application have been created and are being monitored by staterun Rural Electrification Corp.
How will this data help?
- The data will help the Central government in speedy assessment of project reports that will be submitted by states seeking grant under the Saubhagya Scheme.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Hotspots of rattan found in Western Ghats
Utilising niche modelling to predict areas of high rattan diversity, the scientists have identified three rattan hotspots in the Western Ghats.
- The discovery was made near the Agastyamalai Biosphere Reserve, Silent Valley-Mukurthi National Parks and Coorg-Wayanad regions in the Western Ghats.
- Rattan or cane is a light and flexible climbing palms species.
- More than half a million people are directly employed in harvesting and processing rattan in Southeast Asia, including India.
- All these areas fall outside existing protected area networks, where excessive unsustainable harvests could be a problem.
Defence & Security Issues
India plans 17 underground passages along China border
India is considering the creation of a well-connected network of at least 17 tunnels along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates the country from Chinese territory.
- The tunnels will be about 100-km long and run along the entire LAC.
- The tunnels are being planned by India’s frontier road developer Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
Significance of the planned tunnel:
- These tunnels are expected to cut down travel time while providing weatherproof connectivity.
- Thus, they will also be crucial in quickly transporting troops during a Doklam-like border standoff and shipping supplies to military posts in strategic areas that remain cut off for half the year owing to heavy snowfall or rain.
- They help avoid situations where military posts remain cut off for six months due to snowfall or rain.
- The tunnels will be safer than road travel as it would be able to bypass landslides, earthquakes and avalanches which are common in the Himalayan range along the LAC. The same factors also hinder road construction.
Global watchdog FATF puts Pakistan on notice
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global antimoney laundering watchdog, in its just concluded meet at Beunos Aires, Argentina has put Pakistan on notice for terror financing.
Highlights of the meet:
- FATF has sought from Pakistan, notwithstanding opposition from China, a compliance report by February 2018 on action taken against terror groups such as LeT and JuD.
- FATF has asked Pakistan to do more to freeze assets of terror outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
- Importantly, China was isolated at the FATF meet as all other 36 members, including the US, Russia, France & the UK (four other members of UN Security Council), supported India.
- Terror financing was a key theme at the FATF meet.
- The decision was taken on Thursday at the Buenos Aires plenary of the FATF, where India raised the issue of Pakistan’s support for terror group at the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) meet.
- Earlier this year, FATF at its meeting in Spain had slammed Pakistan for continued complicity in financing terrorist entities.
About Financial Action Task Force (FATF):
- FATF is an inter‐governmental policy making body with ministerial mandate to establish international standards for combating money laundering and terrorist financing.
- The FATF was created in 1989 at the behest of the G7, and is headquartered In Paris.
- Its objectives are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to integrity of international financial system.
- The FATF monitors the progress of its members in implementing necessary measures, reviews money laundering and terrorist financing techniques and counter-measures, and promotes the adoption and implementation of appropriate measures globally.
- In collaboration with other international stakeholders, the FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities with the aim of protecting the international financial system from misuse.
- A large number of international organizations participate in the FATF as observers, each of which has some involvement in anti-money laundering activities.
- Organizations such as Interpol, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and World Bank are observers.
- Initially it was only dealing with developing policies to combat money laundering. But in 2001 its purpose was expanded to act against terrorism financing.
- Currently, it comprises two regional organisations (the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council) and 35 member jurisdictions, including India, UK, US, China and the European Commission.
Science & Technology
IIT Guwahati uses superhydrophobic cotton to remove oil-spill
A team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati have demonstrated a superhydrophobic (extremely water repelling) medical cotton that can absorb oil at least a 100 times repeatedly.
- The medical cotton, which is extremely water absorbing, was turned into a superhydrophobic material, which is extremely water repellent and has water contact angle of 157 degrees.
- The absorption efficiency of the superhydrophobic cotton was very high, which meant that one gram of the superhydrophobic cotton absorbed 20 grams of either heavy or light oils.
- The other important characteristic is its ability to absorb oil from three complex phases – light oil that floats in the air-water interface, sediment oil that settles at the bottom as it is heavy, and from the water-in-oil emulsion.
- It is important to note that the cotton, however, cannot remove oil efficiently from the oil-in-water emulsion but can do so from the water-in-oil emulsion.
Key Facts for Prelims
1st Heli Expo India and International Civil Helicopter Conclave-2017
- The 1st Heli Expo India and International Civil Helicopter Conclave-2017 was organised by Pawan Hans Limited in association with PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry with theme ‘Enhancing Connectivity’.
- Pawan Hans Limited is a Mini Ratna company of Ministry of Civil Aviation.
National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA)
- Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) is taking steps to set up National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) to keep a check in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) considering its perceived failures in enforcing discipline.
- NFRA is an independent body to test check financial statements, prescribe accounting standards and take disciplinary action against errant professionals.
- The Companies Act 2013 provides for setting up a National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA).
2017 World Youth Forum
- The 2017 World Youth Forum was held at Sharam El Shiekh in Egypt.
- The forum aimed to provide platform to youth from all over the globe to engage with key global policy makers.
- It covered role of youth in business and innovation, challenges and making of future leaders, gender equity and women empowerment among other things.
- From India, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Col Rajyavardhan Rathore had participated in the forum.
- Japan has proposed a “Quadrilateral” grouping consisting of India, Australia, USA and Japan.
- The grouping aims to be a grouping of countries all looking to balance China, using an international rules-based order to counter China’s aggressive power play.
- The purpose is to provide alternative debt financing for countries in the Indo-Pacific.
- India has accepted an invitation to join the grouping.
BRO builds world’s highest motorable road in Ladakh
- In a major feat, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has constructed the world’s highest motorable road in Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, passing through Umlingla Top at a height of over 19,300 feet.
- The feat was achieved under Project Himank of the organisation.