Polity & Governance
- SC seeks Centre’s response on Haj norms
- DoP sets up high level panel to assist on pricing, launch of new drugs
Issues related to Health & Education
- First ever International Conference cum Exhibition on AYUSH and Wellness
- India opposes e-commerce talks at WTO; submits document
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- NCMC reviews Ockhi situation
Bilateral & International Relations
- US pulls out of UN’s Global Compact on Migration
Defence & Security Issues
- 60th Foundation Day of DRI
Key Facts for Prelims
- Shamli District of Uttar Pradesh Now Part of National Capital Region
- ‘Muzrai’ Act
- 5 December: World Soil Day
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Polity & Governance
SC seeks Centre’s response on Haj norms
The Supreme Court sought the Centre’s response to a petition filed by the Kerala State Haj Committee challenging the provisions of the Haj guidelines for 2018-22.
- Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India had constituted a Committee to review the existing Haj Policy of the Government for 2013-17 and to suggest framework for new Haj policy 2018-22.
- The ministry had constituted the five-member panel headed by former minority affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah in January this year in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the Centre to abolish the Haj subsidy gradually by 2022.
- The Committee presented its Report to the government in recent past.
- The recommendations hold much significance as presently, Indian women cannot undertake Haj without a male Mehram even if she wants to go with a group of women. Male Mehram refers to a male a woman cannot marry at any time in her life (i.e. father, brother or son etc.)
Important recommendations of the Haj Committee:
- The recommendation of allowing women to undertake Haj without a male mehram, however, comes with two conditions. Firstly, a woman has to be aged over 45 years and the second condition stipulates women to travel in a group of four or more women.
- The panel has also proposed to increase the quota for Mehrams from 200 to 500.
- The proposed policy recommends abolishing the quota for septuagenarians (a person who is between 70 and 79 years old) and fourth timers in the pilgrimage.
- The proposed policy also recommends bringing down the number of embarkation points (EPs) from which pilgrims can take flights to Saudi Arabia from 21 to nine which include Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Cochin. It also proposes to build suitable Haj houses at these EPs.
- The policy suggests sending pilgrims by ship, relatively less expensive than flights. The policy says the Saudi government will be consulted regarding Haj travel by ship.
- EPs are being reduced keeping in mind ship journeys. It proposes inviting global expressions of interest from vessel owners having a capacity of 4,000 plus passengers
- The draft policy also recommended that the Haj Committee of India be exempted from Income Tax, Goods and Services tax (GST) and other local taxes. The air charter services provided for the benefit of pilgrims too should be exempted from service tax/GST.
- The proposed policy aims at rationalising distribution of the Haj quota between the Haj Committee of India and private tour operators in the ratio of 70:30 for the next five years.
- The policy also proposes to ensure the stay of all Indian Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia within Mina.
Objections put forth by the petitioners:
- The Haj quota allocated to India is 1.7 lakh pilgrims. The HCI’s share is 75% and private tour operators take the rest. The new guidelines reduce the HCI’s share to 70% and raises the tour operators’ quota to 30%. The reduction of HCI’s share means fewer persons from the weaker sections can afford to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. The petition said the reduction in the HCI’s quota was arbitrary and unreasonable and went against the interests of the Indian pilgrims.
- The earlier policies exempted pilgrims aged above 70 and those who had unsuccessfully tried to get a seat from the draw of lots. But the new guidelines gave no such exemption.
- The new rules did not provide pilgrims travelling through the Haj committees any protection from the “unreasonable” air fare, usually three times more.
DoP sets up high level panel to assist on pricing, launch of new drugs
The department of pharmaceuticals (DoP), under the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers, has set up a high-level committee comprising experts to assist on matters of pricing and launch of new drugs to help resolve issues in a time-bound manner.
- The committee will work on issues between the industry and the government.
Composition of the committee:
- The committee will have member secretary of National Pharmaceutical Pricing authority (NPPA) as its convener.
- It will also have representatives from Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), Department of Health Research/Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and NIPER as members.
- In view of the experience gained from implementation of Drugs (Prices control) order 2013, it has been decided to constitute a single multi-disciplinary committee of experts for consultation on all technical issues related to pricing, launch of new drugs etc where more clarity may be required and opine on matters referred to it by NPPA on discharge of its functions.
Terms of reference of the committee:
- The committee is mandated to recommend its opinion on claims of pharma companies about any additional therapeutic features associated with any formulation.
- It will also recommend separate ceiling price of scheduled formulations or retail price of any new drug with specified therapeutic rationale.
- It will also give its opinion on claims of pharma firms about additional pharmacoeconomics features associated with any formulation/Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API).
- Besides, it will also give opinion on technical related issues such as whether a drug is scheduled or non-scheduled on basis of ingredients used in formulation.
- It will give opinion on technical issues and claims by pharma companies about novelty associated with indigenous research and development of their products, for granting exemption from price control order for period of 5 years.
- The committee will be empowered to invite or co-opt any other specialist depending on exigencies of circumstances requiring resolution of any specific matter arising out of implementation of various provisions of DPCO 2013.
- The recommendations of committee will be considered by NPPA which will pass reasoned order on it.
Issues related to Health & Education
First ever International Conference cum Exhibition on AYUSH and Wellness
The first International Exhibition and Conference on AYUSH and Wellness sector- AROGYA 2017 was held in New Delhi.
- The theme of the conference was: ‘Enhancing the global potential of AYUSH’
- The three-day exhibition cum conference was organised by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in collaboration with Union Ministry of AYUSH and Ministry of Commerce & Industry and Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil).
- AROGYA 2017 witnessed participation of thousands of delegates from India as well as abroad including delegates from over 60 countries across the world. More than 250 manufacturers of alternative medicine also showcased their products and services at the exhibition.
Objectives of AROGYA 2017:
- Showcase strengths and scientific validation of Indian System of Medicine in global context.
- Promote and strengthen awareness and interest about AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy).
- Facilitate international promotion, development and recognition of AYUSH.
- Foster interaction of stakeholders and market development of AYUSH at international level.
- Give boost to AYUSH Products in International Market.
- Exhibit research and latest developments in AYUSH sector and harness its potential.
- AYUSH is acronym of tradition medical systems that are being practiced in India such as Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy.
- India is the second largest exporter of Ayurvedic and alternate medicine to the world and has a potential to generate 3 million job opportunities.
- The Indian herbal market is valued at around Rs 5,000 crore currently, with an annual growth rate of 14%.
India opposes e-commerce talks at WTO; submits document
India has for the first time submitted a formal document opposing any negotiations on e-commerce at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
- India has said that it would continue the work under the work programme on e-commerce based on the existing guidelines.
- In the submission, India asked the General Council, the highest decision-making body of WTO, for periodic reviews based on reports made by agencies responsible for implementation of the work programme and “report to the next session of the ministerial conference”.
What’ the issue?
E-commerce entered the WTO in 1998, when member countries agreed not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions, and the moratorium has been extended periodically.
- However, since last year, many countries have made submissions on various aspects of digital trade such as cross-border data flows, server localisation, technology transfer, source code, consumer protection, intellectual property rights and trade facilitation aspects of e-commerce.
- While the United States last year floated a proposal on e-commerce prohibiting digital customs duties, enabling cross-border data flows, promoting a free and open internet and preventing localisation barriers, China wants easier norms for goods ordered over the internet but physically delivered.
- The European Union, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, Nigeria and Singapore too want outcomes in e-commerce disciplines.
- Intense efforts are now being made by some countries to secure a mandate to initiate comprehensive negotiations on e-commerce.
- In the run-up to the ministerial conference in Buenos Aires next week, some countries want to convert this temporary moratorium on customs duty on electronic transmissions into a permanent one. According to experts, this could result in considerable leakage of revenue as more products and services get delivered through electronic transmissions.
- With rapid developments in manufacturing through 3-D printing, absence of customs duty could have severe adverse impact on the domestic manufacturing sector.
Evolution of work programme on e-commerce:
- At the Second Ministerial Conference in May 1998, ministers, recognizing that global electronic commerce was growing and creating new opportunities for trade, adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce.
- This called for the establishment of a work programme on e-commerce, which was adopted in September 1998.
About work programme on e-commerce:
- The work programme on e-commerce was adopted by the WTO countries in 1998.
- Periodic reviews of the programme are conducted by the General Council based on reports from the WTO bodies responsible for implementing the programme.
- The WTO Work Programme on Electronic Commerce covers all issues related to trade arising from global e-commerce, including enhancing internet connectivity and access to information and telecommunications technologies and public internet sites, the growth of mobile commerce, electronically delivered software, cloud computing, the protection of confidential data, privacy and consumer protection.
- The programme also explores the economic development opportunities afforded by e-commerce for developing countries, particularly least-developed countries.
Who are responsible of carrying out the work programme?
Four WTO bodies are charged with the responsibility of carrying out the work programme:
- the Council for Trade in Services,
- the Council for Trade in Goods,
- the Council for TRIPS and
- the Committee on Trade and Development.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
NCMC reviews Ockhi situation
The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), headed by Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha, has reviewed rescue and relief operations being carried out in high seas and coastal areas hit by cyclone Ockhi.
- The meeting was also attended by the officials of Ministries of Home Affairs, Defence, and Earth Sciences, the National Disaster Management Authority, the Indian Navy, the Indian Air Force, Indian Coast Guard, the Indian Meteorological Department etc.
- The NCMC is monitoring the situation and has provided all necessary help to the affected states and union territory.
About National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC):
- For effective implementation of relief measures in the wake of natural calamities, the Government of India has set up a Standing National Crisis Management Committee.
- Cabinet Secretary is the Chairman of the NCMC.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India will provide necessary secretariat assistance.
Bilateral & International Relations
US pulls out of UN’s Global Compact on Migration
The United States has withdrawn itself from a United Nations pact to improve the handling of migrant and refugee situations deeming it ‘inconsistent’ with its policies.
Background: New York declaration
- In September 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding political declaration, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, pledging to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle and ensure they have access to education.
Why US pulled out of the UN Global Compact on Migration?
- US under Trump administration has held that New York Declaration contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies and Trump Administration’s immigration principles.
- Moreover, the global approach in New York Declaration is simply not compatible with US sovereignty.
- US under Trump administration has pulled out of several global commitments including UNESCO, UN cultural and educational body and 2015 Paris climate change agreement. US participation in Global Compact on Migration process was started in 2016 following Obama Administration’s decision to join UN’s New York Declaration on Migration.
Evolution of Global Compact for Migration:
- In adopting the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the 193 UN Member States recognized the need for a comprehensive approach to human mobility and enhanced cooperation at the global level.
- Annex II of the New York Declaration set in motion a process of intergovernmental consultations and negotiations culminating in the planned adoption of the global compact for migration at an intergovernmental conference on international migration in 2018.
- The process to develop this global compact for migration was started in April 2017. It was to reach international consensus at the UN in 2018.
About Global Compact for Migration:
- UN Global Compact on Migration will be the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement under auspices of UN to cover all dimensions of international migration in holistic and comprehensive manner.
- The purpose of Global compact of migration is to provide significant opportunity to improve governance on migration, address challenges associated with today’s migration, and strengthen contribution of migrants and migration to sustainable development.
- The global compact is framed consistent with target 10.7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in which member States committed to cooperate internationally to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration and its scope is defined in Annex II of the New York Declaration.
Defence & Security Issues
60th Foundation Day of DRI
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), the premier anti-smuggling intelligence and investigation agency of the country, has completed 60 years (Diamond jubilee) of its establishment on 4th December 2017.
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) is an Indian intelligence agency.
- It was constituted on 4th December 1957.
- DRI is the major intelligence agency which eradicates smuggling of drugs, gold, diamonds, electronics, foreign currency, counterfeit Indian currency, etc.
- The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence functions under the Central Board of Excise and Customs in the Ministry of Finance, Department of Revenue.
- The Directorate is run by officers from Central Excise and Customs. The organisation runs on much smaller staff than other intelligence agencies.
- Though its early days were committed to combating smuggling in of gold, it now also addresses narcotics and economic crimes.
[Ref: PIB, dri.nic.in]
Key Facts for Prelims
Shamli District of Uttar Pradesh Now Part of National Capital Region
- Shamli district of Uttar Pradesh was included in the national capital region (NCR), thus taking the total number of districts in the NCR to 23.
- The decision was taken at the 37th meeting of the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB).
- Cities in the NCR get funds at “attractive” interest rates from the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) for infrastructure development.
- Besides Delhi, there are at present 22 districts — 13 of Haryana, seven of Uttar Pradesh and two of Rajasthan — in the NCR.
- It is Karnataka government’s Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, popularly known as ‘Muzrai’ Act.
- It is in news as a seven-member committee is currently in the process of suggesting comprehensive changes in the ‘Muzrai’ Act.
- The committee is considering inclusion of mutts and temples controlled by mutts under the purview of the Act.
5 December: World Soil Day
The World Soil Day is celebrated every year on 5th of December by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
- The Theme for year 2017 is ‘Caring for the Planet starts from the Ground’.
- The observance of the day aims to communicate messages on the importance of soil quality for food security, healthy ecosystems and human well-being.
Significance of the soil:
- The soil is the upper layer of earth, a mixture of organic and inorganic matter, which aids the growth of plants.
- It is a finite and non-renewable natural resource. It can help alleviate food insecurity. It is the source of 95 per cent of our food. 33 percent of global soils are already degraded.
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the soil holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and can help us meet the challenges of a changing climate.