Government Schemes & Policies
- Absentee MPs likely to lose spot on standing committee
- Prejudging offence to deny bail is against the right of an accused to a fair trial
Issues related to Health & Education
- Launch of ‘Going Online as Leaders’ (GOAL) Programme
- Malaria drop is sharpest in India, 90% of cases are in 7 states
- PNB scam: Special court declares Nirav Modi a fugitive economic offender
- Payments banks may convert to a small finance bank after 5 years of business
- Canada’s CPPIB to invest $600 million in NIIF Master Fund
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- India ranks 5th in Global Climate Risk Index
- 8th cyclone formed in the North Indian Ocean region
- Davi Kopenawa wins Alternate Nobel Prize for protecting the Amazon rainforest
- Sukapaika: Death of a river
Bilateral & International Relations
- Why a Congress MP wants Maharaja Duleep Singh’s remains brought to India from England
Science & Technology
- Why NASA and ESA want to hit an asteroid called Didymos
Key Facts for Prelims
- Navy Day
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Government Schemes & Policies
Absentee MPs likely to lose spot on standing committee
Persistent absenteeism from meetings of department-related standing committees should cost MPs their spot on these parliamentary panels, a strong view that emerged during a meeting of chairpersons of the committees with Vice President of India.
What are Parliamentary Committees?
- Parliamentary Committees are of two kinds – Standing Committees and ad hoc Committees. Standing Committees are elected or appointed every year or periodically and their work goes on, more or less, on a continuous basis. The ad hoc committees are appointed on an ad hoc basis as need arises and they cease to exist as soon as they complete the task assigned to them.
- Parliamentary Committee works under the direction of the Speaker/Chairman.
- Parliamentary committees draw their authority from Article 105 (on privileges of Parliament members) and Article 118 (on Parliament’s authority to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of business).
- Bills that are referred to committees are returned to the House with significant value addition by committees. Parliament is not bound by the recommendations of committees.
Need for Parliamentary Committees
- In a parliamentary democracy, Parliament has broadly two functions, which are lawmaking and oversight of the executive branch of the government. Committees fulfil the oversight function on executive branch.
- The practice of regularly referring bills to committees began in 1989 after government departments started forming their own standing committees. Prior to that, select committees or joint committees of the houses were only set up to scrutinize in detail some very important bills.
Standing Committees can be broadly classified as Standing Committees of the House and Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committees.
Departmental Standing Committees
- Departmental Standing Committees (DSCs) were set up in the Parliament in 1993. They were 17 earlier and after adding 7 more in 2004, they are now 24 in number (8 under Rajya Sabha and 16 under Lok Sabha).
- They were set up as per the recommendation of the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha.
- It aims to secure more accountability of the Executive (i.e., the Council of Ministers) to the Parliament, particularly financial accountability, and to assist the Parliament in debating the budget more effectively.
- These committees cover under their jurisdiction all the ministries/departments of the Central Government.
- Each standing committee consists of 21 members from Lok Sabha and 10 members from Rajya Sabha, all nominated by speaker and chairman of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively from amongst their members.
- The Ministers are not nominated and in case if a member is appointed as a minister after he was nominated, then he ceases to be a member of the committee.
- The term of office of each standing committee is one year from the date of its constitution.
- The recommendations of these committees are advisory in nature and hence not binding on the Parliament.
- To consider the Demands for Grants of the related Ministries/Departments and report thereon. The report shall not suggest anything of the nature of cut motions.
- To examine Bills, pertaining to the related Ministries/Departments, referred to the Committee by the Chairman or the Speaker, as the case may be, and report thereon.
- To consider the annual reports of the Ministries/Departments and report thereon.
- To consider national basic long term policy documents presented to the Houses, if referred to the Committee by the Chairman or the Speaker, as the case may be, and report thereon.
Prejudging offence to deny bail is against the right of an accused to a fair trial
A tendency among government agencies to hand over documents in sealed covers to courts in every case coupled with an inclination among judges to verbatim reproduce their contents as judicial findings to deny bail is against the right of an accused to a fair trial, Supreme Court held in its Chidambaram judgment.
- The Supreme Court reacted sharply to the recent trend of agencies like the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate trying to press documents in sealed covers on the courts.
- In September 2019, the Delhi high court denied bail to Chidambaram based on the exact information provided by CBI. However, Supreme Court disapproved it saying that a judge can receive the materials collected during the investigation in order to either confirm that investigation is proceeding on the right lines or to grant bail, the judge cannot reproduce the material as his own findings in a judicial order.
Issues related to Health & Education
Launch of ‘Going Online as Leaders’ (GOAL) Programme
Union Minister of State for Tribal Affairs gave information on GOAL in Rajy Sabah.
About GOAL (Going Online as Leaders)
- Going Online as Leaders (GOAL) is an initiative of Facebook in partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation (India) to connect underprivileged young tribal women with senior expert mentors in the areas of business, fashion and arts for teaching digital and life skills.
- This initiative is a year long programmethat was launched in March 2019.
- In the first phase from March to August 2019, 25 eminent people from diverse backgrounds mentored 4 girls each from tribal communities.
- In the second phase of the programme, 5000 young women in India’s tribal dominated districts will be digitally mentored.
Malaria drop is sharpest in India, 90% of cases are in 7 states
Seven states account for about 90% of the burden of malaria cases in India, according to the World Malaria Report 2019 released by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Highlights of Malaria Report 2019
- Nigeria had the highest burden of all malaria cases, at 24%. However, incidence of vivax (Plasmodium falciparum) malaria (the second most common form of the disease) was the highest in India, which accounts for 47% of all cases in 2018.
- In region-wise, the highest estimated cases of all malaria forms were in Africa (93%) followed by South-East Asia, East Mediterranean, Western Pacific and the Americas.
- The incidence rate of malaria declined globally between 2010 and 2018, from 71 to 57 cases per 1000 population at risk.
- Children aged under 5 years are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. In 2018, they accounted for 67% (272 000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
- 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and India carried almost 85% of the global malaria
- More than 85% of estimated P. vivax malaria cases in 2018 occurred in just six countries, with India accounting for 47% of all vivax cases globally.
- 7 states(Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Gujarat, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh) account for about 90% of the burden of malaria cases in India.
[Ref: Indian Express]
PNB scam: Special court declares Nirav Modi a fugitive economic offender
A special court declared diamond businessman Nirav Modi, the key accused in the $2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case, a fugitive economic offender, on a plea of the Enforcement Directorate.
Highlights of Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018
- The Act allows for a person to be declared as a fugitive economic offender (FEO) if:
(i) An arrest warrant has been issued against him for any specified offences where the value involved is over Rs 100 crore, and
(ii) He has left the country and refuses to return to face prosecution.
- To declare a person an FEO, an application will be filed in a Special Court (designated under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002) containing details of the properties to be confiscated, and any information about the person’s whereabouts. The Special Court will require the person to appear at a specified place at least six weeks from issue of notice.
- The Act allows authorities to provisionally attach properties of an accused, while the application is pending before the Special Court.
- Under the act, any court may bar an FEO from filing or defending civil claims before it. Barring these persons from filing or defending civil claims may violate Article 21 of the Constitution i.e. the right to life.
- Under the act, an FEO’s property may be confiscated and vested in the central government. The act allows the Special Court to exempt properties where certain persons may have an interest in such property (e.g., secured creditors). However, it does not specify whether the central government will share sale proceeds with any other claimants who do not have such an interest (e.g., unsecured creditors).
- The act does not require the authorities to obtain a search warrant or ensure the presence of witnesses before a search. This differs from other laws, such as the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, which contain such safeguards. These safeguards protect against harassment and planting of evidence.
- The act provides for confiscation of property upon a person being declared an FEO. This differs from other laws, such as CrPC, 1973, where confiscation is final two years after proclamation as absconder.
Payments banks may convert to a small finance bank after 5 years of business
Payments banks can apply for conversion into small finance banks (SFBs) after five years of operation, provided they meet the eligibility criteria, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said, as it announced the final guidelines for on-tap licencing of private sector SFBs.
- Existing rules do not allow payments banks to lend and deposits are capped at INR 1 lakh per customer.
- RBI had issued in-principle approval to ten applicants for SFB in 2015. It was mentioned that after gaining experience in dealing with these banks, RBI would grant ‘on-tap’ licensing.
An “on-tap” facility mean that RBI will accept applications and grant licences for banksthroughout the year.
RBI’s Guidelines for SFB
- The minimum paid-up voting equity capital / net worth requirement shall be ₹ 200 crores.
Primary (Urban) Co-operative Banks transiting into SFBs will require of net worth of Rs 100 crore, which will have to be increased to Rs 200 crore within five years from the date of commencement of business.
Immediate Scheduled bank status:
- SFBs will be given scheduled bank status immediately upon commencement of operations.
- SFBs will have general permission to open banking outlets from the date of commencement of operations.
Conversion to SFBs
- Payments Banks can apply for conversion into SFB after five years of operations. The promoter of a payments bank is eligible to set up an SFB, provided that both banks come under the non-operating financial holding company (NOFHC) structure.
- It will give payment banks access to more deposits and boost their profitability, which is at present under pressure.
Objective behind RBI Guidelines
Objectives behind setting up of small finance banks is furthering financial inclusion by (i) provision of savings vehicles primarily to unserved and underserved sections of the population, and (ii) supply of credit to small business units; small and marginal farmers; micro and small industries; and other unorganised sector entities, through high technology-low cost operations.
Activities of SFB
- The small finance bank will primarily undertake basic banking activities of acceptance of deposits and lendingto unserved and underserved sections including small business units, small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries and unorganised sector entities
- It can also undertake other non-risk sharing simple financial services activities, not requiring any commitment of own fund, such as distribution of mutual fund units.
Who can apply for SFB license?
- Indian professionals with 10 years of experience in banking and finance
- Private companies
- Local Area Banks (just 3 are in this group)
- Urban Cooperative Banks
- 75% Priority Sector Lending
- 50% portfolio with upto Rs 25 lakh of loans
- The maximum loan size and investment limit exposure to a single and group is restricted to 10% and 15% of its capital funds, respectively. They cannot extend large loans.
- If the initial shareholding by promoters in the bank is in excess of 40% of paid-up voting equity capital, it should be brought down to 40% within a period of 5 years.
About Payments banks:
- Payments banks are conceptualised by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to meet government’s financial inclusion target.
- They are set up as a differentiated bank. They can do demand deposits, remittance services, Internet banking and other specified services but cannot undertake lending services.
- Payments banks can accept deposits up to Rs. 1 lakh per account from individuals and small businesses.
Difference between Payment Banks and Small Finance Banks:
- The major difference between payment banks and small finance banks is their area of operation. Payment bank can only open savings account and current accounts but cannot lend money while small finance bank’s main aim is to lend money to farmers and small businesses.
Canada’s CPPIB to invest $600 million in NIIF Master Fund
Canada’s largest pension fund Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) has agreed to invest about $600 million in National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) through the NIIF Master Fund.
- With CPPIB’s investment, NIIF Master Fund now has $2.1 billion in commitments and has achieved its initially targeted fund size.
About National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF)
- NIIF is a professional fund manager, anchored by the Government of India along with participation from institutional investors such as Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and leading Indian private financial institutions.
- NIIF was set up as an alternative investment fund (AIF) in December 2016 with a planned corpus of ₹40,000 crores.
- The Indian government has 49 % stake in NIIF with the rest held by marquee foreign and domestic investors.
- With the Central government’s significant stake, NIIF is considered India’s quasi sovereign wealth fund.
- It intends to be a key channel of investment into Indian infrastructure with a focus on transportation (roads, ports and airports), energy, urban planning and other infrastructure and allied segments.
- Its portfolio includes investments in ports and logistics, real estate and renewables.
Objective of NIIF
- The objective of NIIF is to maximize economic impact mainly through infrastructure development in commercially viable projects, both greenfield and brownfield and stalled projects.
- The Fund aims to attract investment from both domestic and international sources.
- NIIF manages three funds with distinctive investment mandates.
- These funds are registered as Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
The three types of funds are master funds, funds of funds and strategic funds.
- It is an infrastructure fund primarily investing in operating assets in core infrastructure sectors such as roads, ports, airports, power etc.
- The Master Fund invests in mature businesses with long-term track record, often operating in regulated environments or under concession or long-term agreements.
Funds of Funds:
- It seeks to invest with experienced fund managers who have a strong track record and have demonstrated their ability to execute their investment strategy successfully.
- Fund of Funds invests across infrastructure services and allied sectors (traditional infrastructure, green energy, social infrastructure, manufacturing, and services), product strategies (equity, mezzanine, debt) and investment styles (early stage, growth, control).
- It is aimed at growth and development stage investments in projects/companies in a broad range of sectors that are of economic and commercial importance and are likely to benefit from India’s growth trajectory over the medium to long-term.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
India ranks 5th in Global Climate Risk Index
India is the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change, according to a report released by Environment think tank, Germanwatch.
Highlights of Climate Risk Index 2020
India Specific Highlights
- India’s rank has worsened from the 14th spot in 2017 to 5th in 2018 in Climate Risk Index 2020. (The higher a country ranks on the index, the more severely impacted it is from climate events).
- India has highest number of fatalities due to climate change and the second highest monetary losses from climate impact in 2018.
- India’s high rank is due to severe rainfalls, followed by heavy flooding and landslide.While human death toll was kept considerably low due to public measures, the economic damages were quite severe.
- India suffered from one of the longest ever recorded heatwaves in 2018, with hundreds of deaths. India is vulnerable to extreme heat due to low per capita income, social inequality and a heavy reliance on agriculture.
- Since 1992, an estimated 25 000 Indians have died as a result of heatwaves. Contributing factors include increasing temperatures, the “El Niño Modoki”, an irregular El Niño in which the Central Pacific Ocean is warmer than the East Pacific, and the loss of tree cover.
- A study by the International Labour Organization concludes that by 2030, India would lose 8% of its working hours due to heat stress, which is equivalent to 34 million full-time jobs out of a total of 80 million worldwide.
Top 3 most affected countries by extreme weather are: Japan, the Philippines and Germany.
- Extreme weather, linked with climate change, is not only affecting poorer countries like Myanmar and Haiti, but also some of the world’s richest countries.
- Four countries (Japan, Germany, India and Canada) of the Bottom 10 were especially affected by heat waves.
About Global Climate Risk Index
- The Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) developed by Germanwatch analyses quantified impacts of extreme weather events, both in terms of fatalities as well as economic losses.
- The CRI 2020 also calculates the most affected countries by extreme weather calamities in two decades – the period of 1999 to 2018.
- 2019’s climate summit in Madrid needs to address the lack of additional climate finance to help the poorest people and countries to address Loss & Damage.
The climate summit needs to result in
- A decision on how the need for support for vulnerable countries concerning future loss and damage is to be determined on an ongoing basis
- The necessary steps to generate and make available financial resources to meet these needs.
- Strengthening the implementation of measures for adapting to climate change.
8th cyclone formed in the North Indian Ocean region
With the formation of cyclone Pawan on the morning of December 5 in the southwest Arabian Sea, the total number of cyclones in the North Indian Ocean region this year has reached eight.
Highest cyclones in 2019
- The 8 cyclones are the highest number of cyclones in a single year since 1976 (9 storms).
- The Arabian Sea has seen a lot of cyclonic activity in 2019. Five of the eight cyclones in 2019 formed in this region, the highest in the past 117 years. Six of the cyclones in 2019 were of the ‘Severe’ or ‘Higher’ category.
Very Sever category: Cyclone Vayu, Cyclone Hikaa and Cyclone Bulbul
Extremely Severe category: Cyclone Fani, Cyclone Maha
Super cyclonic storm: Cyclone Kyarr
- On the other hand the activity over the Bay of Bengal has been subdued this year as compared to Arabian Sea with the formation of only three cyclones (Pabuk, Fani, Bulbul) against the normal of four per year.
Reason for enhanced climatic activity
There could be multiple reasons for this enhanced cyclonic activity such as
- Active phases of both, the Indian Ocean Dipole and Madden Julian Oscillation phenomena.
- Global warming, which has led to warmer-than-usual temperatures on the surface of seas and oceans. This provides the perfect conditions for the formation of low pressure areas which can intensify into depressions and further into cyclones.
Davi Kopenawa wins Alternate Nobel Prize for protecting the Amazon rainforest
Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa, the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest,” has received 2019’s Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” at Stockholm, Sweeden.
About Right Livelihood Award
- The award was founded by the Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull after the Nobel foundation rejected his proposal to establish two new Nobel Prizes, one environmental award and the other award to promote knowledge and perspectives of people in poor countries. Hence, due to its founding history and the associated efforts to promote sustainability, social justice, and peace, it came to be known as alternative Nobel Prize.
- It is an international award to honour those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.
- Although it is promoted as an “Alternative Nobel Prize”, it is not a Nobel Prize (a prize created by Alfred Nobel).
Sukapaika: Death of a river
Sukapaika is being choked to death gradually due to government apathy.
What is the issue?
- In 1952, Odisha government blocked the starting point of the Sukapaika river with an embankment to save the villages around it from floods.
- Subsequently, in 1957, two major projects — Hirakud Dam in Sambalpur district and Naraj barrage at Cuttack — were built upstream on the Mahanadi, to control floods in it.
- However, the embankment on the Sukapiaka was not removed. This left the distributary totally dependent on rainwater. This resulted in drying of river. The river stinks when the hyacinths decompose. The polluted water has caused skin disease among people.
About Sukapaika river
- Sukapaika is one of the distributaries of Mahanadi River in Odisha.
- It branches away from the Mahanadi at Ayatpur village in Cuttack district and then rejoin Mahanadiin same district. In the process, it drains a large landmass in Cuttack Sadar, Nischintakoili and Raghunathpur districts.
Bilateral & International Relations
Why a Congress MP wants Maharaja Duleep Singh’s remains brought to India from England
Congress MP Pratap Singh Bajwa made a demand in the Rajya Sabha to exhume the remains of Maharaja Duleep Singh from his grave in England, and have them brought to Amritsar.
About Maharaja Duleep Singh
- He was the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the last ruler of Punjab. He was declared Maharaja of Punjab in 1843 at the age of five.
- In 1849, after the second Anglo-Sikh war, Ranjit Singh was forced to give up claims of sovereignty in exchange for a pension of £40,000 a year. He was 10 years old at that time.
- In 1853, he converted to Christianity, and settled in the UK in 1854. He was the first Sikh settler of the UK.
- In 1849, after the British defeated the Sikhs in the war, Singh was forced to sign a legal document that amended the Treaty of Lahore, requiring him to not only give up claims of sovereignty over the region, but also the Koh-i-noor diamond. The diamond is now in London.
Why are Maharaja Duleep Singh’s remains in England?
- In 1864, Singh married to Bamba Müller in Cairo and then moved in England. Queen Victoria became the godmother of their eldest son, who was named Victor Duleep Singh.
- In 1886, Singh tried to return to India from UK. He also re-converted to Sikhism. However, he was refused permission to visit India by the British Secretary of State for performing Sikh ceremony.
- After this, Singh lived in Paris and sought help of Irish revolutionaries and Russians to launch a revolt against the British in Punjab. He planned to launch the revolt from Pondicherry. However, Singh was unsuccessful in doing so.
- While he died in Paris in 1893 at the age of 55, his body was brought to England, where he was buried.
Science & Technology
Why NASA and ESA want to hit an asteroid called Didymos
The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved the budget of Hera, the European component of the mission to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid. The project aims to study the effectiveness of an impact to ward off an impending asteroid threat.
Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission
- It is a mission to deflect an asteroid in space and to prove the technique to be an effective method of defence against a looming asteroid collision.
- A spacecraft will be made to crash into the asteroid andlater, another spacecraft will reach the asteroid to study the crash site and gather necessary data on effects of the collision.
- The spacecraft that will be crashed into asteroid is named Double Asteroid Impact Test (DART) by NASA.
- Another spacecraft to study the crash will be an Italian satellite called Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube).
- DART will be launched in September 2022 and Hera will be launched in October 2024.
- 65803 Didymos is a binary asteroid with a satellite in its orbit (Didymoon).
- It is roughly the size of the Great Pyramid of Egypt.
- Didymoon will be impacted by the NASA DART spacecraft in 2022.
Why Didymos was chosen for DART mission?
- Didymos’s secondary body (Didymoon) is about 160-meters in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth.
- Didymos asteroid pair will come to within 10 million km of Earth in 2022, making them the ideal candidate for such orbital deflection experiments.
What is Hera?
- Hera is the European part of the ESA–NASA Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.
- It will test whether a kinetic deflection technique can be used to shift the orbit of an asteroid.
- Hera will arrive at the Didymos in 2027 to measure the impact crater produced by the DART collision and study the change in the asteroid’s orbital trajectory.
- Hera will gather scientific data on asteroids as a whole by carefully studying the exterior and interior properties of both bodies in the system.
- Hera replaced earlier proposed Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM).
Why we need a planetary defence mechanism?
- There are around 25,000 near-Earth objects (NEOs) that orbit the Sun on a trajectory that brings them close to Earth’s orbit. NASA tracks such near-Earth objects to ensure they do not become threats. However, certain near-Earth objects have been classified as “potentially hazardous”.
- According to NASA, there are about 900 near-Earth objects measuring more than 1 km. An impact from one of these can bring devastating effects to Earth. That is why scientists are working on a number of planetary protection initiatives to deflect asteroids if they threaten to impact the Earth.
Key Facts for Prelims
Navy Day: Here’s a quick look at the Indian Navy
The Indian Navy Day is celebrated on December 4 every year to commemorate Operation Trident, an attack on the Karachi harbour during the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971.
- Indian Navy is headed by the President of India as its Supreme Commander.
- The Indian Navy is the fifth largest in the world.
- The Navy has three commands: Eastern Command (Vishakhapatnam), Western Command (Mumbai), and Southern Command (Kochi). The Navy operates in 66 bases under the Commands.
- The Navy has developed as an indigenous force with the making of the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant and several other ships.
- Marine Commandos (MARCOS), part of a special unit of the Navy, are made to undergo an excruciating training which only 10% of the trainees successfully complete.
Indian Navy currently has
- One aircraft carrier: INS Vikramaditya
- Three classes of destroyers: Delhi, Rajput, and Kolkata; and
- Four classes of Frigates: Shivalik, Talwar, Brahmaputra, and Godavari.
- Three classes of submarines: Chakra (under which is the nuclear-powered INS Chakra), Sindhughosh, and Shishumar.