Polity & Governance
- Supreme Court recommends Prison reforms
Government Schemes & Policies
- Proposed amendments to Surrogacy Bill, 2019
- Soil health card reduces fertiliser use by 10%
- Co-operative banks under RBI’s ambit
- India to get 13th major port at Vadhavan in Maharashtra
- India betters score in GIPC’s IP Index
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Amrabad Tiger Reserve
Defence & Security Issues
- Navy to get third Scorpene submarine
Art & Culture
- Kumbhabishegam ceremony at the Sri Brahadeeswarar Temple
Key Facts for Prelims
- Anguilla Islands
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Polity & Governance
Supreme Court recommends Prison reforms
A committee appointed by the Supreme Court has proposed several reform for prisons. The 300-page report was taken up for hearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde.
- The court said that overcrowding is a common bane in the under-staffed prisons. Both the prisoner and his guard equally suffer human rights violation and has witnessed increased cases of unnatural deaths of prisoners.
- The undertrial prisoner, who is yet to get his day in court, suffers the most, languishing behind bars for years without a hearing.
- Most of the prisons are teeming with undertrial prisoners, whose numbers are highly disproportionate to those of convicts.
Shortage of Lawyers:
- There is shortage of lawyers against the number of prisoners. Speedy trial remains one of the best ways to remedy the unwarranted phenomenon of over-crowding.
- The Prison Department has a perennial average of 30%-40% vacancies and the shortage of staff has lingered over the years.
Quality of Food and Hygiene:
- The report described the preparation of food in kitchens as “primitive and arduous”.
- The kitchens are congested and unhygienic and the diet has remained unchanged for years now.
- Every new prisoner should be allowed a free phone call a day to his family members to see him through his first week in jail.
- There is a recommendation for the use of video-conferencing for trial, this can be relief keeping in mind the unavailability of sufficient police guards for escort and transportation.
- There should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners to ensure speedy trails.
- Improving the food quality and maintaining hygiene in the kitchens.
- The panel has taken into account the above mentioned problems and suggested other reforms in the prisons.
Government Schemes & Policies
Proposed amendments to Surrogacy Bill 2019
A select Committee on Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 has recommended the Rajya Sabha that a surrogate mother need not be a “close relative” of the couple and omission of the five-year time limit before seeking surrogacy.
What is Surrogacy?
- Surrogacy is a practice where a woman gives birth to a child for an eligible couple and agrees to hand over the child to them after the birth.
Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019:
- The couple intending to commission a surrogacy arrangement must be a close relative of the surrogate mother.
- The couple have to be Indian citizens who have been married for at least five years and are in the age group of 23-50 years (female partner) and 26-55 years (male partner), and secure a medical certificate stating that either or both partners are infertile.
- The couple also should not have any surviving child (whether biological, adopted or surrogate), except if the surviving child is mentally or physically challenged or suffers from a fatal illness etc.
- The surrogate mother, apart from being a close relative of the couple intending the surrogacy, has to be married with a child of her own, in the age bracket of 25 to 35 years old, and should not have been a surrogate mother before.
- The Bill states that any child born out of a surrogacy procedure shall be the biological child of the intending couple and will be entitled to all rights and privileges that are available to a natural child.
- The bill permits only Altruistic surrogacy to seeks to ban commercial surrogacy and provides for constituting a National Surrogacy Board, State Surrogacy Boards, and the appointment of appropriate authorities for the regulation of the practice and process of surrogacy.
- The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 is yet to be passed by the Rajya Sabha and the committee has held ten meetings since the Bill was referred to it by the Lok Sabha on November 21, 2019.
What is Altruistic and Commercial surrogacy?
- Altruistic surrogacy: It involves a surrogacy arrangement where the monetary reward only involves medical expenses and insurance coverage for the surrogate mother. This is allowed in the bill.
- Commercial surrogacy: This type of surrogacy includes a monetary benefit or reward (in cash or kind) that exceeds basic medical expenses and insurance for the surrogate mother. This has resulted in surrogacy as a business and the bill seeks to ban it.
- The 23-member select committee presented its report in the Upper House and proposed 15 major changes to the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019. The changes include:
- The surrogate mother needs not be a close relative of the couple opting for surrogacy as it potentially restricts the availability of surrogate mothers, affecting genuinely needy persons.
- Any willing woman shall act as surrogate mother and be permitted to undergo surrogacy procedures as per the provisions of this Act.
- Allowing single women (widow or a divorcee and Persons of Indian Origin) to avail of surrogacy.
- Increasing insurance cover for the surrogate mother from the 16 months proposed in the Bill to 36 months.
- Omission of the provision that mandates five-year time limit before seeking surrogacy.
- Deleting the definition of “infertility” as the inability to conceive after five years of unprotected intercourse on grounds that it was too long a period for a couple to wait for a child.
- In order to protect the interests of the child born through surrogacy, the Committee recommended that the order regarding the parentage and custody of the child, issued by a Magistrate, shall be the birth affidavit for the surrogate child.
Significance of the Bill:
- The bill envisages ending the exploitation of women who are lending their womb for surrogacy, and protecting the rights of children born through this.
- It will also look after the interests of the couple that opt for surrogacy, ensuring that there are laws protecting them against exploitation by clinics that are carrying this out as a business.
- Further, the current recommendations are empowering the single women to opt for surrogacy and for increasing the insurance cover.
Soil health card reduces fertiliser use by 10%
The country wide application of soil health card has led to a decline in the use of chemical fertiliser by 10%. A study conducted by the National Productivity Council (NPC) says the application of Soil Health Card recommendations has led to a decline of 8-10% in use of chemical fertilizers.
Development of Model Villages Project:
- It is a pilot project and is being implemented under which the sampling and testing of cultivable soil is being encouraged in partnership with the farmers.
- Under the project, a Model Village has been selected for aggregation of soil samples and analysis of each agricultural holding.
- As part of the scheme 13.53 lakh Soil Health Cards have been distributed during the year 2019-20.
Soil Health Card Scheme:
- Soil Health Card Scheme was launched by the central government in 2015 to provide every farmer a Soil Health Card in a Mission mode.
- It provides assistance to State Governments for setting up Soil Testing Laboratories for issuing Soil Health Cards to farmers.
- The scheme is implemented in all states to promote soil testing services, issue of soil health cards and development of nutrient management practices.
- Under the scheme, State Governments should adopt innovative practices like involvement of agricultural students, NGOs and private sector in soil testing, determining average soil health of villages, etc., to issue Soil Health Cards.
- The state governments are also required to prepare yearly action plan on the issue and the cost will be shared in the ratio of 75:25 between the Centre and states.
- The scheme provides for the analysis of soil composition by the State Governments once in every two years so that remedial steps can be taken to improve soil nutrients.
The major components of the scheme are:
- Issue of Soil Health Cards
- Training for soil analysis
- Financial assistance for package of nutrient recommendations
- Capacity building and regular monitoring and evaluation
- Constitution of the Project Management Team (PMT)
What is soil health card?
- The soil health card studies and reviews the health of soil or a complete evaluation of the quality of soil right from its functional characteristics, to water and nutrients content and other biological properties. It will also contain corrective measures that a farmer should adopt to obtain a better yield.
- It contains the status of soil with respect to 12 parameters namely:
- N, P, K (Macro-nutrients);
- S (Secondary- nutrient);
- Zn, Fe, Cu, Mn, Bo (Micro – nutrients);
- Physical parameters: pH, electrical conductivity (EC), organic carbon (OC).
- Based on this, the Soil Health Card will also indicate fertilizer recommendations and soil amendment required for the farm.
- Under Phase-I (Years 2015 to 2017) of the Scheme 10.74 crore cards were distributed, while under the Phase-II 11.69 crore cards have been give away during the period 2017-19.
Soil Health Management Scheme:
- Under the scheme village youth and farmers up to 40 years of age are eligible to set up Soil Health Laboratories and undertake testing.
- A laboratory costs up to Rupees Five Lakhs, 75% of which can be funded by the Central and State Governments.
- The same provisions apply to Self Help Groups, Farmers’ Cooperative Societies, Farmers Groups and Agricultural Producing Organisations.
- It is one of the most important interventions under National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) and aims at promoting Integrated Nutrient Management.
Co-operative banks under RBI’s ambit
The Union Cabinet has recently approved an amendment to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 to bring multi-state co-operative banks under the watch of the central bank and prevent a repeat of Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank (PMC) like crisis.
- Co-operative banks are financial entities established on a co-operative basis and belonging to their members. This means that the customers of a co-operative bank are also its owners.
- They are regulated by the Reserve Bank of India under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 and Banking Laws (Application to Cooperative Societies) Act, 1965 or theyare under dual control of Registrar of Cooperative Societies and RBI.
- While the role of registrar of cooperative societies includes incorporation, registration, management, audit, supersession of board and liquidation, RBI is responsible for regulatory functions such maintaining cash reserve and capital adequacy, among others.
- There are 1,540 cooperative banks in India with a depositor base of 8.60 crore having total savings of about Rs 5 lakh crore.
- Urban cooperative banks reported nearly 1,000 cases of fraud worth more than ₹220 crores in past five fiscal years. Hence, the responsibility of the government increases to safeguard the rights of the depositors.
- The proposed law seeks to enforce banking regulation guidelines of the RBI in cooperative banks, while administrative issues will still be guided by Registrar of Cooperatives.
- The cooperative banks would be audited according to RBI rules.
- The appointment of CEOs would require prior approval from the central bank.
- RBI can supersede management in case of liquidation or failure of any cooperative bank.
- These measures would be implemented in a phased manner.
- The amendments will apply to all urban co-operative banks and multi-state cooperative banks.
- The rationale is to increase professionalism and improve corporate governance, keeping in mind the recent PMC crisis and need for structural reforms in banks.
India to get 13th major port at Vadhavan in Maharashtra
The Union Cabinet approved a proposal to set up a major port at Vadhavan near Dahanu in Maharashtra with a total cost of ₹65,545 crore. The reason behind setting up another major port on the west coast is because of the exhaustion of container cargo capacity of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust.
About proposed Vadhavan port:
- The Vadhavan port will be developed on landlord model (where infrastructure is leased to private firms or industries and chemical plants).
- With Vadhavan port, India will break into the countries with top 10 container ports in the world.
- There is a proposal for the government to own 51 per cent of the port, while the remaining can be owned by private participants and the State government.
- A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) will be formed with Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) as the lead partner with equity participation equal to or more than 50 per cent to implement the project
- Vadhavan Port has a natural depth of 20 metres close to the shore to handle larger ships followed by Mundra (16 metres) and JNPT (15 metres).
Major ports of India:
Currently, India has 12 major ports:
- Deendayal, Mumbai, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), Mormugao, New Mangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Kamarajar, V O Chidambaranar, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Kolkata (including Haldia).
The Major Port Authorities Bill, 2016:
- The Union cabinet approved a bill that would give more autonomy and flexibility to major ports in the country in 2016. This will replace the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963.
- It would help to impart faster and transparent decision-making, benefiting the stakeholders and better project execution capability.
- The bill is aimed at reorienting the governance model in central ports to the landlord port model.
- Under the bill, the composition of a port board has been simplified and it will now consist of 10 members, including 3-4 independent members, instead of 17-19 under current model.
- The port authority has been given powers to fix tariff which would act as a reference for purposes of bidding for public-private partnership (PPP) projects and has been given the power to fix the scale of rates for other port services and assets, including land.
- An independent review board has been proposed to be created to look into disputes between ports and PPP concessionaires.
India betters score in GIPC’s IP Index
India stands at 40th place out of 53 economies in global IP (intellectual property) Index 2020, as against 36th place out of 50 economies in the 2019 Index.
International IP Index 2020:
- It is released by Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) of the US Chamber of Commerce.
- The index ranked 53 global economies, representing over 90% of global GDP.
- The US tops the scorecard followed by the UK, France, Germany, Sweden and Japan respectively.
- The 2020 index includes three new countries: Dominican Republic, Greece, and Kuwait.
Key highlights of index:
- India’s overall score has increased to 38.46% in the International IP Index 2020.
- It has found that India has embraced a series of reforms and issued court rules that strengthen IP enforcement, address administrative inefficiencies and increase penalties for IP infringement.
- Implementation of the policy has resulted in improving rates of patent and trademark pendency, greater awareness of IP rights among Indian innovators.
- However, index points out serious hurdles particularly in terms of patent eligibility and enforcement. Compulsory licensing in pharma companies, patent opposition and regulatory data protection are the main challenges faced by the India.
- The index has reported that India’s key areas of strength in IP domain include continued strong efforts to combat copyright piracy through 2019 by:
- Issuing of dynamic injunction orders,
- Precedent-setting case law on online trademark infringement and damages,
- New pilot patent prosecution highway (PPH) programme,
- Generous R&D along with IP-based incentives.
The indicators span 8 categories of IP protection:
- Trade Secrets
- Commercialization of IP Assets
- Systemic Efficiency
- Membership and Ratification of International Treaties
What is Intellectual Property?
- Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.
- IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.
- By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Amrabad Tiger Reserve
Major fire has been reported for a second time recently within four days from the Amrabad Tiger Reserve in Nagarkurnool district, Telangana ravaging 20 hectares of forest land.
Amrabad Tiger Reserve:
- The Tiger Reserve lies in the Nallamala hills, Telangana.
- It is bifurcated from Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger reserve which was the largest tiger reserve in the country, after the formation of Telangana.
- The northern part of the Tiger reserve vested with Telangana was renamed as Amrabad Tiger Reserve.
- It was declared a Tiger reserve in 1983.
- The forest of the century is dry and mixed deciduous and tropical moist deciduous forest.
- It has the landscape of lofty hills and cavernous valleys, perennial rivers and forested topography.
- It houses great biodiversity, comprising of around 70 species of mammals, more than 300 hundred avian varieties, 60 species of reptiles and thousands of insects and more than 600 different plant species.
- Amrabad is dominated by the Chenchus, Scheduled Tribes who are less affluent and are the most under-privileged group in Telangana.
- Chenchus are Hindu aboriginal tribes residing in the central hill stations of Andhra Pradesh.
- They inhabit the Nallamala hills and still go for hunting rather than farming.
- The Origin of Chenchu is connected to Lord Malikarjuna of the Srisailam temple, Andhra Pradesh.
- They are found in Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.
- They speak the Chenchu language, a member of the Dravidian language family.
- Amrabad contains ruins of the ancient Nagarjuna Viswa Vidyalayam run by the great Buddhist scholar Nagarjunacharya (150 AD).
- The landscape is recovering after over two centuries of degradation by the British and the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Defence & Security Issues
Navy to get third Scorpene submarine
The third Scorpene submarine, Karanj, will be delivered to the Indian Navy by December and all six submarine deliveries would be completed by 2022.
- Under Project 75 India (P75I), India will purchase 6 next generation diesel submarines with Air Independent Propulsion System (AIP) technology for the Indian Navy by 2022.
- There is AIP systems to enable them to stay submerged for longer duration and substantially increase their operational range.
- There is vertical launch system (VLS) to enable them to carry multiple Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles and making them capable of anti-surface and anti-ship warfare missions.
- Submarines will feature advanced stealth capabilities such as a greater ability to suppress noise and acoustic signatures.
- The P75I project is part of a 30-year submarine building plan that ends in 2030. As part of this plan, India was to build 24 submarines: 18 conventional submarines and six nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs).
Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP):
- AIP is any marine propulsion technology that allows a non-nuclear submarine to operate without access to atmospheric oxygen (by surfacing or using a snorkel).
- AIP can augment or replace the diesel-electric propulsion system of non-nuclear vessels.
- India also has two nuclear-powered submarines: INS Arihant (SSBN, a ballistic missile submarine) and INS Chakra (SSN, a nuclear-powered one) leased from Russia.
- The Scorpene submarine has the ability to be equipped with an AIP system.
- The first Scorpene, Kulvari was commissioned in 2018.
- Second Scorpene Khanderi was inducted in 2019.
Art & Culture
Kumbhabishegam ceremony at the Sri Brahadeeswarar Temple
Tens of thousands of people thronged Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery delta to witness the kumbhabishegam (consecration) ceremony which was held after 23 years after the Madras High Court had settled an old argument over the ritual purification process at the Sri Brahadeeswarar Temple.
- kumbhabishegam ceremony got involved in the struggle for supremacy between the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions even after the Madras High Court allowed the consecration to be performed in both Tamil and Sanskrit.
- Location: Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu)
- It is an excellent specimen of architecture of the Chola dynasty and it was built between 1003 AD and 1010 AD by the great Chola emperor Raja Raja I (Rajaraja Chola).
- It is the world’s first complete granite temple and dedicated to Lord Shiva.
- The temple’s vimana (structure over garbhagriha or inner sanctum) is the tallest of its kind in the world.
- It is an example of the Dravidian style of temple architecture.
- It is listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Temple represents the ideology of Chola Empire as well as Tamil civilization.
Key Facts for Prelims
The island of Anguilla is in news regarding its “.ai” domain which has gained extreme popularity among Artifice Intelligence start-ups.
Trends in technology:
- The island is the lucky financial beneficiary of two hot trends in technology: artificial intelligence and vanity internet addresses.
- Anguilla is the landlord for internet addresses that end in “.ai” — a valuable slice of online real estate.
- Every time “.ai” name is registered or renewed by A.I. start-ups, or by speculators hoping to resell the names to those start-ups, big companies or investors — the island collects a $50 annual fee, which goes mostly to the government treasury.
- The fees added up to $2.9 million in 2018 and the revenues are rising sharply.
Location of Anguilla:
- Anguilla is a British overseas territory in the eastern Caribbean Sea.
- It has an area of 35 square miles and noted for its easy-going atmosphere and magnificent beaches and waters.
- Anguilla was formed from coral and limestone; the land is fairly flat but undulating.
- As with most coral islands, the fresh water is scarce here.
- The tropical island has no rivers, but has several surface saltwater ponds.