Polity & Governance
- Expedite Process for Special Status to Andhra Pradesh: Governor to Centre
- Haryana to set up Cooperative Election Authority
- Panel to find ways to make business easier for fintech firms
- India’s first helitaxi launched in Bengaluru
- Marshall Islands to issue own sovereign cryptocurrency
Bilateral & International Relations
- WTO to set up compliance panel in solar dispute between India, US
Art & Culture
- ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’
- 6th edition of India by the Nile festival
Science & Technology
- CIMON- AI-based ‘flying brain’ to assist ISS astronauts
Key Facts for Prelims
- India remains 12th largest Foreign Holder of US Govt Securities
- Indian-Origin Officer Appointed Scotland Yard’s Counter-Terror Chief
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Polity & Governance
Expedite Process for Special Status to Andhra Pradesh: Governor to Centre
Andhra Pradesh government has asked the Centre to expedite resolution of all provisions in the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, including according special category status to the state.
What’s the issue?
- Andhra Pradesh has been demanding a Special Category State (SCS) status from Centre ever since it was decided to carve out Telangana along with capital city Hyderabad.
- Following the bifurcation of A.P., Andhra lost a large volume of its revenue due to Hyderabad remaining the capital of Telangana.
- State-wide protests, slogan-shouting in Parliament, a Private Member Bill and intense lobbying have not resulted in a favourable decision yet.
Special Category State (SCS) status:
Fifth Finance Commission introduced SCS in 1969 giving Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, and Nagaland additional Central assistance and tax concessions.
- Special category status is usually based on the recommendations of the National Development Council (NDC).
- The National Development Council (NDC) laid five guidelines to grant the status —
- Hilly and difficult terrain;
- Low population density or sizable share of tribal population;
- Strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries;
- Economic and infrastructural backwardness; and
- Non-viable nature of State finances.
Which States are receiving it right now?
- Apart from Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, and Nagaland, eight more States were added to the list — Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand.
Difference between Special Status and Special Category Status (SCS):
Andhra Pradesh is asking for Special Category Status and not Special Status, there’s a big difference between Special Status and Special Category Status.
- Special Statusis guaranteed by the Constitution of India through an Act passed by the two-third majority in both houses of the Parliament (example – J&K)
- Special Category Status (SCS)is granted by the National Development Council, an administrative body of the government.
What are the benefits which states get under SCS?
The Planning Commission allocates funds to states through central assistance for state plans.
Central assistance can be broadly split into three components.
- Normal Central Assistance (NCA)
- Additional Central Assistance (ACA)
- Special Central Assistance (SCA)
- NCA, the main assistance for state plans, is split to favor special category states: the 11 states get 30% of the total assistance while the other states share the remaining 70%.
- The nature of the assistance also varies for special category states; NCA is split into 90% grants and 10% loans for special category states, while the ratio between grants and loans is 30:70 for other states.
- For allocation among special category states, there are no explicit criteria for distribution and funds are allocated on the basis of the state’s plan size and previous plan expenditures.
- Allocation between non special category states is determined by the Gadgil Mukherjee formula which gives weight to population (60%), per capita income (25%), fiscal performance (7.5%) and special problems (7.5%).
- Special category states also receive specific assistance addressing features like hill areas, tribal sub-plans and border areas.
- Beyond additional plan resources, special category states can enjoy concessions in excise and customs duties, income tax rates and corporate tax rates as determined by the government.
Haryana to set up Cooperative Election Authority
The Haryana government announced that a Cooperative Election Authority would be set up in the State for supervising the election process in cooperative bodies.
What is State Co-operative Election Authority (SCEA)?
- The State Co-operative Election Authority (SCEA) is a statutory body responsible for superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to the Co-operative Societies in the State, according to the rules & regulations framed by State Government.
Constitution of State Cooperative Election Authority:
- As per The Constitution of India, (97th Amendment) Act,2011, Article 243ZK, the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections of a co-operative society in the state, shall vest in such an authority or body, as may be provided by the legislature of a State.
About Constitution 97th Amendment Act:
- The Constitution (Ninety Seventh Amendment) Act 2011 relating to the co-operatives is aimed to encourage economic activities of cooperatives which in turn help progress of rural India.
- It is expected to not only ensure autonomous and democratic functioning of cooperatives, but also the accountability of the management to the members and other stakeholders.
As per the amendment the changes done to constitution are:
- In Part III of the constitution, after words “or unions” the words “Cooperative Societies” was added.
- In Part IV a new Article 43B was inserted, which says: The state shall endeavour to promote voluntary formation, autonomous functioning, democratic control and professional management of the co-operative societies”.
- After Part IXA of the constitution, a Part IXB was inserted to accommodate state vs centre roles.
Role of State Cooperative Election Authority:
- SCEA is empowered to appoint any officer or employee of the State Government, or any Co-operative Society, or any Local Body on any post with such designation and duties for the purpose of conducting the elections.
- SCEA is expected to prescribe code of conduct to be implemented in the area of operation of the society according to the nature of business or class of societies;
- SCEA may appoint Observers and Zonal officers, with a view to keep watch for smooth and fair conduct of elections as and when required.
- SCEA is empowered to issue such special or general orders or directions for fair and free elections, which may not be inconsistent with the provisions of the Act and the Rules.
- SCEA is expected to prescribe estimated amount of election expenditure for societies or class of societies to be deposited in the ‘Election Fund’ in advance by the society.
Panel to find ways to make business easier for fintech firms
The Union Government has set up 8 member steering committee look into the development and regulation of the fintech sector in India.
- It will be headed by Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Garg.
Terms of reference:
- The committee will work with government agencies such as UIDAI to explore creation and use of unique enterprise identification number.
- It will also look into the possibility of international co-operation opportunities in Fintech with countries such as Singapore, the U.K., China and others.
- The committee will consider means of using data with GSTN and data residing with information utilities such as credit information companies (CICs) and others in open domain with a view to developing applications for financing of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
- It will also develop regulatory interventions e.g., regulatory sandbox model, that will enhance the role of Fintech in sectors identified for focused interventions. The ideas is to facilitate ease of doing business in the Fintech sector.
What is FinTech?
- FinTech, which means using technology to offer financial services to end customers at a lower cost, has been a buzzword across the world in recent years, with little or no regulation over their functioning.
- Fintech is an omnibus term for the use of technology to deliver all kinds of financial services. The most common areas is in fund-raising, lending, borrowing and mobile payments.
FinTech market in India:
- The Indian FinTech market is set to double to $2.4 billion in the next four years.
- It is in a nascent stage in the country, and many feel that start-up firms in the space would disrupt the traditional banking and financial services model.
- The RBI is promoting two types of FinTech in India:
- The Unified Payments Interface and
- The Bharat Bill Payments System
- Some areas in which FinTech has emerged include payments, peer-to-peer lending, and the use of automated algorithms to offer financial advice.
Why is it important?
- India has a large population of non-city folk, many million small enterprises and any number of small borrowers without any credit history, who today cannot knock at the banks’ doors for loans. It is therefore said to be just ripe for a Fintech revolution. To help things along, the Government is expediting this by promoting the JAM trinity (Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile).
- The reason why banking bigwigs are watching these developments like hawks is that Fintech has enormous power to disrupt old-world banks. They mostly function as online bazaars that simply put borrowers in touch with lenders or entrepreneurs with investors, while they pocket a fee on each transaction.
- A Fintech firm may help participants on its platform by doing background checks on entrepreneurs, borrowers or lenders who hop on to it. But it does not put its own capital at risk. This fee-based approach to financial services (as opposed to funds-based approach of banks), saves the Fintech newbies a lot of costly capital. With no depositors’ money at stake, they may get away with lighter regulations too.
India’s first helitaxi launched in Bengaluru
India’s first HeliTaxi was launched in IT capital Bengaluru, Karnataka n a bid to provide last-mile connectivity.
What is HeliTaxi?
- HeliTaxi is a helicopter shuttle service.
- HeliTaxi provides connectivity between Airport and Electronic City (located in south about 70 km from airport in the city centre), home to hundreds of technology firms including, Infosys and other multinationals.
- It has reduced travelling time between airport and Electronic City from two hours (by road) to 15 minutes.
Why Bengaluru need such service?
- Bengaluru has poor road density (measure of road length per square km area of land) as compared to other Indian cities. So, such service was needed much more than other cities to ferry air passengers to and from the city.
Marshall Islands to issue own sovereign cryptocurrency
Marshall Islands in Pacific Ocean is set to become first country in world to recognize cryptocurrency as its legal tender and adopt transparent crypto monetary system.
- A law in this regard has been passed by the parliament.
The Marshall Islands plans to adopt the digital currency called “Sovereign” with symbol SOV with an aim to raise some hard cash to pay bills and boost economy.
- The Marshall Islands is partnering with Israeli fintech startup Neema to launch its SOV. It will have equal status with US dollar as form of payment.
- It will be circulated as legal tender in the country, alongside its current local currency, US dollar.
How is SOV different from other cryptocurrencies?
- SOV issued by Marshall Islands will be different from other cryptocurrencies including bitcoin because it will be officially recognized by law as legal tender and effectively backed by government.
- SOV is based on permissioned protocol, dubbed “‘Yokwe” (meaning “hello” in local island language), which requires blockchain users of this distal currency to authenticate and identify themselves, thus avoid anonymity that has kept other cryptocurrencies from gaining support from governments.
- The Marshall Islands is closely aligned with US under Compact of Free Association and uses US dollar as its official currency. Under compact association, US provides the Marshall Islands with about $70 million each year in assistance. In turn, US runs a military base on Island’s Kwajalein Atoll.
- Venezuela was the first country to officially launch its own cryptocurrency named Petro, backed by crude oil reserves but its validity as legal tender is not yet known.
How is it different from ‘Petro’ cryptocurrency?
- Unlike the Petro, the Sovereign (SOV) will be recognized in law as legal tender, holding equal status as the US dollar, which is the Pacific island nation’s current currency.
Where is Marshall Islands located?
- The Marshall Islands is an island country located near the equator in the Pacific Ocean, slightly west of the International Date Line.
- Geographically, the country is part of the larger island group of Micronesia.
- The islands share maritime boundaries with the Federated States of Micronesia to the west, Wake Island to the north, Kiribati to the southeast, and Nauru to the south.
Bilateral & International Relations
WTO to set up compliance panel in solar dispute between India, US
The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of World Trade Organization (WTO) has decided to set up panel to examine whether India has complied with its 2016 ruling in case against US regarding domestic content requirements (DCR) rules for solar cells and modules.
What is the issue?
- In 2013, US had filed complaint before WTO, arguing that domestic content requirement imposed under India’s ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) violates global trading rules by unfavourably discriminating against imported solar cells and modules.
- In February 2016, WTO panel had ruled that India had violated its national treatment obligation, by imposing the domestic content requirement. US had claimed that its solar exports to India have fallen by more than 90% since India had brought in the DCR rules.
- But after ruling, US had alleged that India continues to apply WTO-inconsistent measures and had approached WTO demanding action against India for non-compliance of WTO ruling in December 2017. India, however, has maintained that it has complied with WTO’s ruling and had requested WTO to set up a panel to determine its compliance with rulings of dispute.
About the Dispute Settlement Body of WTO:
The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) makes decisions on trade disputes between governments that are adjudicated by the Organization.
- By joining the WTO, member countries have agreed that if they believe fellow members are in violation of trade rules, they will use the multilateral system of settling disputes instead of taking action unilaterally — this entails abiding by agreed procedures (Dispute Settlement Understanding) and respecting judgments, primarily of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), the WTO organ responsible for adjudication of disputes.
- The General Council convenes as the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) to deal with disputes between WTO members. Such disputes may arise with respect to any agreement contained in the Final Act of the Uruguay Round that is subject to the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (DSU).
- The DSB has authority to establish dispute settlement panels, refer matters to arbitration, adopt panel, Appellate Body and arbitration reports, maintain surveillance over the implementation of recommendations and rulings contained in such reports, and authorize suspension of concessions in the event of non-compliance with those recommendations and rulings.
Significance of Dispute Settlement Body:
- Dispute settlement is regarded by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the central pillar of the multilateral trading system, and as the organization’s “unique contribution to the stability of the global economy”.
- A former WTO Director-General characterized the WTO dispute settlement system as “the most active international adjudicative mechanism in the world today.”
Art & Culture
6th edition of India by the Nile festival
Sixth edition of the India by the Nile (IBN) festival 2018 is being held in Cairo, Egypt.
About India by the Nile festival:
- It is the biggest foreign festival in Egypt and encourages artistic collaborations between the two countries.
- The annual festival showcases a range of Indian cultural output, including contemporary and classical music, dance, puppet theatre, visual arts, food and yoga.
- This year, the festival will also bring two new events, a fashion show and screening of the Indian movies.
- The festival is organised by the Embassy of India in Egypt and the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture in collaboration with entertainment company Teamwork Arts.
Location of Egypt:
- Egypt is a transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula.
- Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, the Red Sea to the east and south, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west.
- Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, and across from the Sinai Peninsula lies Saudi Arabia, although Jordan and Saudi Arabia do not share a land border with Egypt.
The two-day national seminar “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (whole world is one family) was recently concluded in New Delhi.
- The seminar was organised to spread the message that indigenous values and teachings of Vedas can only help India achieve its lost glory and attain the status of “Vishwa Guru” once again.
Meaning of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’:
- ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ is a Sanskrit phrase found in Hindu texts such as the Maha Upanishad, which means “the world is one family”.
About Maha Upanishad:
- The Maha Upanishad is a Sanskrit text and is one of the minor Upanishads of Hinduism.
- The text is classified as a Vaishnava Upanishad.
- The text exists in two versions, one attached to the Atharvaveda in some anthologies, and another attached to the Samaveda. The Atharvaveda version is shorter, and in prose. The Samaveda version is partly in poetic verses.
Science & Technology
CIMON- AI-based ‘flying brain’ to assist ISS astronauts
Airbus, an aeronautics company based in Netherlands, is developing CIMON (Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN), a 3D-printed artificial intelligence system.
- CIMON will soon join the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to assist astronauts.
- CIMON is described by its creators as a “flying brain”.
- It is an AI-based space assistant for Germanys DLR Space Administration.
- CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system.
- The entire structure of CIMON is made up of plastic and metal, created using 3D printing.
- CIMON has a brain-like AI network and is designed to support astronauts in performing routine work, for example by displaying procedures or offering solutions to problems. With its face, voice and artificial intelligence, becomes a genuine ‘colleague’ on board.
Applications of CIMON:
- With CIMON, crew members can do more than just work through a schematic view of prescribed checklists and procedures; they can also engage with their assistant.
- CIMON makes work easier for the astronauts when carrying out every day routine tasks, helps to increase efficiency, facilitates mission success and improves security, as it can also serve as an early warning system for technical problems.
Key Facts for Prelims
- Recently, India’s cybersecurity agencies have detected a new malware called Saposhi that can take over electronic devices and use them for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
- Saposhi Malware is capable of taking over electronic devices and turning them into bots (device taken over by malware) which can then be used for any purpose, including DDoS attacks which, with enough firepower, can cripple entire industries.
India remains 12th largest Foreign Holder of US Govt Securities
- According to recent figures compiled by US Treasury Department, India is 12th largest overseas holder of US government securities. India’s exposure to it has risen sharply to high of US $144.7 billion at end of 2017.
- India was just behind oil rich Saudi Arabia, whose holding stood at USD 147.4 billion in December 2017.
- In 2017, China was largest holder of US government securities with holdings to tune of $1.18 trillion, followed by Japan at $1.06 trillion.
- Among the BRIC countries, India had the third largest exposure while that of Russia was lower at $102.2 billion.
Indian-Origin Officer Appointed Scotland Yard’s Counter-Terror Chief
- Senior Indian-origin Scotland Yard officer Neil Basu became first person of Asian heritage to be appointed as Counterterrorism Chief.
- He will take charge as Scotland Yard’s National Lead for Counter Terrorism (CT) and Head of Met Police’s Specialist Operations.
Location of Scotland:
- Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain.
- It shares a border with England to the south, and is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the south-west.
- In addition to the mainland, the country is made up of more than 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.