Polity & Governance
- Ministers not under RTI, says HC
- FRDI Bill clauses aimed at protecting depositors’ interests: Govt
Government Schemes & Policies
- Resistance within government to universal social security payments
- Income tax dept may slap Benami Act on unexplained credits, investments
Defence & Security Issues
- Border Protection Grid to be set up in Border States: Home Minister
Art & Culture
- UNESCO names Kumbh Mela Intangible Cultural Heritage
Science & Technology
- NASA’s ‘SuperTIGER’ balloon to study cosmic particles
Key Facts for Prelims
- ‘The Silence Breakers’
- Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’
- 1st SAICON 2017
- 530 million-year-old fossil may contain world’s oldest eye
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Polity & Governance
Ministers not under RTI, says HC
The Delhi High Court has set aside the Central Information Commission order declaring Ministers as “public authorities” and answerable under the Right to Information law.
- The High Court’s order came on the Centre’s appeal against the CIC order.
What was the CIC order?
- The CIC order declared the “ministers in the Union Government and all State Governments as public authorities” under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
- The CIC directive that ministers were answerable under the RTI Act would mean that people can directly send questions to a minister by filing an RTI application which will be answered by a public information officer in his office.
- The CIC issued directions to the government to provide the necessary support to each minister including designating some officers or appointing some as Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities.
- It had also directed that ministers be given an official website for suo motu disclosure of information with periodical updating as prescribed under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
- The Commission had recommended that the oath of secrecy which is required to be taken by the ministers be replaced with the oath of transparency.
About the Central Information Commission:
Established in 2005, the Central Information Commission (CIC) is the authorised body under the Government of India.
- It was set up under the Right to Information Act.
- It was set up to act upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests to a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
- The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners are appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of:
- The Prime Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee.
- The Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
- A Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
FRDI Bill clauses aimed at protecting depositors’ interests: Govt
Defending the provisions of the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill 2017, or FRDI Bill, the government said the clauses in the legislation are aimed at protecting the interests of depositors.
- The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017 (FRDI Bill), was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 11, 2017.
- The bill is presently under consideration of the Joint Committee of Parliament. The Joint Committee is consulting all the stakeholders on the provisions of the FRDI Bill.
- The committee is now set to invite the RBI governor Urjit Patel to brief the members.
- The bill was opposed by the bank unions who have also requested the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to withdraw this legislation. The bill has been criticized for some of its controversial provisions, including a “bail-in” clause which suggests that depositor money could be used by failing financial institutions to stay afloat.
About the bill:
- The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017, seeks to give comfort to consumers of financial service providers in financial distress.
- It also aims to inculcate discipline among financial service providers in the event of financial crises by limiting the use of public money to bail out distressed entities.
- The Bill, when enacted, will pave the way for setting up of a resolution corporation.
- The Bill would provide for a comprehensive resolution framework for specified financial sector entities to deal with bankruptcy situation in banks, insurance companies and financial sector entities.
- It would lead to repeal or amendment of resolution-related provisions in sectoral Acts as listed in the schedules of the Bill.
- It will also result in the repeal of the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, 1961, to transfer deposit insurance powers and responsibilities to the resolution corporation.
- The resolution corporation would protect the stability and resilience of the financial system; protecting the consumers of covered obligations up to a reasonable limit; and protecting public funds, to the extent possible.
Significance of the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017:
- The FRDI Bill is far more depositor friendly than many other jurisdictions, which provide for statutory bail-in, where consent of creditors / depositors is not required for bail-in.
- The FRDI Bill does not propose in any way to limit the scope of powers for the Government to extend financing and resolution support to banks, including Public Sector Banks. The Government’s implicit guarantee for Public Sector Banks remains unaffected.
- It would help in maintaining financial stability in the economy by ensuring adequate preventive measures, while at the same time providing the necessary instruments for dealing with an event of crisis.
- The Bill aims to strengthen and streamline the current framework of deposit insurance for the benefit of a large number of retail depositors. Further, this Bill seeks to decrease the time and costs involved in resolving distressed financial entities.
Government Schemes & Policies
Resistance within government to universal social security payments
Labour ministry’s proposal for universal social security payments is facing resistance from other government sections because such a programme would raise overall wage costs.
What’s the issue?
- Central ministries and the states have increasingly been hiring contract workers to save on costs as minimum wages are not mandatory in such cases. However, a social security programme would require the employers of contract workers to help pay for it.
Contract workers in India:
The government appoints contract workers in three categories.
- First, for work of a routine nature such as housekeeping, maintenance and data entry that’s bundled and entrusted to staffing agencies.
- Second, contractual appointments for select posts, particularly those that need high professional skills.
- The third category comprises retired government employees whose skills and expertise acquired during their tenure in government are found useful.
- India’s total workforce stands at 450 million, out of which a little over 10% is in the organised sector, enjoying social security of some sort.
- According to Seventh Pay Commission data, the union government is one of the biggest users of temporary staff or contract employees, including scheme workers, and spends around Rs 300 crore a year on their wages. The scheme workers refer to the six million who are employed in flagship social sector programmes.
About ‘Draft code on Social Security and Welfare’:
The Union Labour Ministry has proposed a labour code (‘draft code on Social Security and Welfare’) which will provide social security cover to the entire workforce in the country, including self-employed and agricultural workers.
Key features of the draft code:
- Its aim is to provide social security cover to the entire workforce in the country of about 45 crore workers.
- It will cover every working person whether he/she belongs to the organised sector or the unorganised sector in the country under it.
- Thus, for the first time, agricultural workers along with self-employed people will be covered under the social security cover.
- Even factories employing single worker will have to contribute towards social security benefits.
- It will cover any factory, mine, shop, plantation, charitable organisations and all establishments or households employing casual, fixed-term, part-time, informal, apprentice, domestic and home-based workers.
- If such establishments or factories fail to contribute towards the social security schemes of the workers, they will be liable to pay compensation.
- It even covers households employing domestic help and they will also have contribute towards schemes, including gratuity for the worker and provident fund.
National Social Security Council:
- It proposes, National Social Security Council (NSSC), chaired by the Prime Minister to streamline and make policy on social security schemes related to all the Ministries.
- NSSC’s other members will include Union Finance Minister, Labour Minister, Health and Family Welfare Minister along with employer and employees’ representatives.
- It will co-ordinate between central and State governments, monitor the implementation of social security schemes, regulate funds collected under various social security schemes, among others.
Income tax dept may slap Benami Act on unexplained credits, investments
The Income-Tax Department is inspecting all unexplained credits and investments in personal as well as corporate income tax filings and may invoke the Benami Act in many cases.
- The tax officers are seeking information about the source of such unexplained credits and transactions that were used to carry out business at the request of another person.
- The I-T department has been on the prowl this year in light of the government’s demonetisation drive and sudden surge in deposits.
- Until now, any unexplained credits treated as black money used to attract a higher tax of up to 80 percent in the individual bank accounts or book of a company.
About Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016
The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016, designed to curb black money and passed by parliament in August 2016, came into effect.
Highlights of the Act:
- The new law amended the Benami Transactions Act, 1988 and renamed as the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions (PBPT) Act, 1988.
- Persons indulging in benami transactions may face up to 7 years’ imprisonment and fine.
- Furnishing false information is punishable by imprisonment up to 5 years and fine.
- Properties held benami are liable for confiscation by government without compensation.
- Initiating Officer may pass an order to continue holding property and may then refer case to Adjudicating Authority which will then examine evidence and pass an order.
- Appellate Tribunal will hear appeals against orders of Adjudicating Authority. High Court can hear appeals against orders of Appellate Tribunal.
- The amendment act strengthens the parent Act in terms of legal and administrative procedure.
What is benami transaction?
- The benami (without a name) transaction refers to property purchased by a person in the name of some other person.
- The person on whose name the property has been purchased is called the benamdar and the property so purchased is called the benami property. The person who finances the deal is the real owner.
- Therefore, in a benami transaction, the name of the person who paid the money is not mentioned. Directly or indirectly, the benami transaction is done to benefit the one who pays.
[Read IASToppers’ Exclusive Mains Article on Benami Act at: http://www.iastoppers.com/benami-transactions-prohibition-amendment-act-2016-mains-roundup-2017/] [Ref: Economic Times, Money Control]
Defence & Security Issues
Border Protection Grid to be set up in Border States: Home Minister
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced plans to formulate a unified command called ‘Border Protection Grid’ (BPG) to check illegal immigration from Bangladesh into five northeastern and eastern states.
What is Border Protection Grid (BPG)?
Border Protection Grid (BPG) is a multi-pronged and foolproof mechanism to secure border.
- The grid will comprise of various elements namely physical barriers, non-physical barriers, surveillance system, Intelligence agencies, State Police, BSF and other State and Central agencies.
- BPG will be supervised by a State level Standing Committee under the Chairmanship of respective Chief Secretaries.
Need for BPG:
Facilitate legitimate trade and commerce
- India has friendly relations with Bangladesh and there is a need to facilitate genuine trade and legitimate cross-border movement of people while curbing radicalization, illegal migration, and smuggling of cattle, fake Indian currency notes and drugs etc. BPG will ensure greater help for the States in the overall border security. Border security is important to facilitate legitimate trade and commerce between the countries.
Prevent entry of illegal migrants
- Secure borders are also necessary to prevent entry of illegal migrants some of whom have links with extremist groups for furthering anti-national activities with ulterior motives and posing threat to internal security.
About Indo-Bangladesh Border:
- India shares 4096.7 Km of its land border with Bangladesh.
- West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram are the States which share the border with Bangladesh.
- The entire stretch consists of plain, riverine, hilly/jungle and with hardly any natural obstacles. The area is heavily populated, and at many stretches the cultivation is carried out till the last inch of the border.
The State-wise length of the borders is as under:
- West Bengal – 2216.70 Km
- Assam – 263.00 Km
- Meghalaya 443.00 Km
- Tripura 856.00 Km
- Mizoram 318.00 Km
- Out of 4,096 km-long border with Bangladesh, fencing, roads, floodlights and border outposts are already completed in 3,006 km of the border.
- Out of the remaining 1090 km-long border, 684 km border will be secured with fence and remaining 406 km of borders along rivers and nullahs will be secured with radars, day-night cameras and various types of sensors.
- Although bulk of the infrastructure is in place or under construction, construction in some parts is yet to commence mainly due to land acquisition issues.
Art & Culture
UNESCO names Kumbh Mela Intangible Cultural Heritage
The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage under UNESCO has inscribed ´KumbhMela´ on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
- This inscription is the third in two years following the inscriptions of ´Yoga´ and ´Nouroz´ in December.
- ´KumbhMela´ is the largest peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth.
- The festival, held in Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, represents a syncretic set of rituals related to worship and ritual cleansing in holy rivers in India.
- As a religious festival, the tolerance and inclusiveness that KumbhMela demonstrates are especially valuable for the contemporary world.
About UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage:
- The UNESCO’s coveted list of Intangible Cultural Heritage is made up of those intangible heritage elements that help demonstrate diversity of cultural heritage and raise awareness about its importance.
- It was established in 2008 after Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, 2003 came into effect.
- It compiles two lists viz.
- Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and
- List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
Now, the list includes 814 cultural sites, 203 natural and 35 with both cultural and natural qualities.
Previous Intangible cultural heritage list from India:
- Chhau dance (inscribed in 2010)
- The Buddhist chanting of Ladakh (inscribed in 2012)
- Sankirtana – the ritual singing, drumming, and dancing of Manipur (inscribed in 2013)
- The traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab (inscribed in 2014)
- Ramlila- the traditional performance of the Ramayana (inscribed in 2008)
- Koodiyattam- Sanskrit Theatre of Kerala.
- Mudiyett- theatre ritual of Kerala.
- Tradition of Vedic Chanting.
- Kalbelia- folk songs and dances of Rajasthan.
Science & Technology
NASA’s ‘SuperTIGER’ balloon to study cosmic particles
NASA scientists in Antarctica are set to launch SuperTIGER Balloon, a balloon-borne instrument to collect information on cosmic rays, high-energy particles from beyond the solar system that enters Earth’s atmosphere every day.
- This isn’t SuperTIGER’s first flight—the giant space balloon flew for 55 days during its first mission in 2012 and 2013.
About SuperTIGER Balloon:
- The instrument, called the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder (SuperTIGER), is designed to study rare heavy nuclei, which hold clues about where and how cosmic rays attain speeds up to nearly the speed of light.
- With the help of SuperTIGER, researchers look forward for the rarest of the rare ultra-heavy cosmic ray nuclei beyond iron, from cobalt to barium.
About cosmic ray particles:
‘Cosmic rays’ is a general term for all sorts of particles that hit Earth.
- The most common cosmic ray particles are protons or hydrogen nuclei, making up roughly 90 per cent of the particles, followed by helium nuclei (8 per cent) and electrons (1 per cent).
- But a tiny portion of those are the cores of other, much heavier atoms, which are born during gigantic celestial fireworks.
- When a cosmic ray strikes the nucleus of a molecule of atmospheric gas, both explode triggering a cascade of particle collisions.
- Some of these secondary particles reach detectors on the ground, providing information that can be used by scientists to infer the properties of the original cosmic ray.
- They also produce an interfering background which get reduced by flying instruments on scientific balloons that reach altitudes of nearly 130000 feet and float above 99.5 per cent of atmosphere.
- Only 20 per cent of cosmic rays were thought to arise from massive stars and supernova debris, while 80 per cent came from interstellar dust and gas.
Two types of celestial fireworks:
- There are two types of fireworks involved: supernovae, which occur when a large star explodes, and neutron star collisions, when two products of supernovae then merge with each other.
About Neutron stars:
- Neutron stars are the densest objects scientists can study directly. Neutron stars orbiting each other in binary systems emit gravitational waves, which are ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Key Facts for Prelims
‘The Silence Breakers’
- Time magazine has named ‘the silence breakers’ as its Person of the Year for 2017.
- ‘The Silence Breakers’ was referring to those individuals, mostly women, who came forward this year with #MeToo movement to publicly expose patterns of sexual harassment and assault by powerful public figures in United States.
Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’
- The Person of the Year is an annual honour bestowed by the Times magazine.
- Started in 1927, the honour is announced every year in month of December.
- It is given to person who is most influenced in the news during the year and is chosen for better or worse cases in the news.
1st SAICON 2017
- The 1st International Conference of Sports Science (SAICON) 2017 was inaugurated in Delhi.
- Organized by Sports Authority of India, the 3-day conference is being attended by about 1000 national and international delegates.
- SAICON 2017 will promote scientific temperament in the country and inspire students, researchers and educationists alike to take up sports science and research to the next level.
530 million-year-old fossil may contain world’s oldest eye
Researchers have unearthed what they believe to be the “oldest eye” in a 530-million-year-old fossil of an extinct sea creature.
- The fossil of Schmidtiellus reetae, which includes an early form of the eye seen in many of modern animals, including crabs, bees and dragonflies, was discovered in Estonia.
- Schmidtiellus reetae had a primitive form of compound eye — an optical organ that consists of arrays of tiny visual cells, called ommatidia, similar to those of present-day bees.
- Although the species had poor vision compared with many modern animals, it could identify predators and obstacles in its path.
- Its eye consisted of approximately 100 ommatidia, and did not have a lens, like the modern compound eyes, probably because the primitive species lacked parts of the shell needed for lens formation.
Location of Estonia: