Polity & Governance
- Rationalization of Autonomous Bodies under Department of Health & Family Welfare
- Parliament adopts motion of thanks to President’s Address
Government Schemes & Policies
- Cabinet approves expansion of Ujjwala Yojana beneficiary cover to 8cr
- Cabinet proposes new criteria for classifying MSMEs
- Cabinet approves hike in MSP for Copra for 2018 season
Bilateral & International Relations
- Cabinet approves signing of India-Australia MoUs for Secondment Programme
- Cabinet approves New Instrument adopted by International Labour Organization (ILO)
- Union cabinet approves ratification of Minamata Convention
Defence & Security Issues
- India Successfully Test-Fires Nuclear Capable Prithvi-II
Art & Culture
- President inaugurates Mahamastakabhisheka
Science & Technology
- ISRO sets up 473 Village Resource Centres for rural development through satellite technology
Key Facts for Prelims
- “Pay as you use” tolling
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Polity & Governance
Rationalization of Autonomous Bodies under Department of Health & Family Welfare
The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal for closure of Autonomous Bodies, namely, Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi (RAN) and Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK).
- The functions of these bodies are proposed to be vested in Department of Health & Family Welfare (DoHFW).
- The rationalization of Autonomous Bodies under Department of Health & Family Welfare will involve inter-ministerial consultations and review of existing bye laws of these bodies.
- The time frame for implementation is one year.
About Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi (RAN):
- It was set up as a registered society to provide financial medical assistance to poor patients receiving treatment in designated central government hospitals.
- An advance is placed with the Medical Superintendents of such hospitals who then provide assistance on a case to case basis.
- Since the DoHFW provides funds to the hospitals, the grants can be given from the Department to the hospital directly.
- RAN functions can, therefore, be vested in DoHFW. Managing Committee of RAN Society will meet to dissolve the Autonomous Body (AB) as per provisions of Societies Registration Act, 1860 (SRA).
- In addition to this, Health Minister’s Cancer Patient Fund (HMCPF) shall also be transferred to the Department. The timeline required for this is one year.
About Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK):
The Government of India had set up a National Population Stabilization Fund (NPSF) in the year 2004-05 with a one-time grant of Rs.100 crore in the form of a corpus fund.
- This is now known as Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK). To empower the NPSF, Government of India has set up Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK).
- This is an autonomous body registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. JSK can take all the policy related decisions.
- It can raise contributions from organisations and individuals that support population stabilisation.
- JSK implements two schemes, namely, Santushti and Prerna.
- Santushti is a strategy of Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK) for the highly populated states of India viz Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh & Odisha. Under this strategy, Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh, invites private sector gynaecologists and vasectomy surgeons to conduct sterilization operations in Public Private Partnership mode.
- In order to help push up the age of marriage of girls and space the birth of children in the interest of health of young mothers and infants, Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (National Population Stabilization Fund) has launched PRERNA, a Responsible Parenthood Strategy in seven focus states namely Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Rajasthan.
Why closure of JSK?
- There has been no continuous funding to JSK from the Ministry. Population stabilization strategies require private and corporate funding, which can be accessed through JSK.
- Although, JSK will continue to play a significant role in population stabilization strategies, its existence as an Autonomous Body is not necessary. Hence, JSK as an Autonomous Body can be closed as it can be administered by the Department as a fund.
Parliament adopts motion of thanks to President’s Address
Parliament passed the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Speech after a reply by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in both the houses.
What is “Motion of Thanks”?
- President’s Address and Motion of Thanks are governed by Articles 86 (1) and 87 (1) of the Constitution and Rules 16 to 24 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha.
- The President makes an address to a joint sitting of Parliament at the start of the Budget session, which is prepared by the government and lists its achievements.
- The President’s speech is a statement of the legislative and policy achievements of the government during the preceding year and gives a broad indication of the agenda for the year ahead.
- The address is followed by a motion of thanks moved in each House by ruling party MPs.
- During the session, political parties discuss the motion of thanks also suggesting amendments.
Amendments to the “Motion of Thanks”:
- Notices of amendments to Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address can be tabled after the President has delivered his Address.
- Amendments may refer to matters contained in the Address as well as to matters, in the opinion of the member, the Address has failed to mention.
- Amendments can be moved to the Motion of Thanks in such form as may be considered appropriate by the Speaker.
- The only limitations are that members cannot refer to matters which are not the direct responsibility of the Central Government and that the name of the President cannot be brought in during the debate since the Government and not the President is responsible for the contents of the Address.
Government Schemes & Policies
Cabinet approves expansion of Ujjwala Yojana beneficiary cover to 8cr
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved to enhance target base of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) from 5 crore to 8 crore.
- The revised target of PMUY will be achieved by 2020 with an additional allocation of Rs. 4,800 crore.
- The increase in the target for the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana meant to provide LPG connections to rural women.
- The decision comes in the wake of huge response to PMUY from the women particularly in rural areas and to cover such households not having LPG connection.
Targeting of poor households:
- Besides, expanding target base of scheme, Cabinet also approved proposal to expand scheme to cover all SC/ST households, beneficiaries of Antyoday Anna Yojana (AAY), PMAY (Gramin), forest dwellers, most backward classes (MBC), Tea and Ex-Tea Garden Tribes, people residing in Islands and rivers etc. in addition to SECC identified households.
- This move will address practical difficulty faced in implementation of PMUY, namely, targeting genuinely poor households left out of Socio Economic Caste Survey (SECC) list.
About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana:
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana aims to provide five crore LPG connections to women in Below Poverty Line (BPL) households over the next three financial years, at a cost of Rs. 8,000 crore.
- The scheme is being implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
- It is first social welfare scheme implemented by Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
- The scheme will be partially funded from the savings accruing to the government from LPG users who gave up their subsidy as part of the Give It Up programme.
- The new users who receive LPG connections under the scheme will not have to pay the security deposit, while the Rs. 1,600 administrative costs, cost of pressure regulator booklet and safety hose will be borne by the government.
- The households will be selected using the socio-economic and caste census data. Consumers will have the option to purchase gas stove and refills on EMI.
Why should we opt for LPG?
- About 75 crore Indians, especially women and girls, are exposed to severe household air pollution (HAP) from the use of solid fuels such as biomass, dung cakes and coal for cooking.
- A report from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare places HAP as the second leading risk factor contributing to India’s disease burden.
- According to the World Health Organization, solid fuel use is responsible for about 13% of all mortality and morbidity in India (measured as Disability-Adjusted Life Years), and causes about 40% of all pulmonary disorders, nearly 30% of cataract incidences, and over 20% each of ischemic heart disease, lung cancer and lower respiratory infection.
Cabinet proposes new criteria for classifying MSMEs
The Union Cabinet has approved amendment to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development (MSMED) Act, 2006 for classifying MSMEs from current investment in plant and machinery criteria to annual turnover criteria.
Purpose of amendment:
- The purpose of amendment to Section 7 of MSMED Act, 2006 is to encourage ease of doing business, make MSME classification norms growth oriented and align them to new indirect tax regime revolving around Goods & Services Tax (GST).
- This will define units producing goods and rendering services in terms of annual turnover.
- It will pave the way for increased direct and indirect employment in the MSME sector of the country.
New Classification Criteria (based on turnover)
- Micro enterprise: It will be unit with annual turnover does not exceed Rs. 5 crore.
- Small enterprise: It will be unit with annual turnover is more than Rs. 5 crore but does not exceed Rs. 75 crore.
- Medium enterprise: It will be unit with annual turnover is more than Rs. 75 crore but does not exceed Rs. 250 crore.
- Additionally, the amendment empowers Central Government to vary turnover limits, provided not exceeding thrice the limits specified in Section 7 of MSMED Act by issuing notification.
Significance of New Classification Criteria:
- The turnover criteria can be pegged with reliable available figures e.g. in GST Network (GSTN) and other methods of ascertaining. This will help in having non-discretionary, transparent and objective criteria.
- It will eliminate need for inspections and make classification system progressive and evolutionary.
- It will also help in overcoming uncertainties associated with classification based on investment in plant & machinery and equipment and employment. It will also improve ease of doing business.
- It will provide flexibility to Government to fine-tune classification of MSMEs in response to changing economic scenario without resorting to amendment of MSMED Act.
- At present Section 7 of MSMED Act classifies MSMEs on the basis of investment in plant and machinery for manufacturing units and investment in equipment for service enterprises.
- The criterion of investment in plant and machinery stipulates self-declaration which in turn entails verification and leads to transaction costs.
Cabinet approves hike in MSP for Copra for 2018 season
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved increase in Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Fair Average Quality (FAQ) of “Milling Copra” for 2018 season.
- The approval was based on recommendations of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
- The increased in MSP of Copra is expected to ensure appropriate minimum prices to farmers and step up investment in Coconut cultivation and thereby production and productivity in country.
- The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) and National Cooperative Consumer Federation of India Limited (NCCF) will continue to act as Central Nodal Agencies to undertake price support operations at MSP in the Coconut growing states.
About Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP):
The CACP is an attached office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India.
- It came into existence in January 1965.
- Currently, the Commission comprises a Chairman, Member Secretary, one Member (Official) and two Members (Non-Official).
- The non-official members are representatives of the farming community and usually have an active association with the farming community.
- It is mandated to recommend minimum support prices (MSPs) to incentivize the cultivators to adopt modern technology and raise productivity and overall grain production in line with the emerging demand patterns in the country.
- However, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) of the Union government takes a final decision on the level of MSPs and other recommendations made by CACP.
What is Minimum Support Price (MSP)?
- MSP is form of agricultural market intervention undertaken by Central Government in order to insure agricultural producers are protected against any sharp fall in farm prices.
- It is announced for certain crops by Government prior to the sowing season.
- Its purpose is to incentivize cultivators to adopt modern technology and raise productivity and overall production in line with the emerging demand patterns in the country.
- The prices are decided by CCEA on the basis of recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
Bilateral & International Relations
Cabinet approves signing of India-Australia MoUs for Secondment Programme
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for signing of Memoranda of Understanding for Secondment Programme between the Department of Economic Affairs (Indian Economic Service Cadre) and The Treasury, Government of Australia, for a period of three months.
- Under the Programme, one officer from the Australian Treasury shall be seconded to the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance and one officer from the IES (at Deputy Secretary/Director level) to be nominated by the IES Cadre, Department of Economic Affairs, shall be seconded to the Australian Treasury, Government of Australia, for a period of three months.
- The validity of both the MoUs will terminate at the end of the three months’ period of assignment and the same will not be extendable.
Significance of the Programme:
- Australia is one of the important bilateral partners of India. The proposed Programme will help to deepen the understanding of current economic policy issues in both countries and also explore further opportunities for future collaboration and engagement.
- The Programme would also provide the seconded officers with valuable and unique development opportunities and also provide exposure on global best practices.
Cabinet approves New Instrument adopted by International Labour Organization (ILO)
Cabinet approves placing new recommendation adopted by International Labour Organization (ILO) concerning “The Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (Recommendation No-205) before Parliament.
About the Recommendation No.- 205:
The Recommendation No.-205 was adopted at 106th Session of International Labour Conference of ILO in Geneva in June, 2015.
- The Recommendation provides guidance to member States on the measures to be taken to generate employment and decent work for the purposes of prevention, recovery, peace and resilience with respect to crisis situations arising from conflicts and disasters.
- India also had supported the adoption of Recommendation. Its adoption and placing for information of Parliament does not create any immediate obligation on countries.
- ILO Recommendations are non-binding instrument which seeks to serve as guiding principle for national policy process.
- It is applicable to all workers and jobseekers and employers in all sectors of economy affected by crisis situations arising from conflicts and disasters and to workers engaged in crisis response, including in the immediate response.
- It emphasizes need to ensure respect all human rights and rule of law, including respect for fundamental principles and rights at work.
- It calls adhering to international labour standards in particular those rights and principles relevant to employment and decent work.
- It affirms need to develop and strengthen measures of social protection, as a means of preventing crises, enabling recovery and building resilience.
Obligations on members:
- Member states should adopt phased multi-track approach implementing coherent and comprehensive strategies for promoting peace, preventing crises, enabling recovery and building resilience.
- The approach must include promoting local economic recovery for employment and decent work opportunities and socio-economic reintegration, social protection and social inclusion, sustainable development.
- It also calls for creation of sustainable enterprises in particular small and medium-sized enterprises and ensures consultation and encourage active participation of employers’ and workers’ organizations in planning, implementing and monitoring measures for recovery and resilience.
About International Labour Organisation (ILO):
- The ILO is a United Nations agency dealing with labour issues, particularly international labour standards, social protection, and work opportunities for all.
- It was established in 1919 as an agency of the League of Nations and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
- India is a founder member of the ILO. At present, it has 187 members.
- The principal means of action in the ILO is the setting up of International standards in the form of Conventions, Recommendations and Protocol.
- So far India has ratified 45 Conventions, out of which 42 are in force. Out of these 4 are Core or Fundamental or Conventions.
Union cabinet approves ratification of Minamata Convention
The Union Cabinet has approved proposal for ratification of Minamata Convention on Mercury and depositing instrument of ratification enabling India to become Party of Convention.
- The approval entails ratification of convention along with flexibility for continued use of mercury-based products and processes involving mercury compound up to 2025.
- After joining the Convention, it will now be easier for India to get technological or financial assistance to address issues related to mercury.
About Minamata Convention on Mercury:
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a multilateral environmental agreement that addresses specific human activities which are contributing to widespread mercury pollution.
- The Minamata Convention is named after the Japanese city of Minamata, which experienced a severe, decades-long incidence of mercury poisoning after industrial wastewater from a chemical factory was discharged into Minamata Bay.
- It aims to control anthropogenic releases of mercury throughout its lifecycle.
- The Convention was agreed at 5th session of Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Mercury in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2013 and was adopted in October 2013 at Diplomatic Conference (Conference of Plenipotentiaries), Kumamoto, Japan.
Obligations on Parties of Convention
- Ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones.
- Phase out and phase down of mercury use in a number of products and processes.
- Control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water.
- Regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
Significance of Convention
- It is implemented in context of sustainable development agenda with objective to protect human health and environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
- It addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues.
- It protects most vulnerable from the harmful effects of mercury. It also protects the developmental space of developing countries. Therefore, protects interest of the poor and vulnerable groups.
- It further urges enterprises to move to mercury-free alternatives in products and non-mercury technologies in manufacturing processes. This will drive R&D, and promote innovation.
- Till now, the convention has 88 ratifications and 144 signatories including India, which signed it on 30 September 2014.
- India had actively participated in the negotiating process, making significant contributions in finalizing the treaty text but had not ratified it till now.
- India’s neighbours – Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan – are also signatories to the convention. But only Sri Lanka has ratified it.
- Mercury is a chemical element with symbol Hg and atomic number 80.
- It is commonly known as quicksilver and was formerly named hydrargyrum.
- Mercury is the only metallic element that is liquid at standard conditions for temperature and pressure. The only other element that is liquid under these conditions is bromine.
- Mercury occurs in deposits throughout the world mostly as cinnabar(mercuric sulfide).
- Mercury poisoning can result from exposure to water-soluble forms of mercury (such as mercuric chloride or methylmercury), inhalation of mercury vapor, or eating seafood contaminated with mercury.
- Mercury is a very rare element in the Earth’s crust. It accounts for only about only 0.08 parts per million (ppm).
- It is a relatively poor conductor of heat. Most metals are excellent thermal conductors.
Applications of Mercury:
- Mercury is used in thermometers, barometers, manometers, sphygmomanometers, float valves, mercury switches, mercury relays, fluorescent lamps and other devices.
- It is also used in lighting: electricity passed through mercury vapor in a fluorescent lamp produces short-wave ultraviolet light which then causes the phosphor in the tube to fluoresce, making visible light.
Effects of Mercury on Health:
- Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.
- Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
- It is threat to the development of child in utero and early in life. It may also cause skin rashes and dermatitis.
- Mercury is considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.
- People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound.
- Mercury is global and ubiquitous metal that occurs naturally and has broad uses in everyday objects.
- It is released to the atmosphere, soil and water from a variety of sources such as burning coal for power plants, waste from industrial and medical products like batteries, measuring devices, such as thermometers and barometers, etc, extraction of minerals (smelting of gold), electric switches and relays in equipment, lamps (including some types of light bulbs) etc.
Defence & Security Issues
India Successfully Test-Fires Nuclear Capable Prithvi-II
India has successfully test-fired its indigenously developed nuclear capable Prithvi-II missile as part of a user trial by the Army from a test range in Odisha.
- The Prithvi-II is a short-range surface-to-surface missile.
- The missile is capable of carrying warheads weighing 500 kg to 1,000 kg.
- Notably, Prithvi is India’s first indigenously-built ballistic missile.
- With a strike range of 350 km, Prithvi-II is powered by twin-engines which use liquid propulsion.
- It uses advanced inertial guidance system with manoeuvring trajectory to hit its target.
- It is one of the five missiles being developed under the country’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme.
- The missile was inducted into the armed forces in 2003.
Art & Culture
President inaugurates Mahamastakabhisheka
President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the 88th Mahamastakabhisheka of Lord Gomateshwara by unveiling an idol of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola in Hassan district, Karnataka.
- Mahamastakabhisheka, the head anointing ceremony of the Bhagwan Bahubali, is observed once every 12 years in the Digamber Jain tradition.
- The statue of Lord Bahubali, the centerpiece of the ceremony, was built around 981 A.D. by the Ganga dynasty minister and commander Chavundaraya.
- According to Jain texts, Bahubali attained liberation from the cycle of births and deaths (moksha) at Mount Kailash and is revered as a liberated soul (Siddha) by the Jains.
- The celebration involves smearing the idol from the contents of 1008 pots carried by the devotees. The idol is then smeared with various things like milk, turmeric paste, rice flour, coconut water, sandalwood, sugarcane juice, vermilion, and 52 varieties of flowers.
- Lord Bahubali is highly revered by the Jains. He is considered to be the first one to have attained salvation.
- Bahubali is a famous Jain Saint who is worshipped by people from Jain community throughout the world for his admirable teachings about life that mainly deal with forgoing the two evils, Ego and Desire.
- Bahubali is also called Gommateshwara because of the Gommateshwara statue dedicated to him and as lord “Kammateswara” from an inscription.
- Shravanabelagola is home to the 57 feet high gigantic idol of Lord Gommateshwara Bahubali that stands on the Vindyagiri Hill. It is believed to be the largest monolithic statue in the world.
- Presently, there are five monolithic statues of Bahubali in Karnataka, out of which the statue at Shravanabelagola is the tallest.
Science & Technology
ISRO sets up 473 Village Resource Centres for rural development through satellite technology
To demonstrate the potential of satellite technology for development of rural areas, ISRO established Village Resource Centres (VRCs) on a pilot scale.
- About Rs 18 crores was spent for establishing 473 VRCs.
- The project is running in association with selected NGOs, Trusts and State Government Departments.
About Village Resource Centres program:
To provide the space based services directly to the rural areas, ISRO/ DOS has launched the Village Resource Centres (VRCs) programme in association with NGOs/ Trusts and state/ central agencies.
- VRCs provide various space technology enabled services such as tele-healthcare, tele-education, natural resources information, advisories related to agriculture, career guidance to rural students, skill development and vocational training etc.
- Establishing new VRCs is an ongoing process and the same is carried out based on communication technology needs, funds available, proposals received from State Governments/NGOs etc.
- The parameters for selecting NGOs and Trusts as partners in VRC include experience in community organisation and social work, availability of required infrastructure for housing the VRC facility, requisite manpower for day-to-day operation and capacity for conducting programmes of relevance for the development of rural areas.
Key Facts for Prelims
“Pay as you use” tolling
- With the aim to execute “pay as you use” tolling in India, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will start a pilot project on the Delhi-Mumbai Highway to study and implement the ability of the system in the country.
- The proposed tolling system would be able to deduct money from a vehicle account, credit the money to the concessionaire within one day and open the toll gate.
- The system will on a combination of mobile telecommunications technology (GSM) and the satellite-based Global Positioning System.