Government Schemes & Policies
- Lukewarm response to Pension Scheme for Traders
Issues related to Health & Education
- National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC)
- Farmer Connect Portal
- RBI issues its first licence to an UCB to convert into Small Finance Bank
- 2nd edition of National GST Conference
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Climate of India report 2019
- BEE Notifies New Energy Performance Standards for Air Conditioners
- Probe into Tiger death in Mhadei wildlife sanctuary
Bilateral & International Relations
- Iran registers protest in Swiss Embassy
Science & Technology
- Railway plans Hydrogen powered Engine
- Scientific Social Responsibility
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Government Schemes & Policies
Lukewarm response to Pension Scheme for Traders
The National Pension Scheme for Traders and Self-Employed Persons has failed to gain attraction as only about 25,000 persons have opted for the scheme as against the government’s target to enrol 50 lakh by the March-end of 2020.
- Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of registrations with 6,765 persons, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
- The scheme saw poor response in Delhi where only 84 traders and self-employed persons registered so far, while 59 persons from Kerala, 54 from Himachal Pradesh, 29 from Jammu and Kashmir and two from Goa have registered and had null response in Manipur and Lakshadweep.
About Pradhan Mantri Laghu Vyapari Maan-dhan Yojana:
- The National Pension Scheme for Traders and Self Employed Persons (Pradhan Mantri Laghu Vyapari Maan-dhan Yojana) is a voluntary and contribution based central sector scheme.
- The government launched the scheme, entailing monthly minimum assured pension of ₹3,000 for the entry age group of 18-40 years after attaining the age of 60 years, with effect from July 22, 2019.
- Under the scheme, the government makes matching contribution in the subscribers’ account.
- Should be a retail trader/ shopkeeper or self-employed person
- Entry age between 18 and 40 years
- Annual turnover is Rs. 1.5 crore or below
- Should not be engaged in Organized Sector (membership of EPF/NPS/ESIC)
- a beneficiary of PM-SYM
- an income tax payer
Drawbacks of the scheme:
- Pension amount quite low: ₹3,000 to be given after 30 years of paying premium will hardly have any value at that time.
- Entry age: The traders aged between 40 and 55 years been kept out of the scheme.
- The government can increase premium for this age group (40-55) instead of depriving them of the scheme’s benefits.
- The traders’ body had suggested to the government that a provident fund like provision be made whereby a fund is created out of the total tax paid by a trader throughout his/her life, out of which every trader can be paid monthly pension upon attaining the age of 60.
Issues related to Health & Education
National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC)
Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu while addressing the silver jubilee celebrations of National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) has expressed concern over the quality of education in Indian universities and growing politics.
- He said politics should be kept out of educational institutions and one should not disturb the peace on the campus.
About National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC):
- The NAAC has been established by University Grants Commission (UGC) to assess and accredit institution of higher learning in the country.
- The NAAC was instituted in 1994 as a result of recommendations from ‘National Policy on Education – 1986’ which emphasizes on deteriorating quality of higher education in the country.
- The NAAC as an autonomous organisation certifies Indian institutions of higher learning (Colleges, Universities, Institutes, etc.), however, it does not include the institutes providing technical education.
- The approval of technical education is done by National Board of Accreditation (NBA), an organization established by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), New Delhi.
Farmer Connect Portal
800 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) registered on Farmer Connect Portal of Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).
- A Farmer Connect Portal has been set up by APEDA on its website for providing a platform for Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs) to interact with exporters.
What is FPO?
- A Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO), formed by a group of farm producers, is a registered body with producers as shareholders in the organisation.
- It deals with business activities related to the farm produce and it works for the benefit of the member producers.
APEDA is an apex body of the Ministry of Commerce to promote the export of agricultural commodities and processed food products.
- APEDA was established by the Government of India under the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority Act 1985.
- The Authority replaced the Processed Food Export Promotion Council (PFEPC).
- APEDA links Indian exporters to global markets besides providing comprehensive export oriented services.
- APEDA provides referral services and suggest suitable partners for joint ventures.
- APEDA’s export basket ranges from typically Indian ethnic products like pickles, chutneys, sauces, curries etc. to rice, honey, fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, beverages, guar gum, poultry, livestock products, confectionery, cut flowers, food grains, aromatic plants and other Indian delicacies.
- Vietnam, UAE, Saudi Arabia, USA, Iran, Iraq and Nepal are the major destinations for export of food products from India.
- APEDA has marked its presence in almost all agro potential states of India and has been providing services to agri-export community through its head office, five Regional offices and 13 Virtual offices.
Composition of the APEDA Authority:
As prescribed by the statute, the APEDA Authority consists of the following members namely:
- A Chairman, appointed by the Central Government
- The Agricultural Marketing Advisor to the Government of India, ex-offical.
- One member appointed by the Central Government representing the Planning Commission
- Three members of Parliament of whom two are elected by the House of People and one by the Council of States
- Eight members appointed by the Central Government representing respectively; the Ministries of the Central Govt.
Products Monitored by APEDA:
APEDA is mandated with the responsibility of export promotion and development of the following scheduled products:
- Fruits, Vegetables and their Products.
- Meat and Meat Products.
- Poultry and Poultry Products.
- Dairy Products.
- Confectionery, Biscuits and Bakery Products.
- Honey, Jaggery and Sugar Products.
- Cocoa and its products, chocolates of all kinds.
- Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Beverages.
- Cereal and Cereal Products.
- Groundnuts, Peanuts and Walnuts.
- Pickles, Papads and Chutneys.
- Guar Gum.
- Floriculture and Floriculture Products.
- Herbal and Medicinal Plants.
RBI issues its first licence to an UCB to convert into Small Finance Bank
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) granted ‘in-principle’ approval to Saharanpur-based Shivalik Mercantile Cooperative Bank to convert into a Small Finance Bank (SFB), making it the first such lender to have opted for the transition.
- The ‘in-principle’ approval implies that the lender now has 18 months to comply with all conditions required to get the final SFB license from the RBI.
- On being satisfied that the applicant has complied with the requisite conditions laid down by it as part of “in-principle” approval, the RBI would consider granting it a licence for the commencement of banking business under Section 22 (1) of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 as an SFB.
Small Finance Banks (SFBs)
- Small finance banks are a type of niche banks in India. Banks with a small finance bank license can provide basic banking service of acceptance of deposits and lending.
- The Reserve Bank of India issued guidelines for setting up SFBs in 2014.
- SFBs clients include small business units, small farmers, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and various other unorganised sectors.
- The minimum paid-up equity capital for small finance banks shall be Rs. 100 crore.
Objective of establishment of Small Finance Banks (SFBs)
- Provision of savings vehicles
- Supply of credit to small business units, small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries and other unorganised sector entities, through high technology-low cost operations.
Activities of SFBs:
- The small finance bank shall primarily undertake basic banking activities of acceptance of deposits and lending to unserved and underserved sections including small business units, small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries and unorganised sector entities.
- There will not be any restriction in the area of operations of small finance banks.
Can SFB be converted into universal banks?
- Yes, but it will require to fulfilling minimum paid-up capital / net worth requirement as applicable to universal banks, its satisfactory track record of performance as a small finance bank and the outcome of the Reserve Bank’s due diligence exercise.
- Local Area Banks (LABs) was set up in 1996 by the RBI which were low cost structures providing efficient and competitive financial intermediation services in a limited area of operation, i.e., primarily in rural and semi-urban areas.
- LABs were required to have a minimum capital of Rs. 5 crores and an area of operation comprising three contiguous districts. Presently, four LABs are functioning satisfactorily in India.
- Taking into account the above and that small finance banks can play an important role in the supply of credit to micro and small enterprises, the RBI decided to licence new “small finance banks” in the private sector.
- RBI has set guidelines in 2014 for licensing of small finance banks in the private sector. Including the issues relating to their size, capital requirements, etc.
Difference between Small bank, Payments Bank and Commercial bank:
- There are two types of licenses which are granted by the RBI namely ‘Universal bank licenses’ and ‘Differentiated bank licenses’.
- Differentiated banks licenses serves a specific demographic region instead of the general mass as a whole. Small Finance Bank (“SFB”) caters different type of customers, mainly the ones who are not being serviced by the big commercial banks.
2nd edition of National GST Conference
The National GST Conference of the Commissioners of State Tax and Chief Commissioners of Central Tax was held under the chairmanship of Revenue Secretary, Ministry of Finance.
- The multi-faceted Conference was focused on brainstorming session for streamlining Goods and Services Tax (GST) system and plugging revenue leakages.
- Deliberations were held on a mechanism and machinery for sharing inter-departmental data on quarterly basis among various agencies and State Tax Administrations etc. in order to achieve efficiency in curbing evasion and augment revenue collection.
- To constitute a Committee of Centre and State officers to examine and implement quick measures in a given timeframe to curb fraudulent refund claims including the inverted tax structure refund claims and evasion of GST.
- Considering fraudulent IGST refund claims, it was explored to link foreign exchange remittances with IGST refund for risky and new exporter.
- All major cases of fake Input Tax Credit, export/import fraud and fraudulent refunds shall also be compulsorily investigated by investigation wing of the Income Tax Department.
- To explore access to banking transactions including the bank account details by GST system, in consultation with RBI and NPCI.
- To make GST system aligned with FIU for the purpose of getting bank account details and transactions and also PAN based banking transaction.
- To share data of cases involving evasion and fraudulent refund detected by CBIC with CBDT and vice versa to make proper profiling of these fraudsters.
- To undertake verification of unmatched Input Tax Credit availed by taxpayers.
Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU)
- The Financial Intelligence Unit was set up in 2004 under Ministry of Finance.
- It is a central national agency responsible for receiving, processing, analysing and disseminating information relating to suspected financial transactions to enforcement agencies and foreign FIUs.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Climate of India report 2019
Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) released a statement on Climate of India during 2019.
Highlights of the report:
- The report mentioned that 2019 was a year of extremes – heat, cold, rain, and cyclones for India, killing more than 1500 people.
- IMD stated that rains and floods alone took lives of 849 people, with Bihar being the worst affected Indian state.
- The rainfall amounts during both the southwest monsoon (June to September) and northeast monsoon (October to December) remained 109 % of the Long Period Average (LPA) i.e. the country recorded excess rainfall during the entire year.
- The mean temperatures remained 0.36 degrees above normal, making 2019 the seventh hottest year ever recorded.
- The decade 2011 – 2019 remained the warmest on record for the country, when the annual mean temperature remained 0.36 degree above normal.
- The report highlighted that India had warmed by 1 degree Celsius since 1901. Whereas, the rise in minimum temperature was 0.22 degrees in the century.
- 2019 was exceptional also for the number of cyclones that hit India’s east and west coasts.
- Arabian Sea brewed more cyclonic storms than the Bay of Bengal during the year. It was only for the second time in 117 years that the Arabian Sea saw such intense and frequent cyclones.
- In 2019, eight cyclonic storms formed over the north Indian Ocean.
- Of these, five — Cyclones Vayu, Hikka, Kyarr, Maha and Pavan originated in the Arabian Sea which under normal conditions doesn’t see more than one cyclone in a year.
- On the contrary, the Bay of Bengal which sees an average of five cyclones each year reported lesser than normal number of cyclones. The four cyclones formed here were — Cyclones Pabuk, Fani, Bulbul.
- The winter of 2018-2019 was one of the coldest in the northern hemisphere when the snowstorms penetrated into the Indian sub-continent throughout the winter months causing deaths in Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh by snow avalanche.
BEE Notifies New Energy Performance Standards for Air Conditioners
The Central Government in consultation with the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has notified new energy performance standards for Room Air Conditioner (RACs).
- It made the 24 degrees Celsius as default setting mandatory from Jan 1, 2020 for all room air conditioners covered under the ambit of BEE star-labelling program.
- The Indian Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (ISEER) as per the new standards will range from (3.30 – 5.00) for split and (2.70 – 3.50) for window air conditioners, which will be applicable from 1st January 2021 onwards.
Indian Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (ISEER):
- ISEER is the energy performance index used for Room Air Conditioners (RACs).
- BEE has defined ISEER for ACs as a star rating method for India from January 2018.
- ISEER is the ratio of Cooling Seasonal Total Load (CSTL) to Cooling Seasonal Energy Consumption (CSEC) i.e. the ratio of the total annual amount of heat that the equipment can remove from an indoor space when operated in active mode to the total annual amount of energy consumed by the equipment during the same period.
- Energy efficiency of an AC has been calculated based on average performance at outside temperatures between 24 and 43 degree Celsius based on Indian weather data.
- Bureau of Energy Efficiency was established by the Government of India on March 1, 2002 under the provision of Energy Conservation Act, 2001.
- BEE is a statutory body under the Ministry of Power, Government of India.
- It is assisted in developing policies and strategies with the primary objective of reducing the energy intensity of the Indian economy.
- BEE coordinates with designated consumers, designated agencies, and other organization to identify and utilize the existing resources and infrastructure, in performing the functions assigned to it under the energy conservation act.
- To promote energy efficiency and conservation, BEE introduced star rating system (varying from 1-5) for various electrical appliances such as air conditioners, ceiling fans, colour televisions, etc., based on their power consumption.
- The star rating system is a labelling system, under which the manufacturer is required to place a label indicating how much electricity the appliance is likely to consume under pre-set conditions.
Regulations by BEE:
- BEE launched the voluntary star labelling program for fixed-speed room air conditioners (RACs) in 2006, and this program became mandatory on 12th January 2009.
- Thereafter, in 2015, voluntary star labelling program for inverter room air conditioners was launched and which was made mandatory with effect from 1st January 2018.
- The BEE star labelling program for Room Air Conditioners now covers both fixed and inverter RAC up to a cooling capacity of 10,465 watts (2.97 TR).
- Continual enhancement in performance levels has resulted in substantial energy efficiency improvement of about 43% in the minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) for split units, which are the most popular RACs sold in the market.
Probe into Tiger death in Mhadei wildlife sanctuary
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has constituted a special team to probe the deaths of four tigers in a village in Mhadei wildlife sanctuary in Goa.
- A team has been created to hold inquiry into the case of suspected tiger poisoning and suggest further legal course of action under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Mhadei wildlife sanctuary:
- The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is a 208.5 sq. km. protected area in the North Goa district, Goa in the Western Ghats of South India, founded in 1999.
- The sanctuary is an area of high biodiversity and is being considered to become a Project Tiger reserve because of the presence of Bengal tigers.
- It has been declared an International Bird Area because of the presence of the Nilgiri wood-pigeon, Malabar parakeet, Malabar grey hornbill, Grey-headed Bulbul, White-bellied blue-flycatcher etc.
- The Mhadei River aka Mandovi River is the lifeline of the state of Goa, which originates in Karnataka and passes downstream through the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and meets the Arabian Sea at Panaji in Goa.
- Presently, Goa is the only state in India that has completely protected the Western Ghats that are located within its boundaries.
Wildlife Protection Act, 1972:
- The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 is an Act of the Parliament of India and provides basic framework for the protection of plants, birds and animal species.
- It has six schedules which give varying degrees of protection:
- Species listed in Schedule I and part II of Schedule II get absolute protection — offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties.
- Species listed in Schedule III and Schedule IV are also protected, but the penalties are much lower.
- Schedule V includes the animals which may be hunted.
- The plants in Schedule VI are prohibited from cultivation and planting.
- Indian Tiger is an endangered animal and is listed in the Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
- Tiger hunting was officially banned in India after the enactment of the Act in 1972.
- The act also sets up National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Bilateral & International Relations
Iran registers protest in Swiss Embassy
The Iranian government registered its protest with the Swiss Embassy in Tehran after the killing of Iranian military and intelligence commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in a drone attack claimed by the United States.
- Switzerland represents the interests of the US in Iran. This is because the US itself does not have an embassy in Iran.
- On the other hand, Iran’s interests in the US are represented by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.
How can one country represent another country?
- Switzerland is the “Protecting Power” of the United States’ interests in Iran. The instrument of Protecting Powers is provided for under the 1961 and 1963 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations.
1961 Vienna Convention:
- If diplomatic relations are broken off between two States, or if a mission is permanently or temporarily recalled… the sending State may entrust the protection of its interests and those of its nationals to a third State acceptable to the receiving State.
1963 Vienna Convention:
- A sending State may with the prior consent of a receiving State, and at the request of a third State not represented in the receiving State, undertake the temporary protection of the interests of the third State and of its nationals.
Roles of Protecting power:
- In the absence of diplomatic and consular relations of the United States of America with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Swiss government acting through its Embassy in Tehran, serves as the Protecting Power of the USA in Iran since 21 May 1980.
- The Swiss Embassy’s Foreign Interests Section provides consular services to US citizens living in or travelling to Iran.
- The United States government describes the same role on a web page on the “US Virtual Embassy” in Iran.
Science & Technology
Railway plans Hydrogen powered Engine
Indian Railways has set in efforts to build a hydrogen-powered rail engine that can propel a passenger train on a suburban route by the end of 2021.
- It is done under the efforts of railways to find alternative sources of fuel to power its trains, and to reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources like diesel and electricity.
- The Indian Railways Organisation for Alternate Fuels (IROAF) issued a call for interest in development of a hydrogen-powered rail engine — a technology that has been demonstrated successfully only in Germany so far.
Fuel cell-based rail propulsion technologies:
- The proposed train will have four passenger coaches operating at 75 km/hr speed.
- One coach will carry the hydrogen gas cylinders, fuel cells, super capacitors and DC converters.
- Hydrogen will be the input to the fuel cell and the power output of the fuel cell will drive the train.
- It is expected to later evolve into a train powered by engines that produce hydrogen on-board using water splitting technologies, which are being experimented with around the world with the use of Nano materials.
- This means to convert water into hydrogen in trains and use that hydrogen as the input for fuel cells.
- Until water splitting technologies are firmly established and are capable of producing pure hydrogen, the source of supply of the gas would have to be hydrogen cylinders.
Scientific Social Responsibility
Union Ministry of Science and Technology is in an advanced stage of developing a formal policy on scientific social responsibility.
- The Department of Science and Technology (DST) had released a draft of the new Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR) Policy in September 2019 for public comments.
- The Policy is intended to promote social responsibility in the scientific establishments on the lines of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
- If enacted India would be possibly the first country in the world to implement a national policy on SSR.
What is Scientific Social Responsibility?
- SSR is the ethical obligation of knowledge workers in all fields of science and technology to voluntarily contribute their knowledge and resources to the widest spectrum of stakeholders in society, in a spirit of service and conscious reciprocity.
- Here, knowledge workers include anyone who participates in the knowledge economy in the areas of human, social, natural, physical, biological, medical, mathematical and computer/data sciences and their associated technologies.
Idea for SSR came from:
- The Constitution of India (Part-IV, Article 51A(h)) mandates for developing the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of enquiry as part of the fundamental duties of a citizen.
- This idea has been carried forward in earlier science policies of India (Scientific Policy Resolution 1958, Technology Policy Statement 1983, Science and Technology Policy 2003 and Science Technology and Innovation Policy 2013) that propagate for taking the message and benefits of science to society and for bridging the gap between the two.
- The new SSR Policy is an effort to make scientific institutions and individual scientists more responsible to society and other stakeholders.
- to harness the unexploited voluntary potential of the scientific community in India,
- to strengthen the linkages between science and society, and
- to make the S&T ecosystem in the country more vibrant.
- A Central and Nodal agency would be set up at DST to supervise, monitor and implement SSR activities in the country.
- Once formalized, the policy requires all the Central Government Ministries, State Governments and S&T institutions to make their own plans to implement SSR.
- Each S&T institution would be required to sensitize its knowledge workers about their ethical responsibility toward society, to have an SSR monitoring system to assess institutional projects and individual activities, and to publish an annual SSR report.
- Appropriate indicators would be developed for monitoring SSR activities at both institutional and individual levels measuring their impact on short term, medium-term and long-term bases.
- Individual scientists or knowledge workers would be required to devote at least 10 person-days of SSR per year for activities related to scientific social responsibility.
- Such SSR/science outreach activities at the individual and institutional levels would be recognized and incentivized with necessary budgetary support.
- To effectively implement the SSR Policy, a national digital portal will be set up to identify societal needs requiring scientific interventions, and as a platform for implementers and for reporting SSR activities.