Polity & Governance
- Google fined Rs 136 crore in India for ‘search bias’
- Panel recommends Separate Flag for Karnataka
Issues related to Health & Education
- Times Higher Education Asia 2018 rankings revealed
- Cabinet approves Discovered Small field Round II
- RBI to link base rate with MCLR from 1 April
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Tawang gets rhododendron park, NIC
Bilateral & International Relations
- Protocol amending accord between India, China for DTAA approved
- Maldives political crisis: UN Security Council told situation may get worse
Defence & Security Issues
- Def Minister appoints Vinay Sheel Oberoi committee to expedite capital acquisition
Art & Culture
- Kailash Yatra via Nathu La to resume
Science & Technology
- Falcon Heavy, world’s most powerful rocket, launches
Key Facts for Prelims
- Haryana tops in ‘Khelo India’ School Games
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Polity & Governance
Google fined Rs 136 crore in India for ‘search bias’
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has imposed Rs.136 crore fine on world’s most popular search engine Google for unfair business practices in Indian market for online search.
- The penalty was imposed on Google for infringing anti-trust conduct.
What’s the issue?
- It was alleged that Google is indulging in abuse of dominant position in market for online search through practices leading to search bias and search manipulation, among others.
About the Competition Commission of India:
Competition Commission of India is a body of the Government of India responsible for enforcing The Competition Act, 2002 throughout India and to prevent activities that have an adverse effect on competition in India.
- CCI consists of a Chairperson and 6 Members appointed by the Central Government.
- It is the duty of the Commission to:
- Eliminate practices having adverse effect on competition,
- Promote and sustain competition,
- Protect the interests of consumers and
- Ensure freedom of trade in the markets of India.
- The Commission is also required to give opinion on competition issues on a reference received from a statutory authority established under any law and to undertake competition advocacy, create public awareness and impart training on competition issues.
About the Competition Act, 2002:
- The Competition Act, 2002, as amended by the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2007, follows the philosophy of modern competition laws.
- The Act prohibits anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant position by enterprises and regulates combinations (acquisition, acquiring of control and M&A), which causes or likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition within India.
Panel recommends Separate Flag for Karnataka
A committee formed by the Karnataka government has recommended a separate flag for the state, discounting any constitutional or legal hurdles for it.
- The committee submitted report on designing separate flag for the state and providing a legal standing for it.
The New flag:
- The committee has recommended new tricolour having yellow (at top), white (in middle) and red (at bottom) colorus, with state’s emblem Gandaberunda (a two-headed mythological bird) in centre.
- It has changed pattern of earlier unofficial flag having yellow and red which is unofficially used now.
- The white colour in new flag symbolizes peace and captures Karnataka’s image the best, while other two colours are synonymous with Kannada identity.
- After getting formal state Cabinet approval, state government will make a formal application to Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) under whose purview the issue falls to amend the Flag Code 2002.
- If the Centre gives its nod to the said amendment, Karnataka will be the second state in the country to have its own flag after Jammu and Kashmir, which is allowed the same under Article 370 of the Constitution.
Are states permitted to have their own flags?
In S.R. Bommai v/s Union of India (Supreme Court 1994) case, the Supreme Court has declared that federalism is a basic feature of the Constitution and States are supreme in their sphere.
- This being the Constitutional position, there is no prohibition in the Constitution for the State to have its own flag.
- However, the manner in which the State flag is hoisted should not dishonour the national flag. It has to be always below the national flag.
- The national flag code specifically authorises use of other flags subject to the regulation by the court. So, State flag is not unauthorised.
At present, there is no provision allowing or disallowing state to have separate flag, even there has been no precedent.
Is Karnataka’s move justified?
- Democracy and federalism are essential features of the Constitution and are part of its basic structure. It is the democratic right of Karnataka to assert its identity through a separate name, emblem and flag.
- All the 50 States in the U.S. have separate and distinct flags, apart from the national flag. In the U.K., the political units of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own flags without offending or affecting the integrity of the U.K. Karnataka is justified and constitutionally empowered to adopt its own flag to uphold the pride of the State without infringing the law.
- The committee had requested state government to design a separate flag for ‘Kannada Naadu’ and accord it legal standing.
- Currently, unofficial yellow and red ‘Kannada flag’ is hoisted in state on 1 November every year to commemorate state formation day. It was designed by Veera Senani Ma.Ramamurthy in the 1960s.
J&K state flag:
- Jammu and Kashmir is the only state having its own flag as it enjoys special powers under Article 370 of Constitution. It had adopted its own flag in 2015.
- Under Article 144 of J&K Constitution, the state flag is red in colour with three equidistant white vertical strips of equal width next to staff and white plough in middle with handle facing the strips.
Issues related to Health & Education
Times Higher Education Asia 2018 rankings revealed
TIMES Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking has released the rankings for educational institutes in Asia and only two Indian institutes have made their way to the top 50 Asian institutes.
- A total of 17 institutes from India have made their way to the top 200 Asian Universities.
- Though representation of India has increased in the list, several of the universities have fallen down the rankings in comparison to last year.
The ranks as released by the THE World University Ranking are:
- Indian Institute of Science (IISc) – world rank 29.
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay – world rank 44.
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur – world rank 60.
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee – world rank 65.
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur – world rank 81.
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi – world rank 86.
Tezpur University was ranked 100th in the prestigious THE list but the rank was shared with University of Haifa (Israel) and Sejong University (South Korea).
Performance of other Asian countries:
- Japan had China did well with 82 and 63 universities, respectively making it to the list.
- 10 of the Pakistan’s universities also found their place in the famous THE list this year.
[Ref: Times of India]
Cabinet approves Discovered Small field Round II
The Union Cabinet approved offering of 60 oil and gas fields of ONGC and OIL in the second auction of Discovered Small Field round.
- Out of the 60 fields, 22 were discovered by Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), 5 belong to Oil India Ltd and 12 are relinquished fields/discoveries from blocks offered in bids rounds under New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) since 1999.
- The remaining 21 are fields that did not receive any bid in the DSF first round last year.
Significance of this move:
- These discoveries are estimated to have 194.65 million tons of oil and oil equivalent gas in place.
- These fields will be developed and monetised faster thereby augmenting production of oil and gas leading to enhance energy security of the country.
- Investments into these fields will lead to generation of over 88,000 jobs as direct, indirect and induced employment.
- Empowered Committee of Secretaries (ECS) comprising secretary (Petroleum and Natural Gas), secretary (Expenditure) and law secretary will finalise and approve Model Revenue Sharing Contract, Notice Inviting Offer (NIO) and other documents for Discovered Small Fields Bid Round-ll.
- The award of contract will be approved by the minister of petroleum and natural gas and minister of finance based on the recommendations of ECS.
- In the first round, contracts for 31 fields were signed last year. The fields signed off in first round envisage a cumulative peak production of around 15,000 barrels per day of oil and 2 millions standard cubic meters of gas.
RBI to link base rate with MCLR from 1 April
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has proposed to link the base rate for loans with the marginal cost of funds-based lending rate (MCLR) from 1 April to improve monetary policy transmission.
- This is likely to narrow the gap between the base rate and MCLR, and benefit borrowers who are still using the base rate.
What is Marginal Cost of Funds based Lending Rate (MCLR)?
The Marginal Cost of Funds based Lending Rate (MCLR) system was introduced by the Reserve Bank to provide loans on minimal rates as well as market rate fluctuation benefit to customers.
- This system has modified the existing base rate system of providing home loans.
- In this system, banks have to set various benchmark rates for specific time periods starting from an overnight to one month, quarterly, semi-annually and annually.
- The MCLR is more sensitive to monetary policy transmission and is closely linked to the actual deposit rates.
- MCLR is calculated on the basis of incremental cost of funds, making it a more reliable benchmark rate as compared to the base rate, usually calculated by taking into account average cost of funds.
Base rate regime Vs. MCLR
- MCLR is based on the risk taking capacity of borrowers, where banks prepare marginal cost of funds lending rates.
- Unlike base rate regime, these rates are expected to get revised on monthly basis along with the repo rate including other borrowing rates.
- Banks decide the actual lending rate based on the floating rate by adding the component of spread to MCLR which becomes the final lending rate.
- A large portion of bank loans remain linked to the base rate despite the introduction of the MCLR in April 2016. Weak monetary transmission during a rate cut cycle has been one of the central bank’s pet peeves.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Tawang gets rhododendron park, NIC
Arunachal Pradesh government laid the foundation stone for Rhododendron Park in Tawang.
- More than 30 species of rhododendrons would be planted and conserved in park where terrace cutting to raise the beauty and scenic component.
- The park will be partly funded under border area development programme (BADP).
- The park will not only add to the scenic enhancement of the city but will also offer an opportunity for conservation of Rhodo Species, which are under serious threat due to various ongoing road and land acquisition projects by the Army and Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
- Tawang was once home to around 100 species of rhododendron. The number has now been reduced to only 50+ as a result of construction activities in the border areas.
About the Rhododendron:
- Rhododendron — literally rose tree in Greek — found in the region, with 18 species endemic to India.
- Found in varied habitats from subtropical forest to alpine shrubs, rhododendrons range from dwarf shrubs to large trees.
- There are 132 taxa (80 species, 25 sub species and 27 varieties) of Rhododendron found in India, of which 129 are found in the north-eastern India alone.
- Only three taxa — Rhododendron arboretum nilagiricum found in south India and Rhododendron colletianum and Rhododendron rawatti from the western Himalayas are not found in the north-east.
- Arunachal Pradesh is home to the highest number with 119 taxa (74 species, 21 sub species and 24 varieties) of the Rhododendron.
- The small State of Sikkim is home to 42 taxa (25 species, 11 sub-species and six varieties) while 10 taxa are found in Manipur, four in Mizoram and 11 in Nagaland.
- The eastern Himalayas are regarded as one of the centres of diversity for the genus, which means that the Rhododendron has migrated to different parts of world from this region.
- The Sikkim Forest department and the Sikkim Rhododendron Society have identified nine Rhododedron ecosystems and protected area networks in the State. The two famous Rhododendron sanctuaries in the State are Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary and Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary.
Geographical conditions for the growth of Rhododendron:
- The cold, moist slopes and deep valleys of the eastern Himalayas form a conducive habitat for the luxuriant growth of Rhododendron species.
- Nowhere in the world, are such unique geographical and ecological formations are found. This is the primary reason for such a diversity of Rhododendron available in the region.
Use of Rhododendron:
- Other than the ornamental value, use in packaging wood crafts, fragrance and religious use, Rhododendrons also are used in local medicines against colds, coughs and chronic bronchitis and diarrhoea.
- The petals of R. arboretum are widely used for making juice, jams and jelly.
The scientists have pointed to the need for conservation of Rhododendrons.
- Epiphytic species, which grow on other trees or plants, of rhododendrons with limited population are most vulnerable due to loss of the host trees.
- While in high altitude areas of Arunachal Pradesh, rhododendrons are routinely cut for firewood by local people, forest fires in the dry seasons in Manipur and Nagaland were threatening the survival of many species.
- The endemic R. wattii from Dzukou hills of Manipur and Nagaland is one of the most critically endangered species in India, with only a few adult trees remaining in their natural habitat.
Nature Interpretation Centre (NIC):
- On the sidelines, Arunachal Pradesh government also inaugurated the Nature Interpretation Centre (NIC).
- NIC was established and managed by the forest department.
- The objective of this centre is to help people develop a better understanding of nature and development of the area should not result in ecological imbalance.
- The centre also has sections on wildlife including Red Panda, Rhododendron species, flora, high-altitude lakes and Monpa culture.
Bilateral & International Relations
Protocol amending accord between India, China for DTAA approved
The Union Cabinet accorded approval to the protocol amending the agreement between India and China for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.
- The protocol amending Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) aims to update the provisions on exchange of information of the DTAA to the latest international standards.
- Further, the Protocol will incorporate changes required to implement treaty related minimum standards under the Action reports of Base Erosion and Profit shifting (BEPS) Project, in which India had participated on an equal footing.
- In 2016, India signed a multilateral convention to implement measures to prevent shifting of profits by companies to low-tax nations as a way to avoid paying taxes.
- The convention is an outcome of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)/G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project.
- The convention will tackle base erosion and profit shifting through tax planning strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax locations where there is little or no economic activity, resulting in little or no overall corporate tax being paid, the statement said.
- The Final BEPS Project identified 15 actions to address BEPS in a comprehensive manner.
- Implementation of the Final BEPS Package requires changes to more than 3,000 bilateral tax treaties which will be burdensome and time consuming.
- In view of this, the convention was conceived as a multilateral instrument which would swiftly modify all covered bilateral tax treaties to implement BEPS measures.
- The convention implements two minimum standards related to prevention of treaty abuse and dispute resolution through mutual agreement procedure.
Maldives political crisis: UN Security Council told situation may get worse
A senior UN official warned the Security Council that the situation in the Maldives where the president has declared a state of emergency may deteriorate even further.
- The crisis was triggered by a surprise Supreme Court decision to release from jail former president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and eight other political prisoners.
About the crisis:
- Ever since President Yameen came to power in 2013, he has been jailing almost all the political opposition.
- The island nation has been witnessing political unrest and street protests since former president Nasheed was convicted in 2015 on terror charges and sentenced to 13 years in jail.
- He was later allowed to go to Britain for medical treatment in January 2016. He has lived in exile since and is currently in Sri Lanka.
- The Maldivian Supreme Court had last week ordered the immediate release of former president Mohamed Nasheed and other opposition leaders.
- The Court had also ordered the government to restore the seats of 12 legislators sacked for defecting from Mr Yameen’s party, giving the opposition the majority in the assembly which would mean that they could potentially impeach the president.
- However, President Yameen refused to comply the top court’s orders, despite growing international pressure and concern, leading to declaration of Emergency in Maldives.
How has the world reacted?
- Both former leaders of the Maldives, Nasheed and Gayoom, have called on India to force Yameen to release the recently jailed high court judges and political prisoners.
- While intervention from New Delhi would certainly be unusual, it is not unprecedented. India sent troops to the Maldives in 1988 to foil a coup.
- Alongside India, the U.S. and the U.K. have both urged Yameen to honor the rule of law and free the detainees.
- Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) human rights chief has warned that Yameen’s state of emergency decree, which had been used to imprison perceived political opponents, was undermining the checks and balances necessary in any functioning democracy.
- Maldives is a South Asian island country, located in the Indian Ocean, situated in the Arabian Sea.
- It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India.
- The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to the Addu City in the south.
- Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries, as well as the smallest Asian country by both land area and population.
- It is the world’s lowest country, with even its highest natural point being the lowest in the world.
- The Maldives archipelago is located atop the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean, which also forms a terrestrial ecoregion, together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep.
Defence & Security Issues
Def Minister appoints Vinay Sheel Oberoi committee to expedite capital acquisition
The Union Ministry of Defence (MoD) has constituted 13-member Raksha Mantri Advisory Committee on Ministry of Defence Capital Projects (RMCOMP).
- It will be headed by former secretary Vinay Sheel Oberoi.
Terms of reference of the committee:
- The committee will monitor and expedite capital acquisition projects for modernisation of armed forces and bolster armed forces preparedness.
- It has to undertake an independent review and check the status of ongoing critical projects worth more than Rs 500 crore.
- The committee would suggest measures to improve the capital acquisition process.
Art & Culture
Kailash Yatra via Nathu La to resume
China has confirmed restarting of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Nathu La pass.
About Kailash Manasarovar Yatra:
- Kailash Mansarovar Yatra (KMY) is known for its religious importance, cultural significance and arduous nature. The annual pilgrimage holds religious importance for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.
- The Yatra is organized by the government of India in close cooperation with the Government of the People’s Republic of China.
- State Governments of Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Delhi, and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited (KMVN) are other major Indian partners of the Ministry in organizing the Yatra.
About Mansarovar Lake:
- Mansarovar Lake is located at an altitude of 14,950 ft (4,558 m) is said to be the highest freshwater lake in the world.
- It is located in the Tibet Autonomous Region, China, 940 kilometres from Lhasa.
- To the west of it is Lake Rakshastal and to the north is Mount Kailash.
About Nathu La pass:
- Nathu La is a mountain pass in the Himalayas.
- It connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.
- The pass forms a part of an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road.
- On the Indian side, the pass is 54 km east of Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Only citizens of India can visit the pass, and then only after obtaining a permit in Gangtok.
- Nathu La is one of the three open trading border posts between China and India; the others are Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh (or Lipulech) at the trisection point of Uttarakhand–India, Nepal and China.
- Sealed by India after the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nathu La was re-opened in 2006 following numerous bilateral trade agreements.
- The opening of the pass shortens the travel distance to important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region and was expected to bolster the economy of the region by playing a key role in the growing Sino-Indian trade. However, trade is limited to specific types of goods and to specific days of the week.
- It is also one of the four officially agreed BPM (Border Personnel Meeting) points between the Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army of China for regular consultations and interactions between the two armies, which helps in defusing stand-offs.
The four BPM are:
- Chushul in Ladakh,
- Nathu La in Sikkim,
- Bum La Pass in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, and
- Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.
Science & Technology
Falcon Heavy, world’s most powerful rocket, launches
SpaceX Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, was recently launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in the United States’ Florida toward an orbit near Mars.
- Falcon Heavy is being considered mainly as a potential equipment carrier to deep space destinations.
About the mission:
- The mission is a test flight, pioneered by rocket firm SpaceX which is helmed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
- The rocket is loaded with Mr Musk’s own red Tesla roadster. At the wheel is a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit nicknamed Starman. It is the first time that a car is being sent to the space.
- If the Tesla roadster survives its five-hour journey through the Van Allen Belt – a region of high radiation where it will be pelted with charged particles – it will attempt a final burn toward Mars.
About Falcon Heavy:
- Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world with the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons – a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel.
- Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit.
- SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) is aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company headquartered in California, US.
- It was founded in 2002 by Internet tycoon Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and former PayPal entrepreneur with the goal of creating the technologies to reduce space transportation costs and enable colonization of Mars.
Key Facts for Prelims
Haryana tops in ‘Khelo India’ School Games
- Haryana had emerged as overall champions, finishing with 102 medals, which included 38 gold, 26 silver and 38 bronze medals in the first edition of Khelo India School Games (KISG).
- KISG was held from from 31st January to 8th February, 2018 at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi.