Polity & Governance
- Cabinet approves mega spectrum auction
- DGCA to get more punitive powers
- Nod for Rs 10,000 crore ‘fund of funds’ for startups
- Textiles get tax sops in output impetus
- Cabinet extends UDAY scheme deadline
Environment & Ecology
- Rare white-tailed rat found in Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary
- A first, CNG-fuelled two-wheelers
Defence & Security Issues
- India seeks to purchase maritime patrol drones from US
Science & Technology
- Not all is bright and shining with LED light: Study
Cabinet approves mega spectrum auction
Paving the way for the largest-ever spectrum auction in the country, the Union Cabinet approved the sale of all available spectrum, a move that could potentially fetch the exchequer about Rs.5.5 lakh crore going by the reserve price.
- There could be a minor delay in the auctions as the Cabinet decided to seek telecom regulator TRAI’s opinion on the contentious issue of spectrum usage charge (SUC).
- The government had earned revenues of Rs 1.1 lakh crore from the auctions held last year.
- The Telecom Commission (TC) recently cleared a weighted average formula for the spectrum usage charges (SUC), an annual fee payable by telecom operators for using airwaves.
Spectrum Usage Charges (SUC):
- The Cabinet has, however, decided to refer back the issue of spectrum usage charges (SUC) to the telecom regular TRAI for its recommendations. For the upcoming auctions, SUC was recommended at 3% of operator’s annual revenue.
- This is the first time that the 700 MHz band that is preferred for offering high-speed broadband services will be put on offer at a reserve price of Rs11,485 crore per MHz Pan-India. However, the operators had asked the sale to be held back till the device ecosystem was put in place. The cost of delivering mobile services in the 700 MHz band is also approximately 70% cheaper than in the 2100 MHz band (used for 3G services).
- For the 1,800 MHz spectrum — widely used for offering voice services — a reserve price of Rs. 2,873 crore has been fixed.
- Apart from the 700MHz band, the airwaves will be sold in the frequencies of 800MHz, 900MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,100MHz, 2,300MHz and 2,500MHz.
- The regulator has recommended that the reserve price for 2500 MHz spectrum, which is also on the offer for the first time, be equal to that of 2300 MHz spectrum.
- Companies winning spectrum above 1GHz will need to pay 50% upfront against the 33% earlier. For the remaining spectrum, 25% would be upfront payment. The balance for both categories will be paid in 10 years after a two-year moratorium.
DGCA to get more punitive powers
For better enforcement of air safety standards, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will soon be empowered to penalise airlines and airports for various offences and non-compliance of air regulations.
- The Civil Aviation Ministry will soon send a proposal to amend the Aircraft Act, 1937, to the Law Ministry, to empower the DGCA to impose fines for violations under the Act. However, the DGCA will not impose a fine on airlines on commercial matters.
- The violations include operating aircraft without the specified minimum crew, flying without a valid pilot licence or medical fitness, not maintaining records, fraudulent entry in logbooks and not maintaining airports.
- The DGCA may be empowered to fill vacancies on deputation or promote its employees without getting the consent of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
- The DGCA will be given full financial autonomy, enabling it to spend money without taking the consent of the Civil Aviation Ministry, through a notification.
- Under the present rules, the DGCA is authorised to either suspend the operations of airlines or airports or take away their licence, but has no powers to impose fines or penalties.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is the Indian governmental regulatory body for civil aviation under the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
- This directorate investigates aviation accidents and incidents.
- The DGCA is responsible for implementing, controlling, and supervising airworthiness standards, safety operations, crew training in India.
- DGCA is aimed to promote safe and efficient Air Transportation through regulation and proactive safety oversight system.
- It is headquartered in New Delhi.
Nod for Rs 10,000 crore ‘fund of funds’ for startups
The Union Cabinet has granted its approval to establish the ‘Fund of Funds for Startups’ (FFS), which would aim to generate employment of 18 lakh people in start-ups and support these new companies.
- The fund would be set up at Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) for contribution to various Alternative Investment Funds (AIF), registered with SEBI which would extend funding support to startups.
- This is in line with the Start-up India Action Plan of the government unveiled this year.
- The Rs. 10,000 crore-corpus will be built up over the 14th and 15th Finance Commission cycles subject to progress of the scheme and availability of funds. Already Rs.500 crore has been provided.
What is Alternative Investment Fund?
AIF as an investment vehicle was established to pool in funds for investing in real estate, private equity and hedge funds.
- AIFs are primarily aimed at high net worth individuals, and according to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Alternative Investment Funds) Regulations, 2012, the minimum investment from an individual is Rs.1 crore.
- The overall corpus of the AIF should be at least Rs.20 crore and there should not be more than 1,000 investors at any point in time. Also, the fund manager or promoter should have contributed at least 2.5% or Rs.5 crore, whichever is less, to the initial capital.
- There are three categories of AIFs depending upon on their effect on the economy.
- Category-I AIFs have a positive spillover on the economy and may get concessions from the regulator or the government. These include venture funds, social venture funds and infrastructure funds, among others.
- Category-II includes private equity funds and debt funds and do not get any concessions. These cannot raise debt for investment purposes, but can do so to meet their day-to-day operational requirements.
- Category-III includes hedge funds, and are usually traded to make short-term returns.
Textiles get tax sops in output impetus
The Centre announced a Rs. 6,000-crore special package, with tax and production incentives, for the textile and apparel sector to enable domestic firms to compete globally.
- The package would strengthen the Indian textile and apparel sector by improving its cost competitiveness in the global market.
- The package, approved by the Cabinet, includes several tax and production incentives.
- The package which will be implemented soon aims to help in creating one crore jobs, mostly for women, in the next three years.
- The government has also suggested bringing in flexibility in labour laws to increase productivity.
- These initiatives are expected to lead to an increase in exports by $30 billion and help attract investments worth Rs. 74,000 crore in three years.
- Of the Rs. 6,000 crore package, Rs. 5,500 crore is for an additional five per cent duty drawback for garments.
- In a first-of-its-kind move, a new scheme will be introduced to refund the state levies which were not refunded so far. Drawback at ‘all industries rate’ would be given for domestic duty paid inputs even when fabrics are imported under ‘Advance Authorization Scheme’.
- The remaining Rs.500 crore will be for additional incentives under Amended Technology Upgradation Funds Scheme (ATUFS), where the subsidy provided to garmenting units under the scheme is being increased from 15 per cent to 25 per cent, providing a boost to employment generation.
- The package breaks new ground in moving from input-based to outcome-based incentives; a unique feature of the scheme will be to disburse subsidy only after expected jobs have been created.
- To ensure increased earnings for workers, the package specifies that overtime hours for workers shall not to exceed eight hours per week — in line with International Labour Organisation norms.
- Taking note of the seasonal nature of the garment industry, fixed term employment will be introduced for the sector and a fixed term workman will be considered at par with permanent workman in terms of working hours, wages, allowances and other statutory dues.
- Also, the government said it will bear the entire employer’s contribution of 12 per cent under the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme, for new employees of garment industry earning less than Rs. 15,000 per month, for the first three years.
- China was gradually relinquishing its leadership position in the garment sector due to its rising wages and production shifting to high technology sectors. This was leading to garment sector firms shifting to countries including Bangladesh and Vietnam. Through changes in schemes and regulations, India is ensuring that the textile sector realises its full potential in India.
- Compared with Bangladesh and Vietnam India was the leader in apparel exports between 1995 and 2000. Bangladesh’s apparel exports exceeded that of India in 2003, while Vietnam surpassed India in 2011.
Cabinet extends UDAY scheme deadline
The Cabinet approved an extension in the deadline for implementing the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) by a year to March 31, 2017.
- The Cabinet decision extends this provision from the earlier deadline of March 31, 2016. This decision would allow states, which could not participate in UDAY earlier to join the scheme.”
- The scheme has its own merits and demerits from the states’ point of view, so this decision is to give them time.
- It shows the government is expecting some more states will join the scheme.
So far, 19 States have given in-principle approval to join the scheme, out of which 10 states—Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Punjab, Bihar, Haryana, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir—have signed MoUs with the Centre.
The Power Ministry had launched UDAY (Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana) on November 20, 2015.
- The scheme is expected to help discoms save around Rs 1.8 lakh crore in the next three years. The cumulative debt of discoms is Rs 4.37 lakh crore.
- UDAY is an effort to make these DISCOMs financially and operationally healthy, to be able to supply adequate power at affordable rates, and enable the Governments to make efforts towards 100% Village electrification and 24X7 Power For All.
- It envisages to reduce interest burden, cost of power and AT&C losses. Consequently, DISCOM would become sustainable to supply adequate and reliable power enabling 24×7 power supply.
- UDAY has inbuilt incentives encouraging State Governments to voluntarily restructure their debts.
- UDAY also provides for measures that will reduce the cost of power generation, which would ultimately benefit consumers.
Environment & Ecology
Rare white-tailed rat found in Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary
A rare white-tailed wood rat which is not a native of Gujarat was found dead in Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary in Narmada district.
About white-tailed wood rat:
- The white-tailed wood rat is endemic to South Asia. The species is distributed in Bangladesh (Sathira), India and Sri Lanka.
- The rat is found mainly in Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal.
- It is important to note that even the International Union for Conservation of Nature report does not mention Gujarat as a habitat for this species.
Feet are white in adults, brownish white in young.
- The rat builds its nest in tree hollows in forests, but adapts to building its nest in boulder crevices.
- Deciduous and evergreen forest, scrub jungle. It remarkably adapts itself to rocky areas even in forests.
About Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary:
Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Narmada district of Gujarat. It is within the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests ecoregion.
- The forest is a moist deciduous forest with semi-evergreen elements. It is one of the densest forests in Gujarat.
- The hilly tract of the sanctuary bordering Narmada supports some of the best forests of Gujarat harbouring floral and faunal elements bearing similarities to Himalayan and Western Ghats ones.
- The physical aspect is dominated by Rajpipla hills. Dhanmal is the highest peak in this region.
- This sanctuary is famous for its nocturnal flying squirrels.
- There is the fantastic Zarwani Waterfalls deep inside Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
A first, CNG-fuelled two-wheelers
In an initiative aimed at curbing pollution in cities, the Government of India has announced a new CNG retrofitment scheme for the two-wheelers in Delhi.
- The Government of India has been undertaking numerous initiatives to curb pollution. After the NGT diesel ban, this is another initiative to reduce air pollution.
- The project is backed by GAIL (Gas Authority Limited) and Indra Prastha Gas Limited.
- The government will run the project on a pilot basis as it aims to attract two-wheeler users to adopt the technology.
- The kits have been approved by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI).
- It estimates that the two-wheelers with CNG kit will emit 75% less hydrocarbons than a petrol-powered two-wheeler. It also claims a 20% reduction in carbon monoxide (CO) emission.
Defence & Security Issues
India seeks to purchase maritime patrol drones from US
India has sought high-tech multi mission maritime patrol Predator Guardian UAV drones from the US to protect its maritime assets, especially in the Indian Ocean.
- This is part of the Indian Government’s efforts to fast track its goal to secure the country’s maritime assets in particular in the Indian Ocean and detect untoward intrusion – like the one during Mumbai terrorist attack – on a real time basis.
Features of the Predator ‘Guardian’:
- The Predator ‘Guardian’ platform, which provides high altitude wide area long endurance maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability, would help in protection and vigilance of its maritime assets in the Indian Ocean and both its east and west coast.
- Flying at an altitude of 50,000 feet, these droneshave the capacity to fly non-stop for more than 24 hours and monitor the movement of objects as small as a football on a real time basis, sources said requesting anonymity.
- India’s has conveyed its desire to purchase the drones in a letter of request (LoR) to the US last week.
- It is understood that India had previously shown interest in purchasing these drones from the US, but the Obama Administration was unable to process these request as India was not a member of MTCR.
- Now that India has become a member of MTCR, the US – after it granted India the status of Major Defence Partner – has started looking into the proposal.
Science & Technology
Not all is bright and shining with LED light: Study
According to a report recently released by the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Science and Public Health, excessive blue light emitted by light emitting diodes (LED) can adversely impact human health.
According to a report, while LED lighting has several advantages, the excessive blue light it emits can be harmful.
- The human eye perceives the large amount of blue light emitted by some LEDs as white. Blue light directly affects sleep by suppressing the production of the hormone melatonin, which mediates the sleep-wake cycle in humans.
- Compared with conventional street lighting, the blue-rich white LED street lighting is five times more disruptive to sleep cycle.
- Although more research is needed, evidence available suggests a long-term increase in the risk for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity caused by chronic sleep disruption due to exposure to blue light.
- The excessive blue wavelength contributes to glare effects as a result of larger scattering in the human eye.
- Contrary to the popular notion that bright LED lighting increases road safety, the report says discomfort and disability glare caused by unshielded, bright LED lighting negatively impacts visual acuity, thus “decreasing safety and creating road hazards”. Glare forms a veil of luminance that reduces the contrast, thus in turn reducing the visibility of a target.
- The report also notes that unshielded LED lighting causes papillary constriction, leading to “worse night-time vision between lighting fixtures.” Intense blue spectrum can even damage the retina.
- The correlated colour temperature (CCT) of first-generation LEDs, which are currently used, is 4,000K.
- Higher CCT values indicate greater blue light emission, and in the case of 4,000K LED lighting, 29% of the spectrum is emitted as blue light.
- However, at 3,000K, the blue light emitted is only 21% and appears “slightly warmer in tone”. While discomfort and disability glare is reduced, there is only a 3% drop in energy efficiency compared with 4,000K LED lighting.
- According to a report, more attention should be paid to proper design, shielding and installation so that no light shines above 80 degrees from the horizontal.
- Previous study indicated that unless blue-light emission from 4,000K LED street lighting is restricted, retrofits using these lamps could result in 2.5 times increase in lighting pollution.