Current Affairs March 16 to 31,2017

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CURRENT AFFAIRS

(MARCH 16-31)

  1. POLITY AND GOVERNANCE PAGE NO
  2. Indian Navy successfully test fires Barak missile from INS Vikramaditya 01
  3. Recommendations of Law Commission against Hate Speech 02
  4. Government approves Shekatkar Committee recommendations to reform military 02
  5. Government launches Online Film Certification System 03
  6. Parliament Passes Mental Health Bill, 2016 04
  7. Uttarakhand HC recognise Ganga and Yamuna Rivers as living entity 06
  8. RajyaSabha passes HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014 07
  9. Union Cabinet approves amendment to RTE Act, 2009 08
  10. Government to enact law to enforce dam safety regulations 09
  11. Government to wind up 8 tribunals 10

 

  1. ECONOMY
  2. Government approves re-organisation of field formations of CEBC for GST 11
  3. Odisha becomes first state to adopt SHG based financial inclusion model 12
  4. India becomes net exporter of power for the first time 13
  5. LokSabha passes 4 GST Bills 14
  6. National Health Policy, 2017 15
    16. CCEA approves North East Road Network Connectivity Project Phase I 16

 

III. GEOGRAPHY AND ENVIRONMENT

  1. SC bans sale, registration of BS-III vehicles 17
  2. Earth Hour observed across the World 18
  3. Uttarakhand High Court orders completed ban of mining in state 19
  4. NGT suspends Green nod for Neutrino project 20
  5. Assam Government launches SaCReD initiative to make Majuli carbon neutral island 22
  6. Sea ice hits record winter low at both poles: Scientists 22

 

  1. SCIENCE AND TECH
  2. Scientists switch on the world’s largest artificial sun 24
  3. 4 ISRO teams join 36th Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica 24
  4. Scientists discover five new sub-atomic particles at CERN 25

 

  1. SCIENCE AND TECH
  2. Cabinet approves MoU between India and US in field of Cyber Security 26

  

 POLITY AND GOVERNANCE

  1. Indian Navy successfully test fires Barak missile from INS Vikramaditya

Qs: Explain major threats and India’s role in maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

Indian Navy successfully conducted maiden test of short range surface-to-air Barak missile from country’s sole aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya.  The test was conducted in the Arabian Sea in which missile was fired against a live, low-flying, high-speed target. The missile successfully engaged and destroyed the target, validating operational readiness inspection of the Western Fleet of the Indian Navy.

 About INS Vikramaditya

INS Vikramaditya is the country’s sole aircraft carrier (after retirement of INS Viraat in March 2017). It was built in 1987 and had served the Soviet navy (named as Baku). It was later renamed Admiral Gorshkov under the Russian navy. The Indian navy purchased the vessel in 2004 and commissioned it in November 2013 at Severodvinsk in Russia. The Kiev-class vessel weighs 44,500 tonne. Its overall length is 284 meters and has maximum beam of about 60 meters It can carry over 30 aircraft comprising MiG-29Ks, Kamov-28s, Kamov-31s, ALH-Dhruv and Chetak helicopters. It was retrofitted with a Barak missile system under joint development with Israel.

  1. Recommendations of Law Commission against Hate Speech

The Law Commission of India (LCI) in its 267th Report has laid out that bare the danger of hate speech to the Union Government and called for action from the government and Parliament. It held that hate speech has the potential to provoke individuals and society to commit acts of genocides, terrorism and ethnic cleansing. The Supreme Court of India in 2014 had referred to the Law Commission for means to arm the Election Commission to crack down on hate speech.

Key Facts

In its report, the commission has cautioned the government that hate speech is considered outside the realm of protective discourse and has urged for the expansion of the penal law against hate crimes. It held that indisputably, offensive hate speech has real and devastating effects on people’s lives and risks their health and safety. It is also harmful and divisive for communities and hampers social progress. If left unchecked, it can severely affect right to life of every individual.

Law against Hate Speech

The commission also has drafted a new law The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017 by inserting new Sections to fortify democracy against hate speeches. The law defined hate speech as any word written or spoken, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the intention to cause fear or alarm, or incitement to violence. Its Section 153C penalises incitement to hatred and Section 505A for the first time makes ‘causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases’ a specific criminal offence. Section 153C calls for punishing guilty person with two years’ imprisonment or Rs. 5,000 in fine or both. Section 505A provides a punishment of one year imprisonment or Rs. 5,000 in fine or both.

  1. Government approves Shekatkar Committee recommendations to reform military

The Union Defence Ministry has approved most of the proposals of a committee of experts, headed by Lt. Gen. D.B. Shekatkar (Retd) to bring host of reforms in the military and improve financial management. Around 90 recommendations have been of the committee were approved. Most of these recommendations are measures to increase coordination among the three Services and cut down flab in Army to make it lean and agile.

Some recommendations of Committee

Capital expenditure: Roll-on defence budget must have enough capital expenditure available for modernisation. It must be against the present practice of surrendering unspent capital budget at the end of each financial year.

Performance audit: It must be conducted of non-combat organisations under the Defence Ministry. It must include those dealing with defence estates and accounts, Director- General of Quality Assurance, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and National Cadet Corps (NCC).

 Downsizing or rationalisation of manpower: It will lead to significant savings.

Joint services war college: It must be established for training middle-level officers.

 Reduce deployment of active-duty soldiers in avoidable postings: They will be replaced by retired officers and jawans in the running of NCC.

Comprehensive reforms in the running of NCC: Transfer of NCC out of the Defence Ministry to the HRD Ministry: NCC can be run by re-employed or on-contract ex-service personnel.

Implications

If recommendations of committee are implemented over the next five years, government can save up to Rs. 25,000 crore from the current defence expenditure.

  1. Government launches Online Film Certification System

QS:Do you think the Central Board of Film Certification’s (CBFC) decision to not to issue certificate to certain movies is an assault on artistic freedom? In your opinion, how should the Indian society react to censorships by CBFC? Critically comment.

The Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry has launched the e-Cinepramaan, an online film certification system of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This initiative was launched on the lines of Union Government’s vision of ease-of-doing business and digital India, to make the entire process transparent and efficient. Its objective is to eliminate the need for human interface to the extent possible and enable good governance by automating film certification process.

Features of e-Cinepramaan

The system will show status of each application online in the dashboard of the producer and concerned CBFC official. Producers of short films/promos/trailers less than 10 minutes can submit their creations online for examination purposes without need to not visit CBFC Office/Theatre. In case of films longer than 10 minutes, the producer/applicant will only have to show the film at the Examining theatre. He will not have to visit the CBFC Offices at all except to collect their certificates. The producer/applicant will be informed status of their application by SMS/e-mail. It will also inform any action needed and provide receipt of application to the certificate collection. It will bring transparency in the system by eliminating middle men. It will mitigate chances of any corruption and avoid allegations of jumping the queue or rigging up of Examination committees. Under it, QR code on the certificates will be implemented to eliminate chances of fraudulent certificates. The system also envisages a robust MIS system for performance tracking and efficient reporting. It has inbuilt alerts depending on the pendency of application to ensure that time limits prescribed by the Rules. It will be an important step in making the CBFC office paperless and will enable effective monitoring and real-time progress tracking for both the CBFC officials and the applicants.

 Parliament Passes Mental Health Bill, 2016

Qs:Analyse the important provisions of the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013  and the implementation challenges this Bill might face.

The Parliament has passed the Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016 that decriminalises suicide attempt by mentally ill people and guarantees the right to better healthcare for people with mental illness. It was first passed in RajyaSabha in August 2016 and later in LokSabha in March 2017. Now it will go to president for assent.

Key Features of Bill

Rights of persons with mental illness: It gives every person right to access mental healthcare from services operated or funded by the government. It also includes good quality, easy and affordable access to services. It also provides right to equality of treatment, protect such persons from inhuman treatment, access to free legal services, medical records and right to complain in case of deficiencies in provisions.

Advance Directive: It empowers a mentally-ill person to have the right to make an advance directive that explains how they want to be treated for the requisite illness and nominate their representative.

Mental Health Establishments: Every mental health establishment must register with the respective Central or State Mental Health Authority. For registration, the concerned establishment must fulfill different criteria as mentioned in the Bill.

Procedure and process: It also outlines the procedure and process for admission, treatment and subsequent discharge of mentally ill persons.

Community based treatment: It focuses on community based treatment and special provisions for women and health.

Mental Health Review Commission and Board: It will be quasi-judicial body responsible for reviewing procedure for making advance directives. It will advise the government on the protection of rights of mentally ill persons’. It will constitute Mental Health Review Boards in states’ districts will help of state governments.

Decriminalising suicide: It effectively decriminalises suicide attempt under the section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) by mentally ill persons by making it non-punishable

Prohibits electro-convulsive therapy: It will be not used for minors. It will be allowed only with the use of anaesthesia.

Background

The Bill is the first mental health law framed as per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which India is signatory. It requires the countries to align their laws with the Convention. The Bill provides “rights-based” approach to mental illness by consolidating and safeguarding the rights of fundamental human rights of the patients. In India, around 6 to 7% of the population suffers from some kind of mental illnesses, while 1 to 2% suffers from acute mental disease.

 Uttarakhand HC recognise Ganga and Yamuna Rivers as living entity

The Uttarakhand High Court has recognized the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers as so-called living entities. It is for the first time any court in India has recognized a non-human as a living entity. The two rivers are sacred for the Hindus, sustain millions of people in the country but have seen years of damage at the hands of humans. The HC Division Bench comprising Justice Alok Singh and Justice Rajiv Sharma gave a landmark judgment while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition filed by one Mohammad Salim in 2014.

 Uttarakhand HC verdict

Ganga and Yamuna, all their tributaries, streams are declared as legal persons [or] living persons in order to protect the recognition and the faith of society. They will have the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person in order to preserve and conserve them. State government failed to fulfil its responsibility regarding the rivers. Central government must constitute Ganga Management Board to look into the issue of cleaning and maintaining these rivers. The Director, NamamiGange project and the Chief Secretary and the Advocate General of Uttarakhand have been charged to protect, conserve and preserve the rivers and their tributaries.

What does it means?

In India, animals, for instance, are not considered living entities by law. Only humans are. But recognizing these rivers as a living entity, grants them new legal identity and all rights laid out in the Constitution of India. Thus, they have the right to be legally protected and not be harmed and destroyed. They also can be parties to disputes as their rights can be used to protect the interests of the rivers. It also means that if someone pollutes these rivers, the law will see it equal to harming a human being.

Interesting Facts

Earlier in March 2017, New Zealand Parliament passed a bill declaring 145km long Whanganui River as ‘legal person’, making it first river to get this status. Ecuador was first country to recognize Rights of Nature in its Constitution adopted in September 2008. The new Ecuadorian Constitution includes a Chapter: Rights for Nature.

  1. RajyaSabha passes HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014

Qs:Recently the union cabinet approved amendments to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014. Critically comment on these amendments

The RajyaSabha has passed HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014. The Bill seeks to safeguard the rights of people living with HIV and affected by HIV. It aims to prevent social stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV (PLHIV). It also seeks to strengthen legal accountability and establish formal mechanisms for inquiring into complaints and redressing grievances to probe discrimination complaints against those who discriminate against PLHIV.

Salient Features of Bill

Prevention and control the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). It prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS. No person will be compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent, and if required by a court order Establishments keeping records of information of PLHIV must adopt data protection measures. Obligations on establishments to safeguard rights of persons living with HIV arid create mechanisms for redressing complaints. Lists various grounds on which discrimination against HIV-positive persons and those living with them is prohibited. These include the denial, discontinuation, termination or unfair treatment with regard to employment, educational establishments, health care services, renting property etc. Prohibits, requirement for HIV testing as a pre-requisite for obtaining employment or accessing health care or education.Prohibits any individual from publishing information or advocating feelings of hatred against HIV positive persons and PLHIV.

Background

There are approximately 21 lakh persons estimated to be living with HIV in India, the third highest number after South Africa and Nigeria. Currently, HIV is more prevalent in high-risk groups like female sex workers, homosexuals and drug addicts. The prevalence of HIV is decreasing over the last decade but percentage of PLHIV receiving Anti-Retroviral therapy (ART) treatment are merely 28.82% against global percentage of 41%.

  1. Union Cabinet approves amendment to RTE Act, 2009

The Union Cabinet has approved the amendment to Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. The amendment seeks to ensure all teachers, in position as on March 2015, acquire minimum qualifications prescribed by academic authority to extend period for such training for 4 years up to March 2019.

Background

The RTE Act, 2009 envisages free and compulsory elementary education to every child in the age group of 6-14 years. The section 23(2) of the Act specifies that all teachers at elementary level at commencement of this law if did not possess minimum qualifications under it need to acquire these within a period of five years i.e. by March 2015. However, several state governments have reported that 11.00 lakh teachers at the elementary level are still untrained out of a total number of 66.41 lakh teachers. Thus, to ensure that all teachers acquire the minimum qualifications prescribed by the academic authority, it is deemed necessary to carry out appropriate amendment in the RTE Act, 2009 to extend period for such training for four years up to March 2019.

Benefits of Amendments

It will enable the in-service untrained elementary teachers to complete their training and ensure that all teachers at the elementary level have a certain minimum standard of qualifications. It will ensure that all teachers attain minimum qualifications as considered necessary to maintain the standard of teaching quality. It will ultimately result in improvement in overall quality of teachers, teaching processes and learning outcomes of children. It will reinforce the Government’s emphasis on improvement of quality of elementary education.

  1. Government to enact law to enforce dam safety regulations

The Union Water Resources Ministry has drafted new dam safety bill to contemplate an institutional mechanism to improve safety of around 5300-odd dams across in India. The new law has been vetted by the Union Law Ministry. It will now go to the Union Cabinet for approval and its introduction in Parliament.

 

Need for such law

There are around 4900 large dams in India and several thousand smaller ones. However, large reservoirs and water storage structures, in the past few decades, are not seen as a model of safety. The failure of these dams due to lack of safety could cause massive disaster such as the 1979 Machchu dam failure in Morbi, Gujarat, in which estimated 25,000 people were killed. Recent analysis of the state of India’s dams also has found that half of them did not meet contemporary safety standards. So there is need of much stricter safety criteria.

Key facts

Currently, dam safety guidelines are not effectively enforced by the States. The dam safety bill, proposes a Central authority and State-level bodies that will enforce regulation. It proposes safety criteria including increasing the spillway (a design structure to ease water build-up) and preventing ‘over-topping’ in which the dam overflows and causes it to fail. It also proposes fine on dam and project proponents in the fall short, though they are unlikely to face imprisonment.

  1. Government to wind up 8 tribunals

Qs:Discuss the issue of “tribunalisation” of courts in India. Do you think it is a good development? Critically examine

The LokSabha has approved amendments to The Finance Bill, 2017 proposed by the Union Government to wind up eight tribunals These eight tribunals currently exclusively deal with disputes pertaining to employees’ provident fund (EPF), Competition law, Airports economic regulation, IT law, National highways, railways, copyrights and Forex. The amendments in the Finance Bill of 2017 also has proposed changes in the norms for tribunals, appellate tribunals and other boards associated with the administration of 17 central laws.

8 major tribunals that will cease to operate are

Competition Appellate Tribunal: Its work now has will be transferred to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal.

Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal (AERAAT) and Cyber AppellateTribunal: Their functions will now be discharged by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

EPF Appellate Tribunal: Its works will be transferred to the Industrial Tribunal that examines matters under the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947.

Cases under the Foreign Exchange Management Act of 1999: They will be transferred to Appellate Tribunal constituted under Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act, 1976.

National Highways Tribunal: Now Highway disputes will now be adjudicated by the Airport Appellate Tribunal set up under the Airport Authority of India (AAI) Act,1994.

Railways Rates Tribunal: It was established for hearing matters under the Railways Act, 1989. Its workload will be transferred to the Railway Claims Tribunal.

 Copyright Board: It was responsible for enforcing of the Copyright Act of 1957. Now it will be transferred to the Intellectual Property Appellate Board set up under the Trademarks Act of 1999.

 ECONOMY

  1. Government approves re-organisation of field formations of CEBC to implement GST

The Union Finance Minister has approved re-organisation of field formations of the Central Board of Excise & Customs (CBEC) for the implementation of Goods & Services Tax (GST). Under it, CBEC will be renamed as the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) after getting required legislative approval.

Key Facts

The existing formations of Central Excise & Service Tax under the CBEC will be re-organised to implement and enforce the provisions of the proposed GST Laws. The proposed CBIC will supervise the work of all its field formations and Directorates and assist the Government in policy making in relation to GST, continuing Central Excise levy & Customs functions. The CBIC will have 21 Zones, 101 GST Tax payer Services Commissionerates comprising 15 sub-Commissionerates, 768 Divisions, 3969 Ranges, 49 Audit and 50 Appeals Commissionerates. It will ensure rendering of taxpayer services to all the taxpayers through an indirect tax administration structure by having pan-India presence. For a robust IT Network, the Directorate General of Systems under CBEC will be expanded for greater out- reach for facilitating smooth transition for the taxpayers to the GST environment. The existing training establishment will be renamed as National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics (NACITN) and shall have an all India presence. It will enable capacity building to the employees of the indirect tax administration of the Centre as well as of the State Governments and also of Trade and Industry. The renamed Directorate General of Goods & Service Tax Intelligence will be also strengthened and expanded to become an important wing of the Government in its fight against Tax Evasion and Black Money.

  1. Odisha becomes first state to adopt SHG based financial inclusion model

Odisha became the first state in the country to adopt Self Help Groups (SHG) based model for financial inclusion model to extend banking services in the unbanked areas through SGHs. In this regard, state government has inked agreement with the State Bank of India (SBI). The SHGs formed under the Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM) will be eligible to provide banking services.

Key Facts

The agreement assumes significant as 70% of the gram panchayats in the State do not have brick and mortar bank branches. As per the agreement, OLM will function as corporate agent and around 3 lakh SHGs operating under it will be the banking correspondents (BCs). In the first phase SHGs will be engaged as BCs in around 1000 remote GPs in scheduled areas having no banking facilities. Gradually in later phases, it will be extended to 4000 non-banked GPs. Subsequently entire State will be covered under the financial inclusion programme.

About Odisha Livelihoods Mission (OLM)

Odisha Livelihoods Mission (OLM) an autonomous society of Department of Panchayati Raj of the state government. It commenced its operations in 2012. It is successor of Orissa Poverty Reduction Mission (OPRM) launched in 2006 to implement various poverty reduction programmes in the state. OLM presently is implementing both National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) and National Rural Livelihoods Project. Odisha was the first state in the country to launch NRLM in its bid to bring down rural poverty by promoting diversified and gainful self-employment to the rural poor. OLM aims at: (i) Mobilizing all poor households into functionally effective SHGs and their federations (ii) Enhancing their access to bank credit and other financial, marketing and technical services (iii) Building their capacities and skills for sustainable and gainful livelihoods development; (iii) Converging various schemes for efficient delivery of economic and social support services to poor with optimal results.

  1. India becomes net exporter of power for the first time

According to Central Electricity Authority (CEA), under Union Power Ministry, India for the first time has become a net exporter of electricity during the April-February period in fiscal 2016-17. During this period, India exported around 5,798 million units of electricity to Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. It is 213 million units more than the import of around 5,585 million units from Bhutan.

Key Facts

In the last three years, India’s export to Nepal and Bangladesh has increased 2.5 and 2.8 times respectively. New transmission lines with Bangladesh and Myanmar has helped India sell more power. India’s power export to Nepal: India is exporting around 190 MW power to Nepal over 12 cross border interconnections at 11kV, 33kV and 132 kV level. It has further increased by around 145 MW after commissioning of Muzaffarpur (India)–Dhalkhebar (Nepal) 400kV line (being operated at 132 kV) in 2016. It is further expected to increase by around 145 MW shortly over 132 kV Katiya (Bihar)–Kusaha (Nepal) and 132 kV Raxaul (Bihar)– Parwanipur (Nepal). India’s power export to Bangladesh: At present, India has exported around 600 MW power to Bangladesh. The export got further boost after commissioning of the first cross border interconnection between Baharampur (India) and Bheramara (Bangladesh) at 400kV in September 2013. It was further augmented by commissioning of second cross border Interconnection between Surjyamaninagar (Tripura) in India and South Comilla (Bangladesh). India’s power import from Bhutan: On an average, Bhutan has been supplying around 5,000-5,500 million units to India. A few more cross border links are in the pipeline with neighbouring countries which would further increase India’s power export.

Background

Ever since the cross border trade of electricity started in mid-1980s, India has been importing power from Bhutan and marginally exporting to Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. India is also investing heavily on generation infrastructure over the past few years. In the past two years, a massive surge in the local supply of raw materials like coal has also helped power companies to boost output.

About Central Electricity Authority (CEA)

The CEA is a statutory organisation constituted under section 3(1) of Electricity Supply Act 1948. Now, it has been superseded by section 70(1) of the Electricity Act 2003. It advises the government on matters relating to the National Electricity Policy (NEP) and formulates short-term and perspective plans for the development of electricity systems. It is the designated authority for cross border trade of electricity. It also prescribes the standards on matters such as construction of electrical plants, electric lines and connectivity to the grid, safety and grid standards and installation and operation of meters. It is also responsible for concurrence of hydro power development schemes of central, state and private sectors for efficient development of river and its tributaries for power generation.

 LokSabha passes 4 GST Bills

LokSabha has passed four Bills relating to the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). It paves way for implementing a new, consolidated indirect tax regime from the proposed date of July 1, 2017. The four bills passed were Central GST Bill, Integrated GST Bill, GST Compensation Bill, and the Union Territory GST Bill, 2017. These Bills were passed as Money Bills, thus eliminates the role of RajyaSabha.

Key Facts

The tax rates under GST regime will be based on the recommendation GST Council. Council has two-thirds voting by States and one-third by Centre. The GST laws passed by Parliament will not apply to Jammu and Kashmir, as it will have to legislate its own law and integrate with the GST regime. There will be no single rate under GST as it will be not possible and it will be highly regressive. So The GST Council has recommended a four-tier tax structure 5, 12, 18 and 28%. On top of the highest slab (28%), a cess will be imposed on luxury and demerit goods to compensate the states for revenue loss for five years. Essential food articles will not taxed and those will continue to be zero rated under the GST. All other commodities will be fitted into the nearest tax bracket. The fifth GST legislation, the State GST Bill, needs to be separately passed by the respective legislative assemblies of each of the States and Union Territories with legislature.

Background

GST is touted as the biggest taxation reform since independence. It will subsume indirect taxes such as central excise, service tax, VAT and other local levies to create an uniform market. GST regime is expected to boost GDP growth by about 2% and check tax evasion. It will make commodities “slightly cheaper” and exports more competitive. It will also improve tax compliance and ensure that assessees get input credit of the taxes paid

  1. National Health Policy, 2017:

Salient Features

The Union Union Cabinet approved the National Health Policy 2017. It will replace the previous policy which was framed 15 years ago in 2002. It aims at providing healthcare in an “assured manner” to all by addressing current and emerging challenges arising from the ever changing socio-economic, epidemiological and technological scenarios.

Highlights of National Health Policy, 2017

It aims to raise public healthcare expenditure to 2.5% of GDP from current 1.4%, with more than two-thirds of those resources going towards primary healthcare. It envisages providing a larger package of assured comprehensive primary healthcare through the ‘Health and Wellness Centers’. It is a comprehensive package that will include care for major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), geriatric healthcare, mental health, palliative care and rehabilitative care services. It proposes free diagnostics, free drugs and free emergency and essential healthcare services in all public hospitals in order to provide healthcare access and financial protection. It seeks to establish regular tracking of disability adjusted life years (DALY) Index as a measure of burden of disease and its major categories trends by 2022. It aims to improve and strengthen the regulatory environment by putting in place systems for setting standards and ensuring quality of healthcare. It also looks at reforms in the existing regulatory systems both for easing drugs and devices manufacturing to promote Make in India and also reforming medical education. It advocates development of mid-level service providers, public health cadre, nurse practitioners to improve availability of appropriate health human resource.

Targets: It aims to ensure availability of 2 beds per 1000 population to enable access within golden hour. It proposes to increase life expectancy from 67.5 to 70 years by 2025. It aims to reduce total fertility rate (TFR) to 2.1 at sub-national and national level by 2025. It also aims to reduce mortality rate (MR) of children under 5 years of age to 23 per 1000 by 2025 and maternal mortality rate (MMR) to 100 by 2020. It also aims to reduce infant mortality rate to 28 by 2019 and reduce neo-natal mortality to 16 and still birth rate to ‘single digit’ by 2025.

  1. CCEA approves North East Road Network Connectivity Project Phase I

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved North East Road Network Connectivity Project (NERNCP) Phase I for development of 403 kms of National Highways in Meghalaya and Mizoram. Out of total 403 km, approximately 351 km will be in developed in Mizoram and 52 km in Meghalaya. The project will be executed in EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) Mode.

Key Facts

The implementation of projects will start from the financial year 2017-18. The civil works are expected to be completed by 2021 and maintenance works by 2025. The projects will encourage sub-regional socio-economic development by improving infrastructure in Mizoram and Meghalaya. It will also enhance connectivity with inter-state roads and International Borders. The work for development of two lane standards under the scheme NERNCP Phase I will be financially supported by loan assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Background

The existing carriageway of all the stretches in Meghalaya and Mizoram are varying between Single lane to Intermediate lane. The condition of the pavement is also very poor and at some locations which is not in traffic worthy condition. In addition, these stretches also are in poor condition in the landslides areas/sinking zone. The development and updation of these stretches to the two lane will improve their standards and improve connectivity.

III. GEOGRAPHY

  1. SC bans sale, registration of BS-III vehicles

The Supreme Court has banned the sale and registration of Bharat Stage (BS)-III emission norm-compliant vehicles from April 1, 2017, when environmentally friendly BS-IV emission norms will come into force across the country. The order came after all vehicle manufacturers including their association -Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) approached SC to stop the ban till existing stock is sold.

SC Order

The SC bench held that health of the citizen is more important than the commercial interests of the automobile industry. All the vehicle registering authorities under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 are prohibited from registering such vehicles on and from April 1, 2017 that do not meet BS-IV emission standards. Vehicles that have already been sold on or before March 31, 2017 will be not included in this ban. From 1 April 2017, BS-IV fuel emission standards will kick in and all new vehicles have to comply it.

What are manufacturers saying?

Vehicle manufacturers have argued that they were entitled to make BS-III vehicles till March 31, 2017. So, the sale and registration of these vehicles should not be prohibited after April 1, 2017 with the introduction of BS-IV norms. They should further be given a reasonable time to dispose of their existing stock which is as about 820,000 vehicles (worth Rs 12,000-crore) most of them two-wheelers. Government also has favoured the prospect of selling the existent stock of BS-III vehicles, as it done twice before when fuel emission norms were upgraded to BS-II and BS-III, respectively.

Issue

Many vehicles including heavy commercial vehicles with BS-III built engines, employ a mechanical fuel pump and used fuel less efficiently. It negatively influences environment by subsequent emissions of nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

How BS-IV engines cut emissions?

Passenger vehicles compliant with Bharat Stage-III emission norms vary widely from their Bharat Stage-IV compliant engines, depending on the size of the car and whether they are petrol or diesel versions. BS-IV compliant engines differ in the electronics, sensor system, and its ability to process low-sulphur fuel and their “after-exhaust” system that determines emissions. BS-IV engines also require that the sulphur content of the fuel they use be less than 50 part per million (ppm) whereas BS-III ones can run on 350 ppm fuel. The transition from BS-III to BS-IV will lead to substantial reductions in particulate matter emissions. For instance, from new trucks, the emissions dip by 80% and from cars by 50%. Similarly, hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions can also drop between 41 and 80%, depending on the engine sizes.

Note: India also has set a deadline of 2020 to switch to BS-VI norms, by skipping stage V. This huge leap towards cleaner and environment friendly fuel, will include technology upgrade, making vehicles costly.

  1. Earth Hour observed across the World

The eleventh edition of the Earth Hour was observed across the world on 25 March 2017 to take a global call on climate change. To mark this day, cities worldwide turned their lights off from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm local time. This year millions of people from some 170 countries and territories had taken part in the annual event in a bid to highlight global warming caused by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas to drive cars and power plants. Environmental activists this year also have focused to raise awareness on another problem that gets far less attention: Light Pollution.

About Earth Hour

Earth Hour is an annual international event organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The first Earth Hour was held on March 31, 2007 in Sydney, Australia. It is held annually in end of March month to encourage everyone to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. The event encourages households and businesses to turn off their lights and electrical appliances for one hour at the appointed time to raise awareness about the need to take action on climate change. Its goal is to raise awareness for sustainable energy use and create a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Since its inception, it has become annual global environmental event (movement). Now it has grown to engage more than 7,000 cities and towns across 172 countries worldwide.

What is Light Pollution?

Light pollution is artificial brightening of the night sky caused by man-made lightening sources, which has a disruptive effect on natural cycles and inhibits the observation of stars and planets. It is also known as photo pollution or luminous pollution and basically is the misdirected or obtrusive of natural light by excessive artificial light. More than 80% of humanity lives under skies saturated with artificial light.

Components of light pollution

Glare: excessive brightness that causes visual discomfort. Skyglow: brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas. Clutter: bright, excessive and confusing groupings of light sources. Light trespass: light falling where it is not intended or needed.

Effects of Light Pollution

Disturbs the reproductive cycles of some animals.Disturbs migration of birds that navigate using the stars and to disorient night-flying insects. In humans, it disturbs circadian rhythms that regulate hormones and other bodily functions. Excessive blue light emitted form LEDs directly affects sleep pattern in Human by suppressing the production of the hormone melatonin, which mediates the sleep-wake cycle in humans.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF): It is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) working in the field of the biodiversity conservation, and the reduction of humanity’s footprint on the environment.

 

  1. Uttarakhand High Court orders completed ban of mining in state

The Uttarakhand High Court has ordered a complete ban on all mining activities in the state for four months. The court gave this order while hearing on Public Interest Litigation (PIL). It comes after a forest guard was allegedly killed by illegal miners near Corbett National Park when he had tried to stop them.

Key Facts

The HC bench ordered the state government to constitute a high-powered committee to look into various aspects of mining activities and find out whether mining activity should be permitted in the state at all. The committee will also prepare a 50-year blueprint taking into consideration environment limits vis-a-vis mining operations and submit an interim report within four month. It will also assess the damage caused to the rivers, springs, rivulets and environment and ecology of Uttrakahnd by mining and determine compensation payable to the persons affected by mining activities. It will identify places to be earmarked for safe mining so that there would be no loss of revenue to the government and requirements of people can also meet at the same time. Till the committee submits its report, there shall be a complete ban on mining activities, including in forest areas, rivers, rivulets and streams. The HC held that Shivalik region of the Himalayas is further getting fragile by mining activities. Mining activities needs to be regulated by the state to ensure that no illegal mining is carried out. It directed state government not to grant any fresh licence/mining lease/prospecting licence, in any form till the final report is furnished by the high powered committee to this court.

Comment

The HC order will stop mining in interstate rivers such as Ganga, Yamuna and also nearly 100 seasonal rivers and rivulets on foothills of the state, apart from forest areas.

 

  1. NGT suspends Green nod for Neutrino project

The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) suspended the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO). It has asked the project proponent to make a fresh application. NGT suspended the EC after petitioner submitted that the INO project was just 4.5 km away from Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idukki district (Kerala) and one kilometre from Kerala-Tamil Nadu border and falls under category ‘A’ project in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

 

What is the issue?

The Union Environment Ministry had categorised INO project as a Category ‘B’ project, for which an EIA is not necessary. But, as per EIA Notification, 2006, any project specified in category ‘B’ will be treated as category A, if it is located in whole or in part within 10 km from the boundary of protected areas notified under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and inter-State boundaries.

 What NGT says?

INO is a category ‘A’ project, which meant EIA study has to be done by an accredited agency. Since the project was near a national park, INO needs to get a clearance from the National Board for Wildlife. It also needs to get necessary clearance from the Kerala government as well.

About India-Based Neutrino Observatory (INO)

It country’s most ambitious basic science project proposed to come up in Bodi west hills of Theni district of Tamil Nadu. It aims at building a world-class underground laboratory with a rock cover of approximately 1200 meter. Its mandate is to conduct basic research on the elementary particle called neutrino. It is jointly supported by Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Department of Science & Technology (DST), with DAE acting as the nodal agency. The observatory will be located underground in order to provide adequate shielding to the neutrino detector from cosmic background radiation. It will comprise a complex of caverns which will house detector which is 130 metres long, 26 metres wide and 30 metre high.

 

  1. Assam Government launches SaCReD initiative to make Majuli carbon neutral island

Assam Government launched Sustainable Action for Climate Resilient Development (SaCReD) Initiative to develop Majuli, the world’s largest river island, as the country’s first carbon neutral district. It was launched by state Chief Minister Chief Minister SarbanandaSonowal on the occasion of International Day of Forests (observed on March 21).

Key facts

SaCReD Initiative will also ensure that infrastructure in Majuli has less carbon. It aims to battle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The will also aim to make the Majul island a biodiversity heritage site (BHS), first in the state in order to preserve its rich heritage and legacy. State Government also launched registry in Majuli to record and analyse the climate impact of all proposed projects in the district. Forests are Lives campaign was also launched to underline the importance of Assam’s rich forest and biodiversity. It urges people to take a pledge to conserve its biodiversity to make the state pollution free.

About Majuli Island 

Majuli island is fluvial riverine island is formed in the Brahmaputra river system. It is the world’s largest mid river delta (island) system. It is also India’s first river island. It is surrounded by Subanisri River in the North, main Brahmaputra River on the South and kherkatiaSuli, split channel of Brahmaputra River in northeast. Majuliisland is mostly inhabited by Mishing tribal people. It has been the hub of Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture initiated by saint-reformer SrimantaSankardeva in 15th century. It had some 65 satras (monasteries adhering) to Vaishnavism. Large numbers of them were relocated to mainland after being washed away. Some surviving satras are Garamurh, Dakhinpat, Kamalabari, Auniati and Bengenaati. Majuliisland is a rich environmental hotspot harbouring. It is home of many rare and endangered avifauna species including migratory birds. Due to erosion of river-bank of the island it has shrunk from about 1250 sq km in 1891 to about 515 sq km.

 

  1. Sea ice hits record winter low at both poles: Scientists

According to US and European scientists, the extent of sea ice at both poles has hit new record lows for this time of the year. The disappearing sea ice comes as the Earth marks three consecutive years of record-breaking heat and temperature rise, raising fresh concerns about the accelerating pace of global warming.

Key Findings 

Artic region: The ice floating in the Arctic Ocean grows and shrinks on a seasonal cycle every year, reaching its largest size in March and smallest at the end of the summer melt in September. But this year’s Arctic maximum spanned 14.42 million sq.km i.e. 95,829 sq.km below the previous record low in 2015. This year’s ice cover is 12,19,884 sq.km smaller compared to average sea ice extent for 1981-2010. The Arctic sea ice maximum has dropped by an average of 2.8% per decade since 1979. There was a lot of open ocean water and very slow ice growth because the water had a lot of accumulated.

Antartic region: The ice in the Antarctic also follows a seasonal cycle but its maximum comes in September and its minimum around February (summer in Southern Hemisphere). In the Antarctic, this year’s annual sea ice was 21,10,840 sq.km, about 1,83,889 sq.km below the previous lowest minimum extent in the satellite record, which occurred in 1997. For the past two years, Antarctica saw record high sea ice extents and decades of moderate sea ice growth.

  1. SCIENCE AND TECH
  2. Scientists switch on the world’s largest artificial sun

Scientists from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) have switched on world’s largest artificial sun – a device developed to help shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuels. The artificial sun is giant honeycomb-like set-up of 149 spotlights, officially known as Synlight. It is located in Juelich. It uses xenon short-arc lamps normally found in cinemas to simulate natural sunlight.

Key Facts

The aim of Synlight experiment is to develop an optimal setup for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel. Its goal is to eventually use actual sunlight rather than the artificial light produced using electricity which is costly and requires as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would use in a year. Using the array, scientists are seeking to produce the equivalent of 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation by focusing the entire array on a single 8×8 in spot (20*20cm). When light from all the lamps is aligned to concentrate on a single spot, it can generate temperatures of around 3,500 degree Celsius i.e. temperature two to three times of a blast furnace.

 Significance of this experiment

Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, but on earth it is relatively rare. One way to manufacture hydrogen is to split water (H2O) into its two elemental components – Hydrogen and oxygen, using electricity in electrolysis process. Synlight experiment will bypass usage of electricity by tapping into the enormous amount of solar energy that reaches Earth from sun. Hydrogen obtained from it will be used to be used in fuel cells, a clean source of energy that does not produce carbon emissions.


  1. 4 ISRO teams join 36th Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has joined the 36th Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (36-ISEA) organised by the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR). It has send four teams-one team each from Space Applications Centre (SAC), National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) and and Space Physics Laboratory(SPL).

Key Facts

The main objective of this expedition is to install stakes on ice for Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) measurements around two Indian bases Bharati and Maitri in Antartica. It will validate glacier surface velocity derived from satellite data to estimate thickness of snow over land and sea ice using Ground Penetrating Radars (GPR’s). It will also verify conditions of snow over sea and land ice. ISRO teams will also study of snow melt and freeze dynamics in Antarctica using space-based and ground-based observations. It will also study measurements of Atmospheric Black Carbon (BC), greenhouse gases and solar radiation fluxes at Antarctica on a long-term basis.

About Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (ISEA)

ISEA is a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional program conducted every year by the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences. It was started in 1981. It has gained global acceptance after India signed Antarctic Treaty. Subsequently, India had constructed DakshinGangotri Antarctic research base in 1983. It was superseded by the Maitri base from 1990, India’s newest base in Antarctica, Bharati, was commissioned in 2015. It is constructed out of 134 shipping containers.

 

  1. Scientists discover five new sub-atomic particles at CERN

Scientists using Large Hadron Collider accelerator (LHC) at CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) have discovered a new system of five particles all in a single analysis. This discovery is unique as observing five new states all at once is very rare. According to the standard convention, these particle states were named Oc(3000)0, Oc(3050)0, Oc(3066)0, Oc(3090)0 b Oc(3119)0. The numbers indicate their masses in megaelectronvolts (MeV), measured by LHCb experiment, one of seven particle physics detector experiments collecting data at LHC, world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

Key Facts

The new particles were found to be in excited states (a particle state that has a higher energy than the ground state or absolute minimum configuration) of a particle called Omega-c-zero. Omega-c-zero is a baryon. It is a particle with three quarks, containing two strange and one charm quark. It decays via the strong force into another baryon, called Xi-c-plus (containing a “charm”, a “strange” and an “up” quark) and a kaon K-. Xi-c-plusparticle further decays in turn into a proton p, a kaon K- and a pion p+. LHCb collaboration by analysing trajectories and energy left in the detector by all the particles in this final configuration were able to trace back the initial event he decay of the Omega-c-zeroand its excited states. Now quantum numbers of these new particles, characteristic numbers used to identify the properties of a specific particle and their theoretical significance will be determined. Significance of the Discovery: It will contribute to understanding how the three constituent quarks are bound inside a baryon. It will also help to probe the correlation between quarks, which plays a key role in describing multi-quark states, such as tetraquarks and pentaquarks.

About Baryon

Baryon is a composite subatomic particle made up of three quarks (a triquark, as distinct from mesons, which are composed of one quark and one antiquark). Baryons and mesons belong to the hadron family of particles, which are the quark-based particles. The most familiar baryons are the protons and neutrons that make up most of the mass of the visible matter in the universe.

 

  1. SCIENCE AND TECH
  2. Cabinet approves MoU between India and US in field of Cyber Security

Qs:  In your opinion, what measures by companies constitute good or bad cybersecurity practices? Examine why it’s in the interest of companies to practise good cybersecurity practices. 

The Union Cabinet has approved Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-ln) and the US Homeland Security Department on cooperation in the field of Cyber Security. The MoU was signed in January 2017 in New Delhi. It intends to promote closer co-operation and exchange of information pertaining to the Cyber Security between both strategic partners in accordance with the relevant laws, rules and regulations and on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and reciprocity.

About CERT-In (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team)

CERT-In is a government-mandated nodal agency for information technology (IT) security established in 2004 under the aegis of the Indian Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Electronics and IT. According to the provisions of the IT Amendment Act, 2008, CERT-In is responsible for overseeing administration of the Act. CERT-In’s Mandate: Protect Indian cyberspace and software infrastructure against destructive and hacking activities. Respond to computer security incidents, report on vulnerabilities and promote effective IT security practices throughout the country. Issue guidelines, vulnerability notes, advisories, and whitepapers regarding to information security practices, prevention, procedures, response and reporting of cyber security incidents.