Context: Union Ministry of Women and Child Development recently inaugurated widows’ home ‘Krishna Kutir’ at Vrindavan in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. The construction of the home was funded by Central Government and it will be managed by the Uttar Pradesh Government.
Krishna Kutir: Krishna Kutir is a special home for 1000 widows set under Swadhar Greh scheme and is the largest ever facility of its kind created by government organization. It was constructed to mitigate the plight of widows living in pathetic condition in Vrindavan.
About Swadhar Greh Scheme: The Swadhar scheme was launched by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2002 for rehabilitation of women in difficult circumstances. The scheme provides shelter, food, clothing and care to the marginalized women/girls who are in need. The beneficiaries include widows deserted by their families and relatives, women prisoners released from jail and without family support, women survivors of natural disasters, women victims of terrorist/extremist violence etc.
Implementation of the scheme: The State Governments/UT Administration invite applications from eligible organizations and the proposals which fulfil the norms are placed before a Project Sanctioning Committee (PSC) chaired by Secretary(WCD) of the State/UT concerned.
As per guidelines of the Swadhar Greh Scheme, to seek financial assistance the agency should meet following requirements: The agency should be either recognized by State/UT under existing law or should be well known with the experience or working in the field for at least 3 years and its work should be reported satisfactory by the State Govt./UT Administration concerned.
It should ordinarily have been engaged in the field of women’s welfare/social welfare for a minimum period of two years. Its financial position should be sound. It should have facilities, resources, experience and personnel to undertake the management of such project. It should run Swadhar Greh on a no-profit basis. It should have facilities like computers, internet connection etc at Swadhar Greh.
Context: India and Pakistan have agreed to undertake the Indus Waters Treaty mandated tours by their Commissioners in the Indus basin on both sides to resolve issues on the various hydroelectric projects, including the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai in Jammu and Kashmir. The recently concluded deliberations were held to further strengthen the role of the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) for matters under the 1960 Treaty.
About the treaty: Signed in 1960 by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Pakistan President Ayub Khan, the treaty allocates 80% of water from the six-river Indus water system to Pakistan. Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum from the Indus water system that flows from India to Pakistan. The Indus river basin spans parts of 4 countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China) in an area that is more than 30% arid.
Under the treaty, control over six north Indian rivers were divided between the two countries. India got control over the rivers Beas, Ravi and Sutlej whereas Pakistan got control over Indus, Chenab and Jhelum. This is a unique treaty involving a third party. It was brokered by the World Bank. A Permanent Indus Commission was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty. The Commission solves disputes arising over water sharing. The Treaty also provides arbitration mechanism to solve disputes amicably.
Mechanism for cooperation: The treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of the rivers. However, there have been disagreements and differences between India and Pakistan over the treaty. The water commissioners of Pakistan and India were required to meet twice a year and arrange technical visits to projects’ sites and critical river head works, but Pakistan had been facing a lot of problems in timely meetings and visits.
Context: 6th East Asia Summit- Economic Ministers’ Meeting (EAS-EMM) was recently held in Singapore. Outcomes of the meeting: The 6th East-Asia Economic Ministers’ Meeting was attended by Economic Ministers from 10 ASEAN countries and their eight dialogue partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the Russian Federation and the United States of America. Acknowledging the potential for disruptions in the macro-economy that could affect overall market sentiments and global growth, the EAS-EMM forum expressed the hope that the economic linkages among the EAS members will enable them to address these challenges.
The Ministers agreed to the importance of keeping markets open and fair as well as improving transparency and predictability of the business environment. The meeting recognized the importance of ongoing work to maximize the opportunities of, and address the challenges presented by, the digital economy and the rise of regional and global value chains, as part of their efforts to promote economic growth and integration in the region.
About East Asia Summit: The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a forum held annually by leaders of, initially, 16 countries in the East Asian, Southeast Asian and South Asian regions. Membership expanded to 18 countries including the United States and Russia at the Sixth EAS in 2011. EAS meetings are held after annual ASEAN leaders’ meetings. The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 14 December 2005.
EAS is an initiative of ASEAN and is based on the premise of the centrality of ASEAN. EAS has evolved as a forum for strategic dialogue and cooperation on political, security and economic issues of common regional concern and plays an important role in the regional architecture. There are six priority areas of regional cooperation within the framework of the EAS. These are – Environment and Energy, Education, Finance, Global Health Issues and Pandemic Diseases, Natural Disaster Management, and ASEAN Connectivity. India endorses regional collaboration in all six priority areas.
Evolution of EAS: The concept of an East Asia Grouping was first promoted in 1991 by the then Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad. The final report of the East Asian Study Group in 2002, established by the ASEAN+3 countries (i.e. China, Japan and ROK), recommended EAS as an ASEAN led development limited to the ASEAN +3 countries.
However, the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) held in Vientiane on July 26, 2005 welcomed the participation of ASEAN, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, India and New Zealand, in the first EAS. USA and the Russian Federation were formally included as members of the EAS at the 6th EAS held in Bali, Indonesia on 19 November 2011.
Way ahead: EAS, representing nearly 50% of the world’s population and over 20% of global trade, is a mega gathering and is a testimony to the rise of Asia and how rapidly the world’s politico-economic equations are shifting.
Facts for Prelims: Following the 12th EAS in November 2017 in Manila, Philippines and following the adoption of the Manila Plan of Action, Maritime Cooperation has been identified as an important area of cooperation under the EAS.
Context: 15th ASEAN Economic Ministers – India Consultation was recently held in Singapore. Singapore is currently holding the Chair of ASEAN.
Outcomes of the meeting: The meeting attended by Economic Ministers from 10 ASEAN countries took stock of the current level of trade and economic engagement between India and ASEAN and reaffirmed the commitment to further strengthen ASEAN-India economic relations. It was also announced in the Singapore meeting that the next ASEAN-India Business Summit will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in November 2018 with the theme “Towards Building Strategic Partnership between ASEAN and India in the Era of the 4th IR and Digital Economy”.
It will be followed by the 4th India-ASEAN Dialogue Partner Expo and Summit scheduled for 21-23 February 2019, in New Delhi. Issues related to promoting connectivity, collaboration on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) development, blue economy, healthcare, and tourism as well as women and youth economic empowerment were discussed.
What is ASEAN? The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (more commonly known as ASEAN) is a political and economic organization aimed primarily at promoting economic growth and regional stability among its members. There are currently 10 member states: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Why was it set up? ASEAN was founded half a century ago in 1967 by the five South-East Asian nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. This was during the polarized atmosphere of the Cold War, and the alliance aimed to promote stability in the region. Over time, the group expanded to include its current 10 members.
Regional cooperation was further extended with the creation of the ASEAN Plus Three forum in 1997, which included China, South Korea and Japan. And then the East Asia Summit, which began taking place in 2005 and has expanded to include India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.
How important is the region economically? If ASEAN were a country, it would be the seventh-largest economy in the world, with a combined GDP of $2.6 trillion in 2014. By 2050 it’s projected to rank as the fourth-largest economy. Home to more than 622 million people, the region has a larger population than the European Union or North America. It also has the third-largest labour force in the world, behind China and India.
Context: Recently, RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya made a case for setting up a Public Credit Registry (PCR), incorporating unique identifiers: Aadhaar for individual borrowers and Corporate Identification Number for firms.
About Public Credit Registry: What is it? The PCR will be an extensive database of credit information for India that is accessible to all stakeholders. The idea is to capture all relevant information in one large database on the borrower and, in particular, the borrower’s entire set of borrowing contracts and outcomes.
Management of PCR: Generally, a PCR is managed by a public authority like the central bank or the banking supervisor, and reporting of loan details to the PCR by lenders and/or borrowers is mandated by law. The contractual terms and outcomes covered and the threshold above which the contracts are to be reported vary in different jurisdictions, but the idea is to capture all relevant information in one large database on the borrower, in particular, the borrower’s entire set of borrowing contracts and outcomes.
Need for a PCR: A central repository, which, for instance, captures and certifies the details of collaterals, can enable the writing of contracts that prevent over-pledging of collateral by a borrower. In absence of the repository, the lender may not trust its first right on the collateral and either charge a high cost on the loan or ask for more collateral than necessary to prevent being diluted by other lenders. This leads to, what in economics is termed as, pecuniary externality – in this case, a spillover of one loan contract onto outcomes and terms of other loan contracts.
Furthermore, absent a public credit registry, the ‘good’ borrowers are disadvantaged in not being able to distinguish themselves from the rest in opaque credit markets; they could potentially be subjected to a rent being extracted from their existing lenders who enjoy an information monopoly over them. The lenders may also end up picking up fresh clients who have a history of delinquency that is unknown to all lenders and this way face greater overall credit risk.
Benefits of having a PCR: A PCR can potentially help banks in credit assessment and pricing of credit as well as in making risk-based, dynamic and counter-cyclical provisioning. The PCR can also help the RBI in understanding if transmission of monetary policy is working, and if not, where are the bottlenecks. Further, it can help supervisors, regulators and banks in early intervention and effective restructuring of stressed bank credits. A PCR will also help banks and regulators as credit information is a ‘public good’ and its utility is to the credit market at large and to society in general.
Task force on PCR: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had formed a high-level task force on public credit registry (PCR) for India. The task force was chaired by Y M Deosthalee. The task force has suggested the registry should capture all loan information and borrowers be able to access their own history. Data is to be made available to stakeholders such as banks, on a need-to-know basis. Data privacy will be protected.
Context: The six Western Ghats States, including Kerala, have been restrained by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) from giving environmental clearance to activities that may adversely impact the eco-sensitive areas of the mountain ranges.
Important directions issued by the NGT: The extent of Eco-Sensitive Zones of Western Ghats, which was notified by the Central government earlier, should not be reduced in view of the recent floods in Kerala. Any alteration in the draft notification of zones may seriously affect the environment, especially in view of recent incidents in Kerala.
Background: The Western Ghats Ecological Expert Panel had earlier proposed “much larger areas for being included in the eco-sensitive zone” though the Kasturirangan-led High Level Working Group, also appointed by the MoEF to look into the WGEEP report, had reduced it. The Ministry had accepted the Kasthurirangan report and issued the draft notifications on ecologically sensitive zones.
Need of the hour: Western Ghats region is under serious stress. The region is one of the richest biodiversity areas which needed to be conserved.
Why was the Gadgil Committee set up? Environment Ministry set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel under Gadgil. The panel was asked to make an assessment of the ecology and biodiversity of the Western Ghats and suggest measures to conserve, protect and rejuvenate the entire range that stretches to over 1500 km along the coast, with its footprints in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
What did the Gadgil Committee say? It defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats for the purposes of ecological management. It proposed that this entire area be designated as ecologically sensitive area (ESA). Within this area, smaller regions were to be identified as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) I, II or III based on their existing condition and nature of threat. It proposed to divide the area into about 2,200 grids, of which 75 per cent would fall under ESZ I or II or under already existing protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries or natural parks. The committee proposed a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.
Important recommendations of Madhav Gadgil Committee: Ban on the cultivation of genetically modified in the entire area. Plastic bags to be phased out in three years. No new special economic zones or hill stations to be allowed. Ban on conversion of public lands to private lands, and on diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes in ESZ I and II. No new mining licences in ESZ I and II area.
No new dams, thermal power plants or large-scale wind power projects in ESZ I. No new polluting industries in ESZ I and ESZ II areas. No new railway lines or major roads in ESZ I and II areas. Strict regulation of tourism. Cumulative impact assessment for all new projects like dams, mines, tourism, housing.
Why was Kasturirangan committee to set up? None of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee, which submitted its report in August 2011. In August 2012, then Environment Minister constituted a High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats under Kasturirangan to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report in a “holistic and multidisciplinary fashion in the light of responses received” from states, central ministries and others. Its report revealed that of the nearly 1,750 responses it had examined, 81% were not in favour of the Gadgil recommendations. In particular, Kerala had objected to the proposed ban on sand mining and quarrying, restrictions on transport infrastructure and wind energy projects, embargos on hydroelectric projects, and inter-basin transfer of river waters, and also the complete ban on new polluting industries.
Way ahead: Kerala flood is a lesson worth of learning for India’s disaster management system. India, having more than 7500 km of coastline, should have a strong disaster early warning and management system. Cooperation between the states can create an expert and integrated national structure, to manage any kind of natural disaster.
Context: China-Maldives Friendship Bridge has been officially opened for traffic.
Key facts: The bridge is an iconic project of the Maldives and China in co-building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The 2-km bridge connects capital Male and neighboring Hulhule island where the Maldives’ main international airport is located.
Significance: The bridge has made it possible for locals and tourists to transit between the two islands on land within five minutes. The China-Maldives Friendship Bridge has the power to unlock Malé’s economy, and position China as a leading investor in Maldives’ transport and trade for years to come.
Context: Exercise Kakadu 2018 will be held in Australia. KAKADU 2018 is the 14th edition of the exercise.
Key facts: Exercise KAKADU, which started in 1993, is the premier multilateral regional maritime engagement exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and supported by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The exercise is held biennially in Darwin and the Northern Australian Exercise Areas (NAXA).
Exercise KAKADU derives its name from Kakadu National Park, which is a protected area in the northern territory of Australia, 171 km south-east of Darwin. During the exercise, professional exchanges in harbour and diverse range of activities at sea, including complex surface, sub-surface and air operations would enable sharing of best practices and honing of operational skills.
Context: Two Indians Bharat Vatwani and Sonam Wangchuk are among six who have been declared winners of 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Award.
About Ramon Magsaysay Award: It is Asia’s highest honour and is often regarded as the region’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. It was established in 1957 by trustees of the New York City based Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Philippine government in the memory of Philippines’ third President Ramon Magsaysay.
It is awarded annually to individuals or organizations from Asia region for their altruistic and philanthropic service. It carries Medallion bearing the likeness of the late President Ramon Magsaysay, cash prize and a certificate.
Context: India and Nepal have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on preliminary engineering-cum-traffic survey of the proposed Raxaul-Kathmandu railway line.
The MoU is the first step forward in the ambitious rail connectivity initiative between the two countries announced in April this year. India’s Konkan Railway has been asked to conduct a preliminary engineering-cum-traffic survey of the new rail line in consultation with the Nepalese government.
Objective: To develop a Digital Depository for school learning certificates, degrees and other academic awards of Higher Education Institutions, on the pattern of a Securities Depository in line with the vision of Digital India.
The National Academic Depository (NAD) was launched by the President of India on 9th July, 2017. The NAD is born out of an initiative to provide an online 24X7 store-house of all academic awards, viz. certificates, diplomas, degrees, mark sheets etc. of School Education Boards and Higher Educational Institutions on the pattern of a security depository in line with the vision of digital India and help in safe storage, easy retrival and validating the authenticity of academic awards.
As on 16th February, 2018, around 91.03 lakhs academic awards have been lodged on NAD. About 330 academic institutions including School Boards have on-boarded NAD and about 30,000 students have already registered on NAD.
In response to the clarion call made by the Prime Minister on 15 August, 2014, the Department of School Education and Literacy launched the Swachh Vidyalaya lnitiative (SVI) for the construction and repair of separate toilets for girls and boys in every school within a year.
The targets were fully achieved with 4,17,796 toilets added to 2,61,400 government elementary and secondary schools during the year from 15.8.2014 to 15.8.2015.
This was achieved by a combination of effort from government, public and corporate sectors and private contributions. This includes schools in the most difficult to reach areas in the country such as districts facing Left Wing Extremism (LWE), in forests, remote mountainous terrain and in crowded slums. With this, all 13.77 crore children in 11.21 lakh government schools all over the country now have access to toilet facilities.
Scholarships As per the record maintained by AICTE, a sum of Rs. 292.50 Crore (approx.) has been released to 11,862 GATE qualified M. Tech. students. In addition, Rs. 2.61 Lakh have been released under National Doctoral Fellowship Scheme. Overall, a sum of Rs. 1076 Crore have been released to GATE qualified M. Tech. Students in the last three year.
Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) in Higher Education was launched on 30th November, 2015. The programme seeks to invite distinguished academicians, entrepreneurs, scientists, experts from premier institutions from across the world, to teach in the higher educational institutions in India
The Ministry of HRD has embarked on a major and new initiative called 'Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds' (SWAYAM), which will provide one integrated platform and portal for online courses, using information and communication technology (ICT) and covering all higher education subjects and skill sector courses. Till date, more than 28 Lakhs learners have been enrolled in 1000+ MOOCs courses that have been run through SWAYAM.
Ministry of Human Resource Development under its National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology initiated the National Digital Library of India (NDL India) project to develop a framework of virtual repository of learning resources with a single-window search facility.
NATIONAL RANKINGS FOR HIGHER INSTITUTIONS National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) launched to help Indian Educational Institutions to participate in the world rankings with greater confidence. ü National Institutional Ranking Framework-2018: 2809 institutions have participated in nine categories. This includes 301 Universities, 906 Engineering Institutions, 487 Management Institutions, 286 Pharmacy Institutions, 71 Law Institutions, 101 Medical Institutions, 59 Architecture Institutions and 1087 General Degree Colleges.
ü “India Rankings 2018” have ranked institutions in the disciplines/categories mentioned above, and provided a common overall rank across all disciplines for those institutions, which have more than 1000 enrolled students.
Smart India Hackathon A unique IT Initiative under which students are encouraged to apply knowledge to the real life situations and to find innovative solutions to the day to day problems Smart India Hackathon 2018 (SIH 2018) was launched on 16th October 2017. It includes 2 sub-editions – Software as well as Hardware: ü Software Edition- 36-hour software product development competition, similar in concept to SIH 2017. ü In the new Hardware Edition of the Hackathon, the teams work for 5 consecutive days and build their hardware solutions for the proposed problem statements. ü The Grand Finale of Software Edition SIH 2018 was held on 30th & 31st March, 2018.
RESEARCH &QUALITY HIGHER EDUCATION Research and Quality Higher Education: AICTE has released a sum of Rs. 11.77 Crore under Research Promotional Scheme in the current Financial Year. The scheme aims at promoting research in engineering sciences and innovations in established and newer technologies; and to generate Master’s and Doctoral degree candidates to augment the quality of faculty and research. Under Modernisation and Removal of Obsolescence (MODROBS), AICTE has granted a sum of Rs. 16 Crore in the present financial year to the institutes for removing obsolescence in laboratories, workshops, etc. ü 5 New Research Parks at IIT Delhi, IIT Guwahati, IIT Kanpur, IIT Hyderabad and IISc Bangalore @ Rs.75 crore each approved.
IMPRINT initiative was launched by the Hon’ble President, Hon’ble Prime Minister and the Hon’ble Human Resource Development Minister in November, 2015 to channelize the research in premier institutions into areas that can have largest social and economic good for the country. Under this initiative, research projects under 10 selected domains are jointly funded by MHRD and other participating Ministries/Departments. These domains are: health care, energy, sustainable habitat, nano technology hardware, water resources and river systems, advanced materials, information and communication technology, manufacturing, security and defence, and environmental science and climate change. 142 research projects with an outlay of Rs. 323.16 crore for 3 years with joint funding from MHRD and participating Ministries in he ratio of 50:50 have been approved and currently under execution.
Hon’ble Minister for Human Resource Development announced in the IIT Council meeting on October 6, 2015 an annual investment of Rs. 250.00 crore with a view to promoting innovation of a higher order that directly impacts the needs of the Industry and thereby improves the competitive edge of Indian manufacturing. The projects envisages collaboration between the academia and industry – within or outside India. The overall annual investment would be limited to Rs. 250.00 crore each year. The funding pattern of the projects selected would be 25% by Industry; 25% by participating Department/Ministry; and 50% by MHRD. 87 projects at a cost of Rs.265.59 crore with joint funding from MHRD, participating Ministries and Industry in the ratio of 50:25:25 have been approved and currently under execution. Under UAY Phase-II, 65 projects with a total cost of Rs.139.48 Cr for a period of 3 years have been approved by the Apex Committee.
1. National Testing Agency: In pursuance of the Budget Announcement 2017-18, the Union Cabinet in its meeting held on 10.11.2017 approved creation of the National Testing Agency (NTA) as an autonomous and self-sustained premier testing organization to conduct all entrance examinations for higher education institutions in the country.
2. Improving Gender Balance: With a view to improving female enrolment in the B.Tech Programmes in IITs, a Committee under the chairmanship of Director, IIT-Mandi was constituted by the Joint Admission Board (JAB) to suggest suitable measures. The recommendations of the Committee were considered by the IIT Council in its 51st meeting held on 28.04.2017 and decided to increase female enrolment from the current 8% to 14% in 2018-19, 17% in 2019-20 and 20% in 2020-21 by creating supernumerary seats.
3. Project Monitoring Unit (PMU): In order to effectively monitor construction of campuses of all higher educational institutions under MHRD, a Project Monitoring Unit comprising experts in the field of construction has been set up. This will monitor the quality of the construction at the one hand and ensure that there is no time and cost overruns in these high value projects.