The year 2018 was a testimony to India’s leadership and commitment on environmental issues as the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi was awarded the United Nation's highest environmental honour - Champions of the Earth Award. The UN recognised the Prime Minister in the Policy Leadership category for his bold environmental leadership on the global stage. His pioneering work in championing the International Solar Alliance where the country heralded a global coalition of nations to tackle climate change by leveraging the power of solar energy which has been lauded globally. Some of the major highlights of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in the year 2018 are outlined below:-
World Environment Day: Considering India’s global leadership in environmental protection and climate change sectors, the UNEP had chosen India to be the global host for World Environment Day (WED) on 5th June, 2018.
The main event was organized in Delhi and included a series of conferences in Vigyan Bhawan, a mega exhibition in Rajpath Lawns behind Vigyan Bhawan and the concluding event was graced by the Hon’ble Prime Minister and dignitaries from UN also attended the event. This WED, 2018 focused on “Plastic Pollution” which is one of the most challenging environmental concerns today.
single-use plastic pollution was being done through Eco-clubs in States/UTs. Some of the major activities undertaken were cleaning of identified beaches, river stretches and Mini- marathon on 3.6.2018. In consultation with State Nodal Agencies implementing the Eco-club programme, 24 beaches and 24 river stretches were identified for intensive cleaning drives which began with a mega inaugural ceremony at Goa on 14.5.2018. Students from various schools and colleges participated in this drive. Various cultural programmes, quiz competition, debate, awareness rallies etc were organized. Besides the above mentioned cleanliness drives, Mini Marathon was held at Vinay Marg, New Delhi on 3.6.2018 to spread awareness on proper utilization of plastic. The marathon was attended by around 10,000 Ecoclub students from Delhi - NCR. Also mini- marathons were also organized in other five cities namely Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Gangtok, Bhopal and Bhubaneswar.
Need for setting up of ‘Niti Aayog 2.0’: Replacing the Planning Commission, which was promoting regionally balanced growth in India, by the Niti Aayog, a think tank, has reduced the government’s policy reach. Therefore, the need has arisen for an institution to do the job at hand related to the structural issues including removal of regional imbalances in the economy.
Few suggestions related to composition and functions of the revamped Niti Aayog: It will be responsible for allocating development or transformational capital or revenue grants to the states.
In order to make the new Niti Aayog more effective, it is essential to ensure that the institution is at the ‘High Table’ of decision making of the government. This means the vice-chairman of the new Niti Aayog will need to be a permanent invitee of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).
It need not be involved with the approval of the state’s annual expenditure programmes. It should rather strive to be a think-tank with ‘praxis’ possessing considerable financial muscle and devote its energies to outline coherent medium and long term strategy and corresponding investment resources for transforming India.
New Niti Aayog will annually need the resources of around 1.5 to 2% of the GDP to provide suitable grants to the states for mitigating the development imbalances.
Other arguments supporting the revamp of Niti Aayog: NITI Aayog cannot transform a deeply unequal society into a modern economy that ensures the welfare of all its citizens, irrespective of their social identity.
It has no role in influencing public or private investment. It does not seem to have influence in policymaking with long-term consequences. For instance, demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax.
NITI Aayog is supposed to be a think tank. This implies that while generating new ideas, it maintains a respectable intellectual distance from the government of the day. Instead, we see uncritical praise of the Govt-sponsored schemes / programmes.
What is Input Tax Credit (ITC)? It is the tax that a business pays on a purchase and that it can use to reduce its tax liability when it makes a sale. In other words, businesses can reduce their tax liability by claiming credit to the extent of GST paid on purchases.
A business under composition scheme cannot avail of input tax credit. ITC cannot be claimed for personal use or for goods that are exempt.
Significance of ITC: One of the positive features of GST is that it helps to avoid the undesirable cost cascading effect (or tax on tax) that existed previously. Now, in the case of GST, there is the mechanism of Input Tax Credit (ITC) which helps to eliminate the cost cascading effect of the pre-GST tax regime. Under GST, there is not cost cascading effect because of two facts. First, most of the taxes are merged under a single tax, and second, the input tax credit.
Concerns over its misuse: There could be possibility of misuse of the provision by unscrupulous businesses by generating fake invoices just to claim tax credit. As much as 80% of the total GST liability is being settled by ITC and only 20% is deposited as cash.
Under the present dispensation, there is no provision for real time matching of ITC claims with the taxes already paid by suppliers of inputs. The matching is done on the basis of system generated GSTR-2A, after the credit has been claimed. Based on the mismatch highlighted by GSTR-2A and ITC claims, the revenue department sends notices to businesses.
Currently there is a time gap between ITC claim and matching them with the taxes paid by suppliers. Hence there is a possibility of ITC being claimed on the basis of fake invoices.
Need of the hour- real time updates: To fill the gap, a new return filing system has been proposed. Once it becomes operational, it would become possible for the department to match the ITC claims and taxes paid on a real time basis. The revenue department would then analyse the large number of ITC claims to find out if they are genuine or based on fake invoices and take corrective action.
Why in News? While numerous studies document this toxin in cereals across the world, no data existed for India until now. This month, a Journal of Food Science study detected zearalenone in wheat, rice, corn and oats from markets in Uttar Pradesh.
Are there any guidelines on its usage? The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India does not impose maximum limits for zearalenone, though the European Union (EU) does.
Why worry about this? Fungal toxins are commonly found in food, and can be a public health concern. India regulates the levels of some of these, including aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol, ergot and patulin. The first three infest cereals, while patulin is found in apples. Each of these toxins has been associated with disease outbreaks.
For example, in 1974, a hepatitis outbreak in Rajasthan and Gujarat, which made 398 people sick and killed 106, was linked to aflatoxin in maize. Meanwhile, chronic aflatoxin consumption has been shown to cause liver cancer.
Given this, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies aflatoxin as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is enough evidence for its carcinogenicity.
In zearalenone’s case, there is no strong evidence of toxicity in humans so far, though several research groups are investigating. As a result, the IARC classifies it as a Group 3 carcinogen, which means evidence is not sufficient for an evaluation yet.
How Zearalenone affects? Zearalenone behaves like oestrogen, the female sex hormone, and could cause endocrine disturbances in humans. Its nasty effects in animals, such as pigs, are documented. When fed with mouldy corn, pigs develop inflamed vaginas, infertility and other symptoms. This is why countries like Brazil regulate zearalenone levels in animal feed. In humans, the data are fuzzier.
What next? More data are needed from cereals in other States, and from other storage conditions, before India decides to set limits. Since zearalenone favours cool climates, such contamination could be limited to a few States. Also, strong epidemiological data linking human zearalenone levels with diseases such as breast cancer are important. The latest findings are an excellent starting point, since nothing was known about the chemical in India so far. It is time to build upon it.
Significance: This shows that India has assumed a leadership role in advancing global efforts to end malaria. The country’s success provides hope to the other highest-burden countries to tackle malaria head-on.
India’s efforts in this regard: India’s progress in fighting malaria is an outcome of concerted efforts to ensure that its malaria programme is country-owned and country-led, even as it is in alignment with globally accepted strategies.
At the East Asia Summit in 2015, India pledged to eliminate the disease by 2030. Following this public declaration, India launched the five-year National Strategic Plan for Malaria Elimination. This marked a shift in focus from malaria “control” to “elimination”. The plan provides a roadmap to achieve the target of ending malaria in 571 districts out of India’s 678 districts by 2022.
Way ahead: The plan requires more than ₹10,000 crore. Adequate investment combined with coordinated action between governments, civil society and philanthropic donors is imperative to achieve this goal. Since health is a State subject, State governments across the country shoulder a special responsibility in tackling the disease.
Durgama Anchalare Malaria Nirakaran (DAMaN) initiative: Among states, Odisha’s Durgama Anchalare Malaria Nirakaran (DAMaN) initiative is significant. The initiative aims to deliver services to the most inaccessible and hardest hit people of the State. The initiative has in-built innovative strategies to combat asymptomatic malaria.
The programme is jointly implemented by Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Malaria Research (ICMR-NIMR), National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP), Odisha and Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV).
Background: In August 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare announced its plans to implement this Charter, which was placed in the public domain for inviting comments up to 30th September, 2018. Although nearly 4 months have elapsed since this declaration of intent, there seems to have been no further progress on finalisation and adoption of the charter.
Need of Charter of Patients’ Rights: Right to non-discrimination is an important right. Every patient has the right to receive treatment without any discrimination based on his or her illnesses or conditions, including HIV status or other health condition, religion, caste, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
The charter assumes significance as India does not have a dedicated regulator like other countries. Existing regulations in the interest of patients and governing healthcare delivery systems are still on the anvil.
The draft Charter of Patients’ Rights: It has been prepared by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The draft charter includes 17 rights with description, inspired by international charters and guided by national level provisions, with the objective of consolidating these into a single document. The proposed Charter draws upon all the existing relevant provisions, thereby making them publicly known in a coherent manner.
The charter also prescribes certain responsibilities that the patient must adhere to. These include: Providing all required information to their doctor, without concealing relevant facts, so as to ensure a correct diagnosis and treatment.
Patients are also expected to follow all instructions regarding appointment time, co-operate with hospital staff and fellow patients, avoid creating disturbance to other patients, and maintain cleanliness in the hospital.
Patients should respect the dignity of the doctor and other hospital staff. Whatever the grievance may be, patient or caregivers should not resort to violence in any form.
The patients should also take responsibility for their actions based on choices made regarding treatment options and in case they refuse treatment.
Key features: The Project is being undertaken in association with UNICEF. It aims to generate awareness among Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) in Odisha on various development and welfare initiatives of State Government, especially on women and child welfare.
The focus areas of the Project are skill development, empowering communities, cooperation and innovation among the groups.
About ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)’: PVTGs are more vulnerable among the tribal groups. In 1975, the Government of India initiated to identify the most vulnerable tribal groups as a separate category called PVTGs and declared 52 such groups, while in 1993 an additional 23 groups were added to the category, making it a total of 75 PVTGs out of 705 Scheduled Tribes, spread over 17 states and one Union Territory(UT), in the country (2011 census).
Among the 75 listed PVTG’s the highest number are found in Odisha (13), followed by Andhra Pradesh (12).
New guidelines: Alignment of JSS course and curriculum with National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) to standardize training.
Decentralization of powers for JSSs by providing accountability and independence to district administration.
To identify and promote traditional skills in the district through skilling / upskilling.
Evidence-based assessment system. Easy Online certification. Linking JSS to Public Finance Management system to maintain transparency and accountability of the ecosystem. Creating livelihood linkages. Training of Trainers to develop the capacity through National Skills Training Institutes.
About Jan Shikshan Sansthans (JSS): Formerly under the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Jan Shikshan Sansthan was transferred to the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship in 2018.
Jan Shikshan Sansthans (JSS) were established to provide vocational training to non-literate, neo-literate, as well as school dropouts by identifying skills as would have a market in the region of their establishment.
Need: This tour is an obligation imposed on both the countries by the Indus Waters Treaty 1960 between India and Pakistan. Under the treaty, both the commissioners are mandated to inspect sites and works on both the sides of Indus basin in a block of five years.
Is it the first time? No. Since signing of the treaty, a total of 118 such tours on both the sides have been undertaken by the commission.
Indus Water 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.
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.
About Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO): SFIO comes under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA). It is a multi-disciplinary organisation that investigates and guides prosecution in white-collar fraud requiring expertise in forensic auditing, corporate law, information technology, capital markets, taxation, and other allied fields.
It was established in 2003, based on recommendations by the Naresh Chandra Committee on Corporate Audit and Governance.
It received statutory powers under the Companies Act, 2013. The rules giving it the power to make arrests came into effect in 2017.
Since its inception, the SFIO was understood to be a specialized organisation that would require a wide spectrum of expertise, and recruitment would be in large part deputation-based, drawing on expertise from various civil services cadres, and on consultants with the required expertise. Cases are assigned to the SFIO based on the scale of financial misappropriation or extent of public interest that is at stake.
Context: Sarus crane, whose numbers pushed to the edge by habitat degradation and human callousness, now seems to be getting a new lease of life in Uttar Pradesh, where it enjoys the status of official State bird.
Rise in numbers: The population of the Sarus crane, a bird distinguishable by its red upper neck and white collar, has climbed to 15,938 as per the 2018 census (summer). This is a jump of 5.2% from 2017, when there were 15,138 Sarus cranes across U.P. Its population in Uttar Pradesh has steadily grown since 2013, as wetlands thrive and farmers, fisherfolk nurture their nests.
Key facts: The Sarus (Grus antigone) is the tallest flying bird in the world. It is also India’s only resident breeding crane. IUCN status- ‘vulnerable’. It has three disjunct populations in the Indian sub-continent, south-east Asia and northern Australia.
Brand Finance Global 500, 2019: Facts relevant for Prelims: Brand Finance Global 500, 2019 report has placed the ‘Tata’ brand at the 86th position this year. Last year, it was placed at 104th position.
Italian supercar manufacturer, Ferrari, has claimed the title of the world’s strongest brand according to the report.
Brand Finance, the world’s leading independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy, determines the relative strength of brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating marketing investment, stakeholder equity, and business performance.
India’s first indigenously built engineless semi-high speed train, Train 18, has been named Vande Bharat Express. The train is set to run between Delhi and Varanasi at a maximum speed of 160 kmph.
Train 18 is a flagship train set; the first prototype has been built by the Integral Coach Factory, Chennai, in a record time of 20 months. The train is a 100% ‘Make in India’ project and is claimed to be built at half the cost of a similar train set that is imported.
T-18 is a self-propelled engine-less train (similar to the Metro trains) and is energy-efficient as its coaches will be fitted with LED lights. Coaches will have automatic doors and retractable footsteps.
It will be inter-connected with fully sealed gangways along with a GPS-based Passenger Information System. It is provided with of Bio toilets.
Context: India’s second Tulip garden will be set up in Pithoragarh district at a cost of Rs 50 crore. First one is located in Srinagar of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Tulip Garden will be developed by ONGC, under its corporate social responsibility programme in over 50 hectares of forest land near Chandak hilltop.
The site was selected under the 13 districts, 13 new destinations’ scheme, to attract more tourists to the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.
Context: “Atal Setu” on the Mandovi river in Goa has been inaugurated. Features of the bridge: It is 5.1-km long cable-stayed bridge connecting state capital Panaji with north Goa. The bridge is constructed by the GIDC (Goa Infrastructure Development Corporation) in collaboration with construction major Larsen and Toubro.
Mahadayi, also known as the Mandovi river, is known as a lifeline in the northern parts of Karnataka. The river originates and flows for 28 kilometer in Karnataka and goes through Maharashtra and Goa before meeting the Arabian Sea.
Context: The word Nari Shakti is chosen as the word of the Year 2018 by the Oxford dictionaries.
Why was Nari Shakti chosen? Large spike in the use of word Nari Shakti in March 2018 around the Government of India’s Nari Shakti Puraskar.
Supreme Court also upheld Nari Shakti’s prominence in 2018 with its two important decisions. One was a ban on ‘triple-talaq’ and second, the taking down of a rule that disallowed menstrual women entry to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
Why in News? Governor of Jammu and Kashmir has given his approval for the Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2014, providing reservation to the persons belonging to Pahari community of the State. The legislation is aimed at providing job opportunities to the Pahari people residing in backward areas of the State.
About Pahari community: Pahari is a linguistic group, comprising both Muslims and Hindus, and is mainly located in Poonch, Rajouri, Kupwara and Baramulla districts. Because of the remoteness and inaccessibility of the areas of their residence, the Pahari community has historically faced considerable economic distress leading to overall socio-economic backwardness.
Why in News? Two trained elephants will be used to patrol Odisha’s Satkosia Tiger Reserve. The two elephants are being brought from the Similipal Tiger Reserve. This step has been undertaken for resuming the ambitious tiger reintroduction programme in Satkosia.
About Satkosia Tiger Reserve: It was established in 1976 as a wildlife sanctuary. The area was declared as Satkosia Tiger Reserve in 2007. Satkosia is the meeting point of two bio-geographic regions of India; the Deccan Peninsula and the Eastern Ghats, contributing immense biodiversity.
Context: Ministry of Textiles will hold National Conclave on Technical Textiles in Mumbai. The event will also be a curtain raiser for Techno Tex 2019.
What are technical textiles? Technical Textiles are defined as Textile material and products manufactured primarily for their Technical performance and functional properties rather than aesthetic and decorative characteristics.
Technical textiles include textiles for automotive applications, medical textiles (e.g., implants), geotextiles (reinforcement of embankments), agrotextiles (textiles for crop protection), and protective clothing (e.g., heat and radiation protection for fire fighter clothing, molten metal protection for welders, stab protection and bulletproof vests, and spacesuits).