Current Affairs of April - 2017

South Asia’s longest tunnel inaugurated in J&K.

Start up scheme - NIDHI PRAYAS

NIDHI - PRAYAS scheme was launched by DST under which startups and entrepreneurs will get funds to work on their ideas and make a business model. 10 such PRAYAS centers shall start and out of those each shall support 10 entrepreneurs annually.

Concerns with GST

The Government is keen on releasing the rates of taxes on various goods by June and not earlier than the roll out date of July 1. The government wants to prevent a situation where the consumer shall stock up the goods if the current tax rate is lower than the rate prescribed under GST.

The consumer shall also avoid buying the good if he finds that the current tax rate is higher than the one under GST. In the latter case he will prefer to delay buying.

The Anti competition clause in the Central GST bill states that any rebate from lowered taxes or tax credit should be passed on to the consumers in the form of low price on products. The company can't profit by increasing the price of the product by taking advantage of the low tax rate.

Changing Oil Policy

The country is slowly moving towards international best practices when it comes to fuel retailing. The government has implemented a pilot to change fuel prices of petrol and diesel on a daily basis. This means that the consumer can be more responsive to a change in oil prices internationally. The current system of fortnightly changing prices leads to sharp increases sometimes.

The government has already deregulated petrol and diesel but it should consider one more step: Setting up independent oil retailers. Currently we have a policy that only select oil companies can import and sell petrol and diesel. The petrol pumps are also owned by the same PSU’s and so have to sell at a fixed price to consumers.

This is a anti competition measure and leads to no incentive to petrol pumps and oil PSU’s to work for better pricing. In US, oil companies hardly own retail outlets and this leads to the retail outlets having a choice of selecting which company to purchase oil from. This also benefits consumers as petrol pumps owners can offer discounts to compete with each other.

Chemical attack on Syria

Chemical weapons were first used in World War I and the most common were phosgene, mustard gas and nerve agent like Sarin, VX. The geneva convention later banned the use of these agents in a war. The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention however made it illegal to even produce and store them. India had a huge stockpile of such weapons and in 2009 it destroyed its stockpile and became the third country in the world to do so.

India Bangladesh Summit

The Maitri express was launched from kolkata to dhaka. India and Bangladesh to discuss joint cooperation on terrorism, judiciary, movie production during Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina shall visit India. The Teesta water sharing agreement that involves sharing 48% of the water with Bangladesh was a thorny issue as the Bengal CM had objected to it. The agreement was delayed due to Bengal CM’s concerns about the twin problems of water scarcity during summer and flooding during rainy seasons due to the Teesta river waters.

Currently India gets around 39% and Bangladesh gets 36% of the Teesta's water while the remaining is un-allocated.

In 2011 a new pact wanted 42% for India, 37.5% for Bangladesh. However due to Mamta Banerjee's disapproval such a pact wasn't signed. Bangladesh wants 50% of the water during the dry months of December to May.

The North Bengal regions depends on Teesta's waters and due to water scarcity there is insufficient water for agriculture. This has been created due to Sikkim's hydroelectricity projects. Also poor water harnessing capabilities are responsible for this.

PV Sindhu (First Indian woman to win Olympic silver medal - Rio games, 2016) wins India Open Super Series 2017 by beating Carolina Marin in the finals.

Electronic sports and Asian games

2022 Asian games shall be held in Hangzhou, China and e-sports shall be an official medal winning category. 2018 Asian games at Jakarta, Indonesia and 2017 Asian Indoor games and Martial Arts, Turkmenistan too shall have e-sports as a demonstration event. It is hoped that including this category shall re-energize the event and make it more attractive to the youth, advertisers and sponsors. This shall provide fiscal stability to the event.

60th Anniversary - First democratically elected communist government in the world

The first democratically elected communist government in the world was formed in Kerala 60 years ago. This was a time when the Cold war was at its height and Communism and democracy were against each other.

Russian communists had removed a democratically elected government in Hungary. The Indian communists too were against the Parliament and actively participated in violence against the state.

Stuttgart, Germany is the sister city of Mumbai.

Motor Vehicles Act, Amendments

Motor vehicles Act to be amended to include Aadhar number linking to all applications of driving licence. Thus only once can you apply for driving licence.

This means that in the event of traffic violation if the driving licence is impounded then the applicant can’t apply for a new licence. Also the procedure for apply for a learning licence shall be given online and no one shall have to visit the RTO office for the same.

Government shall also make an All India register for driving licences and vehicles that shall be available throughout the country.

Rail development authority

Rail development authority shall be formed by an executive order to recommend the prices of railway tickets for consumers and transportation of goods for industries. This shall remove the pricing from political compulsions. The body shall also improve the environment for investment, open non discriminatory access to dedicated freight corridors, help in setting service benchmarks etc.

Draft RTI Rules

Draft RTI rules being proposed introduce a controversial clause that might make the RTI application to lapse in case of death of the RTI applicant.

This is being seen as a move that might encourage violence against RTI activists. The complainant might be killed and the case shall have to be withdrawn.

Supreme Court - Ban on bars on highways

Only the Central government can notify or de-notify / re-notify roads as National Highways by publishing in the Official gazette. The State government can recommend upgrading the State roads as National highways.

State governments have full powers to re-notify / de-notify / notify State highways as district roads or vice versa. This mode is being used to circumvent the Supreme Court judgment on Banning bars 500m from highway limits.

National Center for Counter terrorism

National Center for Counter Terrorism was to be created as a unified body for coordinated operations between the intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies of the center and the state.

There are currently multiple agencies like IB, RAW, CBI, NATGRID but they lack a coordinated response. The NCTC shall also have powers of search and seizure like police. However states have objected to this citing that “Law and Order” is a State subject. However the Union Home ministry has objected

Legal system reforms:

Supreme court of India can take a collective vacation of not exceeding 10 weeks in a year. This has been specified in the Supreme court rules, and government doesn’t decide this. The High courts have their own rules for vacation and they also make rules for district and subordinate courts. It can be argued that the Supreme court considering the huge backlog of cases change the vacation system from collective one to individual one where each judge gets freedom to choose his holidays. The International labor organization also states that 21 days paid leave is an entitlement for all workers. Hence like other public departments the Supreme court could consider a change in the system.

Laws and Rules:

Currently legislation made by Parliament is only to provide a framework for the government to make rules which shall decide how the law shall be implemented. The delegated legislation system is to ensure that Parliament doesn’t bother with complex , technical nature of law making but only gives broad guidelines.

The rules once made are again examined by a committee on subordinate legislation to ensure that the rules are within framework of the law. However as this committee is burdened with examining the rules made under various laws it can’t do its work effectively. It would be more appropriate to allow all the 24 departmental standing committees to examine the rules made by their department.

The Parliament had recommended that the process of rule-making should be over within 6 months of the law being passed, this shall ensure all passed laws are executed. Also while the law is being drafted the draft rules should also be framed.

Public participation should be considered and their concerns should be implemented in these rules. The Benami transactions Act was passed in 1988 but for 25 years the rules were not framed and so the Act was never implemented. The above suggestions if implemented shall ensure that such situations never arise again.

Education System and its Problems:

The education system especially the higher education system is being bifurcated in a way that architecture education system is handed over to the Ministry of Urban development. Polytechnics are being handed over to the Skill development ministry and Medical education is being handled by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

There are numerous regulators for professional education system like AICTE (Engineering), MCI (Medicine), UGC etc. The current system instead of streamlining the quality control norms has created duplicacy and redundancy confusing students and colleges alike.

The system is more of “silo” mentality that viewing education as a whole. Throughout the world the universities are becoming institutions of inter-disciplinary research and collaborative efforts. The current system shall ensure that education which can be handled within one department shall be given to different departments which lack the domain knowledge.

One example is that of the question of a “National Skills University” which is still not in operation even after 2.5 years of being decided.

Debt recovery tribunals

Financial Stability Board a global body that sets financial stability policies across different sectors.

Debt recovery tribunals face long pendency as majority of them lack manpower and facilities. The government hasn’t made any scientific study before deciding the deadlines to decide cases. It has proceeded only on widespread consultations. Rs. 5 lakh crore of non performing assets are pending with the DRT’s.

National Commission for Backward Classes

Constitution doesn’t recognize economic criteria for backwardness and so it has struck down the Narsimhan Rao government’s decision to have 10% quota for economically weaker sections of the forward castes. The government wants to give constitutional status to a National Commission on Socially and educationally backward castes.

This shall have powers to recommend to the Parliament whether to include or exclude a caste from the category list. Such a recommendation shall not be binding on the Parliament. However the earlier commission’s recommendations were binding on the government.

The current commission considers inclusions in and exclusions from the lists of communities notified as backward for the purpose of job reservations and tenders the needful advice to the Central Government. Similarly, the states have also constituted commissions for BC's.

National Commission for Backward Classes has not yet been empowered to look into the grievances of persons of Other Backward Classes. National Commission for Scheduled Castes is the competent authority to look into all the grievances, rights and safeguards relating to Backward Classes.

Generic Drugs v/s Branded drugs

Generic drugs are cheaper than branded drugs as the manufacturers don’t have to spend on the clinical trials etc of that drug. The branded drug has been developed after years of research and so the manufacturing company patents it to prevent other companies from making the same drug. After 20 years when the patent expires the drug is free for others to manufacture. This is how generic medicines are created.

They have the same “active ingredient” as the original drug but slight differences are there is inactive things like size, color and flavor. Government now wants to make it mandatory for doctors to prescribe generic drugs. PM Bharatiya Janaushadi Pariyojana operates centers in many states where generic drugs are sold and even private pharmaceutical manufacturers certified by WHO can sell generic drugs here specifically packages for PMBJP.

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority under the Dept. of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Chemicals decides the prices of medicines in the Schedule-I and National List of essential Medicines (NLEM). This list is compiled by the NPPA and the prices of drugs on it is regulated. The NPPA also has powers to regulate prices of drugs not in the NLEM but this power is to be used in exceptional circumstances.

The ceiling price of the drug is fixed by taking the average of all similar drugs sold by different companies in India who have more than 1% market share for that drug. No company is allowed to share above this price.

The Dept of Pharmaceuticals is allowed to review decisions of the NPPA and in such cases the Dept’s views shall prevail over NPPA.

Article 142(1)

It gives the Supreme Court the powers in the exercise of its jurisdiction to pass an order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it. Such a provision has not found parallel in any other Constitution of the World. It was under this Article that the court ordered the joint trial of Babri Masjid case.

India - Sri Lanka Economic Partnership

Sri Lanka wants an economic partnership with India on development of oil rig farms in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. This is to the advantage of both as India needs hydrocarbons to fuel its economic growth and SriLanka wants to restore good relations with India after it allowed Chinese investments in the ports.

India has however realised too late that regional economic integration shall make it a powerhouse in the South Asian region. This has worked for a good partnership with Bangladesh where it has signed many pacts for transborder partnership. Sri Lanka and India should stop politicising economic projects just like China and Taiwan. China and Taiwan don’t recognise each other’s political leaderships but have a thriving economic partnership.

Karnataka tourism tagline - “2017 - Year of the Wild”.

Relation between Milk production and Slaughter houses

47%% of the milk production came from cows of foreign genetic material or crossbreeds and indigenous breed of cows have 45% of the milk production from cows. The remaining 53% of the milk production comes from buffaloes.

The buffalo population has increased in the livestock census 2012 compared to 1992. The slaughter houses provide an efficient solution to dispose the cattle that have gone past their productivity. The mechanization of agriculture now means that even the bulls are no longer needed. Hence even in these cases the farmer can sell the bulls to slaughter houses and earn money to reinvest in more productive breeds.

Village Social Transformation Scheme - Maharashtra

Maharashtra government has started this scheme under which graduates with more than 60% marks are selected for social work.

These volunteers are then trained at Administrative training institute, Pune and assigned to villages.

They collect data and assist the village gram sabhas and panchayats in their work. Each volunteer shall get Rs. 30000 stipend and insurance cover from the government.

Nobel Prize of Computing

Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web wins the Turing Award, also known as the “Nobel Prize of Computing”.

Pulitzer prize - 2017

Panama Papers investigation led to winning of Pulitzer prize for “International consortium of investigative journalism”. Their work revealed a hidden network of offshore tax havens and shell companies who evaded tax. Pulitzer prize is awarded in 21 categories of journalism. It is named after Joseph Pulitzer, an american journalist and is awarded by Columbia university.

Tibetan medical system of Sowa Rigpa

India nominates tibetan medical system of Sowa Rigpa for inclusion on UNESCO’s Intangible cultural heritage list.

Digital India Day

Government to celebrate “Digital India Day” on 14th April.

SAARC institute of disaster management

SAARC institute of disaster management was shifted from New Delhi to Gujarat institute of disaster management, Gandhinagar.

Pioneer of Modern Computer

Robert Taylor who was instrumental in designing Alto computer which later on became important for the design of the personal computer expired. He also was key in helping Douglas Engelbert (Inventor of the Computer Mouse).

Farm Pond scheme - Maharashtra

Maharashtra Government’s “Farm Pond” scheme was decided by Narendra Modi as one of the top ten innovative models for water conservation and bringing change in farmers lives.

Goldman Environmental Prize also regarded as Green Nobel awarded to Prafulla Samatara.

Ministry of HRD is collecting information of teachers working in colleges for its Gurujan portal. The data will be used to weed out ghost faculty members.

Laffer curve explains the relation between income tax rates and the revenue earned for the government. When the rates are 0% the revenue earned for the government is low and when the rates are 100% again the revenue is low as the people shall stop working. So a middle path is to be followed for taxation rates.

PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation)

Prime Minister of India launched his ambitious multi-purpose and multi-modal platform PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation).

PRAGATI is a unique integrating and interactive platform. The platform is aimed at addressing common man’s grievances, and simultaneously monitoring and reviewing important programmes and projects of the Government of India as well as projects flagged by State Governments.