Insights Daily Current Affairs, 20 December 2017

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Insights Daily Current Affairs, 20 December 2017


 

Paper 2:

 

Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

IIM Bill

Context: Parliament has unanimously passed the IIM Bill, 2017 that grants the Indian Institutes of Management the power to grant degrees instead of post-graduate diplomas.

 

Key features of the Bill:

  • IIMs would become institutes of national importance with power to grant degrees.
  • The boards of the institutes are proposed to be vested with full autonomy including the power to appoint chairperson as well as the director.
  • Power to review the performance of each IIM is also vested with the board.
  • Board to be the principal executive body of each institute.
  • Chairperson of the board will be appointed by the board for a period of four years.
  • Director of each IIM will be appointed by the board for a period of five years via a search-cum-selection panel. Once the bill becomes an act, the board is not required to seek the human resource development ministry’s approval for this.
  • The Board will have the power to remove a director.
  • The IIMs’ accounts will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
  • There will be an IIM Coordination Forum to be notified by the central government. It shall function as an advisory body and will be headed by an eminent person.
  • The bill says the central government may frame rules to give additional powers and duties to the IIM Boards and, it will decide the terms and condition of service of directors although the appointment will be made by the board. It will notify the IIM coordination forum to be headed by a eminent person.
  • All rules and regulations framed either by the central government or the IIM Boards will need to be tabled in parliament.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017

 

The Lok Sabha has passed the Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017. The Bill seeks to amend the Central Road Fund Act, 2000, through which the cess levied and collected on high speed petrol and diesel is distributed for development of rural roads, national highways, railways, state roads and border area roads.

 

Highlights of the Bill:

Inclusion of inland waterways: The Bill defines national waterways as those that have been declared as ‘national waterways’ under the National Waterways Act, 2016.  Currently, 111 waterways are specified under the 2016 Act.

Utilisation of fund: Under the 2000 Act, the fund can be utilised for various road projects including: (i) national highways, (ii) state roads including roads of inter-state and economic importance, and (iii) rural roads.  The Bill provides that in addition to these the fund will also be used for the development and maintenance of national waterways.

Powers of central government: Under the Act, the central government has the power to administer the fund.  The central government will make decisions on the: (i) investments on national highways and expressways projects, (ii) raising funds for the development and maintenance of national highways, and rural roads, and (iii) disbursement of funds for national highways, state roads and rural roads.  The Bill provides that central government will make all the above decisions for national waterways as well.

Allocation of cess: Under the Act, the cess on high speed diesel oil and petrol is allocated towards different types of roads.  The Bill seeks to decrease the allocation of cess towards the development and maintenance of national highways from 41.5% to 39%.  It allocates 2.5% of the cess towards the development and maintenance of national waterways.

 

About Central Road Fund:

The Central Road Fund was established by the government as per the Central road fund act 2000 to fund the development and maintenance of National Highways, State Highways and Rural roads.

In order to mobilise the fund, the Central Road Fund Act 2000 proposed to levy and collect by way of cess, a duty of excise and duty of customs on petrol and high speed diesel oil. The fund is utilised for the development and maintenance of National highways, State roads, Rural roads and for provision of road overbridges/under bridges and other safety features at unmanned Railway Crossings.

 

Sources: pib.


 

Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

 

E-cigarettes

Context: The government is examining the legal implications and health effects of e-cigarettes.

The Health Ministry has constituted three groups to study the various aspects of e-cigarettes. One was to study the legal implications of this e-nicotine drug induce system, another was to go into the health effects and the other was to study advocacy.

 

What are e-cigarettes?

An electronic cigarette (or e-cig) is a battery-powered vaporizer that mimics tobacco smoking. It works by heating up a nicotine liquid, called “juice.” Nicotine juice (or e-juice) comes in various flavors and nicotine levels. e-liquid is composed of five ingredients: vegetable glycerin (a material used in all types of food and personal care products, like toothpaste) and propylene glycol (a solvent most commonly used in fog machines.) propylene glycol is the ingredient that produces thicker clouds of vapor.

Proponents of e-cigs argue that the practice is healthier than traditional cigarettes because users are only inhaling water vapor and nicotine.

 

Need for regulation:

  • In India smoking devices are easily available through online shopping portals and with little information out in the public domain about the ill-effects of e-cigarettes there is a misconception that it is less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
  • Smart marketing and inadequate information on the nicotine content in e-cigarettes has created a false impression that these devices are not as harmful as regular cigarettes. In the absence of a regulation the use of e-cigarettes has grown; they are easily accessible to even the non smokers.
  • Along with the traditional cigarette manufacturing, there is a parallel industry of e-cigarette like devices growing in India, which is under-regulated.

 

Harmful effects of e cigarettes:

Although they are generally thought to be less harmful than smoking real cigarettes, because they contain no tobacco, they do still contain the addictive chemical nicotine. Scientists have confirmed that e-cigarette vapours to contain the same potentially dangerous chemicals.

Research has also confirmed that e-cigarette vapours contain free radical chemicals previously thought only to be found in tobacco cigarettes and air pollutants. Free radicals are highly reactive agents that can damage DNA or other molecules within cells, resulting in cell death. Cigarette smoke contains 1014 free radicals per puff. Though e-cigarette vapour contains far fewer free radicals than cigarette smoke – one percent as much – their presence in e-cigarettes still suggests potential health risks.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3:

 

Topic: Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth.

 

Amendments to Companies Act

 

Context: The Rajya Sabha has passed the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2017. It was adopted by the Lok Sabha in July this year. The Bill provides for more than 40 amendments to the Companies Act, 2013.

 

Highlights of the Bill:

  • The amendment seeks to strengthen corporate governance standards, initiate strict action against defaulting companies and help improve ease of doing business in the country.
  • The major changes include simplification of the private placement process; rationalization of provisions related to loans to directors; replacing the requirement of approval of the central government for managerial remuneration above prescribed limits by approval through special resolution of shareholders and aligning disclosure requirements in the prospectus with the regulations made by Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India).
  • The Bill also provides for maintenance of register of significant beneficial owners and makes offence for contravention of provisions relating to deposits as non-compoundable.
  • It also provides for stringent penalties in case of non-filing of balance sheet and annual return every year, which will act as deterrent to shell companies. This would facilitate ease of doing business, and result in harmonization with Sebi, RBI (Reserve Bank of India) and rectify certain omissions and inconsistencies in the existing Act.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Topic: money-laundering and its prevention.

 

Crackdown against Bitcoins

Context: The rising craze for bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that has rocketed to shocking highs, has come under the government’s lens. The government has begun a crackdown on illegal uses of this unregulated virtual currency.

Widening its probe into bitcoin investments and trade, the Income Tax (IT) department is set to issue notices to 4 to 5 lakh high networth individuals (HNI) across the country who were trading on the exchanges of this unregulated virtual currency.

 

Concerns associated with the use of bitcoins:

  • Bitcoin can be an easy way to evade tax or snare unsuspecting small investors in ponzi schemes. The regulators are worried about their use for illicit and illegal activities, subjecting the users to an unintentional breach of laws against money laundering and terror finance.
  • Concerns also emanate from some unscrupulous entities indulging in illicit money-pooling activities—commonly known as ponzi schemes—with the promise of huge returns from investment in bitcoins and other variants, which they claim are minted through blockchain, a distributed ledger technology that was created to mint bitcoins and comprises of extremely complex algorithms with several thousand nodes for each chain.
  • There is a suspicion that some so-called cryptocurrencies and bitcoin investments may actually have nothing to do with any blockchain-developed virtual currency and are just new ways devised by scamsters to ride the wave and what they may be offering could be ‘e-ponzi’ schemes.

 

Background:

While some of the countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan have declared Bitcoins as a means of payment illegal and in violation of the state law, a majority are yet to take a stand on it. In December 2013, RBI issued a warning with caution to users, holders and traders of virtual currencies, including Bitcoins, about the potential financial, operational, and legal, customer protection and security related risks that they are exposing themselves to. Bitcoins are currently unregulated in India. There are no specific legal frameworks for Bitcoins and cryptocurrencies in India yet.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Topic: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

 

Blockchain technology

 

Context: The West Bengal government is planning to introduce the blockchain technology to protect its documents from cyber attacks.

 

Key facts:

  • The state government’s proposed Cyber Security Centre of Excellence would be entrusted to execute the new ‘blockchain’ mechanism at various departments.
  • The cyber security centre will bring the best in academic, law enforcement and other sections under one roof for the best practices to counter cyber crimes.
  • The centre will also conduct research and development on cyber crimes for which the state government will partner with private firms.

 

Background:

Recently, computers at some offices of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited were crippled by ‘WannaCry’ virus, a global ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.

 

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is an online ledger of digitally recorded transactions which is encrypted in the form of blocks, each of which is connected by a network of computers.

 

How it works?

Blockchain enables two entities that do not know each other to agree that something is true without the need of a third party. As opposed to writing entries into a single sheet of paper, a blockchain is a distributed database that takes a number of inputs and places them into a block. Each block is then ‘chained’ to the next block using a cryptographic signature. This allows blockchains to be used as a ledger which is accessible by anyone with permission to do so.  If everyone in the process is pre-selected, the ledger is termed ‘permissioned’. If the process is open to the whole world, the ledger is called unpermissioned.

 

Benefits of blockchain technology:

A blockchain is anonymous, protecting the identities of the users. This makes blockchain a more secure way to carry out transactions. The algorithm used in blockchain reduces the dependence on people to verify the transactions.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Topic: conservation.

 

Methanol Economy Fund

Context: Niti Aayog is planning to set up a Methanol Economy Fund worth Rs 4,000-5,000 crore to promote production and use of the clean fuel. The government think-tank is aiming at generation of the fuel by converting high ash content coal into methanol and such a plant is expected to be set up by Coal India.

Niti Aayog plans to move a Cabinet note soon on the methanol economy and the plans to set up production plants. It expects that two plans can be commissioned in the next 3-4 years.

 

Methanol as an alternative fuel:

Methanol is a promising fuel as it is clean, cheaper than fossil fuels and a good substitute for heavy fuels. India imports methanol from Saudi Arabia and Iran at present. Across the world, methanol is emerging as a clean, sustainable transportation fuel of the future.

Methanol can be blended with gasoline in low-quantities and used in existing road vehicles, or it can be used in high-proportion blends such as M85-M100 in flex-fuel or dedicated methanol-fueled vehicles. Technology is also being commercialized to use methanol as a diesel substitute.

 

Why Methanol?

  • Methanol can be used as an energy producing fuel, transportation fuel and cooking fuel, cutting down India’s oil import bill by an estimated 20% over the next few years. Unlike CNG, using methanol as a transportation fuel would require minimal alteration in the vehicles.
  • Methanol is a clean-burning fuel that produces fewer smog-causing emissions — such as sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter — and can improve air quality and related human health issues.
  • Methanol is most commonly produced on a commercial scale from natural gas. It can also be produced from renewable sources such as biomass and recycled carbon dioxide.
  • As a high-octane vehicle fuel, methanol offers excellent acceleration and power. It also improves vehicle efficiency.

 

Sources: Indian express.

 


Facts for Prelims:

 

HAMESHA VIJAYEE:

What is it? It is an exercise by armed forces being conducted in the deserts of Rajasthan to evaluate the capability of the armed forces to strike deep into enemy territory in an integrated air-land battle.

Significance of the exercise: Unique in scope and scale, the exercise being conducted in battle like conditions, aims at fine tuning surveillance and destruction mechanisms to support precision strikes and manoeuvres by network enabled forces. With emphasis on joint operations, the exercise would test robust sensor to shooter grids by employing a vast array of surveillance and air assets networked with land based strategic and tactical vectors.