Insights Daily Current Events, 04 December 2014
Man tests positive for H1N1 virus
A 47-year-old man was tested positive for the H1N1 virus in Dharmapuri, TN. It is suspected that the patient, a businessman, must have contracted it in Andhra Pradesh, where he had toured recently.
H1N1 is a flu virus. When it was first detected in 2009, it was called “swine flu” because the virus was similar to those found in pigs.
Transmission from Pigs to Humans: The H1N1 virus is currently a seasonal flu virus found in humans. Although it also circulates in pigs, one cannot get it by eating properly handled and cooked pork or pork products.
- In 2009, H1N1 was spreading fast around the world, so the World Health Organization called it a pandemic.
- Swine flu is contagious, and it spreads in the same way as the seasonal flu.
- When people who have it cough or sneeze, they spray tiny drops of the virus into the air. If a person comes in contact with these drops or touch a surface that an infected person has recently touched, the person can catch H1N1 swine flu.
- Pregnant women who contract the H1N1 infection are at a greater risk of developing complications because of hormonal changes, physical changes and changes to their immune system to accommodate the growing foetus.
Most symptoms are the same as seasonal flu. They can include:
- sore throat
- stuffy or runny nose
- body aches
- If not controlled it can lead to more serious complications like pneumonia and respiratory failure.
The antiviral drugs are sometimes prescribed to reduce the severity of symptoms.
Sources: The Hindu, WHO, Wiki.
Four parties may reject report on Insurance Bill
At least four parties may give a dissenting note on the report of the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on the Insurance Bill that seeks to raise the foreign direct investment (FDI) cap from the present 26 to 49 per cent.
Why? These parties are against the idea of raising the cap on FDI in insurance sector.
The Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill:
It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2008.
Aim: the amendments are aimed at removing archaic and redundant provisions in the legislations and incorporating certain provisions to provide Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (IRDA) with flexibility to discharge its functions effectively and efficiently. The overall objective is to further deepen the reform process which is already underway in the insurance sector.
- It seeks to amend the Insurance Act 1938, the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act, 1972 and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act, 1999.
- In India, insurance companies are not permitted to have foreign holding of more than 26%. This Bill raises the limit to 49% and allows entry of foreign re-insurers (companies that insure insurance companies).
- It also provides for permanent registration of insurance companies.
- It permits the holder of a life insurance policy to name the beneficiary.
- The Bill seeks to amend clause 45 to the effect that no claim can be repudiated (rejected) after three years of the policy issuance under any circumstances.
- With the aim to reduce the dependence on agents the Bill seeks to have more channels for distribution, in addition to the existing ones such as agents and bancassurance.
- The Bill proposes to give insurance companies the freedom to collect premiums in instalments for more products.
- To strengthen redressal of policyholders’ complaints, the Bill proposes an independent grievance redressal authority, with powers similar to a civil court. The authority will be composed of judicial and technical members.
- The Bill also stresses on technology to increase electronic issuance of policies. This will help improve claims payout.
Sources: The Hindu, prsindia.org.
Indian systems for world’s largest telescope
Union Science and Technology Minister signed a multilateral agreement recently admitting India’s participation in the development of the Thirty-Metre Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii.
About the Telescope:
- The TMT will enable scientists to study fainter objects far away from us in the Universe, which gives information about early stages of the evolution of the Universe. It will also give finer details of not-so-far-away objects such as undiscovered planets and other objects in the Solar System and planets around other stars.
- TMT will contain 492 hexagonal mirror segments of 82 different kinds.
- These will behave like a single mirror with an aperture of 30-metre diameter.
- This large collecting area of 650 square metres is thrice as sensitive as the Hubble Space Telescope.
- It will be one the largest optical infrared telescopes to come up in the next decade.
India’s role: India’s role will primarily be to create the control systems and software that keep the mirrors aligned and collect the data.
How this will help India?
- Besides learning about the universe, India will gain the technology to manufacture fine aspherical mirror segments from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
- This technology, say experts, will form the basis of the next generation of spy satellites.
- With its contributions, India will be a 10 % partner in the project and 70 % of its contributions will be “in kind”. This will translate into 25 to 30 observing nights on the telescope for Indian scientists per year.
- This will enable Indian scientists to access a state-of-the-art telescope to answer some of the most fundamental questions in modern science. Indian institutions and industry will acquire or gain access to sophisticated technologies of relevance to the country. India will also become a founding member of an important international scientific project.
- This partnership will also enhance India’s technological capabilities in high-technology areas such as primary mirror segment figuring and polishing, mirror support system and edge sensor assembly and testing, software for observatory controls, data analysis pipelines, adaptive optics techniques etc.
Sources: The Hindu, tmt.org.
Special SC Bench to hear, monitor social issues
The Supreme Court has set up a special Bench, called the Social Justice Bench.
Composition of the Bench: The bench consists of two judges devoted to the delivery of speedy justice in a range of social issues related to the downtrodden and socially marginalised groups.
Purpose: to streamline cases highlighting social issues before one court and thus facilitate the Supreme Court’s monitoring and review of the government’s action in such cases. Social Justice Bench will facilitate review of state action in cases pending for years
Was it necessary?
- Yes. In the Supreme Court, several cases relating to the domain of social justice have been pending for years. The Chief Justice of India is of the view that these cases shall be given a specialised approach for their early disposal so that masses will realise the fruits of the rights provided to them by the Constitutional text.
What will the bench do?
The special Bench will handle issues related to:
- the release of food grains lying in stock for use in drought-affected areas
- framing of a fresh scheme for their public distribution
- taking of steps to prevent the untimely death of women and children for want of nutritious food
- hygienic mid-day meals in schools
- clean drinking water
- Provision of “safety and secured living conditions for women forced into prostitution.”
Sources: The Hindu.
India, Pakistan reject call to give up nuclear weapons
India, backed by the United States, opposed a U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) resolution calling on New Delhi to voluntarily abandon its nuclear weapons. The resolution also targeted Israel and Pakistan.
- The U.S. joined India to vote against a key part of the resolution on achieving a nuclear weapons-free world that called on India, Israel and Pakistan to immediately and unconditionally accede to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and put all their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
- This clause would require the three countries to give up such weapons and the ability to manufacture them. Israel and Pakistan also voted against the provision, while France, Britain and Bhutan abstained from voting. It was passed with 165 votes in the 193-member UNGA.
The NPT is a landmark international treaty.
Objective: to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.
- The Treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970.
- A total of 190 parties have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States (United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China (also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council). Though North Korea acceded to the NPT in 1985 but never came into compliance, announced its withdrawal in 2003.
- Four other states are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan and North Korea have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons, while Israel has had a policy of opacity regarding its own nuclear weapons program.
- The 3 pillars of NPT are: non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology.
- To further the goal of non-proliferation and as a confidence-building measure between States parties, the Treaty establishes a safeguards system under the responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the IAEA.
- The Treaty promotes cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear technology and equal access to this technology for all States parties, while safeguards prevent the diversion of fissile material for weapons use.
Sources: The Hindu, UN.
India’s rank improves marginally
India has marginally improved its ranking on the global Corruption Perception Index this year.
India’s two-point improvement (on a total possible score of 100) did not count as a “significant change” unlike that in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Afghanistan.
- With a score of 36, India now ranks 85 among 175
countries, with countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burkina Faso for company.
- Denmark ranks first, as it did in 2013, while Somalia and North Korea share the bottom spot. India ranks better than all its South Asian neighbours, except Bhutan.
- The composite index is made up of a combination of surveys and assessments of public sector corruption by international agencies including the World Bank and the World Economic Forum. Of the nine surveys and assessments used for India, most relied on expert opinion on the extent of corruption and the rule of law and only one polled the general public.
- Economic growth did not necessarily reduce corruption pointing to countries such as China whose corruption perception had worsened during a high growth period.
Sources: The Hindu.
Easy exit norms for foreign investors in construction sector
The government has relaxed the FDI policy for construction sector by easing exit norms and reducing built-up area and capital needs.
Why? to help attract foreign funds in construction of townships, hospitals and hotels.
- The new policy has done away with the three-year lock-in period for repatriation of investment.
- The investor will be permitted to exit on completion of the project or after development of trunk infrastructure, that is, roads, water supply, street lighting, drainage and sewerage
- Under the new policy, the minimum floor area requirement has been reduced to 20,000 square metres from 50,000 square metres earlier. It also brought down the minimum capital requirement to $5 million from $10 million.
- In case of development of serviced plots, the condition of minimum land of 10 hectares has been completely removed.
- With the FDI policy now providing investors a much more attractive exit option, FII interest in the Indian construction sector is bound to increase.
- Smaller projects can now attract FDI with reduction in minimum built-up area requirement.
- The government expects the new measures would result in enhanced inflows into the construction development sector.
- The measures are also likely to result in creation of much needed low cost affordable housing in the country and development of smart cities.
India allows 100 per cent FDI in the sector through the automatic route.
Sources: The Hindu.
RBI doubles pre-paid card limit to Rs.1 lakh
Relaxing norms for Pre-paid Payment Instruments (PPIs), the Reserve Bank of India has doubled the card limit to Rs.1 lakh.
- The limit of PPIs has now been enhanced from Rs.50,000 to Rs.1 lakh. The balance in the PPIs should not exceed Rs.1 lakh at any point of time.
- The RBI also allowed issue of multiple PPIs by banks from fully-KYC compliant bank accounts for dependent or family members.
- Only one card can be issued to one beneficiary.
- The bank may put in place mechanisms to monitor and report suspicious transactions on these PPIs to the Financial Intelligence Unit India (FIU IND).
- The central bank also permitted banks to issue rupee denominated PPIs for visiting foreign nationals and NRIs.
- Banks are permitted to issue open system rupee denominated non-reloadable PPIs to NRIs and foreign nationals visiting India and PPIs co-branded with exchange houses/money transmitters (approved by the Reserve Bank) to NRIs and foreign nationals visiting India.
- Such PPIs should be activated by the bank only after the traveller arrives in India and cash withdrawal will be restricted to Rs.50,000 a month.
- The cards should be issued strictly for use in India and transactions settled in rupee.
The move would help in achieving the objective of limiting cash transactions in the system.
Prepaid payment instruments are those which facilitate purchase of goods and services against the value stored on such instruments. The value stored on such instruments represents the value paid for by the holder, by cash, by debit to a bank account, or by credit card. The Prepaid instruments can be issued as smart cards, magnetic stripe cards, internet accounts, online wallets, mobile accounts, mobile wallets, paper vouchers and any such instruments which can be used to access the prepaid amount.
Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.