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Insights Daily Current Events, 26 December 2014

Insights Daily Current Events, 26 December 2014

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Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching

The Prime Minister launched the Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching at the Swatantrata Bhawan in Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

The Prime Minister in his speech said that “the education system is not meant to produce robots, but to develop a holistic humanist vision (Poorna Maanav Mann) along with science and technology”.

Intention behind the Mission:

  • Good education is in great demand across the world and among all sections of society. India`s youth can fulfil this global requirement of teachers, if they are trained effectively. If a teacher goes abroad, he benefits and captures the imagination of an entire generation. The Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching is a step in this direction.

Sources: PIB.

Mission Indradhanush

Mission Indradhanush was launched by the Health & Family Welfare Minister recently.

Aim:

  • The Mission Indradhanush, depicting seven colours of the rainbow, aims to cover all those children by 2020 who are either unvaccinated, or are partially vaccinated against seven vaccine preventable diseases which include diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, measles and hepatitis B.

Details:

  • The Mission will be implemented in 201 high focus districts in the country in the first phase which have nearly 50% of all unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children (Of the 201 districts, 82 districts are in just four states of UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and nearly 25% of the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children of India are in these 82 districts of 4 states).
  • These districts will be targeted by intensive efforts to improve the routine immunization coverage.
  • Between 2009-2013 immunization coverage has increased from 61% to 65%, indicating only 1% increase in coverage every year. To accelerate the process of immunization by covering 5% and more children every year, the Mission Mode has been adopted to achieve target of full coverage by 2020.
  • The focused and systematic immunization drive will be through a “catch-up” campaign mode where the aim is to cover all the children who have been left out or missed out for immunization.
  • Under Mission Indradhanush, four special vaccination campaigns will be conducted between January and June 2015 with intensive planning and monitoring of these campaigns.
  • The learnings from the successful implementation of the polio programme will be applied in planning and implementation of the mission.
  • The Ministry will be technically supported by WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and other donor partners. Mass media, interpersonal communication, and sturdy mechanisms of monitoring and evaluating the scheme are crucial components of Mission Indradhanush.

Sources: PIB.

Good governance

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 90th birthday was celebrated as Good Governance day (Dec. 25th).

  • Several Union Ministries marked the day with e-governance initiatives, launch of new programmes and websites.
  • The government’s decision to celebrate Good Governance Day on Christmas had invited criticism from several quarters, but it went ahead with its programme of events.

Good Governance:

  • Good Governance is said to be the key to a nation’s progress.
  • “Citizen-First” is set as the mantra, motto and guiding principle by the government.
  • It is expected to provide transparent, effective and accountable governance to the people of this country.

Good Governance includes:

  • Simplification of procedures and processes in the Government so as to make the entire system transparent and faster.
  • The push towards self-certification in place of affidavits and attestations is another indicator of the relationship of trust between the citizens and the Government. Doing away with cumbersome and out-dated legislations which no longer have relevance is another focus area. Already Appropriation Acts have been identified for repeal and more Acts are being reviewed.
  • Redress of public grievances as a very important component of a responsive administration.
  • Government process re-engineering. Ministries and Departments of the Government of India have been instructed to look into their work spheres, their internal processes and work on what and how to simplify and rationalise them.
  • Proposed to be implemented in phases, Digital India is transformational in nature and would ensure that Government services are available to citizens electronically. It would also bring in greater accountability through mandated delivery of government’s services electronically.

Sources: PIB.

NHAI burdened users with heavy tolls: CAG

The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) in its audit report on the implementation of the National Highways project has said that the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) burdened users with an extra Rs.28,361 crore while providing undue benefits to private parties by fixing a longer concession period.

Other findings by the CAG:

  • The CAG said the NHAI failed to fulfil the role assigned to it by the government and provided undue benefits to private parties to the tune of Rs. 2,928 crore.
  • The report notes that in the case of the Delhi-Agra NH project, awarded to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infra, clause 31.3.1A, relating to withholding of toll collection in case of failure to achieve major milestones, was missing from the concession agreement.
  • Toll revenue of Rs.303.62 crore was diverted by concessionaires in the Delhi-Agra and Pune-Satara projects as investments in Reliance mutual funds rather than being spent on construction work.
  • The report said there would be an additional burden of Rs.30,247.60 crore on users due to levy of partial tolls on incomplete projects, non-realization of toll revenue from annuity projects due to delay in completion, and a longer concession period among other reasons.
  • The CAG also said the NHAI failed to achieve the 20 km a day target for widening and up-gradation of national highways during 2009-10 to 2012-13. The NHAI’s best achievement was 17.81 km per day during 2011-12 which dropped to a mere 3.06 km per day during 2012 despite availability of sufficient funds.

The report, titled “Implementation of PPP projects in NHAI,” covered 94 projects under phases II, III, IV and V of the National Highways Development programme (NHDP) constituting 45.41 per cent of the total 207 BOT projects as on March 31, 2012.

NHAI:

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is an autonomous agency of the Government of India, responsible for management of a network of over 70,000 km of National Highways in India. It is a nodal agency of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

  • The NHAI was created through the promulgation of the National Highways Authority of India Act, 1988. In February 1995, the Authority was formally made an autonomous body.
  • It is responsible for the development, maintenance, management and operation of National Highways.

Controversies: A 2012 report prepared by World Bank’s Institutional Integrity Unit alleged that fraudulent and corrupt practices were being followed by Indian contractors working on national highway projects funded by it, and sought a thorough investigation into the matter. The report also alleges that contractors paid bribes and gifts, including gold coins, to “influence the actions” of officials and consultants of the National Highways Authority of India.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.

Curbs on gold imports drive smuggling: Centre

The Union government has said restrictions imposed on gold imports to stem the pressure on the Current Account Deficit (CAD) are likely to have led to a substantial increase in smuggling.

From April to September this year, there was a more than four-fold increase in the seizure of smuggled gold, to 2,289 kg, against 522 kg seized during the same period last year.

Why and what were the restrictions imposed?

  • To stem the pressure on the CAD, the government and the Reserve Bank of India had taken measures to moderate the demand for the precious metal.
  • These included an increase in customs duty on imports and prohibition of gold in the form of coins and medallions.
  • Nominated banks and other entities were told to make available at least 20 per cent of every lot of gold import as input for export.
  • The obligation to export was on star or premier trading houses and refineries.
  • Gold import to the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Export Oriented Units (EOUs) was permitted for the sole purpose of export.

As the CAD situation improved and the quantum of gold imported reduced significantly, at November-end, the Centre withdrew the stipulation of a minimum export of 20 per cent of every lot of import.

Sources: The Hindu.

NOTA votes high in reserved seats

Data from the recent elections show that None Of The Above (NOTA) votes continue to be cast disproportionately in reserved constituencies raising questions about the use of this electoral reform tool.

Some facts:

  • As in the Lok Sabha elections, significantly more NOTA votes were cast in reserved seats than in general seats in the States — Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir and Jharkhand — that have had the Assembly elections after May.
  • In Jharkhand which has more general seats than reserved seats, 2.3 lakh NOTA votes were cast, accounting for 1.7 per cent of the total vote share.
  • But these votes were disproportionately cast in reserved seats. Just two of the 20 seats with the highest proportion of NOTA votes are general, and the rest are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • In Maharashtra, the highest NOTA votes were cast in Gadchiroli, reserved for the ST. On an average across the State, NOTA votes were significantly more likely to be cast in reserved than in general seats.

Political scientists have said that they did not yet have any explanation for what is now a phenomenon seen in every election.

NOTA:

  • NOTA is designed to allow the voter to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates in a voting system. It is based on the principle that consent requires the ability to withhold consent in an election, just as they can by voting no on ballot questions.
  • The Supreme Court, in September last year, upheld the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting the elections, saying it would go a long way in cleansing the political system of the country.
  • The apex court directed the Election Commission to have an option of ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and ballot papers in a major electoral reform.
  • The EVMs have the NOTA option at the end of the candidates’ list. Earlier, in order to cast a negative ballot, a voter had to inform the presiding officer at the polling booth. A NOTA vote doesn’t require the involvement of the presiding officer.
  • The NOTA option was first used in the assembly elections held in five states last year. More than 15 lakh people exercised the option in the states polls. The figure, however, was lower than 1.5% of the total voters. Around 50,000 voters opted for NOTA in Delhi; 3.56 lakh in Chhattisgarh; 5.9 lakh in Madhya Pradesh and 5.67 lakh in Rajasthan.
  • In the Indian general election, 2014, NOTA polled 1.1% of the votes, counting to over 6 million.

Before NOTA:

  • Before the NOTA option came in existence, people casting negative votes were required to enter their names in a register and cast their vote on a separate paper ballot.
  • Under Section 49 (O) of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, a voter could enter his electoral serial number in Form 17A and cast a negative vote. The presiding officer would then put a remark in the form and get it signed by the voter. This was done to prevent fraud or misuse of votes.
  • This provision was, however, deemed unconstitutional by the SC as it did not protect the identity of the voter.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, HT.

Tea industry fears hurdles to PPC implementation

Sensing several challenges in the way of implementation of the Plant Protection Code (PPC) from January 1, 2015, the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association (CCPA), the apex body of planters, said that the Tea Board and the Commerce Ministry need to be sensitised about the hurdles faced by them. They wanted implementation to happen over a gradual manner.

What is the problem now?

  • This comes at a time major buyers such as Tata Global Beverages and Hindustan Unilever have sought confirmation on the immediate implementation, voicing concern that they were the ones who remained vulnerable to regulatory action by the State government for the teas that they were sold in packaged form.

What is PPC?

  • The PPC is a comprehensive document, developed by the Tea Board, which lays down the manner in which chemicals are to be used safely, in tea cultivation. Its implementation was deferred from September 1, 2014, to January 1, 2015.

Why is it required?

  • Greenpeace had released a report alleging presence of pesticide residues in Indian tea. The Tea Board and industry had refuted the allegations.
  • Hence, to achieve sustainability through Good Agricultural Practices, including integrated pest management by gradually reducing dependence on chemicals it is required.
  • The Tea Board has said that the industry was facing increased challenges by the way of awareness among consumers on the need for using safer, healthier and more environment-friendly products.

Demands by Tea growers:

  • There were certain critical areas which needed action. Tea growers feel that the list of chemicals and pesticides (plant protection formulations) should be expanded.
  • Some chemicals removed earlier had to be restored as they were crucial in tea cultivation. Quite a few of the pests had not been attended at all by the PPC. It is being said that the PPC was not aligned to the list of key chemicals allowed by the European Union.
  • They have also highlighted the need to give attention to the small tea growers’ sector, whose importance was growing in tea cultivation.

Sources: The Hindu.