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Insights Daily Current Events, 03 February 2015

Insights Daily Current Events, 03 February 2015

Government celebrates MGNREGA Divas

The Ministry of Rural Development has decided to focus intensely on convergence of MGNREGA with other Schemes to create durable and useful assets. It has introduced a new module to capture planning and implementation of convergence initiatives. 21 States have prepared their Convergence Plans already. Convergence has been closely linked to measuring outcomes of works and their impact on the rural economy.

MGNREGA:

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, also known as the “Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act” is an Indian labour law and social security measure.

Aims:

  • To guarantee the ‘right to work’ and ensure livelihood security in rural areas.
  • To create durable assets that would augment the basic resources available to the poor.
  • To follow the Directive Principles of State Policy enunciated in Part IV of the Constitution of India and conforms to the Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that defines the right to work as a basic human right.

How? By providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

More Details:

  • The provisions of the law also adhere to the principles enunciated in the Constitution of India under Article 21 of the Constitution of India that guarantees the right to life with dignity to every citizen of India.
  • This law guarantees the right to work to the people of India and hence is termed as a “People’s Act”.
  • It is believed that targeting poverty through employment generation is the effective way to alleviate poverty.
  • Employment under Mahatma Gandhi NREGA is a guaranteed legal right.
  • The major responsibility of the implementation rests with Panchayati Raj institutions.
  • Previous employment guarantee schemes (EGS) like ‘Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana’ (SGRY) Programme and National Food For Work Programme (NFFWP) were merged with MGNREGA to make it more effective.
  • The Act sets a minimum limit to the wages, to be paid with gender equality. The states are required to evolve a set of norms for the measurement of works and schedule of rates. The unemployment allowance must be paid if the work is not provided within the statutory limit of 15 days.

Criticism:

  • Activists say that the outlay for the scheme has remained nearly constant for the past three years, which, adjusting for inflation, amounts to a decrease.
  • The release of funds to the States is being delayed and the amounts have been capped. As a result, there has been a 16 per cent decline in employment from the 2013-14 figure.
    Compared with 147 lakh person days generated in December 2013, only 123 lakh person days were generated in December 2014, with the decline sharper in poor States such as Bihar and Chhattisgarh.
  • Till December 2014 in the financial year 2014-15, 72 per cent of the total wages disbursed were delayed. And delays in wage payments have actually increased over time.

However, Evidence from independent research studies have shown that the MGNREGA has successfully curbed distress migration, had large effects on consumption and poverty of Dalit and Adivasi households, increased nutritional standards of households, provided risk resilience to small and marginal farmers and vastly expanded the financial inclusion net in the country.

 

Sources: PIB, nrega.nic.in, The Hindu.

 

Russia, China back India’s inclusion in expanded APEC

The foreign ministers of the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping, during deliberations in Beijing, issued a comprehensive joint communiqué that called for an ambitious reform of an international system that was respectful of the diversity of home-grown political systems.

  • Russia and China have also endorsed India’s efforts to formalise rejection of international terrorism.

Other details:

  • The communiqué recommended India’s inclusion in an expanded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a 21-nation grouping of Pacific Rim countries.
  • The Ministers endorsed India’s impending membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) after elevating the grouping, which is pillared by Russia, China and most of the Central Asian States as “one of the key instruments in promoting multilateral political, security, economic and humanitarian interaction in the region.”
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which India is joining soon, has been holding major counter-terrorism exercises, in anticipation of the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Recognising the threat to stability posed during Afghanistan’s upcoming transitional phase, the three Ministers called for supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), in tune with the withdrawal of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
  • The countries have also called for advancing talks in the East Asia summit framework on rule-based security architecture in the Asia-Pacific, driven by the United Nations.
  • As it received Russia and China’s backing for an entry into APEC, India endorsed the launch of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
  • Observers say that the China-led initiative is meant to counter the less inclusive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), another free trade agreement championed by Washington, but which pointedly excludes Beijing.
  • The Chinese also got India and Russia to sign on a proposal to have a new U.N.-driven collective security arrangement in the Asia–Pacific that seemed to counter the U.S. “Pivot to Asia” policy, which provides the doctrinal basis for the amassment of forces by Washington and its allies in the Asia-Pacific, seemingly to contain China’s rise.

APEC:

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a regional economic forum established in 1989 to leverage the growing interdependence of the Asia-Pacific. APEC has 21 members.

Aim: to create greater prosperity for the people of the region by promoting balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative and secure growth and by accelerating regional economic integration.

Functions:

  • APEC works to help all residents of the Asia-Pacific participate in the growing economy. APEC projects provide digital skills training for rural communities and help indigenous women export their products abroad.
  • Recognizing the impacts of climate change, APEC members also implement initiatives to increase energy efficiency and promote sustainable management of forest and marine resources.
  • The forum adapts to allow members to deal with important new challenges to the region’s economic well-being. This includes ensuring disaster resilience, planning for pandemics, and addressing terrorism.

 

Members:

  • APEC’s 21 member economies are Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; People’s Republic of China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; The Philippines; The Russian Federation; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; United States of America; Viet Nam.
  • APEC Members account for approximately 40% of the world’s population, approximately 54% of the world’s gross domestic product and about 44% of world trade.

More details:

  • APEC operates as a cooperative, multilateral economic and trade forum. Member economies participate on the basis of open dialogue and respect for views of all participants.
  • In APEC, all economies have an equal say and decision-making is reached by consensus. There are no binding commitments or treaty obligations. Commitments are undertaken on a voluntary basis and capacity building projects help members implement APEC initiatives.
  • APEC’s structure is based on both a “bottom-up” and “top-down” approach. Four core committees and their respective working groups provide strategic policy recommendations to APEC Leaders and Ministers who annually set the vision for overarching goals and initiatives.
  • Members also take individual and collective actions to carry out APEC initiatives in their individual economies with the assistance of APEC capacity building projects.
  • Capacity building projects play an important role in helping translate APEC’s goals into reality. By enhancing members’ capacity through skills training and technological know-how, APEC-funded projects strengthen members’ readiness to adopt new initiatives from electronic customs processing to regulatory reform.
  • APEC projects also target specific policy areas from enhancing small and medium enterprise competitiveness to facilitating the adoption of renewable energy technologies in the region.

The APEC process is supported by a permanent secretariat based in Singapore.

Bogor Goals:

During the meeting in 1994 in Bogor, Indonesia, APEC leaders adopted the Bogor Goals that aim for free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for industrialized economies and by 2020 for developing economies.

To meet the Bogor Goals, APEC carries out work in three main areas:

  1. Trade and Investment Liberalisation
  2. Business Facilitation
  3. Economic and Technical Cooperation

Sources: The Hindu, apec.org, Wiki.

 

Kudankulam power cheaper than U.S. proposals: Russia

Russian officials recently said that the power generated under the Indo US agreements will be much more expensive than the negotiated deals with Russia for the “Kudankulam series.”

Details:

  • It is being said that the rates for electricity from units 1&2 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, being constructed with Russian technical assistance (in Tamil Nadu), were almost half the price that power from proposed American designs would cost.
  • Some reports say that U.S. company Westinghouse has proposed Rs.6 per kWh in initial discussions with India, while French company Areva had spoken of Rs.6.50 per kWh, both of which would be far higher than the estimated price of power at Kudankulam 1&2 at Rs.3.50 per kWh.
  • The proposed Rs. 1,500 crore Insurance Pool which will be funded equally by state-owned insurance companies and the government, is further expected to raise the cost/kWh.

Recent Breakthrough understanding:

  • Even as India and the U.S. overcame the major hurdles of supplier’s liability and administrative arrangements recently, the issue of costing of US nuclear companies is occupying the centre stage.
  • The deal also hinges on a “memorandum” to be submitted by the Indian government to the U.S. that will outline the Indian understanding of the clauses that the U.S. nuclear suppliers find problematic.
  • But, the cost of U.S. reactors and the insurance pool could result in the rate exceeding Rs.15 per kWh. This is much higher than the tariff from competing sources.

However, it is also true that Russia has made unfavourable comparisons between their negotiations for nuclear reactors that began in 1988 and the proposed American deals.

Nuclear power is the fourth-largest source of electricity in India after thermal, hydroelectric and renewable sources of electricity. It expects to have 14,600 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.

Sources: The Hindu, nppcil.nic.in.

 

SC stands up for man’s oldest friend

The Supreme Court has decided to stand up for man’s oldest companion by questioning the authority of municipal bodies to pick dogs off the streets and kill them merely because they are a “nuisance” to the public. The SC also noted that “a faithful dog is a faithful friend.”

  • The SC was hearing a petition filed by People for Elimination of Stray Animals, which had sought killing of stray dogs.

Conflicting laws:

  • The SC Bench has said that at the crux of the problem was the contradiction in animal welfare laws on what constitutes “nuisance.”
  • Under the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, if the civic bodies receive a complaint that a dog has become a source of nuisance to the public, they can “seize” the so-called offending canine, drag it to the local pound and put it to sleep.
  • On the contrary, the Animal Birth Control Rules formulated under the Central law — Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 — does not allow this. The law only permits extermination of rabid, terminally ill or mortally wounded dogs, not “nuisance-causing dogs.”

The case is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Govt. told to look into PIL opposing Aadhaar

The Supreme Court has asked the government to look into a public interest petition contending that the Aadhaar scheme is “laden with fraud” and is a danger to a citizen’s privacy and dignity as also to his “right to protect self-information”. The court sought a clarification on the government’s current position on the issue.

Background:

  • The hearing came on a petition by Bengaluru-resident and social activist demanding to know how the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), “which is not even a statutory body, rolled out the Unique ID (UID) scheme called “Aadhaar” scheme, for collection of personal data of residents of India”.
  • The petitioner has also pointed out that various governmental bodies have made the availability of essential services as well as withdrawal of salary contingent upon possession of the Aadhaar card.

About AADHAAR:

Aadhaar is a 12 digit individual identification number which will serve as a proof of identity and address, anywhere in India.

How the scheme is helpful:

  • Aadhaar-platform is aimed at providing social security benefits / subsidies based on eligibility through direct benefit transfer. It provides access and options to rural and poor people. It helps bring transparency and eliminate corruption, leakage and inefficiency.
  • It was conceived as an initiative that would provide identification for each resident across the country and would be used primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services.
  • It would also act as a tool for effective monitoring of various programs and schemes of the Government.

Who assigns the number?

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) assigns Unique Identification Number “Aadhaar” to residents of India on voluntary basis.

UIDIA:

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is an agency of the Government of India responsible for implementing the Aadhaar Identities. The agency was established in January-2009, and owns and operates the Unique Identities database.

  • The Unique Identification Authority of India had been established under the Planning Commission by an executive order.
  • The agency provides a unique identification number to all persons resident in India on voluntary basis.
  • The agency maintains a database of residents containing biometric and other data, and is headed by a chairman, who holds a cabinet rank.

UIDAI is the Registrar of Identities i.e. it registers, assigns and verifies the unique identities. It is supposed to register two types of unique identities:

  1. Residents of India (called Aadhaar)
  2. Corporate entities (Corporate-UID) for company, bank, NGO, trust, political party etc.: Corporate-UID has been provisioned within 12-digit UID number system. Corporate-UID is supposed to produce the similar effect as Aadhaar for corporate entities i.e. identification and traceability of transactions. It is supposed to bring transparency on financial transactions, donations; and to prevent corruption, money laundering, benami transactions (i.e. under a fictitious name), allocation of natural resources like land, spectrum, mining of sand, iron-ore, coal-blocks, etc.

Issues:

  • Aadhaar lacks legal or statutory authority as of now.
  • The AADHAAR number is not recognized as a legal proof of residence due to issues with the data protection.
  • India’s Intelligence Bureau claims anyone with an Aadhaar number can introduce others without any documentation to get the identity number, which makes it vulnerable to terrorism and other issues.

 

Sources: The Hindu, PIB, Wiki, UIDAI.

 

Swine flu deaths preventable: Centre

In the wake of a H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak, which has claimed 191 lives this year, the Centre recently said mortality on account of the flu can be contained with immediate medical intervention.

Present Scenario:

  • There have been 2,038 cases of H1N1 reported across the country in 2015, with Telangana reporting the highest number of cases at 629 and 34 deaths, followed by Delhi with 488 cases and 5 deaths, Gujarat with 309 cases and 38 deaths and Rajasthan with 205 cases and 49 deaths.
  • Delhi’s low mortality is attributable to the high awareness about the flu, followed by early detection and timely treatment.

Deaths occur when co-morbid conditions exist in a patient (which means the patient is already suffering from an illness or has severely affected immunity). The Centre is closely monitoring the surge in cases and Central teams have been dispatched to Telangana and Rajasthan.

Swine Flu/H1N1:

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.

Spread:

  • 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.

Symptoms:

Most symptoms are the same as seasonal flu. They can include:

  • cough
  • fever
  • sore throat
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • 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, PIB, Wiki, WHO.