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Insights Daily Current Events, 17 September 2015

Insights Daily Current Events, 17 September 2015

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Paper 2 and 3: Various statutory bodies and Environmental conservation.

Only biodegradable Ganesha idols can be immersed : NGT

The National Green Tribunal has passed a series of directions to make sure Yamuna is not choked with hazardous chemicals during this festive season.

  • The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the municipal corporations, police and Administration of NCT of Delhi have been asked to fully co-ordinate with each other to ensure compliance of these directions.

Directions issued by the NGT:

  • immersion would be allowed of only those idols which are made from bio-degradable material and not plastic/ Plaster of Paris.
  • only those colours should be used on the idols which are environment-friendly.
  • agencies concerned should publicise the identified sites of immersion and check the flow of pooja material into the river.
  • The Delhi government has also been asked to provide mobile toilets/ bio-toilets at these sites.

Why these directions were issued?

Immersion of idols puts a load on the rivers and can defeat revitalisation plan of the National Green Tribunal if the civic agencies concerned do not keep a check.

About the National Green Tribunal (NGT): quick look

NGT has been established under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.

  • The tribunal deals with matters relating to the enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property.
  • The Tribunal is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but shall be guided by principles of natural justice.
  • The Tribunal’s dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters shall provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts.
  • The Tribunal is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same.

Members:

  • sanctioned strength: currently, 10 expert members and 10 judicial members (although the act allows for up to 20 of each).
  • Chairman: is the administrative head of the tribunal, also serves as a judicial member and is required to be a serving or retired Chief Justice of a High Court or a judge of the Supreme Court of India.
  • Selection: Members are chosen by a selection committee (headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India) that reviews their applications and conducts interviews.
  • The Judicial members are chosen from applicants who are serving or retired judges of High Courts.
  • Expert members are chosen from applicants who are either serving or retired bureaucrats not below the rank of an Additional Secretary to the Government of India (not below the rank of Principal Secretary if serving under a state government) with a minimum administrative experience of five years in dealing with environmental matters. Or, the expert members must have a doctorate in a related field.

sources: the hindu, ngt.

 

Paper 3 Topic: environmental conservation and Science and Technology- developments and their applications.

M-sand production: 140 acres of land identified in Periyapatna

The Mysuru district administration in Karnataka has identified a block of land spread across 140 acres in the district for mining of granite to produce M-sand.

  • A proposal had been sent to the Karnataka state government for auctioning the land for mining granite for the purpose of producing M-sand, the crushed aggregates produced from granite stone for use by the construction industry as an alternative to river sand.
  • The construction industry had begun using M-sand in a large way in the wake of the ban on extraction of sand from the river-bed in Myosre district of Karnataka.

What is M-Sand?

M-Sand is manufactured sand. M-sand is crushed aggregates produced from hard granite stone which is cubically shaped with grounded edges, washed and graded with consistency to be used as a substitute of river sand. Manufactured sand is an alternative for river sand.

Its significance:

  • Due to fast growing construction industry, the demand for sand has increased tremendously, causing deficiency of suitable river sand in most part of the word. Due to the depletion of good quality river sand for the use of construction, the use of manufactured sand has been increased.
  • Another reason for use of M-Sand is its availability and transportation cost. Since this sand can be crushed from hard granite rocks, it can be readily available at the nearby place, reducing the cost of transportation from far-off river sand bed.

Advantages of Manufactured Sand (M-Sand) are:

  • It can be dust free, the sizes of m-sand can be controlled easily so that it meets the required grading for the given construction.
  • It is well graded in the required proportion.
  • It does not contain organic and soluble compound that affects the setting time and properties of cement, thus the required strength of concrete can be maintained.
  • It does not have the presence of impurities such as clay, dust and silt coatings, increase water requirement as in the case of river sand which impair bond between cement paste and aggregate. Thus, increased quality and durability of concrete.
  • M-Sand is obtained from specific hard rock (granite) using the state-of-the-art International technology, thus the required property of sand is obtained.
  • M-Sand is cubical in shape and is manufactured using technology like High Carbon steel hit rock and then ROCK ON ROCK process which is synonymous to that of natural process undergoing in river sand information.
  • Modern and imported machines are used to produce M-Sand to ensure required grading zone for the sand.
  • M-Sand is dearer when compared to river sand during normal availability periods in regular markets.

Sources: The Hindu, msand.

 

Paper 2 Topic: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability.

‘Govt. cannot levy VAT on software’

The Karnataka High Court has declared that information technology service providing companies are not liable to pay Value Added Tax (VAT) for software implementation process, which happens after installation of customized software.

  • This has come as a huge relief to information technology service providing companies, such as Infosys Ltd. in Karnataka.
  • The high court has refused to accept State’s contention that the process of implementation of software is part of customization and pre-sale activity, and without customization and without implementation, the software is not completely saleable, useable and functional.

Background:

  • Karnataka state government had contended that the process of implementation of IT software is a pre-sale activity and therefore constitutes sale. In this respect, several notices were issued by the state commercial taxes department to many companies including Infosys.
  • A petition was filed by Infosys questioning the demand notices, issued by the Commercial Taxes Department in 2012-13, asking the company to pay several crores of rupees as additional sales tax, interest and penalty for the years 2005-09 in relation to implementation of Finacle, a universal banking solution developed and provided by Infosys, in various banks across the country.
  • The state department had initially accepted the VAT paid by Infosys on the sale value of “packaged and customised versions of Finacle” while treating implementation process as not part of sale. However, post-2009 the department claimed that “implementation” is nothing but “value-addition to Finacle software and therefore there is sale of customised Finacle and attracts VAT.”

What the court says?

  • In substance, implementation means the customised software is integrated into several other systems so that the banks can start using the licensed software. In the process, there is no transfer of any goods or right to use any goods; what is rendered is service and therefore, said consideration paid as service charge is not subjected to VAT, but subjected to service tax.
  • The process of implementation of project starts only after installation of software (customised copyrighted Finacle), which is the goods transferred to the banks through agreement.

As “implementation” is included under the definition of taxable services under the Service Tax Act by Parliament, the court has also said that the State has no power to levy VAT treating it as transfer of property in goods or otherwise.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Paper 3 Topic: Environmental pollution.

Outdoor air pollution killed 0.65 million Indians in 2010: study

A recently published study in the journal Nature shows that out of the 3.3 million premature mortality worldwide in 2010 caused by outdoor air pollution, about 0.65 million deaths took place in India. These deaths were in adults older than 30 years and in children younger than five years.

  • The study has for the first time taken into account the data from highly polluted regions like Asia for estimating the global mortality caused by air pollution.

Observations made by the study:

  • India has the second highest premature deaths caused by outdoor air pollution. With 1.35 million deaths annually, China ranks number one in the world.
  • At 0.32 million, more than half of premature mortality due to outdoor air pollution in India was from residential energy used for heating and cooking.
  • Power generation was the second biggest culprit causing nearly 90,000 deaths in 2010. At 42,000, industry and biomass burning caused equal number of deaths, followed by 30,000 deaths from land traffic in India.
  • Of the seven sources of outdoor air pollution, residential energy use is the most important category that causes the most premature deaths worldwide. It contributes to one-third of premature mortality globally. Residential energy use is an inefficient form of fuel combustion that causes lot of smoke and is by far the most important cause of premature mortality in Asia.
  • Emissions from residential energy use, together with waste disposal and diesel generators, contribute to 32% deaths in China but 50-60% in the case of India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.
  • The estimate of 1 million premature deaths globally due to emissions from solid fuel and also waste disposal and diesel generators is in addition to the 3.54 million deaths per year due to indoor air pollution from the same sources.

Future predictions:

On the basis of model projections, the authors of the study predict that premature mortality from outdoor air pollution could double by 2050 on the basis of projected rates of increase in pollution and population levels, with 6.6 million premature deaths forecast globally per year, including large increases in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific.

How this can be reduced?

  • By reducing ambient exposure to pollution.
  • By lowering indoor exposure to PM2.5 emissions.
  • By using the improved chulhas, which are supposed to be smokeless.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Paper 2 Topic: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability.

Govt. plans to ease out inefficient officials

The government has planned to remove non-performing government officials by forcing them to compulsorily retire from service.

  • Detailed instructions have been issued by the government for reviewing the performance of officers which cite various Supreme Court observations for guiding the assessment of such cases.

Review process:

  • To carry out the review process, committees will be formed. The secretaries of government departments will head these committees to review the performance of staff working under them as part of a move to force compulsory retirement on those staffers who are found to shirk work.
  • The Chief Vigilance Officers (CVOs) in government departments, who act as a distant arm of the Central Vigilance Commission, will also be involved in case of a record reflecting adversely on the integrity of the gazetted officers. In case of non-gazetted officers, it is the CVO’s representative who will be involved.
  • For every review, the entire service record will be considered. The expression ‘service record’ will take in all relevant records and, hence, the review will be confined to the consideration of the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) or Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) dossier.
  • In case of those officers who have been promoted in the last five years, the previous entries in the ACRs will be taken into account if the promotion was on the basis of seniority- cum-fitness and not on the basis of merit.

What the Rules say?

  • Under Fundamental Rule 56(J), the government has the “absolute right” to retire, if necessary in the public interest, any Group A and B employee who joined service before the age of 35 and has crossed the age of 50.
  • Also, a Group C government servant, who has crossed the age of 55, can be retired prematurely under the rules.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Paper 2 Topic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes.

50 days more of MGNREGS work for the drought-hit

The Union Cabinet has given ex post facto approval to provide an additional 50 days of work to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) Scheme beneficiaries during the current financial year wherever drought or natural calamities have been notified. The scheme actually guarantees 100 days of work.

Implications:

  • The decision will enable the States to provide additional wage employment to the rural poor in drought-affected areas.
  • The poorest rural households will benefit from this, as it will help in immediate absorption of rural seasonal unemployment and reduce rural distress.

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 a 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 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% 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% of the total wages disbursed were delayed. And delays in wage payments have actually increased over time.

However, some 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: The Hindu, mgnrega, Wiki.

 

Paper 2 Topic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes.

Now, Modi govt to make villages smart

The Union Cabinet has approved Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission with an outlay of Rs 5142.08 crore.

Aim of the mission: to spur economic, social and infrastructure development in rural areas.

Details:

  • Under the scheme, the State Governments would identify the clusters in accordance with the framework for implementation prepared by the Ministry of Rural Development.
  • For the selection of clusters, an objective analysis at the district, sub district and village level, of the demography, economy, tourism and pilgrimage significance and transportation corridor impact will be carried out.
  • The clusters will be geographically contiguous Gram Panchayats with a population of about 25000 to 50000 in plain and coastal areas and a population of 5000 to 15000 in desert, hilly or tribal areas. The mission also aims to set up these clusters by 2019-20 across the country.

Components of the scheme:

  • The scheme will function with 14 mandatory components to ensure an optimum level of development of a cluster, which include skill development training linked to economic activities, digital literacy, fully equipped mobile health unit and inter-village road connectivity.
  • The other components of the scheme in clusters will be providing citizen service centres- for electronic delivery of citizen centric services and e-gram connectivity, public transport, LPG gas connections, agro processing, agri services including storage and warehousing, sanitation, provision of piped water supply, solid and liquid waste management and upgrading education facilities.

Funding:

  • The funding will be through various schemes of the government converged into the cluster.
  • The mission will provide an additional funding support of up to 30% of the project cost per cluster as critical gap funding as central share to enable development of such ‘rurban clusters’.
  • The cost of developing a cluster might vary between Rs 50 crore and Rs 52 crore.
  • The preferred mode of delivery would be through public-private-partnerships while using various scheme funds.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB.

 

Paper 2 Topic: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

India, Cambodia sign two MoUs

India and Cambodia have signed two Memorandums of Understanding — on tourism, and on the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Initiative. The MoUs were signed by Vice President Hamid Ansari, during his recent visit to the country.

  • The Mekong-Ganga MoU is related to five ‘quick impact projects’, one of which was a $50,000-grant to Cambodia for the upgradation of an Entrepreneurship Development Centre. The other four projects include two in healthcare, especially to do with malaria, one on agriculture and one on women’s empowerment.
  • The tourism MoU aims at boosting tourist movement between the two countries.

mekong ganga cooperation

Mekong-Ganga cooperation:

  • The Mekong–Ganga Cooperation (MGC) was established on November 10, 2000 at Vientiane at the First MGC Ministerial Meeting.
  • It comprises six member countries, namely India, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
  • areas of cooperation: tourism, culture, education, and transportation linkage in order to be solid foundation for future trade and investment cooperation in the region.
  • The organization takes its name from the Ganga and the Mekong, two large rivers in the region.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Paper 3 Topic: Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.

RBI allows 10 companies to set up small finance banks

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has granted ‘in-principle’ approval for 10 companies to set up small finance banks.

  • The approval will be valid for 18 months to enable the applicants to comply with the requirements.
  • Until a regular licence is issued, the applicants cannot undertake any banking business.

Selection:

  • The applicants were selected after three different committees contributed to the final decision, backed by a detailed case study of each applicant.
  • The scrutiny involved assessment of financial soundness, proposed business plan, fit and proper status based on due diligence reports received from the regulators, investigative agencies and banks.

About small finance banks:

  • They aim to provide basic banking services to small farmers and micro industries. With an objective to promote financial inclusion, these banks will focus on small borrowers, low-ticket savings and serve rural areas.
  • They provide basic banking services like accepting deposits and lending to the unbanked sections such as small farmers, micro business enterprises, micro and small industries and unorganised sector entities.
  • As per RBI norms, a Small Finance Bank will primarily undertake basic banking activities of acceptance of deposits and lending to unserved and under-served sections, including small business units, small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries and unorganized sector entities.
  • Such entities can operate across the country as there is no area of restriction. However, at least 50% of its loan portfolio should constitute loans and advances of up to Rs 25 lakh.
  • These banks will be subject to all prudential norms and regulations of RBI as applicable to existing commercial banks, including requirement of maintenance of Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) and Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR).
  • These banks would not enjoy any forbearance from complying with the statutory provisions. They have to follow the norms for scheduled commercial banks.
  • As far as foreign shareholding is concerned, this would be as per the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy for private sector banks as amended from time to time.
  • As per the norms, the operations of the bank should be fully networked and technology driven from the beginning, conforming to generally accepted standards and norms. The bank should have a high powered Customer Grievances Cell too.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB.