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Insights Daily Current Affairs, 09 January 2018
Topic: Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
All India Whips’ Conference
Context: The 18th All India Whips’ Conference was recently inaugurated at Udaipur, Rajasthan. The conference is hosting around 90 Delegates belonging to 19 States and Centre.
Significance of the conference:
The purpose of this conference is to strengthen the parliamentary democracy, its institutions and ultimately serve the people at large. The conference provides a platform to Whips of various political parties – ruling as well as opposition at the Centre as well as the States to exchange their views and experiences and discuss the challenges facing them in discharge of their Parliamentary duties and evolve norms for efficient working of parliamentary machinery.
Who is a whip?
A whip is an important member of a political party’s parliamentary body, having a central role in ‘Floor Management’ in both the Houses of Parliament and is responsible for discipline within the party. Their main job is ensuring that their members in Parliament and legislature vote in line with the party’s official policy on important issues and make sure that the members turn out for important votes.
Importance of whips in our political system:
In the parliamentary form of Government, Whips of various political parties are the vital links of the internal organization of parties, inside the legislatures. The efficient and smooth functioning of Parliament and State Legislatures depends, to a considerable extent, upon the office of the Whip. The Whips can be rightly said to be the managers of the parties within the legislatures.
Facts for Prelims:
- It was 18th All India Whips’ Conference and was held at Udaipur, Rajasthan.
- First All India Whips Conference was organized at Indore in 1952, in the very first year of general elections to the First Lok Sabha.
- Organizing the All India Whips Conference is one of the functions assigned to the Ministry of Parliamentary affairs, under Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 made under article 77(3) of the Constitution.
Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Supreme Court sets aside order cancelling larger tobacco health warnings
The Supreme Court has put on hold Karnataka High Court’s order that quashed central government rules mandating larger health warnings on tobacco packages, in a setback for the country’s $11 billion tobacco industry. The court foregrounded the health of citizens over the concerns of the tobacco industry.
- The court’s decision comes as a relief for health advocates and central health ministry who say bigger health warnings deter tobacco consumption. More than 900,000 people die each year in India due to tobacco-related illnesses, the government estimates.
The Central government had, in 2014, amended the Cigarette and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules prescribing that 85% space on both sides of the tobacco packaging would be covered with the statutory warnings telling consumers that cigarette smoking and tobacco chewing were harmful to health. The Cigarette and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendments Rules, 2014 were framed under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.
The Karnataka High court had cited the following reasons for striking down the rules:
- The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare unilaterally framed the Rules without concurrence of the other departments concerned, and this was a violation of the Article 77 (Conduct of Business of Government of India) and the Transaction of Business (ToB) rules framed under it as the subject of tobacco control and legislation was not attached to one department or Ministry.
- Also, the rules were notified even before the Parliamentary Committee on sub-ordinate legislations was examining them. Ministry of Commerce had also opposed 85% area for pictorial warning on the ground that it would not result in any benefit and wanted to restrict the pictorial warnings to 40% or 50%. And the Labour Ministry too had opposed pictorial warning for the reason that it would harm the beedi industry, on which several poor families are depending upon for their livelihood.
- The rules are also contrary to Article 19(1)(g) [right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business] as they are “unreasonable” restrictions imposed “without application of mind or any basis.”
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Context: Government has achieved a significant milestone under the BharatNet by completing Phase-1 of the project by connecting over one lakh Gram Panchayats (GP) across the country with high speed optical fibre network as per the declared deadline of 31 Dec 2017. BharatNet network built under Phase 1 envisages delivery of high-speed broadband services in over 2.5 lakh villages benefitting more than 200 million rural Indians.
About BharatNet project:
Bharat Net sought to connect all of India’s households, particularly in rural areas, through broadband, forming the backbone of the government’s ambitious Digital India programme. It proposes broadband connectivity to households under village panchayats and even to government institutions at district level. The project is being funded through the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
Universal Service Obligation Fund:
USOF, established in 2002, provides effective subsidies to ensure telegraph services are provided to everyone across India, especially in the rural and remote areas. It is headed by the USOF Administrator who reports to the Secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
- Funds come from the Universal Service Levy (USL) of 5% charged from all the telecom operators on their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) which are then deposited into the Consolidated Fund of India, and require prior parliamentary approval to be dispatched.
- The USOF works through a bidding process, where funds are given to the enterprise quoting the lowest bid. However, the funds for NOFN were made an exception to this process since BBNL was the sole party involved in the implementation having being specifically created for it.
Topic: e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential.
e-Sansad and e-Vidhan
Context: Government has rolled out e-Sansad and e-Vidhan in Parliament and State Legislatures to digitize and make their functioning paperless.
About e-Sansad and e-Vidhan:
What are they? e-Sansad and e-Vidhan are mission mode projects of Government of India under Digital India, to make the functioning of Parliament and State Legislatures paperless. MoPA is the Nodal Ministry for implementation of both the projects.
Details: These projects would make the functioning of Parliament and State Legislatures participative, responsive, transparent, productive and more accountable to the public and make the entire Legislative process more efficient. Further, this environment friendly initiative is in line with the ‘Go Green’ initiative of the Government.
Topic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
India rejects US solar claim at WTO, explores new defence
India has hit back at Washington’s latest legal assault on its solar power policies at the World Trade Organization, rejecting a US legal claim and exploring possible new protection of India’s own solar industry.
What’s the issue?
Last month, the United States had triggered a new round of litigation at the WTO, arguing that India had failed to abide by a ruling that it had illegally discriminated against foreign suppliers of solar cells and modules. However, India said it had changed its rules to conform with the ruling and that a US claim for punitive trade sanctions was groundless.
It may noted here that, in 2014, the US dragged India to WTO on the country’s solar mission. The US alleged that India’s programme appears to discriminate against the US solar equipment by requiring solar energy producers to use locally manufactured cells and by offering subsidies to those developers who use domestic equipment. It also alleged that forced localisation requirements restricted US exports to Indian markets.
India had lost this case as the WTO ruled that India’s domestic content requirements under its solar power programme were inconsistent with the international norms.
About the National Solar Mission:
National Solar Mission, launched in 2010, aims to establish India as a global leader in solar energy by creating the policy conditions for its diffusion across the country as quickly as possible. The Mission has set the ambitious target of deploying 20,000 MW of grid connected solar power by 2022 and aims at reducing the cost of solar power generation in the country.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
India unveils Pratyush, its fastest supercomputer yet
India has unveiled Pratyush, an array of computers that can deliver a peak power of 6.8 petaflops. One petaflop is a million billion floating point operations per second and is a reflection of the computing capacity of a system. The machines will be installed at two government institutes: 4.0 petaflops HPC facility at IITM, Pune; and 2.8 petaflops facility at the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecast.
Facts for Prelims:
- With this, India will now occupy the fourth position, next only to United Kingdom, Japan and USA in terms of dedicated capacity for HPC resources for weather and climate proposes. The UK leads with a capacity of 20.4 Petaflop, followed by Japan with 20 Petaflop and USA with 10.7 Petaflop.
- It will also move an Indian supercomputer from the 300s to the 30s in the Top500 list, a respected international tracker of the world’s fastest supercomputers.
- India had till now occupied the eighth position with a capacity of 1 Petaflop. With the new system, it has now jumped over Korea (4.8 Petaflop), France (4.4 Petaflop) and China (2.6 Petaflop).
Applications of Pratyush:
The Pratyush HPC will improve weather forecasts and extended range forecasts. It will also predict cyclones and tsunami accurately, with more lead time. It will also help those dependent on agriculture, hydrology and power sectors.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Territorial Army battalion of ex-Armymen to clean Ganga
AS PART of its mission to clean the Ganga by 2020, the Central government has sanctioned the raising of a Territorial Army (TA) battalion comprising ex-servicemen of the Army. The battalion will be raised in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh as a Composite Ecological Task Force (CETF) battalion of TA for National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG).
About the territorial army battalion:
Composition: The CETF TA battalion, to be commanded by a Colonel-rank officer, will have eight officers, 20 JCOs and around 500 other ranks on its roll. For the task, it will only enroll ex-servicemen, who will be embodied under TA rules.
Functions: The battalion will be responsible for monitoring ecological and environmental projects related to the river, and also raise public awareness through campaigns.
Funding: The government has allocated Rs 167 crore for the battalion under NMCG, the nodal agency for cleaning the Ganga. The battalion will work on a book debit system with funding provided from the budget of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
About the territorial army:
India’s first Governor General Shri C Rajagopalachari formally inaugurated the Indian Territorial Army on October 9 in 1949. It is an organization where volunteers apply for a short period of training every year, so as to be ready to tackle any emergent situation or to serve for the defence of India.
- The Territorial Army, also known as the ‘Terriers’, is considered the second line of national defence after the regular Army. The Territorial Army is part of a Regular Army and its present role is to relieve the Regular Army from static duties and assist civil administration in dealing with natural calamities and maintenance of essential services in situations where life of the communities is affected or the security of the country is threatened and to provide units for Regulars Army as and when required.
- Territorial Army comes under the Defence Ministry. Nine Ecological Task Force (ETF) battalions of TA have been raised to execute specific environment-related projects.
Topic: disaster management.
Indian Railways conceives to deploy “Drone” cameras
Context: Indian Railways has decided to deploy “Drone” cameras (UAV/NETRA) for various railway activities especially project monitoring and maintenance of tracks and other railway infrastructure. In this regard, directions have been given to Zonal Railways to procure such cameras. This is in-line with Railways’ desire to use technology to enhance safety and efficiency in train operations.
- Drone” cameras will help in monitoring activities of relief and rescue operation, project monitoring, progress of important works, conditions of track and inspection related activities.
- It shall also be used to assess preparedness of Non-Interlocking (NI) works, crowd management during fairs and melas, to identify scrap and also for aerial survey of station yards.
- Drones are also going to be instrumental in providing real time inputs related to safety and maintenance of tracks and other railway infrastructure.
Safety has been one of the biggest concerns in the Indian Railways system. While the number of accidents have gone down over the last few years, the number still remains over 100 accidents a year. Railway accidents happen due to several reasons. An incorrect signal, a mistake or an act of negligence by one of its staff directly associated with the running of trains, deficiency in tracks, a rash act by one of the millions of road users, an irresponsible act by a passenger who carries inflammable goods. Added to these are the acts of sabotage.
Suggestions by the World Bank:
The world bank has prepared a report titled ‘Strengthening Safety on Indian Railways’. Suggestions include:
- As a measure to avert accidents, the trains are to be equipped with ‘ditch lights’ and painted bright yellow that will enable more visibility even during twilight hours.
- The rail employees should be garbed in “high-visibility” clothes that can be worn round the year. A special heed is to be taken to ensure they wear it on duty at all times. The footwear and helmets are to be chosen by the employees that stay well within the allowance’s range and serve the purpose.
- Every train must be equipped with fire extinguishers and the staff must be well guided on various fire prevention measures.
- The level crossings and paths are to be painted with a crosshatched pattern that can alert and highlight the dangers for people to be in the area.
- The current investigators who have been employed to investigate root-cause of accidents are to be trained for better analysis.
- The authorities have been suggested to review timetables such that a maintenance block of four hours is provided weekly on all main lines as well as review safety performance in terminal operations with the intent of recognising prevailing risks.
- An independent rail safety regulator is to be created by the railways to strengthen the powers of commissioner of railway safety and form a safety management system under the Chairman, Railway Board.
- To address derailments, fires, or any other possible mishap, an emergency response plan is to be constituted.
Facts for Prelims:
Under this initiative, West Central Railways with headquarter at Jabalpur (M.P) has become the first Zonal Railway to procure “Drone” cameras in Indian Railways.
Facts for Prelims:
What is it? It is the US government’s secret satellite mission. SpaceX has successfully launched the secretive Zuma mission from Cape Canaveral.