Insights Daily Current Affairs, 23 March 2018
Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017
Context: Parliament has passed the Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
Highlights of the Bill:
- The 2017 Bill empowers the central government to (i) notify the period of maternity leave eligible for qualifying as continuous service; and (ii) determine the amount of gratuity available to employees.
- The Bill removes the reference to 12 weeks in the 1972 Act and empowers the central government to notify the maximum maternity leave.
- Under the Act, the maximum amount of gratuity payable to an employee cannot exceed Rs 10 lakh. The Bill removes the existing ceiling and states that the ceiling may be notified by the central government.
The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972:
The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 applies to establishments employing 10 or more persons. The main purpose for enacting this Act is to provide social security to workmen after retirement, whether retirement is a result of the rules of superannuation, or physical disablement or impairment of vital part of the body. Therefore, the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 is an important social security legislation to wage earning population in industries, factories and establishments.
Who Are Eligible?
The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 allows for the payment of gratuity to employees in any establishment, factory, mine, oil field, plantation, port, railways, company, or shop employing 10 or more workers.
- For Prelims: Details of the Amendment Bill.
- For Mains: Need for social security and its benefits.
Topic: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.
African Continental Free Trade Area
Context: The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has been signed by 44 African countries at a summit of the African Union in Kigali, Rwanda. If successful, it will be the biggest trade trade agreement since the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, as well as a host of others did not sign the agreement.
What is AfCFTA?
African heads of government agreed to establish a continental free trade area in 2012 and started negotiations in 2015.
- The draft agreement commits countries to removing tariffs on 90% of goods, with 10% of “sensitive items” to be phased in later.
- The agreement will also liberalise services and aims to tackle so-called “non-tariff barriers” which hamper trade between African countries, such as long delays at the border.
- Eventually, free movement of people and even a single currency could become part of the free trade area.
Significance of AfCFTA:
The AfCFTA has the potential to bring over 1.2bn people together into the same market. The bloc of 55 nations would be the largest in the world by member states.
- The AfCFTA could improve trade between African countries, which in 2016 estimates stated accounted for only 10%. By reducing barriers to trade, such as removing import duties and non-tariff barriers, African countries hope to boost intra-continental business.
Objectives of the AfCFTA:
- Create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union.
- Expand intra African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes and instruments across RECs and across Africa in general.
- Resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes.
- Enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.
- For Prelims: AfCFTA, who has not signed.
- For Mains: Need for Single unified market for the development of African region.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Investment models.
Toll Operate and Transfer (TOT) model
Context: The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which invited bids for various highways, hopes to generate more than Rs 6,000 crore by leasing out the roads under the ‘toll-operate-transfer’ (TOT) model. This will provide NHAI funds to build more highways, filling in for the private sector that is reluctant to invest in new highways.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in 2016 had authorised NHAI to monetise 75 publicly funded national highways that are operational and have been generating toll revenues for at least two years.
About the TOT model:
Under this newly launched ToT model, the right to collect user-fee or toll on selected national highway stretches built through public funding is proposed to be auctioned and assigned to a concessionaire for a period of 30 years against an upfront payment of a lump-sum amount to the government.
- The concessionaire is also responsible for the operation and maintenance of the roads during the tenure.
- The model concession agreement also seeks to address the risks associated with such a long concession contract, with several provisions designed to deal with eventualities like roadway expansion, high toll traffic variation, etc., to ensure that concessionaires are not exposed to undue risks.
- The government can also increase the concession period in later stages, if the concessionaire wants it.
Significance of the Model:
India is facing a $526 billion infrastructure investment gap by 2040. The TOT model, once successful in the highways sector, other sectors such as power transmission, oil and natural gas could replicate the same model, thereby unlocking the huge offbudget funding.
For Prelims and Mains: ToT Model and its significance.
Strategy on Resource efficiency
Context: Niti aayog has initiated implementation of strategy on Resource efficiency. After detailed discussion,a road map for implementation of the RE in the country has also been evolved.
Following measures related to implementation of strategy on resource efficiency was announced by the NITI Aayog:
- NITI Aayog will facilitate the RE strategy implementation. Implementation however will be the responsibility of the line ministries/departments.
- A baseline survey on RE could be considered for better targeting.
- A Status paper on RE and Four sectoral strategy papers on RE are to be prepared.
- SWACH Bharat also means a clean production/mining environment, therefore resource efficiency and circular economy are also a part of this initiative.
- One pilot study on Ease of Doing RE Business in collaboration with DIPP could be considered.
- Finally, RE is a potential instrument for generating wealth from waste. Measures for promoting effective recycling of scrap generated in the country could be explored.
Strategy on Resource Efficiency:
- NITI Aayog in collaboration with the European Union delegation to India have released the Strategy on Resource Efficiency. The strategy aims to promote resource efficiency in India.
- This strategy is the first policy document to emphasize resource productivity in the country. The Strategy emphasizes on Sustainable Public Procurement (SSP) as an action agenda which will be the market transformation tool to transform to a resource efficient economy.
- It is developed with the recommendations from the Indian Resource Efficiency Programme (IREP), launched by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and Indian Resource Panel (InRP) in April 2017.
What is Resource Efficiency and why do we need it?
Resource efficiency very simply put is making more with fewer materials. In practice, through a life-cycle approach, it leads to minimizing impact on environment & the associated societal burdens, transforming ‘waste’ into ‘resources’ fostering circular economy, and strengthening resource security.
Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy are important goals and central principles for achieving sustainable development. Sustainability is a global priority and SDGs commitment and 11th Five year plan also clearly enunciate importance of Resource efficiency (RE).
Facts for Prelims:
About InRP: The new Indian Resource Panel (InRP) was officially unveiled in 2016, making India one of the first emerging economies to set up a national advisory body on resource efficiency. The InRP was created with support from the International Climate Initiative as part of the project ‘Resource efficiency and secondary raw materials management as a contribution to climate change mitigation’. The InRP will issue recommendations to Indian businesses and policy-makers on improving the general conditions for resource efficiency.
- For Prelims: InRP, Niti aayog strategy on Resource efficiency.
- For Mains: Resource efficiency and its significance for India.
World Water Day 2018
Context: Every year on March 22, World Water Day is celebrated. 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of World Water Day.
Theme: This year’s theme of World Water Day is ‘Nature for Water’ and exploring nature-based solutions (NBS) to the water challenges that we are currently facing.
Campaign: The campaign which is being run by UN is being called ‘The answer is in nature’ and the motto is to raise awareness on how we nations together can save water by following nature based solutions.
About World Water Day:
In the year 1992, March 22 was first officially added in the schedule 21 of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development as World Water Day in the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
- The celebrations to mark world water day started from the year 1993. The aim of the day is to increase awareness among people about the importance, need and conservation of water.
- The World Water Development Report is also released by the UN every year around World Water Day.
The goals of World Water Day are in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6, a program which targets bringing safe drinking water and clean sanitation to everyone around the world.
How The Day Is Celebrated?
The United Nations including all the member nations celebrate March 22 by implementing the UN recommendations as well as promoting the global water conservation through the real activities like promotion of clean water conservation, governments’ plan of action for water conservation and publishing critical reports that highlights the statistics and data on water.
The UN-Water is responsible for the selection of World Water Day theme every year, distribution of global messages as well as leading the UN agencies for celebrating the World Day for Water.
Need for conservation of water:
Today, around 1.9 billion people live in potentially severely water-scarce areas. By 2050, this could increase to around 3 billion people. This translates to an increase of nearly one and half times in just 30 years.
International Day of Forests
Context: International Day of Forests is observed on March 21st every year.
2018 Theme: Forests and Sustainable Cities.
About the International Day of Forests:
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests (IDF) in 2012. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests. On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns.
Importance of trees for sustainable cities:
- Forests and trees store carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change in and around urban areas.
- Trees also improve the local climate, helping to save energy used for heating by 20-50%.
- Strategic placement of trees in urban areas can cool the air by up to 8 degrees Celsius, reducing air conditioning needs by 30%.
- Urban trees are excellent air filters, removing harmful pollutants in the air and fine particulates.
- Trees reduce noise pollution, as they shield homes from nearby roads and industrial areas.
- Local populations use the fruits, nuts, leaves and insects found in urban trees to produce food and medicines for use in the home, or as a source of income.
- Wood fuel sourced from urban trees and planted forests on the outskirts of cities provides renewable energy for cooking and heating, which reduces pressures on natural forests and our reliance on fossil fuels.
- Forests in and around urban areas help to filter and regulate water, contributing to high-quality freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people. Forests also protect watersheds and prevent flooding as they store water in their branches and soil.
- Well-managed forests and trees in and around cities provide habitats, food and protection for many plants and animals, helping to maintain and increase biodiversity.
- Forests in cities and surrounding areas generate tourism, create tens of thousands of jobs and encourage city beautification schemes, building dynamic, energetic and prosperous green economies.
- Urban green spaces, including forests, encourage active and healthy lifestyles, improve mental health, prevent disease, and provide a place for people to socialize.
Facts for Prelims:
Okhla Bird Sanctuary:
Context: Foundation Stone for Redevelopment And Upgardation of Okhla Bird Sanctuary was recently laid.
- Okhla Bird Sanctuary is located close to New Delhi and is one of the 467 Important Bird Areas (IBA) of the country and is home to a large number of resident, as well as migratory birds like grey-headed fish eagle, Baikal teal, Baer’s pochard and Sarus crane.
- It is home to 32 species of reptiles, 7 species of amphibians and 186 plant species.
- Okhla Bird Sanctuary, belonging to the State of Uttar Pradesh, has an area of 400 ha, out of which 120 ha falls within the National Capital Region of Delhi.
World’s first brass futures contract:
Context: MCX, the country’s largest commodity exchange, has launched futures trading in brass for first time in the world. With the launch of a transparent brass futures contract, MCX will emerge as the benchmark price as volume picks up in two months time.
- Brass would be first non-ferrous contract with compulsory delivery options – the IS-319 grade brass ingots and billets can be delivered at Jamnagar in Gujarat.
- Brass, an alloy, usually contains 60% zinc and the rest is copper. It finds varied industrial use in electrical appliance, switch gears, sanitary ware, automobiles and defence sectors.
First Indian Sign Language Dictionary of 3000 Words Launched:
Context: First Indian Sign Language Dictionary of 3000 words has been launched. As per the census 2011, there are 50, 71,007 Deaf people and 19, 98,535 with speech disability in India.
- The dictionary has been developed by Indian Sign Language Research & Training Centre (ISLR&TC) under Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), M/o Social Justice & Empowerment.
- Its aim is to give Deaf people the constitutional right to speech and opportunity of freedom of expression and also bringing them into the main stream of the society.
Context: An instrument to measure traces of uranium in water has been developed by a unit of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
- The instrument, “Fluorimeter”, has been developed by the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT), an Indore-based unit of the DAE.
- The device, costing Rs 1 lakh, would help in detecting traces of uranium in water.
- The instrument is capable of examining traces of uranium in a sample of water from 0.1 PPB (Parts-per-billion) unit to 100 PPB.
Uranium: Uranium is a radioactive element. If in any source of water it’s quantity is more than the permissible limit, then use of such water may cause thyroid cancer, blood cancer, depression and other serious ailments. Notably, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has fixed the permissible radiological limit to 60 PPB of uranium concentration for drinking water.
BrahMos Supersonic Cruise Missile:
Context: Supersonic cruise missile BrahMos was recently successfully flight-tested for the first time with an indigenous seeker. So far, the seeker, a critical technology in missiles, had come from Russia. The seeker technology determines the accuracy of a missile.
- The BrahMos is the fastest cruise missile of its class in the world.
- BrahMos missile flies almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8 and has a range of 290 km.
- The missile has been jointly developed with Russia and is named after the rivers Brahmaputra and Moskva in Russia.
- BrahMos missile is the heaviest weapon to be deployed on India’s Su-30 fighter aircraft.
- Since India’s entry into the MTCR, the range has been extended to 450 km and the plan is to increase it to 600km.