CURRENT AFFAIRS 14TH JUNE 2015 TO 20TH JUNE, 2015
RIVER BOARD NOTIFIES KRISHNA WATER ALLOCATION
The Krishna River Water Management Board on June 18, 2015 notified water allocation in the Krishna between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana which will get 512 tmcft and 299 tmcft respectively, out of the total assured water of 811 tmcft in the river for both States. The board meeting at New Delhi under the aegis of Union Water Resources Ministry also notified that the share of water of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana at Nagarjunasagar project will be 164 tmcft and 100 tmcft respectively. According to available information, no decision was taken on allocation of water from Srisailam project. The notification also said Prakasam barrage was allocated 181.2 tmcft for Krishna delta for the year. A working group comprising the Chief Engineers of irrigation of both States will be constituted to monitor water releases from different projects on a regular basis. The allocation of water from Krishna had been the bone of contention between the two States in 2014 and there were apprehensions that the situation would be no different this year in view of the deficit monsoon forecast by India Meteorological Department. In addition to the irrigation requirements, the two projects Nagarjunasagar and Srisailam are major a source of power generation for Telangana. The situation turned violent on Nagarjunasagar dam with the police of both the States clashing over lifting of sluice gates for release of water downstream. The issue subsided with the intervention of the Governor, who mediated talks between the Chief Ministers. The latest allocation of water assumed significance in the background of Telangana government laying foundation stones for two new projects – Palamuru–Ranga Reddy and Nakkalagandi lift-irrigation schemes – on Krishna. The AP government is going ahead with Pattiseema project on Godavari to reduce the pressure on Krishna delta and ensure release of water to Rayalaseema. But, the Telangana government has demanded compensation for diverting Godavari water to Krishna basin. The meeting witnessed heated arguments between officials of the States on the new projects in the presence of the Additional Secretary of the Ministry Amarjit Singh. They cited how projects in each other’s States were illegal.
IIMS DIVIDED OVER DRAFT IIM BILL
The draft Indian Institute of Management (IIM) bill, which seeks to give sweeping powers to Human Resource Development ministry in the functioning of the B-schools, including policy matters like deciding fees, emoluments and service conditions of the faculty, has left the prestigious institutes sharply divided. While the view in the older six IIMs is that an attempt is being made at “micro-managing” them, something that would infringe upon their autonomy, those in the eight new premier institutes feel the apprehension is misplaced. IIM-Ahmedabad director Ashish Nanda stated that the proposed legislation would be used as a tool to “micro-manage” the institutes, known the world over for academic excellence. Micromanagement is never good. If that is done, people working in institutions may feel less empowered, speaking about the bill which provides for IIM Boards deciding matters like fees, emoluments and service conditions of the faculty but only with the Centre’s approval. The bill also provides for constitution of a coordination forum chaired by the HRD minister. An IIM professor, who was involved in drafting the bill, voiced surprise at the final draft as the earlier document did not contain any clause that gave “overwhelming authority” to the government in running the institutes. In its original form, the bill was rather egalitarian and took the views of all stakeholders. But it has had last minute changes. Now, for www.ias100.in www.ias100.in  everything if we have to go back to the government for permission which has the powers to say yes or no, we can’t be competitive enough. If centralisation is the goal, autonomy is going to suffer. This is not the original intention of the bill. This is not acceptable. In the last meeting, there was nothing to suggest IIMs will have to go to the government for permission. We will be caught in procedural trap, he said. The bill, if implemented (enacted) in its present avatar, will undermine the autonomous status enjoyed by the IIMs. At a time when we are looking at a global footing, the bill could prove to be retrograde, said another IIM director, pleading anonymity. The draft says the IIMs will be “bound” by government’s directions in policy matters. Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this Act, the Institute (IIMs) shall, for efficient administration of this Act, be bound by such directions on questions of policy, as the Central Government may give in writing to it from time to time, the draft bill says. Focus points The main objection lies in the encroachment of the Centre in the powers currently vested on the Governing Board of the Institutes. These include, appointment of Chairman, determining cost and emoluments of faculty and staff, specifying the fees, formation of departments, maintenance of the building, determining director’s powers, powers of the academic council, chief administration, constitution of the Board and specifying duties of committees. “It virtually makes the institutes merely operational centres. This Bill will be detrimental to the interest of the management studies in India,” said the L&T chief. IIM-A,-B and -L have been vocal in their objection to the latest draft of the Bill. IIM-A Director Ashish Nanda further added the Bill has “regulations” in most places, while for some proposals, they are required to be “pre-approved” from the Central government.
BT COTTON RESPONSIBLE FOR SUICIDES IN RAIN-FED AREAS: STUDY
The cultivation of Bt Cotton, a genetically modified, insect-resistant cotton variety, is a risky affair for Indian farmers practising rain-fed agriculture, says a latest study published by California-based agricultural scientists in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe. Annual suicide rates of farmers in rain-fed areas are directly related to increase in Bt Cotton adoption, say the scientists Andrew Paul Gutierrez, Luigi Ponti, Hans R. Herren, Johann Baumgartner and Peter E. Kenmore, who are associated with the University of California, Berkeley, and the Centre for the Analysis of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, California. Revisiting the raw annual suicide data for Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra during 2001-2010, the authors found 86,607 of 549,414 suicides were by farmers, and 87 per cent were men with the numbers peaking in the 30-44 age group. Total suicides per year per State were regressed singly on the averages of proportion of area seeded to rain-fed cotton, average farm size, cottongrowing area, area under Bt Cotton, proportion of area under Bt Cotton, and simulated average yield a hectare that includes the effects of weather. The authors stated that excluding the proportion of area seeded to rain-fed cotton, linear multiple regression shows suicides decrease with increasing farm size and yield, but increase with the area under Bt Cotton.
GOVT. PLANS 20 MILLION HOUSES FOR URBAN POOR
The Union Cabinet approved on June 17, 2015 the launch of the “Housing for All by 2022” programme for the rehabilitation of slum-dwellers and promotion of affordable housing for the urban poor. The target is to provide nearly 20 million houses over seven years. The programme is a key promise in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto for the Lok Sabha election in 2014 — a “pucca” house for every family by the 75th year of Independence. An official statement issued in New Delhi said a Central grant of an average Rs. 1 lakh would be [ 6 ] Weekly Current Affairs 14th June 2015 to 20th June, 2015 www.ias100.in available for a house under the slum rehabilitation programme. But the State governments could exercise flexibility in using the grant for any slum rehabilitation project using land as a resource for providing houses to slum-dwellers. Under the credit-linked interest subsidy component, an interest subsidy of 6.5 per cent on housing loans availed up to a tenure of 15 years will be provided to economic weaker sections/lower income group (EWS/LIG) categories, wherein the subsidy pay-out on a net present value (NPV) basis would be about Rs. 2.3 lakh per house for both categories. The Central government assistance of Rs. 1.5 lakh a house for the EWS category would be provided in partnership and for beneficiary-led individual house construction or enhancement. Union Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the “Housing for All” programme would be a Centrally sponsored scheme. The scheme will be implemented as a Centrally sponsored scheme, except the credit-linked subsidy component, which will be implemented as a Central sector scheme. He, however, clarified that the proposal cleared by the Cabinet only dealt with urban areas and the rural component would be introduced later. The official statement said the scheme would cover all urban areas consisting of 4,041 statutory towns with initial focus on 500 Class I cities. The programme would be implemented in three phases: l Phase I (April 2015 to March 2017) to cover 100 cities to be selected from willing States and Union Territories; l Phase IIA (April 2017 to March 2019) to cover additional 200 cities; and l Phase III (April 2019 to March 2022) to cover the remaining cities. The government said the task at hand was to build an estimated two crore houses, though the exact number would depend on a demand assessment carried out all by all the States or cities by integrating Aadhaar numbers, Jan Dhan Yojana account numbers or any such identification of intended beneficiaries.
SOCIAL MEDIA USE DOUBLES IN RURAL INDIA
The use of social media in rural India has grown 100 per cent in the past year with 25 million people using the Internet to access Twitter and Facebook, according to a report. Accessing social media is one of the key reasons for people to access the Internet. In fact, for many people accessing the Internet for the first time, social media was the reason they embraced Internet, revealed the IAMAI-IMRB report on social media. Across India, there are 143 million users of social media. Urban areas witnessed a growth of 35 per cent with 118 million users as of April 2015. On the other hand, the number for rural India stood at 25 million, up from close to 12 million last year, showing a growth of 100 per cent. Facebook emerged the leading social media website with 96 per cent of urban users accessing it, followed by Google Plus (61 per cent), Twitter (43 per cent) and LinkedIn (24 per cent). The largest segment of users in urban India was college-going students (34 per cent), followed by young men (27 per cent), the report said. Schoolchildren constitute 12 per cent of the social media users. The report further stated that 61% of these users access social media on their mobile device. The fact that almost two-thirds of the users are already accessing social media through their mobile is a promising sign. With the expected increase in mobile traffic the number of users accessing social media on mobile is only bound to increase, the report added.
PANEL SEEKS STATES’ VIEWS ON LAND BILL
The Joint Committee on the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill has written to the State governments seeking their views on the contentious legislation. The letter was sent by the chairman of the www.ias100.in www.ias100.in  committee, S.S. Ahluwalia, at the insistence of the Opposition members who were of the view that the State governments should be roped in since their reservations about the 2013 “land acquisition law” has been repeatedly used by the Modi government to justify the amendments to the Act. When the issue of inviting the State governments’ views was raised by the Opposition members at the first meeting of the committee, Mr. Ahluwalia had said that by rules, this could be done only with the Speaker’s permission. Meanwhile, members claimed that practically all the 400 written representations received by the committee on the Bill were against the amendments proposed by the government. Likewise, most of the organisations that have deposed before the committee over the last four sittings, including June 16, 2015, have spoken against the changes, especially dropping the social impact assessment and the consent clause. Activist Anna Hazare and organisations from the Sangh Parivar are likely to articulate their position on the Bill next week when the committee meets again. The Opposition members were keen that Sangh Parivar views be enlisted since sections in the RSS are said to be opposed to the Bill. When they make their presentations before the committee, what they have to say will become a part of public record, members said. At this meeting, there were some arguments over a managing director of a private company making a submission before the committee. As he began speaking in support of the Bill, Opposition members questioned his presence, pointing out that it was one thing for an association of businessmen to depose before the committee but such an avenue cannot be given to any one private company.
SC ASKS CENTRE TO PROVE ASSEMBLIES DEBATED NJAC BILL
As various States came out in support of the National Judicial Appointments Commission, the Supreme Court asked the Centre on June 16, 2015 to provide proof that the new law on judicial appointments was debated on the floors of the Assemblies before ratification. A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Justice J.S. Khehar, voiced scepticism as the Centre and Gujarat said the NJAC was the “will of the people” and a product of unanimous public and legislative support. So far, government submissions said, 20 Assemblies have ratified the 99th Constitution Amendment incorporating the NJAC in place of the collegium in Article 124 of the Constitution on judicial appointments. “Was there any debate in the Gujarat Assembly or you just passed it without discussion,” the court countered Additional Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta’s submissions that the “whole nation” wanted the NJAC. Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar agreed to hand over to the court entire documents relating to the ratification. Various States ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party came out in support of the Centre in defending the NJAC before the Supreme Court during the day-long hearing on public interest litigation petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law. The NJAC, comprising the Chief Justice of India, two senior-most judges, the Law Minister and two eminent persons, is an ideal mix. Now a person [one of the eminent persons] from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and minority communities and women are at least in the selection process. It is better to use trial and error than error and trial, K. Parasaran, representing Rajasthan, submitted. T.R. Andhyarujina, counsel for Maharashtra, said the independence of the judiciary depended on the personal character of a judge and not in the manner in which he was appointed. Ravindra Shrivastava, Chhattisgarh counsel, said the NJAC provided a level plank for a frank exchange of views between the government and the judiciary on judges’ selection. Representing Jharkhand, Ajeet Sinha said the NJAC protected the primacy of judiciary. Article 124 in the Constitution of India Establishment and constitution of Supreme Court 1. There shall be a Supreme Court of India constituting of a Chief Justice of India and, until Parliament by law prescribes a larger number, of not more than seven other Judges 2. Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with such of the Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts in the States as the President may deem necessary for the purpose and shall hold office until he attains the age of sixty five years: Provided that in the case of appointment of a Judge other than the chief Justice, the chief Justice of India shall always be consulted: (a) a Judge may, by writing under his hand addressed to the President, resign his office; (b) a Judge may be removed rom his office in the manner provided in clause (4).
GM MUSTARD: WAR OF WORDS
Even as the Union government is yet to pronounce a policy on genetically modified crops, a civil society group said there are attempts to seek the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)’s nod for commercialisation of the GM mustard crop, opening the door to genetically engineered food crops in the country. An indefinite moratorium was placed on the commercial release of GM brinjal in 2010 — the first GM food crop — following public protests, while attempts to bring GM mustard were rejected by regulators in 2002 after farmers and consumers raised a hue and cry over genetic engineering of mustard which is used in ayurveda and consumed as a vegetable too. Expressing concern over the manner in which field trials of GM mustard DMH 11 (Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11) were recently done in Punjab and the Indian Agriculture Research Institute in Delhi violating laid down norms, the Coalition for GM Free India said the GEAC was considering approvals for GM mustard but was not transparent about the data. The GM mustard ‘DMH 11’ has been developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, the University of Delhi, led by former Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental, with support from the Department of Biotechnology and the National Dairy Development Board. The developers claim higher yield, but the civil society group challenges this saying the yields are no different from non-GM hybrids and, therefore, there is no need for GM crop which has potential to contaminate non-GM fields. Objection Convener of the Coalition Rajesh Krishnan said that Delhi University’s GM mustard is essentially a backdoor entry for herbicide-tolerant crops into India in the guise of a public sector GM crop. An attempt was made for similar GM mustard by an MNC into India in 2002 which the regulators firmly rejected. Several panels, including a Parliamentary Committee, have rejected the use of herbicidetolerant crops in India for health, environmental and socio-economic reasons. What are GM foods? Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. Currently available GM foods stem mostly from plants, but in the future foods derived from GM microorganisms or GM animals are likely to be introduced on the market. Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield, through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides. In the future, genetic modification could be aimed at altering the nutrient content of food, reducing its allergenic potential, or improving the efficiency of food production systems. All GM foods should be assessed before being allowed on the market. FAO/WHO Codex guidelines exist for risk analysis of GM food.
Key facts l Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health. l Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. l Foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases kill an estimated 2 million people annually, including many children. l Food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick. l Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade. l Food supply chains now cross multiple national borders. Good collaboration between governments, producers and consumers helps ensure food safety.
TRANSGENDER CATEGORY IN UPSC EXAM AFTER SC ORDER
The Union government on June 17, 2015 said it could frame rules for including transgenders as a third gender category in the civil services examination only after the Supreme Court decides on its plea for clarification on the definition of “transgender”. In an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) said no decision or order had been passed by the Centre for declaring transgender persons as the third gender. As the issue in question is sub judice before the Supreme Court and the application for modification of the apex court’s April 15, 2014 judgment on transgenders is still pending, the inclusion of transgender as a category in the application forms for this year’s civil services preliminary examination has not been carried out. The DoPT was responding to an HC notice on a public interest writ petition moved by lawyer Jamshed Ansari, challenging the absence of transgender category in the UPSC’s notice for the exam scheduled on August 23. The lack of third gender option would result in transgenders not being able to apply for the test, the petition said. The High Court’s Vacation Bench comprising Justice Mukta Gupta and Justice P.S. Teji refused to stay the process of the UPSC examination after taking on record the DoPT’s affidavit. The court listed the PIL for hearing on July 27. The affidavit said the Union government could frame rules for the benefit of transgenders, including reservation for them, only after the Supreme Court clarified the issue. As the Centre has moved the apex court, any interim order passed by the High Court would result in a situation where the consequential effects would remain unaddressed for want of clarity. Referring to the Supreme Court’s judgment, the affidavit pointed out that it had observed that even gay, lesbian and bisexual were included in the transgender category. “However, our stand is that this concept is based on sexual orientation of the person, while the term ‘transgender’ has to do with the person’s own deep sense of gender identity it said.
NCRB RECORDS: MORE HOUSEWIVES COMMITTING SUICIDE
Fifteen people commit suicide every hour in India, shows the most recent data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Of these, around 17 per cent are housewives. In contrast, suicide by farmers makes up only 3 per cent of all suicides. The NCRB divides the total suicides into 10 professional categories — housewife, service (government), service (private), public sector undertaking, student, unemployed, self-employed (business activity), farming/agriculture activity, retired and others. The NCRB data for 2013, the latest available year, shows that 1.3 lakh people committed suicide that year. Among suicides by women, a whopping 51.4 per cent are committed by housewives (almost 23,000), despite the fact that the “non-worker and marginal worker” female population engaged in “household duties” make up only 33 per cent of the entire female population, according to the 2011 Census. The previous Census in 2011 recorded that 52 per cent of India’s population married at least once. The 2013 NCRB data shows that a whopping 76 per cent of all suicides are by people who have married at least once. Worrying trend This has been the trend over the years. Suicides among housewives are increasingly becoming a matter of serious concern,” said K.R. Renuka, director of the Centre for Women’s Development and Research, a Chennai-based NGO dedicated to the uplift of women. According to Ms. Renuka, the stress and pressures faced by housewives are a leading cause of suicide. “Housewives have to take care of all the domestic duties as well as look after the elderly and children in the house. Often, they do not have an outlet for their frustrations and this leads to them taking spontaneous decisions. This problem is exacerbated by modern lifestyles and occupations. With the husband working long hours and preoccupied with work even when he gets home, the wife does not have anybody to talk to and vent her feelings, she added. Most of these suicides are not planned but acts of impulse when the woman in question is pushed past her endurance. Mental illness & stigma To compound this problem, social stigma surrounding mental illness, or even the perception of mental illness, makes it next to impossible for the women to seek professional help. Often, these women just need somebody to talk to. We recommend they go to psychiatrists. But then they question themselves whether they are actually mentally ill to need to see a psychiatrist, explained Ms. Renuka. Although the percentage has come down to 17 per cent from the 21 per cent a decade earlier, suicide by housewives continues to be a serious problem. In fact, marriage counselling and psychiatric help seem to be the need of the hour.
NOWCAST AND INSURANCE WEB-PORTALS FOR FARMERS LAUNCHED Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, on June 18, 2015 stated that a number of applications which have been completed and passed through all the required checks and audits are now ready for nationwide rollout. Few of the services launched include Insurance Portal and Weather alert service NOWCAST. Brief about the portals are as follows: l The Mission Mode Project in Agriculture under National e-Governance Plan (NeGP-A) aims to achieve rapid development of agriculture in India through the use of ICT by ensuring timely access to agriculture related information for the farmers of the country. l Twelve clusters of services including Information on inputs; Soil Health; Good Agricultural Practices; Weather; Livestock, Fisheries: Marketing: Scheme Information; Training etc. have been identified and development of Web based applications on various components of these services is being undertaken before their roll out in the States with required local customization. l Urgent need for an Insurance Portal enabling speedy processing farmers’ queries on Insurance and also their application for Agricultural Insurance cover has been felt in the wake of recent adverse weather conditions in some parts of the country and losses suffered by farmers due to their non-awareness about insuring their crops. l As per the prevailing provisions Farmers can insure their crops under 3 schemes viz. National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS), Modified National Insurance Scheme (MNAIS) and Weather based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS). l Besides this, Coconut Palm Insurance Scheme (CPIS) also is applicable in some parts of the country. However, statistics of the year 2014- 15 shows that only about 20% gross cropped area was insured. l Major reasons behind such low coverage inter alia include ignorance among farmers about insurance products & procedures and sometimes inordinately high rates as compared to NAU. l Both these factors often work in a vicious cycle to the detriment of farmers. Therefore, a beginning was made in the year 2012 by having an insurance calculator on the farmers’ portal (www.farmer.gov.in). Unfortunately, not much headway could be made because very small time window existed in most States for data entry to be completed well in time before the cutoff date. Therefore, a new web-based Portal (www.farmer.gov.in/insurance) has been developed to enter essential information under 3 major schemes viz. NAIS, MNAIS and WBCIS in an expeditious, accurate and non-repetitive manner. An Insurance Calculator has also been provided along with graphical dashboards with drill down facility down to notified units. The farmers will be able to browse through data-base of agriculture insurance companies to get details of various insurance schemes notified in their area and premium applicable to them. Facility for online entry of various provisions of insurance schemes notified in different districts by the insurance companies and the concerned states would minimize errors and facilitate quick response to online query raised by farmers on different aspects of the scheme. Detailed procedure has also been given on the home page of the Insurance Portal www.farmer.gov.in/insurance. In the second phase an online interface for filing insurance applications and scrutiny of the same by banks is also proposed to be developed. Information on weather and agro meteorological advisories are generated and disseminated by India Meteorological Department (IMD) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences through their website and also by their 130 Agro Met Field Units (AMFUs) operating across the country. However, these advisories being generated in advance and cover a larger area, their accuracy always has a limitation due to local agro-ecological variations. To tackle this situation IMD has set up 17 Doppler Radars which feed information into Weather Stations regarding extreme weather situations like thunderstorm, squall, hail etc. 146 of these Weather Stations are regularly generating data for these extreme situations. However, these warnings relating to extreme weather situations generated by IMD are valid for a period of only 3 hours on their website. Farmers in the affected areas (which lie within a radius of 50 Kms. from each of these 146 Weather Stations) could not get this information in time because of limitations in accessing the IMD Website at farm level. Therefore, an innovative initiative has been taken by DAC in the name of NOWCAST. Under this initiative, the extreme weather data originated from IMD is being moved to mKisan portal using a web service. From mKisan Portal warnings regarding extreme weather conditions are automatically and instantaneously transmitted by SMS to farmers located in affected district/ blocks. This technological break-through is a collaborative effort between mKisan Portal developed by DAC, weather technologies adopted by IMD and GIS Portal of NIC. Advance Warnings issued so far are also displayed on the Web.
CITIZENSHIP TO DESCENDANTS OF EXPELLED JEWS IN SPAIN
Spain’s lower house of parliament has approved a law that eases the path to citizenship for descendants of Jews who were forced to flee the country five centuries ago during the Inquisition. The measure aims to correct what Spain’s conservative government calls the “historic mistake” of sending Jews into exile in 1492, forcing them to convert to Catholicism or burning them at the stake. l The law – which will come into force in October – grants dual citizenship rights for Jews with Spanish ancestry, who are known as Sephardic Jews. l Under the previous 1924 law the government had discretionary powers to award Sephardic Jews nationality but candidates had to give up their previous citizenship and they had to be residents of Spain. l Applicants do not have to be practising Jews but they must have their Jewish heritage vetted by the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities or by rabbis where they live. l They will also have to pass tests on Spanish language, culture, prove they have a “special connection” to Spain and travel to the country at their own expense to apply. l The law will expire after three years although it could be extended by another year if deemed necessary. The new law gives Sephardic Jews the same dual citizenship privilege that Spain currently grants only to people from its former colonies and neighbouring Portugal and Andorra. The law had the backing of Spain’s two main parties and it comfortably cleared its final reading. The Spanish government estimates that about 90,000 people will apply for citizenship, although officials admit there is no precise way of knowing how many descendants meet the criteria. Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, welcomed the passage of the law, saying it “respects the long history of the Jews of Spain”. While Jewish groups have welcomed the move, some Jewish leaders have complained that the requirements are too burdensome.
Background Though estimates vary, historians believe at least 200,000 Jews lived in Spain before the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand ordered them to convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country. Many found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, North Africa and Latin America. They risked the death penalty if they returned to Spain. Up to 3.5 million people around the world are thought to have Sephardic – Hebrew for “Spanish” – Jewish ancestry. The citizenship law is the latest step in Spain’s modern efforts to atone for its past harsh treatment of Jews. In 1992 Spain’s former King Juan Carlos visited a Madrid synagogue to recognise “injustices of the past.”
BILL APPROVED TO FORCE FEED PRISONERS IN ISRAEL
The Israeli government has approved a bill which will allow the force-feeding of prisoners who are on hunger strike if their lives are in danger. The controversial move has not been supported by the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and the group’s head, Dr Leonid Eidelman, said he has given doctors ‘instructions to act solely according to the demands of ethics and not to force-feed prisoners on a hunger strike.’ The doctor’s association views the intention to legislate force-feeding very severely. The cabinet’s endorsement of the bill was led by Internal Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, who said that prisoners observing a hunger strike – mainly Palestinians – posed a “threat” to Israel. Alongside attempts to boycott and delegitimize Israel, hunger strikes of terrorists in prisons have become a means to threaten Israel, becoming a weapon with which Initially approved in June 2014 – at the height of a mass hunger strike when 80 Palestinian prisoners were hospitalised – the bill was shortly put on hold, despite frantic attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have it placed on the law books. Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO, described the bill as a ‘disgraceful’ move, saying it will ‘legalise torture and gross violations of medical ethics and international conventions’. Earlier, the Palestinian government had warned Israel of being responsible for the health of Khadar Adnan, a detainee who had been on hunger strike for over 40 days. Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip, has called for the immediate release of Mr Adnan and also of Islam Hamad – another Palestinian prisoner who has reportedly been on hunger strike for more than 63 days.
UK CELEBRATES 800 YEARS OF MAGNA CARTA
The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, a medieval political truce that inspired protections for some of the world’s most cherished liberties, prompted a range of celebrations in Britain that included a ceremony involving Queen Elizabeth II and a national beer day. In Runnymede, England, the site 20 miles from London by the banks of the Thames where the document was signed, the queen and Prime Minister David Cameron attended an official commemoration. In a written message, the 89-year-old monarch, patron of the Magna Carta Trust, said: “Runnymede is an ancient and resonant meeting place and it is fitting that we should assemble again here where the Great Charter was sealed 800 years ago. The story of the British monarchy is intertwined with that of Runnymede and Magna Carta. The values of Magna Carta are not just important to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, but across the world. Its principles are significant and enduring.” Magna Carta Magna Carta is a Latin word which in English means Great Charter. It is most important document of England signed on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede alongside the River Thames in the English county of Surrey. It had originated as a peace and truce treaty between King John and a group of rebellious barons within his kingdom. The document had written promises between King John and his subjects mentioning that the king will govern England and deal with its people according to the customs of feudal law. l Magna Carta had laid the first steps towards parliamentary democracy and the principle supremacy of law i.e. no one is above the law. l It also laid the principle of balance of power between the governed and government. l Its influence can be seen in other documents across the world including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on US Constitution and Bill of Rights. l In case of India, its influence can be seen on Part III of constitution which contains fundamental rights, described as the magna carta of India which has been derived inspiration from Bill of Rights.
SIPRI YEARBOOK, 2015 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) launches the findings of SIPRI Yearbook 2015, which assesses the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security. Key findings include: (1) All the nuclear weapon-possessing states are working to develop new nuclear weapon systems and/or upgrade their existing ones; and (2) The number of personnel deployed with peace operations worldwide continues to fall while the number of peace operations increases. World nuclear forces—reductions and modernization continue l At the start of 2015, nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea)—possessed approximately 15 850 nuclear weapons, of which 4300 were deployed with operational forces. l Roughly 1800 of these weapons were kept in a state of high operational alert. l The total number of nuclear warheads in the world is declining, primarily due to the USA and Russia continuing to reduce their nuclear [ 1 4 ] Weekly Current Affairs 14th June 2015 to 20th June, 2015 www.ias100.in arsenals, albeit at slower pace compared with a decade ago.
At the same time, both countries have extensive and expensive long-term modernization programmes under way for their remaining nuclear delivery systems, warheads and production. l The nuclear arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states are considerably smaller, but all are either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so. l In the case of China, this may involve a modest increase in the size of its nuclear arsenal. l India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon production capabilities and developing new missile delivery systems. l North Korea appears to be advancing its military nuclear programme, but its technical progress is difficult to assess based on open sources. l Despite renewed international interest in prioritizing nuclear disarmament, the modernization programmes under way in the nuclear weapon-possessing states suggests that none of them will give up their nuclear arsenals in the foreseeable future.
BANGLADESH SC UPHELDS DEATH SENTENCE OF ALI AHSAN MUJAHID
The Appellate Division of Supreme Court of Bangladesh upheld the death sentence awarded to Jamaat leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid for killing intellectuals in 1971, during the period of the Liberation War. A four-judge bench chaired by Chief Justice SK Sinha, however commuted Jamaat secretary general Mujahid’s death sentence to life-term for mass killing of Hindu people in Faridpur on May 13 in 1971. Mojaheed had been earlier sentenced to death by the tribunal for allegedly killing Hindu people. The Appellate Division also acquitted Mujahid from the charge of killing journalist Seraj Uddin Hossain. In 2013, ICT-2 had sentenced Mujahid to death after finding him guilty in abetting the killing of eminent journalist Seraj Uddin Hossain and several other intellectuals in Dhaka on December 14, 1971. As allegedly the chief of the notorious Al-Badr force he was also found guilty of ordering the killing of the people of Hindu community at Bakchar village under Faridpur on May 13, 1971.
US BANS TRANS FATS BY 2018
United States (US) has announced to curb and eliminate majority of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) commonly called trans-fats from the country’s food supply by 2018. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that trans fat is not “generally recognized as safe” for use in human food. The department gave food manufacturers three years to remove the partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, from their products. The companies can petition the FDA for a special permit to use it, but no PHOs can be added to human food unless otherwise approved by the FDA. l Eating a diet rich in trans fat is linked to higher body weight, heart disease and memory loss. l It has been shown to raise the “bad,” or LDL, cholesterol in the blood, which can lead to cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of death in the United States. l This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year. l In 2013, the FDA had made a tentative www.ias100.in www.ias100.in  determination that trans fats were no longer safe. l After years of public comment and scientific review, this is the final step in the process. l Manufacturers have had to list trans fat content on their labels since 2006, and there has been a significant decrease in the amount of trans fat in American foods. l The FDA estimates trans fat consumption declined about 78% between 2003 and 2012 after the labeling went into effect. l The law still allowed companies to list products as “trans fat free” even if they had 0.5 grams of fat. That should change with the current ruling. l In 2007, New York City adopted a regulation that banned trans fat from restaurants. l Companies like McDonald’s had stopped cooking their french fries in trans fat more than a decade ago. About Trans Fats Before it became a popular ingredient in processed and fast foods, trans fat was introduced into the American diet as early as 1911 in the form of shortening or hydrogenated vegetable oil, used for cooking and making pies. Partially hydrogenated oil is formed when hydrogen is added to liquid oils to make solid fats, like shortening and margarine. It also increases the shelf life of food and enhances flavors. American dietary guidelines recommended Americans keep their trans fat consumption “as low as possible.
GLOBAL WEALTH 2015 According to recently released report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global management consulting firm, Global private financial wealth grew by nearly 12 percent in 2014 to reach a total of $164 trillion. (See Exhibit 1.) The rise was in line with 2013, when global wealth also grew by just over 12 percent. Market expansion was driven heavily by the performance of existing assets but also by the creation of new wealth. (See Exhibit 2.) Overall, the ongoing economic recovery and accommodating monetary policies resulted in strong stock and bond performance, while rising income and consumption led to strong GDP growth, particularly in RDEs. Global and Regional Overview l North America, with $51 trillion in private wealth, remained the world’s wealthiest region in 2014. l Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) overtook Europe (Eastern and Western Europe combined) to become the world’s secondwealthiest region with $47 trillion. l The main reason for the growth in wealth in Asia-Pacific region was due to increase in number of new millionaires in China and India. l With a projected $57 trillion in 2016, AsiaPacific (excluding Japan) is expected to surpass North America (a projected $56 trillion) as the wealthiest region in the world, and will thus be the largest pool for client acquisition. l The region is also projected to hold 34 percent of global wealth in 2019. (See Exhibit 3.) l Over the next five years, total private wealth globally is projected to post a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6 percent to reach an The growth of private wealth continued in most markets in 2014, but at significantly different rates. l A strong “old world versus new world” dynamic was observed, with the so-called new world growing at a far faster pace. l As in both 2012 and 2013, Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) remained the fastest-growing region in 2014, with private wealth expanding by 29 percent. l Other regions of the new world, such as Eastern Europe and Latin America, also grew by double digits, while the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region grew in the high single digits. l By contrast, growth rates in all “old world” regions remained in the single digits, led by Western Europe and North America, and with Japan lagging somewhat behind. Private Wealth l The U.S. had the highest number of millionaire households
GLOBAL PEACE INDEX
As per recently released Global Peace Index (GPI) for year 2015, Iceland, the thinly populated island in the midst of the North Atlantic has retained its place as the most peaceful country in the world. The report was published by Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). India was placed at 143th rank out 162 countries. India’s rank has remained same compared to previous year global rankings. l The institute released its Global Peace Index for 2015, which ranks 162 nations around the globe based on factors like the level of violent crime, involvement in conflicts and the degree of militarization. l Six out of the top 10 most peaceful countries were European, with Denmark and Austria holding the second and third spots. l Europe maintained its position as the most peaceful region in the world, supported by a lack of domestic and external conflicts. l But the glowing review of Europe is helped by the fact that violence-plagued Ukraine is lumped into a different region: Russia and Eurasia. l Ukraine suffered the second biggest deterioration in its rating over the past year as pro-Russian separatists clashed with government forces. l The only country that fared worse was Libya, which has sunk into a low-level civil war between Islamist and nationalist groups. l War-ravaged Syria remained at the bottom of the rankings. l Iraq, where the Islamic militant group ISIS holds large areas of territory, dropped below South Sudan and Afghanistan to second last place. l The United States is in the bottom half of the index, scoring badly in terms of militarization, homicides and fear of violence. l Its ranking improved somewhat from a year earlier, though, rising from 101st place to 94th.
DECREE ISSUES TO EXTEND MANDATE OF PARLIAMENT IN AFGHANISTAN
With elections delayed by political squabbling, Afghanistan’s president issued a decree extending parliament’s mandate until a vote could be held. Parliament’s five-year term was set to expire on June 22, but elections scheduled for April were postponed because of security fears and disagreement on how to ensure a fair vote after a bitterly disputed presidential election last year. President Ashraf Ghani’s office said the decision to let the existing parliament stay on had been taken in consultation with the judiciary, the legislative and the executive, and a new election date would be announced in a month. l Both Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory after last year’s presidential vote was marred by accusations of widespread fraud on both sides. l It took months for them to agree to a U.S.- brokered deal to form a unity government with Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive. l Under the deal, electoral reforms were a condition for holding future votes, but little progress has been made because rivals in government disagree over who should lead the reform commission.
INDIA & WORLD
SAARC CONNECTIVITY: INDIA SIGNS MOTOR VEHICLE PACT WITH THREE NATIONS
India on June 15, 2015 signed a major motor vehicles pact with three SAARC nations — Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal — that will enable seamless transit of passenger and cargo vehicles among them. A similar pact is on the anvil among India, Myanmar and Thailand that will pave the way for greater economic cooperation in the Asian region. Though a seamless cargo movement between the South Asian neighbours is expected to take much longer, this recently signed agreement at Bhutan’s capital Thimphu is expected to remove bottlenecks by allowing people easy access. Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari signed the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) for Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic along with transport ministers of the other three nations at Bhutan’s capital Thimpu. Besides, in a major breakthrough, India, Myanmar and Thailand have agreed to develop a similar motor vehicle pact on the lines of the draft SAARC Motor vehicle agreement. The BBIN MVA will not only reduce transport costs, but also foster development of multi-modal transport and transit facilities, enabling increased connectivity and promotion of greater trade between the four countries. The Motor Vehicles Agreement is the ‘overarching’ framework to fulfil Government of India’s commitment to enhance regional connectivity. This will need to be followed through with formulation of the required protocols and procedures in the shortest time possible to realise the ultimate objective of free movement of people and goods in the region. Transport Minister Gadkari, addressing the conference at Thimpu, stated that this MVA, which would eventually allow motor vehicles of all categories registered in our countries to move freely in the region, is a first and small but substantial step endorsing the commitment of our national leaders to deepen regional integration for peace, stability and prosperity. As per the agreement, the four countries will carry out a six-month work plan from July for the implementation of the BBIN MVA in accordance with the preparation of bilateral, perhaps trilateral or quadrilateral agreements and protocols, installation of the prerequisites for implementing the approved agreements, among others. Gadkari said that India will work on signing a similar motor agreement with Myanmar and Thailand. In a significant initiative is to strengthen connectivity of this sub-region to ASEAN. In this regard, a major breakthrough has been achieved between India, Myanmar and Thailand. Three nations have agreed to develop a similar framework MVA on the lines of draft SAARC Motor vehicle agreement. Secretary level discussions were successfully concluded in Bengaluru and consensus has been reached on the text of the agreement. On conclusion of this agreement, our sub-region will get access to the larger ASEAN market through seamless passenger and cargo movement, the Minister said. Bangladesh Minister for Road Transport and Bridges Obaidul Quader said there would be a trial run of vehicles on all the possible routes in October. Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay will flag off a vehicle that will run through BhutanGuwahati-Shillong-Sylhet-Benapole-Kolkata route to survey the road.
CHENGDU: INDIA’S GATEWAY TO WESTERN CHINA
India is discovering Chengdu — a globally integrated economic hub — as a gateway to western China and cyber-connected parts of the AsiaPacific. Since the western region of China is developing very rapidly, our presence in this region will be helpful to develop relations between India and China in different areas, especially in trade and economy, culture and tourism, said Ashok www.ias100.in www.ias100.in  Kantha, India’s Ambassador to China. The Ambassador pointed out that given Chengdu’s location as a link with western, central, north-western and south- western China, India has decided to open a consulate in the city. It will be our endeavour to operationalise this consulate within the year 2015. The Chinese are opening a consulate in Chennai, in order to deepen engagement along the Bay of Bengal coastline. There were other factors that drove the decision to open a diplomatic outpost in Chengdu. The city is a first rate financial centre and a globally connected logistical hub. Chengdu’s Shuangliu International Airport is the fourth busiest in China. An intricate rail network not only links the landlocked city to China’s coastal pivots of Shanghai and Guangzhou but also to Central Asia and parts of Europe. The first Chengdu-Europe international direct rail freight train started its Eurasian journey three years ago, routed through Poland. Chengdu has also become the engine of China’s Western Development Programme — a strategic plan to develop inland China, following the dramatic success in building coastal China. Cost advantages Top Indian Information Technology firms have also leveraged the centrality of Chengdu as part of the western development plan to advance their business. The government was pushing the go-west policy, and we were looking for cost advantages following our investments in Shanghai. Consequently, we were the first IT company to come to Chengdu, said Senthil Kumar, country head of Wipro for Greater China, which includes mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Presently, Wipro’s Chengdu division, based in the city’s leafy Tianfu software park, includes staff conversant in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Bahasa. That enables the company, with an 800- strong staff, to handle its business across the entire Asia-Pacific region. High-profile clients include Huawei, a telecom giant, and Sinopec, an energy behemoth. e-visa facility In tune with the initiative by the two governments to link people and businesses at the level of the States, provinces and cities, Mr. Kantha is optimistic that ordinary Chinese from Chengdu and its hinterland will take advantage of the e-visa facility for Chinese tourists that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced during his May visit to China.
AUSTRALIA SUSPENDS IMPORT OF MAGGI NOODLES FROM INDIA
Australia has temporarily suspended import of Maggi noodles from India as the popular instant snack has come under mounting scrutiny over food safety concerns. The Department of Agriculture of the Australian government has issued a “holding order” against Maggi as a precautionary measure. Under the holding order, each consignment will be held in a place to be approved by an authorised officer until it has been inspected, or inspected and analysed, in accordance with the applicable requirements of the Imported Food Inspection Scheme. The Department of Agriculture will inspect and test consignments for the presence of lead and compliance with Standard 1.4.1 of the Code. Maggi has also come on the radar of US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) which has taken samples of the instant noodles brand for testing. As per Nestle’s global website, Nestle India currently exports small quantities of Maggi noodles to the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Singapore and Kenya. On June 5, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had banned Maggi directing Nestle to immediately withdraw and recall all nine variants of Maggi instant noodles from market. Nestle India has also recalled the product from the market. Nestle has challenged the ban order before the Bombay High Court, which declined to give any interim relief over ban of Maggi noodles.
INDIAN LANGUAGES FIND PLACE IN RTA OF UAE
Four Indian languages including Hindi can be chosen while appearing for driving tests in the UAE from September 2015. Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali, Chinese, Russian and Persian languages can be opted by aspiring drivers besides the three existing languages for both theory tests as well as eight mandatory lectures. The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which currently conducts tests in three languages – English, Urdu and Arabic, will offer knowledge tests and lectures in seven more languages from September. [ 2 0 ] Weekly Current Affairs 14th June 2015 to 20th June, 2015 www.ias100.in The mandatory lectures and knowledge test are required to obtain a driving licence. The computerbased knowledge test needs to be passed by every candidate before moving on to the practical driving classes. The 30-minute test includes the text on screen and the voice over. Driving schools in Dubai welcomed the move to introduce new languages.
TANZANIAN PRESIDENT VISIT TO INDIA
Prime Minister Narendra Narendra Modi on June 17, 2015 welcomed Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete to India and said his visit will further cement the close and friendly ties between the two countries. Kikwete, accompanied by a high-level delegation including ministers and senior officials, arrived New Delhi on a six-day visit during which he will hold talks with the Indian leadership on a range of bilateral, regional and international issues. Prime Minister Modi also said that India and Tanzania share an emotional bond of shared history of struggle against colonialism. This is his second visit to India in 10 years of his leadership. Modi and the Tanzanian President were hold bilateral talks. India and Tanzania have historically enjoyed close and friendly relations anchored in mutually beneficial commercial exchanges and extensive people-to-people contacts. India is the largest trading partner of Tanzania in Africa with bilateral trade in 2013-14 being more than USD 4 billion. Apart from trade relations, India is also the important destination for Tanzanians seeking high quality health care and education. Indians form the largest expatriate community in Tanzania and their positive contribution in the progress and development of their host country is well recognized and appreciated. There are over approximately 50,000 to 60,000 persons of Indian origin living and working in Tanzania and approximately 10,000 Indian expatriates. MoUs signed l Addressing the issue of terrorism, the Prime Minister said that India and Tanzania have agreed to setup a joint working group to strengthen the cooperation in counter-terrorism. l Underlining the areas of mutual cooperation, India has offered cooperation in the development of the potentially rich natural gas sector in Tanzania. l An agreement on hydrography was described by the Prime Minister as an important step forward. l India is pleased to be a partner in the development of human resources, health care, agriculture, institutions and infrastructure in Tanzania. l India has announced e-tourist visa for the people of the African nation. l Among the MoUs signed by the two sides are a loan agreement between Exim Bank and the Tanzanian government on a line of credit for $268.35 million for extension of a pipeline project and cooperation in the field of hydrology, tourism and agriculture. l The Tanzanian President thanked India for its continued assistance to his country.
ECONOMY THE BIBEK DEBROY REPORT ON REFORM AND RESTRUCTURING OF IR.
The Interim Report of the Committee for Mobilization of Resources for Major Railway Projects and Restructuring of Railway Ministry and Railway Board, chaired by NITI Aayog Member Bibek Debroy, stressed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign and argued that investment in Indian Railways has a massive multiplier effect in the Indian economy. The Committee has given various sweeping recommendations that are aimed at completely overhauling Indian Railways. The Report said, “From the 2007-08 data, it appears that increasing the railway output by Rs 1 would increase output in the economy by Rs 3.3. This large multiplier has been increasing over time, and the effect is greatest on the manufacturing sector. Investing in the Indian Railways could thus be good for ‘Make in India’.” On the issue of FDI in Railways, it said that foreign money isn’t going to come in the present circumstances. ” It will come only if the Railway sector is reformed along the lines discussed in this Report and the change in incentives and structure as proposed in this Report are put in place. Major Suggestions and Recommendations l Recommended restructuring in such a way that the government is only responsible for the Railway sector policy. l This will give autonomy to Indian Railways and encourage private investment. l Creation of a Railway Infrastructure Company as a government SPV (with a possibility of disinvesting in the future) that owns the railway infrastructure, delinked from Indian Railways. l Private investments will come only if there is an independent umpire, a regulator, responsible for ensuring fair and open access and for setting access charges on the rail track. l This RRAI will set tariffs in cases where there is no price discovery by the market. It will also adjudicate disputes between competitors and will ensure safety at all levels in the Railway system. l Suggested that the implementation ownership of this Report should vest in the Minister of Railways alone, with an appropriate reporting mechanism to the PMO. And once decisions are taken at the apex level, these must be earnestly implemented without delays and within predefined targeted timelines. l The Committee given a 7-year timeline to completely overhaul IR Timeline: l Immediate – Liberalization, or the allowing of private entry; changes in the composition of the Railway Board. l 0-2 years – Decentralization to zones/divisions; cleaning up finances between Union government and IR. l 2 years – Reform of RPF, schools and medical services; transition to commercial accounting, reform of production and construction units. l 3 years – Changes in the Railways Act and the Railway Board Act, setting up a Regulator; unified entry into the Railway services; resolution of social costs. l 5 years – Bifurcation between Railway Infrastructure Corporation and rest of IR as train operators; end of the Railway Budget. l 7 years – Transition of the IR that operates trains to a government-owned SPV.
INDIA’S TRADE DEFICIT NARROWED TO 10.4 BILLION US DOLLARS
Trade deficit narrowed to USD 10.4 billion in the month under review compared with USD 11.23 billion in May 2014, according to data released by the commerce ministry. It was an improvement over the USD 11.2 billion shortfall observed in the same month last year. For the 12 months up to May, the trade deficit recorded USD 137.0 billion, which was slightly less than the 137.8 billion short-fall tallied in the 12 months up to April. l The narrowing in the trade deficit showed that imports contracted 16.5% annually in May, which was a steeper decline than the 11.4% drop registered in May of last year. The contraction was largely the result of the sharp decline in oil prices. l Exports from India dropped by 20.19 per cent in May 2015 to $22.34 billion — the sixth continuous month of fall — as the slowdown in China added to the woes of the already slowing global economy. l Imports during the month were 16.52 per cent lower at $32.75 billion, mainly due to a sharp drop in petroleum imports. l The last time exports registered a positive growth was in November last year when it expanded 7.27 per cent. Imports, too, declined 16.52 per cent to 32.75 billion US Dollars. l Gold imports, however, grew 10.47 per cent to 2.42 billion US Dollars in May. l During April-May 2015, exports fell 17.21 per cent to 44.4 billion US Dollars. l Imports, too, shrank 12.2 per cent to 65.8 billion US Dollars, resulting in a trade deficit of 21.39 billion US Dollars in the first two months of the current fiscal. l In March, country’s exports contracted 21 per cent, the biggest fall in the last six years. l India has missed the annual exports target of 340 billion US Dollars for 2014-15. Last year, exports stood at 310.5 billion US Dollars. Note: 12-month sum of trade balance in USD billion and annual variation of the 12-sum of exports and imports in %. Source: Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
CABINET REVISED TARGET OF SOLAR POWER UNDER JNNSM
The Cabinet approved the revised target of Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) to generate 100,000 Mw by 2022 — five times the previous target. The target will comprise 40 Gw power generated through rooftop units and 60 Gw through large and medium scale grid connected solar power projects. l The total investment in setting up projects with capacity of 100 Gw will be around Rs 6 lakh crore. l In the first phase, the Centre will provide Rs 15,050 crore as capital subsidy to realise solar power capacity addition. l This subsidy will be provided for rooftop solar projects in various cities and towns, for viability gap funding (VGF)-based projects to be developed through the Solar Energy Corporation of India and for decentralised generation through small solar projects. l MNRE intends to achieve the target of 100,000 Mw with targets under the three schemes of 19,200 Mw. l The Cabinet also approved setting up of over 2,000 Mw of grid connected solar PV Power Projects on ‘build, own and operate’ basis by solar power developers with VGF under BatchIII of Phase-II of the JNNSM. l Solar power projects with investment of about Rs 90,000 crore would be developed using bundling mechanism with thermal power. l Further investment will come from large Public Sector Undertakings and Independent Power Producers (IPPs). l States have also come out with state-specific solar policies to promote solar capacity addition. l The Centre may also approach bilateral and international donors as also the Green Climate Fund for achieving the target. l JNNSM was launched in 2009 with a target for grid connected solar projects of 20,000 Mw by 2022.
INCREASE IN NUMBER OF WORK DAYS UNDER MGNREGA
The Union Government on 17 June 2015 decided to increase the number of workdays under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) — a flagship scheme of the UPA government— from 100 days to 150 days in drought-affected areas of the country. l MGNREGA promises 100 days of work every year to rural households across the country. l The Centre has taken this decision as it expects an increased demand for wage-based employment on public works as regular agricultural activities would be affected in drought-hit areas. l The cost of providing work to rural households for 50 more days will be borne by the central government and the state will not have to bear the financial burden. l The 150 days will be applicable to the households who complete their 100 days and demand more employment. But this may turn out to be merely a “token move” as similar efforts in the past have not yielded desired results, with most households barely being provided the 100 promised days of work. In the last fiscal year, three per cent households across the nation completed the 100 of employment; a lower figure than the 10 per cent recorded in the fiscal year before that.
GOVERNMENT LAUNCHED CLUSTER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME FOR PHARMA SECTOR The Union Minister of Chemicals & Fertilizers Shri Ananth Kumar formally launched the Cluster Development Programme for Pharma Sector (CDSPS). The programme will provide support to the Pharmaceutical industry in becoming more capable, productive and competitive. Quality and affordability of drugs and medicines is of utmost importance and the Cluster Development Programme will be the key step in ensuring health security of the country. By the end of this financial year, 06 Pharma Clusters are likely to come up of which 03 will be greenfields. Clusters will ensure adequate testing, training and affluent treatment facilities for pharmaceuticals industry. Government will also come up with the Bulk Drugs Parks and the Medical Devices Parks. l The Pharmaceutical industry is growing @ 14 to 15% per annum and is likely to touch the figure of 4 Lakh Crore by 2020. l The sector needs due attention so that the quality can be improved and cost brought down. l Clusters do exist already but not on scientific basis and this programme is meant to develop Clusters in a scientific manner. l The Clusters Development Programme for Pharma sector would be implemented on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) format through one time grant-in-aid to be released for creation of identified infrastructure and common facilities. l The scheme is for setting up of new Clusters as well as up-gradation of existing Clusters. l Rs.125 Crores have been earmarked for the Central Sector Scheme for the 12th Five Year Plan.
The following benefits are likely to accrue from the programme:- l Increase the competitiveness, easy access to standard testing facilities and value addition in the domestic pharma industry especially to SMEs through creation of common world class facilities. l Strengthening the existing infrastructure facilities in order to make Indian Pharma industry a global leader in pharma exports. l Reducing the cost of production by up to 20% in the clusters leading to better availability and affordability medicines in domestic market. l To help industry meet the requirements of standards environment at a reduced cost through innovative methods of common waste management. l Exploit the benefits arising due to optimization of resources and economies of scale.
CCEA APPROVES SETTING UP OF GRID-CONNECTED SOLAR PV POWER PROJECTS
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given its approval for setting up of over 2,000 MW of Grid-Connected Solar PV Power Projects on Build, Own and Operate basis by Solar Power Developers (SPDs) with Viability Gap Funding (VGF) under Batch-III of Phase-II of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM). This would help in: l Creation of additional 2000 MW capacity of Grid-connected solar PV power generation projects. l Employment generation of about 12,000 people in rural and urban areas. l Reduction of about 3.41 Million T of CO2 emissions into the environment every year. The total investments expected under this scheme is about Rs 12,000 crore. The estimated requirement of funds to provide VGF for 2,000 MW capacity solar projects is estimated to be Rs. 2100 crore [Rs 1 crore / MW for open category and Rs 1.31 crore / MW for Domestic Content Requirement (DCR) Category]. This includes handling charges to SECI @ 1 percent of the total grant disposed. The tenders will be State-specific based on the demand from particular State. States/Union Territories/Discomes/State Utilities are the beneficiaries. This will also facilitate to create employment and infrastructure in the States. Installation of 2000 MW Solar PV plants will generate about 3,320 Million Units per year, which caters power to almost one Million Households. The Scheme will be implemented by Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) as per Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) Guidelines. Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) shall prepare necessary bidding documents for inviting the proposals for setting up of projects on a competitive bidding through e-bidding. SECI will enter into Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the selected developers and the Power Sale Agreement (PSA) with the buying entities. Requisite funds for provision of the VGF support will be made available to MNRE from the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF), operated by Ministry of Finance. Out of 2000 MW, 250 MW will be developed with mandatory condition of solar PV cells and modules made in India. This will be called the DCR category and remaining 1,750 MW will be in open category. Some other important features are as follows: l Project Locations: Projects could be set up in the Solar Parks being developed under a separate MNRE Scheme and also at other locations, which could be selected by bidders on their own. l Commissioning period would be 13 months from the date of signing of PPAs. l The VGF is to be disbursed in six trenches; 50 percent after commissioning and balance 50 percent at the rate of 10 percent at the end of each year subsequently for the next 5 years, l Bidders will be free to avail fiscal incentives like Accelerated Depreciation (AD), concessional customs and excise duties, tax holidays, etc. available for such projects. However, no bidders will be allowed to claim both AD and VGF. Background: The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) was launched in January 2010 by the Government of India with a target to setup 20,000 MW of grid connected solar power by 2022. In addition to Government of India, several States have taken initiatives and come out with solar policies to support setting up solar power projects. Amongst others Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have come out with tenders for procurement of solar power recently.
DRAFT OUTLINE OF SOVEREIGN GOLD BOND SCHEME
The government is planning to issue sovereign gold bonds linked to the price of the yellow metal, a proposal aimed at reducing demand for gold and control trade deficit. In a draft outline, it said the sovereign gold bond scheme would help in shifting part of the estimated 300 tonnes of physical bars and coins purchased every year for investment into ‘demat’ gold bonds. l The bonds will be issued by RBI on behalf of the government. l Issuing agency will need to pay distribution costs and a sales commission to the intermediate channels, to be reimbursed by the government. l The issuance will be restricted to resident Indian entities. l The cap on bonds that may be bought by an entity will be “at a suitable level”, not more than 500 grams per person per year. l Bonds will be issued with a nominal rate of interest, which will be linked to international rate for gold borrowing. l An indicative lower limit of 2 per cent may be given, but the actual rate will have to be market determined. l On maturity, the investor will receive the equivalent of the face value of gold in rupee terms. l The rate of interest on the bonds will be payable in terms of grams of gold and the interest will be calculated on 10,000 at a certain per cent, say 2 per cent or 3 per cent. l These bonds will be issued in 2, 5, 10 grams of gold or other denominations. l The tenure could be for a minimum of 5-7 years so that it would protect investors from mediumterm volatility in gold prices. Though stocks of gold in India are estimated to be over 20,000 tonnes, most of this gold is neither traded, nor monetised. India, the world’s largest consumer of gold, imports around 800-900 tonnes of gold annually, the second-biggest item after oil. Gold imports grew 10.47 per cent to USD 2.42 billion in May. During April-May, the first two months of the 2015-16 fiscal, trade deficit stood at USD 21.39 billion as against USD 21.32 billion in the same period last fiscal.
MINIMUM SUPPORT PRICES FOR KHARIF CROPS FOR 2015-16 SEASON
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Ministe, has given its approval for the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for Kharif Crops of 2015-16 Season. l The decision is based on recommendations of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) for the Price Policy for Kharif Crops for the Marketing Season 2015-16. l CACP takes into account the cost of production, overall demand-supply, domestic and international prices, inter-crop price parity, terms of trade between agricultural and nonagricultural sectors, the likely effect of the Price Policy on the rest of economy, besides ensuring rational utilization of production resources like land and water, while recommending MSPs. l The CACP being the expert body, its recommendations are generally accepted as such. l However, in view of a large surplus of cereals in contrast to huge deficit of pulses, the Cabinet made an exception and decided to give a bonus of Rs.200/- per quintal for pulses over and above the recommendations of the CACP. l This is expected to give a strong price signal to farmers to increase acreage and invest for increase in productivity of pulses. l The prices would be effective from 1.10.2015 and would increase investment and production through assured remunerative prices to farmers. Various reports have shown that the Eastern belt of the country gets neglected in so far as procurement is concerned. Also, while the procurement mechanism is strong for rice and wheat, it needs to be improved for pulses and oilseeds. The Cabinet directed that the arrangements for procurement in the Eastern India be strengthened. The Cabinet also directed that a credible procurement mechanism for pulses and oilseeds be put in place if the need arises. Last week, a decision to import pulses was taken. These measures are expected to complement efforts to keep a check on the price rise in pulses. Besides increase in MSP, Government has taken several farmer friendly initiatives over the last one year. These, amongst other things, include the following: l A Scheme to issue Soil Health Card to every farmer has been introduced. Soil health management in the country is being promoted through setting up of soil & fertilizer testing laboratories and implementation of organic farming. l A new Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, has been launched with the objective of creating sources of assured irrigation. l A dedicated Kisan Channel has been started by the Doordarshan to address various issues concerning farmers. l An initiative is being taken to set up a National Agriculture Market (NAM). This would enable farmers to overcome the impediments in marketing of agricultural produce and get better price discovery. A common e-market platform is being created and would be provided free of cost to the States/UTs. l Government is also encouraging formation of Farmer Producer Organisations. l To help the farmers afflicted by natural calamities, assistance was increased by 50 percent. Further, norms were relaxed to provide assistance to farmers who suffered a loss of 33 percent or more from the previous norm of 50 percent or more loss. Despite deficient rainfall of 12 percent during Kharif during 2014-15 and unseasonal rain and hailstorm in the Rabi season the total foodgrain production in the country has declined by only 5.3 percent in 2014-15. This reflects the resilience of Indian agriculture and success of their Government’s efforts in managing shortfall of rain in last kharif. This year also Government is fully prepared to meet contingency arising out of any shortfall in Monsoon. Contingency plans for 650 districts will be operationalised depending on progress of the Monsoon. ICAR, State Agriculture Universities and Department of Agriculture are working in close collaboration.
TWO COMMITTEES FOR FACILITATING IMPLEMENTATION OF GST
Finance Minister has approved the formation of 2 Committees for facilitating implementation of Goods and Services Tax from 1.4.2016. l A Steering Committee been formed under the Co-Chairmanship of Additional Secretary, Department of Revenue and Member Secretary, Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers. l This Committee has Members from Department of Revenue, Central Board of Excise & Customs, Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) and representatives of State Governments. l This Committee shall monitor the progress of IT preparedness of GSTN/CBEC/Tax authorities, finalisation of reports of all the SubCommittees constituted on different aspects relating to the mechanics of GST and drafting of CGST, IGST and SGST laws/rules. l The Committee shall also monitor the progress on consultations with various stakeholders like trade and industry and training of officers. l Another Committee has been formed under the Chairmanship of the Chief Economic Advisor, Ministry of Finance to recommend possible tax rates under GST that would be consistent with the present level of revenue collection of Centre and States. l While making recommendations, this Committee would take into account expected levels of growth of economy, different levels of compliance and broadening of tax base under GST. l The Committee would also analyse the Sectorwise and State-wise impact of GST on the economy. The Committee is expected to give its report within two months. Meanwhile, progress is underway to finalise various aspects of GST design like business processes, payment systems, matters relating to dual control, threshold, exemptions, place of supply rules and also making of model GST, SGST and IGST laws and rules. This task is being undertaken through various Sub-Committees formed by the Empowered Committee which has officers from Government of India as well as State Governments as Members. Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) is taking steps for preparing the IT infrastructure for roll out of GST. The IT infrastructure shall enable online registration, filing of returns and getting refunds. Various State Governments are also preparing the necessary back end IT infrastructure for implementation of GST which shall relate to aspects like assessments and audit. Periodic reviews are being held in the Department of Revenue to monitor the progress of all the above activities.
TELANGANA GOVERNMENT UNVEILS NEW INDUSTRIAL POLICY
The Telangana government unveiled its new industrial policy which focuses on time-bound approvals for setting up projects in the state. The policy prescribed norms for giving permissions to mega (investments of Rs 200 crore and above), large (Rs 10 crore-Rs 200 crore) as well as small and medium project proposals. The government identified 14 core areas for a focused approach which include life sciences, pharma, information technology, aerospace, automobiles, textiles, minerals and transportation and logistics, among others. As per the new policy Telangana State Industrial Project Approval and Self-certification System (TS-iPASS): l Penal action will be taken against government officials if there is any undue delay in processing applications. l Mega projects would get permissions in 15 days. l Minimum inspection and maximum facilitation. The government has created a bank of 1.5 lakh acres of land which can be used for industrial purposes and transferred it to the Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation. A solar power policy was also launched which will ensure single window clearances to solar projects. CAIRN INDIA TO MERGE WITH VEDANTA LTD Anil Agarwal-promoted Vedanta Ltd will merge its subsidiary Cairn India with itself for a larger natural resource play. In the all-stock deal, each Cairn India shareholder would be offered an equity share of Vedanta Ltd, besides a 7.5 per cent redeemable preference share of Rs 10 face value. Analysts said the merger would pave the way for Vedanta’s London-listed holding company, Vedanta Resources Plc, to lower its debt of close to Rs 76,000 crore, the company insisted the deal was aimed at creating a diversified natural resources company and simplifying the group structure. The deal, however, is subject to various regulatory approvals and is likely to close in the first quarter of the next calendar year.
BSNL LAUNCHES FREE PAN INDIA ROAMING SCHEME
State-run telecom firm BSNL has started offering free roaming across the country, which will allow all its mobile customers to receive calls at no extra cost. l It is a step towards realising dream of One Nation-One Number. l Government under National Telecom Policy 2012 has set a goal to achieve free roaming gradually. l Among private telecom operators, Aircel has started offering free incoming calls to its customers in five South Indian states while on roaming in the region.
FDI IN SERVICES SECTOR GROWS BY 46% IN 2014-15 FISCAL
With the government taking steps to improve ease of doing business and attracting investments, FDI inflows into the services sector grew by over 46% to US $3.25 billion in 2014-15. l The services sector, which includes banking, insurance, outsourcing, R&D, courier and technology testing, had received foreign direct investment (FDI) worth US $2.22 billion in 2013-14. l However, the total foreign inflow in 2014-15 in the services sector was low as compared to 2012-13 when it was US $4.83 billion, according to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) data. l The government has announced a series of steps such as fixing timeliness for approvals to improve the ease of doing business in the country and attracting domestic as well as foreign investments. l In step with the growth in FDI in important sectors like services, overall foreign inflows in the country too rose by 27% to US $$30.93 billion during the previous fiscal. l The amount was US $24.29 billion in 2013-14. l Services contribute about 60% to India’s GDP and it receives high foreign inflows in this sector. l The other sectors where inflows have recorded growth telecommunications (US $2.89 billion), [ 2 8 ] Weekly Current Affairs 14th June 2015 to 20th June, 2015 www.ias100. vvvvv in automobiles (US $2.57 billion) and computer software and hardware (US $2.20 billion). l To attract investment in the services sector, the government has raised the FDI cap in insurance sector to 49% from 26%. l The policy was also relaxed in other sectors such as defence, railways and medical devices. Foreign investments are considered crucial for India, which needs around US $1 trillion in the next five years to overhaul its infrastructure sector such as ports, airports and highways to boost growth. Growth in foreign investments helps improve the country’s balance of payments (BoP) situation and strengthen the rupee.
SCIENCE & TECH
GALAXY CR7: BRIGHTEST EARLY GALAXY NAMED AFTER RONALDO
Scientists have discovered the brightest galaxy in the early universe that contains the first generation of stars, and have nicknamed it after popular Portuguese football player Cristiano Ronaldo. These massive, brilliant, and previously purely theoretical objects were the creators of the first heavy elements in history — the elements necessary to forge the stars around us today, the planets that orbit them, and life as we know it, researchers said. The newly found galaxy, labelled CR7, is three times brighter than the brightest distant galaxy known till now. The name was inspired by 30- year-old Ronaldo, who is known as CR7. Astronomers have long theorised the existence of a first generation of stars — known as Population III stars — that were born out of the primordial material from the Big Bang. These Population III stars would have been enormous, several hundred or even a thousand times more massive than the Sun, blazing hot, and transient, exploding as supernovae after only about two million years. But until now, the search for physical proof of their existence had been inconclusive, researchers said. Widest survey A team led by David Sobral, from the University of Lisbon in Portugal, and Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, has now used ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to peer back into the ancient Universe, to a period known as reionization, approximately 800 million years after the Big Bang. Instead of conducting a narrow and deep study of a small area of the sky, they broadened their scope to produce the widest survey of very distant galaxies ever attempted. The team discovered and confirmed a number of surprisingly bright very young galaxies. One of these, labelled CR7, was an exceptionally rare object, by far the brightest galaxy ever observed at this stage in the universe. By unveiling the nature of CR7, astronomers understood that it had every single characteristic expected of Population III stars. Within CR7, bluer and somewhat redder clusters of stars were found, indicating that the formation of Population III stars had occurred in waves.
BSNL TO SET UP 40,000 WI-FI HOTSPOTS
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. plans to set up 40,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country in three years at a cost of Rs. 6,000 crore to provide seamless Internet connectivity. The plan is part of efforts to revive the company, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad revealed on the sidelines of the launch of Wi-Fi at Taj Mahal on June 16, 2015. Anupam Srivastava, Chairman and Managing Director, BSNL, said the tender for the project was likely to be floated by July. The company will set up another 2,500 Wi-Fi hotspots in 250 tourist and religious locations at a cost of Rs. 500 crore by March 2016. At Taj Mahal, the company’s Wi-Fi service will be free for 30 minutes during a 24-hour block three times a month, which visitors can utilise in multiple sessions.
@[email protected]: TO VISUALISE ISRO PROJECTS
In a major technology demonstration ultimately aimed at cutting down the cost of satellite launches to one-tenth the present rates, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will flight test an indigenously developed re-usable satellite launch vehicle for the first time September 2015. Under the project, a plane will be flown into outer space at five times the speed of sound, deliver the payload and then land back like an aircraft. At present, the various stages in a satellite launch vehicle fall off in succession during launch and cannot be reused, making such launches expensive. The launch vehicle will be landing for the first time in the ocean and the ultimate attempt is to [ 3 0 ] Weekly Current Affairs 14th June 2015 to 20th June, 2015 www.ias100.in make it land at an airstrip at Sriharikota, ISRO chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said. He stated that wind tunnel modelling and other tests had been completed. It is in starting point. Minister of State for Department of Space Jitendra Singh said 11 satellites were launched in the last one year and by next year the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System would be operationalised. It will be only the third such system in the world. Mr. Singh launched an Android-based application ‘Sakaar’, an “augmented reality application” intended to give a real world environment to visualise ISRO projects. It provides in real time, three-dimensional models of Mars Missions, various satellites, launch vehicles and other projects of ISRO. There are currently no reusable launch vehicles in operation anywhere.
MOON IS ENGULFED IN PERMANENT, LOPSIDED DUST CLOUD
New research shows that moon is engulfed in a permanent but lopsided dust cloud that increases in density when annual events like the Geminids spew shooting stars. Hints of the moon’s halo date back to the late 1960s and NASA’s Apollo program, but this permanent veil of dust was first characterized in 2014 with the help of data from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft. And now University of Colorado Boulder scientists say that the cloud, composed primarily of tiny grains kicked up from the lunar surface by the impact of interplanetary dust particles, increases in density whenever meteor showers and other celestial events boost the volume of the particles striking the moon. Study leader Mihaly Horanyi said that identifying this permanent dust cloud engulfing the moon was a nice gift from this mission, adding that they can carry these findings over to studies of other airless planetary objects like the moons of other planets and asteroids. Knowledge of the dusty environments in space has practical applications, said Horanyi. Knowing where the dust is and where it is headed in the solar system, for example, could help mitigate hazards for future human exploration, including dust particles damaging spacecraft or harming.
ECOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT
SOLAR POWER TARGET RAISES TO 100,000 MW BY 2022
The government on June 16, 2015 raised the solar power generation capacity addition target by five times to 1,00,000 MW by 2022, which will entail an investment of around Rs. 6 lakh crore. Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave its approval for stepping up of India’s solar power capacity target under Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) by five times, reaching 1,00,000 MW by 2022. The Cabinet decision is a giant step towards creating clean and sustainable energy source in the country. l According to the statement, the target will principally comprise of 40 GW (solar) rooftop and 60 GW through large and medium scale grid connected solar power projects. l With this ambitious target, India will become one of the world’s largest green energy producers, surpassing several developed countries. l The total investment in setting up 100 GW will be around Rs. 6,00,000 crore. l In the first phase, the Government of India is providing Rs. 15,050 crore as capital subsidy to promote solar capacity addition in the country. l This capital subsidy will be provided for Rooftop Solar projects in various cities and towns, for Viability Gap Funding (VGF) based projects to be developed through the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) and for decentralised generation through small solar projects.
INDIA TO PHASE OUT FOSSIL FUELS AS PLEDGED BY G7 NATIONS
After G7 countries committed to phase out fossil fuel consumption by 2100 in Germany recently, is it time that India also pursued this goal? While some climate experts argued that should be the case, others stated that developed countries have a greater share of responsibility, which they haven’t lived up to as yet, and it is they that need to be pressured to do more. The long-term goals for decarbonisation in the G7 communiqué are not matched by the pledges on emission reduction that they have tabled for 2020 and 2030, senior economist Nitin Desai, a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change said, to a query on whether the G7 countries’ announcement was indeed significant. Indrajit Bose, climate expert at the Third World Network, said that the G7 countries had shifted the goalpost to the end of the century which was “highly unambitious.” These countries should have cut fossil fuel consumption long ago. In fact, the latest Structured Expert Dialogue report released in Bonn, Germany, shows that 1.5 degree Celsius is the desired global average surface temperature we should be aiming for and even 2 degree Celsius is unsafe. For this 40-70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are required by 2050, which won’t be achieved by pushing the goal to 2100. No consensus to cutting fossil fuel After the U.S.-China deal on climate change came through in November 2014, there have been expectations that India too would commit itself to an emissions target. But no consensus with regard to cutting fossil fuel consumption was reached at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sessions which concluded on June 11 at Bonn, Germany, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), who attended it. Although some streamlining of probable goals did happen, a more concrete document would only emerge in the next session of the UNFCCC meet scheduled in August-September. No headway has also been made in determining India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) for the 2015 Paris agreement. Any decision on this front made by India would be keeping in mind our development and growth requirements, he said. Abhishek Pratap, senior campaigner (renewable energy) at Greenpeace India said that India’s coal consumption had not reached the same levels as China’s for it to commit to a peaking year as China did last year. According to him, for India to be able to phase out fossil fuels it would require financial support from the $100 billion Green Climate Fund available per year till 2020. However, European countries are not willing to extend this assistance, on the grounds that India is a rich country. Prof. Sudhir Chella Rajan of IIT, Madras who tracks climate policy, said India could nevertheless safely pledge to cut fossil fuel consumption by 2100. But he emphasised that deep emission cuts must come from developed countries like the U.S.
EVEREST MOVED 3 CM BY NEPAL QUAKES
Mt. Everest moved three centimetres during the recent devastating earthquakes in Nepal but contrary to earlier reports, the height of world’s tallest mountain has not been affected, Chinese official monitoring agency revealed on June 15, 2015. Mt. Qomolangma, the Tibetan/Chinese name for Mt Everest, has moved 40 cm to the northeast over the past ten years, including three centimetres during the April 25 and May 12 quakes, China’s National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation said. Observers with the department, which has monitoring equipment on the mountain, found that Mt Everest shifted three cms after the devastating earthquake, while the height of the world’s tallest mountain at 8,848 metre was left unaffected, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. This is contrary to reports by Europe’s Sentinel- 1A radar satellite that world’s tallest peak may have shrunk about 2.5 cm after the quake. The first good view from a satellite showed that a broad swath of ground near Kathmandu lifted vertically, by about one metre causing severe damage to the city, Live Science reported recently. The data also indicated Mt Everest might have, got a bit shorter. But the Chinese data contradicts this. The devastating 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 and another measuring 7.3 on May 12, claimed over 9,000 lives and injured another 21,000 people. Monitoring data collected by China’s National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation from 2005 to 2015 shows that the mountain has been moving at a speed of four cms per year and has been growing by 0.3 cms annually. The mountain is located on the collision belt for the boundary between the Indian and the Eurasian Plates, where the crustal movements are active. Geographical changes in the area have great influence on the climate, environment and ecology of East and South Asia, the Chinese experts said. The administration set a satellite monitoring system on Mt. Everest in 2005 and has been observing the movement of the mountain since then.
BONN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE 2015
Climate change negotiators meeting in Bonn on June 17, 2015 came up with a last-minute compromise that observers hope will put the talks on track for a new global agreement on greenhouse gases. The Bonn Climate Change Conference under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) convened in Bonn, Germany, from 1- 11 June 2015, and included the 42nd sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). The ninth part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP 2-9) also took place. The meeting brought together nearly 4,000 participants, representing parties and observer states, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media. SBSTA 42 also advanced its work, among other things, by closing the agenda item on methodological guidance for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+); and by adopting conclusions on response measures, forwarding substantive draft decisions for consideration at COP 21, taking place in December 2015, in Paris, France. Slow progress was made until the final hours, as nations wrangled over the wording of an 89- page draft text, intending to cut it down to a more manageable size. After two weeks, the text had been cut by just four pages to 85. But shortly before the talks were scheduled to finish, countries agreed that the co-chairs of the negotiations should be allowed to make their own alterations to the text, and present it to all countries for approval, probably in late July. This should be a quicker process, though there is no guarantee that countries will not try to re-draw the new draft when it becomes available. The talks in Bonn were a staging post on the way to a crunch conference in Paris December 2015, at which countries are supposed to sign a new global agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, to take effect from 2020 when current emissions commitments run out. Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the US Centre for Energy and Climate Solutions stated that there was little chance the parties themselves were going to be able to whittle down the text to a manageable size. Samantha Smith, leader of the global climate and energy initiative at WWF, stated that progress in Bonn has been slow, but a bigger concern is the growing gap between what is needed and what is being promised on finance and emissions. While much work remains to close that gap, there is hope that governments are finally committed to take more action on emissions prior to 2020. All countries have said that more ambitious, immediate emissions cuts are needed: however, that work needs to speed up if we are going to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change. The Bonn talks are a staging post on the way to a crunch conference in Paris this December, at which governments are hoping to sign a new global pact, to take effect from 2020, when current commitments from developed and large developing countries to limit their emissions are set to expire. Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate programme at the World Resources Institute, a US thinktank, pointed to progress made outside the talks, such as the G7’s vow to decarbonise their economies this century, and commitments by developing countries, cities and businesses on emissions. The talks have been mired in discussions ranging from concern over whether rich countries will follow through on their current pledges to provide financial assistance to the poor world, to arcane quibbles over single words in the text. At one point, the discussion was divided over whether to use the terms differentiated commitments/contributions, referring to targets on cutting emissions, or the term commitments/contributions/action. The former was preferred by China, the latter by the US. The distinction may seem trivial, but it points to some of the entrenched attitudes that have dogged the talks over more than two decades. China is adamant that the phrase, known as CBDR in the UN jargon, is core to any existing or potential new agreement, but the US – though it accepts the principle – is wary of the phrase because it believes it has been used in the past to draw a clear dividing line between developed and developing countries. These categories are no longer so clear-cut, according to the US, because of the rapid progress of emerging economies. China, for instance, is now the world’s biggest emitter and second biggest economic power. Moving beyond these entrenchments was always going to be a struggle, and the Bonn talks have proved no exception to the routine of long and difficult meetings, bogged down in detail, that have characterised the long-running negotiations. However, some delegates found room for optimism in the fact that, unlike previous meetings, this fortnight’s talks have not been fractious.
US STUDY: EARTH ‘ENTERING NEW EXTINCTION PHASE‘
The Earth has entered a new period of extinction, a study by three US universities has concluded, and humans could be among the first casualties. The report, led by the universities of Stanford, Princeton and Berkeley, said vertebrates were disappearing at a rate 114 times faster than normal. The last such event was 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs were wiped out, in all likelihood by a large meteor hitting Earth. If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover and our species itself would likely disappear early on, said the lead author, Gerardo Ceballos. The scientists looked at historic rates of extinction for vertebrates – animals with backbones – by assessing fossil records. They found that the current extinction rate was more than 100 times higher than in periods when Earth was not going through a mass extinction event. The report stated that since 1900 more than 400 more vertebrates had disappeared. Such a loss would normally be seen over a period of up to 10,000 years. The study cites causes such as climate change, pollution and deforestation. Given the knock-on effect of ecosystems being destroyed, the report says benefits such as pollination by bees could be lost within three human generations. Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich noted [ 3 4 ] Weekly Current Affairs 14th June 2015 to 20th June, 2015 www.ias100.in that there are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) revealed that at least 50 animals move closer to extinction every year. Around 41% of all amphibians and 25% of mammals are threatened with extinction. According to the IUCN, the lemur faces a real struggle to avoid extinction in the wild in the coming years. The group noted that 94% of all lemurs are under threat, with more than a fifth of all lemur species classed as “critically endangered”. The IUCN stated that as well as seeing their habitat in Madagascar destroyed by illegal logging, lemurs are also regularly hunted for their meat. Last year, a report by Stuart Pimm, a biologist and extinction expert at Duke University in North Carolina, also warned mankind was entering a sixth mass extinction event. But Mr Pimm’s report said the current rate of extinction was more than 1,000 times faster than in the past, not 114, as the new report claims. The new report’s authors said it was still possible to avoid a “dramatic decay of biodiversity” through intensive conservation, but that rapid action was needed. What were the five mass extinction events? Time periods in the history of life on Earth during which exceptionally large numbers of species go extinct are called mass extinctions. These extinctions are quite different from the rate of extinction, which occurs even when the diversity of life is increasing. Although the Cretaceous-Tertiary (or K-T) extinction event is the most well-known because it wiped out the dinosaurs, a series of other mass extinction events has occurred throughout the history of the Earth, some even more devastating than K-T. Mass extinctions are periods in Earth’s history when abnormally large numbers of species die out simultaneously or within a limited time frame. The most severe occurred at the end of the Permian period when 96% of all species perished. This along with K-T are two of the Big Five mass extinctions, each of which wiped out at least half of all species. Many smaller scale mass extinctions have occurred, indeed the disappearance of many animals and plants at the hands of man in prehistoric, historic and modern times will eventually show up in the fossil record as mass extinctions Earth’s major extinction events were: