- India is confident of concluding the nuclear deal with reactor-maker Westinghouse Electric very soon as it expects the company to come out of bankruptcy.
- Following the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, India has been in discussion with Westinghouse since 2005 to build six AP1000 nuclear reactors.
- NPCIL and Westinghouse had finally agreed to work toward finalising the contractual arrangements by June 2017.
- However, the process was stalled after Toshiba Corp declared bankruptcy and decided to move out of reactor-building business.
Second site for additional Russian reactors:
- The second site for constructing additional Russian reactors in Andhra Pradesh is yet to be finalised.
- Various factors such as land type, earthquake potential, availability of water should all be factored in.
Indian Constitution and Polity:
Directing reforms(The Hindu Opinion)
Recently, in a landmark judgement the Supreme Court has imposed an additional disclosure norm for candidates contesting elections.
About the Supreme Court Verdict:
- The Court has asked the Centre to amend the rules as well as the disclosure form filed by candidates along with their nomination papers, to include the sources of their income, and those of their spouses and dependents.
- The court has also asked for the establishment of a permanent mechanism to investigate any unexplained or disproportionate increase in the assets of legislators during their tenure.
Other Similar Verdicts aimed at preserving the purity of the electoral process:
- To provide the ‘NOTA’ option in voting machines,
- Striking down a clause that saved sitting legislators from immediate disqualification upon conviction
- The Court had ruled that the act of voting is an expression of free speech, and that it is part of this fundamental right that voters are required to be informed of all relevant details about a contestant. This led to the rule that candidates should furnish details of any criminal antecedents, educational qualifications and assets.
Why it is logical that the sources of income of candidates be disclosed?
- If disclosure of assets is mandatory, it is only logical that the sources of income are also revealed.
- It is often seen that there is a dramatic increase in the assets of candidates at every election over what was disclosed in previous affidavits. Therefore, it stands to reason that any rise should be explained or probed.
- The idea of a permanent mechanism to collect data about the assets of legislators and periodically examine them is appreciable. However, but it is not clear which authority will run it.
- The court envisions a body that would make recommendations for prosecution or disqualification based on its own findings.The Centre and the Election Commission will have to jointly address the issue.
- The verdict clearly highlights that a fully informed electorate and transparent candidature will be key components of future elections in India.
- A dam being constructed by Myanmar across a river close to the boundary becomes a reason of concern among border villagers in Kengjoi subdivison of Manipur’s Chandel district.
What is the issue?
- The topography of the area is such that the immediate villages will be submerged if the dam comes up.
- Moreover, the villagers, dependent on the river, are already facing water scarcity.
- This project will also have huge negative social, cultural and economic impact on the residents of Khangtung and other Indian villages.
Other controversial dam projects:
- In June 2015, a tribal village named Chadong in Ukhrul district was submerged by the Mapithel dam on river Thoubal.
- The Khuga dam south of Manipur’s Churachandpur town has hit turbulence too.
- Controversy has also dogged Tipaimukh, the mega hydroelectric project proposed on river Barak in Manipur 35 years ago.
- At least three anti-dam organisations in Manipur and downstream Assam have been protesting the Tipaimukh project to be built by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd.
- Apart from large-scale submergence, they fear ecological degradation if the dam is built.
- The dam, called Tuidimjang, is on the Twigem river flowing into Myanmar from Manipur.
- Khangtung, inhabited by the Thadou tribe, is 137 km south of Manipur capital Imphal.
42 Indian languages stare at extinction(The Hindu)
More than 40 languages or dialects in India are believed to be heading towards extinction
- More than 40 languages or dialects in India are considered to be endangered.
- There are 42 languages which are spoken by less than 10,000 people. These are considered endangered and may be heading towards extinction
List of Endangered Indian Languages or Dialects by UNESCO
- 11 from Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Lamongse, Luro, Muot, Onge, Pu, Sanenyo, Sentilese, Shompen and Takahanyilang),
- 7 from Manipur (Aimol, Aka, Koiren, Lamgang, Langrong, Purum and Tarao)
- 4 from Himachal Pradesh (Baghati, Handuri, Pangvali and Sirmaudi)
- Manda, Parji and Pengo (Odisha),
- Koraga and Kuruba (Karnataka),
- Gadaba and Naiki (Andhra Pradesh),
- Kota and Toda (Tamil Nadu),
- Mra and Na (Arunachal Pradesh),
- Tai Nora and Tai Rong (Assam),
- Bangani (Uttarakhand),
- Birhor (Jharkhand),
- Nihali (Maharashtra),
- Ruga (Meghalaya)
- Toto (West Bengal).
- According to a report of the Census Directorate, there are 22 scheduled languages and 100 non-scheduled languages in India
- These are spoken by a large number of people — one lakh or more.
- Farmers in western Uttar Pradesh have been asked not to use the water of the Hindon River for growing vegetables, which are also sold in the National Capital Region markets, as it has been found to be polluted and contaminated by various official laboratories.
Why in news?
- Several NGOs along with the Meerut administration have been creating awareness among the local farmers.
- Farmers living on the banks of the Hindson use polluted and contaminated water of the river to grow vegetables.
Content of heavy metals
- High content of heavy metals and compounds like mercury, lead, zinc, phosphate, sulphide, cadmium, iron, nickel and manganese have found in the river water.
- This makes the river water extremely dangerous to use for growing vegetables.
- Despite that a large number of farmers use the river water due to various reasons.
- Water poses a major health risk to people.
Directing the CPCB to submit the report within two months:
- The other rivers like the Kali and the Krishna, the rivers flowing in western UP, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in January had ordered to Central Pollution Control Board to do an “intensive survey” of these rivers and the 136 industrial bodies which are allegedly polluting the rivers.
- The order came in response to a petition filed by an NGO Doaba Paryavaran Samiti .
- The NGO claimed that over 50 people from villages around the rivers died of cancer as a result of consuming contaminated groundwater.
- NGT asked CPCB to submit the report in two months.
- The NGT observed that it was the fundamental duty of the State government to look after the health and environment of villagers.
Risk to health:
- The water of the three rivers has contaminated the groundwater through seepage.
- The Punjab government plans to transform primary agriculture cooperative societies (PACS) into ‘cooperative rural hubs’.
- Additional Chief Secretary (Cooperation) D.P. Reddy has asked the department to set up rural hubs in selected PACSs in a phased manner across the State.
- Mr Reddy directed the officers to draft a road-map within a period of 15 days for setting up rural hubs which could be made functional from April this year.
- Besides this, more agricultural service centres should be established in the PACSs to provide agriculture implements on custom-hiring basis required by the farmers to cut their capital expenditures in purchase of costly tools.
- The purpose of this attempt is to strengthen the primary agriculture cooperative societies and to boost their business.
- Around 30% PACSs were in loses and others running with thin profits. So it was the need of the hour to strengthen these cooperative societies vis-à-vis to turn them into profit earning ventures.
- In addition to their existing agri-businesses these village level societies should be empowered to sell quality products of essential commodities, electronic goods and other items of daily needs in rural areas.
Doctors for rural India(The Hindu)
- Nearly 600 million people in India, mostly in the rural areas, have little or no access to health care.
State of rural health care today:
- A widespread disregard for norms
- Perpetual failure to reach targets and an air of utter helplessness are what mark the state of rural health care today.
- The country is short of nearly five lakh doctors.
- A few years ago, the Union Health Ministry put forth a proposal to train a new cadre of health professionals.
- Under this plan, these professionals, after undergoing a short term, course in modern medicine, were to serve the health needs of the rural population, with a focus on primary care.
- In the 1940s, primary care physicians — who were trained under short-term courses, and termed Licentiate Medical Practitioners (LMPs) — would deliver quality services in the rural sector.
- However, the Bhore Committee (1946) recommended abolishing them in the idea that India would produce enough MBBS doctors.
- The committee made recommendations in connection with the public health system.
- Starting a short-term course in modern medicine can provide an opportunity to design a medical curriculum that is much more relevant to the nation’s needs.
- Its entry requirements could be based less on sheer merit and more on an aptitude for medical service and preference should be given to applicants from within the community.
- A provision for learning in the vernacular languages can be made.
- LMPs should be adequately trained in their file and have a well-defined role in health care.
- Rural population would be made to feel like second class citizens by appointing a lower tier doctor to treat them. This can be put to rest by not letting LMPs replace MBBS doctors but instead work in a subordinate capacity.
- LMPs be employed in sub-centres where they perform both clinical and administrative functions at the sub-centre level. This would allow easier access to primary and emergency care.
- Keep the post of medical officer for MBBS doctors, thereby deterring any competition between the two cadres of physicians.
- Inpatient facilities at PHCs should be scaled up.
- Training to new recruited medical officers in basic clinical specialties.
- PHCs should deal with cases referred to them by sub-centre LMPs and also supervise their work.
- With LMPs working at the grass-root level, a single PHC would be able to handle a bigger population, allowing for more resources to be concentrated on individual PHCs for manpower and infrastructure development and also for increasing the remuneration of medical officers.
- Quality emergency and inpatient attention can be made available at the PHC-level.
- Today, less than a handful of PHCs provide inpatient care of significance.
- Concerns about the clinical and administrative incompetence of fresh MBBS graduates appointed as bonded medical officers can be put to rest.
- LMPs could be allowed to take up a postgraduate course in primary care as an option to study further.
- Reviving LMPs can help address the dearth of trained primary care physicians in rural India.
We have pushed infra projects, says PM(The Hindu)
Recently, Prime Minister Modi unveiled the foundation plaque at the ground breaking ceremony for the Navi Mumbai International Airport
- Recently, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the Magnetic Maharashtra investment summit
- He unveiled the foundation plaque at the ground breaking ceremony for the Navi Mumbai International Airport
- He also launched a new centre for artificial intelligence.
- The Prime Minister had blamed previous governments for not pushing infrastructure projects. He added that projects worth Rs. 10 lakh crore were in a state of limbo when he took office in May 2014 and his government had broken the impasse on such investments during its tenure so far.
- The proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport is likely to cost Rs. 16,704 crore
- It is estimated to attract at least 10 million passengers per annum, once its first phase is operational.
Keeping the economy humming(The Hindu)
There is a need to improve the private investment cycle and the banking system needs to be fixed
Concerns Highlighted by Former RBI Governors and former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission:
- The economy is performing below potential.
- The private investment rate has fallen from 33-34% of the GDP to about 27%.
- Excessive focus on monetary policy to drive growth.
- Banks are crippled with problems like NPA
Suggestions Put Forward:
- Improvement in Private Investment Cycle
- Consultation with the industry to see how the investments could be brought in
- More focussed attention to individual sectors of the industry
- There should be high priority in resolving the banking mess
- Growth should be consistent with some level of stability to make the growth sustainable
Banks to knock at RBI’s door on PNB impasse(The Hindu)
- Banks are planning to approach the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to break the impasse with the fraud-hit Punjab National Bank (PNB), which is declining to pay them the dues till investigations into the ₹11,500-crore LoU scam.
- All the banks first tried to convince PNB to honour the commitments.
- The banks have decided to approach the central bank through the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA).
- Last week, the state-run lender informed the stock exchanges about the detection of $1.77 billion (₹11,500 crore)-worth unauthorised transactions where fraudulent letters of undertaking (LoUs) were issued from a branch in Mumbai to secure overseas credit.
Supervisory assessment of control system:
- RBI had pointed out to the failure of internal control of PNB as being the main reason for the fraud taking place.
- RBI is assessing the situation and would take appropriate supervisory action.
- The banking regulator had already undertaken a supervisory assessment of control systems in PNB.
What has happened?
- Recently, PNB found that the SWIFT system had been misused by a junior-level branch officials, who had fraudulently issued letters of undertaking (LoUs) on behalf of some companies for availing buyers credit from overseas branches of Indian banks.
- Preliminary investigation into the alleged fraudulent transactions worth ₹11,500 crore has revealed a complete breakdown of supervision and auditing mechanism in Punjab National Bank’s Mumbai branch and overseas branches of the other banks concerned.
- The transactions remained undetected for almost seven years, despite the fact that the bank conducts internal and external audits on a regular basis.
- Overseas branches of the other banks, which released payments on the request for settlement of import bills, also did not flag the discrepancies for such a long period.
- The bank has pinned the whole blame on the then Deputy Manager, Gokulnath Shetty, and a low-rank staffer for the fraudulent issuance of Letters of Undertaking (LoU) on behalf of the three firms associated with diamond merchant Nirav Modi and his family members.
- It is alleged that bills were also cleared for payments through PNB’s Nostro accounts with other banks that deal in foreign currency
- As per rules, those availing such a credit facility are required to repay the loan within 90 days of the issuance of an LoU.
- In the PNB case, the accused officials misused the Society for Worldwide Inter-bank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) system to verify the fraudulently issued LoUs, conforming to the overseas branches of several banks that they could extend foreign exchange credit to the beneficiaries.
- The SWIFT system is mainly used for clearing international wire transfers.
Accused book under Prevention of Corruption act:
- The Central Bureau of Investigation has booked one retired and one serving PNB employee so far.
- The Enforcement Directorate has registered a money laundering case in the matter.
- It involves Mumbai-based billionaire diamond merchant Nirav Modi.
High-speed transportation system will connect Mumbai and Pune
- The Virgin Group has signed an ‘intent agreement’ with the Maharashtra government to build a hyperloop transportation system between Mumbai and Pune.
- The hyperloop is expected to reduce travel time between the cities to 20 minutes, from the present three hours.
- The first hyperloop route will link central Pune with Mumbai and the proposed Navi Mumbai international airport
- The hyperloop route will be a fully electric system that can travel at up to 1,000 kmph
- The proposed hyperlink system is expected to transform the transportation system and make Maharashtra a global pioneer in the space.
- The socio-economic benefit of the project is $55 billion, and will create thousands of jobs.
- The proposed project will begin after a six-month in-depth feasibility study to analyse and define route alignment, including environmental impact, economic and commercial viability, the regulatory framework and cost and funding model suggestions.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been subjected to debates including concerns around machines overtaking, or even replacing, the human workforce.
Expanding boundaries through Artificial Intelligence(AI):
- According to the IDC Cognitive User Adoption Survey (2017), an overwhelming majority of Indian organisations (nearly 70%) — have either adopted or have plans to leverage cognitive capabilities in the next 18 months.
- Currently, one in five organisations has already deployed cognitive systems.
The telecom, technology and banking industries are frontrunners in adoption.
- State Bank of India recently announced plans to leverage AI for its integrated platform, YONO (You Only Need One).
- The healthcare industry relies on AI to fine tune the accuracy of medical predictions, and accordingly choose a fitting line of treatment.
- Retail is another, and more obvious industry, where AI has found a strong foothold.
- E-commerce firms depend on AI tools to detect malpractices, improve conversion ratios and foresee consumer buying patterns.
Challenges faced by Artificial Intelligence(AI):
- One of the biggest roadblocks in the active adoption of AI is the sheer scarcity of skilled professionals.
- Further, since the skillset of a data scientist needs to constantly evolve along with technology, the demand-supply gap is only growing further.
- Overall, industries are expected to experience more AI use cases in the near future — from digital shopping assistants in retail to carefully curated teams in sports, and factory automation systems in manufacturing.
Cryptoassets: regulation in the air?(The Hindu)
- Despite repeated cautions by the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry about the risks associated with investing in cryptocurrencies , and their illegality when used as actual currency, the crypto-industry is still pretty enthusiastic about India and maintains that even the government’s negative stance has been exaggerated.
- The RBI has issued three warnings about cryptocurrencies since 2013, and the Finance Ministry in December issued a strongly-worded notice likening crytocurrencies to Ponzi schemes and emphasised that buyers and investors were risking their money by investing in these products.
- Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech again reiterated the government’s position that cryptocurrencies were not legal tender and the government would look to curb any illegal transactions and financing using these digital currencies.
Legal or not?
- The government had declared cryptocurrencies illegal.
- Even foreign currencies in the country are commodities and not legal tender.
- In a panel discussion, Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg, said that they were looking at a regulatory framework.
- The government was not comfortable with the words’ coin’ or ‘currency’ because these are not legal tender, so wanted to call them ‘cryptoassets’.
- The industry body representing most of the blockchain and cryptocurrency companies in India agrees with this assessment.
- Recently, the RBI came out with a report on the fintech sector, in which it dedicated a section to digital currencies (DCs).
- It went into the modalities of such currencies and also their future potential, an indication that the RBI was not totally closed to the applications of digital currencies.
- The implications of DCs for financial firms, markets and system will depend on the extent of their acceptability among users.
- If use of DCs were to become widespread, it would likely have material implications for the business models of financial institutions.
- DCs could potentially lead to a disintermediation of some existing payment services infrastructure.
Income Tax Department issued notice in this regard:
- The Income Tax Department this year sent one lakh notices to people who invested in cryptocurrencies and whose investments didn’t match their income profile.
Guards get modern weapons to fight poaching(The Hindu)
- In a major initiative for wildlife protection, the forest guards in Assam were given modern weapons to check poaching of rhinos, tigers and other wild animals.
What is in news?
- Altogether 74 rhinos have been killed by poachers since 2015 and 316 poachers arrested during 2015-17.
- Thus, wildlife fast-track courts have been set up in 10 districts and such courts have been set up for the first time in the country.
- The government launched a new programme – modernisation of arms and equipment for protection, rescue and rehabilitation of rhinos, tigers and other wildlife.
- According to the plan, forest guards were given 954 SLRs, 272 INSAS rifles, 133 rifles of .12 bore, 20 of 9 MM pistols and 91 Ghatak rifles.
Wildlife sanctuaries in Assam:
- Assam has five national parks and 19 wildlife sanctuaries.
- It is home to more than 91% of Indian rhinos (2,431 rhinos as per 2015 census).
- It is also home to 167 tigers, 248 leopards, 1,169 swamp deer besides a large number of wild buffaloes, different varieties of deer and other animals.