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GS: 1


Art and Culture:

Bilaspur’s stone age tools link Sivalikcultures(The Hindu)

What has happened?

  • Researchers from the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) have discovered a number of Acheulian artefacts (dated to about 1, 500,000–1,50,000 years ago) along with contemporary Soanian ones from an unexplored site at Ghumarwin in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh.
  • The site is close to the site where scientists in the 19th century discovered fossil remains of Sivapithecus, the last common ancestor of orangutans and humans.

The Significance

  • This is the first time that the AnSI has found a large number of Acheulian artefacts along with the Soanian tools at a same site which opens up the possibility of continuity of the two stone age cultures at the site

Acheulian culture

The earliest known stone tools are simple flakes chipped roughly from a core, called the Oldowan tradition. The more advanced Acheulian culture followed, characterized by leaf-shaped bifaces or ‘hand axes’. The Acheulian is thought of as the signature technology of Homo erectus

  • The name “Acheulean” is taken from the name of a site named Saint-Acheul, near Amiens in northern France, and is used to refer to a range of Lower Paleolithictool-making traditions found widely across Afro-Eurasia
  • The typical tool is a general-purpose hand-ax

Soanian culture

The Soanian is an archaeological culture of the Lower Paleolithic in the Siwalik region of the Indian subcontinent.

River corridor

Present Achulian discovery from unexplored site at Ghumarwin indicates that the river Sutlej and its tributaries have been a prehistoric corridor for the peninsular Acheulian man into the Sivalik region

Other materials found

  • Other than over 100 stone tools, vertebrates and few invertebrates mainly fresh water gastropods have also been recovered
  • The indication of gastropods [a large taxonomic class within the phylum Mollusca] suggests the presence of backswamps of the flood plains

Sites under threat

The stretches between Bilaspur and Ghumarwin, that hold answers to how our ancestors survived million of years ago in the Sivalik ranges, are under threat due developmental work such as road and bridges, and also agriculture.


GS:2


Indian Constitution and Polity

Naidu to keep alive fight for Special Category Status(The Hindu)

What has happened?

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said he was undeterred by the offensive that BJP leaders have threatened to launch against the Andhra Pradesh government, and asserted that their brand of ‘divisive politics’ that succeeded in Tamil Nadu would fail here

  • He vowed to keep the fight alive for Special Category Status (SCS) which was the State’s right.
  • Naidu reiterated that he did not ask for anything beyond what was promised under the A.P. Reorganisation Act (APRA) and the assurances that were given on the floor of the Rajya Sabha in response to demands raised by M. Venkaiah Naidu and ArunJaitley. But the BJP backed off from its commitment

Lok Sabha passes Bill to exempt political parties from scrutiny on foreign funds, without debate(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The Lok Sabha, passed without a debate a bill that will exempt political parties from scrutiny of funds they have received from abroad since 1976

Background: amendments done to the Finance Bill 2018

  • Amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 that bans overseas corporations from funding political parties
  • Through Finance Bill 2016 passed earlier, the government had amended the FCRA to make it easier for parties to accept foreign funds

Which act bars political parties from accepting foreign funds?

Representation of People’s Act: It lays down the rules for elections &bars political parties from accepting foreign funds

Effect of the amendment

The retrospective amendment will help BJP and Congress escape the fallout of a 2014 Delhi High Court judgement that held both guilty of violating the FCRA.

FCRA

  • The FCRA was passed in 1976.
  • It defined a company — Indian or foreign — registered abroad or with subsidiaries abroad as a foreign firm
  • It was later repealed and replaced with the FCRA, 2010.

Definition of a foreign company changedin 2016

  • The BJP government, through the Finance Act, 2016, had also changed the definition of a foreign company by saying a firm with less than 50% of share capital held by a foreign entity would no longer be a foreign source any more.
  • This amendment also came into effect retrospectively from September 2010.

Fact

This is only the third time since 2000 that Parliament has approved the budget without debate.

Cauvery Board deadline will be met: Tamilisai(The Hindu)

What has happened?

BJP State president TamilisaiSoundararajan said the Central government will definitely constitute the Cauvery Management Board within the six-week time frame set by the Supreme Court.

On ballot paper idea

  • Regarding the Congress’ 84th plenary session discussing a return to ballot papers, she said the forfeiture of deposit by Congress party candidates in the recently held by-elections in various States had forced the party to talk about returning to the old system of voting.
  • A return to ballot papers would only regress the country’s development. And, the Congress talking about returning to ballot papers was akin to insulting the voters who exercised their franchise in free, fair and democratically-held elections
  • On the local body polls, she said it was wrong to delay the conduct of the polls even after funds had been allotted for the purpose.

GS:3


Economy:

No ‘power’ of choice for consumers(The Hindu)

Context

Monopoly in power supply

The issue

In the auctions, where the companies who offer to sell electricity at the least prices are the winners, companies quotewell under Rs. 3 a unit of electricity in some auctions

  • But consumer is paying more than Rs. 6 per unit and the factories pay even more upto Rs.12 even.

The question

Why are they not passing on the benefit to the consumers?

TheState Monopoly

  • Customers pay for State’s inefficiencies: State governments, through the electricity distribution companies (discoms) owned by them, are still a monopoly, and exhibit monopolistic tendencies — their instinct is to make their customers pay for their inefficiencies
  • Controlling direct business with the suppliers: A large consumer of power can directly purchase power from a supplier, by-passing over the State discom but this has proven difficult as the owner of the discom, viz., the State government, has control over such direct transactions
  • Control via State Load Dispatch Centre: State governments use the respective State Load Dispatch Centre (which routes the power) as the instrument of control

Misuse of Section 11 of the Electricity Act:

  • This section allows them to force a power producer in that State not to supply outside the borders
  • The provision was meant for use in rare circumstances of emergency-like power shortage, but many States have taken liberties with the interpretation.

Controlling the Free Market or the Open Access (OA) via Open Access Charges

Increasing Cross-subsidy surcharge (CSS)

  • This is a surcharge that a discom levies on a customer for meeting the costs of free or subsidised power to some sections of the society.
  • Ideally, the costs of such subsidies should come from the State government’s own funds, but other customers are made to pay for it.
  • The Electricity Act allows CSS, but the idea clearly was that the charge shall be progressively reduced and eliminated but instead, the CSS is only increasing

Additional Surcharge

  • This is meant to compensate discoms for the fixed cost of their long-term contracted capacity, which is stranded as a result of consumers moving to Open Access (OA)
  • Customers leaving them has adverse financial implications, at a time when they are hard up on cash

National Tariff Policy of 2016against the CSS

In Section 8.3, it says “direct subsidy is a better way to support the poorer categories of consumers than the mechanism of cross subsidizing the tariff across the board.

Other Factors

  • Centre-State mismatch

While the Centre wants a vibrant, 24-by-7 market, the States are more concerned about their immediate finances and electoral issues.

  • Draft of the New Electricity act is gathering dust

On top of all this is the proposed New Electricity Act which proposes to separate “carrier and content”, meaning the transmission lines will be like tolled highways for use by anybody, while the power itself could be supplied by anybody, so that the consumer will have a choice to switch seamlessly between suppliers

 WTO ministerial: 50 nations to take up global trade issues(The Hindu)

Context

The government said that 50 nations will engage in free and frank discussions on global trade here this week to explore the options for resolving various issues and re-invigorating the WTO

Occasion: Representatives from 50 countries will be gathering in New Delhi on 19-20 March for an informal World Trade Organisation (WTO) mini-ministerial meeting

Issues to be looked at

It will look at issues both at the negotiating table and also in other areas

‘RBI overruled House panel on power NPAs’(The Hindu)

Context

The Association of Power Producers has accused the RBI of overruling the Parliamentary standing panel on power and key ministries with its February 12 circular that ended all the existing loan restructuring mechanisms and voted for the insolvency code to resolve stressed assets

What is the demand?

In a March 12 letter to the RBI, the association has requested Governor Urjit Patel to exclude the power sector from the purview of the new rules issued by it

Govt. to take spiritual route to spur tourism(The Hindu)

Context

Promoting tourism in India

Popularizing domestic tourism

The government plans to promote religious tourism in the country, in order to increase domestic travel as close to 60% of domestic tourism in India is religious-based

Stats

Domestic tourism: The number of domestic tourist visits in 2017 =about 1.8 billion, up about 12% from the over 1.6 billion in the previous year

Foreign tourism: Foreign tourist arrivals in 2017 stood at over 10 million, a growth of 15.6% over 8.8 million such arrivals in 2016. This resulted in foreign exchange earnings of $ 27.6 billion last year, a growth of 20.8% over 2016

Other steps being taken by government

  • Popularizing yoga and Ayurveda among millennials (a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century) to attract both domestic and foreign tourists
  • Investment in creating infrastructure around religious places
  • Swadesh Darshan scheme
  • Pilgrimage Rejuvenation And Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD)
  • The Tourism Ministry recently launched ‘Yogi of the Racetrack’, a minute-long advertisement on yoga, that received more than 11.5 million hits in a week
  • Changing the attitude of people towards foreign tourists: Respecting privacy of the tourists and not bugging them for selfies etc

Swadesh Darshan& PRASAD

Under these schemes Ministry of Tourism provides Central Financial Assistance (CFA) to State Governments/Union Territory Administrations, for various tourism projects subject to availability of funds, liquidation of pending utilization certificates and adherence to the scheme guidelines

  • Swadesh scheme: Under the Swadesh Darshan scheme, thirteen thematic circuits have been identified, for development namely: North-East India Circuit, Buddhist Circuit, Himalayan Circuit, Coastal Circuit, Krishna Circuit, Desert Circuit, Tribal Circuit, Eco Circuit, Wildlife Circuit, Rural Circuit, Spiritual Circuit, Ramayana Circuit and Heritage Circuit
    • Focus: Development of particular thematic circuit consisting of various religious/spiritual destination in a State and Union Territory
  • PRASAD: Under the PRASAD scheme thirteen sites have been identified for development, namely: Amritsar, Ajmer, Dwaraka, Mathura, Varanasi, Gaya, Puri, Amaravati, Kanchipuram, Vellankanni, Kedarnath, Kamakhya and Patna
    • Focus: Development and beautification of the identified pilgrimage destinations

Internal security:

Dangerous spiral(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

New Delhi and Islamabad must address the tit-for-tat harassment of each other’s envoys

Trigger

The trigger for this round of ‘tit-for-tat’ actions appears to be an incident in February, when alleged ISI agents roughed up Pakistani construction workers headed for the Indian mission’s new building site in Islamabad

  • Pakistan’s response: While Pakistan’s foreign office claimed they did not have security clearance to enter the diplomatic zone
  • Indian stand:India saw it as an attempt to stop the work, adding that power and water connections were tampered with

Now, tit for tat activities go on with harassment of envoys in both the countries

Author’s contention

Author holds the view that such actions are just a front to give intelligence agencies a freehand to do whatever they want against each other

Violations of international treaties

Allegations of harassment constitute technical violations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) and the subsequent Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), which clearly state that a diplomatic agent’s person, premises and property are inviolable and must be respected and protected by the “receiving state”

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations 1961

  • The Vienna Convention provides a complete framework for the establishment, maintenance and termination of diplomatic relations on a basis of consent between independent sovereign States. It specifies the functions of diplomatic missions, the formal rules regulating appointments of a diplomat. It sets out the special rules – privileges and immunities – which enable diplomatic missions to act without fear of coercion or harassment through enforcement of local laws and to communicate securely with their sending Governments.

The salient features of the convention are:

  • Article 9: The host nation at any time and for any reason can declare a particular member of the diplomatic staff to be “persona non grata”. The sending state must recall this person within a reasonable period of time, or otherwise this person may lose their diplomatic immunity
  • Article 22: The premises of a diplomatic mission, such as an embassy, are inviolate and must not be entered by the host country except by permission of the head of the mission. Furthermore, the host country must protect the mission from intrusion or damage. The host country must never search the premises, nor seize its documents or property. Article 30 extends this provision to the private residence of the diplomats
  • Article 27: The host country must permit and protect free communication between the diplomats of the mission and their home country. A diplomatic bag must never be opened even on suspicion of abuse. A diplomatic courier must never be arrested or detained
  • Article 29: Diplomats must not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. They are immune from civil or criminal prosecution, though the sending country may waive this right under Article 32: Under Article 34, they are exempt from most taxes, and under Article 36 they are exempt from most customs duties
  • Article 31 1c: Actions not covered by diplomatic immunity: professional activity outside diplomat’s official functions
  • Article 37: The family members of a diplomat that are living in the host country enjoy most of the same protections as the diplomats themselves
  • Article 38 bars from all privileges and immunities, except for immunity for their official acts, nationals and permanent residents of the receiving State

Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963)

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 is an international treaty that defines a framework for consular relations between independent countries. The Vienna Convention consists of 79 articles, most of which provide for the operation of consulates; outline the functions of consular agents; and address the privileges and immunities granted to consular officials when posted to a foreign country. A few other articles specify consular officials’ duties when citizens of their country face difficulties in a foreign nation

Some of the salient features are,

  • Article 5: Thirteen functions of a consul are listed, including protecting in the receiving state the interests of the sending state and its nationals, as well as developing the commercial, economic, cultural, and scientific relations between the two countries.
  • Article 23: The host nation may at any time and for any reason declare a particular member of the consular staff to be “persona non grata”. The sending state must recall this person within a reasonable period of time, or otherwise this person may lose their consular immunity
  • Article 26 says that the receiving state must ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory
  • Article 27.4 says that the diplomatic bags may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use. But diplomatic bags cannot be controlled because they cannot be opened. Also personal bags of diplomatic agent are exempt from inspection unless there are serious grounds for presuming that it contains goods that are forbidden in the host country
  • Article 28: The fees and charges levied by the mission in the course of its official duties shall be exempt from all dues and taxes
  • Article 31: The host nation may not enter the consular premises, and must protect the premises from intrusion or damage.
  • Article 35: Freedom of communication between the consul and their home country must be preserved. A consular bag must never be opened. A consular courier must never be detained.
  • Article 36: Foreign nationals who are arrested or detained be given notice “without delay” of their right to have their embassy or consulate notified of that arrest. If the detained foreign national so requests, the police must fax that notice to the embassy or consulate, which can then check up on the person. The notice to the consulate can be as simple as a fax, giving the person’s name, the place of arrest, and, if possible, something about the reason for the arrest or detention

Retaliatory measures

The fear is that India and Pakistan may even take stronger measures, including sending back diplomats or scaling down their missions

  • India had declared Islamabad a non-family post in the wake of the terror attack on an army school in Peshawar; Pakistan may now follow suit by withdrawing its families from Delhi

Conclusion

Author concludes by stating that at a time when bilateral dialogue has been stalled for years, and ceasefire violations are becoming the norm on the Line of Control, any escalation will impact the few lines of communication that remain. A wise sense of judgment must prevail

Environment:

In a plastics world(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

  • Findings of a recent study led by US-based non-profit organisation Orb Media that pointed out presence of microplastic in package (bottled) drinking water
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water after a new analysis of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands found that more than 90% contained tiny pieces of plastic

Author’s contention

Government should wake up and take remedial action against the dangers of microplastic in bottled water

What is microplastic?

Microplastics are particles of less than 5 mm that enter the environment either as primary industrial products, such as those used in scrubbers and cosmetics, or via urban waste water and broken-down elements of articles discarded by consumers

What was the most common type of plastic fragment found?

According to the Orb Media study, the most common type of plastic fragment found was polypropylene – the same type of plastic used to make bottle caps

Promise of Global intervention

In December 2017, in Nairobi, UN member-countries resolved to produce a binding agreement in 18 months to deal with the release of plastics into the marine environment

Scale of the problem of release of plastic into marine environment

8 million tonnes of waste, including bottles and packaging, make their way into the sea each year. There is now even the Great Pacific Garbage Patch of plastic debris

What is the Great Pacific Garbage patch?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water

  • The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Many plastics, for instance, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces

Dealing with the problem

The most efficient way to deal with the pollution is to control the production and distribution of plastics

  • Banning single-use bags and making consumers pay a significant amount for the more durable ones is a feasible solution
  • Enforcement of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, which require segregation of waste from 8th April 2018 will retrieve materials and greatly reduce the burden on the environment
  • Waste separation can be achieved in partnership with the community, and presents a major employment opportunity

EU’s vision 2030

As the European Union’s vision 2030 document on creating a circular plastic economy explains, the answer lies in changing the very nature of plastics, from cheap and disposable to durable, reusable and fully recyclable

Poison kills 32 rare vultures in Assam(The Hindu)

Context

Death of 32 vultures in Assam’s Sivasagar district. Of the 32 that died, 29 were Himalayan griffons

Reason for death

Consumption of a poisoned carcass of a goat

Vulture population

Research data cited by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) last year show that populations of white-backed vultures appeared to have stabilised, but that of long-billed vultures was on the decline

Diclofenac

A steady reduction in the numbers of vultures in India was linked to the use of veterinary medicines such as diclofenac, leading to a ban on its use in animals

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