9 PM Current Affairs Brief – December 25th, 2019

Good Governance Index launched

News:Minister of State for Public Grievances and Pensions has launched Good Governance Index on the occasion of Good Governance Day.

Facts:

About Good Governance Index:

  • The Good Governance Index is a uniform tool to assess the status of governance and impact of various interventions taken up by State governments and Union Territories.
  • The index was launched by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances and the Centre for Good Governance.
  • The States are assessed on performance in 10 sectors namely (1)agriculture and allied sectors (2)commerce and industries (3)human resource development (4)public health (5)public infrastructure and utilities (6)economic governance (7)social welfare and development, (8)judicial and public security (9)environment and (10)citizen-centric governance.

Key takeaways from the index:The index has divided States and UTs into three groups namely Big States, North-East and Hill States and Union Territories.

Big States:

  • Tamil Nadu has topped the Good Governance Index among the Big states,
  • It was followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

North East and Hill States:

  • Himachal Pradesh was ranked first followed by Uttarakhand, Tripura, Mizoram and Sikkim.
  • The worst performers in this group are Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh coming last.

Union Territories:

  • Puducherry is the best governed Union Territory followed by Chandigarh and Delhi. Lakshadweep is the worst performing UT.

NITI Aayog to launch 2nd edition of SDG India Index

News:NITI Aayog will launch the second edition of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDG) India Index and Dashboard on 30th December,2019 in New Delhi.

Facts:

About SDG India Index:

  • SDG India Index and Dashboard has been developed by NITI Aayog in collaboration with the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation (MoSPI), Global Green Growth Institute and the United Nations.
  • The aim of the index is to instil competition among States to improve their performance across social indices as the States’ progress will determine India’s progress towards achieving the set goals by 2030.
  • The index documents the progress made by India’s States and Union Territories towards implementing the 2030 SDG targets.
  • Besides indicating where the States and UTs currently are on SDG implementation, the Index and Dashboard also charts distance to be travelled to reach SDG targets.
  • The first edition of the index was launched in December 2018.It was the first tool developed by any large country to monitor progress towards achieving SDGs at sub-national level.

About SDG India Index 2019:

  • The SDG India Index and Dashboard 2019 covers 16 out of 17 SDGs and a qualitative assessment on Goal 17.This marks an improvement over 2018 Index, which covered only 13 goals.
  • On the basis of progress made, the Index will rank all States and UTs on 100 indicators drawn from MoSPI’s National Indicator Framework, comprising of 306 indicators.

Additional information:

About National Indicator Framework:

  • In 2016, the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation (MoSPI) has developed a National Indicator Framework(NIF).
  • The framework is a consolidated list of possible national indicators.It consists of 306 statistical indicators to serve as a backbone for monitoring of SDGs.

About Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs):

  • The Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) were born at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.
  • The objective was to produce a set of universal goals that meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing the world.
  • The SDGs are a bold commitment to finish what the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) started and tackle some of the more pressing challenges.

Indian Armed Forces set to get their first chief of defence staff

News:Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has approved the creation of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) post.

Facts:

Background:

  • The proposal for a Chief of Defence Staff(CDS) has been there for two decades.
  • It was recommended by the K.Subrahmanyam committee appointed after the Kargil conflict of 1999 to recommend higher military reforms.
  • However,it did not move forward despite authorities recommending the need for creating a post for a single command centre in matters of warfare and nuclear weaponry.
  • Further,the Naresh Chandra committee in 2012 had also recommended the appointment of a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) as a midway to allay apprehensions over the CDS.
  • The CDS was also one of the 99 recommendations made by the Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (retd) Committee which submitted its report in December 2016 which had 34 recommendations pertaining to the tri-services.

About Chief of Defence staff:

  • The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) will be the highest-ranked officer of India’s armed forces.It will be the four-star army officer.
  • CDS will provide his recommendations to the central government about all three armies – Air Force, Army, and Navy.
  • It will also serve as the unified military advisor to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense.
  • It will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), to be created in the Ministry of Defence, and function as its Secretary.
  • It will also be a member of the Defence Acquisition Council chaired by the Defence Minister.
  • The CDS will also advise on nuclear matters in the situation of war. However,tenure of Chief of Defence Staff has not yet declared.

Significance of Chief of Defence Staff(CDS):

  • CDS will synergise long term planning, procurement, training and logistics of the three Services, and ensure better coordination between them.
  • It is expected to save money by avoiding duplication between the Services, at a time of shrinking capital expenditure within the defence budget.
  • It will also help India in Defense diplomacy as CDS will act as the single-point advisor to the Government of India.

Rohtang tunnel in Himachal Pradesh named as Atal tunnel

News:The Union Cabinet has decided to name the Rohtang Tunnel under Rohtang Pass after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Facts:

About Atal Tunnel:

  • Atal tunnel is an 8.8-kilometre-long under Rohtang Pass.It will become the world’s longest highway tunnel above 10,000 feet.
  • The tunnel is present on the Pir Panjal Range of Himalayas.The tunnel project is being carried out by the Border Roads Organisation(BRO).
  • The tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity to remote border areas of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh which otherwise remained cut off from the rest of the country for about six months during winters.

Additional information:

About Rohtang Pass:

  • Rohtang Pass (elevation 3,978 m) is located in the state of Himachal Pradesh.
  • It is present on the Pir Panjal Range of Himalayas.It connects the Kullu Valley with Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh.
  • The Ravi river rises west of the Rohtang pass in the Kullu hills of Himachal Pradesh.

Govt approves restructuring of Railway Board, unification of services

News:Union Cabinet has approved the restructuring of the Railway Board.

Facts:

About Railway Board:

  • The Railway Board is the apex body of the Indian Railways which reports to the Parliament via the ministry of railways.At present,the railway board includes eight members.
  • The Cabinet has now restructured the board.It will now consist of four members and chairperson.
  • The chairperson will act as Chief Executive Officer(CEO) along with four members responsible for Infrastructure, Operations & Business Development, Rolling Stock and Finance respectively.

Merger of Services:

  • The Union Cabinet has also approved the merger of the different cadres into a central service called the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS).
  • The modalities and unification of the services will be worked out by the Ministry of Railways in consultation with the Department of Personnel and Training.

Significance of this move:

  • These reforms are aimed at ending departmentalisation of the mammoth organization that employees nearly 1.3 million people, second only to the strength of the Armed Forces.
  • The Unification of services is aimed at ending departmentalism, promote smooth working of Railways, expedite decision making, create a coherent vision for organisation and promote rational decision making.
  • Further,the unification of services had earlier been mooted by various committees for reforming Railways including – the Prakash Tandon Committee (1994), Rakesh Mohan Committee (2001), Sam Pitroda Committee (2012) and Bibek Debroy Committee (2015).

India in the midst of significant slowdown:IMF

News:The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has released its consultations

report on India.

Facts:

Key takeaways from the report:

  • The report has said that India’s rapid economic expansion in recent years has lifted millions of people out of poverty.
  • However in 2019, a combination of factors led to subdued economic growth in India.
  • India is now in the midst of a significant economic slowdown.Hence,the report has urged the government to take urgent policy actions to address the current prolonged downturn.
  • The slowdown is mostly cyclical and not structural.However,still concerns remain as because of the financial sector issues,the recovery will be not as quick as it is in case of cyclical slowdowns.

Reasons for growth slowdown:

  • The current economic slowdown is attributed to abrupt reduction in non-banking financial companies’ credit expansion and weak income growth especially in rural areas which has been affecting private consumption.
  • Private investment has also been hindered by financial sector difficulties (including in public sector banks) and insufficient business confidence.
  • Further,the implementation issues with important structural reforms such as the nation-wide Goods and Services Tax may also have played a role.

Positives from the report:

  • India is still doing well in terms of other economic parameters such as Foreign exchange Reserves which have risen to a record level.
  • The current account deficit has also narrowed down.
  • Inflation although witnessing a temporary hike because of vegetable prices has been under control for the last few years.

Additional information:

International Monetary Fund

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an organization of 189 countries. It was established in 1945.
  • The main goal of IMF is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system.
  • It also seeks to facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.

Economic revival key to banks’ health

News:The Reserve Bank of India has released a report titled Trend and Progress of Banking in India 2018-19.

Facts:

Key Highlights from the report:

What are the positives in the Banking sector?

  • The Indian banking sector’s financial parameters such as bad loans and capital adequacy have shown an improvement in recent times.
  • In 2018-19, the asset quality of scheduled commercial banks turned around after a gap of seven years with the overhang of stressed assets declining and fresh slippages arrested.
  • Besides,recapitalization had also helped public sector banks in shoring up their capital ratios.
  • Hence,as a result of declining provisioning requirement,the banking sector returned to profitability in the first half of 2019-20.

What are the concerns according to the report?

  • The overall health of the banking sector will depend on revival in economic growth.However,the GDP growth for the second quarter of the current financial year has dipped to a six-year low of 4.5%.
  • Despite the improvement in some of the important parameters, the risk-averse nature among lenders was worrisome.
  • Further,the waning of confidence among the borrowers is leading to credit slowdown and is affecting the overall economic activity.

Recommendations:

  • The capital infusion by the government in public sector banks is just not enough to meet the regulatory minimum.Hence,the banks might require more recapitalization.
  • The financial health of PSBs should also be assessed by their ability to access capital markets rather than looking to the government as a recapitalizer of the first and last resort.

RBI launches Prepaid Payment Instrument for your daily digital payments

News:The Reserve Bank has introduced a new type of prepaid payment instrument (PPI) for daily digital payments.

Facts:

Features of PPI introduced by RBI:

  • The prepaid payment instrument(PPI) could be used only for purchase of goods and services up to a limit of ₹10,000 per month.
  • PPIs shall be issued by bank and non-bank PPI issuers after obtaining minimum details of the holder.
  • The amount loaded in such PPIs during any month shall not exceed ₹10,000 and the total amount loaded during the financial year shall not exceed ₹1,20,000.
  • The PPI issuers shall provide an option to close the instrument at any time and also allow to transfer the funds ‘back to source’ at the time of closure.

About Prepaid Payment instrument(PPI):

  • Prepaid Payment instrument(PPI) are financial instruments that facilitate the purchase of goods and services against the value stored on such instruments.
  • These are generally issued in the form of smart cards,mobile wallets, paper vouchers,internet accounts/wallets.
  • These payment instruments are licensed and regulated by the Reserve Bank of India.

Types of PPIs:

Closed system PPI:

  • Closed system PPI can be used only at specific locations, and cannot be used to transfer funds from one account to another.
  • The most common example of a closed system PPI is a brand-specific gift card.

Semi-closed PPI:

  • Semi closed PPIs are not restricted to a single entity.Instead,these can be used for purchase of any kind of goods and services from a merchant, as well as to transfer money to someone.
  • The examples of semi-closed PPI are e-wallets like Oxigen and Mobikwik.

Open system PPI:

  • The open system PPIs can be issued only by banks and can be used at any merchant outlet for any purchase or cash withdrawal.
  • A travel card is a type of open system PPI.It can be used for all types of spending and for cash withdrawal from ATMs.

26th December

Massive locust invasion threatens Gujarat farmers

News:The migratory insect locust has spread to the Northern parts of Gujarat, causing significant damage to agriculture.

Facts:

About Locust:

  • Locusts are certain species of short-horned grasshoppers that have a swarming phase.They belong to the family Acrididae.
  • Swarming refers to a collective behaviour in which locusts aggregate together just like flocks of birds.
  • Locusts differ from grasshoppers in that they have the ability to change their behaviour and habits and can migrate over large distances.

Distribution:

  • The invasion area of desert locust covers about 30 million sq km which includes whole or parts of nearly 64 countries.
  • This includes countries like North West and East African countries, Arabian Peninsula, the Southern Republic of USSR, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Indian subcontinent.
  • In India,four species of locust namely Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), Migratory locust (Locusta migratoria), Bombay Locust ( Nomadacris succincta) and Tree locust (Anacridium sp.) are found.

Threat:

  • Locust swarms devastate crops and cause major agricultural damage and attendant human misery.
  • If infestations are not detected and controlled, devastating plagues can develop that often take several years to bring under control with severe consequences on food security and livelihoods.

Control measures taken by India:

  • India has a Locust Control and Research scheme that is being implemented through the Locust Warning Organisation(LWO) which was established in 1939.
  • It was amalgamated in 1946 with the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage (PPQS) of the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • The main objective of Locust Warning Organisation(LWO) is protection of standing crops and other green vegetation from the ravages of Desert locust which is one of the most dangerous pests occurring in desert areas throughout the world.

Who was Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, freedom fighter and educationist

News:Indian Prime minister has said that India will always be grateful to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya for his numerous contributions during India’s independence movement.

Facts:

About Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya:

  • Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya(1861 – 1946) was an Indian educationist and a Freedom Fighter.He was also addressed as Mahamana.

Role in Indian Freedom movement:

  • As a member of the Imperial Legislative Council, he participated in the important debates most notable being the prohibition of recruitment of Indian indentured labour to the British colonies.
  • He was a moderate leader and opposed the separate electorates for Muslims under the Lucknow Pact of 1916.
  • He had also attended the Second Round Table Conference in the year 1931.
  • He popularized the term ‘Satyamev Jayate’.However,the phrase originally belongs to the Mundaka Upanishad.The term now is the national motto of India.
  • In protest against the Communal Award which sought to provide separate electorates for minorities, Malaviya along with Madhav Shrihari Aney left the Congress and started the Congress Nationalist Party.

Contributions and Organizations:

  • He started composing poetry at the age of fifteen with the pen name ‘Makarand’.
  • He founded “Prayaga Hindu Samaj”, and wrote several articles on the Contemporary issues and problems of the country.
  • In 1887,he established “Bharat Dharma Mahamandal” to propagate Sanatan Dharma and Hindu culture.
  • He also founded the Banaras Hindu University(BHU) at Varanasi in 1916 which was created under the B.H.U. Act, 1915.
  • He also founded the Hindu Mahasabha in 1906 to oppose not the just claims of the Muslim community but the “divide and rule” policy of the British Government.
  • He also started the ‘Abhyudaya’ as a Hindi weekly in 1907 and made it a daily in 1915.He also started the ‘Maryada’ a Hindi monthly in 1910 and ‘Leader’ an English daily in 1909.

Awards:

  • Madan Mohan Malviya was posthumously conferred with Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award in 2014.
  • The train named Mahamana Express was named after Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya in 2016.It runs between Delhi and Varanasi.

GST Council to set up grievance redressal mechanism for taxpayers

News:The GST Council has decided to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for taxpayers.

Facts:

About Grievance Redressal Committee(GRC):

  • The Grievance Redressal Committee(GRC) at zonal and state levels will be set up as a redressal mechanism for taxpayers.
  • It will consist of both central tax and state tax officers, representatives of trade and industry and other goods and services tax(GST) stakeholders.
  • The committee will be constituted for a period of 2 years and the term of each member will be likewise.
  • The functions of the committee include examining and resolving all the grievances and issues being faced by the taxpayers, including procedural difficulties and IT-related issues pertaining to GST, both specific and general nature.
  • The committee will meet once every quarter or more frequently as decided by the co-chairs.
  • If any member of the panel would be absent for three consecutive meetings,the member will be replaced with a fresh nomination by the principal chief commissioner of State tax.

Additional information:

About GST Council:

  • Goods & Services Tax(GST) Council is a constitutional body for making recommendations to the Union and State Government on issues related to Goods and Service Tax.
  • As per Article 279A (1) of the constitution, the GST Council was constituted by the President.
  • The council consists of the following members: (a) The Union Finance Minister is the Chairperson (b) The Union Minister of State in-charge of Revenue of finance and (c) The Minister In-charge of finance or taxation or any other Minister nominated by each State Government.

Govt forms expert panel for time-bound resolution of disputes in oil & gas sector

News:Government has constituted a Committee of External Eminent Persons/Experts for time-bound resolution of disputes in Oil and gas sector.

Facts:

About the committee:

  • The committee will consist of three members.It will help the oil and gas sector get rid of disputes without having to resort to tardy judicial process.
  • The committee will have a tenure of three years and the resolution will be attempted to be arrived at within three months.
  • The panel will arbitrate on a dispute between partners in a contract or with the government over commercial or production issues for oil and gas.
  • It shall exercise all powers and discharge all the functions necessary for carrying out conciliation and mediation proceedings as per the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act,1996.
  • Once a resolution has been referred to the panel, the parties cannot resort to arbitration or court case to resolve it.

Significance of this committee:

  • The country’s oil and gas sector has been plagued by disputes from cost recovery to production targets and companies as well as the government have resorted to lengthy and costly arbitration followed by judicial review, a process that takes years to resolve differences.
  • Hence,this decision may lift overall business sentiment, especially in the oil and gas sector which in return will help the sector get rid of disputes choking investment in it.
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