9 PM Current Affairs Brief – January 8th, 2020

Neon, the world’s first ‘Artificial Human’

News: Samsung-backed Star Labs has unveiled Neon, the world’s first “artificial humans”.

Facts:

About Neon

  • Neon is a humanoid AI chatbot
  • It aims to deliver a personalised experience with an AI. It has the ability to show emotions and intelligence.

Additional Information:

  1. Artificial Intelligence: It refers to the ability of machines to perform cognitive tasks like thinking, perceiving, learning, problem solving and decision making. (NITI Aayog)
  2. Kamakoti Committee: Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in 2017, set up AI Task Force headed by V. Kamakoti to explore possibilities to leverage AI for development across various fields.
  3. National strategy on artificial intelligence: Released by NITI Aayog in 2018, it identifies 5 cores areas for application of artificial intelligence: Healthcare, Agriculture, Education, Smart Cities and Infrastructure and Smart Mobility and Transportation.

NetSCoFAN (Network for Scientific Co-operation for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition)

News: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has launched NetSCoFAN (Network for Scientific Co-operation for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition)

Facts:

About NetSCoFAN

  • It is a network of research & academic institutions working in the area of food & nutrition
  • It would comprise of eight groups of institutions working in different areas. These areas are:
  • biological,
  • chemical,
  • nutrition & labelling,
  • food of animal origin,
  • food of plant origin,
  • water & beverages,
  • food testing, and
  • Safer & sustainable packaging.
  • Function: To identify research gaps in respective areas and collect, collate and develop database on food safety issues for risk assessment activities.

NASA planet hunter finds Earth-sized world in habitable zone

News: TESS has discovered an Earth-sized planet, termed as “TOI 700 d”, within the habitable range of its star TOI 700, located in constellation Dorado.

Facts:

“Goldilocks zone”/ circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ)/ habitable zone: It is the range of distances from a star where liquid water might be found on an orbiting planet given sufficient atmospheric pressure.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS):

  • It is an all-sky survey mission launched by NASA in 2018.
  • It seeks to discover exoplanets around nearby bright stars.

National Disaster Relief Fund

News: Central government has released calamity relief of ₹5,908 crore to seven states from the National Disaster Relief Fund.

Facts:

About National Disaster Relief Fund

  • It is a fund managed by the Central Government for meeting the expenses for emergency response, relief and rehabilitation due to any threatening disaster situation or disaster.

Features:

  • Constituted to supplement the funds of the State Disaster Response Funds (SDRF) in case there is a calamity of severe nature.
  • Located in the “Public Accounts” of Government of India under “Reserve Funds not bearing interest”
  • Monitoring:
  • Relief activities for calamities associated with drought, hailstorms, pest attacks and cold wave /frost: Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
  • All other natural calamities: Ministry of Home Affairs
  • Sources of Financing:
  • National Calamity Contingency Duty (NCCD) imposed on specified goods under central excise and customs
  • General budgetary resources when requirement of funds goes beyond what is available under NDRF

Challakere to be ISRO’s astronaut training hub

News: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has proposed a ₹ 2,700-crore master plan to create Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC).

Facts:

About Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC)

  • It is a body under ISRO to coordinate Indian Human Spaceflight Programme.
  • It will be established in three years at Challakere (“Science City”), in Chitradurga district of Karnataka.
  • At present it works from a temporary place at the ISRO headquarters, Antariksh Bhavan, Bengaluru.

Functions:

  • Pursuing future human space missions,
  • Developing engineering systems for survival and safe return of the crew from space,
  • Selecting and training the astronauts.

Additional Information:

Gaganyaan Mission: It is India’s first Human Space Flight Programme to be launched by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) by 2022.

IMD’s State of Climate Report: 2019 the seventh warmest year since 1901

News: India Meteorological Department (IMD) released State of the Climate Report-2019

Facts:

Key takeaways from State of the Climate Report-2019

  • The past decade was the hottest on record for India.
  • 2019 was the seventh warmest year since 1901.
  • The annual rainfall in 2019 was 109% of the long period average for 1961–2010
  • Five cyclones were recorded from the Arabian Sea- the highest number of Arabian Sea cyclones since 1902. The normal number is one per year.
  • Extreme weather events killed about 1,630 persons in 2019.

Additional Information:

State of Global Climate 2019- released by World Meteorological Organization

  • The global average temperature in 2019 (January to October) was about 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period.
  • Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit a record level of 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and continued to rise in 2019.
  • In October 2019, the global mean sea level reached its highest value since the beginning of the high-precision altimetry record (January 1993).

Centre bats for science outreach programmes

News:During the 107th Indian Science Congress,head of the Climate Change Programme under Department of Science and Technology has talked about the Centre’s policy on implementing scientific social responsibility(SSR).

Facts:

About Scientific Social Responsibility:

  • Scientific Social Responsibility(SSR) is the confluence of scientific knowledge with visionary leadership and social conscience.
  • The main objective of SSR policy is to harness the voluntary potential that is latent in the country’s scientific community to strengthen science and society linkages so as to make S&T ecosystem vibrant. 
  • This primarily involves bridging science-society, science-science and society-science gaps thereby bringing trust, partnership and responsibility of science at an accelerated peace towards achieving social goals.

Features of SSR Policy:

  • All Central Government Ministries and State Governments would plan and strategize their SSR in accordance with their respective mandates.
  • Every knowledge institution would prepare its implementation plan for achieving its SSR goals.
  • The researchers who are working on a science project funded by any of the Ministries under the Central government will have to undertake activities to popularise science and make it more accessible to the public.
  • It will include a range of activities like delivering lectures in educational institutes, writing an article in a magazine or doing something beyond the curriculum.
  • The science outreach would be mandatory and researchers had to include this as part of their outcome report.
  • There should also be an SSR monitoring system in each institution to assess institutional projects and individual activities.

Benefits of SSR:SSR has the potential to bring scientific and innovative solutions to societal problems, especially marginalized sections of society, thereby transforming the country.Some of the benefits of SSR include:

  • It can expand the domain of science and its benefits to the community by encouraging students into science through handholding and nurturing their interest.
  • It can create an opportunity for cooperation and sharing of S&T resources in laboratories with other researchers in universities and colleges.
  • It can help MSMEs, Startups and informal sector enterprises in increasing their overall productivity.
  • It can facilitate scientific intervention in rural innovation.It can also lead to empowerment of women, disadvantaged and weaker sections of society through scientific intervention.
  • Facilitating actions towards addressing Technology Vision 2035 Prerogatives and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the country such as water, ecology, health and livelihood.

Stressed urban cooperative banks to face PCA-like curbs

News:The Reserve Bank of India has revised its supervisory framework for urban co-operative banks(UCBs) to expedite resolution of UCBs experiencing financial stress.

Facts:

About the revised framework:

  • The framework imposes restrictions on urban cooperative banks(UCBs) for deterioration of financial position in line with the prompt corrective action(PCA) framework that is imposed on commercial banks.
  • The framework was revised in the backdrop of recent crisis at the PMC Bank.

Features of the framework:Under this revised Supervisory Action Framework (SAF),UCBs will face restrictions for worsening of three parameters:

  • when net non-performing assets exceed 6% of net advances,
  • when they incur losses for two consecutive financial years or have accumulated losses on their balance sheets, and
  • if the capital adequacy ratio falls below 9%.

What will happen if UCBs breach the parameters?

  • UCBs may be asked to submit a board-approved action plan to correct the situation like reducing net NPAs below 6%, etc.
  • The board of the UCB may be asked to review the progress under the action plan on quarterly/monthly basis and submit the post-review progress report to the RBI.
  • The RBI can impose restrictions on declaration or payment of dividend or donation without prior approval if any one of the above mentioned parameters is breached.
  • The RBI may also seek a board-approved proposal for merging the UCB with another bank or converting itself into a credit society if CAR falls below 9%.
  • The RBI may also consider the issue of show-cause notice for cancellation of banking licence when continued normal functioning of the UCB is no longer considered to be in the interest of its depositors/public.

Additional information:

About Prompt corrective action(PCA):

  • Prompt corrective action(PCA) is a framework under which commercial banks with weak financial metrics are put under watch by the RBI.
  • The RBI introduced the PCA framework in 2002 as a structured early-intervention mechanism for banks that become undercapitalised due to poor asset quality, or vulnerable due to loss of profitability.
  • It aims to check the problem of Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian banking sector.

About Co-operative Banks:

  • A Co-operative bank is a financial entity which belongs to its members, who are at the same time the owners and the customers of their bank.
  • Co-operative banking in India started in the early 20th century with the passing of Co-operative Societies Act in 1904 and later with the Co-operative Societies Act, 1912.
  • They are often created by persons belonging to the same local or professional community of sharing a common interest.
  • They are classified into two categories namely Urban Co-operative Banks(UCBs) and rural co-operative banks.

Plea against DigiLocker rules

News:The Delhi High Court has asked the Government to give its stand on a petition against the rules pertaining to the operation of DigiLocker.

Facts:

About the Petition:

  • The petitioner has asked the apex court to strike down the Information Technology (Preservation and Retention of Information by Intermediaries Providing Digital Locker Facilities) Rules 2016 because DigiLocker does not provide a nomination facility under this rule.
  • Because of this rule,all the documents would not be accessible by the family or friends and automatically get passed on to the government on the user’s death.

About Digital Locker:

  • DigiLocker is the Indian Government’s flagship program under the Digital India.
  • It is aimed at transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. 
  • It is a platform for issuance and verification of documents & certificates in a digital way,thus eliminating the use of physical documents.
  • It ties into Digital India’s visions areas of providing citizens a shareable private space on a public cloud and making all documents or certificates available on this cloud.

Benefits of Digital locker:

  • Citizens can access their digital documents anytime, anywhere and share it online.This is convenient and time saving.
  • It reduces the administrative overhead of Government departments by minimizing the use of paper.
  • Digital Locker makes it easier to validate the authenticity of documents as they are issued directly by the registered issuers.
  • Self-uploaded documents can be digitally signed using the eSign facility (which is similar to the process of self-attestation.

GDP growth rate for 2019-20 estimated at 5%, says NSO

News:The National Statistical Office (NSO) has released the First Advance Estimates for the financial year 2019-20.

Facts:

Key takeaways from the estimates:

  • The Indian economy is estimated to grow at 5% in 2019-20 as against 6.8% in the previous fiscal.
  • This projected growth rate of gross domestic product(GDP) is the lowest in the last 11 years i.e since financial year 2009.
  • The nominal GDP which is the market value of goods and services produced in the economy but not adjusted for inflation is estimated to grow at 7.5% which will be the lowest since last 42 years.
  • The slowdown is due to growth being dragged down by anaemic manufacturing, slowing services sector growth as well as sluggish investment and consumption.
  • Further,the exports is also estimated to contract by 2% during FY20 as against 12.5% growth recorded a year ago.This can be attributed to weak global trade activity led by the tariff war between US and China. 

What are the steps taken by government to overcome slowdown?

  • It has announced a cut in the corporate tax rate to 22% from 30%.It also lowered the tax rate for new manufacturing companies to 15% to attract new foreign direct investments.
  • It has also taken other initiatives such as bank recapitalization, mergers of 10 public sector banks into four, support for the auto sector, plans for infrastructure spending as well as tax benefits for startups.
  • The government has also constituted a task force to draw up a National Infrastructure Pipeline(NIP) from 2019-20 to 2024-25.It will prepare a roadmap that India would need to spend $4.5 trillion on infrastructure by 2030 to sustain its growth rate.

Chinese paddlefish found in the Yangtze has gone extinct

News:According to a recent study,Chinese paddlefish which is a native of the Yangtze River system has been declared extinct.

Facts:

About Chinese Paddlefish:

  • Chinese Paddlefish is also known as Chinese swordfish.It is one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species.
  • It inhabits the Yangtze River basin.The largest Chinese paddlefish may grow up to 3 metres in length and weigh 300 kg.
  • It has been listed on the IUCN’s Red List as critically endangered since 1996.However,Scientists have now declared it as an extinct species.
  • The Chinese Paddlefish along with American Paddlefish were the only two extant members of a relict lineage that was most diverse and widespread 34-75 million years ago.
  • The factors that contributed to the Chinese paddlefish’s extinction includes (a)construction of a dam along the Yangtze River basin (b)overfishing (c)habitat loss and (d)pollution.

Note:American paddlefish is a native of the Mississippi River.It is listed as vulnerable under IUCN Red list.

‘Mindset to blame for poor response to NPS’

News:According to the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA),National Pension System (NPS) is a less-preferred saving option due to a certain mindset of individuals and corporates.

Facts:

  • The PFRDA has said that there are around 7,000 corporates companies registered with PFRDA.However, only 2-4% of employees of these registered companies are covered under NPS.
  • Further,the pension system also cover small number of individuals and corporates while a large population of small, medium, and micro enterprises and start-ups are yet to be part of the pension market.
  • Hence,the central government is considering to double tax benefits to ₹1 lakh from ₹50,000.It may also allow PFRDA to become a single regulator for all pension products to give the entity more validity and standing in the country’s under tapped pension market.

About National Pension System(NPS):

  • National Pension System (NPS) is a government-sponsored pension scheme.It was launched in January 2004 for government employees.However,in 2009,it was opened to all sections.
  • Objective:Thescheme allows subscribers to contribute regularly in a pension account during their working life. 
  • Upon retirement,subscribers can withdraw a part of the corpus in a lump sum and use the remaining corpus to buy an annuity to secure a regular income after retirement.
  • Implementation:NPS is being implemented and regulated by Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority in the country.
  • National Pension System Trust(NPST) established by PFRDA is the registered owner of all assets under NPS.
  • Eligibility:Any individual citizen of India (both resident and Non-resident) in the age group of 18-65 years can join NPS.
  • Recently,PFRDA has permitted Overseas Citizen of India(OCI) to enroll in the NPS at par with Non-Resident Indians.

Additional information:

About PFRDA:

  • PFRDA is a statutory body established under the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority(PFRDA) Act,2013.
  • Its objective is to be a model regulator for promotion and development of an organized pension system to serve the old age income needs of people on a sustainable basis.
  • It develops, promotes and regulates the pension industry under National Pension System and also administers the Atal Pension Yojana.

INS Sumedha provides assistance to stranded vessel near Somali Coast

News:INS Sumedha which is presently on Anti Piracy Patrol in Gulf of Aden, came to the rescue of the stranded vessel near Somali Coast.

Facts:

About INS Sumedha:

  • INS Sumedha was commissioned into the Indian Navy in 2014.The ship has been designed and built by Goa Shipyard Limited.
  • Sumedha is the third ship of the indigenous Naval Offshore Patrol Vessel (NOPV) Project to be inducted into the Indian Navy. 
  • The induction of INS Sumedha is aimed at meeting the increasing ocean surveillance and patrolling requirements of the Indian Navy.
  • The ship has a weapon and sensor systems, latest navigational and early warning radar, chaff launching for self protection and an integrated ESM system to undertake all assigned missions.

About Gulf of Aden:

  • The Gulf of Aden is located in the Middle East with Yemen to the north, Somalia to the south and the Arabian Sea to the east.It is connected to the Red Sea by the Bab el Mandeb strait.
  • The Strait of Bab el-Mandeb is a chokepoint between the horn of Africa and the Middle East.It is located between Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea and connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.
  • Up to 30,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year heading to and from the Suez Canal.However,Piracy has been predominant in the seas of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden between 2005 and 2012.
  • The Djibouti Code of Conduct was adopted in 2009 for Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of  Aden. 

2nd National GST Conference held for streamlining GST system

News:The 2nd National GST Conference of the Commissioners of State Tax and Chief Commissioners of Central Tax was held under the chairmanship of Revenue Secretary,Ministry of Finance.

Facts:

About the conference:

  • The conference was aimed to build synergy and to share their knowledge and best practices with the intent to bring about uniformity in tax administrations.
  • It focused on streamlining Goods and Services Tax(GST) system and plugging revenue leakages.

Key takeaways from the conference:

  • The government has decided to constitute a panel of centre and state officials for designing a detailed Standard Operating Procedure(SOP) to check fraudulent GST refund claims and evasion of GST.
  • All cases of fake Input Tax Credit, export/import fraud and fraudulent refunds shall also be compulsorily investigated by investigation wing of the Income Tax Department.
  • A memorandum of understanding would be signed among the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) and the GST Network to exchange data through the application program interface. 
  • The data would be shared on a quarterly basis instead of being shared on a yearly basis.
  • It has also decided to make the GST system aligned with the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) for the purpose of getting bank account details and transactions and also PAN-based banking transaction.

Additional information:

About Financial Intelligence Unit(FIU):

  • Financial Intelligence Unit was set by the Government of India in the year 2004.
  • It is an independent body reporting directly to the Economic Intelligence Council (EIC) headed by the Finance Minister.
  • It acts as the central national agency responsible for receiving, processing, analyzing and disseminating information relating to suspect financial transactions.
  • It is also responsible for coordinating and strengthening efforts of national and international intelligence, investigation and enforcement agencies in pursuing the global efforts against money laundering and financing of terrorism.

Aadhaar at 10:The State of Aadhaar Report

News:Recently,State of Aadhaar report has been released on the completion of the tenth year of its existence.

Facts:

About the report:

  • The ‘State of Aadhaar’ report is based on the most extensive survey ever on Aadhaar.The survey was done by the IDinsight and Omidyar Network of India.
  • The survey can provide valuable lessons for other countries on improving public services for the vulnerable.

Key Highlights from the report:

  • In 2009,nearly 5 million births were unregistered,over 250 million people were illiterate and between 16-41% of food grain meant for the poor was diverted.
  • Despite these conditions,Aadhar was introduced to provide a unique digital identity to every resident.However,the Unique Identification Authority of India(UIDAI) has made Aadhar huge success with 95% of adults holding the identity card in 2019.
  • Aadhaar has also become the first identity document for around 65-70 million individuals.This benefitted them in opening bank accounts, accessing food rations among others.
  • The report has also stated that 80% of participants felt that Aadhaar improved the reach of government schemes and services faster. 
  • However,34% of Indians still worry about linking Aadhaar to too many services and a comparable number fear losing access to a service because of it.

About Aadhar:

  • The Aadhaar number is a verifiable twelve-digit unique identity number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to the residents of India.It is linked with the resident’s demographic and biometric information.
  • The Aadhaar project was conceptualised in the year 2006 and launched in the year 2009 with the creation of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
  • The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 provides legislative backing to the project.

About UIDAI:

  • The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a statutory authority established under the provisions of Aadhaar Act 2016 under the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology. 
  • It is mandated to issue Unique Identification numbers (UID)-Aadhaar to all residents of India.
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