9 PM Current Affairs Brief – July 15, 2019

India is home to 1,256 species of orchid, says first comprehensive survey

  1. The Botanical Survey of India has published Orchids of India: A Pictorial Guide- the first comprehensive census of orchids of India.
  2. According to the publication, the total number of orchid species endemic to India is 388.
  3. 757 (60%) of all orchids found in India are epiphytic, 447 are terrestrial and 43 are mycoheterotrophic.
  4. The Himalayas, North-East parts of India and Western Ghats are the hot-spots of orchids.
  5. The highest number of orchid species is recorded from Arunachal Pradesh followed by Sikkim and West Bengal. The Western Ghats have high endemism of orchids.
  6. Among the bio geographic zones of India, the Himalayan zone is the richest in terms of orchid species followed by Northeast, Western Ghats, Deccan plateau and Andaman & Nicobar Islands
  7. Orchids have unique shape and ornamentation and have complex floral structure that facilitates biotic cross-pollination
  8. Orchids are broadly categorised into three life forms: a) epiphytic (plants growing on another plants including those growing on rock boulders and often termed lithophyte), b) terrestrial (plants growing on land and climbers) and c) mycoheterotrophic (plants which derive nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that are attached to the roots of a vascular plant).
  9. The entire orchid family is listed under appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and hence any trade of wild orchid is banned globally.

Law Commission to be formed soon

  1. The Ministry of Law and Justice has initiated the process of setting up of the 22nd Law Commission.
  2. The three-year term of the 21st Law Commission under Justice B.S. Chauhan had ended on August 31, 2018.
  3. Law Commission of India is non-statutory body. It is established through an order of the Government of India. The government of India constitutes the Law Commission for a fixed tenure (every three years).
  4. It is usually headed by a former Supreme Court judge or a former Chief Justice of a High Court.
  5. The main function of the Law commission is to reform laws. The Commission acts as an advisory body to the Ministry of Law and Justice.
  6. The First Law commission pre-independence was set up in 1834 under the Charter Act, 1833. The chairman of the commission was Lord Macaulay.
  7. The first Law Commission of India post-independence was established in 1995. The then Attorney-General of India, Mr M.C.Setalvad was the Chairman of the Commission.

The milestones of Chandrayaan-2, India’s second lunar probe

  1. Chandrayaan 2, India’s second lunar mission, was scheduled to be launched on 15 July from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. However, the launch got delayed due to technical issues.
  2. Chandrayaan 2 is ISRO’s first attempt to make a soft landing on the Moon. If successful, India will join the US, the former Soviet Union, and China—the only three other nations to have soft landed on moon.
  3. Chandrayaan-2 will comprise of an Orbiter, Lander named ‘Vikram’ and Rover named ‘Pragyan’
  4. The orbiter will circle the moon and provide information about its surface, while the lander will make a soft landing on the surface and send out the rover. The rover will be used mostly for in situ experiments.
  5. The entire lifecycle of the Lander and Rover will be one lunar day, which is equivalent to 14 earth days while the Orbiter will continue for one year.
  6. The soft landing on lunar South Pole was planned for September 6th. The date had been chosen because the landing site will remain well illuminated by sunlight over the next one month while the Lander and Rover would work and collect data. Also, there is no lunar eclipse during this period.
  7. Chandrayaan-2 will carry out extensive three-dimensional mapping of the topography of the lunar South Pole region. It will also determine its elemental composition and seismic activity. If successful, India will be the first country to soft land on lunar South Pole. So far, all the landing on the moon have taken place in the equatorial region
  8. The mission would also try to assess the abundance and distribution of water on the lunar surface.
  9. Chandrayaan-2 will launch aboard a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III, (GSLV -MK III) rocket- the most powerful rocket ISRO has built.

Speed restrictions and sound alerts mooted for protection of dolphins

  1. The Ministry of Shipping has planned to safeguard the population of the Ganges River Dolphin in Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) by restricting the speeds of vessels and blowing sirens and horns.
  2. The other measures suggested are a) fitting vessels with propeller guards and dolphin deflectors to minimise dolphin accidents and b) using non-toxic paints for painting vessels.
  3. The measures are an attempt to minimise the impact of National Waterway-1 connecting Haldia to Varanasi which passes through the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary.
  4. Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary is located in Bhagalpur District of Bihar. It is the only dolphin sanctuary in India.
  5. The Gangetic river dolphin inhabits the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh.
  6. It is among the four “obligate” freshwater dolphins. The other obligate freshwater dolphins are a) Baiji (likely extinct) found in Yangtze river in China, b) the Bhulan in Indus river of Pakistan and c) the Boto in Amazon river in Latin America.
  7. In India, Dolphins are protected species as per the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The government has also declared Gangetic Dolphin as the national aquatic animal.
  8. Gangetic dolphin is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List.

Draft Model Tenancy Act: what govt proposes for house owners, tenants

  1. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MHUA) has released draft of ‘The Model Tenancy Act, 2019’ in public domain.
  2. Since land and urban development are state subjects, the central Model Act is not binding on the states unless they draft their legislation based on it.
  3. The Model Tenancy Act aims to regulate rental housing by a market-oriented approach. It seeks to promote the creation of a rental housing stock for various income segments including migrants, formal and informal sector workers, students, and working professionals.
  4. The Model Act states that all state rent control Acts should be repealed as the existing rent control laws are archaic.
  5. The draft law proposes to set up Rent authority in every state for the registration of all tenancy agreements. It has also proposed to set up a separate Rent court and Rent Tribunal for resolving tenancy-related disputes.
  6. The law states that both landlord and tenant will have to submit a copy of rent agreement to the district Rent Authority.
  7. The draft law has also proposed hefty penalty for tenants who fail to vacate the rented property after their tenancy has been terminated by order, notice or as per agreement.
  8. The law also states that the landowner has to give a notice in writing three months before revising rent.
  9. It also states that the security deposit to be paid by the tenant should not exceed two months’ rent for residential property, and should be a minimum of one month’s rent for non-residential property.

Poverty index: how Jharkhand reduced its poor the fastest

  1. Recently, the global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report for 2019 has been released.
  2. According to the report, across India, the number of people living in multidimensional poverty has decreased from 690.55 million in 2005-06 to 369.55 million in 2015-16.
  3. Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh together accounted for 196 million MPI poor people
  4. Jharkhand reduced the incidence of multidimensional poverty from 74.9% to 46.5% between 2005-06 and 2015-16- the fastest in India.
  5. However, the MPI report has noted that India’s progress in health outcomes is poor. India has the second highest stunting rate among the middle-income countries in Asia, the first being Pakistan.
  6. Further, according to the report, the under-five mortality rate in India still stands at 43 per 1,000 live births.
  7. Further, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) show India in poor light, with India scoring the worst among all Asian nations in the middle-income group. As many as 18.8 persons per 1,000 people live in areas vulnerable to malaria in India. Further, In India, TB affects 211 people per 10,000 people exposed to the disease.
  8. The Global MPI Report is prepared by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.
  9. The criterion for someone to be declared as deprived as per MPI are as follows:(a)Education (year of schooling, child enrolment) (b)Health (child mortality, nutrition) and (c)Standard of living (electricity, drinking water, sanitation, flooring, cooking fuel, assets)
  10. A person is multidimensional poor if she/he is deprived in one third or more (means 33% or more) of the weighted indicators (out of the ten indicators).

Sexual offence cases not being probed in stipulated time: Report

  1. According to the Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences (ITSSO) analysis, investigation into nearly half the sexual offences cases are not being completed within the stipulated 60-day period in seven states. Crime data from Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh. Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand were analysed.
  2. A major reason for delay in verdicts is that the fast-track courts designated to handle rape cases are also handling other criminal cases.
  3. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2018 prescribes a 60-day time-limit for completion of investigation in sexual offences cases.
  4. In February 2019, the Home Ministry launched Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences (ITSSO). It is an analytical tool to monitor and track time-bound investigation. It is part of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS).
  5. CCTNS is a programme of Ministry of Home Affairs. It seeks to a) deliver various web based police related services to citizens, b) facilitate a pan-India search of crime and criminal records of individuals through a national database, c) generate crime and criminal reports at the state and central level to inform policy interventions d) computerise police processes and e) establish a basic platform for an Inter-operable Criminal Justice System (ICJS).

Kartarpur Gurudwara: Pakistan agrees to allow year-long visa-free access

  1. Indian and Pakistani officials had met at Wagah border to hold discussions on the Kartarpur corridor.
  2. Pakistan has agreed to allow visa-free travel for Indian passport holders and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) through the Kartarpur corridor.
  3. Pakistan has also agreed to let 5,000 pilgrims visit the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara every day for all seven days a week. The pilgrims will be allowed to travel as individuals or in groups and also on foot.
  4. Pakistan has also assured that no anti-India activity would be allowed using the corridor. India had conveyed its concerns over the presence of pro-Khalistani elements in a 10-member committee Pakistan had set up for the Kartarpur project.
  5. Pakistan has also agreed in principle to build a bridge on its side to make the corridor immune to flooding and ensure an all-weather corridor to the gurdwara through the year.This had emerged as a key difference during the technical-level talks earlier.
  6. The Kartarpur Corridor is a 4km long proposed corridor comprising border gates, road and a bridge to link Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara in Gurdaspur district in India to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan. It is aimed at allowing the easy movement of Sikh pilgrims to the Kartarpur gurdwara.
  7. The gurdwara in Kartarpur stands on the bank of River Ravi, about 120 km northeast of Lahore. It is revered as Guru Nanak’s final resting place.
  8. India wants the corridor to be ready in time for pilgrims to visit Kartarpur to celebrate Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in November, 2019.

Govt readies plan for second wave of asset monetisation

  1. Government will soon recommend a second list of Public Sector Units (PSU) assets that could be monetised to raise resources for fresh investment by these undertakings.
  2. The Union Budget 2019 has set a high target of Rs 1.05 lakh crore from disinvestment for the current fiscal year compared with Rs 90,000 crore in the Interim Budget. 
  3. Apart from residual stake sales, buybacks and strategic sales, land monetisation will be a key component of the Centre’s attempt to raise resources.
  4. Government has said that asset recycle and monetisation should not be confused with disinvestment. In disinvestment, the government offloads or sells part of its ownership whereas in asset monetisation, the ownership remains with the government but the underlying assets are leased on a long-term basis to private players.
  5. Recently, the Cabinet had cleared the bid by Adani Enterprises for the lease of three airports namely Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Mangaluru operated by the Airports Authority of India on a public-private partnership basis. Adani enterprises would carry out the operations, management and development of the airports for 50 years.

India elbowed out of Afghanistan peace talks

  1. Pakistan has for the first time joined the US, Russia and China’s trilateral consultations on the Afghanistan peace process.
  2. The four countries have jointly urged the Taliban to immediately agree to a ceasefire and begin direct negotiations with the Afghanistan government to end the 18-year violence in the war-torn country.
  3. However, India has neither been included in the peace negotiations nor have India’s concerns being taken into consideration. India had opposed the US proposal to postpone the Afghanistan’s presidential elections until the peace process with Taliban is finalised.
  4. Further, experts have asked India to be more proactive as India’s investment in Afghanistan has been largely with the Afghanistan Government.
  5. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s elected government has been under concerted pressure as (a) Taliban has refused to engage with them (b) Taliban has recently increased its attacks (c) Neither US, Russia, China or Pakistan have given the government any place at the talks and (d) Pakistan’s airspace ban has cut off Afghanistan from India imposing economic costs and making a political point of the indispensability of Pakistan.
  6. The US negotiator with Taliban has said that it has achieved progress on four fronts (a)assurances from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not become a staging ground for militant groups (b)withdrawal of US troops (c)all-Afghan dialogue to reach agreement on peaceful future and (d)permanent ceasefire. 

Govt eyes direct transfer of fertilizer subsidy

  1. The government has been preparing to move on a proposal for direct cash transfer (DBT) of fertilizer subsidy amount to farmers’ bank accounts.
  2. This proposal is aimed at disincentivizing farmers from excessive use of chemical fertilizers.
  3. The funds transferred will be used only for buying soil nutrients while two options are being explored to decide the cash subsidy (a) fixing the amount per acre/hectare or (b) lump sum amount for all identified beneficiaries on the lines of PM-Kisan scheme.
  4. Currently, farmers are allowed to buy as much fertilizer as they want at a subsidised rate and it is based on a no denying policy. The government directly pays the subsidy amount to manufacturers or marketing firms. This has led to excess use of chemical fertilizers.
  5. Hence, direct payments to farmers are seen as better to ensure delivery of subsidies to the end-user. This will lead to (a)farmers using fertilizer judiciously (b)will help in the health of farmland and (c)Government expenditure on subsidy will also reduce due to less usage.
  6. Further, some other options are also being considered for subsidy transfer. The first option is government can open virtual accounts and these can be operated once the beneficiary enters a security code in the system for buying fertilizer.
  7. The second option is that an e-wallet will be created in the bank account of every beneficiary and the amount transferred for fertilizer subsidy will be kept in this and can be used only for buying fertilizer.
  8. However, there are few problems which needed to be dealt with such as (a) Some states have not yet joined the PM-Kisan scheme and (b) It might also be difficult to have uniform norms for both irrigated and non-irrigated land.

Govt to look at applicability of 20% tax on ongoing share buyback issue

  1. The Finance Ministry has said that it will look into the applicability of 20% tax proposed in the 2019-20 Budget on the current share buybacks by listed companies.
  2. This tax was proposed in the budget to discourage the practice of avoiding Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT) through buybacks by listed companies.
  3. Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT) is paid by companies who distribute their profits to their shareholders in the form of dividends.
  4. Buyback of shares refers to the corporate action where a company repurchases its own shares from the existing shareholders.
  5. During the buyback of shares, the price of shares is usually higher than the market price. Typically, companies that have excess cash with no specific investment or other deployment requirements consider buybacks.
  6. Further, buying back shares is also a route to make a business look more attractive to investors. By reducing the number of outstanding shares, a company’s earnings per share ratio is automatically increased.

Panel calls for upgrading e-learning platform to virtual university

  1. A panel of experts has recommended upgrading Union human resource development (HRD) ministry’s free e-learning Swayam platform to a virtual university to meet growing demand for quality education.
  2. The proposal is part of the ministry’s five-year vision plan called Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme(EQUIP).
  3. The panel has also proposed reconstituting Swayam into a separate autonomous board driven organisation under the HRD Ministry.
  4. Further, the panel’s recommendations have come as the HRD ministry is preparing the next phase of Swayam. A degree-granting mechanism could be one of its ingredients.
  5. SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active–Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) is a programme initiated by the Government of India and designed to achieve the three cardinal principles of Education Policy namely access, equity and quality. 
  6. The objective of this effort is to take the best teaching learning resources to all including the most disadvantaged. SWAYAM seeks to bridge the digital divide for students who have remained untouched by the digital revolution and have not been able to join the mainstream of the knowledge economy. 
  7. This is done through an indigenous developed IT platform that facilitates hosting of all the courses taught in classrooms to be accessed by anyone, anywhere at any time.

DPIIT to soon float draft national retail policy to seek stakeholders’ views

  1. The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) will soon introduce draft national retail policy. The policy is aimed at promoting growth of 65 million small traders.
  2. The main elements of the policy includes (a)promoting ease of doing business (b)licensing (c)access to funds (d)direct selling and (e)hyper-market related matters.
  3. This policy is expected to cover different segments and could offer a level playing field to all players in the ecosystem while helping the smaller retailers modernise to meet the growing demand.
  4. This policy is being brought as e-commerce firms and traditional retail traders have been at loggerheads with the latter accusing online retailers of distorting the level-playing field by offering deep discounts on back of foreign funding.
  5. However, e-commerce firms have said that currently online retail occupies less than 5% of the total retail pie in India.
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