9 PM Current Affairs Brief – June 7, 2019

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Ecologists have 596 reasons to cheer

  1. In 2018, 596 new species of flora and fauna from India have been documented by scientists and taxonomists. The details have been published by Botanical Survey of India (BSI) and the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) in the publications Plant Discoveries 2018 and Animal Discoveries 2018.
  2. Of the 596 species, 372 come under fauna (311 invertebrates and 61 vertebrates). 224 plant species new plant species have been identified which include seed plants, pteridophytes, bryophytes, fungi and lichen.
  3. The highest number of plant and animal species have been discovered in the Himalayas and Western Ghats. About 31% of the plant species were discovered in the Himalayas. In the case of animals, highest number (50%) of the discoveries were made in the Western Ghats.
  4. Among states, Kerala recorded the highest number of discoveries with 59 species, followed by West Bengal (38).
  5. With the latest addition, the number of plant species in India has been updated to 49,441 which is 11.5% of all flora in the world. Further, now with the latest animal discoveries the updated list of animal species in India has risen to 1, 01,681 which is about 6.49% of all the species in the world.
  6. The Botanical Survey of India (BSI) is the apex research organization under the Environment ministry for carrying out taxonomic and floristic studies on wild plant resources of the country.
  7. The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), under the Environment ministry is the premier Indian organisation in zoological research and studies to promote the survey, exploration and research of the fauna in India.

Swachhta rankings to be held quarterly

  1. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has launched Swachh Survekshan League 2020. It is a quarterly cleanliness assessment of cities and towns in India. Further, it will be integrated with the Swachh Survekshan 2020.
  2. Swachh Survekshan League 2020 has been introduced with the objective sustaining the on ground performance of cities along with continuous monitoring of service level performance in the matter of cleanliness.
  3. It will be conducted in 3 quarters, i.e. April- June, July – September and October- December 2019. Each quarter will have a weightage of 2000 marks. 25% weightage of the quarterly assessments will be included in the annual survey in January 2020.
  4. The evaluation will be done on the basis of monthly updation of SBM-U online MIS by cities and citizen’s validation on the 12 service level progress indicators through outbound calls.
  5. Ranks will be assigned in two categories: a) cities with population of 1 lakh and above and b) cities with population of less than 1 lakh. Launched in 2016, Swachh Survekshan is annual cleanliness survey of urban India conducted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs under the aegis of Swachh Bharat Mission- Urban (SBM-U). A separate Swachh Survekshan (Gramin) is conducted in rural areas by Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
  6. The objective of the Swachh Survekshan survey is to a) encourage large scale citizen participation and create awareness about cleanliness, b) inculcate a spirit of healthy competition among cities and towns towards creating cleaner cities/towns.
  7. Indore (Madhya Pradesh) was awarded the cleanest city in India in the Swachh Survekshan 2019. The second and third positions in the cleanest city category went to Ambikapur (Chhattisgarh) and Mysore (Karnataka)

A policy on AI, cyber security on the cards

  1. A member of NITI Aayog has said that it has come up with a policy on artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber security. The policy would be taken up in the Union Cabinet soon.
  2. AI refers to the ability of machines to perform cognitive tasks like thinking, perceiving, learning, problem solving and decision making. Cyber security is the protection of internet-connected systems, including hardware, software and data, from cyber-attacks.
  3. In 2018, the NITI Aayog had put forward a discussion paper titled “National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence-#AIforAll”. The paper focusses on how India can leverage the transformative technologies to ensure social and inclusive growth in line with the development philosophy of the government.
  4. In the paper, NITI Aayog identified 5 cores areas for application of artificial intelligence: a) Healthcare, b) Agriculture, c) Education, d) Smart cities and Infrastructure and e) Smart Mobility and transportation.
  5. NITI Aayog had recommended setting up two-tiered structure for AI research- a) Centre of Research Excellence (CORE) focused on developing a better understanding of existing core research and pushing technology frontiers through creation of new knowledge and b) International Centres of Transformational AI (ICTAI) for developing and deploying application-based research.
  6. It has also called for skilling and Re-skilling of workforce to help in adoption of AI, supporting start-ups, close collaboration between industry, academia, trade bodies and venture capital.
  7. Further, it advocated that the role of government should be one of a facilitator, an active promoter and wherever required, of an owner to leverage AI potential and ensure ethical and responsible AI development and adoption.

Delhi’s ‘poor’ air quality days down 33%: Javadekar

  1. Union Environment Minister has said that that air quality in Delhi-NCR has improved. The number of “poor” air quality days have decreased from 300 in 2014 to 206 in 2018. Further, the number of days with ‘moderate’ to ‘good’ air quality has increased from 108 in 2016 to 159 in 2018.
  2. An Air Quality Index (AQI) between 0 and 50 is considered ‘good’, 51 and 100 ‘satisfactory’, 101 and 200 ‘moderate’, 201 and 300 ‘poor’, 301 and 400 ‘very poor’, and 401 and 500 ‘severe’
  3. The AQI classifies air quality of a day considering criteria pollutants through colour codes and air quality descriptor. Further, it also links air quality with likely human health impacts.
  4. The index measures eight major pollutants, namely, particulate matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5), nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, ammonia and lead.
  5. In Delhi-NCR, the government has taken number of steps to combat the rising menace of air pollution.
  6. The Union environment Ministry has notified Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for the NCR. Under GRAP, there are 4 stages of pollution – Moderate to Poor, Very Poor, Severe and Severe+ or Emergency and action are listed that need to be undertaken as the levels are breached.
  7. Further, a Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP) has been put forward. CAP lists medium and long-term actions for all pollution sources for Delhi and NCR.

NGT forms panel to discuss plea seeking ban on plastic packaging

  1. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has set up an expert committee to examine whether there is a need for further norms to restrict plastic packaging of food products.
  2. The newly formed committee comprises representatives of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Bureau of Indian Standards, Central Pollution Control Board and Directorate General of Health Services. The FSSAI has been made nodal agency for coordination and compliance of the order.
  3. The move has come after a petition was filed by NGO Him Jagriti Uttaranchal Welfare Society seeking ban on the use of use of plastic bottle and multi-layered/plastic packages /pet bottles.
  4. The plea has highlighted that the use of plastics, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and multi-layered packs such as Tetra Packs, have an adverse impact on health and environment.
  5. It further added that the Packaging and Labelling Regulations, 2018 under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 do not deal with the issue in entirety and are not adequate to deal with the problem.
  6. The plea also said that the Environment Ministry has only focused on waste management and not on the subject of restrictions on use of plastic as packaging material. The Environment Ministry, on the other hand, has advocated that phasing out multi-layered plastic may not be immediately possible without alternatives.

One in four Ebola cases undetected in Congo: WHO

  1. The WHO has said that one in four Ebola cases go undetected or are found too late in Democratic Republic of Congo. Democratic Republic of Congo is dealing with the second largest outbreak ever with 2,025 cases of the disease being already reported.
  2. The largest outbreak was in West Africa in 2014-16. It affected more than 28,000 people mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
  3. Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a rare but severe, often fatal illness in humans. Ebola was first discovered in 1976
  4. It is caused by Ebolavirus. There are 6 species of Ebolavirus which have been identified till date: Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Taï Forest, Reston and Bombali.
  5. According to WHO, fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are natural Ebola virus hosts. The virus is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope or porcupines etc.
  6. Ebola then spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact. The average Ebola case fatality rate is around 50%.

RBI cuts interest rate by 25 bps

  1. The Reserve Bank of India(RBI) Monetary Policy Committee has unanimously cut the repo rate by 25 basis points from 6% to 5.75%. Repo stands for ‘Repurchasing Option’. Repo rate refers to the rate at which commercial banks borrow money from the RBI.
  2. The reverse repo rate was also lowered to 5.50% from 5.75%.The reverse repo rate is the rate at which the central bank borrows money from commercial banks.
  3. The RBI has changed the monetary policy stance from neutral to accommodative. The change in stance to accommodative means there is a possibility of further monetary easing in the months ahead.
  4. The RBI has also lowered India’s Gross Domestic Product(GDP) growth estimate to 7% for the year 2019-20 from 7.2% that it forecast in April,2019.
  5. The GDP growth estimate was lowered due to weak domestic investment activity and slowdown in exports. Gross domestic product (GDP) is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period.
  6. The Monetary Policy Committee(MPC) is a committee of the Reserve Bank of India. It is headed by its Governor which is entrusted with the task of fixing the benchmark policy interest rate (repo rate) to contain inflation within the specified target level i.e. inflation targeting.

Russia willing to drop New START pact: Putin

  1. Russian President has said that Russia is prepared to suspend the NEW START treaty with the U.S. He said that the US has showed no interest in conducting talks on extending the New START treaty.
  2. The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation. It was signed in 2010.
  3. New START replaced the 1991 START I treaty which expired in 2009 and superseded the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) which was terminated when New START treaty entered into force.
  4. The treaty limits the US and Russia to possess a maximum of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers well below Cold War caps.
  5. The duration of the treaty is ten years and can be extended for a period of no more than five years at a time. It includes a standard withdrawal clause like most arms control agreements.
  6. If this treaty is withdrawn then it will be the second nuclear weapons treaty to collapse under the leadership of current US President.
  7. Recently, Russia had officially suspended it’s participation in the intermediate Range Nuclear Forces(INF) on the grounds that US have violated the INF treaty. The US had already withdrawn from the treaty claiming that Russia had secretly developed a missile that violated the INF.
  8. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces(INF) Treaty came into force in 1988.It banned both the Soviet Union(Russia) and the US from developing and deploying land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km.However,treaty did not apply to air-or sea-launched missiles.

Commerce Minister addresses meeting of Board of Trade & Council for Trade Development and Promotion

  1. Commerce minister has addressed a joint meeting of the Board of Trade and the Council of Trade Development and Promotion. The meeting was organised by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Directorate General of Foreign Trade(DGFT).
  2. The minister has urged the representatives of industry, trade and exports bodies to reduce dependency on subsidies and grants from the Central Government and strive to make industry and production more competitive and self-reliant.
  3. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) is an agency of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of the Government of India. DGFT is responsible for formulating and implementing the Foreign Trade Policy with the main objective of promoting India’s exports.
  4. The Council for Trade Development and Promotion (CTDP) comes under the chairpersonship of the Union Minister for Commerce and Industry.
  5. The main purpose of CTDP is to ensure a continuous dialogue with states and Union Territories on measures for providing an international trade enabling environment in the states Another objective of CTDP is to create a framework for making the states active partners in boosting India’s exports.

PM Modi’s first bilateral visit to Maldives begins tomorrow

  1. Prime Minister will be visiting the Maldives and Sri Lanka from June 8 ,2019.This will be his first overseas visit in the second term.
  2. This will be PM first visit to Maldives since 2011.The prime minister visited the island nation in November to attend Maldives President swearing-in ceremony. However, it was not a full-fledged bilateral visit.
  3. India-Maldives ties has improved after the election of new Maldivian President. Earlier, ties had dipped to an all-time low under former president. Maldives is a key country in the Indian Ocean region and lies in the heart of busy shipping lanes connecting Africa and Asia.
  4. Prime Minister will inaugurate a coastal surveillance radar system and a Comprehensive Training Centre (CTC) for Maldives national forces as part of a joint defence cooperation pact.
  5. India and Maldives had signed an Action Plan for defence cooperation in 2016 as part of which both sides had drawn up an exhaustive list of defence projects and purchase of defence equipment.
  6. Further, the Prime Minister will also visit Sri Lanka. The visit is aimed at sending a clear message of solidarity in the wake of the Easter Sunday terror attack in which more than 250 people died.

NITI Aayog reconstituted

  1. Prime Minister has approved the reconstitution of National Institution for Transforming India(NITI Aayog).
  2. The Prime Minister will serve as the Chairman of Niti Aayog. Vice chairman Rajiv Kumar continues in his post along with Permanent members VK Saraswat, Ramesh Chand and VK Paul.
  3. The ex-officio members now include Defence Minister, the Home Minister, the Finance Minister and the Agriculture Minister.
  4. Further, special invitees to NITI Aayog include Minister of Road, Transport and Highways, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Minister of Railways and Minister of Statistics.
  5. The NITI Aayog was formed via a resolution of the Union Cabinet on January 1,2015.NITI Aayog is the premier policy ‘Think Tank’ of the Government of India providing both directional and policy inputs.
  6. NITI Aayog had replaced planning commission as the premier think tank. While designing strategic and long term policies and programmes for the Government of India, NITI Aayog also provides relevant technical advice to the Centre and States.
  7. NITI Aayog also acts as the quintessential platform of the Government of India to bring States to act together in national interest and thereby fosters Cooperative Federalism.

RBI waives RTGS, NEFT charges

  1. The Reserve Bank of India(RBI) has announced that it is removing all charges on money transfers done through the RTGS and NEFT modes. This decision was taken to boost the digital funds movement.
  2. NEFT stands for National Electronic Fund Transfer. It is a payment system which facilitates one-to-one funds transfer from one financial institution to another.
  3. Using NEFT, individuals, firms and corporates can electronically transfer funds from any bank branch to any individual, firm or corporate having an account with any other bank branch in the country participating in the system. Under NEFT the settlement takes place in batches rather than individually. The batches are settled in hourly time slots.
  4. RTGS stands for Real Time Gross Settlement. As the name suggests, it enables money to move from one bank to another on a real time and gross basis. Since these fund settlements take place in the books of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) these payments are final and irrevocable.
  5. The NEFT platform is primarily aimed for small value transactions. At one transaction the maximum value should be Rs 50,000.
  6. On the other hand, RTGS is aimed for large value transactions. The minimum amount to be remitted through RTGS is Rs 2 lakh. There is no upper ceiling for RTGS transactions.

CCI imposes penalty on Chemists and Druggists Association and Pharmaceutical Companies

  1. The Competition Commission of India(CCI) has imposed penalty amounting to Rs 74 crore on four chemists and pharmaceutical companies after they were found violating the provisions of the Competition Act,2002.
  2. The penalty was imposed after CCI had found the drug associations responsible for mandating the requirement of obtaining NOC(No Objection Certificate) prior to the appointment as stockists.
  3. This resulted in stifling competition in the market by limiting access of consumers to various pharmaceutical products and controlling the supply of drugs in the market.
  4. Competition Commission of India is a statutory body of the Government of India established in 2003.It is responsible for enforcing Competition Act,2002 throughout India and to prevent activities that have an appreciable adverse effect on competition in India.
  5. The act prohibits (a)anti-competitive agreements (b)abuse of dominant position by enterprises and (c)regulates combinations (acquisition, acquiring of control and mergers and acquisitions) which causes or likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition within India.

Swachh Bharat’ helped reduce ground water contamination: UNICEF

  1. According to a study by UNICEF, Swachh Bharat (Grameen) initiative of the government has helped reduce groundwater contamination.
  2. The study was conducted by UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It aimed at assessing the environmental impact and communication footprint of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen).
  3. The study has found that in terms of faecal contamination,non open defecation free(ODF) villages were on average (a)11.25 times more likely to have their groundwater sources contaminated (b)1.13 times more likely to have their soil contaminated and (c)1.48 times more likely to have food contaminated and 2.68 times more likely to have household drinking water contaminated.
  4. The substantial reductions in groundwater contamination in ODF villages can be attributed to the (a)Improvement in sanitation and hygiene practices (b)Regular monitoring and (c)Behaviour change messaging,
  5. Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) aims to make India an open defecation free(ODF) country.It seeks to improve the levels of cleanliness in rural areas through Solid and Liquid Waste Management activities and making villages Open Defecation Free (ODF) and clean.
  6. According to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Rural sanitation coverage in the country had crossed the 99 % mark. Earlier, the WHO 2018 study had estimated that the Swachh Bharat Mission will save over three lakh lives by the time India is Open Defecation Free.

CII launches new Index to measure fiscal performance

  1. Confederation of Indian Industry(CII) has launched a Fiscal Performance Index(FPI).The index is an innovative tool using multiple indicators to study the quality of Budgets at the Central and State levels.
  2. The index has been constructed using UNDP’s Human Development Index methodology.
  3. The Index incorporates qualitative assessments of (a) revenue expenditure (b)capital expenditure (c)revenues (d)fiscal prudence and (d)level of public debt. CII has used this index to analyse state and central budgets from 2004-05 to 2016-17.
  4. The study has found that despite improvement in reduction in the fiscal deficit between FY13 and FY18,the overall performance of the budget has remained steady with improvements only in FY16 and FY17.This is largely due to moderation in the revenue, capital expenditure and net tax revenues indices.
  5. The analysis also shows that combine performance of all state budgets has improved despite worsening of fiscal deficit numbers because of improvements in revenue and capital expenditure indices.
  6. The study also points out that relatively high income states including Gujarat, Haryana and Maharashtra which have good fiscal health because of low fiscal deficit to GDP ratio do not perform well on the composite FPI because of poor expenditure and revenue quality compared to other states.
  7. Further, states such as Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have done well on the FPI because of their good performance in revenue and capital expenditure indices.
  8. The report concludes with recommendations that the government should (a) attempt to broaden the tax base and (b)increase investments in education and healthcare.

Why Cabinet Committees are formed, what are the functions of each

  1. The Government of India has reconstituted eight key cabinet committees under the Transaction of Business Rules.
  2. The Cabinet Committee are organizations which are instrumental in reducing the workload of the Cabinet. The Cabinet Committees are extra-constitutional in emergence.
  3. In other words, they are not mentioned in the Constitution. However, the Rules of Business provide for their establishment.
  4. The composition of a Cabinet Committee varies from 3 to 8 people. Even Ministers who are not part of the Cabinet can be added to a Cabinet Committee. Usually, each cabinet committee has at least one Cabinet Minister. The members of the Cabinet Committee can be from both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
  5. There are two type types of cabinet committees (a)Standing Cabinet Committees and (b)Ad-hoc Cabinet Committees.
  6. Standing cabinet Committees are permanent in nature with a specific job. The Cabinet Ministers are called its members while the people without the rank of Cabinet Committee are called special invitees.
  7. The Prime Minister constitutes Standing Committees of the Cabinet and sets out the specific functions assigned to them. He can add or reduce the number of committees.
  8. On the other hand, Ad-hoc Cabinet Committee are temporary in nature and are formed from time to time to deal with specific tasks.

Thaawarchand Gehlot leaves for Buenos Aires to participate in 2nd Global Disability Summit

  1. Union Social Justice and Empowerment minister has left for Buenos Aires to participate in the 2nd Global Disability Summit to be held during 6-8 June, 2019.
  2. The summit is hosted by the Government of Argentina Republic, the International Alliance Disability(IDA) and the Latin American Network of Non-Governmental Organizations of Persons with Disabilities and their Families(RIADIS).
  3. The objective of the summit is to deliberate on issues across the world concerning empowerment and inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs).It also seeks to work out a mechanism for enabling them to live an independent and dignified life.
  4. According to IDA, the Summit represents an opportunity to reflect on the formulation and strengthening of public policies and good practices in the different discussion panels with the voices of Persons with disabilities to be at the forefront.
  5. The International Disability Alliance (IDA) was created in 1999. It is an umbrella organization focused on improving awareness and rights for individuals with disabilities around the globe.
  6. IDA currently comprises eight global and six regional organizations of persons with disabilities (DPOs).The IDA works very closely with the United Nations and in particular they use the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(UNCRPD) as their code of conduct.

Sunder Pichai, Nasdaq’s Friedman to receive 2019 Global Leadership Award

  1. Google’s India-born CEO Sundar Pichai and Nasdaq president Adena Friedman have been chosen for the prestigious Global Leadership Awards 2019.
  2. The award is given annually since 2007 by the Washington-based US-India Business Council (USIBC).
  3. The award recognises top corporate executives from the United States and India whose companies has played a major role in catalysing growth in the US-India commercial corridor.
  4. The U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) was formed in 1975 as a business advocacy organization to enlighten and encourage the private sectors of both India and the United States to enhance investment flows.
  5. The organization serves as a direct link between business and Government leaders resulting in increased trade and investment to strengthen ties between the two nations.
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