ForumIAS: Facts in News (February Week 2nd, 2018)

Facts in news is published on a weekly basis that consists a gist of all crucial news articles from ‘The Hindu’ that may bear relevance to Civil Services Preparation.

Here is the Summary of all current happenings from around the world for the Second week of February 2018.

Download Facts in News PDF file here.

Bills, Policies,Programs, Schemes, Orders, Judgments
‘Likely misuse no ground to strike down Aadhaar’Context:
• The mere possibility of misuse cannot be a ground for striking down the Aadhaar Act, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed.
• It was observed during a Constitution Bench hearing on the validity of the unique identity scheme recently.
• Justice Chandrachud, a member of the five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, told the Aadhaar petitioners.
• To this, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the “Right to Information Act of 2005 made the citizen more powerful, but the Aadhaar Act wants to make the state more powerful.”
Right to Information Act 2005:
• Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens and replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.
• Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of India may request information from a "public authority" (a body of Government or "instrumentality of State") which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
• The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.
• This law was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came fully into force on 12 October 2005.
• The first application was given to a Pune police station.
• Information disclosure in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes.
• It codifies a fundamental right of the citizens of India.
HC calls for response of Centre, StateContext:
• Jacob Thomas plea to restore whistle-blower cover.
• The Kerala High Court recently directed the Centre and the State government to file an affidavit in response to a petition filed by Jacob Thomas.
• Jacob Thomas is former Director of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB).
• Petition seeks to restore protection against victimisation, humiliation, retaliation, and harassment under the Whistle Blowers Protection Act.
Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011:
• Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011 is an Act in the Parliament of India which provides a mechanism to investigate alleged corruption and misuse of power by public servants.
• This is also protecting anyone who exposes alleged wrongdoing in government bodies, projects and offices.
• The wrongdoing might take the form of fraud, corruption or mismanagement.
• The Act will also ensure punishment for false or frivolous complaints.
• The Act was approved by the Cabinet of India as part of a drive to eliminate corruption in the country's bureaucracy and passed by the Lok Sabha in 2011.
• The Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha in 2014 and received the President's assent on 9 May 2014.
Centre and State clash over cooking gasContext:
• The Centre and the State appear to be at loggerheads over Pradhan Mantri Ujwal Yojana and the Mukhyamantri Anila Bhagya Yojane.
• The Union Ministry said since the current format of the MMABY is not in line with established procedure, it has no concurrence from the Ministry.
Pradhan Mantri Ujwal Yojana:
• Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana is a scheme of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas for providing LPG connections to women from Below Poverty Line (BPL) households.
• It seeks to provide LPG without deposit for one cylinder to women selected from BPL families.
Target beneficiaries:
• Under the scheme, five crore LPG connections are to be provided to BPL households.
• The identification of eligible BPL families will be made in consultation with the State Governments and the Union Territories.
• Release of LPG connection under this Scheme shall be in the name of the women belonging to the BPL family.
• The Scheme would be implemented over three years, namely, the FY 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 across the country.
Mukhyamantri Anila Bhagya Yojane:
• The Mukhyamantri Anil Bhagya Scheme meant to provide free domestic gas connection to below poverty line families.
• It is being implemented in the State of Karnataka in collaboration with Government of India.
• The State Government of Karnataka has earlier approached the Ministry for approval of MMABY.
SC quashes 88 mining leases renewed in GoaContext:
• The Supreme Court recently quashed all 88 mining leases renewed by the BJP government in Goa in 2015 to “benefit private mining leaseholders.”
• The judgment of the apex court noted how these leases were hastily renewed by the State in 2014 with retrospective effect from 2007, just before an amended Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act.
Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act:
• The Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act (1957) is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to regulate the mining sector in India.
• It was amended in 2015 and 2016.
• This act is applicable to all mineral except coal, minor minerals and atomic minerals.
• It details the process and conditions for acquiring a mining or prospecting licence in India.
• Mining minor minerals comes under the purview of state governments.
• River sand is considered a minor mineral.
• For mining and prospecting in forest land, prior permission is needed from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Ujjwala Yojana to benefit eight crore women nowContext:
• The Union Cabinet recently approved the increase in the target for the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, meant to provide cooking-gas connections to rural women, to eight crore from the earlier five crore.
• The deadline for achieving the target is 2020.
MSP for copra increased:
• The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has given its approval for increase in the minimum support price for fair average quality (FAQ) of ‘milling copra’ to Rs. 7,500 a quintal for 2018 season from Rs. 6,500 per quintal in 2017.
• The Union Cabinet has approved the incorporation of the official amendments to the Major Port Authorities Bill 2016, which is pending in Parliament.
Discovered Small Field Policy:
• The Cabinet has given its approval for extending the Discovered Small Field Policy.
• It was notified on October 14, 2015 to identified 60 discovered small fields/un-monetised discoveries for offer under the Discovered Small Field Policy Bid Round-ll.
Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana:
• Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana is a scheme for providing LPG connections to women from Below Poverty Line (BPL) households.
• PMUY was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2016 with the tagline of Swachh Indhan, Behtar Jeevan.
• The scheme’s motive is to provide free of cost LPG (cooking gas) connections to women from BPL Households.
• Through it, cash assistance is given to beneficiaries to get a deposit-free new connection.
• The scheme aims to empower women and protect their health by shifting them from traditional cooking based on unclean cooking fuels or on fossil fuels to clean cooking gas.
• It is first social welfare scheme implemented by Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
Court must be cautious: SCContext:
• Judiciary must be “very cautious and circumspect” in diluting or setting aside an economic policy of the government, the Supreme Court observed recently.
• A Bench said courts must intervene against an economic policy of the government only if it was constitutionally unavoidable.
Court observations:
• The court made the observations after quashing the Goa government’s policy to grant a second renewal of 88 mining leases with retrospective effect.
Violation of Article 39(b) and Article 14 of the Constitution:
• Any economic policy in violation of Article 39(b), which mandates the distribution of “material resources of the community” to subserve common good, and Article 14, the fundamental right to equality, will be liable to challenge and judicial review, the court held.
Article 39(b) of the Constitution:
• It deals with ownership and control of material resources of the community.
Article 14 of the Constitution provides:
• Equality equality before the law & equal protection within the territory of India.
• Prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, or any of them.
SC asks for roadmap on preservation of TajContext:
• The Supreme Court on recently directed the Uttar Pradesh government to place before it a vision document on protection and preservation of the Taj Mahal.
• The apex court has also asked the state government about “sudden flurry of activities”in the Taj Trapezium Zone(TTZ).
• Leather industries and hotels are coming up in the TTZ.
• The Bench also asked the State government to file within four week a vision document on protection and preservation of mausoleum.
Taj Trapezium Zone(TTZ):
• The TTZ is an area of about 10,400 sq km spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in UP and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.
Should States have their own flags?Context:
• The committee constituted in Karnataka to design a flag for the State is said to have finalised a design.
• The proposal has given room for questioning the legal sanctity of such an exercise by the State government.
• Under the Constitution, a flag is not enumerated in the Seventh Schedule.
• Article 51A ordains that every citizen shall abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the nation flag, and the national anthem.
• There is no prohibition under the Constitution to hoist any flag other than the national flag.
Legislations framed:
• Parliament has framed legislation regulating the hoisting of the national flag.
1. Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950. The statutory prohibiton is only against “use for any trade, business, calling, or profession, or in the title of any patient, or in any trademark of design, any name or emblem specified in the Schedule”.
2. Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. Under this act, there is no prohibition against any State hoisting its own flag.
No prohibitions in law
• The Flag Code of India, 2002 does not impose prohibitions on a State flag.
• The code authorizes the flying of other flags under the condition that they should not be hoisted from the same masthead as the national flag or placed higher than it.
• The code provides spacer for State flag as long as it does not offend the dignity and honour of the national flag.
• The Code explicitly authorizes the flying of flags of other countries and also the flag of the United Nations.
SC stays new Tribunal RulesContext:
• The Supreme Court recently stayed the applicability of provisions of the Central Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualification, experience and other conditions of service of members) Rules, 2017.
• It gave the government primacy in making key appointments to tribunals, including the National Green Tribunal.
Bench directions:
• The Bench directed that the terms and conditions of service of members of the National Green Tribunal shall be governed by the provisions of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
• The Bench also accepted the suggestions made by the Central Administrative Tribunal(CAT) Bar Association, represented by senior advocate C.A.Sundaram.
• The court accepted the formation of an interim search-cum-selection committee in respect for appointment of both judicial and administrative members to CAT.
National Green Tribunal:
• The National Green Tribunal was established under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010.
• It was established for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
• It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues.
Centre to directly pay scholarshipsContext:
• The Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) recently announced that the Central government would henceforth give student scholarships under the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana-Chandranna Bima directly.
• These scholarships are disbursed by the Education Department (Boards of Secondary and Intermediate Education and State Board of Technical Education) of Andhra Pradesh.
About Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana-Chandranna Bima
• Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana is a government-backed Life insurance scheme in India.
• It was originally mentioned in the 2015 Budget speech by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in February 2015.
• It was formally launched by Prime Minister 9 May in Kolkata.
• As of May 2015, only 20% of India's population has any kind of insurance, this scheme aims to increase the number.
• Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana is available to people between 18 and 50 years of age with bank accounts.
Masoor dal out, Tur dal back in PDSContext:
• The Tamil Nadu government has decided to revert to the practice of providing either tur dal or Canadian yellow lentil instead of masoor dal in ration shops for beneficiaries in PDS.
• The public distribution system was made by Amartya Bhushan.
• A public distribution shop, also known as fair price shop (FPS), is a part of India’s public system established by government which distributes rations at a subsidized price to the poor.
Public Distribution System (PDS):
• Distribution of food grains to poor people throughout the country is managed by state governments.
• The central and state governments shared the responsibility of regulating the PDS.
• The central government is responsible for procurement, storage, transportation, and bulk allocation of food grains; state governments hold the responsibility for distributing the same to the consumers through the established network of Fair Price Shops (FPSs).
• Under PDS scheme, each family below the poverty line is eligible for 35 kg of rice or wheat every month.
• A below poverty line (BPL) card holder should be given 35 kg of food grain .
• The card holder above the poverty line should be given 15 kg of food grain as per the norms of PDS.
MPC may flag fiscal slippage, oil pricesContext:
• The six-member monetary policy committee of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), is expected to maintain the status quo for the third straight review meeting as retail inflation is hovering close to the central bank’s upper tolerance limit.
• Consumer price index-based inflation or retail inflation — the central bank’s primary yardstick for setting interest rates — was 5.21% in December, just below the 6% upper band mandate of RBI.
• Bond yields are expected to remain around current levels in the near term but trend towards 7.75% by September 2018.”
Main factors:
• Rising food prices was one of the main factors behind the 17- month-high retail inflation.
• There could be further pressure on inflation with rising oil prices and higher minimum support prices for farmers.
Consumer Price Index (CPI):
• A Consumer price index (CPI) measures changes in the price level of market basket of consumer goods services purchased by households.
• The CPI is a statistical estimate constructed using the prices of a sample of representative items whose prices are collected periodically.
• It is one of the several price indices calculated by most national statistical agencies.
• The annual percentage change in a CPI is used as a measure of inflation.
Farmers demand total loan waiverContext:
• Punjab CM to launch farm debt waiver scheme recently.
• Hundreds of farmers protest demanding a complete loan waiver.
Debt waiver process:
• As per the plan, the entire debt waiver process would be completed in four phases.
• In the first phase, verified marginal farmers would be handed over the debt relief certificates and the rest in subsequent phases, after proper verification.
• For eligible farmers who did not have Aadhar cards or, in the case of mismatch of Aadhar card seeding either with banks or revenue records, verification would be done manually for their inclusion in the scheme in the second phase.
• After the completion of the second phase, the record of small farmers would be duly verified to enable them for debt relief.
No curtailment in demand for funds under MGNREGA’Context:
• The Centre told the Supreme Court recently that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was a “demand-driven scheme” and it has not curtailed the demand for funds made by the States.
About Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA):
• Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was implemented and came into force on February 2, 2006.
• It is the largest social protection programme in the world.
• The Act provides `100 days of unskilled wage employment to any household residing in rural areas whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
Taxmen send one lakh notices to cryptocurrency investorsContext:
• The Income Tax Department has issued one lakh tax notices to people who have invested in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
Nationwide survey:
• The tax department had conducted a nationwide survey which showed $3.5 billion worth of transactions on various cryptocurrency exchanges across India over a period of 17 months.
• I-T survey reveals $3.5bn worth of transactions done over a period of 17 months.
Cryptocurrency in India:
• India is a very attractive market for cryptocurrency companies, both domestic and international.
• A worldwide study of the market by Malaysian firm Pundi X, which is looking to enter the Indian market, found that India accounted for 10% of the global trade in cryptocurrencies.
About cryptocurreny :
• A crptocurrency is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange that use cryptography to secure its transaction, to control the creation of additional units, and to verify the transfer of assets.
• Cryptocurrencies are a type of digital currencies, alternative currencies and virtual currencies.
• Cryptocurrencies are decentralized control as opposed to centralized electronic money and central banking system.
• The decentralized control of each cryptocurrency works through a blockchain, which is a public transaction database, functioning as a distributed ledger.
Remit unclaimed insurance funds: IRDAIContext:
• The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has directed all insurers having unclaimed amounts of policyholders for a period of more than 10 years, as on September 30, 2017, to transfer the money to the Senior Citizens’ Welfare Fund (SCWF) by March 1 this year.
Accounting procedure:
• The insurers must adhere to the accounting procedure for transfer of unclaimed amount into the Fund issued by the Department of Economic Affairs.
• Insurers, according to the regulator, need to make transfers to the Consolidated Fund of India on or before March 1 each year.
Senior Citizens Welfare Fund(SCWF):
• The SCWF was established for promoting the welfare of senior citizens.
• Unclaimed amounts in small savings and other savings schemes of the Centre, in PPF, EPF, and Coal Miners PF accounts as well as life and non-life insurance schemes need to transferred to the SCWF.
Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI):
• The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) is an autonomous, statutory agency tasked with regulating and promoting the insurance and re-insurance industries in India.
• It was constituted by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act, 1999.
• It is an Act of Parliament passed by the Government of India
• The agency's headquarters are in Hyderabad, Telangana, where it moved from Delhi in 2001.
• IRDAI is a 10-member body including the chairman, five full-time and four part-time members appointed by the government of India.
A boost to rural entrepreneurshipContext:
• The amendments passed by Parliament to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) Act, 1981 support the government’s push to boost the rural and agricultural sector.
• The 1981 Act was enacted to establish a development bank to provide and regulate credit and other facilities
Amendment to the act:
• In March 2017, the Finance Ministry listed a slew of factors which necessitated amendments to the 1981 Act.
• The amendments recognize the vital role of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs,).
The NABARD (Amendment) Bill, 2017:
• The NABARD (Amendment) Bill, 2017 provides for empowering the Central government to increase the authorised capital of NABARD from Rs. 5,000 crore to Rs. 30,000 crore in consultation with the RBI.
• The amendments primarily seek to transfer the RBI’s balance equity of Rs. 20,000 crore in NABARD to the Central government.
‘Direct tax collections up to Jan. grew 19.3%’Context:
• Net direct tax collections up to January 2018 grew 19.3% to Rs. 6.95 lakh crore compared with the same period of the previous financial year.
Net direct tax collection:
• The net direct tax collections represent 69.2% of the Revised Estimates of direct taxes for FY 2017-18 [Rs. 10.05 lakh crore.
• The Gross collections (before adjusting for refunds) have increased by 13.3% to Rs. 8.21 lakh crore during April 2017 to January 2018.
• The government said it had issued refunds amounting to Rs. 1.26 lakh crore during April 2017 to January 2018.
• Within direct taxes, net corporate tax collections grew 19.2% and net personal income tax collections grew 18.6%.
• This jump can be attributed to the massive information collected by the tax officers through data analytics post cash deposits post demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 currency notes.
• This can also be attributed to the roll-out of GST.
• GST registration by small enterprises became beneficial to them, especially when they are providing goods and services to large organisations which insist on GST registration.
Direct taxes:
• Direct tax is a type of tax where the incidence and impact of taxation fall on the same entity.
The lowdown on the MSP road mapContext:
• The Union Budget 2018-19 proposed to give farmers a minimum support price (MSP) 1.5 times of the production cost.
• The agriculture sector provides food security to 1.3 billion people, absorbs 54% of the workforce and touches the lives of two-thirds of the rural population.
• Yet it is lagging, resulting in widening disparity between the farm-dependant population and those working in the other sectors.
• The Union government introduced public procurement of paddy and wheat at the MSP in 1965-66 to address grain shortage.
• For calculating production cost, two broad concepts — Cost A 2 and Cost C 2 — are used.
Cost A2:
• Cost A 2 includes all expenses paid by the farmer in cash or kind such as seed, fertilizer, farmyard manure, pesticides, hired labour, machine labour and irrigation and maintenance costs.
• It also includes rent paid for leased-in land, depreciation of assets, interest on the working capital and the imputed cost of owned seed, farmyard manure and machine labour.
Cost C2:
• Cost C 2 is calculated by adding to Cost A 2 the imputed cost of family labour, the interest on fixed capital and the rental value of owned land.
• The proposed increase will be based on the formula for MSP recommended by the National Commission on Farmer, 2006.
M.S.Swaminathan’s report:
• Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, in his report submitted to the Central government in 2006, recommended that MSP be based on production cost (C 2 cost) plus a 50% margin.
• The government submitted a written reply in the Supreme Court against this formula.
Ramesh Chand Committee:
• The Ramesh Chand Committee, constituted to examine the methodological issues in fixing MSP.
• The committee suggested that for calculating production cost, family labour head should be considered a skilled worker.
• Post-harvest costs, including cleaning, grading, drying, packaging, marketing and transportation, should be included.
• The committee recommended that the cost C 2 should be raised by 10% to account for the risk premium and managerial charges.
Industrial activity posts robust growthContext:
• Industrial activity saw robust growth for the second consecutive month in December, with the Index of Industrial Production growing 7.07%.
• The rise follows strong growth in the manufacturing, capital goods, and consumer non-durables sectors, according to official data released recently.
• Retail inflation eased somewhat in January, but remained at about 5%.
• The Consumer Price Index quickened by 5.07% in that month, boosted by the persistently high inflation in the food and fuel segments.
• The relatively strong growth in the IIP comes on top of an even stronger growth of 8.8% in November.
Manufacturing sector:
• Manufacturing recorded a robust growth of 8.4% in December 2017 over December 2016.
• Double digit growth of 16.4% in capital goods and consumer non-durables at 16.5% reinforces heightened economic activity.
Consumer price index (CPI):
• A consumer price index (CPI) measures changes in the price level of market basket of consumer goods and services purchased by household.
NPAs push Bank of India to Rs. 2,341 cr. LossContext:
• Lender’s provision for bad loans rises
• State-owned Bank of India reported a net loss of Rs. 2,341.23 crore in the three months ended December.
• The loss was due to a rise in provision for bad loans and lower income from treasury operations.
• The lender had posted a Rs. 101.73 crore profit in the third quarter of 2016-17.
Surge in bad loans
Gross non-performing assets rose:
• Gross non-performing assets (NPAs) rose to Rs. 64,249 crore (16.93%) in December 2017, from Rs. 49,307 crore (12.62%) in September 2017, and Rs. 51,781 crore (13.38%) in the year earlier period.
• Total provisions more than doubled to Rs. 4,899 crore, from Rs. 2,303 crore in the year-earlier period.
• NPA provision was Rs. 4,373 crore as compared with Rs. 2,546 crore.
• The RBI had mandated the lender to classify Rs. 14,057 crore of assets as NPAs, the main reason for the rise in bad loans.
Nonperforming assets(NPA):
• A Non-performing asset (NPA) is defined as a credit facility in respect of which the interest and/or installment of principal has remained ‘past due’ for a specified period of time.
• An asset is tagged as non performing when it ceases to generate income for the lender.
No fund crunch like last year, claims CSIRContext:
• Even though it got only a 3.3% hike in the Union Budget, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has said it no longer faces a fund crunch like last year.
• This was because it didn’t pay out as much money towards settling pension arrears as anticipated.
Reasons for crunch:
• The crunch was primarily due to the organisation having to meet the increased salary outgo from recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission.
• Rs. 1,650 crore-hit towards meeting pension requirements.
CSIR outlay:
• According to the outlay for the year, the CSIR spent Rs. 4,500 crore last year.
• This year has been allotted Rs. 4,734 crore for 2018-2019.
• The CSIR has 38 labs and about 4,000 scientists in its network.
About CSIR:
• The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), known for its cutting edge R&D knowledgebase in diverse S&T areas, is a contemporary R&D organization.
• Having pan-India presence, CSIR has a dynamic network of 38 national laboratories, 39 outreach centres, 3 Innovation Complexes and 5 units.
• CSIR’s R&D expertise and experience is embodied in about 4600 active scientists supported by about 8000 scientific and technical personnel.
• It provides significant technological intervention in many areas with regard to societal efforts which include environment, health, drinking water, food, housing, energy, farm and non-farm sectors.
Centre plans to merge small savings, PPF lawsContext:
• Government of India makes Amendments in Small Savings Act.
• The government is proposing a merger of the various laws into a Government Savings Promotion Act.
What is the proposal?
• The Centre has proposed to merge two Acts with the Government Savings Banks (GSB) Act, 1873.
• These are the Government Savings Certificates Act, 1959 and Public Provident Fund (PPF) Act, 1968.
• The Government Savings Certificates Act, 1959 covers National Savings Certificates and Kisan Vikas Patra.
• All existing protections have been retained while consolidating PPF Act under the proposed Government Savings Promotion Act.
Main objective:
• To make implementation easier for the depositors as they need not go through different rules and Acts for understanding the provision of various small saving schemes.
• To introduce certain flexibilities for the investors.
Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh to be part of India’s tiger censusContext:
• The estimated count of India’s wild tigers will be known next year.
• India’s tiger census, which began last year, will see coordination with Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh in estimating the territorial spread of the animal in the subcontinent.
• India has engaged with Nepal and Bangladesh in previous tiger counts, this is the first time all countries are uniting in arriving at tiger numbers, particularly in regions with shared borders.
• These countries come to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for training.
• Since 2006, the WII — a Union Environment Ministry-funded body — has been tasked with coordinating the tiger estimation exercise.
• The once-in-four-years exercise calculated, in 2006, that India had only 1,411 tigers.
• This rose to 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014 in later editions on the back of improved conservation measures and new estimation methods.
• The survey — divided into four phases — began last winter and is expected to reveal its findings in early 2019.
• Commissioned by the Union Environment Ministry’s National Tiger Conservation Authority.
• Along with tigers, the survey also collects information on the prey population of deer and other animals
Wildlife Institute of India (WII):
• The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate change, Government of India
• WII carries out wildlife research in areas of study like Biodiversity, Endangered Species, Wildlife Policy, Wildlife Management, Wildlife Forensics, Spatial Modeling, Ecodevelopment, Habitat Ecology and Climate Change.
• Trained personnel from WII have contributed in studying and protecting wildlife in India.
• WII has also popularized wildlife studies and careers.
• The institute is based in Dehradun, India. .
Another tiger found dead in NagaraholeContext:
• Within 24 hours of a tiger being found dead in Bandipur, another tiger died in the adjoining Nagarahole National Park recently.
About Nagarahole National Park:
• Nagarhole National Park is a national park located in Kodagu district and Mysore district in Karnataka.
• It is one of India's premier Tiger Reserves along with the adjoining Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
• It is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
• The Western Ghats Niligir Sub-Cluster, including all of Nagarhole National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.
• The park has rich forest cover, small streams, hills, valleys and waterfalls.
• The park has a healthy predator-prey ratio, with many tigers, Indian bison and elephants.
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve:
• The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is an International Biosphere Reserve in the Western Ghats and Nilgiri Hills ranges of South India.
• The Nilgiri Sub-Cluster is a part of the Western Ghats, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2012.
Ozone layer continues to depleteContext:
• Study proves that despite the ban on CFCs, the concentration of ozone in the lower part of the stratosphere is declining.
• The ozone layer which protects life on Earth from high-energy radiation is thinning out in the lower stratosphere.
• The Montreal Protocol introduced a ban on these long - lasting substances in 1989.
Montreal Protocol:
• The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion.
Bengal a hub for soaring trade in wild Indian birdsContext:
• No end in sight even though a 1991 amendment to the Wildlife (Protection) Act prohibits trade in all Indian birds, except the house crow
• The seizure included 1,782 rose-ringed parakeets and plum-headed parakeets, 80 hill mynas and 892 munias.
• According to investigators, the birds were trapped along Uttar Pradesh’s border with Nepal.
• Other seizures of wild Indian birds have been reported not only from Kolkata but also from market fairs in districts such as Tarakeshwar in Hooghly, Uluberia in Howrah and in Purba Medinipur.
Clandestine trade:
• Kolkata, and West Bengal, have for the past several years been a hub for the trade in Indian wild birds despite laws prohibiting it.
• After a 1991 amendment to the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, except for the house crow (Corvus splendens), which is listed as vermin, no Indian bird can be hunted, trapped, caged or traded.
A plan to save the Great Indian BustardContext:
• The Forest Department is framing an action plan to save Great Indian Bustard in Karnataka .
About Great Indian Bustard:
• The Great Indian Bustard or Indian bustard is a bustard found in India and the adjoining regions of Pakistan.
• A large bird with a horizontal body and long bare legs, giving it an ostrich like appearance, this bird is among the heaviest of the flying birds.
• These birds are often found associated in the same habitat as blackbuck.
• It is protected under Wildlife Protection Act 1972 of India.
India records marginal increase in forest coverContext:
• Biennial report says Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala registered the maximum growth; northeast States show a decrease.
• The forest survey for the first time mapped 633 districts and relied on satellite-mapping.
• Earlier this year, the government ceased to define bamboo as a tree to promote economic activity among tribals.
• The survey found that India’s bamboo bearing area rose by 1.73 million hectares (2011) to 15.69 million hectares (2017).
India State of Forest Report (SFR) 2017:
• India posted a marginal 0.21% rise in the area under forest between 2015 and 2017, according to the biennial India State of Forest Report (SFR) 2017.
• The document says that India has about 7,08,273 square kilometres of forest, which is 21.53% of the geographic area of the country (32,87,569 sq. km).
• Getting India to have at least 33% of its area under forest has been a long standing goal of the government since 1988.
State wise performance:
• Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala topped the States that posted an increase in forest cover.
• Currently, 15 States and union territories have 33% of their geographical area under forests.
• In India’s north-east however, forest cover showed a decrease; 1,71,306 square kilometres, or 65.34%, of the geographical area was under forest and this was a 630 square kilometre decline from the 2015 assessment.
• The category of ‘very dense forest’— defined as a canopy cover over 70% — and an indicator of the quality of a forest, saw a dramatic rise from 85,904 square kilometres to 98,158 square kilometres this year .
• The category of ‘moderately dense forest’ (40%-70%) saw a 7,056 square kilometre-decline from 2015.
Reasons for increase in forest cover:
• Much of this increase can be attributed to plantation and conservation activities both within and outside the Recorded Forest areas as well as an improvement in interpretation of satellite data.
India’s ranking:
• “India is ranked 10th in the world, with 24.4% of land area under forest and tree cover, even though it accounts for 2.4% of the world surface area and sustains the needs of 17% of human and 18% livestock population.
Science and Technology
Agni 1 test-fired off the Odisha coastContext:
• India successfully test-fired its short-range nuclear capable ballistic missile Agni-1 with a strike range of over 700 km from a test range off the Odisha coast.
• The indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile was launched as a part of a periodic training activity by the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) of the Army to consolidate operational readiness.
• The sophisticated Agni-I missile is propelled by a solid rocket propellant system and is equipped with a specialised navigation system that ensures it reaches the target with a high degree of precision.
About Agni-I:
• Agni-I is a short-range ballistic missile developed by DRDO of India under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program.
• It is a single-stage missile developed after the Kargil War to fill the gap between 250 km range of Prithvi-II and 2,500 km range of Agni-II.
• It was first launched on 25 January 2002 from a road mobile launcher at Integrated Test Range (ITR), Wheeler Island
• Less than 75 launchers are deployed.
Now, bacteria turn toxic metals into goldContext:
• A metal-gobbling bacteria manages to ingest toxic metallic compounds and still thrive, producing tiny gold nuggets as a side-effect, scientists have found.
• A team of researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany has discovered the molecular processes that take place inside the bacteria.
• High concentrations of heavy metals, like copper and gold, are toxic for most living creatures.
Valuable extraction:
• The bacteria produces tiny gold nuggets as a side-effect, according to the study published in the journal Metallomics .
Bacterium C. metallidurans
• The rod-shaped bacterium C. metallidurans primarily lives in soils that are enriched with numerous heavy metals.
• Over time some minerals break down in the soil and release toxic heavy metals and hydrogen into their environment.
• Researchers have found that gold enters the bacteria the same way as copper, which is a vital trace element for C metallidurans, however it is toxic in large quantities.
• In nature, C metallidurans plays a key role in the formation of so-called secondary gold, which emerges following the breakdown of primary, geologically created, ancient gold ores.
India successfully test-fires nuclear capable Prithvi-IIContext:
• India test-fires nuclear capable Prithvi-I
• India recently successfully test-fired it’s indigenously developed nuclear capable Prithvi-II missile as part of a user trial by the Army from a test range in Odisha.
• The trial of the surface-to-surface missile, with a strike range of 350 km, was carried out from a mobile launcher from launch complex-3 of the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur.
About Prithvi-I:
• The Prithvi-I is a short-range, road-mobile, liquid propellant ballistic missile.
• India developed the missile with European assistance, and its motor and guidance system were originally based on the Russian S-75 Guideline surface-to-air missile.
• It uses a single-stage, liquid propellant engine, which is essentially two liquid propellant motors side-by-side that provide aerodynamic control as well as thrust vectoring.
NASA to test deep space atomic clockContext:
• NASA is planning to send its new deep space atomic clock on a flight aboard a spacecraft, to test the system’s ability to provide accurate on-board timekeeping for future missions.
• In deep space, accurate timekeeping is vital to navigation, but not all spacecraft have precise timepieces aboard.
• NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the U.S. has been perfecting the Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), an instrument being built for deep space exploration.
Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC):
• The Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is a miniaturized, ultra-precise mercury-ion atomic clock for precise radio navigation in deep space.
• It is orders of magnitude more stable than existing navigation clocks, and has been refined to limit drift of no more than 1 nanosecond in 10 days.
• It is expected to improve the precision of deep space navigation, and enable more efficient use of tracking networks.
• The project is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory .
• The project will be deployed as part of the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) mission aboard a Space X Falcon Heavy rocket in April 2018.
IISc team identifies an early-stage biomarker for Alzheimer’sContext:
• Researchers at Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have identified a potential biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease.
• The biomarker shows up very early in the disease process and well before clinical and even pathological manifestation of the disease.
Filamentous actin (F-actin):
• Filamentous actin (F-actin) is a cytoskeletal protein which is responsible for maintaining the shape of the spines.
• While F-actin is formed by polymerisation of monomeric globular-actin (G-actin), depolymerisation leads to loss of F-actin and, in turn, the loss of spines. F-actin is crucial for memory consolidation.
• The decrease in F-actin level and loss of spine thereof translated into memory deficit when the animals turned two months old.
Alzheimer in animals:
• The first signs of memory deficit in mice with Alzheimer’s is typically seen only when the animals are seven-eight months old.
• This is because the formation of protein clumps called amyloid plaques, which is one of the earliest clinical symptoms, happens at this stage.
IGIB researchers partially reverse a rare disorderContext:
• Researchers at Delhi’s Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) have for the first time used zebra fish to model the rare genetic disorder — Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome (RSTS) — seen in humans.
• They have also used two small molecules to partially reverse some of the defects caused by the disorder in zebrafish.
• There is currently no cure or treatment for the disorder.
Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome:
• The Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome has a frequency of about one in one lakh people, and causes intellectual disability, growth retardation (short stature), craniofacial deformities, heart defects and broad thumbs and toes.
• The results were published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Basis of Disease.
Zebrafish genome :
• Zebrafish genome has very close similarity to human genome and the embryonic developmental.
• Zebrafish commonly has two copies of many human genes, the researchers first checked if one or both the genes were functional and equivalent to the human gene that causes the disorder.
• Ep300a gene was active and functional while
• The protein Ep300 is evolutionarily conserved from fish to humans.
Reversal of effects
• Like in the case of fish treated with chemicals manifesting the disorder, fish mutants that lacked the Ep300a gene too exhibited defects very similar to those seen in humans.
Russia seeks Rs. 125 cr. to carry out repairs on INS ChakraContext:
• Russian authorities have demanded over $20 million for rectifying the damage suffered by nuclear submarine INS Chakra.
• Russia has quoted $20 million portion, which was damaged while the submarine was entering the harbour in Visakhapatnam.
• The developments around INS Chakra come even as the indigenously built nuclear ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant, which had suffered extensive damage because of human error over a year ago.
INS Arihant:
• INS Arihant Earlier in August 2016, India had quietly inducted its first indigenously built nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Arihant into into service completing its nuclear triad.
• INS Arihant is the lead ship of India’s Arihant class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
• The 6,000 tonne vessel was built under the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project at the Ship Building Centre in the port city of Visakhapatnam.
INS Chakra:
• INS Chakra is a nuclear-powered submarine which was taken by India on lease from Russia in 2012 for a period of 10 years.
• INS Chakra is propelled by a 190 MW nuclear reactor.
International relations
China offers mediation, rejects UN interventionContext:
• China recently rejected UN intervention to resolve the crisis in Maldives, but offered to mediate between the feuding parties in the archipelago.
China’s view on Maldives crisis
• China has always closely followed the development of the situation in the Maldives.
• China thinks that the current situation and disputes in Maldives belongs to its internal affairs.
• It should be properly resolved through dialogue and consultation by the relevant parties.
• The international community should respect Maldives’ sovereignty and territorial integrity and play a constructive role for the dialogue between the relevant parties.”
Modi reiterates support for PalestineContext:
• Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said support for the Palestinian cause is a continuing thread in India’s foreign policy.
• PM hoped for an early realization of a “sovereign, independent Palestine living in a peaceful environment”.
• PM Modi said that India hoped to see an independent sovereign Palestine living in a peaceful environment.
• Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has triggered an angry response from the Palestinians and criticisms from different parts of the world.
Agreements signed:
• The two sides signed six agreements worth around $50 million, including one for setting up a $30 million super speciality hospital in Beit Sahur.
• Agreements were also signed to build schools, a diplomatic training institute and a woman’s empowerment and training centre.
Historic visit:
• During his historic visit to Palestine, Prime Minister Modi reaffirmed India’s support for the Palestinian cause, and called for dialogue to find a permanent solution to the crisis.
UN vote
• India voted against Mr. Trump’s Jerusalem move in the UN General Assembly in December 2017.
• After Mr. Trump’s move, the External Affairs Ministry issued a statement saying “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent”, but again without any reference to Jerusalem.
India, Oman agree to isolate sponsors of terrorContext:
• Countries acknowledge the ‘inter-linkage’ between the stability of the West Asian region and the Indian subcontinent.
• India and Oman have agreed to isolate the sponsors of international terrorism, the External Affairs Ministry said recently.
Areas emphasized:
• The two sides also emphasised the need to isolate the sponsors and supporters of terrorism.
• Both sides also agreed that the international community should take urgent action against all such entities, which support terrorism .
• Both sides recognise “the close inter-linkage of the stability and security of the Gulf region with the Indian subcontinent.
• A total of eight MoUs were signed on health, legal cooperation, tourism and military cooperation.
• Oman also expressed that it would like its scientists to be trained in Indian space research facilities.
• The visit to the strategically located country is of special significance as the monarchy, led by Sultan Qaboos bin Said for more than four decades, is soon likely to undergo a phase of succession.
Military cooperation
• The Indian side thanked Omani side for facilitating operational visits by Indian Naval ships and aircraft as well as Indian Air Force aircraft to various Omani ports and airports.
• The Omani side expressed appreciation of the training facilities provided to the Omani Royal Armed Forces personnel by India.”
Strategic oil reserve
• Mr. Modi also informed Oman’s ruler about the strategic oil reserve that India plans to build and invited Oman to participate in the project.
• The Omani side briefed India about its own strategic oil reserve project in Ras Markaz near the port of Duqm.
Social issues
Rethinking traffickingContext:
• India should not follow the raid-rescue-rehabilitation model
• Last year, India protested against the release of a report, ‘Global estimates of modern slavery: forced labour and forced marriage’, a collaborative effort of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
• Indian government is set to introduce the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016.
Highlights of the report:
• The report estimated that there were 40.3 million “modern slaves” worldwide in 2016, with 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriages.
• It did not name countries, but the writing on the wall was clear as 17,000 interviews had been conducted in India, and 61.78% of the “modern slaves” were in Asia and the Pacific.
Falling into a trap
• The report forms the baseline for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 (eradicates forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and end child labour by 2025).
• NITI Aayog is entrusted with the task of overseeing implementation of the SDGs in the country.
Anti-trafficking laws in India:
• India has a complex patchwork of anti-trafficking laws, ranging from the Indian Penal Code and the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA), 1986, to social welfare legislation on contract and bonded labour, and inter-state migrant work.
• Criminal laws like the ITPA target ‘bad men’ traffickers, labour laws presume endemic exploitation in labour markets.
• In India, a combination of penal, labour and contract laws are used to impose obligations for better working conditions.
Definition of trafficking:
• The current definition of trafficking in Section 370 of the IPC is not limited to sex work; yet, the Trafficking Bill is patently neoabolitionist.
• It pursues the classic raid-rescue-rehabilitation model, with stringent penalties for trafficking, including life imprisonment for its aggravated forms, reversals of burden of proof, and provisions for stripping traffickers of their assets..


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