14 , March 2018

Nepal’s first woman President Bidya Devi Bhandari (56) was relected for second term in office. In the presidential election, she defeated Nepali Congress (NC) leader Kumari Laxmi Rai with overwhelming majority. Ms. Bhandari was elected with more than a two-thirds majority after she secured 39,275 votes while the Nepali Congress’s Ms. Rai garnered 11,730 votes.

Krishi Unnati Mela
Source: PIB

The three-day Annual Krishi Unnati Mela is being organised between March 16 and March 18, 2018 at Mela ground, IARI, Pusa, New Delhi. The Krishi Vigyan Mela (Agriculture Science Fair) was initiated in 1972 and continues to be a highly important annual event of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

The objective of the mela is to create widespread awareness about the latest agricultural technological developments and receive feedback from the agricultural community, which helps in designing and shaping the Institute’s future research strategy. This mela is organized every year with a specific theme on a priority area of agricultural research and technology transfer.

World Consumer Rights Day
Source: PIB

  • The Department of Consumer Affairs is celebrating the World Consumer Rights Day this year with the theme “Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer” in New Delhi.
  • World Consumer Rights Day is an annual international event that signifies celebration and solidarity in the international consumer movement, demanding that, consumer rights are to be respected and protected.
  • The event also gives a chance to protest against the market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights. Each year, World Consumer Rights Day adopts a theme to highlight.
  • This year the theme promoted is “Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer”.

ASHTRACK
Source: PIB

  • This platform will enable better management of the ash produced by thermal power plants by providing an interface between fly ash producers (Thermal Power Plants) and potential ash users such as – road contractors, cement plants etc.
  • For the better management of fly ash waste from thermal power plants across country, Government has reduced the GST rates on fly ash and its products to 5%.
  • Further, to facilitate 100% ash utilization by all coal based thermal power plants, a web portal for monitoring of fly ash generation and utilization data of Thermal Power Plants and a mobile based application titled “ASHTRACK” has been launched that will help to establish a link between fly ash users and power plants executives for obtaining fly ash for its use in various areas.

Urea subsidy scheme
Source: PIB

  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved to continue Urea Subsidy Scheme from 2017 up to 2020 at a total estimated cost of Rs. 1,64,935 crore and implementation of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for disbursement of fertilizer subsidy.
  • The continuation of the urea subsidy scheme will ensure that adequate quantity of urea is made available to the farmers at statutory controlled price.  Implementation of DBT in Fertilizer Sector will reduce diversion and plug the leakages.
  • Department of Fertilizers is in process to roll out DBT in fertilizer sector nationwide. DBT would entail 100 % payment to fertilizer companies on sale of fertilizers to farmers at subsidized rates. Therefore, continuation of Urea Subsidy Scheme will facilitate the smooth implementation of DBT scheme in Fertilizer Sector.
  • Urea Subsidy is a part of Central Sector Scheme of Department of Fertilizers with effect from 1stApril, 2017 and is wholly financed by the Government of India through Budgetary Support.

World Hindi Secretariat
Source: PIB

World Hindi Secretariat building has been inaugurated in Mauritius. It is an international organisation representing countries and regions where Hindi is the first or customary language, where a significant proportion of the population consists of Hindi speakers or where there is a notable affiliation with North Indian culture.

The organisation was set up by the governments of India and Mauritius to promote Hindi across the world. The main objective of the WHS is to promote Hindi as an international language and further its cause for recognition at the United Nations as an Official Language.

1.SC shuts the door on foreign law firms
Source: The Hindu

  • Keeping India’s legal market exclusively for Indians, the Supreme Court ruled that foreign law firms or foreign lawyers cannot practise law in the country either on the litigation or non-litigation side.
  • This means overseas lawyers or firms cannot open offices in the country, appear in courts or before any authority or render other legal services, such as giving opinions or drafting documents.
  • Upholding similar verdicts of the Bombay and Madras High Courts, a Bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Uday Umesh Lalit, however, said there was no bar on foreign law firms or foreign lawyers visiting India for a temporary period on a “fly in and fly out” basis for giving legal advice to their clients on foreign law or their own system of law and on international legal issues.
  • The Bench added that any dispute in this issue would be decided by the Bar Council of India.
  • The Supreme Court’s ruling that the ‘practice of law’, as allowed and regulated in India, includes work on both the litigation side and on non-litigation services means that the Centre may not be able to throw open the legal services sector to overseas players.
  • Both the present regime and the previous United Progressive Alliance government were considering a proposal to permit foreign law firms in the country to practise law in matters not involving litigation and on a reciprocal basis
  • The ruling settles a long-standing argument on whether foreign firms or attorneys should be allowed to enter the Indian legal market.
  • Sections of the legal fraternity have been opposing their entry, contending that Indian advocates are not allowed to practise in the U.K., the U.S., Australia and other nations, except on fulfilling onerous restrictions like qualifying tests, experience and work permit.
  • The court also ruled that though foreign law firms and lawyers might not be debarred from conducting arbitration in India arising out of international commercial arbitration, they would be governed by the code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India.

2.Aadhaar linkage deadline extended indefinitely
Source: The Hindu

  • In a relief for citizens, the Supreme Court indefinitely extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar with mobile phones, tatkal passports and for opening bank accounts from March 31, 2018 till the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra pronounces its final verdict on the validity of the Aadhaar scheme.
  • There should be a sense of certainty that citizens would not be harmed or their services curtailed even as the very Aadhaar scheme is under the apex court’s microscope.
  • However 31st March 2018, continues to be the deadline for linking Aadhaar to subsidies, benefits and services prescribed under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act of 2016
  • Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act says that the Centre and State governments can insist on Aadhaar for the purpose of establishing the identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India
  • To undergo authentication to access services under Section 7, an individual has to either produce his Aadhaar card or Aadhaar enrolment application
  • Lawyers for the petitioners hint that the court may have excluded Section 7 benefits from the extension because it is statutorily protected by the Aadhaar Act itself, whereas the other linkings like mobile phones are based on other statutes or even executive notifications.

3.Post-scam, RBI stops issue of LoUs
Source: The Hindu

  • In the wake of an escalating controversy over the Nirav Modi-centred scam at the Punjab National Bank (PNB), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to discontinue the practice of providing guarantees by issuing letters of undertaking (LoUs) and letters of comfort (LoCs) for trade credits for imports to India. The action comes into immediate effect.
  • The decision will apply to AD (authorised dealer) category-I banks.
  • The RBI move could impact importers who largely rely on LoUs and LoCs to get bank guarantees for their imports.
  • PNB reported in February 2018 that it had been defrauded by two jewellery groups, resulting in a loss of over Rs. 12,600 crore.

Impact:

  • The move may deal a blow to trade financing in India and raise credit costs for importers
  • It will also put companies that have received credit based on LoUs in a spot, as they have to now repay their borrowings since there will no rollover of existing LoUs

LOU & LOC:

  • Importers prefer taking loans based on LoUs as they are denominated in foreign currency and are cheaper
  • A letter of credit is used to establish the creditworthiness of the buyer in the purchase of goods
  • The interest of buyers’ credit is linked to London Interbank Offered Rate

Lenders will have to look at alternative instruments like bank guarantees

4.Rare meteorite may hold clue to life’s origin
Source: The Hindu

A study of two meteorites which fell in Assam and Rajasthan over a span of 13 hours in 2017, by the Geological Survey of India (GSI), has concluded that they may contain “significant clues to the origins of life.

On June 5, 2017, a meteorite weighing 3.014 kg fell in Natun Balijan village in Tinsukia, Assam. Thirteen hours later, early on June 6, 2017, another meteorite, weighing 2.23 kg, fell in Mukundpura village under Sadiya subdivision near Jaipur, Rajasthan.

After studies, experts have found that the Mukundpura meteorite is a carbonaceous meteorite, one of the most primitive types. The meteorite belongs to a very rare and primitive group of meteorites called CM group of carbonaceous chondrites.

Also, this meteorite could be carrying some of the most pristine primordial matter recovered from space as it is made up of materials which were formed during the early stages of the formation of the solar system. A detailed analysis could provide clues about the origin of life and the formation and evolution of the solar system.

The meteorite that fell in Natun Balijan in the flood plains of Lohit River, has been classified as an “ordinary chondrite.”

About carbonaceous chondrites:

  • Carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, unlike other meteorites, contain very primitive traces of carbon. And carbon forms the backbone of all life on earth.
  • They represent some of the most pristine matter known, and their chemical compositions match the chemistry of the Sun more closely than any other class of chondrites.
  • They are formed in oxygen-rich regions of the early solar system so that most of the metal is not found in its free form but as silicates, oxides, or sulfides.
  • Most of them contain water or minerals that have been altered in the presence of water, and some of them contain larger amounts of carbon as well as organic compounds. This is especially true for the carbonaceous chondrites that have been relatively unaltered by heating during their history.

Meteorites:

  • A meteorite is a solid piece of debris from an object, such as a comet, asteroid, or meteoroid, that originates in outer space and survives its passage through the atmosphere to reach the surface of a planet or moon
  • When the object enters the atmosphere, various factors like friction, pressure, and chemical interactions with the atmospheric gases cause it to heat up and radiate that energy
  • It then becomes a meteor and forms a fireball, also known as a shooting star or falling star
  • Meteorites have traditionally been divided into three broad categories: stony meteorites are rocks, mainly composed of silicate minerals; iron meteorites that are largely composed of metallic iron-nickel; and, stony-iron meteorites that contain large amounts of both metallic and rocky material
  • Meteorites mostly originate from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter
  • Meteorites are always named for the places they were found usually a nearby town or geographic feature.In cases where many meteorites were found in one place, the name may be followed by a number or letter

5.TB elimination goal advanced by five years
Source: The Hindu

Advancing India’s TB elimination goal by five years ahead of the global target, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “India is determined to address the challenge of TB in mission mode. I am confident that India can be free of TB by 2025.”

The Prime Minister also launched the TB Free India Campaign at the Delhi End TB Summit

WHO defines “elimination of TB” as less than 1 TB case per million population and “end of TB epidemic”, as less than 100 per million population.

Delhi End TB Summit:

  • The Delhi End TB Summit is being organized by the Government of India, the Stop TB Partnership, and World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for South-East Asia (WHO-SEARO)
  • The Summit will continue the high-level dialogue that was started in Moscow last year during the Global Ministerial Conference to End TB
  • It will set the stage for the September 2018 United Nations High-Level Meeting (HLM) on TB, where Heads of State are expected to commit to an ambitious plan of action to put the world on track to ending TB

6. ICMR wins the 2017 Kochon Prize for TB research
Source: The Hindu

  • The 2017 Kochon Prize was awarded to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi for building a tradition of excellence in TB research and development.
  • The $65,000 Prize is awarded annually by Stop TB Partnership to individuals and/or organizations that have made a significant contribution to combating TB.
  • The ICMR emerged the winner from amongst 18 nominations.
  • ICMR and several of its research groups — NIRT, JALMA and India TB Research Consortium — are engaged in TB research.

Impact

  • The Prize sends a strong message that investing in research is critically important to end TB epidemic. The recognition comes at a crucial time when the Indian government is increasing its commitment to end TB
  • The award will improve the profile of ICMR, bring more awareness and funding for research and attract more people to take up research on TB

 NIRT (TRC):

Since its inception in 1956, Chennai’s National Institute of Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT) [which was formerly known as the Tuberculosis Chemotherapy Centre and later as Tuberculosis Research Centre (TRC)] has undertaken several trials that had had impact internationally

  • BCG trial: The BCG vaccine trial by TRC, the largest ever to be conducted, followed-up 350,000 volunteers for 15 years
  • TRC has also conducted more than 50 drug combination and duration trails for both pulmonary and extra-pulmonary TB, and undertaken pharmacokinetic studies for dosing. It has developed new diagnostics, and tested and validated diagnostics developed elsewhere

7. What was the 20:80 gold import scheme
Source: The Hindu

The Centre on Monday announced its intention to probe the circumstances behind the extension of the 20:80 gold import scheme, previously restricted to banks and PSUs, to private parties in the final days of the previous government’s term in 2014.

What prompted the scheme?

In response to a stressed current account deficit in 2012-13 due to a surge in gold imports, the government at the time introduced an import scheme in 2013, which mandated that 20% of all gold imports would have to be exported.

“The scheme was designed to restrict the import of gold, conserve foreign exchange by imposing export obligations, and ensure that the premium from purchase and sale of gold resided in the hands of public agencies,” according to the Commerce Ministry.

Who could import gold under the scheme?

At the time of its implementation, the 20:80 scheme was open only to banks and to public sector companies such as the Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation and the State Trading Corporation of India. In May 2014, the RBI in consultation with the government widened the scheme to also allow Premium Trading Houses (PTH) and Star Trading Houses (STH), both private sector entities, to import gold.

How did the scheme fare?

According to the Commerce Ministry, a review of the scheme found that since liberalisation in May 2014, gold imports had increased substantially, averaging about 140-150 tonnes a month. Within this, the government found that gold imported by STHs and PTHs increased 320% following the May 2014 decision compared with the earlier period.

The share of these entities in the total gold imported into the country also increased from 20% before May to 60% after, according to the government.

The government on November 28, 2014 scrapped the 20:80 scheme and removed all restrictions on gold imports.

What was the impact of the abolition?

The Centre, citing the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, said that the average monthly import of gold fell to 71.5 million tonnes in the months following the abolition of the 20:80 scheme [December 2014 to March 2015] from the monthly average of 92.16 million tonnes in the period following the widening of the policy [June 2014 to November 2014].

Gold imports averaged 33.6 million tonnes per month before STHs and PTHs were allowed to import under the 20:80 scheme [from August 2013 to May 2014], according to the government.

8.CAG flags Railways’ parlous finances
Source: The Hindu

The reported operating ratio of 96.5% in 2016-17 does not reflect the true financial performance of Indian Railways, as this would have deteriorated to 99.54% if the actual expenditure on pension payments was taken into account, according to the CAG report tabled in Parliament. An operating ratio of 99.54% means that Railways is spending 99.54 paise to earn 100 paise.

5,000 crores higher:

  • Even at 96.5%, the operating ratio was at its poorest level since 2000-01 when it was 98.34%.Pitching for revisiting the passenger and other tariffs to reduce losses in core activities, the CAG said there was hardly any justification for not fully recovering the cost of passenger services in the case of AC First Class, First Class and AC 2-Tier class.
  • The CAG said passenger fares and freight charges should be based on the cost involved so that it brings both rationality and flexibility in pricing, considering the financial health of Railways and the current market scenario.
  • Non-availability of sufficient funds in Depreciation Reserve Fund to replace the overaged assets is indicative of weak financial health of Indian Railways
  • The huge backlog of renewal and replacement of over aged assets in railway system needs to be addressed for safe running of trains

Control mechanisms:

There is a need to strengthen internal control mechanisms to reduce instances of misclassification of expenditure

Further, the CAG said that the Indian Railways should follow the system of disclosing significant accounting policies forming the basis of preparation of financial statements such as accounting of fixed assets, depreciation and investments.



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