22, December 2016

1.Union Cabinet approves ordinance to pay salaries by cheques

Source: The Hindu

The Centre approved the promulgation of an ordinance to enable industries to pay wages by cheque or by direct credit into bank accounts of workers earning up to Rs. 18,000 a month, without taking their explicit consent as required under the present 1936 law.

The draft ordinance proposes changes to the Section 6 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 to encourage cashless transactions. It will need the President’s assent to become law as per article 123 of the Constitution.

Keyfacts:

  • It will allow industries to pay wages to workers earning up to Rs. 18,000/ month, without taking their explicit consent as required under present Act.
  • However, wage payment through the banking system will only be optional, until State governments or Union Government come up with a notification for specific industries since Labour is in the concurrent list.
  • The present law (1936 Act) states that all payment of wages should be in cash. Under it has mandatory provision asking employers to obtain written permission of the worker to pay either by cheque or by crediting wages to his or her bank account.

Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2016

The present law states that all payment of wages should be in cash, with a provision asking employers to obtain written permission of the worker to pay either by cheque, or by crediting the wages to his or her bank account.

Bill in the Lok Sabha, but it couldn’t be cleared owing to the impasse in Parliament.

  • The ordinance, which will need the President’s assent to become law, proposes changes to Section 6 of the Payment of Wages Act of 1936. The Centre or State governments may specify the industry through official notifications where the payment of wages shall be through cheques or direct credit in bank accounts.
  • The proposal of Ministry of Labour and Employment to bring an amendment to Section 6 of the Act is an additional facility of crediting the wages in the bank account of the employees or payment through cheque along with the existing provisions of payment in current coin or currency notes.
  • The above proposed amendment will also ensure that minimum wages are paid to the employees and their social security rights can be protected. Thus the employers can no longer under-quote the number of employees employed by them in their establishments to avoid becoming a subscriber to the EPFO or ESIC schemes.

2.Digital India Awards 2016

Source: PIB

The  Minister for Communications and Information Technology and Law and Justice presented ‘’Digital India Awards’’ to the distinguished winners.

  • The Government of India has initiated the ambitious programme of “Digital India” on its axiom of “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”.
  • To facilitate Government of India’s effort to promote and uphold the use of World Wide Web for enhancing efficiency and transparency of Government Machinery and encouraging its speedy transition towards Digital India.

National Informatics Centre (NIC), under the ambit of India Portal (http://india.gov.in) organized the first edition of Digital India Awards.

Awards:

Digital innovation along with E-Governance initiatives of Government Ministries and Departments across India were evaluated under various categories.

Three awards Platinum, Gold and Silver were presented in each category to the winners shortlisted from the nominations received under each category.

The categories included Exemplary Online Service, Open Data Champion, Most Innovative Citizen Engagement, Outstanding Digital Initiative by Local body, Best Mobile App, Web Ratna – Ministry/ Department, Web Ratna – State/ UT, Web Ratna-District.

Healthy Ministry wins gold in the Web Ratna Category:

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has won gold in the Web Ratna category in the recently concluded Digital India awards, 2016.

  • Digital India awards, earlier known as the Web Ratna Awards, were instituted under the Ambit of National Portal of India. The award acknowledges exemplary initiatives of various government entities in the realm of e-governance.
  • Web Ratna award felicitates a Ministry or Department of the Government of India which has a comprehensive web presence and display the level of accountability in terms of quantity, quality, spectrum of coverage, and innovation ascertaining user satisfaction. Level of convenience provided to the citizen for availing the services, usability and accessibility are also assessed.

3.China launches satellite to monitor global carbon emissions

Source: Indian Express

The new satellite will enable China to obtain emissions data first-hand and share it with researchers worldwide.

China  launched a global carbon dioxide monitoring satellite to understand climate change, The 620-kg satellite TanSat was put into orbit by Long March-2D rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China’s Gobi Desert .

  • This was the 243rd mission of the Long March series rockets.
  • Besides TanSat, the rocket also carried a high-resolution micro-nano satellite and two spectrum micro-nano satellites for agricultural and forestry monitoring.

China is the third country after Japan and the US to monitor greenhouse gases through its own satellite.

 The satellite was sent into a sun synchronous orbit about 700 kms above the earth and will monitor the concentration, distribution and flow of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

China’s CO2 emissions are to peak around 2030, with emissions per unit of GDP cut by 60 percent of 2005 levels by the same date.

  1. Rise in forest fire spots: Parliamentary panel recommends replacing pine with broad-leaved trees

Source: The Hindu and Times of India

Parliamentary Standing Committee recommends a national policy on managing forest fires

With fires raging across Central Indian forests and the Himalayan Pine forests, the frequency of such blazes has risen by a drastic 55 per cent in the past year.

  • A parliamentary panel has recommended systematic replacement of chir pine trees in forests with broad-leaved trees, observing that its needles are highly inflammable due to high resin content are a prominent factor in occurring and spreading of forest fires.
  • More drastically, the Uttarakhand government has suggested thinning of pine reserve forest areas to “reduce the biological load”; while the report suggests replacing these forests with “broad-leaf” plants.
  • Advocating large-scale incentives and programmes (including under MNREGA) to collect pines for use as fuel, and other incineration.
  • The panel also flayed the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change over the declining trend of funds released by the government for protection of forests and controlling forest fires.

Committee:

  • There increase in forest fires is seen even though 2015 was considered a drought year. But there is decline in frequency of forest fires by around 16%.
  • The three central States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha contribute a third of the forest fires.
  • Madhya Pradesh has seen a nearly ten-fold increase in forest fires, from just 294 in 2015 to more than 2,600 in 2016.
  • In Himachal and Uttarakhand, over 17,502 acres have been ravaged in 2016 due to forest fires, a rise of over 171%.
  • Large number of posts of front line forest staff were lying vacant, while fire-fighting equipment is rudimentary in many cases.

The committee was formed after a series of devastating forest fires earlier in the year 2016 including the prolonged one that had charred 4,000 hectares of forest land across 13 districts of Uttarakhand in May 2016. The committee was headed by Rajya Sabha MP Renuka Choudhary.

  1. Kaisa Matomaki, Maksym Radziwill win 2016 SASTRA Ramanujan award

Source: The Hindu

Kaisa Matomaki and Maksym Radziwill have been jointly won the 2016 SASTRA-Ramanujan award for mathematics for their ‘revolutionary’ collaborative work on short intervals in number theory.

  • Their mathematical work dwells on properties of numbers in “short intervals.” The two mathematicians worked with Fields medallist Terence Tao in making a breakthrough on the Chowla conjecture.
  • They were presented with this prestigious award at inauguration of International Conference on Number Theory at SASTRA University at Kumbakonam.
  • Kaisa Matomaki from Finland’s University of Turku is first woman to receive this prize since it was instituted in 2005. Maksym Radziwill is Assistant professor at McGill University, Canada.

It is an annual award bestowed on young mathematicians for his outstanding contributions to areas of mathematics influenced by the Srinivasa Ramanujan. The age limit for the prize is 32 because Ramanujan had achieved so much in his brief life of 32 years.

  1. GM technology: Trait fee war between Monsanto and Indian seed firms intensifies

Source: Indian Express

A new battlefront is opening up between Monsanto and a section of Indian seed companies that are sub-licencees of the US life sciences giant’s proprietary Bollgard-II (BG-II) Bt cotton technology.

Argument NSAI:

The National Seed Association of India (NSAI), has claimed that the power to fix royalty or ‘trait value’ payable to the developer of any plant genetic modification (GM) technology lies with the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Rights (PPVFR) Authority.

Why argue?

The reason for this is that Section 3 of the Indian Patents Act, 1970 specifically excludes from patentability any “method of agriculture or horticulture” and “plants and animals in whole or any part thereof other than micro-organisms but including seeds, varieties and species and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals”.

  • On the other hand, Section 2 (za) of the PPVFR Act, 2001 clearly defines a plant variety to include “transgenic (i.e. GM) variety”.
  • GM crops such as Bt cotton, therefore, receive intellectual property protection (IPR) only under the PPVFR Act.
  • By implication, trait value payable to the GM technology supplier is a matter to be decided by the PPVFR Authority.
  • There is, in fact, a section 26 in the Act relating to the determination of benefit sharing between the supplier of a unique genetic material and the breeder/seed company who has used this in the development of his variety.
  • The PPVFR Authority has the powers to stipulate the amount of such benefit sharing, which obviously extends to prescribing a reasonable trait fee payable by the breeder.

Monsanto argues?

  • The above interpretation has, however, been completely rejected by Monsanto.
  • It contends that the PPVFR Act, deals only with providing IPR protection to varieties, which refer to “a plant grouping…within a single botanical taxon (i.e. species, family or class)”.
  • Moreover, “varieties” excludes micro-organisms that cover bacterium such as Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, whose genes have been incorporated into cotton hybrids.
  • A breeder can develop a hybrid or variety containing the Bt genes and seek IPR protection for the same under the PPVFR Act. But the GM trait per se (the technology for inserting the Bt or any other alien genes into the genome of the host plant) is not covered by this Act.
  • A modified gene sequence cannot be considered as a plant grouping and the PPVFR Act has no provision conferring the authority the power to protect or regulate GM traits.
  • Benefit sharing provisions, too, are triggered only for a registered variety/hybrid that may contain GM traits, but not for the GM traits per se.
  • Monsanto has sublicensed its BG-II Bt technology — which was granted an Indian patent in February 2008 – to 49 companies.
  • According to Monsanto, trait fees are governed by technology licensing agreements bilaterally executed between it and individual seed companies.

Bringing in the PPVFRA — when GM traits are patentable and Monsanto clearly has a patent for Bollgard-II Bt technology — is only aimed at wriggling out of payment of contractual liabilities

  1. Iron ‘jet stream’ detected in Earth’s outer core

Source: Times of India

Scientists say they have identified a remarkable new feature in Earth’s molten outer core.

  • They describe it as a kind of “jet stream” – a fast-flowing river of liquid iron that is surging westwards under Alaska and Siberia.
  • The moving mass of metal has been inferred from measurements made by Europe’s Swarm satellites.

This could be provided by buoyancy, or perhaps more likely from changes in the magnetic field within the core.

Jet stream

The jet stream, located roughly 3,000 km (1,860 miles) below the Earth’s surface — a region where the molten outer core meets the solid mantle — is estimated to be over 260 miles wide. Its speed of over 25 miles a year is three times faster than the typical speed of liquid in the outer core and hundreds of thousands of times faster than the speed at which Earth’s tectonic plates move.

  • They assess the jet to be about 420km wide, and say it wraps half-way around the planet.
  • Its behaviour will be critical to the generation and maintenance of the global magnetic field

The scientists say the feature probably aligns to a boundary between two different regions in the core.

  • They call this boundary the “tangent cylinder”. They imagine this as a tube sitting around the solid inner core, running along Earth’s rotation axis.
  • When liquid iron approaches the boundary from both sides, it gets squeezed out sideways to form the jet, which then hugs the imaginary tube.

When it is Discovered?

Launched in November 2013, the European Space Agency satellites are providing unparalleled insights into the structure and behaviour of Earth’s magnetic field.

  • With their highly sensitive instruments, they are gradually teasing apart the field’s various components – from the dominant signal coming from the movement of iron in the outer core to the almost imperceptible contribution made by ocean currents.
  • It is hoped the Swarm satellites’ data could ultimately tell us why Earth’s magnetic field has been weakening in recent centuries.
  • Scientists have speculated could be on the cusp of a polarity reversal, which would see North become South, and South become North.

Swarm satellites data

Launched in 2013, the trio of Swarm satellites are measuring and untangling the different magnetic fields that stem from Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere.

  • Swarm is the fifth Earth Explorer mission approved in ESA’s Living Planet Programme.
  • The objective of the Swarm mission is to provide the best-ever survey of the geomagnetic field and its temporal evolution as well as the electric field in the atmosphere using a constellation of 3 identical satellites carrying sophisticated magnetometers and electric field instruments.

The major part of Earth’s global magnetic field is generated by convection of molten iron within the planet’s outer liquid core. These include the magnetism retained in rocks, and there is even an effect derived from the movement of salt water ocean currents. Swarm will attempt to tease apart these various factors, to get a clearer picture of the field’s true origins and its changing behaviour.

Other uses of the Swarm data will embrace investigations of the electrical environment of the high atmosphere and the way this interacts with the solar wind – the continuous stream of charged particles billowing away from the Sun.

Earth’s  magnetic field

  • Earth’s magnetic field behaves like a bar magnet with a north pole and south pole with magnetic field lines stretching into space, creating a bubble known as the magnetosphere.
  • On the day side of Earth, the solar wind compresses the magnetosphere and charged particles stream around the planet and follow field lines into the poles, spawning the colorful auroras.
  • On the side of Earth facing away from the sun, the magnetosphere is blown out like the tail of a comet.
  • The magnetic field exists because of an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up the outer core. Like a spinning conductor in a bicycle dynamo, this moving iron creates electrical currents, which in turn generate our continuously changing magnetic field.
  • But magnetism from rocks in the Earth’s crust and from the circulation of the oceans also contribute to the magnetic field, and solar activity is also an influence in the ionosphere and magnetosphere, the protective bubble around the planet.

 



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