22, February 2018

  1. Coal blocks for commercial mining

Source: The Hindu

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved the methodology for auction of coal mines or blocks for commercial coal mining. The opening up of commercial coal mining for private sector is the most ambitious coal sector reform since the nationalisation of this sector in 1973.

New methodology:

  • As per the new methodology, there will be no end use restriction or price restriction for the coal that is mined from these blocks. The blocks will be awarded through a forward auction. The amount accrued through the bids will be in addition to the royalty that the States get. All the revenue from the sale of these blocks will go into coffers of the States where they are located.

Significance of this move:

  • As the entire revenue from the auction of coal mines for sale of coal would accrue to the coal bearing States, this methodology shall incentivise them with increased revenues which can be utilised for the growth and development. States in Eastern part of the country will be especially benefited.
  • The auction of coal mines to private operators will help in boosting the economy. Commercial coal mining will help increase efficiency and productivity in the sector and will attract fresh local and foreign investments. It will also lead to the availability of low cost power and Coal India will benefit from the government’s move.
  • As 70% of India’s electricity is generated from thermal power plants, opening coal blocks for commercial purposes will ensure energy security and accountable allocation of coal and as a result, it will ensure cheaper electricity for consumers.

Background:

  • Despite the increasing share of non-fossil fuels in India’s energy mix, the market for coal is projected to grow at a solid pace for several more years as this high-emitting fuel will continue to be the mainstay for the country’s power generation. Also, coal exports are a potentially lucrative business for India. Recent years have seen other state-run entities too establishing a presence in commercial coal mining and a jump in captive coal production (thanks to a 1993 amendment to CMNA) by a veritable cross-section of industries, public and private, but only commercial coal mining by the private sector was to bring a transformative change in the sector.

  1. N Gopalaswami committee

Source: The Hindu

N Gopalaswami committee has been constituted to select 20 institutes of higher education in India that will be developed into “world-class” institutes. In a few months, 10 each (from public and private category) institutions will be accorded the eminence status with a mandate, and supported, to achieve the world-class status over a period of 10 years.

Facilities provided to these institutes:

  • These institutes will be provided with greater autonomy to admit up to 30% foreign students, to recruit up to 25% foreign faculty, to offer online courses up to 20% of its programmes and to enter into academic collaboration with top 500 in the world ranking institutions without UGC permission.

Background:

  • Last year, the Union ministry of Human resources Development, through the University Grants Commission, had invited institutes from across the country to be upgraded into “world-class universities.” Following this the Commission had received 100 applications, maximum being from public institutions.

Need for world-class institutes:

  • India lacks world-class universities according to international rankings, and Indian academics, compared internationally, are rather poorly paid. Students also suffer an immense shortage of places in top academic institutions and throughout the higher education system. India today educates only half as many young people from the university age group as China and ranks well behind most Latin American and other middle-income countries.

Way ahead:

  • If India is to succeed as a great technological power with a knowledge-based economy, world-class universities are required. The first step, however, is to examine the problems and create realistic solutions. Spending large sums scattershot will not work. Nor will copying the American academic model succeed.

  1. India offers USD $1 million aid to Tonga

Source: The Hindu

India has contributed USD one million for the rehabilitation efforts in Tonga after the Tropical Cyclone Gita caused massive destruction in the Pacific island nation. India has allocated USD 500,000 in the India-UN Development Partnership Fund for the rehabilitation efforts while USD 500,000 will be provided for immediate relief assistance.

The India-UN Development Partnership Fund:

  • The India-UN Development Partnership Fund was set up as a partnership between India and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).
  • Managed by UNOSSC, the fund will support Southern-owned and led, demand-driven, and transformational sustainable development projects across the developing world. Focusing on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States, United Nations agencies will implement the Fund’s projects in close collaboration with partnering governments.
  • Reducing poverty and hunger, improving health, education and equality, and expanding access to clean water and energy.

  1. Blockchain tech

Source: The Hindu

According to experts, the adoption of blockchain by India’s banks could help avert frauds such as the one at Punjab National Bank as the disaggregated and transparent nature of the technology, which updates information across all users simultaneously, would have ensured that various officials would have instantly been alerted to the creation of the letters of undertaking (LoUs).

Blockchain?

  • Blockchain is the digital and decentralized ledger that records transactions without the need for a financial intermediary, which in most cases is a bank. A blockchain is an anonymous online ledger that uses data structure to simplify the way we transact. Blockchain allows users to manipulate the ledger in a secure way without the help of a third party.

How it works?

  • Blockchain enables two entities that do not know each other to agree that something is true without the need of a third party. As opposed to writing entries into a single sheet of paper, a blockchain is a distributed database that takes a number of inputs and places them into a block. Each block is then ‘chained’ to the next block using a cryptographic signature. This allows blockchains to be used as a ledger which is accessible by anyone with permission to do so. If everyone in the process is pre-selected, the ledger is termed ‘permissioned’. If the process is open to the whole world, the ledger is called unpermissioned.

Benefits of blockchain technology:

  • A blockchain is anonymous, protecting the identities of the users. This makes blockchain a more secure way to carry out transactions. The algorithm used in blockchain reduces the dependence on people to verify the transactions.

Concerns associated:

  • Blockchain is still a (relatively) new technology and is not without its problems. For a start, there are ongoing concerns about privacy in the settlement and storage of securities – blockchain providers are working hard to address.
  • Banks are also at threat with blockchain, since more and more firms (using their IT service providers from India and elsewhere) will build systems that can create and exchange ‘blocks’ with one another completely legally, without ever having to use the banks as a financial intermediary.

Way ahead:

  • Blockchain is not a panacea for all issues facing the banking system today. However, blockchain is an ideal technology to ensure proof of integrity to the data and reduce incidents of fraud.

  1. Enforcement Directorate

Source: The Hindu

The Enforcement Directorate is grappling with a severe manpower crunch. The directorate is currently functioning with less than 50% of the approved strength of 2,064 posts. While there are 900 officials handling operations at various levels, there is a vacancy of more than 300 investigating officials, which has resulted in increased work pressure on the present set-up.

Enforcement Directorate:

  • It is a law enforcement agency and economic intelligence agency responsible for enforcing economic laws and fighting economic crime in India. It is part of the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance.

Objectives:

  • The prime objective of the Enforcement Directorate is the enforcement of two key Acts- the Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999 (FEMA) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002 (PMLA). Other objectives are primarily linked to checking money laundering in India.
  • It comprises officers of the Indian Revenue Service, Indian Police Service and the Indian Administrative Service.

Background:

  • The origin of this Directorate goes back to 1 May 1956, when an ‘Enforcement Unit’ was formed, in Department of Economic Affairs, for handling Exchange Control Laws violations under Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947. In the year 1957, this Unit was renamed as ‘Enforcement Directorate’.

  1. Mass nesting of olive ridleys begins in Odisha

Source: The Hindu

Starting the mass nesting this year, more than 3,100 female olive ridley turtles have come out of the sea to the sandy beach of the Rushikulya rookery coast in Ganjam district of Odisha.

  • The Rushikulya coast is considered to be a major nesting site in the world and lakhs of olive ridleys come here every year to lay eggs.

Olive Ridley turtles:

  • Also known as the Pacific ridley sea turtle, Olive turtles are a medium-sized species of sea turtle found in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
  • They are best known for their behavior of synchronized nesting in mass numbers.
  • The olive ridley is classified as Vulnerable according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and is listed in Appendix I of CITES.
  • The Convention on Migratory Species and the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles have also provided olive ridleys with protection, leading to increased conservation and management for this marine turtle.



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