23, March 2018

Successful Test Firing of Brahmos with Indigenous Seeker 

  • BrahMos, the formidable supersonic cruise missile with indigenous seeker was successfully flight tested at 0842 hrs today at the Pokhran test range in Rajasthan. The supersonic cruise missile and the seeker have been developed jointly by DRDO and BrahMos Aerospace.
  • http://www.brahmos.com/content.php?id=10&sid=10

  1. International Day of Forests

Source: PIB

International Day of Forests is observed on March 21st every year.

2018 Theme: Forests and Sustainable Cities.

The International Day of Forests:

  • The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests (IDF) in 2012. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests. On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns.

Importance of trees for sustainable cities:

  • Forests and trees store carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change in and around urban areas.
  • Trees also improve the local climate, helping to save energy used for heating by 20-50%.
  • Strategic placement of trees in urban areas can cool the air by up to 8 degrees Celsius, reducing air conditioning needs by 30%.
  • Urban trees are excellent air filters, removing harmful pollutants in the air and fine particulates.
  • Trees reduce noise pollution, as they shield homes from nearby roads and industrial areas.
  • Local populations use the fruits, nuts, leaves and insects found in urban trees to produce food and medicines for use in the home, or as a source of income.
  • Wood fuel sourced from urban trees and planted forests on the outskirts of cities provides renewable energy for cooking and heating, which reduces pressures on natural forests and our reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Forests in and around urban areas help to filter and regulate water, contributing to high-quality freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people. Forests also protect watersheds and prevent flooding as they store water in their branches and soil.
  • Well-managed forests and trees in and around cities provide habitats, food and protection for many plants and animals, helping to maintain and increase biodiversity.
  • Forests in cities and surrounding areas generate tourism, create tens of thousands of jobs and encourage city beautification schemes, building dynamic, energetic and prosperous green economies.
  • Urban green spaces, including forests, encourage active and healthy lifestyles, improve mental health, prevent disease, and provide a place for people to socialize.

  1. Strategy on Resource efficiency

Source: PIB

Niti aayog has initiated implementation of strategy on Resource efficiency. After detailed discussion,a road map for implementation of the RE in the country has also been evolved.

Implementation:

  • NITI Aayog will facilitate the RE strategy implementation. Implementation however will be the responsibility of the line ministries/departments.
  • A baseline survey on RE could be considered for better targeting.
  • A Status paper on RE and Four sectoral strategy papers on RE are to be prepared.
  • SWACH Bharat also means a clean production/mining environment, therefore resource efficiency and circular economy are also a part of this initiative.
  • One pilot study on Ease of Doing RE Business in collaboration with DIPP could be considered.
  • Finally, RE is a potential instrument for generating wealth from waste. Measures for promoting effective recycling of scrap generated in the country could be explored.

Strategy on Resource Efficiency:

  • NITI Aayog in collaboration with the European Union delegation to India have released the Strategy on Resource Efficiency. The strategy aims to promote resource efficiency in India.
  • This strategy is the first policy document to emphasize resource productivity in the country. The Strategy emphasizes on Sustainable Public Procurement (SSP) as an action agenda which will be the market transformation tool to transform to a resource efficient economy.
  • It is developed with the recommendations from the Indian Resource Efficiency Programme (IREP), launched by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and Indian Resource Panel (InRP) in April 2017.

Resource Efficiency:

  • Resource efficiency very simply put is making more with fewer materials. In practice, through a life-cycle approach, it leads to minimizing impact on environment & the associated societal burdens, transforming ‘waste’ into ‘resources’ fostering circular economy, and strengthening resource security.
  • Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy are important goals and central principles for achieving sustainable development. Sustainability is a global priority and SDGs commitment and 11th Five year plan also clearly enunciate importance of Resource efficiency (RE).

Key facts:

  • The new Indian Resource Panel (InRP) was officially unveiled in 2016, making India one of the first emerging economies to set up a national advisory body on resource efficiency.
  • The InRP was created with support from the International Climate Initiative as part of the project ‘Resource efficiency and secondary raw materials management as a contribution to climate change mitigation’.
  • The InRP will issue recommendations to Indian businesses and policy-makers on improving the general conditions for resource efficiency.

  1. Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017

Source: PIB

Parliament has passed the Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017.

Highlights of the Bill:

  • The 2017 Bill empowers the central government to (i) notify the period of maternity leave eligible for qualifying as continuous service; and (ii) determine the amount of gratuity available to employees.
  • The Bill removes the reference to 12 weeks in the 1972 Act and empowers the central government to notify the maximum maternity leave.
  • Under the Act, the maximum amount of gratuity payable to an employee cannot exceed Rs 10 lakh. The Bill removes the existing ceiling and states that the ceiling may be notified by the central government.

The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972:

  • The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 applies to establishments employing 10 or more persons. The main purpose for enacting this Act is to provide social security to workmen after retirement, whether retirement is a result of the rules of superannuation, or physical disablement or impairment of vital part of the body. Therefore, the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 is an important social security legislation to wage earning population in industries, factories and establishments.

Who Are Eligible?

  • The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 allows for the payment of gratuity to employees in any establishment, factory, mine, oil field, plantation, port, railways, company, or shop employing 10 or more workers.

  1. African Continental Free Trade Area

Source: The Hindu

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has been signed by 44 African countries at a summit of the African Union in Kigali, Rwanda.

 If successful, it will be the biggest trade trade agreement since the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, as well as a host of others did not sign the agreement.

AfCFTA

  • African heads of government agreed to establish a continental free trade area in 2012 and started negotiations in 2015.
  • The draft agreement commits countries to removing tariffs on 90% of goods, with 10% of “sensitive items” to be phased in later.
  • The agreement will also liberalise services and aims to tackle so-called “non-tariff barriers” which hamper trade between African countries, such as long delays at the border.
  • Eventually, free movement of people and even a single currency could become part of the free trade area.

Significance of AfCFTA:

  • The AfCFTA has the potential to bring over 1.2bn people together into the same market. The bloc of 55 nations would be the largest in the world by member states.
  • The AfCFTA could improve trade between African countries, which in 2016 estimates stated accounted for only 10%. By reducing barriers to trade, such as removing import duties and non-tariff barriers, African countries hope to boost intra-continental business.

Objectives:

  • Create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union.
  • Expand intra African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes and instruments across RECs and across Africa in general.
  • Resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes.
  • Enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.

  1. Toll Operate and Transfer (TOT) model

Source: PIB

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which invited bids for various highways, hopes to generate more than Rs 6,000 crore by leasing out the roads under the ‘toll-operate-transfer’ (TOT) model. This will provide NHAI funds to build more highways, filling in for the private sector that is reluctant to invest in new highways.

Background:

  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in 2016 had authorised NHAI to monetise 75 publicly funded national highways that are operational and have been generating toll revenues for at least two years.

TOT model:

  • Under this newly launched ToT model, the right to collect user-fee or toll on selected national highway stretches built through public funding is proposed to be auctioned and assigned to a concessionaire for a period of 30 years against an upfront payment of a lump-sum amount to the government.
  • The concessionaire is also responsible for the operation and maintenance of the roads during the tenure.
  • The model concession agreement also seeks to address the risks associated with such a long concession contract, with several provisions designed to deal with eventualities like roadway expansion, high toll traffic variation, etc., to ensure that concessionaires are not exposed to undue risks.
  • The government can also increase the concession period in later stages, if the concessionaire wants it.

Significance:

  • India is facing a $526 billion infrastructure investment gap by 2040. The TOT model, once successful in the highways sector, other sectors such as power transmission, oil and natural gas could replicate the same model, thereby unlocking the huge offbudget funding.



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