27 , October 2017

Global Passport Power Rank 2017

  • India’s passport was ranked 75th among 94 countries in recently released Global Passport Power Rank 2017. Singapore has world’s most powerful passport, making it first Asian country to top it. Singapore is followed by Germany, Sweden and South Korea.
  • The Global Passport Power Rank is released by Canada based global financial advisory firm Arton Capital.
  • It has become most popular interactive online tool to display, sort and rank world’s passports.
  • The index ranks national passports by cross-border access they bring, assigning visa-free score according to number of countries passport holder can visit visa-free or with visa on arrival.

Vigilance Awareness Week to be observed from 30th October to 4th November, 2017 with theme “My Vision-Corruption Free India”.

  • Purpose of observing Vigilance Awareness Week is to educate the public at large about the corruption related practices and also educating them how to report about it.
  • Activities to be conducted within the organisation include taking of Integrity Pledge by all employees, distribution of pamphlets/handouts on preventive vigilance activities, whistle blower mechanism and other anti-corruption measures, conducting workshops and sensitization programmes for employees and other stake holders on policies/procedures of the organization and preventive vigilance measures
  • “Awareness Gram Sabhas” are being organized for dissemination of awareness in Gram Panchayats (in rural and semi-urban areas) to sensitise citizens on the ill-effects of corruption.
  • A new feature is the establishment of ‘Integrity Clubs’ in schools and colleges as children are the future assets of the country and it is important to cultivate moral values in them.

1.First BIMSTEC Task Force on Traditional Medicine meeting held in New Delhi
Source: PIB

The first-ever meeting of BIMSTEC Task Force on Traditional Medicine (BITFM) was held at Parvasi Bhartiya Kendra in New Delhi

  • It was organized by Union Ministry of AYUSH
  • India being a major stakeholder in the field of Traditional Medicine plays an important role in influencing the policies and strategies related to the Traditional Medicine in the BIMSTEC Forum

Key Points:

  • Implementation of Strategies of BIMSTEC Task Force on Traditional Medicines
  • Identification of priority areas in traditional medicine for technical and research collaboration among member states
  • Regional Strategy for protection of Genetic Resource associated with    Traditional Medicine Knowledge and Intellectual Property Rights
  • Human Resource Development and Capacity Building among the BIMSTEC Member States
  • New Initiative, proposals and programmes for cooperation on Traditional Medicine among the BIMSTEC Task Force on Traditional Medicine.

2.Govt. working on tougher consumer protection law
Source: The Hindu

According to the PM, a new consumer protection law is on the anvil to crack down on misleading advertisements and simplify the grievance redressal mechanism

The new law will replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and is in line with the revised UN guidelines on consumer protection. It is currently with the Cabinet Secretariat and will be placed before the Cabinet for consideration soon

The Consumer Protection Bill, 2015:

The Bill replaces the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that this is to widen the ambit and modernise the law on consumer protection due to the changes in the markets.

  • Definition of consumer: A consumer is defined as any person who buys a good or hires a service for a consideration. This includes the user of such good or service, but not one who obtains the good for resale or commercial purposes. It covers transactions through all modes including offline, online through electronic means, teleshopping, or multi level marketing.
  • Rights of consumers: The rights of consumers include the right to: (i) be protected against marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property, (ii) be informed of the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services, (iii) be assured of access to a variety of goods or services at competitive prices, and (iv) to seek redressal against unfair or restrictive trade practices.
  • Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA): The central government will set up the CCPA to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers. The CCPA will carry out the following functions, among others: (i) inquiring into violations of consumer rights, investigating and launching prosecution at the appropriate forum; (ii) passing orders for recall of goods, or withdrawal of services and reimbursement of the price paid, and pass directions for discontinuation of unfair trade practices; (iii) issuing safety notices and order withdrawal of advertisements; and (iv) declaring contracts that are unfair to a consumer as void.
  • Product liability: If defects in the manufacture, construction, design, testing, service marketing etc. of a product results in any personal injury or property damage to a consumer, the manufacturer is liable in a product liability action.
  • Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions: Consumer Grievance Redressal Commissions are to be set up at the district, state and national levels. A consumer can file a complaint with these commissions, regarding: (i) unfair or restrictive trade practices, (ii) defective goods or services, (iii) overcharging or deceptive charging, (iv) the offering of goods or services for sale which may be hazardous to life and safety, and (v) incurring loss due to an unfair contract.
  • The District Commission may issue the following orders regarding a complaint: remove the defect, replace the good, return the price amount, stop the sale or manufacture of hazardous products, discontinue unfair trade practices or pay compensation for any loss suffered by the consumer. Appeals from its decisions will be heard by the State Commission. Further appeals may be filed before the National Commission, and then before the Supreme Court.
  • Consumer Mediation Cell: The Bill introduces mediation as a mode of consumer dispute resolution. Consumer Mediation Cells will be established and attached to the redressal commissions at the district, state and national levels.
  • Penalties: Any person who fails to comply with an order of either of the Commissions would be liable for imprisonment from one month to three years, or with a fine from 10,000 rupees to 50,000 rupees.

Measures Taken so far by Govt :

  • Increased competition among companies due to the GST will lead to moderation in prices and this will directly benefit poor and middle class consumers.
  • Bureau of Indian Standard Act – commodity or service is brought under compulsory certification. The Act has provisions to order recall of substandard products from the market.
  • Ujala scheme – use of energy-efficient LED bulbs has not just brought down their prices but also helped save Rs. 20,000 crore in electricity bills
  • Jan Aushadhi Pariyojna – affordable medicines to people, brought down prices of life-saving heart stent implants as well as knee implants
  • “Give it up’ campaign under which more than one crore beneficiaries surrendered their LPG subsidy. The saved subsidy amount have been used to give free gas connections to 3 crore households
  • Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) Scheme transferred transferring the money directly into the beneficiaries’  prevented leakage of more than Rs. 57,000 crores.
  • Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act has been enacted to protect home buyers and the government is working to achieve the target of housing for all by 2022.

3.India, Sri Lanka ink housing project deal in Hambantota
Source: The Hindu

Sri Lanka signed an agreement with India to build 1,200 houses in the southern port city- Hambantota. Hambantota is a Sinhala dominated area.

Of the 1,200 houses to be built, 600 will be constructed in the Southern Province, while the remaining would be built across Sri Lanka, through one model village in each of the country’s 25 districts.

Hambantota:

  • Hambantota is the main town in Hambantota District, Southern Province, Sri Lanka.
  • This underdeveloped area was hit hard by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and is underwent a number of major development projects including the construction of a new sea port and international airport.
  • Hambantota is right in the middle of vital energy supply lines in the Indian Ocean, connecting the Middle East and East Asia.

Background information:

  • The coastal city of Hambantota gained strategic significance after President Rajapaksa built a massive port and an airport with huge Chinese loans.
  • In July this year, his successor government sold a majority stake of the port to China to service an outstanding $8-billion debt it owes China, fanning concerns of countries with competing strategic interests, particularly India and the U.S.

4.Don’t deny PDS foodgrains to non-Aadhaar beneficiaries, Centre tells States
Source: The Hindu

A 11-year-old Jharkhand girl recently died of alleged starvation after being allegedly denied PDS ration.

New instructions issued by the Centre:

  • The Union government has instructed the States not to deny the public distribution system (PDS) benefits to anyone who does not have Aadhaar or has not linked his ration card to the number and warned of strict action on violation of the directive.
  • The Centre also asked the State governments not to delete eligible households from the list of beneficiaries for non-possession of Aadhaar.

Maintenance of separate record:

  • Cases like those without Aadhaar, Aadhaar not linked to ration card, or failure of biometric authentication — where benefits are being extended, will have to be recorded separately as “exceptions” by the fair price shop dealer.
  • Further, the States will have to devise a mechanism of monthly audit and inspection, including field verification of such “exceptions” to guard against any “misuse”.

Public Distribution system:

  • Public distribution system (PDS) is an Indian food security system. Established by the Government of India under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution and are managed jointly by state governments in India, it distributes subsidized food and non-food items to India’s poor. This scheme was launched in June 1947.
  • Major commodities distributed include staple food grains, such as wheat, rice, sugar, and kerosene, through a network of fair price shops (also known as ration shops) established in several states across the country. Food Corporation of India, a Government-owned corporation, procures and maintains the PDS.

5.Rajasthan Assembly passes bill raising OBC quota to 26%
Source: The Hindu

The Rajasthan Assembly passed a bill which increases reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the state from 21 per cent to 26 per cent.

With the Rajasthan Special Backward Classes Act 2015, the state government had moved the five castes from OBC into a separate Special Backward Castes category. The Rajasthan High Court last year struck down five per cent reservation for these castes provided through The Rajasthan Special Backward Classes Act, 2015, pointing out flaws in the government’s process of granting reservation.  Following an agitation by Gujjars, the Bharatiya Janata Party government had assured them that the revised OBC quota would be split to grant 5% quota to the “most backward classes.

Current Scenario:

  • The reservation in Rajasthan now stands at 54 per cent defying the set ceiling of 50 per cent by the Supreme Court.
  • The Bill created a new “most backward” category within the OBCs for providing the quota benefit to Gujjars and four other nomadic communities.
  • The Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointment and Posts in Services under the State) Bill, 2017, has provided 5% reservation to the Gujjar, Banjara, Gadia-Lohar, Raika and Gadariya communities
  • State debates in favour of the Bill saying that the reservation had been enhanced in proportion to the increase in the State’s OBC population, which was “legally permissible”.

6.India for constructive approach to Rohingya crisis
Source: The Hindu

India’s observations:

‘Constructive’ approach is the need of the hour to deal with the exodus of the Rohingya. The displaced members of the community will have to return to their place of origin in the Rakhine province of Myanmar.

Rohingyas

  • The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group living primarily in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
  • They practice a Sufi-inflected variation of Sunni Islam.
  • The estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar account for nearly a third of Rakhine’s population.
  • The Rohingya differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically, and religiously

Rohingya Crisis

  • The Rohingya crisis is a human rights crisis with serious humanitarian consequences.
  • The 1982 Citizenship Law denies the Rohingya Muslims citizenship despite the people living there for generations. They are considered “stateless entities”.
  • To escape the dire situation in Myanmar, the Rohingya try to illegally enter Southeast Asian states like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, begging for humanitarian support from potential host countries
  • As per the United Nations refugee agency from August almost 400,000 Rohingya have crossed Naf river over to Bangladesh from the northern Rakhine state in Myanmar, putting Bangladesh under immense strain
  • The dominant group, the Rakhine, rejects the label “Rohingya” and has started to persecute the Rohingya.
  • The latest surge follows attacks on police posts by an extremist Rohingya group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army(ARSA).
  • People from all over the world started calling this crisis and bloodshed “campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

Why the issue of ethnicity for Rohingya?

  • The Rohingya trace their origins in the region to the fifteenth century when thousands of Muslims came to the former Arakan Kingdom.
  • Many others arrived during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Bengal and the Rakhine territory were governed by colonial rule as part of British India.
  • Since independence in 1948, successive governments in Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, have refuted the Rohingya’s historical claims and denied the group recognition as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups.
  • Both the Myanmar government and the Rakhine state’s dominant ethnic Buddhist group, known as the Rakhine, reject the use of the label “Rohingya.

Why are Rohingya fleeing Myanmar?

  • Government policies, including restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice, and freedom of movement have institutionalized systemic discrimination against the ethnic group.
  • Rakhine state is also Myanmar’s least developed state, with more than 78 percent of households living below the poverty threshold, according to World Bank estimates.
  • Widespread poverty, weak infrastructure, and a lack of employment opportunities exacerbate the cleavage between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya.

Rohingyas in India

  • There are an estimated 36,000 Rohingya Muslims in India today, concentrated in the seven states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi.
  • Delhi stance on the Rohingyas is firm; they are welcome as long as the Rohingyas obtain a valid visa and have a refugee card.
  • Without a refugee card, the Rohingyas can’t claim land, health benefits or education for their kids.
  • According to a Reuters report, only 9000 of the 36,000 Rohingyas who live in India are registered.

Why such distant stand by India?

  • Rohingya crisis is irreconcilable and unresolvable. All that can be done is try to mitigate it.
  • With India having no solution or expertise to offer, it is a good reason to stay away.
  • India has real security interests which depend on the goodwill of the Myanmar regime.
  • In 2015, for instance, following an attack by Naga rebels on a security convoy in Manipur, Indian forces carried out a covert raid across the border – with the quiet nod from Yangon. Delhi does not want that trust to be eroded.
  • A new Muslim militant minority across India’s eastern border poses a severe security threat to the stability in Bangladesh and, in turn, across Assam and northeast India.
  • Several thousands of Rohingya refugees already reside in India and with support from activists they could disrupt Delhi’s relations with Myanmar.

Impact on India

  • When peace returns to Myanmar, India can ask the latter to rehabilitate the Rohingyas.
  • A stable and democratic Myanmar will naturally gravitate towards New Delhi.
  • The Rohingya crisis, if it remains unsettled, can become a path toward radicalization and pose a greater security threat for India.
  • There are reports of increasing radicalization among sections of the Rohingya community.
  • A December 2016 report by the International Crisis Group spoke precisely about this challenge and highlighted how rights violations can lead to radicalization.

Operation Insaaniyat:
Key features:

  • Indian government has decided to assist Bangladesh to help with influx of  Rohingya  refugees  by sending relief material.
  • The Defence ministry assured the relief material will be delivered in multiple consignments. Items include rice, pulses, sugar, salt, cooking oil, tea, ready to eat noodles, biscuits, mosquito nets etc.
  •  The Indian Air Force was tasked to airlift the relief material from India to Bangladesh.


7.‘India has to spend Rs 50 lakh cr on infra’
Source: The Hindu

Infrastructure sector has suffered in India due to under-investment for a long time

Infrastructure Yearbook 2017:

  • A book released by rating agency Crisil.
  • Highlight:India would need to spend about ₹50 lakh crore between fiscal 2018 and 2022 to build its infrastructure in a sustainable manner
  • For years now, the government has been doing the heavy lifting in terms of infrastructure investments. However, having only the public investment cylinder firing is not good enough. Accelerating private sector investments is an essential complementarity, and the other cylinder that needs to fire.

Crisil InfraInvex

  • A new index launched by Crisil
  • It is an ‘investability’ index that would track, measure and assess the development, maturity and investment attractiveness of infrastructure sectors.
  • Attractive sector: The Crisil InfraInvex scores for 2017 show power transmission sector the most attractive to invest in currently, followed by roads and highways, and renewable energy.

NITI Aayog to devise new strategies:

  • NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant pitched for channelling insurance and pension funds for financing infrastructure projects as also for a complete re-examination of the viability gap funding (VGF) scheme.

8.NHAI eyes bond issue to finance highway projects
Source: The Hindu

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will soon issue bonds to finance highway projects.Both Foreign and domestic investments are allowed.

  • Key Fact: National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has a AAA rating that would help it tap into the capital markets. Funds to the tune of Rs 4-5 lakh crore can be raised from the markets for highway projects.

9.NITI bats for divesting 34 sick PSUs
Source: The Hindu

Government think-tank NITI Aayog has recommended strategic disinvestment of 34 sick public sector units. Earlier, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had asked the think tank to look into the viability of sick state run companies.

The Centre plans to raise funds to the tune of Rs. 72,500 crore through stake sale in PSUs this fiscal, including Rs. 46,500 crore from minority stake sale.

Strategic disinvestment:

  • In strategic disinvestment the government sells major portion of its stake to a strategic buyer and also gives over the management control.
  • Under it, the strategic Partner, may hold less percentage of shares than the government but the government loses management control.
  • The Finance Ministry has empowered the NITI Ayog to advise the government on the strategic disinvestment of the CPSEs.
  • The procedure for strategic sale will be prepared by Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM).

10.Phase 1 of Bharat Net project to be completed by December
Source: IE

Bharat Net has now reached 83,000 gram panchayats.
The first phase of the national optic fiber network will be completed by December this year

Named as Bharat Net project — it aims to deploy high-speed optical fiber cables across rural areas.It will be providing internet access to 100,000 gram panchayats.

‘i-Bharat 2017’

  • It was a conference based on the theme of ‘ICT Elucidations for Unserved and Unsolved’
  • It was organized by industry body FICCI in association with the ministry of electronics and information technology

Two important areas in the interplay of technology and policy

  • One is how India will leverage its Aadhaar and Election Commission data base
  • Second, how will the country tackle the privacy debate after the Supreme Court ruling on privacy being a fundamental right

The challenge

  • With a large scale of people (about 250 million) expected to migrate from rural areas to urban cities by 2020, the challenge resides in readying urban cities to meet the rise in demand of various services
  • The industry therefore needs to work towards creating affordable solutions in the space of health, education, etc, using the power of digital

National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN)- Bharat Net

  • National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) is an ambitious initiative to trigger a broadband revolution in rural areas
  • The National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) aims to connect all the 2,50,000 Gram panchayats in the country and provide 100 Mbps connectivity to all gram panchayats (GPs)
  • To achieve this, the existing fibres of PSUs (BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid) were utilised and incremental fibre was laid to connect to Gram Panchayats wherever necessary
  • Non-discriminatory access to the NOFN was provided to all the service providers like Telecom Service Providers (TSPs), ISPs, Cable TV operators and Content providers to launch various services in rural areas
  • The NOFN project was funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)
  • BharatNet shall be a project of national importance to establish, by 2017, a highly scalable network infrastructure accessible on a non-discriminatory basis, to provide on-demand, affordable broadband connectivity of 2 Mbps to 20 Mbps for all households and on-demand capacity to all institutions, to realise the vision of Digital India, in partnership with States and the private sector



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