Current Affairs, 19 October 2018

 Current Affairs, 19 October 2018

Paper 2:

Topic: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.

 

Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE)

 

What to study?

  • For Prelims: About ICFRE, NVS and KVS, Prakriti programme.
  • For Mains: Significance of MoUs.

 

Context: The Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) has signed two Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS).

 

Key Highlights:

  • The agreements were signed to launch ‘Prakriti’ programme, which aims to promote awareness about forests and environment and stimulate interest among the students of NVS and KVS in maintaining a balanced environment and for acquiring skills that reflect care and protection towards forests, environment and society.
  • The main objective behind the agreements is to provide a platform for the school children to learn practical skills towards sustainable use of the resources.
  • The two agreements have been signed for a period of 10 years. They aim to make the Indian youth more sensitive towards national and global issues of environment and thus, help them become responsible citizens.
  • The agreements also aim to mobilise a cadre of youth for raising a peoples’ movement, which is committed to the conservation of forest and environment.
  • The collaboration will enable transfer of knowledge to students and teachers of NVS and KVS on environment, forest, environmental services and contemporary areas of forestry research through lectures and interactive sessions by ICFRE scientists.

 

About ICFRE:

  • The Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) is an autonomous council under the Union Environment Ministry.
  • The council mainly guides, promotes and coordinates forestry research, extension and education at the national level through its nine institutes and five centres located across the country.

 

Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS):

The Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti is an autonomous organisation established under the Department of School Education and Literacy in the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The organisation was established to provide modern quality education to talented children, predominantly from rural areas, without regard to their family’s socio-economic condition.

 

Sources: the hindu.


Topic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

 

Currency monitoring list

What to study?

  • For Prelims: What is currency monitoring list?
  • For Mains: Why is India placed in the list?- implications and what needs to be done?

 

Context: In its latest report, the US has said that it could remove India from its currency monitoring list of major trading partners citing certain developments and steps taken by New Delhi, which address some of its major concerns.

 

Background:

India was for the first time, in April, placed by the US in its currency monitoring list of countries with potentially questionable foreign exchange policies along with five other countries — China, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland.

 

Recent developments:

  • India’s circumstances have shifted markedly, as the central bank’s net sales of foreign exchange over the first six months of 2018 led net purchases over the four quarters through June 2018 to fall to $4 billion, or 0.2% of GDP.
  • This represented a notable change from 2017, when purchases over the first three quarters of the year pushed net purchases of foreign exchange above 2% of GDP. Recent sales came amid a turnaround in foreign portfolio inflows, as foreign investors pulled portfolio capital out of India (and many other emerging markets) over the first half of the year.
  • The rupee depreciated by around 7% against the dollar and by more than 4% on a real effective basis in the first half of 2018. India has a significant bilateral goods trade surplus with the US, totalling $23 billion over the four quarters through June 2018, but India’s current account is in deficit at 1.9% of GDP.

 

On what basis is a country named a ‘currency manipulator’?

The three pre-conditions for being named currency manipulator are: a trade surplus of over $20 billion with the US, a current account deficit surplus of 3% of the GDP, and persistent foreign exchange purchases of 2% plus of the GDP over 12 months.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3:

Topic: Awareness in space.

 

China’s artificial moon project

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Key features and significance of the project.

 

Context: China is in the process of creating an “artificial moon” that would be bright enough to replace the streetlights in the south-western city of Chengdu by 2020.

 

Key facts:

  • Chinese scientists plan to send three artificial moons into space in the next four years, and the moons — made from reflective material like a mirror — are expected to orbit at 500 kilometres above the Earth and light up an area with a diameter of 10 to 80 kilometres.
  • The artificial moon will have a reflective coating that can deflect sunlight back to Earth, similar to how the moon shines.
  • The illuminated satellite is said to be eight times brighter than the real moon. The satellites’ brightness and service time are both adjustable, and the accuracy of the lighting can be controlled within tens of metres.
  • The three artificial moons would operate alternately in order to significantly reduce infrastructural electricity consumption, especially during winter. The illuminated satellite is designed to complement the moon at night.
  • Lighting from the artificial moon covering 50 square kilometres in Chengdu could save about 1.2 billion yuan ($240 million) in electricity costs every year. It could also be used to light up areas experiencing power outages caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes.

 

Background:

The idea for the man-made moon originated from a French artist who imagined hanging a necklace made of mirrors in the sky to light up the streets of Paris at night. Russia attempted to launch a 25-metre “space mirror” but the project was put off in 1999.

 

Sources: toi.


Topic: Awareness in space.

 

Dawn Mission

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Key features, significance and accomplishments of the mission.

 

Context: NASA’s Dawn mission is drawing to a close after 11 years of breaking new ground in planetary science, gathering breathtaking imagery, and performing unprecedented feats of spacecraft engineering.

  • Dawn’s mission was extended several times, outperforming scientists’ expectations in its exploration of two planet-like bodies, Ceres and Vesta, that make up 45 percent of the mass of the main asteroid belt. Now the spacecraft is about to run out of a key fuel, hydrazine. When that happens, most likely between mid-September and mid-October, Dawn will lose its ability to communicate with Earth. It will remain in a silent orbit around Ceres for decades.

 

Dawn mission:

  • NASA’s Dawn mission was aimed at studying the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres, celestial bodies believed to have accreted early in the history of the solar system. The mission characterized the early solar system and the processes that dominated its formation.
  • Dawn is the only mission ever to orbit two extraterrestrial targets. It orbited giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 to 2012, then continued on to Ceres, where it has been in orbit since March 2015.

 

Sources: toi.


Topic: IPR and related issues.

 

Bihar’s ‘Shahi Litchi’ Gets GI tag

What to study?

  • For Prelims: Shahi litchi.
  • For Mains: All about GI tag.

 

Context: Bihar’s Shahi litchi has got the Geographical Indication (GI) tag and has become an exclusive brand in the national and international market.

 

Key facts:

  • The famous Shahi litchi, which is famous for its sweet, juicy, unique flavour and aroma, is mostly grown in Muzaffarpur and neighbouring districts including East Champaran, Vaishali, Samastipur and Begusarai.
  • The GI registration was done in the name of Litchi Growers Association of Bihar, which had applied for the tag.

 

Significance:

Bihar produces 40% of the litchi grown in the country on 38% of the area. The GI tag to Shahi litchi will boost up its demand in the market and will minimise the fear of fake and poor quality litchis. The GI tag for the fruit will help and benefit thousands of litchi growers who will gain access to more markets and get better price in the country and abroad.

 

About GI tag:

What is it?

A GI is primarily an agricultural, natural or a manufactured product (handicrafts and industrial goods) originating from a definite geographical territory.

 

Significance of a GI tag:

Typically, such a name conveys an assurance of quality and distinctiveness, which is essentially attributable to the place of its origin.

 

Security:

Once the GI protection is granted, no other producer can misuse the name to market similar products. It also provides comfort to customers about the authenticity of that product.

 

Provisions in this regard:

  • GI is covered as element of intellectual property rights (IPRs) under Paris Convention for Protection of Industrial Property.
  • At international level, GI is governed by WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
  • In India, Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection Act), 1999 governs it.

 

Facts for Prelims:

Other GI tags associated with Bihar: Katrani rice, Jardalu mango and Magahi paan (betel vine).

 

Sources: the hindu.


Topic: Disaster and disaster management.

 

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

 

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: All about NDMA and its significance.

 

Context: The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi recently chaired the sixth meeting of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) at New Delhi.

  • Prime Minister reviewed the activities of NDMA to effectively manage and respond to disasters affecting the country. He also reviewed ongoing projects undertaken by NDMA.
  • Prime Minister emphasized on the need for better coordination between the various stakeholders and undertake more joint exercises to bring about effective response to save life and property. He stressed upon the need to bring in global expertise in the field of disaster management.

 

About NDMA:

On 23 December 2005, the Government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act, which envisaged the creation of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by the Prime Minister, and State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) headed by respective Chief Ministers, to spearhead and implement a holistic and integrated approach to Disaster Management in India.

 

NDMA, as the apex body, is mandated to lay down the policies, plans and guidelines for Disaster Management to ensure timely and effective response to disasters. Towards this, it has the following responsibilities:

  • Lay down policies on disaster management.
  • Approve the National Plan.
  • Approve plans prepared by the Ministries or Departments of the Government of India in accordance with the National Plan.
  • Lay down guidelines to be followed by the State Authorities in drawing up the State Plan.
  • Lay down guidelines to be followed by the different Ministries or Departments of the Government of India for the Purpose of integrating the measures for prevention of disaster or the mitigation of its effects in their development plans and projects.
  • Coordinate the enforcement and implementation of the policy and plans for disaster management.
  • Recommend provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation.
  • Provide such support to other countries affected by major disasters as may be determined by the Central Government.
  • Take such other measures for the prevention of disaster, or the mitigation, or preparedness and capacity building for dealing with threatening disaster situations or disasters as it may consider necessary.
  • Lay down broad policies and guidelines for the functioning of the National Institute of Disaster Management.

 

Significance:

  • There was no institutional framework for disaster management earlier, but after the setting up of NDMA, a mechanism has been developed not only for disaster management, but also for disaster risk reduction.
  • India got appreciation due to NDMA’s work at Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting on Disaster management held in Kyrgyzstan last month. India had extended help to earthquake-hit Nepal in 2014 and also India had sent NDRF team to Japan for help.
  • Its time to further strengthen the legal and institutional systems in place for disaster management.

 

Sources: the hindu.

 


 

Facts for Prelims:

 

 

Dharma Guardian:

What is it? It is a joint military exercise between India and Japan.

Why in News? The first edition of this joint military exercise will be held in Mizoram.

Aim: The exercise is aimed at developing mutual understanding and respect between militaries of both countries, as also facilitate in tracking worldwide phenomenon of terrorism.

 

NCR RASTA and Yatri RASTA:

The North Central Railways (NCR) has launched two mobile apps:

  1. NCR RASTA (Railway assets Summerised Tracking Application):

It is for use of railway officers and staff and has exact mapping of all railway assets. It will enable railway staff to reach desired asset using Google Navigation in case of any emergency.

  1. Yatri RASTA (Railway Approach to Station Tracking Application):

Yatri RASTA app: It will allow general public to locate railway stations easily. It is already available for smartphones running on Android and can be downloaded free of cost from Google Play Store.

 

India’s first railway station inside tunnel to come up in Himachal Pradesh:

Context: For the first time in India, a railway station will be built inside a tunnel at a height of 3,000 metres, on the strategic Bilaspur-Manali-Leh line close to the China-India border.

  • The station will be at a height of around 3,000 metres and will be inside a 27-km-long tunnel.
  • Keylong is the administrative centre of Lahaul and Spiti district, 26 km north of Manali and 120 km from the India-Tibet border.

Editorial: Hamstringing the RTI Act


 

Context:

RTI is one of the landmark acts which has led to a significant boost in accountability of the govt towards the people.

The Right to Information (RTI) Act, operationalised in October 2005, was seen as a powerful tool for citizen empowerment. It showed an early promise by exposing wrongdoings at high places, such as in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games, and the allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks.

The RTI Assessment and Analysis Group (RAAG) report found: 4-5 million applications are filed under the Act every year.

 

Proposed Amendments to RTI Act:

The govt has recently proposed some changes in the act which are said to be regressive in nature.

There are set of targeted and fashioned amendments to the RTI Act which will not only undermine one part of the Act but structurally weaken the independence and authority of the only body that gives it teeth, thereby nullifying the entire Act.

The government proposes to do away with the equivalence of the Central Information Commissioners with the Election Commissioners on the ground that the two have different mandates.

The underlying assumption that transparency is less important for a democracy than holding of free and fair elections is absurd.

The government also proposes to replace the existing fixed five-year tenure of the Information Commissioners with tenure as may be prescribed by it. This would make the tenure largesse to be bestowed by the government.

This would be detrimental to the independence and authority of the Information Commissions.

                                                           

However, the Act faces certain challenges:

  • Huge level of pendency of cases both at national as well as state levels.
  • Non-imposition of penalties – data supplied by 20 commissions shows that penalty was imposed in just 2.4% of the cases disposed of.
  • More than 40 RTI activists had been killed in the process of exposing wrongdoing.
  • Laxity by public authorities in publishing information.
  • The RTI Act, did not give adequate authority to the Information Commissions to enforce their decisions.

 

The reasons for the above challenges include:

  • Poor record-keeping practices within the bureaucracy.
  • Lack of infrastructure and staff for running Information Commissions.
  • Dilution of supplementary laws such as the Whistleblower Protection Act.
  • Inadequate training to civil servants for implementing the Act.
  • Delayed appointments of Information Commissioners (ICs)

 

Misuse of the act:

 

The clogging of the RTI system is also because a number of applicants, usually disgruntled employees of public institutions, ask frivolous queries.

Their applications have unfortunately continued to exist alongside those of numerous RTI activists who have done commendable work, often risking their life and limb.

 

Strength and appointments to Information commissions is the Need of the Hour:

The Central and State Information Commissions have been functioning with less than their prescribed maximum strength of eleven because governments have dragged their feet on appointing commissioners.

  • For instance, the Central Information Commission (CIC), currently having seven members, will have only three by the end of the year if no appointments are made.

This leads to delay in disposal of cases, which is compounded by the backlog in the High Courts, where a number of decisions of the commission are challenged.

This happens invariably in cases concerning the high and the mighty.

  • For example, the CIC’s decision in 2007 to cover Indraprastha Gas Ltd. under the Act was stayed by the Delhi High Court, and the stay continues to operate.

The Act struck a balance between privacy and transparency by barring the disclosure of personal information if it has no relationship to any public activity or would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy.

However, the Justice Srikrishna Committee has proposed an amendment that would broaden the definition of ‘harm’, restricting disclosure of personal information even where it may be clearly linked to some public activity.

 

Benefits of right usage of RTI:

The right to information laws, alongside expanding the citizen’s rights, should be systematically employed to transform governance.

These laws could be a powerful magnet for mobilizing the people and enthusing them to use these laws to enhance and expand their choices for their own betterment.

RTI laws directly contribute to improvement in governance by breaking down the barriers between the government and the people by enhancing trust.

RTI is the most powerful assault on developing countries endemic corruption.

RTI should be an instrument to bring an end to the culture of governmental secrecy and the battle for transparency is to be fought and won in the minds of the civil servants.

 

Conclusion:

For over a decade, citizens of India have tenaciously protected and guarded this people’s legislation, preventing repeated attempts to dilute the Act through amendments.

Interestingly, no government has bothered to propose amendments which would make the RTI Act more robust and effective.

Thirteen years of the Act’s functioning have given us enough experience to hold a public debate on making it more effective.

However, if the issues listed above are not addressed, this sunshine law will lose its promise, particularly in terms of ensuring transparency at higher levels of governance.

Nonetheless, pre-legislative consultation prior to the amendment is a more effective and democratic way to bring any changes to the Act. RTI is a mechanism to develop and ensure transparency and accountability, in line with Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. All efforts must be directed to strengthen it.

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *