Toppers25_Current Affairs 26/03/2018

Toppers25_Current Affairs 26/03/2018

1. Many aims for defence policy

With the aim of creating up to 30 lakh jobs and a total turnover Rs. 1.7 lakh crore in defence goods, the Union government has called for public responses to its draft Defence Production Policy, 2018.

The draft, made public on the Defence Ministry website a few days ago, has suggested further liberalisation of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), by permitting up to 74% FDI under the automatic route. At present, up to 49% FDI is allowed through the automatic route, though no significant investment has come into the sector.

  • The draft policy says the government’s aim is to achieve “a turnover of Rs. 1,70,000 crore (approximately $26 billion) in defence goods and services by 2025, involving additional investment of nearly Rs. 70,000 crore (about $10 billion) creating employment for nearly 2-3 million people.”
  • It also hopes to achieve exports of Rs. 35,000 crore “in defence goods and services by 2025” and make India a global leader in cyberspace and AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies.
  • The policy says the vision is to make “India among the top five countries of the world in the aerospace and defence industries, with the active participation of the public and private sectors, fulfilling the objective of self-reliance as well as the demand of other friendly countries.”
  • The policy also hopes to “reduce current dependence on imports and to achieve self-reliance in development and manufacture” of several weapon systems/platforms, among them fighter aircraft, medium lift and utility helicopters, warships, land combat vehicles, autonomous weapon systems, missile systems and gun systems.

2. GSAT-6A to give armed forces a shot in the arm

GSAT-6A, the second predominantly S-band communications satellite, is set to be launched from Sriharikota on March 29.

  • It will complement GSAT-6, which has been orbiting since August 2015 at 83 degrees East longitude. The 2,000-kg-class 6A, costing about ₹270 crore, is a great deal more than a routine communications satellite. It is designated for the use of the Armed Forces and will not add any transponder capacity for general uses, according to sources in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • A special feature of the GSAT-6A is its 6-metre-wide umbrella-like antenna, which will be unfurled in once it is in space. The antenna is thrice as broad as the antennas generally used in ISRO satellites. It will enable mobile communication from anywhere via hand-held ground terminals.
  • Regular communication satellites with smaller antenna require much larger ground stations, said a former director of ISRO.  GSAT-6A will also have a smaller 0.8-metre antenna for communication in the C band. GSAT-6A is slated to be launched at 4.56 p.m. on a GSLV rocket.


3. India ‘ready and alert’ for any situation in Doka La, will maintain territorial integrity: Nirmala Sitharaman

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the Centre is “ready and alert” for any eventuality in Doka La (Dokalam in Bhutanese), where the Indian and Chinese military were locked in a 73-day stand-off near the Sikkim border last year, in Dehradun on Sunday.

Speaking at an event at Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat’s residence in Dehradun, Sitharaman said, “We are alert and ready for any unforeseen situation in Dokalam. We are constantly working on the modernisation of our forces. We will maintain our territorial integrity,” Her comments came at a time when the two neighbouring countries are attempting to reset their ties ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in June, where a host of bilateral meetings are lined-up, including the one between Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping on the sidelines.

  • The summit will be held in Qingdao from 9-10 June. Sitharaman expressed her stance just two days after India’s envoy to China Gautam Bambawale said in an interview that the Dokalam standoff took place because the Chinese military changed the status quo and India merely reacted to it. “If anyone changes the status quo, it will lead to a situation like what happened in Doka La,” he told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, adding that the best way to prevent such incidents is through candid and frank talks. 
  • Speaking about the recent debates on lack of funds for modernising and strengthening of Indian armed forces, the defence minister said there is no “laxity” in the modernisation and preparedness of the forces.

4. Cross-voting in RS polls defeat both — open and secret voting system

The Constituent Assembly took a policy decision on July 28, 1947 that the Federal Parliament shall consist of two chambers. The Council of States, or the Upper House, took birth on April 3, 1952 and held its first sitting on May 13, 1952. It was rechristened as ‘Rajya Sabha’ on August 23, 1954. RS was created to bring into Parliament the experienced and seasoned men of integrity and achievement, without subjecting them to din and bustle of general elections, to enhance quality of debates and legislations.

  • Not many years later, indirect elections to Rajya Sabha got mired in controversy, and there were talks about money and muscle power having a significant play in influencing the voting through secret ballot. Senior Congress MP Bibhuti Mishra introduced a Private Member’s Bill in Lok Sabha on March 30, 1973 for abolition of Rajya Sabha on ground that elections to RS have been mired in corruption.
  • Everyone knew at that time how the secret ballot was an open invitation for corruption during voting to elect a Rajya Sabha member. However, the attempt to introduce the Bill for abolition of RS drew adverse public opinion and the leaders in Parliament referred the issue to Ethics Committee of Parliament headed by S B Chavan.
  • The NDA government successfully pushed a Bill for amendment of Representation of People Act and brought in ‘Open Ballot” system. The effect of this was that before a MP or a MLA inserts the ballot paper into the ballot box, authorized agents of the political party shall be allowed to verify whom s/he voted for. If s/he refuses to show the ballot paper, the same shall be invalidated, thus compelling her/him to show it to the authorized agent of the party.
  • This ‘Open’ ballot process was challenged in SC by Kuldip Nayar alleging that it stifled free speech and expression of a voter, which is at the core of democracy. A five-judge bench led by then CJI Y K Sabharwal unanimously upheld the constitutional validity of the ‘open ballot’ system on August 22, 2006 To deal with money and muscle power engineering splits in political parties and defections, parliament had enacted anti-defection law to combat this political evil. This provided for disqualification of an MP or MLA if s/he “votes or abstains from voting” contrary to the directions of her/his party. The long and short of it was that a MP or a MLA cannot do conscience voting, only permitted during Presidential elections, in Parliament over any issue.

This provided for disqualification of an MP or MLA if s/he “votes or abstains from voting” contrary to the directions of her/his party. The long and short of it was that a MP or a MLA cannot do conscience voting, only permitted during Presidential elections, in Parliament over any issue. However, the anti-defection law is not applicable to RS elections

5. UDAN set to connect 100 regional airports soon 

  • In a major push to the government’s flagship regional connectivity scheme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to almost double its reach by starting subsidised flights to 100 airports in the country. 
  • The Prime Minister’s Office has asked the civil aviation ministry to examine adding 44 airports under the scheme called Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN). “The aviation ministry has to examine the possibility of adding another 44 airports under the scheme,” said a senior government official . 
  • The government has announced flights connecting 56 airports and 31 helipads in the initial two phases. Under UDAN, air connectivity is provided to unserved and underserved airports at a subsidised fare of Rs 2,500 per hour. The subsidy is funded through a mix of a charge of Rs 5,000 per flight for all airlines operating on domestic trunk routes and through the Airports Authority of India’s dividend payment. PM Modi, during the launch of the first flight, said his government intends to make people wearing hawai chappal (slippers) fly in hawai jahaaz (airplanes). 
  • The focus on expansion may mean the government will project the scheme as one of its achievements. 

6. Fighting forest fires

How information on a fire reaches the authorities and the ways in which firefighting can be improved

The recent wildfire tragedy in Theni in Tamil Nadu, in which 20 trekkers lost their lives, once again brings into focus forest fires in India. Over the past few years, we have realised that these fires are not spontaneous; human beings set off fires. This tragedy raises several other issues — of approaches in fighting fires and ways of mitigating damage.

Relaying information

When a fire anywhere in the world is detected by NASA’s MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) and VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) satellites, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) analyses the data by overlaying the digitised boundaries of forest areas to pinpoint the location to the exact forest compartment. The resolution of these satellites are up to 375m x 375m, which means that such fires can be detected if their extent is above half the pixel, i.e. about seven hectares. The FSI relays news of the fire to the concerned State, so that the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in charge of the forest where the fire is raging is informed. 

Meanwhile, news of the fire would have reached the DFO from his guards in watchtowers and on patrol. The DFO decides whom to deploy. Usually, there is a master fire control room which is informed and which sends firefighters from local fire crew stations to fight the blaze.

Four approaches

  • There are four approaches to fighting forest fires. The first is what may be called technological, where helicopters or ground-based personnel spray fire retardant chemicals, or pump water to fight the blaze. 
  • The second is to contain the fire in compartments bordered by natural barriers such as streams, roads, ridges, and fire lines along hillsides or across plains. A fire line is a line through a forest which has been cleared of all vegetation. The width depends on the type of forest being protected. Once the blaze has burnt out all combustibles in the affected compartment, it fizzles out and the neighbouring compartments are saved.
  • The third is to set a counter fire, so that when a fire is unapproachable for humans, a line is cleared of combustibles and manned. One waits until the wildfire is near enough to be sucking oxygen towards it, and then all the people manning the line set fire to the line simultaneously. The counter fire rushes towards the wildfire, leaving a stretch of burnt ground. As soon as the two fires meet, the blaze is extinguished.
  • The fourth approach, which is the most practical and most widely used, is to have enough people with leafy green boughs to beat the fire out. This is practised in combination with fire lines and counter fires.

7. South vs North development debate: Many old issues and some new data

Last month, Telugu actor and Jana Sena founder Pawan Kalyan posted onTwitter that a “population-based formula” for tax-sharing between the Centre and states would “hurt” South Indian states. On March 14, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah complained on Facebook that “six states south of the Vindhyas contribute more taxes and get less”, and noted that even though these states “have nearly reached replacement levels of population growth”, population remains a “prominent criteria for devolution of central taxes”. He asked: “For how long can we keep incentivizing population growth?”

  • A week later, DMK Working President M K Stalin wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the Fifteenth Finance Commission. On March 23, Siddaramaiah gave a call on Twitter to “resist” these terms, tagging the Chief Ministers of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry and Maharashtra, besides Stalin and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor.


Why are the southern states unhappy with the proposed Terms of Reference?

A key mandate of all Finance Commissions since the early 1950s has been to work out the share of net tax proceeds between the central government and states, and its distribution among states. Over the last few decades, this has been based on many factors such as population, fiscal capacity and discipline, area, and fiscal distance from top-ranking states. The ToR of each commission varies. The Fifteenth Finance Commission, constituted in November 2017, has said that it would use population data available in the 2011 census while making its recommendations for the five-year period beginning from 2020. Many southern states believe that the recommendations will not recognise their effort to check population growth, and will impact the transfer of resources.

The South Indian states want the allocation of resources to better reflect their consistent effort in improving infrastructure, governance, and industrial growth. “The 15th Finance Commission must bring new thinking to the table & give incentives to tax mobilization effort, growth engines like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Kochi etc., and education & empowerment of women (a proxy for population control),” Siddaramaiah said. Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have also voiced a similar demand. But from a political perspective, it is interesting to note that the resistance comes from southern states including Telangana and Puducherry, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is not in power.

  • The Fourteenth Finance Commission gave 17.5% weight to the 1971 population data, and 10% to the 2011 data. The commission also assigned a slightly higher weight for fiscal capacity (50%), 15 % for area or distance, and 7.5 % for forest cover. However, it removed fiscal discipline from the list.
  • Promoting equity and efficiency is the key challenge. The commission has to take into account regional imbalances, the relative resource base, cost disabilities due to geography, historical circumstances, and remoteness in the case of some special category states in the North East. The major challenge is to work out incentives for achieving efficiency.
  • In the past, fiscal discipline and tax collection effort were also considered. But as previous commissions pointed out, the major constraint in designing forward-looking incentives is the unavailability of real-time data to judge performances of states. The Thirteenth Finance Commission had said that it was desirable to make fiscal awards more incentive compatible and better targeted to securing varied objectives. This requires the identification and use of reliable data which are regularly available, easily understood, and do not require interpretation in normative assessment by any agency.

Chairman N K Singh has said that equitable regional growth is part of the ToR. States with income levels below the average per capita income will be assessed to see if they require special attention. The Commission will also examine the 42% tax devolution that was recommended by the previous commission.

Toppers25_Current Affairs 25/03/2018

Toppers25_Current Affairs 25/03/2018

1. Assam’s rare captive-bred vultures face a drug problem

The last of the nature’s scavengers in Assam, a suitable habitat for vultures, are battling toxic chemicals in livestock carcasses. And the ‘meal of death’ that is killing them is also delaying freedom for vultures being reared in captivity in the State.

  • The Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre (VCBC) at Rani, about 30 km west of Guwahati, is one of four in India that the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) set up more than a decade ago in association with State Forest Departments.
  • The VCBC has 104 vultures, most of them brought in as chicks from the wild. The centre has 30 adults and sub-adults: all oriental white-backed and slender-billed. These are two of six species found in Assam that are old enough to be set free.
  • The digestive system of vultures, experts say, is so evolved that they can tolerate bacteria and natural toxins in putrefying meat. But they are vulnerable to chemicals such as diclofenac, present in the carcasses of cattle that were injected with the painkiller.

Iclofenac for veterinary use was banned in 2005, but vials for humans continued to be made until BNHS pressured the government into banning those of 30 ml or more in 2015. Humans need 3-5 ml while only 30 ml or more works for cows. But quacks use the 30 ml vials for veterinary use, with fatal consequences for vultures,” Sachin Ranade, the Rani centre manager, told The Hindu.

  • The centre, according to Mr. Ranade, is unlikely to release the adult vultures until the last of the 2015 stocks of the big vials expire by December 2018. Even then, there is no guarantee that the birds will be safe.
  • BNHS and other organisations found in the 1990s that the Gyps populations in India and Nepal declined from about 40 million by 99.9% in just two decades.
  • Vultures take time to mature, pair for life, breed once a year, and live up to 70 years – making captive breeding efforts a challenge, and their decline serious.

3. Thailand expects some progress on pact finalisation before July

Thailand is expecting “some progress” towards finalisation of the long-delayed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) before July as a ministerial-level meeting is likely soon to address many of the pending issues.

Thailand is expecting “some progress” towards finalisation of the long-delayed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) before July as a ministerial-level meeting is likely soon to address many of the pending issues. The RCEP is a proposed free-trade agreement involving the 10 member countries of ASEAN and its six other nations including India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. India has been cautious on moving ahead with the RCEP as it is not getting adequate market access in the case of services, while agreeing for movement of free trade.

We may not overcome all the obstacles but we may see some progress before July. If there is some progress, we may see before July…because we may have another ministerial meeting soon,” said Chotima Iemsawasdikul, Director, Bureau of ASEAN Economic Community, Department of Trade Negotiations of Thailand government.

She was responding to a query from The Indian Express on how ASEAN and other country negotiators plan to address India’s concerns. Negotiations for the RCEP pact has been going on since 2012 but these have failed to address India’s calls for greater market access in services, especially related to allowing its professionals to undertake short-term work in member countries.

  • The ASEAN members are coaxing India to commit to zero tariffs on more than 90 per cent of items for all members of the proposed RCEP, but are so far not forthcoming with any significant offers related to movement of workers and professionals. The RCEP aims to be the largest free trade bloc globally covering about 30 per cent of the world Gross Domestic Product.
  • The RCEP negotiations encompass trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, e-commerce, small and medium enterprises and dispute settlement. Thailand will next year take over chairmanship of ASEAN, comprising 10 nations Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • The correspondent was in Bangkok at invitation of the Government of Thailand.

4. Saora paintings travel from tribal homes to living rooms overseas

Saora paintings, lately sought by art lovers for living rooms around the world, have their origin in the mud walls of aboriginal Lanjia Saora tribal homes in Odisha. Selling fast at tribal art fairs and handicraft outlets, painting lots are also exported regularly to Germany, France and the U.S. The paintings, which are pleasing to the eye and widely admired for their artistic excellence, now offer a sustainable source of livelihood.


  • It is a remarkable transformation for the sacred art of a little-known community. Also called the hill Saoras, the community inhabits the remote ranges flanking the great Bansadhara river in southern Odisha.
  • A Saora painting is called Idital and the person who creates it is known as the iditalmar. Interesting anecdotes are associated with their art practice. Iditals are sketched to appease Saora ancestors and deities that may have caused diseases faced by the iditalmars or the villagers at large. In Saora society, a shaman is believed to be an intermediary between the worlds of the living and the dead. The iditalmar draws to instructions from the shaman.
  • Each painting has a rectangular frame, and features icons of deities, or those drawn from nature. It’s said that there are 64 artistic motifs that are drawn by the iditalmars in a painting. Some frequently featured motifs include Labasum(the earth god), Jodisum (the village deity), Manduasum (the sun god) andJananglosum (the wind deity). Distinct paintings are drawn with different occasions between birth and death in mind.
  • Hardly any iditalmar remains unemployed. The artists are also hired by civic authorities to paint and beautify city walls. It takes a day to complete a 20×8 inch painting priced upwards of ₹700; the materials required to make it cost ₹100. Larger paintings are more expensive.
  • Buoyed by their success in linking Saora paintings to the market, Odisha’s ST and SC Development, Minorities and Backward Classes Welfare Department is preparing other training modules. It wants to bring similar value to the Dongria Kondh shawl, Dokra relics, bamboo and paddy handicrafts, the tribal jewellery of Nilagiri, Koraput’s workmanship in iron, and the beed jewellery of the Bonda tribals.


5. Farthest Milky Way stars might be ripped from another galaxy

  • The 11 farthest known stars in our galaxy are located about 300,000 light-years from Earth, well outside the Milky Way’s spiral disk. New research by Harvard astronomers shows that half of those stars might have been ripped from another galaxy: the Sagittarius dwarf. Moreover, they are members of a lengthy stream of stars extending one million light-years across space, or 10 times the width of our galaxy.
  • The Sagittarius dwarf is one of dozens of mini-galaxies that surround the Milky Way. Over the age of the universe it made several loops around our galaxy. On each passage, the Milky Way’s gravitational tides tugged on the smaller galaxy, pulling it apart like taffy.
  • Dierickx and her PhD advisor, Harvard theorist Avi Loeb, used computer models to simulate the movements of the Sagittarius dwarf over the past 8 billion years. They varied its initial velocity and angle of approach to the Milky Way to determine what best matched current observations.
  • Moreover, five of the 11 most distant stars in our galaxy have positions and velocities that match what you would expect of stars stripped from the Sagittarius dwarf. The other six do not appear to be from Sagittarius, but might have been removed from a different dwarf galaxy.

6. Sydney Goes Dark As Global Earth Hour Climate Campaign Kicks Off

The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge went dark for an hour Saturday, kicking off a global campaign that will see landmark buildings around the world dim their lights to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change.

Earth Hour, which started in Australia in 2007, is being observed by millions of supporters in 187 countries, who are turning off their lights at 8.30pm local time in what organisers describe as the world’s “largest grassroots movement for climate change”.

“It aims to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the environment and wildlife,” Earth Hour organiser WWF Australia chief Dermot O’Gorman told AFP.

“More than half of plant and animal species face local extinction in some of the world’s most naturally rich areas in biodiversity by the turn of this century if we continue along the current path that we are trending in terms of global warming,” he said.

  • Species at risk include Australia’s green turtles, black-flanked rock wallabies and koalas, as well as the Adelie penguin colonies in Antarctica, the conservation group said in a report it commissioned that was published in the science journal Climatic Change. While the lights-off event is a symbolic gesture, Earth Hour has led successful campaigns over the past decade to ban plastics in the Galapagos Islands and plant 17 million trees in Kazakhstan.
  • Sydneysider Dianna Ali, who was having dinner with family as the lights went off in the city, said the initiative had made her more aware of the impact of her lifestyle on the planet’s health.


Toppers25_Current Affairs 24/03/2018

Toppers25_Current Affairs 24/03/2018

1. CAG report shows how Edusat is off the orbit in Punjab

Lack of planning, absence of monitoring and inadequate infrastructure severely affected the implementation of the Edusat programme — use of a dedicated satellite to share educational material — in Punjab, said a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), for the period 2014 to 2017. Many schools were not covered and student participation was poor even in schools that were, revealed the report (2016-17), tabled in the state assembly on Thursday .

  • While e-libraries were also not installed due to non-availability of adequate space in the school buildings, non-availability of required number of technical staff impacted smooth running of network of SITs/ROTs, it added.
  • The programme was launched by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in September 2004, exclusively for the education sector, in collaboration with the Union human resource development ministry and Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). About the implementing agency — Punjab Edusat Society (PES) that is headed by the state’s director general of school education (DGSE) — the audit said that its general body and its executive committee met only once between 2014 and 2017 “as against 12 meetings required to be held”.
  • The audit test checked records of PES and 145 out of 813 high and secondary schools in five districts, and found that the society neither prepared any long-term plan nor any annual action plan. Another major shortcoming was on the participation front. Data supplied by the 145 selected schools showed that in 91 schools (63%) lectures were not attended by the students from 2014 to 2017. 


2. India, Russia close to deal for S-400 air defence systems


India and Russia are in the final stages of negotiations to purchase S-400 air defence systems two years after their initial deal on the matter. A commercial contract is expected to be signed soon and could happen on Nirmala Sitharaman’s maiden trip to Moscow as defence minister in the first week of April, according to persons with knowledge of the matter. 

  • The Indian Air Force (IAF) recently told the parliamentary panel on defence that the procurement of the S-400 air defence systems developed by Russia is imperative to tackle possible threats from China and Pakistan. The parliamentary panel, on its part, has recommended that funds for this be made available during the year as per the IAF demand. 
  • The S-400 systems are capable of intercepting and destroying airborne threats at a distance of up to 250 miles and can simultaneously engage up to six targets. Each S-400 comprises tracking and search radar systems, eight launchers, 112 guided missiles, and command and support vehicles. 

Meanwhile, in a bid to boost bilateral trade to $30 billion by 2025, Russia has asked Indian startups to play the role of catalysts to bring large Indian companies and Russian investors closer. The two governments have agreed to give high priority to the removal of obstacles to trade in order to improve upon the 21.5% growth in two-way trade recorded last year, according to Russia’s deputy minister for economic development Alexey Gruzdev, who also visited Delhi earlier this week.

  • India has pointed out that connectivity, the engagement between Russian regions and states, collaboration in the energy sector (hydrocarbon and nuclear), high-tech cooperation besides defence and security are focus areas for future collaboration. 

3. Tit-for-tat: China plans new tariff on US goods

  • The Chinese government announced plans on Friday to retaliate against the Trump administration’s decision to impose tariffs on up to $60 billion worth of Chinese imports, saying it planned to levy duties on $3 billion worth of US exports. The threat of Chinese retaliation raised fears of a US-China trade war.
  • Beijing targeted politicially sensitive items of US export, like pork, wine and apples, for imposing punishing tariffs. Its ministry of commerce said it planned to impose a 15% duty on 120 types of US products, like fruits, nuts, wine and seamless tubes, worth $977 million, and a 25% levy on other products, including pork and recycled aluminum. 
  • But China, trying to avoid a headon collision with the US because it has a lot to lose in a trade war, also asked the US to work towards settling the dispute rather than escalating it. Beijing is talking tough to salvage its political prestige but still hoping for a solution, analysts said.
  • Beijing said in a statement that “the US disregards the fact that China is increasing protection on intellectual property, the rules of WTO, and voices from industry”. It said a trade war would be bad for both countries and the rest of the world. “It creates a very bad precedent,” Beijing said, adding, “China hopes the United States will pull back from the brink, make prudent decisions, and avoid dragging bilateral trade relations to a dangerous place.”


4. Office of profit ( What is an office of profit?)

It is a position in the government which cannot be held by an MLA or an MP. The post can yield salaries, perquisites and other benefits. The origin of this term can be found in the English Act of Settlement, 1701. Under this law, “no person who has an office or place of profit under the King, or receives a pension from the Crown, shall be capable of serving as a member of the House of Commons.” 

What do parliamentary secretaries do?

In the Westminster system, a parliamentary secretary is a Member of Parliament who assists a Minister in their duties. Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers usually appoint parliamentary secretaries from their own parties.

Why should an MLA or an MP not hold an office of profit?

According to Articles 102(1)(a) and 191(1)(a) of the Constitution, an MP or MLA is barred from holding an office of profit as it can put them in a position to gain a financial benefit. “A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament, (a) if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State, other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder,” says the law.

other states in India have MLAs holding offices of profit?

West Bengal, Karnataka, Telangana, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Mizoram and Manipur have had similar incidents. In West Bengal, Telangana and Punjab, the respective High Courts called the appointments “unconstitutional” and struck down the appointments. The case regarding appointment of parliamentary secretaries is pending in the Karnataka High Court. In Rajasthan, the State passes a Bill in October 2017 to make the posts constitutional, but the validity of this law has been challenged.

5. More than 130 whales die in mass stranding in Western Australia

One hundred and thirty-five whales have died after being washed ashore in Western Australia.

  • A rescue operation began on Friday morning in Hamelin Bay, on the state’s south-western tip, to save the remaining 15, with volunteers and vets trying to keep the surviving short-finned pilot whales alive before deciding when to herd them out to sea.
  • One witness described trying to steer one of the animals out to sea, only to watch it beach itself again.
  • Authorities warned the public to take care near the water because the dead and dying animals could bring sharks closer to shore. A three-metre shark was seen in the bay within a few hours.
  • Hamelin beach is closed from Hamelin Caravan Park to North Point including Grace Road and Reserve Road, and a shark alert has been issued for the area.
  • The largest mass stranding of whales in WA happened in 1996 when 320 long-finned pilot whales stranded themselves in Dunsborough.
  • Short-finned pilot whales inhabit tropical and subtropical waters and may be seen in the hundreds but groups usually number fewer than 100.
  • On Friday, the whales were first spotted by a commercial fisherman at 6am on Friday.

6. Is India ready for the fourth industrial revolution?

In 1750 AD, India’s share of global industrial output was 25%; by 1900, this had declined to 2%. The reasons were the chaos triggered by the decline of the Mughal empire, colonization by Britain and the first industrial revolution. Like China, India missed out on the industrial revolution which saw the invention of the steam engine and powered looms and unleashed a productivity revolution. As a result, our handloom industry was decimated; India became deindustrialized and fell into abject poverty. China has re-industrialized with a vengeance, while India is still struggling to catch up.

  • This bit of history is more relevant than ever. The industrial revolution was a massive disruption. Countries that drove it or embraced it went from rags to riches, while those that missed out went from riches to rags. Today, we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution that promises to be profoundly more disruptive. The question is whether India is positioning itself to ride this tidal wave or whether once again we will be swept away by it.
  • India is already facing a severe jobs crisis. The consequences of the fourth industrial revolution are truly frightening unless, of course, we learn to ride this wave. But what exactly does that take? People often wistfully wonder whether India will have its own Microsoft or Google. This is exactly like wondering when we will win an Olympic gold medal. If we win a gold medal, it will be because of a freak event—a person of extraordinary ability and tenacity—not because of the system.
  • What allowed Apple, Microsoft and Google to emerge is fundamental scientific research at world-class corporate labs such as Xerox PARC or Bell Labs and universities such as Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The US government has played a vital role in underwriting high-risk, long-term research projects through institutions such as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and National Science Foundation; virtually all the technology in the iPhone was funded this way. Sensible immigration policies attracted the brightest minds from India, China, Russia and Hungary to these labs. Finally, a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem allowed the commercialization of research.
  • Not one Indian university is ranked in the global top 300. It is hard to think of a single Indian company that is at the leading edge of any of the disciplines that matter to the future. To do cutting-edge work in most scientific and engineering disciplines, our finest minds have either to join the research and development centre of a multinational company or leave the country. Government funding for science-based technology research has been minuscule. It is no wonder that all our entrepreneurial activity is restricted to me-too businesses rather that game-changing ideas.


7. An Ocean of Plastic ( Plastic is polluting the seas, but there’s still time to turn the tide )

From the ice-covered Arctic to the tropical waters of the Pacific, all of Earth’s oceans share one thing in common: plastic pollution. Discarded plastic bags, cups, and bottles make their way into the sea. Today, it seems that no part of the ocean is safe from plastic trash.

When people litter, or when trash is not properly disposed of, things like plastic bags, bottles, straws, and foam beverage cups get carried to the sea by winds and waterways (see From Shore to Sea). About 80 percent of ocean plastic originates on land. The rest comes from marine industries such as shipping and fishing.

In 2015, engineer Jenna Jambeck at the University of Georgia and other researchers calculated that at least 8 million tons of plastic trash are swept into the ocean from coasts every year. 

In today’s world, plastic is everywhere. It’s found in shoes, clothing, household items, electronics, and more. There are different types of plastics, but one thing they all have in common is that they’re made of polymers—large molecules made up of repeating units. Their chemical structure gives them a lot of advantages: They’re cheap and easy to manufacture, lightweight, water-resistant, durable, and can be molded into nearly any shape.

Another problem with plastics is the other chemicals they contain, like dyes and flame retardants. When plastic isn’t disposed of properly, those additives end up in the environment.

Plastic also tends to absorb harmful chemicals from its surroundings. “It’s like a sponge for persistent organic pollutants,” says Jambeck. These long-lasting, toxic substances include pesticides and industrial chemicals. If plastic absorbs the chemicals, and marine organisms eat the plastic, they may be exposed to higher concentrations of these contaminants.

Cleanup efforts can’t reach every corner of the ocean or track down every bit of microplastic. That means it’s critical to cut down on the amount of plastic that reaches the sea in the first place. Scientists are working toward new materials that are safer for the environment.

One way to keep the ocean cleaner and healthier is through cleanup efforts. A lot of plastic waste caught in ocean currents eventually washes up on beaches (see Swirling Plastic). Removing it can prevent it from blowing out to sea again. “Beach cleanup is ocean cleanup,” says Rochman


Toppers25_Current Affairs 23/03/2018

Toppers25_Current Affairs 23/03/2018

1. Curbing misuse: on SC ruling on the anti-atrocities law

Will laying down procedural safeguards to curb false accusations work against the interest of protecting the oppressed from discrimination and caste-based atrocities?

This is the salient question that arises from the Supreme Court verdict that has taken note of the perception that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is being rampantly misused to settle personal scores and harass adversaries. On the face of it, it is difficult to fault the court’s approach. It is settled law that the mere scope for misuse of an Act is not a ground to invalidate it.

Constitution courts seek to preserve the spirit of such legislation on the one hand and to evolve guidelines to prevent its misuse on the other. It has ruled that Section 18, which bars grant of anticipatory bail to anyone accused of violating its provisions, is not an absolute bar on giving advance bail to those against whom, prima facie, there is no case. In addition, the Bench has prohibited the arrest of anyone merely because of a complaint that they had committed an atrocity against a Dalit or a tribal person.

  • Atrocities against Dalits are a grim social reality, necessitating a stringent law to combat it. The Act was amended in 2015 to cover newer forms of discrimination and crimes against Dalits and tribals to add teeth to it. It is true that conviction rates under the Act remain low. The lackadaisical approach of investigators and prosecutors to bring home charges against perpetrators of such crimes among the dominant castes is reflected in statistics. Even if courts are right in taking note of the tendency to misuse this law, society and lawmakers must be justifiably worried about the sort of messaging contained in their rulings and observations.
  • As long as every charge is judicially scrutinised and every investigation or prosecution is fair and honest, one need not worry about misuse and its adverse effects. However, social realities are far from being ideal. It ought to concern us all, including the courts, that some laws designed to protect the weakest and most disempowered people do not lose their teeth. Words of caution and rules against misuse may be needed to grant relief to the innocent. But nothing should be done to de-fang the law itself.

2. Aadhaar data secure, benefits extended to those even without card: UIDAI to SC

Attempting to allay the safety and security concerns surrounding the biometric data collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) under the Aadhaar Act, the chief executive officer of UIDAI, Ajay Bhushan Pandey, told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the data collected are encrypted and even “the fastest computer on earth will take more than the age of the universe” to break the encryption key.

  • Making a PowerPoint presentation before the five-judge bench hearing petitions challenging the Aadhaar Act, Pandey claimed that “identity data are fully secure and uses 2,048-bit encryption and it can be decrypted only by the UIDAI.”
  • This was the first time that two screens were set up inside the courtroom of the Chief Justice and a PowerPoint presentation was made on a specific subject.
  • When hearing resumed Thursday, attorney general KK Venugopal sought permission to let the CEO make the presentation.

Significantly, the CEO conceded that authentication through Aadhaar is “not 100% successful”. “We constantly advise ministries that on the ground there will be exclusion if they solely depend on Aadhaar authentication. Which is why in law, exceptions have been made.”Rebutting the argument that Aadhar was exclusionary, Pandey told the court that for people with leprosy, eye problems and other disorders where collecting biometrics was difficult, an exception was made. It is not linked to citizenship and includes transgenders and children within its scope, he added.

3. India to be 3rd largest tourism economy in 10 years

  • India is expected to establish itself as the third largest travel and tourism economy by 2028 in terms of direct and total GDP, a 2018 economic impact report by World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has said.

    The WTTC report, released globally on Thursday, also said India will add nearly 10 million jobs in the tourism sector by 2028 and that the total number of jobs dependent directly or indirectly on the travel and tourism industry will increase from 42.9 million in 2018 to 52.3 million in 2028.
  • Calling India the seventh largest travel and tourism economy in the world, Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive of WTTC, said India should be working on improving tourist infrastructure. Guevara welcomed the government’s ambition to make the country a global cruise destination with the creation of the new cruise port in Mumbai.
  • The WTTC, however, red flagged the sector’s concerns over the three-level implementation of GST in the hospitality sector and said the government must bring in tax reforms to make India’s tourism sector more competitive with other countries in the region.

4. Centre clears plans for IAF base close to Pakistan border in Gujarat

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday cleared a long-pending Indian Air Force (IAF) plan to set up a forward fighter base close to Deesa in Banaskantha district, near India’s western border in northwest Gujarat, adding teeth to its military capabilities against Pakistan.

  • Defence ministry officials said on condition of anonymity that the CCS has cleared the initial investment of around Rs 1,000 crore to extend the runway, build fighter-pens and administrative facilities. 
  • Although the defence ministry is tight-lipped about which fighters will be based in Deesa, it is a fact that the new base will increase IAF’s ability to respond swiftly in case of any hostilities in India’s western skies.
  • The base will come under the Air Force’s Gandhinagar-headquartered South Western Air Command (SWAC), which was headed by IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa in 2014-15. SWAC’s area of responsibility covers Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and Deesa will be the ninth base under it.
  • Setting up a full-fledged fighter base could eventually cost upwards of Rs 4,000 crore and it will be crucial for the government to earmark funds so that the project is not delayed any further, the former chief said.
  • Money will be critical at a time the Indian military is facing a fund crunch, as revealed in a string of reports tabled in Parliament this month. For instance, the IAF whose projected requirement in 2018-19 was Rs 1,14,526 crore received an allocation of Rs 65,891 crore.
  • Experts believe the new base will pack a tremendous punch for the IAF.

5. Bhagat Singh’s Nationalism

It was very different from the version that prevails on his 85th death anniversary. 

Bhagat Singh, who streaked like a meteor across the anti-colonial nationalist sky, was sent to the gallows on March 23, 1931 on charges of assassinating a British police officer and throwing a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi. At the time of his execution, Bhagat Singh was only 24 — a young man with a utopian vision of a free India, whose sense of nationalism was very different from that associated with Lala Lajpat Rai, Mahatma Gandhi and other stalwarts of the freedom movement.

  • Bhagat Singh, often referred to as the original “shaheed”, or martyr, has been differently interpreted and appropriated — and the image of a fearless young man with a neat mustache, wearing a hat at a jaunty tilt, is as ubiquitous as that of the dhoti-clad Mahatma and the more formally attired Babasaheb Ambedkar in the Indian collective memory.
  • Ironically, on the 85th anniversary of Bhagat Singh’s execution, nationalism has become a bitterly contested issue and reduced to an invalid litmus test over the slogan “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Rank political opportunism, compounded by dangerous emotive posturing over alleged insults to the “nation”, has cascaded into legislative intimidation, wherein the aggrieved sentiment of one constituency has trumped constitutional fidelity.
  • A communicator par excellence, who valued the public platform and understood the power of the pamphlet, Bhagat Singh’s writing and the lucidity of his advocacy is quite extraordinary for its time and his relative youth. If one were to identify one speech where all his ideals and objectives coalesce, it’s the October 1929 presidential address at the student’s conference in Lahore where he asserted: “If we are to bring about a revolution of ideas we have first to hold up before us an ideal which will galvanise our whole life. That ideal is freedom.” Or “azadi”.


6. Preventing trafficking (A proposed law addresses an invisible crime)

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill of 2018 addresses one of the most pervasive yet invisible crimes affecting the most vulnerable persons, especially women and children. There has been no specific law to deal with human trafficking, which is considered the third largest organised crime violating basic human rights.

  • The Bill addresses, among other things, aggravated trafficking for forced labour, begging, trafficking by administering chemical substances or hormones to a person for the purpose of early sexual maturity, trafficking of a woman or child for the purpose of marriage or under the pretext of marriage or after marriage. The proposed law also punishes promotion or facilitation of human trafficking by, for instance, manufacturing fake certificates.
  • The Bill provides for the creation of a rehabilitation fund to be used for the physical, psychological and social well-being of the victim, including education, skill development, health care and psychological support, legal aid, and safe accommodation. The law demands that special courts be set up to ensure speedy trial.
  • The Bill creates dedicated institutional mechanisms at the district, State and Central levels. These will be responsible for prevention, protection, investigation and rehabilitation work related to trafficking. The National Investigation Agency will perform the tasks of the Anti-Trafficking Bureau at the national level under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • Punishment under the proposed law ranges from a rigorous minimum of 10 years to life and a fine not less than ₹1 lakh. The Bill also provides for the attachment and forfeiture of property and proceeds for crime.


Toppers25_Current Affairs 22/03/2018

Toppers25_Current Affairs 22/03/2018

1. No law to stop a convicted person from forming party: Govt to Supreme Court

THERE WAS no law currently to stop a convicted person from forming a political party, the Centre has told the Supreme Court as it sought dismissal of a plea seeking lifetime ban on convicted politicians from contesting elections and forming political parties or holding political posts.

  • In its affidavit filed in response to the plea, the Ministry of Law and Justice said the demands raised by the petitioner would require amendments to the law.
  • The PIL was filed by Delhi BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who contended that though law debarred convicted politicians from contesting elections, they were free to run a political party, hold party posts and decide who could contest polls to become MPs/MLAs.
  • Hearing the matter on February 12, the court had raised serious questions over politicians convicted of crime and corruption heading political parties and selecting candidates for Parliamentary and assembly polls and said that it was against the spirit of democracy.

2. Cabinet Approves Moving Official Amendments to Ban Commercial Surrogacy in India

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for moving official amendments to ban commercial surrogacy in India and provide ethical assistance to only needy infertile couples.

    The proposed legislation, said a government statement, ensures effective regulation of surrogacy, prohibit commercial surrogacy and allow altruistic surrogacy to the needy Indian infertile couples. It will also bring the rights of a surrogate child on par with that of a biological and adapted child, and will prevent sex-selection for surrogacy.

  • According to the amendments, Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) will remain outside the purview of this Bill. ART has its own Bill in waiting, which doctors and some lawmakers have felt is a far more comprehensive piece of legislation.

    Once in effect, the Act will prohibit commercial surrogacy in the country, and the purchase of human embryos and gametes. It will provide for ethical surrogacy to needy infertile couples after a series of checks and conditions. It aims to prevent commercialisation of surrogacy and will prohibit potential exploitation of surrogate mothers and children born through surrogacy.

    The Bill will apply to whole of India, except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

3. US diplomat, Taiwan leader talk democracy

A senior US diplomat said at an event in Taipei today that the United States wishes to “bolster Taiwan’s ability to defend its democracy” after President Donald Trump signed a new law promoting official exchanges between the two sides that has drawn protests from Beijing.

  • Speaking at a dinner with the American Chamber of Commerce, Wong was joined by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who expressed gratitude for Trump’s signing of the new Taiwan Travel Act and also noted the president’s approval last year of a $1.4 billion arms sale to the island. “The announcement of a major arms sale last year within the first five months of President Trump’s administration showcased the United States’ unwavering commitment to Taiwan’s continued safety and security,” Tsai said.
  • Taiwan’s defence minister earlier announced that China’s sole operating aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, had been spotted entering the Taiwan Strait. He told a legislative hearing that Taiwan’s armed forces were monitoring the situation but declined to give further details.

4. Japan joins craft carrier race

  • India, China and Japan’s quest for adding more aircraft carriers to their naval fleet got intensified on Tuesday with Japan’s ruling party seeking to own one — the first since World War II. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party moved the proposal in Tokyo, as per reports in international media.
  • India and China are literally racing to have, by 2020, at least two carriers in their respective fleet. Japan, which last year joined hands with India as part of the four-country quadrilateral, has made the move to have an aircraft carrier on almost expected lines. In strategic circles, this is often termed as the “Asian carrier race”.
  • The US, meanwhile, adds the fourth dimension with its “super carriers” USS Nimitz class — nuclear-powered and each weighing over 1 lakh tonne — in Asian waters. President Barack Obama had in 2011 announced the rebalance of US naval assets that would entail stationing 60 per cent of its sea-going fleet in Asia-Pacific.

5. Cabinet approves Modicare with budgetary support of Rs 160 bn for 2 years

  • The Cabinet has approved the Ayushman Bharat or National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS, also referred to as ModiCare), with budgetary support of Rs 160 billion for 2018-19 and 2019-20.

    Proposed to be portable across India, the scheme is intended to provide health care for at least 40 per cent of the population or 107.4 million households (500 million people). Each family will be entitled to health cover up to Rs 500,000 a year.

  • The Cabinet also gave a nod to continuing the National Health Mission (NHM) till 2019-20, for a cost of Rs 852 billion. NHM provides free services to those below the poverty line and will complement the NHPS. The Union health ministry and NITI Aayog had called state health secretaries to apprise them about NHPS. The Centre had earlier thought of an insurance scheme of Rs 100,000 but did not finalise it, as many states already had active schemes for more than that amount.
  • Some states have provided insurance of around Rs 250,000 or even more in some cases. Transfer of funds will be through an escrow account directly, so that funds are transferred in an efficient and timely fashion, went an official statement. Transactions will be paperless and cashless. Private hospitals may also provide treatment under this scheme.
  • A big challenge is to integrate the central and state schemes. There could be large overlaps and cost ramifications, since SECC data are not seeded with Aadhaar, the citizen identification. There could also be a possibility of exclusion of beneficiaries. So, states would be provided the flexibility to expand their existing schemes till the time SECC data was seeded with Aadhaar.

6. India looks to Nepal to revive Yamuna river

The proposed Sharda-Yamuna interlinking project is aimed at bringing surplus water from Sharda to Yamuna via Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The project is designed to be a lifeline for the Yamuna to ensure uninterrupted flow of water in Delhi.

  • India is seeking a lifeline for the parched Yamuna river — all the way from Nepal.
  • As part of its first trans-country river-linking project, the government is approaching Nepal to bring surplus water from the Sharda river, also known as the Mahakali, on the border with Nepal to the Yamuna near Delhi.
  • The project is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plan of interlinking 31 rivers and divert surplus water to arid areas.
  • The proposed Sharda-Yamuna interlinking project is aimed at bringing surplus water from Sharda to Yamuna via Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The project is designed to be a lifeline for the Yamuna to ensure uninterrupted flow of water in Delhi. Water from the link is likely to also benefit Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
  • The project was first discussed by Modi with then Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala during his first visit to the neighbouring country as Prime Minister in August 2014.

India discussed the Pancheshwar dam project with Nepal twice last year — in August and September — and will take it up soon with the new government. A final report on the proposed Sharda-Yamuna interlinking project was prepared by the National Water Development Agency way back in 2003. On the basis of the balance water available at the tail-end of the link, detailed project reports for subsequent connecting links with Rajasthan and Sabarmati were also prepared.

  • According to officials familiar with the development, the Nepal government under Koirala had agreed to cooperate on the Sharda-Yamuna project.
  • The Pancheshwar dam is being built in the Mahakali basin on the Indo-Nepalese border. The link is proposed to start from the dam and the waters of the river will flow into the Yamuna via a canal.

7. Policy dive: Should India have a Uniform Civil Code?

The Law Commission’s fresh appeals for public comments on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) have reignited discussions on the need for a common set of laws for all communities.

  • The Law Commission of India has revived deliberations on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) by issuing a fresh appeal for public comments on the issue by April 6.
  • The responses will likely generate a debate with strong views on both side of the political divide in favour of and against the move to replace different sets of personal laws for different communities with one common set of laws.
  • The Indian constitution currently allows different communities to follow their personal laws for, among other things, marriage, divorce, inheritance and succession, and adoption.
  • The UCC has been a hot-button political issue for two decades, ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made it a part of its manifesto in 1998. Parties opposed to the BJP see the attempt to bring in the UCC as politically expedient. On the political front, there are strong views for and against a common civil code. In October 2016, the Law Commission released a questionnaire seeking views of the public and political parties. The commission has already received over 45,000responses.Politicalparties,themost vocal on the issue, have refrained from giving a direct response to the commission.
  • Opposition: The All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) met officials of the Law Commission in October 2016 and later held a press conference boycotting the whole exercise.

AIMPLB said it would not accept the UCC in any form and that Islamic personal laws are more than adequate. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which has only one Lok Sabha MP – its president Asaduddin Owaisi – wrote to the Law Commission saying the initiative is an attempt at interference in the personal affairs of Muslims.

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