Current Affairs for OAS Prelims 2018: National Issues- January 2018

1. Cabinet Approved fixed terms for Chairperson and Members of National Trust

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the proposal to amend Section 4(1) and Section 5(1) of the National Trust for the Welfare of Person with Autism, Cerebral Plasy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999 to fix the term of the Chairperson and Members of the Board of National Trust for three years.

Section 4(1) of the National Trust   Act, 1999   provides that the Chairperson or a Member of the Board of National Trust would continue in office beyond the prescribed term of three years   until   his   successor   shall   have   been   duly   appointed. In case of resignation of the Chairperson, section 5(1) of the Act provides for him to continue in office until his successor is duly appointed by the Government.   The wording of the above provisions of the Act in its present form has resulted in continuation of a Chairman for an indefinite period as no suitable successor could be found eligible for appointment. The proposed amendments in these provisions of the Act seek to avoid such a    situation and will thus eliminate any chance of prolonged continuation in the same post by any incumbent.

2. CABE Sub-committee recommends free education for Girls up to PG level

The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) has decided to recommend free and compulsory education for girls up to post-graduate level across the country. The committee will also recommend establishing of exclusive residential degree colleges for SC and ST women besides provision of health and hygiene kits to girls. All these schemes are already being successfully implemented in Telangana. At present, there is a special education center for women in Telangana, which has been established for degree courses for residential colleges, SCs and ST girls. The same shall be implemented in all states across the country. Also, women’s Universities should be set up in all states. While Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) have been functioning till Class VIII, the committee wants the Centre to expand wings of the KGBVs and offer quality and free education to girls till Class XII. It also wants to increase the intake of students in Model School hostels from 100 to 200.

The committee also wants schools to maintain an academic atmosphere, besides providing basic amenities like toilets, running water, maintenance, safety measures and power supply and also appoint a counsellor for adolescent girls.

3. International Dharma-Dhamma Conference held in Nalanda

President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated a three-day ‘International Dharma Dhamma Conference’ at Rajgir beginning on January 11. The conference was organised by Nalanda University in partnership with India Foundation, Ministry of External Affairs, ASEAN India.

The meet deliberated on “State and Social Order in Dharma Dhamma Traditions.” Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, Bihar Governnor Satya Pal Malik, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) Secretary (East) Preeti Saran also attained.

4. NMCG approves five Namami Gange projects in West Bengal, UP and Uttarakhand

In its 5th Executive Committee meeting held in New Delhi, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) approved projects worth nearly Rs 150 crores in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal under the Namami Gange programme. These projects include I&D works where small rivers, rivulets and drains are intercepted before they empty into the main river, and are diverted to Sewage Treatment Plants (STP), so that the water that finally drains into the main river is clean and totally devoid of any pollutants. The projects also include STPs and development of Ghats. The state wise details of the projects are as follows:

Uttarakhand:  An Interception and Diversion (I&D) projects was approved for Rispana & Bindal Rivers in Dehradun at an estimated cost of Rs 60 crores. The wastewater from these rivers ultimately meets Ganga between Haridwar and Rishikesh through river Song. Once executed, this project will tap 117 naalas/drains now carrying untreated wastewater. It is proposed to build a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) with 1 Million Litre Per day (MLD) capacity to treat some of this wastewater while 28 MLD will be treated at the existing STPs.

 Uttar Pradesh: The development of Ghats in Mirzapur was approved at an estimated cost of Rs.27.41 crore under the Clean Ganga Fund. The project includes the renovation, extension and widening of the Ghats as well as provision of amenities, landscaping and embankment construction. Further, the project also includes refurbishment of Ram Gaya crematorium and construction of two new crematoriums.

Bihar: The Committee approved a 3.5 MLD capacity Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) and its ancillary works, along with Interception and Diversion (I&D) of sewer lines in Sonepur in Bihar at an estimated cost of Rs.30.92 crore. The Project includes the cost of operations and maintenance (O&M) for 15 years. Once completed, the STP will treat all the 5 drains of the city including RN Tagore School Drain, Ward 3-4 boundary, Grave yard ward 18, Meena Bazaar which are presently carrying untreated sewage into the river Mahe which discharges into river Gandak and finally into the Ganga.

The Committee also approved the river front development project in Sonepur at an estimated cost of Rs.22.92 Crore. This includes construction of a connecting promenade, embankment protection, provision of amenities as well as landscaping along the ghats. In addition, 8 ghats are under construction under the Namami Gange programme at an estimated cost of 20 crores.

 West Bengal: The Eexcutive Committee also gave go-ahead to the upgradation/ renovation of Ghats and Crematoria at Katwa, Kalna, Agradwip and Dainhat in West Bengal. These projects will be taken up under Clean Ganga Fund. The combined cost of these projects is Rs. 8.58 crores and includes embankment protection, provision of basic amenities at the Ghats, landscaping, electrical and allied works, renovation of existing structures etc at the various ghats.

5. CCEA approves implementation of Jal Marg Vikas Project on NW-1

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has given its approval for implementation of the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) for capacity augmentation of navigation on National Waterway-1 (NW-1) at a cost of Rs 5369.18 crore with the technical assistance and investment support of the World Bank.  The Project is expected to be completed by March, 2023.

Major Impact: Alternative mode of transport that will be environment friendly and cost effective. The project will contribute in bringing down the logistics cost in the country.

Mammoth Infrastructure development like multi-modal and inter-modal terminals, Roll on – Roll off (Ro-Ro) facilities, ferry services, navigation aids. Socio-economic impetus; huge employment generation.

States/districts covered

States: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal

Major Districts:   Varanasi, Ghazipur, Ballia, Buxar, Chhapra, Vaishali, Patna, Begusarai, Khagaria, Munger, Bhagalpur, Sahibganj, Musrhidabad, Pakur, Hoogly, Kolkata.

6. CCEA approves continuation of MPLAD

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has given its approval to continuation of Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) till the term of the 14th  Finance Commission i.e. 31.03.2020.

Details: The Scheme would entail an annual allocation of Rs. 3,950 crore and a total outlay of Rs. 11,850 crores over the next three years with an additional annual allocation of Rs. 5 crore per year for monitoring through independent agency(ies) and for capacity building/training to State/District officials to be imparted by the Ministry.

The MPLADS funds are released to the nodal District Authorities on receipt of requisite documents and as per provisions of Guidelines on MPLADS.

Impact: The entire population across the country stands to benefit through creation of durable assets of locally felt needs, namely drinking water, education, public health, sanitation and roads etc., under MPLAD Scheme.

The MPLAD Scheme has resulted into creation of various durable community assets which have impacted the social, cultural and economic life of the local communities in one way or the other.

Background: The MPLAD Scheme is an ongoing Central Sector Scheme which was launched in 1993-94.  Since the inception of the Scheme till August, 2017, a total number of 18,82,180 works for Rs. 44,929.17 crore have been sanctioned from MPLADS fund.

The Scheme enables the Members of Parliament to recommend works for creation of durable community assets based on locally felt needs to be taken up in their constituencies in the area of national priorities namely drinking water, education, public health, sanitation, roads etc. The Scheme is governed by a set of guidelines, which have been last revised in June, 2016.

7. Gujarat tops in Logistics Ease Across Different States Index

Gujarat, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh are the best performing states in terms of mobility of goods and efficiency of logistics chain, according to a new ranking of states brought out by the government.

The new Logistics Ease Across Different States (LEADS) index developed by the Commerce and Industry Ministry and Deloitte ranked states in terms of the logistical support they provided to promote goods trade.

The ranking is based on parameters such as the competitiveness of pricing, timeliness and availability of infrastructure and that of services, among others. It aims to encourage states to provide the policy push towards improving their logistics-related infrastructure.

Karnataka, Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Chhattisgarh made up the remaining top 10. Assam, Bihar and Jammu & Kashmir featured on the bottom of the list, owing to the lack of good transport facilities, scarcity of logistics services and bad track record in timeliness.

8. Government launches NARi portal and e-Samvad portal

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday launched a web portal, NARI, which will provide information on all government schemes for women. Users can log on to to access information on different programmes offered by various state governments as well as the Centre. The NARI portal carries details on 350 different schemes for women and will be updated from time to time. The schemes are divided into seven different categories — education, health, employment, housing and shelter, addressing violence, decision making and social support. Gandhi also unveiled a website for NGOs called e-SAMVAD, an interactive portal allowing NGOs to contact the ministry and share their feedback, suggestions, grievances and their best practices.

9. India’s Fastest Super Computer Pratyush unveiled

Pratyush, India’s fastest supercomputer yet, was unveiled at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune, where it was inaugurated by Union Minister for Earth Sciences Dr. Harsh Vardhan. Pratyush is a collection of several computers that can deliver a peak power of 6.8 petaflops, facilitating the weather forecasting and climate monitoring in the country. India’s Pratyush is its first multi-petaflop supercomputer to date that is a part of the efforts made by Ministry of Earth Sciences to grow ‘High Performance Computing’ (HPC) in the country. According to a statement by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, the HPC in the country has grown from 40 teraflops in 2008 to 1 petaflops in the year 2013-14. In order to deliver a power peak of 6.8 petaflops, Pratyush supercomputer extracts 4 petaflops from IITM (Pune) and the remaining 2.8 petaflops from the National Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (NCMRWF) situated at Noida.

Presently, India stands at a lower position in terms of HPC infrastructure rankings in the world. With the introduction of Pratyush, India hopes to move from the 368th position to gain a position in the top 30 in the Top500 list of HPC facilities in the world. “India will also be placed at the 4th position after Japan, UK, and USA for dedicated HPC resources for weather/climate community,” reads the statement issued by IITM.

The sole purpose of installing such a high-capacity supercomputer in India is to accelerate the weather forecasting in the country, primarily before the arrival of Monsoon season in India. In addition, Pratyush will monitor the onset of other natural calamities such as floods and Tsunami in the country. As a matter of fact, farmers will get a big relief as the unprecedented rainy season in India often results in a bad annual crop production.

10. ISRO launches its 100th Satellite

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Friday successfully launched its 100th satellite. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C40), carrying weather observation satellite Cartosat-2 series and 29 other satellites, was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. The mission, the first carried out by the space agency this year, comes four months after it failed to launch IRNSS-1H onboard PSLV-39. The co-passengers on the PSLV-C40 comprised one micro and nano satellite each from India and three micro and 25 nanosatellites from six countries — Canada, Finland, France, Korea, UK and US.

11. Delhi is richest state, Jain wealthiest community: NFHS-4 Wealth Index

According to the findings of the 4th round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), people in Delhi and Punjab are the richest in India, with more than 60 per cent of their households in the top wealth quintile. Jains are the richest religious community, with more than 70% of their population in the top quintile. There isn’t much difference between Hindus and Muslims and they are very close to the national distribution of wealth. Upper castes have almost double the share of households in the top quintile compared to any other caste group. Scheduled Tribes are the worst-off section in terms of wealth.

12. 2018 to be observed as National Year of Millets

The Centre has approved 2018 as the ‘Year of Millets’ to boost the sunrise agri industry and production of the cereal, Union Minister Sadananda Gowda said on Friday. “The central government has approved 2018 as year of millets to encourage its production and boost this sunrise agri industry.

13. Umesh Sinha Committee for considering social media expansion

The Election Commission (EC) has constituted 14 member committee headed by Umesh Sinha to suggest changes to Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act) in view of social media expansion. Section 126 of RP Act, 1951 prohibits displaying any election matter by means of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency. It does not include social and new media under its ambit

Composition: The Committee will be headed by Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha. It will comprise of 9 officers of EC, one nominated member each from Ministry of Law, Information and Broadcasting Ministry, IT Ministry, Press Council of India (PCI) and National Broadcasters Association (NBA).

The committed will study impact of new media and social media during the “silence period” i.e. during 48 hours period prior to elections and its implication in view of Section 126 of RP Act, 1951. It will suggest modifications to the RP Act, 1951and model code of conduct (MCC). It will also examine difficulties faced in regulating media platforms during the prohibitory 48 hours in a multi-phase election It will submit its report within three months.

14. 3rd Raisina Dialogue held in New Delhi

The Raisina Dialogue is a multilateral conference held annually in New Delhi. Since its inception in 2016, the conference has emerged as India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics. The conference is hosted by the Observer Research Foundation, an independent think tank, in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs of India.

The conference is structured as a multi-stakeholder, cross-sectoral discussion, involving a variety of global policymakers including heads of state, cabinet ministers and local government officials. In addition, The Dialogue also welcomes major private sector executives, as well as members of the media and academia. It is designed on the lines of Singapore’s Shangri-La Dialogue.

The name “Raisina Dialogue” comes from Raisina Hill, an elevation in New Delhi that is home to the Government of India, as well as the Presidential Palace of India, Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The third edition of The Raisina Dialogue was held at the Taj Diplomatic Enclave in New Delhi, India from January 16–18, 2018.

The theme for the 2018 Conference is “Managing Disruptive Transitions: Ideas, Institutions and Idioms”. This theme is designed to explore the shifting dynamics within the global order; where old relationships need new directions, emerging partnerships face unprecedented constraints and the notions of power and sovereignty are challenged. The Dialogue will foster discussions on the role of institutions, the possibility of collective action and successful responses to these modern developments.

15. PM inaugurates Rajasthan’s first oil refinery at Barmer

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday inaugurated the commencement of work at the oil refinery in Rajasthan’s Barmer district. The state of the art refinery will be first of its kind in the country. The refinery is expected to change the growth landscape of Rajasthan and western parts of the state in particular. The project, which is a joint venture of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) and Rajasthan Government, is worth Rs. 43,000 crore.  The project will generate employment in the state as well.

16. India ranks 177 out of 180 in Environmental Performance Index

India is among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index 2018, plummeting 36 points from 141 in 2016, according to a biennial report by Yale and Columbia Universities along with the World Economic Forum. While India is at the bottom of the list in the environmental health category, it ranks 178 out of 180 as far as air quality is concerned. Its overall low ranking — 177 among 180 countries — was linked to poor performance in the environment health policy and deaths due to air pollution categories.

The report was released on the sidelines of the ongoing World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Switzerland leads the world in sustainability, followed by France, Denmark, Malta and Sweden in the EPI, which found that air quality is the leading environmental threat to public health. Overall, India (at 177) and Bangladesh (179) come in near the bottom of the rankings, with Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nepal rounding out the bottom five.

17. First International Dam Safety Conference held in Thiruvanathapuram

The first International Dam Safety Conference-2018 was held in Kovalam, Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) from January 23-24, 2018. It was inaugurated by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and was presided over by Union Minister of State for Water Resources Arjun Ram Meghwal.

Key Facts: This Conference is fourth in series organized under aegis of ongoing Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP). It was organized jointly by Central Water Commission (CWC), Kerala Water Resources Department (KWRD), National Institute of Technology, Calicut (NITC), and College of Engineering, Trivandrum (CET). As many as 550 delegates from over 20 countries, including US, Switzerland, Spain and Australia took part in the conference. Moreover, seven dam safety manuals developed under DRIP were also released for implementation during the conference.

18. Bharat Ke Veer Anthem launched in New Delhi

Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday launched an official anthem for “Bharat Ke Veer”, an initiative with a corpus fund to help the families of paramilitary troopers killed in the line of duty.

The anthem, sung and composed by singer Kailash Kher, was launched at an event here attended by Mr. Singh, Ministers of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and Hansraj Ahir, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar.

During the event, an amount of ₹12.93 crore was raised with contributions from participants, including celebrities and people from the corporate world. The event was also attended by heads of all the Central Armed Police Forces.

19. INS Karanj Launched

The Indian Navy’s third state-of-the-art Scorpene class submarine, INS Karanj, was launched by Reena Lanba, wife of Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba. The new submarine is named after the earlier Kalvari class INS Karanj, which was decommissioned in 2003.

Six Scorpene class submarines are being built under Project 75 by the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDSL), Mumbai, under a $3.75 billion technology transfer signed in October 2005 with the Naval Group of France. However, the programme has been delayed by four years due to construction delays. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office conveyed its annoyance to the Defence Ministry for not taking stringent action against the Naval Group and MDSL for the delay.

The Scorpene class is the Navy’s first modern conventional submarine series in almost two decades, since INS Sindhushastra was procured from Russia in July 2000.

“INS Karanj saw action in the 1971 War and I am sure that this new incarnation will live up to its legendary namesake,” the Navy chief said. He added that he expects the new Karanj to be commissioned by the end of the year.

20. India ranks 42nd in 2017 Global Democracy Index

India has slipped to 42nd place on an annual Global Democracy Index amid “rise of conservative religious ideologies” and increase in vigilantism and violence against minorities as well as other dissenting voices. While Norway has again topped the list, followed by Iceland and Sweden, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), India has moved down from 32nd place last year and remains classified among “flawed democracies”.

The index ranks 165 independent states and two territories on the basis of five categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. The list has been divided into four broad categories — full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime.

The US (ranked 21), Japan, Italy, France, Israel, Singapore, and Hong Kong have also been named among ‘flawed democracies’.

The top three positions on the list are occupied by Nordic countries — Norway, Iceland and Sweden. New Zealand is at fourth and Denmark at fifth place, while others in top-ten include Ireland, Canada, Australia, Finland and Switzerland. Only top-19 countries have been classified as ‘full democracies’, while the hybrid regimes include Pakistan (110th), Bangladesh (92nd), Nepal (94th) and Bhutan (99th). Those named as ‘authoritarian regimes’ include China (139th), Myanmar (120th), Russia (135th) and Vietnam (140th). North Korea is ranked the lowest at 167th, while Syria is a notch better at 166th place.

Top-ranked Norway has been given an overall score of 9.87 with perfect-ten scores for Electoral process and pluralism; Political participation; and Political culture. India’s overall score has fallen to 7.23 points, even as it scored well on electoral process and pluralism (9.17). It has not managed to score so well on other four parameters political culture, functioning of government, political participation and civil liberties.

In the 2017 Democracy Index, the average global score fell from 5.52 in 2016 to 5.48 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Some 89 countries experienced a decline in their total score compared with 2016. 27 recorded an improvement. The other 51 countries stagnated, as their scores remained unchanged compared with 2016. Almost one-half (49.3 per cent) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5 per cent reside in a “full democracy”, down from 8.9 per cent in 2015 as a result of the US being demoted from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” in 2016. Around one-third of the world’s population lives under authoritarian rule, with a large share being in China, EIU noted.

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