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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Daily Current Affairs, 20th March 2018

06:00 0

1)  International Day Of Happiness- 20 March
•Since 2013, the United Nations has celebrated the International Day of Happiness (on 20th March) as a way to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world. The theme for IDH 2018 is "Share Happiness" - focusing on the importance of relationships, kindness and helping each other.

•The World Happiness Report 2018 was also released recently that ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, and 117 countries by the happiness of their immigrants. Finland was ranked as the happiest country in the list and Burundi in East Africa is the unhappiest place in the world. India ranks 133rd in the report after Pakistan (75th), China (86th) and Nepal (101st).

2)  World Sparrow Day- 20 March
•World Sparrow Day is observed on 20 March every year globally to create awareness about the protection of sparrows. The theme for this year's WSD is 'I Love Sparrows'.

•The first World Sparrow Day was observed in 2010 across the globe. The theme has been inspired by the hope that more and more of us will celebrate the relationship between people and Sparrows.

3)  1st National Workshop On POSHAN Abhiyan Held In New Delhi
•The first National workshop on POSHAN Abhiyan involving all the states and union territories was held at Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra, New Delhi. The Ministry of Women and Child Development is organising the day-long workshop with participation from all the states/UTs.

•It is been organized to provide a complete orientation on the POSHAN Abhiyan, to explain the key components of the Abhiyaan and to provide handholding in using the software involved. The Ministry of WCD is also launching five e-ILA (e-Incremental Learning Approach) courses and two ECCE(Early Childhood Care and Education) software modules.

4)  Government Approves Plastic Park To Be Set Up In Deoghar, Jharkhand
•Union Minister for Chemicals & Fertilizers and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Ananthkumar announced that the Government of India has approved the setting up of a Plastic Park in Deoghar District, Jharkhand.

•The project would be set up at a cost of Rs. 120 crores in an area of 150 acres. Mr. Ananthkumar also announced the setting up of Rs. 3.5 crore Plastic Recycling unit at Deoghar to tackle the menace of plastic waste being generated due to the place being a tourist attraction.

5)  NCAA Becomes World’s 1st Trusted Digital Repository
•National Cultural Audiovisual Archives (NCAA) project of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, implemented by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) has been certified as the world’s first Trusted Digital Repository as per ISO standard, granted by Primary Trustworthy Digital Repository Authorisation Body Ltd. (PTAB), United Kingdom.

•The primary objective of the NCAA is to identify and preserve the cultural heritage of India available in audiovisual form through a process of digitization and making it accessible to the people.

6)  Yi Gang Named Head Of People's Bank Of China
•US-educated economist Yi Gang has been named the next governor of China's central bank, the People's Bank of China (PBOC). Mr Yi has been deputy governor of the bank since 2008.

•It was one of a raft of appointments as the annual sitting of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, draws to a close.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 20th March 2018

11:00 0

📰 26-week maternity leave for women contract employees

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Complete GK Tricks in Hindi PDF Download

10:30 0

यदि आपको सामान्य ज्ञान ठीक से याद नहीं रहता तो ये नोट्स आपके लिए वरदान साबित हो सकते हैं, अक्सर हम जो भी पढ़ते हैं अगर उस विषय में हमें रूचि ना तो तो वह हमें ठीक से याद नहीं रहता और दिमाग में तथ्यों की खिचडी सी बन जाती है, ऐसे में यदि आपको कोई ऎसी ट्रिक मिल जाए जिससे आपको एक बार में ही पढ़ा हुआ याद रहने लगे तो वो वरदान से कम तो नहीं होगी, इन नोट्स की विशेषता यही है कि आपको पढ़ा हुआ एक बार में याद हो जाता है और एक और अच्छी बात ये कि आप इन ट्रिक्स को पढ़कर आगे से अपनी ट्रिक्स भी विकसित करने लगते हैं, तो आगे कि लिए भी ये फायदेमंद है, तो बस शुरू हो जाइए याद करना भी और अपनी खुद की ट्रिक्स भी विकसित कीजिये, यदि आपने अपनी कोई ट्रिक विकसित की है तो आप हमें कमेन्ट में बता सकते हैं जिससे और पाठक भी उसका फ़ायदा उठा सकें, धन्यवाद |

gk tricks in hindi pdf download

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Insights IAS ENVIRONMENT & ECOLOGY Revision Module 2018

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Insights IAS ECONOMY Revision Module 2018

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Daily Current Affairs, 19th March 2018

19:20 0

1)  President Released Coins Commemorating Nabakalebara Festival
•President Ram Nath Kovind released coins in denominations of Rs 10 and Rs 1,000 commemorating Lord Jagannath's Nabakalebara festival observed in July 2015. He unveiled the coins at the centenary celebration of Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan in Puri, Odisha.

•The coins had been slated for release during the mega festival, celebrated once every 12 to 19 years, but the Union finance ministry had rejected a design sent by the state government as it featured the deities' feet.

2)  PM Modi Lays Foundation Stone Of Navi Mumbai Airport
•Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the Navi Mumbai International Airport site in Panvel, nearly 21 years after it was mooted.

•The first phase the Rs 16,700-crore project is expected to be completed by 2019. This is the country’s largest greenfield airport. Navi Mumbai airport will have capacity of handling 60 million passengers.

3)  Lok Sabha Passes Amendment To Stonewall Scrutiny Of Foreign Poll Funding
•The Lok Sabha has passed (without a debate) a bill that will exempt political parties from the scrutiny of funds they have received from abroad since 1976. The Lok Sabha passed amid chaotic protests by the opposition parties, 21 amendments to the Finance Bill 2018.

•One of them was an amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 that bans overseas corporations from funding political parties. This is only the third time since 2000 that Parliament has approved the budget without debate.

4)  1st India-Japan Workshop On Disaster Risk Reduction Inaugurated
•The Vice-Chairman, NITI Aayog, Dr Rajiv Kumar inaugurated the First India-Japan Workshop on Disaster Risk Reduction in New Delhi. The two-day workshop is being jointly organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Government of Japan.

•The workshop marks the beginning of the formal implementation of the initiatives agreed under the Memorandum of Cooperation signed between the two countries on Disaster Risk Reduction in September 2017.

5)  7th Women's Science Congress Inaugurated In Manipur
•The Women Science Congress, 2018 was inaugurated in the backdrop of the ongoing 105th Indian Science Congress on its 3rd day being held at Manipur University, Imphal. Keshari Nath Tripathi, Governor of West Bengal inaugurated the 7th Edition of Science Congress for women.

•Prof.Vijay Laxmi Saxena, Former General Secretary, India Science Congress Association (ISCA) and Mrs.Namita Gupta, Scientist, Dept.of Science & Technology graced the function as guests of honours.

6)  Vladimir Putin Wins Historic 4th Term As Russian President
•Russian President Vladimir Putin stormed to victory in presidential election, giving him another six years in power. Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, won more than 75% of the vote according to preliminary results. 

•He is well ahead of his nearest rival Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin at 13.2%. About 107 million Russians were eligible to cast ballots and turnout was 60% before polls closed in Moscow.

7)  Worldwide Cost Of Living Report 2018- Singapore Most Expensive, Damascus Least
•Singapore remains the most expensive city in the world, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living report 2018. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published the Worldwide Cost of Living index 2018 for 133 cities across the world, based on a survey that compared more than 400 individual prices across over 150 products and services.

•The Top 5 Expensive cities on the list are-
1. Singapore.
2. Paris, France.
3. Zurich, Switzerland.
4. Hong Kong, China.
5. Oslo, Norway.

•Damascus, the capital of war-ravaged Syria, is the cheapest city for living in the world, followed by Venezuela’s capital Caracas.  

8)  Informal WTO Ministerial Meeting Held In New Delhi
•Representatives from 50 countries gathered in New Delhi for a two-day informal World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting.

•According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the informal meeting of ministers will provide an opportunity to engage in free and frank discussions with the hope that it will lead to political guidance on some major issues.

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The HINDU Notes – 19th March 2018

12:47 0

📰 Bilaspur’s stone age tools link Sivalik cultures

AnSI researchers find Acheulian artefacts in Himachal Pradesh

•Researchers from the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) have discovered a number of Acheulian artefacts (dated to about 1, 500,000–1,50,000 years ago) along with contemporary Soanian ones from an unexplored site at Ghumarwin in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh. The site is close to the site where scientists in the 19th century discovered fossil remains of Sivapithecus, the last common ancestor of orangutans and humans.

•The discovery of stone tools belonging to the Acheulian age in a region known to have rich evidence of the Soanian period, presents the possibility of continuity of the two stone age cultures at the site.

•“This is the first time that the AnSI has found a large number of Acheulian artefacts along with the Soanian tools at a same site. We have found bifacial hand axes along with cleavers and scrapers, which are clearly tools of the Acheulian age. Along with this, tools like various types of choppers, discoids, scrapers, cores, numerous flake types and angular core fragments of Soanian cultural period have also been found at the same site,” said Worrel Kumar Bain, one of researchers involved with the discovery.

River corridor

•The oldest dated Acheulian sites in India are those at Attirampakkam in Tamil Nadu, dating to 1.5 million years ago, whereas recent assessments of the South Asian Paleolithic (stone age culture) records have suggested that most Soanian assemblages are younger than Acheulian evidence in the Sivalik region.

•According to experts, the Soanian stone age cultures date to 600 ka (about 6,00,000) years ago.

•Mr. Bain said tools have been collected from the site at the surface level, and a few were in stratified condition. A few artefacts also show heavy rolling due to river activity, while others are in fresh condition and show minimal rolling, which suggests that the artefacts came from nearby localities and through rivers and got deposited

•“Present Achulian discovery from unexplored site at Ghumarwin indicates that the river Sutlej and its tributaries have been a prehistoric corridor for the peninsular Acheulian man into the Sivalik region,” the researcher said, adding that more studies are required to find the amalgamation of two prehistoric stone cultures (Soanian and Acheulian) in Himachal Pradesh.

•Other than over 100 stone tools, the exploration also yielded petrified remains of a number of vertebrate and invertebrate groups. “Besides vertebrates, few invertebrates mainly fresh water gastropods have also been recovered. An interesting finding during exploration was a fossilized tuber of a tree,” said Harshawardhana, principal investigator of the project and head of office, North Western Regional Centre of AnSI.

•The petrified remains are under examination by experts and will help in recreating an ecological picture of the area, millions of years ago. “The indication of gastropods [a large taxonomic class within the phylum Mollusca] suggests the presence of backswamps of the flood plains,” Dr. Harshawardhana, said.

Sites under threat

•According to Dr. Harshawardhana, the stretches between Bilaspur and Ghumarwin, that hold answers to how our ancestors survived million of years ago in the Sivalik ranges, are under threat due developmental work such as road and bridges, and also agriculture.

•“Being ignorant of the precious heritage the locals are selling fossil remains at a very nominal price. There is a need for documentation of the bio-cultural heritage localities and preservation of these sites,” the anthropologist said.

•Describing the region as a gold mine for anthropologists, archaeologists, and geologists, he said anthropologists are preparing a proposal for the conservation of the region, and will also involve the district administration in it.

📰 Naidu to keep alive fight for Special Category Status

‘Tamil Nadu-type politics will not succeed in State’

•Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said he was undeterred by the offensive that BJP leaders have threatened to launch against the Andhra Pradesh government, and asserted that their brand of ‘divisive politics’ that succeeded in Tamil Nadu would fail here.

•He vowed to keep the fight alive for Special Category Status (SCS) which was the State’s right.

•Participating as the chief guest in the Telugu New Year Ugadi (Sri Vilambi Nama Samvatsaram) celebrations organised by the Department of Language and Culture at Tummalapalli Kshetrayya Kalakshetram on Sunday, Mr. Naidu reiterated that he did not ask for anything beyond what was promised under the A.P. Reorganisation Act (APRA) and the assurances that were given on the floor of the Rajya Sabha in response to demands raised by M. Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley. But the BJP backed off from its commitment.

•Moreover, in what was an affront to the people, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Jaitley belittled the public sentiment and even spread the falsehood that the State government’s conduct was such that it did not mind asking for the funds allocated to the defence sector.

Slams YSRCP, Pawan

•Mr. Naidu said the YSR Congress leaders were trying to get corruption charges they faced dismissed by getting close to the BJP.

•The Jana Sena Party president Pawan Kalyan changed his stand overnight and launched a tirade against the State government after maintaining a silence for four years instead of questioning the Centre for cheating A.P.

•“Whatever be the hurdles in our path, let us strive together for development and prove that the people of Andhra Pradesh can retaliate and get their wishes fulfilled,” Mr. Naidu urged.

•Earlier, Sanskrit scholar and astrologer Prabhala Surbrahmanya Sarma from Rajahmundry did the ‘Panchanga Pathanam’.

•Ravuri Venkata Vara Prasad from Guntur did the ‘Vyavasaya Panchanga Pathanam.’ Mr. Naidu gave away ‘Kala Ratna Ugadi Puraskaralu’ to artists and persons from other walks of life.

•Assembly Speaker Kodela Siva Prasada Rao and Deputy Mandali Buddha Prasad and Nara Bhuvaneswari were among those present.

📰 Lok Sabha passes Bill to exempt political parties from scrutiny on foreign funds, without debate

•The Lok Sabha, earlier this week, passed without a debate a bill that will exempt political parties from scrutiny of funds they have received from abroad since 1976.

•Amid chaotic protests by the opposition parties on Wednesday, March 14, the Lok Sabha passed 21 amendments to the Finance Bill 2018. One of them was an amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 that bans overseas corporations from funding political parties.

•The Representation of People’s Act, which lays down the rules for elections, bars political parties from accepting foreign funds.

•Through Finance Bill 2016 passed earlier, the BJP government had amended the FCRA to make it easier for parties to accept foreign funds. Now, it has amended it further to do away with the scope for scrutiny of a political parties’ funding since 1976.

•“In the Finance Act, 2016, in section 236, in the opening paragraph, for the words, figures and letters ‘the 26th September, 2010’, the words, figures and letters ‘the 5th August, 1976’ shall be substituted,” the Lok Sabha website said listing amendments to Finance Bill 2018 approved on Wednesday.

•The retrospective amendment will help BJP and Congress escape the fallout of a 2014 Delhi High Court judgement that held both guilty of violating the FCRA.

•The FCRA was passed in 1976. It defined a company — Indian or foreign — registered abroad or with subsidiaries abroad as a foreign firm. It was later repealed and replaced with the FCRA, 2010.

•The BJP government, through the Finance Act, 2016, had also changed the definition of a foreign company by saying a firm with less than 50% of share capital held by a foreign entity would no longer be a foreign source any more. This amendment also came into effect retrospectively from September 2010.

•Before the change approved last week, foreign funds received by a political party before September 26, 2010, when the FCRA was enacted, were open to scrutiny.

•Once Clause 233 in the Finance Act 2016 was passed, BJP and Congress simultaneously withdrew appeals in the Supreme Court against a Delhi High Court verdict that held them in violation of the law on foreign funding.

•The Lok Sabha on Wednesday adopted the annual Budget for 2018-19 by passing the Appropriation Bill, which authorises government departments to spend money from the Consolidated Fund of India, and Finance Bill, which contains taxation proposals.

•The approval without debate came even though three weeks remain for the current Budget Session of Parliament. First two weeks of the session have been almost a washout due to protests over the Punjab National Bank fraud and other issues by Opposition parties.

•This is only the third time since 2000 that Parliament has approved the budget without debate.

📰 Cauvery Board deadline will be met: Tamilisai

‘No discrimination of southern States’

•BJP State president Tamilisai Soundararajan on Sunday said the Central government will definitely constitute the Cauvery Management Board within the six-week time frame set by the Supreme Court.

•Addressing mediapersons here, she said the Centre was proceeding on the issue in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court, adding that the deadline for constituting the board will be met.

•Adverting to the claim made by some regional political parties that the southern States were footing the bill for the development of northern States, the BJP leader said such statements constituted “seditious arguments”, and warned that stoking regional sentiments was dangerous. “The country’s sovereignty and integrity should be protected at all costs,” she said.

•According to her, the southern States were not being discriminated against, as had been alleged by DMK leader M.K. Stalin. She claimed that only after the BJP came to power at the Centre did the implementation of several schemes like the Metro Rail begin in southern States.

On ballot paper idea

•Regarding the Congress’ 84th plenary session discussing a return to ballot papers, she said the forfeiture of deposit by Congress party candidates in the recently held byelections in various States had forced the party to talk about returning to the old system of voting.

•Even if the casting of votes was to be through ballot papers, the Congress candidates would lose their deposits. A return to ballot papers would only regress the country’s development. And, the Congress talking about returning to ballot papers was akin to insulting the voters who exercised their franchise in free, fair and democratically-held elections, she said. The BJP was a force to reckon with, both inside and outside Parliament. However much the Congress may try, it will not be able to undermine her party’s strength, she asserted.

•On the local body polls, she said it was wrong to delay the conduct of the polls even after funds had been allotted for the purpose.

📰 No ‘power’ of choice for consumers

A decade and a half after the Electricity Act came, consumers still face a monopoly in power supply

•Last month, six energy producing companies won rights to set up wind power projects in Gujarat and sell power to the State’s utility firm. In the auctions, where those who offer to sell electricity at the least prices are the winners, four companies quoted Rs. 2.44 a unit of electricity, and two others quoted a paisa more.

•Similarly, in the previous auctions, several wind and solar companies have come forward to sell electricity at prices well under Rs. 3.

•However, you and I are buying power at upwards of Rs. 6; factories pay even more, even as high as Rs. 12.

•It should be a simple matter for the company that owns the factory to tell the wind energy company in Gujarat, “Hey, you are selling power at Rs. 2.44; I’ll pay you (say) Rs. 6, why don’t you sell it to me?” Simple, right?

•Then, why isn’t it happening?

Electricity Act, 2003

•The push to make such deals possible came in the form of the Electricity Act in 2003. The central idea of the Act, which is still hailed as a ‘landmark legislation’ for the power sector, was the creation of an open market for electricity, where anyone could produce power anywhere and sell it to anyone else at mutually agreed prices.

•In developed countries, consumers can switch suppliers over the laptop. But in India, a decade and half after the legislative framework came into being, a free and open market for power, as it exists for instance, for telecom, is still elusive.

•The reason is that State governments, through the electricity distribution companies (discoms) owned by them, are still a monopoly, and exhibit monopolistic tendencies — their instinct is to make their customers pay for their inefficiencies.

•There again, only some customers pay, while the others have to be subsidised and what better strategy than to make the paying customers pay more to defray the costs of the subsidies?

•In an open market, the customers who are thus made to pay more would go to other suppliers if they find them economical. But in a monopoly, the monopolist would not let the customer deal directly with the supplier.

•While on paper, there is scope for a large consumer of power to directly purchase power from a supplier, by-passing over the State discom, in practice this has proved to be difficult because the owner of the discom, viz., the State government, has control over such direct transactions.

•“State governments use the respective State Load Dispatch Centre (which routes the power) as the instrument of control,” observes Daljit Singh, visiting scholar at Brookings India, who studied the issue for a paper titled ‘Newer Challenges for Open Access’, in April 2017.

•Mr. Singh counted at least 239 orders passed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, the federal electricity regulator, pertaining to ‘denial of open access’. Pretty often, the load dispatch centre was not sport.

•State governments have often seized upon a certain provision (Section 11) in the Electricity Act, which allows them to force a power producer in that State not to supply outside the borders. The provision was meant for use in rare circumstances of emergency-like power shortage, but many States (Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, for example) have taken liberties with the interpretation.

•Perhaps the clearest case of States putting the kibosh on free market is that of the ‘cross-subsidy surcharge’ (CSS). This is a surcharge that a discom levies on a customer for defraying costs of free or subsidised power to some sections of the society. Ideally, the costs of such subsidies should come from the State government’s own funds, but other customers are made to pay for it.

‘Subsidy must decrease’

•The Electricity Act allows CSS, but the idea clearly was that the charge “shall be progressively reduced and eliminated”.

•Instead, the CSS is only increasing. Assam, for example, saw CSS rise from 54 paise in 2016-17 to Rs. 1.31 in 2017-18; Bihar 79 paise to Rs. 1.79 and A.P. Rs. 1.61 to Rs. 1.65.

•A ‘consultation paper’ on open access produced by the Ministry of Power in August last year sums up the position of the State government, seeking a rise in CSS. This is happening even when there is recognition that CSS is not quite the way to provide free or subsidised power to some sections of society — incidentally, some of whom, such as rich farmers, do not at all deserve the freebie.

•The National Tariff Policy of 2016 is clear on that point. In Section 8.3, it says “direct subsidy is a better way to support the poorer categories of consumers than the mechanism of cross subsidising the tariff across the board.”

•Add to this the ‘additional surcharge’ which is meant to compensate discoms for the fixed cost of their long-term contracted capacity, which is stranded as a result of consumers moving to Open Access (OA). For this, the discoms have to “conclusively demonstrate” that the assets are stranded due to consumers moving out, but often this is not done. In some States, additional surcharge has is as high as Rs. 1.60.

•These charges, collectively known as ‘open access charges’ have made a free market economically unviable. In several of its presentations, the Indian Energy Exchange, which is one of the two energy exchanges in the country, speaks of “open access charges being set high in order to restrict open access.” “With the rise of renewables, increased market dynamics and tighter grid operation rules, utilities (discoms) have started restricting or tightening rules around open access,” says Vishal Pandya, an energy markets experts and co-founder and director, REConnect, a consultancy.

•For their part, the discoms have their own defence for why they frown at open access. Customers leaving them has adverse financial implications, at a time when they are hard up on cash. On the flip side, whether they do enough to improve their efficiencies and keep their house in order, is moot.

•There are structural issues in improving discom efficiencies. A case in point is the instance in Karnataka, where the unions stopped substation automation because it would render staff surplus, requiring them to be transferred.

‘Centre-State mismatch’

•At the heart of the the absence of a free market for electricity is the mismatch of perception of the central and State governments. While the Centre wants a vibrant, 24-by-7 market, the States are more concerned about their immediate finances and electoral issues.

•“Development of a shared perspective or vision for the sector by the Centre and the States is highly desirable,” says Mr. Singh. “However, that would be difficult to achieve in the current political climate.”

•On top of all this is the proposed New Electricity Act which proposes to separate “carrier and content”, meaning the transmission lines will be like tolled highways for use by anybody, while the power itself could be supplied by anybody, so that the consumer will have a choice to switch seamlessly between suppliers. The draft of the legislation is gathering dust in the Parliament.

📰 WTO ministerial: 50 nations to take up global trade issues

WTO: 50 nations to take up global trade issues

•The government said that 50 nations will engage in free and frank discussions on global trade here this week to explore the options for resolving various issues and re-invigorating the WTO.

•Representatives from 50 countries will be gathering in New Delhi on 19-20 March for an informal World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting. It will look at issues both at the negotiating table and also in other areas.

📰 ‘RBI overruled House panel on power NPAs’

New bad loan rules irk producers

•The Association of Power Producers has accused the RBI of overruling the Parliamentary standing panel on power and key ministries with its February 12 circular that ended all the existing loan restructuring mechanisms and voted for the insolvency code to resolve stressed assets.

•The association has also sought a special dispensation from the Reserve Bank saying their defaults are caused mostly by non-payment/delayed payments by state discoms and regulatory delays coupled with poor coal supplies by Coal India.

•In a March 12 letter to the RBI, the association has requested Governor Urjit Patel to exclude the power sector from the purview of the new rules.

•Indirectly accusing the central bank of overruling the House panel on energy and the views of the Union power and coal ministries, association director general Ashok Khurana says in the letter, “The issue of stressed assets was discussed... with developers, bankers, regulators, and officials of power and coal ministries by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy.”

•“Every effort should be made to see that the projects with huge investment do not become NPAs for want of marginal financial infusion or adjustment in the way of making working capital available for passing on the interest variable to the stressed asset,” it said.

📰 Govt. to take spiritual route to spur tourism

Focus is also on yoga, Ayurveda, says Alphons

•In a bid to spur domestic travel, the government plans to promote religious tourism in the country, said Minister of State for Tourism K.J. Alphons. Plans are also afoot to popularise yoga and Ayurveda among millennials, as part of efforts to reach out to people across the globe and get “millions of more people to India.”

•“Our big focus is getting people to see India itself… Bulk of domestic tourism is really religious tourism. According to our estimates, close to 60% of domestic tourism in India is religious-based,” Mr. Alphons said, adding that the government is now investing in creating infrastructure around religious places.

•The number of domestic tourist visits in 2017 stood at about 1.8 billion, up about 12% from the over 1.6 billion in the previous year.

•The government has already approved two projects — Swadesh Darshan Scheme, wherein infrastructure will be built around places of tourist interest under the umbrella of 15 themes such as Buddhist Circuit, Krishna Circuit, Spiritual Circuit, Ramayana Circuit and Heritage Circuit; and Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive or PRASAD scheme that focusses on development and beautification of identified pilgrimage destinations.

90 projects

•The government has approved allocation of about ₹ 7,000 crore for about 90 projects under the two schemes. “Almost all the projects under both schemes will be inaugurated by December this year.”

•“We are repositioning what India is. There are two big things that we want to sell — one is yoga and the other is Ayurveda. This is to attract both domestic and foreign tourists,” Mr. Alphons said.

•The Tourism Ministry recently launched ‘Yogi of the Racetrack’, a minute-long advertisement on yoga, that received more than 11.5 million hits in a week. “With this ad, we are addressing a completely new group of people. Earlier, it was thought that yoga is just for people over 40 and Ayurveda too is for older people. Now we are addressing the millennials.”

•Six more similar advertisements on topics, including Ayurveda, will be released soon. “The whole idea is to storm the world with what the true essence of India is.”

Toursit arrivals

•Foreign tourist arrivals in 2017 stood at over 10 million, a growth of 15.6% over 8.8 million such arrivals in 2016. This resulted in foreign exchange earnings of $ 27.6 billion last year, a growth of 20.8% over 2016.

•“We don’t want people to just come and see and go. It doesn’t bring any benefit to the local community… Longer stay means hotel rooms will be occupied, tourists would shop, go to restaurants… this helps us get foreign exchange as well as generate more jobs,” Mr. Alphons said.

•The Minister said that to boost tourism, the attitude of citizens also need to change. “… the perception is that when you see a foreign tourist, you want to go and take a selfie with them, get unnecessarily close. A whole lot of people don’t like that. They want privacy… let people be, don’t bug them.”

📰 Dangerous spiral

New Delhi and Islamabad must address the tit-for-tat harassment of each other’s envoys

•Regardless of the provocation or the sequence of events, there is an urgent need for India and Pakistan to address allegations of harassment of each other’s diplomats and interference in High Commission work. While surveillance of diplomats by intelligence agencies in New Delhi and Islamabad is not new, matters have escalated in the past month, and the treatment of diplomatic officials by both sides has dropped to new lows. The spark for this round of ‘tit-for-tat’ actions appears to be an incident in February, when alleged ISI agents roughed up Pakistani construction workers headed for the Indian mission’s new building site in Islamabad. While Pakistan’s foreign office claimed they did not have security clearance to enter the diplomatic zone, India saw it as an attempt to stop the work, adding that power and water connections were tampered with. Then, the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi claimed that Indian security personnel warned repairmen and electricians against entering its premises. Both missions said personnel were being targeted on the road, with cars stopped and drivers intimidated. Other instances on both sides include obscene phone calls, stoppage of milk and newspaper delivery to diplomats, and even 3 a.m. doorbell rings.

•The timing is clearly more than just coincidence, and the incidents mark a deliberate policy by India and Pakistan to give their intelligence agencies a carte blanche to target the other side. It is unfortunate that things have come to such a pass, weeks after the two countries agreed to humanitarian measures for prisoners, with Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif accepting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s proposals on the issue. The allegations of harassment are more serious than just shadow-boxing, and must be checked in order to avoid a further slippage in ties. They constitute technical violations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) and the subsequent Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), which clearly state that a diplomatic agent’s person, premises and property are inviolable and must be respected and protected by the “receiving state”. The fear is that as a next step in this spiral, India and Pakistan may even take stronger measures, including sending back diplomats or scaling down their missions. India had declared Islamabad a non-family post in the wake of the terror attack on an army school in Peshawar; Pakistan may now follow suit by withdrawing its families from Delhi. At a time when bilateral dialogue has been stalled for years, and ceasefire violations are becoming the norm on the Line of Control, any escalation will impact the few lines of communication that remain. Cooler counsel must prevail.

📰 In a plastics world

The presence of plastics in drinking water must compel drastic action

•Plastics are now widely present in the environment, as visible waste along coastlines, in lakes and rivers, and even in the soil. The recent finding that microplastic particles are found even in ‘safe’ bottled water indicates the magnitude of the crisis. There is little doubt that the global production of plastics, at over 300 million tonnes a year according to the UN Environment Programme, has overwhelmed the capacity of governments to handle what is thrown away as waste. Microplastics are particles of less than 5 mm that enter the environment either as primary industrial products, such as those used in scrubbers and cosmetics, or via urban waste water and broken-down elements of articles discarded by consumers. Washing of clothes releases synthetic microfibres into water bodies and the sea. The health impact of the presence of polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate and other chemicals in drinking water, food and even inhaled air may not yet be clear, but indisputably these are contaminants. Research evidence from complementary fields indicates that accumulation of these chemicals can induce or aggravate immune responses in the body. More studies, as a globally coordinated effort, are necessary to assess the impact on health. It is heartening that the WHO has come forward to commission a review of the health impact of plastics in water.

•Last December in Nairobi, UN member-countries resolved to produce a binding agreement in 18 months to deal with the release of plastics into the marine environment. The problem is staggering: eight million tonnes of waste, including bottles and packaging, make their way into the sea each year. There is now even the Great Pacific Garbage Patch of plastic debris. India has a major problem dealing with plastics, particularly single-use shopping bags that reach dumping sites, rivers and wetlands along with other waste. The most efficient way to deal with the pollution is to control the production and distribution of plastics. Banning single-use bags and making consumers pay a significant amount for the more durable ones is a feasible solution. Enforcing the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, which require segregation of waste from April 8 this year, will retrieve materials and greatly reduce the burden on the environment. Waste separation can be achieved in partnership with the community, and presents a major employment opportunity. The goal, however, has to be long term. As the European Union’s vision 2030 document on creating a circular plastic economy explains, the answer lies in changing the very nature of plastics, from cheap and disposable to durable, reusable and fully recyclable. There is consensus that this is the way forward. Now that the presence of plastics in drinking water, including the bottled variety, has been documented, governments should realise it cannot be business as usual.

📰 Poison kills 32 rare vultures in Assam

Carrion feeders die in Sivasagar district after eating goat carcass

•It looked like a normal goat carcass, and a group of vultures in Assam’s Sivasagar district settled down to devour it quickly. But at the end of the meal, 32 of them lay dead on Saturday.

•The incident has dealt a blow to India’s conservation programme for these highly endangered birds.

•Seven vultures survived, of which four were released on Sunday after treatment. The goat carcass had been poisoned as revenge for the dogs that killed it, but vultures became the unintended casualty.

•The mass poisoning is one of the worst such incidents in recent years, according to the Vulture Breeding Conservation Centre near Guwahati.

•Among the survivors, three each were Himalayan griffon ( Gyps himalayensis ) and slender-billed ( Gyps tenuirostris ), and one was an Oriental white-backed (Gyps bengalensis ) vulture. Of the 32 that died, 29 were Himalayan griffons.

Mass poisoning

•There have been multiple incidents of mass poisoning. One was reported from western Assam’s Goalpara district in March 2011. At least 20 vultures had died then, after consuming the poisoned carcass of a dog.

•“The death of the vultures has been a major loss, but the small relief is that seven survived. We are trying to identify the man who is believed to have poisoned the goat’s carcass,” said Bidya Bordoloi, DFO of Sivasagar Division.

Flushed out

•Conservationist Simanta Medhi said doctors of the Bombay Natural History Society that runs the vulture breeding centre in collaboration with the Assam Forest Department, flushed out the poison from the system of the vultures, and gave them medication.

•“Only seven could make it, and four of these have been released. The remaining three need some more treatment,” he said.

•The vulture breeding centre in Assam hosts 104 birds, but the ones that died are not among those cared for by it.

•Vultures have fallen victim in the past due to carcasses that are either infected or poisoned. Last year, 20 birds died in March after eating cattle remains, in Lakhimpur district. Of the 50 that were found alive, 45 were released after treatment. No one was proceeded against in that case since it was not seen as a deliberate act.

•Research data cited by the BNHS last year show that populations of white-backed vultures appeared to have stabilised, but that of long-billed vultures was on the decline.

Veterinary medicines

•A steady reduction in the numbers of vultures in India was linked to the use of veterinary medicines such as diclofenac, leading to a ban on its use in animals.

•BNHS scientists have pointed out that several other medications are also toxic to the birds, and yet, these have not been restricted by the government.

•Without action on both veterinary medications and incidents of revenge killing of wildlife in villages, the bird population is at serious risk, they contend.

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