Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 09 October 2017

Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 09 October 2017


Unpredictable nature of water availability brings diving over paddy sowing

  • Opinion in the farming circles in the Cauvery delta districts is divided over the State government’s not-so-subtle encouragement for farmers to go in for direct sowing in the current samba and thalady paddy cultivation season.
  • While the government’s Department of Agriculture points to the unpredictable nature of water availability to see through the normally long samba cultivation, farmers argue that direct sowing could be resorted only in certain areas of the delta, while in a majority of the region nurseries have to be raised and transplanted.
  • The direct sowing method reduces longevity of the paddy crop by a clear fortnight minimising water usage. Land preparation, especially levelling the field, is important for direct sowing. Areas where soil could retain water and moisture are best suited for direct sowing method.
  • By all means, the State government’s push for direct sowing is fraught with inherent dangers, but delta farmers have practically few options in the face of inadequate time and water availability for a full length samba.

Changes might be seen in recruitment process of NHRC

  • The Home Ministry has moved the Cabinet to amend the recruitment process of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
  • A key change being contemplated is that a retired Supreme Court judge could also be considered for the Chairperson’s position, currently reserved for former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court.
  • Similarly an amendment for appointment of members is also being considered. The members could be picked from a pool of retired Chief Justices of High Courts. Currently, a serving or retired SC judge is considered. The NHRC was constituted under the Protection of Human Rights Act in 1993. The Act was last amended in 2006.
  • The amendments are being done on the request of the NHRC itself. Complying with international norms, some changes are being made in the Act that will open the floor for recruitment from a wider pool.
  • The Commission consists of a chairperson, one member who is or has been a Judge of the Supreme Court, one member who is or has been the Chief Justice of a High Court and two members to be appointed from among persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights.

Election Commission in favor of simultaneous polls

  • Favouring simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, the Election Commission said all political parties need to be brought on board before such an exercise was carried out.
  • The Election Commission has always been of the view that simultaneous elections will give enough time to the incumbent government to formulate policies and implement programmes continuously for a longer time without interruptions caused by the imposition of the model code of conduct,” Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat said.
  • He said the step would be possible only when necessary changes were carried out in the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act.
  • Existing legal and constitutional provisions mandate that elections are to be held within six months ahead of the end of the term of an Assembly or the Lok Sabha.
  • Mr. Rawat said the Election Commission was in 2015 asked to give its view on the synchronised polls. “The Commission gave its views on the matter in March that year. It had suggested a few steps that need to be taken before such elections are made feasible.”
  • Mr. Rawat said it would be logistically possible to hold the elections together if sufficient time was given to the Commission.
  • Besides, it needs 24 lakh each Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) Machines.
  • Mr. Rawat said orders had already been placed for more number of EVMs and VVPAT machines and new inventory had started coming in. “The Commission would be able to get the required number of EVMs and VVPAT machines by mid 2019 or before if need be.”
  • Mr. Rawat’s assertion assumes significance as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already pitched for simultaneous polls.

Changes in 3-language formula

  • Foreign languages such as German and French may not be part of the three-language formula in schools from the next academic session.
  • The Union Human Resource Development Ministry is believed to have communicated to the Central Board of Secondary Education that students keen on learning a foreign language should opt for it as the fourth or fifth language.
  • “Languages which are listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution should be taught under the three-language formula, while languages which are ‘purely foreign’ should be taught as a ‘fourth language’ as an elective subject,” a source said.
  • “Consultations are on with the CBSE and the changes are likely to be implemented from next academic session.”
  • Under the National Education Policy, the three-language formula means students in Hindi-speaking States should learn a modern Indian language, apart from Hindi and English, and in other States, Hindi, the regional language and English.
  • A majority of the 18,000 affiliated institutions offer the mother tongue or Hindi, English and a foreign language such as German and Mandarin up to Class 8.
  • One, it extends the scheme till Class 10, and two, it does away with foreign languages as an option for students. A student would have to take up three Indian languages listed in Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, one of which could be English.

Women fighter pilots to on MiG-21s Bison

  • The first three women fighter pilots of the country are likely to fly the MiG-21 Bison jets.
  • Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh are set to script history next month when they will fly the military jets after a three-week training programme.
  • The consideration is to put them to the MiG-21 Bison squadron.


China wants India to abide by 1890 U.K-China treaty

  • China referred to the 1890 U.K.-China treaty which it claims demarcated the Sikkim sector of the India-China border as it urged New Delhi to abide by its provisions, a day after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made her maiden visit to the Nathu La post.
  • Reacting to Ms. Sitharaman’s visit, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “The Sikkim section of the China-India border has been demarcated by the historical boundary.”
  • It is the best testimony to this fact. We urge the Indian side to face the facts, abide by the provisions of the historic boundary treaty and the relevant agreement of the parties, and work together with the Chinese side to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” it said in a written response.
  • The Ministry did not directly name the 1890 Britain-China treaty which Beijing often referred to during the Doklam standoff stating that as it had defined the Sikkim section of the boundary with Tibet, the border in that area had been settled.
  • Ms. Sitharaman visited the Nathu La area, and interacted with the Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police officials. Nathu La is the last post separating the border between Sikkim and Tibet.
  • Ms. Sitharaman’s trip was the first high-level visit to the area after the 73-day standoff at Dokalam which ended on August 28 following a mutual agreement.

China setting stage for mediation regarding Rohingya crisis

  • Without alienating Bangladesh, China is backing Myanmar, setting the stage of mediation between the two countries to resolve the Rohingya humanitarian and refugee crisis.
  • On September 28, China flew 2,000 tents and 3,000 blankets as part of a 150-tonnes relief package for Rohingya refugees, fleeing the violence in Myanmar.
  • The Chinese stressed that they had flown in the supplies purely on humanitarian considerations to help Bangladesh shoulder the burden of the sudden refugee surge. Politically, Beijing empathised with Myanmar, which had become a target of harsh criticism from the West on the familiar grounds of violating human rights and engaging in “ethnic cleansing.”
  • Beijing also ensured that Myanmar avoided harsh international sanctions, which the United Nations could impose. During the first debate in the UN Security Council on September 28, the Chinese side defended Myanmar, highlighting the context of the humanitarian crisis.
  • Myanmar’s Rakhine State is at the heart of the Rohingya crisis. On August 25, the Arakan Rohingya Salivation Army (ARSA), operating in the State, attacked 30 police posts, killing 84, with 54 going missing.
  • The massive retaliation by the Myanmar armed forces triggered an exodus of 4,00,000 people, seeking sanctuaries in the Chittagong hill tracts of neighbouring Bangladesh.
  • Rakhine is strategically vital for both China and India. The website The Irrawaddy from Myanmar has reported that Beijing has been pushing for preferential access to the deep seaport of Kyaukphyu — part of its ambitious infrastructure investment plan to deepen its links with economies throughout Asia and beyond. China has plans to pitch in $10 billion in the neighbouring Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone.
  • Besides, it wants to establish a railway from the Bay of Bengal, linking Myanmar with its Yunnan Province, within the framework of its Belt and Road undertaking.
  • India, on its part is developing the Sittwe port, the capital of Rakhine province, for providing port access to its landlocked northeast.
  • With the crisis escalating, China has reiterated its offer to mediate between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
  • China’s offer to broker a resolution is not new. In April, Chinese Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang visited Bangladesh and offered to tackle a diplomatic row between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the flight of the Rohingya.
  • Yet, China’s efforts may not succeed without active behind-the -scenes support from Pakistan, another player that has been drawn into the Rohingya entanglement.


Indian Monsoon mapping

  • India has received a total 841.3 millimetres (mm) of rain in the south-west monsoon season from June 1 to September 30 this year.
  • IMD deems the season ‘normal’ if the all-India quantum of rain falls within a 10% range of its long-period average of 887.5 mm. The 2017 monsoon fell short of the number only by 5%.
  • In fact, the cumulative rainfall numbers this year aren’t very different from 2016 when the country recorded 862 mm of rain. This may seem like good news.
  • In 2016-17, India harvested a record crop of cereals (252.7 million tonnes) and managed a quantum jump in its output of both pulses (16.3 million tonnes in 2015 to 22.9 million tonnes in 2016) and oilseeds (25 to 32 million tonnes).
  • This contributed to a significant bump-up in the agriculture leg of the GDP which grew 4.9% in FY17 compared with 0.7% in FY16.
  • But expecting an encore of that impressive performance just because this year’s monsoon has turned out ‘normal’, would be unrealistic. More than the quantum of rainfall that is dumped on the sub-continent during the four critical months, it is the spatial and temporal distribution of rains that make or break crop prospects. On this score, the 2017 monsoon has been quite whimsical.
  • For the purposes of measuring the spatial spread of rainfall, the IMD categorises India into 36 meteorological sub-divisions.
    IMD’s wrap-up of the recent monsoon season tells us that in the just-concluded monsoon season, 5 of India’s 36 sub-divisions received excess rains, 25 received normal rains and 6 witnessed deficient rains. Last year, 4 sub-divisions were showered with excess rains, 23 were normal and 9 were deficient.
  • This year’s monsoon has played truant in some key food-bowl States. For instance, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab account for a lion’s share of kharif rice production.
  • But this year’s monsoon has been 29% below normal in Uttar Pradesh and 22% short of normal in Punjab. West Bengal alone has enjoyed a near-normal season, as has much of the southern peninsula. Madhya Pradesh, which is a critical growing region for the rabi wheat crop, has seen a deficiency of 20%.
  • Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra are similarly critical for pulses output. Of these, while Rajasthan has received excess rains (8% above normal) and Maharashtra has been just about normal, rains playing truant in Madhya Pradesh look set to impact pulses output.
  • While excess rains in Gujarat (19% above normal) could augur well for the groundnut and cotton crops, the patchy show in both Madhya Pradesh and Haryana (26% below normal) cloud the prospects for oilseeds such as soyabean, rapeseed, mustard and sunflower. There have also been wide variations between growing regions within each state, which can have a bearing on crop prospects.
  • Month-wise rainfall patterns during the south-west monsoon also play a big role in deciding cropping area and yield. In 2016, the monsoon got off to a snail-paced start, but picked up pace in the latter half of the season.
  • But this year’s monsoon has behaved in exactly the opposite fashion. After excess rains of about 4% and 2% against normal seasonal patterns in June and July, the months of August and September have seen all-India rainfall fall 12-13% short of normal levels.
  • Good rains in the months of June and July may have contributed to good sowing and coverage of the kharif crops. But deficit rains in August and September could impact the eventual output by pruning crop yields.
  • It is also important to note that rainfall in the last two months of the south-west monsoon dictate reservoir storage and soil moisture, both of which set the tone for the planting of the winter crops.
  • Though there is much tracking and analysis of India’s south-west monsoon and the kharif crop, the rabi season has been equally important to the country’s agricultural prospects in recent years. Rabi output often matches or even exceeds the kharif output.
  • The rabi season accounts for the whole of India’s wheat and gram harvest, a fourth of the output for coarse cereals and chips in with over a third of the yearly harvest of urad and moong. Oilseeds such as rapeseed and mustard, sunflower and safflower are also predominantly winter crops. Therefore, dry spells in the latter half of this monsoon, taken with deficient rains in key rabi growing regions, can make for less than rosy rabi prospects.
  • All this could explain why the agriculture ministry, in its First Advance Estimates, has painted a somewhat muted picture of crop prospects for FY18. The estimates are based mainly on cropping and sowing patterns and a lot can change on yields and output, as the year progresses. But so far, it appears as if India will have a hard time living up to the 4.9% expansion in agriculture GVA that it so comfortably managed last year.


3000 km solar car race in Australia

  • An epic 3,000-kilometre solar car race across the desert heart of Australia designed to showcase new technology that could one day help develop commercial vehicles got under way.
  • The World Solar Challenge, first run in 1987 and last held in 2015, began in a high-tech, futuristic flurry from Darwin’s State Square.
  • Dutch team Nuon is aiming to defend its title but Belgium's Punch Powertrain led the 41 cars — powered by the sun— off on the punishing journey south to Adelaide after a surprise win.
  • The event has become one of the world’s foremost innovation challenges with teams looking to demonstrate designs that could one day lead to commercially available solar-powered vehicles for passengers.
  • Google co-founder Larry Page and Tesla co-founder J B Straubel are past competitors. The main action will be the streamlined Challenger class — slick, single seat aerodynamic vehicles built for sustained endurance and total energy efficiency.
  • Entrants come from Hong Kong, Singapore and even Iran.

Algae-based flip-flops to be environment friendly

Scientists have developed algae-based flip-flops that could be an environment friendly alternative to petroleum-based slippers in countries like India and China.

Three billion petroleum-based footwears are produced worldwide each year, eventually ending up as non-biodegradable trash in landfills, rivers and oceans.

The flip-flops and other polyurethane products from living algae oil are “sustainable” because the carbon to construct them was pulled from the atmosphere, rather than underground oil reserves, researchers said.

Scientists are seeking to also make them “biodegradable,” by converting the algae oil into polyurethane in manner that will allow the carbon bonds to be degraded by microorganisms, they said. “The idea is to make these flip-flops in a way that they can be thrown into a compost pile and they will be eaten by microorganisms,” he said.


land-pooling model to build airports

  • The Union government is planning to build six airports under the public-private partnership (PPP) model in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar adopting a land-pooling model for land acquisition.
  • The Centre proposes to develop a greenfield airport each in Chennai, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Pune, Varanasi and Nalanda.
    Separately, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) will spend Rs. 18,000 crore in the next four years for expanding its airports.
  • It will help remove a lot of obstacles such as fund requirement and resistance from land owners. This model has so far not been adopted in the airport segment.
  • Under the model, land owned by different people is pooled together and the owners get back a certain portion of the land in the developed area whose value is much higher than the value of the original land holding. The AAI has hired the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology for studying this model.
  • The Centre has done a detailed analysis of top 30 airports in a bid to increase the airport capacity in the country. “We are looking at three areas — increasing the efficiency of existing terminals, building new terminals and the need to build new airports,” an official said.
  • Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha had said last year that the Centre will require funds up to Rs. 3 lakh crore for doubling the airport capacity over the next 10 to 15 years. According to an internal analysis by the Civil Aviation Ministry, there is a potential for flight operations at 200 airports in the next 10-15 years.

India pushing for Electric vehicles

  • India’s push for electric vehicles is gaining traction with government as well as the private sector increasing investment in the back-end infrastructure required to achieve the Centre’sall electric vehicle target by 2030.
  • Activity under the Centre’s Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme has picked up pace over the last year with the Centre providing direct support to more than 49,000 electric and hybrid vehicles between November 2016 and June 2017.
  • Previously, it had provided support for 99,000 vehicles between April 1, 2015 and November 2016.
  • The government-owned Energy Efficiency Services signed an agreement for the purchase of 10,000 electric vehicles from Tata Power with 500 of the vehicles to be delivered by November.
  • The project attracted bids from domestic companies Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra and from the Japanese multinational, Nissan.
  • Electricity just happens to be a small part of the whole service offering. In Norway, a cloud service that is also connected to the payment gateway and every individual electric car owner gets an RFID tag. So while you are driving, you can look up on an app where the next charging station is and what the status of your battery is.
  • Fortum Oyj, the Finnish clean energy parent company of Fortum India, signed a memorandum of understanding with NBCC (India) Limited, a Government of India enterprise, to bring this cloud-based back-end infrastructure for electric vehicles to India.
  • As a first step, Fortum inaugurated one 22 KW AC charger on a pilot basis in New Delhi.
  • The Centre also initiated its own pilot projects in the sector, having installed 25 charging stations in Bengaluru.
  • Competitive transport fuel bodies like the Indian Auto LPG Coalition have raised objections to electric vehicles saying that they were not suitable for commercial purposes since such vehicles do not remain idle at night, when most electric vehicle batteries are normally charged. This too can be addressed, Fortum said.
  • India doesn’t have cars in India that can be connected to the DC chargers. Instead, they rely on AC charging which takes about 4-6 hours to charge. A DC charger typically takes 30 minutes for a full charge. Abroad, companies like Nissan and Tesla already have DC charging vehicles.

External benchmarks’ necessity

  • The Study Group has found that the present loan pricing regime, that is, the marginal cost of fund based lending rate (MCLR) or the base rate under the previous regime were both calculated based on banks’ internal factors such as cost of funds. They are insensitive to changes in the policy interest rate or repo rate.
  • Analyses by the group suggested that banks deviated in an ad hoc manner from the specified methodologies for calculating the base rate and the MCLR to either inflate the base rate or prevent the base rate from falling in line with the cost of funds.
  • The study group has cited 13 possible candidates as external benchmarks: the weighted average call rate (WACR), collateralised borrowing and lending obligation (CBLO) rate, market repo rate, 14-day term repo rate, G-sec yields, T-Bill rate, certificates of deposit (CD) rate, Mumbai interbank outright rate (MIBOR), Mumbai inter-bank forward offer rate (MIFOR), overnight index swap (OIS) rate, Financial Benchmark India Ltd. (FBIL) CD rates, FBIL T-Bill rates and the Reserve Bank’s policy repo rate.The report also said that no instrument in India met all the requirements of an ideal benchmark.
  • However, the group shortlisted 3 candidates from these 13 — one of which could be selected by RBI as external benchmarks after receiving feedback from all stakeholders.
  • The Study Group is of the view that the T-Bill rate, the CD rate and the RBI’s policy repo rate are better suited than other interest rates to serve the role of an external benchmark.
  • The Study Group has recommended that all floating rate loans extended beginning April 1, 2018 could be referenced to one of the three external benchmarks selected by RBI.
  • The report said banks may be advised to migrate all existing loans to the new benchmark without any conversion fee or any other charges for switchover on mutually agreed terms within one year from the introduction of the external benchmark, i.e., by end-March 2019.
  • The Study Group was of the view that the decision on the spread over the external benchmark should be left to the commercial judgment of banks. However, the spread fixed at the time of sanction of loans to all borrowers, including corporates, should remain fixed all through the term of the loan, unless there is a clear credit event necessitating a change in the spread.
  • The group suggested quarterly interest rate resets as opposed to a one-year reset as practised now for improvement in monetary transmission.
  • The report said banks may be encouraged to accept deposits, especially bulk deposits at floating rates linked directly to one of the three external benchmarks. The new State Bank of India chairman Rajnish Kumar has already expressed the need to move deposits rates to an external benchmark, in case loan prices are based on such benchmarks.

GoM to revisit GST rates

  • A Group of Ministers (GoM) has been set up under Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to make the composition scheme more attractive and revisit GST rates on restaurants.
  • The GST Council had constituted the GoM, which will submit its report in two weeks.
  • With only 15.50 lakh businesses out of the total 98 lakh registered under the GST regime opting for the composition scheme, the GST Council has decided to set up the GoM to examine steps to make it more attractive. Businesses with turnover of up to Rs. 1 crore can opt for the composition scheme and pay taxes in the range of 1-5% and file returns quarterly.
  • The GoM has also been tasked with revisiting the tax structure of different categories of restaurants in order to rationalise or reduce the rates.
  • Currently, GST is levied at 12% on non-AC restaurants and 18% on air-conditioned ones.

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