Regulating genetic modification

In the case of technologies with benefits and risks, it is important to have regulatory mechanisms which can help analyse them in an impartial manner

It is 61 years since the beginning of new genetics based on the discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule. It is also 31 years since the production of transgenic plants. The first patent for a living organism went to Dr. Anand Chakraborty who, through recombinant DNA technology, developed an organism to clean up oil spills. The fields of medicine, industry, environment and agriculture have reaped the benefits of the science of molecular genetics. In medicine, it has led to new vaccines, insulin and genetic medicine. The major concern in medical genetics is one of ethics, an example being the application of recombinant DNA technology for reproductive cloning.

Therapeutic cloning, on the other hand, has been welcomed. Growing pollution of ground and river water has created great interest in bioremediation methodologies in the field of environmental biotechnology. It is only in food and agricultural biotechnology that there are concerns about biosafety, environmental safety, biodiversity loss and human and farm animal health.
In technologies which share benefits and risks, it is important to have regulatory mechanisms which can help to analyse risks and benefits in an impartial and professionally competent manner. It is the same in the case of nuclear energy. This is why the government introduced a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill in Parliament.
Unfortunately, the validity of this Bill has now expired with the conclusion of the 15th Lok Sabha. This gives the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), the Ministry of Environment and Forests and other agencies a chance to revisit the text of the Bill and get a new Bill prepared for introduction as soon as the new Parliament convenes. An academy may be set up to prepare a new text which is likely to have greater political, public, professional and media acceptance.
Addressing concerns

The Agricultural Biotechnology Committee — which I chaired in 2003 and which submitted its report early in 2004 — had recommended a Parliament approved regulatory agency as well as the necessary infrastructure for conducting all India coordinated trials with genetically modified organisms (GMO). The necessary precautions, such as the needed isolation as well as demonstration of the importance of refuge, should be undertaken under this project. As 10 years have passed since this recommendation was made, we should lose no further time in implementing it. There must be a trial and safety assessment system which answers the concerns of anti-GMO non-governmental organisations. The present moratorium on field trials with recombinant DNA material is a handicap as well as a disincentive in harnessing the benefits of the wide array of transgenic material available with various research organisations and universities. Many of the GMOs in the breeders’ assembly line have excellent qualities for resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses as well as improved nutrition. Much of this work has been done in institutions committed to public good. Also, much of the work has been done by young scientists, discouraged now because of the lack of a clear official signal on the future of genetic modification.
As agriculture is a state subject, State agricultural universities and State departments of agriculture should be involved in the design and implementation of field trials. It takes nearly 10 years time for a new variety to be ready for recommendation to farmers. Therefore, speed is of the essence in organising field trials and getting reliable data on risks and benefits.
Public-private partnership

The return from investments in biotechnology research is very high. Bt cotton research might have resulted in a profit of over Rs.50,000 crore, as compared to the total expenditure of about Rs.100 crore in such research. Public sector institutions should concentrate on the development of high yielding and disease resistant varieties, while obviously the private sector will only produce hybrids whose seeds will have to be brought every year by farmers. A joint strategy by public and private sectors will help to ensure the inclusiveness of access to improved technologies among all farmers.
Nutrition security involves paying attention to balanced diets (both macro and micronutrients), clean drinking water, sanitation, primary health care and nutrition literacy. While the Food Security Act 2013 will ensure that all needing social protection against hunger will be able to get the needed calories, other nutritional problems such as protein hunger and hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micro-nutrients will need similar attention. Thus, while working for nutritional security, both food and non-food factors, particularly drinking water and sanitation, will require concurrent attention.
Biofortification also needs our attention. Naturally biofortified crops like yellow flesh sweet potato, drumstick, amla, breadfruit, etc should be popularised in nutrition gardens and agroforestry systems. Biofortified crops developed by selection and breeding like iron rich bajra should also become available. On my suggestion, the Finance Minister provided in the budget for 2013-14, Rs.200 crore for promoting nutri-farms in districts where there is a high malnutrition burden. We should launch a programme this year, as also the International Year of Family Farming, to develop every family farm into a nutri farm, so that agricultural remedies can be applied to the major nutritional maladies prevalent in the area.
Promoting research

There is need for a pan-India political support to promote genetic engineering research. Every research institution should have a project selection committee to examine whether recombinant DNA technology is necessary to achieve the desired breeding goal. In many cases, marker assisted selection would be adequate for developing a variety with the necessary characters. Recombinant DNA technology should be resorted to only when there is no other way of achieving the desired objective.
Translational research needs greater attention for converting scientific know-how into farmers’ do-how. Culinary and organoleptic characteristics of new varieties should be examined with the help of home science colleges. There is increasing interest in organic farming. Organic farming certification procedures permit the use of marker assisted selection.
Several States want to become organic farming states. ICAR should explain the pre-requisites for successful organic farming, such as the availability of adequate organic manure and plant protection measures which do not need synthetic pesticides. There has to be a methodology to face the challenge of the unholy triple alliance of pests, pathogens and weeds on organic farms.
Biodiversity is the feedstock of the biotechnology industry. Therefore, the conservation and sustainable and equitable use of biodiversity should be a major concern of biotechnologists. Krishi Vigyan Kendras should have the capability of offering scientifically credible advice to farmers on GMOs. The academy should set up two committees — on the public understanding of science and the political understanding of science — on the pattern of such committees set up by the Royal Society of London.
Disseminating information

Media resource centres should be set up to give up-to-date scientific information to media representatives. Village knowledge centres should be utilised for spreading correct information on GMOs.
Countries like the United States have effective regulatory mechanisms supported by scientific infrastructure. In the U.S., three agencies — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Agricultural Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) — are concerned with regulations and work as a team while examining and clearing the safety aspects of GMOs. It is time that we also have a professionally managed and coordinated efficient regulatory mechanism.
The academy should facilitate the early removal of the moratorium on field trials by ensuring that such trials will be conducted under safe conditions. The academy could also develop a statement on new technologies for small farmers to be considered for inclusion in the election manifestos of political parties.



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Linguistic Minorities in India –

Safeguards for Linguistic Minorities are –

– Translation and publication of important rules, regulations, notices, etc., into all languages, which are spoken by at least 15% of the total population at district or sub-district level.

– Declaration of minority languages as second official language in
districts where persons speaking such languages constitute 60% or more
of the population.


– Receipt of, and reply to, representations in minority languages; scheme of safeguards.

– Instruction through mother tongues/ minority languages at the Primary stage of education.

– Instruction through minority languages at the Secondary stage of education.

– Advance registration of linguistic preference of linguistic minority pupils, and inter-school adjustments.

– Provision for text books and teachers in minority languages; scheme of safeguards.

– Implementation of Three-language Formula.

– No insistence upon knowledge of State’s Official Language at the
time of recruitment. Test of proficiency in the State’s Official
Language to be held before completion of probation.

– Issue of Pamphlets in minority languages detailing safeguards available to linguistic minorities.

– Setting up of proper machinery at the State and district levels.

The Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Mysore, a subordinate
office of the Ministry of Human Resource Development is implementing a
scheme for preservation and protection of languages spoken by less than
10000 people during the current Five Year Plan. Under the scheme,
grammatical descriptions, monolingual and bilingual dictionaries,
language primers, anthologies of folklore, encyclopedias, etc of all the
endangered languages / mother tongues, especially those spoken by less
than 10000 persons are prepared.




An early warning system using SMSes is now showing results, reducing the human-pachyderm conflict in the Anamalai hills of Tamil Nadu

Elephants traversing a tea estate in the Anamalai hills. Photo: Ganesh Raghunathan/NCF
One night the watchman at the Parry Agro tea factory in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, saw a man getting off a bus at the Iyerpadi bus stand and walking downhill towards the workers’ quarters located near the factory premises. The watchman knew that a herd of elephants was using the same path to move to a forest patch nearby and it would not be safe for the man to walk down. He repeatedly flashed his torch in the direction of the bus stop, trying to signal the unsuspecting man. He succeeded.
The watchman’s action probably saved the man’s life. It certainly formed the basis for an idea that has been responsible for reducing damage to property in the man-pachyderm conflict in the area by 42%, according to M. Ananda Kumar, research associate with Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), an NGO working on wildlife conservation.

Kumar, whose area of specialization is human-elephant conflict, says the incident helped the NCF put in place an early warning system funded by Elephant Family, a global not-for-profit group dedicated to saving the Asian elephant in its habitat, the Tamil Nadu forest department and tea companies in the area, such as Tata Tea Ltd and Jay Shree Tea and Industries Ltd.
“Almost all human deaths due to elephants occurred at night when people were unaware of the elephant’s presence in the plantation area. The lack of information is the main reason for fatal encounters,” says Kumar. Over the past decade, an average of three-four people would die every year in this human-elephant conflict. For Valparai is surrounded by wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves, and ever since their old migration routes were cut off, the pachyderms have been using the tea estates.
The warning system operates in two ways: When elephants are sighted, bulk SMS alerts in English and Tamil are sent to people residing within a 2km radius. The information contains details about which estate the pachyderms are present in at that moment. In August 2012, flasher beacon lights were installed atop tea factories (the highest points in the area) to alert people to the presence of elephants at night. The warning system has been in place since mid-2011 but it is now gaining critical mass, with more members of the local community taking part in the effort.
Kumar believes these advance warning systems have worked well to save people’s lives and reduce damage to property. Not a single case of human death was reported in the Valparai area in 2013. In the last two months, however, a man was killed by elephants while collecting firewood in the forest, ignoring the warning system. “In spite of this, we can say that in the last one and a half years there has also been a 20% increase in people’s participation in informing the NCF team on elephant presence in the area,” says Kumar.
Kumar and his team have formed an Elephant Information Network (EIN) involving the local communities, estate workers and tea companies. Both the bulk “SMS” sending and lights are operated by locals who are part of the EIN team. At night, there are two people in charge of each light; each is operated by mobile phones (three rings to turn on the light and seven rings to turn it off; simultaneously “SMS” alerts are also activated once the beacon is switched on). A total of 25 lights have been installed in 25 tea estates of four companies. Tata Tea Ltd has six tea estates; Jay Shree Tea & Industries Ltd has three; Parry Agro Industries Ltd, six; and The Bombay Burmah Trading Corp. Ltd, 10.
The success of the “SMS” system motivated the state forest department to build a “disaster mitigation centre” last year, with sound alert systems when visibility becomes poor owing to mist and a linear proximity sensor to track elephant movement. “A BSNL toll-free helpline number for the community has just become operational,” says Rajeev K. Srivastava, field director and chief conservator of forest, Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Kumar and Srivastava are awaiting funds to install an elephant warning announcement device (again operated by mobile phones) in buses plying through the 92 locations in the area where Kumar’s 10-year research shows there are elephants.




Real change arrives in small steps for rural India

This sepia-toned landscape could have been painted a century ago. A
lazy sunset tints bullock carts, women in bright red and turquoise saris
thresh rice by hand. Farmers swirl golden staves of corn in the fields.

But
for millions of Indians, it is no rural idyll. It is a picture of
poverty where farming techniques for many remain unchanged for decades,
and the millions of farmers who just have enough land to make a living
wouldn’t dare dream of a different future.

In Kushalpura village in Uttar Pradesh,
India’s most populous state, people have little hope for change in
their future. Cheap food and guaranteed temporary jobs that New Delhi
offers are little better than a bandage on a big wound. There isn’t any
electricity here and there are barely any toilets or latrines.

“What’s the point in talking about a future? It’s not going to
happen, so why think about it?” said Tinku Singh, a 20-year-old whose
family includes five brothers and three sisters. He’s about to set off
to look for work as a brickmaker for four months in neighbouring states
of Haryana or Punjab. He might bring back about 20,000 rupees ($320) if
things go well.

The government says things are improving. In 2011 and 2012, 26
percent of people living in the countryside were categorized as poor,
down from 42 percent in 2004 and 2005. That’s still 217 million people
who survive on less than 816 rupees ($14) a month each — and many are
only a handful of rupees better off.

Even for someone who’s working, average wages for a farm labourer are
still about 200 rupees a day. I pay about 120 rupees for one cappuccino
in New Delhi.

But
slowly, there are some changes happening in India’s countryside. On a
bright, sunny morning, just 300 metres away from Kushalpura in the
neighbouring village of Sarsaivan,
people are crowding around Rajesh Solanki. He’s holding what looks like
the kind of card swipe machines that waiters bring to your table in
restaurants.

For the first time, these villagers won’t have to walk two kilometres
to top up their mobile phone accounts. Solanki’s machine does it here.
It should save them a couple of rupees in charges, too, money that they
could easily spend elsewhere on staple goods.

Solanki is the brother of Rakesh Solanki, a businessman who returned
to his village after working on ecological waste management systems in
Mumbai and New Delhi. He’s moved back to his father’s house and is
renovating the building, which is arranged in the traditional village
style around a courtyard, with a flat roof where the family sleeps on
hot monsoon nights. One of the first changes he made was to put in a
western-style toilet.

The two brothers are changing other things in their village. They
received authorization from the State Bank of India for remote banking.
They open accounts for people in the village and take their funds to the
nearest physical branch of the bank. SBI provides a fingerprint sensor
machine to identify customers and maintain security.

So far, Rajesh said, there are only five accounts because of
technological problems. He expects about 1,000 accounts to open
eventually in the area.

There’s also the chance to use the computer and printer in their
house — the only one in this village of about 800 people. Rakesh Solanki
is thinking of charging about 5 rupees (8 cents) for half an hour of
Internet surfing.

In Sarsaivan, the electricity supply from the national grid is
limited to about eight hours a day — sometimes at night, sometimes
during the day. To cope with the interruptions, the Solankis are backing
up with their own power from tractor engines running on diesel.

There
is also a plan to bring solar power to the nearby villages that have no
electricity at all, where televisions and fridges given as wedding
gifts stand idle. Sarsaivan is more difficult to tackle, as its partial
connection to the grid means it doesn’t qualify for government subsidies
on solar.

“My aim is to provide more sustainable and sizable electricity in
these areas, which can cater for domestic needs like lighting, mobile
charging, fans, etc. plus street lights,” said Manik Jolly, who used to
work for the U.S.-based power company SunEdison, and created a start-up
to set up micro grids in rural and remote areas.

The costs for such projects are high in the beginning but the project
should turn a profit, excluding the initial infrastructure investment,
in the first year, said Jolly.

For the residents of Kushalpura, solar power could give their
children the chance to study later at night and help fulfil those dreams
of better jobs and a better life. Private enterprise can accomplish
many things in a way that moves more quickly than the bureaucracy of a
state or central government, but public support remains a necessity.

Here is a list of needs that Kushalpura, Sarsaivan and surrounding
villages say they need. It’s one that you might see repeated across many
more villages in India:

1. Roads.

2. Sewage and drainage systems.

3. Five public toilets and toilets in every house.

4. Water tanks and drinking water for every house.

5. One community hall in every village.

6. Fans in schools.

7. Street lights on roads for safety at night.

8. A health centre with a visiting doctor.

9. Skills training programs and help on setting up cottage industries.

10. Market support for farmers’ goods.

11. Cattle support programs (veterinary, etc.)

12. Trees to line roads.

13. A children’s park and three sports facilities.

14. A support system for elderly people.

“So the wish list goes on,” said Rakesh Solanki. “Whatever best we can do, we will be happy.”




NCERT releases survey on students’ learning ability

NCERT releases survey on students’ learning ability

The survey attempts to gauge the improvement in children’s learning by assessing student abilities in language and mathematics. Photo: Mint
New Delhi: A significant proportion of students in class 3 are still unable to read and understand simple text or do basic maths such as addition and subtraction, according to the findings of the National Achievement Survey 2014 by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
The survey attempts to gauge the improvement in children’s learning by assessing student abilities in language and mathematics.
In language, students are tested for their ability to read and understand text and to listen to and recognize words. In mathematics, students are required to perform basic functions such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and geometry.
The survey was done based on information gathered from a sample of more than 104,000 students in 7,046 schools across 34 states and Union territories.
Two in three students were able to listen to a passage and understand it. Only three in five students were able to read a passage and understand it.
According to the survey’s findings, while two in three students were able to solve problems relating to simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, geometry and measurement, the number of students who could perform division was slightly more than one in two.
In most states, there was no significant difference in the quality of learning between boys and girls. Madhya Pradesh was the only state where girls lagged behind boys in the learning outcome in language. In Kerala, girls outperformed boys in both language and mathematics.
The rural-urban divide also seems to have been bridged with most of the Indian states showing no significant disparity between rural and urban students.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), prepared by the non-profit Pratham Education Foundation, has been highlighting the worsening of the quality of the Indian education system.
The report, released last month, had pointed out that the quality of learning, measured by reading, writing, and arithmetic, had either shown no improvement or actually worsened in the nine years of the United Progressive Alliance government’s rule.




Weekly Current Affairs Update for IAS Exam

20th January 2014 TO 26th January 2014

 

A GLINT OF INDIA

Bharat Ratna Award

  • India has produced a legacy of brave hearts since times immemorial. Probably there is not enough space to measure their sacrifices. However, we cannot close our eyes to those people who have made our country proud by excelling in their own fields and bringing us international recognition. Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award, given for exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of Public Service of the highest order. It is also not mandatory that Bharat Ratna be awarded every year.

  • The original specifications for the award called for a circular gold medal, 35 mm in diameter, with the sun and the Hindi legend “Bharat Ratna” above and a floral wreath below. The reverse was to carry the state emblem and motto. It was to be worn around the neck from a white ribbon. This design was altered after a year.
  • The provision of Bharat Ratna was introduced in 1954. The first ever Indian to receive this award was the famous scientist, Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman. Since then, many dignitaries, each a whiz in varied aspects of their career has received this coveted award.
  • In fact, our former President, Shri A. P. J Abdul Kalam is also a recipient of this esteemed honour (1997). There is no written provision that Bharat Ratna should be awarded to Indian citizens only. The award has been awarded to a naturalized Indian citizen, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa (1980) and to two non-Indians – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela (1990).
  • In 2009, the award was conferred on famous Indian vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi. Recently, the PMO has decided to confer the award on eminent scientist Prof C.N.R. Rao and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

HERE IS THE ENTIRE LIST OF RECIPIENTS OF BHARAT RATNA AWARDEES TILL DATE :

1. Shri Chakravarti Rajagopalachari in 1954 
2. Dr. Sarvapali Radhakrishnan in 1954 
3. Dr. Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman in 1954 
4. Dr. Bhagwan Das in 1955 
5. Dr. Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya in 1955 
6. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955 
7. Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant in 1957 
8. Dr. Dhondo Keshave Karve in 1958 
9. Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy in 1961 
10. Shri Purushottam Das Tandon in 1961 
11. Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1962 
12. Dr. Zakir Hussain in 1963 
13. Dr. Pandurang Vaman Kane in 1963 
14. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri (Posthumous) in 1966 
15. Smt. Indira Gandhi in 1971
(Courtesy: NATIONAL PORTAL OF INDIA)

Ministry of External affairs

Official Visit of the PM of Japan to India

  • The Prime Minister of Japan, H.E. Shinzo Abe was on an official visit to India on 25-27 January 2014 at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India, H.E. Dr. Manmohan Singh as chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations. The two Prime Ministers held extensive talks during their Annual Summit on bilateral, regional and global issues on 25 January 2014 in Delhi.
  • The two Prime Ministers welcomed that the State Visit of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan to India from 30 November to 6 December 2013 further strengthened the long-lasting historically close ties and friendship between the peoples of India and Japan.
  • The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their resolve to further deepen the Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan as two democracies in Asia sharing universal values such as freedom, democracy and rule of law, and to contribute jointly to the peace, stability and prosperity of the region and the world, taking into account changes in the strategic environment.
  • Prime Minister Abe elaborated his policy of “Proactive Contribution to Peace”. Prime Minister Singh appreciated Japan’s efforts to contribute to peace and stability of the region and the world.
  • Welcoming the successful outcome of the visit by Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to India, the two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their determination to further strengthen bilateral defense cooperation. In this connection, they welcomed the decision of the two defense ministers to realize the visit of Indian Defense Minister to Japan within 2014. They also expressed satisfaction that the Trilateral Dialogue between India, Japan and the US has been held on a regular basis and also that the 3rd two plus two dialogue and the 4th Defense Policy Dialogue are to be held before the end of the year. They confirmed to hold the 2nd meeting of India-Japan Bilateral Talks on Cyber-affairs in spring 2014 with a view to further exploring possible areas of cooperation.
  • The two Prime Ministers welcomed the successful conduct of the second bilateral exercise between the Indian Navy (IN) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) in December 2013 off the coast of Chennai and shared their intention to conduct the joint exercise in the Pacific Ocean in 2014. They reaffirmed the importance of such exercises, and renewed their resolution to continue to conduct them on a regular basis with increased frequency. Prime Minister Abe appreciated India’s invitation to JMSDF for the next “Malabar” maritime exercise.
  • The two Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction with the holding of the 1st meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on the US-2 amphibian aircraft in December 2013 in Delhi and welcomed the 2nd meeting of the JWG which is scheduled for March 2014 in Japan.
  • Welcoming the expansion of the bilateral currency swap arrangement from 15 to 50 billion US dollars and signing of the contract for its entry into force in January 2014, the two Prime Ministers expressed their expectation that this expansion will further strengthen financial cooperation and contribute to the stability of global financial markets including emerging economies.
  • Prime Minister Singh appreciated the relaxation of Maximum Residue Levels (MRL) of Ethoxyquin on the shrimps imported to Japan to 0.2ppm by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan.
  • The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed the importance of investment for driving economic growth and job creation in their economies and ways to create enabling environments to mobilize investment and give a fillip to economic relations. They agreed to continue working towards a greater understanding of all financial and taxation related issues including Indian rupee denominated finance by JBIC and establishing a consultative mechanism between the two countries. They appreciated JETRO’s business matching activities to strengthen business partnership and consolidate supply chains between the two countries. They expressed their expectation for introducing Japanese technologies and expanding investment through the implementation of “the Action Plan for India-Japan Investment Promotion” agreed between the Minister of Commerce and Industry of India and the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan in September 2013.
  • Welcoming that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) has deepened the bilateral economic relations, the two Prime Ministers expressed their expectation that both countries would continue to work closely to further expand trade in goods and services as well as investments.
  • The two Prime Ministers appreciated that both countries have signed the Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) between the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC). They expressed their hope to strengthen their cooperative relationship in this field further in order to facilitate trade and to harmonize activities within international standardization and conformity assessment.
  • The two sides welcomed the outcomes of the first India-Japan Joint Working Group on IT and Electronics held in New Delhi by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology of India and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan. The two Prime Ministers expressed their hope for the cooperation being further developed between IT and electronics industries of both countries through the framework. They expressed their intention to explore the proposal for setting up of Japanese Electronics Industrial Township in India. Both sides also expressed satisfaction with the ongoing cyber security dialogue between the CERT-In and JPCERT, Japan and emphasized further collaborative and proactive response against cyber-attacks at international level.
  • The two Prime Ministers appreciated the progress of zoning and planning of National Investment Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs) stipulated in National Manufacturing Policy (NMP) of India. They expressed their expectation for investment by Japanese companies in NIMZs in general and in India-Japan joint projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and the Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor (CBIC) in particular.
  • The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Abe stressed the importance of bringing into force the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) at an early date. Prime Minister Singh reiterated India’s commitment to its unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing. They also reaffirmed their commitment to working together for immediate commencement and an early conclusion of negotiations on a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Both sides expressed their commitment to work together for India to become a full member in the international export control regimes: the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement, with the aim of strengthening the international non-proliferation efforts.
  • The two Prime Ministers acknowledged that there is a high potential to be explored in the area of people-to-people exchanges between India and Japan and expressed their intention to make utmost effort for the expansion of exchange of peoples in various fields.
  • The two Prime Ministers welcomed Japan’s participation as a partner country in the India International Trade Fair in Delhi and the International Film Festival of India 2013 in Goa. They also expressed their expectation to enhance cooperation between the two countries on development of human resources, and matching activities in the area of content industry.
(Courtesy: Ministry of External affairs)

Planning Commission of India

NATIONAL GANGA RIVER BASIN AUTHORITY

  • National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) is a financing, planning, implementing, monitoring and coordinating authority for the River Ganga, functioning under the Ministry of Environment of India. The mission of the organization is to safeguard the drainage basin which feeds water into the Ganges by protecting it from pollution or overuse.

Function and Power of NGRBA

  • The Government of India has given Ganga the status of a National River and has constituted the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) on 20th February 2009 under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection Act, 1986). The NGRBA is a planning, financing, monitoring and coordinating body of the centre and the states. The objective of the NGRBA is to ensure effective abatement of pollution and conservation of the river Ganga by adopting a river basin approach for comprehensive planning and management The Authority has both regulatory and developmental functions. The Authority will take measures for effective abatement of pollution and conservation of the river Ganga in keeping with sustainable development needs. These include;
  • Development of a river basin management plan
  • Regulation of activities aimed at prevention, control and abatement of pollution in Ganga to maintain its water quality, and to take measures relevant to river ecology and management in the Ganga basin states
  • Maintenance of minimum ecological flows in the river Ganga
(Courtesy: Planning Commission of India)

NATIONAL EVENTS

First ‘milk ATM’ in India

  • Automatic teller machines not only dispense money, ATM-like machines also vend other products such as chocolates and soft drinks. But Amul has gone a step further as it is going to sell milk through “Any Time Milk” vending machines.
  • The pilot project of this 24×7 ATM began with the installation of a vending machine at the gate of Amul Dairy in Anand town of Gujarat.
  • In Anand and Kheda towns, these ATMs will be installed at different public places to enable the consumers to buy milk whenever needed.
  • For a Rs 10-currency note, which this machine will read through a sensor, the ATM would dispense a 300 ml pouch of Amul Taaza milk. The ATM, fitted with refrigeration facility, has a capacity to hold 150 pouches at a time.
  • While Kheda Union, which owns the Amul brand, markets milk in Anand and Kheda district, it is marketed by the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) elsewhere. GCMMF is also likely to follow suit after a review of the project.

Agni-IV missile

  • India’s nuclear deterrence programme received a boost when its Agni-IV, a surface-to-surface missile with a range of about 4,000 km, was successfully test-fired from the Wheeler Island, off the Odisha coast.
  • The Agni-IV is a strategic missile which can carry a nuclear warhead weighing one tonne. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which developed the missile, did the test-firing. This was the third success in a row for Agni-IV. Its first success came in November 2011 and the second in Sepetmber 2012.
  • Agni-IV is a two-stage missile. It weighs 17 tonnes and is 20 metres long.

INS Arihant

  • India’s first indigenously built nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant would be going to sea trials within “a few weeks or months” as its preliminary harbor acceptance trials are over and various systems, including nuclear propulsion, have proceeded satisfactorily and as per the time schedule.
  • The submarine would undergo sea trials, during which all the systems, including its ballistic missiles, would be tested before it is finally commissioned into the Indian Navy.
  • The sub-surface ballistic nuclear missile (SSBN) submarine would be indigenously designed, built, operationalized and maintained.
  • Once the sea trials, which would test the capability of various systems in real deep sea scenario, are over the Navy would announce its arrival.

PIL against Kejriwal refused

  • The Delhi High Court refused to entertain an NGO’s plea seeking quashing of the nomination of Arvind Kejriwal for alleged illegalities in his affidavit filed before the Election Commission before the 2013 Assembly polls.
  • A bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw directed the NGO, Maulik Bharat Trust, to approach the magisterial court for appropriate action.
  • In its petition, the NGO had alleged that Mr. Kejriwal has violated provisions of the Representation of People Act by submitting an incorrect affidavit, regarding details of his assets and income, at the time of filing his nomination.
  • Apart from cancellation of Mr. Kejriwal’s nomination, the NGO had also sought a CBI inquiry of the allegations they had leveled against him as well as directions to the government

Anomalies in Lokpal Bill

  • Pointing out some “anomalies and legal inconsistencies” in the Lokpal Act, the CBI has raised a question as to whether the entire probe agency will be divested of all powers if any of its officer was found guilty of corruption or tampering with evidence.
  • The CBI Director Ranjit Sinha while highlighting the “anomalies” in the Lokpal Act and amended Central Vigilance Commission Act in connection with its working has sought clarifications from the Union Government.
  • The much awaited Lokpal Bill, which was passed during the Winter Session of Parliament last month, got the assent of President Pranab Mukherjee on January 1.
  • The CBI Director referred to Section 25 whereby Lokpal shall have powers of superintendence over CBI and give directions to it in respect of Preliminary Enquiry and investigations provided by it.
  • The CBI Director also highlighted a situation wherein same complaint is referred to Lokpal and CVC and both issue directions to CBI.
  • He said Section 15 of the Lokpal Act provides that in case any matter under Prevention of Corruption Act has been pending before any court or committee or authority prior to commencement of this Act such matter of proceeding shall continue before the same bench.

INTERNATIONAL

Nuclear activities in Iran curbed

  • IAEA confirmed that Iran took the first steps to limit its nuclear program under a deal with world powers, paving the way for the European Union and the United States to suspend some sanctions.
  • This is the first time that Iran has scaled back its nuclear program, 10 years after its secret activities came to light and prompted Western fears that Tehran was working on a nuclear weapon.
  • Iran agreed to a deal with six western powers on November 24, under which several sanctions on Iran will in turn be lifted for six months.
  • During this period, the two sides hope to reach a permanent solution to concerns that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon.
  • Iran is not building any new uranium enrichment plants and is no longer working to complete its Arak reactor, which would produce plutonium as a side-product once it operates.
  • The international community has been concerned that uranium enriched to 20 per cent or plutonium from Arak could be turned into material for nuclear warheads.
  • In return for Iran’s compliance, the EU and the U.S. have agreed to lift all sanctions on trading with Iran in petrochemical products, gold and precious metals. Companies will again be able to provide transport and insurance for crude oil shipments.

Naval drills in South China Sea

  • Chinese naval vessels including an island landing ship are staging drills in the South China Sea, where China and several other nations are locked in territorial disputes.
  • Two destroyers and China’s largest amphibious landing craft departed the naval base on the southern island province of Hainan. The ships also boast three helicopters and a company of marines.
  • The drills would focus on integrated combat missions involving ships, submarines and aircraft, suggesting other units may also be involved.
  • China has moved sharply to assert its claim to nearly the entire South China Sea and its island groups. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim the entire sea or parts of it.

INDIA AND THE WORLD

U.S., India to move on

  • The United States and India are eager to move forward with high-level dialogues and exchanges soon to further their “indispensable” partnership, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.
  • Greeting India on the Republic Day on behalf of President Barack Obama, Kerry said the real magic of India lies as much in its promising future as it does in its rich heritage.
  • Indian diplomat Ms. Khobragade was arrested on December 12 on visa fraud charges, strip-searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two countries with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats among other steps.
  • The Energy Dialogue — initially scheduled earlier was cancelled amidst tension between the two nations.

ECONOMY

Panel to review governance of bank boards

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has constituted an expert committee to review governance of boards of banks under the chairmanship of P. J. Nayak, former Chairman and CEO of Axis Bank.
  • The committee would review the regulatory compliance requirements of banks’ boards in India, and judge what could be rationalized and where requirements needed to be enhanced.
  • The other terms of reference of the committee would be to analyze the representation on banks’ boards to see whether the boards have the appropriate mix of capabilities and the necessary independence to govern the institution, and to investigate possible “conflicts of interest” in board representation, including among owner representatives and regulators.

China’s slowest growth

  • China’s economy grew 7.7 per cent in 2013, the lowest in 14 years, with tapering growth in the last quarter underlining the challenges faced by the world’s second-largest economy as it grapples with rebalancing and reviving a slowing down economy.
  • This marks the slowest growth since 1999, when China grew 7.6 per cent. The previous decade saw record double-digit growth, with the country defying the global slowdown to grow 10.4 per cent in 2010 as it unveiled a massive $ 586 billion stimulus.
  • Growth slowed in the fourth quarter to 7.7 per cent, down from 7.8 per cent in the previous quarter. This brought annual growth to 7.7 per cent, down from last year’s 7.8 per cent.
  • The urban-rural income gap had narrowed to 3.03, from a highest level of 3.33 in 2009. Energy consumption per unit of GDP was also down from last year, by 3.7 per cent.

SCIENCE AND TECH

Cancer genomics

  • Targeted therapy, precision medicine and cancer genomics — this is the new vocabulary of cancer research and treatment that Harold Varmus, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize, advocated in his lecture ‘New directions in cancer research’ at the Indian Institute of Science.
  • While conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy targets cancer tissues, cancer genomics looks at the mutations the disease triggers, the proteins associated with it, therefore helping with more precise treatment.
  • The Cancer Genome Atlas (an initiative of the NCI) was now creating a ‘molecular atlas’ that maps genomic changes in 20 common cancers, in the hope that this would help improve cancer treatment.
  • The United States had spent $40 billion on cancer research in 10 years, but this had to be seen in the context of the money saved in terms of healthcare and treatment. Research had revealed that the density of mutations differs for each tumor: while childhood tumors, for instance, have lower mutations, those associated with external triggers — UV light or carcinogens — have greater mutations.

Genetic blueprint for limbs

  • In a study published this week in PLoS Biology, Woltering and colleagues have found some definitive clues about this transition.
  • By studying a group of ‘architect’ genes present in both fish and mammals – the Hox genes – the scientists were able to find out that the DNA structure and regulatory mechanism for limb and digit formation was present in fish even before the transition happened, but the enhancements required to activate digit formation evolved only in tetrapods (ie. four-legged land animals).
  • Limb formation in tetrapods is usually attributed to this ‘bimodal’ behaviour of Hox genes.
  • The team inserted fish Hox genes into mouse embryos and found that in the resulting mice, Hox genes were active only in the proximal part of the limbs, not in the digits.

ENVIRONMENT

Dolphin hunt in Japan

  • A Japanese government spokesman defended an annual dolphin hunt, a day after U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy tweeted that she was deeply concerned by the inhumanity of the practice.
  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that dolphin fishing in Japan is carried out appropriately in accordance with the law.
  • Drive hunt refers to the practice of herding the dolphins into a cove, where they are trapped and later killed.
  • The hunt in the fishing village of Taiji in western Japan has come under international criticism and was the subject of the Academy Award-winning 2009 film “The Cove.”

SPORTS

Louis Philippe Cup

  • Jyoti Randhawa, one of India’s top professional golfers, will represent city-based Dec-Ellora Laqshya Mumbai team in the Rs 1.2 crore prize money Louis Philippe Cup tournament to be held in Mumbai from February 17-22.
  • Jeev Milkha Singh, Anirban Lahiri, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Siddikur Rehyman, SSP Chowrasia, Rashid Khan and Himmat Rai, among others, are competing in the third edition of the event, featuring nine teams and offering Rs 36 lakh to the winning outfit and Rs 24 lakh to the losing finalist.
  • Incidentally, this is the first time Jeev would be playing in the metropolis as part of the Shubhkamna Delhi outfit.
  • The teams are Navratna Ahmedabad, Puravankara Bangalore, TAKE Chennai, DLF Gurgaon, Jaypee Greens Greater Noida, AVT Kolkata, Dev-Ellora Laqshya Mumbai, Krrish Colombo and Shubhkamna Delhi.
  • The tournament is sanctioned by the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) and conceived and promoted by RN Golf Management (RNGM).

Hockey India League

  • The second edition of the Hero Hockey India League will get underway soon with Jaypee Punjab Warriors taking on Delhi Waveriders in the opening match at the newly-built International Hockey Stadium here under lights.
  • With the winner taking home a whooping Rs 2.5 crore, and the runner up getting Rs 1.25 crore, there is a lot at stake for teams to win the tournament and both Punjab and Delhi would aim to begin the tournament on a winning note.
  • In the previous edition of the HIL, the two teams faced each other in the semi-final, in which Delhi defeated Punjab 3-1.

Australian Open Winners 2014

  • For the men, Stanislas Wawrinka finished as the champion after a final against Rafael Nadal .
  • On the women’s side, as Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka were sent home early, Li Na walked away with the title.
  • Daniel Nestor of Canada and Kristina Mladenovic of France combined to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title with a 6-3, 6-2 win over sixth-seeded Sania Mirza of India and Horia Tecau of Romania.
  • Poland’s Lukasz Kubot and Sweden’s Robert Lindstedt have gone from never winning a top-level match together to winning the Australian Open men’s doubles title.
  • Top-ranked Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci rallied to win the last five games and successfully defended their Australian Open women’s doubles title with a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Russian pair Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina on Friday.

IN THE NEWS (PERSONS)

Rakesh Khurana

  • Indian-American professor Rakesh Khurana has been appointed Dean of the prestigious Harvard College, becoming the latest addition to a long list of Indian-origin academicians assuming leadership roles at renowned global universities.
  • Khurana, 46, is currently the ‘Marvin Bower’ Professor of Leadership Development at Harvard Business School (HBS), professor of sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), and co—master of Cabot House at Harvard.
  • He succeeds Evelynn Hammonds, Professor of History of Science and of African and African American Studies at Harvard and will assume his new role on July 1.
  • Khurana earned his Ph.D. through a joint programme between HBS and Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1998.
  • Harvard President Drew Faust described Khurana as a “faculty leader who embodies the interconnectedness” of Harvard.

Sachin Pilot

  • Union Minister for Corporate Affairs Sachin Pilot assumed charge as the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president.
  • He took a pledge to work along side party workers and face challenges as a team to win seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
  • The new PCC president said the Congress formed the “soul of [the] nation” which could never be destroyed. He asked the members of the party to shed their differences and put up a united fight against “divisive and communal forces”.

Heena Sidhu

  • World Cup Final gold medallist Heena Sidhu recaptured her form to snatch victory by 0.1 point from another World Cup gold medallist Rahi Sarnobat in women’s air pistol in the National shooting trials.
  • In rapid fire pistol, Olympic silver medallist Vijay Kumar dominated yet again, even though he qualified in the fourth place with 576. National championship silver medallist Akshay Suhas Ashtaputre missed the final by two points.

Selected Editorials of Importance

Stamp out kangaroo courts

The incident in Subalpur village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, in which a 20-year-old tribal woman was gang-raped by a dozen men as punishment for alleged immoral conduct, is shocking in its unimaginable brutality and points to a larger malaise. The order by a kangaroo court led by a village headman is proof that a section of rural India is outside the pale of the country’s constitutional values and judicial system. Ill-informed men with medieval social attitudes and patriarchal prejudices are allowed to adjudicate on the conduct and morality of women and pass unconscionable forms of punishment, such as social ostracism, payment of arbitrary fines and, as in this case, sexual violence in lieu of monetary penalty. The Supreme Court and the National Commission for Women have taken suo motu cognisance of the incident, which has caused widespread outrage and revulsion. The West Bengal government, which has been sharply criticised in recent times for callousness and insensitivity towards crimes against women, has seen to it that the village headman and the 12 men who raped the hapless woman for a whole night have been arrested. And Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, upset that the police did not seek custody of the accused for questioning and allowed them to be sent to prison directly, has ordered the suspension of the Superintendent of Police. It is disturbing that the entire village, including women, backed the kangaroo court by whose verdict the man could get away with a fine, but the woman was punished for not having the means to do so.
Outposts of feudalism still thrive in vast swathes of rural India, ranging from khap panchayats in the north to caste-based gatherings of village elders in the south. In 2011, the Supreme Court wanted illegal khap panchayats that encourage ‘honour killings’ or other institutionalised atrocities to be stamped out ruthlessly. Over a year has elapsed since the country voiced its anger against sexual violence targeted at women and seemed to take a collective vow to ensure the protection of all women. The penal law on sexual violence and harassment has been strengthened significantly since then. Yet, India’s cities and villages continue to be unsafe for women. The locus of sexual violence is everywhere: in public spaces and private homes, under the cloak of darkness and in the open, and perpetrated by well-acquainted persons as also as by strangers. The Birbhum incident is a chilling reminder that legal processes, security measures and stringent laws are not enough. Social attitudes need to change, reflecting liberal and humane values, if the country is to ensure gender equality and protection for all its women.
(Courtesy: THE HINDU)

MCQs

Q1.

i) The aim of legal clinics or legal care centres, that has been launched recently is to ensure that people get their legal rights enforced and “no citizen starves of hunger of justice.”
ii) India 360 , a new program launched on AIR will profile a country each week and its relations with India.

Which of the above statement/statements is/are true ?

a) only i
b) only ii
c) both i and ii
d) neither i nor ii

Q2.

i) The Election Commission (EC) recognised the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a State party after the party fulfilled the eligibility conditions set by the EC for granting the status.
ii) To get the EC’s recognition as a “State party,” all the candidates set up by the party together should get a minimum of eight per cent of the valid votes polled in the entire State or secure a minimum of six per cent of the total votes polled and one Assembly seat for every 25 seats in that State.

Which of the above statement/statements is/are true ?

a) only i
b) only ii
c) both i and ii
d) neither i nor ii



Weekly Current Affairs Update for IAS Exam

27th January 2014 TO 2nd February 2014

 

NOBEL PRIZE

  • On 27 November 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace – the Nobel Prizes. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden’s central bank) established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

FEW FACTS ABOUT NOBEL PRIZE:

  • 851 Laureates and 25 organizations have been awarded the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 2013. Of them, 74 are Laureates in Economic Sciences.
  • Since the start, in 1901, there are some years when the Nobel Prizes have not been awarded. The total number of times are 50. Most of them during World War I (1914-1918) and II (1939-1945).
  • Between 1901 and 2013 the Nobel Prize and Prize in Economic Sciences have been awarded 45 times to women.
  • The average age of all Nobel Laureates in all prize categories between 1901 and 2013 is 59 years.
  • Linus Pauling is the only person to have been awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes – the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize.
  • The Curies(Marie, Pierre and Irene) were a very successful ‘Nobel Prize family’. Marie Curie herself was awarded two Nobel Prizes.
  • At the Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies on 10 December the Nobel Laureates receive three things: a Nobel Diploma, a Nobel Medal and a document confirming the Nobel Prize amount. Each Nobel Diploma is a unique work of art, created by foremost Swedish and Norwegian artists and calligraphers. The Nobel Medals are handmade with careful precision and in 18 carat green gold plated with 24 carat gold. 
    (source: www.nobelprize.org)

A GLINT OF INDIA

Nobel Laureates from India

  • Amartya Sen (b- 1933) : Prof. Amartya Sen is the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics for the year 1998, becoming the first Asian to have been honoured with the award. The Santiniketanborn economist who is a pioneer in Welfare Economics has to his credit several books and papers on aspects of welfare and development. An economist with a difference, Prof. Sen is a humanist. He has distinguished himself with his outstanding writings on famine, poverty, democracy, gender and social issues. The ‘impossibility theorem’ suggested earlier by Kenneth Arrow states that it was not possible to aggregate individual choices into a satisfactory choice for society as a whole. Prof. Sen showed mathematically that societies could find ways to alleviate such a poor outcome.
  • Subramanian Chandrashekhar (1910-1995): The Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983 was awarded to Dr S. Chandrashekhar, an Indian-born astrophysicist. Educated in Presidency College, Chennai, Dr Chandrashekhar happened to be the nephew of his Nobel forbear, Sir C.V. Raman. He later migrated to the United States where he authored several books on Astrophysics and Stellar Dynamics. He developed a theory on white dwarf stars which posts a limit of mass of dwarf stars known also as Chandrashekhar Limit. His theory explains the final stages of stellar evolution.
(Courtesy: http://india.gov.in)

Ministry of External affairs

Moscow’s World Hindi Day Celebrations

  • World Hindi Day (Vishwa Hindi Diwas) celebrations were held at the Embassy of India, Moscow on 31 January 2014. Ambassador of India to the Russian Federation H.E. Mr. P.S. Raghavan and Mrs. Barbara Raghavan were the Guests of Honor on the occasion.
  • Ambassador of Mauritius to the Russian Federation H.E Mrs Indira Savitree Thacoor-Sidaya and Hindi Teacher at School No. 19 in Moscow Dr. Safarmo Tolibi were among the guests who attended the celebrations.
  • In his speech, Ambassador Raghavan noted that Hindi language is taught in all the leading Russian institutions and promised support of the Embassy in further promoting Hindi in Russia.
  • Hindi students of the Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre (JNCC), students of School no.19 in Moscow and others presented a cultural program of poems/skits/songs in Hindi language under the guidance of JNCC Hindi Teacher Dr. Gulab Singh. Ambassador Raghavan presented gifts to the participants of the cultural program followed by a reception hosted by the Embassy.
  • World Hindi Day is celebrated every year in the month of January after the First World Hindi Conference held on 10 January 1975 in Nagpur, India.
(Courtesy: http://www.mea.gov.in)

Planning Commission of India

Rural Development

  • The function of the Rural Development Division is primarily to provide overall policy guidance in formulation of plans and programmes for Rural Development. This is the nodal Division for matters relating to poverty eradication, employment generation in rural areas, development of watershed & degraded land. The following specific activities are undertaken by Division;
  1. To assist in formulation of rural development programmes to be included in Five Year Plans and Annual Plans and to make periodic assessment of progress achieved.
  2. To analyse and prepare comments on the EFC Memoranda and Cabinet Notes paper for Group of Ministers pertaining to rural development programmes.
  3. To maintain liaison with Ministry of Rural Development, National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) and other allied organisations mainly and participating in the meetings.
  4. To collect information from various Divisions of the Planning Commission, State Governments and also from the Central Ministries which are implementing various schemes related to rural development.
  5. To organize Working Group meetings to finalise the Draft Five Year Plan proposals of the State Governments. This involves the preparation of background papers, discussions on inter-se plan priorities, critical examination of plan proposals in relation to plan objectives and approaches, preparation of Working Group Reports giving, inter-alia, outlays and physical targets.
  6. Finalisation of the Five Year Plan outlays of the Ministry of Rural Development. Finalisation of Annual Plans of the Central Ministry of Rural Development and State Governments. This includes assessment of progress both in physical and financial terms, in relation to the approved targets and outlays, scheme-wise examination of proposals and reviewing targets and finalizing allocation for next Annual Plan.
  7. To provide comments, materials etc. for Public representations, VIP references, Parliament Questions and Agenda items for the meetings of Consultative Committee/ Standing Committee for the Planning Commission pertaining to rural development sector are also attended to.
(Courtesy: http://planningcommission.nic.in)

NATIONAL EVENTS

Aadhaar

  • Right-wing and left, opponents to the Aadhaar project appear bunched together in two distinct formations as they separately seek to scuttle a project that aims at providing every citizen a unique identity number for targeted benefits from the government.
  • Six groups have filed cases in the Supreme Court against UIDAI, the unique identification authority. These have been filed during the last one year; the UPA-II government had set up UIDAI in 2009 and issued the first Aadhaar numbers in September 2010.
  • Several of the arguments overlap but what sets two petitions apart from the remaining four is that the former’s objections are based on right-wing principles and the latter’s on left-wing ones.
  • A petition by Justice (retired) Puttaswamy and Parvesh Khanna, and another by Maj. Gen. (retired) S G Vombatkere and Bezwada Wilson, both raise an objection identical to what the the BJP has been raising — that the project has no preventive to block illegal immigrants or non-citizens from getting an Aadhaar number.

India’s first cantilever bridge

  • A long-time resident of Rameswaram and former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam inaugurated the centenary celebrations of the Pamban railway bridge — India’s first cantilever bridge, connecting the pilgrim-island of Rameswaram with the mainland.
  • Mr. Kalam unveiled a plaque and released a book Marvels of South Indian Railway, marking the inauguration of the nearly month-long celebrations.
  • The 65.23-metre-long rolling central lift span (the bridge is 2.06 km long), named after Scherzer, German engineer who designed and built the span, has been given a fresh coat of paint and decorated with lights. It opens up like a pair of scissors to allow vessels to pass through under the bridge.
  • Mr. Kalam had played a vital role in preserving the bridge. After the Railways announced its uni-gauge policy in 2006, and almost gave up gauge conversion at the bridge, he brought in IIT-Madras expertise to thrash out an engineering solution.
  • The bridge was put to test for the first time in December 1964, when a severe cyclonic storm hit this part of the area. All girders, both RCC and steel, were washed away.

Verdict on criminalised gay sex to stay

  • The Supreme Court has refused to relook into its verdict that criminalised gay sex in India.
  • A bench of Justices H L Dattu and S J Mukhopadhaya, in inchamber proceedings, dismissed a bunch of petitions filed by the Centre and gay rights activists against its December 2013 verdict declaring gay sex an offence punishable up to life imprisonment.
  • In a big setback to the LGBT community, the Supreme Court had on December 11 set aside the Delhi High Court judgement decriminalising gay sex and thrown the ball into Parliament’s court for amending the law.
  • The judgement revived the penal provision making gay sex an offence punishable with life imprisonment in a setback to people fighting a battle for recognition of their sexual preferences.
  • Seeking a stay on the operation of the judgement, gay rights activists, including NGO Naz Foundation, had said thousands from the LGBT community became open about their sexual identity during the past four years after the high court decriminalised gay sex and they are now facing the threat of being prosecuted.
  • They had submitted that criminalizing gay sex amounts to violation of fundamental rights of the LGBT community.
  • Challenging the verdict, Naz Foundation had said in its review plea that the verdict is contrary to the well-settled legal principles of the Constitution and proscribing certain sexual acts between consenting adults.

INTERNATIONAL

Iran n-talks

  • Iran and the six global powers are set to hold fresh nuclear talks on February 18 that promise to encourage further lifting of sanctions and unlock foreign investment flows into the country.
  • Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the dialogue will be held in Vienna, the Austrian capital, following a meeting with the European Union (EU) foreign policy chief, Catharine Ashton on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich.
  • A decision on the new round of talks is part of cycle of steps that could end sanctions against Iran, after it was verifiably confirmed that Tehran is not pursuing development of atomic weapons. Iran and the five Security Council members–United States, Russia, China, Britain and France–along with Germany signed a nuclear deal in Geneva on November 24.
  • On January 20, Iran’s negotiating partners confirmed that Tehran had halted production of uranium enriched to 20 per cent level, paving the way for a partial lifting of sanctions.
  • The smooth conduct of inspections by experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), of some Iran’s major nuclear facilities, is further building up the momentum of confidence building between the two sides.

Anti-protest laws repealed in Ukraine

  • Mykola Azarov, prime minister of Ukraine, resigned, hours before a planned vote of no confidence by Parliament that could have stripped him of his powers.
  • The resignation came shortly after the pro-government Party of Regions joined with opposition lawmakers to repeal most of the laws in a package of legislation restricting freedom of speech and assembly that was enacted recently.
  • Together, the resignation and repeals were significant concessions by Ukraine’s embattled president, Viktor F Yanukovych, as well as clear signs of the building momentum of opposition to his rule.
  • Yanukovych has promised other concessions as well, including an amnesty for arrested protesters and a revision of the Constitution to weaken presidential powers.
  • Azarov had been a staunch ally of Yanukovych through the two months of protests roiling Ukraine. But neither his resignation nor the repeal of the restrictive legislation, which the opposition calls the “dictatorship laws”, were seen as likely to appease the protesters.

INDIA AND THE WORLD

Resettlement issues between India- Sri Lanka

  • Foreign Ministers of India and Sri Lanka discussed proposals to eliminate maltreatment of fishermen, operationalise a trilateral maritime security pact in which the Maldives is a third partner, and review the pace of Indian-assisted resettlement work in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province.
  • Officials from both sides were tight-lipped on whether External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his Sri Lankan counterpart G.L. Peiris dwelt on the U.S. threat to call for international investigation into Sri Lanka’s human rights record at the upcoming meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March.
  • But there were indications from official sources that the issue was deliberated upon. Issues of common interest that are likely to figure in forthcoming international meetings, of which India and Sri Lanka are both members, were also discussed.
  • The Indian armed forces had entered Sri Lanka as part of Operation Pawan in 1987 to disarm all Tamil militant groups but got bogged down in counter-insurgency operations, leading to charges of human rights abuses against them.

ECONOMY

Restrictions on gold imports

  • The restrictions on gold imports will be reviewed by March-end, according to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram .
  • To contain the rising gold imports, the government had increased customs duty on the yellow metal three times in 2013. The levy currently stands at 10 per cent.
  • Mr. Chidambaram said there has been about 1-3 tonnes of gold smuggled into the country every month following the restrictions imposed on shipment in 2013.
  • Gold smuggling has increased, but the restrictions on gold import were absolutely necessary because it is these restrictions, which have brought down gold import, which in April and May had crossed 300 tonnes.

RBI hikes repo rate and keeps CRR unchanged

  • In an unexpected move, the Reserve Bank of India RBI raised the repo rate—its key lending rate—by 0.25 percentage points to 8%, raising fears of yet another rise in home loan EMIs.
  • The surprise hike in the benchmark lending rate came in despite lower inflation rates in December. The central bank cut its growth forecast to less than 5% for 2013-14, but placed its bets firmly on the turnaround in the broader economy in the next financial year.
  • The central bank, however, made it clear that any action on interest rate movements will be determined by future price data.
  • Equity markets reacted sharply with the benchmark Sensex falling by over 100 points shortly after the RBI’s rate hike announcement.
  • Higher borrowing costs will likely hit consumers squeezed by high prices, flat salary hikes and costly mortgage financing rates.
  • The RBI’s latest move, however, will likely draw strong reactions from business leaders who have been clamouring for an interest rate cut arguing that costly borrowing and high raw material costs have crimped expansion and hiring plans.
  • India’s wholesale inflation rate eased to a five-month low of 6.16% in December on plunging vegetable prices, giving some reason to smile for the UPA government battling to help the economy fight through a period of low growth and high prices ahead of national elections.

SCIENCE AND TECH

Stethoscope faces threat

  • The humble stethoscope — the most recognisable symbol of the medical profession for nearly 200 years — may be on its way out, according to researchers.
  • The world of medicine could be experiencing its final days of the stethoscope due to the rapid advent of point-of-care ultrasound devices that are becoming increasingly accurate, smaller to the point of being hand-held and less expensive as the years pass, they said.
  • In an editorial in the journal Global Heart, a brief history of the stethoscope and ultrasound is given, with the authors suggesting that the stethoscope could soon be exiled to the archives of medical history.
  • The editorial highlights that nowadays, more than 20 medical specialities include use of point-of-care ultrasound as a core skill, and that mounting evidence suggests that compared with the stethoscope ultrasound technology can reduce complications, assist in emergency procedures and improve diagnostic accuracy.

SPORTS

Olympic torch lit

  • The Olympic torch was lit at Russia’s highest point with less than a week to go before the opening of the winter Games in Sochi.
  • Two experienced mountain climbers lit the flame 5,642 metres above sea level on the western peak of Mount Elbrus, completing the last of four special projects in the biggest torch relay in Olympic history.
  • Alpinists Abdul-Khalim Elmezov and Karina Mezova had climbed the western peak of the mountain in the northern Caucasus at the end of October carrying the flame in a special lantern.
  • The Elbrus part of the relay had been planned separately to ensure the best possible weather conditions for the climb.

World badminton ranking

  • The victory at the Syed Modi International tournament in Lucknow helped London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal to surge two places to reach the seventh position in the latest world badminton ranking, released in Kuala Lumpur recently.
  • The 23-year-old, who broke a 15-month title drought in Lucknow after winning the Grand Prix Gold event, bagged 7,000 ranking points and now has 59,680 points from 14 tournaments.
  • P.V.Sindhu, who finished runners-up at that tournament after losing the final to Saina, also broke back into the top 10 with 55,752 ranking points. She gathered 5950 points from her second-place finish at Syed Modi International tournament.
  • Rising men’s singles player, K.Srikanth, who also finished runners-up at Lucknow, made a massive jump of 10 places to break into the top-20. He is currently the second highest ranked men’s shuttler behind Parupalli Kashyap, who is at 18th spot.

ENVIRONMENT

Assam elephant corridor

  • National Green Tribunal sought a response from the Centre and Assam government on a petition alleging that work of some state-owned companies in and around the Dehing-Patkai wildlife sanctuary in Tinsukia district was affecting the environment.
  • Based on the petition, the tribunal also issued notices and sought responses of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, Oil India Ltd, National Highways Authority of India, Coal India Ltd and various state authorities. The petition alleged that their activities was also affecting the two elephant corridors of Golai and Bogapani.
  • The petition, filed by wildlife biologist Kashmira Kakati, has alleged the state government allowed Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) to construct an oil dispatch terminal in the Golai elephant corridor in violation of environment laws.
  • Seeking protection of the elephant habitats, the petition also opposed the government’s decision to allow NHAI to build the NH-38 bypass through the Bagopani corridor and prayed for directions that no permanent construction be allowed to come up in Golai corridor.

IN THE NEWS (PERSONS)

Janet Yellen

  • Janet Yellen, the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve in its 100-year history, took over the reins of the US central bank.
  • She succeeded Chairman Ben Bernanke, and was sworn in by Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo,
  • Yellen is one of a handful of women heading central banks globally. Her main task will be to navigate the US central bank’s way out of its extraordinary stimulus, beginning with a further dialing down of its massive bond-buying program, and deciding when to raise rates.

Harish Rawat

  • Union Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat sworn in as the eighth Chief Minister of Uttarakhand
  • Mr Rawat succeeded Congress leader Vijay Bahuguna who stepped down from his position of Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister after 22 months of holding the office.
  • The 11 Cabinet Ministers, who were a part of the Bahuguna government, were also sworn in.
  • This decision of the Congress to make Mr Rawat the Chief Minister of the State comes ahead of the Lok Sabha elections to strengthen the chances of the Congress in the Lok Sabha where the State has five seats.
  • Mr. Bahuguna’s performance during and after the June disaster last year raised questions over his leadership. The slow rehabilitation work after the disaster proved to be detrimental for his tenure.

Silverine Swer

  • Meghalaya’s oldest voter and the first Padma Shri awardee from the State, Silverine Swer, passed away at the age of 103 at her residence after a brief illness.
  • Also affectionately called ,Kong Sil, saw four wars — the two World Wars, the Sino-Indian War and the Bangladesh Liberation War involving India — Kong Sil was born on November 12, 1910, a few years after the 1897 earthquake rocked Shillong.

Selected Editorials of Importance

Decoding the President’s address

In his address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day, President Pranab Mukherjee seemed intent on tempering hope with caution and idealism with pragmatism. But what caught everyone’s attention was the political undertone of what he himself noted was his last address before the next government takes office. For someone who made a smooth transition from being a Cabinet Minister to becoming the President, Mr. Mukherjee was surprisingly forthright in his warning to the political class. Justifying people’s anger at the weakening of democratic institutions, he said: “If we hear sometimes an anthem of despair from the street, it is because people feel that a sacred trust is being violated.” For those looking for a warning to the Congress, Mr. Mukherjee had more than a few words on corruption. If Indians are enraged, he said, it is because they are witnessing corruption and waste of national resources. “If governments do not remove these flaws, voters will remove governments.” But the veiled attack on the Aam Aadmi Party, the reference to “populist anarchy”, now associated with its leader Arvind Kejriwal, captured more mind space. Arguing that populist anarchy cannot be a substitute for governance, the President said: “False promises lead to disillusionment, which gives birth to rage, and that rage has one legitimate target: those in power.” If the reference to communal forces is taken as thumbs down to the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr. Mukherjee appears to have spared none in his address.
Whether read as notes of caution to the Congress, or as articulation of dissatisfaction with the ways of the AAP or the BJP, these remarks assume added importance in the current political context. President Mukherjee clearly wants it to be known that he is on the side of the people and democratic institutions, not blindly supportive of governments and certainly not sympathetic to those in power. Curiously, Mr. Mukherjee also wanted the people to vote in a stable government. True, as he noted, a fractured government, “hostage to whimsical opportunists,” would be an unhappy electoral outcome. But to ask the people to vote for a stable government can mean little more than to ask them to vote for a party widely seen as the front-runner. Whether this could be taken as an endorsement of the BJP in the current context is debatable, but it could lend itself to interpretation. So far, Mr. Mukherjee has played by the book in what he has done and what he has not, as President. The political sub-text of his lines and their varying interpretations notwithstanding, the address provides no indication that he is about to change his approach as the President of the Republic.
(Courtesy: THE HINDU)

MCQs

Q1.

i) Disability Rights Bill is a watered-down version of what the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had put up on its website in October 2012.
ii) Indian Museum, Kolkata, is the India’s oldest museum .

Which of the above statement/statements is/are true ?

a) only i
b) only ii
c) both i and ii
d) neither i nor ii

Q2.

i) A vote-on account is a statement ,where the government presents an estimate of a sum required to meet the expenditure that it incurs during the first three to four months of an election financial year until a new government is in place, to keep the machinery running.
ii) Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi are not in the list of The Aam Adam Party’s list of alleged ‘tainted’ politicians .

Which of the above statement/statements is/are true ?

a) only i
b) only ii
c) both i and ii
d) neither i nor ii

Q3.

i) Japan established its ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone) in 1969.
ii) Polling ended recently in Thailand, where the general elections were boycotted by the opposition and disrupted by protesters seeking to prevent the re-election of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Which of the above statement/statements is/are true ?

a) only i
b) only ii
c) both i and ii
d) neither i nor ii



GM crops: Field trials get green signal

The Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has approved field trials of genetically modified
(GM) food crops on a conditional basis. Environment Minister M Veerappa
Moily on Thursday said though the final call on GM crops would be taken
by the Supreme Court, there is no embargo by the apex court on field
trials . The decision would allow field trials of 200 such varieties,
including in rice, wheat, maize, castor and cotton.

“We have given clearances for confined field trials by companies, based on certain conditions,” Moily said.

These include consent from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee
(GEAC) and from respective state governments. The ministry’s decision
was based on the approval by GEAC in March 2013 to allow about 200
successful gene modification trials. Moily has called the next meeting
of the statutory committee on March 21.

“We are hopeful the next GEAC meeting will clear the new applications
before the coming kharif season,” said Ram Kaundinya, chairman, ABLE AG,
an association of biotech-led enterprises.  This is contrary to former
minister Jayanthi Natarajan’s view, who had put the decision on hold,
raising legal concerns because of the pending Supreme Court decision.
The ministry of agriculture and MoEF might also file a joint affidavit
in the Supreme Court, pleading that field trials of GM crops be allowed.
According to  MoEF Secretary V Rajgopalan, safety precautions would be
ensured for conducting the trials.

The apex court had also set up a technical expert committee, in which a
majority of members batted for an indefinite hold on field trials unless
a proper regulatory mechanism was in place. In its March 2013 meeting,
GEAC had cleared field trials of GM rice by Mahyco and BASF India, by
the Directorate of Oilseeds Research for GM castor, Monsanto India for
GM maize, Mahyco for GM wheat trials and GM cotton trials by Bayer, BASF
and Mahyco.




The changing face of Indian employment

The changing face of Indian employment

Farm labour wages on an average rose 17.3% a year between
2008-09 and 2012-13 compared with 6.2% in the preceding four years. The
popular reason given for this is the rural jobs guarantee scheme which
ensures 100 days of work to all poor households in villages. But another
reason is the increasing shift of farm labourers to other sectors, so
much so that total agricultural labour has fallen from 238 million in
1999-2000 to 231 million in 2011-12. Rising rural wages have fed into
higher food prices and higher wages elsewhere leading to a wage-price
spiral.

Workers moving out of low-productivity agriculture into
manufacturing is part of the development process. But, as the chart
shows, the bulk of the movement has been to the construction sector,
which too has low productivity.