15th March, 2018-IAS Current Affairs
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‘Civic Ranking of cities’
(GS2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)
Issue: The Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017, which uses 150 parameters to judge 23 cities, has placed Pune at the top and Bengaluru at the bottom of the rankings. While Pune scored 5.1 out of a maximum score of 10, Bengaluru got just 3. But Indian cities lagged behind global cities like New York and London, which scored 8.8.
In spite of various programmes by both central and state government for a sustainable urban habitat, results haven’t been very encouraging. The local-self governance model introduced through 74th amendment act to Indian constitution too has not resulted in an efficient urban sustainable habitat
Problems highlighted in the report:
- There has been little progress in devolution of powers to civic bodies.
- Just three out of the 23 cities enacted town planning legislations since economic liberalisation in 1991, while the rest rely on laws enacted nearly six decades ago
- local bodies suffer from fragmented governance
- Only in Mumbai and Pune does the elected local body determine urban planning. In the remaining cities, it is ‘parastatal’ bodies which are not directly accountable to the electorate that call the shots
- Not only are citizens kept out of governance, they do not even get access to important data concerning their civic life.
‘Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis’ (ALS)
(GS2: Issues related to health)
Issue: Stephen Hawking was one of the most celebrated physicists to have ever lived. His works have opened up a Pandora’s Box into many unknown realms. Along with his works, his fight against ALS disease is an inspiration to many to overcome any obstacles in life.
About ALS disease
The brain is the most complex part of the human body. Brain along with the spinal cord constitutes our central nervous system which controls every part of our daily life from breathing, movements, memory, etc. The brain is made of three main parts: the forebrain (front part of the brain), midbrain, and hindbrain (the back part of the brain). The brain cells are called neurons (nerve cells). Motor neurons in the brain control important muscle activity, such as gripping, walking, speaking, swallowing, and breathing.
Grouped under motor neuron disease (MND), amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS) is a rare condition that progressively damages motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, stopping them from sending messages to muscles. The muscles gradually weaken, waste away, and twitch. Eventually the ability of the brain to start and control voluntary movement is lost. Symptoms are usually first noticed in the arms, hands, legs or swallowing muscles, which first lose their strength and then their ability to move. As the damage progresses, symptoms spread to other parts of the body and the condition becomes more debilitating.
In a vast majority of cases of ALS, the cause is unknown. However, studies suggest that the involvement of multiple genes and environmental factors contribute to ALS in various cases
Indian government has a policy for treatments for ALS which is categorized under rare diseases
(Facts that can be asked in prelims)
Issue: Angela Merkel has been sworn in for a fourth term as German chancellor, after months of political wrangling that left her weakened.
‘Belt and Road Initiative’
(GS2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interest)
Issue: China is setting up an agency that will channel foreign aid and plan strategic projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative.
The formation of the State International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDCA) is part of a massive institutional revamp to steer China’s ongoing transition, marked by domestic reform and deeper engagement with the rest of the world.
What is Belt and Road Initiative?
Launched in 2013 as “one belt, one road”, it involves China underwriting billions of dollars of infrastructure investment in countries along the old Silk Road linking it with Europe. The ambition is immense. China is spending roughly $150bn a year in the 68 countries that have signed up to the scheme.
By investing in infrastructure, Mr Xi hopes to find a more profitable home for China’s vast foreign-exchange reserves, most of which are in low-interest-bearing American government securities. He also hopes to create new markets for Chinese companies, such as high-speed rail firms, and to export some of his country’s vast excess capacity in cement, steel and other metals. By investing in volatile countries in central Asia, he reckons he can create a more stable neighbourhood for China’s own restive western provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet. And by encouraging more Chinese projects around the South China Sea, the initiative could bolster China’s claims in that area (the “road” in “belt and road” refers to sea lanes).
India’s stance on Belt and Road initiative till now
The official Indian position is, however, of considerable caution. During the inaugural Raisina Dialogue, a conference on geopolitics and economics, India’s Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar regarded connectivity as having “emerged as a theater of present day geopolitics
Many see China’s effort to build roads and bridges as instruments of Beijing’s intention to build influence in its neighborhood.
At the heart of India’s reluctance to embrace Beijing’s promise of road building and connectivity is strategic mistrust. The country is wedged between two nuclear-armed neighbors and has fought wars against both in the last 60 years.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the key reason why Delhi is hesitant to embrace the initiative. The proposed corridor (expected to connect Kashgar with the Port of Gwadar in Balochistan) runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan; both are considered by Delhi to be Indian territories. When India agreed to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the government specifically pushed for a provision in the charter of the bank “that requires project financing in disputed territory to have the agreement of the disputants.”
‘Ban on LoU’
(GS3: Indian economy)
Issue: The Reserve Bank of India’s decision to ban Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) will raise costs for importers and will hurt export competitiveness
Impact of ban of LoU on Indian economy
The cost of imports will go up. The importers, through the route of LoU, they were availing dollar funding which was cheaper than rupee funding. So now, the importer will have an option of either opening a letter of credit, but for that they will need suppliers’ agreement — the supplier should be willing to extend the credit. Or otherwise, they have to fund it through rupee borrowing. So, that will increase the cost.
World Bank projections for FY19 for India
(GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: The World Bank in its India Economic Update has predicted India’s economy to grow at 6.7% in the current financial year, which is set to accelerate to 7.3% in 2018-19 and 7.5% in 2019-20.
The key takeaways about the Indian economy are that it is steadily growing, and it is growth where volatility has significantly decreased. This is evident with encouraging IIP numbers released recently. Another reason for a positive outlook is that growth is not being led any single factor, and is instead being driven by a number of factors such as exports, consumption, and investment.
However, the report by World Bank highlights the need for more structural needs if Indian economy is to grow above 8% on a consistent and sustainable basis
About World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to countries of the world for capital programs. It comprises two institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), and the International Development Association (IDA). The World Bank is a component of the World Bank Group.
The World Bank is different from the World Bank Group, an extended family of five international organizations:
- International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)
- International Development Association (IDA)
- International Finance Corporation (IFC)
- Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)
- International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)
The World Bank’s stated goal is the reduction of poverty. However, according to its Articles of Agreement, all its decisions must be guided by a commitment to the promotion of foreign investment and international trade and to the facilitation of capital investment
The World Bank was created at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The president of the World Bank is, traditionally, an American. The World Bank and the IMF are both based in Washington, D.C., and work closely with each other.
The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has 189 member countries, while the International Development Association (IDA) has 173 members. Each member state of IBRD should be also a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and only members of IBRD are allowed to join other institutions within the Bank (such as IDA).
Reports released by World Bank
- Ease of Doing Business
- World Development Report
(GS2: Bilateral ties)
Issue: The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved an Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to taxes on income between India and Iran.
Significance of this agreement
The Agreement will stimulate flow of investment, technology and personnel from India to Iran & vice versa, and will prevent double taxation. The Agreement will provide for exchange of information between the two Contracting Parties as per latest international standards. It will thus improve transparency in tax matters and will help curb tax evasion and tax avoidance.
The Agreement is on similar lines as entered into by India with other countries. The proposed Agreement also meets treaty related minimum standards under G-20 OECD Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project, in which India participated on an equal footing.
What is Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement?
Double taxation is the levying of tax by two or more jurisdictions on the same declared income (in the case of income taxes), asset (in the case of capital taxes), or financial transaction (in the case of sales taxes). Double liability is mitigated in a number of ways, for example:
- the main taxing jurisdiction may exempt foreign-source income from tax,
- the main taxing jurisdiction may exempt foreign-source income from tax if tax had been paid on it in another jurisdiction, or above some benchmark to not include tax haven jurisdictions,
- The main taxing jurisdiction may tax the foreign-source income but give a credit for foreign jurisdiction taxes paid.
Another approach is for the jurisdictions affected to enter into a tax treaty which sets out rules to avoid double taxation.
The term “double taxation” can also refer to the double taxation of some income or activity. For example, in some jurisdictions, corporate profits are taxed twice, once when earned by the corporation and again when the profits are distributed to shareholders as a dividend or other distribution.
‘Urea Subsidy scheme in India’
(GS3: Issues relating to direct and indirect farm subsidies)
Issue: The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved the proposal of Department of Fertilizers to continue Urea Subsidy Scheme upto 2019-20 at a total estimated cost of Rs. 1,64,935 crore and for disbursement of fertilizer subsidy. This decision implies that there will be no increase in price of urea, till 2020.
Details of the scheme:
Urea Subsidy is a part of Central Sector Scheme of Department of Fertilizers w.e.f 1st April, 2017 and is wholly financed by the Government of India through Budgetary Support. The continuation of Urea Subsidy Scheme will ensure the timely payment of subsidy to the urea manufacturers resulting in timely availability of urea to farmers. Urea subsidy also includes Imported Urea subsidy which is directed towards import to bridge the gap between assessed demand and indigenous production of urea in the country. It also includes freight subsidy for movement of urea across the country.
Advantages of Neem-coated urea
- Improvement in soil health.
- Reduction in costs with respect to plant protection chemicals.
- Reduction in pest and disease attack.
- An increase in yield of paddy to an extent of 5.79 per cent.
- An increase in yield of sugarcane to extent of 17.5 per cent.
- An increase in yield of maize to the extent of 7.14 per cent.
- An increase in yield of Soybean to the extent of 7.4 per cent.
- An increase in yield of Tur/Red Gram to the extent of 16.88 per cent.
Neem Coating also had an additional positive impact – plugging the diversion of the subsidized Urea towards non-agricultural purposes. In light of the increased efficiency of Urea due to Neem Coating, Government had recently decided to bag Urea in 45kg bags. This will effectively help reduce the cost of fertilizers to the farmers.
‘ASHTRACK mobile based application’
(GS3: Conservation of Environment)
Issue: For the better management of fly ash waste from thermal power plants across country, Government has reduced the GST rates on fly ash and its products to 5%. Further, to facilitate 100% ash utilization by all coal based thermal power plants, a web portal for monitoring of fly ash generation and utilization data of Thermal Power Plants and a mobile based application titled “ASHTRACK” has been launched that will help to establish a link between fly ash users and power plants executives for obtaining fly ash for its use in various areas.
What is Fly ash?
Fly ash is a fine powder which is a byproduct from burning pulverized coal in electric generation power plants. Fly ash is a pozzolan, a substance containing aluminous and siliceous material that forms cement in the presence of water. When mixed with lime and water it forms a compound similar to Portland cement.
The fly ash produced by coal-fired power plants provide an excellent prime material used in blended cement, mosaic tiles, and hollow blocks among others
Application of Fly Ash
Fly ash can be used as prime material in blocks, paving or bricks; however, one the most important applications is PCC pavement. PCC pavements use a large amount of concrete and substituting fly ash provides significant economic benefits. Fly ash has also been used for paving roads and as embankment and mine fills, and its gaining acceptance by the central government
Fly Ash Drawbacks
Smaller builders and housing contractors are not that familiar with fly ash products which could have different properties depending on where and how it was obtained.
For this reason, fly ash applications are encountering resistance from traditional builders due to its tendency to effloresce along with major concerns about freeze/thaw performance.
Other major concerns about using fly ash concrete include:
- Slower strength gain.
- Seasonal limitation.
- Increase in air entraining admixtures.
- An increase of salt scaling produced by higher fly ash.
(GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: Government is implementing a Central Plan Scheme on “Blue Revolution: Integrated Development and Management of Fisheries” with a vision to achieve economic prosperity of the country and the fishermen through utilization of full potential of water resources for development of fisheries in a sustainable manner.
Besides, in April 2017, Government has notified the ‘National Policy on Marine Fisheries, 2017’ (NPMF), which provides guidance for promoting ‘Blue Growth Initiative’ which focus on ushering ‘Blue Revolution’ (NeeliKranti) by sustainable utilization of fisheries wealth from the marine and other aquatic resources of the country for improving the lives and livelihoods of fishermen and their families. The ‘Blue Revolution’ encompasses elements of the ‘Blue Growth Initiative’.
(GS1: Indian culture)
Issue: Ramayana Circuit is one of the fifteen thematic circuits identified for development under Swadesh Darshan scheme of Ministry of Tourism. Sitamarhi, Buxar, Darbhanga in Bihar are among the fifteen sites identified initially for development under this circuit in the country.
About the scheme:
India’s rich cultural, historical, religious and natural heritage provides a huge potential for development of tourism and job creation in the country. There is a great scope and need to develop tourist circuits on specific themes to attract the tourists having special interest in visiting such places. This can be achieved only through an integrated approach by providing engaging experiences for distinct categories of tourists i.e. Domestic and International. Various themes which are unique and specific to the area can include beaches, culture, heritage, wildlife etc. Such theme based tourist circuits should be developed in a manner that supports communities, provides employment and fosters social integration without comprising upon the environmental concerns and provides unique experiences to the tourists. . In due recognition to this the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism (MoT) launched the Swadesh Darshan Scheme (Central Sector Scheme)– for integrated development of theme based tourist circuits in the country in 2014-15. This scheme is envisioned to synergize with other Government of India schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Skill India, Make in India etc. with the idea of positioning the tourism sector as a major engine for job creation, driving force for economic growth, building synergy with various sectors to enable tourism to realize its potential.
‘World Happiness report 2018’
(Facts that can be asked in Prelims)
Issue: India, which dropped four places in the 2017 World Happiness Report, fell a further 11 places in the 2018 report. It now ranks a low 133 on the list of 156 countries monitored by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network for its annual ‘joy’ report.
All of India’s immediate neighbors are more joyful than Indians, despite many of them not being nearly as well-off economically or even socially. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are all ahead of India in the Happiness rankings. Even state-controlled China is happier than India.
The World Happiness Report published yesterday put Finland at the top among 156 countries ranked by happiness levels, based on factors such as life expectancy, social support and corruption.