31 st July, 2018-IAS Current Affairs
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‘Mars and Earth’ (GS3: Science)
Issue: On July 31, Mars will be at its closest point to Earth in 15 years. It will be at a distance of around 57.6 million km from Earth, which is the closest since 2003 when it came within 55.7 million km of Earth.
About this event
Mars orbits the Sun at a greater distance than Earth. As the distance increases, the orbital period also increases. While Earth takes a little more than 365 days to go round the Sun, Mars takes 687 days. Due to the difference of the orbital speed and orbital period, every 26 months or so Earth passes between Mars and the Sun, bringing Mars and Sun on exactly opposite sides of the Earth. This is called Mars at Opposition
At opposition Mars will be near its closest point to Earth. This year Mars was at its opposition on July 27. Since it is quite close from that time, it will appear very bright and will be visible roughly after sunset and will remain in the sky till sunrise.
The next opposition of Mars will be on October 6, 2020 but it will be a little further away — 61.76 million km — and will be relatively smaller and less bright than on July 31, 2018.
‘Draft Policy for E-commerce companies’ (GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: India is considering a policy that may force e-commerce companies such as Flipkart India Pvt. Ltd. and Amazon.com Inc., social media websites like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. and search engines Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc. and Bing to store their domestic customer data locally.
Need for such a policy?
India is likely to become one of the largest sources of commercially useful data in the world, it’s imperative the policy understands and protects the inherent ownership rights to data, according to a draft policy on e-commerce. Such locally stored data will be available to the government for security and policy objectives subject to rules related to privacy and consent
The draft policy was prepared by a think tank comprising officials from the ministries of commerce, finance, home, corporate affairs, and electronics and information technology
Other recommendations of the committee
- The government, according to the draft policy, is also looking to tighten the scrutiny of mergers in the e-commerce sector so that even small deals that can potentially distort competition are examined by the Competition Commission of India.
- It also highlighted that a level-playing field would be provided to domestic players by ensuring foreign websites involved in e-commerce transactions from India also follow the same rules, including procedures for payment systems, such as two-factor authentication, as in the case of domestic companies.
- Mandating home-grown card network RuPay to be included as a payment option for online transactions.
- Centralized agency for know-your-customer data would be set up in order to decrease the burden of KYC for payment operators.
- Creation of a social credit database through public-private partnership, using data from the JAM Trinity (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile), to facilitate digital lending.
- Enhancing the participation of micro-, small- and medium- enterprises in online retail.
- A sunset clause, which defines the maximum duration of differential pricing strategies (such as deep discounts) that are implemented by e-commerce platforms to attract consumers, would be introduced.
- E-commerce entities to make a full disclosure to the consumer regarding the purpose and use of data collection upfront in a simplified and an easily understandable form on their websites.
- The Central Consumer Protection Authority would be established to provide a platform for e-commerce operators for complaints regarding fraudulent activities, and also a forum for consumers to register unresolved complaints.
- Tax collection at source provisions in GST on SMEs would be re-examined.
‘Growth in Infrastructure industries’ (GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: The Government is continuously taking steps to boost industrial growth including infrastructure sector
Steps taken include:
- Putting in place a policy framework to create conducive business environment
- strengthening infrastructure network
- Ensuring availability of required inputs.
- Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy and procedures have been simplified and liberalized progressively.
- The emphasis has been on simplification and rationalization of the existing rules and introduction of information technology to make governance more efficient and effective.
‘National Testing Agency’ (GS2: Issues related to Education)
Issue: the Government has created National Testing Agency (NTA) as an autonomous and self-sustained premier testing organization to conduct entrance examinations for higher education, which were being conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
Objective of the government in setting up NTA
The objective is to have a specialized and dedicated body for conducting these high-stake entrance examinations and at the same time, relieve CBSE of this responsibility to enable it to fulfill its core mandate. The Government has mandated NTA to conduct the examination in a scientific manner involving experts. All the examinations of NTA were mandated to be conducted twice a year for the benefit of students.
The UGC-NET, JEE (Main), NEET-UG, C-MAT and C-PAT examinations have been entrusted to NTA.
The objectives of the NTA, inter-alia, are conducting efficient, transparent tests designed in a scientific manner for assessing competence of students. It will train subject matter experts and prepare test items in collaboration with psycho-metricians to ensure that the tests are well balanced. Data of previous tests will be analyzed and deliberated with subject matter experts for designing better question papers. NTA will be a self-sustained organization.
‘Higher education in India’ (GS2: Issues related to Education)
Issue: The Central Government has launched several initiatives viz. National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), Impacting Research, Innovation & Technology (IMPRINT), Uchchtar Avishkar Yojna (UAY), Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) in the field of education for promoting higher education and research work in the country.
About these programs
- Under the NIRF, Educational Institutions are ranked by an independent ranking Agency on the basis of objective criteria.
- The IMPRINT initiative seeks to address engineering challenges in ten technology domains through the collaborative efforts of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
- The objectives of UAY scheme are to promote innovation in IITs addressing issues of manufacturing industries; to spur innovative mindset; to co-ordinate action between academia & industry and to strengthen labs & research facilities.
- Distinguished academicians, from premier institutions across the world, are invited under the scheme of GIAN to conduct one week or two week course at Indian institutions.
University Grants Commission (UGC) is implementing following schemes for encouragement of research and doctoral work in all subjects including inter-disciplinary topics.
(i) Special Assistance Programme (SAP)
(ii) Basic Scientific Research (BSR)
‘Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Yojana’ (GS2: Government policies for development in various sectors)
Issue: The Government is implementing a flagship scheme known as Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) on pan–India basis which enables prospective youth to take up Short Term Training (STT) and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) through accredited and affiliated training centers.
About the scheme
The scheme has two components namely Centrally Sponsored Centrally Managed (CSCM) which is implemented by National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and Centrally Sponsored State Managed (CSSM) which is implemented by State Skill Development Missions of the States/UTs popularly known as State-Engagement Component of PMKVY (2016-20).
Other steps taken include:
- Significant efforts have also been made by the Government to universalise primary education through the erstwhile Centrally Sponsored scheme of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
- Government of India has recently launched Samagra Shiksha – An Integrated Scheme for school education w.e.f. 2018-19 which is an overarching programme for the school education sector extending from pre-school to class XII and which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels of school education. Its overall goals include universal access and retention, bridging of gender and social category gaps in education and enhancement of learning levels of children.
- In order to build a strong foundation, Samagra Shiksha focuses on improvement in quality of education by providing support for different interventions like in-service training of teachers and school heads, conduct of achievement surveys at state and national level, composite school grant to every school for providing a conducive learning environment, grants for library, sports and physical activities, support for Rashtriya Avishkar Abhiyan, ICT and digital initiatives,
- The component of Vocationalization of School Education under Samagra Shiksha aims to integrate vocational education with general academic education and prepare employable youth for various sectors of the economy and global market. The curriculum of vocational subjects for Classes IX to XII is divided into two major components – a) employability skills and b) vocational skills. The employability skills encompass Communication, Self-management, ICT, Entrepreneurship development and Green skills. The vocational skills are specific to job roles offered by the school. Thus, quality education under Samagra Shiksha coupled with skill training provide for a strong foundation and also enable the students to make informed career choices on the basis of their capabilities, aspirations and work opportunities available.
‘National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD)’ (GS2: Government policies for development in various sectors)
Issue: The Ministry of Tourism provides Central Financial Assistance to State Governments/Union Territory (UT) Administrations under the schemes of Swadesh Darshan, National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD) and Assistance to Central Agencies for the development of tourism related infrastructure in the country.
About PRASHAD scheme
Under the PRASHAD Scheme, 26 religious cities/sites in 19 States have been identified for development which inter-alia include Amaravati and Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh), Kamakhya (Assam), Patna and Gaya (Bihar), Dwarka and Somnath (Gujarat), Gurudwara Nada Saheb (Haryana), Hazratbal and Katra (Jammu & Kashmir), Deogarh (Jharkhand), Chamundeshwari Devi (Karnataka), Guruvayoor (Kerala), Una (Himachal Pradesh), Omkareshwar (Madhya Pradesh), Trimbakeshwar (Maharashtra), Puri (Odisha), Amritsar (Punjab), Ajmer (Rajasthan), Kanchipuram and Vellankani (Tamil Nadu), Varanasi and Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), Badrinath and Kedarnath (Uttarakhand) and Belur (West Bengal).
‘Groundwater Contamination’ (GS3: Environmental Pollution)
Issue: Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) regularly monitors ground water quality of shallow aquifers on a regional scale, once every year
What the data says?
Ground water quality data generated during various scientific studies and ground water quality monitoring indicate that the ground water in major part of the country is potable. However, some parts of various states are contaminated by Salinity, Arsenic, Fluoride, Iron, Nitrate and Heavy metals beyond the permissible limits
Sources of contamination
The possible sources of contamination of ground water are either geogenic or anthropogenic in nature. Anthropogenic contamination of ground water is due to industrial discharges, landfills, diffused sources of pollution like fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural fields etc.
What are the steps taken to limit the groundwater contamination?
- Control of industrial pollution under the provision of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 by consent mechanism being applied by SPCBs/ PCCs.
- A mutually agreed time targeted programme is implemented under Corporate Responsibility on Environment Protection (CREP).
- Establishment of Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) for cluster of Small Scale Industrial units.
- Continuous water quality monitoring systems are being established on industrial units in the country, through the directives issued by CPCB, for getting real time information on the effluent quality.
For improving the coverage of safe drinking water to rural population, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation supplements the efforts of the states by providing them with technical and financial assistance through the centrally sponsored National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).
‘Criminal Law (amendment) Ordinance’ (GS2: Union Legislature)
Issue: The Lok Sabha on Monday passed a bill to award death penalty to child rapists. The bill seeks to replace the Criminal Law (amendment) Ordinance promulgated on April 21, which followed protests and widespread outrage after the rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua.
What are the new provisions in the bill?
- In the case of “gruesome incidents” of rape involving a child under 12, the sentence can be extendable to death
- The new provisions make it mandatory for the investigation into a rape case to be completed within two months
- Earlier the provision for (rape of) a woman under the age of 16 the punishment was 10 years, the punishable provision is now 20 years of rigorous imprisonment
What is an Ordinance?
Under the Constitution, the power to make laws rests with the legislature. However, in cases when Parliament is not in session, and ‘immediate action’ is needed, the President can issue an ordinance. An ordinance is a law, and could introduce legislative changes.
The most important power of the president is perhaps to promulgate ordinances under Art 123. The promulgation of an ordinance is not necessarily connected with an ’emergency’ but issued by the president in case he is convinced that it is not possible to have the parliament enact on same subject immediately and the circumstance render it necessary for him to take “immediate action” [Art 123(1)].
However such an ordinance must receive parliamentary approval within six weeks of the next session of the parliament, otherwise it shall become invalid. Since the ordinance-making power is to be exercised by the president on the ‘aid and advise’ of the council of ministers [Art 74], the power is often misused.
Under Article 123: Power of President to promulgate Ordinances during recess of Parliament
(1) If at any time, except when both Houses of Parliament are in session, the President is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such Ordinance as the circumstances appear to him to require
(2) An Ordinance promulgated under this article shall have the same force and effect as an Act of Parliament, but every such Ordinance
(a) shall be laid before both House of Parliament and shall cease to operate at the expiration of six weeks from the reassemble of Parliament, or, if before the expiration of that period resolutions disapproving it are passed by both Houses, upon the passing of the second of those resolutions; and
(b) may be withdrawn at any time by the President, where the Houses of Parliament are summoned to reassemble on different dates, the period of six weeks shall be reckoned from the later of those dates for the purposes of this clause
(3) If and so far as an Ordinance under this article makes any provision which Parliament would not under this Constitution be competent to enact, it shall be void.
The Supreme Court has clarified that the legislative power to issue ordinances is ‘in the nature of an emergency power’ given to the executive only ‘to meet an emergent situation’.
‘Idukki Dam’ (Facts that could be asked in Prelims)
Issue: The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), which manages one of Asia’s tallest arch dams, has issued an ‘orange alert’ after the water level in the Idukki dam breached the 2,395-ft mark.
‘Red alert’ will be issued if the water level inches closer to 2,400 ft. After a specific time-frame to allow people to evacuate
About the Idukki Dam
The Idukki Dam is a double curvature arch dam constructed across the Periyar River in a narrow gorge between two granite hills locally known as Kuravan and Kurathi in Kerala, India. At 167.68 metres (550.1 ft), it is one of the highest arch dams in Asia. It is constructed and owned by the Kerala State Electricity Board. It supports a 780 MW hydroelectric power station in Moolamattom, which started generating power on 4 October 1975. The dam type is a concrete, double curvature parabolic, thin arc dam.
‘Rice Farming Technique’ (GS3: Indian Agriculture)
Issue: Eight women farmers have been selected to visit the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines to learn about new rice farming techniques, as part of an initiative by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), a Science Ministry body, to raise the profile of women farmers.
During the workshop in India, the women were taught about crop planning, stages of rice cultivation, pest and weed management, use of crop calendar, land selection, crop monitoring, post-harvest management and seed management. According to the Census 2011, 55% of women workers were agricultural labourers and 24% were cultivators. However, only 12.8% of the operational holdings were owned by women, and 25% this land belonged to the “marginal and small holdings categories.”
Steps recommended to increase profile of women farmers in India
The Economic Survey 2017-18 recommended a number of steps to acknowledge the “feminization” of Indian agriculture. These include: earmarking at least 30% of the budget allocation for women beneficiaries in all ongoing schemes/programmes and development activities, initiating women-centric activities and focusing on women self-help groups to connect them to micro-credit through capacity-building activities.