- The Environment Ministry has amended laws that now allow a proposed tourism project in the Aves Island, of the Andaman and Nicobar island (A&N) territory, to come up.
- The project was the only one of three high-profile proposed tourism projects that did not get a clearance from an expert committee on coastal clearance in February.
- This was because the proposed Aves Island project was located 20 m away from the High Tide Line(HTL) and existing rules required such projects to be at least 50 m away.
Official Secrets Act
Category: Polity & Governance
- An ‘Official Secrets Act’ is a generic term that is used to refer to a law — originally invented by the British, and then exported across the Commonwealth — that is designed to keep certain kinds of information confidential, including, but not always limited to, information involving the affairs of state, diplomacy, national security, espionage and other state secrets.
- India’s Official Secrets Act (OSA) dates back to 1923. It includes penalties for spying. Additionally, however, it punishes the communication of any information obtained in contravention of the Act, which could prejudice the security of the state, or friendly relations with foreign states.
- Furthermore, it punished people who knowingly receive such information — a provision clearly designed to capture investigative journalism.
- The primary critique of the Act is that it flips the constitutive logic of a democratic republic, where the state is supposed to be transparent to its citizens.
- The scope of the OSA has been somewhat diluted, thanks to the Right to Information Act. Section 22 of the RTI Act expressly says it overrides the OSA. In other words, it is not open to the government to deny access to a document demanded through an RTI question, on the basis that it has been marked secret under the OSA. Rather, the government will have to justify its decision to withhold information under the arguably narrower exception clauses of the RTI Act itself.
- On January 30, the Indian Sundarban was accorded the status of ‘Wetland of International Importance’ under the Ramsar Convention.
- The Sundarbans comprises hundreds of islands and a network of rivers, tributaries and creeks in the delta of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal in India and Bangladesh.
- The Indian Sundarban constitutes over 60% of the country’s total mangrove forest area.
- It is the 27th Ramsar Site in India, and with an area of 4,23,000 hectares is now the largest protected wetland in the country.
- The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, better known as the Ramsar Convention, is an international agreement promoting the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
- It is the only global treaty to focus on a single ecosystem.
- The convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975.
- Traditionally viewed as a wasteland or breeding ground of disease, wetlands actually provide freshwater and food, and serve as nature’s shock absorber.
- Wetlands, critical for biodiversity, are disappearing rapidly, with recent estimates showing that 64% or more of the world’s wetlands have vanished since 1900.
- The Indian Sundarban met four of the nine criteria required for the status of ‘Wetland of International Importance’ — presence of rare species and threatened ecological communities, biological diversity, significant and representative fish and fish spawning ground and migration path.
- The Indian Sundarban, also a UNESCO world heritage site, is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.
- Indian Sundarban is also home to a large number of “rare and globally threatened species, such as the critically endangered northern river terrapin (Batagur baska), the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the vulnerable fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).
- Two of the world’s four horseshoe crab species, and eight of India’s 12 species of kingfisher are also found here.
- The part of the Sundarban delta, which lies in Bangladesh, was accorded the status of a Ramsar site in 1992.
Generalized System of Preferences
- The Generalized System of Preferences is the largest and oldest United States trade preference programme.
- The U.S. intended it to promote economic development by eliminating duties on some products it imports from the 120 countries designated as beneficiaries.
- It was established by the Trade Act of 1974.
- GSP helps spur sustainable development in beneficiary countries by helping them increase and diversify their trade with the U.S.
- The other benefit is that GSP boosts American competitiveness by reducing the costs of imported inputs used by U.S. companies to manufacture goods in the United States.
- The Indian export industry may not feel the pinch of the GSP removal for India by the U.S. The loss for the industry amounts to about $190 million on exports of $5.6 billion falling under the GSP category. But specific sectors, such as gem and jewellery, leather and processed foods will lose the benefits of the programme.
Category: Science & Technology
- Belle II, a particle accelerator experiment located in Tsukuba, Japan, is a unique facility in the world.
- Here, electrons and positrons (anti-electrons) collide to produce B mesons in order to study the breakdown of symmetry in these decays.
- As an international collaboration involving 26 countries, Belle II has an Indian link — a team led by physicists and engineers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, have built the fourth layer of the vertex detector.
- The focus at Belle II is on B-mesons — particles that contain the B-quark, also known as the beauty or bottom quark.
Generalized System of Preferences
- S. has announced that he intends to end preferential trade terms for India under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme.
- The GSP programme sets zero tariffs for certain goods from a set of 121 developing countries to foster their trade and economic development.
- GSP accounts for some $5.6 billion of India’s exports to the U.S.making India the largest GSP beneficiary.
- Chemicals, gems and jewellery, engineering and textiles are among the Indian industrial sectors that benefit from the GSP.
- Fifteen of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in India.
- Gurugram in Haryana topped the list.
- Delhi — a frequent fixture on global pollution hotspots — was at the 11th place.
- When ranked by country, Bangladesh emerged as the most polluted followed by Pakistan and India respectively.
- Of the cities analysed, 64% exceeded the WHO’s annual exposure guideline (10 micrograms/cubic metre) for fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5.
- India’s annual guidelines range from 40-60 micrograms/cubic metre, depending on whether they are residential or industrial areas.
- Every single one of measured cities with data in the Middle East and Africa exceeded the WHO guideline.
Category: Defence & Security
- A digital ‘barrier’ has finally filled a 61 km gap on the 4,096.7 km India-Bangladesh border fence.
- Assam shares a 263 km border with Bangladesh.
- Much of the border was fenced, but a 61 km stretch in Dhubri district remained open owing to the terrain dictated by the Brahmaputra.
- The central govt inaugurated an electronic surveillance system that is expected to diminish challenges faced by the Border Security Force in manning this stretch against cross-border crimes.
- Comprising microwave communication, optical fibre cables, cameras, and an intrusion detection device, this system is called BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique) and was established under the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System.
Category: Social sector
- Prime Minister launched the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandhan (PM-SYM) Yojana.
- It provides for a monthly pension of ₹3,000 to employees in the unorganised sector after 60 years of age.
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has slapped penalties on seven more commercial banks for not adhering to regulatory directions relating to global messaging platform SWIFT.
- Over the last few days, RBI has fined 11 banks-both public and private- for delayed implementation of SWIFT-related operational controls.
- SWIFT is the global messaging software used for transactions by the financial entities.
Nari Shakti Puraskar , 2018
- Nari Shakti Puraskar is the highest civilian honour for women in India.
- To acknowledge women’s achievements, the Ministry of Women and Child Development confers Nari Shakti Puraskaron women and institutions in recognition of their relentless service towards the cause of women empowerment and social welfare.
- This year, 44 awardees have been selected for these Puraskar.
- This year, the Nari Shakti Puraskar has also been awarded to a One Stop Centre (OSC) and to a state which has shown exceptional progress in improving child sex ratio at birth under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme.
Category: Defence & Security
- The govt is to inaugurate the project BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique) under CIBMS (Comprehensive Integrated Border Management system) on India-Bangladesh border in Dhubri District of Assam.
- Border Security Force is responsible for safeguarding of 4,096 Km long International Border with Bangladesh.
- At various places, it is not possible to erect Border Fence due to the geographical barriers.
- The 61 Kms of Border area in District Dhubri, Assam where River Brahmaputra enters into Bangladesh is consisting of vast char lands and innumerable river channels thus making border guarding in this area, a daunting task especially during rainy season.
- To overcome this problem, in the year 2017, Ministry of Home Affairs decided to go for technological solution besides the physical presence of manpower of BSF.
- In Jan, 2018, Information and Technology Wing of BSF undertook the project BOLD-QIT (Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique) and completed it in record time with the technical support of various manufacturers and suppliers.
- BOLD-QIT is the project to install technical systems under the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS), which enables BSF to equip Indo-Bangla borders with different kind of sensors in unfenced riverine area of Brahmaputra and its tributaries.
- Now, the entire span of River Brahmaputra has been covered with data network generated by Microwave communication, OFC Cables, DMR Communication, day and night surveillance Cameras and intrusion detection system.
- The implementation of this project will not only help BSF to curb all type of cross border crimes but also provide respite to the troops from round the clock human surveillance.
- India will collaborate with Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia and Malaysia to increase the population of three species of Asian rhinos, including the Greater one-horned rhinoceros found in the Indian sub-continent.
- The five rhino range nations signed a declaration ‘The Declaration on Asian Rhinos 2019’ for the conservation and protection of the species at the recently held Second Asian Rhino Range Countries meeting in Delhi.
- The declaration was signed to conserve and review the population of the Greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran rhinos every four years to reassess the need for joint actions to secure their future.
Stronger Towns Fund
- The British government has set up a £1.6 billion fund in response to the underlying challenges of the country.
- The “Stronger Towns Fund” is meant to target areas that had not “shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as prosperous parts of the country”.
- The funds would help job-boosting projects in these areas.
Young Scientist Programme
Category: Science & technology
- Indian Space Research Organisation has launched a special programme for School Children called “Young Scientist Programme” “YUva VIgyani KAryakram” (युविका) fromthis year.
- The Program is primarily aimed at imparting basic knowledge on Space Technology, Space Science and Space Applications to the younger ones with the intent of arousing their interest in the emerging areas of Space activities.
- The residential training programme will be of around two weeks duration during summer holidays and it is proposed to select 3 students each from each State/ Union Territory to participate in this programme every year covering CBSE, ICSE and State syllabus.
- Those who have finished 8thstandard and currently studying in 9th standard will be eligible for the programme.
Manipur is to include Meiteis, a non-tribal indigenous community, in the Scheduled Tribes list.
- The country’s first Rajdhani Express, which revolutionised Indian Railways by way of speed and luxury in the 1960s, turned 50.
- The Kolkata-New Delhi Rajdhani Express embarked on its first journey on March 3, 1969.
- It was the first train with meals included in the fares.
- The NITI Aayog has been tasked with drawing up a list of non-core assets of various CPSEs, both healthy and sick ones, as a first step towards Finance Ministry’s plan to monetise such assets and unlock value to shareholders.
- This is part of the overall plans of the government to lay down a procedure and mechanism for monetisation of non-core assets of central public sector undertakings (CPSEs), that include mainly land and building.
- The report by NITI Aayog would be taken up by the alternative mechanism on disinvestment, headed by Finance Minister.
- So far, the disinvestment process was confined to the corporate level. Now, it will go one step down and monetise non-core assets of CPSEs to unlock wealth and generate value on equity for shareholders.
- Life of the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) regime may remain only for the next 10-15 years, as the country’s entire oil and gas exploration as well as production business is shifting to Hydrocarbon Exploration Licensing Policy (HELP)-Open Acreage Licensing Programme (OALP).
- In India there are mainly three different categories — nomination basis: areas given prior to auction rounds; pre-NELP and NELP: where areas were given through auctions based on production sharing contracts; and HELP regime — a uniform licensing regime based on revenue sharing model and OALP.
- Since NELP was introduced in the late 1990s, 314 blocks have been offered under various auction rounds, of which 254 have been awarded.
- From 2017 all new contracts have been signed under the HELP regime. Although most of the producing blocks in the country, at present, are those that have been offered before NELP or after NELP. All these production sharing contracts have a life.
- OALP is a continuous bidding process.
- Six cities across the country have been selected as “live laboratories” for a pilot project under which 1,000 houses will be built using innovative technologies that are low-cost, sustainable and disaster-resistant.
- Six cities have been identified to serve as live laboratories for the Lighthouse Project. These are Rajkot (Gujarat), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Agartala (Tripura) and Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh).
- The Vulnerability Atlas of India is a collation of the existing hazard scenario of the entire country.
- ‘April 2019-March 2020’ has been declared as Construction-Technology year and stress has been put on the use of advanced technology to meet the increasing demand for housing in the country caused by rapid urbanisation.
- Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an international organization founded in 1969.
- It consists of 57 member states with 40 countries being Muslim Majority countries.
- The organisation states that it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony”.
- The OIC has permanent delegations to the United Nations and the European Union.
- The official languages of the OIC are Arabic, English, and French.
National Security Council
Category: Polity & Governance
- The National Security Council is an executive government agency tasked with advising the Prime Minister’s Office on matters of national security and strategic interest.
- It was established by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1998.
- Prior to the formation of the NSC, these activities were overseen by the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister.
Relevance : GS Paper II ( International Relations )
It is expected that the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Salman will lead to further strengthening of Saudi Arabia-Indian ties.
Basis of such an exultation
- Saudi interest in
- expanding trade and investment in India
- collaboration in the energy sector
- developing an integrated refinery and petrochemicals complex
- Riyadh’s declaration that Saudi wants to intensify its strategic partnership with India.
The Pakistan angle
- Pakistan is far too important to Saudi Arabia for internal security reasons.
- Afghanistan has been a point of strategic convergence for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
- Riyadh perceives Pakistan as a major asset it can use to check the spread of Iranian influence.
- Saudi economic largesse matters greatly to Pakistan.
Way forward for India
- It will be unwise for India to believe that it can wean Saudi away from Pakistan.
- India should take advantage of its economic relations with Saudi Arabia.
- India should not pin much hope on Riyadh in the political-strategic sphere.
Relevance : GS Paper III( Energy)
The effort to clean up India’s thermal power plants running on coal has never really taken off.
What the govt should do?
- viable financial plan to help plants acquire pollution control technologies
- For the smaller and older plants, scaling down generation during the winter
- A viable financial mechanism must be evolved to remove pollutants
- burden of incorporating pollution control should fall on the beneficiary-user
- reducing coal use in the present energy mix which is over 54% now
The benefits of clean air to public health would make the investment well worth the effort.
Relevance : GS Paper II ( Polity & Governance)
Supreme Court had ruled in Kesavananda Bharati case that the Constitution’s basic structure was infrangible.
Criticism of basic structure doctrine
- It finds no mention anywhere in the Constitution.
- It accords the judiciary a power to impose its philosophy over a democratically formed government.
Significance of the basic structure
- It is deeply rooted in the Constitution’s text and history.
- It strengthens democracy by limiting the power of government.
- It’s dangerous to grant untrammelled power to the legislature.
The basic structure performs an important democratic role in ensuring that governments do not destroy the Constitution’s essential character