Thursday, 29 December 2016

Current Affairs -Indian IAS Academy module-4

1. Panel moots ‘handling’ levy on cash payments

·   Union Budget 2017-18 should allow merchants as well as government departments to levy a handling charge for cash payments above a certain limit, the Committee on Digital Payments has advised the finance ministry.

·     It also recommended a reduction in the mandatory threshold for quoting PAN card numbers for cash transactions from Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 2,00,000, applicable in different cases currently.

·     The committee, headed by former Finance Secretary Ratan P Watal, proposed that Aadhaar be used as an alternate for KYC for people who don’t have a PAN. “Permit merchants, including government agencies to levy a cash handling charge for payments in cash above a certain threshold. The cash handling charge so collected should be exclusively used to fund new infrastructure for acceptance of digital payments (like PoS devices).”

PAN threshold:-

·     Gradually, the Centre should reduce the threshold for quoting of PAN, which is currently mandated for banking transactions above Rs. 50,000 and merchant transactions of more than RS. 2 lakh, the panel suggested.

·      To create parity between cash and digital payments, the panel proposed that eKYC requirements in digital payments should be in consonance with KYC norms for transacting in cash. “Transactions which are permitted in cash without KYC should also be permitted on prepaid wallets without KYC,” .

·    The committee’s report, on which public comments and suggestions have been invited over the next fortnight, has also pitched for allowing tax payments by debit cards and e-wallets, against the current option of net banking only. “CBDT and CBEC should develop an e-commerce based model where their web portals generate the tax challans and accept payments from all electronic modes.”

·    A recommendation has also been made to make Aadhaar numbers compulsory in Income Tax returns, although the committee has stressed such an amendment must only be made after seeking the Attorney General’s opinion. Income tax payers already have PAN cards.

·        It further said that CBEC should issue necessary instructions to facilitate Service Tax input credit on price of digital transactions. Amendments have also been mooted to the General Financial Rules, 2005 and Central Government Account (Receipt and Payment) Rules, 1983, to include digital modes of payment.

·       The panel also recommended that when government acts as a merchant, it should bear the cost of electronic payments and not pass them on to consumers.

·     Digital payments for low value transactions, such as parking charges, toll charges or health services at government hospitals and health centres, also need to be promoted. “The low value routine transactions need special attention. These are payments that touch the lives of people every day.”

·        Pushing for adoption of digital payments for all government transactions, it has also proposed that utility bills and payments to government above a certain threshold be made only in digital mode. Also, convenience or service charge levied by utility service providers, petrol pumps, railways, airlines on electronic payments should be withdrawn.

·     Customs and excise duties on import of equipment which form a part of retail payment system infrastructure must be cut in the Budget, it recommended. The list includes micro ATMs used by business correspondents; fingerprint readers and biometric readers either as spare parts or as integrated electronic data capture machines and point- of-sale (PoS) terminals.

Cash heavy economy:-

·       India is a cash heavy economy, with almost 78 per cent of all consumer payments being effected in cash. This imposes an estimated cost of Rs. 21,000 crore, without factoring in other effects of cash reliance, such as counterfeit currency and black money.

·    Transitioning to digital payments was estimated to bring about a significant reduction in costs incurred on account of inefficiencies associated with cash and other paper based payments.

·   “For instance, by certain estimates, transitioning to an electronic platform for government payments itself could save approximately Rs. 100,000 crore annually, with the cost of the transition being estimated at Rs. 60,000 to Rs. 70,000 crore.”

2.Status of tribal development remains poor: Ministry report

·    The tribal population in India lags behind other social groups on various social parameters, such as child mortality, infant mortality, number of anaemic women, says the latest annual report of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

·     Tribal population, with a vast majority engaged in agricultural labour, has a higher incidence of anaemia in women when compared to other social groups.

·   The community also registered the highest child mortality and infant mortality rates, when compared to other social groups, the data indicates.

·    While educational achievements on the whole has improved, statistics cited elsewhere in the Report shows that the gross enrolment ratio among tribal students in the primary school level has declined from 113.2 in 2013-14 to 109.4 in 2015-16. Besides, the dropout rate among tribal students has been at an alarming level.

·    While the overall poverty rates among the tribal population have fallen compared to previous years, they remain relatively poorer when weighed against other social groups.

·         Health infrastructure has also been found wanting in tribal areas.

Gaps in rehabilitation:-

·     Further, it exposes the gap in rehabilitation of tribal community members displaced by various development projects. Out of an estimated 85 lakh persons displaced due to development projects and natural calamities, only 21 lakh were shown to have been rehabilitated so far.

·  “Rehabilitation only happens on paper, and any compensation for displaced adivasi folks is siphoned off by others in their name,”.

·   In 2014, the Central government initiated the VanbandhuKalyanYojana for the holistic development and welfare of tribal population on a pilot basis. However, the Annual Report points out that the token budgetary provisions being made under the scheme to the tune of Rs.100.00 crore and Rs.200.00 crore for 2014-15 and 2015-16, respectively, is minuscule and barely sufficient to meet the purpose of the Scheme given that it intends to cover 27 States across the country.

·         The Ministry has emphasised that more funds be provided for the Scheme from the year 2016-17 onwards.

3.Nepal rejects India’s ‘open sky’ offer

·         Nepal has rejected India’s ‘open sky’ offer to allow unlimited flights between the two countries at a meeting held here on December 20.

·     Nepal said it was not yet ready for the agreement. India has been keen on countering Nepal’s recent engagement with China on the road, railways and port connectivity. “Nepal said it was not yet ready for the ‘open-sky’ agreement and it might consider the proposal two years later,” said a senior official of the Ministry. Airlines from India and Nepal are now allowed to operate 30,000 seats from each side.

·       India and Nepal signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a joint technical committee to examine Nepal’s request for developing new air routes and air entry points at Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj. “The committee will meet in the first week of February to examine the feasibility of the proposed routes,”.

·   The latest development comes days after India signed an agreement with Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Guyana, Czech Republic, Finland and Spain to allow airlines to operate unlimited flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

·      Nepal has long been pushing for new airspaces to ease congestion on the existing routes and to save time and cost for air passengers.

·        “Nepal is building a major international airport at Bhairwaha, near the Uttar Pradesh border, and the airport at Pokhara will soon be brought to international standards.

·    The issue of increased air service and additional routes was part of the joint statement issued during the visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda.’ In it, Prime Minister NarendraModi had said India’s initiatives for ‘open sky’ and cross-border connectivity “would directly benefit Nepal and help strengthen our economic partnership.”

·      Under the National Civil Aviation Policy, approved by the Union Cabinet earlier this year, India intends to enter into ‘open-sky’ agreements with SAARC countries and with those beyond the 5,000-km radius from Delhi.

·       Countries sign air services agreements (ASAs) through bilateral negotiations to decide the number of flights airlines can fly. Under the ‘open-sky’ agreement, there is no restriction on flights or seats.

Among SAARC countries:-

·    India doesn’t have any ‘open sky’ agreement with Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan. It allows unlimited flights from Bangladesh and Maldives at 18 domestic airports, from Sri Lanka at 23 airports, and from Bhutan at all its airports.

Air transport agreement:-

·       A air transport agreement (also sometimes called an air service agreement or ATA or ASA) is an agreement which two nations sign to allow international commercial air transport services between their territories.

·     The bilateral system has its basis under the Chicago convention and associated multilateral treaties.

·     The Chicago Convention was signed in December 1944 and has governed international air services since then. the convention also has a range of annexes covering issues such as aviation security, safety oversight, air worthiness, navigation, environmental protection and facilitation (expediting and departure at airports).

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Current Affairs -Indian IAS Academy module-3

1.China has successfully tested the latest version of its fifth-generation stealth fighter jet J-31

·        China has successfully tested the latest version of its fifth-generation stealth fighter jet J-31 (now renamed the FC-31 Gyrfalcon).

·         The newest version of twin-engine FC-31 took to the air for the first time recently. It is considered as China’s answer to the US F-35, the world’s most technically advanced fighter.

·        The newest FC-31 has better stealth capabilities, improved electronic equipment and a larger payload capacity than the previous version which debuted in October 2012 It is manufactured by Shenyang Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of the Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC). FC-31 has a maximum take-off weight of 28 metric tons, flight radius of 1,250 km, and top speed of Mach 1.8 (i.e. 1.8 times the speed of sound).

·         It can easily carry 8 tons of weapons, hold six missiles in its internal weapons bay, plus another six under its wings. It also has been equipped with an electro-optical targeting system and helmet-mounted display.

·        Some analysts say the FC-31 bears a close resemblance to the US’s F-35.

·        China by introducing this fighter jet is trying to end the West’s monopoly on the world’s most advanced warplanes especially 5th generation fighter jet.

·        When completed, the FC-31 will become the China’s second 5th-generation fighter after the J-20, which was put on its first public performance at the Zhuhai Air Show in November 2016.

About Stealth aircrafts

·         Stealth aircrafts are designed to avoid detection mainly by using a variety of stealth technologies. These technologies reduce emission/reflection of radar, infrared, visible light, radio-frequency (RF) spectrum and audio.

2.Land of religious body can be acquired: HC

Allahabad High Court has ruled that land belonging to religious body can be used for public purpose.
High Court made its remark while asking the Church of North India Association and NHAI to “work out modality” for “demolition or shifting” of a church for construction of a six-lane road.
§  In its plea, the petitioner had argued that acquisition of the land by NHAI violates the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act which safeguards “all religious properties”.

§  The petitioner had also argued that the move violated the “right to freedom of religion” and the “freedom to manage religious affairs” guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.

The court noted, “once there is public purpose for which land in question has been acquired, invoking provision of National Highways Act, 1956, then no relief can be accorded to the petitioner”.

The court also said that the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act only “bars any person from converting any place of worship of any religious denomination or different religious denomination” and that the “provision had been introduced to see that communal harmony is not disturbed and persons of one religious community may not take on the other”.

3.China’s top legislature has passed Environment Tax to levy environment tax on polluters:-

·        China’s top legislature has passed Environment Tax to levy environment tax on polluters, especially on heavy industries. It will enter into force on January 1, 2018.

·        The law aims to improve taxpayers’ environmental awareness, force companies to upgrade technology and shift to cleaner production. Key Facts Under the new law, companies will pay environment taxes ranging from 350 yuan ($60) to 11,200 yuan ($1870) per month for noise.

·         It set rates of 1.4 yuan on water pollutants, 1.2 yuan on stipulated quantities of air pollutants and a range of 5 to 1,000 yuan for each ton of solid waste. It allows provincial-level governments to raise rates for air and water pollution by up to 10 times after approval by local legislatures.

·         Under it, lower rates can also be applicable if emissions are less than national standards. It only targets enterprises and public institutions that discharge listed pollutants directly into environment.

·         Punishments for evasion or fraud have not been specified, but it says that offenders will be held liable in line with the law on administration of taxation and the environmental law.

·        Greenhouse gas Carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the major contributors to global warming, is not included in the levying list.

·        China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), due to its heavy reliance on coal to provide electricity to its population of 1.37 billion (world’s largest). Since 1979, China has collected a “pollutant discharge fee” which not enforced by any law. In 2015, it collected 17.3 billion yuan (about 2.5 billion dollars) from some 280,000 businesses.

·        However, it was found that some local governments were exploiting loopholes and exempting pollution enterprises.


1.      Bharat stage-IV emission norms have been implemented in 13 mega cities including NCR for new 4-wheelers from 2010.

2.      Mass emission standards (Bharat Stage III) have been notified for two, three wheelers and diesel driven agricultural tractors from April 1, 2010 throughout the country.

3.      Stringent Emission Standards have been implemented to regulate emissions from in-use vehicles from October 2004.

4.      Supply of improved diesel and gasoline.

5.      Operating Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) mode public transport in Delhi.

6.      Introduction of metro in Delhi to promote use of mass public transport system.

7.      Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Boards are implementing the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 to restore air quality.

8.      A mutually time targeted programme is implemented under Corporate Responsibility for Environment Protection (CREP). 

9.      Special drives for prevention and control of pollution in 17 categories of highly polluted industries.

10.  Standards are developed for Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and load based standards for particulate matter (PM) including revision of PM emission standard for cement industry.

About Bharat Stage (BS) norms 

The Bharat Stage (BS) norms are emission control standards introduced by the government in 2000 to keep a check on air pollution.

·         Based on the European regulations (Euro norms), these standards set specifications/limits for the release of air pollutants from equipment using internal combustion engines, including vehicles.

·         Typically, the higher the stage, the more stringent the norms. The current norms in India are BS IV in 33 cities and BS III in the remaining country.

·         Implementation of the BS V standard that was earlier scheduled for 2019 has now been skipped. BS VI, originally proposed to come in by 2024 has been now advanced to 2020, instead.

The effects of BS VI norms on the Indian automobile industry are-
1.      Moving to BS6 will need a 80,000 crores worth upgrade in oil refining infrastructure. So, we can expect another cess to the government in the coming days. It could be integrated into fuel prices like most other cesses.

2.      The biggest impediment to BS6 norms will be the availability of BS6 compliant fuel, both petrol and diesel.

3.      In India, where small cars are preferred, fitting DPF in the limited bonnet space would involve major design and re-engineering work. Bonnet length may have to be increased, which would make vehicles longer than 4 metres, and attract more excise duty under existing norms.

SCR module reduces oxides of nitrogen by injecting an aqueous urea solution (AUS 32, which contains ammonia) into the system when the exhaust is moving.  Infrastructure needs to be set up across the country for the supply of AUS 32. The optimisation and fitment of this technology too would take an estimated 3-4 years.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Current Affairs -Indian IAS Academy module-3

1.India successfully test-fired its home-grown long range intercontinental surface-to-surface nuclear capable ballistic missile Agni-5:-
  • The state-of-the-art surface-to-surface missile was test fired successfully from the launch complex 4 of the Integrated Test Range from the Abdul Kalam Wheeler Island off Odisha coast. It was the fourth developmental and second canisterised trial of the missile.
Agni-5 missile

    · Agni 5 is three-stage solid propellant ICBM indigenously developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

    · Unlike other missiles of Agni series, Agni-5 is the most advanced having new technologies incorporated with it in terms of navigation and guidance, warhead and engine.

     · It is about 17 metre long, 2 metre wide and has launch weight of around 50 tonnes. This is the fourth developmental and second trial of the long range missile.

    · The missile is capable of striking a target more than 5,000 kilometres with nuclear warhead carrying capacity of more than 1 tonne. Thus, it can hit most northern parts of China and other parts of Asia, Europe and Africa.

     · It has not yet inducted into the Services. It carries Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV) payloads.

     ·  A single MIRV equipped missile that can deliver multiple warheads at different targets. It is also incorporates advanced technologies involving ring laser gyroscope and accelerometer for navigation and guidance.

    · Once this missile is inducted in Services, India will join the super exclusive club of countries having ICBMs (missiles with a range of over 5,000-5,500km) alongside the US, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom.

      · The missile will enhance India’s strategic and deterrence capabilities.

      ·  At present India in its armoury of Agni missile series, possesses Agni-I (700 km range), Agni-II (2000 km range), Agni-3 (2,500 km range) and Agni-4 ( more than 3,500 range). 

  • India has at present in its armoury of Agni series, Agni-1 with 700 km range, Agni 2 with 2,000 km range, Agni 3 and Agni 4 with with 2,500 km to more than 3500 km range. After some few more trials, Agni 5 will be inducted into the services.
  • Developed by the the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the 17-metre long missile can carry a warhead of 1000kg.
  • Being a ballistic missile, Agni 5 can not be detected by most of radar systems presently in use by defence forces across the globe.
  • Agni 5, which weighs about 50 tonnes, can target almost entire China and Pakistan. It can even reach targets in Europe.
  • Reports say that India has 110-120 nuclear-capable missiles in its armoury. Missiles such as Pritvi 2 (350km), Agni 1 (700km), Agni 2 (2000km) and Agni 3 (3000km) have already been inducted into country's defence system.
  • Pakistan has about 130-140 nuclear-capable missiles which include Shaheen and Ghauri series of missiles which Islamabad has developed with the help of China and North Korea. Pakistan, however, is yet to add inter-continental missiles to its arsenal.
  • On the other hand, China has a huge stock of nearly 250 nuclear missiles, including the (DongFeng) DF series. Unconfirmed reports say the DF 31A missile has the capability of striking targets over 10,000km.
  • The Agni 5 is the most advanced version of the indigenously built Agni series, part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) that started in the 1960s and was once overseen by late President APJ Abdul Kalam.
  • India joined the elite club of countries like US, Russia, the UK, France and China, which boast Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capabilities, when it first tested the Agni-V in 2012.
  • Agni 5's test launch is the first such missile test since India joined 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in July, 2016. MTCR membership enabled India to buy high-end missile technology and also enhance its joint ventures with Russia.
  • DRDO is also working on Agni 6, which will have far more lethal strirking capabilities than its predecessor.

2.Scientists identify as world’s most heat resistant materials

  • A team of UK-based researchers have identified Hafnium carbide (HfC) and Tantalum carbide (TaC) as the world’s most heat resistant material.
  • They can withstand record melting point temperatures up to 3958°C (approx 4000°C). New Laser-heating techniques were used to find the temperature at which  TaC and HfC melted, both separately and in mixed compositions.
  • Hafnium carbide (HfC) and Tantalum carbide (TaC) are refractory ceramicse. they are extraordinarily resistant to heat. Researchers found TaC melted at 3,768 degrees Celsius, and HfC melted at 3,958 degrees Celsius. Besides, the mixed compound (Ta0.8Hf0.20C) exceeded its previous recorded melting point.These materials at present are mainly used in thermal protection systems 
  • on high-speed vehicles and as fuel cladding in the super-heated environments of nuclear reactors.
  • This discovery may pave the way for improved heat resistant shielding for the faster-than-ever hypersonic space vehicles.
  • It means that future spacecraft could become more faster than ever. Currently hypersonic aircraft travelling above Mach 5 (5 times speed of sound) speed creates very high temperatures as friction is involved when travelling this speed limit.
  • This means that these materials will enable spacecraft to withstand the extreme heat generated from leaving and re-entering the atmosphere.
3.India’s first 2G Ethanol Bio-refinery to be set up in Punjab:-

  • The foundation stone of India’s first 2G (Second Generation) Ethanol Bio-refinery was laid at Tarkhanwala village in Bathinda, Punjab.  Central Government Public Sector Undertaking (CPSU) Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) is setting up this project at a cost of 600 crore Rupees.
  • HPCL’s bio-refinery will produce 100 kilolitres of ethanol per day i.e. 3.20 crore litres per annum from agricultural residues.
  • It will be sufficient to meet the 26% of the ethanol blending requirement of Punjab. It will also produce about 30,000 tonnes of bio-fertiliser per annum to enhance soil nutrients.
  •  It will also produce more than 1 lakh kilograms of Bio-CNG per annum which can cater to transport and clean cooking requirements.
  • It will generate employment for about 1,200-1,300 persons in the biomass supply chain. It will also generate an additional income of approximately 20 crore Rupees per annum for farmers through purchase of their agriculture residues.
  • The project will also significantly help in reducing CO2 emissions from the paddy straw which currently is being burnt after harvesting.
  •  HPCL and other state-run oil firms are planning to set up 12 2G ethanol bio-refineries across 11 states at an estimated cost of 10,000 crore Rupees.
  • These Bio-refineries will be significantly contributing towards the Ethanol Blending Programme (EBP) for achieving 10% Ethanol Blending in Petrol from current 5% by producing around 35-40 crore litres of ethanol annually.
  •  2nd generation ethanol is a fuel that can be manufactured from various types of biomass. Whereas 1st generation ethanol is made from the sugars and vegetable oils found in arable crops, which can be easily extracted using conventional technology.
  • In comparison, 2nd generation ethanol is made from lignocellulosic biomass or woody crops, agricultural residues or waste, which makes it harder to extract the required fuel using conventional technology.
Common Biofuel Crops:-
  • The most common Biofuel crops include Corn, Rapeseed/Canola, Sugarcane, Palm Oil, Jatropha, Soyabean, Cottonseed, Sunflower seeds, Wheat ,Sugarbeet, Cassava, Algae, Coconut, Jojoba, Castor Beans etc.

                Biodiesel:- Biodiesel is vegetable oil- or animal fat-based diesel fuel consisting of long-chain alkyl esters. It is used as a blend to Petro Diesel and denoted by B factor.
This means that 100% biodiesel is referred to as B100, while 20% biodiesel, 80% petro diesel is labelled B20. Similarly 5% biodiesel, 95% petro diesel is labelled B5.
Global biodiesel production was around 4 million tons in 2006 and around 85% of biodiesel production came from the European Union.

                Jatropha Plant:- Belongs to family Euphorbiacae, thus taxonomically related to Castor oil plant. Resistant to drought and pests, and produces seeds containing 27-40% oil. In India, Jatropha is known as Ratanjot shows resemblance with castor. Apart from Ratanjot, about nine species are reported out of which JatrophaCurcus has economic value by virtue of oil present in its seed. In 2006, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research identified first ever Jatropha variety, SDAUJ I (Chatrapati) with higher oil content and yield for commercial cultivation. The seeds contain 49.2 per cent oil and the non-edible protein in defatted seed case is 47.8 per cent. Farmers can get an average yield of 1000-1100 kg per hectare under rainfed conditions.

The ICAR recommended it for the semi-arid and arid regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is drought resistant and can be raised successfully in areas where annual rainfall is 300-500mm. The plant attains a height up to 8 feet and shows resistance to all major pests.