Himalai Celebrating its 20th year celebration, on this eve Himalai extending helping hands to the UPSC-IAS Aspirants of June 2018.

Most important exam oriented Current Affairs Concepts:

1. Hambantota port

Hambantota is the main town in Hambantota District, Southern Province, Sri Lanka. This underdeveloped area was hit hard by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and is undergoing a number of major development projects including the construction of a new sea port and international airport finished in 2013. These projects and others such as Hambantota Cricket Stadium are said to form part of the government’s plan to transform Hambantota into the second major urban hub of Sri Lanka, away from Colombo.

Sri Lanka has formally handed over its southern port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease, which government critics have denounced as an erosion of the country’s sovereignty. The $1.3bn port was opened seven years ago using debt from Chinese state-controlled entities.

2. Muntra

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed India’s first unmanned tank, which has three variants – surveillance, mine detection and reconnaissance in areas with nuclear and bio threats. It is called Muntra (Mission Unmanned Tracked) and has been rolled out of the Chennai lab.

Though the tank has been developed and tested for the army by Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) in Avadi, paramilitary has expressed interest to use them in Naxal-hit areas.

The tanks will facilitate Indian Armed forces in conducting unmanned surveillance missions. Muntra-S has been developed for unmanned surveillance missions, whereas Muntra-M is built for detecting mines. Muntra-N will be deployed in areas where nuclear radiation or bio weapon risk is high.

The tanks have been tested and validated at Mahajan field firing range in Rajasthan. The Muntra tanks have surveillance radar, an integrated camera along with laser range finder, which can be used to spy on ground target about 15 kilometres away. The DRDO also showcased a few inventions like a handheld wall penetration radar which if placed on a wall will project on a screen the presence of people inside a building.

3. Natural gas in South China Sea

China has successfully produced natural gas from methane hydrate, also known as flammable ice, in an experimental project in the South China Sea.

A drilling platform deployed off the coast of the southeastern Chinese city of Zhuhai for 60 days produced a total of 309,000 cubic metres of natural gas, a record extraction volume from gas hydrate.

Flammable ice consists of methane trapped within water crystals, and has been identified as a potential new gas source for China, with the South China Sea thought to contain some of the world’s most promising deposits.

India is also believed to be looking at hydrates as an alternative energy source.

4. Green Climate Fund

Climate change is the defining challenge of our time. The human impact on our planet is unprecedented. Long-term changes in the earth’s climate system are significant. The Green Climate Fund was established with a mission to advance the goal of keeping the temperature increase on our home planet below 2 degrees Celsius.

The Fund is a unique global initiative to respond to climate change by investing into low-emission and climate-resilient development. GCF was established by 194 governments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, and to help adapt vulnerable societies to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Given the urgency and seriousness of the challenge, the Fund is mandated to make an ambitious contribution to the united global response to climate change.

5. The Code on Wages, 2017

The Code replaces four existing laws: (i) the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, (ii) the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, (iii) the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, and (iv) the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.

The central government will set minimum wages for certain employments including railways, and mines.  State governments will set minimum wages for all other employments. The Code provides that a national minimum wage may be set by the central government.  States cannot set minimum wages lower than the national minimum wage.  Further, the central government may set separate national minimum wages for different states or regions of the country.  Minimum wages must be revised by the central or state governments at an interval of five years. The overtime rate will be at least twice the normal rate of wages of the employee.

6. Codex standards for pepper, cumin and thyme

In a major recognition of India’s efforts to benchmark global spices trade, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) has adopted three Codex standards for black, white and green pepper, cumin and thyme, paving the way for universal agreement on identifying quality spices in various countries.

The member-countries of CAC, the international food standards-setting body which met in Geneva for its 40th session during July 17-22, unanimously approved the adoption of Codex standards for the three spices, which would facilitate evolving a common standardization process for their global trade and availability.

The Codex standards were adopted in the wake of India conducting three sessions of Codex Committee on Spices and Culinary Herbs (CCSCH) at Kochi (2014), Goa (2015) and Chennai (2017). The Chennai session succeeded in achieving this consensus. Subsequently, these drafts were placed before the CAC, and it was adopted by consensus with an overwhelming support from the member-countries.

With the adoption of the Codex standards on pepper, cumin and thyme, spices have been included for the first time as commodities that will have such universal standards.

It will also benefit the trade from universal agreement to identify good quality spices.

It may be a small beginning considering the number of commodities waiting in the ranks for the standardization process. But what is really heartening is that spices have made a definitive entry into the league of commodities having Codex standards, and India played a key role in achieving this objective.

This triumph of CCSCH is the harbinger of a lot of hard work ahead. The number of spices and culinary herbs is very large – although only 109 spices are notified in the ISO list, their actual number, as used in various countries, would be much higher.

It was in 2013 that the need for Codex standards for spices and herbs became a matter of concern, owing to the increased level of issues in spice trade. At that time, there was no Codex committee exclusively for spices and culinary herbs. Thus, the first step in development of Codex standards was the establishment of a dedicated Codex committee for spices and herbs.

With the approval of the Central government, Spices Board India submitted to CAC a proposal for such an exclusive committee for spices and culinary herbs. After completing the background work, it sent delegates to a series of Codex committee meetings all over the world, making a forceful plea for the need for a committee on spices and herbs.

The 36th session of CAC, which met in Rome from July 1-5, 2013, deliberated on this proposal from India, and later approved it with unanimous support of the member-countries. It heralded the creation of CSCH, with India as the host country and Spices Board as the Secretariat. This was the first new Codex commodity committee to be approved in the past 25 years.

Historically, the developed countries, being the major importers of spices, have always insisted on unreasonably strict standards, which have had adverse effects on spice trade. This is an issue that the Codex, jointly formed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), seeks to address.

Spices Board India, the flagship organization of the Central Government for export and promotion of spices from the country, has always been concerned about this aspect, and hence has taken keen interest in harmonizing the disparate standards for spices which exist all over the world.

7. Sovereign Gold Bonds Scheme

The scheme will help in reducing the demand for physical gold by shifting a part of the estimated 300 tons of physical bars and coins purchased every year for Investment into gold bonds. Since most of the demand for gold in India is met through imports, this scheme will, ultimately help in maintaining the country’s Current Account Deficit within sustainable limits.

The issuance of the Sovereign Gold Bonds will be within the government’s market borrowing programme for 2015-16 and onwards. The actual amount of issuance will be determined by RBI, in consultation with the Ministry of Finance. The risk of gold price changes will be borne by the Gold Reserve Fund that is being created. The benefit to the Government is in terms of reduction in the cost of borrowing, which will be transferred to the Gold Reserve Fund.

The salient features of the scheme are:-

  1. Sovereign Gold Bonds will be issued on payment of rupees and denominated in grams of gold.
  2. Bonds will be issued on behalf of the Government of India by the RBI. Thus, the Bonds will have a sovereign guarantee.
  3. The issuing agency will need to pay distribution costs and a sales commission to the intermediate channels, to be reimbursed by Government.
  4. The bond would be restricted for sale to resident Indian entities. The cap on bonds that may be bought by an entity would be at a suitable level, not more than 500 grams per person per year.
  5. The Government will issue bonds with a rate of interest to be decided by the Government. The rate of interest will take into account the domestic and international market conditions and may vary from one tranche to another. This rate of interest will be calculated on the value of the gold at the time of investment. The rate could be a floating or a fixed rate, as decided.
  6. The bonds will be available both in demat and paper form.
  7. The bonds will be issued in denominations of 5,10,50,100 grams of gold or other denominations.
  8. The price of gold may be taken from the reference rate, as decided, and the Rupee equivalent amount may be converted at the RBI Reference rate on issue and redemption. This rate will be used for issuance, redemption and LTV purpose and disbursement of loans.
  9. Banks/NBFCs/Post Offices/ National Saving Certificate (NSC) agents and others, as specified, may collect money / redeem bonds on behalf of the government (for a fee, the amount would be as decided).
  10. The tenor of the bond could be for a minimum of 5 to 7 years, so that it would protect investors from medium term volatility in gold prices. Since the bond, will be a part of the sovereign borrowing, these would need to be within the fiscal deficit target for 2015-16 and onwards.
  11. Bonds can be used as collateral for loans. The Loan to Value ratio is to be set equal to ordinary gold loan mandated by the RBI from time to time.
  12. Bonds to be easily sold and traded on exchanges to allow early exits for investors who may so desire.
  13. KYC norms will be the same as that for gold.
  14. Capital gains tax treatment will be the same as for physical gold for an ‘individual’ investor.
  15. The amount received from the bonds will be used by Gold in lieu of government borrowing and the notional interest saved on this amount would be credited in an account “Gold Reserve Fund” which will be created. Savings in the costs of borrowing compared with the existing rate on government borrowings, will be deposited in the Gold Reserve Fund to take care of the risk of increase in gold price that will be borne by the government. Further, the Gold Reserve Fund will be continuously monitored for sustainability.
  16. On maturity, the redemption will be in rupee amount only. The rate of interest on the bonds will be calculated on the value of the gold at the time of investment. The principal amount of investment, which is denominated in grams of gold, will be redeemed at the price of gold at that time. If the price of gold has fallen from the time that the investment was made, or for any other reason, the depositor will be given an option to roll over the bond for three or more years.
  17. The deposit will not be hedged and all risks associated with gold price and currency will be borne by Gol through the Gold Reserve Fund. The position may be reviewed in case ‘Gold Reserve Fund’ becomes unsustainable.
  18. Upside gains and downside risks will be with the investor and the investors will need to be aware of the volatility in gold prices.
  19. In order to ensure wide availability, the bond will be marketed through post offices/banks/NBFCs and by various brokers/agents (including NSC agents) who will be paid a commission.

8. The Collection of Statistics (Amendment) Bill, 2017

  • The 2008 Act facilitates the collection of statistics related to social, economic, demographic, scientific and environmental aspects, by central, state and local governments. It allows the appointment of statistics officers to collect information, and contains provisions to ensure security of information.
  • Jurisdiction of the 2008 Act: The 2008 Act is not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir.  The Bill seeks to extend its jurisdiction Jammu and Kashmir for the collection of statistics pertaining to subjects under the Union or the Concurrent list of the Constitution as applicable to Jammu and Kashmir.  These subjects include citizenship, education, banking, labour and forests.
  • Nodal officer: The Bill provides for the appointment of a nodal officer by the central or state government.  The nodal officer will coordinate and supervise statistical activities under the government by whom he is appointed.  Further, the powers and duties of the nodal officer can be determined by the central government.
  • Use of information: The 2008 Act provides that the information collected under it can only be used for statistical purposes.
  • The Bill removes this provision. It allows the central government to determine the manner in which such information collected will be used, for statistical purposes.

9. Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana- Gramin (PMAY-G)

To meet the challenge of assisting 51 lakh Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (Gramin) beneficiaries in construction of their homes by March, 2018, the Ministry of Rural Development, in partnership with the State Governments, has taken many steps, including setting month-wise target for completion of houses. The target for completion of 51 lakh houses by 31st March, 2018.

Towards meeting the target of construction of 51 lakh houses by March, 2018, while 56.90 lakh beneficiaries have been sanctioned houses, 51.39 lakh beneficiaries have received 1st installment, 31.03 lakh beneficiaries have nearly reached roof-cast levels and for 16.05 lakh beneficiaries the house construction is nearing completion. States like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, who have highest number of PMAY-G beneficiaries, are on course for completion of PMAY-G houses within the prescribed time-frame.

The faster completion of quality houses has been assisted by payment of assistance directly into the beneficiary account through IT-DBT platform. To ensure good quality of house construction, Rural Mason Trainings have been organized to facilitate availability of trained masons in the rural areas. Space technology and IT platforms are being used to monitor complete cycle of house construction, right from identification of beneficiary to construction stages of houses to completion and each stage is being geo-tagged. States have taken adequate steps to ensure continuous availability of construction material at reasonable prices so that the pace and quality of construction is not adversely affected.

PMAY-G houses with facilities like toilet, LPG connection, electricity connection, drinking water etc., are changing the countryside at a faster pace. While in some states houses under PMAY-G are coming up in clusters / colonies (generally for landless beneficiaries), at other places they are being constructed on the beneficiary’s land. House designs prepared by UNDP-IIT, Delhi or by the concerned states have been made available to beneficiaries to choose the house designs that they like. Bouquet of house designs has resulted in technically sound houses of different designs coming up in rural areas which are a treat to watch.

10. World’s First Floating Wind Farm

Scotland is known for picturesque highlands and tartan-wearing highlanders, but now the country boasts the world’s first floating wind farm. The large turbines are floating in the North Sea, 15 miles off the coast of the town of Petershead.

The farm consists of five enormous wind turbines that stand about 830 feet tall (256 feet of that bobs beneath the water’s surface).

Dubbed the Hywind project, renewable energy advocates hope it can serve as a model for other regions that are capable of implementing the same technology.

The enormous turbines were assembled in Norway by Norwegian oil company Statoil and ferried about a thousand miles south to Scotland. Statoil partnered with U.A.E. company Masdar to create the massive structures. Three huge suction anchors, which stand 52 feet tall and 16 feet in diameter, secure the turbine to the seabed. Some 111 tons of weight in each anchor ensure that the turbines stand upright.

Wind turbines have been constructed in water since the 1990s, but they can only be fastened to the ground in water depths of about 200 feet. The floating turbines in Scotland, however, are anchored at 255 feet, and they can be rigged at depths of over 2,600 feet.

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