|61.||India-ETFA to hold FTA talks|
India and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) will meet shortly in an attempt to conclude their long pending negotiations on Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
So far, 16 rounds of negotiations have taken place which had started in 2008. Both sides had resumed talks on the agreement in January 2017 after a gap of three years
The proposed FTA between India and EFTA covers trade in goods and services, investments, IRPR protection, trade facilitation, customs cooperation and public procurement. The early conclusion of the proposed FTA between India and EFTA as well as an investment protection framework will boost economic ties between the two sides. The India-EFTA bilateral trade was worth $19 billion in 2016-17 from $21.5 billion in 2015-16. The trade balance was in favour of EFTA members.
European Free Trade Association (EFTA)
EFTA is regional trade organisation and free trade area consisting of four European states, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It operates in parallel with European Union (EU), and all four member states participate in the European single market.
It was established in May 1960 thorough Stockholm Convention to serve as an alternative trade bloc for those European states that were unable or unwilling to join then European Economic Community (EEC) (which subsequently became European Union).
EFTA is not a customs union and member states have full rights to enter into bilateral trade arrangements with third-country. Moreover, it does not envisage for political integration nor issue legislation. Its secretariat is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
|62.||Assam for first time extends AFSPA orders on its own|
Assam Government has extended term of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958 and declared entire state a Disturbed Area for six more months under Section 3 of AFSP Act. This is for first time state government has extended AFSPA and Disturbed Area provision on its own. In the past, AFSPA provisions in state were always extended by the Centre.
Why it was extended?
The law and order situation in Assam continues to be matter of concern due to violent incidents carried out by the underground groups, as many as 16 incidents involving these groups were reported between May and July 2017. These incidents had resulted in deaths of civilians, security personnel and militants.
Assam has remained “disturbed area” under provisions of AFSPA for nearly 27 years, after it was invoked by Centre for first time in November 1990, after ethnic insurgencies broke out in end of 1980s and following incidents of violence by ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom).
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA)
The AFSPA was enacted in 1958 to bring ‘disturbed’ areas declared under it under control. It empowers both state and central government to declare areas as ‘disturbed’ due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.
Declaration of Disturbed area: The section (3) of the Act empowers governor of State/UT to issue an official notification in Gazette of India, following which Centre has authority to send in armed forces for civilian aid. Once declared ‘disturbed’, the region has to maintain status quo for a minimum of three months.
Special powers to armed forces: The Act gives special powers to army and state and central police forces to shoot to kill, search houses and destroy any property used by insurgents in disturbed areas. It also provides army personnel with safeguards against malicious, vindictive and frivolous prosecution.
Note: At present, the AFSA has been enforced in 6 states viz. Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh (only the Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts plus 20-km belt bordering Assam), Manipur (except Imphal municipal area), Meghalaya (confined to 20-km belt bordering Assam) and Jammu and Kashmir.
|63.||Rajaswa Gyan Sangam 2017 held in New Delhi|
The 2017 Rajaswa Gyan Sangam, a two-day annual conference of senior tax administrators was held at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. It was inaugurated Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The conference was jointly organised by Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and Central Board of Excise & Customs (CBEC).
The objective Rajaswa Gyan Sangam 2017 was to enable two-way communication between policy-makers and senior officers in field offices with view to increase revenue collection and facilitate effective implementation of law and policies in key result areas.
The conference was attended by senior officers of CBDT and CBEC. The senior officers of Finance Department of the States and Union Territories for first time also had attended conference.
Various joint sessions, separate Technical Sessions of each Board were held during two-day Conference. Issues arising in implementation of policies and strategies to achieve targets in core functional areas were discussed. Such issues discussed included HR issues, Strategies for Revenue Maximisation, Litigation Management, Taxpayer Services, Tax Evasion, GST and Customs Reforms and Modernisation.
|64.||Sports Ministry approves constitution of Empowered Steering Committee|
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has approved constitution of 13-member Empowered Steering Committee (ESC).It will shape and influence India’s preparation for multi-disciplinary events, including 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The decision to form ESC was taken on basis of recommendations made by Olympic Task Force headed by Abinav Bindra in its interim report.
The ESC will have chairperson appointed by the Government. It will have the mandate to work till December 31, 2020 with clearly defined terms and references.
Terms and references of ESC
Review of core probable list of each High Priority and Priority disciplines for Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Olympic Games. Recommend specific plans or packages for beneficiaries of Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS).
Review annual calendar for Training and Competitions (ACTCs) approved by Government in consultation with the National Sports Federation (NSF) concerned. Make specific recommendations with respect to any additional or supplementary requirements.
Recommend names of national and international training institutions for their empanelment for providing training, coaching and other support to athletes. Recommend names of companies for carrying out athlete monitoring and data analytics work.
Make specific recommendations for strengthening sport sciences within Sports Authority of India (SAI) as well as outsourcing sports science support in short to medium term for providing sports science support. Assist Government in mobilizing CSR funds to meet additional funding requirements for training and preparation of national team in various sports disciplines.
Earlier, the Sports Ministry had constituted Task Force in September 2016 head by Abhinav Bindra for preparation of comprehensive action plan, including short-term and medium to long-term measures for effective participation of Indian sportspersons in next three Olympic Games to be held in 2020 (Tokyo), 2024 (Paris) and 2028 (Los Angeles). The 8-member Task Force had submitted its interim report to Government in May 2017 with focus on preparations in the short-term for 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
|65.||Volcanic carbon dioxide drove ancient global warming: Study|
According to study conducted by researchers from University of Southampton, UK, extreme global warming event 56 million years ago was driven by massive carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from volcanoes, during formation of North Atlantic Ocean.
They had used combination of new geochemical measurements and novel global climate modelling to show that Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was associated with rapid doubling of atmospheric CO2 in less than 25 thousand years because of CO2 emissions from volcanoes.
The PETM was most rapid and extreme natural global warming event of last 66 million years. It had lasted for around 150 thousand years and increased global temperatures by at least 5 degrees Celsius. Its period coincided with the formation of massive ‘flood basalts’ — large stretches of ocean floor coated in lava, resulting from of a series of huge eruptions.
Earlier it was suggested that PETM event was caused by injection of CO2 into ocean and atmosphere, but ultimate trigger source of CO2 was not known. Now researchers believe that, the CO2 was released during land drifts, separating Greenland from north-western Europe, thereby creating North Atlantic Ocean.
During this time, more than 10,000 petagrammes of CO2 was released predominantly from volcanic source. This is a vast amount of CO2, 30 times larger than all fossil fuels burned to date and equivalent to all current conventional and unconventional fossil fuel reserves.
|66.||XFEL: World’s biggest and powerful X-ray laser gun unveilded|
The world’s largest and powerful X-ray laser- European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) was unveiled in Hamburg, Germany.
The first beams from XFEL were accelerated in April 2017 and first x-ray beams were produced in May 2017. It will
help scientists penetrate the inner workings of atoms, viruses and chemical reactions.
European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL)
The XFEL is lodged in series of 3.4-kilometer tunnels up to 38 metres underground near city of Hamburg. It took 8 years to build 1.5-billion-euro ($1.7 billion) facility with funding from 11 countries. It has been hailed as one of largest and most ambitious European research projects ever.
Its centrepiece boasts world’s longest 1.7 kilometres superconducting linear accelerator, designed to provide energy needed to generate X-ray flashes billion times brighter than best conventional radiation sources. It has capacity to generate extremely intense laser flashes, at rate of 27,000 per second generated by Self-Amplified Spontaneous Emission (SASE). It generates high-intensity electromagnetic radiation by accelerating electrons to relativistic speeds and directing them through special magnetic structures.
XFEL is like a camera and a microscope that will make it possible to observe tiny details and processes in the nano-world than ever before. It will help to reveal and capture in images at the sub-atomic level, promising breakthroughs and revealing secrets in medicine, biology, energy, information technology and chemistry.
It will help scientists to map the atomic details of viruses, take 3-D images of the molecular make-up of cells or film chemical reactions inside them. This will help to understand and treat illnesses. The light beams produced by the XFEL can also be bundled together to create extreme pressure and temperatures to study process inside Earth’s core.
|67.||Government plans to create FarmerZone|
The Union Ministry of Science and Technology is planning to create FarmerZone, a collective open-source data platform for smart agriculture by using biological research and data to improve lives of small and marginal farmers.
It was announced by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) at recently convened Smart Agriculture Conclave in New Delhi. The objective of conclave was to set stage for “FarmerZone”. It was organised by DBT in partnership with UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Research Councils UK (RCUK) India.
FarmerZone envisioned by the DBT aligns with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for effective decision-making in agriculture by integrating science, technology, innovation and farm ecosystem. This platform aims to cater all needs of farmer from dealing with climate change, weather predictions and soil, water and seed requirements.
It will connect farmers and scientists, government officials, economists and representatives from global companies who work in the big-data and e-commerce space to bring about technology-based localised agri-solutions. This platform will work to collect relevant quality data related to agriculture into the cloud and also develop sites to help link with farmers and evolve PPP based enterprises for data delivery.
|68.||Rajiv Kumar takes charge as NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman|
Noted economist Rajiv Kumar took over as the Vice-Chairman of government National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog. He succeeds Indian- American economist Arvind Panagariya who had resigned to return to academia.
As a Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog, he will hold Union Cabinet Minister rank. Prime Minister is ex-officio Chairperson of the Aayog.
Mr Kumar was a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy in economics from Oxford and PhD from Lucknow University. He also served as Secretary General of industry association, FICCI.
He was a member of the National Security Advisory Board between 2006 and 2008. He also had served as the Chief Economist of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and held senior positions in the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Indian Ministry of Industries and Ministry of Finance. He has authored several books on the Indian economy and India’s national security.
NITI Aayog is the premier policy ‘Think Tank’ of the Union Government, providing both directional and policy inputs. It is non-constitutional and non-statutory body established formed through resolution of Union Cabinet on January 1, 2015. It had replaced had replaced the 65-year old Planning Commission established in 1950.
NITI Aayog is an advisory body with mandate to provide critical directional and strategic inputs across spectrum of key elements of policy to the centre. It acts as quintessential platform of Central Government to bring States to act together in national interest and thereby fosters Cooperative Federalism. It also designs strategic and long term policies and programmes for Central Government of India and also provides relevant technical advice to Centre.
|69.||Rajiv Mehrishi appointed as Comptroller and Auditor General of India|
Senior IAS officer Rajiv Mehrishi was appointed as the next Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. He will succeed Shashi Kant Sharma who is going to demit office on September 25, 2017.
Mehrishi is IAS Officer of 1978 batch and belonged to Rajasthan cadre. He has degree in business administration from Strathclyde Business School, Glasgow. He also did BA (History) and MA (History) from St Stephen’s College, Delhi. He bureaucratic career spanned more than 30 years and has served in various key posts in both Centre as well as in Rajasthan government.
He had been Chief Secretary of Rajasthan, Principal Resident Commissioner of Rajasthan, Principal Secretary (Finance) etc. and also served as the Union Finance Secretary, Secretary (Overseas Indian Affairs) and Secretary (Fertilizers) in the Centre. He was appointed the Union Home Secretary in August 2015 and retired in July 2017.
Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India
CAG is constitutional office under article 148 and is appointed by President of India by warrant under his hand for period of 6 years or up to age of 65 years, whichever earlier. The conditions and services of CAG are prescribed by Parliament via CAG (conditions and services) Act, 1953 as amended in 1971. Allowances and pensions payable to or in respect of persons in that office are charged upon the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI).
Removal of CAG is as difficult and similar to removal of a Supreme Court Judge. CAG is not be eligible for any office under GOI post-retirement. It is because of these conditions of independence given to CAG’s office, the report of CAG are given due respect and made as reference.
Functions of CAG
CAG suggests the account keeping of union and state with the approval of president. It exercises power in relation to account of union and state or any other enterprise funded by GOI as may be prescribed by law made by parliament. The CAG reports to the president and governors regarding the accounts of union and state respectively. The president presents report to the parliament. In 1976 the accounting was separated from auditing form the CAG’s duty. Now accounting is done by other agencies.
|70.||Trade-distorting farm subsidies must go: India-China|
India and China have jointly submitted proposal to World Trade Organisation (WTO) calling for elimination of most trade-distorting farm subsidies by developed countries. These farm subsidies are known as known as Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) or ‘Amber Box’ support.
Significance of proposal
The proposal assumes importance in view for consideration of other reforms in domestic support negotiations in view of ongoing negotiations for upcoming 11th Ministerial Conference (MC) of WTO to be held in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in December 2017. It counters the efforts of some WTO member countries targeting subsidies given by developing economies to their poor farmers while letting the developed rich nations retain their huge farm subsidies. It argues that AMS have to be eliminated before any other reform in global farm trade can be taken up for consideration.
Features of Joint proposal
Under the AMS regime of WTO, farm subsidies provided by developed countries are over 50% and in some cases more than 100% of value of production concerned, while developing countries are forced to limit it within 10% of the value of production. It is resulting in a major asymmetry in the rules on global agricultural trade.
Developed countries like US, EU, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, and Norway continue to distort global farm trade by safeguarding their exclusive entitlements on AMS which they had secured in previous Uruguay Round of trade negotiations.
Developed countries are consistently providing trade-distorting subsidies to their farmers at levels much higher than ceiling applicable to developing countries. It counters the efforts by some countries to target the subsidies of the developing countries while letting the developed countries retain their huge farm subsidies.