Mohan Reddy Committee
A government committee headed by IIT-Hyderabad chairman B V R Mohan Reddy has submitted its report and that its suggestions are being considered by AICTE.
The committee was appointed to come up with a medium and short-term perspective plan for expansion in engineering education.
Important recommendations made by the committee:
Stop setting up new colleges from 2020 and review the creation of new capacity every two years after that.
No additional seats should be approved in traditional engineering areas such as mechanical, electrical, civil and electronics and institutes should be encouraged to convert current capacity in traditional disciplines to emerging new technologies.
For approving additional seats in existing institutions, the AICTE should only give approvals based on the capacity utilisation of concerned institute.
Introduce undergraduate engineering programmes exclusively for artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, quantum computing, data sciences, cybersecurity and 3D printing and design.
What necessitated this?
More than half the engineering seats fall vacant every year. There were no takers for 51% of the 15.5 lakh B.E/B.Tech seats in 3,291 engineering colleges in 2016-17.
Besides, current capacity utilisation in traditional disciplines is just 40% as opposed to 60% seat occupancy in branches such as computer science and engineering, aerospace engineering and mechatronics.
There were glaring gaps in regulation, including alleged corruption; a vicious circle of poor infrastructure, labs and faculty; non-existent linkages with industry; and the absence of a technical ecosystem to nurture the classroom. All this accounted for low employability of graduates.
Source: The Hindu
Khushi Scheme of Odisha
The Centre’s recently introduced ‘Ujjwala Sanitary Napkins’ initiative is being seen as an attempt to counter the ‘Khushi’ scheme launched by the Odisha State government.
About Khushi Scheme:
As part of its initiatives to empower women, the Odisha government, last year, launched this scheme to provide free sanitary napkins to school girls across the state.
The scheme will be implemented by the health and family welfare department of the state at a cost of 70 crore per year.
Under this scheme, the Health Department of Odisha Government aims to provide free sanitary pads to 1.7 million girl students from grade 6th to 12th in government and government-aided schools. Also, it aims to promote health and hygiene among school going girls and higher retention of girls in school.
Source: The Hindu
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
India recently submitted its Sixth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
India is among the first five countries in the world, the first in Asia and the first among the biodiversity-rich megadiverse countries to have submitted the report.
The submission of national reports is a mandatory obligation on parties to international treaties, including the CBD. As a responsible nation, India has never reneged on its international commitments and has earlier submitted on time five national reports to the CBD.
Highlights of the report:
The report provides an update of progress in achievement of 12 National Biodiversity Targets (NBT) developed under the convention process in line with the 20 global Aichi biodiversity targets.
The report highlights that while India has exceeded/ overachieved two NBTs, it is on track to achieve eight NBTs and with respect to two remaining NBTs, the country is striving to meet the targets by the stipulated time of 2020.
According to the report, India has exceeded the terrestrial component of 17% of Aichi target 11, and 20% of corresponding NBT relating to areas under biodiversity management.
Also, India has been investing a huge amount on biodiversity directly or indirectly through several development schemes of the central and state governments, to the tune of Rs 70,000 crores per annum as against the estimated annual requirement of nearly Rs 1,09,000 crore.
At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for “sustainable development” — meeting our needs while ensuring that we leave a healthy and viable world for future generations. One of the key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Convention on Biological Diversity is the international legal instrument for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” that has been ratified by 196 nations.
The 12 National Biodiversity targets of India are:
By 2020, a significant proportion of the country’s population, especially the youth, is aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
By 2020, values of biodiversity are integrated into national and state planning processes, development programmes and poverty alleviation strategies.
Strategies for reducing the rate of degradation, fragmentation and loss of all natural habitats are finalized and actions put in place by 2020 for environmental amelioration and human well-being.
By 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and strategies to manage them developed so that populations of prioritized invasive alien species are managed.
By 2020, measures are adopted for sustainable management of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Ecologically representative areas under terrestrial and inland water, and also coastal and marine zones, especially those of particular importance for species, biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved effectively and equitably, based on protected area designation and management and other area-based conservation measures and are integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes, covering over 20% of the geographic area of the country, by 2020.
By 2020, genetic diversity of cultivated plants, farm livestock, and their wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.
By 2020, ecosystem services, especially those relating to water, human health, livelihoods and well-being, are enumerated and measures to safeguard them are identified, taking into account the needs of women and local communities, particularly the poor and vulnerable sections.
By 2015, Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization as per the Nagoya Protocol are operational, consistent with national legislation.
By 2020, an effective, participatory and updated national biodiversity action plan is made operational at different levels of governance.
By 2020, national initiatives using communities’ traditional knowledge relating to biodiversity are strengthened, with the view to protecting this knowledge in accordance with national legislation and international obligations.
By 2020, opportunities to increase the availability of financial, human and technical resources to facilitate effective implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the national targets are identified and the Strategy for Resource Mobilization is adopted.
What are Aichi Targets?
The ‘Aichi Targets’ were adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at its Nagoya conference. It is a short term plan provides a set of 20ambitious yet achievable targets, collectively known as the Aichi Targets. They can be divided into:
Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.
Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use.
Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.
Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building.
Source: The Hindu
NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft has set a new milestone in cosmic exploration by entering orbit around an asteroid, Bennu, the smallest object ever to be circled by a human-made spaceship.
OSIRIS-Rex is the first-ever US mission designed to visit an asteroid and return a sample of its dust back to Earth. The $800 million (roughly Rs. 5,600 crores) unmanned spaceship launched two years ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida and arrived December 3 at its destination, some 70 million miles (110 million kilometres) away.
The plan is for OSIRIS-REx to orbit Bennu through mid-February, using a suite of five scientific instruments to map the asteroid in high resolution to help scientists decide precisely where to sample from.
Then, in 2020, it will reach out with its robotic arm and touch the asteroid in a maneuver Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager with Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, described as a “gentle high-five.”
Using a circular device much like a car’s air filter, and a reverse vacuum to stir up and collect dust, the device aims to grab about two ounces (60 grams) of material from the asteroid’s surface, and return it to Earth in 2023.
About the mission:
OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, which previously sent the New Horizons spacecraft zooming by Pluto and the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.
Why was Bennu chosen?
Bennu was selected for a the OSIRIS-REx mission from over 500,000 known asteroids, due to it fitting a number of key criteria. These include:
Proximity to Earth: In order for OSIRIS-REx to reach its destination in a reasonable timeframe, NASA needed to find an asteroid which had a similar orbit to Earth.
Size: Small asteroids, those less than 200m in diameter, typically spin much faster than larger asteroids, meaning the regolith material can be ejected into space. Bennu is around 500m in diameter, so rotates slowly enough to ensure that the regolith stays on its surface.
Composition: Bennu is a primitive asteroid, meaning it hasn’t significantly changed since the beginning of the Solar System (over 4 billion years ago). It is also very carbon-rich, meaning it may contain organic molecules, which could have been precursors to life on Earth.
Additionally, Bennu is of interest as it is a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years, Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, which means it has a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.
Source: The Hindu
NASA New Horizons
On January 1, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft became the first explorer to fly past the mysterious object- Ultima Thule, located some 4 billion miles from Earth.
This is a historic flyby of the farthest, and quite possibly the oldest, cosmic body ever explored by humankind.
Key facts- Ultima Thule:
Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune.
It measures approximately 30 km in diameter, and is irregularly shaped.
Ultima Thule has a reddish color, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years.
Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the “cold classicals”, which have nearly circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane.
New Horizons was launched on 19 January 2006, and has been travelling through space for the past nine years. New Horizon’s core science mission is to map the surfaces of Pluto and Charon, to study Pluto’s atmosphere and to take temperature readings.
Source: The Hindu
Space Activities Bill, 2017
The government is likely to introduce the Space Activities Bill, 2017, which will allow commercial use of space, in the budget session of 2019.
Features of Space activities bill 2017:
It is a proposed Bill to promote and regulate the space activities of India.
The new Bill encourages the participation of non-governmental/private sector agencies in space activities in India under the guidance and authorisation of the government through the Department of Space.
The provisions of this Act shall apply to every citizen of India and to all sectors engaged in any space activity in India or outside India.
A non-transferable licence shall be provided by the Central Government to any person carrying out commercial space activity.
The Central Government will formulate the appropriate mechanism for licensing, eligibility criteria, and fees for licence.
The government will maintain a register of all space objects (any object launched or intended to be launched around the earth) and develop more space activity plans for the country.
It will provide professional and technical support for commercial space activity and regulate the procedures for conduct and operation of space activity.
It will ensure safety requirements and supervise the conduct of every space activity of India and investigate any incident or accident in connection with the operation of a space activity.
It will share details about the pricing of products created by space activity and technology with any person or any agency in a prescribed manner.
If any person undertakes any commercial space activity without authorisation they shall be punished with imprisonment up to 3 years or fined more than ₹1 crore or both.
Need for a legislation on outer space:
There is a need for national space legislation for supporting the overall growth of the space activities in India. This would encourage enhanced participation of non-governmental/private sector agencies in space activities in India, in compliance with international treaty obligations, which is becoming very relevant today.
Source: The Hindu
Indo – US 2+2 Dialogue
Recognizing their two countries are strategic partners, major and independent stakeholders in world affairs, the Ministers committed to work together on regional and global issues, including in bilateral, trilateral, and quadrilateral formats.
The two sides further decided to establish secure communication between the Minister of External Affairs of India and the U.S. Secretary of State, and between the Minister of Defence of India and the U.S. Secretary of Defense, to help maintain regular high-level communication on emerging developments.
Strengthening the Defense and Security Partnership:
The Ministers welcomed the inclusion of India by the United States among the top tier of countries entitled to license-free exports, re-exports, and transfers under License Exception Strategic Trade Authorization (STA-1) and committed to explore other means to support further expansion in two-way trade in defense manufacturing supply chain linkages.
They welcomed the signing of a Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), facilitate access to advanced defense systems and enable India to optimally utilize its existing U.S. origin platforms.
The Ministers announced their readiness to begin negotiations on an Industrial Security Annex (ISA) that would support closer defense industry cooperation and collaboration.
After recognizing the recent bilateral engagements, the Ministers committed to start exchanges between the S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the Indian Navy, underscoring the importance of deepening their maritime cooperation in the western Indian Ocean.
Through the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), the ministers committed to prioritize co-production and co-development projects to pursue other avenues of defense innovation cooperation. Further they welcomed the conclusion of a Memorandum of Intent between the S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the Indian Defense Innovation Organization – Innovation for Defence Excellence (DIO-iDEX).
The Ministers announced to increase information-sharing efforts on known or suspected terrorists and to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2396 on returning foreign terrorist fighters.
Partners in the Indo-Pacific and Beyond:
The Ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to a united, sovereign, democratic, inclusive, stable, prosperous, and peaceful Afghanistan. The two sides expressed their support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.
India welcomed the recent U.S. – North Korea summit. The two sides pledged to work together to counter North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs and to hold accountable those countries that have supported them.
The United States welcomed India’s accession to the Australia Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Missile Technology Control Regime and reiterated its full support for India’s immediate accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Promoting Prosperity and People-to People Ties:
Both countries committed to further expanding and balancing the trade and economic partnership consistent with their leaders’ 2017 joint statement, including by facilitating trade, improving market access, and addressing issues of interest to both sides.
Thus, both sides welcomed the ongoing exchanges between the Ministry of Commerce of India and the Office of the United States Trade Representative and hoped for mutually acceptable outcomes.
Both sides looked forward to full implementation of the civil nuclear energy partnership and collaboration between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company for the establishment of six nuclear power plants in India.
Observing the strong ties of family, education, and business, and the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that unite their people, the Ministers highlighted the unmatched people-to-people ties between their countries and recognized the benefits to both nations and the world from these ties, including the free flow of ideas and collaboration in health, space, oceans, and other areas of science and technology.
The next 2+2 meeting is to be held in the United States in 2019.
Establishing Gas Trading Hub/Exchange in the country
It has been agreed to establish the gas trading hub(s)/exchange(s) in the country wherein the natural gas can be freely traded and supplied through a market mechanism.
Development of Natural Gas Grid:
To develop the natural gas grid, Government has taken a decision to provide a capital grant of Rs. 5176 crore (i.e. 40% of the estimated capital cost of Rs. 12,940 Crore) to GAIL for development of a 2655 Km long Jaddishpur-Haldia/Bokaro-Dhamra Gas Pipeline (JHBDPL) project.
This pipeline will transport Natural Gas to the industrial, commercial, domestic and transport sectors in the States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
An Integrated Refinery-cum-Petrochemical Complex:
Oil Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) namely Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) have decided to set up an integrated refinery-cum-petrochemical complex with a refining capacity of 60 MMTPA (Million Metric Tonnes Per Annum) at Babulwadi, Taluka Rajapur in Ratnagiri District in the state of Maharashtra.
The establishment of a hub is an attempt to meet operators’ demands for the adoption of a market-based gas-pricing regime. But India faces challenges in making the dream a reality, amid concerns over third-party access and competition.
The gas hub plan ties in with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to boost the share of natural gas in India’s energy mix to 15% by 2030, from just over 6% now.
Domestic supply is also increasing. ONGC, India’s largest producer, supplied 23.5bn cubic meters of gas in the 2017-18 financial year and plans to almost double this within the next four years.
The Indian authorities, are considering overhauling the policy of fixed domestic gas prices, currently based on a formula derived from prices in the US, Canada, UK and Russia. Delhi sees itself as a potential candidate for Asia’s largest LNG trading hub, in a region that lacks accurate benchmarks reflecting Asian gas fundamentals.
India’s ranking on major global indices in 2018- a quick recap
In World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings portray, we rank 77th on a list of 190 economies that are doing well for businesses. India improved its rank substantially on the Ease of Doing Business index from 132 in 2016, to 100 in 2017, and further to 77 in 2018.
In the Human Development Index (HDI), compiled by the United Nations Development Program, taking parameters like education, health and income into account, India has done slightly better than the previous year as it climbed up a spot from 131 to 130 out of 189 nations.
In Happiness Index, India slipped 11 spots from 122nd rank of 2017 to become the 133rd happiest nation in the world. It is an annual publication carried out by United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network since 2012.
In the Global Peace Index, India has performed poorly and has done just a shade better than its previous performance of 137 as we rank 136 this time. Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Denmark and Canada are the most peaceful countries, according to GPI.
Global Hunger Index has also shown a fall in India’s ranking from the past year. While India ranked 100th in a list of 119 countries last year, the 2018 performance is worse as now it is on 103rd spot. According to the report, “a ranking below 100 shows that a country’s undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality levels are at the highest level.”