India to set up agriculture institute in Malawi
India has signed an agreement with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development Consultancy Service (NABCONS) for setting up the India-Africa Institute of Agriculture and Rural Development (IAIARD) in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa.
The agreement is a part of India’s efforts to enhance capacity in the areas of agro-financing and entrepreneurship development for African countries.
About India-Africa Institute of Agriculture and Rural Development (IAIARD):
IAIARD will be a Pan-African Institute wherein trainees from Malawi and other African countries will be trained to develop their human resources and build their capacity.
The entire expenditure on India faculty, their travel, logistics and training course expenses for students from other African countries will be borne by the Indian Government for an initial period of three years.
IAIARD will develop training programmes in the areas of micro-financing and agro-financing, among others.
This will be the first of its kind institute developed in an African country by India. This will further strengthen the bilateral relations between India and Malawi and that of India’s relations with the African Union.
Bilateral Maritime Exercise ‘AUSINDEX-19’
The third edition of ‘AUSINDEX-19’ (Australia India Exercise), bilateral maritime exercise between Indian Navy and Royal Australian Navy is being held at Visakhapatnam.
Objective: The exercise seeks to ‘strengthen and enhance mutual cooperation and interoperability between the Indian Navy and Royal Australian Navy, providing opportunities for interaction and exchange of professional views between the personnel of the two navies’.
Checkpoint Tipline by Whatsapp
WhatApp has unveiled a brand new initiative, called Checkpoint Tipline, that will help people verify if any information they receive is true or false.
Launched by PROTO, an India-based media skilling startup, the tipline is basically aimed at creating a database of rumours. The idea is to study misinformation spread ahead of the upcoming elections for Checkpoint, which is a research project commissioned and technically assisted by WhatsApp.
How it works?
WhatsApp users can submit all the information received through the messaging platform and that they are uncertain about to the ‘Tipline’ on WhatsApp (+91-9643-000-888).
Following this, PROTO’s verification centre will “seek to respond and inform the user” if the information received is verified or not.
The response will indicate if information is classified as true, false, misleading, disputed or out of scope and include any other related information that is available.
The verification centre, in turn, will be able to review rumors in the form of pictures, video links or text. Apart from English, it will cover four regional languages – Hindi, Telugu, Bengali and Malayalam.
This is not the first time the global messaging platform has tried to filter the barrage of information exchanged every day by billions of users. In the aftermath of a series of mob lynching incidents following misinformation spreading on WhatsApp, the company is now taking stringent steps in the lead up to the 2019 general elections in India.
It has also undertaken many efforts to battle fake news, including the five-forward limit, social campaigns, and the latest – a ‘Tipline’ for misinformation.
Source: The Hindu
Global Report on Food Crises 2019
It is a report released jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and EU.
Key findings in the latest report:
Approximately 113 million people in 53 countries experienced high levels of food insecurity last year. These crises are primarily driven by conflict and climate-related disasters.
The number going chronically-hungry has remained well over 100 million over the past three years, with the number of countries affected, rising.
According to the report, nearly two-thirds of those facing acute hunger come from just eight countries: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Climate and natural disasters pushed another 29 million people into acute food insecurity in 2018 and that number excludes 13 countries – including North Korea and Venezuela – because of data gaps.
Despite a slight drop in 2018 in the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity – the most extreme form of hunger – the figure is still far too high.
Need of the hour:
We must act at scale across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus to build the resilience of affected and vulnerable populations. To save lives, we also have to save livelihoods.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.
Headquarters: Rome, Italy
Founded: 16 October 1945
Goal of FAO: Their goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.
Origin: Established by the Conference at its Third Session (1947) to replace the original “Executive Committee of FAO” in accordance with a recommendation of the Preparatory Commission on World Food Proposals.
Purpose: The Council, within the limits of the powers, acts as the Conference’s executive organ between sessions. It exercises functions dealing with the world food and agriculture situation and related matters, current and prospective activities of the Organization, including its Programme of Work and Budget, administrative matters and financial management of the Organization and constitutional matters.
Source: The Hindu
Committees to hear and decide on complaints against CIC and ICs
The Centre is planning to setup bureaucrat-led committees to hear and decide on complaints against the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs). This move has evoked sharp criticism from Right to Information (RTI) activists and former Information Commissioners.
The proposed change would be in contravention to the current Right To Information (RTI) law and therefore is being seen by the CIC as “an attempt to erode its independence and undermine its role.”
Concerns and issues associated with this move:
Central Information Commission must function autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this Act (Section 12(4) or RTI Act). The committees proposed are not authorities under this Act. Government cannot create any such authority in the absence of any enabling provision in the Act.
What can be done?
The current proposal under discussion creates issues of conflict of interest. A possible solution, though there can be more, is the creation of a committee which will be comprised of one member from every party represented in either House to examine complaints against information officers of a serious nature.
These may be vetted and screened for removal of frivolous or baseless allegations by another committee of MPs who are elected as Independents. The removal of these complaints should also be time-bound and designed such that there is no domination of treasury benches.
There also needs to be a better process to handle complaints against these people but the complaints should be done within the commission itself and the finding should be published on the website.
Of course, if there is a recording of every proceeding, it will go a long way in handling this kind of issue.
Current checks and balances- Section 14 in The Right To Information Act, 2005:
Subject to the provisions of sub‑section (3), the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner shall be removed from his office only by order of the President on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity after the Supreme Court, on a reference made to it by the President, has, on inquiry, reported that the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner, as the case may be, ought on such ground be removed.
The President may suspend from office, and if deem necessary prohibit also from attending the office during inquiry, the Chief Information Commissioner or Information Commissioner in respect of whom a reference has been made to the Supreme Court under sub‑section (1) until the President has passed orders on receipt of the report of the Supreme Court on such reference.
Notwithstanding anything contained in sub‑section (1), the President may by order remove from office the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner if the Chief Information Commissioner or a Information Commissioner, as the case may be:
is adjudged an insolvent; or
has been convicted of an offence which, in the opinion of the President, involves moral turpitude; or
engages during his term of office in any paid employment outside the duties of his office; or
is, in the opinion of the President, unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body; or
has acquired such financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially his functions as the Chief Information Commissioner or a Information Commissioner.
If the Chief Information Commissioner or an Information Commissioner is, in any way, concerned or interested in any contract or agreement made by or on behalf of the Government of India or participates in any way in the profit thereof or in any benefit or emolument arising therefrom otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company, he shall, for the purposes of sub‑section (1), be deemed to be guilty of misbehaviour.
Source: The Hindu
Ways and Means Advances (WMA)
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in consultation with the government of India has set the limits for Ways and Means Advances (WMA) for the first half of the financial year 2019-20 (April 2019 to September 2019) at Rs 75000 crore.
The Reserve Bank of India gives temporary loan facilities to the centre and state governments as a banker to government. This temporary loan facility is called Ways and Means Advances (WMA).
The WMA for the Central Government:
The WMA scheme for the Central Government was introduced on April 1, 1997, after putting an end to the four-decade old system of adhoc (temporary) Treasury Bills to finance the Central Government deficit.
The WMA scheme was designed to meet temporary mismatches in the receipts and payments of the government. This facility can be availed by the government if it needs immediate cash from the RBI. The WMA is to be vacated after 90 days. Interest rate for WMA is currently charged at the repo rate. The limits for WMA are mutually decided by the RBI and the Government of India.
When the WMA limit is crossed the government takes recourse to overdrafts, which are not allowed beyond 10 consecutive working days. The interest rate on overdrafts would be 2 percent more than the repo rate.
The minimum balance required to be maintained by the Government of India with the Reserve Bank of India will not be less than Rs.100 crore on Fridays, on the date of closure of Government of India’s financial year and on June 30, the date of closure of the annual accounts of the RBI, and not less than Rs.10 crore on other days.
The cash management of GoI has considerably deteriorated in the recent past, with situations of large surplus and large deficit. This has put tremendous pressure of RBI with respect to liquidity management and conduct of monetary policy.
WMA Scheme for State Governments:
Under the WMA scheme for the State Governments, there are two types of WMA – Special and Normal WMA.
Special WMA is extended against the collateral (mortgaging) of the government securities held by the State Government.
After the exhaustion of the special WMA limit, the State Government is provided a normal WMA. The normal WMA limits are based on three-year average of actual revenue and capital expenditure of the state. The withdrawal above the WMA limit is considered an overdraft.
A State Government account can be in overdraft for a maximum 14 consecutive working days with a limit of 36 days in a quarter. The rate of interest on WMA is linked to the Repo Rate. Surplus balances of State Governments are invested in Government of India 14-day Intermediate Treasury bills in accordance with the instructions of the State Governments.
Source: The Hindu
After 32 years, the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which gives sweeping powers to security forces, was partially removed from three of nine districts of Arunachal Pradesh but would remain in force in the areas bordering Myanmar.
The state, which was formed on February 20, 1987, had inherited the controversial AFSPA enacted by Parliament in 1958 and applied to the entire State of Assam and the Union Territory of Manipur. After Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland came into being, the Act was appropriately adapted to apply to these states as well.
What does the AFSPA mean?
In simple terms, AFSPA gives armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”. They have the authority to prohibit a gathering of five or more persons in an area, can use force or even open fire after giving due warning if they feel a person is in contravention of the law. If reasonable suspicion exists, the army can also arrest a person without a warrant; enter or search premises without a warrant; and ban the possession of firearms.
Any person arrested or taken into custody may be handed over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station along with a report detailing the circumstances that led to the arrest.
What is a “disturbed area” and who has the power to declare it?
A disturbed area is one which is declared by notification under Section 3 of the AFSPA. An area can be disturbed due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.
The Central Government, or the Governor of the State or administrator of the Union Territory can declare the whole or part of the State or Union Territory as a disturbed area. A suitable notification would have to be made in the Official Gazette. As per Section 3, it can be invoked in places where “the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”.
What’s the origin of AFSPA?
The Act came into force in the context of increasing violence in the Northeastern States decades ago, which the State governments found difficult to control. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and it was approved by the President on September 11, 1958. It became known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958.
What are the special powers given to army officials?
Under Section 4 of the AFSPA, an authorised officer in a disturbed area enjoys certain powers. The authorised officer has the power to open fire at any individual even if it results in death if the individual violates laws which prohibit (a) the assembly of five or more persons; or (b) carrying of weapons. However, the officer has to give a warning before opening fire.
The authorised officer has also been given the power to (a) arrest without a warrant; and (b) seize and search without any warrant any premise in order to make an arrest or recovery of hostages, arms and ammunitions.
Individuals who have been taken into custody have to be handed over to the nearest police station as soon as possible.
Prosecution of an authorised officer requires prior permission of the Central government.
What has been the role of the judiciary?
There were questions about the constitutionality of AFSPA, given that law and order is a state subject. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of AFSPA in a 1998 judgement (Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights v. Union of India).
In this judgement, the Supreme Court arrived at certain conclusions including (a) a suo-motto declaration can be made by the Central government, however, it is desirable that the state government should be consulted by the central government before making the declaration; (b) AFSPA does not confer arbitrary powers to declare an area as a ‘disturbed area’; (c) the declaration has to be for a limited duration and there should be a periodic review of the declaration 6 months have expired; (d) while exercising the powers conferred upon him by AFSPA, the authorised officer should use minimal force necessary for effective action, and (e) the authorised officer should strictly follow the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ issued by the army.
Has there been any review of the Act?
On November 19, 2004, the Central government appointed a five member committee headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy to review the provisions of the act in the north eastern states.
The committee submitted its report in 2005, which included the following recommendations: (a) AFSPA should be repealed and appropriate provisions should be inserted in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967; (b) The Unlawful Activities Act should be modified to clearly specify the powers of the armed forces and paramilitary forces and (c) grievance cells should be set up in each district where the armed forces are deployed.
The 5th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission on public order has also recommended the repeal of the AFSPA.
These recommendations have not been implemented.
Source: The Hindu
NCR districts switch to Euro-VI grade fuels (BS-VI fuels). The supply of ultra-clean Euro-VI grade fuel (also known as Bharat Stage VI grade fuel) began in cities adjoining the National Capital Region (NCR) on April 1, 2019.
Delhi in April 2018 became the first city in the country to roll-out ultra-clean Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI) grade fuel, both petrol and diesel.
What are BS norms?
The BS — or Bharat Stage — emission standards are norms instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles. India has been following the European (Euro) emission norms, though with a time-lag of five years.
Difference between BS-IV and the new BS-VI:
The major difference in standards between the existing BS-IV and the new BS-VI auto fuel norms is the presence of sulphur. The newly introduced fuel is estimated to reduce the amount of sulphur released by 80%, from 50 parts per million to 10 ppm. As per the analysts, the emission of NOx (nitrogen oxides) from diesel cars is also expected to reduce by nearly 70% and 25% from cars with petrol engines.
Why is it important to upgrade these norms?
Upgrading to stricter fuel standards helps tackle air pollution. Global automakers are betting big on India as vehicle penetration is still low here, when compared to developed countries. At the same time, cities such as Delhi are already being listed among those with the poorest air quality in the world. The national capital’s recent odd-even car experiment and judicial activism against the registration of big diesel cars shows that governments can no longer afford to relax on this front.
With other developing countries such as China having already upgraded to the equivalent of Euro V emission norms a while ago, India has been lagging behind. The experience of countries such as China and Malaysia shows that poor air quality can be bad for business. Therefore, these reforms can put India ahead in the race for investments too.
Source: The Hindu
US approves sale of 24 MH 60 helicopters to India
The MH-60 Romeo Seahawk helicopter is considered to be the world’s most advanced maritime helicopter.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the helicopters are designed to hunt down submarines, as well as knock out ships and conduct search-and-rescue operations at sea.
They will provide the Indian defence forces with the capability to perform anti-surface and antisubmarine warfare missions along with the ability to perform secondary missions including vertical replenishment, search and rescue and communications relay.
Indian Army built longest suspension bridge at Leh
The Indian Army has successfully built the longest suspension bridge ‘Matiri Bridge’ over the Indus River in the Leh-Ladakh region.
Suspension Bridge constructed over Indus River by Combat Engineers ‘Fire & Fury Corps’.
The 260-feet long suspension bridge was built in a record time of 40 days.
Japan on April 1, 2019 declared ‘Reiwa’ as the name of its new imperial era that will begin on May 1, 2019 once the new Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed his father Emperor Akihito, who will abdicate the empire on April 30, 2019, putting an end to three decades long ‘Heisei’ era.
The new era will be the 248th in the history of Japan.
Japan’s emperor has no political power, but remains a highly symbolic figure.