Current Affairs -- as given by competition master.com March 2012
Union Cabinet okays national cold chain centerOn February 9, 2012, the Union Cabinet cleared the notification of National Center for Cold Chain Development (NCCD), tasked with establishing infrastructure and logistics to preserve fruit, vegetables and other perishable items as a registered society. The society will be a public-private initiative involving two leading industry chambers as well.
India is the second largest producer of horticulture commodities such as fruits, vegetables and flowers in the world. But a significant part of that goes waste due to lack of cold chain facilities.
Some 71.5 million tonnes of fruit, 133.7 million tonnes of vegetables and 17.8 million tonnes of other perishable commodities like flowers, spices, coconut, cashew, mushroom and honey are produced annually.
The NCCD will be mandated with prescribing technical standards for cold chain infrastructure and undertaking their periodic revision, besides human resource development programmes for meeting the needs of skilled manpower of the cold chain sector.
Now a green revolution in the east
The eastern region of India, which occasionally hits the headlines for starvation deaths, has turned into a food surplus-zone, thanks to a special programme launched in 2010-11 to boost productivity in the area.
“Bringing green revolution in eastern India programme” (BGREI), has resulted in a robust increase in foodgrains production. Rice production from the region is estimated at 562.6 lakh tones, an increase of 19.8% over 2010-11. The increase across the country is estimated at 7%. Overall foodgrain production from the region is estimated at 1,032 lakh tonnes, an increase of 11.9% against an all India increase of 2.2%.
The programme was an initiative taken by the Prime Minster, based on the recommendations of Inter Ministerial Task Force. The BGREI is a part of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVYJ ) programme with an outlay of Rs 400 crore. This scheme was implemented in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, eastern Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The programme gained momentum in 2011-12 with the focus on rice and wheat and strategic interventions relating to crop production, water harvesting and recycling, asset building and site specific activities needed for improving the agronomy-adopting cluster approach aimed at enhancing the productivity per unit area and the income of the farmers, the statement said.
State of forest report
India recorded a net loss of 367 sq km of forests between 2009 and 2011, with Khammam district in Andhra Pradesh alone losing 182 sq km of green cover in the period, the latest state of forest report has found.
The report is prepared biennially by the Forest Survey of India, the Dehradun-based wing of the Union environment and forests ministry.
The loss in Andhra Pradesh has been attributed to Left-wing extremists chopping off forests illegally, and the paper pulp industry harvesting old eucalyptus plantations in Khammam.
Khammam had also recorded a 56% loss of forests between 2007 and 2009, as per the ministry’s reports. This reduction too had been apportioned to the cutting of plantations by the government in 2009.
The explanation blaming loss of green cover on Naxals was also odd, considering Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, which currently witness a far stronger presence of Left-wing extremists, have either seen growth or stagnation of their forest cover. In Chhattisgarh,a net loss of 4 sq km of forests was recorded, while Jharkhand saw a net gain of 83 sq km.
India hopes to be polio-free by 2014
India is inching closer to the goal of polio eradication and hopes to be free of the deadly viral infection by 2014. In fact, transmission is at an all-time low, making a strong case for WHO to consider taking India off the list of polio-endemic countries, which also include Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, government is likely to step up surveillance at airports to rule out chances of cases coming in from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio is endemic. Thus far, such surveillance is happening only in case of children entering India via rail or road.
Strategies to combat the virus were discussed at the two-day Polio Summit, held on February 25, 2012, in New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened the summit, which was attended by health ministers of Pakistan and Nigeria.
The summit celebrated India’s huge polio success—of reduced infection cases, from two lakh annually in 1988 to zero in 2011. The last child who got wild polio virus 1 was Rukhsar from Howrah. Today, she is a motivator for UNICEF, going door to door, asking parents to get children for polio drops. Rukhsar, infected on January 13, 2011, had never received polio drops.
So far as India’s hopes of eradication go (for WHO's eradication status, nations must be able to remain polio-free for three consecutive years), they are real.
Environmental samples have been taken from sewage disposal sites in four migration hubs of India—Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Patna. This has been done to gauge presence of virus in the air.
In 2009, most Mumbai samples tested positive. But in 2011, all samples across four sites were negative. This means the virus is not circulating in the environment.
GDP growth forecast revised
India’s GDP growth is poised to fall to sub-7 per cent at 6.9 per cent, the lowest in three years with low investor confidence, high interest rates, governance deficit being cited as reasons for the slowdown.
The sub-7 per cent figure comes as compared to 8.4 per cent in 2009-10 and, in terms of sectoral break-up, the GDP growth is estimated at 2.5 per cent in agriculture, 3.9 per cent in manufacturing and 9.4 per cent in services sector.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the main reason for decline in GDP growth was slowdown in industrial growth, in particular investment growth.
However, he exuded some hope and said there had been some encouraging signs in the recent weeks in business sentiment, Rupee exchange rate, moderation in headline inflation, possibility of a bumper Rabi crop, and continued strong performance of the services sector which should help in recovering the growth momentum.
Both consumption and investment demand slowed down in 2011-12, said CII in a statement, resulting in the slowest GDP growth in the past three years. Among sectors, the slowdown in industry is quite stark, with the manufacturing sector growing at an even lower rate than in 2008-09 when the global financial crisis first set in.
Millennium Development Goals: India lags far behind
Poverty has declined marginally in India, but the country shares the top position with Afghanistan for the largest number of hungry and malnourished people, and also for the largest number of children dying in infancy, in the Asia-Pacific region, indicating the poor health and nutrition status in Asia’s third-largest economy.
India’s failure to remove hunger, the first of the eight millennium development goals (MDGs), and the unlikelihood of achieving it by 2015, has been indicated by an assessment of regional progress towards the MDGs.
The report, “Accelerating equitable achievement of the MDGs: Closing the gaps in health and nutrition in Asia and the Pacific”, was jointly published by the United Nations Development Programme, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Asian Development Bank.
The report has warned that the present rate of progress in the region as a whole was unlikely to meet MDGs related to eradicating hunger, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, among others.
The report has suggested preparations for the second phase of MDGs, subsequent to the target year 2015, as it believes the present goals are unlikely to be achieved in the matter of hunger, water supply, infant survival and underweight babies in many countries, including India.
The region has reached the MDG of halving the incidence of poverty, reducing the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day from 50 to 22 per cent between 1990 and 2009.
The region has also achieved some other MDG indicators ahead of the target year 2015, including promoting gender equality in education, reducing HIV prevalence and stopping the spread of tuberculosis, increasing forest cover, reducing consumption of ozone depleting substances and halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water.
Pitroda panel report on Railway modernisation
The Pitroda panel on railway modernisation has said the organisation needs Rs 8.23 lakh crore over the next five years to give it a complete makeover. The Railways requires a gross budgetary support of Rs 2.5 lakh crore, which is around 30 per cent of the total finances needed to get it on par with global standards.
Besides pointing to the financial needs of the Railways, the report, which was handed over to Rail Minister Dinesh Trivedi on February 27, 2012, stresses on major overhauling of the signal system, tracks and locomotives.
The committee has also recommended a dividend waiver for the Railways to save the national transporter from collapse. Over five years, Rs 24,000 crore can be made available through waiver of dividend alone.
The Pitroda panel also suggested the sources from which the Railways could generate funds for its modernisation. For the total funding of Rs 8,22,671 crore, Rs 2,50,000 crore would come from Gross Budgetary Support, Rs 2,01,805 crore from internal generation, Rs 1,01,000 crore from leasing and borrowings, Rs 2,29,024 crore from public-private partnerships, Rs 24,000 crore from dividend rebate and Rs 16,842 crore from Road Safety Fund.
While suggesting a major technology upgrade, the committee said to ensure that the Railways do not have to look abroad for newer technology, special courses should be introduced at IITs and IIMs. Also, the existing training set-up should be reviewed and restructured. The panel also suggested that the Railway Board should be re-organised. It suggested the development of PPP models and policies to attract investment to augment core capabilities such as stations, high-speed lines, coach manufacturing, captive power generation and renewable energy projects. It also suggested establishing an Indian Institute of Railway Research with Centres of Excellence.
India, China joins hands to tackle sea piracy
Faced with persistent threats from pirates operating off the coast of Somalia, India and China have started cooperating with each other, roping in Japan to tackle piracy.
This is the first working relationship on the high seas between the Indian Navy and China’s People Liberation Army (Navy). The two armies have so far worked under an agreement to patrol land borders and also follow a protocol when faced with each other on the disputed Line of Actual Control.
Warships from India, China and Japan have been deployed independently. Their role is conducting independent anti-piracy patrols in the internationally recognised transit corridor—a 480 nautical mile (approx 890 km) long area in the Gulf of Aden. The 92-km wide corridor starts at the confluence of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and extends eastwards towards the Arabian Sea.
The three have so far not been part of the Combined Task Force-151, essentially a NATO-led force for anti-piracy, and nor are they part of the Eunavfor, another grouping of European countries along similar lines. Merchant ship operators have been keen that nations like India, China and Japan, that are not part of the big groupings and operate independently, should cooperate among themselves as their standalone warships would then be of greater help in tackling piracy.
India has a warship on duty in the transit corridor since October 2008. China has two warships and a fleet tanker that replenishes supplies while the Japanese also have two warships along with a maritime reconnaissance plane based in Djibouti, close to Somalia.
To facilitate sharing of information, a counter-piracy platform exists and that is named Shared Awareness and De-confliction (SHADE). It meets on a quarterly basis at Bahrain and has a convoy coordination group that provides merchant ships with naval warship protection. All navies that send warships to escort merchant vessels are extended members of SHADE. Its primary aim is to ensure effective coordination and de-confliction of military resources and operations in combating piracy.
Visit of Prime Minister of Mauritius
Prime Minister of Mauritius Navinchandra Ramgoolam reached India on February 7, 2011, for a six-day official visit to ramp up bilateral economic and security ties. During his visit, several agreements in the field of economics and security were signed.
Supreme Court cancels 122 spectrum licences
In a huge embarrassment to the government and a jolt to the telecom sector, the Supreme Court, on February 2, 2012, cancelled 122 2G licences granted during the tenure of former Telecom Minister A Raja declaring it as “illegal” and blamed the government's flawed first-come-first-served policy.
In a second crucial verdict, the court refused to order a probe into the alleged role of Home Minister P. Chidambaram in the spectrum scam. It said the special CBI court that is holding trial against former Raja and others will decide as to whether the CBI should also investigate the alleged role of Chidambaram in spectrum pricing in 2008 when he was the Finance Minister.
In a separate 11-page order, the SC Bench rejected a plea for appointing a monitoring team for supervising the CBI probe in the 2G case. It said the CBI “has satisfactorily conducted the investigation” since the SC order on December 16, 2010. However, the apex court asked the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and the Senior Vigilance Commissioner to assist the SC for “effectively monitoring the further investigation of the case”. It directed the CBI, ED and I-T department to submit periodic status reports to the CVC for scrutiny.
The Bench directed the government to sell the licences and the 2G (second generation) spectrum afresh through auction within three months. The auction should be held on the basis of fresh recommendations from telecom regulator TRAI, the apex court said. It asked the regulator to come out with its recommendations based on the auction method followed for the sale of 3G spectrum within two months.
In the 85-page verdict written by Justice Singhvi, the court clarified that today’s cancellation of 122 licences embedded with the 2G spectrum “shall become operative after four months” by when the proposed auctions would have been through.
The apex court delivered the judgment on PILs filed by NGOs—Centre for PIL (CPIL), Lok Satta and Common Cause—and Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy.
The Bench held that Raja, who has since been arrested and charge-sheeted, went ahead and issued licences “rejecting” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s advice for “transparency and fairness” and “brushing aside” then Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily’s suggestion for leaving the pricing to an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM).
Raja also “did not consult the Finance Minister (P. Chidambaram) or officers of the Finance Ministry” as he was “very much conscious of the fact that the Secretary, Finance, had objected to the allocation of 2G spectrum at rates fixed in 2001,” the court noted. Pointing out that Raja had also “arbitrarily” changed the cut-off dates for the receipt and consideration of applications for licences, the apex court noted that though this action “appears to be innocuous was actually intended to benefit some real estate companies that did not have any experience in dealing with telecom services and had made applications” just a day before the September 25, 2007 cut-off.
Further, the September 25 cut-off date decided by Raja on November 2, 2007 was not made public till January 20, 2008 and the first-come, first-served (FCFS) principle that was being followed since 2003 was changed by him at the last moment through a press release on January 10, 2008.
“This enabled some of the applicants, who had access either to the minister or officers of the DoT to get the bank drafts etc. prepared towards performance guarantee etc. of about Rs 1,600 crore,” the SC held.
“The manner in which the exercise for grant of Letters of Intent (LoIs) to the applicants was conducted leaves no room for doubt that everything was stage-managed to favour those who were able to know in advance change in the implementation of the FCFS principle,” the Bench noted.
The Bench imposed a cost of Rs 5 crore each on telecom companies Etisalat, Unitech and Tata Teleservices and Rs 50 lakh each on Loop, Estel, Allianz Infratech and Systema Shyam Teleservices for their involvement in the “wholly arbitrary and unconstitutional exercise”.
The SC accepted in principle Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati’s contention that the judiciary should exercise its power of review with “great care and circumspection” and avoid interfering with the policy decisions of the government in financial matters.
Merger norms in telecom sector eased
On February 15, 2012, the Union government came out with new broad guidelines for the telecom sector for spectrum management and licensing framework. From now, all future licences will be unified licences and allocation of spectrum will be delinked from the licences.
In a major advantage to old GSM operators, the government has said that all service providers would be allowed to hold higher spectrum of up to 10 MHz which would help them offer quality services.
Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) would now be easier. Merger up to 35 per cent market share of the resultant entity will be allowed through a simple, quick procedure. The market share would be determined based on total subscriber base of the merged entity and the AGR of the licencees.
The prescribed limit on spectrum assigned to a service provider will be 2x8 MHz (paired spectrum) for the GSM players for all service areas other than Delhi and Mumbai where it will be 2x10 MHz (paired spectrum).
The current prescribed limit is 6.2 MHz of GSM spectrum. However, the operators would be free to acquire additional frequency beyond the prescribed limit, in the open market, should there be an auction of spectrum, subject to the limits prescribed for merger of licences.
There will be uniform licence fee across all telcom licenses and service areas which will progressively be made equal to eight per cent of the adjusted gross revenue in two yearly set-ups starting from 2012-13. Licence fee is a levy paid by all operators as the annual fee.
The renewal of licence would be done for 10 years. It will not be an automatic continuance of the existing licence condition, including the quantum and the price of spectrum.
NCTC gets notified
On February 4, 2012, the Union government notified the setting up of the ambitious anti-terror body—National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC)—giving it power through an executive order to carry out operations, including arrest, search and seizure, as part of its mandate to be India’s main counter-terror agency. NCTC will become operational from March 1, 2012.
Coming up three weeks after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had approved the NCTC, the notification states that the specialized body will derive powers from the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and towards that end it has been included among the agencies that are designated under the anti-terror law.
NCTC, a fallout of the national humiliation over the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, is supposed to collect and collate intelligence on terror groups and co-ordinate response to threats. Impediments to the exchange of information has been hampering the fight against terror, with crucial inputs often falling through the cracks caused by turf battles among agencies that prefer to work in silos. Aspiring to achieve seamless exchange of inputs, the notification mandates agencies to share their inputs with NCTC.
The NCTC will draw its functional power of search and seizures under the provisions of the UAPA that allows Central agencies such powers in terror-related case, while keeping State police concerned into the loop. It will be headed by a director who will have a core team comprising senior IPS officers, primarily from intelligence agencies.
Director of this anti-terror agency will have full functional autonomy. He will also have the power to seek terror-related information from any central agencies including intelligence units of the CBI, National Investigation Agency, NATGRID, National Technical Research Organization, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and all seven central armed police forces including NSG.
Although the NCTC will work as an integral part of Intelligence Bureau and its director will report to the IB chief and the home minister/home secretary, it will have a focused counter-terrorism jobs, like similar specialized body works in other countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, France, Israel, Russia, China and Japan.
Compulsory retirement for government officers who do not perform
Deadwood in the Indian bureaucracy will not clog the government any longer. The Union government has notified a rule making it compulsory for IAS,IPS and officers from other all-India services to retire in public interest if they fail to clear a review after 15 years of service.
Officers adjudged as inefficient and non-performing will be shown the door. Even those who make the cut will face another review after 25 years of service or on turning 50, whichever happens first.
The measure is part of a package of administrative reforms fast-tracked by the government in the wake of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption agitation. The clean-up act follows initiatives to ensure time-bound delivery of services and a citizens charter to list duties of various departments.
Along with the recent Supreme Court-mandated three-month deadline for the government to deal with a request to sanction prosecution and the court sanctifying a private citizens plea for prosecution, the compulsory review could instill some sense of responsibility in officialdom.
President of Maldives resigns following mutinyMutiny by sections of the police and the army on February 7, 2011, forced Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed to step down and hand over power to the Vice-President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
Nasheed had been facing increasingly violent street protests and a constitutional crisis ever since he got a judge arrested on January 16, after accusing him of being ‘in the pocket’ of his predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for 30 years before Nasheed was swept to power in 2008 as the first democratically elected President of Maldives.
Mohamed Nasheed was a former political prisoner who rose from grassroots activism and journalism.
Nasheed, who was educated in Sri Lanka and Britain, came to power after building a pro-democracy movement with local and foreign support in opposition to the 30-year autocratic rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Gayoom, Asia’s longest-serving leader, ruled the holiday paradise unchallenged for three decades between 1978 and 2008 and repeatedly threw Nasheed in jail over a period of six years. Nasheed recounted once in a television interview that he spent 18 months in solitary confinement as his jailors tried to get him to confess to seeking to overthrow the State.
The media-savvy father of two daughters and holder of a degree in maritime engineering was at one point an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. He formed his Maldivian Democratic Party in exile but then returned home to a hero’s welcome, sweeping 54% of the vote in the 2008 elections.
Nasheed had said after the election that he had forgiven his jailors, the torturers and that he wanted Gayoom to grow old in the Maldives, saying it was a test of our democracy how we treat the former dictator
Yemen vote ensures Saleh’s exit after 33 years
On February 21, 2012, Yemen ushered Ali Abdullah Saleh from power after 33 years, voting to endorse his deputy as President, with a mission to rescue the nation from poverty, chaos and the brink of civil war.
Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the sole consensus candidate, billed the vote as a way to move on after months of protests against Saleh’s rule.
Five persons were killed in violence in Yemen’s south, where a secessionist movement is active, a reminder of the challenges Hadi will face in taming a nation where half of the population of 23 million owns a gun.
The vote makes Saleh the fourth Arab autocrat in a year to be removed from power, after revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. At stake is an economy left in shambles, where 42 per cent live on less than $2 per day and runaway inflation is driving up food and fuel prices.
Voters dipped their thumbs in ink and stamped their print on a ballot paper bearing a picture of Hadi and a map of Yemen in the colours of the rainbow. A high turnout was crucial to give Hadi the legitimacy he needs to carry out changes outlined in a US-backed power transfer deal brokered by Yemen’s Gulf neighbours, including the drafting of a new constitution, restructuring of armed forces and multi-party elections.
Athens burns as Greece meets conditions for Euro 130 bn rescue deal
On February 13, 2012, the Greek government came under pressure to convince sceptical European capitals that it would stick to the terms of a multi-billion euro rescue package endorsed by lawmakers during violent protests on the streets of Athens.
Greek Parliament backed drastic cuts in wages, pensions and jobs, on February 12, as the price of a 130-billion euro bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
However, running battles between police and rioters outside the Parliament drove home a sense of deepening crisis.
The EU welcomed the vote, but told Greece it had more to do to secure the funds and avoid a disorderly default that would have “devastating consequences”.
World Children Report, 2012
UNICEF’s Flagship State of the World Children Report 2012, says urbanisation is leaving billions of children in cities across the world excluded from vital services. More than 50 per cent of the world’s population today lives in urban areas. Of these, one billion are children, devoid of any semblance of decent living.
In India, 377 million live in the urban centers. Out of them, 97 million are urban poor (the lowest 25 per cent section) as per Census 2011 data. An estimated 535 million will live in towns by 2026. This would be 40 per cent of India’s population.
The differential between urban non poor and urban poor children is huge. For instance, more urban poor children below five are underweight than rural children in the same group. While 47 per cent urban poor kids are underweight, 46 per cent rural are underweight as against 33 per cent urban children.
There is a shocking, 13-point difference in the Infant Mortality Rates among urban non poor and urban poor children; 54 per cent more infants die in urban poor families.
That’s not all, 20 per cent more children are anaemic among urban poor than among the urban non poor and one in every two children among the urban poor is underweight.
Even on health services, the access of urban poor is shockingly low with one in two women managing safe deliveries and 6 in every 10 being anaemic (more than in rural areas).
Russia, China veto UN’s Syria resolution
On February 4, 2011, Russia and China joined forces in a double veto to knock down a Western-Arab U.N. Security Council resolution backing an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
The other 13 council members voted in favour of the resolution, which would have said that the council “fully supports” the Arab League plan aimed at ending 11 months of bloodshed as Syria has sought to crush an anti-Assad uprising.
Dropping the usual diplomatic courtesies, US Ambassador Susan Rice said she was “disgusted” by the Russian and Chinese veto, adding that “any further bloodshed that flows will be on their (Russia’s and China’s) hands.”
This was the second time that permanent members Russia and China exercised a double veto on the Syria issue. In October 2011, they vetoed a European-drafted resolution condemning Syria and threatening it with possible sanctions.
Russia had complained that the draft resolution was an attempt at “regime change” in Syria, Moscow’s close ally and a key Russian weapons export destination.
NATO report rips open Pak double game in Afghanistan
Exposing the ISI’s “manipulation” of Taliban’s senior leadership and its “massive double game”, a damning NATO report says that the Pakistan government remains “intimately” involved with the Afghan-based terror group.
The report was leaked out on February 1, 2012, during the visit of Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Kabul.
The NATO report contains accusations that Pakistan is playing a massive double game with the West as it publicly claims to seek a political solution to the Afghan conflict, while still supporting fighters who have killed thousands of international troops.
Many of the reports most serious revelations concern the scale of support to the Taliban provided by Pakistan and the influence of ISI agency.
The report is based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, Al-Qaida and other foreign fighters and civilians.
The report says that senior Taliban leaders regularly meet with ISI officers “who advise on strategy and relay any pertinent concerns of the Government of Pakistan”.
Current Affairs -- as given by competition master.com March 2012 Reviewed by sambasivan srinivasan on 10:30:00 PM Rating: