Daily Current Affairs

Prelims Prominence - November 27, 2017

Biodiversity

Dutta’s Mahendragiri gecko: New species of gecko discovered in Andhra Pradesh

  • Scientists have discovered new species of gecko in the Eastern Ghats in northern Andhra Pradesh.
  • It was identified from few areas in northern Mahendragiri range and scattered coastal hills in northern Andhra Pradesh.
  • The new species has been named Hemidactylus sushilduttai or Dutta’s Mahendragiri gecko, after eminent herpetologist Sushil Kumar Dutta from Odisha.

Enlighten about it –

  • Dutta’s Mahendragiri gecko is second gecko endemic to this hilly range and third vertebrate as other endemics in region are — Gegeneophis orientalis — caecilian amphibian and Jeypore Indian gecko (Cyrtodactylus jeyporensis.
  • It grows up to 225mm in length with its tail half its size. It is nocturnal and lives on rocks, large trees and coffee plantations at altitudes between 250-1,100 metres above sea level.
  • The reptile was earlier identified as different species and was misidentified as spotted rock gecko (Hemidactylus maculatus), a large-bodied lizard endemic to northern Western Ghats in Maharashtra.
  • However, after studying its DNA, it was found that morphological characters of new species has many unique, diagnostic characters and these two species have geographically separated populations that deeply divergent from each other.

Significance

  • Dutta’s Mahendragiri gecko is the 32nd species of house geckos (Hemidactylus) from India and among the largest in its genus.
  • The genus has around 90 species across the world.
  • This discovery highlights the importance of conserving this mountainous forest region of Easter Ghats as a biodiversity hotspot as most of conservation efforts are concentrated on the Western Ghats.

Bilateral Trade

India – Sri Lanka

Infrastructure projects

  • Among the projects discussed in particular were the plans for India to develop (1) the Trincomalee harbour, including the Oil Tank farms project, as well as the Indian bid to lease and manage (2) the Mattala airport in Hambantota

Case of pending projects

  • The emphasis on speeding up joint ventures comes after months where there has been no movement on many of the pending decisions on joint ventures

Economy

India’s rating kept unchanged by S&P with stable outlook

BBB- Rating

  • A BBB- rating denotes the lowest investment grade rating for bonds.
  • Ratings are constrained by India’s low wealth levels, measured by GDP per capita, which is estimated at close to US$2,000 in 2017, the lowest of all investment-grade sovereigns.
  • S&P also added that India’s GDP growth rate is among the fastest of all investment-grade sovereigns, and it expects real GDP to average 7.6% over 2017-2020.
  • This is clearly a conservative call wherein S&P would like to see the results of the reforms initiated
  • S&P expects India to Grow
  • Despite one-off factors like demonetisation and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax denting growth, S&P expects India’s economy to grow robustly from 2018-20 with foreign exchange reserves rising further.
  • However, the rating agency cited India’s low per capita income, the sizable fiscal deficit and high general government debt as factors that weigh down the country’s credit profile.
  • Also in the medium term, the growth will be supported by the planned recapitalization of state-owned banks, which is likely to spur on new lending within the economy.
  • Public-sector-led infrastructure investment, notably in the road sector, will also stimulate economic activity, while private consumption will remain robust.

Concerns regarding arguments given by S&P

  • The argument given by S&P that India has low per capita income which is acting as detractor from the sovereign rating upgrade is fallacious as Indonesia which was upgraded seven times between 2002 and 2011 had a low per-capita GDP of $1,066 in 2003 when its credit rating was upgraded and India’s GDP per-capita is now $1,709.4.

S&P Future Outlook for India

  • While the stable outlook suggests the agency doesn’t expect any change in the rating soon.
  • But there could be downward pressures if GDP growth disappoints, if net general government deficits rose significantly or if the political will to maintain India’s reform agenda significantly lost momentum.
  • S&P has estimated public sector banks will need a capital infusion of about $30 billion to make large haircuts on loans to viable stressed projects and meet the rising capital requirements under the Basel III norms.
  • The bank capitalisation program and the planned ramp-up in public-sector-led infrastructure investments as well as persistent fiscal deficits at the State level will have a bearing on India’s large general government debt.
  • While the Centre is expected to broadly ‘succeed in controlling deficits’ and government revenues will rise due to efforts to expand the tax base such as demonetisation and GST.
  • But, S&P foresees problems at the State level which will add 3% on average to the consolidated general government deficits.

Centre-State Relations

Rajnath to chair meet on Centre- State relations

The Punchhi Commission recommendations

  • Its recommendations pertaining to national security, communal harmony, and Centre-State financial relations and planning are expected to be discussed.
  • The Commission in its report had said that ‘National Security’ as a subject was not specifically listed in any of the three Lists, i.e. the Union, the State or the Concurrent List.
  • The subject of Security under the Article 352 and under the Emergency Provisions in Part XVIII of the Constitution has been assigned to the Union Government.
  • Though it is an overriding executive power of the Union, in Constitutional practice, however, ‘Security’ is a subject in which the States and the Union have a common interest and are expected to act in a co-ordinated manner, the report had said.
  • The Commission also said that in case of communal riots, which have a potential of causing widespread violence within a territory, “the use of Article 355 may be in order.”
  • “A clarificatory line in this, regard, if required, may be inserted making the provision explicitly clear that the Centre can depute Paramilitary Forces to such trouble spots in exceptional circumstances even if a request from the State Government is not received.

Enlighten about Inter-State Council (ISC)

  • The inter-state council was established under Article 263 of the Constitution of India through a Presidential Order dated 28 May 1990.
  • The Council shall consist of prime minister who is the chairman, chief ministers of all states who are members, chief ministers of union territories and administrators of UTs as members, and six union ministers of cabinet rank in the union council of ministers nominated by the prime minister are also members.
  • It considers recommendations for the better coordination of policy and action, and also matters of general interest to the states.
  • The inter-state council is not a permanent constitutional body for coordination between the states and union government.
  • It can be established ‘at any time’ if it appears to the President that the public interests would be served by the establishment of such a council.

Development Bottlenecks

India’s biggest oil refinery proposed on the western coastline opposed by farmers of that area

  • Thousands of farmers from Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra have been on the roads for the last five days opposing joint land measurement exercise by government officials marking the beginning of yet another long-drawn protest in Konkan, this time against India’s biggest oil refinery proposed on the western coastline.

Enlighten about the issue

  • Over 15,000 acres in and around Nanar in Rajapur tehsil of the district has been notified as an industrial area under Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) Act, instead of Land Acquisition Act, 2013.
  • After going through the process of seeking objections from the villagers, the government has now begun the next step of joint measurement of land.

Concerns

  • The Act under which land is to be acquired is draconian and gives no voice to the people, who were not consulted on the project.
  • The villagers are concerned at the pollution caused by the refinery once it is operational.
  • The government, while announcing the project, had said this is green project.
  • Green word is being used to fool the people. No refinery in the world is green.

Over location

  • The refinery’s location is another cause for concern among locals.
  • It will stand next to world’s biggest nuclear power project, the proposed 9900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP).
  • A desiltation project and a 1,500 MW thermal power project are also proposed in the vicinity.
  • And this is disastrous and will completely kill the natural habitat of the region.

Infrastructure Development

30.76 lakh houses sanctioned under PMAY (Urban) till now

  • The Union Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs has announced that 30.76 lakh houses for the urban poor have been sanctioned so far since the launch of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) Scheme in June 2015.
  • Currently, 15.65 lakh houses are at various stages of construction and about 4.13 lakh houses have been constructed since launch of PMAY (Urban).

Enlighten about Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban)

  • PMAY(U) provide houses to all poor in urban areas by 2022.
  • It is new version of Prime Minister’s Housing For All by 2022 vision.
  • Its objective is to construct two crore houses across nation.
  • It covers entire urban area consisting of 4041 statutory towns with initial focus on 500 Class I cities.
  • Intended beneficiaries of scheme are Poor people (BPL) and People living under Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and
  • LIG (Low income Group) categories in urban establishments of country. It also targets people living under MIG (middle income Group). Government will provide subsidy ranging between 1 lakh to 2.30 lakh to people from above categories in order to make them secure

Sports

Under-23 Senior World Wrestling Championship: Ritu Phogat wins Silver

  • India’s Ritu Phogat has won Silver medal in Under-23 Senior World Wrestling held in Poland. She won silver medal in 48 kg category.
  • She entered into final by defeating Bulgarian Wrestler Selishka in Quarter finals and Chinese Wrestler Jiang Zhu in the semi-final.
  • In the gold medal bout (in the final match), she lost against Turkish Wrestler Evin Demirhan and stand in second with a silver medal.
  • Another young Indian wrestler, Divya Kakran, came close to a medal but lost in the bronze medal bout.

Government Reforms

Government to transform 115 backward districts by 2022

  • The Union Government has selected 115 backward districts for rapid transformation by 2022 in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to create a “New India” over the next five years.
  • These 115 backward districts include 35 districts affected by Left Wing Extremists (LWE) violence, 55 districts just affected by LWE and another 15 including districts in Jammu and Kashmir and northeast affected by terrorism.

Prabhari Officers

  • For each of these backward districts, government has nominated senior official in rank of Additional secretary and Joint secretary as Prabhari officer.
  • The First meeting of the Prabhari Officers was recently held in New Delhi under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary.
  • It was attended by Secretaries of the important central Ministries.

Role of Prabhari officers

  • Prabhari officers will form team with state representatives and bring convergence in their effort.
  • They will take it up as challenge and succeed in their mission by making difference in the lives of millions of citizens in these backward districts.
  • Prabhari officers will assist District administration in sharing GOI’s vision for 2022 by ensuring convergence of efforts of central and state government and set up robust mechanism to monitor improvements in key outcomes in these backward districts.

Third party validation

  • The third party validation of key performance indicators in field of health and nutrition, education, basic infrastructure including roads, household toilets, electricity, agriculture and irrigation will be undertaken to make this program successful.

Science & Technology

Scientists create world’s smallest data recorder from bacteria

  • Researchers from Columbia University Medical Centre (CUMC) in US have converted natural bacterial immune system into the world’s smallest data recorder.
  • The researchers modified an ordinary laboratory strain of ubiquitous human gut microbe (bacteria) Escherichia coli (E Coli) which enabled it to record their interactions with environment and also time-stamp events.

Enlighten about it

  • The microscopic data recorder was created by taking advantage of CRISPR-Cas, an immune system in many species of bacteria.
  • CRISPR-Cas copies snippets of DNA from invading viruses so that subsequent generations of bacteria can repel these pathogens more effectively.
  • To build this microscopic recorder, researchers had modified piece of DNA called plasmid, giving it ability to create more copies of itself in the bacterial cell in response to an external signal.

Potential Applications

  • This research lays groundwork for new class of technologies that use bacterial cells for everything from disease diagnosis to environmental monitoring.
  • It may help to record biological changes taking placing in digestive tract which can yield an unprecedented view of previously inaccessible phenomena.
  • It can be also used in environmental sensing and basic studies in ecology and microbiology, where bacteria could monitor otherwise invisible changes without disrupting their surroundings.

Pharmaceutical

NPPA cap prices of 51 essential medicines

  • The drug price regulator National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has capped prices of 51 essential medicines, including those used for treatment of cancer, heart conditions, pain and skin problems.
  • NPPA through separate notifications notified ceiling prices of 36 medicines and revised ceiling prices of 15 medicines. The prices were slashed in range of 6 to 53%.

Enlighten about it –

  • All manufacturers of scheduled formulations, selling branded or generic or both versions of scheduled formulations (drugs) at price higher than ceiling price as fixed and notified by Government, have to revise prices downward not exceeding the ceiling price. Moreover, manufacturers of these 51 formulations have to furnish quarterly returns to NPPA through IPDMS (Integrated Pharmaceutical DataBase Management System).
  • Besides, any manufacturer intending to discontinue production of any of 51 drugs has to furnish information to NPPA, with respect to discontinuation of production of drug or its import, at least six months prior to intended date of discontinuation.

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA)

  • NPPA is an independent body under Department of Pharmaceuticals under Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers.
  • Its mandate is to fix/revise controlled bulk drugs prices and formulations, enforce prices and availability of medicines under Drugs (Prices Control) Order (DPCO), 1995/2013, recover amounts overcharged by manufacturers for controlled drugs from consumers and monitor prices of decontrolled drugs in order to keep them at reasonable levels.
  • NPPA fixes ceiling price of essential medicines that are listed in Schedule I of DPCO, 2013.
  • The calculation of prices cap for essential drugs is based on simple average of all medicines in particular therapeutic segment with sales of more than 1%.
  • Medicines that are not under price control, manufacturers are allowed to increase the maximum retail price by 10% annually.

Trade & Commerce

DGFT doubles incentives rates for garments under Merchandise Exports from India Scheme

  • Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), Ministry of Commerce and Industry has doubled rates for incentives under Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS) from 2% to 4% of value of exports.
  • The rates for incentives under this scheme have been enhanced for two subsectors of textiles industry — readymade garments and made-ups.
  • This measure will incentivise the exports of labour intensive sectors of readymade garments and made-ups and contribute to employment generation.

Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS)

  • MEIS was launched under Foreign Trade Policy of India (FTP) 2015-20.
  • It is one of the two schemes introduced in FP 2015-20, as part of Exports from India Scheme.
  • The other scheme is Service Exports from India Scheme (SEIS).
  • Objective of MEIS is to offset infrastructural inefficiencies and associated costs involved in export of goods and products, which are produced and manufactured in India.
  • It also seeks to enhance India’s export competitiveness of these goods and products having high export intensity, employment potential.
  • Under this scheme, Ministry of Commerce gives duty benefits to several products.
  • It provides duty benefits at 2%, 3% and 5% depending upon the product and country.